Sunday, August 31, 2008

Poor does not mean stupid

I was apalled when I read the the article below. Especially the part where the father had the revelation that the daughter thought that poor people are stupid!

Frankly, are these the thinkings of those children who are born elite?

The Straits Times
30 Aug 2008

How just our meritocracy?

by Lydia Lim, Senior Political Correspondent

Singapore needs to find a better balance so that social inequality does not become entrenched

ONE of my friends was shaken to the core when he realised recently what his daughter thought of poor people.

They were stupid, obviously, she told him. In a bid to educate her, he passed her articles about the challenges that children from poor families face, and how these can hurt their performance in school and prospects in life.

Deep in his heart, though, he wondered: 'How can my daughter have these views when I am an egalitarian?'

Recounting the exchange over lunch one day, he quipped: 'I almost said, don't let other people know you're my daughter!'

I recall his words as the debate over how scholarships are awarded - sparked by a comment from top civil servant Philip Yeo - enters its second month.

Undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships awarded by the Civil Service, Government agencies and top local companies are among the most prestigious, financially hefty and sought-after rewards in Singapore society.

They are said to be awarded on the basis of merit.

But Mr Yeo provoked controversy precisely because he argued that merit alone is not a good enough measure, as scholarship applicants have different starting points.

Young people from poorer families would have had to struggle harder to achieve the same results as their counterparts from wealthier households, and that should be taken into account, argued the self-described 'closet socialist'.

'In any society, in the bottom 20 per cent, you will have kids who are very bright but who do not have the same opportunities,' he said at a dialogue organised by the EDB Society and The Straits Times.

'If you want to be reasonable, you need to find ways to help these kids cross the barrier.'

The Public Service Commission (PSC), however, stood by its policy of awarding scholarships strictly on merit, regardless of family background. It said it imposed no limit on the number of awards each year.

'The PSC therefore does not discriminate against one applicant in favour of another on the basis of family background if all other factors are equal,' PSC Secretary Goh Soon Poh said in the wake of Mr Yeo's comment.

'If they are equally deserving and both meet the PSC's high standards, PSC will offer an award to both applicants,' she added.

Still, the exchange exposed one of the inherent contradictions of meritocracy.

As a system built on the rule of merit, it is often tied to non-discrimination, that is, selection for scholarships, jobs and other honours must be blind to race, gender, age or class differences.

But in trying to isolate merit, 'it can be a practice that ignores and even conceals the real advantages and disadvantages that are unevenly distributed to different segments of an inherently unequal society', argues political scientist Kenneth Paul Tan.

Dr Tan, an assistant professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, poses some challenging questions about how meritocracy is practised here in his paper, Meritocracy And Elitism In A Global City: Ideological Shifts In Singapore.

He warns that if relevant social differences are 'hidden beneath an uncritical, even celebratory, rhetoric of meritocracy (as blindness to differences), then the problem of securing equality of opportunity and a reasonably level playing field will be severely underestimated'.

That should give those of us who are wont to unquestioningly embrace Singapore-style meritocracy pause.

The significance of such differences is set to grow as income inequality stretches with globalisation.

The problem is not unique to Singapore. Britain and the United States are two developed countries that continue to grapple with the effects of merit-based selection.

Last week, news broke that leading British universities such as Oxford and the London School of Economics used indicators such as postal codes to discriminate in favour of applicants from poorer neighbourhoods, in a bid to level the playing field for candidates.

Critics said the move unfairly disadvantaged middle-class applicants and would lead to a decline in academic standards.

But top US universities like Harvard are taking similar steps to expand their intake of low-income students.

These include placing less emphasis on the scholastic assessment tests or SATs, which carefully-coached affluent students tend to ace.

Harvard admissions officers also visit high schools in poor neighbourhoods to encourage students there to apply.

Here lies a second contradiction inherent within meritocracy: that the competition and efficiency it incentivises can pull in a different direction from concerns about equality of opportunity.

Here in Singapore, we need to ask ourselves what the right balance is between these competing objectives.

One question that refuses to go away is: How just is our meritocracy?

Given that we are a society that prizes efficient outcomes, how can we identify and address the inequities that may result from current selection processes?

Is it time to review how scholarships and other honours are awarded?

How can we enhance equality of opportunity without too great a sacrifice in competitiveness and efficiency?

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen described meritocracy as an intuitively appealing but 'essentially underdefined' principle.

It is underdefined because much hinges on what counts as merit. And in a meritocracy, as in any other system, the idea of the good, and therefore of merit, is defined by that system's winners.

Those who have scaled the ladder to reach positions of influence have a duty to continually review the practice of meritocracy, to ensure it still serves the values of justice and equity upon which much of its appeal rests.

We need to get to firmer grips with how meritocracy works in our society if we are to prevent it from enshrining inequity.

Paper Planes that can fly for 30 mins

Damned. I found out about the paper plane work shop too late. I would have like to join the workshop, but it was already full.

Flying paper plane has been a late, new found interest of mine.

It all started 2 years or so, back when I entered a contest to win a car. The criteria to get into the final few contestants was to fly a self folded paper plane from a certain distance of about 3-4 m? into one of the front windows of the car.

I did not have any experience of folding a paper air plane. It was not one of the stuff I did during my childhood.

The paper plane I folded that day failed miserably. It flew a very short distance before it nosedived into the ground, far far away from the car.

It was embarrassing, not to mention humiliating cos there were about 20-30 or more other people watching at that time. And out of about a few hundred people, I think only about a dozen people managed to fly their paper planes into the car window that day. Only one walked away with the car as prize.

And back home, plagued by embarrassment, I did a search online and found some great ways to fold paper planes, so that they can fly more accurately and longer.


New Paper
30 Aug 2008

His paper plane can fly for 30 minutes

Defence agency brings US expert here for workshop

By Andre Yeo

ALL he needs is a piece of cardboard to create his own wind to keep his paper plane flying for up to half an hour. Another works like a boomerang and flies back to him.

Mr John Collins, 47, has been designing and making paper planes for 35 years. He has written two books on the subject, been featured on CNN and the Discovery Channel, and held numerous workshops in the US.

Now, even military people take notice.

DSO National Laboratories, Singapore's defence research and development agency, which is organising a flying machine competition with the Science Centre, felt he was the right person to pique the public's interest in aerodynamics.

And so, Mr Collins has been conducting paper plane workshops for the public - all fully booked - at the Science Centre since 23 Aug. He is returning to the US tomorrow after one last workshop.

Mr Collins, a producer at an independent TV station in California, told The New Paper that he developed an interest in paper planes when he was 6, and in origami when he was10.

He said he was amazed at what could be done with a rectangular piece of paper. 'It's an economy of resource,' he said. 'That you can use a piece of paper and make something so complex and beautiful.'

He said a crowd favourite was usually the Follow Foil, where a plane made out of phone book paper is kept flying, with him walking behind and holding a piece of cardboard beneath it. Air travelling over the cardboard helps keep the plane flying.

He has managed to keep one flying for half an hour.

Another favourite is the Tumbling Wing, which he invented. A piece of tissue paper, used in wrapping gifts, is folded in such a way that, as it descends to the ground, he can push air towards it with his hands and keep it flying.

His mind is constantly thinking of new designs and it's not uncommon to have 20 planes scattered all over his California home.

Ironically, his wife, Suzanne, 58, is a freelance organiser who helps people get rid of clutter. Luckily for him, she understands his passion for paper planes.

He said: 'It drives her crazy sometimes. Once, I had to take 1,600 planes with me to an exhibition and they were all over the house. 'It drove her nuts. She is the organiser and I am the disorganiser.'

They have a 23-year-old son, Sean.

Mr Cheong Siew Ann, 39, assistant professor at the Nanyang Technological University's school of physical and mathematical sciences, was at the workshop with his 31/2-year-old son, Ernest.


Mr Cheong seemed to be enjoying himself as he joined Ernest and at least 60 other children in watching Mr Collins' planes take flight. He said he and Ernest had looked up paper planes on YouTube when they learnt of the workshop through the Science Centre, where they are members.

He said he was amazed at what Mr Collins was able to do with a piece of paper.

'I found the Follow Foil the most interesting,' Said Mr Cheong. 'Usually, when people make paper planes, they don't need any tools (to make them fly). 'He used a piece of cardboard to make it fly for a long time.'

Marjorie Lee, 11, who was there with her father and brother, was also intrigued by the Follow Foil. She said: 'I had never thought it was possible to do something like that.'

Ms Lee and the Table Tennis Drama

Just as a heroine has emerged in the form of Dr Lily Neo, so has a villain appeared. And she is none other than Ms Lee Bee Wah.

Ms Lee is the exact opposite of Dr Neo. Just as Dr Neo is classy, elite and poised, Ms Lee is common, crude and very emotional.

And presently, she is the locally most hated person on the net forums and the most flamed online! There are dark storms of harsh criticism for her actions and blood curdling screams for her resignation from the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA). She was also called a wet blanket and a party pooper by many online.

Ms Lee opened her big mouth too big, too soon and put her foot in her mouth. And now, probably under intense pressure from her "bosses/government", she had apologise in public to the public.

Before her Olympics fiasco, she was well known for her infamously crude and colourful one liner in conservative Parliament. She had then criticised the opposition's call to delay the GST hike as a case of "ai pang sai ka che jamban" (looking for a toilet only when one needs to pass motion).

Some constituents and citizens more accustomed to prim and proper, polite prose in parliament, sniffed at that pungent note she struck.

Her reputation took some beating. People forgot the real issue or what she was trying to say but could only remembered what she said about the pang sai and jamban (pass motion and toilet). People did took notice of her alright, but for all the wrong reasons.

She is what is called "New Money" as compared to "Old Money". Old money means that money or rather wealth that has been in the family for quite a few generations. Like Dr Neo.

New money has been associated with new creation of wealth and status. And the people who came across this new money and newly found importance or status did not have the experience of using them effectively and hence tends to be more flashy, vulgar and tasteless in their expressions.

Of course, the above is a very common generalization.

I dun think Ms Lee would last very long in politics. She is much too raw and too emotional. And frankly, she is just too "grassroot" and common. Some people may want someone like them to represent them in Parliament but the real society is made up of many class status, not just the grassroots.

Her Olympic fiasco outburst revealed to her "bosses" her severe weakness and lack of political capabilities.

Any other person with half a political brain or any brain for that matter, would not have acted so rashly and irrationally. If she had truly wanted to get rid of the coach and the manager, she should have waited for a few weeks or even months when the spotlight is off the Olympics, and then sacked them. No one would have known better. Gosh, she is so naive at her age.

Instead, she had to do it during the Olympics, when the country is celebrating its victory of the silver medals, when the coach and the manager were both still in China. She opened her big mouth and told a reporter that heads would roll. She did it in the public media without first informing any of the people involved. She did what is called an "executive decision", which did not exactly worked out in any body's favor. She did the worst thing anyone could do in this case, she over reacted.

And now her boss, minister Dr Vivian had to step in personally to save the day and to prevent the whole matter from escalating further and spinning out of control. In PR speak, this is called crisis management or damage control.

Ms Lee is such a rash spit fire. And I guess, her political career is about as far as it would go. I dun think her bosses would be that pleased with her performance and behaviour. And she was barely 2 months into the job.

Just take a look at the photo below of Dr Vivian looking at Ms Lee (disapprovingly). Behave! He seemed to say. He was there in the background, watching her, like an embarrassed father watching a badly behaved, naughty daughter, just in case she shot off her mouth during the apology. Well, better be safe than to be sorry.

And now she's in a spot and utterly embarrassed and totally humilated. The coaches and players of the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) dun quite know what to make of her. Her bosses dun exactly trust her to make the right decisions or say the right things.

When her bosses appointed her in charge, they thought she would be a breathe of fresh air with her enthusiasm. Instead, she turned out to be such a stormy foul smell. And the whole country is in protest with that BW odour.

Who knows what kind of scandals she would cause next time she open her big mouth in public.

With what she had done, she probably is going to be some puppet in STTA with no real authoritative powers. In a matter of months, her bosses are going to find a better replacement and boot her off.

Her heart and mind may be in the right place but her mouth is obviously not. And that does not always work in politics. Besides wanting to do the right things, one should also need to say the right things and not rub people the wrong way. Saying the wrong things and offending people amounts to career suicide. And this is particularly sensitive in the political arena.

Next time she wants to open her mouth or make any important decisions, she should think over it at least twice or thrice before she open her big mouth, put her foot in and offend the country again.

Careful, Ms Lee, the bosses are watching you. So is the country and the public.


The Straits Times
30 Aug 2008

I'm sorry, Singapore

By Lin Xinyi & Terrence Voon

'I SINCERELY apologise.'

Ms Lee Bee Wah, the president of the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA), had those words for the country last night. Her comments last weekend, that she would replace the Singapore table tennis team manager, unleashed a storm of criticism and calls for her resignation.

In a quavering voice, she said sorry for souring the country's brightest sporting moment in almost half a century.

Facing a throng of close to 30 journalists at a press conference last night, she said: 'It is regretful that this situation happened and turned out the way it did. 'I had made comments which had been misunderstood and had upset some Singaporeans. I sincerely apologise for causing any grievances and any stress.'

She also said: 'Our action has dampened the celebration mood of our fellow Singaporeans.' With that, she brought to a close one chapter of an episode that sparked unhappiness from all quarters.

Since last weekend Ms Lee, an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, has been criticised by many for spoiling the party mood after the country's first Olympic medal in 48 years.

'I sincerely apologise for causing any grievances, any stress.' - Ms Lee Bee Wah, acknowledging that the episode spoilt the celebratory mood after Singapore won its first Olympic medal in 48 years.
'I can announce quite categorically that the crisis is over.' - Sports Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who said he spent the week in numerous meetings with all concerned to sort out the problem. -- ST PHOTO: TERENCE TAN

Just five days after the women's table tennis team took silver at the Beijing Games, she revealed that team manager Antony Lee's services were no longer needed, and that national head coach Liu Guodong's fate would be decided by a coaching committee.

She had been angry after Singapore No. 1 Gao Ning found himself with no coach for his third-round men's singles match and crashed out to a much lower-ranked Croatian.

Ms Lee took over as table tennis chief barely two months ago, on July 4. Though many called for her to step down, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Vivian Balakrishnan made it clear last night that she will stay, but she needs some time to get results.

Last night's press conference, held at the STTA's headquarters in Toa Payoh, also made clear that head coach Liu is in talks with Ms Lee to negotiate a new contract.

But team manager Lee will leave the STTA. His secondment from the Singapore Sports Council to the association will be extended by three months beyond the end of this month. He will then join the Singapore National Olympic Council.

Dr Balakrishnan said: 'He's gained a lot of experience in dealing in international sports, and I want to leverage on that as we go on in our preparations for the Youth Olympics as well as London 2012.'

There was no question of Mr Lee being sacked, he said. The minister began the press conference by saying: 'Categorically, the crisis is over.'

He acknowledged more than once that the table tennis controversy had soured the celebratory mood of many Singaporeans rejoicing over the Olympic medal win. 'There have been some mistakes made, there was a lack of communication, there were certainly some misunderstandings, there was some overreaction,' he said.

He described the timing of Ms Lee's comments as ill-conceived, and said he had received many reactions to them.

Flanked by a sombre-looking Ms Lee to his right, and by Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Community Development, Youth and Sports) Teo Ser Luck and chairman of Project 0812 Ng Ser Miang on the left, Dr Balakrishnan said: 'Over the past four days, both Ser Luck and myself - we've met all the players, the coaches, all the key officials. I've had numerous meetings with the senior management and committee of the STTA.'

Also present were glum-faced silver medallists Li Jiawei, Wang Yuegu and Feng Tianwei, as well as the head coach, team manager, Gao Ning and other members of the men's team. They were a sombre group, who said little when called upon to answer reporters' questions.

Dr Balakrishnan praised them all for doing their best in Beijing. Looking ahead, he urged Singaporeans to trust in what the association was doing. He and Ms Lee said the table tennis team had a bright future - its immediate challenge is the Volkswagen Women's World Cup in Kuala Lumpur starting next Saturday.

He said: 'This is a team which I believe has great potential for the future.'

Added Ms Lee: 'We assure Singaporeans we will work harder to achieve greater heights, and I hope for their support.'

The next step? Said Mr Ng, a Singapore International Olympic Committee executive board member: 'Let's go back to our celebration.'


Today Online
30 Aug 2008

No amputation as ping pong row ends

Tan Yo-Hinn and Low lin fhoong

THE eight days that shook Singapore sports ended on Friday with the good doctor saying: “We have concluded that this was a patient that did not need an amputation.”

Instead, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan announced that:

• Liu Guodong will remain table tennis coach;

• Antony Lee will continue as team manager for three months, after which he will be seconded to the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC); and

• Lee Bee Wah will remain as the president of the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA).

The Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports said at a conference to bring the table tennis controversy to a close: “Over the past four days, Teo Ser Luck, myself, all the players, coaches and key officials of the association have met and I’m happy to announce categorically that the crisis is over.

“Yes, some mistakes were made, there were misunderstandings and some over reactions.

“STTA president Lee Bee Wah was dedicated to achieving organisational excellence. She’s very passionate, and sometimes a bit impatient to achieve a good system for the players. Mistakes were made, the question is how we respond to it and minimise it, how to maintain team unity.

Ms Lee, who was visibly tired, apologised and said: “The Beijing Olympics were very emotional for all of us and I made some comments that were misunderstood and upset some Singaporeans. I sincerely apologise for any grievances and stress (that was caused). On behalf of STTA, coaches and team manager, I convey my apologies to Singaporeans. Our actions have dampened the celebrations of all Singaporeans. I hope this will bring about a closure.”

It was Ms Lee’s comments — that action will be taken against those responsible for the absence of a coach during player Gao Ning’s Olympics Games match in Beijing — that kicked off a storm of protests among Singaporeans. Their main point of contention was that Ms Lee’s public outburst spoilt the party for a nation celebrating a silver medal in Olympics, its first in 48 years.

Since the team’s return from the Beijing Olympic Games on Monday, several rounds of meetings with players, coaches and team officials were held with Dr Balakrishnan and Senior Parliamentary Secretary (MCYS) Teo Ser Luck.

It is understood that the players, coaches and team officials had frank discussions and patched up their differences.

Feng Tianwei, the 21-year-old who was one of the stars of the national women’s team silver medal feat, said: “We had discussions about this over the past few days and we’re all satisfied with the outcome.”

Her team-mates Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu added they would abide by whatever plans the STTA had for them.

Gao Ning, the player at the centre of the storm, said: “For me, it’s over, and I’m focused on getting back to training and competing, which is what I do. I want to do my best as an athlete.”

Also present at Friday night’s press conference were Lee, Teo, International Olympic Committee executive board member and SNOC vice-president Ng Ser Miang, team manager Lee, and members of both the men’s and women’s teams.

Dr Balakrishnan added that the sport could learn from this incident, and hoped that it would spur them on.

“Sports is a reflection of life and there are very few things in life that unify all of us on the same platform. There may be criticism about what we have done but the vast majority of Singaporeans is happy,” he said.

“I would like to urge the public: Trust us and trust the team to get on with the process. Increasing interest in the sport — that must be the ultimate harvest and I hope it can show parents that a career in sports is possible. Let’s give her (Lee Bee Wah) some time to put her plans into place.”


Today Online
30 Aug 2008


IF YOU knew a little about Ms Lee Bee Wah’s background, you would want to offer her a shoulder to cry on. Not that she will take kindly to that offer.

The big boss of Singapore ping pong is known to be hiong (Hokkien for fierce). Fiercely independent and overtly rebellious, she can also be deliciously pugnacious. These qualities made her defy her rubber-tapper parents in Malaysia, use colourful Hokkien language in Parliament, and finally, become a party pooper in Singapore’s coming-out Olympics party.

Ms Lee — who took over as president of the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) just one month before the Beijing Olympics — found herself in the news for all the wrong reasons recently when she publicly chastised the table-tennis team coaches and manager after Singapore’s top male player Gao Ning was left teary-eyed as he lost his Olympics match without a coach by his side.

Expressing her disappointment to the Singapore media over the incident in Beijing, Ms Lee, 47, added: “Someone will have to be accountable for this.”

She kept her word. A few days later, she shocked Singapore by announcing that the services of team manager Antony Lee were not needed any more.

“I have a new team and will have a new CEO and technical director. It is best that the manager is chosen by them. Antony is welcome to apply for the position when we ask for applications,” saidMs Lee, who captained her varsity table-tennis team.

Ms Lee had earlier made known her intention to steer the STTA away from its heavy-reliance on imported sporting talents to developing home-grown ones. But her latest proclamation sent shock waves not just through the table tennis fraternity but ordinary Singaporeans swept up in the Olympics euphoria.

Letters — mostly criticising her action with a handful supporting her tough stance — flooded newsrooms. The Internet was buzzing with reactions as well. A public tit-for-tat ensued as the head coach and the team manager decided to air their views, too.

Ms Lee subsequently tried to clarify that the review of the team hierarchy was already on the cards before the Beijing Olympics — but the damage was done.

In the words of Community Development, Youth and Sports Minister,Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: “Egos have been bruised, emotional tears and sweat have been shed.”

Ms Lee, a first-term Member ofParliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC, maintained that she did not think “there was anything wrong” with what she did, though she regretted speaking to the media as it caused her intention to be “blown out of proportion”.


Yet, this is not the first time that Ms Lee’s public comments — in particular her colourful language and combative oratorical style in Parliament — have caused a stir.

Flashback to February last year: Referring to the Thai decision to cancel an ongoing exchange programme between civil servants amid diplomatic tensions between the two countries, Ms Lee said: “Shouldn’t the ministry cancel all such programmes and channel the money to better use, such as, for example, expediting the lift upgrading programme in Nee Soon South?”

A few weeks later, within thehallowed halls of Parliament, she criticised the opposition’s call to delay the GST hike, slated for July last year, as a case of ai pang sai ka che jamban (Hokkien phrase meaning looking for a toilet only when one needs to defecate).

Her comments earned polite rebukes within the House and were frowned upon by mainstream media political commentators. When interviewed then, Ms Lee, who runs her own engineering consultancy firm, shrugged off the reactions to her use of unrefined language in Parliament.

“This is who I am and that is the way I talk. When I speak, I like to inject some humour. The phrase came naturally and I didn’t expect it to have such an impact.” “It’s not necessary to always use statistics and figures to make your point. We should make it more interesting so that people can remember,” saidMs Lee, adding that she felt she had an important point to make.


Throughout her life so far, Ms Lee — whose story is a classic rags to riches one — has always had a point to prove.

Born in Malacca, her parents asked her to quit school when she was 11 years old, to find work and help make ends meet. She refused.

“After that I had to take on all sorts of part-time jobs, including selling pisang goreng (banana fritters) to factory workers, to show I could study and work at the same time,” Ms Lee said in a media interview shortly after she was unveiled as a People’s Action Party candidate for the 2006 elections.

Arriving in Singapore in 1981 with RM20 in her pocket, she paid her way through university by giving tuition.

And that defiance and determination were needed even in her professional life in a male-dominated construction industry. Recalling how a potential client refused to work with her because he did not like female engineers, she said: “I have had to work hard to prove myself to some of those in the industry.”

Her grit has certainly broughtMs Lee, who is married with two teenage children, a long way. She was recently elected as the president of the Institution of Engineers — making her the first woman to head the national body representing the engineering profession in its 42-year history.

Her first foray into political work began in 2000, when her friend from university and now fellow Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Inderjit Singh dissuaded her from becoming a Nominated MP and instead, roped her in as a grassroots activist in his constituency.

And she has since carved a reputation as an all-action MP who is willing to “fight” — a word Ms Lee frequently uses to describe her political work — for her Nee Soon South residents. She also offered to adopt a stray mongrel in her ward after residents petitioned for it not to be put to sleep.

A grassroots leader in Ang Mo Kio GRC told Weekend Xtra that Ms Lee was “very patient” with residents, and would not hesitate to fire off letters to the authorities to air her residents’ grievances. Commenting on the table-tennis fiasco, he added: “Maybe she was a bit impulsive, her words were a bit too harsh ... but it was done on the spur of the moment.”

In her last few public appearances, Ms Lee has refused to comment further on the incident that had dominated the headlines for a week, stressing that the STTA committee will work behind the scenes to resolve the controversy.

Behind the scenes. That’s one phrase that Ms Lee will surely remember for a long time.


The Straits Times
28 Feb 2007

"Ah Huay" MP on her Hokkien humour

Newcomer Lee Bee Wah shrugs off criticism of her remark in Parliament, saying she was making an important point in an interesting manner. -ST

By Peh Sing Huei

NEARLY a week after uttering the Hokkien word for defecation, Member of Parliament Lee Bee Wah is finding it hard to live it down.

"People are still talking about it," she said in mock exasperation on Friday. "They forgot all about the contents of my speech."

That is perhaps not surprising. Given the prim and proper tradition of Parliament, Ms Lee caused a ripple of incredulous laughter when she criticised the opposition's call to delay the GST hike as a case of ai pang sai ka che jamban (looking for a toilet only when one needs to pass motion).

She felt she had an important point to make.

Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim of the Workers' Party had questioned the need to raise the goods and services tax (GST) rate while public coffers were still flush with funds.

Ms Lee, unconvinced, wanted to argue that it was better to do the needful while the economy was doing well, and not when things take a turn for the worse. Her pungent Hokkien-Malay analogy was later declared "colourful" by Second Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

Even before that, she had drawn riotous laughter when she prefaced her verbal tussle with Ms Lim by saying she did not mean it to be an "Ah Huay versus Ah Lian debate", playing on their Chinese names (Lin Rui Lian for Ms Lim) and (Li Mei Hua for Ms Lee).

"I still had to deliver my last paragraph but I nearly couldn't do it because everyone was still laughing," said Ms Lee, a People's Action Party (PAP) MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC.

One of her constituents, businessman Poh Phien Seah, 60, told The Sunday Times that he just loved the remark: "It's not too crude or rude. It's perfectly all right."

But not everyone took to her remarks kindly. She admitted that some people told her that they were shocked by such language. As another resident, housewife Tan Chor Hoong, 55, remarked: "It's Parliament. Shouldn't the language be a little more refined?"

Some, said Ms Lee, also wondered if the civil engineer with her coiffed fringe did it just to achieve notoriety.

Even her PAP comrade, Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Education) Masagos Zulkifli, told the House that there might be a more "elegant" way to make the point.

But Ms Lee, 46, and a mother of two, told The Sunday Times that she has no regrets. She readily admits that she is a chu ren (Mandarin for rough person). "This is who I am and that is the way I talk. When I speak, I like to inject some humour. The phrase came naturally and I didn't expect it to have such an impact," she said.

She also does not think it is inappropriate for Parliament. "It's not necessary to always use statistics and figures to make your point. We should make it more interesting so that people can remember. "My colleagues said that it's a good thing. I used to be called 'auntie'; now I am younger, I'm Ah Huay," she said with a laugh.

After her maiden Parliament speech last November, The Straits Times tagged her as an "auntie" who bites: She had launched blistering attacks on utilities and transport companies.

Indeed, despite just five months in the House, she has already gained a reputation as a straight-talking first-term MP always fiercely on a lookout for her constituents. For example, she said last month that since the Thais had cancelled civil service exchanges with Singapore, the money would be better spent on lift upgrading for her residents.

She also offered to adopt a stray mongrel, Blackie, in her ward, after residents petitioned for it not to be put to sleep. She said: "We are waiting to see if any residents want to adopt it. If not, I will. I don't have a dog. It will make my residents happy."

Perhaps a new "grassroots" MP in the making?

Thus far, none of the rookies has taken up the mantle of PAP MPs such as the likes of Mr Ong Ah Heng of Nee Soon Central - better known for their easy connection with working-class Singaporeans than their technocratic mastery of policy issues.

Ms Lee, who arrived here from Malaysia in 1981 with RM20 (about S$9 at today's rates) in her pocket and paid her way through university by giving tuition, has no problems being branded as such. She said most of the topics she raised in Parliament were first brought up by her residents - who are mostly HDB heartlanders.

"I spend time eating at coffee shops; I can talk to anybody," she said. "I don't mind being called a grassroots MP."

Protecting Content Host

The Straits Times
30 Aug 2008

Protecting online hosts

Spare the content hosts

By Chua Hian Hou

POPULAR technology website VR-Zone has a team of moderators - including a lawyer - who spend hours daily trawling for and removing defamatory remarks made by the hordes of users who frequent its online forum.

Defamation lawsuits, said the site's spokesman Terence Lee, have always been a headache for content companies like his, even if they had nothing to do with the comments.

So, it was with a loud cheer that Mr Lee greeted a recommendation from the Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (Aims).

The council wants online intermediaries to be given some protection from defamation lawsuits.

Such protection, said Aims yesterday, will in one stroke solve two problems: It will stop lawsuits against content hosts who had not put up the allegedly defamatory material, and overzealous censorship by content companies worried about such prosecution.

Since the Internet 'is potentially a medium of virtually limitless international defamation', people are more likely to sue 'borderline defendants with very little role in the dissemination of the defamation simply because the creators... may be difficult to locate or anonymous', the report said.

Singapore's defamation law allows people to go after the person who made the offending remarks, plus others in the 'chain of publication'.

Currently, network service providers, including SingNet and StarHub which give users access to go online, are free from defamation lawsuits.

But Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must not have made the defamatory remarks and must agree to a 'credible and authenticated' request from the victim to remove the allegedly defamatory material. Such a request is called a take-down notice.

But it is not clear whether content hosts, from blogs to citizen journalism site Stomp, are similarly protected.

Since no case involving a content host had gone to trial, the law remains untested, said Aims.

This 'ambiguous and uncertain' position means content hosts 'have little incentive to continue carrying, hosting or linking the allegedly defamatory material, and may in the face of a complaint err on the side of caution' and simply remove the offending material, it added.

This 'may lead to abuse by persons who wish to have truthful but unfavourable material removed'.

Aims' recommendation: offer content hosts protection similar to that given to ISPs, for defamation. It also suggested introducing a 'put back' notice, allowing users to force content hosts to reinstate the original material. This, it said, would 'prevent abuse of the take-down regime as a means of censoring speech'.

Nominated MP and lawyer Siew Kum Hong, who blogs, said it is 'generally a good thing for all parties involved to have their rights and obligations clearly spelt out'. He is among several in the legal community involved in Aims report.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Critics give iPhone 3G a pass

I had seriously thought of getting the iPhone some time back. And then I did my own analysis of its features and functions and decided that the iPhone was not really right for me. Yet.

An acquaintance of mine who actually went down to queue for the iPhone on its launching day, admittedly "ran away" after doing his sums on the spot that evening. He decided that he could not afford the iPhone price with its present features and that it was not worth the money. He felt he could get a better phone with the same amount of money. He then went to buy 4-D with his queue number. He did not win.

Well, I am still waiting for the next model of iPhone. Or maybe the next next version. Now it is riddled with bugs and glitches. Look at the ipod and its numerous re-incarnation to reach what it is now. It is now many many times better than its 1st few generation models.

So yeah....I still think I will wait for a few months or even years.

It's just hype and vibe! And I dun exactly follow hype.


The Straits Times
29 Aug 2008

Critics give iPhone 3G a pass

SEATTLE - FIRST an iPhone price cut left early buyers feeling foolish, and then came reports that some iPods were spitting sparks. Now the new iPhone 3G has been marred by bugs, spotty service, disappearing programs for the device and a veil of secrecy over software developers trying to broaden its appeal.

Such a string of mishaps and missteps might throw another electronics company into crisis. But of course, Apple isn't just another electronics company. Even as iPhone griping rages online, it looks like Apple's sterling reputation will emerge untarnished.

'The objective reality is that Apple does plenty of wrong,' said Dr Peter Fader, a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. However, Prof Fader said, the company's loyal fans, and even casual users, have come to identify so strongly with Apple's high-end, individualistic vibe that they're willing to look the other way.

'Very few companies have this kind of iconic status where anything they do, even if it is mediocre, will automatically have a halo around it,' he said.

Mr Kern Bruce, a 25-year-old Web designer in Boston, waited in line for 13 hours to buy an original iPhone. He sold it to upgrade to a 3G.

'There was no going back at that point, but after I sold it, I quickly started to regret it,' he said. Mr Bruce's complaints echo countless Web forum posts: The device gets uncomfortably warm.

Programs crash. And it so seldom connects to AT&T's speedier third-generation, or 3G, data network that Bruce carries the iPhone around with 3G turned off.

Apple, which declined to comment for this story, said little as complaints rolled in, then released a software fix it said would improve the device's ability to connect to 3G networks. Since then, users on various sites have reported no improvement.

Mr Bruce, an Apple aficionado since the very first iPod, also recently returned a MacBook Air because it got too hot, and said his Apple cinema-display monitor sports burned-in images. 'They're skimping on materials, on testing things to gain market share, but they're kind of pushing away people who have been with the brand even when (it was) struggling,' he said.

Yet when asked whether he'd abandon Apple, the answer was no. Macs are 'a lot better than the alternative, in terms of stability, viruses, being able to do high-end graphics work,' he said. 'I wouldn't tell people to stop getting Apple products. They make very good products.'

The new iPhone marked an important shift in the company's relationship with software programmers. The first iPhone didn't let outsiders write legitimate software for the device, though hackers did so anyway. Apple reversed course with the 3G and gave outside programmers tools to build iPhone applications and sell them on iTunes.

But developers, too, are irked by Apple's secrecy and limits on the kind of programs they can design. An unusually restrictive agreement they must sign keeps them from comparing notes even with fellow programmers.

They also complain that Apple has limited their access to the iPhone's inner workings. For example, non-Apple programmers can't reach into a user's iTunes library and play a song or display cover art.

Apple has kept developers in the dark as to why some applications are rejected or, in rare cases, removed from the iTunes store without warning or explanation.

One such program let people use the iPhone's cell service to connect a computer to the Internet. Its developer, a company called Nullriver, did not respond to a message seeking comment, but wrote of its consternation on its blog.

DoApp, a small mobile-software company in Minneapolis, said it took two months for Apple to review and ultimately reject its 99-cent whoopie cushion application. Mr Wade Beavers, DoApp's vice president of strategy, said Apple had never hinted that a program that mimics bodily functions would be considered inappropriate.

'Sometimes you feel like you're in line with the 'Soup Nazi',' Mr Beavers said, referring to a Seinfeld episode in which a soup vendor capriciously banished patrons. 'It's a really good deal to be part of the Apple thing, and you don't want to say anything to rock the boat. No soup for you! Your apps are gone!'

Mr Beavers also grumbled about crashing Mac hard drives and terrible iPhone 3G service. Even so, he said he'd still buy Apple products on the strength of their design - and because Apple gave small companies like DoApp the same access to the iTunes store as industry big shots.

Dr Baba Shiv, a professor of marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, compares Apple's fan base to Harley-Davidson motorcycle riders who pass over arguably higher-quality Japanese bikes.

The critical move that changed Apple's relationship with users was the launch of the iPod, Prof Shiv said. Apple went from being a private luxury - a maker of niche products - to a mainstream one, and wormed its way deeper into customers' psyche.

'In the public domain, the coolness factor matters,' he said.

Indeed, an iPod 'halo effect' is thought to be one big reason why Macs have boosted their share of the US personal-computer market to nearly 8 per cent.

Prof Shiv said Apple's fans play down negative information to explain their relationship to the brand - and justify spending more for products that may not be better than the competition's. Once that loyalty is formed, 'the transgression has to be so egregious for someone to completely change the narrative,' Prof Shiv said.

'If something like this had happened to Microsoft, the long-term impact would be much more for Microsoft than for Apple.' -- AP

Friday, August 29, 2008

Beware! Witch hunt for downloaders!

Thank goodness I am not into anime. And downloads.

I was too IT dumb to know that we can actually downloads stuff from the net. And when I did possessed the knowledge, copyright issues and files sharing piracy were all over the news. Illegal downloaders were being hunted down and issued warning lawyers's letters.

I was too intimidated and having lived so long without downloading anything illegally, I really dun see the need to now.

And those companies are so merciless in their quest to hunt for illegal downloaders. So beware of the dangers and dun download.


New Paper
28 Aug 2008

Hunt for illegal downloaders widens

More Japanese anime companies to take action

THE hunt for those who illegally download Japanese animation looks likely to get even more widespread.

By Liew Hanqing

A California-based company, which tracks copyrighted digital content, expects even more Japanese anime companies to engage its service, in their bid to crack down on illegal downloaders - and Singapore is one of the targets.

Mr Mark Ishikawa, chief executive officer and founder of BayTSP, the company which is tracking the illegal downloads, told The New Paper that it is working with several anime companies and 'talking with several more'. He declined to name the companies, citing a contractual agreement on confidentiality.

Copyright infringements

'Typically, clients direct us to monitor for copyright infringements worldwide, which includes Singapore,' he said.

Local anime distributor Odex engaged BayTSP's tracking services last year when it began its crackdown on illegal anime downloaders.

This year, it appears the Japanese companies - which include Geneon Entertainment Japan and Showgate Inc - are taking matters into their own hands.

On whether the anime downloading situation here has worsened over the last year, Mr Ishikawa said: 'Because we are working with more companies than we were a year ago, we're seeing more piracy of anime content, so there is no reliable way to compare a year ago with what we're seeing today.'

The New Paper asked Rajah & Tann, the law firm representing the anime companies, how many alleged illegal downloaders it had identified and sent letters to, but the firm declined to comment.

The New Paper understands that some netizens have been asked to pay settlements of up to $6,000 each for their illegal downloads.

One netizen, who declined to be named, described the amount as 'unreasonable'. He received a letter from Rajah & Tann on 18 Aug which alleged that his StarHub Internet account was linked to illegal downloads of Showgate's anime.

He was asked to pay a settlement of more than $5,000.

But the account linked to the downloads had already been terminated in April this year, he said. He asked: 'Why am I paying their legal fee when it is an out-of-court settlement? It feels like I've already been to court and lost the case by paying them the full sum.

'It would probably be more reasonable to ask us to purchase their original box set instead.' The netizen added that he had posted on several online forums, a call for those who had also received letters to seek collective legal advice on the matter. 'I have had people willing to donate small sums to 'take up the case and fight it' as well.'


The latest series of letters sent on behalf of the Japanese companies, who own the copyrights to the downloaded anime, have caused an online furore among other netizens who claim to have stopped downloading anime since the Odex crackdown last year.

The netizen The New Paper spoke to said the date of his alleged downloads were as far back as last September. He added: 'Even after this case ends, it would not promote original anime in any way. It would only increase our detest of these copyrighted anime.'

Life's humor

Really interesting humor on Life.


New Paper
28 Aug 2008


Your life is over. Now, just live.

That's what lawyer Adrian Tan, who wrote the popular '80s novel The Teenage Textbook, told students at a convocation at NTU recently.

Here are some excerpts:

YOU may be very happy to know that Singapore is currently ranked as the country with the third highest life expectancy. We are behind Andorra and Japan, and tied with San Marino.

It seems quite clear why people in those countries, and ours, live so long. We share one thing in common: our football teams are all hopeless. There's very little danger of any of our citizens having their pulses raised by watching us play in the World Cup.

Spectators are more likely to be lulled into a gentle and restful nap. That's why our life expectancies are so long.

Singaporeans have a life expectancy of 81.8 years. Singapore men live to an average of 79.21 years, while Singapore women live more than five years longer, probably to take into account the additional time they need to spend in the bathroom...

I'm here to tell you this. Forget about your life expectancy. After all, it's calculated based on an average. And you never, ever want to expect being average.

Revisit those expectations. You might be looking forward to working, falling in love, marrying, raising a family. You are told that, as graduates, you should expect to find a job paying so much, where your hours are so much, where your responsibilities are so much.

That is what is expected of you. And if you live up to it, it will be an awful waste.

If you expect that, you will be limiting yourself. You will be living your life according to boundaries set by average people. I have nothing against average people. But no one should aspire to be them. And you don't need years of education by the best minds in Singapore to prepare you to be average.

What you should prepare for is mess. Life's a mess. You are not entitled to expect anything from it. Life is not fair. Everything does not balance out in the end. Life happens, and you have no control over it...

Don't expect anything. Erase all life expectancies. Just live. Your life is over as of today...

What does this mean for you? It is good that your life is over.

Since your life is over, you are free. Let me tell you the many wonderful things that you can do when you are free.


THE most important is this: do not work.

Work is anything that you are compelled to do. By its very nature, it is undesirable. Work kills.

The Japanese have a term 'karoshi', which means death from overwork. That's the most dramatic form of how work can kill.

But it can also kill you in more subtle ways. If you work, then day by day, bit by bit, your soul is chipped away, disintegrating until there's nothing left. A rock has been ground into sand and dust.

There's a common misconception that work is necessary. You will meet people working at miserable jobs. Or people who are employed to do something morally distasteful, or even plain criminal.

Such people justify their actions by telling you they are 'making a living'. No, they're not. They're dying, frittering away their fast-extinguishing lives doing things which are, at best, meaningless and, at worst, harmful...

Do not waste the vast majority of your life doing something you hate so that you can spend the small remainder of your life in modest comfort. You may never reach that end anyway.

Resist the temptation to get a job. Instead, play. Find something you enjoy doing. Do it. Over and over again. You will become good at it for two reasons: you like it, and you do it often. Soon, that will have value in itself...

Find that pursuit that will energise you, consume you, become an obsession. Each day, you must rise with a restless enthusiasm. Wake up and know exactly what you want to do and why you want to do it.

If you don't, you are working.


MOST of you will end up in activities which involve communication. To those of you I have a second message: be wary of the truth.

I'm not asking you to speak it, or write it, for there are times when it is dangerous or impossible to do those things. The truth has a great capacity to offend and injure, and you will find that the closer you are to someone, the more care you must take to disguise or even conceal the truth.

Often, there is great virtue in being evasive, or equivocating. There is also great skill. Any child can blurt out the truth, without thought to the consequences. It takes great maturity to appreciate the value of silence.

In order to be wary of the truth, you must first know it. That requires great frankness to yourself. Never fool the person in the mirror.

I have told you that your life is over, that you should not work, and that you should avoid telling the truth. I now say this to you: be hated.


IT'S not as easy as it sounds.

Do you know anyone who hates you? Yet every great figure who has contributed to the human race has been hated, not just by one person, but often by a great many.

That hatred is so strong it has caused those great figures to be shunned, abused, murdered and in one famous instance, nailed to a cross.

One does not have to be evil to be hated. In fact, it's often the case that one is hated precisely because one is trying to do right by one's own convictions.

It is far too easy to be liked, one merely has to be accommodating and hold no strong convictions. Then one will gravitate towards the centre and settle into the average. That cannot be your role.

There are a great many bad people in the world, and if you are not offending them, you must be bad yourself.

Popularity is a sure sign that you are doing something wrong.


THE other side of the coin is this: fall in love.

I didn't say 'be loved'. That requires too much compromise. If one changes one's looks, personality and values, one can be loved by anyone.

Rather, I exhort you to love another human being. It may seem odd for me to tell you this. You may expect it to happen naturally, without deliberation. That is false.

Modern society is anti-love. We've taken a microscope to everyone to bring out their flaws and shortcomings.

It is far easier to find a reason not to love someone, than otherwise. Rejection requires only one reason. Love requires complete acceptance. It is hard work - the only kind of work that I find palatable.

Loving someone has great benefits. There is admiration, learning, attraction and something which, for the want of a better word, we call happiness. In loving someone, we become inspired to better ourselves in every way...

Despite popular culture, love doesn't happen by chance, at first sight, across a crowded dance floor. It grows slowly, sinking roots first before branching and blossoming...

You will find that it is no great tragedy if your love is not reciprocated. You are not doing it to be loved back. Its value is to inspire you.

Finally, you will find that there is no half-measure when it comes to loving someone. You either don't, or you do with every cell in your body, completely and utterly, without reservation or apology. It consumes you, and you are reborn, all the better for it.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Parasite singles

There is a new term for older singles still living with their parents. Parasites singles.

In asian countries, singles live with their parents until they got married, which normally occur when they are in their middle or late 20s.

But now, people are getting married later and well, some parents are starting to find that their single children to be something of a nuisance!

In land scarce countries like Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore etc, where rentals are high, living with parents are more economic. Rentals can eat up a huge chunk of the monthly salary income.

Living with parents can very convenient. There are hot cooked meals, fresh clean laundry, minimal housework etc. All these for a minimal parental allowance. Who doesn't want to live with their parents?

I moved out of my parents' place when I was in my early 20s. My relationship with my mother was terrible and extremely stormy. We were quarrelling and screaming at each other almost every day.

And one day, I just had enough. I was just so tired of the negative energy around my mother. So I moved out to get some peace and I never looked back since. And I never really missed home that much.

Initially, living with SO, apart fromy parents was admittedly difficult. There were so many things to be done on my own independence. I had to cook or buy my own meals. I had to wash my own clothes, which was not that difficult once I got a washing machine.

The most difficult part of the loneliness. I dun missed my mother nor her constant nagging and screaming, but I did missed having someone else in the house. And I missed my dog, Gin, the most.

After I moved out, I did found the peace, silence, stuff which I could never get when I was living with my parents. And I grew to appreciate that peace and silence till this day.

And now, I am too spoiled for peace, living without my parents that I would never want to move back home.

My mother did asked some years back. She complained that she was old and there was no one home. She issued veiled threats of falling at home and dying undiscovered.

I did considered. For a moment. And I told her no. I told her so, that I am used to a peaceful life and I did not want to go back to an unhappy life of quarrels and arguments.

I told her, moving back, life would lapsed to as before, and that I would probably kill her and then jump with a month.

I think she understood. I really hope she did. Much as I wanted to move back, I am also aware of the possible consequences.

I needed to be happy for myself. It's time that I lived life for myself and not for her. Moving back would be living for her, not myself.

Frankly, I dun have a good opinion of singles who still lived with their parents after they turned 3o. Shame on them. Men who still lived home then are so mummy' boys. And women are so pampered, spoilt bitches. I absolutely hated that!

Many young women these days dun know how to cook. They dun see a need to. There's always mama and then there is the maid. And getting food here is so convenient, that they would not starve if they did not know how to cook.

SO's brother is something of a parasite single. He is nearly 40 and still lived at home. Well, he did bought the flat though. And his mother did enjoyed her sons living at home.

In fact, she preferred that SO moved home and lived with her too.

SO's brother is something of domestic cripple. He does not know how to cook, do housework, or even wash his own clothes. All of this is done by his mama.

That is so shameful and humiliating. I always wondered aloud to SO, what would happen to his brother once their mother died. I think he would probably be all smelly and living in a slum!

SO 's aunt died about 2 years back. She had 2 children who were about 20 plus. And after she died, the family did not know how to operate the washing machine. They had to call around to ask. These coming from educated youths who are absolutely clueless when it came to doing domestic chores.

I did not know how to operate the washer when I was living with my parents. I never needed to touch one till I moved out. But I learned. It was not exactly rocket science nor a steep learning curve. But I learned to be independent.

That's why I always tell SO to be grateful for the domestic training I provided for him ever week.


New Paper
27 Aug 2008


Worried parents flock to matchmaking events

REMEMBER this term - parasite singles. It may haunt you one day, if fewer people in Singapore have babies.

Parasite singles is a term coined by a Japanese professor to refer to older single men and women who are still living with their parents.

The problem is so acute in Japan that fed-up parents have taken over the search for a mate. Japanese traditionally house and support their children until marriage, which has usually occurred at a younger age than now.

But as the kids stay at home longer due to job uncertainty and an unwillingness to compromise, panicked parents are flocking to mass matchmaking events at hotels and conference centres, reported The Times of India.

Events have been held in 13 cities with around 6,500 participants.

Marriage agency Office Ann organises such an event. This is how it works. Parents are handed a list of eligible men and women detailing age, background, income and soon. Guests who like the look of a candidate take along photos and CVs of their offspring to other parents sitting in the same hall.

If the parents click, they exchange information and agree to arrange a meeting between their children. Then the hard work of playing Cupid to unsuspecting offspring begins. 'Our son doesn't know we're here, but we hope he'll be pleased,' one parent told the Independent.

'He is just too busy to come by himself.'

Ms Saki Kazoo, president of matchmaking firm Marriage Club Wish Oklahoma, told the Independent that the children often know absolutely nothing about these meetings. She said: 'Parents are so worried about their unmarried offspring that they feel they have to do something.'

Sociologist Masahiro Yamada, who coined the term 'parasite single', said 60 per cent of single Japanese men and 80 per cent of women still live at home and unmarried into their early thirties.

It is one of the highest rates in the world. Prof Yamada says there are 10 million parasite singles of both sexes in Japan, reported the Independent.

Japan's fertility rate fell to a low of 1.25 in 2005, meaning more people died than were born. Without immigration to offset the shortage, the population of 127 million will halve by the end of the century, the government warned recently.

Lazy children to blame?

Prof Yamada blames the parasite phenomenon on lazy children who grew up in luxury to baby-boomer parents, but the problem is more complex.

Millions of Japanese men in their twenties and thirties toil some of the longest hours in the developed world, then spend most of their weekends sleeping, leaving little time to look for partners. Women, meanwhile, shun marriage to overworked men who are seldom around. In the middle are their worried mums and dads, says Ms Kasai.

'Some people are lucky because they find love by themselves,' she told the Independent. 'Others need a little help, from wherever they can get it. That's what we're here for.'

My Bonny lies over the ocean

I remembered Bonny. Bonny, the local super model when I was growing up. Bonny, the face that graced a hundred magazine covers.

I was trying to search online for any old photo of her but was unable to find any. She, the face of a thousand photos, now has none online.

The only information I could find of her online was her namesake thrift shop at the Bonny Hicks Education and Training Centre and the entry on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

I did not know Bonny personally but I have met her twice. It was many years ago. I was young and taking French lessons at Alliance Francaise near Orchard road. And one evening, as I was waiting for class to start, she sashayed in in from the main road.

All eyes were on her. She had that illuminating presence.

I dared not talked to her. She was a famous celebrity, a top model and writer. Her books had came out and she was gracing magazines covers.

I heard that she was rather friendly. During a book signing, a fan had chatted with her and they even exchanged contacts. She did not brushed that fan off, like some other celebrities. She was that down to earth.

And me, I was intimidated. I would never talk to a stranger, especially a celebrity. Even now.

When I was living in Newton, there were quite a few celebrities neighbours like James L and the gf-now wife, Diana S. There was CHW, another actor and several others.

There were times when we even shared the same lift but I never looked at them direct or spoke to any of them.

Sometimes SO would get all excited and point to them from afar. But I dun think it was appropriate. If I am famous, which I would never be, I would not like people to hound me either.

Anyway, back to Bonny.

Even if I knew that she would die within a few years from our meeting, I dun think I would have approached her when I met her years ago.

I would just sit in a corner, admiring her from afar.

But maybe, if time could go back, I may just approach her and ask if we could take a photo together.

Rest in peace, Bonny!


New Paper
27 Aug 2008

Recall Bonny Hicks

Mum spends birthdays at crash site

Bonny Hicks Daughter's death anniversary falls on her birthday

By Maureen Koh

TIME, they say, heals all wounds. But for Madam Betty Soh, it merely numbs the grief.

Life, she tells you, still has to go on. 'Even though there's no meaning to it anymore,' said the mother of former Singaporean model Bonny Hicks.

Her only child was killed in the SilkAir MI 185 crash in December 1997. The fateful date - 19 Dec - has only made her loss more excruciating for it was Madam Soh's 57th birthday.

Bonny was 29.

'How do you celebrate life when it is marked by the death of someone dearest to you,' she muttered, lost in her thoughts for some seconds.

Then, as if she feels the need to comfort herself, Madam Soh asked: 'Is this normal? The quick flashes of pain I feel?'

At this reporter's affirmative assurance, she nodded and heaved a sharp sigh of relief. The tears took some time to stop and that's only because she had found another way around her sorrow, Madam Soh added.

However deceiving it seems, it is her way of coping with losing her beloved daughter. 'When it gets too painful, I just think of it like she's living apart from me, like it was in the past,' she said.

Then, as Madam Soh had to work, her own mother had taken care of the young child.

When Bonny turned 12, they moved from a HDB flat in Toa Payoh to Sentosa, where Madam Soh had accepted a caretaker's job to look after a bungalow. With mixed emotions, she recalled: 'In some ways, maybe it was a good thing that Bonny was rather independent.

'She moved out when she was 19 and was roughing it out on her own.'

At the time of her death, Bonny was living in Jakarta with longtime boyfriend Richard Dalrymple, better known as Randy.

Madam Soh added: 'I try not to think too much of the Bonny I lost. Instead, I rejoice at the wonderful daughter I once had.'

And each year, she spends her birthday at the bank of the Indonesia's Musi River, the crash site near Palembang.

Bonny's remains were never found. Only her wallet and credit cards were recovered. 'Even though it's painful making the trip, it's something I must do,' she said.

And until the next year comes along, Madam Soh tries to fill the void in her life.

She bought a membership to the Singapore Recreation Club, where she goes for her weekly swim on Tuesdays. Occasionally, she plays mahjong with close friends when they do not have to mind their grandchildren.

Madam Soh no longer does volunteer work at the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations. She used to work in the thrift shop at the Bonny Hicks Education and Training Centre, where she packed and arranged items people donated for bargain hunters.

'Difference in opinions' was all she would say.


To assuage her loneliness, Madam Soh took on her brother's suggestion and pitched in money to buy a three-storey property in the east last year. She moved in together with his family in March, along with poignant reminders of Bonny.

At the driveway's end stands a Buddha artefact, surrounded by potted plants. A stone's throw away is a Balinese cabinet, one of Bonny's favourites. In the living room, another cabinet and a bureau share the space with the TV stand, while framed pieces of abstract art add life to the stark walls of the home.

With a gentle sway of hands, Madam Soh said: 'All these were from Bonny's Jakarta home. She had such a love for them.'

In her room on the second level, a glass cabinet stands next to a large bookcase. And it is evident at once that the spot is much like a shrine to Bonny.

Luxurious tote bags and handbags occupy the top-most shelf of the cabinet. Several rings, bracelets and watches lie neatly on another spotlessly clean shelf.

Madam Soh, who read the question before it was asked, said: 'Yes, I clean them every day.'

It is a ritual she sees to personally each day, even though the family has a maid. 'I treasure them too much to let someone else do it,' she said.

Just as cherished are the variety of photos that adorn the bookcase, which offer an intimate glimpse into Bonny's life. Such as the candid shot of a precarious girl with a toothy grin or the one of a vivacious teen with her friends.

Then, there are those that mark her adult years - from catwalk struts to posed portraits, one of Bonny with her first boyfriend, others of her and Randy.

It is in these photos that Madam Soh finds solace. She said: 'Always smiling, that's my Bonny.'

Death of a Sunshine Boy

It is most painful when parents lose their young child.

The blog written by the parents is full of anguish and pain. It is going to take a lot of time before they can get over the death of their child. Well, they may not. But they would never forget their child.

Read the blog at your own risk. I can feel their pain.My heart went out all the way to them.

Rest in peace, Sunshine boy!


New Paper
27 Aug 2008

Jail? Guilty plea? I can't forgive him

Driver jailed for running over boy at Simei

By Chong Shin Yen

HE was their Sunshine Boy, who died after he was run over twice by a reversing lorry. And though the driver has been jailed, the parents of Jadon Sim, 8, still cannot find closure.

His father, Mr Sim Chin Soon, wrote in a blog dedicated to him: 'This is cold comfort to all of us here who are still grieving over you.

'To some, this is probably a 'closure'. But to mummy and papa, there'll never be a full closure. There can never be a closure for the void in our hearts that is left by your departure.'

The entry was dated last Friday, the day former delivery driver Lim Poh Eng, 50, was sentenced to a year's jail for causing the accident and another eight months for taking drugs.

Lim was also disqualified from driving for 10 years.

Mr Sim, 43, a civil servant, declined to be interviewed. But the blog, which he started about two months after Jadon's death, showed that till today, the family are still grappling with the loss of their 'baby'.

Pain always there

The Primary Three pupil was hit along the pedestrian walkway between Simei MRT station and East Point Shopping Mall at 3.20pm on 22 May last year. He died about an hour later at Changi General Hospital.

Lim was reversing his lorry to deliver goods to a shop next to the walkway when the accident happened.

Last month, when Mr Sim found out that Lim was going to plead guilty, he wrote in his blog: 'Frankly, Papa don't give two hoots about him. 'Nothing is going to bring you back to us, baby. Nothing matters now.'

Mr Sim and his wife were not in court when Lim was sentenced.

But Jadon's uncle, Mr Nicholas Sim, told The New Paper: 'My brother told me that he doesn't want to know the outcome. He said that it doesn't matter any more. His boy is already gone.' Mr Nicholas Sim added that Jadon's parents and older brother, 16, have rarely talked about the accident over the past year.

'My brother and sister-in-law are holding up well but the pain is always there,' he said. 'My mother, who took care of Jadon while his parents were at work, is still sad.'

The elderly woman, who was at home when The New Paper visited, walked away quietly when she heard her grandson's name.

Jadon's family lives not far from the accident scene, while Mr Nicholas Sim lives at a nearby block. He said: 'It's hard to forget as we walk and drive past the accident site every day. As to whether we forgive (Lim), a life was lost. Forgiveness can't bring Jadon back.'

Jadon's father also addressed the issue of forgiveness in his blog. In an entry last month, he wrote: 'Baby, you'd always been a forgiving child, and I just know in my heart that you've long forgiven the man.

'But I'm afraid it's going to take Papa and Mummy a long long time before we can say we have truly forgiven that man.'

But forgiveness is just what Lim was looking for. The court heard that he has been haunted by memories of Jadon and can't bring himself to drive again.

Lim, a bachelor, resigned from his job. Racked with guilt, he has apparently been praying for Jadon's soul and spirit and for his family to find peace and comfort.

His lawyer, Mr Laurence Goh, told the court that Lim became a mental wreck after Jadon's death.

Said Mr Goh: 'He is now jobless and unable to concentrate on anything as he is constantly thinking about the boy and his family, and how traumatised they must be from his death.'

He added that if Jadon's parents permit, Lim would like to visit his niche to 'atone for his sin'. Mr Goh also said that Lim was so distressed that on many occasions, he had felt like ending his life 'to pay for the loss of Jadon's life'.

Hard to sleep

He said Lim became withdrawn after the accident and had difficulty sleeping. So when a friend who owed him money gave him a packet of Subutex as part payment, Lim took the drug hoping to find some relief.

Mr Goh later told the media that if given a chance, Lim would like to apologise in person to Jadon's parents and seek their forgiveness.

Said Mr Goh: 'He (Lim) said that nothing he says or does can bring the boy back to his parents. 'He is accepting the sentence and hopes this would bring some consolation to Jadon's parents.'

However, District Judge Hamidah Ibrahim criticised Lim for earlier blaming the accident partially on Jadon. The judge called his comments insensitive before jailing him for not keeping a proper lookout.

For the Sim family, the hope is that Jadon's death has served as a wake-up call. Said Mr Nicholas Sim: 'My brother told me that he hoped Jadon had sacrificed his life so that precautions would be taken to prevent similar accidents from happening there.'

For causing death by a rash act, Lim could have been jailed two years and fined. For consuming Subutex, he could have been jailed 10 years and fined $20,000.

Drama in Parliament

There's a new heroine in town and her name is Dr Lily Neo.

Dr Neo did the unthinkable in parliament. She interrupted parliament with a short dramatic outburst and stood up for her people!

Now the online forums are buzzing with salutations of admiration for her.

I did not know Dr Lily Neo personally. She is this usually poised, soft spoken and polished, well dressed rich lady doctor. The issues at hand must be quite something to ruffle her feathers like that.

One of the staff hat my former office, a cleaner had seen Dr Neo when she was a doctor. This old lady said that Dr Neo was not really effective as a doctor. She had gone to see Dr Neo for some common ailments, but the medication did not work for her. She saw Dr Neo twice. So she concluded that Dr Neo was no good as a doctor.

She may not be an excellent doctor, but let's hope she can be a better politician. Her district is not exactly a well-off hotspot of rich elite people.

Most of her constituents are those common average people, not exactly elite status. Many did wondered how this rich, high class, educated, elite lady born with a silver spoon (or rather, a gold spoon) can identified with people from another class and status. She dun exactly look the type that get her hands dirty.

But so far, she has been doing quite well for a number of years.

Anyway, I hope that she would not be "punished" for her outburst in conservative parliament.


New Paper
27 Aug 2008

MP's outburst:

'I needed to shout for these people'

By Ng Tze Yong

HAD it been Taiwan's boisterous parliament, yesterday's little moment might have gone unnoticed. But in Singapore, where Parliament is as proper as they come, the incident was no less than an outburst.

Halfway through the marathon parliamentary session, Dr Lily Neo (Jalan Besar GRC) suddenly waved a piece of paper frantically at the Speaker, Mr Abdullah Tarmugi, like a latecomer flagging a departing bus.

When she got no response, she stood up, walked to the rostrum and stopped the Speaker from moving on to the next question. Then, with eyes flashing, she said in a terse tone that she needed to rehash a previous point.

Backs stiffened. All held their breath. Okay. No shoes were hurled and no fists thrown.

But a fellow parliamentarian had - by Singapore's yardstick - exploded.

The House had been debating a question raised by Dr Neo. She had asked the Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, a three-point question.

One, whether his Ministry is monitoring how lower-income Singaporeans are being affected by inflation and the stagnation of wages.

Two, whether the available assistance is lessening their difficulties.

And three, whether there will be other measures to ensure that no one falls through the cracks.

In her reply, Minister of State Yu-Foo Yee Shoon, who was standing in for Dr Balakrishnan, listed the different assistance schemes available, and cited examples of families which benefit from the schemes.

Then, before she knew it... 'Question 8!' The Speaker had signalled the House to move on to the next question, tabled by Dr Lam Pin Min (Ang Mo Kio GRC).

In the row above her, Dr Lam was already rising to acknowledge the Speaker.

That was when Dr Neo lost her cool. She reiterated her call for more to be done (the Speaker kept silent) and Mrs Yu Foo rose to clarify a few points.

But the question remained: What made the usually-polished Dr Neo flustered?

When The New Paper caught up with her after parliament ended, she explained she was speaking up for low-income families who are not eligible for Public Assistance because one or both of the parents are working. These are the needy ones, she said, who have fallen through the cracks.

They are the cleaners, the hawker assistants who, despite the Government's mantra of helping citizens help themselves, are so down and out they have no way of helping themselves, she said.

'They see the rich, and they see Singapore progressing,' said Dr Neo. 'But then they say, look at me, what chance do I have?' Dr Neo's gripe is this: The existing assistance schemes are all temporary and ad-hoc.

'We need something permanent for these people that can lift them out of the poverty cycle, like getting the kids to pre-school or getting the parents better jobs,' she said.

Why wasn't she satisfied with the answer? 'I didn't need to be told what policies we have. I know that already,' said Dr Neo.

Trying her luck

Half of Dr Neo's constituents live in rental flats.

'There are many questions that have to be addressed in Parliament, and the Speaker has to give everyone a chance,' she said. 'But I wanted to try my luck. I was waving my paper at the Speaker already but he skipped me! 'So I told myself I had to get to the rostrum before the next person could start speaking.'

Some of her fellow MPs were amused. 'They were asking me afterwards, how come you wave like that? Some others were saying... yah yah yah, did you see her, I couldn't see her head but I could see her paper!' she said.

'But I just felt I needed to shout for these people. I think I did, and I wanted to.'

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Not guilty does not equate innocence

We have often heard of the term, Innocent until proven guilty.

And now we know that just because one is not found guilty in court did not necessary mean one is innocent.

So what does that mean? That no one is truly innocent once that person is charged in court?

And that guilt or innocence is just by reasonable doubt? And that by innocence, it is only legally innocent and not really innocent.


The Straits Times
25 Aug 2008

Not guilty = innocent?

A MAN is charged with a crime. After a trial, he is acquitted and goes free. Does that mean he is innocent?

Not necessarily.

Witnesses may have changed their evidence or a technicality may have got in the way. The end result: The prosecution is unable to convince the judge that the man had done the deed.

And once there is a reasonable doubt as to his guilt, duty requires that the judge acquit the man.

Said Law Minister K. Shanmugam in Parliament on Monday: 'It is entirely possible for a person to have committed acts which amount to a crime and yet, there may be no conviction. No serious lawyer will question this possibility.''

He was responding to two lawyer-MPs, who wanted him to clarify the position of the Attorney-General on the subject of acquittals.

The issue of guilt and innocence has been in the air since mid-May when AG Walter Woon stated that an acquitted person may be 'not guilty'' in law, but guilty in fact.

Two months later, Appeal Court Judge V K Rajah weighed in on the issue, noting that such comments could undermine confidence in the courts' verdicts and the criminal justice system which is predicated on the doctrine of 'innocent until proven guilty''.

Not so, said Mr Shanmugam.

He described the presumption of innocence as an 'important and fundamental principle'' which the Government is 'absolutely committed to upholding.'' 'There is no intention to question or qualify that principle in any way. I am surprised that any doubt should at all have arisen about this,'' he said.

Nor does the Government have any intention to encroach on the functions of the Courts.

'It is for the courts, and the courts alone, to exercise judicial power and decide the question of guilt, in a trial.''

The position taken by the AG was a logical one, the same as that taken by his predecessor Chan Sek Keong, now the Chief Justice, he said.

CJ Chan had pointed out in a lecture in 1996 that the trial process was designed to prove guilt - not innocence.

Quoting from the lecture, Mr Shanmugam reported the then-AG saying that the presumption of innocence is a presumption that an accused is 'legally innocent."

'It is simply an expression, that in a criminal trial, the procesecution is obliged to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt,'' said Mr Shanmugam.

The AG's position was also consistent with jurisprudence from Commonwealth countries, such as England and Scotland.


The Straits Times
26 Aug 2008

Govt defends A-G's stand

Law Minister reiterates that 'not guilty in law' does not mean 'innocent'

By K.C.Vijayan

A MAN is charged with a crime. After a trial, he is acquitted and goes free. Does that mean he is innocent?

Not necessarily.

Witnesses may have changed their evidence, or a technicality may have got in the way. What this amounts to: The prosecution is unable to convince the judge that the man had done the deed.

And once there is any reasonable doubt as to an accused's guilt, duty requires that the judge acquit him.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam told Parliament yesterday: 'It is entirely possible for a person to have committed acts which amount to a crime and yet, there may be no conviction. I emphasise this: No serious lawyer will question this possibility.'

He was responding to two lawyer-MPs, who wanted him to clarify the position of the Attorney-General on the subject of acquittals. The issue has been up in the air since mid-May, when Attorney-General Walter Woon stated that an acquitted person may be 'not guilty' in law, but 'guilty' in fact.

Two months later, Appeal Court Judge V. K. Rajah weighed in on the issue. He did not refer to what the Attorney-General said, but made it clear that such comments could undermine confidence in the courts' verdicts and the criminal justice system, which is based on the doctrine of 'innocent until proven guilty'.

Not so, said Mr Shanmugam.

He described the presumption of innocence as an 'important and fundamental principle' which the Government is 'absolutely committed to upholding'.

'There is no intention to question or qualify that principle in any way. I am surprised that any doubt should at all have arisen about this.'

The Government has no intention of encroaching on the functions of the courts either, he added. 'It is for the courts, and the courts alone, to exercise judicial power and decide the question of guilt, in a trial.'

The Attorney-General's position is similar to that of his predecessor, Mr Chan Sek Keong, now the Chief Justice, Mr Shanmugam said.

CJ Chan had pointed out in a lecture in 1996 that the trial process was designed to prove guilt, not innocence.

Quoting from the lecture, Mr Shanmugam reported the then Attorney-General as saying that the presumption of innocence amounts to saying an accused person is 'legally innocent'.

'It is simply an expression that in a criminal trial, the prosecution is obliged to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt,' said Mr Shanmugam.

The system in places such as England and Scotland is similar. In fact, Scotland has a third verdict - 'not proven' - besides 'guilty' and 'not guilty'. While 'not guilty' is a positive declaration of innocence, 'not proven' implies that guilt has not been conclusively proven.

Even as he stuck to his guns, Mr Shanmugam cautioned against jumping the other way. 'Just as a person acquitted may not necessarily be innocent, he may well also be, in fact, innocent.'

Lawyers The Straits Times contacted said the concepts of legal innocence and factual guilt have always been there, and agreed with Mr Shanmugam that accused persons may sometimes go free.

Association of Criminal Lawyers Singapore president Subhas Anandan said he had defended clients in the past who were acquitted for one reason or other, but whom he felt were guilty in fact.

'An accused person is not going to bother if he is factually guilty. All he wants is to be be able to walk away free.'

The reverse also applies: where a person is factually innocent but legally guilty. 'This happens where the accused wants to plead guilty to a lesser charge and end the case... because his interest is to walk away as quickly as possible.'


The Straits Times
12 July 2008

Judge: No question of 'factual guilt' after acquittal

Justice V.K. Rajah takes issue with Govt's position on guilt and innocence

By K. C. Vijayan

A HIGH Court judge has taken issue with the Government's position that people acquitted of crimes may not necessarily be innocent.

Judge of Appeal V.K. Rajah said it was a cornerstone of the justice system that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and it was for prosecutors to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

He said: 'If the evidence is insufficient to support the prosecution's theory of guilt, and if the weaknesses in the prosecution's case reveal a deficiency in what is necessary for a conviction, the judge must acquit the accused and with good reason: it simply has not been proved to the satisfaction of the law that the accused is guilty, and the presumption of innocence stands unrebutted.

'It is not helpful, therefore, for suggestions to be subsequently raised about the accused's 'factual guilt' once he has been acquitted.'

To do so, he added, would be to undermine the court's not-guilty finding. It would also 'stand the presumption of innocence on its head, replacing it with an insidious and open-ended suspicion of guilt that an accused person would be hard-pressed to ever shed, even upon vindication in a court of law.'

His remarks on acquittal, innocence and guilt came near the end of his written judgment explaining why he acquitted former teacher William Ding, 36, of molesting several schoolboys.

While he did not say so, his comments appear directed at the position taken by the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) in The Straits Times on May 8 and May 14.

The AGC was quoted in the first article as saying that a judge was bound by law to acquit a person if the prosecution could not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

'This means that if there is any reasonable doubt, the accused gets the benefit of it. It does not mean that the accused was innocent in the sense that he did not do the deed,' its spokesman said.

The AGC later wrote to the Forum Page and said that the nuance of an acquittal was often not clearly appreciated by the public.

'(The accused person) may be guilty in fact, but innocent in law because the evidence was not there,' its spokesman said.

That position took many, including lawyers, by surprise. Lawyer N. Sreenivasan wrote to the Forum Page saying such a view was of 'grave concern'.

'If the prosecution, with the full resources of the police, the power to interrogate accused persons, interview witnesses, seize evidence and rely on various presumptions, cannot prove a case beyond reasonable doubt, then the prosecution should not cast any cloud on the acquittal of the accused,' said Mr Sreenivasan.

In his written judgment, Justice Rajah said he had no doubt that prosecutions are begun only after careful investigation, but emphasised that 'the decision of guilt or innocence is constitutionally for the court and the court alone to make'.

'The court cannot convict if a reasonable doubt remains to prevent the presumption of innocence from being rebutted,' he added.

'In that result, there is no room for second-guessing or nice distinctions; there is only one meaning to 'not proved' and that is that it has not been established in the eyes of the law that the accused has committed the offence with which he has been charged.'

The question a court has to decide on is not whether it suspects the accused has done the deed, he added, but whether the prosecution has proven it beyond any reasonable doubt.

'Objective and not subjective belief is the essential touchstone of guilt and there is simply no place for subsequent speculation or implication that an acquitted accused may be 'factually guilty',' said Justice Rajah.

He noted that Singapore's adversarial system was not flawless, and perfectly proper prosecutions may sometimes fail for unexpected reasons. But the system was 'eminently credible, pragmatic and effective'.

'The rules are clear and precise, and neither the prosecution nor defence can or should complain if they fail by them,' he said.

Justice Rajah, who has been on the bench since 2004, was made a Judge of Appeal last year and also headed a committee to undertake a comprehensive review of the legal sector.

The judge also said that the doctrine of reasonable doubt was neither abstract nor theoretical.

'It has real, practical and profound implications in sifting the innocent from the guilty: in deciding who should suffer punishment and who should not,' he said.

Calling it a 'a bedrock principle of the criminal justice system' here, he said it was one which served public confidence that Singapore's system punishes only those who are guilty.