26 February 2006

On Rajaratnam

What pomp, what ceremony! Rajaratnam's funeral is a full-dress rehearsal for papalee's great requiem mass!

How does one plan for the Great Leader's death spectacle? By setting precedents, by letting the state media machine work itself into pious breastbeating and tearing of sackcloths on the death of a member of the Old Guard.

Rajaratnam may have been a decent man, but he was no great man. One has to wonder about what went on in the vast expanse between the ears of the man who wrote the national pledge: "One united people, regardless of race, language or religion" but silent on the issue of sex and gender, class and political belief, this man is no thinker and no humanist.

23 February 2006

The creeping SumikoTanning of the Straits Times

Attention! A mutant strain of the SumikoTan virus, under development in the top secret labs of ST's Toa Payoh labs, has broken out and infected other journalists!

Seen in a recent edition of the Urban ST section, otherwise respectable fashion reporter and Urban art director Dylan Boey writing a full-page article on how and why he got his braces.

According to unnamed sources in the virological research unit of the Straits Times, this outbreak may be less unintended and accidental than let on. "This virus has been perfected through months of testing on bloggers. We've already succeeded in the Bantustanisation of the blogosphere, and with that, do you think they'd let this weapon sit around, with so many rebellious ST journalists inserting subtle barbs at the establishment?"

Expect a SumikoTan pandemic, and even more inane, chewed curd writing from ST soon.


It appears fashion reporter Dylan Boey has proved to be a superspreader of the SumikoTan virus. At the Toa Payoh interchange/MRT station/mall, scores of ST journalists were observed wandering aimlessly, whining piteously about their singlehood, their failed relationships, and the trials and tribulations of 30somethings. Dear readers, if you come across one of these journos, please do not breathe in the air around them!!


Intrepid reporter Aki spent the day yesterday connecting the dots and tracing the history of the anomalous pathogen! Did you know that a previous outbreak was contained in 1999? We speak of none other than Richard Lim!

The former chief editor of the Life section, he with the fey mannerisms, overweening ego, and a desperate habit of namedropping literary greats, was a former victim of the SumikoTan virus. His rivalry with his eventual successor is the best-kept secret among journo circles, but even he succumbed to a rare fit of narcissistic introspection, when he wrote an entire series of articles about his travel experiences, which include lamentations of lost opportunites for relationships with exotic Japanese ladies, and being hit on by an elderly but debonair English gentleman.

Apparently the antidote that brought Richard Lim back to the reality-based universe was his retirement and his work on the biography of Papalee. That's a cure that might be much worse than the ailment, but there are troubling signs that the virus has had time to gain resistance to this antidote...

17 February 2006

Brokeback Mountain eBay bidding

(seen and heard on eBay)

Jack's Shirts used in the filming of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN

Item Value: Priceless!

The two shirts that Jack's mother gave to Ennis for him to remember Jack by. This is more than just a costume; this prop is an integral part of the story.

These are the men's shirts, originally selected by BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN costume designer Marit Allen and director Ang Lee, that have become iconic pieces of film history in the most Academy Award-nominated film of the year. The 2 (two) shirts are worn early in the film by Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), in the portion of the story set in 1963, and then are seen again as the epic love story nears closure many years later.

(Hmmm. I'd buy the jeans Jack used in the filming of Brokeback Mountain instead)

15 February 2006

Crackpots, Damn Crackpots, and PLU Activists

Kelvin Wong is the secretary of PLU, the local gay rights lobby group. Even though he's based in Japan, the gentleman continues to take a firm interest in happenings in Singapore - he has chimed in at the 11th hour on Singabloodypore to lay the smackdown on me for casting aspersions on the sanity, incompetence of the policies and PR of the lobby group. He plans to send some letters to the ST forums to keep the Christian fundie school sex ed issue in public consciousness.

I definitely agree that the public should be further informed about how Christian fundamentalist groups are somehow getting invited to give fairly misleading and unfactual sex ed talks in Singapore's state-funded schools. I also believe that the public should be further informed about how PLU's leadership has a equally non-reality-based hangup on Christianity.

Kelvin Wong says so himself:
The japanese are quite unabashed about their bodies or being naked, unlike the hangups that Singpaoreans have, most of which comes from conservative Christian values. Whatever hangups the japanese have about being naked probably comes from the American christian and other Jesuits Priest when they landed in Japan.
I believe in freedom of speech. And I also believe the forthcoming Christian crackpot vs PLU crackpot ST forum deathmatch will be very, very entertaining.

10 February 2006

Ministry of Manpower non-reply

When bureaucrats are caught red-handed massaging figures...
"MOM refutes FT report on jobless rate" [Buried on page 5 of the Home section!]
by Leslie Koh

The Manpower Ministry (MOM) has refuted a Financial TImes report that suggested it had changed statistical methods to lower Singapore's jobless rate. The four-year low of 3.2 per cent last year was due to a record number of jobs created, it stressed, and not because of a change in how the ministry measured unemployment. The methodology was revised last year to match international standards, MOM said, adding that it had been issuing employment data using the new method since last June.

The Ministry was reacting to a Feb 1 article by writer Jim Burton, which said that Singapore's latest jobles rate "was flattered by a recent change in how the data was measured". It noted that the SIngapore Government had last year decided to include foreign workers with temporary work permits when measuring unemployment. This effectively reduces the overall jobless rate because unemployment among foreign workers is much lower than among SIngapore residents.

Utter mendacity, malevolence, incompetence, and sheer disconnection from reality!

Somehow MOM has forgotten that government mouthpieces ST and Channelnewsasia reported the unemployment rate as 2.5% - and not 3.2%.

Somehow MOM has forgotten that the 3.2 per cent figure was flattered flattened into 2.5 per cent because it included the foreign workers.

Somehow MOM tries to play a non sequitur argument, misreading that the FT took issue with the 3.3% unemployment rate was 'flattered' into a 3.2% rate.

Somehow MOM insists that the Singaporean rate of unemployment benefitted more from a 'record increase in jobs' - without showing that these jobs actually went to Singaporeans more than they went to foreign workers.

Impeach Ng Eng Hen. Impeach him now!

05 February 2006

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

Ng Eng Hen's Ministry of Manpower clearly knows the difference between lies, damn lies, and statistics. Consider the recent release of Q4 figures by his ministry: the unemployment rate fell to a 5-year low of 2.5%!

Let's hold back the picture of Ng in a coverall on a factory floor, with a giant banner proclaiming MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, okay?

A look at Channelnewsasia's and ST's versions of the story will reveal the standard message: Record employment in 2005 (2.3 million serfs), 32,800 jobs created in December (No metion if they're just holiday-specific jobs), and expectations by unnamed economic experts of moderate wage increases (tell me if any economic recovery since 2001 has been accompanied by wage or even job increases?).

Then take a look at the Financial Times coverage of the same story (archived on SBP).
Singapore said on Wednesday its unemployment rate last year fell to a provisional 3.2 per cent, the lowest since 2001, although the figure was flattered by a recent change in how the data was measured. The government decided last year to revise the measurement of unemployment to include foreign workers who have temporary work permits, including construction workers living on site and those who commute to Singapore from Malaysia.

"The revision has the effect of reducing the overall unemployment rate as...(the) total labour force is now larger, taking into account full coverage of the foreign workforce," said the ministry of manpower, which compiles the statistics. Unemployment rates for foreign workers are lower since they normally lose their work permits and can no longer stay in Singapore if they become jobless.

Such an important point got conveniently left out of ST and CNA's press reports. Why are our national press run by these fools?

This is blatant statistical massaging that puts several question marks on all the figures quoted in the reports.

How much of the 32,800 jobs created last December, for example, went to Singaporeans and not temporary foreign workers? How much of Singapore's record-high of 2.3 million workers were Singaporean workers? How much is the SINGAPOREAN rate of unemployment?

Okay. Apparently Financial Times does have the figure, which it got from the Min. of Manpower: 3.3% in Q4. Is this a reason to pop out the champagne? The 2005 Q1 unemployment rate was 3.5% (2005 figures, of course, did not include foreign workers), so we have 3.3% unemployment in Q4 2005 vs 3.5% in Q1 2005. This, contrary to what FT's reporter says, is not a cause for celebration, nor a worthy achievement, nor a harbinger of more good things to come.

Why this insistence on the Singaporean rate of unemployment? Well, apparently during the Budget debate in 2005, Minister Ng Eng Hen vowed to "re-take jobs for Singaporeans".
1. Has he?
2. Why does his ministry now deprive us of even finding that out, with the "new and improved" method of calculating unemployment?

03 February 2006

NTU Blogging Survey: Redirect

Q: What role do you see blogs playing in society and politics in Singapore in the future?

I'll take this question (and 'blogs') to refer to generally blogs devoted to social, political, or cultural commentary or analysis.

Researchers need to understand the density of bloggers with respect to their readership, and then to the population in Singapore. Then, they need to compare how blogs play a part in society and politics elsewhere.

There are a few models available, which I'll categorise according to how they're organised.

a. original commentary and analysis by varying degrees of experts. You'll need the participation of academics and professionals whose work or field of interest are related to policymaking. Singapore doesn't have much going for it, aside from Cherian George...

b. groupblogs. Often, posting on complicated topics takes time, research, self-questioning, informal peer review (and so on), and hence individual blogs aren't updated so often. Groupblogs get around this problem by having a roster of writers who double as commentors - ensuring a deep discussion on any post.

c. social mobilisation. There's not much original commentary in their posts, which seem to be just cut and paste jobs of current news. The key is these blogs function more to mobilise and provide a forum for ordinary citizens to discuss their responses to the current events. File Joe Trippi's Deanforamerica blog, Atrios and Daily Kos under this category. Does any Singaporean blog remind you of this category?

d. minionblogging. Not a judgemental term, actually. It's quite normal for the RNC's campaign heads to decide on a message of the week (on say, a policy issue) and disseminate the stand to political pundit shows on tv, select Republican bloggers, and watch the message of the week multiply in diverse variations in ordinary blogs all over the place.

We're already seeing this happening in here. How and why did PLU's media release get picked up by the blogosphere? How did the bloggers reproduce, modify, reject, co-opt the message?

e. viral. The shorter, simpler, and more self-evident the message, the less problematic its defense, until none is expected. You'll even have traditionally non-political bloggers replicating these messages on their sites.

That's why there was an overwhelming response to the Acidflask affair. Or why the NKF peanuts comment spread like a wildfire. Or why every blogger commented on the white elephants. Or how many poked fun of yet another (s)Elected President.

No matter how they are organised, blogs are engaged in the reframing of political and social issues. Depending on their reach and how they incorporate discussions, I see them as a new extension of civil society. Whether or not blogs have any impact on politics and society has to do (again) with their role in social framing, and their dominated position within the mainstream media: often, blogs have a direct impact only with cooperation by decision makers in the MSM.

Do you see that happening here?