Singapore Press Holdings bloodied and confused, part 1

The deterioration of Singapore Press Holdings’ (SPH) fortunes has long been expected. As the monopoly publisher (now that Mediacorp’s Today has gone totally digital) of all Singapore’s print newspapers, not only is it suffering the same headwinds from digital that newspapers around the world have been experiencing, it has lost all sense of journalistic mission. Partly, this loss was due to demands of the Singapore government for government-friendly coverage, but partly too, its monopoly position — the flip side of its Faustian bargain — has eroded whatever competitive instincts it might once have had.

For these reasons, I am very doubtful that there is any blue sky ahead however many cost-cutting exercises SPH’s management performs. The problem isn’t cost; the problem is the brand and the impossibility of doing a proper journalistic job. Part 2 of this essay will expand on this. Continue reading ‘Singapore Press Holdings bloodied and confused, part 1’

Avoiding vengeance: Why teaching religion is the wrong thing to do

“Not if but when” says the poster. Indeed, an attack of some sort will happen in Singapore. But let’s not be ahistorical about it. Throughout history, highly aggrieved individuals have lashed out at society or authority with violence. Sometimes they act as loners, other times as part of an organised network. We’ve had bombs going off in Singapore within living memory — for example on 10 March 1965 at MacDonald House in which three persons died. We’ve had the Sepoy mutiny in 1915 in which over 100 people lost their lives, including 56 mutineers.  Continue reading ‘Avoiding vengeance: Why teaching religion is the wrong thing to do’

Tunnel floods and the erosion of performance legitimacy

In traditional Chinese political thinking, emperors have absolute powers, subject only to the will of gods. The political duty of subjects is to serve and to obey. The Mandate of Heaven, however, can be withdrawn at any time. Flood, famine, earthquake and pestilence are read as signs that Heaven is displeased with the regime and has revoked the emperor’s mandate.

As recently as 1976, millions of people in China had reason to believe that this divine signalling was in operation. On 28 July 1976, a massive earthquake struck the city of Tangshan, killing over 240,000 people, though nobody really knows what the actual figure was. Six weeks later, Mao Zedong, supreme ruler for 27 years, died. Continue reading ‘Tunnel floods and the erosion of performance legitimacy’

Clean hands to eat poisonous vegetables

The toilet at this coffee shop is quite serviceable

I wonder how many people are as surprised as I was to read that a coffee shop had its licence suspended for a day over the absence of soap in its washroom. Gee, if that’s the case, I said to myself, hundreds of food establishements should be shut down. Dirty, broken and ill-provisioned toilets are everywhere in Singapore. Continue reading ‘Clean hands to eat poisonous vegetables’

Two chairs will solve the problem. Or will it?

In a commentary published in the Straits Times, 29 September 2017 (link), former Attorney-General (AG) Walter Woon argued for splitting the position of the AG into two. His reasoning was that as presently constituted, the position has two very distinct functions: that of being the government’s legal adviser and separately, the one who decides on  prosecutions. Continue reading ‘Two chairs will solve the problem. Or will it?’

Coming soon: 100,000 more people and transport madness in Jurong Lake District

“Any feedback, sir?” asked an eager young man as I was leaving the exhibition.

“Too many questions, too little time,” I said. I would be late if I didn’t hurry up the escalator to the platforms of Jurong East Station, where goodness knows what crush of humanity awaited me. It was too risky to dwell and engage with him.

The exhibition was titled “Jurong Lake District” or something like that. It had a scale carpentry model of the area, and a series of posters mounted on wallboards. Many of the posters (and glib captions) can be viewed at this website: www.jld.sg. Basically, it’s about a massive development of the area into a “second CBD” (central business district). The problem with the exhibition and website was that everything was made to look like a glossy sales brochure — you know, the kind you get when an eager young man tries to sell you a condo apartment — rather than anything detailed and informative enough for citizens to give feedback on. Continue reading ‘Coming soon: 100,000 more people and transport madness in Jurong Lake District’

From the wreckage of a presidential ‘election’, racism rises like a disturbed ghost

Now that the People’s Action Party government has installed Halimah Yacob as the so-called president of Singapore, racism has gained a legitimacy we once thought was forever barred. That said, this presidential charade was not the first time the PAP dispensed with its founding principles. Racism was introduced into our electoral system in 1988 through the ugly invention called “Group Representation Constituencies”. In 2017 as in 1988, the PAP demonstrated that principles can be disposed like tissue paper when they need to fend off limits to their power. Continue reading ‘From the wreckage of a presidential ‘election’, racism rises like a disturbed ghost’

Going cashless — what about legal tender?

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In flouncing around the latest fad-topic of “smart nation” and cashless payments, we’re losing sight of an important principle: legal tender.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “money that is legally valid for the payment of debts and that must be accepted for that purpose when offered”.

Traditionally, legal tender is seen in the form of cash. There has not been any formal redefinition of it to encompass digits stored on a bank’s computer.

As more and more sellers move to e-payments only, this needs to be addressed. Can sellers legally refuse cash?

It may seem like a small matter. The “problem” if defined in purely technical terms, can be solved with a tiny change in the law, but doing so – together with a rushed move to mandatory e-payments – actually has far wider implications. Continue reading ‘Going cashless — what about legal tender?’

Fake alarms from fake news

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As the contestation over the “alternate facts” so beloved by the Trump administration crescendoes — as it surely will over the coming months — the Singapore government will see more opportunities to import the same arguments into Singapore as a means of heightening censorship. The twist will be that our government will claim that their “facts” are facts, whilst their detractors’ views and statements are “fake news” or falsehoods, conveniently swapping the positions of government and opposition in the American debate. Continue reading ‘Fake alarms from fake news’

There was once a buffalo here

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Making small provisions to enable people to upskill through bite-sized training courses will not be enough to cope with a world in which lifelong continuous learning and career switching has become necessary — I argued this in my previous post Spreading a bit of money to “position Singapore for the future”. But in the interest of length, I left untouched an even bigger question: What if, for all the retraining, adjustments and preparations we make, there simply isn’t enough work to be had? It’s a question that’s not only for Singapore.

Continue reading ‘There was once a buffalo here’