Tuesday, 23 April 2013

A Butterfly Or A Frog

Singapore: Butterfly or Frog?

SINGAPORE is undergoing a metamorphosis. Indeed, it is likely to be a mighty metamorphosis. Having lived in Singapore for 64 years, I find it hard to recall a period of greater transformation.

Unlike previous transformations, this one is not taking place in the material or mental spheres. Nor is it taking place in the economic or political spheres.

Instead, it is taking place in the spiritual sphere. The soul of Singapore is being redefined.
No one can predict the final outcome of this metamorphosis. There is a range of possibilities. Let me suggest two extreme possibilities using analogies from natural results of metamorphoses.

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Singapore: Butterfly or Frog?

The concomitant irony is that while talking long term we have been acting short term for quite a few years now. The excuse is that our long range radar is no longer reliable. How do we know which direction to sail if we do not know where we should be heading?

If this question cannot be answered we will still put up the sails and go. We shall go in circles and we will only know after we had done so. We will make no progress even if we feel progress during the journey.

The last twenty years were probably rich but wasted years. For two decades we sold our intangibles for too little money, and we do not know because we didn't know how to value our assets. The two IRs is perhaps iconic of that morally bankrupt value system.

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Seeking middle ground or joining the media if you want Singapore to do well?

It looks like we can make a difference if talented Singaporeans join the main stream media and contribute to nation building. Since when journalism in Singapore has such a tall order! Therefore, the alternative is to seek middle ground between MSM and social media. 

So, is this a view of a frog or a butterfly? Yes, if you think the MSM is an open space not a well. No, it is indeed a deep well with limited and controlled press – our press freedom ranking is at the bottom in the world.  Therefore, it is better to seek the middle ground.

Cheong Yip Seng, the former editor-in-chief of the Straits Times, told NTU students that “If you are committed to this nation and want it to do well, join the media.”

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Nation in mid-life crisis 

I THINK the reason for the angst and discontentment we feel as a society and as a country is no different from that which an individual feels as he hits mid-life. 

When he was younger, the future looked bright and nothing seemed unattainable. Now, doubts are beginning to set in, both for the individual and for Singapore as a whole. All that hard work and promise of success seems illusory. Although he works hard to get ahead in life, he finds he is actually running on the spot. Or worse, sliding backwards as smarter, wealthier and more mobile foreigners take the jobs, the seats in the nice restaurants and the condo unit he aspires to own.

You are right that the Singapore soul is being redefined.

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When I first read this article by Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, I thought it was a rather badly written article. I still do.

What is (un)surprising is that the Straits Times finds such bad writing worthy of publication

Incidentally, The Economist recently panned Mahbubani’s latest book, the grand-sounding “The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the Logic of One World”. Unfortunately, The Economist had this to say about the book [emphasis mine]

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Kishore Mahbubani is the most intelligent man in the Milky Way

I refer to the above article by Kishore Mahbubani, published in The Straits Times on April 13, 2013.

Kudos to Singapore Police Force - In the article, which I have read about 15 times to appreciate its essence, Kishore said that Singapore is one of the safest cities in the world because credit goes to the Singapore Police Force for keeping the peace.

I have no choice but to agree that this is absolutely true. Because without the SPF, Singaporeans will instinctively rape and pillage everything. But with SPF’s presence, Singaporeans will rein in all their baser desires.

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Our ‘biggest’ blessing is not a miracle

I refer to the 13th Apr 2013 Straits Times article “Singapore’s biggest blessing: Safety” by Mr Kishore Mahbubani [1].

Mr Mahbubani asserts that Singapore’s safety is a miracle because unlike Switzerland, we are not surrounded by places with the same level of safety. But such so-called ‘miracles’ are quite common place around the world:

• Suriname’s homicide rate of 4.6 per 100,000 people is much lower than that of its neighbours Guyana (15.5 per 100,000) and French Guiana (13.3 per 100,000) and Brazil (21.7 per 100,000) [2].

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‘I’d have failed Kishore Mahbubani’s essay’

I read Kishore Mahbubani’s essay in The Straits Times on April 13, 2013.

After which I suffered from a splitting headache. As a secondary school English teacher, it is horrifying to read such writing outside my line of work. I thought bad writing only occurs when I mark students’ scripts. Which are usually written by adolescents whose sole primary purpose in life at their age is to engage in heavy petting with their respective boyfriends and girlfriends.

Kishore Mahbubani’s writing, to say the least, is difficult to read as it seems like he has other more important things to do than put his thoughts down in writing. Because it is embarrassing to know that it was actually written by a grown man, who is rich and supposedly literate, and part of the potentate.

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Why Kishore’s article is crap - 

Here are the reasons why Kishore’s article is crap.
1. He cites examples without backing his points up.
2. He puts up irrelevant points that do not link to the main article.
3. He unwittingly contradicts himself.

Kishore Mahbubani. Like Old Man Lee, Kishore’s ability to rationalize issues suddenly deserts him the moment he retired.

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Singapore's biggest blessing: Safety

One of the biggest blessings Singapore has is that it is one of the safest cities in the world.

The level of safety we enjoy is a true miracle. Switzerland enjoys the same level of public safety. But it is surrounded by Europe. When you cross the border out of Switzerland, you continue to experience the same level of safety. But when you cross out of the border of Singapore, you may not. In short, we have to work extremely hard to preserve this cocoon of extraordinary public safety.

Some of it is clearly due to the very successful Singapore Police Force (SPF) we have. But the SPF is only one unit within an ecosystem of excellent public institutions delivering this high level of safety. The social trust that Singaporeans and Singapore residents have in this ecosystem is one key reason why our city is safe.

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Opening eyes to good governance

A family shopping for groceries in a Shanghai supermarket. China’s government is not perfect but it has lifted many people out of poverty, increased their lifespans and generated the world’s largest middle class. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

FRANCIS Fukuyama has done the West an enormous favour with his essay titled What Is Governance? He is subtly introducing a distinction between democracy and good governance, a distinction which is almost inconceivable in Western minds. 

To put it bluntly, democracy is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for good governance. And yes, it is possible to have good governance without democracy. 

Anyone who doubts this should look at the record of China's government over the past 30 years. It is not perfect but it has lifted more people out of poverty, educated more people, increased their lifespans and generated the world's largest middle class. No other society in human history has improved human welfare as much as the Chinese government. It would be insane to deny that China has enjoyed "good governance". 

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Opening minds to better governance

I refer to the 6 Apr 2013 Straits Times article “Opening eyes to good governance” by Mr Kishore Mahbubani [1].

Mr Mahbubani espouses that democracy is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for good governance. That is a statement that misses the forest for the trees. In a truly First World nation, citizens should enjoy both good governance and democracy. They should not have to choose one over the other. To be denied democracy is to be denied our rightful status as masters of our country. Good governance without democracy can be likened to a well fed servant while good governance with democracy can be likened to a well fed master. Saying it is possible to have good governance without democracy is like saying it is possible to be well fed without being the master. But who is more well fed, the servant or his master?

Good governance without democracy can also be likened to a kingdom ruled by a good king. A good king rules well so there is good governance. Yet there is no democracy because the king alone decides and the people have no say. But the good times depends on the continued goodness of the king. The people are at the mercy of the king. If the king ever turns bad, the people have no choice but to put up with the king’s bad behaviour. Herein lies the importance of democracy. It allows for bad governance to be bloodlessly removed and gives renewed hope that the replacement governance can be better. It may not guarantee good governance but it guarantees our right to reject poor governance.

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