Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Are we ready to treat our maids as humans yet?

Hi friends,

In 2006, I blogged about the plight of Singapore’s maids.

I said,

“In this day and age, when even the civil service has implemented 5-day weeks, is it so hard to understand that these 150,000 maids are just like you and I, requiring relaxation and rest?

These workers, who are an asset to our national economy, are not slaves and should be accorded the same human rights that you and I take for granted.

How can even a monthly day-off not be mandatory? I just cannot fathom the logic!

Abusive employers use threats of repatriation- when the maids stand to lose their life-savings, to ensure that the latter “toe the line” and not report maltreatment and other infringements.

The fear of forfeiture of the compulsory $5000 security bond, has caused many employers to keep their maids under lock and key. To them, this $5000 far exceeds the maids’ need for freedom.”

It is clear that nothing has changed for these maids in the past 2 years.

It is a crying shame that in modern Singapore, many of these workers do not even have a day off every month, much less in a week like any other Singaporean.

However, I am glad that in a soulless land where money is god, there are some civil society groups such as

1. The National Committee for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (Unifem) Singapore,

2. Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) and

3. the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) who continue to speak up for the defenceless and underprivileged.

Unfortunately, there was a report recently that TWC2 may not be able to continue as a financially viable organisation for much longer. I will try to find out from TWC2 how we can help them through this rough patch.


Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

PS: Visit and support the Daysoff Campaign

NGOs campaign for day off for foreign maids (Straits Times 29.4.08)

The move is in line with MOM's policy on adequate rest for maids

By Keith Lin

THREE civil society groups have joined hands to campaign for foreign domestic workers here to be given a regular day off.

The National Committee for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (Unifem) Singapore, Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) and the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) on Tuesday launched a year-long publicity campaign, calling on employers to give their maids at least one day off a month.

Their efforts centre around a campaign website which, when launched on May Day, will give advice on how employers can give their maids time off and a list of social activities that such workers can take up on their rest day.

Other activities which will commence later this year include talks with students and community groups, research work, and media advertising.

Speaking at the launch of the Day Off campaign, President of Unifem Singapore Saleemah Ismail said: 'Foreign domestic workers are productive individuals who make an extremely valuable contibution to Singapore society, and like any other person, they deserve a day off.'
Feedback from employers shows that some continue to worry about the potential negative consequences that come with giving maids time off, she said.

These include the possibility of such workers getting pregnant or them mixing with bad company.

'Through this campaign, we hope to allay these fears and burst the bubbles of myths...so that in time perhaps the campaign will encourage employers to give their domestic worker a day off a week,' Ms Saleemah said.

There are currently around 180,000 foreign domestic workers in Singapore. According to a poll conducted by The Straits Times in 2003, only around half receive a regular day off.

Commenting on the initiative, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said in a statement on Tuesday that it is committed to ensuring that the interests and welfare of all foreign workers, including foreign domestic workers (FDWs), are safeguarded while working in Singapore.

'In this regard, the 'Day Off Campaign' to raise awareness among employers on the importance of a rest day for their FDWs is in line with MOM's effort to ensure that FDWs are accorded adequate rest,' said MOM.

The ministry said a standard employment contract for FDWs was introduced in 2006 by accredited maid agencies in Singapore.

The contract provides for rest days for FDWs, but with an option for the FDW to choose compensation in lieu of taking the day off.

Such contracts provide more flexibility to meet the needs of both parties, said MOM, which has, on its part, encouraged employers to grant FDWs rest days in accordance with the contract.
It added that over the years, many steps have been taken to enhance the protection and support for FDWs.

'As a result of our collective education and enforcement efforts, overall 90 per cent of FDWs are happy working in Singapore, and one in three FDWs choose to extend their two-year contract and continue to work under the same employer,' said MOM.

'The number of reports of abuse has remained very small, at around 0.04 per cent of the total FDW population.'

Monday, April 21, 2008

Olympic Torch Relay: Hey China, what about Singapore?

The Olympic torch is due to make its way through the streets of the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, the latest leg of a worldwide relay.

Malaysian officials said they were not expecting any protests.

The torch drew high-profile demonstrations from pro-Tibet activists as it passed through cities such as London, Paris and San Francisco.

However, it also made peaceful progress through cities including Bangkok in Thailand and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

Landmark route

Monday's 16km (9.9 mile) torch relay route will take the Olympic symbol past some of Kuala Lumpur's landmarks, finishing at Malaysia's iconic Petronas Twin Towers.

Some 1,000 policemen and commandos will be posted along the route, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The torch will then travel from Kuala Lumpur to the Indonesian capital Jakarta on Monday night.

Protests in London and Paris - where demonstrators angry at Chinese occupation of Tibet tried to disrupt the relay - have created headlines across the world.

During the latest leg of the relay, in Bangkok, more than 2,000 police guarded the torch, and barricades were set up along parts of the 10km route.

Hundreds of anti-China protesters were faced by Beijing supporters, but there was no major disruption.

Meanwhile, China has urged its citizens to be calm amid further anti-Western protests in the country, focused on French supermarket chain Carrefour.

The protesters have been angered by disruption of the torch relay.

My comments

Hi Friends,

Has anyone noticed anything amiss here?

The sacred Olympic torch which was carried from Mt Olympus through Europe, went to the Americas and was then brought through Asia. In the past few days, it went through India, Thailand and will pass through Malaysia today and will then go to … Indonesia etc and beyond.

Any primary school student will tell you that Singapore lies in between Malaysia and Indonesia. But the torch relay will inexplicably bypass Singapore completely! It seems almost intentional!

Rumour has it that when the itinerary for the relay was planned, Lee Hsien Loong was involved in the contentious trip to Taipei. It incensed Beijing so much that we were left out of the relay to show us who the boss was. Anyone can confirm this?

It must be psychologically bruising for our rulers to be publicly humiliated by China like this. And to think that we stood up like a sore thumb defending China’s honour at this time, the hour of their need. How ironic!

Let me put on record that I feel that Beijing deserves to be the host of the Olympics and that mixing of politics with sports is not desirable and “not cricket”. I also personally sense that many “mainly Western” interest groups directly or indirectly appear to take advantage of the publicity to make China look bad.

But from Beijing’s action of excluding Singapore from the momentous relay, China is signalling to us that we are very insignificant and small. Notwithstanding our support for her policies in the past, we are as good as “peanuts” to them!

Such is the reality of life.

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan
Route of the Olympic torch relay for the Beijing Games:
March 24-29: Greece.
March 31: Beijing.
April 2: Almaty, Kazakhstan.
April 3: Istanbul, Turkey.
April 5: St. Petersburg, Russia.
April 6: London.
April 7: Paris.
April 9: San Francisco.
April 11: Buenos Aires, Argentina.
April 13: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
April 14: Muscat, Oman.
April 16: Islamabad, Pakistan.
April 17: New Delhi, India.
April 19: Bangkok, Thailand.
April 21: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
April 22: Jakarta, Indonesia.
April 24: Canberra, Australia.
April 26: Nagano, Japan.
April 27: Seoul, South Korea.
April 28: Pyongyang, North Korea.
April 29: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
May 2: Hong Kong.
May 3: Macao.
May 4-10: Enters Chinese provinces, including at one point, a trip up Mount Everest from the Tibet side.
May 20-21 Shanghai.
Aug. 6: Beijing.
Aug. 8: Start of Olympics.
Official Web site of the torch relay: http://torchrelay.beijing2008.cn/en/index.shtml
Detailed list: http://torchrelay.beijing2008.cn/en/journey/calendar/index.shtml

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Of Lorenz's Chaotic Butterflies and Singapore

Obituary: Edward Lorenz; Pioneer in Creation of Chaos Theory (1917-2008)

By Patricia SullivanWashington Post Staff WriterThursday, April 17, 2008; B07

Edward N. Lorenz, 90, a meteorologist who laid the groundwork for chaos theory, memorably asking whether the flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil can set off a tornado in Texas, died of cancer April 16 at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was an emeritus professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

At MIT, Dr. Lorenz accidentally discovered how small differences in the early stages of a dynamic system, such as the weather, can trigger such huge changes in later stages that the result is unpredictable and essentially random.

At the time, Dr. Lorenz was studying why it's so hard to accurately forecast the weather, but the implications of his work go far beyond meteorology.

The new science of chaos fundamentally changed the way researchers address topics from the geometry of snowflakes to the predictability of which movies will become blockbusters. The butterfly effect became a popular way of describing unpredictability, most recently in "An Inconvenient Truth" (2006), the Academy Award-winning documentary with former Vice President Al Gore.

It also "brought about one of the most dramatic changes in mankind's view of nature since Sir Isaac Newton," said the committee that awarded Dr. Lorenz the 1991 Kyoto Prize for basic sciences.

Yet Dr. Lorenz's 1962 paper on chaos theory was largely ignored for years. A decade later, when he gave a talk about predictability, with a title asking the famous butterfly question, the scientific establishment was ready to consider the idea. Other scientists who had been working on similar questions swarmed to the field, and one by one, certain assumptions of science began to falter.

"When I first heard this [butterfly effect] idea, I thought it very clever but it couldn't be literally true," said James Gleick, a science writer and author of "Chaos: Making a New Science" (1987), which explored Dr. Lorenz's work. "But it is literally true. . . . Complex dynamical systems, if they are chaotic, never repeat themselves. They are capable of an infinite variety of behavior."
This means that simple systems can result in complex behavior and that the slightest change in underlying causes can make the result unpredictable.

Chaos theory -- also known as the science of nonlinearity, the science of complexity, the science of random recurrent behavior or the science of turbulence and discord -- has thus been called the third great scientific revolution of the 20th century, along with relativity and quantum physics.

Edward Norton Lorenz was born May 23, 1917, in West Hartford, Conn., and graduated from Dartmouth College. He received a master's degree in mathematics in 1940 from Harvard University and served as a weather forecaster for the Army Air Forces during World War II.
In 1948, he received a doctorate in meteorology from MIT and joined its faculty. He remained there the rest of his career.

In 1961, he was using a primitive computer to model weather forecasts, which led to his most renowned work.

Using 12 equations, such as the relationship between air pressure and wind speed, he ran the model and found exactly what he sought. But taking a shortcut on the next run, he found that a tiny decimal point change led to a significant error.

Rather than ignore the response, which peers had considered an anomaly, Dr. Lorenz realized measurement is not perfect. If temperature, pressure or humidity measurements were off by a hundredth of a percent, the rainfall he expected in Las Vegas on Thursday could show up as a snowstorm in Beijing a week later. A computerized model of how the "butterfly effect" works can be found at the Exploratorium's Web site.

"He had the ability to make important connections between atmospheric phenomena and simple theoretical models," said Isaac Held, senior research scientist in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory. "He taught us that complexity can follow from very simple underlying rules. His study of the limits to the predictability of weather initiated an entire new field of chaotic dynamics."

Dr. Lorenz was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1975, and in 1983, he and oceanographer Henry Stommel were jointly awarded the $50,000 Crafoord Prize by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, an honor established to recognize fields not eligible for Nobel Prizes.

Dr. Lorenz was known as shy and humble. He enjoyed hiking and cross-country skiing and sought out mountain trails near every scientific meeting he attended, one of his daughters said.
His wife, Jane Logan Lorenz, died in 2001.

Survivors include three children, Nancy Lorenz of Roslindale, Mass., Edward Lorenz of Grasse, France, and Cheryl Lorenz of Eugene, Ore.; and four grandchildren.Chaos theory helped shape Dr. Lorenz's conclusions as he worked to calculate long-term forecasts. Given the problems of input, the meteorologist determined that it's impossible to accurately predict weather beyond two or three weeks with a reasonable degree of accuracy

My comments:

Hi friends,

Let me first confess that I was a poor student of Physics.

I was so poor in Physics that I asked to downgrade my Physics from A Levels to AO levels whilst in junior college many moons ago. I found that I had very little clue what the A levels physics lecturer was talking about and the textbook (Nelkon, I think it was) was too heavy to lug around!

Anyway, I was already too busy with the Student Council ( for which I was in charge of students’ lockers) ,being secretary of the photographic club ( which allowed me to move around pretending to take pictures whilst the rest of the college was standing in formation) , and being in the track & field team ( and you know how poor NJC was then and we had to go across to Hwa Chong to borrow their track!). I had no time to do four A levels (and of course I gave the S-papers the miss too)!

As it turned out, it seems that I made the right decision as having less than four A levels was no impediment to my being admitted into the university. My extracurricular activities probably impressed the interview board! Or maybe they just wanted to give this poor boy a chance in life ( and I am grateful for that).

Enough about myself.

I cannot remember why I was fascinated about Lorenz’s Chaos theory and its related Butterfly effect, but I was. I guess it is always intriguing to think that an action as insignificant as a butterfly’s flapping can lead to catastrophic earth-shattering events the other side of the world.

How one sees the world will affect one’s daily behaviour. If one is a fatalist ( or what Rotter classifies as External locus of control), then don’t bother. Just do what you have been doing and as everything has been pre-determined already, you should just let the powers that be ( eg Providence/ Political leaders etc) run your lives. (Read my post on Locus of control-Are you ready for change?).

But if you are like me who feel that one’s destiny lies in our own hands and that we are the only ones who should decide what kind of life we want (Rotter’s Internal Locus of control), then perhaps we should be more pro-active. When each of us makes an effort to speak up for injustices around us or remind the establishment that not everyone is happy as they are, then each small action will lead to other perhaps larger reactions which eventually lead to the Tornado Lorenz referred to.

So are you prepared to flap your wings, my little butterflies?


Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Voting with the feet is worse than voting for the other side

Dear editor,


Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has in a recent interview with Lianhe Zaobao (and translated for the Straits Times) mentioned how the search for political successors has become a big challenge for his government.

He cited how out of the 600-odd students who scored four As in their A levels each year, about 150 would eventually work abroad, some never to return. Implied in this is that our future top leaders would probably be from this 600-odd.

Looking in the wrong places?

I feel that to limit the search to students who can ace examinations is slightly myopic and that perhaps we are looking in the wrong places. Management students would have heard of Level 5 leadership (eg late President Wee Kim Wee); or Great man aka Traits theory (that leadership is inherent eg MM Lee Kuan Yew) and other theories. But Singapore’s 4 A’s theory of political leadership we have not.

Furthermore, to address this vital issue of future political leadership fully, we cannot avoid the problem of Singapore’s high emigration rate as the two issues are inextricably intertwined.

Singapore’s high emigration rate

Singapore’s emigration rate, one of the highest in the world on a per capita basis, is a serious threat to our viability as a nation. Many social commentators have already voiced their concerns that quick fixes whereby Singaporeans who have left are replaced by more-than-willing new citizens from India and China may not have its intended effect as it is difficult to sieve out those who only see Singapore as a hotel and not home.

Although globalisation -where talented Singaporeans are a scarce commodity courted by developed economies, must be the main culprit for our population outflow, an often quoted push factor is that Singapore is too regulated and stifling. Perhaps these ex-Singaporeans feel that they do not belong here and that they would rather invest their lives in another land.

New Paradigm needed

I wonder if the establishment would agree with me that a political structure that leaves little room for alternative paths and views is “regulated and stifling”. Would our present leaders ever consider a new paradigm- A paradigm with a level playing field and where the best ideas can emerge freely to lead us to greater heights?

Conclusion: Voting with the feet is worse than voting for the other side

The risk of the citizens voting for the other side is still better than if they voted with their feet. Even if they voted against the ruling party, they may still be persuaded the next time. Once they have left, they are gone forever.

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

PS: Hi friends, I sent the above letter to the Forum Page .
19.4.08: The Straits Times Forum Page has published it on the Online section of the Forum page here.

Links to related posts on littlespeck.com
1. Thinking beyond tea-chats
2. The exodus continues

Saturday, April 12, 2008

I almost stopped writing… but then came a phone call

Hi Friends,

The music stopped

I stopped writing to the newspapers’ forum pages for just about a year.

Many reasons accounted for the hiatus- primary one being constraint of time. I was just finishing a course and I needed more than 24 hours a day. But a more important reason was that my creative juices sort of just dried up.

I was also feeling the futility of ranting and shouting like a madman in the wilderness. I felt that if no one else cared whether this place went to the pigs, why should I? “They deserve what they get” I said to myself.

In the past, I had opinions about many facets of Singapore’s society. These ranged from the overbearing arrogance of the ruling elite to other more mundane topics like the neglect of our forgotten poor as well as the inhumane working contracts of maids.

In fact, it seemed like I had opinions just about everything and for a time, I was shooting letters like Billy the Kid shot his guns- from the hips. There were occasions when the Straits Times and Today printing two different edited versions of the same letter on the same day!

However unbeknownst to all, I was burdened with doubts. Doubts that perhaps I was writing too much. Perhaps no one was interested in what I had to say. Perhaps I was the weird discontented one and everyone else was happy and gay ( in a non-sexual sense).

My gloom was compounded by the forum editors rejecting what I felt were several legitimate and balanced accounts of topics of the day. The standard replies such as “ we regret that we are unable to publish…. because we get more than 70 letters a day… blah blah” do sound disingenuous when one reads sycophantic letters from obsequious and ingratiating writers that more or less say, “ When the wind blows ...Praise be to the rulers”.( Creative license- exaggeration used here to prove a point)

The phone call

But there was a phone call that stopped this rut!

Someone that I respected greatly and who is a giant in my profession called me in the office. He said that he always looked for my letters in the forum page. He encouraged me to write on as my views closely represented his opinions and those of his friends.

Truth be told- the sentiment expressed by this gentleman was not the first. I will sound conceited here if I go on in this vein. Suffice it to say that I am often self-deprecating and do not take others’ tributes easily. When someone stepped up to me to say, “ Hey, I read your letter the other day and …” I would quickly change the subject.

On thinking back, I now realize that by having this false sense of modesty and dismissing well-intended encouragements from readers, I am actually not respecting their right to an opinion.

Perhaps in my small way I am articulating the views of some who feel helpless and without a voice. Notwithstanding the editorial policies of the forum pages, a fraction of our common sense of frustration and indignation do get expressed. Perhaps that is better than not saying anything at all. ( I may be wrong- some may say that participation with them gives them undeserved legitimacy).

So readers, thank you for reading. Whether you like it or not, I will be here- right in their face!

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Singapore’s investments in UBS; Merrill Lynch; Citigroup (aka triple whammy rotten eggs ).

Hi Friends,

When Singapore’s Government Investments Corporation (GIC) and Temasek Holdings bought substantial stakes in the above three financial titans, I was genuinely proud and excited.

Wow! I believed (as did GIC and Temasek’s advisors) that such opportunities were once in a lifetime and not to be missed. This little red dot of ours would surely prove the whole world wrong!

Buy when everyone else sells; Who dares wins! ( SAS motto- I think)

However, the initial trickle of gloomy financial reports are fast becoming a flood. Jim Roger grieved “to see what Singapore is doing” and now UBS is writing down another US $19 billion! I suspect Roger’s grief may not be altogether sincere as he actually shorted investment banks in Wall Street. Hence he will benefit when these banks’ share prices went south!

Notwithstanding Roger’s true emotions, I have a sinking feeling and am beginning to think that these investments are lemons and that it will take more than my lifetime before we see any positive returns from them.

I am usually a positive-thinking kinda guy who always “looks on the bright side of life”.
But there is very little positive I can get out of this unless you consider telling those smart alecks at GIC and Temasek “I TOLD YOU SO!” as positive.

Honestly I would have preferred that that they proved the pessimists wrong. This possibility is becoming more remote by the day.

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

1.UBS reveals another US$19b sub-prime drama 1 April 2008

ZURICH : Swiss bank UBS revealed a second round of subprime-related write-downs of about 19 billion dollars on Tuesday, becoming the world's worst-hit bank in the US mortgage crisis.

The latest write-down was the biggest single sub-prime hit so far worldwide, and came on top of 18.4 billion dollars (11.7 billion euros) the bank wrote down in 2007.

It will also plunge UBS, the biggest Swiss bank, into a net loss of 12 billion Swiss francs (7.6 billion euros) for the first quarter this year after loss of 4.4 billion Swiss francs in 2007, its first-ever such loss.

The bank also said it wanted to raise 15 billion Swiss francs of new capital, and that it was changing its chairman.

The last write-downs for 2007 had already forced the bank into a controversial rescue recapitalisation by a Singapore sovereign wealth fund and by an unnamed investor in the Middle East.

The overall write-downs by UBS so far of 37.4 billion dollars are far greater than those of American banks Citigroup (21.1 billion dollars in 2007) and Merrill Lynch which has booked 19.4 billion dollars in write-downs. ( read more...)

2.Investor Jim Rogers Says Singapore to Lose Money on U.S. Banks
Reuters 5 Mar 2008

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Investment guru Jim Rogers believes that U.S. bank stocks could fall further and predicts that Singapore's state investors will lose money on their multi-billion dollar investments in Citigroup and Merrill Lynch.

"I'm shorting investment banks on Wall Street," the long-time commodities bull told reporters on Wednesday at a launch event for ABN AMRO certificates linked to commodities.

"It grieves me to see what Singapore is doing. They are going to lose money," he added, referring to investments by Government of Singapore Investment Corp and Temasek [TEM.UL] in Citigroup (C.N: Quote, Profile, Research), Switzerland's UBS (UBSN.VX: Quote, Profile, Research) and Merrill Lynch (MER.N: Quote, Profile, Research).

Rogers, an American who co-founded the Quantum Fund with billionaire George Soros in the 1970s, now lives in Singapore as he wants to raise his four-year-old daughter in an environment where she can learn Mandarin Chinese.

Rogers, who also writes investment books, said Wall Street had to work off 10 years of excesses and predicted that losses linked to risky mortgages will eventually spread to credit card bills, student loans and other debt.

(Reporting by Kevin Lim; Editing by Jan Dahinten)