Oxley Castle book not for kids

From ‘Is Oxley castle book really meant for kids?’ 16 Nov 2017, ST Forum

(Francis Cheng): Epigram Books chief executive Edmund Wee says that the children’s book, The Phantom Of Oxley Castle, is not a re-telling of the Oxley Road events (Picture book’s launch event cancelled; Nov 13, and Arts House sets out events leading to cancellation of launch; Nov 14).

Who is he trying to kid?

It is obviously a satire or a parody.

The picture book is about a grand castle with 38 rooms, on a tropical island, where two young princes, a princess and their pesky butler named OB Markus live. Its title and storyline clearly bring to mind the 38 Oxley Road saga and the Lee family feud.

Writers and publishers should avoid exploiting a sensitive event that is still unresolved. Those who pick up the Oxley Castle book at another launch venue should note that not all children’s books are indeed children’s books.

Indeed, not all fairy tales should be read by children. Little Red Riding Hood is a metaphor for bestiality. Hansel and Gretel is child cannibalism. The song Puff the Magic Dragon is about drug abuse. And Tango Makes Three is gay marriage propaganda.

Oxley Castle only becomes an ‘exploitative’ parody of a national embarrassment if an adult familiar with the Lee saga reads it. To an innocent child, it’s just a story, one which features a butler who sidelines as a member of Wu Tang Clan. No sane parent would read this to their child and explain that this is actually based on a true story about three elite siblings who don’t invite each other to CNY reunion dinners. Nor would they dare even suggest that the ‘Phantom’ really represents Ah Kong rising from the grave.

Somehow I have this feeling that the story won’t end with ‘And they Lived Happily Ever After’. Still, this gives me an idea for my own children’s story: Samy the Sad Subway Train. It’s about a train that can never get things right; stopping for long hours, getting soaked by the rain, bumping into other trains, and getting on the nerves of its grumpy station master named Khaw Wan Kuek.

 

 

 

 

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Who wants to watch live feeds of Parliamentary proceedings?

From ‘Videos of parliamentary proceedings belong to the Government: Chee Hong Tat’, 7 Nov 2017, article in CNA

Video recordings of parliamentary proceedings belong to the Government which in turn commissions national broadcaster Mediacorp to cover the sittings and show the footage on various platforms, including free-to-air television as well as on Channel NewsAsia’s Parliament micro-site and its Facebook page.

Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Chee Hong Tat clarified this in Parliament on Tuesday (Nov 7) in response to a question by Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Leon Perera from the Workers’ Party (WP). Mr Perera had asked which entity owns the copyright to the video recordings of parliamentary proceedings.

He also asked if the Ministry would consider removing the copyright if indeed they are protected by one, and make all video footage of parliamentary proceedings freely available for use.

To this, Mr Chee said the public can use the recordings for personal and non-commercial purposes with attribution to Mediacorp. He said the recordings are already used regularly by social media sites and political parties, including the Workers’ Party.

Mr Perera then questioned why Parliament is not given the funding and ability to makes its own live feed and video recordings available with a searchable archive as is the case with countries like Australia, Taiwan and the United States.

Mr Chee said demand for a live feed of proceedings is low.

To be fair, it’s probably true that there are less people willing to sit through a live Parliamentary feed than a Crime watch episode. Mediacorp being a business entity struggling with ratings overall however, has a vested interest in making Parliamentary sessions not so much informative than ‘entertaining’ in bite-size snippets to cater to the general public, yet at the same time refrain from making their political masters look bad, no matter how attention grabbing it would be. Like when they’re caught napping for example.

Beyond intellectually stimulating debates, TV is also the perfect politician toolkit for drama. You have MPs bawling like a baby.

Begging for mercy.

Pointing to the heavens like in Taiwan drama serials seeking divine justice

Could anyone forget the saga that is ‘Tang Liang Hong is Not my Brother’

Some make grand exits like a boss without saying a single word.

And you have the occasional stand-up comedy bringing the House down, like Chan Chun Sing’s ‘Madam President’ skit.

In fact, when Today in Parliament debuted on SBC in 1985, while it was welcomed with much fanfare, there were already calls by Parliament fans for full uncensored telecasts, an act that would symbolise ‘democracy in action’. Though it’s often assumed that PAP speakers would reap the most airtime from these sessions, there were also complaints of opposition MPs hogging the limelight, like JBJ’s ‘unending complaints’ ‘unending complaints’ and ‘belching hot air’.

One MP, Tay Eng Soon, opposed the format of TV broadcasting altogether, recommending that viewers ‘close their eyes’ and listen to the crux of debates rather than picking on visual distractions like a politician’s dress sense, body language, or shiny reflection off his bald plate. But what is politics without its histrionics and theatre anyway.

Despite Chee Hong Tat’s claims of low viewership, I do believe there is value in putting up videos wholesale (by topics at least) as a supplement to the standard edits since the government has always emphasised on digitalisation and transparency, so that hardcore Parliament fans should be given the chance to dissect discussions, warts and all. Isn’t the purpose of the party whip or Speaker to serve as a real-time moderator/editor of the proceedings anyway, so that debates don’t get out of hand?

Besides, in the age of Netflix, TV viewership has been anaemic for years anyway. Given a choice between Parliament and watching a run-of-the-mill drama with actors spouting foreign accents, I’d rather spend my time on the former. The acting may even be better.

 

Reserved Presidential Election is the Right Thing to Do

From ‘Reserved Presidential Election would cost votes but is the right thing to do’: PM Lee, 29 Sep 17, article in CNA

PM Lee Hsien Loong knew that the reserved Presidential Election would be unpopular but went ahead with it, as he strongly believed it was the “right thing to do“, he said in a dialogue session held last Saturday (Sep 23).

“Did I know that this subject would be a difficult one? That it would be unpopular and cost us votes? Yes, I knew,” he said at a People’s Association Kopi Talk held at Ci Yuan Community Club.

“If I do not know that these are sensitive matters, I cannot be in politics. But I did it, because I strongly believe, and still do, that this is the right thing to do.”

Mr Lee acknowledged that there was “some unhappiness” following the reserved election. “I can feel that; you do not have to tell me,” he said.

Three Malay candidates came forward to contest this year’s reserved election. while all of the candidates in the 2011 election were Chinese. Although businessmen Mr Mohamed Salleh Marican and Mr Farid Khan did not qualify, resulting in a walkover, they would not have come forward in an open election, Mr Lee said.

“So why didn’t they come? Because they knew that in an open election – all things being equal – a non-Chinese candidate would have no chance,” he said.

When the Americans dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, they knew it was – to put it mildly – an unpopular decision but to them it was the ‘right thing to do’. When the Nazis embarked on ethnic cleansing and conducted vile experiments on Jews for the advancement of science, they too strongly believed that it was the right thing to do. When Darth Vader ordered the destruction of the planet Alderaan by the Death Star…You get the point.

As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. There are no good or evil men in this world, just men with what they believed were ‘right’ intentions. But this is what we’ve come to expect of a dominant party anyway, a smiling Nazi-nanny pushing divisive policies for our own good, and deciding for the nation how multiracialism should be handled, even down to the ‘right-ness’ of the stuff we read on the Internet.

Yet, history has proven, by the PM’s own admission, that HE and his PAP COULD BE WRONG.

In 2011, PM Lee said sorry to the nation, admitting ‘mistakes’ made that included overzealous foreigner intake and problem gambling as a result of the IRs.

‘And if we didn’t quite get it right, I’m sorry but we will try better the next time.’

When the next election comes around, given the ‘political cost’ of this unpopular PE, I wonder if he would apologise again – that they didn’t get it right at all. That they should have trusted the Chinese majority race, that we should have been given the dignity of casting our votes, that the ONE survey that the PAP likes to quote justifying the reserved PE (because Singaporeans, particularly the Chinese, are inherently racist who prefer to vote for a president of the same race), is a flaming pile of horse-shit.

If someone who was NOT from some prestigious institution had come up with a casual survey with the same results, he or she would have been hauled up for sedition and threatening racial harmony.  If someone who’s NOT the PM said stuff like ‘all things being equal, you being non-Chinese would have no chance’, he’d be branded as a straight out racist. The walked over candidates Marican and Khan threw their hat in the ring because they believed they could make a difference, not because they had no Chinese threat to deal with. Implying so is an insult not just to their ability, but to the idea of equality altogether. Also, has anyone wondered why it’s called CIMO and not MCIO or ICOM?

Let’s say I’m hiring a head waiter for a Chinese restaurant. My executive chef is Chinese,  my marketing director is Chinese, even the dishwashers are Chinese. ‘All things being equal’, fluency in Mandarin included, it shouldn’t matter if I hire a non-Chinese to do the job. The only reason I decide to hire MIOs only is because it’s better to have at least one non-Chinese on my team to placate my racist non-Chinese customers.

No sir, it’s not just the right thing to do. It’s the far-right thing to do too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.