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Monday, 17 December 2007

Singapore won Asian Idol!

Asian Idol
Well, that was an interesting twist. Hady Mirza, the second Singapore Idol and the country's representative to this regional competition, beat the crowd favourites! Even the judges hadn't mentioned him, when asked for their final comments.

Which just goes to show the wisdom of the crowds. Of course, Singapore was probably also helped by the "two vote" requirement, i.e. each SMS vote needed to include two singers/countries in order to be counted as a valid vote. That eliminated the domination of votes by large countries. I guess the final vote shows that either Singapore was seen as a "safe" choice, or Hady Mirza really can belt it out like the pros. Or someone rigged the votes ("kelong!").

Whatever it is, this will be a double celebration for Singapore. First, our athletes come back with 43 golds at the recently concluded Southeast Asian Games, and now we've won the first Asian Idol. Yay!

Sidenote: No, I wasn't watching the entire show. I only tuned in the last few minutes because I was curious.

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Friday, 30 November 2007

Closing of library@orchard

Locking the doors at 9pm
You can call a rose by any other name, and it will still smell the same. So it was with the library@orchard. After only eight years, it was closing -- or in its own words -- "moving on". As part of its final day festivities, the National Library Board threw a farewell party for staff, patrons and well-wishers. I attended as a well-wisher.

Dinner was provided, and if there's one thing the government does well, it's providing good food. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived, most of it had been wiped out already. If there's one thing Singaporeans do well, it's eating. I consoled myself with a heaping of fried rice and pieces of teriyaki chicken.

Registration table
While eating, I walked around the library... yes, with food in hand. It felt liberating and a tad criminal to be eating in the library so blatantly. But it was allowed, and I wasn't going to argue with that.

I'd been to this particular branch less than 10 times in all. But it's my first time there that stands out. That was the time I learned that the library carried comics! And not just the Garfield or Far Side type, but actual DC/Marvel Superman/Batman/X-Men comics! That was mind blowing to me. From young, I had been taught by authorities that comics were detrimental to the learning mind. And now, comics were in the library, the repository of knowledge.

Band performance
It was getting difficult to walk and eat and manoeuvre around the other guests, so I just hung out at the Cafe Galilee area to watch the goings-on. Entertainment for the night was provided by two bands. I don't remember their names, but they sang the same kind of slow numbers that are suitable for hotel bars. It quite fit the mood of the evening, and also made everyone feel relaxed.

While mingling, I recognised a senior Media Development Authority executive. I nearly wanted to go up to him and sing, "Yes yes, y'all, we don't stop."

Masters of Ceremony
Things kicked off at 8pm with a music video produced by a friend. It was apparently inspired by my Firefox commercial, but I thought that it was only remotely inspired. The "kicker" was missing, resulting in just a feel-good montage of images.

By the way, it was interesting to me how this friend, who claimed that she hated the limelight, was thrust into prominence this evening. Not only did she make an appearance in her own video, she was also called upon to do an interview on-the-spot (to fill a gap in the proceedings). Oh yeah, and then she had to pull the rest of us into her limelight too.

There was also a prize presentation. Apparently, members of the public had been quizzed about library@orchard. Third prize: two iPod shuffles. Second prize: PlayStation Portable Slim. First prize: iPod nano. Who says the government ain't hip? I honestly expected something like book vouchers.

Dr Varaprasad, Chief Executive of National Library Board, delivering his speech
On another note, it felt weird and uncomfortable -- to me, anyway -- about how the MCs and Dr Prasad (chief executive of the National Library Board) were raving about the impact of blogging and "citizen bloggers" in chronicling the last days of the library. They went on and on as if blogging was the Second Coming and bloggers were the new "elites". It's not that I didn't enjoy the recognition. Rather, it was that they were rubbing it into the noses of non-bloggers that blogging was the wave of the future and "screw you" if you don't ride it. Like I said, it sounded elitist.

Two things that were cringe-worthy: people laughing hysterically at small jokes/asides by senior civil servants, and senior civil servants needing to be escorted to and from the podium. Oh, and one more thing: the loud, obnoxious music to fill the silent transitions.

I don't know who picked the music, but I'd blame RiTZ Events Asia for all of the technical screw-ups of the evening. During a band's performance, the microphone for the guitar suddenly stopped working. Then, during the music video, the music could barely be heard till about a minute into it. Finally, the video tribute to the bloggers (yes, there really was a video and it was bad!) wouldn't play, forcing the above-mentioned interview with my friend. RiTZ Events Asia, you suck!

Oh yeah, that blogger tribute video. Okay, it was a nice touch. But I generally lose interest in videos that rely on titling for 90% of the film. Video/film is a visual/audio medium. Why force your viewers to read??? Ever heard of "dialogue" or "voice over"? I'd rather read a PowerPoint presentation... actually, no, I wouldn't.

Library management leaving their mark
The library management was later invited to leave their messages and handprints. I suppose the display will be on show somewhere till the new libraries open up. I didn't get a chance to read the messages myself, but based on the few that were read out, they were the usual, politically correct, feel-good, warm and fuzzy lines.

The night's festivities ended with the final locking up of the library. There was the familiar "library is closing" tone and everyone was ushered out. Then, as photographers snapped away, the library staff locked the doors. Everyone clapped and cheered. And gave three cheers. I looked on amused. People were cheering over the end of a library? That sounded taboo in a society like Singapore's. As if people were happy to be losing a sanctuary of wisdom and research. It certainly didn't make sense to me.

I didn't stay long after that. Another friend had already left. He had waited nearly an hour for his photo, which had been taken by an official photographer, to be printed. Obviously, the Canon Selphy printers were never meant for mass printing. And points lost to the person who thought it'd be a good idea to use a consumer printer for an event like this. Never underestimate the impatience of middle aged women who want a photo that they will gawk over for three days before chucking it in the middle of an album that will remain as a dust collector.

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Wednesday, 24 October 2007

377A will be repealed one day, just not today

More and more, it seems that Singapore is ruled by a split personality government. On one hand, it's willing to take the bull by the horns and make 180-degree decisions, like building not one but two casinos or increasing the GST rate. Those take one year at most to be implemented.

On the other hand, you have things like the Penal Code that take more than a generation to be updated. This week, Parliament repealed several sections of the Code, including allowing non-vaginal intercourse (and possibly engage in bestiality too) and allowing wives to cry "rape" (though under certain circumstances).

Penal Code Section 377A is one of the laws that will take a longer time to be updated. Section 377A, which criminalises the procurement of an act of gross indecency by one male from another male, supposedly makes it illegal to be gay (though lesbians may have a free pass). But it needn't be so. I believe that 377A won't be repealed in this generation, but with the next, at the earliest.

Civil liberty laws tend to take a long time to be updated here because the government likes to tread cautiously. And it should be no surprise. This is "Politics in a Democracy 101". The party that wants to stay in power needs to garner the support of the majority. And in Singapore, especially with a greying population, the older people, who tend to be more conservative (at least publicly), form the majority.

Therefore, the government cannot afford to ruffle their feathers for now. If it repeals 377A, there's the potential that it may alienate its power base, which may cause it to lose support in the next election (as unlikely as that will ever be, but hey, why take the chance?).

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for 377A opponents, and it's shining brighter and brighter. Based on my observation, those who support repealing 377A strongly tend to be younger and more exposed to non-Asian influences, so they are more open-minded. And you know the saying: "youths are the leaders of tomorrow".

In the end, politics, at least in this case, is all about statistics. For now, the majority is formed by older people who are not willing to change the status quo. But there will come a time when the more liberal youths will grow up and form the majority, while the older, conservative ones become a minority.

And then Penal Code Section 377A will be repealed. Be patient, that day is coming. Just not today.

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Thursday, 18 October 2007

A380 gives new meaning to "Mile High Club"

SIA A380 sleeper suite

SIA recently received its first A380 airplane and unveiled a few key features, like the sleeper suite. That bed certainly looks nice and comfortable and the champagne (is it complimentary?) definitely adds a romantic touch. And with the sliding doors and window blinds, privacy is almost certainly guaranteed.

Which means the amorous couple wouldn't need to duck into a cramped lavatory to share an intimate moment. Like I said, it gives a new meaning to the label, "mile high club".

How long before an entrepreneurial "filmmaker" makes and releases a video?

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Wednesday, 22 August 2007

When did "lor" become so widely used?

I've noticed a growing phenomenon, especially in the office. A lot of people are using "lor" more often! It used to be that "lor" was used like "lah", i.e. a familiar Singlish way to end a sentence.

Not anymore. "Lor" is now used so often, especially in these two circumstances:

  • to point out the obvious, e.g. "The sun is bright lor!"
  • to emphasise exclamation, e.g. "This test is difficult lor!"
Singlish is going crazy lor! Everyone keeps saying "lor" lor! It's such that I can't pass a day without hearing "lor" at least five times from three different people lor! And it's not just the young but people in my age group are also using it, maybe because it sounds cute lor! I use "lah" quite often, but hope that I won't succumb to using "lor" so often lor!

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Sunday, 19 August 2007

Learnings from National Day Rally: how to justify pay increase

I caught the first part of PM Lee Hsien Loong's speech at this year's National Day Rally. This year, his speech was about the widening income gap. He put the blame squarely on globalisation (doesn't everybody nowadays?), but also laid out his plans to reduce the pain as much as possible.

But the part that I found amusing was at the start. He was explaining the reason for the widening income gap, even within the upper class. He gave the example of Tiger Woods, the professional golf player, who earns $100 million a year through games, endorsements and other means. The next highest pro golf earner, whose name I forget (haha, no one remembers No. 2!), earns less than half of that.

Bottomline: you must pay for the best. Therefore, the best must earn stratospheric incomes that are much more than what the next tier earns.

Not happy? Blame globalisation.

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Friday, 10 August 2007

"881" star is whose lover???

My contribution to the "scandal-sphere":

A star of Royston Tan's "881" is the lover of a high ranked media executive, according to a well-placed associate.
I don't know if this is common knowledge within the upper echelons, but it's certainly news to me. It's easy to connect the dots after that.

Then again, I shouldn't be surprised at such illicit relationships, even in staid Singapore.

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Thursday, 9 August 2007

42nd National Day Water Parade

Singapore celebrates its 42nd National Day today at the Marina Bay. To me, it's funny that we are "rediscovering" water activities. I remember when I was much younger, someone remarked that Singaporeans are probably good at swimming because we live on an island. I don't remember who said that, but it was really ironic. Though we live on an island, most of us swim in a swimming pool!

With the National Stadium being torn down and the Parade not scheduled to be at the Padang for another three years, there was a need for a new venue. I remember that some Parades used to be held at regional football stadiums, but I guess those aren't good enough any more. After all, Singapore is rich, why hold a grand celebration at a paltry location?

Thus, enter the Bay, especially with the recent re-excitement over water. Water sports at reservoirs and the rivers are becoming popular. The Marina Bay will be blocked off to become a freshwater reservoir (though with global warming, a lot of water will evaporate off). So why not have the Parade at a watery location too?

The hype machine has been in overdrive in the last two months, especially about the floating platform, which is apparently the largest in the world. Keppel Corporation, a local company, has the unique distinction of being the largest oil rig builder in the world. Not bad for a company based in a country that has no oil fields! Anyhow, it was apparently this expertise that was tapped to construct the platform.

Whatever it is, it looks like this will be a unique Parade... as they all are. But I won't be watching it "live". I'm attending a church friend's wedding and have been tasked with recording the ceremony. I'll probably catch the repeat telecast of the Parade next week.

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Thursday, 3 May 2007

Some statistics on homosexuality

Recently, a government leader said that there may come a time when Singapore will have to give homosexuals as much freedom and rights as heterosexuals. Given this leader's esteemed stature, his statement set off a flurry of emotional responses.

One letter to the press, written by Jonathan Cheng Hern Sinn on May 1, 2007, touched on some topics that raised the ire of many readers. While I thought that what he said was from a biased viewpoint, I thought that I should take an objective approach and see if there was any evidence to back up his claims.

Caveats:

  • This is not a scientific study. My sample of countries was based primarily on the legal status of homosexuality, i.e. if same-sex marriages or unions are allowed, and if there are penalties against homosexual acts. For countries that were not favourable to homosexuals, I selected countries randomly, though most of them ended up to be Asian or African (perhaps due to their more conservative natures).
  • Due to availability, figures were taken from a variety of sources. Where possible, I tried to use similar reporting years, mostly on or after 2001.
My collection of data.

Here's what I found:
Quote: "My expatriate friends find Singapore a conducive place in terms of its low crime and cleanliness."
Unfortunately, crime statistics were difficult to come by for about half of my sample. But from what I could dig up, homicidal rates were tied more closely with a country's status of development (based on GDP per capita and unemployment rate) than legality of homosexuality. And the rate of reported rapes did not seem to depend on any particular factor, i.e. developed status, homosexual legality, region.

Again, note that this is inconclusive because crime statistics were unavailable for less developed or more conservative countries.

Quote: "One does not find pornography sold openly in a neighbourhood shop."
Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to look for any statistics on the sale of pornography. Based on anecdotal evidence, though, one would be more likely to find pornography sold openly in American and European countries, which also tended to be favourable towards homosexuals. On the other hand, the illicit trade of pornography has been known to be brisk in Asian countries, which were less homosexual friendly.

Quote: "To legalise homosexuality will compound these problems (declining birth rate and breakdown of families), given that homosexual couples do not reproduce."
As amazing as it sounds, figures on marriages and divorces were also difficult to find on the Web! Based on what I found, the marriage rate seemed to be higher and divorce rates lower in countries where homosexuality was illegal.

But like crime rates, statistics on marriages and divorces were unavailable for less developed, more conservative (and homosexual unfriendly) countries.

Ah, but fertility rates were available. And yes, they were higher in countries that penalise homosexuality. In particular, the stricter the punishment (death or life sentence), the higher the fertility rate. However, in my sample, Singapore bucked the trend by having laws against homosexuality and being the country with the lowest fertility rate!

Quote: "This (homosexuals' promiscuous and hedonistic lifestyle) increases the risk of STDs, Aids, etc, further increasing the risk to the general population."
I found that this statement could swing both ways (pardon the pun). In countries that had the death penalty against homosexuals, there was a lower incidence of people living with HIV/AIDS (both homosexual and heterosexual). But there was a higher incidence in countries with more lenient punishments, i.e. jail or fine.

So one could make the case that a strong deterrence against homosexuality could result in a lower rate of HIV/AIDS. But if you were lenient, then people would take advantage of the situation and become more promiscuous.

And what of homosexual friendly countries? They were in the lower-middle range, meaning they were relatively "safer" (as the conservatives would spin it) against HIV/AIDS.

In conclusion:
  1. Homicidal rate was more dependent on a country's developed status.
  2. Fertility rate was lower in countries where homosexuality was legal.
  3. Inconclusive about relationship between legality of homosexuality and rape, marriage and divorce rates.
  4. More people living with HIV/AIDS could be found in countries that had more lenient punishments against homosexuality. But countries that legally recognised homosexuals had lower incidences of such people.
So it would seem that I've lent fire to both sides. Just to repeat: this is not a scientific study! I'm sure a more thorough study would be able to bring out some concrete conclusions.

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Thursday, 26 April 2007

Self-regulation of bloggers? part 3

At the end of last year, I wrote my $0.02 on the need for self-regulation among local bloggers (part 1 and part 2). Today, I read in the papers that Malaysian bloggers have formed the National Alliance of Bloggers of Malaysia, or "All-Blogs". Apparently, it's in response to the crackdown on bloggers there who were allegedly defamatory towards the government.

Among the organisation's activities are:

  • conduct training on basic journalistic ethics, writing skills and defamation and sedition laws on fabrication and plagiarism
  • open up dialogue with the government
Oh, and there's an annual membership fee: RM20 ($S8.80).

I think it'll be interesting to see how All-Blogs fares. There might be something there for Singaporean bloggers to learn about.

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Friday, 6 April 2007

Offence to leave car engine idling

(Reproduced from Today.)

Letter from Tan Quee Hong
Acting Director, Pollution Control Department,
National Environment Agency

We refer to the letter, "Idling and stifling" (March 3) by Mr Tan Siok Ha.

It is an offence under the Environmental Pollution Control (Vehicular Emissions) Regulations to leave an engine idling unnecessarily when a vehicle is stationary for reasons other than traffic conditions. Leaving the engine idling unnecessarily is an inconsiderate act that causes pollution and wastes fuel. Motorists should turn off their engines when their vehicles are stationary for a period of time. The National Environment Agency (NEA) will take enforcement action against vehicles with idling engines without good reason.

We thank Mr Tan for his feedback. Mr Tan may wish to provide details on cases of idling vehicles through the NEA 24-hour Call Centre on 1800-CALL NEA (1800-2255 632) to facilitate our follow up enforcement action.
Looks like a lot of taxi and commercial vehicle drivers are gonna be contributing to the government coffers soon...

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