Friday, November 30, 2012

Fifth cockroach this year

Destroyed the fifth and I hope the last cockroach of 2012 tonight. The kids spotted it scurrying across the floor when we returned from dinner.

In 2011 there were only three such incidents. I hope I am not seeing a rising trend!

The sacrifice of the four PRC bus drivers

Many responses but Nicholas Chin post attracted 35 likes. I agree with him.

  • Nicholas Chin I really don't understand how people can criticise what these Chinese nationals did. Do you realise that one day it could be you receiving the short end of the stick? What will you do when despite your hard work, the company only wants to exploit you, the goverment tells you 'tough luck' and quitting is not an option?
    13 hours ago via mobile · Unlike · 35

As long as the job market is very tight employers are afraid to treat workers badly. Since we opened our labour markets we created a situation where the job could remain tight but also employers perversely could treat their employees badly and get away with it. Therefore laws that give management the advantage, de-fang the unions who go on pretending they have so much influence do not work. Well the Chinese started striking first because they couldn't take it any more. If not for them locals will eventually do the same when their work conditions become more severe.

The four might have broken our laws but the Chinese will see our law as unjust. Legal but unjust. Bear this in mind.

I think we have many unjust laws which most of  us have learned to live around to the point we no longer become conscious of them because they are so ingrained. Time will tell that this is a very bad idea. The sooner we rethink and adjust the better. Basically Singapore tried to pour new wine into old wine skins and it burst.

I must add this too. SMRT  is a horribly run company. Because of their incompetence, the whole nation reputation suffered. I am amazed their LG Desmond Kuek chief failed to grasp the gravity of the situation and rushed back from overseas leave and show leadership. I think the board and its chairman do not even know how to select the right person to run the company. They look so bad against SBS and I think the entire board have to be replaced.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New Bluetooth Earpiece

The Bluetooth ear piece I bought on November 8 from eBay has arrived from China. Cost me only US$ 3.78. Now conditioning its battery. Will know soon how good it is.

Update: 10:15pm

This little thingy works and even better than my old one which cost ten times more. Faster to turn on and the flashing blue LED tells you it is turned on.

Muddy Waters vs Olam

Only just got the chance to read the ST today and found this on page B19. Earlier this morning around 9 am I responded to someone who sent me this, "(BN) Olam Nears Distress as Muddy Waters Takes Aim: Corporate Finance"

"If the type of accusations Muddy Waters had made against Olam were untrue, within a few hours Olam should be able to shoot several holes into into the report. We should be able to see a brief response followed by a more thorough one later debunking Muddy Waters. It hasn't happened. Olam to me is toast."

You don't have days! I am underwhelmed by our fund managers. You better up your game. Just as well I don't buy their funds.

Around 1 pm Olam's made available their rebuttal on their website. I only read the first 15 pages of Muddy Waters report but scanned through more than half of Olam's rebuttal paying special attention to their solvency and capex.

As I am not a full time investor, I would avoid them. Something tells me that Muddy Waters had caught them too soon. Come back a couple of years or more later you might find a crime. Too early, too soon Muddy.

In the short term Olam is not going belly up. Bond holders with near term maturities are safe.

Olam Nears Distress as Muddy Waters Takes Aim: Corporate Finance
2012-11-27 22:40:12.976 GMT

     (For more credit market news, click on TOP CM.)

By Shruti Date Singh and Sridhar Natarajan
     Nov. 28 (Bloomberg) --- Bonds of Olam International Ltd.
are approaching levels considered “distressed” after research
firm Muddy Waters LLC likened the world’s second-largest rice
trader to Enron Corp. and said it’s likely to fail.
     Olam’s unrated $500 million of 5.75 percent, five-year
notes issued at par in September have tumbled to 86.5 cents on
the dollar to yield 9.3 percent, according to prices compiled by
Bloomberg. Yields on speculative-grade bonds worldwide have
contracted 0.2 percentage point in the same period, Bank of
America Merrill Lynch index data show.
     Muddy Waters, founded by short seller Carson Block, rated
Singapore-based Olam a strong sell in a 133-page report
published yesterday. The research firm says Olam uses non-cash
accounting gains to boost its earnings, has been “burning cash”
and will need to raise or refinance as much as S$4.6 billion
($3.8 billion) of debt over the next year to remain solvent.
     “There is just a lot of uncertainty around the name and I
think right now simply nobody knows whether Olam or Muddy Waters
is right,” Markus Bossard, a money manager at Mirante Fund
Management SA, said in a phone interview from Zurich. The firm
oversees about $440 million in its funds, including Olam’s debt.
     Bonds yielding 10 percentage points or more over U.S.
benchmarks are considered distressed; five-year Treasuries yield
0.66 percent.

                       Conference Comments

     The yield on Olam’s bonds are closer to the 11.2 percent
average for debt rated CCC than the 6.36 percent for securities
graded one tier higher at B, according to Bank of America
Merrill Lynch indexes.
     Average yields on junk-rated notes, ranked below Baa3 by
Moody’s Investors Service and lower than BBB- at Standard &
Poor’s, are 7.04 percent, after reaching an all-time low of 6.84
percent on Oct. 18, according to the Bank of America Merrill
Lynch U.S. High Yield Master II index.
     With borrowing costs on speculative-grade debt hovering at
about record lows, the number of companies in the Bank of
America Merrill Lynch U.S. High Yield Distressed Index has
declined to 237 from 1,475 at the height of the credit crisis
four years ago.
     Block first publicly questioned Olam’s accounting methods
on Nov. 19. He told an investment conference in London that he’d
“shorted” the company’s stock, seeking to profit by selling
borrowed shares now and buying them back later at a lower price.
The 5.75 percent notes dropped 7.2 cents to 89.8 cents on the
dollar on Nov. 20, Bloomberg prices show.

                          Olam Lawsuit

     Muddy Waters published a statement on its website about
Olam on Nov. 20. Block’s remarks were malicious falsehoods, Olam
said in a lawsuit filed in the Singapore High Court on Nov. 21.
     Briony Mathieson, an Olam spokeswoman, declined to comment
on the company’s bond performance and said the company is
reviewing the Muddy Waters report. Olam said in a statement
yesterday that after an initial read, the reports’ allegations
have no substance.
     The shares dropped 9.8 percent to $1.19 in over-the-counter
trading in New York yesterday. They have declined 10 percent in
Singapore since Block first talked about his short position.
     Olam supplies 21 products from cocoa to rubber from 65
countries to 12,300 customers. It’s one of the world’s top six
cotton traders. Singapore’s state-investment company Temasek
Holdings Pte. is Olam’s second-largest shareholder with a 16
percent stake, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

                       Acquisition ‘Binge’

     The company runs the risk of failure because of an
acquisition and capital expenditure “binge,” Muddy Waters said
in its report. Most of the deals the firm said it researched are
“low-quality assets that appear to bring little more than
cosmetic benefits to Olam,” according to the report.
     “It is instructive to view Olam through the lens of failed
U.S. trader Enron,” Muddy Waters said in the report. “There
are a number of material similarities in the way their
businesses developed, and their actions.”
     Enron, once the world’s largest energy trader, plunged into
bankruptcy in December 2001 following revelations it was using
off-balance-sheet vehicles to hide billions of dollars in losses
and inflate its share price.
     Olam spends on assets and records non-cash accounting gains
“with the possible result being -- as in Enron Corp.’s case --
the asset quality becomes less important than the potential to
recognize accounting gains,” Muddy Waters said in the report.

                         Operating Cash

     Non-cash accounting gains were 37.9 percent of profit after
tax from fiscal 2010 to 2012, according to the report.
     Of Olam’s S$1.1 billion cash position at the end of its
fiscal year on June 30, S$602.1 million appears to come from
Olam withdrawing margin from brokerage accounts, Muddy Waters
said. Olam “seems” to have had only three weeks’ operating
cash at the end of the period, Muddy Waters said.
     “The problem is it’s been burning cash the entire time
it’s been public, almost,” Block, the director of research for
Muddy Waters, said yesterday in an interview with Stephanie
Ruhle and Tom Keene on Bloomberg Television’s “Market Makers.”
     Muddy Waters said it estimates the present value of Olam’s
unsecured bonds at 14 to 33 cents on the dollar.
     Olam said in August it’s targeting annual profit after tax
of $1 billion by 2016, partly through acquisitions. Net income
in the year through June fell 14 percent to S$370.9 million.

                           Olam Deals

     Chief Executive Officer Sunny Verghese said in a Nov. 26
interview that he stood by Olam’s debt-funded expansion and said
it’s not in the best interest of shareholders to abandon
spending plans. Olam’s net debt of S$6.4 billion at the end of
fiscal 2012 was more than double the level four years earlier.
     The company has announced acquisitions totaling at least $2
billion in the last five years, Bloomberg data show. Olam has
spent S$571 million less on acquisitions than announced while
S$996.2 million has gone towards unattributed, non-acquisition
capital expenditure, according to Muddy Waters.
     “Bondholders in particular should be asking where their
money goes,’ Muddy Waters said.

For Related News and Information:
Olam’s risk profile: OLAM SP Equity RSKC
Olam’s financial analysis: OLAM SP Equity FA1
Olam’s capital structure:: OLAM SP CAST
More corporate finance columns: NI CF

--With assistance from Michelle Yun in Hong Kong and Simon Casey
in New York. Editors: Simon Casey, Faris Khan


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Aisha Chaudhary: Singing in the lifeboat sent me this. It's so encouraging I am making space for it here.

Aisha Chaudhary: Singing in the lifeboat

Did the PRC drivers really went on strike?

This is our ST tactic of calling the industrial action by PRC bus drivers working for SMRT a strike without being responsible for saying so after inviting the ire of readers.

Strike is such a taboo word. Everyone is afraid of what it might invite to their careers and business if they would be brave enough to call this a strike. Even the foreign media was extremely careful. Netizens and bloggers couldn't care less. Just as in days of a bygone era, Chinese on the streets made fun of high ranking mandarins calling a spade a spade with ditties. Junior mandarins and the well connected kept a low profile and distance themselves. Emperors were protected only because you could lose your head for telling as it was.

That's life. Only the kid thought nothing wrong of telling the emperor he had no clothes! What ST had done is to give us a picture of what a nude person looks like and let us judge if we are seeing a naked fellow for ourselves.

Think of the first and one single word to describe what had happened.

Monday, November 26, 2012

New Portable DVD Player

Wifey got a new portable DVD player from Giant tonight ($199). Love it when prices of these stuff keep going down.

I just checked that we bought the one she was presently using about a year ago.

We will condition it for 8 hours over night and it will be good to go for her after work tomorrow. She has given the old one to the kids.

McDonalds Suntec Last Day

Was at the big M this evening and saw that the Suntec City outlet is closing this very night.

Good bye! No special memories for this outlet. It's the former one at East Coast Park that was special to many of us.

Update: the next day

SMRT PRC bus captains go on strike

The first very public workers' strike in Singapore since I was born! The MSM refused to call it a strike. Shameful and in denial. Do you think we are stupid?

I bet the PM is watching this closely and demanding more info.

Singaporean workers are too afraid to take such action. Malaysians are close enough to us to behave like us. The Chinese are where else but trained in China - gutsy and organize themselves for such action pretty effectively.

Businesses, if you hire foreigners at low prices you must understand that there is no free lunch. You get what you pay for. For a while you could get a bargain and other times you are worse off but this isn't the currency markets, eventually you get what you pay for. SMRT just did.

In the larger vein, when you open up Singapore to all and sundry from outside, you lose your identity. Since we have no KPIs for identity, we sold it for a song. Bureaucrats and politicians do not manage what they don't measure. Similarly for a long time and still true in many developing countries, businesses do not pay for polluting the environment.

Are we an emotionless society?

I read in our papers the locals aren't happy with the Gallup poll on our emotional ambivalence. I didn't know CNN thought it amusing to report it this way. My take? The locals confuse relatives with absolutes. We aren't emotionless but we are much less so than most other societies. Just like a sun spot is actually extremely bright except that its surrounding is even brighter.

So should we show more emotion? Forget it. What we should have is more passion and find more meaning in our work then the emotion bit will take care of itself. When we were poor, we naturally wanted to be rich and not be hungry. But once we have achieved that we don't know what is the next goal to shoot for except to become richer. We found it less satisfying or in economic terms we are on the curve of diminishing returns. The man in the street don't care that much that we have the highest density of millionaires here except what it had done to real estate prices and cost of living. He or she is quite emotional about such matters.

Singapore need a goal where the whole society can cohere to or we risk becoming more than just the blue and red the PM had warned us about recently. I don't know what that goal is when what I mostly notice is diversity and people pulling in different directions. We better understand intimately our trade-offs. There will be losers and winners when it used to be mostly winners. Is the middle ground shrinking? Without a large middle ground the PAP cannot successfully win enough votes to form the government. LHL will never face this problem but his successor might not be so lucky. The younger leaders must always ask if their seniors will leave them a country that is impossible to run when they take over. The present top leaders must wonder the trade offs they must make between the benefits to be got now which will make future challenges harder to overcome. The government must always consider if they are getting less than what they are putting in to get the results we want. That's the early sign of paradigm exhaustion.

Too much bee hoon

Wifey asked me to record this in my blog. Use only one packet of bee hoon the next time we cook this. We don't often prepare this for dinner and regularly get the quantity wrong. There is now enough left over in the fridge for another meal including inviting our neighbor to join us.

This blog is serving its purpose well! I still laugh to myself when I come back to check how long I must boil an egg to get it just right for my daughter.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Brain Aneurysm: Coiling Failed

Caught my sis posting this on her facebook yesterday and so I messaged her.

Not good.

The surgeon who had operated on my mom was on it.

Tried to get an update and hoping for better news today, but received the worst possible news instead.

Update: Nov 28.

I didn't expect to see this in the Obituaries. Just as well they need to let her friends know. My condolences to her family and fiance.

PM: 'We listen, but we have to lead'

The PM pointed out that we cannot be like the Americans who are divided into blue and red states. Singapore must have only one colour and why. My question is progress is turning us into multiple colours. Also the US isn't just two colours. They are a kaleidoscope of colours but mostly only two are offered to choose to make the government. That is why they struggle with poor voters' turnout.

One colour white for Singapore is wishful. Looks good on paper but impossible unless we remain static and not progress. Early Singapore was like a bunch of stem cells all alike. Over time these cells must differentiate. The challenge is to get them to work together. Back to colours, we have no choice but get many colours to bind together to make something beautiful. There is one big problem though. Nobody has learned how to achieve this. I have read this over and over again over the years but it will not happen until this world has become irrelevant.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female,for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:26-29

This is not even happening in churches. I am sure you can find equivalent wisdom in Islam and the other religions but the mosques and temples are as divided as the churches.

Jesus tried it and turned the conventions of his day on its head. The result is that they crucified him. You can try, but you have a great likelihood of ending up like him. Abraham Lincoln died for it. Gandhi was assasinated and so was Martin Luther King. And there are many more before. Nero and the other Roman emperors killed a great many of them.

Islam offered a political solution in one colour. They had brief success a few hundred years ago. Nobody seems to know how to replicate that. If anything the various factions are more adept at disagreeing and blaming each other. Now they are even killing each other as the Christians once had when Constantine converted.

So history tells us that to go under one colour this government will have to whip us and rule by fear but this would also be short lived and stupid. In ancient times they had no real economic growth. This government is left with only one option. They must rule by results funded by good economic growth but the passing mark keep going up until no leaders can reach. What then? Nobody wants to think about it. They recognize that's unthinkable.

Update: 5:50pm

Razor TV
Part 1 of 2
Part 2 of 2

Saturday, November 24, 2012

PSLE: Tution centres are mum too

The MOE is getting its wishes fulfilled. Every school and tuition centre knows that it is best for them not to subvert MOE desire not to have the names of the top PSLE scorers known publicly.

I am wondering if the beginning of an outline of a plan is becoming visible.

After I had agreed with Sandra Davie  in an earlier post, a facebook note by Heng Swee Keat clarified that it was not exam pressure MOE was targeting but a component of a larger effort to steer the over emphasis on academic achievements at the expense of other facets of schooling.

So SPH reporters and MediaCorp radio missed it and we were all led away from the path we ought to go down. Instead the media had mistakenly linked school pressure with publicity of top scorers. I expect them to be more astute than writers to the Forum. At least in public the minister was very kind and did not give them a  public dressing down but given the zeitgeist that would be unwise. Warren Fernandez, you failed as the goalie here.

With top scorers booted out of the commanding heights of what schooling is about, space is created for us to  fill it with something else. Already we have some idea what they might be. I welcome that. You reshape education you shape the society for the future.

Sometimes it is best not to explain (not always possible) what you are trying to do. It is best to just go and do it. People will catch it when they see, hear and even smell it. If they could only listen and see powerpoints, they might not get it. I repeat, the media had dropped the ball on this one.

What Jersey Boys?

We were about finishing lunch when wifey showed me this. She says she wants to go but I replied she better go ahead without me. I am not willing to fork out at least $55 (not pricey actually when I consider what my sis and kids of friends are paying to attend concerts and  band events).

Except by name, I actually know the Jersey Boys! Nice familiar songs, splendid performance which reminds me of some of my school mates performing in JC - of course not as equals but quite enjoyable too. That's a long time ago. But they also reminded me of men wearing their under pants far to tightly. Of course I am not serious. It is a lame response from my classmates and I who can't for the life of us sing.

Google Mighty Reach

I just finished putting up the post on Lincoln and testing it. After the trailer played, Google suggested that I watch the Star Trek 2013 teaser trailer! I just mentioned the last Star Trek movie minutes ago. How quick can you get? No wonder even as traffic to be web estates are falling no thanks to YouTube, the receipt from my Adsense account inexplicably is turning north. Google is quite amazing isn't it?

Here is the Star Trek 2013 clip Google recommended

Upate: I have this feeling that was too quick on the draw. Google cannot be so clever so quickly. So I came back to my computer and run some tests. True enough it was just happenstance that the Lincoln trailer will end with a recommendation to view the Star Trek teaser. Well, I am not complaining that Adsense for me is doing better.

Waiting for the Lincoln movie

I haven't been to the theatres since we caught Star Trek for the second time (the first was in Dubai) back home.

I am going to see this movie when it comes and will pick up the DVD when it arrives. Thank you Steven Spielberg for doing this one. Like so many people I am most inspired by this man but I first came across him in primary school and not in English mind you but Chinese. He was featured as an honest boy in my CL text book. When I was doing NS, I found a book about him at Kinokuniya and was amazed by his wisdom, sense of duty and love. I thought he was rewriting parts of the Bible to tell the people what it meant for the time he lived and served and he wasn't even a Christian. So that's how to get real as a believer. Not the usual impractical messages from professional Christians bullying us from the pulpit. I thank God that the best preachers write good books and I was able to find them.

For the sake of our democracy, I hope many impractical idealists here go and watch this movie when it comes. They will find that this government which I often severely criticize isn't bad at all. Just imperfect as anything in this world.

All of 8 years old and great painting

Screen captured this on my iPad yesterday morning but forgot to retrieve it from Dropbox and post it here.

I like her drawing very much and she is only 8 year old. Can't help noticing that there are so many painting and music prodigies in our midst isn't it?

Friday, November 23, 2012

2nd Mini Steamboat

Mini Steamboat! We were one of their earliest customers back in the early 90s. They were always in the basement of Parkway Parade but have temporarily moved upstairs to where Banquet Food Court is. They told us that they are looking for a shop unit. They do not wish to return to the renovated food court downstairs which  is turning into a Food Republic. I never liked Food Republic.

Sri Nada

Spotted Sri Nada at Parkway Parade today. They used to occupy a unit one or two floors below and I often went to them to get a hair cut. That's probably twenty years ago!

I saw the barber who used to work on my hair. He is much older and was holding the newspapers in his hand. He had his reading glasses too. How time flies. I have been going to EC House for many years now. It's a lot more convenient.

Two PSLE results stories

I never bother to record the top PSLE pupil in this blog but today I wanted to do so with two. May be a few years from now there will be some updates in the media about them.

Very happy for Sherman and his family. Very difficult combination of ADHD and Asperger's Syndrome. I think he got 272 and hopes to gain a place at NUS High.

Jaren lost his father to cancer. Mom operates a stall in the market which he has to help out. He scored 232 and hopes to go to Anglican High. If I am not wrong the cut off for that school is somewhat higher. If his T-score isn't good enough, I hope the principal would consider giving him a place.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving even if we don't celebrate it here in Singapore. We were fortunate to spend Thanksgiving in Monterey last year. I had always wanted to be able to do that at least once in America. Now I am game for doing it again....I look forward to my friend sending me Thanksgiving photos from Indiana.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Not naming top pupils, what a gimmick

Not naming top students in national exams? What a gimmick. It doesn't go to the heart of the issue. Sandra Davie is completely right. In the end we will learn the hard way that we are trading paltry gains for much bigger losses. Academic standards might fall because we put in less effort and in return what do we get?

Families and students have the right to choose the level of stress they want to work under. It is inane to dumb down everyone. In our family we never care who the top students are. We decide our goals we want to shoot for and go for it.

Eventually these kids will realize that they aren't just competing with their classmates, schoolmates or across the nation. They will have to compete globally especially when this government is so fond of bringing them home to our shores.

The decision not to publish the top scorers smacks of a knee jerk reaction because too many people complain. There is no hint how this is a small even if very visible component of a larger plan.

My idea of a larger plan would be educating our kids to do well in the usual languages, math and science but they may not best every other nation like we are doing now. We cannot hope to compete successfully in global games e.g., Olympics, World Chess, Science Nobels etc., but we could define our own niches e.g., instead of just doing well academically we teach our kids to ask good questions, to integrate knowledge which China and India are not. It is foolish to compete head to head against these large countries, which is what international league tables are about.

Update: Nov 22nd.

93.8 discussed this issue this morning in their morning talk show. Looks like Yays and Nays are split down the middle.

Just spotted this from Heng Swee Keat on my facebook. His reasons are sound but I am not sure about how he is going about it. I am afraid MOE doesn't have a good grasp on how to achieve the right balance because such a balance is dynamic and personal. You can't prescribe it.

by Heng Swee Keat on Thursday, 22 November 2012 at 08:27 ·
     Several people have asked if MOE stopped releasing top PSLE scorers to reduce stress or to de-emphasise academic achievements.   Well, the change is not to address stress per se or to move away from merit.  It is not possible, nor desirable, to eliminate stress completely.  Nor should we be shy about achievements.   There are broader considerations.
     I believe in the pursuit of excellence – in all areas of endeavour.    We must encourage our students to apply themselves and to persevere, so that they can reach their full potential in their chosen fields.  When they put in the effort, we should cheer them on. When they succeed, we should recognise and celebrate their success.  
     We now have more avenues to recognise success – the Edusave Scholarships and Edusave Merit Bursary for academic achievements, the expanded EAGLES award for CCA, leadership and community service, and Edusave Character Awards for exemplary character. Schools too provide various forms of recognition.   There are many sporting events, academic Olympiads and competitions in different fields, all of which are platforms to promote excellence.
     In education, it is useful to bear in mind two key points – our children need to develop at their own pace; and they need to develop as a whole person.    Pulling up the shoot to accelerate its growth or distorting growth in particular areas at the expense of holistic development will set the children back.   This is why we are putting the emphasis on a ‘student-centric, values-driven’ education.
     PSLE is an important exam – but it is not the be-all-and-end-all.   It marks the conclusion of one stage of the learning journey – and the road ahead is a long one.  As adults, all of us will have to learn continually throughout our lives.  It is not healthy to have such national focus at this stage of the journey.  Rather, we should encourage them to persevere, to pursue learning along appropriate pathways, and help them succeed in the next phase. What matters is that our children grow up to have a love for learning, and to be life-long learners.  It is a marathon, not a sprint. 
     I hope that whatever the results of your children, parents will support and encourage your children in their next phase of learning and growth.  Our children will be more likely to succeed if they grow up to be confident and resilient, able to bounce back from setbacks; and be inventive and adventurous, able and willing to try and create new things.  Let us celebrate their effort, continue to encourage excellence, and broaden our definitions of success. 

Surreal, the NBG trial

This trial which I hardly follow except for headlines and a few spot paragraphs is reaching new depths of idiocy especially from the prosecution. Trysts in the car can't be love? So all trysts in cars and there must be many were bribery or prostitution? This is just inane. Prosecution grasping at straws.

I feel sorry for NBG's wife and Cecilia Sue's husband. I can imagine Sue keep having to tell more truth to her husband which was too painful to admit earlier. It must be very trust destroying.

Here's Sue's challenge and problem which the book "Brain Rules" can help us understand why she had been so inconsistent in her testimonies.

This idea that the brain might cheerily insert false information to make a coherent story underscores its admirable desire to create organization out of a bewildering and confusing world. The brain constantly receives new inputs and needs to store some of them in the same head already occupied by previous experiences. It makes sense of its world by trying to connect new information to previously encountered information, which means that new information routinely resculpts previously existing representations and sends the re-created whole back for new storage. What does this mean? Merely that present knowledge can bleed into past memories and become intertwined with them as if they were encountered together. Does that give you only an approximate view of reality? You bet it does. This tendency, by the way, can drive the criminal-justice system crazy.

Medina, John (2010-07-06). Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School (pp. 129-130). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

Sue was under exceptional pressure because telling the truth runs the risk of destroying her self identity, which unfortunately is founded on lies about her character. Now Sue wasn't exceptional, just unlucky. All humans are like that and that's why we need God's grace offered through Christ's sacrifice. We think we are good people? We can mostly get by through life thinking so but sometimes like Sue you are put in the spot.

Weeks before these court days, I had received an email from my ex boss about a conspiracy to bring NBG down. May be there is some truth to that. My confidence in the ability of the CPIB to do a good job is in doubt. It isn't shaken only because I hadn't read most of the reports of this case.

Lukewarm about Windows 8

Yawn Windows 8, yawn again.

Yesterday I found many new eBooks at NLB Overdrive. There were many new Windows 8 books too but none of them were checked out. I borrowed one on developing Windows 8 app.

This morning, I read on CNet the lukewarm reception Win 8 is getting. When it launched here a couple of weeks ago, there was no crowds or thunder.

Well Microsoft is a tenacious creature. They will keep at it. As a user the OS is becoming irrelevant. What's matter is the ecosystem. iOS is very easy to use although awkward at times e.g., support for Dropbox. Android is highly interoperable but with a steeper learning curve. The hard disc is increasingly moving to the Cloud. Computing is done on OS independent platforms.

So who cares about the OS. Microsoft is still telling us that they are more important than the customer. I wonder how long that can go on.

I didn't realize I was up so early this morning reading this: 4:42am it declares.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

San Francisco Fantasy

A San Francisco fantasy by Evgeny Lushpin.

There is just something about that city that keeps drawing us back there.

You don't see SF as it is but with imagination. I have another picture of SF in my mind that I like which is very is very different from this pic: as the HQ of the United Federation of Planets in Star Trek.

This is not something for Singapore to copy but understand what is missing. Passion. Living your dreams? You know how shallow that is?

Monday, November 19, 2012

One year ago in San Francisco

Walking in Gold Gate Park San Francisco a year ago with someone very special. She was my teacher who introduced me to Christ in secondary school. Wouldn't have known she has gone so far away without the Lord's help. My former schoolmate and I were trying to locate for her for sometime.

Wished I could spend more time with her but my time is not my own. Perhaps if we make a trip to Yosemite and the Redwood National Forest, I could plan this better and have more time with her then.

Looks like both of us have premature graying hair. Beyond this both of us aren't with a church too. At least we don't have a Christian vocabulary, that's so unreal. Took me so many years to get rid and replace that. I know I will eventually return to one once my task is complete but I didn't have the opportunity to ask her. She didn't seem eager to discuss these things and I didn't have the chance to work our conversation there.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cooling the HDB resale market

What Chua Mui Hoong in her article suggested are mainly tax and control measures. Such approach like the government cooling measures will always lag the market quite simply because they are reactive.

What is needed are forward looking measures which the government failed to think through when the Singapore grew from a regional city to a global-polis. Quietly they have forgotten to revisit policy assumptions which are no longer true. As a result our real estate begin to approach the levels of global cities.

Planners could take a page from the way good central bankers operate by leading instead of reacting to the market. You could begin by declaring what you like to see, which must be a band of outcomes and what you would not tolerate. The market would usually self regulate because it doesn't want to invite the stick coming down on them. The cost to policy makers are just deep thinking and words. How much cheaper and effective can it get?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Vincent Van-Gogh vs Consumer Christianity

The email address looked familiar but I can't place the sender. I would have avoided opening the attached pps if it weren't so.

I can't insert the pps here so I have found a close and even better one from YouTube. I was surprised there are so many versions of it. Van-Gogh was indeed popular.

What an encouragement from the Lord for me. I just recently had a bitter scolding from someone trying to inflict maximum pain and damage because I had the audacity to set the record straight with her after she suggested that I am losing my mind and should go see a counselor. A few years before she said the same but to see a doctor. I had ignored her then.

I am not surprised it had ended this way with us because I had been warned it will. I thought with Day 40 sent to her it's over but the Lord set me up for trouble again (see far below in red, the way of the Spirit). No one walks into the lion's den unless a power greater than the lions send you there!

I used a couple of hours today to extract the highlights I had made of "The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity" by Skye Jethani. Every chapter in that book begins with a quote by Vincent Van-Gogh. I didn't know that Van-Gogh was a Christian. I was taught in church long ago that since he had committed suicide he is going to hell. Now I think that's rubbish. Even CS Lewis Aslan would tell you to mind your own business here. There are so many dangerous preachers out there. Fortunately some of the best ones write excellent stuff.

Here goes the stuff I highlighted from the book when I read it before:

Christian researcher George Barna concludes, “American Christianity has largely failed since the middle of the twentieth century because Jesus’ modern-day disciples do not act like Jesus.”6

Jethani, Skye (2004-04-19). The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity (Kindle Locations 270-272). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.


Wanting to obey Christ but lacking his imagination, we reinterpret the mission of the church through the only framework comprehendible to us — the one we’ve inherited from our consumer culture.


The interior clamor explains why so many people find silence uncomfortable. As Nouwen explains, “One of our main problems is that in this chatty society, silence has become a very fearful thing. For most people, silence creates itchiness and nervousness.”2 As a result we’ve been conditioned to avoid silence at all costs lest we be confronted with our own inner chaos.


Like Job and his companions, our words about God are too often definitive, absolute, and proclaimed with an authority greater than their source. We have a certainty about God and his ways that leads us to replace the mystery of faith with manageable spiritual formulas.


The abundance of our definitive words about God shows that we don’t view him as a great mystery anymore, but as a sterile calculation without ambiguity or obscurity. And, not surprisingly, this definitive God usually conforms nicely to our personal desires and politics. The resurgence of the prosperity gospel movement is one sign of this.


What makes a consumer society possible is the belief that anything can be assigned an economic value and exchanged,


Modern people may express outrage at the horrors of the African slave trade or the Holocaust, but in truth the commodification of human beings that made those atrocities possible is more prevalent today than ever before. The reduction of even sacred things into commodities also explains why we exhibit so little reverence for God. In a consumer worldview he has no intrinsic value apart from his usefulness to us. He is a tool we employ, a force we control, and a resource we plunder. We ascribe value to him (the literal meaning of the word “worship”) based not on who he is, but on what he can do for us.


therapist? The god of Consumer Christianity does not inspire awe and wonder because he is nothing more than a commodity to be used for our personal satisfaction and self-achievement.


In a pre-industrial society a chair’s worth was found not only in its comfort and fashion but in the fact that Uncle Henry made it. The corn was valuable because you knew the people who planted, harvested, and prepared it. An old pair of shoes were repaired rather than replaced because your children played with the kids of the immigrant man who ran the shoe repair store in town. In the past, everything had a story, and the context of an item contributed to its value just as much, if not more, than one’s personal desire. Food, clothing, tools, and virtually everything else people used had a recognized and affirmed relationship to their world. As a result, peoples’ responsibility toward the goods they consumed went beyond their immediate usefulness. In the modern world, however, recognizing the context of the goods we use every day is increasingly difficult. This alienation is reinforced thousands of times whenever we go shopping. Pushing our cart down the aisle at the supermarket we are bombarded with colorful packages. These items are rarely packaged to convey the story of their creation or the human lives impacted by their production. Instead the packaging reinforces our consumer amnesia by appealing only to our desires. Marketing actively discourages shoppers from contemplating where items come from, nor do we want to. We simply want to buy them, use them, enjoy them, and discard them with no larger responsibility.


During his short tenure as a missionary in the Borinage region of Belgium, one villager recalled the lengths to which Vincent would go to experience God’s power: “On a very hot day a violent thunderstorm burst over our region. What did our friend do? He went out to stand in the open field to look at the great marvels of God, and so he came back wet to the skin.”14


Van Gogh’s generosity toward the miners extended to his personal affects as well. He arrived at the baker’s home one day with no shirt and no socks. He’d given them away. The baker’s mother asked, “Monsieur Vincent, why do you deprive yourself of all your clothes like this — you who are descended from such a noble family of Dutch pastors?” He answered, “I am a friend of the poor like Jesus was.”46


Vincent attempted to continue his ministry with the poor miners but, lacking financial and material support, it was not to be. His genuine attempt to love people as Christ commanded had been rejected by Christ’s own church. Vincent simply didn’t conform to external standards of acceptability. The rejection sent him spiraling downward and planted the seeds of his later disdain for the institutional church. Eventually his father came to retrieve him from Belgium, finding his son lying on straw in his tiny hut, physically sick and emaciated, surrounded by the black-faced miners he loved. Van Gogh’s experience as a missionary in Belgium may have been the inspiration behind his painting of the Good Samaritan. (See color insert,Image 4.) Although the focus of the composition is clearly the Samaritan lifting the victim onto his horse, in the distance one can make out the two previous travelers who passed by the man without showing compassion. Vincent is contrasting the Samaritan’s love with the others’ apathy. In Jesus’ telling of the story these characters were a priest and a Levite — two devout clergymen. They conformed to every external requirement of religious law. But their godly identities were façades to hide the absence of divine love in their hearts.


Though few pastors would say their church is attempting to be more entertaining than network television, the motivation behind his emphasis on experience is quite common. He believes orchestrated experiences are used by God to transform lives. He continues, “I have told people not to miss one single Sunday in December because our team has put together some stuff that we know God is going to use to impact thousands of lives.”6


These pastors, representative of so many contemporary Christians, believe that God changes lives through the commodification and consumption of experiences. If our worship gatherings are energetic, stimulating, and exciting enough then people will attend, receive what’s being communicated, and be spiritually transformed. The justification for this approach is simple — people won’t come to a church that’s boring. And what qualifies as boring is defined by our consumer/experience economy. But the moment we believe transformation occurs via external experiences, the emphasis of the ministry must adjust accordingly. Manufacturing experiences and meticulously controlling staged environments become the means for advancing Christ’s mission. And the role of the pastor, once imagined as a shepherd tending a flock, now conjures images of a circus ringmaster shouting, “Come one, come all, to the greatest show on earth!” In Consumer Christianity, the shepherd becomes a showman.


New Testament spirituality, properly understood, is immune to the forces of consumerism. An internal communion with God through the Spirit cannot be packaged, commodified, and marketed to religious consumers. It cannot be bundled, branded, or put on display to draw a crowd.


The gospel writers may have used this Greek literary device because it fit their own Hebrew worldview. “To a Hebrew, to remember meant to re-experience in the present the power and effect of a past event.”26 Remembrance was not merely an act of recollection, but an act of reliving. For the Hebrew mind this required more than logical faculties; it required the imagination. Consistent with this understanding, one pastor notes, “Information alone never leads to transformation. Rather, it is what we experience as real on the inside that transforms us. That is all about the use of the imagination.”27 Unfortunately, this ancient practice of imaginative prayer is all too rare among contemporary Christians. There may be at least two reasons. First, prayer in general isn’t a high value in most churches. George Barna reports that prayer is listed among top priorities by less than one in twenty-five churches.28 Although rhetoric about having “a personal relationship with God” is pervasive, actually teaching and modeling such communion with God is woefully absent in the contemporary church. Far more energy is poured into the Sunday morning experience than actually equipping people to internally experience God throughout their “common business.”


After his disillusionment with the institutional church following his missionary service, van Gogh came to see whatever glory existed in the church as reflected light. But in most cases, as his paintings reveal, he saw no light in the institutional church at all. The efforts of institutions to reflect God’s glory and disperse it to the masses were flawed. They diminished the beauty and power that was the essence of true religion. Instead, van Gogh celebrated the “Light uncreated” that he believed was accessible to all through prayer.


Traditional churches did struggle, but a new breed of Christian leaders began tinkering to see if rejuvenation was possible. In 1975, a young pastor named Bill Hybels began to wonder why so many of his contemporaries still professed faith but avoided going to church. With members of his youth group, the twenty-three-year-old Hybels began to knock on doors to survey residents in the Chicago area. They asked, “Do you actively attend a local church?” If the answer was no, they followed up with “Why not?” and recorded the reasons. What Hybels discovered was that churches must now compete in a culture of television, rock and roll, and in-your-face entertainment. The old utilitarian function of the church — gathering people and connecting them with God — simply wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Americans wanted church to be comfortable, entertaining, relevant, and nonthreatening.


Hybels, along with other up-and-coming pastors, had shown that people would still attend church in a post-Christian culture if it appealed to their perceived needs and desires.


Repositioning the church to be both the vehicle and the destination triggered explosive growth in the size of congregations.


Today, we still depend on a network for survival, but it is increasingly populated with corporations — disembodied persons with names, faces, and personalities imprinted through branding on our imaginations. Old Navy is our tailor, Blue Cross our doctor, Costco our grocer, and our minister? He is now a set of programs bundled together and organized into an institution we nostalgically call “the church.”


Throughout most of history Christian faith has been transmitted life to life. Disciple to disciple. But we no longer expect this to be the case. We can avoid the messy reality of human relationships because somewhere a curriculum has been published, a book has been written, a program has been created to meet our spiritual needs. Who needs a spiritual mother or father? We now have the institution to shepherd us in the faith.


Their intent to precisely follow God’s law was not motivated by love, but a desire to manipulate God and control outcomes. But Jesus says God isn’t like a gumball machine; he’s more like the wind: unpredictable, uncontrollable, no more containable than wind in a bottle. The wind blows where it wishes, and any attempt to define where it comes from and where it will go is futile. And those who are born of the Spirit will not rigorously focus on defining God’s ways to contain and control him, but will humbly submit to the Spirit’s unpredictability and happily be carried along on his breath. Nicodemus failed to understand this, Jesus said, because he had never experienced it. Like the Pharisees and the pagan priests of old, we also want to contain and control God. The 1995 bestseller Jesus CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom forVisionary Leadership, by Laurie Beth Jones, is a stark example of modern divination.


Our insistence on an institutional and programmatic faith is a savvy new form of divination. Invariably, churches that experience significant numerical growth will publish books outlining their methodology and create conferences so other leaders can reproduce such success in their own churches. The assumption is that with the right curriculum, the right principles, and the right programs God’s Spirit will act to produce the outcomes we desire.


This is what highly institutional Consumer Christianity fails to grasp. It seeks to construct programs to capture God’s power and produce predetermined outcomes, rather than surrender to the mysterious movement of God’s grace which, like the wind or fire, is beyond our control. And God’s Spirit does not empower programs or inhabit institutions. The Spirit fills people who were created in God’s image to be the vessels of his glory.


Vincent’s portraits of Augustine Roulin, along with the many other faces he painted in Arles, stand in bold contrast to his experience at the fine arts academy. He recognized that people were the vessels of God’s Spirit, and that love is something transmitted along the medium of relationship. For van Gogh the world of institutional art was a skeleton. It had the form and structure of a human being, but none of the flesh, breath, or feeling that makes someone truly alive. And while locked within the academy, an artist did not experience the full humanity of his calling. He did not relate to his subjects in their world and know them as whole people. They were merely objects of light and color to be replicated on a canvas. But Vincent lived and moved among his subjects. He entered their homes, drank with them at the café, and worked beside them in the fields. This explains why the colors in his paintings evoke such emotion. He wasn’t just painting the person in front of him; he was painting his relationship.


the data showed that the more spiritually mature people became, the more dissatisfied they were with the church. In fact, those recognized to be the most Christ-centered were the least enthusiastic about engaging church programs.


The research found that what impacted a person’s spiritual growth most were personal Bible reading, prayer and meditation, a meaningful relationship with a friend or mentor, and serving others.


Van Gogh’s art was transformed when it was set free from the academy and integrated with his life and relationships.


churches are in competition with one another for survival. They must convince a sustainable segment of the religious marketplace that their church is “relevant,” “comfortable,” or “exciting,” while at the same time creating a desire for church among a population that does not feel the need.


Whether by trials of circumstance or by disciplines of choice, we cannot escape our calling to suffer with Christ. We are invited to follow in the steps of the Suffering Servant, who indulged his deepest desire and pursued eternal joy by embracing the temporary pain of the cross. Although the forces of consumerism would have us remain forever in Neverland by running after every product promising to satisfy our desire and alleviate our suffering, the invitation of Christ is precisely the opposite. The gospel calls us to embrace the paradox of pain by taking up the cross, and under its heavy beam discover the object of our greatest desire — God himself.


It had not occurred to the Corinthians that their behavior was inappropriate. In Corinth the rich and poor did not share meals together. They did not sit as equals around the same table. This mentality was carried into the church to effectively create two churches — one fellowship for the rich and another for the poor. The Lord’s Supper, an event intended to display the unity of God’s people, was being used to reflect the divisions of the world.


Rather than challenging the social divisions of our culture, the church has capitulated to them. Rather than defending the radical imaginations of Jesus and his apostles, who called for unity that transcended the dividing walls of culture, ethnicity, and economics, the Consumer Church has enthusiastically defended the status quo.


In Consumer Christianity, our concern is not primarily whether people are transformed to reflect the countercultural values of God’s kingdom, but whether they are satisfied — often measured by attendance and giving.


Consumerism has focused us so fully on the individual, that we’ve lost the corporate and social dimension of the gospel. We have forgotten that part of what Christ accomplished through the cross was not only the reconciliation of individuals to God, but also the reconciliation of estranged people groups to one another.


The love of the world is always conditional. Every strata of our culture and every advertisement we encounter reminds us that our significance and acceptability is rooted in what we achieve, what we have, what we do, how we look, and how we perform.


These phrases all communicate the same thing to the buyer: surely millions of people can’tbe wrong. This message feeds into our broken, insecure human nature that longs for acceptability and being comfortably part of the crowd. As a result, in a consumer culture a product’s perceived value is directly proportional to the number of people it impacts. Popularity not only equals success, it also equals legitimacy.


Phil Vischer’s epiphany while scouring through the debris of his ministry was that the Christian life “wasn’t about impact; it was about obedience.”


I am still far from what I want to be, but with God’s help I shall succeed. I want to be bound to Christ with unbreakable bonds and to feel these bonds. Vincent van Gogh


And above all, I want a controllable god. I want a divine commodity to do my will on earth as well as in heaven.