31 March 2004

Linguistic legacy of Singapore leaders

I propose that 50 years from now, historians will point to the coining of new words as the most important contribution of our leaders to their nation and the world. We have already redefined artiste to mean artist, and bohemian to describe the very bourgeois and poser-esque Holland Village. And that's not coining precious phrases like Confucian ethics and Asian democracy.

Artiste, in most dictionaries, refers to
1. musical or theatrical entertainers, like music-hall artistes or circus artistes
2. More generally, a person with artistic pretensions

Bohemian: lifestyle associated with liberal, penniless, and new artists or literary circles.

Bourgeois: mostly yuppies hang out at Holland V to imbibe expensive coffee and masticate gourmet food that real bohemians can't afford. These yuppies also hold artistic pretensions while posing at the Holland V bistros.

Today, our former Minister for Education, Teo Chee Hean, continues this rich legacy of linguistic deviation by coining a new use for an old word. The headlines have it: Public servants must think more like insurgents.

It's like watching a comedy in English, performed by Japanese actors who aren't quite sure what the N-word means...

Our poor minister clearly wants to say that the Civil Service needs to "take risks", "think out of the box", to be "less risk-averse", etc. It's just puzzling why his speechwriters chose the word "insurgent". Or mis-use the word and blame Gary Hamel for it.

Insurgent, according to the Webster
1. Person who rebels against civil authority or established government
2. One who acts contrary to policies and decisions of their own political party.

Onelook has it even better:
3. a member of an irregular armed force that fights a stronger force by sabotage and harassment

How should we make sense of the headline?
I can't choose between the following interpretations:

A. Teo welcomes insurgents because the government is afraid of mavericks. (linguistic faux pas theory)
B. Teo urges civil servants to take arms and rise up in revolution. (Webster, sense 1)
C. Teo urges civil servants to sabotage Singapore. (Onelook)
D. Teo admits that Singapore civil servants are members of the PAP. (Webster, sense 2)

22 March 2004

Budget Roundup

It wasn't a case of writer's block, though I wish that is the reason why I haven't commented on it. Unfortunately, I needed to resist the urge to scream at my television screen, at the radio, and tear up the newspapers every day for the past 2 weeks of nonsensical speeches from our overpaid and underperforming clowns in Parliament.

The trade-off? Instead of an almost daily rant and snipe at our great leaders, Dear Reader, you will be subjected to just one long, but calm and measured post from me.

What can one write about without ending in a rant or a primal scream? I'll have to skip the great ideas from our leaders about the baby issue, or Sentosa Casino, or what I call the next big white elephant to rival the Tang Dynasty Village and the Esplanade. Or the budget, which Morgan Stanley's analysts complained was one of the most miserly, and certainly Not A Very Good Thing For Our Domestic Economy.

"It's the economy, stupid"

Our ministers have never been good orators, or skilled in any form of rhetoric, or cunning lingustics. They would do well to steer clear of the rubbish they've nevertheless uttered over the past 2 weeks, such as this little gem of a phrase from our infamous Manpower Minister, to "re-take jobs for Singaporeans".

What kind of jobs does our great Million-dollar Minister want to take back for our thousands of unemployed Singaporeans? Choice jobs in the marine, cleaning, and nursing industries, where there is a "shortage" of labour.

Translation: We want to be known as a nation of modern coolies, amahs, and nurses.

This is despite the fact that PMETs "were the biggest group of local workers retrenched last year", according to the Straits Times and the Manpower Ministry. Now, when Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (i.e. just about the white collared middle classes) form the largest group of unemployed Singaporeans, our great minister wants to solve the unemployment and recession problem by taking back the marine, cleaning, and nursing industries for us.

Why no one rubbished Mr. Ng Eng Hen in Parliament is a great mystery to me.

We have a shortage, really?

Having sources in nursing, I'll just talk about this sector and its apparent "shortage of labour" that needs to be filled by Singaporeans.

Firstly, there is NO SHORTAGE of nurses in Singapore's healthcare industry.

For almost 20 years, Singapore's national health system has systematically relied on employing and training foreign nurses for the industry. Nurses from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and China are a mainstay of our healthcare industry. They sign 5 or 10 year contracts with our hospitals, and our efforts have paid off - Singapore healthcare's "professional and dedicated" image is solely due to these matyrs.

There is a giant sucking sound

And that's the sound of disgruntled expat nurses voting with their feet. Year after year, expat nurses choose not to renew their initial contracts with Singapore hospitals, despite promises of an automatic PR status as a 10-year long service award gift. Instead they flock, not back to their homelands, but to Australia, New Zealand, the US and UK.

Over there, our former expat nurses (great export product, by the way) work much less for much more pay, and are offered PR-ship one month after they arrive, and that PR-ship is extended to their immediate families as well. This speaks very much for the "working climate" of the hospitals here, and how great our Human Resource departments are.

This situation has gotten so bad that most expat nurses here really treat Singapore like a stepping stone to a much more humane, sensible, and better-paid job in another country - they just need to suffer for a short while before hitting paydirt overseas. Even expat junior doctors from less-privileged countries working here see how lucrative and imbalanced things have become, and actually make the switch from being doctors, surgeons, and researchers... to nurses.

Thank you, Singapore, for fucking up the global healthcare market.

And this is why, this time round, our PAP Ministers have "learnt their lesson", and will now resort to hiring people who cannot escape Singapore, to become nurses. Yes, they are taking back the nursing industry for Singaporeans.

Or perhaps, will thousands of Singaporeans take up the exhortation to be nurses, serve their shitty contracts, then leave for greener pastures with the magic bullet vocations?

17 March 2004


The Singapore Sentosa Cable Car Challenge is on! Only here do you have a contest that's designed to eke out the maximum amount of suffering from contestants for the maximum pleasure of the viewers and media.

Consider the rules: Couples are required to spend 7 days on a cable car. They can get out of the cars as often as they like, except they're limited to a total of 10 minutes a day, total. Even the Guiness Book of Records has some notion of human rights when they set the break times for record attempts.

I just heard an interview on the BBC, where one of the organisers boasted they had to "make the event exciting and memorable", hence justifying the horrific rules and 'temptations' that they distract participating couples with.

Well, I know ONE WAY to make this competition even more exciting and memorable. Let's subject the contestants to another Sentosa cable car disaster!

10 March 2004

Testing for Failure

Remember the little quiz I gave 2 weeks ago?

A. Some holidays are rainy, and
B. All rainy days are boring.

Which of the following statements can be deduced?
1. No clear days are boring.
2. Some holidays are boring.
3. Some holidays are not boring.

Most people I asked got it correct: only statement 2 can be deduced. The problem is, they couldn't quite explain why statement 3 was wrong.

Some of the reasons given for rejecting 3 were more right than others... but they all betray an ignorance of the logical underpinning of the exercise.

"The category of not-boring is undefined, hence you cannot make deduction 3. You can't draw a Venn diagram to solve the problem..."
"Cannot be deduced.. since it is not known if non-rainy days are boring as well"
"clear days is an introduction of an extra term", or a resort to alegebra...

These are all commendable attempts at grasping the logic, but flawed ones.

The key phrase here is "Syllogistic Logic", or "Categorical Syllogisms". All sample attempts failed to recognise the type of logical exercises they were doing.

This is how to solve a syllogism. This is how to reject a conclusion as false or true, within the rules of syllogistic reasoning. There's even a link to a java exercise applet (in the first link) to test more interesting and difficult variants that aren't that easy to solve if you use the sample reasoning I quoted above.

You'd wonder, what's so great about this quiz?

Major corporations and the civil service of many countries require job applicants for managerial posts to take a barrage of tests - personality, IQ, critical reasoning, writing, and so on.

Now, one of the most popular critical reasoning tests, published in 1984 by The Psychological Corp division of Harcourt Brace has a "Deduction" section, and the example question is the one that we've been discussing.

Here's the official answer and reasoning from the test-makers. Look and weep.

"Example one, the conclusion does not follow. You cannot tell from the statements whether or not clear days are boring. Some days may be.

Example two, the conclusion necessarily follows from the statements since, according to them, the rainy holidays must be boring.

Example three, the conclusion does not follow even though you may know that some holidays are very pleasant."

Look, and weep! The reason why statement three is rejected has NOTHING to do with a logical proof or disproof! The real reason why statement three MUST be rejected, is because it commits the logical fallacy of the illicit minor. What the testers have done here is commit the fallacy of the non-sequitur, rejecting a statement on non-logical grounds.

Look, and weep! For anyone who's taken this particular test, you'll remember that the actual questions in the "Deduction" section... don't deal at all with Syllogistic Logic, but with Sentence or Predicate Logic (the usual, and more familiar operators of AND, IF, THEN, NOT, OR. Nove, and everyone else's algebra methods and mathematical approach will be correctly applied for a sentence logic question).

What I want to know... is how can a psychological testing corporation be even trusted to make a competent logic test?

Look, and weep! The critical reasoning test is broken into: inference Deduction, Interpretation, and Evaluation. Now, if you do well in the test... it doesn't mean that you'll make excellent decisions in the real world. Since when are real-world problems so easily bounded into a category?

Since when are we supposed to ignore, like in the Evaluation section, that all the evidence/statements offered MUST BE TRUE? I shudder to think that managers end up not questioning and looking critically at the data given to them, or applying multiple facets of 'critical reasoning' to attack a problem, from all ends.

What I want to know is... Why are these test-making companies even in the business, if the tests they make... make no sense?

In making decisions about important questions, it is desirable to be able to distinguish between arguments that are strong and arguments that are weak, as far as the question at issue is concerned. An argument to be strong must be both important and directly related to the question.

Now, that's rubbish. That's not a Strong statement they just defined; it's a Relevant statement they just defined. Would you trust a test-making company that can't distinguish a "relevant argument" from a "strong argument"?

If the world is so badly screwed up by idiots in managerial positions and complete baboons in the civil service, you now know who to blame.