27 October 2004

Not at the top of the world

or, we love polls that show Singapore is number one!

The 3rd annual worldwide press freedom index from Reporters Without Borders ranks Singapore at 147 out of a total of 167 countries.

Small consolation: Iraq comes in at 148th place.
Sore points (for some readers): Malaysia has a freer press at 122 and Indonesia at 117. The hell, even RUSSIA (140) has a freer press than Singapore...

That should be some food for thought or cannon fodder for students taking their GP exams soon. I don't even think our national newspapers will dare report this finding...

Like any other responsible study or poll (and you'd be surprised there are MANY irresponsible studies - mostly the ones that put Singapore as no 1 in something or another), Reporters Without Borders releases an explanation of how the data was compiled.

Note the final clarification on that page: "The index should in no way be taken as an indication of the quality of the press in the countries concerned." That means you still can have a press that reports what is (mostly) factually true, but is still unfree.

22 October 2004

Poetry as Criticism of Life

Istana Park

so much depends

how fast you walk

this short green carpet

a little red


If you live in Singapore long enough,
you start noticing strange details.
Like the trees.
You can't escape
the trees in the Garden City.

Looking at them
you start to wonder how people here think.

Notice the less shade a tree gives
the higher its status and prestige.
Palm trees, coconut trees, shrubs -
Our architects fall over themselves to plant them outside the holy sites:
embassies, state buildings, malls and condos.

Trees serve a decorative function.
For shade, please use a sheltered walkway
or an underground tunnel.

Green Plan

Docile, domesticated
garden is nature denatured
colonised for human living.

Come, let us draw lines
to fence in nature.
Let us tear up the forests
pave the ground with concrete
then plant midget shrubs between the cracks!

For this is our green plan:
"We will keep nature as long as possible,
even as we cater to a growing population."*

* quote from Ms Juliet Hang, Asst Dir Public Affairs for Ministry of National Development and Ms Angeline Yap, Asst Dir Corporate Communications for Ministry of the Environment, in a letter to the Straits Times forum page on 10 May 2003.

20 October 2004

Republicans for Stem-cell Research

or, Boycott the Salvation Army Now!

The Salvation Army will NOT be getting any donations from me this year, next year, or any year. It is not a Christian organisation when it refuses to support life-saving scientific research, when it shuns people who have good reason to speak for life-saving research, when it deceives the public about its true stand on stem-cell research, and when it cancels contracts without due recompense.

From the New York Times:

Patti Davis, an author and the daughter of President Ronald Reagan, has filed a lawsuit against the Salvation Army accusing it of backing out of a speaking agreement because it objects to her support for embryonic stem cell research.

Like her mother, Nancy Reagan, Ms. Davis supports research on stem cells taken from human embryos because it may lead to a cure for neurological diseases like Alzheimer's, which afflicted Mr. Reagan. Antiabortion groups oppose such research because the cells are harvested from fetuses.

But the lawyer for the Santa Rosa, Calif., chapter of the Salvation Army, which initially expressed interest in hiring Ms. Davis to speak at a dinner next month, said its change of heart was not related to such research.

The lawyer, Michael G. Watters, said, "There was not a binding agreement, and it just didn't work out for a variety of reasons." The Santa Rosa chapter, Mr. Watters said, "categorically denies that the fact that this thing didn't work out had anything to do with stem cell research or her position on stem cell research."

The Salvation Army's position on the therapeutic use of embryonic stem cells is unclear. A spokesman, Maj. George Hood, at the national headquarters of the organization, in Alexandria, Va., did not return calls seeking comment yesterday. A search of news articles failed to reveal a public position by the organization, an international Christian charity based in London.

In the suit, filed Oct. 4 in State Supreme Court in Manhattan and made public yesterday, Ms. Davis asserts that the Salvation Army "breached" an agreement for her to speak in Santa Rosa on Nov. 19 at the Annual Dream Big Dinner for the Kids.

Ms. Davis seeks a $7,500 cancellation fee and punitive damages of $22,500 to be paid to the Greater Talent Network, her booking agent.

Mr. Watters implied that the deal killer was Ms. Davis's abilities as a speaker. The Greater Talent Network, Mr. Watters said, "sent out a demo tape or a copy of one of her TV shows or something, and people here said that we're not sure she's for us."

Lawrence Fabian, the lawyer for Ms. Davis and her booking agent, said Salvation Army officials in Santa Rosa "saw some television program - whether it was 'Primetime' or 'Dateline' I just don't remember - back in August, and Patti Davis talked about stem cell research."

Officials then told the Greater Talent Network that such a position was "not acceptable to them and that they would have to cancel the contract," Mr. Fabian said.

The booking agent is "not naming names at this time but they know the names, obviously," Mr. Fabian said.

Mr. Fabian emphasized that Ms. Davis's planned speech was about "The Long Goodbye," her book on her father's struggle with Alzheimer's disease, set to be released next month.

"We've tried to make this a very simple matter that they breached the agreement with her and that this is the cause of it," Mr. Fabian said. Ms. Davis is "not trying to make a cause célèbre of this particular lawsuit."

In August, Ms. Davis appeared on ABC's "Primetime Live." She said: "My family watched as Alzheimer's conquered my father. Thousands of families deal with Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries and diabetes. Stem cell treatment could be the miracle we've been waiting for."

19 October 2004

Global Limits

Oil production is nearly at its peak. Yet that shouldn't worry most readers today: the more pressing problem is the US military, which has clearly peaked and reached its limit.

Item 1: US military persuades UK troops in the south of Iraq to move up to the north, where most of the action is. Parliament will debate on this issue during the week (and I'll be updating on it).

Item 2: The elite force of the US army has just been despatched to Iraq. It's a little like sending your Top Henchman into battle after all your goons are slaughtered by some gung-ho fighter. Or sending Captain Freedom to finish off Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Running Man, because the entire cast of heroes have been killed...

As the Los Angeles Times puts it,

For years, The Box has been a stage for the Army's elite "opposition force" — soldiers expert at assuming the roles of enemy fighters, be they the Taliban or Iraqi insurgents. Their mission is to toughen new soldiers with elaborate simulations — staging sniper fire, riots, suicide car bombings and potentially dangerous culture clashes.

Staging such scenes has long been the work of the fabled 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, or Black Horse Regiment. But starting next month, the 3,500-member unit will begin shipping out to Iraq from the Ft. Irwin National Training Center, near Barstow. Deployments are nothing new in the Army, of course, but there is a special sense of urgency about dispatching the Black Horse to tackle situations that it has trained roughly 500,000 soldiers to handle since 1994. Now the bombs and bullets they encounter will be all too real.

"No one ever thought the Black Horse would be taken out of the National Training Center; they are just too valuable here," said Maj. John Clearwater. "But the Army is stretched too thin, and Iraq is a big mission."

The bottomline: a draft is imminent in America. It will happen regardless of who wins on 2 Nov. But maybe Kerry would have the decency to beg the United Nations and the Arab League to send in their soldiers.

17 October 2004

The Job of the Year 2004

or, Why oh why do we have such liars serving as government economists?

In 2002, at the height of Singapore's grand "transition into a mature economy" (where do the mandarins in our civil service come up with crap like that?), and when our then-PM Goh lauded graduates frying chestnuts and selling porridge at hawker centres as entrepeneurs (and how did this piece of crap manage to float to the top of the civil service?), the Job of the Year was: Insurance Agent.

In 2003, when our government economists proclaimed that Singapore had grown marvellously despite the SARS outbreak (presumably, one has to admire their talent for looking for silver linings in very dark clouds, and ignoring the countless people who lost their jobs), the Job of the Year was: Multilevel Marketer.

For 2004, let's give a loud cheer for the 9% growth rate (projected)! It is a growth rate that shouldn't slide below 8% despite the dramatic slowdown in the last quarter! Indeed, as our government economists put it, even if the economy does come to a complete halt, we'll still have at least 8% growth, huzzah! Ah, the wonders of starting from a very low base: any improvement becomes spectacular. And the Job of the Year is: Telemarketer (aka Direct Marketer).

Do you hate it when telemarketers call?
(Link courtesy of Edward)

The Direct Marketing sector regards the telephone as one of its most successful tools. Consumers experience telemarketing from a completely different point of view: more than 92% perceive commercial telephone calls as a violation of privacy.

Telemarketers make use of a telescript - a guideline for a telephone conversation. This script creates an imbalance in the conversation between the marketer and the consumer. It is this imbalance, most of all, that makes telemarketing successful. The EGBG Counterscript attempts to redress that balance.

Why make life difficult for telemarketers?

Well, because they do make life difficult for us. Like making us ponder the mysteries of life, the universe, and everything:

1. Where did you get my contact from?
2. When on earth did I ever give my contact to your company? (especially if I haven't even heard of your company in my life)
3. Which company did you buy my contact from?
4. What makes you think you're not annoying me by calling at x pm?
5. What makes you think I'll give you my email address at the end of your unsolicited sales attempt?

But mainly because telemarketers are just one step above email spammers.

10 October 2004

Rejoice, for I have returned to the Internets!

The philosopher and deconstructionist Jacques Derrida is dead; he shall live on forever.

The Fafblog has a very appropriate entry celebrating Derrida and his philosophy.