Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Can't Afford, I'm Pikey Priky Wicky

It's been a strange month, this month of July. It's as if allot of promissing things have come about but they all seem to be hanging in the air, while in the mean time I have to hold my private bits and figure out how to make ends meet.

It must be a testament to my acting skills, but thus far I've managed to smile at the adversity that's come my way. I remember the times I used to appear at functions and cooly listen to people discuss their million dollar deals and then, when the party was over, I'd find a way of sneaking away from the crowd and jumping into a bus, which was usually at a stage when I was worried about taking the bus. I know I'm probably flattering my ego here when I say with some pride that it takes skill to sound like a credible person in a conversation about lots of money when you haven't got any, then again, its been a matter of necessity. People don't give jobs to the poor and needy, which is probably the wrong thing to do because these are probably the most hungry. Then again, if the girls in Geylang and stand there and look desireable and sexy when they're not particularly feeling sexy, then why shouldn't I be able to hold my own in conversations with people who make more in an hour than I do in a month.

Anyway, in spite of being in the usual state of skintdome, I'm managing to stay busy. I've been matching people here and there and somehow, I think I'll be rewarded. I've just finished a book where the main bit of advice is to do favours and add value to people because somehow, there's a universal accountant helping keep score. I think Vinod used to say that "Good Guys Always Win," a lesson which "Green Day" seemed to disagree with in their song "Nice Guys Finish Last."

Well, I think there's a happy medium somewhere in there. I think I've been lucky. I mean, I have a gang of clowns who always need bailing out and they always seem to have a talent to get into trouble when I can least afford to be helpful. But then again, as much as I bitch about being an unrewarded banker to the clowns in my life, I am greatful to the fact that there are people who I've ended up having to take from and they've refused to let me repay them. So, I guess there is something to this cosmic balance of good and bad deeds.

Anyway, it looks like I am about to make a bit more money from the internet. Made about US$16 from mylot.com this month and should be getting to another US$10. It's been quite fun posting discussions on the internet, ranting and raving and reading other people's rants. Men are as always obsessed by their trouser snakes (I've declared that I am so miniscule, I get laid many times because the girls don't believe me when I declare I'm tinny). American Fundimentalist Christians are convinced that Barak Obama is a secret plot by the Islamic world to turn the US of A into a shit pot (if Bush II has not already made it so). Women are obsessed with when they should lose their virginity. It's amazing what people will talk about when nobody thinks they're being watched. I've been posting on all these crazy discussions and its adding up in my paypal accont.

Well, do feel free to join mylot. It can be a laugh. The link to join is under my recamendations and links part of this multiply blog.

Of course, allot of people laugh at me for working for pennies. Seriously, this is not work for me, just a form of ranting and the pennies I earn, end up becoming a form of alternative savings. You know what they say about how you should always keep your spare change in a jar and it grows into something quite substantial at. I guess working on mylot has that same effect. Even if I only get 20 plus cents a night, it's 20 plus extra cents I would not have had otherwise.

Am thinking of holding a Raffle of sorts on this blog. Let me know what type of prizes you think I should offer and hopefully this will turn out to be a good value added proposition to you guys who have been reading the silly things that I get up to on a regular basis. Hopefully, there will be some money in there for someone too. Anyway, you can tell I'm broke, I'm actually doing a bit of thinking about how to solve the usual predicament here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Gobbledygook

I could be going through a strange phase in my life but I seem to be finding that gobbledygook, or speech that does not seem to make sense is becoming the norm in Singapore. I get the impression that there is a new national trend to ensure that when we communicate we are NOT understood. You can imagine the scenario, if you speak in such a way that is honest and understandable, you will be thrown into jail.

Unfortunately, the people who have taken up the art of gobbledygook are precisely the people who have made their reputation for speaking clearly and telling it like it is. Like it or not, Singapore’s leadership at one stage was about having what Jack Welsh, GE’s former CEO called “Candour,” or the dirty little secret of business success. This was a political leadership that was never afraid to being honest about why unpopular policies had to be put in place and while we, the public may have bitched about it, we accepted the decisions of the leadership and thus far things have turned out brilliantly.

But things have been starting to change and I can say with a bit of relief or should it be alarm that even the foreigners are not immune to speaking in gobbledygook. A week ago, I attended a talk by the American Ambassador. Like all Americans, the lady meant well even if she did end up sounding patronising. However, she had to spoil it all when someone asked her whether Presidential Obhama’s plans to withdraw troops from Iraq would reduce America’s role as the world’s “military policemen.” At this point, the embassy’s PR people should have made it a point to shrink into a cave as the lady replied, “I take issue with you calling us the world’s military policemen. When we go into a country, we don’t go in with the intention to occupy but to provide solutions.” Thank goodness the government’s spokesperson was around to see that potential troublemakers were well behaved.

Seriously, what was the lady thinking when she spoke those words. Erm, exactly what solutions has America provided Afghanistan or Iraq – that is unless you call sending your GIs (but what do the neoCONS care about White Trash, Niggers and Spicks?), to be target practice for the insurgents a solution (a solution for the neoCONS but who else)? And what exactly did Madame Ambassador think the GIs were doing in Iraq if they were not occupying the place? (Well, I suppose the GIs are there to soak up the sun).

I didn’t know whether to feel sorry for the woman or regret that I didn’t push her on these questions. This is the first time I’ve seen an Ambassador stick her foot in her mouth and pull it out of her ear with such a lack of fines. The fact that it was the American Ambassador making a statement of the absurd was even more amusing.

OK, I have to be fair to the American Ambassador. Her gobbledygook does work most of the time. A few months ago, a Singaporean complained about being punched by a drunken sailor and the fact that the sailor was not charged by the police. The good lady went wrote a letter about how the USA respects Singapore law and how Singaporeans should remember how US sailors pick litter on the beach (which, if I know these boys, they put it there in the first place.) Unlike her counterpart in Tokyo who has to bow in front of the Governor of Okinawa every time the GIs get into trouble – the government did utterly nothing and we even had letters to the papers praising her for her honesty.

But then again, should anyone be surprised? This is the country that has gobbledygook at its heart. Look at the 377A debate where you had Professor Thio Li-Ann, who spoke allot of gobbledygook about how keeping a private consensual act between consenting adults illegal would somehow uphold society’s morals. Her arguments ran along the lines that the majority of Singaporeans are against homosexual sex and letting homosexuals have sex in the privacy of their bedrooms would make the rest of us homosexuals …or something like that. But let’s give credit where credit is due. She spoke allot of gobbledygook and the public seemed to cheer her on as a defender of their values – My favourite Young Politician cannot resist telling me that this is a sign of Asian Values (goes to show how much he knows about Asian culture.) Professor Thio deserves her law professorship – the lady can spin gobbledygook in such a way that supposedly educated and rational people believe her. (Says allot about education in Singapore)

The law is not the only place in Singapore that seems to be infected with gobbledygook. The economy has become a place where speaking gobbledygook has become a necessity. A few days after the American Ambassador made her statement of the absurd, our finance minister, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, a brilliant finance person by all counts, proceeded to warn the population that getting higher wages would fuel inflation, which would only make them suffer.

He’s right! The monthly wage increase he got a few years ago would probably cover the annual salaries of 4 more executives. So you can’t have an extra four people on one man’s payroll without sending prices rising higher, and that’s before you count the increase of the rest of his colleagues. This is basic economics 101 for you. In the mean time the rest of us can rest comfortably that any salary increase we have will be taxed further to ensure that Temasek and GIC can continue to fund profit making ventures like Citigroup and UBS (lost count of how many billions have been wiped off their books), which is all for our benefit – such as ensuring the Americans don’t offer us any solutions.

Singapore’s grandmaster of speaking gobbledygook is of course, non other than our founding Prime Minister and current Minister Mentor, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. The man, who made the nation by having candour, has decided that in the modern day and age of the Bush Administration, candour is bad and gobbledygook is in.

Over the weekend, he declared that Singapore’s economy is rosy. We are, according to him, entering a decade where we can see seven percent annual growth, baring a major world recession. So, there you have it. Mr Lee says tiny little Singapore will grow tremendously but if it fails, well it’s not his fault (assuming his cabinet post gives him responsibility would be complacent).

The man has had a brilliant career. He’s been great for Singapore but there comes a time when even the greatest of us fail. Now, the greatest of us will acknowledge our failure and move ourselves into positions where we don’t do damage to what we have built up. That was Mr Lee’s original idea when he stepped aside in 1990. But unlike Jack Welsh who had the decency to retire, write books and give seminars – Mr Lee’s idea of stepping aside was to change title. He remains vastly influential in the government’s decision making.

I can accept that his experiences are valuable. But he would serve Singapore better if he had offered it as a private citizen. Instead, he’s a full and exceedingly influential member of the cabinet. In his position, he can ensure his policies are perpetuated, which has thus far been beneficial to Singapore but I fear it’s a reaching stage where its not.

Go back to Jack Welsh. Today, GE’s membership can take allot of lessons from Jack Welsh and his stint as CEO. He and others have written enough books about his experiences and insights. But ultimately, Mr Welsh does not make any decisions at GE – that’s for the current CEO, Jeff Immelt.

So, Mr Lee thinks the economy is doing well. It was helped by the statisticians from the WTO, who declared Singapore’s economy one of the world’s “Most Open,” though I noticed that they didn’t say for who it was open to? My Young Politician has smiled in triumph – the status quo works. Mr Lee’s words have the power to form reality.

Let’s try to work this out. The world’s biggest economy is mired in debt. The debts are so bad that the losses of all the banks involve are probably equal to Singapore’s GDP and the Sovereign Wealth Fund that Mr Lee is Chairman of has only bought into two of those banks (UBS and Citigroup). Since the GIC plonked 11 billion Swiss Franks of tax payers/ CPF holder’s money into UBS, the shares have fallen by some 11 percent in four months. The bank has already lost a CEO and is currently in its umpteenth board reshuffle. In the mean time Citigroup only bleed some US$9 billion in the second quarter of the financial year, which is only 9 percent of Singapore’s GDP. But then, as my young policitican from Pasir Ris GRC would be quick to point out – The GIC is a private company and its spending government money……

So, I suppose when you look at it this way, Mr Lee is very interested in speaking gobbledygook about how the Singapore economy is in such a rosy place. Like all Chinese Patriarchs, he’s probably annoyed that the other Chinese Patriarch, Wee Chow Yaw, former CEO of UOB, the nation’s largest bank in private sector hands, said a few days earlier that the world (of which Singapore is still part of) is in its WORST RECESSION EVER. More importantly, Mr Lee is probably ticked off that Mr Wee is probably more believable.

I admire Mr Lee for his leadership in building up the nation. But in this case, I’m more inclined to put my meagre resources with Mr Wee. As Chairman of the GIC, Mr Lee runs an organisation where the cash is so abundant that he can afford to look “long-term” which is money man speak for hope for the best, it goes right eventually. Mr Wee, by contrast has run an institution where his personal fortune was at stake. Yes, he is rich but this is his personal money and he needs to make it grow – as such he’s got to be capital efficient. When you’re in such a situation – gobbledygook simply won’t do.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Thought Provoking Piece by PN Balji, Editorial Director - MediaCorp

Monday, July 14, 2008

CAN A FEW GOOD MEN CONTINUE to Make s’pore?

Nation needs citizenry who can think on their feet,question established views and identify new solutions

P N BALJI
editorial director balji@mediacorp.com.sg

BRITISH journalist John Kampfner’s argument self-destructed when he ended his commentary analysing Singapore’s economics-before-politics model with this concluding line: “It is providing a modicum of a good life, and a quiet life, the ultimate anaesthetic for the brain.”

A cheap shot, this, but let’s put that aside. His column, published in this paper last Monday, deserves to be debated and not dismissed as another Western journalist’s prejudiced views. For Mr Kampfner, a left-leaning former editor of the New Statesman magazine who used to look at the world through hisfreedom-at-all-cost lenses, to even admit that he has changed his mind on the viability of the Singapore model is striking.

Let’s look at this paragraph from his commentary: “I used to reassure myself with the old certainty that this model was not applicable to larger, more diverse states. I now believe this to be incorrect.”

A rare retraction indeed.

The rise of China and Russia from the ashes of communism and their plunge into the fires of capitalism on the one side and the weaknesses of the Western model ofdemocracy being exposed by the burdens of the welfare state and resurgence of terrorism of a different kind must have all made an impact on the writer.

For a country like Singapore, the issue is not whether this is the right model but whether the model, so assiduously nurtured and so vigorously protected by the Minister Mentor, will stand the test of time.

It is a recurrent theme in many of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s recent speeches and he has good reason to worry.

The pool of people he believes can lead Singapore to permanent prosperity is shrinking by the day. As recently as Friday, he spoke of it again when he gave Singapore a 10-year time frame.

“The present team can last two terms. If they don’t find talented people with the drive, energy, integrity and passion, then the future is in doubt.”

The focus since he formed the People’s Action Party government in 1959 has been to get a few good men together and make them believe in a common good.

That strategy is coming under strain in a Singapore which has been convinced to leave the responsibility of running the country solely to a chosen few and concentrate on chasing the money rainbow.

You can see that culture being taken to the extreme in our schools, offices and even homes. I teacher, you student. I boss, you subordinate. I father, you son.

And you can see what that culture has done to our people. Try asking this question when you meet a young Singaporean the next time: So what do you think of this new development?

If you don’t get a middle-of-the roadanswer like “interesting”, you should rejoice. Even if you do come across someone with an opinion, see how fast that view can be whittled away when you challenge it robustly.

Imagine what this culture can lead to if the top 10 per cent of our people in politics, business, the civil service and civic organisations disappear overnight. We just don’t have a strong reserve tank to rely on to fill the vacuum created.

If a similar scenario were to happen in China or India, you will see not just 10 per cent but 20 per cent of their super-substitutes gushing out.

To build that reserve pool, we need to allow and even encourage questioning, thinking and independent minds in every sphere of our life and work. In short, rebellious minds; not of the destructive, but of the constructive kind.

That kind of culture can have another effect which the Minister Mentor has talked about before: A citizenry that will not be able to detect a rogue a mile away despite all the institutional checks and balances that he and his team have built up over the years. Those filters could fail to flush out that rogue who might, just might, emerge in areas we could never imagine.

Let us remind ourselves that it is the World Premier League we are playing in, a stage full of uncertainties as well as opportunities.

That stage needs not just a few good men, but also a citizenry who can think on their feet, question established views and identify new solutions.

How to go about doing it?

Mr Kampfner’s countryman, Alex Ferguson, who has made the Manchester United brand durable in the soccer world’s collective consciousness could provide some answers.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Well said.....unless you are a member of the Elite who will try to explaining the difference between being realisitc and scared

From Arab News for the Bush Administration on the 4th of July.

http://www.arabnews.com/?page=7§ion=0&article=111481&d=4&m=7&y=2008&pix=opinion.jpg&category=Opinion

Lessons from North Korea for Middle East
Aijaz Zaka Syed | Arab News

Our world would be so dull without its delicious ironies and ever fascinating double standards. Who could have ever thought that having condemned North Korea as part of the "Axis of evil" — the other two being Iran and Iraq of course — in September 2001, Bush would rush his top diplomats to welcome "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il to the fold of civilized world.

But then, as they say, there are no permanent friends and enemies in the world of international relations.

And it seems only an Asian dictator whose mere mention was enough to send Bush flying off the handle could save the lame duck president, desperate to rescue his legacy in his last few months in White House.

Yet not long ago - in fact until last week - Dear Leader's North Korea was right on the top of the US list of "states sponsoring terror". Bush personally ridiculed North Korean's diminutive president with a Himalayan ego as a pygmy. And this administration scrapped all past treaties and agreements with the North Korean regime. And Dear Leader Kim was the Public Enemy No. 1, little different from Osama Bin Laden.

So what is it that Comrade Kim has accomplished overnight to be dropped from the US hit list and join the "civilized world"?

The US has already lifted all curbs on North Korea - punitive sanctions that drove its impoverished people to great suffering and misery while sparing the regime. And now Washington is rushing the much needed financial and food aid to the Asian country as part of the deal with the regime.

So what is it that Dear Leader has offered Washington to justify this remarkable turnaround? Very little, actually!

Although Pyongyang blew up the cooling tower of a defunct nuclear plant with great fanfare in full view of the Western television cameras and a breathless Christiana Amanpour of CNN offering live commentary, the wily North Korean leader has given away little in return while getting all those concessions and huge financial aid from the US.

The IAEA, the UN nuclear watchdog that has been breathing down Iran's neck all this while, gets no access to Kim's nuclear stockpile or its top secret file on weapons program. Unlike in Iran, IAEA cannot go "anywhere, see anything" in North Korea.

Also, the good old Dear Leader would not part with his long-range ballistic missile system, Taepodong 2, that can deliver nukes at distant targets.

So what is it that the Bush administration has achieved by bringing Comrade Kim in from the cold? Little, indeed.

In fact, even the staunchest neocon supporters of Bush see the North Korean deal as the second biggest foreign policy disaster after Iraq. John Bolton, that big mustachioed US envoy to the UN until recently, sees the deal as a "clear victory" for North Korea. "It's the final collapse of Bush's foreign policy," says Bolton.

So what is it that persuaded the Bushies to embrace Comrade Kim? Has he suddenly given up his unflinching faith in his own leadership and the totalitarian socialism to embrace the good, old Western capitalism?

Fortunately or unfortunately, the answer is in the negative. All Dear Leader Kim has done to impress this administration is produce a neat pile of nukes.

It seems even as the coalition of the willing was busy looking for Saddam Hussein's much-feared weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the North Koreans were building their own.

So with his Taeopodong ICBM system and a dozen nuclear warheads, Comrade Kim can now take out 10 Western capitals or America's allies in the neighborhood before you could say Texas Ranger. This is what seems to have convinced the Bush administration and its more sensible allies in South Korea and Japan that Comrade Kim was no Saddam Hussein to be messed around with. And that it was infinitely better to urgently bring Kim on board with lollipops and planeloads of goodies.

So it was not North Korea's scrapping of its nuclear program - as our own Col. Gaddafi so wisely did by turning over his worthless rusting junk as WMD program - but the threat to make use of their nukes that brought the administration off its high horse.

Which reminds me of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The Arab country would have been embraced and rewarded too by the US and the West, if only Saddam really had all those nukes and other weapons of mass destruction that he so often pretended to have.

Iraq wouldn't be in the mess that it finds itself in today with more than a million of its people killed and the entire country ruined beyond recognition, if only it had a couple of real nukes to impress the State Department mandarins.

If instead of endlessly plotting against his neighbors and his own people all the time, Saddam had invested his energy and resources in building real and credible defense to protect his country and people, the coalition of the willing wouldn't be sitting in Baghdad presiding over its immense wealth.

Again, if the US neocons and our ever obliging Israeli friends are promising to visit the fate of the late Iraqi dictator on Iran's Ayatollahs it is because they know that the Islamic republic does NOT have and is NOT building any nuclear weapons.

They know that notwithstanding Ahmadinejad's bluff and bluster and his increasingly juvenile rhetoric, Tehran is years away from building nukes. That is, if it is REALLY building nukes!

But after the way Iraq and North Korea have been blessed with sticks and carrots respectively, can you blame Iran if it indeed goes after those nukes?

As Murdoch's Wall Street Journal, a staunch supporter of Bush's wars, put it: "Most troubling is the message all of this sends to Iran, or other rogue states. The lesson is that when you build a weapon, your political leverage increases. Play enough brinkmanship, and you can even receive diplomatic absolution without admitting to having the kind of nuclear device you exploded less than two years earlier."

Another neocon commentator Claudia Rosett has this to say: "The lesson to date is that America, faced with nuclear blackmail, will bow down, dignify and fortify tyrants, fork over look, and celebrate the process as a victory for diplomacy."

So all it takes Iran, or any other aspiring nuclear power in the Middle East for that matter, is to put together five to six nukes, and join the "civilized world". Let IAEA inspectors go take a hike. And let's bury with utmost reverence that hallowed accord called Non-Proliferation Treaty.

— Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Dubai-based journalist and commentator. Write to him at aijazzsyed@aol.com