Saturday 4 April 2020

COVID-19 in New Zealand - Lockdown Data Looks Promising

One week into the national lockdown to contain the Coronavirus pandemic and the people of New Zealand are coping reasonably well. Economically, there are a lot of questions and uncertainty on what kind of a climate we will see on the other side of this, but on the social front, not many people are feeling left out in the cold for the moment. Now that we as a nation have a basic understanding on what self-isolation on the national scale looks like, the biggest question is the timeframe that we can expect to be in this state of emergency. For now, we are looking at an initial 4 weeks but this is merely an estimate. The real litmus test will be in how the number of cases unfold over the next few weeks and if things look good, then we can be more optimistic about returning back to normal (or at least begin to head in that direction).

The numbers being reported by the Ministry of Health started off disjointed with some days revealing the data systematically and precisely while on other days, they come across as vague. The numbers have now become defined and we can expect the numbers reported to be stable. However, while The Spinoff has started to represent the data visually using charts and maps, there does not appear to be any source that is actually crunching the numbers that are being shared - which in itself can tell us a lot about how the situation is unfolding. The following analysis therefore draws exclusively from the figures revealed by the Ministry of Health on its Media Release section of its website, and the historical data has been mapped to generate the following graph.

The graph is a comprehensive overview of the total cases that have been reported and includes the total number of tests done and other breakdown such as how many active cases (i.e. confirmed but not yet recovered) there are on any given day. In the following sections, the important elements of this mapping are explained to provide an idea on how the lockdown - and life in Aotearoa, in general - may be impacted in the weeks and months ahead.

Active Cases
With the number of people recovering after their bout with COVID-19 steadily rising, the number of active cases of the disease - be it in isolation at home or warded at the hospital appears to be slowing down. This means that even as we report 950 confirmed+probable cases for the nation, the number of cases that we are currently worrying about as of today is 822 (the green line on the graph below). This is an important distinction to make as there is a difference between having thousands of reported cases with only a few hundred actually active (with the rest recovered) and having hundreds of reported cases that are all active. The number of active cases is the one that we do not want breaking the healthcare capacity and currently, we are in a healthy (no pun intended) position on this front since the number of hospitalised cases being continues to be a fraction of the active cases (1.2%) while the vast majority (98.8%) are being managed through self-isolation.

Ratio of Confirmed Cases to Tests
The initial approach adopted in New Zealand was to test only those whom we could confidently suspect of being likely a victim of COVID-19 while others presenting symptoms but not in urgent need of medical care were asked to self-isolate voluntarily. However, once the number of confirmed cases started to rise exponentially, so did the testing become more prevalent and cover more people having symptoms. Since there is the potential effect of having more cases simply because we are detecting more (i.e. the effect of wider reporting and not of actual spread of the disease), it is important to identify if the proportion of cases is consistent with the number of tests being conducted.

In that regard, we are seeing that the ratio has been gradually rising from 1.1% of the tests being positive for COVID-19 on 22 March to 2.9% being positive as of 04 April 2020. What we would want to see is for this ratio to be arcing down over time (i.e. sloping downwards) and for the moment it does appear to be easing out. With more and more tests being done while the rate of detection reduces, it is an encouraging sign that the spread of the disease is largely contained.

The Verdict?
The first month has been harrowing and there has been a good dose of anxiety on whether we can survive this comfortably, even as we are committed to fighting this adversary together as a nation. The early indication based on the first month of developments suggest that we are indeed handling things well. Namely, our detection rate is consistent (i.e. the more tests we do, the more cases we uncover in proportion) and the strain on healthcare infrastructure is low - at 1.2% of active cases being hospitalised, we could theoretically manage up to 388,000 active cases at any given point (based on the reported capacity of 4,660 hospitalised cases of COVID-19). Thus, as it stands, the numbers do not give any cause for concern and there is even enough evidence to be hopeful.

Note: As with any data set, the graph will become more indicative as we gather more data points and can even be potentially predictive for us to prepare for the future. This graph will be monitored daily and an updated version may be updated here at a later date. In the meanwhile, the original data set can be requested from the author via a message to gangasudhan [at]

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Framing the Concept of Privilege - The Privilege Level

Privilege continues to be a sore point for many - even among those who do not dispute that groups of people enjoy unearned advantages purely due to the circumstances of their birth. We now understand that Privilege can come in many forms and is contextually situated across several generations, but we seem to be at an intellectual place where debate revolves around "who's privilege is more pronounced". For instance, a white woman and a black man suffer discrimination on a daily basis in America, but generally, many would argue that the black man has it worse. But if the black man was an affluent Wall Street banker while the white woman was a struggling (low-paid) clerk among Wall Street bankers, then a different case can be made as to who is suffering more discrimination.

At the end of the day, we want to define Privilege in definitive terms that can be generalised, but the very nature of Privilege is that it cannot be exact - otherwise we would have been able to counter it by now. What we can do though, is to find a better way to describe the intensity of Privilege as it exists in today's world. Perhaps, then, we can spend less time arguing over who has it worse and focus more on how to check Privilege as it exists in that time and place.

Introducing the Privilege Level

I think we need to start with levels - Level as in "extent or depth" rather than "hierarchy" per se.

A Level 1 Privilege might be where an individual has had to worry about no consequences whatsoever from the moment of conception. We could characterise this as the stereotypical popular culture reference of a white male born into wealth, who has financial investments from two generations ago to last him till two generations after (i.e. more money than available time to spend it).

A Level 2 Privilege might be where an individual doesn't necessarily enjoy a life entirely devoid of worry or consequences but has little reason to worry. There is always the chance that the Privilege they enjoy might be taken away but it is only a remote possibility at best. This level of privilege could include those who have worked their way out of the discrimination either by chance (e.g. won the lottery) or by extraordinary effort (e.g. migrating to a country where the Privilege is in their favour). 

A Level 3 Privilege might be where an individual encounters clear disadvantages or discrimination in some parts of their life while being largely unaffected or unworried in other parts. Depending on their life's developments, the discrimination they face can lessen or worsen, or they can find themselves being exposed to new types of discrimination that they had not expected to experience (i.e. one of the unconscious Privileges they enjoyed has been taken away).

A Level 4 Privilege might be where an individual is born into discrimination and it would take extraordinary circumstances - most of it, beyond any personal effort alone could ever achieve - to prevent the lack of Privilege from subjugating the person. Essentially, this level denotes someone with practically no benefit of Privilege whatsoever in any part of their life.

These levels can account for the different variations (e.g. poor white woman versus rich black man) that exist in reality. For example, while we can point to an elite banker who is a white male and identify to a strong degree of accuracy that he is enjoying Level 1 Privilege, it becomes less clear when we are discussing a rich black man or a poor white woman. Either or both could be at Level 2 or Level 3 Privilege depending on the particular context.

What an understanding of these levels can help us achieve is to stop arguing about whose Privilege is more pronounced and focus on the impact of that Privilege. Many of us would fall into Level 2 or Level 3 or might be moving in and out of both. However, in most cases, the debate is polarised as though a person with Level 4 Privilege is facing off against one with Level 1 Privilege.

Applying the Privilege Level

It is clear that a Level 2 vs Level 3 Privilege debate would be less about absolutes and more about issues as compared to a Level 1 vs Level 4 debate. A good case would be how the Privilege discussion exists in Singapore. The minorities here are nowhere near what can be described as Level 4 Privilege, but clearly exist at Level 3 with many at Level 2. Likewise, the majority race are largely at Level 2 with a considerable number at Level 3. Looking at how Singapore has come to be over the last two centuries, very few can claim to be at Level 1 Privilege - perhaps some from the ruling elite and those from well-established businesses that are family-owned for generations.

However, when Singaporeans discuss Privilege, the majority group gets annoyed because they are nowhere near Level 1 Privilege, yet are being accused of being so. Meanwhile, the minority group gets annoyed because their Level 3 Privilege struggles are dismissed as an overstatement and they are deemed to be at Level 2 instead.

Level-Up the Privilege Discussion

What we need to do in order to meaningfully discuss Privilege in all its forms is to recognise that this dynamic is fluid in nature. These Privilege Levels perhaps help us to make this distinction. Hopefully, we can move away from the minority group having to portray themselves as Level 4 Privilege in order to get their point across and speaking to the majority group in terms of absolutes that paint the latter at Level 1 Privilege. Likewise, this framework of Privilege may help the majority group who are merely at Level 2 Privilege, to see how difficult it might be to fall into Level 3 Privilege.

I propose these Privilege Levels as just the start point and may not yet explain the full dynamics of how Privilege exists in societies at the micro and macro level. It might even need to be expanded on to offer a better reflection of reality. But, I am confident that this will take us in the right direction.

Sunday 19 March 2017

Creative Plagiarism by Daily Mail

A feel-good story came up on my newsfeed on Facebook today and it was rather compelling. It was the story about a homeless man in Spain who was given a makeover by a hairdresser in the neighbourhood that the man frequents.

This homeless man gets a dramatic makeover! ❤
Posted by Daily Mail on Saturday, 18 March 2017

A friend had shared the video and a comment in her thread was asking if the man had been helped more comprehensively than just a one-time makeover. My friend replied that he had in fact been helped back on his feet with housing and funding to carry him over for the next year or two. I wanted to verify it was true and clicked through the video's original post and read the comments.

The first comment that appeared under this video was by the Daily Mail itself that mentioned that "All credit goes to: and". Both these links are of the same video below.

As can be seen, the original video chronicles the entire story and includes the backstory of the man and of the social experiment. The Daily Mail could have just shared this video without having to recreate this as a shorter clip - in fact, the shorter clip takes away a lot of the context and information. The only benefit of rehashing the original appears to be so that it could be rebranded as a Daily Mail video. It also seems that it legally avoids being accused of outright theft of content by mentioning the original producers of the content in the top right portion of the video clip posted by the Daily Mail.

However, these mentions do nothing to inform the viewer that the entire content is actually produced by someone else, nor offers any indication of this. Interestingly, the crediting of the original video remains buried in the comments section when it would be more appropriate as part of the caption. This is because, when the video clip is shared - which it has been by 130,000 other people, no one can see this credit.

Now, imagine if someone were to rehash someone else's work like this for a school essay, and the student acknowledges in some nondescript corner of the paper that the work was done by someone else, would it be acceptable? Isn't it interesting that something that will only impact a handful of people (i.e. for a school essay) is treated with such severity and held to such high expectations while something that shapes the opinion and understanding of millions need not be subjected to similar high standards?

The problem though can be defined by two culprits. One, is the overemphasis of the media to capture eyeballs (and clicks) rather than actually adhering to any form of journalistic integrity. The other is the ambivalent people who do not bother to admonish such behaviour and attitude by the media. They are instead rewarding this bad behaviour with a lot of attention and interest, and so, just like the insolent child, the media will continue to dish out worse behaviour because it knows you will attend to it.

It is high time for the people to stop indulging the media and being enablers of the bad behaviour. As any good parenting advice will tell you, we need to take the hard actions that will correct bad behaviour. Otherwise, this child is just going to get more blatant with the bad behaviour until one day, we can't control it anymore.

Then again, perhaps, that day is already here.

Tuesday 5 April 2016

One Man's Marriage Proposal is Everyone's Joke

Recently, the following meme started circulating on social media that pokes fun at the inherent logic-impasse that exists between the atypical method used by the groom and the poetic representation on the card he is holding. Primarily focusing on the fact that using an oxygen tank is the exact contradiction to declaring "I can breathe without oxygen", the meme ridicules the apparent stupidity of the groom.

While it is harsh to call it stupid - in reality, the gesture is indeed quite novel and worthy of a marriage proposal, the irony of the statement he is holding to his situation of having to use underwater breathing equipment is just too good to leave un-ridiculed. Even I decided to capitalise on the momentum and highlight the need for people and business to invest in professional wordsmiths.

Interestingly though, this is the second iteration of a meme on this incident - an earlier version that plays on the same irony seems to have been circulated in 2014. One can only assume that the embarrassment of that news cycle sent the couple into hiding - the bride's Instagram account and Facebook profile appear to have been locked into privacy.

But running away and hiding is not the way forward - simply because 'comedy gold' like this will keep resurfacing. Instead, the strategy would be to 'own it' instead and laugh with the crowd rather than reinforce the fact that you've become the laughing stock.

Course of Action
For this case, my recommendation would be to turn the contradictory phrase "breathe without oxygen" as an inside joke or reference between the couple to refer to how the groom is able to stay underwater for long periods of time (albeit using underwater breathing equipment). Once the narrative is changed in such a way, the focus of the running joke is effectively voided and makes the irony less pronounced.

The next step would be to openly link this clarification to all instances of a related meme turning up so that whenever a web search is made, the results will invariably list that information as one of the results. The link to the new narrative can be in the form of a blogpost that can be updated with links to the different memes as they appear, or a Facebook or Twitter post referencing the latest meme and adding the context each time. In fact, turning the periodic web traffic that will occur to their advantage, the couple could use the strategy to draw attention to any business endeavour they might be involved in or simply discuss any particular advocacy they might be interested in.

In any case, the negative attention should be used to redefine a more robust - if not, positive - profile of themselves rather than the current state of proving the criticism by going underground. I've made attempts to touch base with the couple through the friend who first wrote about the proposal but unfortunately, I haven't heard back from them or the friend.

In today's digital highway, anything can go viral, and worse, even insignificant indiscretions can be repackaged to go viral. If you find yourself in such an enviable position, don't suffer in silence. Be empowered to control the situation to your advantage. Remember, while you can't control what the beast that is the internet will do, you can certainly exercise control on how badly this beast hurts you.

Reach out to me if you need help managing your social media presence.

Thursday 5 November 2015

Marginalisation of Tamil Culture: Do Something or STFU

In recent days, many in the Tamil community have had their panties in a bunch because some shopping centres and even Changi Airport have started putting up Christmas decor even though Deepavali is right around the corner - in other words, not a single F was given for this festive occasion. While there is good reason to feel marginalised by this callous attitude in multiracial Singapore that champions racial harmony - complete with a special day each year to wear 'costumes' and 'celebrate', I am surprised that anyone is surprised by this.

நான் இந்த விளையாட்டுக்கு வரவில்லை
As a second class citizen myself, I'm sure there are many Tamils who have grown accustomed to this and some of those would have even followed Halloween traditions more closely than their own cultural protocols. And I'm certain that the very people who now 'cry mother, cry father' on social media will tomorrow visit these same establishments "because they have the best deals", "because it is my _____'s birthday", "because it's just this one time", because... a thousand irrelevant reasons.

I am pretty confident too that close to 70% of those fuming at this (with 99% confidence in those venting online) don't have the passion and commitment to their culture to turn all this grumbling into real, concrete action. None of them will truly boycott these establishments to show their stand against being marginalised. In reality, these people are just making a mockery of the Indian culture and the Tamil community by being whiny little b**ches online - complain about marginalisation but 'ownself damage' the standing of the community through inaction and apathy.

வாயை மூடிகிட்டுச் சும்மா இருங்கடா
Many of these 'deeply aggrieved' Indians will no doubt conveniently overlook WHY the shopping centres and even Changi Airport didn't bother to recognise the festive holiday linked to one of the four official languages in Singapore. It's obvious that these people don't see the irony of now demanding tokenism be practised by commercial entities - which would just continue to trivialise the larger issues of importance. Once again, this subset of Singaporeans fights over the scraps instead of climbing up to the table to demand a share of the real deal.

As much as you would like to believe otherwise, the larger community is not going to understand what the furor is about because they haven't felt the pain of being scheduled for some unnecessary thing (that could have been done earlier or later) during their important festive period. Deadlines almost never fall on Chinese New Year eve and assignments are hardly made due on any of the first fifteen days.

அவனை நிறுத்தச் சொல், நான் நிறுத்துகிறேன்
The point is that if all those who now make so much noise had actually bothered to stand up during all these occasions (and I guarantee you every working Tamil in Singapore has suffered such an experience), we wouldn't have to embarrass ourselves with this petty behaviour. There is no point being indignant about a practical consequence, really. Nobody cares about your culture because YOU don't care about your culture. You are not willing to get your hands dirty to fight, so why are you now surprised that they couldn't be bothered about what you believe in?

So please, STFU and live with it quietly. Or... get up and do something about the indiscretions that happen everyday around you, at work, with your non-Indian friends, in your everyday lives. And if you start to think that this sounds quite inconvenient - well, that's precisely what a cultural struggle looks like, not your Facebook posts about the decor at Metro.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Burning Down the Columbarium - The Power of Citizen Journalism

Anyone in Singapore knows that the business-government relationship is stronger than any marriage can ever be, and it is seldom the case that the government backs down on big-ticket deals related to infrastructure. For example, the casinos Integrated Resorts (IRs) faced a severe backlash from many Singaporeans who grew up with the notion that gambling was the devil's work. Since our government doesn't practice having a referendum on such major decisions, the deal was already signed even before the backlash took form. And in spite of everything that was said and done by the people of Singapore, the IRs became a reality and today, have become part and parcel of our life.

Having such strong bonds between business venture and government support, it has always traditionally been difficult to get the government to call off deals that appears to be to the people's detriment, primarily because it feels that it has made the best decision but also perhaps a little over-confidence that it wouldn't make major mistakes.

Citizen Journalism in Action
And thus the Sengkang Columbarium Saga happened, where a site next to a new housing estate was revealed to be won through tender by a private company that intended to build a columbarium facility there. When the news broke in late December, it understandably sent homebuyers into a frenzied state of anger and panic as they sought clarification and details.

Following this sizeable backlash, a dialogue session was held on 4 January 2015 between the affected homebuyers, the developer, the authorities (HDB and URA) and the MP of the constituency where assurances were made that HDB and URA would look into the concerns of these soon-to-be residents of the estate.

However, just two days later, on 6 January 2015, a joint press release was issued by the authorities to affirm that there would be no change to the situation and that the private company would be allowed to carry on with its plan for the site.

Over that same period, I had started looking closely at the company involved and its background, and discovered that the company had a very dubious layout. Using publicly available information from various sources, I pieced together the convoluted money trail and established just how far the rabbit hole went insofar as this company that won the tender was concerned. The article I prepared was then published on The Online Citizen on 9 January 2015.

And then subsequently, there was little activity on the mainstream media about this issue until it was announced in parliament by Dr Khaw Boon Wan on 29 January 2015 that the tender had been revoked.

My take is that the obvious negative outlook of the company on account of its layout and funding sources made it too unsavoury for the government to be involved with. I would even go far as to suggest that if not for my article spelling out just how questionable it was, I don't think the tender would have been revoked.

Truth Prevails
Now, the naysayers will naturally say that I am just full of it and that it was all just coincidence, not causation. Yes, that is surely a possibility. But, can you really say with definitive authority that the article did not force the government's hand in any way at all? 

The fact is many members of the mainstream media follow The Online Citizen (TOC) and the article was extensively shared on many other platforms. It is therefore hard to imagine that no decision-maker involved had been informed of the findings in my article.

And that's the point I'm driving at. As long as the possibility is there, we must continue to believe that our efforts to unearth the truth will bring about justice - even in a place as squeaky clean as Singapore. Instead of making blanket statements based on half-truths, choose an issue you believe in and tear it down with evidence and established facts.

If you're not good with words, you can still pass on the information to sites like TOC which are committed to getting reliable information out to the people. If that too isn't an option for you, then support those who are actually putting in the effort in seeking the truth. You've seen these people and have benefited from them, but have you actually recognised their efforts well?

Donate money, share their work and refer people who can contribute information to them - do something. Because citizen journalism is a movement, not just pockets of individuals. And everyone can be part of this movement towards truth.

Monday 12 January 2015

Apparently Town Councils are Political, and PA is not

An interesting exchange happened this week as I met up with a Youth Executive Committee member of a Constituency Club (CC) located in an opposition ward. The meeting itself was with regard to a school project that I am undertaking but as we discussed the possibilities, he mentioned that using services and venues that come under the purview of the Town Council would be problematic. While he admitted that the Town Council would largely accede to the request, it was not with the same frequency and almost-hassle-free manner in which it could be done under a PAP Town Council.

To this gentleman, the People's Association was non-partisan and focuses on community engagement, while the Town Council was an extension of the political party controlling the institution. He shared that PAP Town Councils work closely with the People's Association and offer many privileges such as the complimentary use of venues like void decks, or at a nominal fee.

It was amusing to me because of two realities. One, the People's Association has a much more closer relationship to the PAP than Town Councils. And two, Town Councils are municipal services that ought to be part of the government machinery - even if it is through an elected representative from the opposition party.

In fact, I would even go as far to say that it is precisely BECAUSE the Town Council is non-political, that there is no preferential treatment for services offered to the People's Association. The Town Council's primary role is to address the residents' basic needs in terms of their living space and manage the services provided properly. To me it makes sense to allow residents more leeway in paying their conservancy fees than to offer nominal fees to community engagement activities.

To use an analogy, if one business charges the same rate to strangers and friends alike while another charges a lower rate for those it considers friends, which would you consider was being professional in its dealings? The friends enjoying the preferential rate would of course describe the other flat-pricing business not as good, but in the larger picture, who is really being fair?

source: CIA

In another observation as the friendly conversation progressed, the gentleman took pains to clarify that the Meet-the-People Sessions (MPS) were conducted near a block of flats across the road from the CC, and not within the CC itself - "because the MPS is political". I nearly laughed out loud at that because a Member of Parliament meeting the constituents he or she is representing to address their issues is anything but political. The fact that the MP belongs to one political party or another is merely a statement of fact, not implication.

I have no doubt the people volunteering their time through the People's Association have the best intentions to serve the community - after all, I was part of this at one point in my life, not long ago. But to buy into this propaganda that the People's Association is non-partisan in practice and that Town Councils are politically motivated is really sad.

Yes, the political rhetoric can be twisted to suit each party's agenda, but the proof is in the pudding. Who are the ones being invited to People's Association events without fail? And who are the ones NOT being invited - even to the extent of being actively avoided? Who are being appointed as advisers - sometimes with the oversight that supersedes the power entrusted to the parliamentary representative elected by the people?

As I've said many times before - and something in which I believe very strongly - once the elections are over, everyone in parliament becomes the government and should work towards progress for the nation, betterment of society and improvement in the citizens' lives. Some citizens getting penalised for their choice of parliamentary representative is deplorable and is a very dark stain on Singapore's reputation.

Tuesday 8 April 2014

Educator's SEL Lesson Guide for 'A Fish With A Wish'

One of the modules I am taking for the Masters in Education degree programme at NIE is an interesting and refreshing exploration of using picturebooks to facilitate Socio-Emotional Learning (SEL). The assessable assignment for this module is a lesson plan that incorporates the use of a selected picturebook to conduct an SEL lesson. With the huge volume of picturebooks to choose from, it did take me some time to get to one that I was happy with - but which was not overused in popular culture like Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak or The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.

Anyway, after poring through various authors' works, I stumbled upon Ethan Crownberry's work - a handful of novel-in-verse (or story-in-verse, in this case) picturebooks exploring various SEL elements. I subsequently devised a lesson plan around one of his books entitled A Fish With A Wish by Ethan Crownberry and delivered it to one of my classes at ITE. It was an interesting experience for both the students and I, and I'm quite glad that they found it fun and enjoyable. Although it was an exploratory attempt to see how the main component of the lesson plan would execute, it was evident that the lesson had incredible potential.

Here is some footage of the lesson...

The lesson itself was actually one of the easier ones to execute and the students took to the task without much persuasion necessary. Interestingly, one of the students recalled that this story had been read to her by her mother during her childhood and she was able to retell the original story during the classroom exercise. Another student picked out the congruence between the selected picturebook and a biblical story and retold that tale in detail through the exercise.

While some groups tried to reimagine the story with comical exaggeration, it was obvious that the students recognised the element of sacrifice inherent in the story and made reference to the protagonist's unhappiness with the existing circumstances in one way or another. It was indeed a fun experience and the trial run of the lesson component has been developed into a full lesson (which is what I have submitted as the assignment). I am now looking forward to executing this lesson proper and analysing the results.

If you have the chance, feel free to try this lesson out and share with me your experience as well! You can download the lesson package from the following link, which includes:
   a) Lesson Plan
   b) PowerPoint File
   c) Worksheet
   d) Softcopy of picturebook, A Fish With A Wish
   e) Examples of student work

Note: The author, Ethan Crownberry, dropped me an email to thank me and share his appreciation!

You can visit Ethan's website to support his other works at

Wednesday 11 December 2013

I Could Have Stopped The Riot

As many of you might know, I was an officer with the Singapore Police Force (SPF) for ten years and spent quite an amount of that time plying my trade in Little India. I left the force in 2005 for a several reasons, one of which was the way the SPF was turning out to be. With so much documentation and miscellaneous duties, policing became too much about following procedures rather than fighting crime - and worse, victims, perpetrators and every human being in the process became just another inanimate feature of each case.

When I first heard about rumours of a riot in Little India, I expected it to be an exaggeration of some accident scene because of the crowd that had gathered. But as the story unfolded, it quite sounded like mob mentality had resulted in wanton public violence.

However, as the details eventually become established, it looks more and more like a typical incident that spiralled out of control. In my time as a police officer attending cases in the vicinity of Little India, coming across accidents on a crowded Sunday evening is not something new - as is coming across disputes, thefts and even robberies. In this case, (possibly) careless driving led to a pedestrian (or disembarking passenger, as some eye witness testimonies suggest) being run over.

Naturally, as anyone who has been to Little India will tell you, a large crowd formed at the scene of the accident and fellow countrymen of the injured person started to panic and look at ways to extricate him from the situation. However, the bus driver (perhaps out of fear) chose to remain inside and not move the vehicle, which only served to exacerbate the situation. The distraught bystanders who were trying to help then became desperate and tried to break into the bus in order to move it (notice the lack of aggression or violence in the video below).

As one can expect, dustbins and random pieces of equipment would not be able to break the tempered glass of the windows or doors and so, the desperation merely escalated. Eventually, the Police arrived at the scene and (probably) projected aloofness, which gave the impression that the officers didn't care about the injured person or the despairing bystanders. By addressing the needs of the bus driver (who must have looked like the victim under the circumstances) the bystanders and others watching on the sidelines would have felt incredibly marginalised.

This is probably what infuriated others not directly involved with trying to rescue the injured person, and here is where the mob mentality truly set in, not any earlier. Having reached this tipping point, the bystanders would have reacted angrily and started attacking the Police vehicles and - by extension - the rescue vehicles (and personnel).

What I Would Have Done

After learning of these details I was actually surprised, because I have encountered similar elements and circumstances in other incidents while I was an officer myself. In fact I have brought things under control in similarly escalating situations before.

Basically, it is all about perception and a crowd of Indian workers expect sympathy and some concern for a fellow countryman who has been injured (or killed). Even with most of the situation already unfolding at the point when the Police arrived, I am fairly confident it could have been brought under control. I presume the situation to be a small crowd of distraught workers panicking and trying to gain access into the bus so that it can be moved to aid the rescue of the injured/dead person, surrounded by a larger crowd of onlookers (this has been corroborated by the description given in the letter from the Singapore High Commissioner to India).

Thus, upon reaching, the main persons to be addressed would have been the bus driver, the injured person and the group of distraught workers. Simply empathising with the distraught workers and letting them know that you are there to help the injured person would have actually calmed them down significantly and secured their cooperation (as opposed to unilaterally instructing them to stop their perceived aggression). By keeping the focus of this distraught group on rescuing the injured person (or his body), attention could have been diverted away from the driver inside the bus.

Next, getting the cooperation of the bus driver to move the bus or allow another officer to enter the bus to assist/direct the next course of action could have given control over to the officers at the scene since the crowd's objectives (gaining access to the bus to move it and aiding the injured person) would have been met. The watching bystanders would have had no reason to get angry and would have been satisfied that the authorities were being fair to the situation.

Depending on how heated the atmosphere was at the time, the bystanders could even have been co-opted to help console and reason with the distraught group, which would have diverted focus of this larger group onto the injured person and the affected workers rather than deliberate on the cause of the accident.

With the crowd thus under control and basically responsive to the police officers at the scene, medical aid could have been rendered without much interference and any hostility. Even with the injured person being pronounced dead, the crowd reaction could have been limited to just the grief by discussing the deceased's family instead of the cause of death (i.e. the accident) or about seeking justice. At this point, the bystanders could be asked to disperse or move back so that emergency vehicles and personnel can do the necessary. Once this space and distance has been created, the bus driver could be whisked away from the scene to further dissipate any tension at the point of accident.

All this could have been executed without the need for too many officers on duty and with no necessity for the SOC (i.e. 'riot police') being activated or for the need to recall all the off-duty officers of two police stations (which is what happened on Sunday night). While this is being portrayed as a major incident with all manner of pointless initiatives being rolled out as a knee-jerk reaction - not to mention the inevitable additional workload that awaits the already-overworked police officers of the area, in reality it all stems from a routine circumstance that has happened many, many times in various parts of Little India over the years.

This is why I am particularly saddened by this incident - an accident aftermath that was allowed to escalate into something so serious, and it is the first time since I left the SPF 8 years ago that I feel a tinge of regret - because had I not resigned, this riot may very well not even have happened.

Interestingly, I have covered the basics of this sort of situation in Chapter 3 (Handling Disputes) of my book which I published in 2008. If you're interested, feel free to click the button below to get it in ebook format.

Friday 18 October 2013

ST's Rachel Chang Misinforms Public On Election Process

The comedy of the Elections Department mucking up the one job they really have (I created a meme on this - see below) was a source of great fun. How else can I rationalise the authority on the matter going to the Police instead of explaining to the public and the PM sending a proxy to explain the matter which is clearly under his purview.

But the funniest thing really has to be a 'political writer' from the main broadsheet in Singapore describing the election process so erroneously. I had to do a double-take when I first read the paragraph "...after the close of polling, ballots are transferred into different boxes which are sealed and escorted to counting centres, and the empty boxes left behind..." I actually had to check and make sure I hadn't understood the most basic of the voting process wrongly all these years (after all, we are given to believe the Straits Times is the holy grail of journalism).

Ballot boxes are checked, sealed and guarded before the votes are cast and they remain so until they are ready for counting - which happens at counting centres. So the process is --> ballot box sealed at voting centre --> votes are cast into said sealed box --> voting closes --> ballot box transported under Police security to counting centre (source: Elections Department). This essentially is the chain of custody that ensures no tampering and it makes no sense to meddle with the sealed box at the voting centre.

It's amazing that dear Rachel doesn't even understand the election process - it obviously isn't a typo but conceptual fallacy. The editor too - whoever it is (and I couldn't be bothered to check) - obviously doesn't respect himself/herself enough to proofread and check the facts. So this is what the "right thing" is all about huh, Minister Yaacob Ibrahim?

No matter how many awards you bestow on yourself or how much the government paints a lovely picture of you, it is ultimately the quality of your content that determines how good you really are, Straits Times. I'd spend more time upgrading the quality of your reporting instead of hounding ordinary citizens like a shameless bully to pay licensing fees for reproducing articles online which they themselves are featured in.

Friday 10 May 2013

Cease & Desist What, Mr Zainudin Nordin? Discussion?

On Wednesday (8 May 2013) morning, I was looking through my Facebook news feeds during a break when I chanced upon a post on The Rice Bowl page which mentioned that a Member of Parliament representing the Bishan-Toa Payoh Group Representation Constituency, Zainudin Nordin, had made some rather controversial comments on his public Facebook page.

I was perplexed at this assertion, what with him having directly benefited from the democratic process to become a member of parliament in Singapore - one of the highest paid politicians in the world. The issue of why an MP would use gang rape to explain the concept of democracy continued to bug me and so I decided create the following meme and share it on my facebook page to ask whether he had seriously said such a thing.

My friends and I had some discussion on the matter and soon after, someone pointed me to a screenshot (below) of the statement made by Zainudin. It was actually a quotation from Terry Goodkind, an author, and the entire quotation in its entirety emphasises that democracy should not come at the price of the individual's rights (Goodkind was referring to America's attempts to install a democracy in Iraq during an interview).

I duly added this information that night to the meme that had been posted itself but still continued to wonder what the MP was implying by posting that quotation on his Facebook page. Could it be that he felt the Singapore government was infringing upon the individual's rights here? Or did he hold a dim view of democracy altogether? More questions seemed to arise from a better understanding of the post as it appeared on the MP's Facebook page than before I had that information.

Imagine my surprise when I saw an email from '' in my email inbox the next morning, and at first I was quite impressed that the MP had sought me out personally to discuss and clarify his position. Alas, this happy moment was shortlived when the text read:
Dear Mr Gangasudhan,
You have posted a picture of me together with a quote “Gang rape, after all, is democracy in action”, which you have attributed to me.   This is a statement by Terry Goodkind, and not me.   Your post is therefore mischievous and highly defamatory of me, and calculated to embarrass me and cause me damage.   I therefore demand that you remove your post immediately, failing which I will have no option but to take the appropriate legal action against you. All my rights are reserved.
Thank you.
Zainudin Nordin
Honestly, it was quite upsetting to see an MP resort to hostility when open discussion and honest debate could have clarified the matter. I felt unduly persecuted by a person of authority when all I had done was pose a question. At first, I just wanted to delete the meme and be over with it, never again to trust Zainudin Nordin, but after some thought, I felt it would be more constructive to use this opportunity to engage the MP and understand his stand on the concept of democracy and gain insight as to why he would endorse Terry Goodkind's statement. I thus sent the following reply to him, in the hopes that he will refrain from a hostile approach and adopt a more inclusive attitude, befitting an elected official in a democratic institution:
Dear sir, I am puzzled as to why you might feel embarrassed by the combination of your image and a reproduction of what you posted publically on your Facebook page. But more importantly, as a voting member of the public, I am very disturbed by what seems to be your endorsement of this opinion that democracy can be explained away using a heinous crime such as gang rape.
Generally, I do not bother with politicians’ Facebook pages but when I chanced upon a Facebook posting elsewhere on Wednesday morning ( that described the post you had made regarding democracy, I was shocked – to say the least. I thus reproduced the statement attributed to you together with your picture to ask my friends why a politician receiving $192,000 of taxpayer dollars would even think to say such a thing. The picture is to identify the person who said it and the quote is a verbatim reproduction, thus I do not see what there is to be embarrassed about nor how could this be interpreted as mischievous intent. In fact, this was merely an act of free speech in posing a legitimate question to my friends – how could a highly-paid elected official who has taken office to represent the people through a democratic process imply that the very same process was akin to gang rape? 

Subsequently, through the responses from my friends, I was able to find a screen-capture of the posting as it appeared on your Facebook page ( and noticed that you had actually reproduced a quote from someone else and not directly made the statement yourself, thus I added the relevant information to reflect this new information on Wednesday night (see screen-capture below).
Looking at the quotation you reproduced on your Facebook page in full though, I am no more reassured by your position on the issue of democracy. The statement by Terry Goodkind suggests that the rights of the individual should not be infringed in the name of democracy, so are you saying that the Singapore government – a democratically elected institution - does not recognise the rights of the individual?
At best, the reproduction of Terry Goodkind’s statement demonstrates poor taste in discussing the concept of democracy – not to mention makes light of the very serious crime of rape (what more, with the world reeling from the news of the many brutal rape cases in India). As an ethnic Indian, I am actually offended at the insinuation that I would use the issue of gang rape to be “mischievous” in any way.
I am also disappointed that as an elected member of parliament who purports to represent the interests of your constituents, you have taken issue with a meme meant to invite discussion – i.e. instead of engaging in discussion and clarifying your position, you have attempted to remove the discussion altogether. This is not at all what I would expect from an elected representative of the people and I have somewhat lost faith in your ability to represent the best interests of the community of Singaporeans you serve.
I therefore hope that you will use this opportunity to engage in discussion and reassure me, a citizen of Singapore, rather than continue with what appears to be an exercise to silence me, thank you. In the meanwhile, I will share this exchange with my friends through my personal blog so that others can better understand the context of the meme I created as well as your thoughts on the matter, take care.
| +65-90602206

I now await the reply from Zainudin Nordin and will decide what to do next depending on his reply. Hopefully, this will be just a misunderstanding from which we can come out with an insight into his opinions and philosophy on democracy and civil rights. Whatever it is, I shall update the developments here.

UPDATE 10/05/2013 @ 2345HRS

MP Zainudin Nordin replied at around 4.30pm with the following email message:

Dear Mr Gangasudhan, 
It is clear from your initial posting that it was your intention to ridicule me, and not to debate issues. To do that, you deliberately and mischievously attributed Terry Goodkind’s quote to me and even extracted, without context, part of that quote. Your motives were plain and your response, contrived. You had no choice but to correct this egregious error, but I note there is no hint of an apology from you.  

I think it is important to have open, honest debates on issues of the day. It is responses such as yours which in fact stifle honest debate and discourage people from sharing their views. 
Thank you.
Zainudin Nordin
Sent from my iPhone

Monday 22 April 2013

iPad Lessons at SINDA

On Thursday, I attended a one-day workshop on using the iPad for pedagogy and got a few ideas from the trainer, John Larkin (whose website is really resources-rich) and fellow participants. I never took the apps offered on iPad seriously till the workshop and thus decided to explore how I could use the apps available on the App Store (the free ones, that is) for my own classroom use.

That evening, right after the workshop, I had a science lesson with some P6 students at Pasir Ris STEP centre, so I decided to see how a science-related game might be received. I managed to find one called DK Quiz which is a rapid fire timed quiz of 20 questions in a multiple-choice format. This particular quiz app offers many different categories (e.g. Science & Technology, Natural History) and sub-categories (e.g. Incredible Bodies, Worlds Apart, All Things Creepy Crawly & All About Behaviour), allowing for (relatively) targeted practice.

In class, hooking up was as easy as it gets (VGA cable, audio cable and the iPad port-to-VGA converter) and the game was a hit with the students who loved the break from the normal routine of worksheets and practice papers. Each round took about 2 minutes or so and we had about 4 to 5 rounds just before the lesson ended for the day.

Inspired by how it went, I decided to try a more elaborate lesson for my Maths class on Saturday morning at East View STEP centre, with about 12 students. I trawled the App Store again and discovered quite a number of math-centred games and tools. One interesting and stylish game app called King of Games really stood out. The free version allows Addition, Subtraction and Mixed (i.e. Addition/Subtraction) topics with a S$1.28 purchase offering the full version of 9 other topics (i.e. altogether 12 topics).

Each topic (called 'book' in the game) has 9 chapters and each chapter has a rapid fire series of 10 maths questions in a multiple-choice format. But the interesting thing is the questions are phrased in a way that tests the students' ability from different angles. I used this app as a trigger/warm-up activity before proceeding to the lesson proper. Watch the video below to appreciate the impact/value of this app.

As the focus for the Saturday sessions was to guide the students on word problems (the format of the lesson would be to show a word problem, get the students to try it and then show them how to work through it, before moving on to the next word problem), I decided to use the app called Singapore Math which offers word problems and worked answers (there's an app for each level) for the types of questions where models need to be drawn.

While the app's free version only offers a few questions, there is a 'tool' option where you can use the workspace to work out any other question you would like. I thus used questions from the assessment I was using for the class but instead of working out the answer on the white board, I used the neater representation of the app's workspace to show the students how the answer is worked out. The video below shows me working out one question for the students.

All in, the experiment resulted in positive outcome, with the students enjoying and learning together. I do like how the iPad can be easily set up and conveniently carried around, making it an easy option with minimal fuss (as opposed to using a laptop). Needless to say, I intend to incorporate more of the same into my lessons at SINDA, with the probability of using many other apps.

The next step will be to see what apps can be used to deliver Lifeskills lessons at my day job as an ITE Lecturer.

Saturday 23 February 2013

The Birthday Mystery - A Reportedly P6 Maths Question

Earlier this week, a colleague of my mine came to me and said, "Hey, you high IQ right? Can help with a question? My girlfriend wants to teach her P6 daughter and cannot solve this question." My colleague then showed me this on her phone.

Having prefixed her request with "you high IQ, right", my ego was at stake and I had to nonchalantly reply, "I think should be able to answer, just need some time." I asked my colleague to forward me the image and started to work on it. Initially, I thought it could be a calendar question where the confluence of month/day could be determined but after a few searches on the internet, I realised it was probably a logic question of some sort.

Once I looked at the logical relationship of the situation and the statements made by the characters, I figured it must be a process of elimination that would lead to the correct birth date. Thus, here is how you arrive at the answer.
Because Ben knows the month, he can deduce what 'day' values Mark cannot possibly have. Hence, since Ben says "I can ensure that Mark doesn't know", this means that the 'day' in the correct birth date does not appear just once among the 10 dates provided, thus we can deduce the correct birth date does not fall along the months including 7/6/1970 and 2/12/1970, which therefore eliminates both these rows.
Following Ben's statement, Mark too then knows that these two rows do not have the correct birth date, and since Mark says "now I know it", this means that of the remaining, he is able to pick the correct one because his 'day' value is no longer duplicated (i.e. the remaining birth dates would not have duplicate 'day' values, therefore eliminating 5/3/1970 & 5/9/1970).
And finally, since Ben can identify the birth date at this point, this means that there must be only one month value left which would eliminate 4/3/1970 and 8/3/1970, leaving 1/9/1970 as the correct birth date.

Of course, expecting this train of thought from of a 12-year-old is ridiculous.

I was alerted to the fact that MOE posted on twitter that the above is not a PSLE question (to be honest, I didn't think it was a PSLE question, to begin with). However, a few people have posted that they were indeed asked to try this question in school. In addition, this type of question is called an Impossible Puzzle and different variations do exist (if you're interested in this type of thing).

Thursday 13 September 2012

Coloionalism 2.0

So, the balding prince and commoner princess have come to Singapore for a visit. What's the big deal, people? Last I checked, we were no longer a British colony and are instead a sovereign nation that has no affiliation to the crown.

The excitement these past few days has been similar to that reserved for celebrities, but the British-flag-waving and lining the streets is a tad too much. Yes, the English do that for THEIR queen/king/prince/whoever but what has that got to do with us? Yes, we should accord the respect we honour all visiting dignitaries with, but to treat them as if we are beholden to them is cheesy at best and insulting to the people at worst.

There has been no end to the dramatics, with casual strolls here and there to wave to 'peasants' and press coverage as if some form of god's gift was walking the island - mind you, we don't even extend this sort of proselytising to even The Godfather of Singapore (no prizes for guessing who).

Jumping on the bandwagon are the opportunistic businesses (some of whom have but the remotest of relation to the British royalty) with their over-the-top advertisements. This morning, I came across this gem of a conundrum which I could make no head or tail.

To me, it appears like the stewardess is serving teh-tarik as it is found in Malaysia, not in Singapore. Tell me, where do they pack teh-tarik-to-go like this anymore here? Doesn't it typically look more like this below? And even that is not extremely common, with the 'industry standard' being styrofoam cups.

According to the 'visionaries' who came up with this ridiculous concept (BBH Asia Pacific) , the imagery supposedly "offers a twist on the much-loved English tradition of a ‘cuppa’.... (showing) a British Airways cabin staffer offering up the favourite local choice of tea, ‘teh tarik’, complete with plastic bag and straws, but served from a silver platter more befitting royalty."

First of all, this is not the impression created by this image because who on earth would serve a plastic packet of drink on a platter? Secondly, it is a stretch to call teh-tarik our "favourite local choice of tea" because it is only one of different versions (i.e. Chinese-styled coffeeshops have their version which is also pretty common). Not to mention, the fact that it is - hands down - more prevalent in Malaysia than it ever can be in Singapore, shoots that assertion right out of the water.

British Airways is obviously trying way too hard for its own good to ride the royalty-craze of these 3 days - and it shows. Personally, I am just sick and tired of this meaningless nonsense and will be glad when they finally leave.

At least then, we can get back to the usual wayang that we're accustomed to.

Wednesday 29 February 2012

ITE Student Feedback

Well, I was clearing out my old materials when I came across a collection of feedback essays that I got my students to write during the New Curriculum Track (NCT) programme which I executed at ITE College West at the beginning of last year (i.e. Term 1 of 2011). The NCT programme is a bridging 10-week course to help 'N' Level students who qualify to directly enroll at the ITE assimilate better. I covered several topics related to Effective Communication and formulated some fresh activities for the students. At the end of the 10 weeks, I asked them to share their thoughts and these are some of the responses I received. You can click on the images to see a larger version that is easier to read.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

The Most Cock Piece of 'Reporting' Yet

I was at the dialogue session yesterday where dolphin activist Ric O'Barry shared his thoughts with an audience of over 500 at the Grand Copthorne Hotel, in Singapore. He said a great many things and his thoughts on several related issues were sought by members of the audience. He was honest and passionate, and it was no secret that everyone in the ballroom was of the opinion that releasing the dolphins instead of including them as an item of Resorts World Sands Sentosa (RWS) is the way to go.

But Esther Ng of TODAY was at a different event apparently. She saw a crowd gathered because a celebrity "who starred in the Academy Award-winning documentary film The Cove" called Ric O'Barry was appearing. She saw only "teachers, students and young adult professionals and a few Caucasians" and declared that "the public debate was a one-sided affair with nary a soul speaking up in support of the captivity and display of dolphins". She also excitedly titled her atrocious piece 'Dolphin catcher-turned-activist nets audience of 500' - as if the point of the dialogue session was to see how big a crowd Ric O'Barry could attract.

The only way one can forgive this report for ever seeing the light of day is if Esther Ng is a secondary school student attached to TODAY. The 500 people were there to see Ric O'Barry in the context of how we can work together to get RWS to change their stubborn decision to keep wild-caught dolphins in captivity. Also, there were 1,000 people at the Save the Dolphins Concert a few weeks ago - where Ric O'Barry was not present - which makes the crowd-size an irrelevant observation altogether. And in a cosmopolitan country such as Singapore, where 1 in 4 persons is a foreigner, seeing a few - or many - Caucasians has nothing to do with anything at all.

As for the dialogue session being a "public debate", it could only have been a debate had the other party agreed to come - RWS had in fact been invited and had declined to attend and address the issues in person, and there was never an illusion that this would be anything other than a dialogues session. In fact, from the outset, it was framed that all of the people gathered at the session were there to find out how we could work together - and not to discuss, debate or deliberate on the merits of whether the dolphins about to be installed at RWS should be kept in captivity or released.

I have no idea what Esther Ng's agenda is (fast-track her career by pleasing corporate interests?) or how the TODAY editors saw fit to allow such shoddy reporting to be carried in print (incompetent, ignorant, disingenuous?), but her account is such a perverted version of a minute part of the 2-hour session that it is truly laughable.