When you can't live without bananas

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

"Where it is a duty to worship the sun it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat." - John Morley

Random Playlist Song: Muppets - Swedish Curse

*Chicken squawks and drops*

Kermit: What was the dire prediction?

Scooter (?): The old gypsy woman said that in the final stages of the curse, everyone would turn SWEDISH!

*Gasps of shock*

Kermit: I don't believe it.

Gonzo to his chickens: Girls, did you hear that? In the final stages of the curse, we'll all be forndes splerndis kyuree.

*Sounds of shock*

Kermit: Gonzo!

Scooter: Oh, it's happening already! Gonzo just turned Swedish! Soon everyone will fyurse g'murse hersee myurnee hernee...

Kermit: Oh, Scooter!

Fozzie: Oh, Scooter. Kermit, listen to Scooter he her hernee hernee hernee...

*Sounds of people speaking in Swedish*

Kermit: Hey listen to me everybody, err. Hey, there's nothing terrible with turning Swedish. I mean, some of my best friends are nyur gong ger smear dee meesher...

*Sounds of people speaking in Swedish, and an instrument playing and people singing along*...

Most of the comments on the Muppet Show on Jump The Shark angrily retort that it never did.

"After the Movie, the only Muppet that mattered was Miss Piggy, a publicity hog who like all overhyped mediocrities overshadowed real talent. I ain't talking about Fozzie or Kermit, charming as they were. I mean Camilla the Chicken, Gonzo's long-suffering girlfriend. Watch her swoon with silent delight as Gonzo tries to win back her chicken heart: "you're sweeter than wine or vanilla, Camilla!" Watch her sudden, and entirely believable, transition from chipper assistant to terrified victim during a Swedish Chef vignette when that Scandinavian psycho threatened to fricassee her, and you will learn about acting. I still get teary-eyed when I remember the scene from the Movie where Gonzo tries to flirt with Miss Piggy, and Camilla puts her little chicken head on his shoulder, resigned to his wandering eye, loving him in spite and perhaps a little because of his flaws. Meryl Streep has never managed such depth and complexity on screen."



"I know this is a question everyone has on their minds, hope you'd provide a good answer!

If you had a choice, would you enter the political arena in S'pore? And which party would you choose to pledge allegiance to, the PAP, or numerous Opposition parties?"

Whoever sent this in (without a return address too) must be mad.


Me on Merv's rant on pre-cooked hor fun: One reason why Malaysian hawker food generally tastes better.

Merv: Strange thing is ... most chefs in zi char places - Are malaysians


Seen in a comment box:

"I like the part about NUS. Yeah Top 20, so what? I'm not ashamed to say I got a pass for my Physics major from that esteemed institution because I memorised like hell. Till today I don't know what is going on in Thermodynamics."
Consumating: Hot nerdy girls and indie rock boys! With glasses! - "Consumating is a site that helps geeks, nerds, hipsters, and bloggers find dates (and more!) that uses tags."
Uhh; 1711 girls and 4605 boys - somehow I'm not surprised.

Real or Fake? / Choosing a Christmas tree can be an ethical quagmire for environmentalists - ""Allow me to put in a plug for Hanukkah, which celebrates the miracle of a little bit of oil lasting eight days," he said. "You've got to love a holiday that's all about energy efficiency""

Santarchy! (Santacon) - "Every December, for the last 12 years, Cacophonous Santas have been visiting cities around the world and generating a bit of naughty Christmas fun as part of the annual Santacon events. It all started back in 1994 when several dozen Cheap Suit Santas paid a visit to downtown San Francisco for a night of Kringle Kaos. Things have reached Critical Xmas and Santarchy is now a global phenomenon. Please note that Santarchy is not a movement or protest against Christmas or commercialization. The media fabricated that one, along with many other details."

Tread lightly in the season of good cheer - "Some Christians say they are fighting against a cultural attack on Christmas, an effort to turn the sacred holiday into a generic, politically correct winter festival devoid of any trace of their faith... "If they want to put Christ back in Christmas, they should skip the mall and give that money to the poor""

Chrismukkah - Cards for Interfaith Families - "Well, you've found the one place where you don't have to choose! Here you can have it all. Here we celebrate Chrismukkah- the merry mish-mash, one-size-fits-all, unisex, alternative, non-denominational, non-judgmental, non-polluting, all-inclusive, sustainable, holistic, X-treme hybrid holiday celebrating diversity, religious tolerance, ideological, theological and political freedom, peace on earth and the inter-connectedness between all animals, plants and minerals."

A Gallery of Intact Penises in Art - "These pictures are intended for USAmerican women and others who may have never seen intact ("uncircumcised") penises before - or not known what they were looking at.

It's a Wonderful Internet - Modern version of "It's a Wonderful Life" which, strangely enough, I have never watched.

Friday, December 23, 2005

In response to my comment that our police are too free, given that they have time to investigate who put up harmless white elephant cutouts, come a dozen-strong in riot gear to chase off 4 silent protestors and keep requesting Martyn See to aid their investigations, my brother-in-law claimed that this was justified because they were responding to complaints made by members of the public. No doubt he would similarly justify police raids on gay spas.

So I suppose if a public-spirited member of the public decided to report his neighbor to the police for engaging in unnatural sex (don't ask) or report a fellow citizen for seditious remarks (like saying that Singapore is not ready for an Indian Prime Minister), I suppose they would be justified in storming these people's homes in riot gear to catch the felons.

If the same public-spirited person saw 5 kids playing in a playground, he would dial 999 and 15 riot police (you need at least 3 times as many police as criminals), responding to a complaint made by a member of the public, would come down and disperse the illegal assembly with tear gas.

An efficient police force which responds to all complaints made by our civic-minded citizens - that is what we all want.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

"Wars teach us not to love our enemies, but to hate our allies." - W. L. George


Someone who didn't leave a return email address:

"have you heard Eartha Kitt's Santa Baby?"

It's not bad too. The style is quite similar to the previous girl I talked about, but Eartha Kitt tends to be a bit lazy with her singing and the notes, sliding around and adding grace notes all over the place. Not slutty so much as sleazy (a la lounges with hostesses who sidle up to you).

Thanks for the suggestion anyway.


LangaList Std Edition 2005-12-19 - Apple's MacOS On Intel PCs

"It's pretty early in the game and lots could change, but the Intel-based versions of the MacOS that are scheduled to start appearing next year probably will only run on special, Apple-branded PCs that contain a proprietary security chip. The MacOS will look for the security chip, and refuse to run if it's installed in a PC without the chip--- which is to say: It will refuse to run on any other brand PC, even if all the other hardware is identical.

It would only be a small--- tiny--- additional step for Apple to make it so the PC will *only* run the Apple OS: Once you add a BIOS-level security chip, you can set it to monitor almost anything; and to only allow the PC to run if conditions are exactly what the vendor specifies. There's no technical reason why Apple couldn't cripple its PC so that they will work with only Apple-approved software.

It sounds a little paranoid, but it's in perfect synch with the company's long history of artificially restricting its hardware. Consider: Why are there no Mac clones? There's no technical reason at all. It's that Apple won't allow it to happen, using legal measures to remain the sole provider of Mac hardware; thus allowing them to charge premium prices. Apple likes a captive audience...

(If you get the feeling I dislike Apple's marketing, you're right. The wonderful thing about personal computing is that it places enormous power in the hands of us all. Companies that pursue elitist policies--- and Apple is far and away the worst in that regard--- work against the democratization of high-technology; and also appeal to some of the basest of human instincts: "I'm better/cooler than you because I 'think different'," or some such. Apple's technology is fine, but their approach to marketing just rubs me the wrong way. It always has.)

Bottom line: Apple's move to Intel is NOT for the end-user's benefit. It's solely for Apple's benefit. If your interests align with Apple's, then you'll do great with their hardware and software. But if things like "bang for the buck" or wide applicability and broad compatibility are important to you, Apple has *never* been a good choice. And I'll be very, very surprised if that changes any time soon."


Google It You Moron. - "Internet Lesson 101: Always check Google before asking a question. Someone thinks you are a moron, and just gave you a link here because you asked a question that would have been easily answered with a quick Google search. Next time search Google before asking a question, and only if you couldn't find anything should you ask someone for help."

Bah, Humbug - The horrors of December in a one-party state. - "And yet none of this party-line unanimity is enough for the party's true hard-liners. The slogans must be exactly right. No "Happy Holidays" or even "Cool Yule" or a cheery Dickensian "Compliments of the season." No, all banners and chants must be specifically designated in honor of the birth of the Dear Leader and the authority of the Great Leader. By chance, the New York Times on Dec. 19 ran a story about the difficulties encountered by Christian missionaries working among North Korean defectors, including a certain Mr. Park. One missionary was quoted as saying ruefully that "he knew he had not won over Mr. Park. He knew that Christianity reminded Mr. Park, as well as other defectors, of 'North Korean ideology.' " An interesting admission, if a bit of a stretch. Let's just say that the birth of the Dear Leader is indeed celebrated as a miraculous one—accompanied, among other things, by heavenly portents and by birds singing in Korean—and that compulsory worship and compulsory adoration can indeed become a touch wearying to the spirit."
National Education Lessons we can learn from the NKF scandal - Part 3

18) KPMG report page 80, Section 5.3.15

"It is apposite to recall the maxim - delegatus non potest delegare: a delegate cannot delegate"

Using Latin, inter alia, gives your report a touch of class. (Personally I think French is better to give the aura of pretension)

19) It is not justified to pay executives obscene amounts of money, as it is not a guarantee that shenanigans will not go on

Some would justify paying executives great amounts of money commensurate with their performance, or with the responsibility their job entails. Others claim that with high pay, executives will not be tempted to engage in questionable activities. This has clearly been shown to be wrong.

20) KPMG report page 44, Section 1.11.3

"There was no truly effective governance mechanism capable of challenging executives in their management of the business, and re-directing the NKF to its true purpose as and when needed."

Some with doctorates might argue that checks and balances don't matter because if you have the wrong people, they will manage to subvert the checks and balances of the system. However, this begs the question of how you get the right people in in the first place, and how you stop them from being corrupted. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and if checks and balances don't exist, even the best people might become over-confident (affecting their judgment) or lose their integrity with time, and there will be no mechanism to correct or replace them.

The key then, is to have checks and balances not only within the discrete sub-system or organisation (in this case, the NKF itself), but without - with the public, the press and regulatory bodies. The individuals whose job it is to ensure the checks work cannot be in awe at the prowess, reputation or mystique of one or a few supermen, trusting that since they are the right people, the checks and balances inherent in the system do not need to work

21) KPMG report page 94, Section 5.3.55

"That which "worked well in the past" may not always work; the rationale that "if it's not broken, let's not fix it" cannot apply to the NKF, particularly... when it was incorporated as a company."

Proclaiming that the old way of doing things has hitherto guaranteed success, and that to tinker even slightly with it will inevitably spell disaster for all concerned is a false dichotomy and plainly disingenuous, especially when times are a-changing, and so is the organisation. Stability and stagnation will not serve as the world moves on. New models are needed, and those in whose interests it is to preserve the status quo (or for other reasons dogmatically defend it) must not be allowed to hold the organisation back.

22) KPMG report page 100, Section 5.4.2

"We found that certain members of the former Board and/or Executive Committee did not disclose on a timely basis their actual or perceived commercial interests in third party suppliers who contracted with the NKF before such contracts were entered into."

Allegations of cronyism, nepotism and conflicts of interest (Interested Person Transactions) are most worrying and damaging, and full disclosure of relationships must be made. Even if not aired (due to fear of defamation suits, perhaps), such concerns will always linger if not addressed.

23) The perils of running non-businesses as businesses

Running a non-profit organisation as a business risks introducing a business mindset to the organisation, which brings with it the potential for abuseprofits and morals are almost always mutually exclusive. If you adopt a business mindset, you will behave with a business mindset rather than fulfilling your stated aims.

24) Bland assurances are useless

No matter how good an organisation's marketing or public relations is, or how it is claiming to be noble and to serve the public good, actions speak louder than words.

Other amusing bits of the report:

1) Page 172 & 174, Section 6.5.2-6.5.3, 6.5.13

"In 2004, the NKF disclosed or caused to be disclosed in several press releases and fund raising promotion materials that 2,900 to 3,600 children and their families were supported or assisted by the NKF... Records maintained by the DPA however show that up to 31 December 2004, the NKF-CMF benefited an aggregate of 145 children in the form of financial subsidies... In response, Mr Durai stated that "this is a matter of interpreation and sematics". and that "there was no intention on the part of the NKF to mislead members of the public.""

2) Page 125, footnote

"We were unable to determine how it came to be calculated that Ms Matilda Chua had 151 days of unused leave as at 31 July 2000"

3) Page 180, Section 6.7.7, point 5

"We found that as much as 90% of the running costs of the CEO's office amounting to $1.2 million were charged to haemodialysis at the NKF... it is unlikely the CEO would have spent 90% of his time on clinical activities, much less haemodialysis in particular."

4) Page 189, Section 6.11.2

You can make a profit on drugs and still claim you're subsidising them (note the difference between a subsidy and charging customers a below-market price thanks to savings on bulk purchases).

-End of Part 3-

Part 1, Part 2
It is easy to exceed your expectations if you don't expect very much.
I was amused by Minishorts' entry in response to an offhand comment of mine about Ma-laysia, and even more so by some of the vehement responses and comments by her fellow Malaysians.

Bashing the other country is a time-honoured tradition in the Malay Peninsula - attribute it to the trauma of Separation; to Singaporeans, I think comparing their country to and making light of Malaysia is a mere parlor game, obligatorily indulged in every now and then out of boredom. Malaysians, however, seem to take it very seriously and readily spring to the defence of their beloved homeland, with everyone jumping on the bandwagon. More generally, Singaporean (usually "heartlanders") like to proclaim that their country is better than anywhere else regardless of what they are comparing it to. Malaysians seem to confine their breast-beating to trying to show Singapore up - they must always be better than adik.

Perhaps Malaysians are defending their National Pride, and probably their own too - being known for clogging the World's arteries with Palm Oil is no mean feat, as is having the man who walked backwards, the woman who lived in a room with snakes or having their very own "Malaysia Book of Records" because the Guinness one (you know - the one the rest of the world uses) doesn't accept that Malaysia's oldest man is older than the World's oldest man due to a lack of documentation. Or perhaps it is jealousy, as geekgeek speculates ("I'm Sorry =("), since Malaysia is the land of low quality products, where people drink Kordial instead of Jus (100% Jus, not "Nature-Identical" Jus, I might add), a fact which even cats recognise (my brother-in-law tried to feed his pussy cat food from a Malaysian tin complete with a tudung woman on it, but the cat refused to eat the food, even when he sneakily mixed it with premium British wet cat food; it just picked out the good stuff for itself).

Malaysians come up with reflexive, visceral slurs that don't always make sense. Whereas Singaporeans point to Malaysia being crime-ridden (especially JB), dirty, smelly, a place where no one speaks English if you look Malaysian (or Singaporean, for that matter) and an uncivilised Third World country, at least they have reasonable grounds for doing so. What do Malaysians come up with? They parochially lament that we don't know how to make Hokkien Mee (this is like someone from Penang claiming that those in Sarawak don't know how to make Laksa), we erroneously call Canai Prata (yes, and we can't refer to Holland as the Netherlands either), or that we have such a travesty as Wanton mee with ketchup, as if they would be force-fed such if they paddled down on their sampans (maybe they fear culinary choice, and so would rather not have it for their own good, lest they be tempted to stray beyond the familiar and predictable).

Perhaps the abang mentality that their politicians hold has filtered down to the populace at large. But then it seems only Malaysian Chinese react so intensely. Maybe they feel jealous and discriminated against and thus have to assert their superiority to Singaporean Chinese so they feel they've got the better deal overall. Insecurity, in a word. Or maybe me and my friends just don't know many Malaysian Malays, and almost none of us speak Malay (corroboration on this point by those who do would be welcome).

I am sure people will respond to this with a litany of "Why Ma-laysia rules", including such things as political choice, better food, a less stressful system of education and the like, but then that'd be missing the point, of course. [Addendum: I forgot about the people who would respond with non-sequiturs and ad hominem arguments. If you want to make a point, at least make a valid one instead of waving your hands around and proclaiming how stupid, narrow-minded, bigoted or intolerant I am (not that these points are supported in any way beyond mere assertion in the first pace).

A: South Africa has the highest rape rate in the world.
B: You're racist/rude/narrow-minded! / You have a brain the size of a pea! / You're trying to undermine South Africa! / South Africa bashing! / Your country sucks too! / Have you ever been overseas? / You're saying that all blacks are rapists!]

Someone: "i think they are proud of their dirtier toilets, street stands, even of their corruption.... they are saying, look at us, for we have not sacrificed our humanity for earthly rewards.

less stress, then they come to singapore and study in NUS for fuck? and take our taxpayer money as their scholarship! fuck off lah!

they like to come to singapore and then complain that it is not like home... then go home, loh! no one is holding a gun to your green passport. [Ed: So many Malaysians work in Singapore, many of them commuting for insanely amounts of time, but how many Singaporeans work in Malaysia aside from the Singaporean managers at the resorts?"]

Someone else: "and their trilingualism. don't forget their trilingualism
it's very important to them that not only do they speak better mandarin, they speak one more language than singaporeans [Ed: Malaysian English is even worse than Singaporean, and that's saying something!]

"The only reason singaporeans visit malaysia is to stay at the singaporean-owned/run resorts!"

nice conciliatory gesture. suggest that the malaysian edition of Fear Factor feature that sort of food [wanton mee with ketchup]"
I got the following in my mail (no, I'm not a female student - someone just forwarded it to me). Somehow along the way, it went from being addressed to all female students to student leaders. Ah well:

To: Presidents of NUSSU & its Constituent Clubs
Presidents of Student Societies
Presidents of Interest Groups

Dear Presidents

We would appreciate it if you could circulate the attached invitation to all your female Exco/Management Committee Members and encourage them to attend the Dialogue Session on the evening of 11 Jan 2006 at LT 31, S16 Building (next to Science Canteen). You may also extend the invitation to your female fellow students.

Please inform them to send their replies to activity@nus.edu.sg by 27 December 2005

We need your assistance as the expected number of female students attending the Dilaogue session is 100. Many thanks for you help.



Dear Female Students

The Office of Student Affairs (OSA) would like to invite NUS Female Students to attend a dialogue session with the female Members of Parliament led by Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, Minister of State of Finance and Transport. She will also be accompanied by 5 female Members of Parliament.

The dialogue session will be held on Wednesday, 11 January 2006 from 8pm to 9.30pm at the Faculty of Science, Lecture Theatre 31. The schedule is as follows :

7.30pm - Reception (LT31 Foyer, Level 3, S16 Building, [next to Science Canteen] )

8.00pm - Commencement of Dialogue Session

9.30pm - End of Dialogue Session

Interested female students, please register with us before 27 December 2005. Kindly send us your reply with your name, course, year of study, matric no. , contact no., email address and topic of interest for discussion (if any) to activity@nus.edu.sg

Thanks and regards
"They are too fearful to speak out even over the most routine disagreement. How can ideas flow? How can you have a great country?" - Dr Toh Chin Chye (quote from Governing in new era a different cup of tea)

Random Playlist Song: Bob Rivers - Santa Claus Is Foolin' Around

Well you better watch out for that holiday guy
You shouldn't go out I'm tellling you why

Santa Claus is foolin' around
Santa's out North Polin' around
Santa Claus is foolin' around

He's checking his list, he's grabbing his fly
He's leavingn his gift and hittin' the sky

Santa Claus is foolin' around
Santa's clothes are hittin' the ground

Santa's with your woman right now

He creeps in when they're sleeping
He charms them with a wink
He's doin' stuff no Santa should
You better get home for Christmas' sake

You better get home and don't be late

Oh you'd better watch out for that man in the sky

You'd better not trust that jolly old guy

Santa Claus is foolin' around
Santa Claus is runnin' around

Mrs. Claus is hunting him down

Santa Claus is foolin' around
Settin' em up in every town
Santa Claus is screwin' around
Santa's clothes are hittin' the ground
Santa's at your chimney right now

Slidin' in and beddin' em down

Santa Claus is foolin' around


Comment left in my entry on Cognitive Dissonance:

"Your mother is a Chinese whore from QuanQing"

Posted by:lent
Email: sdf#sdf.comsd@sds.com



Are colleges failing? - "A remarkable feature of American colleges is the lack of attention that most faculties pay to the growing body of research about how much students are learning and how they could be taught to learn more. Hundreds of studies have accumulated on how undergraduates develop during college and what effects different methods of teaching have on improving critical thinking, moral reasoning, quantitative literacy, and other skills vital to undergraduate education. One would think faculties would receive these findings eagerly. Yet one investigator has found that fewer than 10 percent of college professors pay any attention to such work when they prepare for their classes. Most faculties seem equally uninterested in research when they review the curriculum."

Barbarism begins with Barbie, the doll children love to hate - "Barbie, that plastic icon of girlhood fantasy play, is routinely tortured by children, research has found. The methods of mutilation are varied and creative, ranging from scalping to decapitation, burning, breaking and even microwaving, according to academics from the University of Bath."

Lover gives stranger $15,000 ring - "A disappointed lover in the US has left a $15,000 (£8,500) diamond engagement ring in a stranger's unlocked car, accompanied by a heartfelt message."

Contours Of Evil - "Within the pattern of bright blue and yellow blotches on the brain scans he has taken, Kiehl believes he has found the dark contours of the psychopathic mind. When psychopaths see or hear emotional words or pictures of misery, areas of their brains that should light up like a Christmas tree are dark and devoid of activity. Instead, their brains process information such as a picture of a bereaved mother holding her dead child in the same way they would react to a picture of a chair or shovel... The general lack of social causes for the disorder is one reason why most experts no longer use the term "sociopath" to describe a psychopath."
Psychopaths are not "evil" but just sick? More blows against the concept of free will.

French Erotic Film or Colin Mochrie versus Jesus H. Christ - This can rival the Japs' output.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"The way to write American music is simple. All you have to do is be an American and then write any kind of music you wish." - Virgil Thompson


Someone on Florence Foster Jenkins: "i now have something to play when my neighbours start yelling at each other :)"

Sent via the feedback form: "Hey, whats the meaning of "the road to hell is paved with good intentions"?"

Unfortunately, the person didn't leave his email address, so I will have to address the query here. This idiom means that well-intentioned actions can backfire with horrible results. Ergo, good intentions alone do not suffice to sanction a course of action.


Why is it impossible to find a non-slutty rendition of "Santa Baby"? Argh.

I can't seem to find one which has the right mix of class, suggestiveness and outright sluttiness *winkwink*-ness, and they all err on the side of the latter. Cynthia Basinet's is the closest I can find, probably because of it's 50s feel (which is why it's wrongly attributed to Marilyn Monroe), since we know society hadn't yet become so decadent in that decade.

Someone: "actually, I have heard one. but it was sung during a furniture advertisement"

Someone else: "was it even meant ot be non slutty. find some children's choir"


The Gospel of Supply Side Jesus (Reprinted from Al Franken's "Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them - A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right")

Thomas: Shouldn't you feed the lepers, Supply Side Jesus?

Supply Side Jesus: No, Thomas, that would just make them lazy.

James: Then shouldn't you at least heal them, Supply Side Jesus?

Supply Side Jesus: No, James, leprosy is a matter of personal responsibility. If people knew I was healing lepers there would be no incentive to avoid leprosy.


Supply Side Jesus: It is easier for a rich man to enter Heaven seated comfortably on the back of a camel, than it is for a poor man to pass through the eye of a needle! If you are prosperous on Earth, that means that God is rewarding your rugged individualism. If you are poor, it is a sign that God frowns on your reliance on handouts.


The Nice Guy

"The Nice Guy is an online comic strip (and a comic book...and hopefully soon to be a sitcom or major motion picture if we can sell out fast enough) about a guy named Jeff, his friends, and the trials and tribulations of being--YOU guessed it--a nice guy.

The hero of our tale, Jeff is "The Nice Guy". Women love to be his friend, but rarely seem to end up dating him. Cursed with involuntary decency, he often finds himself stepped on, taken advantage of, and yet remains hopeful that he'll one day find true love. Jeff lives with his two best friends, Frank and Peg, and is hopelessly in love his female friend Becki, who remains only that--his female friend...

Turn-ons: Tattoos, aloofness, men who need saving

Turn-offs: Men who treat her with respect and open car doors and pay for dinner and don't sleep with her best friend

Becki prefers men who are completely bad for her. Addicted to bad boys, men she can "fix" and a wide variety of losers, Becki struggles through one bad relationship after the next, usually blaming herself for not being able to make it work. She's occasionally manic, often phobic, believes in never giving up on that light at the end of the tunnel, has self-esteem that's below sea level, and always knows she can count on Jeff to be there when things go wrong."


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

National Education Lessons we can learn from the NKF scandal - Part 2

9) KPMG report page 22, Section 1.5.7

"Mr Richard Yong emphasised that if an Executive Committee member had chosen to dissent or raise a concern, this would have been addressed. However, such occasions were rare since the general consensus was that the members of the Executive Committee, being by and large volunteers, believed that all proposals put before the Executive Committee and decisions taken thereon were done in the best interests of the NKF."

When there is unanimous consent or approval by members of a board of governance, one should be wary for it might be an indication that decisions are not being challenged, and the members trust in the benevolence of those who make the interests.

There is also the question: the best interests of the organisation (to have a lot of reserves, to be long-lasting, to have a good reputation) are not necessarily the same as its stated goals, especially when the organisation is ostensibly dedicated to public service.

10) KPMG report page 23 & 27, Section 1.5.8 & 1.6.7

"Another arrangement to showcase the NKF in a favourable light with proper governance mechanisms was the Audit Committee. The NKF had in the past proudly announced itself as a pioneer in Singapore by being the first and only charity to voluntarily establish "an independent audit committee to enhance its system of internal control" in 1995. In fact, the Audit Committee was arguably a misnomer and the tighter supervision normally expexcted from such a committee was not always found... The use of inconsistent accounting treatments disguised difficulties in complying with regulatory expense limits relating to fund raising, with fund raising expenses sometimes understated."

Trusting in the assurances of organisations that they have internal safeguards is not a wise thing. Even outside auditors may be fooled. The scrutiny of organisations working for the public good by the public and independent bodies is essential to ensure that they are fulfilling their stated mission - openness, transparency and accountability are essential to bring to light accounting shenanigans.

11) KPMG report page 24, Section 1.5.9

"We were unable to review any of the meeting minutes of the Finance Committee, as we were told that all the meeting minutes were destroyed in a "computer crash"."

It is essential for organisations, especially those with enough reserves to last decades and should be able to afford it, to keep backups of critical records in case they ever have to be investigated for wrongdoing.

12) KPMG report page 26, Section 1.6.2

"The founding of the Executive Committee and the consequential delegation of powers to Mr Durai was some kind of Faustian bargain."

Making Faustian bargains - surrendering one's political rights as members of a board of governance in return for an assurance of future prosperity and monetary success is a recipe for disaster.

13) KPMG report page 26 & 28, Section 1.6.3 & 1.6.9

"Mr Durai was undoubtedly the key figure within the NKF... Mr Durai's involvement with the NKF spanned a period of more than thirty years, with thirteen of those years as the chief executive. He was the principal architect of the NKF as an institution and of those activities undertaken by the NKF... Mr Durai's involvement in the management of the NKF was ubiquitous. Everything meaningful that was done by the NKF was done either with his approval or his acquiescence."

Centralising too much power in one person, and raising his significance and importance to such a level that he comes to dominate the organisation is unhealthy. One can only imagine how much worse it would be if a personality cult were formed around this key figure.

14) KPMG report page 39, Section 1.10.9

"Records kept by the NKF of a meeting with NCSS in early 2001 show that the NCSS had apparently raised serious questions at that time about the NKF's activities, including inter alia the accuracy of the NKF's statements on dialysis treatment costs and subsidies, the disproportionate efforts on fund raising, the way in which donations were being used and escalating staff costs... Mr Durai considered this "an attack on the integrity of the Foundation.""

Treating legitimate (and most serious) enquiries about pertinent and troubling points as personal (to the organisation) attacks lends them moral overtones and results in said enquiries not being addressed, and conceivably leads to the questioners being impugned as to their motives.

[Ed: I get the feeling that some of my Tomorrow.sg editors too have this attitude sometimes.]

15) KPMG report page 46, Section 1.11.9

"Excessive zeal on the part of the people... in whose minds the ends had perhaps justified the means."

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. If in pursuit of noble ends the means begin to become contemptible, one should reconsider if one's moral clarity justifies one's actions.

16) KPMG report page 48, Section 2.2.1

"In April 2004, the Straits Times published an article on the NKF, which Mr Durai considered defamatory of himself and which the NKF considered defamatory of itself."

Overzealous use of defamation suits can be used to prevent the truth from coming to light (some would argue that the very use of defamation suits in the first place, in a sector which outside Singapore never uses them, is overzealous). Even if the suits are justified, they can deter future truths from emerging.

17) KPMG report page 52, Section 3.2.5

"The documents we reviewed included but were not limited to: email messages obtained from the forensic imaging of the hard disks."

If you have something to hide, use FBI-standard software to wipe all traces from your records (rewriting your hard disk sectors 255 times - 220 more than in the standard Apple software). Alternatively, if you have something to hide, don't write it down!

-End of Part 2-

Part 1, Part 3
Since so many people were eagerly gushing to me about the results of the KPMG audit of the NKF, I have downloaded the KPMG report myself (all 442 pages of it) so I can draw up a National Education lesson plan on "Lessons we can learn from the NKF".

National Education Lessons we can learn from the NKF scandal - Part 1

1) If you dig deeply enough into any organisation, you will probably find something wrong.

Before the NKF scandal broke, the NKF was the Primus inter pares of Singapore charities, receiving logistical support from Singtel and Mediacorp for its fund-raising efforts. Two thirds of Singaporeans donated to it, and it was praised even by the government ("I take my hat off to the NKF. They have been able to raise that kind of money over the years and we wish them well" - Acting Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan, 10 April 2004). It even had the self-assurance to do a very un-charitylike - sue people who told the truth (that they saw its CEO flying First Class - ah, what is truth?)

Now that it has fallen from grace, all of the filth has come pouring out. If such a lauded and hitherto spankly clean organisation can fall so far...

2) KPMG report page 15, Section 1.2.3:

"A not-for-profit organisation does not derive its energies from any profit-seeking motive... its members have organised themselves in pursuit of an altruistic motive... This altruism is the energy of the organisation, and any dilution in this motive will result in diversion of energies and the dissipation of efforts."

Not-for-profit organisations are founded for the aims of public service. Altruism and the desire to serve the community give the organisation its "energy". Thus, if members of a not-for-profit organisation have a profit seeking motive, energy will be diverted and effort dissipated, and this will interfere with the stated goals of the organisation and its ability to serve the public.

3) KPMG report page 16, Section 1.3.1:

"As at 17 July 2005, NKF had twenty-one members. Of these, only eight attended the Annual General Meetings... The members who attended the AGMs were the same ones who actively participated throughout the year in the management of the organisation, with all of them sitting on the all-powerful Executive Committee... With these members being the only ones like (sic) to actively exercise the rights and powers of members... the NKF ran the risk of diluting the effectiveness of the members' oversight of the management team."

There is no use having a large number of people on the management board if they are always absent, for then they will be unable to check the dominance of the rest. No doubt the same will happen if all members are of one mind, or if some are dominated or intimidated by a core few. Having alternative voices on the management board not beholden to a few supermen is thus essential.

"No organisation can be left to just one man to decide - like in the old China where the emperor says "this" and "that", and thing is done. I am curious how come in this case, how come the Board of Directors allow itself to be almost completely captured by the former CEO - what happened?" - Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan, December 4 2005

4) KPMG report page 17 & 45, Section 1.3.2, 1.11.7

"The tilt of the NKF's focus - closer to profit maximisation and further from its altruistic objectives - was hardly challenged by its members, the guardians of the NKF's mission, as a result of the management's success in accumulating surpluses... The phenomenal success of the NKF in scaling new heights in fund raising over a long period was possibly a key factor in diluting the effectiveness of management controls, Board oversight and regulatory overview. With the NKF continuing to be immensely successful in raising funds, Mr Durai commanded huge respect and loyalty within staff ranks. This... did so greatly impress the former Board that it would have been easy to overlook the signs of an organisation losing its way. The regulators, with the same deference to the NKF's association with success, satisfied themselves that there was no evil to be found."

Success makes organisations complacent, and the incumbent members of the management board will be less likely to challenge what a few supermen might decide to do. The normal checks and balances built into the structure of governance break down. Groupthink has to be guarded against, and members of the management board cannot all be beholden to said supermen, even if they do deliver success; they have to be unceasingly questioned.

5) KPMG report page 18, Section 1.4.3

"Since its incorporation in 2001... the former Board saw only two departures... Re-elections and replacements of directors are an important part of governance, providing fresh insights and keeping over-familiarity at bay."

It might be helpful to impose term limits, especially on those in key posts.

6) KPMG report page 20, Section 1.4.8, 1.5.1

"All the persons we spoke to were, without exception, of the belief that the former Board was synonymous with the Executive Committee, and in fact referred to the former Board and the Executive Committee interchangeably... The parallel Executive Committee set-up gave certain members of the Executive Committee powers, under the shareholder's mandate, without the attendant duties expected by law of directors."

Conflation of organs of governance is most unhealthy, and should be avoided at all costs to prevent conflicts of interest.

7) KPMG report page 21, Section 1.5.2

"The Executive Committee meeting minutes do not show serious debate by the Executive Committee on the NKF's performance in delivering on its objectives or of challenge to the management... The question of payments to the chief executive is at the heart of many debates on governance, and in this case we saw in fact the opposite of the challenge normally expected from the members."

Members of board of governance must constantly question whether the organisation is "delivering on its objectives", as well as monitor and challenge the monetary remuneration paid to their chief executives, to ensure it is not grossly inflated.

8) KPMG report page 22, Section 1.5.4

"At other times, the Executive Committee operated as a forum for formal discussions and simply recorded decisions which had already been taken."

Institutions of governance cannot simply be rubber stamps for decisions made by supermen; their mere presence does not ensure good governnace. Decisions have to be challenged and debated vigorously.

-End of Part 1-

Part 2, Part 3
Merry Xmas and a little-sing-along

I've just heard, at the above link, what must be the next to worst rendition of a Christmas carol ever. It's not that the singer goes somewhat sharp and/or flat - that's a mistake most people would make. But a version where the singer seems neither to have heard a reasonably competent rendition of the song (even piped department store Christmas music qualifies) or have listened to the recording before putting it online (or worse, both) is unforgivable.

A transcription of what the song sounds like:

Sigh-hi learn nide (As in 'Cyanide')
Holy night
All'ris cum
All is bride

Row (Pronounced as in "we had a row" [quarrel]) your Virgin marder and chow
Holy infant (The syllables here are also matched to the wrong notes) tender and mull
Sleep in heaverly piss
Slee heap in heaverly peace

If I wasn't already familiar with the lyrics of this song, I'd send this to The Misheard Lyrics Hall of Fame.

There are two other songs there (Jingle Bell Rock and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer), but as of the time of writing the links are broken, and I can't bear to listen to them enough times to transcribe the lyrics as they are sung (trust me, she sings all the carols badly).

Oh, and in case anyone asks, the worst rendition of a Christmas carol ever is "Slow Rockin Christmas" by a group from Swanson Middle School.

Finally, in the spirit of the meme, I commissioned another version of Silent Night to participate in it (in a manner of speaking).

Silent Night (YouSendIt link) (Alternate link)
Silent Night (MegaUpload link)

The pronunciation in the above rendition is probably only slightly better than "Mrs Lim"'s, but for different reasons

Monday, December 19, 2005

There are only 2 reasons to go to Ma-laysia - to eat and to make fun of Malaysians. The latter can be done from Singapore, and for the first, why go to Malaysia when you can wait for Malaysia to come to you? Most school holidays, Penang Hawkers come down to York Hotel, and you can enjoy their food in hygienic and comfortable conditions, all for S$25.40 (nett price).

Of course, I understand that for many, this detracts from the joy of the whole experience, which is why they prefer to eat Malaysian hawker food in the first place (thus proving my theory of relativity right - when there's the Malaysian smell and you're squatting by the roadside, the food will taste better thanks to your discomfort):

Someone: hmm..sounds ok then
but then..major thing missing
no atmosphere

i never denied that [the theory of relativity holds true]
hmm...if u get singaporeans to cook there..i dunno
they are too clean..

[On why dirty food/conditions = nice food] it's the complete package leh..
my 1 wk trip to malaysa shows
eating mee alongside a bz road..
then can smell chicken shit
but the noodles is still damn good
eat chendol next to a smelly drain

Andrew asked me to bring along the issue of FHM featuring Dawn Yeo and he was reading it while we were eating, so people probably thought he was sick for choosing this sort of reading material to read while dining.

One of my (many) pet peeves is of so-called food blogs or reviews which have lots of pictures but next to no description of the food, except 1001 ways of saying that the food was very "nice" (while giving no clue as to in which way the food was so "nice"). I would strive to set a good counter-example, but not eating beef and chili, it would be untenable for me to do so (besides which, I'd like to think I fill other niches).

[Addendum: Someone's nickname: "What I want to see at Penang Hawkers' Food Fair - 'Live' orh luah cooking, the return of duck porridge"

What I don't want to see: Roti Jala]
The Skeptic's Dictionary on Cognitive Dissonance (how people reconcile contradictory thoughts):

"Cognitive dissonance has been called "the mind controller's best friend"... Marian Keech was the leader of a UFO cult in the 1950s. She claimed to get messages from extraterrestrials, known as The Guardians, through automatic writing. Like the Heaven's Gate folks forty years later, Keech and her followers, known as The Seekers or The Brotherhood of the Seven Rays, were waiting to be picked up by flying saucers. In Keech's prophecy, her group of eleven was to be saved just before the earth was to be destroyed by a massive flood on December 21, 1954. When it became evident that there would be no flood and the Guardians weren't stopping by to pick them up, Keech

became elated. She said she'd just received a telepathic message from the Guardians saying that her group of believers had spread so much light with their unflagging faith that God had spared the world from the cataclysm (Levine 2003: 206).

More important, the Seekers didn't abandon her. Most became more devoted after the failed prophecy. (Only two left the cult when the world didn't end.) "Most disciples not only stayed but, having made that decision, were now even more convinced than before that Keech had been right all along....Being wrong turned them into true believers (ibid.)." Some people will go to bizarre lengths to avoid inconsistency between their cherished beliefs and the facts. But why do people interpret the same evidence in contrary ways?

The Seekers would not have waited for the flying saucer if they thought it might not come. So, when it didn't come, one would think that a competent thinker would have seen this as falsifying Keech's claim that it would come. However, the incompetent thinkers were rendered incompetent by their devotion to Keech. Their belief that a flying saucer would pick them up was based on faith, not evidence. Likewise, their belief that the failure of the prophesy shouldn't count against their belief was another act of faith. With this kind of irrational thinking, it may seem pointless to produce evidence to try to persuade people of the error of their ways."
Damn, I feel so cheated. I want my $7 back!
"Music with dinner is an insult both to the cook and the violinist." - G. K. Chesterton


Some 16 year old: i'm a young boy?
so are you michael jackson?
or do you go by ... "Peter Pan."

Me: !@#$


I bought a pack of "甜不辣" (Tian2 Bu4 La4 - lit, Sweet and not Hot) from Shilin Taiwanese Street Snacks, but was appalled to find that, contrary to its name, not only was it not sweet, it was hot due to liberal sprinkling of their pepper-spice powder (the same one used for their XXL chicken). It must be a sick Taiwanese joke for it to be completely the opposite of what its name would suggest. And $3 for what tastes like potato wedges (supposedly it's fish paste, but I only tasted potato - maybe the powder was too hot) is very expensive.

The spreads on air tickets are ridiculous; the difference between 2 airlines for a 6 month return ticket can be as much as $1,000. I suppose this is called brand loyalty for you (or people just love flying SIA due to unspecified reasons).


"Coke vending machine camouflage" - (Kevin's term for it). Damn Japs. It must be the fish they eat (maybe mercury poisoning again).


Creationists irrationally love to bash and spread FUD about Evolution because they worry about the implications it has for strict literalism and Man's special place in Creation. However, I think that the evolutionary adaptations humans possess pose a much greater threat to their ethical system (and to a lesser extent, natural law theory), since their system is predicated on fundamental misconceptions about Man's "natural" conscience.

For those who didn't catch the juicy extracts, in September, from my Evolutionary Psychology textbook's chapter on Short Term Mating (aka Casual Sex), here're some random points, mostly about the topic so many of a religious persuasion get so hung up about:

- Human relative testis size showing that humans are not designed for exclusively monogomous relationships
- No concealed ovulation in females: sex is not designed only for reproduction, but also pair bonding. contraceptives ok)
- Chimpanzees, our closest relatives, being so promiscuous
- The evolved tendency for some short term sexual dalliances in both genders
- Chastity is bad, and rape might be a way for males who cannot otherwise do so to spread their genes
- Intra familial conflict: inter-sibling and parent-offspring (even in the womb)
- The role of women in mate choice (which upsets the patriarchal order)
- The evolutionarily stable strategy being tit for tat, not turning the other cheek

And then there are the other random cruelties of nature, like nature being the world's greatest aborter - 50% is a middle-range estimate of the number of fertilized eggs that fail to even implant in the first place (more get aborted along the way, but I can't find a figure for the number of fertilised eggs that never make it).

Citing design and intention in nature to come up with an overly-restrictive moral code does not then work. Of course, they always have the oh-so-convenient escape clause - "The Fall" (which allegedly corrupted mankind's original purity blah blah). In this way, evidence which would normally be used to refute their argument turns out to support it; various aspects of what is natural or intended to be can then be either good or bad depending on how you wish to classify them.

So, bravo, we have yet another unfalsifiable theory (2 can play at that game, but I won't stoop to that level, except perhaps as a proof of concept).

Sunday, December 18, 2005

"I have given two cousins to war and I stand ready to sacrifice my wife's brother." - Artemus Ward

Random Playlist Song: Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition - 1 - Promenade - Gnomus

Why he had to spoil his perfectly good Promenade theme with Baba Yaga and all that shit, I don't know. Damn Romantics.

Or maybe his friend's death upset him so much he wanted to make his audiences feel upset too.


I think every "simple girl" should end up with a "sincere guy".


In the name of Love and Bad Fanfics - "Yes, he raped Dobby. But he did it for the sake of Hagrid and Dobby! Of course, nevermind the fact that that is disgusting and pointless, but he did it in the name of love and bad fanfics!"

Asymmetrical Information: What should you do with your money? - Unfortunately, most people underestimate their discount factor, so they won't smooth their lifetime consumption properly.

ReactOS Homepage - "The ReactOS® project is dedicated to making Free Software available to everyone by providing a ground-up implementation of a Microsoft Windows® XP compatible operating system. ReactOS aims to achieve complete binary compatibility with both applications and device drivers meant for NT and XP operating systems, by using a similar architecture and providing a complete and equivalent public interface."
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