Monday, May 28, 2007

The Human Behavior Experiments - CBC Documentary

"Why would four young men watch their friend die, when they could have intervened to save him? Why would a woman obey phone commands from a stranger to strip-search an innocent employee? What makes ordinary people perpetrate extraordinary abuses, like the events at Abu Ghraib?

Documentarian Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) revisits these three famous behavioral studies to explore some perennial questions about why human beings commit unethical acts under particular social conditions. After seeing this film, you may never say “bad apples” again."

Friday, May 18, 2007

Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement Speech 2005

This is a great speech by Steve Jobs in 2005. I have read the transcript, but this is the first time I come across the video. If you have no idea what this speech is about, please do spend the 15 minutes listening to it.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Some Old News

Singapore Military Juggles Ties with Taiwan, China
Fayen Wong
Aug 25, 2006

KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan—A dark-green army truck zips through the hilly countryside in southern Taiwan before disappearing behind the high walls of an unmarked military base—the largest of Singapore's three army camps in Taiwan.

For nearly 30 years, the island state of Singapore, which lacks the space for large-scale military manoeuvres, has trained its troops in Taiwan under the code name Operation Starlight.

But Singapore has begun scaling back its military presence in Taiwan in recent years as it sought to warm relations with China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province.

"In recent years, Singapore's close military links with Taiwan have occasionally been an irritant in the city-state's relationship with China," Tim Huxley, a defence expert who has written books on Singapore's military, told Reuters.

The city-state has over the past decade quietly built defence links with other countries to train its troops overseas such as in Australia, New Zealand, Brunei and Thailand.

It also sends air force contingents to the U.S. and France following arms purchases and hopes to soon formalise an agreement with India to train its troops there as well.

Singapore began Operation Starlight in 1975 when Taiwan, eager to cultivate ties abroad after it lost its United Nations seat to China, offered Singapore military training bases.

It was a welcome offer. Singapore faced communist threats from Malaysia and Indonesia and was keen to build up its fledgling army. But it lacked the space in an island so small a fighter jet can fly over it in less than two minutes.

Analysts estimate that by the mid-eighties, at the peak of the operation, Singapore sent about 15,000 conscripts a year to Taiwan for large-scale war games.

But the training camps in Taiwan became a sensitive issue over the past decade as Singapore, which is 75 percent ethnic Chinese, sought to forge warm ties with China where Singaporean government companies are investing billions of dollars.

Despite its military cooperation with Taiwan, Singapore staunchly supports the "one-China" policy, opposes Taiwanese independence and does not have diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

China Offers Training Bases

It's a diplomatic juggling act that could result in Singapore finding itself in an uncomfortable position if cross-strait relations flare up and it is forced to take sides.

"Singapore is aligned with the U.S. and it also has strong ties with China. But if there was a war between China and Taiwan, Singapore could be unwillingly dragged in," Huxley said.

In terms of trade, Taiwan is Singapore's eighth-largest partner, while China comes in third after the U.S. and Malaysia.

The Singapore Ministry of Defence declined all comment on issues related to Taiwan, despite repeated requests.

While China has in the past turned a blind eye to Singapore's close economic and military ties with Taiwan, it has been less tolerant of any dealings with Taipei since the self-ruled island's leaders started a pro-independence movement.

In 2004, China angrily cancelled the visit of the Chinese central bank governor when Lee Hsien Loong visited Taiwan shortly before becoming Singapore's prime minister,

London-based Jane's Defence Weekly reported in 2001 that Beijing had offered Singapore the use of Hainan island as an alternative training site to Taiwan.

The offer was the first by China to a foreign country and appeared to be an attempt to discourage Singapore's military ties with Taiwan.

"We have never discussed this," Singapore Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean said in June after being asked about the offer.

Huxley that said while Singapore has tried to cut back its dependence on Taiwan, the government had done so carefully, citing reduced training needs rather than any desire to pacify China. At the same time it has tried to avoid offending Beijing.

"As we build new military relationships with countries like India, it will get more difficult for us to not look like we're snubbing China," said Bernard Loo, defence analyst at Singapore's Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies.

Clandestine Operation

Singapore's operations in Taiwan remain shrouded in secrecy.

In his book about Singapore's military, Huxley wrote that during their time in Taiwan, Singaporean troops wear Taiwanese army uniforms distinguishable only by a separate insignia. Several former Singapore soldiers have confirmed this practice.

"Singapore keeps an extremely low profile about its military ties with Taiwan because it does not want this issue to jeopardise its relationship with China," National University of Singapore analyst Khoo How San told Reuters.

Defence analysts estimate the number of troops sent to Taiwan for training has been slashed by half to about 7,000 annually.

The bulk of Singapore's army now goes to Australia, where up to 6,600 soldiers train at Shoalwater Bay in Queensland every year and about 400 vehicles for a light armoured battalion are stored, according to Singapore's defence ministry Web site.

Back in Hengchun where Singapore's largest army base in Taiwan is located, that shift has hurt local business.

"The town used to be teeming with Singaporean soldiers about twenty years ago. Business was brisk at many of these eateries and karaoke bars," Xu Xiu-feng, 42, a restaurant owner said.

"But now this is just a sleepy town," she added.

Taiwan is cutting their military service

This is not news. It has been going on for years, since the year 2000 to be exact, but you can bet such news will be reported quietly, if at all in the local press. The Taiwanese are cutting their compulsory military service. The military service length for Taiwanese males used to be 2 years. From what I gathered, the cut started in 2003, with a cut to 22 months. 20 months in 2004, 18 months in 2005, 16 months in 2006, 14 months in 2007, and subject to volunteer enlistment meeting recruitment targets, it will be reduced to 12 months in 2008. Volunteer enlistment had been exceeding their targets in recent years due to vastly improved benefits, so they will most probably be able to do the cut in 2008. The target is to cut the service by 2 months every year, until, eventually, the military is all volunteer professionals.

Contrary to what I wrote in an earlier comment, Taiwanese reservists do have reservist training, but the liability currently is no more than 40 days in a 6 year period. In contrast, Singaporean reservists can potentially be called up 40 days a year for 10 years.

I know Singapore is not Taiwan. A US defence expert, Dr Bernard Cole, questioned the use of such short training cycles. (link provided below)

But that does not mean we cannot draw some useful conclusions.

1) If we pay our soldiers with the same mindset as we pay our ministers, I think we can easily have a larger professional army, funded by cutting the length of NSF and NSmen training. Remember, we may pay our NSFs peanuts, but tens of thousands of peanuts add up to a handsome sum. Furthermore, only MINDEF knows what astronomical sum is spent on Make-Up Pay for calling up reservists this frequently.

2) Taiwan faces an opponent bigger and powerful than the whole South-East Asia ex Singapore, combined, and was a site of continual conquests by foreign powers over the past few hundred years. They can learn to breathe easy. Can we?

"Just because you are not paranoid, does not mean that they are not out to get you."


Taiwan's Security: History and Prospects by Dr. Bernard Cole, Professor of International History, National War College

Conscription in the Republic of China, Wikipedia

Ministry of National Defence: Military Service to cut to 1 year in 2008 if volunteer enlistment targets met, MND press release (in Traditional Chinese)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Swiss military service

In 1984, former PM Goh Chok Tong said he targeted to bring the Swiss standard of living , of that year, 1984, to Singapore by 1999. He claimed to have achieved that goal in the year 2000, delayed by the Asian Financial Crisis. Apparently, he was just talking about GDP growth. But some time after 1984, HDB flats brought a Swiss feature to us too: bomb shelters. Even today, the Swiss still braced for nuclear war.

There are a few other things Singapore and Switzerland shares. Like Singapore, Switzerland has four official langauges: German, French, Italian and Romansch. Also like Singapore, Switzerland has compulsory full time military service for the men, followed by many years of reserve training.

At about age 20, every Swiss male goes through 118 consecutive days of recruit training in the Rekrutenschule.

Even before required training begins, young men and women may take optional courses with the Swiss army's M57 assault rifle. They keep that gun at home for three months and receive six half-day training sessions.

From age 21 to 32, a Swiss man serves as a "frontline" troop in the Auszug, and devotes three weeks a year (in eight of the 12 years) to continued training. From age 33 to 42, he serves in the Landwehr; every few years, he reports for two-week training periods. Finally, from ages 43, to 50, he serves in the Landsturm; in this period, he only spends 13 days total in "home guard courses".

Over a soldier's career he also spends scattered days on mandatory equipment inspections and required target practice. Thus, in a 30-year mandatory military career, a Swiss man only spends about one year in direct military service. Following discharge from the regular army, men serve on reserve status until age 50 (55 for officers).

Members of the armed forces keep their rifles and uniforms in their homes for immediate mobilisation, as well as 50 rounds of ammunition in a sealed tin, to be used for self defence while traveling to the mobilisation points. Additional ammunition is kept at military bases where the militia are supposed to report. Swiss military doctrines are arranged in ways that make this organisation very effective and rapid. Switzerland claims to be able to mobilise the entire population for warfare within 12 hours.

During World War I, both France and Germany considered invading Switzerland to attack each other's flank. In World War II, Hitler wanted the Swiss gold reserves and needed free communications and transit through Switzerland to supply Axis forces in the Mediterranean. But when military planners looked at Switzerland's well-armed citizenry, mountainous terrain, and civil defence fortifications, Switzerland lost its appeal as an invasion target. While two World Wars raged, Switzerland enjoyed a secure peace.

Can a Singaporean dare to dream that one day, the Singapore's national service can catch up with the Swiss?


1. The Swiss and their Guns By David B. Kopel and Stephen D'Andrilli

2. Wikipedia

Monday, May 14, 2007

Finally, ST publishes one letter against the Iraq occupation

After five letters written by men who bury their heads in the sand and chant Bush lies from four years ago endlessly, ST finally publishes a letter written by someone who is actually following the news from Iraq.

America defending the 'free world'? Think again

I REFER to the recent letters on the illegal occupation of Iraq by American and British troops.

Readers have referred to the Sept 11, 2001, tragedy as justification for the war, and congratulated America for protecting the rest of the world from 'terrorist-infested nations'.

But al-Qaeda had little or no presence in Iraq prior to the occupation, while now they flourish there checked only by violence by other factions.

The Bush administration fabricated links between religious extremists al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's fiercely secular regime when no less than bin Laden described Saddam as a 'bad Muslim'.

What about claims of intervention on humanitarian grounds?

With 600,000 civilians dead and counting, the destruction of the infrastructure of much of the country and the widespread flight of medical personnel, this adventure was not a great success.

The consequent suffering and the horror of Abu Ghraib have recruited more terrorists to the cause than any extremist propanda video ever could.

And this does not result from unexpected events after the fact - the Bush administration must have known, unless colossaly incompetent, that Iraq would be unmanageable without substantially more planning and spending than it undertook.

Former president George H.W. Bush wrote as recently as 1998: 'To occupy Iraq would instantly shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day hero... assigning young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched dictator and condemning them to fight in what would be an un-winnable urban guerilla war. It could only plunge that part of the world into even greater instability.'

The Bush administration hinged its case for war on the existence of weapons of mass destruction. This was false, as UN inspectors closer to the situation in Iraq repeatedly warned.

Since, the Lincoln Group has been paid by the American military to circulate US-friendly news stories in ostensibly independent Iraqi newspapers.

America tortures Guantanamo Bay detainees with stress positions and prolonged isolation, driving many to mental illness and several to suicide.

The American media invents fantasies about heroics by US soliders that those soliders, such as Jessica Lynch, themselves repudiate.

Having orchestrated this circus, the US government readies itself to leave Iraq only after passing Bills requiring the opening of the country's oil fields to foreign exploitation.

In the face of this transparently dishonest grab for wealth, it beggars belief that anyone can write of America defending the 'free world'.

Jolene Tan Siyu (Ms)

London, United Kingdom

Something lighter: Canon is everywhere in pop music

Side splitting funny for a music illiterate like me. Probably funnier if you know classical music.

found via

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Time to end military training in Taiwan and Thailand

My condolences to the family of the national servicemen who were killed or injured in Taiwan. I think it is about time we should ask ourselves: Why are our troops in Taiwan?

I do not fear an imminent military Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Both governments, are too concerned with chasing money to cross swords. What is going on now instead, is a war of words, and a war of language. China does not like to see any official language for Taipei that suggests their sovereignty, but that is precisely what the Taiwanese wants, and is pushing towards that incrementally. Already, Singapore was played like a pawn during Lee Hsien Loong's visit shortly before he became the PM. And even though the PM may be the most eloquent politician in the world, as shown by his world number one salary, he managed to offend both sides of Taiwan Straits, by first seemingly supportive of Taiwan, and then seemingly berating Taiwan, leading to the "peesai/lampa" comment.

When the British troops announced their intention to leave the then newly independent Singapore, nobody was willingly to help Singapore with our national defence. Nobody except equally pariah states like Israel, and later Taiwan. This is something we ought to remember. But just as Israel does not expect Singapore to send troops to defend them, neither does Taiwan need Singaporean troops. To continue our military presence in Taiwan makes our relationship with China, difficult. In times of war, will the Singaporean troops help the Taiwanese? It is a rhetorical question, and if we were pressed for an answer, we will offend someone. Let's end this diplomatic timebomb sooner, rather than later.

If we cut out the Taiwanese training, I believe we can cut back NS by at least 3 months. Will this compromise our operational readiness? Not at all! Who in the world needs two full years to train footsoldiers? Are Singaporean footsoldiers especially slow learners? The Swiss only train their conscripts for as little as 6 months. Anybody who claims that a shorter NS will compromise the training of our soldiers are really saying Singaporeans are a bunch of world class retards.

The same can be said about Thailand. Singapore going to war with Taiwan is a laughable prospect. Singapore going to war with Thailand is not that far fetched. It is not hard to imagine the discomfort felt by the Thai generals over Singaporeans getting too familiar with their terrain. And given our relationship is totally soured, keeping a military presence is like playing with fire while doused in kerosene. Shut the base down. End the troop training. Cut back on the length of NS. Cut both Taiwan and Thailand, and we can shorten NS to just 1.5 years. The men can start university just one year later than the women and foreigners!

Then, MINDEF may have some extra pocket change out of that 10.6 Billion budget to support the lives destroyed by NS.

More neocons in the ST Forum

Amazingly, the ST Forum editor knows no shame, and publishes another two letters supporting American presence in Iraq. I suppose the moneymen are just thinking about the increase in circulation they can get by stoking the controversy.

One of the writers, Tan Yip Meng wrote "Singapore is not alone in supporting the US. Countries like Japan, South Korea and Denmark know what the stakes are."

If he did some factchecking, he will realise the Japanese had left Iraq for quite a while already, the South Koreans should be all gone by now, and the Danish will leave by August 2007. The remaining non-anglo (US, British and Australian) troops are from almost all former communist countries eager to please the USA out of fear of their old Soviet master, with the exception of El Salvador. The complete list can be found here. More Canadians had died in Afghanistan than these nations put together, suggesting that they are kept far far away from any serious action and their presence is just to create the facade that this is not just a Coalition of Anglos.

Tan Yip Meng also thinks that Darfur is a larger humanitarian crisis compared to Iraq, which is wrong. I believe the estimated death toll in Darfur and Iraq are roughly the same.

But that is besides the point. The Iraqis may be oppressed under Saddam, but it was still a largely peaceful place, as long as you do not cross Saddam. One scandal of the abuse of Oil for Food funds was that, instead of food, the Iraqis used the money to order a liposuction machine. Can a nation this concerned with appearance be remotely interested with a doomsday assault on the West? Bush had NO CAUSE, even unjust ones to invade Iraq. Had Iraqi oil been successfully plundered, we wouldnt have to pay over 60 bucks a barrel. Even as a villian, Bush sucks.

Four years of being stuck in the Iraqi quagmire meant that the Anti-american elements of the world undergone rapid evolution of ideas on how to deal with American weaponry. You can see some of this knowhow deployed in Afghanistan already. Furthermore, the Americans are clearly losing. Not only is the death toll for American soldiers rising month by month, their ability to control even a tiny piece of Baghdad called the Green Zone is getting shakier everyday, which is why they need a "surge" in troops - not to extend their control, but to slow down the deterioration. Already, the Brits are forced to evacuate from their consulate in Basra. It is only a matter of time the US Embassy in Baghdad is forced to evacuate. The Americans can walk away, or be kicked out. It's only a matter of time. Worse yet, the whole world now knows that advanced American weaponry is nothing to be feared.

The other letter, written Christopher Gordon is even more stupid. He calls for Singapore to send more troops to Iraq, right when everybody else is cutting and running. Yah right.

Friday, May 11, 2007

More Colbert! Jane Fonda fondles a nervous Stephen Colbert

via reddit

Sad, pathetic neocons in the ST forum

I had a glance at today's ST Forum and no less than 3 letters were published supporting the US invasion of Iraq as a just response to 9/11, even though NO Iraqi, including Saddam, was ever remotely implicated in the plot after all these years. No WMD. Most Americans are not even buying the whole idea of "taking the fight to the terrorists in Iraq instead of letting them attack us in our backyard" mambo jambo, and yet there is at least three morons who still think so. Four years ago, I be angry. Now, I am just laughing at their silly need to be consistent with the pro-war stance they took four years ago. It's okay to admit you were misled, oh poor Prem Singh, Vincent Heng Meng Chye and Edmund Khoo Kim Hock. This video is for you three sad pathetic souls, and the stupid ST Editor who published your letters.

Found the video via essays and effluvia

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A third US aircraft carrier battle group will be in the Persian Gulf

The USS Nimitz battle group will soon be joining the USS John C Stennis and the USS Dwight D Eisenhower in the Persian Gulf. The latter is supposed to be replaced by the USS Nimitz, but the main battle operations of the Iraqi invasion only needed two aircraft carriers, and there had been two battle groups in the Persian Gulf for months. What does it mean if three aircraft carriers hang around in the Persian Gulf? A show of force? I rather not speculate.


Sunday, May 06, 2007

Short movie review: Spiderman 3


The current installment of Spiderman, I can quite safely say, is the worst movie of current Spiderman movie series directed by Sam Raimi. That says very little about the movie given the spectacularly high standards set by the previous two movies. Spiderman 3, while entertaining and not a bad way to spend two and a half hours, is bound to disappoint those who feel a coherent plot is important to a movie.

I get a feeling that the script was changed drastically midway through the filming, with the usual suspects being the meddling studio executives whose sole motivation is to ruin the movie by ensuring the movie appeal to as wide an audience as possible. There is an unnecessarily long segment of the movie that was redundant, and can be best described as a tribute to John Travolta's character in Saturday Night Fever. It is clearly a shameless attempt to pander to the Baby Boomers who grew up in the 70s.

But I also get the feeling that the director is deeply perturbed by the chain of events in America that was started by 9/11, and wanted to weave a message into the movie belatedly, and hence the contrived plot. You can tell from the movie posters this movie will be about Spidey fighting his "Dark Side" a la Star Wars. And like Superman 3, Spidey meets his match, his evil nemesis twin. But unlike the other two movies, one can still trust Sam Raimi to go beyond the skin deep and deliver a message about how indulging in anger and hatred may make one feel powerful, but we cannot harm our enemies without harming our loved ones, and worst of all, consumes and ultimately destroys, our soul. The enemies we choose to hate, may not be culpable for the hurt we thought they caused, or at least not in the way we imagined.

The director must have felt that delivering the message was very important and changed the plot. It is a shame the plot became rather unconvincing, if not downright illogical.

There is a scene where the reference to the colours of the "Star spangled banner" was very strongly felt, when Spidey re-emerges in his blue and red garb to save the world. As though fearing the audience will miss the moment, Spidey lands right in front of huge glowing flag of the USA, destroying all subtlety. The message is clear: blue and red is good, black is bad.

9/11 caused profound pain to people worldwide, but nobody feels it more deeply than the American people. It is not just the body count; like Spiderman, the USA has superpowers, and yet was so humiliatingly helpless in preventing this heinous crime, and may in fact, had enabled the "bad guys" by not doing what was right. It must be tempting to swing to the other extreme and "right" all wrongs by any means. From Guantanamo Bay to the wiretapping scandals, the angry America may be intimidatingly powerful, but it shatters the most cherished possession of the Americans: the American brand of freedom. America faces a terrible fight to exorcise the 9/11 demons. If America fails, who is going to fill the void of saving the world vacated by the superhero draped in blue and red?

A bit of trivia I confirmed from IMDB: apparently Kirsten Dunst is a natural blonde who had to dye her hair red to play the role of Mary Jane Watson, whilst Bryce Dallas Howard, who rocked as the blind girl in "The Village", has to dye her natural red hair blonde for her role. Guess the studio executives are afraid the audience having trouble telling the girls apart.