December 13, 2009

The world has gotten so caught up in the quagmire that is Tiger Woods’ transgressions that it seems to have lost plain sight of the more important matters at stake. Nothing like tabloid fodder to unleash some good old Schadenfreude amidst water-cooler conversations, come what may.

A crashed car, a wrecked fire hydrant, and an incensed wife later, more and more sordid allegations keep pouring out, each revelation serving as a catalyst for more women to come out of their closets in this explosive reaction. Or so they say, birds of the same kind flock together, and each precedent serves as motivation for the next revelation. Of course, the concomitant interest served by the mass media has a role to play in this as well.

And unsurprisingly, many people are crying afoul, feeling as cheated as his wife and his many mistresses of the blind faith they had placed in the Lothario. What of the ideal role model character that the world has gotten accustomed to? Was that a sheer, immaculately constructed façade to rake in the advertising dollars, to cash in upon his stature as the bona fide best golfer in the world?

Such naïveness. It amazes me how people are so quick to forget that celebrities are adept public relations practitioners of their own, and they yield full control over themselves and how they wish to present themselves to the media. It amazes me even more that people are so quick to seek attachment, and psychological cognizance towards people they do not even know. I am not saying it is entirely wrong to idolize, as long as it’s healthy. But when it comes to blind acceptance and idolization – it astonishes me how some matured adults remain prone to this death trap.

While it’s selfish in most cases to mind your own business given the greater good of the world, this is an instance where I feel that, perhaps, the line has been crossed in the insatiable pursuit for juicy information. Do you even personally know the guy at all? Why are judgments so quick to be passed? What if it was your friend or relative who was guilty of such transgressions? Will you be as nasty and unwilling to forgive?

But that is not to say that what Woods did was ‘correct’. Comme çi comme ça. The excuse some are trying to give, of Woods being just another human being and hence is as susceptible to such disgraceful behavior as another layman seems to be a rather pathetic attempt to resolve cognitive dissonance after the initial shocker.

I’m not sure what the ideals in a Western society are, and call me traditionalist if you like, but to cheat on one’s wife with one other woman is pretty incorrect in the first place. To cheat on one’s wife with 11 other women is a bottomless chasm of immorality, whether you are ‘just human’ or not.

After the public backlash ad nauseum against the debaucheries of  Eliot Spitzer, David Letterman, Edison Chen and even Bill Clinton, you’d expect people to realize that many celebrities are not as infallible as the media portray them to be. But nope, the reverberations just get bigger with every single scandal that erupts.

Yet what is the bigger picture? It is a problem which the Woods household have to resolve themselves, under the intense scrutiny of the media, and whether with a positive or negative conclusion. Armchair public opinion, to say the least, will only matter as much as the endorsement dollars and blind idolization.

It has been widely reported that certain American food manufacturers have turned to downsizing package sizes on the quiet in a bid to cut costs, fuelled by rising production costs due to soaring oil and food prices (what’s new).

Of course, the hush-hush game is being played so as not to repulse consumers who may not be observant enough to notice the downsizing at all. After all, in a world where prices of everything else is going up, it will be a promotion of the items of some sorts should their prices remain stagnant. Such coy marketing ploys at work, albeit underhand. Who cares about honesty being the best policy if profiteering is affected at the end of the day?

Though, with the latest reports, these ploys are likely to have been foiled and the companies have some answering to do to their customers.

Then again, are consumers that blind not to notice the surreptitious marginalising privately at play?

As Ms Deirdre Cummings, legislative director at consumer advocacy group MASSPIRG aptly puts, “So many times, they put ‘new improved package’ on the label but they would never put ‘new, improved and smaller’.”

Shouldn’t it be made clear for consumers that they are paying less for the same amount? As buyers, we definitely have the right to know about such changes. Well, at least the Singapore market is not that badly affected yet, although even if it is, we can probably trust our Consumers Association (CASE) to set things straight.

In the meantime, however, has any other fellow local readers noticed a possible covert shift taking place in the fast food restaurants here, in terms of the food portions? I was having supper with a friend recently when he commented, rather aptly it seems, that “unlike 10 years ago when the Big Mac was so huge that we have to split the hamburger into two layers to eat it, the Big Mac is more like a Small Mac now”. Apart from which, the sizes of the burgers at McDonald’s, the fried chicken at KFC, as well as the meat at Long John Silver’s certainly seem to be shrinking by the year, while the prices of their meals are still going up.

As consumers become savvier while the business world gets tougher, it remains to be seen who will have the last laugh.

Tourism in Sports

June 28, 2008

The world of sports is certainly a lucrative one, giving the recognition being placed on it, whether as a barometer of human progress, a showcase of indomitable human spirit, or simply, a chance to earn bragging rights on an international or regional platform.

This is further exemplified by how numerous countries have invested money into building up their burgeoning sports industries, amplified more so by the efforts and incentives of the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) in attracting foreign talent to Singapore, as well as the carrot being dangled in front of our sportsmen as motivation for them to perform.

The number of sporting events which capture global attention is countless, with the Summer Olympics, World Cup, Euro Championships and Commonwealth Games being some of the few large scale events with a lot of hoohaa attached.

The prestige of hosting a major sporting event has therefore grown leaps and bounds over the years, as a nation welcomes the best athletes from around the world for approximately a month of friendly competition. The benefits are boundless – a chance to build political ties and to gain recognition, as well as the promising tourism revenue which is bound to come along.

The onus lies with the host country to invest hefty sums of revenue to refurbish pre-existing infrastructure, as well as to construct new systems and to erect supportive tourism promotion campaigns so as to ensure the successful execution of the event.

Euro 2008 logoVia Euro 2008, Austria and Switzerland is bound to reap rewards from the European fans that are expected to descend on the countries during the championships, with an estimate of $358 million gained by the Swiss economy and $369 million gained by the Austrian economy. In Austria alone, overnight bookings have hit the 2-million mark during the campaign, which is well above the usual rates for the month of June, while almost 11,000 temporary jobs have been created to cope with the visitor influx.

However, while it may still be too early to tell, things do not look especially rosy for the upcoming Beijing Summer Olympics and Singapore’s Formula One Night Race.

Both events have been in the news lately in the run-up till the kick-off of the events.

The Beijing Games have been fraught with controversy surrounding the Chinese-Tibetan rule and the subsequent exile of the Daila Lama, and as a result, an unprecedented spotlight was shone on the global torch relay.

Formula One Grand Prix posterThe Singapore Formula One Night Race has been vigorously marketed as a world’s first-ever F1 night race.

Yet, recent reports have shown that the Formula One hotel booking is looking sluggish, while there is no sign of Olympic boom for Beijing hotels.

So, what ticks and what does not?

In the case of the Beijing Games, fingers are being pointed at wildly inflated prices within the country in view of the impending games despite a global economic slump, tighter visa regulations (ironically to keep out excessive visitors, a plan which has since proven to backfire), as well as possible anti-Chinese sentiments in the wake of the deadly Tibetan rioting. Tourism figures have dropped by 12.5% comparing May this year to a year ago.

As for Singapore, it is speculated that the sluggish outcome is a result of escalated hotel rates, especially for the hotels surrounding the race track, so much so that hotels have started pushing down their prices. But seriously, could there be an over-estimation for the demand? Ardent F1 fans would have snapped up grandstand tickets when ticketing sales first open. And, who would want to watch miniature-sized cars zoom by at a fraction of a second from, say, the thirtieth floor? Where is the kick in that?

The sciences behind generating revenue during a major sporting event may not be that simple, but the works are easy – for money to be earned, people have to come, and apart from placing too much focus and reliance on the sports itself, perhaps there is also a need to sell the country per se as well.


Three research ships break through Arctic ice near the North Pole [Photo courtesy of The Telegraph]

Reports like these surface: 

It appears that the dire consequences of global warming are bearing down fast on our generation, in spite of the numerous efforts which have been set in place to step up action against practices which are bound to destruct the Earth.

The signs are there. The possibility of the complete melting of the Arctic ice cap as early as this year has compounded with the earlier reported issues of rice shortage / oil shortage / quirky weather patterns (floods in India during a dry season and vice versa; extremely hot summers in the US, just to name a few).

On the individual level, perhaps it is really time for us to listen, to leave our complacency and procrastination aside, and to get out of our comfort zones. And actually ‘go green’. The rising sea levels the melting Arctic ice is bound to result in will certainly cause catastrophic damages to the world, so what next?

At the rate things are going, perhaps it will not be so surprising after all if Nostradamus’ end-of-the-world prophecy in 2012 actually comes true.

Japan’s status as a modern industrialised nation has, pretty much, not affected their crime rate over the past years (though criminologists do readily attribute the conditions of modernisation and industrialisation to growing crime rates).

This is in spite of the high profile murders which have shocked the nation over the past decade or so, such as:

  • Aum Shinrikyo or Aleph, a new Japanese religious movement responsible for the deadly sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subways in 1995, as well as several police shootings and stabbings within the same year.
  • the murder of a 11-year-old boy (strangled and decapitated) and a 10-year-old girl (bludgeoned to death) by a then-14-year-old schoolboy in 1997, who has since been released on parole
  • the hijack of a Japanese bus by a 17-year-old user of online forum 2channel in 2000, with one passenger being stabbed to death.
  • the Sasebo slashing, the murder of a 12-year-old schoolgirl by her 11-year-old classmate in an elementary school in 2004, which involved the slitting of the victim’s throat and arms with a box cutter
  • the murders by Yukio Yamaji, who killed his own mother in 2000. Upon being released on parole, he then raped a 27-year-old woman and her sister prior to murdering them in 2005

However, violence in Japan seems to have taken an unprecedented turn for the worse, going by the numerous reports on the stabbing sprees which have surfaced over the past month alone.

It seems that the Internet has become the go-to channel for potential killers to make their intentions and death threats known on forums, prior to the stabbings themselves. The motive remains unclear, as to whether the persecuters were merely gunning (no pun intended) for their own thirty seconds of fame prior to the killings, or whether they were attempting to channel some character from the media in their murder attempts.

Following the arrest of Mr Kato, who embarked on a knifing rampage on June 8, taking the lives of seven people and wounding 10 others in the process, the nation has been on an alert for copycat crimes.

And rightfully so, it seems, with an unparalleled number of people posting threatening messages online.

Authorities have arrested a 19-year-old male who posted an Internet threat to go on a Disneyland stabbing spree, while they have also apprehended a 38-year-old jobless woman for attacking 3 women with a knife at a train station on Sunday.

It remains to be seen how many followers of Kato are there, as well as the motive behind the murders. Could the killers be followers of a massive cult, a la Aum Shinrikyo? Or could the pressures of living in a highly post-modernised state have gotten to their heads, resulting in depression? Or, could this be attributed to the influences of the mass media, what with the heightened number of violent movies and games in the market today?

We start to ponder what the Singapore government can do to ameliorate the situation for all locals alike.

China recently joined in the fray to jack up its oil prices, while global oil prices press near USD140 per barrel even as Saudi Arabia has promised to increase output. With all these recent happenings, the prospect of oil prices actually taking a dip looks bleak at the moment.

On the downside, the elevated oil prices have also translated into rising food prices and electricity bills. This is especially evident should one decide to take a walk down the aisles of supermarkets and food courts (especially the latter, with the new prices, under makeshift signage, taking precedence over the old. Some nasi padang stores have also gone so far as to charging $2.00 for a portion of assam fish)

The resounding calls for a cut in petrol taxes are growing louder as an interim measure, but the government has stood firm in its resolution that cutting petrol duties and giving out subsidies are not the answer to soaring global oil prices.

But are subsidies the way to go to ease the situation? Minister Mah Bow Tan has mentioned that even countries such as China and Malaysia have started to re-think their policies on this. In the meantime, nations such as Indonesia and the Philippines are now in trouble due to subsidies.

In any case, not everyone can be pleased. One thing is for sure, though, that Singaporeans, unlike its neighbouring counterparts in Malaysia and Indonesia, are not renowned for being loud-mouthed in protests or demonstrations against government policies. Worst come to worst, bad policies will rankle throughout the state at first, before local citizens come to terms with them. Hence, in my humble opinion, such rationalizing against giving subsidies is in a sense, rather flawed.

Instead of subsidies, one interim measure, I suppose, the local government could possibly consider an increase in the GST Offset Package and Growth Dividends payments which was introduced during its 2007 Budget in subsequent years, to ameliorate the situation for citizens. This will leave the onus with local citizens to find ways and means to adapt to the rising cost of living themselves.

Saving Gaia

Also, it remains true that cutting the duty of about 40 cents for every litre of petrol will definitely send wrong signals to consumers about the real prices of oil. In any case, lifestyle habits have to be changed to increase the sustainability of our natural resources and to prevent oil prices for surging through the roof any further. For instance, turning off lights and air-conditioning at home when not in use, or by using public transport more frequently, are some plausible courses of action to take, for the good of the future. To promote environmental conversation, MediaCorp’s “Saving Gaia” is back for its second year as well.

It will certainly take a collective effort of not only the Government, but individuals themselves to tide over this pressing crisis.


April 16, 2008

The Million Blog List is a blogosphere experiment to see how long it will take for a million blogs to list themselves on the site (hence the name), granted the 70 million over blogs in existence today.

THE AMOEBA REPUBLIC is #408 on the list!

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Meanwhile, another Wikipedia initiative is the Wiki Blog Directory, an open blog directory launched just 2 days ago, for the community to list their blogs on, in as many categories as is appropriate.

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