Sunday, May 28, 2006

Of Vice and Men

The news that Las Vegas Sands has won the bid for Singapore's first integrated resort at Marina Bay was big news in yesterday’s papers.

On page 2 of Today, the article was headlined, Sands: Of Mice and Men. I actually heard this news on Radio 938 Live the day before. For a moment, I thought I heard the newscaster, Michael Martin pronounce that Sands’ proposal will significantly strengthen Singapore’s position as a VICE destination. Of course what he actually said was MICE, or Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions.

In any case, I think the Today article should more appropriately be titled; Of Vice and Men. After all, what was it that prompted our government to embark on this project in the first place. If I am not mistaken, it was because many Singaporeans are going to overseas casinos in places like Batam, Genting Highlands and Macao, as well as Cruise Ships that sailed to ‘nowhere’, to gamble away our hard-earned Singapore wealth. In line with our government’s much-touted philosophy of being pragmatic, they decided that if we cannot stop them, we may as well join them.

Let’s face it. Do you honestly believe that it is Sands’ Mice facilities that will attract the tourist dollars to Singapore? Do you honestly believe that the so-called ‘gaming component’ will only be a small part of the integrated resort? If it was, then why is our government embarking on so many preventive measures to help Singaporeans cope with the problem of gambling addiction.

Incidentally, I think that the term ‘problem gambler’ is an euphemism. The Hokkien term ‘kiao kwee’ or Cantonese term, ‘toe kwai’ (赌鬼 ) or ‘gambling devil’ is much more appropriate. From the many tragic stories that one hears of how gamblers have destroyed their own lives, as well as those of their family members, one can be excused for thinking that the compulsive gambler is indeed demon-possessed.

You know something. I just realized that our government is just as skillful as their Japanese counterpart in the word game. A casino is called an IR - integrated resort, and the letters ‘b’ and ‘l’ have been dropped from the word ‘gambling’. So now we say that we have an integrated resort with a ‘gaming component’.

In all fairness, I must also commend our government for taking a responsible approach to manage these vices. Instead of pretending these vices do not exist, why not try to ‘manage’ it. (I heard that one new MP wants to manage the negative internet – good luck to her). If horny Singapore old men are so tired after their hard day’s work that they must engage the services of skillful young masseuses in Batam, we might as well encourage them to go to Geylang instead where the ‘foreign talents’ are at least properly ‘managed’ and possibly NSRS- certified (National Skill Certification System, in case you don’t know). If Singaporeans are so fond of playing numbers games, then we might as well let them do it in our own front yard, where the ‘problematic’ ones can be monitored and counseled before they go home and throw their children down their HDB flats.

Most of all, I respect PM Lee Hsien Loong’s courage to take full responsibility for this decision and whatever consequences that come with it.

But I cannot help pondering where this slippery road will lead. How about illicit drugs? Or gay marriages? Or paedophilia? Do we want to be pragmatic about those too?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

An Act of Faith

Today I came across, in the Straits Times, one of the stupidest statements I ever read.

Of course it an act of faith. We are talking about a religious book here; not the Handbook of Fluid Mechanics. If you are looking for so-called ‘fairy tales’; the Bible is full of them. You don’t need to go to the New Testament. Right in the very first chapter of the very first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, you can find lots of such unbelievable statements. Here are some examples:

And God said, Let there be light, and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Genesis 2:7)

And if you go down a few more chapters, you find that Adam and his descendents all lived to several hundred years of age! Incredible!

And then of course there is the story of Noah’s Ark, the target of countless jokes; like this one.

Anyone who believes such crap must be crazy or stupid, or both. Every modern, intelligent, educated person knows that the universe came about from a Big Bang; and that man evolved from apes, which evolved from fish, which evolved from a single cell amoeba.

Now; coming back to this man Jesus. If he cannot even walk on water, how on earth can we expect him to raise us from our graves. Yes; that is what he claimed - that one day, he will return to this earth and resurrect all the dead who have put their trust in him. Well you either believe him by faith; or you can conclude like Mr McKellen, that he was a big con man or even a lunatic.

What is this thing called ‘faith’ anyway. Well the bible defines it this way in Hebrews 11:1:

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

A good example of a man with such ‘blind’ faith was Job who lived in the Old Testament times. This was what he said:

For I know that my redeemer liveth,
And that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
And though after my skin worms destroy this body,
Yet in my flesh shall I see God.
(Job 19: 25, 26)

Of course Mr McKellen is too intelligent to believe such ‘fiction’. He doesn’t believe in faith. He only believes in what is visible and scientifically proven and tested - like this account of how the Grand Canyon was formed.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, in a land far, far away ..... Wait a minute. That’s not correct. Only fairy tales begin that way. Let’s start again.

“Prior to about 35 million years ago the ancestral Colorado River flowed across a vast plain, along a course very similar to that of today.

When the Kaibab Plateau began to uplift approximately 35 million years ago the river was diverted to the southeast because it could not cross newly created barrier. The new course for the river now flowed out to the Gulf of Mexico instead of to the Pacific Ocean. The old course on west side of the Kaibab Plateau, the Hualapai Drainage System, continued to be a major drainage for the plateau itself and the regions west of it.

At some point around 12 million years ago, the river's course to the Gulf of Mexico became blocked and an enormous lake, know referred to as Lake Bidahochi, was formed as a result.

Meanwhile, on the western side of the Kaibab Plateau, a process known as "headwater erosion" began eating its way through the southern portion of the plateau. After millions of years this erosional process allowed the Hualapai system to break through the barrier created by the uplifted plateau and rejoin the ancestral Colorado.

Once the break-through was complete the ancestral Colorado River began to follow the new course becuase of its steeper and more desirable descent. The waters of Lake Bidahochi began to drain through the new course as well and the result is the gorge through which the Little Colorado River now flows. The combined flow of the Colorado River and the Little Colorado River west of their confluence continued to widen and deepen the course and created the Grand Canyon."

Please tell me, it is not an act of faith to believe all that.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Could This Happen To Me?

The Straits Times prints both a Life and a Home section everyday. But I think the real lessons in life are found in the Home section. It is here that you find many real stories of human folly and tragedy happening right here in our little country. Let’s take a few recent cases as examples.

The first case that comes to my mind is that of the elderly taxi driver who was engaged in a race with a young motor cyclist and deliberately swerved his taxi into the latter’s path, causing his death. The taxi driver paid dearly for his foolishness and rash act. When I read about this case, my first reaction was; “Now that’s a good example of a fool.” But when I thought deeper about it, I find myself asking; “Are you so sure it will not happen to you?” The frightening answer was No.

Then there is the ongoing case of the so-called Kallang Body Parts Murder which involved an illicit affair between a middle age supervisor and his young subordinate. A similar case happened just a few months ago. It involved another middle age man and his young colleague. Their semi-nude bodies were found in a parked car in a multi-storey car park not far from his home. Apparently they died from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by leakage in the car’s exhaust system. Both these cases involved happily married middle age men who professed to love their wives and children. I suspect there are many other cases that were not detected or reported. Again I find myself asking, “Why? Can it happen to me?”

I wonder what the man’s wife and children felt when they read this headline.

Why would a man, blessed with a happy marriage and a good job risk everything that matters in his life, and bring pain and misery to those he loved the most to indulge in this type of affair?

Is it for sex? Maybe. Nowadays we are bombarded by images of sex everywhere - from advertisements on our television screens, to readily available pornography on the internet, plus unsolicited emails on Viagra, penis enlargements and pornographic websites and even some popular blogs. Everybody seems to be so pre-occupied with sex these days. Do you remember the recent case of the despicable 64-year old man who went to great lengths to scheme and cheat a marriage agency into ‘releasing’ a young Vietnamese bride so that he can enjoy a few days of ‘free sex’ with a virgin?

Could it be ego? Just when you think you are already over the hill; with your hair getting thinner and waist getting thicker, a young attractive lady comes into your life and finds you attractive and showers you with attention. Gives a great boost to your ego and self-esteem doesn’t it?

Truth is, I don’t know. And what is the answer? How do we guard ourselves against such dangers at this stage of our lives? I am no expert on such matters; but still I would like to offer 2 suggestions?

One. Be vigilant. Learn the lessons from other people’s mistakes. Count your blessings daily. Think of the consequences, not just for yourself but those that you love.

Two. Fear God and keep His commandments (especially if you are a Christian). Remind yourself that God is watching you. There are many commandments in the Bible concerning how we are to lead our lives on this earth. Here are a few.

1) “Thou shalt not commit adultery”. (Exodus 20:14)

2) Take your marriage vows seriously. “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it: for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed.” (Ecclesiastes 5:4)

3) “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it”. (Ephesians 5:25)

We live in perilous times. It is unwise to think that we can overcome such evils around us with our own strength alone. We need divine help and protection.

Remember the Lord’s prayer: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

May God bless you, dear Reader.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

My Hero

Well, in a few hours we will know the results. But whether or not this man retains his seat in Potong Pasir, he remains my hero. Whilst he may not have the scholastic achievments of many of the PAP scholars, or the oratorical skills of Lee Kuan Yew, Sir Chiam See Tong has all the qualities of a hero.

Guts - We will always remember how he slew the goliath in Potong Pasir 22 years ago, and the many times he stood up in parliament, 1 against 80, including giants like Lee Kuan Yew, and stood his ground.

Fighting Spirit - We will always remember those times when everyone in parliament laughed at his verbal gaffes but he just plodded on, single-minded, and committed, and came out victorious, so that even his opponents conceded defeat and lauded him.

Endurance - We will always remember those images of him meeting his constituents in the humble environment of the HDB void deck, enduring the discrimination, and moving around in his humble Volkswagen; but as always, he stayed focussed on fulfiling the promises he made to his voters.

We should also remember the brave residents of Potong Pasir who endured 2 decades of neglect and stayed loyal to their elected member of parliament. If they finally succumb to the onslaught of the mighty PAP machinery, the rest of Singapore understands. But if you persevere for one more term, we salute you.