After all that, there was Love.

That is

after a birthday lunch and a karaoke session filled with hits from the 1980s, screeched at top volume, fuelled by a smuggled bottle of apple vodka, tipped liberally into soft drinks and hot mugs of coffee;

Dragonboat racing. Singapore River Regatta 2016
Dragonboat racing. Singapore River Regatta 2016after a few heart-stopped moments under a weepy sky, cheering on dragonboating friends at the Singapore River Regatta 2016 (organised by the Singapore Dragon Boat Association), and giggling at the frustrated linestarter attempting to get all his boats in a row before sounding the starting horn;

Singapore Writers Festival 2016, The Arts House, Singapore
Singapore Writers Festival 2016, The Arts House, Singapore
after browsing the mass of local writers at Singapore Writers Festival‘s Select Bookroom,

an international cast of writers read their work about love. Or they were meant to.

Singapore Writers Festival 2016, The Arts House, Singapore
Singapore’s Alfian Sa’at did his usual turn, alluding to the oppression of a minority race and religion, while sneering at the ironic selfishness of a believer;

Japan’s Ryoichi Wago’s heartfelt delivery was sadly marred by the untranslatable onomatopoeic device (we thought but might be wrong) in his poems;

Iceland’s Gerður Kristný’s jokes were like pointed icicles (“the shortest way to a man’s heart goes through his chest”);

Taiwan’s Wu Huai-Chen 吴怀晨 was a surfer dude philosopher and poet who saw the world as a book;

Sri Lanka’s Shobasakthi (ha, he said, they say I’m from Sri Lanka but I haven’t been back for 23 years) read a haunting story about a man, a corpse, and a horse;

Ghana’s Mamle Kabu came closest to the idea of sayang with a wistful piece about her daughter growing up and not wanting to colour with her anymore;

Singapore’s grand dame of poetry, Anne Lee Tzu Pheng, spoke about all human creation coming from love in a generic sense, words and music in poetry, and tried to sound a Tibetan singing bowl.

It was a pleasantly disparate crew, and I idly wondered if the staggering truths in Gerald Bray’s God Is Love could possibly be squeezed into poem form.

Happy Halloween at Woodgrove Estate, Woodlands, Singapore

I have happy (candy) memories of trick-or-treating as a kid. We canvassed neighbours in The Arcadia with our high-pitched half-hearted threats, then retreated to exchange our sweet haul.

Now, the festivities in Singapore have been ramped up at the American expat neighbourhood of Woodgrove Estate in Woodlands.

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

There are 6 main ways you can dress for the task:

  • scary
  • sexy
  • cute (anything furry, or see below*)
  • pop culture referencing (Superman, Spiderman, Ironman; a Pokemon; Harry Potter character; Sesame Street character)
  • dress-up trope (“Red Indian”, policeman, fireman, military personnel, pirate, witch, wizard)
  • nerdy (Minecraft character)

*But if you’re below the age of 2 years, you’ll end up in the third category, no matter how hard you try:

Little Halloween Witch Fairies. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

At Woodgrove, a housing agent was seizing the opportunity to dole out free orange balloons (with their name and contact details of course), fresh popcorn, pink candy floss. Little wizards, witches, ninja turtles, boys with knives through their heads were patiently queuing for these treats:

free popcorn. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

free popcorn. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Thus fortified, the hordes then continued on to open homes. At some, the owners or their children handed out the treats themselves. Other households had maids or even hired men doing the work while they sat and watched the proceedings:
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

a tub of sweets. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
bet you didn't see the pontianak until it was too late! Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore<
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

These were the best dressed hosts I thought – a man with his head in a box and his bloodied zombie bride:
man with his head in a box and his bloodied bride. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
The Woodgrove households have been kind and rather generous in inviting all and sundry to partake of the festivities. They probably wouldn’t want to lay down rules, but with the crowds almost reaching the thousands, a few pointers wouldn’t go amiss – because where the free stuff is, the Ugly Singaporean Person isn’t far behind:

  • dress up! Even if you’re there to chaperone a kid. I heard one frustrated host refuse to give candy to someone in t-shirt and shorts, saying,”At least try to make an effort!” Each individual makes up the crowd. Each person contributes to the fun atmosphere, so don’t just turn up in normal clothes. Rise to the occasion!
  • be polite! Greet each host (“Trick or Treat!” “Happy Halloween!”) and commend them on their costume or house decor. Say thank you. Don’t grab sweets from their tub unless they ask you to. It’s not a free-for-all buffet. Throw sweet wrappers and other rubbish in the many bins around.
  • give way! There were at least two people on wheelchairs who couldn’t seem to get through the crowds. Don’t be kiasu lah, just give way to them. There were lots of older kids lazing in prams though, which was a little unfortunate since they could walk. This led to a lot of people’s feet being run over and generally hampered traffic flow.

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Speaking of costumes, this fox was fantastic. Everyone simultaneously loved this kid and worried about him/her overheating in the Singapore heat:
Fantastic Mr. Fox. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Fantastic Mr. Fox. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

We don’t know if the Gryffindor troupe ever saw Snape hanging out with Professor McGonagall:
Gryffindor. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Professor McGonagall with Snape. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

I’m sure I saw you in a meme, horse-head and inflatable T-Rex:
horse. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
inflatable T-Rex. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Minecraft in pixelated glory (see instructions here). Boxy head also useful for containing the night’s haul:
Minecraft. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Minecraft head. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Cool people-riding-things costumes:

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

princess riding a unicorn. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
witch riding a dinosaur. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Other snapshots from a jaunt around the estate. Loads of fun!

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
lantern fish? Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Harley Quinn. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

But how can a Christian celebrate Halloween, someone might ask.

Well, of all people, a Christian can best celebrate Halloween with a light heart, without superstition or fear! In its Singaporean form, the dead are not honoured nor prayed for at Halloween, nor is Satan or any demon worshipped.

If anything, dressing up as pretend-scary people, or getting splattered with fake blood, or paying good money (for charity, of course) to enter a haunted house thumbs the nose at the powers of darkness and death.

Haunted House. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
skulls hanging from a frangipani tree. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

A child of God isn’t afraid of the powers of darkness, because the Son of God has triumphed over them when he died on the cross. The prince of darkness, the Devil, has no hold over us.

13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

15 He disarmed the [demonic] rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:15)

20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. (Romans 16:20)

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

And though the Christian still dies, he/she does not approach death with morbid fear, because the Christian is assured that his/her Lord has gone before him/her. And will, on the Last Day defeat death, so that all who trust in Jesus will rise again to new and eternal life.

24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.”(1 Corinthians 15:24-27)

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15)

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

This does not mean that Christians dismiss the Devil as myth though. Rather, we understand that Satan works not in a sweaty sweet-hording festival but in every day life; in tempting us to sin against God and by encouraging us not to acknowledge God as God, or submit to his Son as Lord.

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:8-9)

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Singapore Design Week 2016 – National Design Centre: Design and Make Fair

Singapore Design Week 2016 at the National Design Centre. This was the site of one of NAFA’s former campuses – I have fond memories of the place in its previous incarnation and the promising smell of watercolour paint that used permeate the place.

Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design Centre

Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design Centre

Design and Make Fair
The Design and Make Fair, said the official non-committal blurb,

is an introduction to the lively, growing community of designers and makers in Singapore, many of whom are small business entrepreneurs that produce delightful creations. It’s a fantastic opportunity for anyone and everyone to get started on the creative process of making, and appreciate design embedded in everyday living.

It was certainly more middle-class design-focused than Maker Faire (facebook), Supermama’s Trunk Show featured:

what was advertised as maki-e painting, but turned out to be another way of getting designed lacquerware – by painting layers of naturally-dyed lacquer onto a pair of chopsticks and then sanding off sections to produce a pattern. The originally-advertised maki-e, it was explained, would have taken too many days to do:

Design and Make Fair. Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design Centre

Design and Make Fair. Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design Centre
Design and Make Fair. Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design Centre
For S$30, you could sand down a pair of lacquerware chopsticks for yourself.

In the foyer, you could make an abacus under the watchful eye of another Japanese craftsman (Mr Hidetaka Miyanaga?) for, I think, S$30 as well.

Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design Centre

Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design CentrePrepared as we were to be educated and wowed by these Japanese master craftsmen, the lack of knowledge of the salesgirls, the regretable inability of the craftsmen themselves to converse in fluent English, resulted in little communication at all about the intricacies of each trade. Instead, the constant refrain to pay up for a go a chopsticks-sanding etc. just left us feeling a little vulgar.

  1. Why the push to vapid consumerism?
  2. And surely even vapid consumerism requires some hardsell? Ask any of the pasar malam salesmen with their sweaty portable microphones.

What a lost opportunity to really showcase the artisans Supermama (facebook) had taken the pains to find and partner with.

How far this was from the appreciation shown by Richard Sennett to craftsmen (in The Craftsman), whom, he says, glory in the basic human impulse to do a job well for its own sake; good craftsmanship involving hardship and struggle, developing skills. Not for them are those tedious superficial signs of self-promotion (“artisanal”, “atelier”).

On the ground floor though, the lack of aspirational figures in the One Maker Group‘s Make! Prototyping Lab space did not diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd. How could they get access to the 3D printer? When were the woodworking classes?, eager mothers-with-precocious children wanted to know.

Make! Prototyping Lab. Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design Centre

Make! Prototyping Lab. Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design Centre
Make! Prototyping Lab. Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design CentreLeather making (Atelier Lodge, The General Company, Stone for Gold, Lucky Apron Studio), woodworking, laser-cutting (Steammetry (facebook)), electronics, 3D printing classes abound in Singapore. If the maker movement really takes off locally so that amateur attempts mature into something more masterful (currently watching: Jeremiah Ang of J. Myers), and if making is thinking (qua Richard Sennett), then it will be very interesting to observe the relationship between Singapore society and artisanal products (qualitatively so, not just branding) in 10, 20 years.

Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design Centre

Singapore Design Week (March 2016), National Design Centre
Would there be a general shift from passive consumption? Will we reach beyond quirky merchandisation? What mindset shifts would occur? How will values change?

Farewell Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre, Orchard Road, Singapore

A photo essay.

If your parents are as old school as mine, you would have grown up on ox-tail stew Wednesdays and have borscht (with a big dollop of sour cream of course) running through your veins.

You would have gone to Shashlik Restaurant (Level 6 Far East Shopping Centre, 545 Orchard Road) properly dressed, wearing covered footwear, and have been on your best behaviour under the watchful eyes of stern Hainanese waiters who served both cabinet ministers and little children with impeccable manners, disdaining the garish fawning that now passes for “good service”.

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

There was a sizeable queue waiting to have their last meal at this retro institution, with its somewhat tired decor.

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

We didn’t really need the menu:
Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

After giving a waitress our order, we settled in for the long wait, smiling as the sole remaining old waiter made his rounds, as serious as ever:

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

To start, borscht soup with soft warm bread (on the side plate with a proper butter knife):
borscht soup, Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

complimentary bread roll. Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

or a tray of escargot:
escargot. Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Then on to the main course: beef shashlik, optimally medium-rare, brought to the table in skewers, on a serving trolley, and set a-sizzle on hot plates:
beef shashlik. Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

or chicken a la kiev:
chicken a la kiev (imperial), Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

And to end, the famous baked alaska:
baked alaska. Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

baked alaska. Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

and a cherry jubilee, flambéed with butter, brandy, and cream, and served with vanilla ice-cream:
cherry jubilee, flambéed with butter, brandy and cream . Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

and a peach melba with vanilla ice-cream:
peach melba. Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

After paying for the meal, I tried to express how sad it was to bid farewell to another tangible reminder of childhood. But “goodbye” was all I could croak to the old cashier. By then, she had already turned to process the next bill.

Life, she seemed to say, goes on.
Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

business card. Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

The Past Weekend – Genesis Cliffhanger, Daniel’s Non-Nightmare, Psalm 119 – word!, Fat Boy’s Burger Bar, 3D Latte Art

Where did the weekend go?, you wonder tritely as you arrive rudely at Monday with a raccoon nest on your head, last Thursday’s dust still on your shoulders.

Let’s see:

Friday was spent reading the first bit of Genesis (Genesis 1-11) with M. In Genesis 1-2, the world is perfect and Adam and Eve live in perfect relationship with God and each other and the rest of the world. Far too quickly, they rebel against God and suffer the consequences of their sin (Genesis 3) – broken relationship with God and each other and the rest of the world, and death. In the next few chapters (Genesis 4-5), the wonderful proliferation of mankind in the world (their creational mandate) unfortunately means the proliferation of sin: violence and more rebellion against God.

Ah Genesis 6:1 – 9:17. Erroneously famous for the animals lining up in pairs to get into Noah’s ark. If any one ever thought this world’s multitude of problems could be solved by destroying it all, and leaving one righteous man (en familia) to start it all again, well, they have another think coming. Noah the righteous man was given a clean world to do his best, but before anyone could say “fermented grape juice”, sin entered again (Genesis 9:18-29).

More humans populated the world from Noah’s progeny, but t’was the same old story – mass rebellion against God culminating in the building of the Tower of Babel to usurp God (Genesis 10-11).

What a cliffhanger…what would God do now? Wipe out the whole of humankind after giving one chance too many?

————-

Shovelled down a bit of lunch before legging it to a thankless Thanksgiving Service which started badly when the speaker declined a Bible, and proceeded to speak for the next hour about how God had blessed and disciplined him, rather than focusing on the glories of God himself.

————-

Arrived late for the Friday Bible Study, where Daniel 9 was the passage being discussed. Both Nebuchadnezzar (king of Babylon and most of the known world then) and Daniel had had dreams before about the rising and falling of nations, and the persecution of God’s people, but ending with God’s king ruling over God’s everlasting kingdom. Daniel had always gotten an adverse reaction to his night visions, but seemed much less agitated with Gab’s message this time. Not because God’s people were now going to be saved from suffering, but perhaps because there was the promise that would be a finishing of transgression, an end to sin, an atonement for inquity (Daniel 9:24). But how would this happen?

A continuing cliffhanger…if one did not sneak a look at the Gospels…

Got home past midnight.

Psalm 119 at Artease, Serangoon CentralWoke up with some semblance of the sun on my face on Saturday, with half an hour to spare before meeting S at Artease Serangoon (facebook. Blk 261 Serangoon Central. Salted caramel ) to start a read-through of Psalm 119. How does this fit into the book context of Psalms, I wanted to know. Why all the rich vocabulary for God’s word (precepts, laws, decrees, commandments etc), S wanted to know.

Then hurried a few roads away for a study on Revelation 12-14 that was not to be because one person had taken ill at home and another was stuck in a planning meeting for Christmas. G and I had a good chat about present struggles and found comfort depending on God in prayer.

Fat Boys Burger, Far East Plaza, Singapo re Fat Boys Burger, Far East Plaza, Singapore

Fat Boys Burger, Far East Plaza, Singapore Fat Boys Burger, Far East Plaza, Singapore

Full of joy for the day well-spent but relieved to get a little alone time at Fat Boy’s The Burger Bar (facebook. Far East Plaza). A fantastic gobstopper. The fresh buns were buttered and grilled – so tasty on their own. I usually like my patties with a little more bite, but could not fault this well-seasoned charred-edge wagyu-beef-texture tender meat piece. And the whole handful of happiness (with pickles and cheese and bacon) worked together – well-assembled so you wouldn’t be distracted from your meal by being made far too aware of the individual parts of each bite.

————–

Stumbled into church on Sunday, chatted some, and stayed on for prayer meet. This month, we were praying for Wycliffe Bible translators’ precious work in getting God’s word into the hands of different language groups all around the world.

Your Prayers Help People Get the Bible from Wycliffe USA on Vimeo.

Does correlation always mean causation, asked a group member. Indeed not, but we pray knowing that we will be heard by a good and loving God, and also knowing that the solely sovereign God does whatever he wants.

More chatting into the afternoon, then a light dinner with the usual dinner gang at Changi Village food centre without the morose brother we’d asked to join us.

Latte Foam Art, Chock Full of Beans, Changi Village
Latte Foam Art, Chock Full of Beans, Changi Village
Latte Foam Art, Chock Full of Beans, Changi VillageOh, what childish joy was wrought by this simple 3D latte art (sculpture?) creation at Chock Full of Beans (facebook. Blk 4 Changi Village Road). A nice end to the weekend.

Haig Road Market Putu Piring and Letter from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to PAP MPs on Rules of Prudence

This made me forget I was eating very tasty Haig Road Market putu piring. (Oh, but how tasty. Not chewy in texture like Tan’s Kueh Tu Tu, but slightly delicately crumbly like idli. With melty coconut sugar in the middle. Festooned with sweet-salty shredded coconut. 5 for S$2.)

Haig Road Market Putu PiringNow Christian leaders are no strangers to the concept of servant leadership, and the idea that one must not just be godly but also must be seen to be godly so as not to stumble the flock. It was a pleasant surprise to see these things reflected in PM Lee Hsien Loong’s letter to the PAP MPs.

Surely common grace means that the sort of biblical wisdom found in the Old Testament isn’t just advantageous to Christians, but because God made all things, it is also the best way to live in this world.

Also, Isaac Watts!

PM Lee’s letter reproduced from here:

Letter from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to PAP MPs on Rules of Prudence

All PAP MPs

RULES OF PRUDENCE

BEYOND SG50

It is a tradition for the Prime Minister to send a letter on “Rules of Prudence” to all the PAP MPs after an election.  The context each time may be different but the subject remains constant, because integrity, honesty and incorruptibility are fundamental to our Party.  We must never tire of reminding ourselves of their importance.

2.        Our Party has won 83 out of 89 seats in the just concluded General Election, with all seats contested. Overall, the PAP won 69.9% of the votes.

3.        The people have endorsed what we have done in the previous term, and given us a clear mandate to take Singapore forward beyond SG50.  Now we must fulfil what we have promised to do in our manifesto. We must never break faith with the people, but must always carry out our duties to them responsibly, address their worries and advance their interests.

4.        Be humble in victory. As MPs, always remember we are servants of the people, not masters. Do not mistake the strong election result to mean that our efforts have succeeded, and that we can afford to slacken. Much work remains to be done tackling issues which concern Singaporeans, and finding new ways to improve people’s lives. Listen hard to voter concerns, help them to tackle pressing needs, and convey their worries and aspirations to the Government. Persuade them to support policies which are in their own long term benefit, while helping the Government to formulate good policies and stay in close touch with the people.

UPHOLDING OUR REPUTATION AND INTEGRITY

5.        One vital factor that has enabled the PAP to retain the trust of Singaporeans all these years is honesty and integrity. The PAP’s reputation for clean, incorruptible government is one of our most precious assets. As PAP MPs, your personal standing reflects this high standing of the Party as a whole. I cannot stress strongly enough that every MP must uphold the rigorous standards that we have set for ourselves, and do nothing to compromise them. Never give cause for allegations that you are misusing your position, especially your access to Ministers.  That would discredit both you and the Party.

6.        As MPs, you will come across many different sorts of people. Many altruistic, public spirited individuals will help you without wanting anything in return, spending time and money to get community projects going and to serve residents. But a few will cultivate you to obtain benefits for them-selves or their companies, to gain respectability by association with you, or to get you to influence ministries and statutory boards to make decisions in their favour. Gift hampers on festive occasions, entertainment, and personal favours big and small are just a few of countless social lubricants which such people use to ingratiate themselves to MPs and make you obligated to them.

7.        You must distinguish between these two groups of people, and be shrewd in assessing the motives of those who seek to get close to you. At all times be seen to be beyond the influence of gifts or favours.

8.        Be scrupulously proper in your contacts with government departments or public officers.  Do not lobby any ministry or statutory board on behalf of anyone who is not your constituent or grassroots activist.  Do not raise matters with public officers on behalf of friends, clients, contractors, employers, or financiers to advance their business interests.  Conduct business with government agencies in writing and avoid making telephone requests.  If you have to speak, follow up in writing to put your requests on record.

9.        MPs are often approached by friends, grassroots leaders or proprietors and businessmen to officiate at the openings of their new shops or other business events. They usually offer a gesture, such as a donation to a charity or constituency welfare fund. Though it may be awkward to refuse such requests, once you accept one, you will be hard-pressed to draw a line. As a rule, you should decline invitations to such business events. If you feel you should attend, please obtain prior approval from the Whip.

SEPARATING BUSINESS AND POLITICS

10.      Separate your public political position from your private, professional or business interests.  MPs who are in business, who occupy senior management positions in companies, or who sit on company boards should be especially vigilant.  You must not exploit your public position as Government MPs, your close contacts with the Ministers, or your access to government departments and civil servants, for your personal interest or the benefit of your employers.  Your conduct must always be above board.

11.      MPs who are employed by companies or industry associations may at times have to make public statements on behalf of their company or industry association.  If you have to do so, make it clear that you are not speaking as an MP, but in your private, professional or business capacity.

12.      Do not use Parliamentary questions as a means to lobby the Government on behalf of your businesses or clients. When you raise questions in Parliament related to your own businesses or your clients, be careful to first declare your pecuniary interest in the issue.

13.      You may, however, speak freely to Cabinet Ministers, who are your Parliamentary colleagues.  Ministers will listen carefully to arguments on principles, especially when they relate to the general policy of their Ministries.  But Ministers will not exercise their discretion to change individual decisions without very good reasons which they can justify publicly.  Parliamentary Secretaries and Ministers of State who intervene in their Ministries to reverse or alter decisions should promptly report the matter to their Ministers to protect themselves against possible accusations of misconduct.  The Government must always base decisions on the merits of the issues, and cannot yield to pressure from interested parties.

DIRECTORSHIPS

14.      MPs are often invited to serve on the Boards of private and publicly listed companies.  This is a sign that the private sector values PAP MPs’ integrity and experience, and reflects the high standing of the Party and of PAP MPs in general.  The Party permits MPs to serve as directors, provided you keep your private and public responsibilities rigorously separate, and your private appointments do not compromise your duties and performance as an MP.

15.      The public will closely scrutinise your involvement in companies, because you are a PAP MP.  Conduct your business activities so as to bring credit to yourself and to the Party.  Adverse publicity on your performance as a director, or lapses in the companies you are associated with, will tarnish your reputation as an MP and lower the public’s regard for the Party.

16.      You should not solicit for Directorships in any companies, lest you appear to be exploiting your political position to benefit yourself.

17.      You should not accept directorships where your role is just to dress up the board with a PAP MP or two, in order to make the company look more respectable.

18.      Some grassroots leaders are businessmen who own or manage companies.  You should not sit on any boards of companies owned or chaired by grassroots leaders appointed by you, so as to avoid the perception that you are obligated to them or advancing their business interests.

19.      If you are offered a Directorship, you have to decide for yourself whether to accept.  The Party is not in a position to vet or approve such decisions.

20.      Before accepting, consider the possible impact of the Directorship on your political life.  Ensure that the company understands that you are doing so strictly in your private capacity, and will not use your public position to champion the interests of the company, or lobby the government on its behalf.

21.      Make every effort to familiarise yourself with the business, track record and background of the key promoters of the company.  Satisfy yourself that the company is reputable, and that you are able to make a meaningful contribution.  Specifically, just like anyone else contemplating a Directorship, you should ask yourself:

a.         How well do you know the company, its business strategy, financial status, shareholding structure and the underlying industry?

b.        Do you know your fellow directors, the way the Board and its committees fulfil their responsibilities, the reporting structure between Board and Management and the relationship between shareholders and the company?

c.         Do you have sufficient industry, financial or professional expertise to fulfil your expected role and responsibilities as a Director?  Do you understand your obligations under the law and the Code of Corporate Governance?  Will you be able to discharge your fiduciary duties properly and without fear or favour?

d.        Will you face any conflicts of interest, and if so can you manage them? If in any doubt, you should decline.

22.      Once you have decided to take up a Directorship, please inform the Whip. Detailed reporting requirements are listed in the Annex.

PARLIAMENT

23.      MPs are expected to attend all sittings of Parliament.  If you have to be absent from any sitting, seek permission from the Government Whip.  Please inform the Whip if you have to leave the Parliament premises while a sitting is on.

24.      If you travel abroad, or need to be absent from Parliament for any reason, you must apply to the Speaker for leave, with copies to the Leader of the House and the Government Whip.  You should also inform the Whip where you can be reached while abroad.

25.      I have asked the Speaker to give all MPs, particularly new MPs, ample opportunity and latitude to speak in Parliament.  Your first opportunity will be during the debate on the President’s Address at the opening of Parliament in January 2016.  Following that, at the Budget Debate, all MPs should speak up.  Script your speeches or put your key points in note form to structure your presentation and help the media.

26.      The public expects PAP MPs to express their views frankly, whether for or against Government policies. During debates, speak freely and with conviction.  Press your points vigorously, and do not shy away from robust debate.  However, please exercise judgement when putting your points across, and do not get carried away playing to the gallery.

27.      Bring out questions and issues that Singaporeans and your constituents have concerns about, and grapevine talk for the Government to rebut, but avoid unwittingly lending credence to baseless gossip. This will show that you and the Party are in touch with the ground, and speaking up for Singaporeans. Bringing up pertinent issues and questions in a timely manner helps ministers to put across the facts, explain the reasons for policies and decisions, and maintain public confidence in the openness and integrity of our actions.

28.      Your honest, informed views are an important political input to Ministers when they formulate and review policies. Ministers will accept valid, constructive suggestions, but they have to challenge inaccurate or mistaken views. Over time, the public will see that PAP backbenchers are as effective as opposition MPs, if not better, at holding ministers to account, getting issues fully debated, and influencing policies for the better.

IMPORTANT PUBLIC OCCASIONS

29.      On certain occasions, like the National Day Parade and the Investiture Ceremony for National Day Awards, the whole Establishment, i.e. the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, will be there.  Those who cannot attend must have very good reasons.  Those who have accepted the invitation must attend, otherwise they leave empty seats, which does no credit to them or to the Party.

30.      At all public functions and constituency events, punctuality is of paramount importance.

GIFTS

31.      You should not accept gifts which might place you under obligations which conflict with your public duties. If you receive any gifts other than from close personal friends or relatives, you must declare them to the Clerk of Parliament who will have the gifts valued.  If you wish to keep the gifts, you must pay the Government for them at the valuation price.

FUND-RAISING

32.      Party Branches should not raise funds on their own without permission, for example by soliciting advertisements for a souvenir magazine or a carnival.  If you intend to raise funds, please clear it beforehand with the Organising Secretary.  When your branch embarks on a collective fund-raising activity, e.g. a Family Day or Walk-A-Jog, you must follow the rules strictly.

FINANCIAL PRUDENCE

33.      As MPs, you should manage your personal financial affairs prudently. Do not over-extend yourself or become financially embarrassed. This would be not only a potential source of personal embarrassment, but also a weakness which may expose you to pressure or blackmail.

34.      In particular, be careful about making major financial commitments assuming that you will continue to receive your MP’s allowance.  While MPs typically serve several terms, you cannot assume that you will automatically be fielded in future General Elections, or that if fielded you will definitely be re-elected.  There is neither tenure nor job security in politics.

DECLARATION OF INCOME

35.      For your own protection, every MP should disclose to me, in confidence, your business and professional interests, your present employment and monthly pay, all retainers and fees that you are receiving, and whether your job requires you to get in touch with officers of Government Ministries or statutory boards on behalf of employers or clients.  Office holders need not do so because you will be subject to the reporting requirements of the Code of Conduct for ministers. This should be done by 31 October 2015.

GENERAL BEHAVIOUR

36.      The PAP has held our position in successive elections because our integrity has never been in doubt, and because we are sensitive to the views and attitudes of the people we represent.  MPs must always uphold the high standards of the Party and not have lifestyles or personal conduct which will embarrass themselves and the Party.  Any slackening of standards, or show of arrogance or indifference by any MP, will erode confidence in him, and ultimately in the Party and Government.  New MPs can pick up the dos and don’ts from older MPs.  You should conduct yourselves always with modesty, decorum and dignity, particularly in the media. You must win respect, not popularity, to stay the course.

MEDIA PUBLICITY

37.      I am releasing a copy of this letter to the media so that the public knows the high standards we demand of our MPs.

LEE HSIEN LOONG

cc: Government Whip

Nasi Ambeng, Ambeng Cafe by Ummi Abdullah

nasi ambeng, Ambeng Cafe by Ummi Abdullah, 430 Upper Changi Road, East Village

nasi ambeng, Ambeng Cafe by Ummi Abdullah, 430 Upper Changi Road, East Village

nasi ambeng, Ambeng Cafe by Ummi Abdullah, 430 Upper Changi Road, East Villagebonding; uniting

fellowship; friendship

redemption; adoption

Nasi ambeng, the celebratory dish of weddings and religious festivals; an occasion for sharing and bonding and talking about our week and the week ahead while shovelling in beef rendang, sambal sotong, sambal goreng, paru (cow lungs), begedil, ikan sambal bali, urap kencur, telur belado, ikan kering, ayam kalio with loads of nasi (rice). And chendol – with proper gula melaka.

Comfort food.

Ambeng Cafe by Ummi Abdullah (facebook, 430 Upper Changi Road, East Village)

The Haze, Half-face Particulate Respirators and Filter Masks, and International Relations

Singapore haze: half-face particulate respirators - Air + Smart Mask and 3M filter mask
Since the Indonesian forest fires have had Singapore and bits of Malaysia on choke-hold a few weeks ago, I’ve manage to cruise along without much protection. But the recent onset of stinging in my respiratory tract has finally convinced me to play the adult and acquire a mask or two.

Most of the usual pharmacy chains (Guardian, Watsons) carried both the usual 3M N95 variety (introduced to the general public during the SARS period) and the much newer and more design-conscious Air+ Smart Mask (S$7.20 for a box of 3, S$29.90 for the micro-ventilator.

Singapore haze: half-face particulate respirators - Air+ Smart Mask, large sizeAir+ Smart Mask, in large

The friendly (over-friendly! said LL) sales assistant warned us that the medium sized Air+ was far too small and suggested a large for all adults. Our chat turned a little to international relations with Indonesia, the home of the “transboundary haze”.

Regional Haze Map Source: NEA

The recent hesitation of Indonesian politicians to accept Singapore’s offer of help to control the fires (“yes they did“, “no we didn’t“) might be explained by the relationship between the countries and their self-perception in the regional arena.

…size could also be a reason for the failure to resolve conflicts between Singapore and Indonesia. Size, in this sense, can be interpreted literally as well as symbolically, as the self-images of both countries. Both the original conflict in 1968 as well as the current one in 2014 have been directly attributed to size. When then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew turned down a direct appeal by former President Soeharto to pardon the two Indonesian marines, in the words of former MFA Permanent Secretary Bilahari Kausikan, “he could not have done otherwise without conceding that the small must always defer to the big and irretrievably compromising our sovereignty.”

However, if Singaporeans are adamant that the small must not defer to the big, then the Indonesians are equally adamant that the big must not defer to the small. A few days ago, Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Djoko Suyanto declared that “the fact that there is a different perception of Indonesian government policy by other countries, in this instance, Singapore, cannot make us backtrack or be uncertain about carrying on with our policy decision and implementing it.” Golkar MP Hajriyanto Thohari, deputy chairman of the People’s Consultative Assembly, went one step further, declaring “Let Singapore keep shrieking, like a chicken beaten by a stick.” (Singapore and Indonesia: An Uneasy Coexistence?, Yvonne Guo, The Diplomat, 2014)

In the aftermath of the Indonesian navy naming their warship KRI Usman Harun, after two Indonesian marines executed in Singapore in 1968 for a 1965 terror attack on MacDonald House in Orchard Road, there were rather self-righteous and dull comments about how Singapore should have spared those men.

These commentators seemed to forget to take into account (i) the context of that event in Singapore’s national history (1965 was the year of its independence; and (ii) the context of Singapore in regional politics.

Said Kausikan:

…the respected American scholar of Indonesia, the late Dr George McTurnan Kahin, wrote in 1964 while Konfrontasi was still ongoing, that episode of aggression towards its neighbours was the consequence of the “powerful, self-righteous thrust of Indonesian nationalism” and the widespread belief that “because of (the) country’s size… it has a moral right to leadership”.

Time may have given a more sophisticated gloss to this attitude but has not essentially changed it.

This attitude lies, for example, behind the outrageous comments by some Indonesian ministers during the haze last year that Singapore should be grateful for the oxygen Indonesia provides; it is the reason why Indonesians think Singaporeans should take into account their interests and sensitivities without thinking it necessary to reciprocate. (Indonesia’s naming of navy ship: Sensitivity is a two-way street, The Straits Times, 13 February 2014)

and so instead of just keeping quiet, Singapore needed to protest this and show our stand clearly.

Curious about this ambassador-at-large, I came across his warning that “foreign policy cannot be a tool for partisan politics”

already and all too often, I see the irrelevant or the impossible being held up as worthy of emulation…

…I see our vulnerabilities being dismissed or downplayed; and I see only a superficial understanding of how the real world really works in civil society and other groups who aspire to prescribe alternate foreign policies… (Foreign Policy Cannot Be ‘Tool of Partisan Politics‘, Today, 17 September 2013)

This parallels nicely with some discussions we’ve been having about how American, English, Australian evangelical models of what godliness looks like might/might not work in a Singaporean context. But that’s for another day.

If you have an old 3M mask, check its expiry here.

Other helpful sites:

National Environment Agency’s Haze website

Ministry of Health guidelines on the use of masks

The Day After Polling Day for the Singapore General Elections 2015

If we hadn’t stayed up to hear the results of the Singapore General Elections 2015, we’d have awoken this morning to the news that the People’s Action Party carried 83 of the 89 parliamentary seats. For the first time since Singapore’s independence in 1965, all parliamentary seats had been contested.

(I write this as someone how hasn’t paid much attention to politics until very recently, and am certainly not a supporter of any particular political party.)

SingFirst's Tan Jee Say on Channel NewsAsia SingaporeThere’s been much shock, anger, and bitterness at the results from those who were sure that the opposition parties would win big, based on the strength and volume of anti-PAP views online on social media, the massive crowds at Workers’ Party rallies, the complaints of their golfing buddies, etc. Some are in mourning:

wkNow there could be several reasons why sentiment was not an accurate predictor of the final outcome:

  • sample size issues: confirmation bias, echo-chamber effect of social media and search engine algorithms
  • disparity between speech and actions: perhaps it’s not so much the “silent majority”; they could in fact have been very vocal. But there is a difference between looking at the roadshows and experiencing the atmosphere at rallies, and agreeing with their disgruntled chums at coffeeshops…and making a secret private choice after Cooling-Off Day.
    This should not be too much of a surprise. In a sense, human decision-making is similar whether in relation to purchasing something or casting a vote. Alexander Osterwalder had this advice for entrepreneurs:
    “Once you have an idea of those customer jobs, pains, and gains you don’t want to rest until you’ve tested if what you’ve learned from talking to customers is actually real. Actions speak louder than words. There is a big difference between what people say and what they do. People might tell you they are excited about your new product, but when they are in a buying situation their behaviour might be totally different.”

Singapore General Elections: Polling Station tape in void deckWhat is quite disrespectful of both nation and one’s fellow countrymen are the following accusations:

alleging that the elections are invalid for not being free and fair:

    • that the polls were rigged

      Really highly unlikely since the fortunes of the PAP have gone up and precariously down since independence.

      Also, the procedure for the counting of votes is meticulous in its eagerness to ensure that there is no ballot-stuffing (by having serial numbers, which many mistake for a device for keeping track of people’s votes), no tampering with ballot papers, no inaccurate counting. See the Counting of Votes section of the Candidate’s Handbook for Parliamentary Election 2015, and the testimonies from people from all persuasions and parties who were involved in the process.

In relation to the secrecy of votes:

alleging that the outcome of democratic elections is not democratic:

  • that it is undemocratic to have a dominant party in parliament

    No it is not if that’s exactly what the people chose. And the converse would be true if a certain amount of seats had to be left to a certain party, regardless of what the electorate wanted.

alleging that the opposition was not able to communicate effectively with the public:

    • that the PAP controls the mainstream media, that the electorate is brain-washed
    • that it is because of all the fear-mongering
    • that the people who voted for the PAP believed falsehoods, didn’t do their due diligence

      Hardly, since the victorious opposition were lauding the “democratic” role of social media as a platform for alternative voices to be heard in 2011. Also, anyone on social media could not have hidden from the fact that the opposition was heard loud and clear on Facebook, on Youtube, in blogposts etc. Plus, the crowds at WP rallies?

      Being affected by fear-mongering, believing in falsehoods, and lack of due diligence, I think, are regrettably accusations that would be true of voters of every political party.

claiming that some fellow citizens should not have an equal voice:

  • that, see this confirms my xenophobia, it is the new citizens’ fault
  • that it is because of all the old people voting

    Erm, the democratic process means at least that every citizen gets an equal vote – including the elderly, and the wet-behind-the-ears-only-know-how-to-Candy-Crush, and the annoying neighbour, and your boss, and your subordinates, and your kopi uncle, and your CEO, and the people who don’t agree with you etc.

    Since our votes are secret, there is no evidence that new citizens do in fact vote for the PAP. But, it would not be an illogical assumption. To uproot from one’s homeland and migrate here must mean that Singapore is far better than wherever they’ve come from. Perhaps that should make us look at our country again with new eyes, new gratitude for our fortunate lot – be it security, opportunity, affordability of living, etc.

    I know that when I returned to Singapore after travelling quite a bit, I was absolutely shocked by the whiney-ness of Singaporeans. MRT trains breakdown for a few minutes, or even a few hours, and everyone is up in arms. If you lived in London for a week, a month, your planned journeys (sometimes to the airport!) would be foiled by the underground not working because of: signal failure (probably every day), person under a train (typically at peak hour), engineering works (almost every weekend), it being too hot in the summer, leaves on the track in autumn, it being too cold in winter.

Singapore General Elections: Polling Station tape in void deckAnd some are just too pessimistic. I don’t see why this is the end of the world.

  1. Assume the best of the people who have been given the “strong mandate” to govern. Until proven otherwise, trust that when they say they are humbled by the people’s choice, they do really want to serve the common good.
  2. If this is so, then raise your concerns in a reasonable manner with the party that will form the government, and work with them. If you are truly concerned about social justice (whatever that means for you), for the poor, the outcast, the elderly, the underprivileged, the disadvantaged, then you should not be concerned about political power, or partisanship, but will work with anyone to help your just cause/these people. Understand of course, that ministers and MPs would already have a lot on their plate and that there will be many voices vying for their attention. So make it easier by being persistent, by not throwing a tantrum if they appear not to have heard you the first few times, by presenting evidence for the problem and some constructive suggestions for solving the problem. These solutions should also assess the impact of carrying them out on the rights, responsibility, wants, needs of other interest groups in society.
  3. If you were merely hoping to vote in someone who would do all this work for you, don’t outsource. Roll up your sleeves and get to work. Start small initiatives. If you are concerned that people coming out of prison might have difficulty getting jobs, use social media for good instead of complaining: gather a group of businesses who would be willing to help them get back on their feet, find places that will allow them to stay for cheap and enjoy the company of others, collect old office clothes so they have something to wear to interviews etc.

Lee Hsien Loong being carried by supporters after victory in the Singapore General Elections 2015If this sounds at all pro-PAP, it isn’t meant to be. Rather, it is the acknowledgement that this is the political party now in power. Since they have been elected by due process (and even if they haven’t been!), we are obliged to give the authorities due respect. And this should be especially so for those who consider themselves God-fearers. For:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed. (Romans 13:1-7)

and

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honour everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

Before bemoaning the “oppressive authoritarian regime” Singapore is under as a get-out clause, remember that Paul and Peter were writing to Christians under hostile Roman rule. And this requirement to respect the authorities is not because they are any better than or more superior to anyone else, but because it acknowledges the God who has put them in their high position.

Remember what King Nebuchanezzar and King Belshazzar of Babylon had to learn, even while they had God’s people, the Israelites, in exile, and had their temple destroyed:

the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men (Daniel 4:17)

the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will (Daniel 5:21)

The Myth of the Rational Voter – Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies

Dipping into Facebook this last week has been repulsive. The thinly-veiled vitriol from all sides on so-called hot-potato issues like the AHPETC accounts and CPF.

Most annoying of course, is people button-holing you after church or at lunch to talk politics. But when asked to explain their anger about current policies or hostility towards the incumbent governing party (the People’s Action Party), they repeat rather selfish complaints (eg. I want money and I want it now) without any constructive alternative solution to the stated problem (probable failure to save for housing and retirement).

And just asking for more substantial views then gets you the accusatory finger of “oooohhh, someone’s pro-PAP”.

[In the spirit of “no link lei”, here are some gratuitous photos of food.]

hawker centre, Lorong 8 Toa PayohSo it’s Cooling Off Day. One day to think rationally about the choices we are to make at the ballot boxes for the Singapore General Elections 2015 tomorrow.

Amidst the thick haze, there is a cacophony of noise – and it sounds just like lemmings running at full tilt, blinded by biases:

anti-government, anti-authority bias

  • we are unhappy. Therefore, something, or everything!, about the government is making us unhappy.
  • we don’t have the power the government has. Therefore, they are oppressing us and we are marginalised (or we will find people who look like they are victims – single mothers, singles, self-identified LGBT, minority races, low wage earners). They are arrogant and out-of-touch, we are the people who really know what’s going on.

We find it easy to love those who are worse-off than us; who, conspicuously, have less power or money. For no substantial reason, they seem more authentic.

This is why José Mujica, the last president of Uruguay, acquired some international fame as the “world’s poorest president”. His austerity has been an inspiration to a world so engorged with possessions that “de-cluttering” is one of the newest fads. But governing a country requires more than that. New Republic tried to find out if he actually improved the lives of the Uruguayans, and discovered some disappointment. So Eve Fairbanks reflects, philosophically:

It’s a pattern: We keep creating saviors whom we expect to single- handedly restore lost values. Then we lash out at them when they inevitably fall short…

We’re searching for the one figure who can break the binds. We want someone simply different enough to plot a new direction for a world that often feels full of deadly momentum toward existential decay and harder to steer than the hurtling Titanic.

Because actual experience tends to reveal the limits of candidates’ power, we’re also drawn to heroes with less and less experience, blank slates onto which we can project our fantasies for change.

And what about Aung San Suu Kyi, once the icon for a liberal marketing basket of peaceful demonstrations, democracy, human rights, progressiveness etc? Now that she’s got some political power, the junta smirk as she too has been coming under fire – in the last few years, for her silence about the plight of the Muslim Rohingya in West Burma. Her halo has slipped, tarnished, said some. She’s acting just like a “any other politician: single-mindedly pursuing an agenda, making expedient decisions with one eye on electoral politics, the other on kingmakers in Naypyidaw and the domestic political economy”, say others. Oh and why not just accuse her of bad faith and say she’s “taken advantage of the perception of her as an unerring statesman and humanitarian and chosen to collude with tyranny against the people who need her most”.

Mellben Seafood, Lorong 8 Toa Payoh

In his book, The Myth of the Rational Voter, Bryan Caplan states four other major biases that affect the electorate’s rationality and critical thinking faculties. Courtesy of The Economist:

  • anti-market bias

People don’t understand that the pursuit of private profits often yields public benefits. There is the tendency to underestimate the benefits of the market economy.

Most people fancy themselves to be victims of the market to be preyed on by corporations (the “greedy monopolists”), rather than as they really are – participants in the market.

When asked why petrol prices have risen, the public mostly blames the greed of oil firms. Yet economists nearly all attribute it to the law of supply and demand. If petrol prices rise because oil firms want higher profits, why would they sometimes fall?

  • anti-foreign bias

People underestimate the benefits of interactions with foreigners. They tend to see foreigners as the enemies.

“Most Americans think the economy is seriously damaged by companies sending jobs overseas. Few economists do. People understand that the local hardware store will sell them a better, cheaper hammer than they can make for themselves. Yet they are squeamish about trade with foreigners, and even more so about foreigners who enter their country to do jobs they spurn. Hence the reluctance of Democratic presidential candidates to defend free trade, even when they know it will make most voters better off, and the reluctance of their Republican counterparts to defend George Bush’s liberal line on immigration.”

black pepper crab, Mellben Seafood, Lorong 8 Toa Payoh

    • make-work bias

People equate prosperity with employment rather than production.

“The make-work bias is best illustrated by a story, perhaps apocryphal, of an economist who visits China under Mao Zedong. He sees hundreds of workers building a dam with shovels. He asks: “Why don’t they use a mechanical digger?” “That would put people out of work,” replies the foreman. “Oh,” says the economist, “I thought you were making a dam. If it’s jobs you want, take away their shovels and give them spoons.” For an individual, the make-work bias makes some sense. He prospers if he has a job, and may lose his health insurance if he is laid off. For the nation as a whole, however, what matters is not whether people have jobs, but how they do them. The more people produce, the greater the general prosperity. It helps, therefore, if people shift from less productive occupations to more productive ones. Economists, recalling that before the industrial revolution 95% of Americans were farmers, worry far less about downsizing than ordinary people do. Politicians, however, follow the lead of ordinary people. Hence, to take a more frivolous example, Oregon’s ban on self-service petrol stations.”

    • bias towards pessimism

People tend to think economic conditions are worse than they are.

“The public’s pessimism is evident in its belief that most new jobs tend to be low-paying, that our children will be worse off than we are and that society is going to hell in a variety of ways. Economists, despite their dismal reputation, tend to be cheerier. Politicians have to strike a balance. They often find it useful to inflame public fears, but they have to sound confident that things will get better if they are elected.”

hawker centre, Lorong 8 Toa PayohAnd what does this all translate to at the ballot boxes on polling day?

Caplan says:

“Since delusional political beliefs are free [ie. cost them nothing], the voter consumes until he reaches his “satiation point,” believing whatever makes him feel best. When a person puts on his voting hat, he does not have to give up practical efficacy in exchange for self-image, because he has no practical efficacy to give up in the first place.”

“The same people who practice intellectual self-discipline when they figure out how to commute to work, repair a car, buy a house, or land a job “let themselves go” when they contemplate the effects of protectionism, gun control, or pharmaceutical regulation.”

Is a democracy (however defined) better than an authoritarian regime? Is living under an elected government better than being ruled by a sovereign?

At the end of the day, one thing is clear – we are all sinful people (voters, politicians, government types, rebels) who must try to regulate our societies the best we can under the circumstances of this fallen world. But even in the midst of the frustration of it all, we look forward to a day when the whole world will be ruled by Jesus who is God himself, who is perfectly just, perfectly loving, and perfectly wise, and to whom we can submit wholeheartedly.

hawker centre, Lorong 8 Toa Payoh