Saturday, December 31, 2005

End of a season

As the year draws to a close, reminiscing is a natural and useful exercise. It calls to mind the significant events of the year and how they may have affected yourself. Perhaps you have grown a little more, not only physically, but more so, mentally and spiritually.

For me, as for many in the South and Southeast Asia region, the Tsunami brought home the uncertainties that life often springs on us. One moment you are having fun in the sun - something that you may have done for the umpteenth time. But unexpectedly, just on that one occasion when nobody expected it, that trip turns into a nightmare. What impressed me throughout this event was the manner in which the world opened its wallet and heart to the victims of this tragedy. I understand that the amount of money pledged and collected is unprecedented. Which is why givers of charity must be the 'Person of the Year 2005'.

The US also demonstrated that it can not only launch a military invasion, but its very same military hardware built for war can be used for mercy missions, such as bringing much needed food and necessities to the people in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, who lived through the storm of the seaquake and tsunami. Significantly, the Acehnese 'rebels' fighting for autonomy for so long, laid down their weapons to re-build a more permanent home devastated by the tsunami. There is nothing like a disaster to bring home the truth that we are all humans and depend on each other. Fighting each other is futile.

Other disasters also happened - Katrina lashed the shores of New Orleans, making many homeless and destroying an erstwhile thriving tourist sector. The Pakistan earthquake, where many complained the world did not open its wallet enough, compared to the Asia tsunami. Some were man-made. Terrorists continue to hold the world hostage. Bombs are still going off, in Iraq, in Bali, in Thailand, in Pakistan... Hopefully, this will stop as the religion of hate cannot last.

Closer to home, Singaporeans woke up to the fact that the NKF - a charity hitherto supported widely in Singapore for Kidney patients, had mis-used and abused the implicit trust of its donors and supporters in high places. As the year draws to a close, it looks likely that its senior management will be hauled to court for various mis-demeanors. In a 'squeaky clean' Singapore, this has brought into focus the issue of corruption - something that Singaporeans are used to reading about in other lands, but never expect to happen in its own back yard. And then there was SAVH (Singapore Association for the Visually Handicapped), which also suffered from questionable corporate governance practices...

Last, but certainly not least, I started blogging this year. Not that its anything new to me. I have kept journals (or diaries as its call then) since I was in Secondary school, at the instigation of my brother, who ironically, isn't a habitual reader/writer. Those diaries, with the juvenile handwriting, are still with me. I had read of blogging several years ago, but I am not a early adopter. I jump in when somebody has beaten out a clear path and when I think it makes any sense to do so. I am learning something new everyday.

So goodbye, adie, auf wiedersehen, au revoir, ciao, Sa-was-dee, zai-jian, Baai baai, Selamat sejahtera, Sizobonana, Ambera, Lòi chào xin cào biêt, Paalom na po, Valete, Annyong-hi kashipshio, Choum reap lia, Sayonara, Sugeng tindak, Daa daa, Caó mun'g chè, Nau'to twibaounme, Aloha, Shalom...

In the New Year, I hope to learn more...

Monday, December 26, 2005

The love of money

One of the most unpleasant and ugly news reported over the last one week on this tiny island nation of Singapore is the continuing investigations and final report over the shananigans of the old National Kidney Foundation (old NKF). I was away on holiday when the report first broke on Monday, 19th December 2005 and was reported in detail in the local press the next day. Of course, I didn't read any of these reports as the Malaysia press wasn't all that interested. So the first instance I came back, I read through Today's online edition (www.todayonline.com) and later got hold of the Tuesday's print edition of the Straits Times to follow up on the 'gory' details. Somehow, these stories make for great reading, although the ugly details are sad and unpleasant.

Among the many facts exposed, the most shocking must be that only 10% of all donations ever received went directly to the patients. The other 90% went to various parties such as A&P, operations and salaries that would make anyone blush. Some of that was my money. Indeed, the old NKF and the top people who ran it had lost their moral compass, as the Health Minister said. They had simply become greedy and self-indulgent, which reminds me of the words of Paul the Apostle when he wrote in 1 Timothy 6:10 -

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.


How very true then. How true now. And it will remain true as this sad story of the old NKF will be repeated because greed will never be eradicated.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

A different Christmas

Somehow, this Christmas is different. In the first place, I plain forgot about unpacking my faux Christmas tree and spending time decorating it. My wife and son did not remind me at all. When I did remember, I thought it was too much trouble as Christmas is just a couple of days away, so difference no. 1 - no Christmas tree.

Difference no. 2 - too many dinners - first it was last evening at mother's and now, this evening, with my mother-in-law's. Tomorrow, there is a Church mini-banquet right after worship service, and in 5 day's time, a New Year dinner. How can anybody lose weight given such a proliferation of meals? But I must be thankful, knowing that there are many peoples in many lands where getting a meal is a struggle. So as we feast on this occasion, let us be humble and acknowledge the grace that God has given us.

I used to spend Christmas caroling with the Church, and well into midnight at that. More time was spent in Church preparing for this occasion, as well as Christmas service on Christmas day. There certainly was a lot more 'spirituality' surrounding the occasion then, compared to now. Well, I suppose that's what happens when Christmas day falls on a Sunday. Difference no. 3.

I'm not complaining though. It is enough to know and rejoice in the fact that God so loved the world that he has sent his only begotten Son into the world to save sinners. (John 3.16).

Glory to God in the highest. Amen

Friday, December 23, 2005

Charity makes the world go round

Well, I wasn't wrong after all. While none of my nominees received a direct mentioned in Time's Person of the Year 2005 award, I did nominate charity. Time awarded the accolade to 3 people for the good work they have done with the huge amount of money they have made over the years - Bono, Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda. And this is the reason they won:

For being shrewd about doing good, for rewiring politics and re-engineering justice, for making mercy smarter and hope strategic and then daring the rest of us to follow, Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono are TIME's Persons of the Year.

Time went one to make the point that there has been a lot of giving in 2005 by Americans towards the tsunami relief (some US$1.6 billion) and Hurrican Katrina disaster. Time forgot to mention that Asia also gave millions to its own. Bono and the Gates, I suppose, epitomizes the generosity and compassion that people have demonstrated for others who are caught in situations beyond their control and where charity is indeed a life-saver.

To all the givers in 2005, I toast you, for you have demonstrated the true meaning of the reality of the global village.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I'm on my way!

No, no, not on my way up north to Malacca. That'll have to wait another 4 days. What I mean is that I am now typing this entry on my Notebook PC which is connected wirelessly to my Linksys router. No, that's not remarkable. What is remarkable is that I am running on Knoppix 4.0 'Live' O/S. As any Linux newbie will tell you, it is not easy to get your wireless running on Linux, if only because the wireless drivers are mostly written for Windows O/S. There just aren't that many native Linux drivers for wireless cards.

Which reminds me, more than 10 years ago, I had already started to tinker with Linux, so I am not such a newbie after all. Then the Linux distribution wasn't so prolific as today. Redhat was reputedly the best for a newbie then, so I bought a thick Redhat book, rolled up my sleeves and tried to install Linux. That was an ambitious undertaking. To cut a long story short, I did get Redhat working, but was annoyed that the soundcard did not work. I read up a bit more and found that this was a general problem with Linux on x86/88 PCs. Silence wasn't my cup of tea, so I left Linux alone (yeah, I abandoned it) and went back to Windows.

Sorry for the digression, nostalgia has an effect on the thought process...Now, while the sound problem has largely been addressed, its the wireless that has taken the place of sound as the notoriously difficult thing to get working...until Linux Format (LXF74) explained to me in a short column to use ndiswrapper. That column started me off and after a couple of hours experimenting (spread over several days), I've done it! The wireless is working, and that's why I am on my way to techno heaven!

P.S. Well, actually, there's a lot written about this subject on related Linux forums on the Internet. That helped too, but the article in Linux Format was clear and simple. Can't get any better than that.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A new fox that's still not foxy enough

Firefox 1.5 was released recently. Like everyone else, I downloaded it to replace my aging 1.07 Firefox.

UI-wise, nothing much as changed except the Tools->Options. Some re-organisation of the options in here, but nothing new that excites.

There is now a separate Tools->Clear Private Data menu item so you can now quickly erase whatever you don't want left behind in your PC.

Otherwise, I believe that all other enhancements are under the hood, in CSS, etc.

But one thing that still hasn't been resolved are some compatibility issues with Blogger.com. Funny thing this - Blogger.com is favoured very much by Google, which strongly pushes Firefox. Hmmm...something doesn't look right here. Google and friends have still some way to go making software interoperate. Who knows, when they do do so, they'd become Goo$le? Just a thought.

More on Firefox 1.5.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

War of the software worlds

Microsoft and Google seems to have had a major falling out (I'm not sure they fell into each other's arms in the first place, so that phrase may not be valid).

In a further sign of this animosity, Google is now promoting the Firefox browser aggressively through its Adsense program. If it succeeds, it will further erode Microsoft's share of the browser market - i.e. till its IE 7.x makes it appearance. This is scheduled some time early next year, when its Windows Vista is officially launched. The odd thing is, Google doesn't own Firefox - at least not yet - and it is therefore remarkable that it should put the full weight of its extensive Adsense program behind something it doesn't own, and therefore has no commercial interest in.

As far as end-users are concerned, this is an exciting development because it will signal major innovative effort in enhancing the features of the browsers, which has so far stagnated under IE due perhaps to its dominant market position.

Let's wait and see. Excitement in the horizon...

Saturday, December 03, 2005

For whom the bells toll

Convicted drug smuggler, Nguyen Tuong Van, was hanged in Changi Prison yesterday. He suffered the ultimate penalty for smuggling drugs through Singapore - a country that has little, if any, tolerance for this kind of criminal activity. On the other hand, it was reported that vigils were held in cities around Australia, with bells and gongs sounding 25 times at the hour of his execution.

In the past couple of months, his fellow Australians have lobbied long and loud for clemency. This is remarkable, given that Nguyen Tuong Van was a Vietnamese who became a Australian citizen. Some parts of Australian society have been known for their racist attitudes, from the political sphere downwards. Yet in this episode, nearly half of the country spoke out for him - and it isn't as if he has done Australia great service of any sort. Australians can certainly hold their heads high. This incident has demonstrated that Australia is a society full of compassion and backs it up with action - to the discomfort and soul-searching of its Singapore counterparts. But compassion alone is not enough to administer a country well and to protect its people effectively.

It is naive to expect different countries and societies to always agree with one's point of view, or that it will change its laws overnight. While the Australians see the death penalty as barbaric, Singapore sees it as a regrettable but necessary action that is for the greater good. Calling Singapore names is the last thing that thinking, rational and humane societies should do. Exaggeration of the sort that Julian McMahon, one of his Australian lawyers, made (that Nguyen was "completely rehabilitated, completely reformed, completely focused on doing what is good...") does not give any credibility to him, nor the Australian, position at all. After all, how green can a green plant be?

It is done. No matter what our views on the matter, and how strong they may be, let drug runners beware - there is no escape in Singapore if you intend to carry illicit drugs, which only purpose is to kill and destroy families, through its soil.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Gift from above

There has been as lot of discussion in the local press about the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) that Singapore schools have been running for the last 20 years. The problem, it seems, is that GEPers have formed cliques and socialise among like minded ones to the exclusion of the rest. This has given rise to a backlash of sorts from the 'ordinary' folks who think that GEPers may have an attitude problem.

Well, some time ago, my son took a test to determine if he was 'gifted'. This test is available to all primary school students. As it turned out, my son wasn't qualified to be included in this haloed company, so that was that. Reading the comments from the papers these days about this gifted species, I am glad that he was not found to be gifted. Imagine my having to go back to school at my age, making sure that the additional school work is done, counselling them and encouraging them...gosh, I would have lost my life to make his gifts more striking. So no thanks.

Which leads me to thinking whether one needs to be gifted to be successful in life. And the answer, obviously is 'No'. Of course some of the philosophically inclined would want to engage me in a discussion on the definition of the term and what constitutes success. Well, I'm not really interested. Suffice to say that if my son grows up to be a responsible, honest and hardworking person, that's success enough. All that I ever possess comes from above. As the Bible says, to those that are given more, more will be expected, to those given less, less is expected.

Let each and everyone live a life that improves the community and glorifies his Maker.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Broad or brief?

It has been reported that many newspapers have been changing from Broadsheet formats to Tabloid formats, for example, the Asian Wall Street Journal. In Singapore, the main English language paper (the one with the highest circulation) is sticking to its broadsheet format although some have questioned whether it should not change that format. Its closest competitor, Today, published by Mediacorp, has been a tabloid from day 1, and it is making money despite it being distributed free of charge.

I must admit that after more than a year on Today's diet, I am getting rather weary with Broadsheets. I find myself getting very impatient with news reported in the Straits Times nowadays because the stories are just *too long*. It used to be that I would devour the paper from cover to cover and read the stories from beginning to end. (hmmm...don't these 2 expressions mean the same thing?) I think I am getting spoilt on tabloids.

The other reason is that my daily diet of newspapers now consists solely of Today during weekdays. I don't read the Straits Times anymore on weekdays, though I still buy the paper on weekends (if only because Today is not published on Sundays). Actually, the reason I stopped reading the Straits Times is not because of free alternatives such as Today, though that plays a part. What really made me give up the Straits Times, which I have been reading for 30 years, is the last price increase of 20 cents a copy, from 60 cents (a whopping 33%). I could not reconcile this with good and free alternatives. Now I am used to not reading the Straits Times, although I must admit that it still has good content. But I just don't have time to read more than one paper.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Civilization that Raffles left behind

It is my routine to pick up the Today newspaper when I leave home from Sengkang every morning, to read while I travelled the subway to work. However, this week, I was travelling to downtown Singapore to attend a course, and Today had runned out at my usual pickup spot. Well, ok, I wouldn't suffer any withdrawal effects from not reading Today for one day. In any case, I had this fantastic book on Small Businesses with me to work into that morning.

However, I was pleasantly surprised that at 8.30am, when I emerged from the Raffles Place MRT (subway), Today was still being distributed. So I reached out to get a copy (its free, by the way). But so many others were just grabbing the paper that I never seem to be able to lay my hands on one. Being an educated person (ahem, smirk), I waited until somebody would yield and give me the chance to pick up my copy. But no, nobody was interested in me, nobody gave a d*n. It was as if I was invisible!

Well, if that's the way this game was played, I'll join in, since I obviously couldn't beat the vultures. So I grabbed a paper, but lo and behold, somebody else grabbed it at the same time, so we ended up holding two ends of the same paper. Sheesh, its not as if this is gold, you know, so I let go. I tell you, it was quite an effort to pick up just one copy of the paper there that morning. It was an entirely unpleasant experience.

This was the first time I returned to that Mecca of capitalism (i.e. the center of the business district in downtown Singapore) after an absence of about 3 years. I will not be carrying away with me any longing or fondness for that place nor the people that commute there everyday. Its so 'uncivilised'.

It goes to show how free things can bring out the worst in people.

P.S. For those of you reading this and live outside of Singapore, don't get the wrong impression. Singapore, by and large, is a pleasant and interesting place. But sometimes it is these behaviour that spoils the proverbial broth.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The spy who blogged me

It was reported in yesterday's Sunday Times (the Sunday paper of the Singapore Straits Times) that several Singapore bloggers were told to remove their blogs because they had posted pictures of their recent army training stint in them. One of these bloggers goes by the moniker, Miyagi, and is supposedly a popular blogger. He writes a column for the Today newspaper, a Singapore tabloid, where he discusses blogs that others write. The people who issued this take-down order was the Ministry of Defence. The reason - that the photos in these blogs (and I understand there were quite a few) are potential sources of information for terrorists who may be scanning the environment, especially those of the Defence Forces' training grounds. Terrorists have only one thing in mind - terror and destruction - so the photo blogs had to go. Some people might think this is being paranoid, but I am reminded again of what Andy Grove once warned: "Only the paranoid survives".

I would have thought that these bloggers had greater sense than to put up such photographs in the first place, never mind that there is probably great pride in showing off their, ahem, man-hood to the world.

The repercussion of this is that the Singapore Civil Service will probably issue a circular to the effect that civil servants must declare their blogs (if they have one), and that these blogs must henceforth following certain guidelines. Well, no thanks, Miyagi. You have just inadvertently contributed to the gagging of the blogger community of which you write about.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Excuse me, are you British?

My family and I (just the three of us) plus my son's Uncle, who is only one year older than him, saw Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on Saturday. This is the newest (and some say the last) of the Harry Potter books to be made into a movie - at least for those starring the current actors. It seems to me that the stories remain engrossing and entertaining, given my son's wish to re-read the Half-blood Prince (after less than a month of first reading it).

Never having read the book before, this movie was intriguing, suspenseful and long - 2 and a half hours. Even then, it doesn't cover all the material in the book, as my son pointed out to me. The movie is worth the price of the ticket, which is S$9.50 a pop - weekend rate.

It just occurred to me that the most successful children's movies of the last few years that were made from an original book were all written by British authors. Joan K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter series, J.R.R. Tolkien for Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis for Chronicles of Narnia (well it hasn't screen yet, but its building up to a major release. We plan to watch that movie in December when it will be shown in cinemas). The Americans, on the other hand, has had more success in original movies such as Nemo, Bug's Tale, Madagascar, Star Wars etc., but their successes are perhaps not on the scale of these British effort. There is something to commend stories that come out first in book form, and then followed by a movie. The irony is that Tolkien and Lewis could never have imagined that their stories would one day garner such a strong following among children 50 years or thereabouts after they were first published.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Epilogos Person of the Year

Time magazine proudly pronounces a Person of the Year award (used to be called the Man of the Year award until they realised that they were missing half of the world) every year. Speculation always swirls around this naming event, and suggestions are often offered, ostensibly, to help Time's editors make up their minds. Well, I would like to contribute my 2 cents' worth. Nominees for the Epilogos Person of the Year 2005 award (EPOY 2005) are (in no specific order of merit/infamy):

1. Terrorist bomb makers (for redefining the use of fertilizers)
(Also up for EIOY - Epilogos Innovation of the Year, maybe even the Nobel Prize for Chemistry next)
2. The Almighty (for all the natural calamities)
3. Charities of the World (for showing very very very big hearts)
4. (Some) Charities in Singapore (for not being charitable with donated money)
5. George W. Bush (for better or worse)
6. Tony Blair (for his unfailing support of the EPOY. Huh?)
7. Ahmadinejad of Iran (for dreaming of pushing Israel into the Mediterranean sea)
8. Bloggers (for using up a record number of bytes to wash their linen in public)
9. Australian drug couriers (who can never shake off the habit)
10. Australian Parliamentarians - sans one (for supporting Australian drug couriers)
11. The Blind Lady of Singapore Justice (for being blind, what else?)
12. The Gordon Geckos of China (for being flushed with capitalist cash)
13. Chelsea Football Coach (for having a motor-mouth)
14. Saddam Hussein (it is a wonder he is still alive)
15. Dot coms (for resurrection from the dead)
16. Multi-functional Cellphone (for no more idleness in the loo. Ploint! Did something drop into the...?)

Well, ok, some of these are stretching the accolade a little, and some would be opposed, vehemently, to being nominated, as well as the reasons for it, and some would be appalled by my expression of levity over very serious issues, but the competition has never been so keen. In this upside down world, anybody/thing can be winners. Lets take a break, shall we?

P.S. I am sure I will not have problems clearing Australian customs now, unlike other countries like Vietnam, rr..rr..rright?

Friday, November 18, 2005

An eye for an eye?

By now, the infamous Iraqi woman whose failed attempt to set off a bomb in a Jordanian wedding party last week is well known. She is alleged to have said that the motive for her action was to avenge the killing of her three brothers and a brother-in-law by US forces stationed in Iraq. Little else, however, is reported about these alleged killings by US forces, but it would not be unreasonable to speculate that those who were killed were probably playing with fire in the first place. We do not know if these brothers were involved in opposing the US forces. Very likely they were.

But even if revenge was the motive, the target of this revenge was not the alleged 'killers', i.e. the US forces. Instead, she intended to kill Jordanians, whose only 'crime' was by association - i.e. Jordan's non-opposition to the US-led occupation of Iraq. Surely this is taking reason beyond reason, and more than an eye is demanded for an eye?

Thus terrorists kill without good reason, and their actions can in no way be defended at all.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Holey smokes! Singapore is burning too

From 1 October 2005, it is a civil offense to smoke in a Bus Interchange or Bus Stop in Singapore. Singapore, and generally pretty much elsewhere, is taking the enlightened step of banning smoking from an increasing number of public places.

I wait for buses every weekday at a bus stop just below the Dover MRT (an above ground subway train stop) station that fronts Singapore Polytechnic (a large post-secondary educational institution) in Singapore. Before 1 Oct 2005, students of this institution light up (their cigarettes of course) and smoke away at this bus stop as if there is no tomorrow. They cannot smoke in the MRT station nor the school grounds because its not allowed by the station authorities and the Polytechnic. There are personnel manning these stations as well as wardens policing the Polytechnic grounds. So poor people like us have had to endure frequent whiffs of smoke that float over while I stand as far as I can while waiting for the bus.

Singapore outlawed smoking at bus stops from 1 Oct 2005 - not a moment too soon, and I had the pleasure of telling a student off for lighting up beside me while I was waiting for the bus. Well, yesterday, a group of about 5 students were smoking away at the same spot, oblivious (or defiant) of the law of the land. The smoke was swirling among them that it looked like a smoking party, minus the pubs. I decided that 1 against 5 wasn't good odds for me, so I sat as far away as possible. Sigh, it would seem that nothing has changed, law or no law.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Paris burning

One of the biggest news these past two weeks or so has nothing to do with natural disasters - but they are disasters all the same. Paris has been burning, literally, with thousands of cars torched and public places such as schools damaged due to rampaging young French people of African descent. One would have thought that the statement that these youths are trying to make, if at all there is one, would have been made by these acts of destruction, but no, it continues and is spreading to the rest of Europe.

While I understand that these people may have genuine grievances, destroying property is hardly the right way to address their grievance. Well, yes, it will serve to highlight their plight - one of poverty and discrimination in a land of (supposedly) plenty (so I read) - but they will not gain sympathy at all. Instead, it has attracted others, who have raised the art of destruction and evasion through the use of handphone sms and all, to coordinate the burning and destroying. Hold on, did I mention handphones? Now how can anyone be deprived if they can own handphones? How can they be poor? I wonder what's happening?

I suppose that Europe is experiencing a wake-up call and they need to be deliberate about social issues that different peoples of different races present. Singapore has been very deliberate in this instance - often criticised by the 'West' for its suppressive policies, but they have worked to a certain extent in preventing the spill-over of disenchantment onto the streets. Issues are addressed proactively, as in the case of the jailing of bloggers who had written derogatively of other religions.

Like the Chinese say, lets keep (the shameful) things in the family to itself - "jia chou bu ke wai yang".

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Moving from a to z

I just changed my wireless pcmcia network card (i.e. a Notebook Card) from the 802.11b SMC card to a 802.11g Linksys card and, as the McDonald's people say, I'm loving it - for:

  1. The overall better stability. On the old card, the signal keeps getting dropped even though the connection is always indicated as Excellent. Its ironic that I get a more stable and faster connection now with the new g card even though the connection is indicated as low. This goes to show you can't trust some of these software / cards.
  2. The overall increased speed. Well, the new card is connected at 36mbps (it varies) compared to the constant 11mbps of the old card - and I love it.

The investment is minimal - just S$55. Some are retailing this at S$59 - S$62. You just need to shop around. Got it new (no second-hand stuff for me) at Fuwell in Sim Lim Square last Friday. I could only use it today because I forgot my account id and gateway address into my router, so I couldn't configure the card properly for the router. This happens with set-it-and-forget-it type of equipment - literally.

Well, you can see that I'm not the early adopter type. By now, 802.11g has been around for quite some time. My b card was given to me free (in a bundled purchase), so I was quite reluctant not to use it, so I used it - until I got fed-up with the dropped lines while I was blogging. Well, good riddance. Anybody looking for a b card?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Mixed-up relationships on a cruise?

While looking through tour packages for the year-end holidays, I came across this:


Now, this is going to be a very clean cruise, no hanky panky, you see. But I think the tour organisers have gone overboard this time when they suggested that singles can be married. Hmmm...I take back what I wrote in last Saturday's blog ;-)

Bloggers will understand that I do not wish to reveal the URL from where this originated. Let's have some fun, but not at the expense of others by identifying them. Suffice to say that it comes from a Singapore operator on a Singapore website. Now, now, I am not encouraging the perception of Singapore society as puritanical in any way, just that we desperately need to up our birth rates due to the alarming decline over the last couple of years. That's why singles are a special target. Ahem, I am not suggesting that certain activities oriented to certain groups are planned for on this cruise...

P.S. All these remind me of the hit TV series, the 'Love Boat', back in the 1980s.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Losing posts in blogger.com

I lost a blog post this morning on blogger.com! I was mad as h**l because I had to re-compose that blog entry all over. When I lost that post, I had already typed in a substantial amount of material! I don't know what's wrong with the blogger servers this morning. Every time I tried to save my post - and no less than 3 times - every time, blogger insisted that it cannot find the post and directed me back to the dashboard. Grrrr...made me re-type the whole blog all over...more grrrr... Well, I've learnt a few things:

  1. Never rely on IE to blog on blogger.com because when blogger reports an error, it'll move to another browser page to say it. Save your uncompleted blogs often. No amount of the 'Back' and 'Forward button would re-display your unsaved post. Use FireFox instead. Firefox pops up a window to report errors. Your unsaved post is still opened.

  2. Alternatively, use Blogger.com's MS Word blogging plugin. So far, I have not lost a single post at all using this method. Anyway, the post is stored on your PC so unless your hard disk crashes or you accidentally double deleted (that's a triple negative) your files, you will never lose what your wrote. But then, not everybody has MS Word.

  3. I have never tried e-mail blogging. Probably might want to try that some day.

The problem with moving away from IE is that blogger.com is programmed with IE in mind. So you cannot access certain blogger.com features in Firefox which you can in IE. Sigh, when will we ever get a truly standards compliant browser? I doubt IE7 will give us that. Sigh again...

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Semi-orphaned children

In my years as a teacher, I have come across several sad cases of how children, who are otherwise very bright, under-perform in their school work. Worst, some of these same children become infrequent in classes, and generally do not get on well with their fellow students.

In almost all of these cases, these children come from broken homes - homes where the father and mother are always quarrelling or who have separated or divorced, and still quarelling - over child custody and, possibly, cash. I do not pretend to understand the issues behind these, but it is enough to know that they are in very bad environment for a child to grow up in, even for 17 and 18 year-olds.

So, I can understand the concerns of social workers who are alarmed to learn that, in 2004, nearly 1.5 million babies were born to unmarried woman in the US. The statistics are startling:


By age group, almost 55% of the births for mothers ages 20-24 were to unmarried women. For those between 25-29, almost 28% of the births were to single women.

Teenagers, who accounted for 50% of unwed births in 1970, accounted for 24% of unwed births in 2004.

Source: USA Today


This seems to suggest that this trend is by choice because these groups of mothers are in their twenties - adults who are matured enough to think for themselves. This group of people tend also to have some financial means.

What happens today will affect the US in 16 years time, for that is when children become teenagers and start to exhibit the values they would have imbibed in such single-parent family environments. My concern is that it would likely be unpleasant for teachers then, if not society at large, further down the time-line.

I hope that Singaporeans do not go down this road. Otherwise, those who are still in the teaching profession will have their work cut out for them.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Australia's arrogance

Australia has been in the Asian press of late - all for the wrong reasons.

First it was about the Bali Nine - all Australian citizens - who were arrested in Denpasar on the Indonesia island of Bali on 17 April 2005. They stand accused of planning to smuggle 8.3kg of heroin valued at AUD$4 million from Indonesia to Australia. If convicted of drug trafficking they could receive the death penalty.

Second, there was Schapelle Leigh Corby, who was convicted, on 27 May 2005, of trafficking 4.1 kg of Cannabis into Indonesia. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison. This has been reduced to 15 years on appeal.

Third, on 21 August 2005, two Ecstasy pills were found in Australian model Michelle Leslie's Gucci handbag during a visit to the Indonesian island of Bali. She faces a maximum of 15 years in jail if convicted.

Singapore has already much earlier on dealt with another Australian. Nguyen Tuong Van was convicted in Singapore for smuggling 396.2 grams of diamorphine through Changi Airport. Unlike the previous three cases, Singapore law prescribed the death penalty. Nguyen failed in his clemency plea to the President of Singapore and now sits in a Singapore prison awaiting execution for his crime.

Ironically, the federal Parliament of Australia, with the assent of the Australian government, has passed a motion in Parliament calling on Singapore not to hang Nguyen. Given the propensity of Australians to engage in such illicit activities, I wonder if these learned Parliamentarians wish the trafficking to continue to feed and wreck the lives of not only the drug abusers, but also the lives of those around them? If their laws and their methods have failed to stem the flow of illegal drugs to Asia and beyond, what rights have they to launch such a motion?

This is the height of arrogance. However, I acknowledge Australian Liberal MP Wilson Tuckey's sensible defence of the execution sentence.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Lesson in non-violent defiance

Rosa Parks was laid to rest in Detroit, US, today. Many have, over the past couple of days, paid tribute to this simple lady and her simple act of defiance in 1955 that sparked the civil rights movement in America.

I am reminded by this occasion that democracy, freedom and liberty do not all come about in a single day. It is usually a process, and in America's case, it was a long process. Consider that Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on 1 Jan 1863. By 1955, 92 years later, the African Americans in the South had yet to gain real freedom from discrimination. It had to take another man, Dr Martin Luther King, and his death, for the cause of liberty to advance another step.

I am writing this to point out that a country may not have complete freedom and liberty today, but that does not mean that they will never attain these in time to come. So long as you have good, honest and sincere people working towards it in good faith and in a non-violent manner, it will eventually be achieved. It may take some time, but it will be achieved. In this respect, I am thinking of Myanmar (Burma), and yes, of Singapore, where there still remains a underlying concern with the lack of freedom of (political) expression.

But you must be 'IN' and not 'OUT' to effect change.

Farewell to Rosa Parks

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Thoughts and trends

Blogging is about penning your thoughts about life experiences and events happenning around and to us. Our experiences reflect the times in which we live, and our thoughts turn to events of the day. These experiences and thoughts can be as near as home, or, given the swiftness at which news are delivered today, as far as the other side of the world. Some events capture greater attention than others, naturally. Images are more vivid, they are talked about, discussed and disputed more widely, like the ghastly images that are coming up in the press of bombings and typhoons.

Others are more personal where I have a tendency to keep it 'off' the blogs. I am not into washing dirty linen in public, so my blogs are self-moderated, 'sanitized' if you like. I do not believe that you should blog everything and anything indiscriminately. Blogs have an audience. Whoever said that it is personal must be deluding himself/herself. The technology and reach underlying this tool is immense. I believe that readers of this blog hail more from the other side of the world from where I live. Of course, this need not remain a mystery for there are applications that will trace exactly where your visitors came from and go to after visiting your blog! (see, for example Blogflux) Anyway, if you were to stand up and do a monologue in the market, you will be heard and you will elicit, if not provoke, a response.

November is upon us. Very soon, it will be Christmas, then the new year. Looking back at my blogs these couple of weeks, I am concerned that much of my thoughts are on terrorism and natural disasters - events that have no personal bearing on me, but which has filled so much of my time thinking and writing about. I shall move away from this subject and perhaps turn my attention to other less depressing topics.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Hate and love, terror and peace

I read the Bible everyday. Yesterday's passage was particularly relevant for our times. It comes from the First book of St John, chapter 4 verse 20:

"If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?"

There is simply too much hate in the world today, particularly in certain parts of the world, among certain groups of people who hold certain extreme religious beliefs. If what they do is in the name of God, then killing their brothers disproves their real motives and gives the lie to their religious convictions (if they really hold any in the first place, i.e.).

Today, it is risky to venture out of your own homes, even into your own back yard. You may be shopping happily, as the people in India's New Delhi, not doubt, were to celebrate their Deepavali. But in the blink of a eye, children have become orphans, families have lost a precious son or daughter, plans are wrecked and the joyous occasion has turned into a nightmare that will likely come back to haunt victims' relatives for years to come.

There is no salvation in hatred and selfishness, only eternal perdition. How ironic that those who long for and are promised heaven have prematurely entered hell.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Dangerous talk

From the day that Israel as a nation was reconstituted in 1948, its surrounding countries, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, etc. have vowed to destroy it. Over time and after many wars, some have made peace (such as Egypt, through the great statesman, Anwar al-Sadat) and now, Palestine is a duly constituted autonomous region which will, given that good faith and sensible minds prevail, one day take its place in the United Nations as a fully independent nation.

However, some things never change. Iran's President Ahmadinejad is now on record as calling for Israel to be wiped off the map. Nothing has been learnt in the last half a century. After 57 years, we still have an Arab leader who continues to espouse violence and destruction to solve a 'problem' - if in fact there is a problem. It seems that no amount of peace overtures and olive-branches will make any difference to some people. So long as we have people that think and behave like Ahmadinejad, the Middle East is doomed to wars and violence.

Now, Iran has always claimed that its suspect nuclear research is for peaceful purposes. The world cannot be sure anymore. Can you blame the US and Europe for taking a hawkish stance all this while with respect to Iran's nuclear ambitions?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A leopard has changed its spots?

Ayman Al Zawahiri, the erstwhile no. 2 in the Al Qaeda organisation has finally issued a plea to the worldwide Muslim community to contribute to the relief effort already underway in Pakistan for the last two weeks. This was broadcast on Al Jazeera TV on 23rd October 2005

You would wonder why it took him all of two weeks to respond to the work of SAVING lives when Turkey and the US offered their help right from the start. Perhaps Al Qaeda is so used to killing and destroying things that, when faced with a natural disaster that has taken away the lives of so many fellow Muslims (last count was over 79,000 dead, and counting) and threatens the survival of many more, they do not know exactly what the human thing to do is.

To its credit, the US, although facing disasters in its own back yard, has come swiftly to Pakistan's aid, just as they came swiftly to the aid of the Acehnese in Indonesia at the beginning of this year during the South Asia Tsunami disaster. The reality is that the beneficiaries in both cases were mainly Muslims.

How much longer will Al Qaeda continue to mislead the worldwide Muslim community about the truth? What is the truth? There is a Chinese saying, "In misfortune, you see your real brothers" (Huan nan jian zhen qing). I think actions speak louder than words.

Belatedly, Al Qaeda now realises that saving lives is more important, or is it saving Muslims is more important? Or is it saving the reputation of Al Qaeda? It doesn't matter. The Pakistanis need all the help they can get. Better late than never.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Are you In or Out?

I am happy that a fellow blogger has taken the effort and time to refute my viewpoints on political freedoms in Singapore (refer to my earlier entry Warwick: Freedom of what, from what, for what?) by citing a number examples of how people have been hounded down and, for some, out of Singapore. I do not hope that the Singapore government will come knocking on my humble blog for a 'take-down' order. Nor do I hope to face a judge one day regarding maintaining a 'seditious' blog, for none is intended. To the extent that I harbour any political views, it centres on my family and my children's continued well-being.

Many of these examples of the alleged lack of freedoms in taking a particular stand, especially those against government policies and actions, have been reported in the local press and overseas as well. Having traveled somewhat, I can see the stark difference the same episode is reported in the local and overseas media. But this is a good thing because it forces people to look at all sides of a story. This will surely be an unseen consequence of the government encouraging its citizens, now especially students, to venture overseas to learn. Yes, local reporting tends to be sanitized, and for many, un-exciting. But at the end of the day, I hope that our objective in updating ourselves of the news is to be informed of the truth. If our objective is to twist words to suit our particular orientation to the 'truth', then that 'truth' is suspect.

Every strongly-held opinion or view of the country and the world needs to be defended robustly. It must withstand criticism, or otherwise be withdrawn. If it cannot be defended truthfully and honestly, then it does not deserve to live a day longer. Voltaire famously suggested that, "I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it". I disagree. When what is being said is a lie, then it cannot, and should not, be defended, much more with your own life.

But I am not suggesting that everything is perfect on this island state. The Buangkok (White Elephant) MRT is perhaps symptomatic of the problem with the system that has been in place for so many years. Referring to that elephant incident, a former Permanent Secretary commented in private that the government lacks a sense of humour when it found fit to have the police haul people up for questioning. But to the police, they cannot not investigate as the prevailing system is one of due process, logic, fairness and most important of all, transparency. To some, this is yet another example, albeit a light-hearted one, of the probable lack of political or social expression in Singapore bound by a system that a majority has subscribed to (through the ballot box).

Going in or getting out?My point is that, ultimately, it is more effective, and more sincere, to effect change from the inside rather than from the outside. When you stand by your words with your future grounded to the country, then you can be taken seriously. This is the stance taken by the powers that be, and I am not ashamed to agree with them. That is why I admire people like Nelson Mandela, who, in spite of the unjustness of the then dominant peoples, never quit the country.

Before we ask for more freedoms, do we have the courage of our convictions, or do we quit the country at the slightest threat?

Monday, October 24, 2005

A sailing we will go?

So, back to the subject of vacation. Many countries in South-east and East Asia, naming Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Taiwan have reported incidences of bird flu. Now, several Easter European countries such as Croatia, Romania and Russia are reporting occurrences of the flu.

I am having a headache deciding where to take my vacation at the end of the year. There is now a natural tendency to avoid places 'contaminated' with bird flu, but this leaves a lot less interesting, yet economic, places to go to from Singapore. As of now, nothing has been decided. If land-based tours are relatively risky nowadays, what about sailing - i.e. taking a cruise, either to nowhere, or to call a one or two ports for a couple of hours and getting back to the ship as soon as possible? Seems to me to be the best thing to do right now...

Which reminds me. Britain celebrated Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson's victory in Trafalgar three days ago, and the French weren't too enthusiastic about it. Why would they be, seeing as they were the great losers 200 years ago to the day. Maybe it is time to sail to commemorate that famous sea victory. For celebrations of this event, see:

Trafalgar 200
Royal Navy Trafalgar 200
BBC celebrates Trafalgar 200
Trafalgar Festival
Trafalgar 200th - A Tribute to Nelson's Navy

The excellent book, "Nelson - A dream of glory, 1758 - 1797", by John Sugden recently, is reviewed in my writing blog.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Birds of a feather

These are stressful times indeed. Its the year-end and everybody is thinking of a vacation to de-stress before a new year with new challenges dawn upon us. But our feather 'friends' are putting a damper on all the planning. I say 'friends' because, like human flu, bird flu is not to be blamed on birds - they are just the carriers. The problem with birds is that they migrate from one place to another at great distances apart fairly regularly according to the climatic conditions, thereby easily spreading whatever virus they made be carrying. So far, the instrument to tackle this problem has been fairly blunt, which is to cull (or kill) all the birds in the flock so long as ONE of them is found with the flu. But there is no other better way, so far. So I can understand if farmers do not report their sick fowls for fear that their entire livelihood will, literally, be buried. This is the dilemma - not to report means that more than their animals' lives will be at stake, eventually.

How is modern man going to solve this problem, which is widening in geographical scope? Surely, flu pills can only go so far. Herein lies the most serious challenge yet to the survival of many - and I am not referring to our feathered friends.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Warwick: Freedom of what, from what, for what?

Later, perhaps, Warwick?Singapore has been trying to woo reputable foreign Universities to set up shop on the island. It sees the education sector as a big money spinner, besides tourism and gambling. It also wants to ride atop its deserved reputation as the place to get a good education and earn genuine qualifications.

But alas, Britain's Univ of Warwick has decided not to set up shop here after more than a year's deliberations, the reason being the perceived lack of academic freedoms due to the country's laws. Readers will understand my sentiments regarding this in my earlier blog entries here. The other reason cited is that they are not certain if they can make money out of the venture. This is actually easily resolved by spreading the risk through a joint-venture arrangement. Singapore's A*star agency, I am sure, is prepared to co-share risks. The Univ. of New South Wales, on the other hand, has taken the plunge and will set up its foreign campus in Singapore come 2007. Doesn't it have similar concerns? Yes, but I think their response is more enlightened and certainly more enterpreneurial.

I think that it is more challenging to contribute to the development of education, culture and thought than to shy away from such an opportunity. Waiting for the ideal (political) atmosphere to appear before engaging seems to me to be taking the easy way out. By then, all the excitement and potential for enquiry would have died down? Is the Univ. here to agitate for greater freedoms or is it here to teach and learn? Is the support and recognition of gay practices fundamental to the education process? Being one of the top research universities in Britain, I think it has got its brains screwed on (sorry, no pun intended) in the wrong places.

Oops, there goes my scholarship to that haloed institution - or would they practice what they preach and not penalise a person for having different views?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Last rant of a despot?

Saddam Hussein Al Majid, the last dictator/ruler of Iraq, begins the defence of his conduct and deeds in a duly constituted court of law under the new Iraq. As expected, he remains belligerent, defiant, as only a former strongman would behave. I do not find any of these incredible or remarkable at all. The US has almost always given people their day in court. While most of Saddam's top lieutenants have either been killed or have committed suicide, Saddam Hussein still remains to be dealt with. I do not know which is worse, but I do hope that the court does not buckle under the wily S. Hussein and his defence team, as sometimes happens.

Saddam has nothing to lose and everything to gain if he can extricate himself from this process, so he can proceed to use every available means to do so. Some predict that this trial will be a farce - a process wholly unnecessary. What more proof do you need when you have already driven him from power and in the process, stripped him of everything that he has? His top lieutenants are already dead. Well, such is the contradictions of justice and fair play in the western tradition that this due process must follow through.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Another tragedy another day

Careful readers of this blog would be wondering why I have kept silent the Pakistan-India earthquake tragedy last week where the death toll has risen to over 40,000. In comparison, Katrina's numbers are insignificant, but I wrote a blog on it. Before anyone goes off saying that I am a racist, and worst, an anti-Muslim, let me just clarify that I am neither, as the record of my blog here clearly shows.

Its just that these tragedies are occuring with such frequency that I am now quite tired of it all. As the year comes to a close, I pray that no more tragedies will take place. The world's charities have been working overtime this year organising relief operations to tragedy-strickened regions and countries around the world that, quite clearly, 2005 must be the year of the charities. Therefore, when Time magazine pronounces it annual Person of the Year award, it should, without doubt, go to the Charities of the World.

Ironically, in Singapore, charities in 2005 have not always been in the positive limelight. 2 charities, NKF and SAVH, have had their carpets pulled under them because of questionable corporate governance issues. We could also have done less with disasters caused by humans, such as the Bali bombings of 2005.

Excepting these, it has been a busy year for Singapore charities, which all started with the Indian Ocean tsunami. Though it did not start in 2005, much of the relief work spilled over into this year.

May God stay the occurrence of any more natural disasters, at least until 2006.

Friday, October 14, 2005

A Crack in the Pot?

AFP reported that Al-Qaeda's second-ranking leader, Ayman Al Zawahiri, has sharply questioned the wisdom of the leader of the Al-Qaeda movement in Iraq, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, for opening up a conflict with Iraq's Shia majority. If this report is accurate, then cracks are now developing within the most prolific terror organisation in modern times. This can only mean one thing - the self-destruction of this organisation is beginning. Eventually, it will force any and all organisations affiliated to it (such as the JI) to take sides. This surely will spell its ultimate doom.

Unfortunately, it might mean more terrorists acts - uncontrolled ones, in the future. Things may get worse before they get better. So we have to brace ourselves when a satellite falls to earth - it will burn brighter upon re-entry, but disintegrate re-entering the earth's atmosphere.

I do not think that any peace-loving person will mourn its demise.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

See no evil, hear no evil

Mr Jusuf Kalla, the Vice President of Indonesia is on record as saying that Indonesia cannot ban the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) because it does not recognise it in the first place. You cannot ban something you do not know about, so he is reported to have said in Detikom, an online news service.

This argument is a bit sophisticated but faulty nevertheless.

First, the JI does exist, no matter how hard he tries to convince himself that it doesn't. He should recognise the danger within and not keep his head in the proverbial sand.

Second, he needs to deal with this real danger, if only because it has caused 3 major man-made catastrophes in Indonesia since 2002 - 2 Bali bombings and 1 Australian Embassy bombing. If I am not mistaken, the majority of casualties (not just the dead) have been Indonesians, including loss of goodwill, tour business and property.

Mr Kalla should face the facts squarely and take concrete steps to solve the problem! I am sure the world will stand by him to erase this scourge of the early 21st century. I state early because I think they - the JI and Al Qaeda - movements based on hate and cowardice - will not last.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Go to jail, do not pass Go(al)

I wrote in my blog of 17 September 2005 about some bloggers who used this same medium to write insulting and hurtful things about other races in Singapore. They were subsequently charged by the local police for sedition. The verdict is out. Two of them got 1 day (plus $5000 fine) and 1 month of jail time respectively for their intemperate blogging. I did not expect a custodial sentence, but the law courts thought otherwise.

On reflection, perhaps this is the appropriate response to curb people from writing hate-blogs, which serves no useful purpose other than incite hatred among peoples - and hatred kills.

"Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him". 1 John 3:15

In the past, it has led to wars and conflicts where more than just a 1 month jail sentence is involved. You may call me over-reactive, sensationalist, and whatnots, but I believe history is on my side.

I hope that this episode is a lesson to all bloggers (at least those in Singapore) to blog responsibly.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Small is bulky

The iPod Nano, as the name suggests, is very small and very thin, measuring just 3.5 x 1.6 x 0.27 inches. So thin that some people have reported cracked or scratched screens. Well, I don't want to speculate whether this is a quality problem, handling problem, or whatever. I am sure everybody will have his/her take on this.

What I do note is that protective cases/poaches/wallets/whatnots are available for the Nano, much like those for cellphones. There are many designs, include flip-open types and tag types (those that you can wear around your neck, or wherever you fancy). While giving the user / owner of the Nano peace of mind and a sophisticated look, its also ironic. Why? Because the size of the Nano with the protective coverings is no different from the iPod mini's original size, so what is the benefit of miniaturization?

Some years ago, I began using cellphones. Then, they had already shrunk in size to that of my palm. In order to protect my precious cell, I put a protective cover around it, something like a poach, which made the whole thing more bulky than the cellphone on its own. But I could still take it around in my pants pocket, although there tended to be, ahem, a bulge. This cellphone looked in mint condition when I changed it for a new one about 2 years later, but I wasn't going to get any more trade-in value because of this. Anyone who handed in a battered cellphone of the same model as mine would have gotten the same trade-in value as my mint condition cellphone. So all that protection and bulk really was a waste of effort and convenience.

I never put on protective covers for my cellphones again. Would I do it for the iPod Nano, assuming that I own one? I am still thinking, or dreaming ;-) about that...

See Tunewear's Tunetag

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Indonesia some other time?

It is a real disappointment - Bali being bombed, that is - for occasional travelers and tourists like myself. Believe it or not, I have never been to Bali or Medan, places so renown and accessible from where I stay - Singapore - that you would wonder why I've never been to these places. Well, there's more reason now for me to avoid these places. I know I shouldn't, but with a wife and kid in tow, you cannot but think about the 10,000th chance that something untoward might occur. People say that lightning doesn't strike twice in the same spot. Bali has proven this saying to be dangerously inaccurate.

On the other hand, it is right that our PM continues on with his plans to visit Bali today. I am sure there will be heavy security around this visit, but it is also symbolic. The visit says that terrorists might disrupt lives for a while, but their objectives, never ever very clear in the first place, will never be achieved.

Someone told me more than 10 years ago of the tranquility of Medan, that I should pay a visit some time. 10 years have passed and I haven't acted on that advice. Well, it looks like I will have to defer my plans for a while longer.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Forever Bali

When will they ever stop? What is driving these people to commit mass murder? What are their motives? Who are they? What are they?

Questions, questions, questions. But the answers, if they exist, will provide little respite or any solution to these acts of murder and violence. For it now seems that these acts are irrational, irresponsible, unthinking and indiscriminate - but when has it been otherwise? More Indonesians than any other nationalities are reportedly killed in this latest round of Bali bombing last night during dinner. Many of these Indonesians, I am sure, were just going about an honest day's hard work, earning a living and providing for their wife, children, brothers, sisters, mothers etc. Today, there will be more orphans and widows.

Blaming western powers is an albatross. Israel has just given the Gaza Plains (back?) to the Palestinians. Iraq has formed their own independent government. There has been progress on these fronts towards peace. Yet, these terrorists bombers are no nearer whatever objectives they have in mind, nor have they demonstrated any success in moving towards it, whatever it may be. 3 years on, they are repeating acts of destruction, with nothing to show for their effort. To me, they are just a band of gangsters roaming the country, killing and maiming whoever they fancy (or do not fancy). Its murder, pure and simple.

All countries, including Muslim countries, must condemn this latest action because it has NOTHING to do with Islam or religion. To imagine so is to delude yourself and fall into the very thought trap that these terrorists have set up. These terrorists must be eradicated. There must not be a single hole in which they can hide anywhere on planet Earth.

Let all countries of the world unite towards eradicating this scourge once and for all.

Read:

CNN - Bali terrorist blasts kill at least 36
Foxnews - Americans among dead
BBC - Bali bomb attacks claim 25 lives
Channel News Asia - Bali bombing toll rises to 32 dead...
Reuters - Coordinated bombings rock Indonesia's Bali, kill 25

Oriental Chewing Gum

On the subject of chewing gum, there is actually an alternative chewing gum that is neither banned nor sticky (the primary reason for the ban in the first place). I have been chewing these since I was very young. In fact, it was one of my favourite snacks. Over time, I have chewed less of them, probably because they don't appear on the supermarket shelves that often. That, or it has fallen off my radar screen of desirable snacks because they put a strain on my aging teeth.

Well, I just bought a packet, teeth notwithstanding. The amazing thing is, after 30 years, the packaging has remained exactly the same. I haven't opened it, so I don't know if it still tastes the same. On the subject of sameness, I also saw tins of Van Houten Coco, also packed exactly in the same tin and package design of 30 years ago.

Well, it nice to know that some things never change. Some people still crave the same things 30 years on.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Chew on it

Many people who do not live in Singapore, and even some who do, do not understand this matter about chewing gum in Singapore. Chewing gum is not, I repeat, NOT banned in Singapore. So, you can go ahead and chew gum anywhere in Singapore. You will not be arrested, much less incarcerated in the country's famous/notorious Changi Prison for it. Visitors who come to Singapore do not have to jettison their chewing gums or spit them out (now spitting is another matter entirely) before their planes touch down on Singapore soil. You can continue to chew your gums while clearing customs, although I would think that's not very polite.

Rather, the law is against the commercial distribution and sale of chewing gum in Singapore.

Many Singaporeans who return from overseas tend to hide their haul of chewing gum obtained while on holiday or business. This is because they are afraid that customs will seize them and charge them for 'importing' them. Actually, the only time when you need to conceal is when you buy boxes of gum (as against, say, 5 strips). When you bring boxes of gum into the country, the law assumes that you intend to sell or distribute them. It doesn't care that you actually bought them for your friends and relatives who either may never have seen or handled chewing gum before, or are starved of it. There is probably no profit motive behind the act, except perhaps to profit from the goodwill gained.

I am not advocating the practice of concealment at customs checkpoints. If you need to declare, you should declare. Otherwise, don't bring in so many that it raises a genuine concern among the law enforcement officers.

So I repeat - chewing gum is ok in Singapore. Selling chewing gum is NOT ok in Singapore. I hope this clears up the misunderstanding on a myth that even local writers perpetuate.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Deception in high places

Lies, all lies! It appears now that many of the widely reported atrocities that allegedly happened in New Orleans' Superdome and Convention Centre and its vicinity either were wildly exaggerated or never happened. And the sources of these rumoured events came allegedly from high places, from the Police Chief, who allegedly resigned without citing any reason and, allegedly, the Mayor. Now I am ready to sympathise with the victims of this disaster, but I am appalled by the allegedly opportunistic behaviour of leaders in high places who have to, allegedly, lie to get this sympathy.

I am no longer sure what really happened and who said what. Perhaps the videos that were circulated around the world in the aftermath of the hurricane gave credence to these lies, but they are lies nonetheless.

I am dismayed. Its a sad day for mankind.

Many of these revelations are coming out of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, no less. In the days to come, there'll be more finger pointing.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Impeachment circus

Impeachment seems to be the flavour of the times in political circles. The latest object for impeachment, so many bloggers desire, is President G.W. Bush. Not too long ago, some Filipinos mounted an attempt to impeach President Gloria Arroyo of the Philippines. The South Koreans, too, want to impeach President Roh Moo-hyun. Perhaps the most 'famous' of the 'impeach the President' movement in recent times is ex-President Clinton (the poor bloke, he's a right decent guy, never mind what he did in his private life).

He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. John 8:7

And if you really want to go back, former President Nixon is the only US President after World War II to have been successfully impeached. Of course, he lost his Presidency. Well, I won't go on, but it would seem that people expect their Presidents to be saints in the first instance, and secondly, that they should have prescience - with the ability to anticipate AND take action today for any untoward events tomorrow (as in the Katrina incident). This is in spite of the fact that any President (or his/her significant other) who sees a clairvoyant puts his ability to govern in doubt.

Life is cruel to those who aspire to high office, especially those who are humans and lack predictive powers.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Elusive sandwich

Yesterday, someone wrote a letter to the press lamenting the trouble and hassle he had to endure just to get a FREE sandwich. Apparently, Visa (the credit card company) arranged with the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit company (SMRT) to give away free sandwiches to every person who signs up to pay for their train tickets using their Visa credit cards. So this bloke signed up and went to the train station to claim his sandwich. The station control said they didn't have the sandwich, nor are they aware that there was such a promotion on. They re-directed the commuter to the service provider which was working with Visa on this. As an aside, who would stock sandwiches at subway stations anyway? Free or not, I wouldn't touch one because they'd go bad in no time.

According to this commuter, he was then given the run-around - in search of that elusive free sandwich! Sheesh. He was very angry about the whole affair and so wrote to the press laying out the whole story, making the point that whoever organised this giveaway promotion should get their act together.

I am not sure that it was wise of him to have done so - signed up for Visa payment, running after a sandwich AND writing to the press. He has my sympathies for his less than stellar experience with organisations that cannot plan their promotions well.

But paying by Visa is not free. I understand that there is a 20 cents surcharge on topping up the train ticket stored-value card throuugh Visa. The General Ticketing Machines (GTM) are conveniently available at every station, and its doesn't take two minutes to top up the card. So why pay 20 cents?

Second, I am sure the time, the emotional distress and money he must have spent chasing down the elusive sandwich would more than pay for a good one at Delifrance, which is what is being offered, but where is the FREE sandwich?

Third, I wasn't entirely sympathetic with his cause. I thought, 'Why is this guy chasing after a sandwich for? Is he that hungry? Is it of such tremendous value to justify the trouble?'

But I must give credit for his doggedness in pursuit of that elusive sandwich

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Freedom of Speech

There is nothing absolute about free speech, in spite of what many in the US would claim and do practice. There, you have people who say and do the most fantastic and shocking things, as well as hear the most reasoned speeches. Be that as it may, there is nothing absolute about free speech. Taking perhaps an extreme but nevertheless a real and recent example, thousands were trampled or felled to their death in a Bagdad mosque just because someone spread the word that there were terrorists carrying bombs among the worshippers. You cannot blame the worshippers for the panic that ensued because other terrorists had done such heinous acts just a couple of hours before nearby.

What if there had been more consideration before the utterance of a rumour? Lives would not have been lost. Similarly, especially in multi-racial communities where the cord that binds the various races can be very thin, a rumour that a member of a race has done something adverse to one of another race, troubles can erupt, particularly if it has been formenting for some time. Injury and death is usually not far behind. This was Singapore's experience in the 1950s racial riots. A friend of mine who lived through those days passed me a book written by a former Prime Minister of Malaysia that discussed racial problems and persons in particular in those days. This book was never widely circulated, at least in Singapore, probably because of its content.

I enjoy peace and harmony in Singapore today because of the enlightened racial tolerance policies instituted many years ago, and consciously practiced over the years. I look forward to more of the same in the future so that I am assured that my son, and son's son, will never see the dark and ugly side of racial hatred and jealousies just because the colours of our skins do not match. I am happy to state that I have many friends who are not of my race, who I respect for their abilities. I am certain these same sentiments are reciprocrated.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Blogging responsibly

The Singapore government has hauled up 3 of its citizens for 'seditious' blogging. Their blogs encouraged racial and religious hatred, which violated Singapore's laws on sedition. Now, issues of race and religion are sensitives issues in Singapore because it is made up of various races. Religion is also practiced relatively freely. What the government is careful about is that no discord is sown among different races and that religious practices remain a personal matter. Otherwise, there will be strive that will most likely destroy the country. What is alarming is that one of these bloggers is no more than 17 years old.

Now where did their hatred for other people's race and religion come from? I lay it squarely on parental influence, or lack of it. It is arrogant to assume that all other peoples and religions are inferior and evil, while yours is pure and superior. It is this kind of thing that led to the Second World War. The Germans and Japanese chauvinistic thinking led to a generation that wasted the prime of their lives in war. It is said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. God forbid that there should be a Third World War, for human-kind may not survive it.

So, yes, prosecute these people vigourously to stamp out such arrogance. The world does not need another Hitler in the making. If this sounds harsh, its because the alternative is unthinkable.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Unrepentant

In a separate report, one of the masterminds of the Australian embassy bombing in Indonesia in 2004 was sentenced to death. Known by his alias, Rois, he was convicted of the charge of 'planning to motivate other individuals to carry out crimes of terrorism'. This is significant news as the Indonesia court has not often returned a conviction with the death sentence. Many, I am sure, will feel vindicated that justice has been served.

However, what disturbs me is Rois felt no remorse whatsoever. Instead, as he was being led away, he defiantly stated that those against him, and I suppose his cause, will 'receive heavier punishment'. What gives him the confidence, no, the audacity to make such pronouncements in the face of death? What are his justifications? I can only surmise that the kind of indoctrination he received must have been very powerful, and very dangerously wrong. Killing innocent people can never be right, however you argue the case.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Stand up and be counted

I was happy to read that Muslim militants in Indonesia has forcibly closed more than a dozen Churches in west Java this year. I am happy not about the militants' destructive and intolerant behaviour which I believe Islam does not teach. Rather, I am happy because 1500 people of the Nadlatul Ulema (NU) gathered in central Jakarta to protest these forcible closures by Muslim hardliners. Among those gathered was the former President of Indonesia, Mr Abdurrahman Wahid.

At last, a major Muslim organisation is willing to stand up and be counted against the violence that people perpetrate in the name of religion. While such violent acts are not a new phenomena in themselve - its has been happening throughout human history. It has been amplified in the last couple of years through the terrorist acts of Muslim extremists.

Let us hope that more moderate and sensible Muslims are willing to make a clear, unambiguous statement that Islam is not about violence, that jihad is not the only word in the Koran.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Club calamity

Slightly more than 10 years ago, I received a brochure in the mail inviting me to become a founding member of the Raffles Town Club (Singapore). The brochure was a good size book which detailed in rich and lustrious colours the planned club facilities and membership benefits. At that time, I already knew quite a bit about clubs, having worked on a software for a large and prestigious golf club a few years earlier. So when this offer was extended, I was tempted.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I did not have the kind of money to pay for it, so I gave up on the idea. Today, this same club is in trouble because it lost a class action suite brought by about 4900 of its members a few weeks ago. The club is now proposing to pay off the $3000 a-piece debt to these members using vouchers rather than cash. The members would have none of this. What's more, the other 15,000 members who didn't sue could be knocking on the management's door too. What a right royal mess. Fortunately or unfortunately, I am not one of the 4,900, depending on your point of view.

Today, it is reported that the value of club memberships have depreciated drastically from 10 years ago. Then, one of the much coveted 5Cs that spelled success in life (at least in Singapore) was a Club membership. Today, that one C spells Calamity.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Education in trouble

The private education business in Singapore is suffering one setback after another. The biggest name that go hit was Informatics Holdings - formerly the No. 1 private institution in Singapore where you would want to sign-up for a degree in IT / Computing - that is if you failed to get into the local University or Polytechnic or you are a foreign student. Even a prominent local millionaire investor seemed to have given up on them recently.

Then there was Nanyang Business School (not to confused with NTU's Business School), and just a few days ago, AIT closed its doors, leaving many private students, many of which are from China, stranded.

Singapore is supposed to be a reputable destination to get a good education. But it would appear these these high-profile failures are giving Singapore a bad name. In spite of these, Singapore is still the place to get an education - in its government supported institutions where the programmes and the administration have stringent quality controls in place. But for a person outside Singapore who may not know better, a rotten apple spoils the whole tray.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

911 - In memoriam

Four years ago today, the world witnessed one of the most destructive MAN-MADE disasters in peace time - the vengeful destruction of the World Trade Center in New York, an icon to America's economic and financial success. On that fateful day, thousands of innocent lives were lost and as a consequence, children were made fatherless or motherless or became orphans. Many lives were changed that day, and certainly, many governments have since re-evaluated their strategy to keep the peace in peace-time.

On that fateful day, news programmes were re-playing the scenes of the 747 planes flying into the WTC buildings like guided missiles - only innocent people were on board these 'missiles'. As was my practice then, the TV was switched on to CNN as I prepared to leave for work. These scenes and images displaying the audacity and ultimately, the evilness of the act will long remain in my memory.

Hate and arrogance has never solved anything. If at all, it has brought on the destruction of the very parties that preaches hatred and acted arrogantly. History is replete with examples, such as Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan some 60 years ago. Yes, they were initially victorious, lording over their captors. Their swift success seem to validate their beliefs as the defeat of the British Empire - long a dominant power and influence in many parts of Asia - was complete.

Yet, history has shown that victories borne of hatred and arrogance are hollow and can only be transient. Similarly, I believe that the war on terror will certainly be won as right overcomes evil. Communism was defeated, not because of an atomic bomb, but because it was inherently a flawed doctrine. Today, Communist China is turning Mao on its head as the practice of capitalism has become pervasive in China.

It is therefore heartening to learn that New York is rebuilding around the destroyed area, to first commemorate the tragedy and, more so, to celebrate the fact that terrorism cannot break the spirit of peace-loving peoples.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Fall of Communism?

A few days ago, I had lunch with a group of company directors. Amongst them was a person who was once a senior government official. He is now in the private education business and travels to China quite often. He pointed out that the newly rich and highly educated Chinese in China (the Chinese are all over the world nowadays) shun their fellow countryman who are less well-educated and certainly not rich. They would rather work with foreigners in their country than their countryman.

Indeed, China today is communist in name only. They are embracing capitalist thinking and approaches to advance their causes within the country as well as outside it.

Not too long ago, the Chinese government-owned and controlled CNOOC went to the heart of capitalism to attempt to acquire Unocal Corporation - the 9th largest oil company in the US. I wonder what Mao Tse Tung would have thought of it - victory of communism over capitalism in capitalism's own backyard? Deng Xiao Ping would, no doubt, have approved though - the colour of the cat didn't matter so long as it caught the mouse.

Coming back, the divide between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots in China is growing. It struck me that that was why communism in China became popular in the first place. Taken to its logical conclusion, we may yet witness the second communist revolution about 20 years hence?

Food for thought.

References:
Battle for Unocal
Uncharted Waters
China drops bid
What CNOOC Leaves Behind

Monday, September 05, 2005

Rise of the consumer

I was at the Comex exhibition yesterday (an annual end-user computer exhibition like the annual Comdex in the US). I can only remember a few exhibitors who where selling PC and PC-related products - Maxtor, Dell, Chamoxa, Pluto, Linksys. Most of the big name companies such as HP, Toshiba, Compaq were selling Notebooks and Printers. IBM was entirely missing if not for its Thinkpad. Panasonic was selling its DECT phones at generous discounts, and its PC Notebook - the first time I'm seeing this from Panasonic. All of only ONE exhibitor was selling Linux (Xandros) - and that only as a sideshow. The major software vendor was represented by Microsoft (then again, selling mostly X-boxes). There were a few other smaller software vendors plying software such as the Hans Chinese language software and I saw a promoter outside the exbition hall carrying some flyers on Peachtree accounting software. External hard disks are hot, although by no means new. It reminded me of external hard disk-like drives I was playing with some 16 years ago in my then organisation.

But the rest of the exhibition was overrun by exhibitors selling consumer electronics products, really, with brand names like HP (sells more cameras and printers nowadays), Canon, Olympus, Samsung, Fuji Camera, Nikon, etc. Even printers are considered consumer electronics nowadays. I came away from the exhibition with a greater impression of the tons of digital cameras, video cameras, Cellphones and MP3 players (plus speakers mainly from Creative Technologies) on offer. Starhub was literally giving away the O2 phones for new sign-ups and there was a perpetually long queue. Too bad I am already a Starhub subscriber!?

Will consumer electronics take over Comex one day? Is software dead? Is the open source / Linux a fluke? It doesn't seem profitable enough to afford exhibition space?

The times they are a'changin... (Bob Dylan, 1964)

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Returning a favour

My criticism of the situation in New Orleans in no way detracts from the dire needs of those still stranded and hurt. Seeing people on TV asking about the fate of their loved ones and pleading for help in locating them evokes memories of when South and South-east Asia were struck by tidal waves (tsunamis) caused by gigantic undersea earthquakes less than 9 months ago.

Then, the US provided assistance both in kind and in cash. I am sure it is time that Asia reciprocrates. Yes, we are not a very wealthy part of the world, but Asia has experienced tremendous growth over the last couple of years, with more to come in spite of the rising cost of oil. I would like to think that the US contributed partly to this through its benign policing of the world. It is the only superpower with the ability to extend its reach globally. Many prefer to see sinister, self-serving and arrogant motives in this.

No matter what your views are, it is time to put aside differences of opinion and look at the present needs from a humanitarian perspective. Whatever your political affiliations, it is time to be magnanimous.

Irony of a disaster

By now, the world is aware of the destruction wrought by Katrina on the southern coasts of the US. What disturbs everyone, I am sure, is not so much the destruction caused by the Hurricane, but by humans upon humans in this tragedy. Instances of looting, rapes, and willful destruction of property by people on other people within a natural catastrophe is incomprehensible and inhumane.

This disaster has certainly brought out the worst in people, and ironically, in probably the most developed country in the world. It just goes to show that humans are no nearer being better with developments in economic strength, social advancements in justice, equality and, dare I say, democracy? But perhaps this is an over-simplification as it does not take into consideration the cumulative deprivation of the very people that have been hurt of hurricane Katrina.

But then, in the Asian Tsunami of December 2004, Indonesia's Aceh population, which suffered one of the worst destruction not unlike New Orleans', were not much 'developed' either and are certainly a deprived lot. Makes you wonder...

Links to information on the Katrina disaster:
MSNBC
Fox News
CNN
Yahoo News
Satellite Photos
Skin Colour?
About Hurricane Katrina
The American Red Cross
Donate

Clarification: This blog does not received any part of any donation made through the links above. I have no affiliation to the American Red Cross. Please give as you are able and where conscience dictates.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Down the slippery slope


Of late, some have written to the local press about marriage and the marriage bond. A woman wrote of how she eventually divorced her husband due to his infidelity, to which another woman wrote of how you should look at yourself, if you have been 'there' for the husband in the first place, suggesting that when a husband strays, it may not be all his fault.

This naturally provoked a wave of response from the public, with one suggesting that since it is natural for man to 'stray' anyway, why not replace marriage with a contractual agreement for two people to 'live' together. This way, they will not be shackled by the requirements of a marriage bond. Someone pointed out that marriage itself is a contractual bond, and if people cannot keep to the terms of this bond, then what is the difference with a non-marriage contract, except that it takes away a lot of the 'safeguards', especially for women, that a marriage bond, developed over many years, comes with?

To which other writers pointed out the 'benefits' of marriage can be skewed heavily in favour of the women, should it go wrong. For example, in the separation of matrimonial assets, child custody and support as well as in the maintenance of wife and child, the ex-husband bears the bulk of these 'costs' - no matter if the infidelity is wife's.

Next, a writer suggested that since the 'natural' urge of man is for multiple sexual relationships, then why not legalise polygamy as this will effectively address the main issue of 'straying' man. The point was also made that woman tend not to stray, for certain psychological reasons (although this was disputed). This writer was quite serious and mapped out the conditions under which polygamy should be practised. Under the ideal circumstances espoused, it was claimed that polygamy will address the issues and present a viable solution - an ideal that, in my opinion, will never work, not least of which this position is based on several questionable assumptions.

One can see how the suggestions to address the issue of marriage and divorce through a story about infidelity is sliding down the slippery slope of morality from non-marriage to multiple-marriages. This descent is alarming, to say the least, but perhaps not surprising. Decadence in the modern society is already visible, if you look honestly.

I always caution against marital breakups, if only because the children end up suffering the most. I teach, and I have come across students, who are otherwise bright, suffer a drastic fall in their grades. And this fall is often (upon enquiry) symptomatic of the psychological hurt and confusion that a child faces when parents divorce, more so when the divorce is an ugly one. I believe that children of non-marital contracts and polygamous marriages will suffer like challenges.