Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Oh To be a Citizen of the World!

I was reflecting how much I am enjoying my life here in Singapore and how that is thanks to its (in my opinion enlightened) policy of welcoming foreigners to their shores to work and live.

Although I did enjoy my time in Malaysia, I was fed up with it after awhile and wanted to see someplace different and I just went south to Singapore. But what if I want to move elsewhere in future? With so many countries tightening their borders it will be difficult to move. I then thought, “wouldn’t it be great if we could move from country to country just like we moved from job to job and company to company”? If everyone was free to move to wherever they liked, unpopular regimes and policies would drive people away just like a poorly run company would lose its customers and staff. Market forces would be brought to bear on political systems and we will have a “democratic” earth where people vote with the feet…

Of course, this would mean an end to patriotism. But what does it really mean to be patriotic? After all, allegiance to a country is really allegiance to a way of life. When one fights for one’s country, one is fighting for a particular way of life. If it so happens that I do not like that way of life, then there really is no reason to be patriotic is there? Off I go to another land that can better provide for my needs. Perhaps there will not need to be wars anymore if we are free to come and go as we please… on the other hand that would be wishful thinking. One should not doubt man’s ability to fight and wage war and annihilate itself for even the smallest of things as that is his nature… alas!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Democracy – Not all that it is cut out to be...

Democracy! The idea that the majority rules, seems to be one of the most popular systems of selecting governments and manage many affairs and situations in the world. But I say we need to continue to search for an alternative. Despite its flaws (and there are a few critical ones) we should not be blinded by the idea that the best we have now is equal to the best we will ever have.

For example, if for arguments sake, your electorate consisted of a bunch of intellectually disabled people, would you trust the outcome of any poll? This is obviously an extreme scenario but it serves to illustrate the point! Most electorates are either not fully informed of the issues or not educated enough to understand them. So how is it valid to be asking them to decide on who governs? Of course in this day and age of the internet and greater media coverage, issues are discussed much more than before but the issues have also become more complex. But sweep all that aside for a moment and look at the latest US Presidential elections. Kerry for all his intellectual prowess (compared to Bush) and experience was reduced to the simple label of "Flip Flopper" by the media. Is changing your mind about something that bad. I sure would hope that my leader would have the moral courage to change his/her mind if they knew it was for the greater good!

For another example, would a company conduct a survey of how much salary increases to offer its people? Of course not! We are selfish and we want what is best for ourselves and ourselves only. Well, perhaps, that may extend to one’s immediate family but that’s about it. If we really think people vote for policies because they think it is for the greater good, then we are seriously living in a fantasy.

I am certainly not a great supporter of democracy. Unfortunately, I have not seen a better system so I grudgingly support it in the absence of a better system. But I sure hope someone somewhere is working out some way better because the current process leaves a lot to be desired.

Friday, August 19, 2005

In Support of Klingon Culture

With all the corporate scandals in America, the recent problems at NKF and the numerous times we have witnessed issues arising because someone was “just following the bosses instruction”, it made me think of the failures in checks and balances that has allowed such things to happen. In most cases, the external institutions (e.g. auditors) that were supposed to act as the check and balance were found wanting. Anyway, external agencies can never know the details of an organization as well as those on the “inside”. So, I am implying that organizations need to police themselves. But is that possible to do effectively? Isn’t that a conflict of interest? That is when I thought about how things are done by the Klingons (of Star Trek fame).

In the Klingon world, it is well known and accepted that the duty of someone in a position of responsibility (lets say an officer) is to keep his/her superior in check. Ultimately he/she is even allowed to kill the superior officer if it is thought that the superior’s actions would endanger the common good. Of course, I am not advocating murder, but you get my point! If all those in positions of responsibility or authority have a deputy whose duty it is to be the check and balance, we would probably have less scandals, although perhaps more debates!

I believe this is similar to the concept of “dual control” which is already commonly used in Financial Institutions where much of the risk is mitigated by separating processes that entail access to money. Such processes are split into separate units (whether it is separate individuals, as in a combination to a safe, or separate departments, as in a trading room and its limits). It is precisely because this principle separation of responsibilities was negated that Nick Leeson was able to rack up such a huge position that ultimately brought down Barings Bank in Singapore.

Imagine, if every President had to look over their shoulder to ensure that the Vice-President agreed with his/her actions before doing something. If every Deputy Prime Minister was watching the PM for any poor decisions, you would probably get slower government and management but you would probably also have less risk and scandals.

Lets have a more Klingon culture I say…!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Killing the Innocent

Unfortunately, another innocent life has been snuffed out in the “war against terror”. I am of course speaking of the killing of the Brazilian by police recently in London. Brazilians are protesting (as you would expect) but many British are also concerned and calling for a review and an investigation. On my part, I was dismayed (but not surprised) to read (in the ST I think) that if it had happened here, we would have kept quiet… why is it so many of us look the other way when something nasty happens to “somebody else”. This society and culture is sometimes so sad…

Anyway, my feelings on the entire issue were so well summed by one John Gardner that I just had to put his views up. I fully support what he has to say and simply hope that the review and investigation will lead to improvements in policing in general so that all police forces the world over may learn from this tragedy…

John says; Like many of my fellow-Londoners I am less alarmed by suicide bombers than I am by the police's Mossad-style execution of a 'suspect' (who turned out to be a completely innocent passer-by) on Friday 22 July. This is not because we are at greater risk of death at the hands of the police than at the hands of the bombers. Rather, it is because, all else being equal, it is worse to be killed by one's friends than by one's enemies, and worse to be killed by people in authority than by people not in authority.Here are some other important things to remember in thinking about the police actions of 22 July: (I believe he is talking about British law here…)
(1) There is no general legal duty to assist the police or to obey police instructions.
(2) There are special police powers to arrest and search. But there is no special police licence to injure or kill. If they injure or kill, the police need to rely on the same law as the rest of us.
(3) The law allows those who use force in prevention of crime to use only necessary and proportionate force. Jack Straw (foreign minister) and Sir Ian Blair (police chief) say that officers are under great pressure. But this is no excuse. In law, as in morality, being under extra pressure gives us no extra latitude for error in judging how much force is proportionate or necessary.
(4) Arguably, the police should be held to higher standards of calm under pressure than the rest of us. Certainly not lower!
(5) The necessity and proportionality of the police use of force is to be judged on the facts as they believed them to be. This does create latitude for factual error. In my view it creates too much latitude. The test should be reasonable belief. The police may be prejudiced like the rest of us, and may treat the fact that someone is dark-skinned as one reason to believe that he is a suicide bomber. But in court this reason should not count.(6) It is no defence in law that the killing was authorised by a superior officer. A superior officer who authorises an unlawful killing is an accomplice.
(7) The fact that those involved were police officers is irrelevant to the question of whether to prosecute them. It is a basic requirement of the Rule of Law that, when suspected of crimes, officials are subject to the same policies and procedures as the rest of us.
(8) Some people say: Blame the terrorists, not the police. But blame is not a zero-sum game. The fact that one is responding to faulty actions doesn't mean one is incapable of being at fault oneself. We may blame Tony Blair for helping to create the conditions in which bombing appeals to people, without subtracting any blame from the bombers. We may also blame the bombers for creating the conditions in which the police act under pressure, without subtracting blame from the police if they overreact. Everyone is responsible for their own faulty actions, never mind the contribution of others. This is the moral position as well as the position in criminal law.

(By the way, the fact that John is the Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Oxford, and occasional Visiting Professor at Yale Law School, in no way influenced my thinking on the matter…ha ha ha.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Racism / Prejudice

Have you noticed that when conversations here move towards whether this or that country is a nicer place to stay, e.g. the UK, Australia, the US, then someone will inevitably bring up the subject of racism and perhaps encounters of it in these specific countries? There will be the shaking of heads, the wagging of fingers and even sighs of despondency will be heard. But that in itself is neither here nor there…

What I find curious is that although we tut-tut at the perceived racism encountered in such countries, we hardly bat an eyelid to the stuff that happens in our own backyard! Try looking around for a place to rent in Singapore by using the phone to contact the numbers placed in the newspapers and you will get agents asking about your background, what you do for a living and your race! Many of them would thereafter sheepishly explain that they had to find out on their clients behalf as their client does not want to rent to Indians because they “smell”. I find it incredible that they are so upfront! Look further at the ads and you can see some touting Indian owners looking for tenants. It appears the race of the owner is an important fact to provide! I also new of a Chinese lady with an Indian boyfriend who was looking for a flat to rent… Initially, the agents were welcoming but once they knew the boyfriend was Indian and would also be sharing the flat, their tunes changed!

That’s just the rental scene. How about the employment scene? I have seen cases where Malays seem to get the short end of the stick. There was once when I was going to select a Malay candidate and I was asked by my superior whether I was sure I knew what I was doing… implying that perhaps I should get my head examined,… or was I too sensitive? That was just my reading of the situation.

How about the political scene? Can you imagine the Republican party in the US or the Conservatives in the UK saying they only allow whites or Anglo-Saxons are allowed membership? It would be unthinkable! However in a place like Malaysia we have race-based parties! Yes, there may be a National Front to pull them all together but no-one joins the National Front. Citizens join one of the race-based parties which is then part of the National Front. We do not bat an eyelid about such things and I find that amazing!

Thererfore, I think that;
1. Racism (or prejudice) is everywhere. We need not go to other countries to see it.
2. Racism is just a form of stereotyping. However, I truly believe that practically everyone stereotypes or generalizes. We need to do so to get things done in this complex world. The key, of course, is the extent to which we practice the stereotyping and generalization. For example we say “Singaporeans are generally hardworking people.” Is that not a generalization? I guess since it is perceived to be a positive generalization, it would not be controversial. How about “Singaporeans are quite ill behaved when they go out of their country to say, Johor or KL.” Hmmm, I am sure that will raise some protest...
3. I strongly believe that due to (1) and (2) above, we all have our own prejudices and it is just a matter of degrees. The key question is what can we do about it? For starters, I just hope we can start to recognize that we are all afflicted by it. Only then can we begin to decide whether or not we want to do anything about it.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

MEME - ThE CooK NeXt DooR

I must say this is the first time I am answering a meme… but what the heck, I don’t mind….

What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?
Besides the Maggi Mee stuff at home, the real cooking for myself has to be my first year at University overseas where I probably survived the short holidays without catered food by eating bread with beans and soup (not necessarily together of course). It was then that started experimenting with various “combinations”. Eating just bread and soup can be boring even for me so I tried putting stuff onto the bread…. Beans, cucumber, tomato, mushroom, cauliflower (not very good), fruits, luncheon meat, tomato sauce, black sauce, oyster sauce (good in small amounts), pepper etc etc.

Who had the most influence on your cooking?
No one. I take full responsibility for my lack of convention.

Do you have an old photo as “evidence” of an early exposure to the culinary world and would you like to share it?
Sorry, am not into taking photos of the self, even though photography used to be a hobby.

Mageiricophobia - do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?
No, but I would probably be nervous if I hypothetically had to cook for a date.

What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest let down?
Most valued – a large pot. I used to cook boiled cabbage with a sprinkling of luncheon meat and oyster sauce in such a pot. Once everything was “soft” enough, I simply chucked enormous helpings of rice into the pot and ate directly from the pot thus negating the need for a plate… hey! I was a poor student. What was I supposed to do?

Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like - and probably no one else!
Well, my so called friends say that most of my food combinations are weird so it’s a little difficult to say. Actually I just eat to survive so I can’t comment much here.

What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don’t want to live without?
Well, I have always liked jelly-based desserts, and generally speaking, I like egg based dishes and dishes with mushrooms.

Any question you missed in this meme, that you would have loved to answer?
What eating situation would you most like to act out?
To pre-prepare a small helping of warm brown oatmeal (perhaps with bit of fruit) in an airline provided air-sickness bag. Get on a commercial flight and replace empty air-sickness bag with your own, pre-prepared with warm oatmeal with fruit before other passengers seat next to you. As the plane takes off, rush to take air-sickness bag and pretend to throw up in said bag (with relevant sound effects thrown in). Then to immediately feel the warm oatmeal you know is at the bottom of the bag while looking around at your neighbours who are most probably already very wary of you. Thereafter, to rummage in bag to look for a piece of fruit, hold up, sniff and devour. Immediately then whip out a foldable spoon and eat the contents of the bag with gusto! Your neighbours will then leave you alone for the rest of the flight…!

Three quickies:
Your favourite ice-cream… : Haagen Daz, Vanilla
You will probably never eat… : Anything still living and most things considered “exotic”. I am not very adventurous with food as I do not really see the point!
Your own signature dish… : I guess my friends would say boiled cabbage and oatmeal… but not together please!

Who do you want most to cook you dinner?
People are going to think me strange but… Margaret Thatcher! If only for the dinner and post dinner conversations.

Three people to tag:
I really do not know any other bloggers with the exception of Boo_licious who gave the meme to me in the first place so I can’t really do this part.

Monday, June 06, 2005

On Love

According to Freud, falling in love is best thought of as a short acting, spontaneously remitting psychosis. A psychosis no less!

He also observed that falling in love is frequently accompanied by a variety of symptoms which, clinically stated, sounds like the characteristics of a disorder. A psychosis and a disorder!! Evidence? Well how about changes in mood, physical restlessness, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, disturbance of work patterns, ruminative thinking, and delusional beliefs about a person which do not correspond to others’ perception of reality?

“The exaggerated sense of well being produced by a state of love means all might not portend well in the long run if this state is used as the basis for long term decision making – like the choice of a life partner. The divorce statistics alone indicate that love is an unreliable basis for making choices, let alone the countless occasions when detached observers consider a match unlikely or ill-advised.” (…extracted from a book titled “From the edge of the Couch” by Dr Raj Persaud which I am currently reading…)

At the risk of sounding like a Vulcan from the Star Trek franchise, this is an example of how clinging to emotions do us in and it is also an argument for the primacy of logic to rule our everyday lives.