Archive for the ‘Opinions’ Category

Odorous Odex

September 1, 2007

The ongoing Odex saga has caused much uproar amongst the anime community. Odex has seemingly taken advantage of parents’ fear of their children getting prosecuted and becoming blackmarked for life to extort exhorbitant sums of money from them. The judge’s decision to protect the identities of Pacific Internet subscribers suggests his disapproval of Odex’s ostensibly harsh punitive actions. But Odex has fought back with strong support from Japanese anime companies. It may be a lost cause for the anime community but something good may come out of this saga.

No, I’m not referring to greater respect for intellectual property. Coercive methods serve to increase the fear of the consequences of getting caught more than anything else. The good that I see, is that deprived of free anime, many teenagers and young adults might become weened of Japanese anime and move on to more beneficial endeavours like studies or sports.

Lastly I would like to attempt to explain why Singapore has the highest per capita number of illegal anime downloaders in the world. I am of the opinion that it has something to do with our high broadband internet prices. It is true that while countries like Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong have very competitive broadband rates, we on the other hand have some of the most expensive broadband rates in the world. Think about it, who would pay $60 a month just to check email and do light surfing? $60 is a lot of money to a student and you can be rest assured that he would want to make the most out of his expensive internet connection.

It was reported in the news yesterday that Starhub’s court case with Singnet has been settled out of court. I remember Singnet fighting tooth and nail with Starhub over commercial interests yet when it came to protecting consumers, Singnet did practically next to nothing.

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Annuity

August 25, 2007

PM Lee seems to be in a hurry to do things always. Pressing buttons, making demands and leaving people with no choice.

There are many ways to make provision for life after 85 and the annuity isn’t the only one.

Those who would rather leave their hard earned money for their loved ones should be given a choice to either:

1) Have smaller monthly payouts that would stretch from 65 to 100 years old.

2) Save a bigger minimum sum so that without any change in monthly payout, can last till 100 years old.

3) Any combination between (1) and (2).

If these choices are presented, he would not be so resented.

The high cost of prosperity

August 24, 2007

I refer to the article by Minxin Pei:

http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/03/05/opinion/edpei.php.

An uncanny similarity with Singapore. Prosperity is pursued at the expense of social well being. When leaders are appointed by the government rather than chosen by the people, they will naturally pursue government agenda first before attending to the needs of the people. And the situaton persists because our elections are not competitive which renders our parliament a mere theatrical event.

A good example would be Mr Mah Bow Tan. Mr Mah said in a recent interview with the Straits Times that his most satisfying achievement has been the transformation of the Marina Bay area. There is no mention of him finding satisfaction in meeting the housing needs of ordinary Singaporeans. Why is that so? Because the Marina Bay is a top government priority unlike us ordinary citizens who, as far as Mr Mah is concerned, can be housed in the most far flung corners of Singapore.

Church mission trips: to learn is as important as to serve

August 22, 2007

This was an article written by Andy Ho (ST, 20 Aug 2007). In a nutshell, Andy is trying to say that the Korean Christians shouldn’t have gone to such a dangerous place like Afghanistan to spread the Bible. The person who wrote to ST forum feels that Andy, in effect, belittled such humanitarian efforts.

Here’s how I feel:

The heart of the Islamic world may not be the best place to spread the holy Gospel. Christians and Muslims have fought religious wars and massacres have been committed in the name of God. Even today, we find Christians violating Muslims (ethnic cleansing, Bosnia) and Muslims taking revenge on Christians (911).

Religion is so powerful and so difficult to control or deal with that our govt has always adopted a policy of no discussion. Because there will be no end to discussion and real risk that conviction in religions can lead to conflicts.

Mr George Yeo recently said (ST, 27 Jul 2007) that a person having strong faith in his religion, will not accept other religions as equals even if he tolerates them. Since respect is based on equality, it means that deeply religious people have difficulty respecting other religions as equals and this is something we cannot wish away.

So what happens when a devout Christian, who by virtue of his devotion bears a certain disrespect for other religions like Islam, goes to a Muslim country to spread the Bible to people who are equally devoted to Islam and hence equally disrespectful of Christianity? Wouldn’t that be the best recipe for igniting a war?

So while we cannot wish away the feeling of superiority in one’s own religion, we cannot let the associated disrespect for other religions trample upon the feelings of those of other faiths. Allowing that to happen would simply be to ask for unnecessary conflict.

National Day Rally 2007

August 19, 2007

PM Lee attributed the astronomical high salaries of those at the top (presumably the cabinet) to our winner-takes-all society. He cited the example of golf, where Tiger Woods earns a lot more than number 2, Jim Furyk. But sports isn’t reflective of the way our society functions. Sports is a zero sum game whereby one person winning the gold medal denies another from getting gold. What Tiger Woods wins, Tiger Woods deprives of others. Society however, doesn’t function like that. There can be many top surgeons as long as their skills are demanded. Likewise there can be many top bankers, accountants and lawyers.

It is however true that there can only be one CEO in a company and one prime minister in a country. But even then we see a difference between Tiger Woods and the CEO or the prime minister. Tiger Woods is a one man show. No one doubts that it is through his own hard work and gift that he accomplishes all that he achieves. A company on the other hand, is not a one man show, let alone a country. The success of a company or a country cannot be solely attributed to the CEO or the prime minister and much has to be considered of the contributions of employees and the people.

A better analogy would have been that of an orchestra. The conductor knows that all the members of his orchestra are truly talented people and the best that he could find. Without them, he alone would have amounted to nothing. So rather than taking all, credit and rewards are shared amongst all members.

The PM says that we cannot hold down top salaries for otherwise talent will leave. We can do an experiment and hold down the salary of say Mah Bow Tan and see if he leaves. For the experiment to work, we have to ensure that no government linked company would employ him and see if he can make it just as good in the private sector.

PM Lee also said that western countries cannot attain the growth rates that we attain. Let’s us wait till we reach their per capita GDP levels before we say so. The reasoning is this: US got 90 marks last year and 93 marks this year – an increase of only 3 marks. Singapore got 70 marks last year and 78 marks this year – an astounding increase of 8 marks. But which is better at the end of the day, 93 marks or 78 marks?

Don’t equate lack of strident views with political apathy

August 5, 2007

Mr Ng Eng Heng made those famous remarks at Confluence 2007 as reported by Cassandra Chew (ST, 22 Jul 2007). He gave the example of a grassroots leader who devotes three nights a week for the past 30 years to community service as being more politically involved than someone who writes a letter to voice out issues. The question is, how can one dedicated community leader represent political involvement by the community? How many examples of such dedicated people can we find and what fraction of our population do they represent?

Secondly, how much do we know of their purpose for volunteering at grassroots activities? So that their kids can have priority for enrolment in famous schools? So that they can rub shoulders with the influential? Why don’t they volunteer at the school for the handicapped or the old folks homes for example? Volunteerism with welfare groups cannot possibly come with any perks so we cannot doubt the sincerity of those volunteers. The same cannot be said of political volunteers with the PAP. On the other hand, when someone writes to question the decisions and choices made by the government, he does so at great risks to himself with no associated benefits whatsoever. As such, we cannot doubt the true concern he has for the issues that he is writing about.

Thirdly, even if we manage to cultivate the entire population to become like the exemplary community leader to serve a single party much like the whole of Nazi Germany serving Hitler for example, what does that prove? We would have proven to have become mindless subjects serving the whims and fancies of a self serving leader. That would indeed be the ultimate demise for Singapore. For the difference between some grassroots leaders and writers debating on issues is that the former gladly accepts everything as good and right without question whereas the latter actually thinks for himself and does not take anything at face value, which is the difference between blind political allegiance and political awareness.

Lastly, Mr Ng pointed out that there are many Singaporeans in top universities as proof that we are not politically apathetic. But which country has the most number of students in top foreign universities? Wouldn’t that be China? So what have we proven again? That we’re as politically apathetic as communist China?

Different lenses for foreigners past and present

July 29, 2007

Referring to the above report (ST, 18 Jul 2007), I do not agree that we view foreigners past and present with different lenses. Rather, our view of the foreigners past and present can differ depending on our vantage point just as what we see on the top of UOB centre is very different from what we see when we are at street level.

From an economic perspective, we are all digits and hence the same, past or present. But when we look at history and legacy, then clearly past foreigners who have given all their lives to this land certainly earn the right to be called locals. Present foreigners on the other hand, have footprints all over Singapore that are as yet fresh and unsettled. They may use this land as springboard to greener pastures and we cannot doubt their purpose here is primarily monetary rather than sentimental. Past foreigners were once present foreigners, coming ashore for the primary purpose of earning a living too. But they are no longer present foreigners but have gone past that and become locals, truly concerned about the well being of this land that they now come to regard as home.

Only time will tell if present foreigners will become past foreigners, in the meantime, let us not pretend, from the perspective of history and legacy, that they are the same.

Referring to the comment in the extract “It would be unfair to view foreigners solely as … burdens or usurpers of what rightfully belongs to Singaporeans, since the majority are here to work and play a vital role in keeping the economy humming”. I recently met with my ex-colleagues who said their CEO, an ang moh, had just made a disastrous decision that wiped off millions from their profits, despite everyone else’s disagreement. This is just one of many examples where these new foreigners truly usurp the throne that rightfully belongs to us but harmed rather than benefitted our economy despite drawing shamelessly high salaries. In this sense, you might think of past foreigners as slaves made good whereas present foreigners are kings waiting to be served.

Monopoly need not be a dirty word

July 29, 2007

I refer to Mr Charles Tan’s article “Monopoly need not be a dirty word” (Today, Sat, 28 July 2007) in which he describes our recent debate on the monopoly of NETs and Starhub as ‘micro’-arguments that misses the ‘big picture’.

Mr Tan reminded us of our small size to explain why we cannot have too many cable TV providers. He reasons that “if the United States had one cable TV provider for every 4 million residents, they’d have about 70 such providers … which they don’t”. This runs counter to evidence.

According to the the NCTA (National Cable and Telecommunications Association), there are 7090 cable systems in the US serving 65 million households. That works out to 109 cable systems per million households whereas Starhub’s cable system currently serves 490,000 households. So clearly, on a per household basis, there are 50 times as many cable TV systems in the US as compared to Singapore.

Furthermore, a quick check at http://www.epinions.com shows us that Los Angeles, with a population of about 3.8 million, has 6 cable TV providers. San Diego, with a population of about 1.2 million, has 3 cable TV providers. So if we were to compare city to city, we find no substance in Mr Tan’s argument for Starhub’s cable TV monopoly.

Mr Tan cited massive fixed costs as justification for a monopoly but NETs, having been established since 1986 has had more than 20 years to recoup any fixed costs it might have incurred. What more justification does it need for recouping fixed costs?

Mr Tan doesn’t believe markets should be further distorted by government regulation but the purpose of government intervention is precisely to correct distortions and imperfections of the market.

Mr Tan makes use of the pharmaceutical industry as an example where it is important to protect a monopoly so as to encourage new discoveries and new inventions. But what new discovery or invention does NETs or Starhub represent? Both are creations of the west which are then transplanted here. NETs usage has not changed much for the last decade or so while Starhub is like a postman delivering content but not a creator of content itself.

Mr Tan warns us that if the government were to interfere with the business of NETs for example, the latter would stagnate in its technology and sink to the level of communist inefficiency. If that were true, then all our buses and trains must be languishing in communist inefficiency all this while. If the public transport council can decide the price of buses and trains, I don’t see why a similar agency cannot oversee NETS charges.

Mr Tan argues that profit from monopoly will fuel R&D and pay good wages to researchers. Seriously, what significant R&D does NETs or Starhub endeavour in?

Mr Tan ‘dissects’ the Starhub case as one of maintaining ‘margins in the face of licensing fee hike for English Premiership football coverage’. He may have dissected the case but he ended up throwing half of it away. Yes, part of the reason is that the EPL is asking for more money but the more important reason is the bidding war between Starhub and Singtel which resulted in Starhub paying a lot more than what the EPL had hoped for. So the crux of the issue isn’t ‘consumer demand far outstripping supply’ but rather there are two companies vying for sole coverage of EPL.

Just as there can be only one EPL, so too can there be only one Singapore. If the EPL wants to profit from the lucrative Singapore market, it can only approach Singapore. This is where government invervention could have helped. One way is that the government buys the rights to the EPL so that as a single entity it would have had better bargaining power over the EPL. The government can then sell these rights to either Starhub or Singtel or both. All would have benefited.

Mr Tan reasoned that the $10 increase in EPL charge is of no concern as the ‘psychological trauma’ would wear off in no time. His is the sort of attitude that makes for good slaves, who sooner than later forgets the pain and is ready for more abuse.

Mr Tan borrows the term “the law of small numbers” to suggest that $15 to $25 is peanuts compared to $15 million to $25 million as though the average EPL viewer earns $15 million. He should have used the law of large numbers to show that $15 to $25 is a lot more painful than 15 cents to 25 cents.

Mr Tan asks why, if we were truly disadvantaged, doesn’t the government act on our behalf against these monopolists? The problem is, both these monopolists are owned by the government, who is the ultimate monopolist. If anything extra incurred by Starhub is conveniently passed on to consumers, where is the pain and hence the incentive for the government to act?

Mr Tan believes that government intervention, apart from disincentivisation, would lead to arbitrariness of what can or cannot be. I wonder how the public transport council currently decides what can or cannot be and whether their decisions can be considered arbitrary. I also wonder how much of the public transport council’s decision disincentivises the good operation of our bus companies.

Mr Tan’s suggestion of peer-to-peer Internet streaming of EPL may have legal implications.

One thing I would agree is that live EPL matches is a luxury, but we don’t even have highlights the day after.

Yes, monopoly need not be a dirty word but Charles hasn’t been able to show us why.

Channel U Shoot 3: ex-convicts

July 19, 2007

This is a TV discussion forum on Channel U. Today’s topic is about society’s acceptance of ex-convicts. I am very pissed with one of the two main panelists – Cai Shen Jiang.

At one point in the show, an ex-convict was speaking behind a veil about being reaccepted by those around him which gave him a lot of confidence about our society. Cai Shen Jiang then questioned the veiled speaker why he is still speaking behind a veil if he truly has confidence with our society? This prompted the ex-convict to unveil himself even though he had wanted to protect, not his own identity, but that of those around him.

This in my opinion is very irresponsible of Cai Shen Jiang. He is like a smart aleck daring a poor boy to prove his bravery by jumping into the sea and swimming across the channel. What if the poor boy drowns subsequently? He can say the boy has himself to blame for trying to be someone that he isn’t. But isn’t the smark aleck partially responsible for causing the boy’s death?

In another instance, the discussion fell upon a comparison between Durai and Mediacorp artist Li Ming Shun. A guest panelist opined that the former is more unforgivable than the latter because the former caused hurt to so many more people than the latter. To this, Cai Shen Jiang asked whether there is any difference between killing many persons and killing just one person?

The stupid Cai Shen Jiang might as well have asked if there’s any difference between raping one woman and raping many women. Every rape counts as a separate offence and the penalties all add up don’t they?

It’s just that murder is so heinous, one is enough to send you to the gallows. You can’t hang a person 10 times for committing 10 murders can you?

Lastly, there was a telephone interview with a carwash businessman who employs ex-convicts. In the course of the interview, Cai Shen Jiang accused the businessman of not being sincere enough and not doing enough to embrace ex-convicts.

Who can fault the businessman for helping ex-convicts? Hasn’t he done enough? What has Cai Shen Jiang done to help ex-convicts? Who is he to make such comments?

Tree’s end is near

July 12, 2007

I read with regret the decision by LTA and the National Parks to cut down the 80-year-old tree along Braddell Road. I support LTA’s earlier decision to save the 80-year-old tree and urge it to remain steadfast in its decision.

As a relatively young nation of 42 years, this 80-year-old tree is a rare heritage that we should all strive to preserve. We may plant a thousand trees now but we won’t live long enough to see any of them grow to the size and magnificence of this 80-year-old.

If our trees have to give way each and every time there’s a need to widen the road or alter its path, when would they ever live up to 80 years old?

We can make the road safer without cutting down the tree. By building a road divider all along Braddell road leading to the tree that broadens gradually, any driver dutifully following the road curvature would eventually round the tree safely when he or she reaches it.