Simplify universal health insurance

The MediShield Life problem faced by Seow Ban Yam may no longer be topical in the news cycle, but it is now when enough facts have emerged that we can see the larger picture instead of being entangled by the details.

MediShield Life is a mandatory health insurance program run by the government.

The outline of the matter can be gleaned from this 31 December 2018 story in the Straits Times:  MediShield Life paid just $4.50 of senior’s $4,477 post-subsidy bill. Since the story is behind a paywall (though the details can also be found here at The Online Citizen), I will set out the gist of the matter here for convenience. Continue reading ‘Simplify universal health insurance’

In trying to kill fake news, we lobotomise ourselves

Everything is fake until it is true. This sentence may sound glib but I think it is fundamental in epistemology. This is not to say that everything will eventually turn out to be true, but merely that everything we know as true was once easily dismissed as fake.

Truth does not emerge wholly formed. Truth is a consensus reached when empirical evidence and logical construction have attained a critical mass, enough to far outweigh any other plausible explanation. However, it can take a very long time for evidence to be found and the dots connected. Even then, ‘truth’ remains contingent on the evolving pattern of evidence. Continue reading ‘In trying to kill fake news, we lobotomise ourselves’

Singapore bicentennial: Revising history, as it happens

These two sentences almost made me cough out my coffee:

“The journey towards prosperity and a First World status began only in 1959, when the People’s Action Party took over the government. Clearly, then, Sir Stamford could not have been the founder of modern Singapore.”

These assertions were contained in a letter to the Straits Times Forum, published 5 January 2019. Written by Anthony Oei, it was in response to an earlier letter by Loke Hoe Kit published on 31 December 2018.

Loke had been critical of the way the bicentennial narrative was focussing

“more on the island’s 700-year history with greater emphasis placed on the 500 years of history preceding 1819, instead of primarily focusing on modern Singapore’s 200-year existence.”

Anthony Oei’s response letter was full of poorly-founded statements, and I wondered how it made it past the editor’s eye.  Continue reading ‘Singapore bicentennial: Revising history, as it happens’

Of China and India: wandering thoughts from streets, boats and trains

Boats in Chongqing (L) and Kochi (R)

[2,900 words]. Ever since China began to be a major part of the global economy in the early 1990s, one of the most enduring themes in American media is the country’s rise and its future challenge to US dominance. A subsidiary theme is whether India may be on the same path to parity, with this subtheme often coming across as prayer and hope: that India, as a fellow democracy, could help the US contain superpower China.

Much Indian discourse about China in recent years has adopted this lens too. Discussion about China in Indian media (at least the English-language media that is accessible to me) tends to take on a comparative and competitive tone. A good example is this online discussion at Quora.com: Which country will be next superpower: India or China?  It is rare to see discussion about China as itself. Continue reading ‘Of China and India: wandering thoughts from streets, boats and trains’

The general case: why Singapore’s security obsession is incompatible with meritocracy

For several years a decade or two ago, tiny Singapore was reckoned by defence analysts such as at Jane’s, to have one of Southeast Asia’s most powerful militaries. I don’t know if this is still true, but given this chart below which I took from this site, I won’t be surprised if it is. The bar graph shows that Singapore topped all our Asean neighbours save Laos, which isn’t included in the graph, in military expenditure in 2014. Continue reading ‘The general case: why Singapore’s security obsession is incompatible with meritocracy’

Patches, grit, and the sorry state of things

There used to be benches on both sides. They were recently removed — most likely as part of SMRT’s “service improvement”, which is Orwellian-speak for “squeeze more people in”. The parts under the erstwhile benches are darker grey, but the outline of the benches isn’t of straight lines. Instead the wavy boundary between the darker and lighter grey is almost surely caused by abrasion from feet over the years. Continue reading ‘Patches, grit, and the sorry state of things’

Flapping wildly amidst the wreck

For the last few weeks, Singapore-based Keppel Offshore and Marine Ltd (“KOM”) has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. KOM and its wholly owned US subsidiary, Keppel Offshore & Marine USA Inc. have agreed to pay a combined total penalty of more than US$422 million (S$565 million) for making corrupt payoffs to officials in Brazil. Brazilian authorities will receive 50% of the penalty, while the US and Singapore authorities will receive 25% each.

This will hurt. KOM’s profit after tax for financial year ending 31 December 2016 was only S$326 million. Its business was already troubled as can be seen from the fact that its 2015 profit after tax was a much higher S$528 million. Continue reading ‘Flapping wildly amidst the wreck’

Requiem for a mug

I accidentally knocked it against the edge of the kitchen sink and its handle broke. Instinctively, I gathered the pieces to throw them into the bin. And then I stopped. I wanted to take in, respectfully, the feeling of loss that surged over me. This mug had been given by my late brother-in-law, Blake. Throwing it away, which in the end I will of course, will have incalculably more meaning than most other acts of disposal. It will mean the loss of one more material connection to someone I once knew, but who has since departed. Continue reading ‘Requiem for a mug’

Preliminary findings about flooded tunnel raise more questions

Two weeks after the North-South Line of Singapore’s metro system was severely disrupted because of flooding in a tunnel, there are still calls on social media for Desmond Kuek, the CEO of SMRT Corporation which operates the line, to resign or be sacked. Public anger intensified after SMRT chairman Seah Moon Ming said at the 16 October 2017 press conference that the SMRT maintenance team will have their bonuses cut for failing to maintain the flood-prevention system. The public feeling was that Kuek himself should shoulder the blame and not point fingers at his staff, especially as he has been CEO for five years already.

Indeed, there is a growing perception that an entire cadre of military generals inserted to run various parts of public administration enjoy impunity whatever the failures on their watch. Kuek was a lieutenant general before. It is time for a proper example to be set. Continue reading ‘Preliminary findings about flooded tunnel raise more questions’

Singapore Press Holdings bloodied and confused, part 2

I don’t think anyone has yet figured out what a viable business model for post-print journalism will look like. As Singapore Press Holdings’ (SPH) FY2017 results indicate, even while circulation is holding up, advertising revenue continues to be in freefall. The problem seems to be that print circulation brings in more advertising revenue than digital subscription. So even as digital makes up for print’s decline numbers-wise, revenue is reduced. This is true for other newspapers, such as the New York Times, as I mentioned in Part 1. Continue reading ‘Singapore Press Holdings bloodied and confused, part 2’