Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Do you expect me to make him rich?

A friend of mine had a boss who found it very difficult to pay his subcontractors – specifically the subcontractors involved in blue collar activity. He’d look at the bills and try and knock off $50 here and there and then remark, “I don’t want to make him rich, the bugger is trying to get rich off me.” At the very same time, he had the same ability to be very generous with people in “white collar” professions. When a lawyer he worked with sent a bill of a few thousand, he actually remarked, “Wah, his bill so cheap ah,” and then told the lawyer to charge more.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated example of a strange disease that people in air conditioned offices seem to have. Nor am I proud to say that I’ve always been immune from it. Far from it in fact. I once had to hire a plumber to fix a leak in Daddy’s Soho flat and I couldn’t understand how the flat blob of a character could justify charging me 400 quid when all he did was to rip up my bathroom, play with a blow torch and tell me to avoid showering for a week.

We, in the “professional” class have a peculiar inability to recognize that people who work blue collar jobs actually do something called work and that they should get paid for it. This disease is such that white-collar professionals tend to begrudge every penny that the “working class” make.

While this disease isn’t exactly limited to Singapore, its particularly ridiculous when it comes to this little island that I call home. The reason is simple – our tropical weather. The guys doing “brain” jobs spend their days in front of a computer in an air conditioned office. When they go for lunch, it’s usually in a swish cafĂ© where there’s plenty of air conditioned and it’s filled with beautiful people (one of the perks of working in the business district here is – eye candy). By contrast, the guys who do manual jobs are usually out in the sun and the time when the sun is the least kind and even when they’re relaxed or supposed to be relaxing, it’s usually in a pretty crappy place

Image result for Cushy CEO at work

Do we seriously believe he struggles

When you’re faced with such a juxtaposition, its hard to understand how the guys sitting in the air conditioned offices get the idea that they’re the ones who have it tough while the guys toiling away in the midday sun are having a picnic.

Image result for Labour in hot sun

While she has it easy......

The usual line of reasoning is – “Mental Work is more taxing.” I don’t disagree that using your brain can be tough. The brain, like the rest of the body does get tired and if overused without rest can screw you up badly. I also don’t disagree with the fact that you should get paid for the value that you create. 

In the construction industry nobody begrudges the architect his pay even if he sits and creates drawings instead of slogging it out with the guys on the work site for the simple reason that the architect’s drawings are the reason for everyone’s existence. You can replace muscle with robots. Theoretically you cannot replace the human brain with a robot (even if we live in the age of AI). I think of the chap who consistently justifies the stress of the guy in a brain job over that of the guy in the muscle job by consistently saying, “The mind is stronger than the body.”

Well, that isn’t exactly quite accurate. Anybody who moves more than five metres-a-day will be able to tell you that the mind isn’t as strong as it claims to be, especially when the body is struggling. The sterotype of the weedy but clever nerd winning one over against the buffy jock isn’t accurate. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example is both well built and highly intelligent. The reason is simple, people who exercise and develop their bodies have to develop strong minds – the mind has to tell the body to keep going when the body cries for a rest.

Then there’s the issue of work. Yes, while I agree that brain work creates more value and should be rewarded accordingly, we need to remember that nothing moves without the muscles actually moving. The brain can send all the signals that it wants to send but if the muscles don’t work, nothing moves – any stroke patient will tell you that it’s a shitty experience to have all sorts of wonderful thoughts spinning through your brain but the body refuses to move then all your beautiful thoughts remain just that.

There needs to be a basic respect between those in brain jobs and muscle jobs. Both parties need to respect the fact that the other chap is actually doing something called work and no party should begrudge things like fair payment to the other party.

I go back to the feelings I had about paying my plumber – bastard earned 400 quid for less than 2 hours work. Every time I look at paying that bill (admittedly I was using Daddy’s money rather than my earned money), I think I studied the wrong course. Then again, I have my step-nephew to thank for setting me straight. He reminded me that plumbers spend their day crawling through shit and the question I ask is how much money would I accept for doing that.

I bring the matter back to the topic of workers who slog it out in the sun. I remember my colleagues in the insolvency firm I work for getting worked up that I was giving away money to help Indian and Bangladeshi workers that the firm had to fire from a construction firm we took over. The legal process denies them money due to them and I put my hand in my pocket to help out a few strangers. 

I’ve pointed out to my colleagues that for me to make the money, I just stay in an office that is for the most part quite comfy. Those guys are out in hot building sites and go back to cramped dormitories.
Life generally sucks and every profession has its stresses. Some of us are better at somethings than others and so when we need to get things done, we look for people who can do what we can’t. When they render a service, they should be rewarded accordingly. Society is like the human body – the brains and muscle need to work together. While the brain should generally be calling the shots, it should never begrudge the muscle what is due to the muscle.


It wouldn’t be a bad idea if stroke patients had to have a say in policy making and HR policies. It would help people in brain jobs remember that nothing gets done unless the muscles move. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Friends, Friends – Not a Single soul when I’m In Need

Bloomberg has just issued a report entitled “Saudi Prince Who Wooed West Finds Few Friends in Tough Times” which is a report about how Prince Alwaleed, the billionaire investor who is the single largest shareholder in Citigroup, is now finding himself without friends, now that he’s been arrested on charges of corruption. The Bloomberg report can be read at:


What makes this report interesting is the fact that if the Saudi Royal Family has a hero in the Western world, it’s Prince Alwaleed. While the Prince did not get start with nothing, he is the only Saudi Prince who has been known to have made something of his stipend through his own brains and industry. He took the risk of investing in what was then known as Citicorp when its shares were at an all time low. The investment in Citicorp has grown more than ten times since the company merged with Travelers to become Citigroup and that’s not all. The Prince has also made successful investments in companies like Twitter and Lyft among others.

As well as being a successful investor, the Prince is also as close as the West has to someone who shares their values in Saudi Arabia. Women who work at Kingdom Holdings were known to have been allowed to go without a veil in the office and he most famously hired a female pilot in a country where women have only just been given the right to drive.

When you think of everything that Prince Alwaleed has achieved, you have to wonder why not many people have uttered a sound at his sudden imprisonment on 4 November 2017.

The simple reason is this; Prince Alwaleed got onto the wrong side of his cousin, the current Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, better know by his initials MBS. While Alwaleed may have been the darling of the Western media and the western business community, MBS had something far more valuable – controls of the levers of real power. While the rise of MBS has been sudden, nobody doubts that MBS will the first king from the grandchildren of Saudi Arabia’s founding father, King Abdul Aziz Bin Abdul Rahmad Al Saud.

Simply put – power trumps money. While having money often brings one great power (for example nobody screws with Li-Ka-Shing in Hong Kong), the two are in actual fact separate items. I should know, I’m from an ethnic group living in a part of the world where people of my ethnic group have money but live fear from the people with power. The people with the power can always get hold of the power while the people with the money don’t always have the power. I live in Singapore where one doesn’t mess with the family of Lee Kuan Yew because this is the family with the power. By contrast, I can afford to be less polite about Wee Chow Yaw, the former head of UOB Bank. The reason is simple, the late Mr. Lee and his family have influence on the government and thus over just about everything in Singapore that I need for my basic survival. While Mr. Wee has power due to his vast wealth, he doesn’t affect my life if I don’t work for him.

Furthermore, friendships in business tend to be dominated by self-interest. When you need someone, you tend to be nice to them and helping them out often depends on self-interest. When someone with greater influence comes along, you tend to find that the people whom you thought were your friends, start jumping ship.

I think of Susan Lim case, which I helped out on. Dr. Lim was a star surgeon to the rich and famous. She’s married to Deepak Sharma, the former Chairman of Citi’s Private Bank. Between them, they had more money than most could dream about and the rich and powerful clamoured to be their friends. Then, it all broke down. The powerful no longer came knocking at their door. The reason was simple. The Singapore Government was given a choice between her and Mr. Sharma and the Sultan of Brunei. The government chose the Sultan of Brunei.

Likewise, for Prince Alwaleed. The boardrooms of the West would salivate at the thought of an investment from Prince Alwaleed. But when given a choice between Alwaleed who had money and some princely influence and MBS who has the power of the entire Saudi Government and its influence in the Muslim world (Saudi Arabia is Custodian of the Holy Mosque of Islam), the cold-hard-power calculations point towards not risking the prospect of offending MBS.

What are the lessons to be learnt? I guess the key is to recognize where the power lies and understand what your friends will or will not do for you. There is such a thing as not asking your friends to stick out their necks for you so that they do remain your friends.

Then there’s the importance of cementing your relationships to something stronger than money. If a relationship is based merely on money, you’ll find the party running when a better offer is made. It’s especially common when you see Westerners finding love with much younger Asian girls. The Westerner really believes that the girl loves him for him. Suddenly, when a better offer appears she dumps him and he’s heart broken. I’m not casting aspersions on West-East relationships but it’s a common site in this part of the world where you see normally intelligent Westerners losing themselves to girls who are obviously in the business.

Prince Alwaleed has found this out the hard way. He has lots of money and now he’s found his friends in the West have found someone who has something more desirable.
You need money to get things moving. You need friends to do things. Its often said that the two go hand in hand. However, if money is all there is to a friendship, you may find yourself losing a friendship when the money is not longer there. It’s a basic fact that many of us forget until it is too late.



Monday, November 27, 2017

Humanity as an Asset

It’s my 43rd Birthday today and although I’ve reached the age where birthdays are nothing more than just another day, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by two-people, whom I seem to have given up hope on. One is my favourite pet charity and the other is my perpetual damsel-in-distress. Both these ladies have thrived on my weakness for vulnerable puppies. Whenever they need something, all they have to do is to look sad and something in me compels me not to want either of these ladies to be sad.
Well, just when I least expected it, the pet charity struck had a small windfall from the lottery and her first reaction was to rush over to my work place, pay off a debt and she bought the cake and insisted that my restaurant crew end up ushering the birthday with her.

Around 13-hours later perpetual damsel-in-distress made special arrangements for me to have a birthday lunch including a cake. She actually had everything down to a fine point – all I had to do was to sit here, she took care of everything.

Both these ladies have reminded me of one of the main points in life that I’ve always tried to practice – remembering the humanity in people. I’ve not been perfect at this but whenever I deal with people, I try to see people as people rather than what they can offer me.

Practicing this can be tough. Human beings are quite often sods of the highest level, who, if given a chance would try and screw you for being nice to them.

However, I’ve found that for every time I’ve been screwed by an ungrateful sod, I’ve been rewarded more often by decent people, in particular the people who used to be somebody.

What am I referring to? I am talking about people who once held powerful positions in the government and corporate sector, who suddenly lose their jobs. It’s at this point where they realise who their friends are, the people who cared about them rather than the position they held. It’s at this point in their careers where they become willing to do things for their friends rather than dealing with the people who clamored to them because they were deemed useful.

I think of a business partner who was in many ways my first boss. This partner ran a small advertising and PR firm that had run into financial issues. I remember when he was going down.  Nobody wanted to touch him with a barge pole. Suppliers and former employees were pissed off and clients wouldn’t touch him because, well everyone was pissed off.

For some reason, I kept in touch and we went out for drinks and before you knew it, I was back at work. Somehow, when I joined him, he managed to build himself back up and managed to pass me enough pocket change to get by.

I also think of a former editor-in-chief, who I had written for. I remained in touch with him and before I knew it, I had the privilege of working at BANG PR and the Public Utilities Board account, which involved an aspect of PR that I would not have touched on my own. I got to know Singapore’s water policy and became one of the spokespeople for the government’s water plans.

I even look at my current situation. I’ve now been working on a corporate job for the last four-years, after a history of not being employed for more than eight-months, because I was willing to work for a boss with a decent enough heart for his friends. I didn’t have projects on the horizon coming in and he was on the verge of building up his business from scratch after a particularly nasty fall. As ironies would have it, I’ve found employment longevity in an industry where I’ve had the least qualifications for.


People are funny and I think we all relate to each other in strange ways. I’m a believer in being a decent human being in your dealings with people. It’s a case of never knowing who you’ll need. I’ve been fortunate that those in the position to help have helped whenever I’ve needed it. I also think that those who may not be in the position to do anything for me, might one-day surprise. I think of the two young ladies who have turned this birthday into a surprisingly pleasant one and I like think they won’t be the last people to surprise me in a pleasant way. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Is Race Important to Your Success?

It’s often described as the worst of the “isms” and so, whenever someone prominent appears to practice it, we all get very upset. That “ism” is of course, racism – the concept where people either believe they are superior to others by mere fact that they were born into a particular ethnicity or the feeling that people are awful because of the colour of their skin.

I’m not going to try and discuss the ins and outs of racism but I will make the point that many of us get upset by racism because there’s a bit of a racist in all of us and its one of those things that we don’t realise we are until it actually happens. The little racist in us gets particularly ugly when it comes to explain socio-economics of various societies.

So, you can imagine the storm that took place when the famed investor, Dr. Marc Faber said words to the effect that “America prospered because it was colonized by White People instead of Black People.” At the time of writing Dr. Faber has been unceremoniously booted off various boards and been barred from being a speaker in several conferences. You can follow the story at 

While Dr. Faber’s comments may sound crass, I know off a few people who would agree with him. I know people who would argue that Dr. Faber is being a victim of political correctness. Ironically, many of them are people of colour.

I think of my young Muslim politician from Pasir Ris GRC who likes to drink during Ramadan (AKA Thambi Pundek), who proudly told me of his professor in Monash who told the Asian students (i.e. the ones who study and pay real fees) that the rest of the world should bow down to the White Man for giving prosperity, democracy and so on and so on. Thambi Pundek seems very proud of being told that by the learned professor (note that this is what I was told by Thambi – I didn’t actually hear those words spoken by the professor). Thambi isn’t the only one who thinks this is wisdom. I think of the Trump Campaign, where you had people of colour thanking Trump for shitting on them.
This brigade points out to several facts:

  1. 1.      America was a field of plants and animals until the White Man came along and built cities, factories etc etc and made America the superpower that it is today.

  2. 2.      The White Man has made the world prosperous, while the black man has screwed it up. Since colonialism, the Americans and Europeans have prospered and Africa has become a byword for corruption, war and all sorts of nasty things. They will further point out that the only country that has anything approaching a standard of living is South Africa and even then – the wealth is held by the White Minority. The examples go on – in Western cities, the White Neighborhoods are nice and the black ones are not.


I’m not going to try and argue these points for the simple fact that they are true. America really was a nature reserve until Europeans brought industrialization. I’m also going to stress that I always preferred the idea of living in South Kensington in London to Brixton. I hate to say it but in Soho, London the black community were predominantly pimps or drug dealers while the party goers were white. Now that I live in Singapore, the vagabonds are inevitably Tamil i.e. dark skinned.
So, if you look at everything I’ve just said, you might be forgiven for thinking that Dr. Faber is merely a victim of the dictatorship of political correctness. There are those who would argue that he’s correct – there’s a correlation between the colour of your skin and levels of prosperity and development.

While the argument has an appeal (especially if you’re not dark), its grossly oversimplified. Dr. Faber, for all his brilliance as a financial investor, has seriously failed to understand the secret of success. The key to prosperity is not so much skin colour but culture and our perceptions of what constitutes success and prosperity.

Let’s start with perceptions of success. Yes, it was the European settlers who brought the idea of industrialization to the New World, which became the bedrock of American wealth. However, one could argue that the European settlers probably screwed it up to. The “Red Indians” didn’t have industrialization and money but they had a system that was close to nature and other than the odd tribal skirmish, there were no real wars. European settlers brought wealth but they also brought gross income inequality. The Red Indians may not have had industrial wealth but there was a system where ordinary people had a means of survival (you can always hunt, fish and gather crops).

Then, there’s the fact that the Europeans who went to America were not ordinary people from Europe. They were the people who were driven out of their homelands a special set of circumstances, rather like the Mexicans and Latin Americans today. Life couldn’t work for them in their so-called home lands and so they left and had no choice but to make the new place work. They were people with a certain amount of hunger to achieve things. Just as it is today, Americans and Europeans back then were different.

America has had the good fortune of being the place to go to for people who need to leave their homes and are forced to make it work in the place that they move to. These people were initially European but they’re no longer only ones. Today’s America is the place to go to for the hungry from Asia and Latin America, who are all doing their bit to drive America forward. Another investment guru, Jim Rodgers says that if given a chance, he’d hire the Cubans who risk life and limb to cross the Caribbean Sea just to get into America because these are the people with the drive to make things work.

The guys who wrote the Declaration of Independence were White and did do things like own slaves who happened to be black. However, their ideas, when put into practice helped people off all colours and creeds to prosper.

What were these ideas? The groundwork for American success has been the idea that everyone, if given the same chance, can succeed if they put in enough work. There’s also the concept that nobody is above the law. As much as my American friends might complain about there being too many lawyers, America prospered because it was founded on the idea of the “Rule of Law.” Circumstances more important than race.

I live in a part of the world where this could not be clearer. In Southeast Asia, the Chinese have shown a magical ability to build prosperous communities. By contrast, the Chinese in China have only started to enjoy prosperity in the last 40-years. The people in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan are the same skin tone as the people from the People’s Republic of China but how did the first lot prosper so much while the later didn’t. The answer was the system -there was rule of law in Singapore and Hong Kong but not in China.  

Then there’s a question of openness. China remained closed to the world for more than half a century. Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan were open for business. We dealt with the world and learnt from the world. We prospered as a result. By contrast, China built a Great Wall and refused to trade with the world until they were forced to. It was only in 1979, when Deng Xia Peng took over, did the PRC open up. It was only then, when the country started to prosper.

Closed societies inevitably screw themselves. Until recently, most African countries were hell for foreign investors and they traded with nobody. Hence, they rotted away. It wasn’t because they were filled with black people.  

Dr. Faber is free to speak his mind but in this instance, he’s shown that he doesn’t get it. America prospered because it had the right people and the right ideas – the fact that they happened to be White is beside the point. Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan prospered because we had the right people and the right ideas. The People’s Republic and India only started to prosper when it got the ideas – this was never clearer when the two Asian Giants were stuffed with poor people going nowhere but the rest of the world had plenty of prosperous Indian and Chinese communities.


Don’t invest in black or white – invest in the rule of law, in open societies and people with hunger. The returns are better. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

How Much More Education Do We Need?

I couldn’t agree more with Chia Kee Seng’s letter “Singapore should aim to be smoke-free, not just smoke-lite,” (5 October 2017). Smoking is a vile habit that is not only socially unacceptable but has fatal consequences. Even the tobacco companies no longer deny the fact that their products kill. Governments around the world are right to make life exceedingly difficult for the tobacco companies.

Having said that, I believe the Dr. Chia’s approach may not necessarily work in the way that he hopes. The strict “parent-knows-best” approach has the potential to make an unpleasant habit “cool” or “edgy” with the youth. Bans, while popular with politicians needing to look tough, have a way of making things more encouraging for smugglers. As for the suggestion of increasing public awareness, the point remains – the danger caused by smoking is a well-known fact that has been drilled into the public throughout the years and the literature on the ill effects of smoking is more readily available than ever. The question is “what else can you tell people” remains a prominent one.

Just as it’s been popular to talk about being “tough on crime and the causes of crime,” perhaps the time is right to look at being the same on smoking. Governments around the world are tough on smoking but are they tough on the causes of smoking? Surely the answer to reduce rates of smoking is to look at why people smoke and offer them alternatives. In a modern economy, the most obvious answer to a social ill is to offer alternatives.

Dr. Chia has argued that alternative smoking products like e-cigarettes are just as bad as actual tobacco products and applauds banning them. I believe that the better approach is to challenge the tobacco industry to prove that the alternative products are better. Philip Morris, the world’s largest tobacco firm talks about a “Smoke-Free Future” and surely the best way to deal with the likes of Philip Morris is to challenge them to be as good as their word. They should be made to prove that the products are not dangerous. If the alternative tobacco products are as bad as the actual tobacco, challenge them to develop a product that isn’t so. This will encourage more R&D, which means high paying jobs. The idea is to get the tobacco companies to use their “ill-gotten gains” to do some good for the wider social scene.

Another alternative is to look at encouraging more physical/outdoor activities. There is enough science to show that exercise reduces the harmful effects of smoking. Earlier this year, the Independent Newspaper in the UK reported that Iceland had found a way to reduce teenage drinking, smoking and substance abuse by making physical activity more available – i.e getting kids to go for the “natural high” from physical activity. This is something worth doing and the government should look into increasing opportunities for the youth to do more exercise.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Drawing the Line Somewhere.

Life has been a little strange to be me because I usually have more sympathy for migrants than I do for the native-born. You could say that I was privileged to live the “expat” lifestyle in places like Spain, Germany and England, so I had a very coloured view of being a foreigner in someone else’s land.  Even when I started boarding at the age of 15, I was to all intents a “privileged” person.

Even when I lost the privileges of the “expat” background and Daddy’s backing (also known as growing up in the real world), I remained sympathetic to migrants, especially the Muslim variety. I grew up in England, where I ended up sympathizing with the South Asian chaps over the Anglo-Saxons. I grew up with jokes like “Why did the Romans build straight roads? – The stop the Paki’s from building corner shops.” Jokes like this came from a truism – Paki Muslim migrants built corner shops while the locals collected the dole.” When I returned to Singapore, it was the Indians and the Arab Muslims who gave me big breaks, while my own people wondered why I wasn’t good enough to become a servant of the government or a multinational run out of New York or London.

With all this being said of my background, you could say that it’s no surprise that my internal reactions towards the likes of Trump, Le Pen and the other right-wing populist popping up all over the world, are intrinsically violent. I look at someone like Donald Trump and his rhetoric against Mexicans and Muslims and his half-hearted condemnation of Neo-Nazi’s and I see the enemy of the people who cared for me. If Donald Trump were in Asia, he’d be the typical overbearing White Executive who can’t help beating the natives about how their livelihoods depend on his benevolence. For me, I’ve been fortunate to never run into that type because the alternative to dealing with such a person is to resign or get fired before you do violence to that thing.

I know a few people who’ve suggested that my intrinsic hatred for the “anti-immigrant” overwhelming white supremacist might have something to do with the fact that I’ve lived a “sheltered” life. For example, I’ve never had “cheaper” labour from elsewhere displace me. Just as I realise that it’s my good fortune to be born with the mentality not to go to government whenever I’m down, it also my good fortune to be born with the ability to imagine that whatever my misfortunes, it never occurred to me to think of it as the fault of someone else born elsewhere.

So, am I unusual and confined to an “ivory tower” when I am physically unable to sympathise with the call of far-right populist? I like to think not and I was recently relieved to find out that its actually natural to think of right-wing populist as disgusting, when I spoke to Thomas, my step-dad during the German elections.

Image result for ghetto
However bad this may look.......

Unlike me, Thomas has deals with the worst stereotype of the struggling Muslim migrant. For past two decades or more, he’s worked in a hospital that serves the lowest of the low. He once mentioned that the joy of delivering a baby is often ruined with the realization that the baby is bound to grow up with a shit life because the parents are often shit (drug using louts etc).

Amongst his worst clients are usually members of Germany’s Muslim migrants. These are the type that come to Germany and the only word of German they understand is the word for the “welfare office.” In short, his clients are living and breeding off the taxes that he pays. He also deals with incidents of women who are victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence (often but always at the hands of family members).

You would imagine that someone with his experiences might be more inclined to listen to the voice of the far-right xenophobes. Yet, when I spoke to him about the results of the German elections, his only comment on the rise of the far right “Alternative fur Deutschland” (“AfD) was “Simply Disgusting.”
For all that is wrong with the Muslim Migrant community in Germany, my stepfather, is like many good people in Germany – there’s worse – the philosophy of the far right extremist.

Image result for Concentration Camps
This is inevitably worse

You could say that in many ways, we are shaped by the experiences of our parents before us as much as we are shaped by our own. In my stepdad’s case, it was growing up with a father who fought of the Russian front and got scared fighting for a regime that the likes of the AfD seem to romanticize.
As bad as the migrants may be, as bad as a backward version of Islam may be, it should be clear to any level-headed person that the solutions preached by the extreme right are not solutions that any decent people should stand for.

Germany was ruled by the Nazi’s who blamed everything on the Jews. The killed lots of Jews, Gypsies and so on.  Instead of a stronger Germany, there was a weakened Germany that needed the rest of the Western World, particularly the USA, to bail her out with Marshal Aid. The economic dynamo in the centre of Europe that is modern Germany, is because modern Germany became a society that allowed different people to flourish and it was a society that took responsibility for its mistakes. Germany continues to pay for the Holocaust and it will continue to do so. No right-minded person in Germany would be caught dead chanting “Jews will not replace us.”

Migrants bring problems as well as benefits and policy makers need to figure out how to minimize the problems while maximizing the benefits. The answer, as history and the state of the current US administration, has shown, is not in being singling out and pinning life’s woes on any particular group of people.  


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Oh No – Not Again.

I somehow managed to avoid posting anything about Exercise Swift Lion despite the fact that it was the 20th anniversary of that very dark period my life and the life of everyone I served together with. It was a moment in our youth when we had the horrible, heart-break experience of having to watch our friends come home in a body bag. It’s been 20-years since but I still remember what Ronnie’s face looked like in casket – it didn’t look anything like him. He was a good guy who had his whole life ahead of him and he didn’t deserve to have it cut down because some bureaucrat in defense procurement couldn’t be bothered to their checks properly. For me, it was a moment of being sad, scared and pissed off.

I spend 19-years making sure I had something to say about that incident because I felt and I still feel that if Ronnie and Yin Tit had to die, they shouldn’t have died in vain. It’s the feeling of knowing that you’re not much of the scale of things but you try your best to make sure that no other kids have to go through the same thing that you went through.

Well, I somehow let my usual piece lapse. I paid my respects on the online Facebook forum that was set up for our batch but that was all that I did. In one way, it’s probably a good sign that we’ve finally reached the stage where you’re able to let the dead lie where they are and you think that the sadness, pain and fear that you felt on that day has finally subsided.
Then, the news tells you otherwise – I’m now reading about a boy, who was pretty much like Ronnie (last to book out, first to book in, always helpful to colleagues and his men and never having a bad word to say about anyone) being crushed to death when his armoured vehicle turned sideways and ended up crushing him. The story can be read at - http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/parents-nsf-killed-during-exercise-wallaby-son-was-responsible-good-boy

Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicle
The Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicle 

When I read about such incidents, my heart sinks a little bit more. You get a little pissed off with whatever divine powers are out there for thinking it’s very funny to knock of the good ones.
Then, there’s a feeling of sadness that someone out there is feeling the same sadness that you once had to experience. In a way, I’m blessed with the fact that the immediate child in my life is a girl, so she won’t have the same army type experience I had (not that girls are easy to deal with) but then again, that’s not true. There was Yooga, son of my ex-girlfriend. I’d be crushed if the little bugger was crushed by an armoured vehicle or blown up in a live firing accident. While I’ve not had these major accidents happen to me directly, having seen it once and having had to live through the aftermath and the grief, I ask myself – why should anyone be forced to live through the grief?

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The Happy Part that the Minister gets to See 


I don’t know why young boys get killed through accidents like these. Only sign of progress since that day 20-years ago is that there’s greater public participation in reporting these incidents. At least we got to know that the late 3SG Gavin Chan was one of the good guys and knowing that should inspire someone out there to try and do something to ensure such incidents don’t happen. I only wish we could have made it known that Ronnie and Yin Tit were part of the good guys and didn’t deserve to get cut down when they were cut down. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Meet Singapore’s First Short, Fat and Bald President

Singapore has a new President and that lady is Madam Halimah Yacob, our former Speaker of Parliament. Madam Halimah’s rise to the Presidency was never in doubt but it was controversial. It all started with the fact that this was an election reserved for “ethnic Malays.” It turned out that the definition of a Malay became controversial because every candidate wasn’t quite “ethnic Malay.” All of them had a dose of “Indian-Muslim” blood (made sense in as much as the other criteria of being a President in Singapore means you’d have to have ran a company with $500 million in turnover and generally speaking Singapore’s Indian Muslims are business people while our Malay community generally isn’t). The controversy got even worse when one of our Ministers tried to define what it meant to be a Malay and generally ended up sticking his foot in his mouth.

Personally, I don’t have an issue with reserving the highest office in the land for someone from the Malay community. I actually think its high time someone from the Malay community got a shot at the top job. Singapore may claim to be international and our population may be 70 percent Chinese but the truth of the matter is that, we are part of the “Malay” world and in a way, if you take out the list of idiots in UMNO across the border, the Malay world has been exceedingly hospitable. The national language of Singapore is “Malay” and Malay culture is an important part of Singapore. Let’s put it this way – military commands in my mind are always given in Malay and as one of my friends said, “I will NEVER accept my national anthem being in anything other than Malay.”

Having said that, reserving a job for a race opens up a few issues. Why do we necessarily have to restrict things to race or religion? One might argue that certain groups are disadvantaged because they happen to be in the demographic minority and giving them the top job (the word top is used selectively. – top in this case is a matter of protocol rather than anything significant. Like the Queen of England, our President does what he is told to do by the Prime Minister.) to an ethnic minority does keep tensions at bay. Lee Kuan Yew mentions specifically that he needed Yousuf Ishak to be our first President because he needed to show the Malaysians that a Malay in Singapore could be our Head of State (or Yang Di Pertuan, though he was not Yang Di Pertuan Agong.) But that was then and this is now. Are race and religion the only things that separate people?

I’d argue that while race and religion still remain powerful dividers, there are other factors that divide people. If you look at it this way, the one group that suffers in society is known as the short, fat and the bald. Regardless of race, language or religion, it seems quite acceptable to make the short, fat and bald feel miserable for the mere sin of being short, fat and bald.

Looking good but still under appreciated - the price of being short, fat and bald

It’s not just acceptable to make the short, fat and bald feel miserable – it’s actually desired to mock the short, fat and bald. A good portion of Singapore’s economy would collapse if people didn’t give a hoot about being short, fat or bald? The slimming centres and hair restoring shops would shut down and people would be thrown out of work.

As someone how started losing his hair in his late teens and gained wait in his early thirties, I think its time that the short, the fat and bald took a stand and damn the fate of slimming centres and hair restoring shops. A bit of pride in being who you are would do much more for everyone that keeping shops open that stay open merely because there are lots of miserable people around.

So, why can’t we reserve the next election for someone who is short, fat or bald or a combination of the lot? I propose myself to be Singapore’s first-ever fat and bald president and one of my acts would be to import lots of Massai tribesmen to make myself look shorter to the rest of the population so that I become Singapore’s first ever short, fat and bald President. 

I think I’d make a good President. I enjoy walking with the troops (even if I was a substandard 155mm gunner), which is an essential skill for being President. I also have a good wave – another essential skill in being President.

In terms of dealing with foreign dignitaries, I believe I would be a hit. I speak decent enough English to keep the British and the Americans onside. One of the best things about an English education is that you know about sports like rugby and cricket. I’d make great palls with the lot Down Under over a pint and a discussion on rugby.
While my spoken Chinese is crap, I’ve been out with enough girls from the PRC to appreciate the beauty that China has to offer. I can see myself getting on with Xi-Jin Peng.

However, I believe that my talents would be best utilized with the Middle East and India. I know that Dubai is not the entire sum of the Arab world and I happened to make a group of Iranian tourists feel very happy when I said “Salaam” and acknowledged that there’s a difference between Iran and the Arab world.

 I may be fat and bald but in a world of increasing diversity and in a situation where Singapore needs to look to new markets, what couldn’t be better than a President who has actually looked at map?

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Let’s Get Our Priorities Right

I was relived to read the commentary “Time to hold last rites for marital-rape immunity” (14 April 2017). Professor. Eugene Tan has rightfully pointed out that the concept of “Marital-rape immunity” is anachronistic. More worryingly, the debate on Marital-rape immunity reveals something very disturbing about our legal and social approach to sex.

I support the government’s tough stand on crime. What I disagree with and find disturbing is the fact that when it comes to sexual behavior, there are laws which seem designed to encourage the wrong type of behavior like marital-rape immunity.

The lack of debate both in parliament and in the public sphere becomes even more disturbing when you compare it to the debates on the repeal of 377A, where you have the “LGBT” community and the “Religious” community going through great lengths and with great passion to get their point of view across. Whenever the topic of 377A comes into the public sphere, you will inevitably get letters for and against the law being published in the press.

By contrast, nobody talks about marital-rape immunity. Women do not talk about a woman’s right to say no. The religious community remains silent about social norms or moral standards. You might get the odd letter in the press by an academic now and then and nobody has challenged the constitutional validity of marital-rape immunity in the courts nor does anybody hold a march at Hong Lim Park.

Surely, something is wrong here. How is it possible for a society to turn the right of consenting adults to act in a certain way in the privacy of the bedroom into a national debate on social morality while we remain silent on the concept of allowing someone to force himself on another person without the other person’s consent?

I am the father of a teenage girl and I hope that she will one day find a good man to settle down with. As a father, I want my daughter to have the choice of when and whom she offers her body to. How can I accept that she needs to surrender her body whenever her future husband feels like it?

We have achieved so much in the last 50-years in terms of our economic development. I am proud of how our society is a mixture of cultures and religions. A good deal of this has been achieved by the hard work of strong women like the late Mrs. Lee Kuan Yew.

So, how is it that we’ve taken this long to lift legalized rape? Are we really a society that is happy to take from our women when they feel like it? Do we find it acceptable to be ambivalent about rape in any shape or form?

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Best and the Worst in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.

One of the things that you have to give the Trump Administration credit for is finding new lows. Just when you thought the administration could not get any more immoral and incompetent, they find a way to prove you spectacularly wrong.

During the weekend, far right protesters descended onto the town of Charlottesville in Virginia to protest the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee, the Confederate General who lead the Southern States to battle during the American Civil War. The protesters were met with counter protesters and violence erupted. People were killed and America finds itself at a bitterly divided point.

This event has been something of an eye opener and for me, it was an incident that brought out the worst and the best of what I’ve called “White America.” I stress the point about “White America” because the largest ethnic groups in the USA are of European ancestry and we have to acknowledge that this remains the ethnic group that holds the largest influence in what goes on in the USA and by extension the rest of the world. America remains the country that sets the tone for the rest of the world.

Let’s remember that we had hope when America elected Barak Obama to the Presidency back in 2008. I know lifelong Republicans who actually said, “I am proud of the fact that his name is Barak Husain Obama.” The message was simple – after 200-years, America had lived up to its promise of being a beacon of hope for the rest of us – a place where the son of a Kenyan immigrant could rise to the highest office of the land. While President Obama didn’t fulfil every hope and dream, he did turn around an economy that was in its worst state in several decades and he did bring healthcare to millions who couldn’t afford it. He wasn’t liked by everyone else around the world but he did make an effort to bring peace to places like the Middle East by being “fair” – so fair that Binyamin Nethanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister was quite open about his dislike for Obama and here in Singapore, the powers that be decided to remind the public on several occasions that “change” was a foreign concept.

Things are different now. The son of an African Immigrant has now been replaced by the scion of a wealthy family that made its money on government projects. He inherited office by playing up to the worst in people, stroking their fears and attacking anyone who wasn’t part his version of the main stream. Somehow, he made the obvious character flaws (inability to be pleasant, competent, brave, truthful) into things that the ordinary people could relate to (it still astounds me whenever people tell me that Trump tells it like it is when he’s openly collecting money for charity and then using the money to enrich himself.)

You could say that the events that took place in Charlottesville was the chance for Mr. Trump to prove to the world that he was more than the narcistic clown who had conned the American people. Instead, of choosing leadership and being as tough as he had sounded on North Korean missile threats, he decided to take the easy way out by condemning the hatred on “so many sides,” and then said somethings about how “ideally, we should love each other.”

It didn’t help that David Duke, the leader of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization that was founded on the premise of destroying black people, happily got plenty of air-time telling the world that he and his ilk got Donald Trump elected. More on Mr. Duke’s positions can be found at -  https://www.vox.com/2017/8/12/16138358/charlottesville-protests-david-duke-kkk
And

To put it crudely, Mr. Duke had chosen to commit an act of domestic terrorism and he had gotten away with it and even got the type of air time that the likes of Osama Bin Ladin could only have hoped for. The clan members, Nazis and other pleasant people at the protest took their chances to attack anyone who was of a different skin colour, Jews and even members of the clergy (which is ironic considering many of these groups consider themselves Christian. An example of the violence can be found at:  https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2017/aug/13/fatality-car-attack-anti-fascist-white-supremacist-rally-charlottesville-video-report

And


This was perhaps the worst in “White America.” The question of how this group of people who once claimed to have “saved the world from Nazis” be the actual Nazis themselves.

Having said that, there were great moments that were inspiring and saw the best of humanity come out. Let’s start with the most obvious – political leadership. If Trump didn’t have the courage to call out the worst in humanity, Governor Terry McAuliffe showed plenty of it when he told the “alt-right “ that their racism had no place and they were neither patriotic or American. This is what Donald Trump in a higher office should have said. The Governor did what a President should have done – told the world that there was no place for bigotry in a nation founded on the premise of giving everyone opportunity.

More of Governor McAuliffe’s speech can be found at:  http://time.com/4898560/virginia-governor-terry-mcauliffe-church-speech-transcript/

What was especially encouraging was to hear a lifelong Republican, who served under George W Bush (a President I loathed for his policies in the Middle East) denouncing the “alt-right” supporters and advisors of Mr. Trump for being unAmerican -you can hear his disgust at sight of the KKK and its ilk at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rO029In3oiI&feature=share

While White America was on the side of the devils, it was also on the side of the angels. The woman who gave her life was called Heather Heyer, a White American who chose to stand up to bullies and to fight for the victims. More on Ms. Heyer can be found at http://buzz.blog.ajc.com/2017/08/13/fundraiser-for-family-of-charlottesville-victim-heather-heyer-nets-42k/

I am emotionally involved in this. While I haven’t been to America in nearly half a decade and I don’t really do much with America in my daily life, America is the nation that gave me two great blessings – my stepdad Lee and his family and my step mum, Nora and her family. These are the families from “White America” that accepted me and took me for who I am. They helped to nurture me into the person that I am today. I like to believe that America, for all its faults, is a land of decent people who accepted people from around the world as one of their own (I do make the point that it’s the part of America that accepted people from around the world as their own that prospered).

The families from “White America” that touched me are the ones that remind me that Americans are intrinsically a decent people and it’s hard to look the KKK ilk and think of them as being “Americans.” I don’t recognize them as American and yet I have to acknowledge that they are sitting in America.


I can only pray that this Nation of Decent people triumphs over the likes of David Duke and condemns them to the dustbins of history quickly. 

Monday, August 07, 2017

What’s Next for Singapore?

Since National Day is only two-days ahead, I thought I would try and bash out a few thoughts on a topic which should be on the minds of every right-thinking Singaporean – namely, what is it that we want our little nation to be?

Image result for national day 2017
I’ve somehow avoided this topic for the last 12-years because, for all my complaints about Singapore, it’s been pretty much the “Celestial Kingdom.” I never tire of saying this but Singapore is pretty much what a city should be – rich, green and clean. Our crime rates are low and as long as you’re reasonably intelligent, you can get by. It’s been as if we got one formula right at the start and everyone after that just needed to follow the proven script. If you don’t believe me, just ask yourself – “When was the last time you heard the Singapore Government come out with a vision for the nation?” There’s plenty of talk about how to grow the economy but we haven’t exactly heard anyone talk about what they want for the nation.

I can say with all honesty that I’ve never thought much of the question of what I want Singapore to be. Like my fellow citizens, I’ve merely been following the path of just making a living and avoiding getting into any trouble. However, now that fatherhood to a teenager has become part of my life, the question has suddenly become important and why shouldn’t it – this is, after all, the ONLY country that I have an obligation to die for.

I guess we should start with what I hope never changes, which is for Singapore to remain a safe little red dot that remains open to the world.
Safety is something I never fully appreciated until I became a father of a teenage girl. I’ve lived in London, which is generally pretty safe and I’ve visited big American cities like New York and Chicago. While I’ve never experienced anything really nasty, there are parts of those cities that I wouldn’t walk in. I remember getting lost in “California Avenue” in Chicago with a best friend of mine who was driving a sports car. We were running low on gas but we drove on till we got the hell out of there – the local residents didn’t exactly look like they were going to let us keep the car if we got out.

You don’t get that feeling even in Singapore’s neighbourhoods. I remember a US Navy boy asking me if Geylang was our worst neighbourhood and when I replied that it was, he invited me to the States to show me what a bad neighbourhood was.

Image result for Geylang
This is officially a bad neighbourhood in Singapore


I hope that aspect of Singapore remains in perpetuity. I can live with a slowing economy but I don’t want to live in a place where I worry for my safety or more importantly not being able to sleep because I’m worried that my little girl hasn’t come home yet. One of my favourite Englishmen tells people, “Singapore is the freest place in the world – the safety it provides makes me feel free.”
I also want Singapore to be a place where we continue to accept people from all over the world. I love the fact that we remain a place where you see people of various shades walking around and having fun together. 

I love the fact that I can walk around and find a mosque, church and a temple side by side and worshipers popping into each other’s place of worship for a friendly nod to the divine. To my mind, God is everywhere and nothing is Godlier that human beings acknowledging him in all his various forms. I pray that we will remain the place where a Hindu temple is crowded with Taoist devotees worshiping the Hindu Gods outside. This is the way it should be. I want Singapore to always be the place where a Buddhist can enter a church and a Christian family will observe Hindu rights and Muslims celebrate Christmas.

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The Way it Should Be.

What would I change about Singapore? One of my biggest frustrations with life in Singapore lies in the fact that the minds of people tend to be preconditioned to look at the world in a certain way. Admittedly, it’s something that you could say about any other part of the world but I guess, since I live in Singapore I feel it the most here.

One of the most prominent examples of this “preconditioning” comes in the area of race. For all our talk about being a “multi-racial” society, we are shockingly racist. I go back to my favourite Englishman who tells me that when his son when to apply for a job at F1, it was quite noticeable that anyone who was white or yellow ended up as an usher while anyone who happened to be brown or black ended up on cleaning duty. I’ve refused to take up certain positions because what I was being offered was significantly lower than my predecessors and my colleagues have defended the discrepancy in what was being offered because the other person was of a lighter shade.

The other area that frustrates me about Singapore is that it can be an unforgiving place for people who don’t follow the prescribed cast system. I speak as someone who never had a conventional career path of going into the government or the government and decided to do his or her own thing. My own people could never look beyond the fact that I never took the position that New York or London were essential to global prosperity. For me, it was the companies from places like Dhaman (Saudi) or Chennai (India), that gave me a chance and I guess you could say I’m biased but I’m willing to give people outside the established order a chance because they gave me a chance.

It's like this, I applaud the fact that we welcome people from the third world to work here. However, if those people from the third world become uppity and try and go beyond the menial job we gave them, we don’t like it.

We need to be the place where second acts are celebrated. On my Facebook page, I’ve linked up with a few of the girls who worked at the bar that I drink at. They’ve gone back to the Philippines and reinvented themselves as online entrepreneurs. They came here with not very much and gone back as entrepreneurs.

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An example of the Capitalist Success Story of a Girl with Hunger

While I celebrate their success, I ask myself, why can’t we encourage them to start their second act in life here?

As well as celebrating the success of migrants, we should also be the place that encourages second acts amongst our mid-career professionals. We succeeded by producing the people who could work in one job and at one thing. So, as the world becomes more fluid, we should now focus on being the place where second acts take place and succeed. Would Ray Kroc, a milkshake mixer sales man at the age of 60 plus or Colonel Harland Sanders a washed out cook in his 60s get their second acts as restaurant owners in Singapore. The answer should be – why not.


Majullah Singapura. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Put Faith in Science

I was delighted to read “Marmite may be brain food: Study” (5 April 2017) because the article brought home an important point about how we approach many of the issues – letting the science speak for itself.
 Image result for Brain food
Marmite, like many things in life is more than just an item that we eat. It is something that defines us in an emotional manner. You either love marmite or you loath it. Both sides have plenty of reasons to support their arguments and somehow, if one speaks to one side about the other’s argument, they will inevitably ignore the points that the other side is trying to make. Thankfully, in this instance, the science has been allowed to speak for itself – it has now been established that marmite will not harm you and may even be good for you. This fact won’t change the mind of those who loath marmite but it will allow people who enjoy marmite to do so without government interference.


Unfortunately, letting the science speak for itself is not an approach that applies to everything. Take the example of alcohol and cigarette consumption. Everyone agrees that alcohol and tobacco consumption are bad for you is bad for you and nobody complains when governments raise taxes of alcohol and tobacco and places restrictions on their consumption. Yet, despite all of the efforts to curb alcohol and tobacco consumption, those who love to smoke and drink continue to do so.
 Image result for Heavy Booze
Surely the approach to alcohol and tobacco consumption is to “create” science to find a way that allows those who enjoy alcohol and tobacco consumption to continue to do so in a way that minimizes harm to the user and eliminates harm to innocent bystanders. If we can send people to the moon, surely, we can find a way for people to drink and enjoy the pleasures of drinking without the risk of them becoming a danger if they get behind the wheels of car. If we can get people to live underwater, surely, we can find a way for people to smoke without putting the rest of us at risk?
 Related image
As much as the tobacco companies are unlikeable, they’re trying to come up with ways that that smokers can smoke without damaging the rest of us. Unfortunately, few governments around the world are trying to encourage the tobacco companies create science. Smoking remains an emotional issue guided by emotional responses.

There are, however, encouraging signs. New Zealand recently allowed the use of e-cigarettes in effort cut smoking rates and respected international bodies like the Royal College of Physicians in the UK have argued that science points out that this is the way to go.

One might argue that the science is not conclusive. However, instead of doing the draconian thing, surely the thing to do is to encourage all sides to create more science until there’s a clear direction. Both the tobacco and alcohol companies have made millions selling harm. Surely, its time they returned the money though investment in science and research to create better paying jobs for the rest of us.



Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Beauty is the Mouth of the Complainer

I got to admit it, I am total cad when it comes to beauty contest – I love watching them. As a heterosexual man, I like looking at women walking around in not very much. Then, there’s the anthropologist, sociologist in me, which enjoys something more – the reaction of the public towards these contests and what it says about them.

Beauty contest evoke a host of emotions in people. You have the brigade that hates them, arguing that beauty contest degrades women to the lowest common denominator (Let’s not forget that the Miss Universe Pageant was once owned by Donald Trump). Then you have the extreme end, the societies that take pride in them. Venezuela, for example takes so much pride in the fact that it has produced more “Miss Universes” than anyone else and has established a school just train girls to get through the pageant.

While I do admit that Beauty Contest are shallow and superficial, I believe that they have their uses. Just as sports has been used to raise boys from the streets into well to do heroes, beauty contest can do the same for girls. Conservative India for example, celebrates the various Miss’s by turning them into Bollywood starlets. As well as producing a great number of pageant winners, Venezuela produced the woman who won the grown and gave the world a first-hand account of what the soon to be US President is https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/30/alicia-machado-donald-trump-backlash-smear)

While places like Venezuela and India use the pageant to get its girls onto better things, we in Singapore do something entirely different. No, we don’t attach the pageant for being a sexist relic. We merely set up the girls who enter the contest for a royal roasting. Where one would expect men to have sympathy for women who willingly parade in swimsuits, here in Singapore …..well just read the comments in the  following links:



Sure, I understand that we’re a society that doesn’t value the beauty pageant winner the way Venezuela does. I can understand that we’re a more conservative society where the girls considered “beautiful” don’t enter beauty pageants (once again, I don’t think Singapore can claim to be more conservative than India). – But do we really have to take so much delight in being so mean.

Sure, some of our beauty queens deserve the roasting they get. I think of Miss Ris Low, the 2009 winner of Miss World Singapore, who proceeded to give a lesson in how to turn people off while possessing a decent body in a bikini by giving an interview on internet TV ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5F74FZfdSJY) and then getting caught shoplifting and committing credit card fraud.


Now, Miss. Low is back. She no longer looks like this:

Image result for Ris Low

She now looks like: 

Image result for Ris Low

However, she’s learnt how to speak properly (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3bGVHh3ifw) and somehow she’s managed to use her infamy to propel herself into different things.

While Ms. Low deserved her online roasting, many of our other beauty queens have been decent representatives of the country and projected a respectable image of what a beautiful Singaporean woman should look like. I was particularly fond of Nuraliza Osman, our 2002 winner, who happens to be a senior legal counsel at Shell. Another beauty that comes to mind Eunice Olsen, who became a nominated member of parliament (a job I would love to have). I’ve also had the privilege of meeting with Dr. Cheryl Tay, who was the 2005 winner and a vet (brains and a good heart – girl who loves animals).

What makes girls like these join the pageant? Surely you can’t say any of these ladies are lacking in the brain department nor can you say that they were coerced into the joining the pageant.

Which leads to the main point here – we may like beauty pageants for being shallow and superficial but we don’t have to mean spirited about the girls who enter the pageants. We should accept that a woman has the right to define beauty in her own way and we should celebrate that women with brains have the conscious choice to enjoy these pageants.

As for the guys who are complaining about the girls in the competition – I’m reminded of what my favourite flesh ball once said – “Eh, you think you very handsome ah!”  

Thursday, July 06, 2017

What is the Purpose of 377A?

I couldn’t agree more with writer of “Repeal of 377A won’t automatically change people’s minds” (Today Newspaper 21 March 2017). The writer has rightfully argued that it takes time to achieve a change in social attitudes than it does a change in legal statutes. Repealing 377A won’t make the general public any more accepting of homosexuality overnight.

What the writer and other writers did not address is the question of who does 377A protect. Why do we insist on criminalizing a particular sexual act when we have legitimized almost every other sexual act?

If one looks at laws governing sexual activity, one will notice that the key word is consent. As long as both parties are deemed capable of consent to a sexual act it is legal. If one party is deemed unable to give consent it is not. Rape is not legal because one party did not consent - a inconvenient fact that Professor Thio Li-Ann failed to take into consideration in her infamous 2007 speech to parliament when she urged Singapore's MP's to "Reject the argument of consent" citing it as morally bankrupt. I'm surprised that nobody has called the good professor out on this fact.  

The other area that governs most sexual acts is the question of where they take place. A sexual act in public is a criminal offense because it disturbs the public while an act in the bedroom does not.

So, given these two general facts, why is 377A on the statute books? Who does this law serve? In her 2007 speech, Professor Thio Li-Ann argued that keeping 377A served to protect the national interest. However, Professor Thio did not provide conclusive evidence of how the law protected the national interest.

Take, for example, the most obvious – public health and safety. It can be argued that participating in anal sex increases the risk of catching HIV/AIDS. However, while this may be the case, why is it legal for a heterosexual couple to engage in anal sex while it is not for homosexuals. Are we to say that the law is in favour of protecting homosexuals and not heterosexuals from the possibilities of catching sexually transmitted diseases?

Professor Thio did argue that homosexuals tend to live more promiscuous lifestyles, hence it was in the public interest to keep 377A. While 377A criminalises the act of anal sex between men, it does not criminalise promiscuity. Unless Professor Thio is able to provide scientific evidence linking the act of anal sex between men and promiscuous behavior, it’s hard to see how the act protects anyone in this respect. Furthermore, the Ministry of Health’s statistics would on HIV infections have shown that HIV/AIDS has long since ceased to be a homosexual disease.

There is an argument that people disapprove of homosexual behavior. However, once again there is no evidence to suggest that people believe that something they disapprove of should be illegal.

The topic of 377A creates many passions. However, nobody seems to have asked who the law protects. It would be in the national interest to have an evidence based explanation. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Best School I Went to

My Dad is going to shoot me for blogging this but I’m going to state that the single best school that I attended was School of Infantry Specialist or SISPEC as it was commonly known (SISPEC has since been rebranded as SCS or Specialist Cadet School). This is the school that dad didn’t have to pay king’s ransom for and it wasn’t the school that gave me the prestige of being a “Graduate from England.” It was the school that prepared me best for life.

It’s not to say that I didn’t value my time at Churcher’s College or Goldsmith’s College (In Arty Circles, the Great Art School of the University of London.) Goldsmith’s was great or should I say, it gave me the great experience of living in one of the greatest cities in human history – “The London Experience.” I also have great affection for Churcher’s College, a place where I have many happy memories and where I made some of my best friends.

While Churcher’s and Goldsmith’s were great for the academic training and prestige value, they didn’t quite expose me to the life that I was to have. While Churcher’s was by no means a major league public school, those of us who attended all came from a similar socio-economic background and we were basically a group of nice kids and it was understood that we would all be going to university. Goldsmith’s was like a bubble where you could hide from the realities of daily life.

SISPEC on the other hand was brutal. We all came from different socio-economic backgrounds and saw life from different sides of the road. My best friends included the Chinese speaking son of a fishmonger, who was raised by a single parent and the son of the plastic bag tycoon. Somehow, we had a find a way of gelling together.

SISPEC was supposed to train us how to “LEAD.” It was about getting guys who didn’t always feel like cooperating (or in some cases, thought fucking you up was a sport) and to add fuel to the fire, you had the superiors who weren’t exactly keen on making your life easier either. Somehow, between all of that, you had to find a way of getting things done.
One of my former officers described SAFTI OCS as the best leadership school in the East. Officers spend nearly a year learning how to lead. In the Singapore system, the NCO’s or “Specialist” as we’re known, are there for our “knowledge” of a particular topic. So, in a sense OCS might be a better leadership school than SISPEC.

However, being an officer is relatively simple in the sense that you’re part of management. Your job is to provide “leadership” and there are plenty of cooperative subordinates to do things for you. I remember reading a manual for NCO’s published by the American army, which tells a wonderful story. It involves a major, a few second lieutenants and a sergeant-major. The major asks the second lieutenants to put up a flag pole and the young officers spend hours trying to figure it out. After watching them struggle, the major offers to show them how to get it done. He turns to the sergeant-major and says, “Sargent-Major, please see that the flag pole is up by sun rise tomorrow.”
This story is the perfectly illustrates the difference between being part of the team that plans things and the team that has to execute things. As an NCO (or Specialist, as Singapore insist on calling them), your job is basically to get the basic unit to execute things. While you have some leadership authority, you are primarily the bridge between the boardroom and the shop floor. An officer has the advantage of a rank that says he’s entitled to lead. There is that distance between you and the men to say that you are the boss.

The NCO doesn’t always have that luxury. You have to be close to the men so that they feel compelled to do what you say but you also need to except orders.

In later life and having worked several industries (PR, advertising, insolvency, food and beverage and retail), I’ve noticed that the key skill is the ability to manage people.

One of the key problems with management is that it’s constantly presented as a top down thing. You are told that you manage when you can get your subordinates to do things. The thing that management schools generally fail to teach you is the need to manage up or “boss management.”

As an NCO in a military unit, you got to be able to command your specific unit but you also have to learn how to manage your bosses and believe me – you have plenty. In professional armies like the USA and UK, an NCO has to manage the men and very often his boss – the young officer, who in many cases is often young enough to be his son. Learning how to tell your boss he’s a total idiot in such a way that he understands and does something about it while still showing the proper deference is a skill. In corporate sector, the easy way out is to avoid telling your boss there’s a failing.  In the military, where you deal with lives in life-ending situations, it’s irresponsible not to acquire the skill.  

I’m not saying that SISPEC taught these skills perfectly but the experience made one aware of the need to acquire such skills.

In my current existence, I find myself learning to manage. I am essentially a bridge between various competing interests like bosses, clients, staff, colleagues, suppliers and so on. I don’t always do it perfectly, but the experience of going through SISPEC (nearly 30-years later) made life easier.
National Service wasn’t something I wanted to do. The job was forced upon me. However, when I look back, I’m grateful to the experience. It was wonderful preparation for later life.