29 July 2005

The very naughty Liberal Democratic Party

This year has seen Japan's ruling party increase its standing with its red state voters, with Prime Minister Koizumi's continued defense of his visits to the Yasukuni war shrine and the Education Ministry's non-banning of a revisionist high school History text. The country's neighbours did not seem happy even when Koizumi made suggestions that the shrine visits were in a personal, not official capacity, or that the high school text was not compulsory, but merely one out of many texts that schools could choose to teach from.

Via Frog in a Well, this should provide more grist for the mill. As part of a study on constitutional reform, an LDP commission recommended that Article 9 of the constitution be changed, to assert Japan's right to possess a "self-defense military". The original text of this famous article reads:

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

Well, Japan has a Self-Defense Force, but LDP's lawmakers want a Self Defense Military. Asashi Shinbun notes that "the word 'military' has never been officially used to describe the Self-Defense Forces, mainly out of consideration to Japan's neighbors." Up to now.

But there's more. Taking a leaf out of Washingtonian legislation, the LDP committee also tagged on more suggestions, among them a proposal to transform the Emperor of Japan into a mere symbolic figure to someone who would actually represent Japan in diplomatic settings.

The text reads: 自民党新憲法起草委員会(委員長・森前首相)は7日、改憲の「要綱案」を発表した。9条2項を改正し、自衛のための武力組織を「自衛軍」と名付け、軍隊であることを明確に位置づけた。また、象徴天皇制を維持することとし、天皇を「元首」とすることを見送った。委員会は今後、要綱案をもとに結党50年の今年11月に発表する党新憲法草案の条文化作業に入る。

Tak points out that the problematic word here is genshu (元首). It roughly means head of state, but it is a word that comes straight from the pre-war Great Japanese Imperial Constitution. In the old pre-war constitution, the fourth article stipulates that the emperor is the genshu of Japan. This comes right after an article that declares the emperor to be divine.

Cue ominous music?

The shortest path

Microsoft released this week a compulsory patch for WinXP users. This Windows Genuine Advantage Validation locks everyone out of windowsupdate unless they install it on their pcs. It then proceeds to check that your copy of windows is legit, as well as what motherboard and hardware you own, and what other non-MS software you have installed. Why Bill Gates wants to know all that is a mystery.

Via Boingboing, a javascript workaround that only works because Microsoft's engineers left some files on their website. The workaround doesn't work anymore, sadly...

Via extended64.com, you can now use Mozilla/Firebird to access windowsupdate and bypass WGAV, with the help of certain browser plugins and scripts.

Via Pessimism Blooming, the easiest method to bypass the browser validation is to simply let windows install the validation tool, then "in Internet Explorer, go to Tools... Internet Options... Programs... Manage Add-ons... and then click on Windows Genuine Advantage and disable it. Then Windows Update works just like before."

Thank goodness IE was designed to be such a security-minded browser that add-ons like WGAV can be disabled.

28 July 2005

Burn the heretics!

Early in February, I wrote about Singapore's curious religious resurgence, where people who call themselves Christians believe

that a particular phrase in the Bible tells us directly and authoritatively that Harry Potter books are evil... Not so much of believing that God intercedes for us, but being convinced that he is actively working on OUR SIDE when we're trying to fight our way to the train, earning our first million, protesting for a pay rise... That we almost tripped while coming down the staircase but didn't, is a miracle, an intervention from the very Hand of God...

That was meant to be ironic and slightly exaggerated. It has come to my attention, however, that such nutjobs really exist in Singapore! You can even read their testimonies here.

Among other things, these "Christians" believe that God caused their property prices to increase, that their ascension to the Million-Dollar Table was divinely inspired, that because God saved a certain parishioner's father when he "rightly" did nothing (When I bo chup, God saved my dad!).

And yes, these people take the Holy Communion everwhere: in their cars, at home, some 3 times a day, and mostly without the administration of any priest.

There is one word for these people: HERETICS.

Kenny and Edward, being good Catholics and Orthodox Christians, merely have to worry about the Novus Ordo and the most sinister CLOWN MASSES. Well, if you think that liturgy is bad, keep in mind that the New Creation church people celebrate the Eucharist in cars and at home, using coca cola for wine.

Then, there is this Rev. Kong Hee, who claims "Jesus wore the modern-day equivalent of a business suit. That is why I'm dressed like this. I want to be like Jesus! Hallejulah!"

I long for the good old days where the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would defrock and burn heretics like these at the stake. Okay, so the New Creation Church of Singapore and City Harvest are protestant non-denominational branches? Fine, in the good old days of the Reformation, we Protestants tortured and drowned heretics like these too.

22 July 2005

Movie Post

Edward wants to know what I watch, given that I make short films...

Total Number of films I own on DVD/Video
Less than 10, actually. I've borrowed them from the Film Collection of the National Library or watched them at NUS's library. Not to mention, winmx and bittorrent are a good source of hard-to-find films, or stuff that aren't available in Singapore.

The Last Film I Bought
That would be Rashomon, at one of HMV's DVD clearance sales.

Five Films I Watch A Lot/Mean a Lot to Me

Ed Wood

Edward D Wood Jr might be the world's worst director, but he understands the joys of filmmaking! A better motivational film and ode to the art than Cinema Paradiso.

Dr Strangelove or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

Wild and hysterical, this is Stanley Kubrick's only comedy. Peter Sellers infuses his multiple roles with manic energy and differentiation. Kubrick pours scorn on the excesses of the military-industrial complex and explains what's so mad about MAD.

Triumph of the Will

The Nazis were pure evil, Triumph des Willens was a propaganda flick, but Leni Riefenstahl was a genius. I encourage all Singaporeans to watch this movie before the telecast of the National Day Parade, and compare how the ceremony and pomp of the Nazi state and martial music have become the template for all later nationalisms.


After it appeared in 1983, advertisements began to copy its tripped-out, speeded-up images of traffic flow and people walking on streets to the point ad nauseum. Even then, Koyaanisqatsi can still be enjoyed as a visual and musical feast, preferably on a wide-screen system or in an IMAX cinema.

Mononoke Hime (もののけ姫)

Like Koyaanisqatsi, this is a movie with a strong environmentalist message and meditation on a world out of balance. Hayao Miyazaki weaves engaging tales that should not be mistaken for children's entertainment.

Tag 5 People and Have Them Put It In Their Blog

Eileen Chew (There's a suspicion her list would be more eclectic than mine)
Rachel Mercer (I bet she has very interesting films to recommend!)
RaveDave (Great taste in music... wonder what he watches)
PingandWin (They're on a roll with their blog now!)
Chris Low (As soon as his hdd resurrects)

21 July 2005

Take 2 and 2 together

10 June: 2004 saw a record increase in Singapore's millionaires

19 July: High joblessness dampens retail sales in Singapore

1. The rich getting richer do not create jobs for all. There is no rising tide, no trickle-down economy, even though Minilee and his predecessor, Mr Peanut, had consistently offered this argument for the past 5 years.

2. This should provide additional evidence of a deteriorating Gini coefficient in Singapore. Also, the poor have NOT gotten richer - they have gotten poorer.

20 July 2005

The peanut that launched a thousand ships

Even more non-moralistic musings on NKF

From today's Parliament proceedings, it appears more certain that the Minister of Health, Khaw Boon Wan, regards further regulations on charities to level up their governance and disclosure as unnecessary. In the wake of NKF's failed suit against Singapore Press Holdings, Balaji, the junior minister for health, stood by NKF, calling it an efficient organisation. Just to let everyone know where the government stands, supposedly, in its ideological crusade to turn everything into a free market?

The right tool for everything?

In the free market, the maximalisation of profit or surplus is the core value and natural behaviour of every firm. It's not the corporate structure of the NKF board, the salary and 12-month bonusese of its CEO, or even the method of fundraising that is fundamentally wrong - the assumption that the NKF should behave like a free market entity and build massive surpluses that is primarily at fault and entirely inappropriate in the charity industry.

The purpose of charity organisations is to raise funds to subsidise a certain group of disprivileged people, or for a particular cause - not to accumulate operating surpluses to the tune of hundreds of millions. A surplus either means that aid is not getting through to people who need it, or an excess amount of funds has been collected, above and beyond the requirements of the charity and its cause. A surplus means that there exists a huge inefficiency in the distribution of charity funds. Worse still, these surpluses are a reward for the effectiveness of NKF's excessive fundraising, and these surpluses are the captured funds of what should've gone to other charities. Beneath the unwavering support from Minister Khaw lies a reluctant understanding of this principle: during his press conference on 14 July, Khaw admitted the possibility that "NKF reserves may be diversified into other causes" - or simply put, the surpluses will be diverted to other charities that need the funds.

The logic of charity fundraising then, is different from free markets. While free market firms should maximise profits and surpluses (although some may choose to maximise revenue or market share), charity organisations should strive for a zero surplus, zero deficit model. It's an easy goal, really. For every charitable cause, there is an identifiable and clearly-bounded population of beneficiaries whose needs are predictable and more or less stable. Calculating the total amount of funds needed wouldn't require a genius.

Singaporeans must remain vigilant

The NKF has been getting away for several years with massive surpluses, inappropriate, fraudulent, yet legal practices - with some knowledge and approval of Parliament. Minister Khaw knew about the massive reserves and defended them last year. Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the government taxman, and the the commissioner for charities have all audited the NKF's books for years and found nothing objectionable or illegal. The government's intervention now is not an admission that its strong support of NKF was wrong, but a political expedient move to quieten the tide of discontent of Singaporeans. Operationally, I expect little to change at the NKF. Legally, the Minister has already said no to urgently-needed regulation.

To the high and mighty, the amount of money involved is peanuts. Singaporeans should be aware that these people will never fight for their interests. What is in the interests of the high and mighty, though, is the continued support of Singaporeans for NKF. NKF is efficient, it has many patients that still require care and funding (presumably having 30 years' worth of surpluses isn't enough), Singaporeans are generous and kindhearted, they say.

My advice to Singaporeans is simple: let the NKF die. Whether the charity industry is a free market or not, other charities will fill in the gap. The refusal of the high and mighty to let NKF go is surprising; even in free markets, firms are always set up and shut down, and no one sheds a tear for them.

16 July 2005

He who lives by the peanut...

More non-moralistic musings on NKF

The NKF prides itself as a charity run on a commercial model. "Social entrepeneurship", according to its website - that translates into heavy marketing, tv charity shows, call centres, and the provision of a fleet of company cars for its CEO and so on (?!). Its supporters in Parliament tout it as the coming of the market economy into a traditionally not-for-profit sector, a Very Good Thing. The grounds for the expulsion of TT Durai and the board of directors as well as any future criminal proceedings should necessarily stem from evaluating its behaviour against the standard of commercial companies.

Again, in shorter form: the NKF and its Parliament supporters have always insisted on its status as a commercial (decode as "more professional") entity working in a non-profit sector. If the NKF were a registered company, would its actions have been legal and typical?

1. TT Durai had an undeclared commercial relationship with a NKF board member

From the Business Times archives,

Durai had a business relationship with former employee Matilda Chua when the NKF awarded a contract to an Indian call-centre company she represented. The NKF had contracted Proton Web Solutions to perform telemarketing work. Ms Chua, who is now a member of the NKF board, is the Singapore representative of Proton Web.

Mr Durai also failed to reveal that he had jointly invested with Ms Chua in another company, Global Net Relations, a company which was set up to perform call centre work and even operated out of the same premises as Proton Web at Suntec Tower. Mr Durai and Ms Chua were both directors in Global Net.

There are laws against this, of course. If the NKF was a registered company instead of a charity, this would've automatically warranted an investigation by Singapore's Commercial Affairs Department and its Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau. Durai and Matilda Chua would be eligible for jail terms, lengthy fines, and a mandatory ban from holding any directorship or board membership of any company for a number of years.

2. Durai lied about the extent of NKF's reserves

The NKF CEO went public during the charity's drives, stating that the NKF reserves were in danger of running out in 3 years, hence securing massive donations from Singapore's public. The truth was revealed in court under the questioning of Davinder Singh: NKF has reserves of 260 million SGD, more than enough to last the organisation between 30 and 40 years, as it current spends only 7 million a year subsidising patient care.

3. The board lied about the number of NKF beneficiaries

In a letter published in ST's forum page on April 9, 2004, Dr Gerard Chuah, chairman of NKF Children's Medical Fund, stated that NKF treats 3,000 dialysis patients a year. But answers given in Parliament in May 2004 showed that NKF treated 1,512 patients in 2003. And a letter from Mr Yong on the same date (sued by NKF for the following statement, now known to be a fact) said NKF treated about 1,800 dialysis patients.

Again, from the BT archives,

"You knew it was an error. Did you correct it?" Mr Singh asked Mr Durai, referring to Dr Chuah's letter.

"No, it was not material," Mr Durai replied.

The heads of CEOs have rolled for similar false statements about their accounts and reserves - Enron, Royal Dutch Shell, and so on. Some are even in jail. But what do I know? The NKF isn't a registered commercial company, it's registered as a charity. In Singapore, there aren't any laws demanding the same standards of corporate governance for charities or due disclosure and transparency of even the accounts books.

The entire NKF board, CEO, and even its patron (Mrs Peanut) may have stepped down, and the Government has been forced by public pressure to announce an investigation into the charity. During the press conference on Wednesday, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan said certain steps will have to be taken to restore public trust: the investigation will review accounting practices, funding needs, and pricing and subsidy policies. Decode (what the Minister did not say): the investigation will most likely not look into the criminal behaviour of Durai and his board.

The good Health Minister has reason to tread thinly - it isn't clear if Durai and the Board have broken any laws. It claims to be a very corporate charity, the Parliament praises it as a model for turning Singapore's charities into a market economy, and yet the Minister is reluctant to hold NKF to the standards and legal framework of a market firm. Interesting, no?

The penalties for deception by a company's CEO, board of directors, or for false statements on a company's revnue centre on one thing only: the sanctity of a market. A free market requires perfect information from its players. Only then can investors make informed decisions to allocate their resources to the correct companies. In deceiving the entire market, a company poisons the information flow, causing misallocation of resources and non-optimal results for the industry as a whole. This is why corporate entities are subject to strict regulation and are compelled by law to disclose information on their revenues and accounts - yet this is also why any non-capitalist market needs to have equally strict regulation as well.

14 July 2005

Get that Man a Peanut!

Non-moralistic musings on NKF

... are hard to come by these days, with everyone baying for the hide of T.T. Durai, the National Kidney Foundation charity's CEO and rainmaker. Aside from Wang Zhen's posts on the matter, actually.

Readers of my series on the casino issue will know the contempt I have for solely relying on morality to win any argument. This post will similarly identify a non-moral grounds for action against the NKF, among other things.

He who lives by the sword...

Durai's successes in the 90s transformed the NKF from a typical small charity into a multimillion foundation, by forming an alliance wiht Mediacorp to produce frequent charity shows, a kind of circus performance by the country's television stars. While detractors believed the gimmick would soon tire out, Durai proved that the lure of cash, automobile and condo prizes, celebrity power, easy phone pledging, and the option to donate monthly through bank accounts would attract enough donations to make the charity shows a quarterly event.

It didn't take Singapore's ministers much time to honour the entrepeneur with national awards and trumpeting the arrival of a new paradigm for charities. Instead of begging or relying for goodwill, charities should conduct themselves as voluntary welfare organisations operating in a free market system. It doesn't take a genius to decode that into:

1. If every charity were run like a business, as NKF does, the government wouldn't need to partially fund 80% of Singapore's charities.
2. Well, tough luck if NKF happens to take away your donation dollar. It's a free market and you didn't compete hard enough.
3. It's your fault if you can't get enough people to donate to your cause. Don't come crying to the government (see statement 1).
And so on.

NKF has been the poster child for Singapore's unique "free market charities" model. He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword, and since Durai and NKF's board of directors have proudly forced their charity model on us for almost a decade, any condemnation should centre on how well they conducted themselves as a typical member of any really-existing "free market".

12 July 2005

Boy finds snake in breakfast cereal

Edward draws my attention to an article in London:

A two-foot snake found its way into a packet of breakfast cereal, it emerged today.

Five-year-old Jordan Willett, from Dawley, Shropshire, discovered the live reptile inside his box of Golden Puffs on Bank Holiday Monday.

His mother Theresa, who was having breakfast with her son at the time, said she initially thought it was a free gift for children.

My thoughts: Thank goodness this isn't an American tabloid! Imagine, if you will, an American version of this article. We'll have the same introduction, but instead of that "it's kind of lucky the snake wasn't venomous at all" ending, we'd have:

1. Terrorist plan suspected
2. Face of pope observed in pattern of cereal flakes in the milk
3. The non-venomous snake proves that the face of pope thing is a double miracle, hallelujah!

11 July 2005

Functional Illiteracy (now in triplicate!)

The ST doesn't get it edition

(aside: Yes, there was a hiatus lasting 3 weeks. A very bad throat infection, then a near-death experience of my pc. Oh well.)

"What's ASEAN? Most teens don't know", decries our national propaganda machine.

Only three out of 24 Singapore [sic] teenagers The Straits Times approached on Orchard Rd on Saturday knew what the acronym Asean stands for and could name the countries in the grouping.

The rest, including two students from a top junior college, were stumped.

There are a few things going on in the rest of the article, each feeding into one another and forming a greater mythology of the Uninformed Singaporean Teenager:

1. "Everyone" knows what Asean is.
2. Asean is an integral tool of Singapore's regional diplomacy and means of keeping itself safe from its potentially troublesome neighbours.
3. It is hence inconceivable, shocking, and disgraceful that our teenagers know nothing about Asean.

It is popularly 'known' that Singaporean students are notorious for producing straight-A results academically while remaining ignorant of current affairs and history, because they don't seem to read widely enough beyond their textbooks - if at all. I am not interested in the truth value of that claim, but I do contend that this ST survey serves no purpose except to further the mythology. In fact, it has no scientific or informational value due to its horrendous survey design and methodology. Instead of highlighting the functional illiteracy of the average Singaporean teenager, it brings the investigative function of the ST into disrepute.

What are some things a proper survey requires in order to generalise results to a larger population?

1. A large enough sample.
In statistics, you need to know the size of the population you want to study (In this case: how many Singaporean teenagers are there?) You also need to know how accurate you want your survey to be, or how representative of the population your sample could be, i.e the Confidence interval (In this case: if we want the survey to be 95% accurate, i.e. 95% probability that the sample we just chosen is representative of the total population of Singaporean youths, how large should the sample be, given the total population?)

2. Either a representative or a truly random sample

Sampling is a delicate science. In general, you want to choose a sample that isn't biased at all. Are the youths you find on Orchard Rd on Saturday afternoon representative of the general teenage population?

This survey fails on both counts, and then some more.

Note ST doesn't bother to say how accurate its survey is. If it did, those of us armed with calculators and a copy of the census would point out its 'survey' or 'straw poll' has a sample size far insufficient to generate a generalisation. Note also ST doesn't actually say its survey is meant to generalise about Singaporean youths, aside from its headline "Most teens don't know". That's a little dishonest and waffling.

In every survey, you need to record the number of people who refused to do the questionnaire. Only 3 out of 24 teenagers could give the correct answer to the ST survey, but how many uncounted teenagers refused to participate? A very low response rate marks any survey as useless.

The Singapore education system doesn't get it edition

History is taught to Singapore's students from the age of 10 to 18, as Social Studies in primary school and History or Combined Humanities in secondary school. There is no way, short of not reading the book, for the possibility that a majority of Singaporean students on weekend break from studies could not know what Asean is. There is a possibility, though, that most Singaporean students tend to ignore what is taught in Social Studies and History once lessons end.

I've seen the different History, Social Studies, and Combined Humanities (chiefly geography and history) syllabuses over the years. Come to think of it, if I were a student, I would tend to ignore the stuff taught in those textbooks, when it comes to national and regional history, for the simple reason that most of it is sheer national propaganda, and worse still, stupid, wrong, and uncritical propaganda.

Why, of all things, in a discussion of Venice and the Italian Renaissance, bring in SINGAPORE and remark in passing - without any collaboration or examination of facts, that the reason Venice declined was due to the complacency of its leaders, and Singapore avoids this because of its meritocratic system and emphasis on constant innovation? This is not history, this is National Education; not education, but pious hectoring and political moralisation.

Why are Singaporeans, especially the young, not interested in history or current affairs? Because the most common venues of this knowledge here make assses of them. If I were a Singaporean teenager faced with a History syllabus hell-bent on brainwashing me into pious patriotism/parrotism, I'd rather throw away the knowledge and learn history on my own, when I'm an adult. School isn't the only avenue for learning, the last I heard.

The common sense edition

As far as I know, the knowledge of humans - beyond eating, shitting, and fucking - are a result of enculturation. Our knowledge comes from learning, not instinct. The young are simply that: young and less well-read than older people, and that is something we all know without the ST reminding us. Give them time to learn.

If the ST wanted to make a meaningful survey or even non-representative study, it could've done better by comparing
1. how much more ignorant our youths are, compared to teenagers from elsewhere, or
2. how much more ignorant our youths are, compared to teenagers 10, 20, 30, and 40 years ago (but it doesn't have the resources to do so...)

08 July 2005


13 September, 2001

I was crying earlier this morning, with all the details pouring in from the cab driver's radio.

Terrorism is not just about bombing buildings, killing civilians. True terrorism aims to destroy entire ways of life, to make people live in perpetual terror. Which is why to revoke the right of privacy and personal civil liberties in the face of an emergency, is to play right into the hands of the terrorists. Your society becomes no better, no freer, no more secure than theirs.

The only proper response is to refuse to repudiate the very way of life, the ideals of democracy and liberty, which terrorists seek to destroy.

--- <@a...> wrote:
> I am deeply shocked by yesterday's events. There is a lot of soul
> searching that will be done in the coming days however as a gay person
> one thought has become very clear to me. There was more than
> skyscapers destroyed by those attacks.
> Personal civil liberties have taken a major blow. The concept of
> a right to privacy has to have been completely destroyed. How can I
> ask for a right of privacy when preservation of this right can lead to
> such a major loss of human life? I can't ask for it and I don't even
> know if I want it. Do I want privacy or to feel that my friends and
> family are safe? Intellectual freedom means little if you are dead.
> But obviously, with this right destroyed, it is not only the
> terrorists who will be vulnerable. Security forces new right to pry
> will be misused and we will all be threatened.
> But is there an argument against this? I don't have one.
> Anne