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The Issue of Annuities August 31, 2007

Posted by Ned Stark in Uncategorized.
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There has been much buzz regarding the issue of annuities. Unfortunately because I was involved in other projects I did not have the time to do something on it; despite having wanted to do so.

The debate on annuities has moved on, with many bloggers having said their piece. There are those like Aaron who find the idea of being forced into buying annuities a tad distasteful, then there are those like Teh Si who believe that annuities are a viable solution.

Nevertheless, while my economics knowledge is very rusty (the last time i touched the subject was way back in my JC days) I must say that i find the idea of pay outs after 85 rather baffling. This is because the current life expectancy of Singaporeans is said to be around 82. Thus it seems that most Singaporeans may not live long enough to be able to catch a whiff of the pay out for their annuities. And I do not think annuities can be passed down from parent to child through a will or the intestate succession act.

Mr Wang however contends that the age is not that great a factor. This is because the life expectancy would be rising as the years go by. In fact he believes that advancements in medical technology could raise the life expectancy.

However, there is a slight catch to that view. While it is undeniably that new medical technology can increase the life expectancies of people, there is no guarantee that this technology would be accessible to the general public. If the cost of this technology is high, then the, for lack of a better word, “consumers” will mostly be those who are rich or rich enough to be able to afford it. Thus if the aforesaid is true then it will be the rich who will have a higher life expectancy and thus the rich who on reaching the age of 85 could be the ones benefitting from it. Of course the rich may be locked out of the annuity fund. But that still does not change the fact the poor may not benefit if they cannot reach the age of 85.

Perhaps a better alternative would be to lower the age to 75. This would allow the pay outs to reach a larger number of people. It will also reduce the scenes of the elderly collecting cans and digging through dustbins. (Ned was walking after midnight and was shocked to see an elderly woman walking around the HDB void deck with a large bag; she was actually collecting cans after midnight.) Indeed one elderly person forced to dig through garbage is one too many; it is hoped that concrete steps be taken to help these people.

Ode to Inspired August 31, 2007

Posted by Ned Stark in Uncategorized.
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This post is rather belated; nevertheless as the saying goes, better late than never.

I refer of course to Inspired’s “retirement” from the blogosphere. The departure of such a prominent aggregator does change the dynamics of the blogosphere some what. In fact since its conception Intelligent Singaporean has played an integral role in the blogosphere; by directing new comers or old timers to posts of note and by archiving old debates such as the ministerial salaries and the infamous Wee Shu Min Incident. What makes things even more impressive is that Inspired does things on his own, and it definitely ain’t easy looking through all the stuff in the net and highlighting them on a regular basis.

That said, it is indeed sad to see Inspired go; however such is the nature of the blogosphere. With that I would like to thank Inspired for linking some of my posts and for providing a service to the Singapore blogosphere for the past 1 year or so. Indeed aggregators do play a role in the vibrant Singapore blogosphere and it is my hope that there be more people who will deign to provide such a service.

Of the PM’s Speech August 20, 2007

Posted by Ned Stark in Uncategorized.
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I must admit that most of what I know from the speech came from the articles in the Straits Times and Channelnews Asia. This is because I was actually watching Manchester United’s disastrous showing against Manchester City (yes I have Manchester United leanings.) Having said that much of the PM’s Speech has no doubt been analysed and dissected by the various bloggers such as Aaron Ng. No doubt in time to come many blogs will be talking about this speech by the PM.

 To sum it all of, after reading the various accounts of the speech (admittedly through the Mainstream Media, it does have its uses after all), it appears that there is going to be much tweaking of systems such as the CPF, new employment laws to employ the aged, the development of Punggol 21 among others. Many bloggers have already addressed these issues and there is nothing more that I can or feel compelled to add.

Nevertheless, there are some issues which I believe needs be addressed:

1) Homosexuals in Society

Singapore has abolished appeals to the Privy Council. Yet we still choose to retain a law (Section 377A) inherited from the colonial masters even though English Law is to be applied in Singapore only under limited circumstances. Of course there are those who claim that a balance can be struck by retaining the law and not prosecuting. This is a ridiculous notion and is more deadly to Singapore’s Judicial system rather than Ms Sylvia Lim’s comments regarding the constitutional amendment. To rubbish it further, I shall borrow a statement from the Late Lord Denning,

” it tends to the discredit of a legal system in a country if its Parliament makes laws or its courts make orders which they cannot enforce

To put it into local context, replace the italicised words with “will not enforce”.

Of course because of this law we now have ridiculous situations whereby homosexuals are shadowed by the police while going for a jog and even threatened with criminal prosecution.

Not to mention that you could possibly face discrimination in job applications among other things.

Of course there is no reasonable way to convince people to “do unto others, what you would want others to do unto you”.  This becomes near impossible when Divinity enters the picture. However that said the best course of action now will be to repeal a law which discriminates and I daresay leads to the demeaning of fellow human beings. And to reject as hogwash those arguments which try to fudge the issue by ingenius play of the word equality or use the slippery slope.

2) Dynamism

The abovementioned word has been a common feature in many of my prior posts. It is also a feature in this one. It is my belief that for Singapore to develop more as a nation, be it in the arts or as an economy, there needs be more space for an alternative elite in society. Banning Martyn See’s films, censoring pieces of art among other things do nothing to help Singapore’s quest to become an arts hub; rather such measures not only result in regression it also makes us look foolish. Artificial dynamism, as seen in the case of Crazy Horse, does not work. In fact such censorship (self or otherwise) in society may also hamper the goal of becoming an Education Hub as seen when Warrick University refused to set up shop in Singapore. The only way Singapore can sustain development in the face of a rising China and India is through the ingenuity of her people. There needs be more trail blazers who may be mavericks. Fighting on the basis of costs merely delays the inevitable in the face of both nations’ immense population. Its not as if Singapore can import millions of foreign talent to slow labour costs.

3) Hougang and Potong Pasir

Yes, it is indeed time to upgrade the two wards. The funds are under the purview of the Minstry of National Development. Unless Hougang and Potong Pasir are not considered part of the Nation then by all means, withhold upgrading. In that case anyone who lives there should not serve National Service, should not pay any taxes to the government, should not contribute to CPF…etc…

Of course there are positive developments. The blogosphere has been quite free from interference; unless you consider the white ninjas as such. Furthermore it was the first time Opposition members were invited to attend the Prime Minister’s speech. Perhaps in time we will see a Repeal of that ridiculous law (377A) and the depoliticisation of the National Day Parade. Perhaps. That said, it is Ned’s hope that there is a serious attempt to ensure that the conclusion in the PM’s speech comes true; that Singapore truly becomes a city of possibilities for everyone irregardless of race, language, religion, orientation, gender, among other things; rather than such words be mere fluff to make a speech more palatable.

Of the Singapore Opposition August 19, 2007

Posted by Ned Stark in Uncategorized.
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A Discourse on Singapore politics will be rather lacking if all people talk about is the PAP. Thus we now look at that which stands against the PAP, the Opposition. In fact not to discuss the opposition would leave a rather big void in any such discourse notwithstanding the Opposition holds only 2 Seats in Parliament.

Historically, the Barisan Sosialis was the strongest opposition faced by the PAP. However due to the arrests of several members under the ISA and the vacating of parliamentary seats, the Opposition soon became a non factor so much so that in 1968, PAP had a clean sweep of all the seats in parliament, till that faithful day (1981) when Joshua Benjamin Jeyeratnam of the Worker’s Party won a seat in Anson. The opposition since then reached its highest point in 1991 where 4 Members were elected, but its parliamentary presence declined and since then it has and still continues to hold the two seats for Hougang (Low Thia Kiang) and Potong Pasir (Chiam See Tong); with a Nonconstiteuncy MP (Currently Sylvia Lim).

There are many theories behind this sorry state of affairs (for the Opposition that is). There are those who contend that the opposition is not a good alternative to the PAP. There are also those who contend that the PAP has managed to hamstring their opponents such that they are “ineffectual”, be it through the use of election carrots or through the strong criticism of opposition members (mostly through the Straits Times). This short post however will deal with the former issue.

The statement that the Opposition is not a good alternative deserves a clearer definition. By the use of the word “alternative” there seems to be a suggestion that the Opposition should somehow seek to supplant the ruling party. It is undeniable that such would be a “best case scenario” if the opposition could be ready to step in to supplant the government if necessary. However that begets the question, by what yardstick do we measure the Opposition members ability to govern? For such a yardstick is necessary  to determine whether or not opposition fits the bill of an alternative government. Perhaps people could do a rather Singaporean thing and check out the education qualifications of the various Opposition members vis a vis that of the PAP members. However anecdotal evidence has proven that governance of a country is more than just being a good businessman or a scholar, and besides, are not the Workers Party’s newest candidates similar in terms of qualifications to the new PAP members?

But then if the Opposition is not seen as an alternative to the ruling party, what then is the role they should play? To put it simply, the Opposition can play the role of a check and balance. The principle here is similiar to the economic principle of competition. A hypothetical scenario would be as follows; let’s say that during GE 2006 Aljunied GRC had fallen. Surely such a first would cause the PAP to suddenly sit up and realise that the favoured top down approach would need fine tuning and that it is time to start seriously considering the views of people in so far as they are valid rather than just dismissing them or complaining about the complainants. In fact the lack of an opposition presence in parliament could result in complacency on the part of the ruling party leading to the problems most associated with a monopoly. Furthermore, if Aljunied GRC had fallen, would the ruling party still continue to deny Hougang and Potong Pasir upgrading? Such what if questions should be food for thought.

Simply put, a sudden resurgence of the opposition could make the ruling party sit up and realise that more needs to be done with regards to the people’s aspirations, rather than just dismissing them or trying to raise all sorts of justifications which merely make one look foolish. And given the Oppositions’ recent line up during the recent elections, I believe that their qualifications should satisfy those voters who are obsessed with qualifications. Now however the ball is in the court of the voters (those who do get to vote), do we want to vote more opposition members? And of course bearing in mind Chiam See Tong’s words during GE 2006;

You cannot say that you want an opposition member but not in your own constituency

* There are of course inherent problems with stronger opposition; there is a possibility that the check may become too effective and result in slow decision making. I acknowledge that. However current monopoly too has inherent flaws and historical precedent has shown can lead to stagnation and eventual decline.

Of Critical Thinking August 12, 2007

Posted by Ned Stark in Uncategorized.
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Much has been said about the Singapore Education system. While it is undeniable that this system has created a populace which is said to be strong in mathematics and the sciences, it also cannot be denied that there are some flaws in the system. Elitism, overemphasis on rote learning, too much spoon feeding to name a few.

To be fair, there have been changes to the education system, be it to foster critical thinking, use new teaching methods among other things. No doubt their efficacy is open to debate. But for the purpose of this post I shall deal with this thing called “critical thinking“.

Critical thinking is one of the essential skills one can have. We are living in an era where one can access any kind of information as long as one is willing to do so. Thus critical thinking could allow us to evaluate such information and could possibly stall a situation whereby we are “brain washed” or “self radicalised“. Critical thinking can also forestall a situation where we discard the message because of the messenger.

So how then can the system be tweaked to foster critical thinking?

To start of, let us take a look at the syllabus in secondary school. Basically you have the sciences, mathematics and humanities. And in the recent years, there have been attempts made to come up with questions to test the student’s ability to apply knowledge. While such an attempt is laudable, there are ways to get around it, namely the use of Ten Year Series. Be it the humanities, the sciences or the mathematics, it is impractical to expect examiners to come up with new questions. Thus fostering critical thinking through the use of exam questions is of limited use.

 Concerning the mathematics and the sciences, due to the nature of the two, the most practical way to foster critical thinking would be to allow the students to do their own research projects. Questions of the two at secondary level often have one and only one answer. Application often requires  working out things from basic principles. While it is true that this in itself can train the mind, the effectiveness is hampered for there is only one answer and thus the scope for working out of the box is limited. Thus giving students the ability to do research on a topic related to the syllabus and allowing them to come up with the parameters will be a more effective way to foster critical thinking. But as can be seen due to time constraints and the constraints of lab space such a course of action is not practical.

Thus I turn to the humanities. The humanities (more specifically history,literature and apparently this thing called social studies introduced some time back) by their nature do allow the student a chance to express views which may not necessarily be the mainstream. Thus the scope for critical thinking is greater than the sciences. Rather than tell students to memorise the essays of the top students, the teacher could conduct her lessons in the “Socratic Fashion“. Such a method would force students to stand up and defend their views, or attempt to play the Devil’s advocate in certain instances. Students will be forced to stay awake and may even do their own research so as to support their conclusions. And it is more cost effective than making a whole class do independent scientific research.

Thus  the humanities are one of the best avenues for the fostering of critical thinking. And secondary school is one of the best times to do so for such a skill would be of benefit during a post secondary education and for the rest of one’s life. And now I end of with an example of such a lesson which fosters creative thinking;

There was once when our teacher, X, decided to introduce a variation of the Socratic method. Of course we didn’t know what was going on that time but now we do because of hindsight. Anyway X, a history teacher, asked us which was the most important cause of World War 2. Being a big mouth, Ned declared that it was the Treaty of Versailles. What happened afterward was an hour of bombardment from the teacher. Essentially X played the role of the devil’s advocate with evident relish and this eventually resulted in one of my classmates asking her, ” (teacher’s name), everything we say is wrong! What do you want us to do?

On hindsight, I now know what was going out. And I believe that such a teaching method should be used as long as circumstances permit.

A Question; Both Simple and Complex August 9, 2007

Posted by Ned Stark in Uncategorized.
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One of my friend’s dropped me a bombshell today.

“Do you love your country?”

A simple enough question I suppose; only five words. Unfortunately, Ned could not provide an answer.

This theme of love for country, or patriotism has often been in the spotlight. PM Goh Chok Tong (as he was then) came up with the infamous words “quitter” and “stayer” during one of his National Day Ralliess. During that time the Straits times was literally flooded with stories regarding these two innocuos looking words. Quitters were (and still are) generally seen in an unfavourable light, being seen as ingrates who had no love for a country which was said to have nurtured them. In the not so distant past Singaporeans who migrated or who had intentions of so doing were mildly rebuked by MM Lee, who reminded them that they had partaken of Singapore’s education system which allowed them to leave in the first place.

But what is this patriotism per se? What are the characteristics of a patriot? What are the actions consistent of to that of a patriot? What does it actually mean to “love your country” for that matter?

Acts of love to country are common place in history. Such acts range from Su Shi sacrificing his career to speak up against Wang Anshi Reforms to Wen Tian Xiang, Yue Fei and Yuan Chong Huan (to name a few) giving up their lives for their country. In fact I am particularly impressed with Yuan Chong Huan and Yue Fei who, notwithstanding that they did their all, were wrongly sentenced executed due to the jealousy of their respective leaders. Yet they served their country nevertheless. Another not dissimilar example would be Niccolo Machiavelli, who was loyal to his native Italian city of Florence to the bitter end.

In view of the above, what then defines the Singapore patriot? Can we say that people like Francis Seow, Said Zahari, Lim Hock Siew, Chee Soon Juan, Tang Liang Hong, Joshua Benjamin Jeyeratnam; to name a few, are patriotic? And if they are not deemed to be patriots than is it because they did/do not fight under the lightning bolt and are in opposition to it? What of the critics? Are we unpatriotic because we do not agree with some aspect of the ruling party? What of the bloggers and film makers?

Perhaps all this questions about country and love may be rendered moot in view of globalisation. Perhaps. But till then this issue of love of country will continue to stay. And yet I cannot answer the question posted in the beginning for I do not know what to make of Singapore, what to make of her people, among other things. I do not deny that Singapore has her good points. But at present I am still unable to answer the question. Perhaps, there needs be some kind of disaster for the answer to be revealed. Perhaps. But for all our sakes, I sincerely hope such a situation never comes to pass.

Call for Help August 4, 2007

Posted by Ned Stark in Uncategorized.
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Friends, readers, onlookers…basically everyone who comes here. Just recently Ned found a rather disturbing website. In fact it is so disturbing that if you are the kind who has a tender heart, you are strongly encouraged not to watch the video. The link is here.

The fact is that there are people suffering, people who are just an hours flight from us all who are being persecuted brutally. Let us all do what little we can to help these forgotten people. And Ned sure hopes that the ASEAN Human Rights Commission will be more than just a toothless tiger.

We Will Raise Fare, Among Other Things August 2, 2007

Posted by Ned Stark in Uncategorized.
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Ned remembers that some time ago, everyone was in an uproar over the increase in Public Transport. If memory serves the aforesaid incident occured in 2001/2002; the ST forum was filled with letters criticising a move which resulted in one of the transport companies writing a rather long and rambling letter in the ST to justify the move, though the letter was verbose and did not seem to have anything useful to say.

Now it appears that the public transport companies are doing it again, namely some of them have already applied to PTC to increase their fares. This rather informative post by TOC actually maps the timeline of such increases. The information speaks for itself. Suffice to say the prices have been steadily increasing and the profits of the companies too have been steadily increasing.

To set the record straight, it will be unreasonable to expect these public transport companies not to have a profit maximising motive. Notwithstanding the misleading term public transport companies, these companies are pretty much private companies who will want to maximise profit. And that is where the Public Transport Committee comes in, to ensure these big corporations do not abuse their position in the market to the detriment of society. But that aside Ned feels it is fair for public transport companies to raise fees, IF there is a corresponding raise in levels of standards. Unfortunately based on personal experience and anecdotal evidence, besides the change in seats and the addition of Mobile TV, there has been little substantive increase. Specifically, waiting times seem to be as long as ever, and at times you get three of the same number arriving at the same time. Not to mention the usual gripes about nasty drivers and all. Thus a cynical person might conclude that its the profit motive at work again. And to go further one could say that this increase is fait accompli. See the last sentence of this article, once again courtesy of TOC.

That said, Ned will now talk about stuff unrelated to fare hikes. Recently Mr Alex Au’s application for his photo exhibition was turned down and in such a rude fashion. And not too long ago Said Zahari’s film was banned in Singapore. So despite all that talk about becoming more open it appears that the authorities are as frightened of controversy as ever. So imagine my surprise at this CNA article, entitled “Controversy and Art go hand in hand“.

But if Controversy and Art go hand in hand, then why ban political films of those who did not stand under the lightning bolt? Why ban works of art involving a Nude Statue? Of course a closer reading of the article would reveal Dr Lee Boon Yang’s definition of controversy:

Dr Lee said this when he was asked to comment about the incident whereby a video by Singaporean artist Lynn Lu was removed from the Art Show because it was deemed to be too similar to a piece created by an American artist, Jason Mortara…

He said: “I can’t imagine an arts event of the scale of the Singapore Art Show going off without any controversy. In fact, I’ll be very, very surprised.”

A literal reading of the article’s title gave me the impression that controversial art pieces are part and parcel of art. But apparently in Singapore’s context controversy merely refers to technical problems with regards to the running of an arts exhibition. If that is the authorities view then I must say that the dream of Singapore as an Arts hub will remain a dream, notwithstanding the last few sentences of the article.

Of a Rejection, a Tolerant Society August 1, 2007

Posted by Ned Stark in Uncategorized.
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So its official. After dragging their feet the MDA has finally deigned to inform Mr Alex Au that he will not get a license to exhibit his photographs because to exhibit them would be to “promote a homosexual lifestyle”. Basically Ned is unimpressed with such ridiculous reasoning, its as bad as Nicholas Lazarus’, everyone’s favourite YPAP person.

Besides being an expression of homophobia, this incident does not bode well for Singapore’s so called Arts hub aspirations. As said elsewhere and as said by Alex in the last few paragraphs of his post, these people just do not get it. To be a centre for arts would require a tolerance for all forms of art (as long as is permissable by law, vandalism is a no but of course you can designate a place for wall graffiti). Only by accepting and allowing different forms of expression would creativity be allowed to flourish and that in turn would allow Singapore to advance, not only on the arts frontier, but on other frontiers such as science, the economy (think entreprenuership) among other things. The current trend of top down direction (Crazy Horse for one) has proven to be a failure. Such top down control and self censorship can result in a populace who cannot think for themselves. Just take a look at this post and the comments to see what I mean.

And now I will present to you all a post by NMP Siew Kum Hong, who is currently in California. From his post it appears that California is a diverse, tolerant society with a level of dynamism which is anything but artificial. Based on anecdotal evidence it seems that there are Singaporeans who have migrated and have no desire to ever come back. Indeed Ned wonders if he would be one of them in the near or distant future. Nevertheless, in light of the government’s gripes about ungrateful Singaporean “quitters” and what have you, the example of California and this example of Canada (by ex-blogger Kitana) should give them foor for thought. But of course if the government sees California and Canada as mediocre countries and dismisses them as examples, then I guess they too should not complain too much if some Singaporeans, sick of the rat race and the exhortations to breed for your nation, decide to leave.