Archive Page 3

How Bukit Batok came to have three corners

Independent candidate Samir Salim Neji

Independent candidate Samir Salim Neji

Out of nowhere, an independent candidate popped up to contest the Bukit Batok single-member constituency (SMC). His presence greatly upset some Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) supporters who were expecting a straight fight between their candidate Sadasivam Veriyah and the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) David Ong. This made Bukit Batok one of three SMCs that will see three-cornered fights this general election. Continue reading ‘How Bukit Batok came to have three corners’

Butter in the balance

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Even as signs of an election were building up in Singapore over the last few months, an incomparably absorbing story was unfolding to our north in Malaysia. However, the scandal at the sovereign wealth fund One Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) speaks to our election too. It shows how the lack of sufficient checks and balances is a bread-and-butter issue. Continue reading ‘Butter in the balance’

Rich but feeling empty, exhausted and alienated

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Wealth does not buy happiness. The state of Singapore society today is perhaps proof of this adage.

A newly-released joint study by Gallup and Healthways is a wake-up call to anyone who still thinks that prioritising economic growth is the master key to happiness. Especially coming, as it does in Singapore’s case, with a widening income gap and a shrinking space for self-actualisation (rights and freedoms) such prioritisation only increases tension, stress and conflict. Quality of life diminishes.

Out of 145 countries surveyed, Singapore ranked a miserable 97th. Continue reading ‘Rich but feeling empty, exhausted and alienated’

US Supreme Court demonstrates the vitality of America, shows up the weak DNA of Singapore

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As news spread of the momentous decision by the US Supreme Court, ruling that marriage equality is a constitutional right, all over social media my friends made an unflattering comparison between the US and Singapore. I think it was Kirsten Han who pointed out that just weeks ago, prime minister Lee Hsien Loong displayed his total lack of awareness about a fast-developing court case by relying on the argument that gay marriage in America was a patchwork of Stop and Go, “state by state”. Continue reading ‘US Supreme Court demonstrates the vitality of America, shows up the weak DNA of Singapore’

Saint Lee

They are wrong. The government is not considering a lèse majesté law. The Asian Correspondent used this term in its headline of 26 May 2015  for Carlton Tan’s opinion piece (A lèse majesté law for Singapore’s king, long live Lee Kuan Yew); The Online Citizen used it too in Tan Wah Piow’s piece of 28 May 2015 (Lèse majesté Singapore-style – the ultimate betrayal of the Singapore constitution). Continue reading ‘Saint Lee’

Asean single market and the free movement of skilled labour

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In a recent blogpost, Kenneth Jeyaretnam highlighted the imminent implementation of the Asean Agreement on the Movement of Natural Persons (MNP). He wrote:

While permanent rights to work in other member countries are excluded the fact that free movement is extended to Contractual Service Suppliers and Intra-Corporate Transferees means that the bar to stop businesses bringing in cheaper PMETs from other ASEAN countries is set very low.

The main text of this Agreement is not hard to find from the Asean website (but a key annex is missing). In its preamble, it gives a nod to “the mandate of the Asean Economic Community Blueprint” dating from 20 November 2007 wherein the “free flow of skilled labour is one of the core elements of an Asean single market and production base.” Continue reading ‘Asean single market and the free movement of skilled labour’

Different because some people want us always to be the same

I have nothing new to say, because it is being said by — I am sure — thousands of people in Singapore. But I want to just add my voice to the chorus of boos.

Boo!

Gaystarnews reported that  Jolin Tsai’s song We’re All Different, Yet The Same has been banned from the mainstream airwaves. “Singapore’s censorship board, the Media Development Authority, recently issued a document to all TV and radio stations banning the broadcast of the song, which it said promoted gay marriage and therefore contravened Singaporean law,” Gaystarnews wrote in its story dated 22 May 2015. Continue reading ‘Different because some people want us always to be the same’

Great Scott! This is what first-past-the-post does

pic_201505_10“SNP landslide” screamed the headlines the morning after the UK general election, held on 7 May 2015. Indeed, the Scottish National Party took 56 out of 59 Scottish seats. In the previous general election (2010) the SNP won just 6 seats.

The biggest loser was Labour. They had 41 of the 59 seats in the outgoing Parliament; it crashed to just one seat, retaining only Edinburgh South (red in the map). The Lib-Dems also crashed from 11 seats to one, holding only Orkney and Shetland (orange in the map). The Conservatives neither gained nor lost, keeping their one seat from 2010: Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (blue). Continue reading ‘Great Scott! This is what first-past-the-post does’

Rohingya refugee crisis: sea camps and economic sanctions needed

Screen grab from BBC video and story of 17 May 2015

Screen grab from BBC video and story of 17 May 2015

Unless Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia have a change of mind, over the next few days as many as 8,000 people, adrift on boats in the Andaman Sea, will die. They are a mix of Rohingyas from Burma fleeing persecution and economic migrants from Bangladesh. They’ve been put on boats by human traffickers, but when Thailand started cracking down  — after discovering mass graves in Songkhla province — the traffickers have left the people en route on the water to fend for themselves.

There is no easy solution to refugee crises. But what is stopping Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia from doing the humanitarian thing — saving those on the high seas — is that governments seem unable to imagine even hard ones. I suspect they see no comprehensive solution that they can implement, and in the absence of that they are loath to encourage even more to come across the water by being kind to those who are now in peril. Continue reading ‘Rohingya refugee crisis: sea camps and economic sanctions needed’

Human-free space as proof of creative cultural development

 

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Sometimes a post you see on Facebook is not the latest news. You’re momentarily fooled by it and you can embarrass yourself by reacting as if it was the latest happening. But that’s the beauty of the internet too. Nothing is forgotten. Gems from the past resurface. What you didn’t know before you know now.

And so it was with a Wall Street Journal blog titled Wozniak: Apple couldn’t emerge in Singapore. It was only after I had finished reading it, just as I was about to click away, that I noticed it was dated 15 December 2011. But no matter. What Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak had to say is still very relevant.

“Look at structured societies like Singapore where bad behavior is not tolerated [and] you are extremely punished” Mr. Wozniak said in a recent interview with the BBC. “Where are the creative people? Where are the great artists? Where are the great musicians? Where are the great writers?”

[snip]

Speaking specifically about Singapore, he said that though many people are educated with well-paid jobs and nice cars, “creative elements” in society seem to have disappeared.

Go read it and listen to the BBC interview

In the audio of the interview, Wozniak said innovative change happens when “big guys” are challenged. He spoke about the importance of “liberal counterculture thinking” and how “big guys that just want to crank the wheels and keep things running” must be contested by new ideas. Alluding to Singapore, he described a society where people are “taught this nationalism… not to think what’s right and wrong, but to take a side at an early age. That’s not lined up with creativity.”

“Thinking for yourself is creativity.”

In hallowed journalism style, reporters Shibani Mahtani and Sam Holmes included a response by Singapore officials to Wozniak’s comment.

Speaking about Internet innovation, Jayson Goh, Executive Director for Infocomms & Media at Singapore’s Economic Development Board, said he was happy that “many innovative Internet companies” had chosen Singapore as the focal point for their investment in Southeast Asia, specifically naming Google, Yahoo, PayPal and Facebook.

“We will continue to work…to enhance the infrastructure to create a conducive environment for enterprises to provide innovative solutions,” Mr. Goh said.

Singapore actively encourages startups and entrepreneurship in the city-state. According to government statistics,  29,798 companies were formed in Singapore in 2010 across all sectors, a 13% increase from the previous year.

You can’t help but see Jayson Goh speaking from a (poorly-prepared) script. To start with, why give a number of new companies “across all sectors”? How many of these sell cupcakes, Hello Kitty cellphone jackets, or provide foot reflexology? There’s an awfully large number of such enterprises around town.

Secondly, how does the statistic of new companies incorporated address the question of culture and human talent (including artists and writers) that Wozniak was speaking about?

Thirdly and likewise, how does name-dropping big American companies as investors (“Google, Yahoo, PayPal and Facebook”) address the same question? The reflexive reliance on inward investment by foreign companies only serves to indicate that we are still stuck in the Texas Instruments days — that’s 1969, when a huge song and dance was staged after this American company set up an electronics assembly plant in Singapore (Bendemeer Road, if I remember correctly) employing several hundred young adults (mostly women) doing repetitive menial work. Texas Instruments was high-tech in its day. But rolling out the red carpet for a high-tech investor is not the same thing as having your own citizens be the inventors and creators of original art and science.

More specifically, the WSJ blog mentions a particular investment by Google, positioned to sound like a rebuttal of Wozniak’s point. Whether it was Jayson Goh or some other source that pointed WSJ to this I cannot say (but knowing how these media responses work, you can probably allow that Jayson or another source from the Economic Development Board would have mentioned it as part of their comment). That investment was of a US$120 million data center.

Those two words ‘data center’ were what triggered this post. I had a vague idea what such a thing was. I promptly did a websearch and it more or less confirmed my mental picture of one. It’s typically a huge facility housing numerous servers and switches, backed up by reliable power supply and environmental systems. The top picture is of a data center by techxact.com. They are the workhorses of the internet age, the warehouses of the information goods that our age produces. They are not places where new information is made. Humans don’t figure very strongly in them, let alone innovative creative types.

How does Google building a data center in Singapore disproof Wozniak’s criticism? It does not. It is monumentally embarrassing that we can’t even provide intelligent responses. We read off a script that relies on an audience’s ignorance, conflating one with another: companies registered (cupcakes included) in answer to a question about brilliant inventors nurtured; human-free data centers in answer to a question about artists.

Worse yet, the pride we take in being able to attract foreigners and their money tells us we’re stuck in a groove. We can’t conceive of development any way other than having capitalist juggernauts roll over us.

 


Later this year, Yawning Bread will mark its 20th anniversary

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