I trust our generals!

I trust our generals wholeheartedly. I trust them to plan our national defence, and to manage the military. I trust them to muster and motivate the armed forces to war in times of need, and to show strength to keep the peace.

As a soldier, when they tell me to go, I go. When they tell me to stay, I stay. What part I need to play in the bigger plan. How the resources at their disposal work together best.

I trust them because they have done this job from the beginning of their decades-long careers, when they started at the bottom of the (officer) ranks and amassed experience and learned specific skills, handled weapon systems and technology. They are the best men for the job.

But put them in another world and they have little credibility. If I am going to scale Everest, I want a Sherpa by my side, a Sherpa with no formal education, a Sherpa who has never left his province. I do not want a general to guide me up the treacherous mountain. I do not want the Pope to lead me on that journey either. I do not want Warren Buffet to show me the way.

That’s why it is disconcerting when SMRT starts touting the military credentials of their incoming (and outgoing) CEO. Mr Neo Kian Hong is intelligent, I’m sure. He’ll learn eventually. It seems that his predecessor Mr Desmond Kuek has learned enough after six years, and is stepping down. Will Mr Neo take six years to learn as well?

Mr Kuek faced a steep learning curve when he jumped industries. Mr Neo will face the same. Did Mr Kuek successfully transition? Did he achieve what the board set out for him to do? What does his success or failure say about Mr Neo’s chances?

I think I’m most curious about the process that has put (save Ms Saw Phaik Hwa) a military man on the “throne of the trains” for the majority of the company’s existence. That alone is quite astounding. It makes one puzzle over how wide a search has been done. How unattractive could the job be to professionals in this field? Is the pay unattractive? Is the job impossible?

Good luck to Mr Neo. He has ability to shoulder big responsibilities. I hope for all our sakes that he manages to overcome the obvious disadvantages he will suffer from jumping from the public sector to the (officially-)private sector, from one industry to a completely different one. I don’t need to trust him. I hope he succeeds, but deep down I have my doubts.


Just watch the Halal Subway hoo-ha (and do nothing)

There seems to be no point trying to refute people who are determined to hate Subway’s decision to apply for Halal certification for all its restaurants. The (sometimes toxic) comment thread in their official FB account bears witness to this.

Of course Subway is going to lose some customers – that’s the point of their exercise. They’ve made the decision based on a calculation that they will happily shed the <1 per cent of argy bargy halal-haters to access the halal market.

Never mind the laundry list of reasons: that nearly all major fast food chains are halal, that businesses are free to make decisions on their product, that Subway has probably already done market research to show that they will earn more than they lose, that “halal-haters” are eating halal food all the time already… it’s not about that.

This is the madness of social media amplification – a number of insignificant voices (perhaps less than 1 per cent), account for 99 per cent of the negative noise on social media. Stanford researchers released a study showing that just 1 per cent of subreddits instigate 74 per cent of all inter-community conflicts on the “front page of the Internet”.

Social media platforms thrive on conflict. They amplify traffic and help sell ads. That in itself is a business decision, so consume at your own risk! My advice – don’t step in. There’s nothing to be achieved here by engaging with people who refuse to engage, and you’re not going to change a thing.

Although all this has implications on what harmonious interaction looks like for Singapore (still waiting for someone to report racist comments to the Police), it may be well worth considering philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s idea that being politically correct can actually perpetuate prejudice (like our externally “harmonious” yet deeply racist Singapore). It’s my thought for today, so I’ll let the ranters rant, but I’ll stay out of the fray.

Unless you’re in it for the sport… then be my guest.


Image from Flickr Mike Mozart, CC BY 2.0

The stupid thing about IMDA ordering The Opinion Collaborative to return $5,000

Here’s the short background: The Opinion Collaborative used to publish the online news site TOC, before they split up. During that time, the organisation received $5,000 from Monsoons Book Club in the UK to run a competition – the amount was recorded as advertising revenue.

Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) asked that the money be returned to Monsoons Book Club because it considered it to be funding from foreign sources (except for bona fide commercial purposes) that would be prejudicial to the site’s presentation of local issues. Monsoon Book Club names Mr Tan Wah Piow, a former ISA detainee, as one of its directors.

I’m not arguing about the legitimacy of the transaction – this point has already been contested by The Opinion Collaborative in its press statement. The thing that really gets to me is how easy it is for ACTUAL nefarious agendas, terrorists, and foreign influencers to get funds to publications in the Singapore socio-political space.

To prove the point, The Opinion Collaborative has returned the $5,000 to Monsoons Book Club, which then gave $6,000 to The Opinion Collaborative, which is now all legit because The Opinion Collaborative has been de-linked from the website TOC. It’s a big “F U” to IMDA.

And, had this organisation been one with intentions to influence local politics, it would have been just as easy to hand that $6,000 on to any other news site, run an ad or promo, and fund some other agenda. IMDA’s regulations are powerless to actually stop the flow of money by determined actors. I’ve asked before: what’s the point of the local/foreign definition anyway?

In the end, this leaky IMDA rule only serves to burden upright publications with paperwork, while those who want to disguise payments can easily do so (and they are encouraged to hide their money trails). This is a worse situation all around.

Meanwhile, the G’s war on fake news doesn’t seem interested in addressing this regulatory weakness at all.


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Misaligned walkway: ST pulled its punches so hard, it hurt its own face

Oh, I’d like to think that ST’s poor coverage (that pun landed right on my lap) of a badly-aligned walkway in Jurong was just shoddy journalism. Sadly, it looks like it’s their best attempt at a cover-up. It took nearly a year for the project to get done, several residents of the area have told me, but ST dodges that fact and more.

Rulang Primary Jurong West Misaligned Walkway, screenshot from FB.

Check out that headline for a start. Instead of something factual, like “LTA leaves project half-done for nearly a year”, or something gentle like “LTA explanation for covered walkway: it was according to plan”, ST chooses to go instead for “LTA clears up mystery of misaligned sheltered walkway in Jurong West”, which is already watered down from their initial headline “LTA solves mystery…” (see the URL). Wow, way to turn a bad project into a heroic act.

Then, the paper doesn’t even ask the very basic question of how long the walkway has been misaligned. Clearly LTA has the exact date, but noooo, don’t ask them. And don’t ask any long-time residents either. Instead, get a date from a teacher who just joined the school next door in July 2017, and who says that the joke of a walkway was already there when she joined.

And of course, no questions posed to LTA about why social media outcry resulted in the crossing getting fixed in just one day, when it took nearly a year of, what, nobody on the project noticed that something was amiss? Residents not saying anything? Grassroots didn’t raise it to the MP? MP doesn’t walk the ground? (Check the GRC map if you want to know who).

Any other reasons for the year-long delay? How much feedback has LTA received about the walkway since it was built? ST doesn’t even ask these basic questions. For shame.

Meanwhile, PAP propaganda channels are going into overdrive to criticise those that criticised the project. Shoddy journalism opens the door to fake news, but I don’t even know if you could call this shoddy journalism – perhaps more like ass-covering (for which you get the stink of faeces on you), or punches pulled so hard that the paper might as well hit itself in the face.