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’

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’