Jun 7, 2017

Vires in Numeris

After reading about the potential hacking dangers of storing cryptocurrency in exchanges, I bought a Ledger Nano S hardware wallet online. On opening the quite Apple-minimalist-like box, I found a nicely crafted USB key with the phrase "vires in numeris" etched at the back.

On Googling its meaning ("Strength in Numbers"), I came across an old Wired article from December 2013 called "What the arrival of Bitcoin means for society, politics and you". It was only two months since the busting of Silk Road, Bitcoin was fluctuating wildly between $500-$1000, and everyone was pondering about the future of Bitcoin and viability of cryptocurrency in general.

Fast forward to today, Bitcoin is over $2,800 looking toward $3,000 and Ethereum is quickly gaining around at around $260 (with me kicking myself in the backside everyday for selling out my 100 ETH when prices were are $7-$8).

What is the future for cryptocurrency? It's still early days yet, and the ICO market is bubbly as the year 2000 all over again. But for sure, I'm a HODLing for dear life.

Oct 15, 2013

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

There are books that move you, books that make you go "hmmm...interesting", and once in a long while, a book appears that completely changes the way you look at the world.

"Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, for me, is such a book. 

What is the opposite of fragile? Most people would say "robust", but the author offers a different answer - antifragile. 

We all know that something that is fragile breaks or fails easily due to external stressors, like a porcelain cup; a robust object is resistant to external stressors and does not break or fail easily; an antifragile object, however, thrives on external, random stressors and becomes stronger because of it.

The author offers many examples of fragile things in the book, among them the US financial system and the Fukushima nuclear reactor, which react to negative Black Swan events (the subject of the author's previous book) with catastrophic results. The subprime mortgage crisis was the Black Swan event of the financial system, and a tsunami of biblical proportions took the Fukushima reactor totally by surprise.

Of the many examples mentioned in the book, if the author were more familiar with Singapore, he would have had a field day pointing out the numerous fragilities in our current lightning party led government.

Several notable Black Swan events for the PAP, highlighting their fragility:
  • 2011 GE results - Although not enough to topple the esteemed party, winning scarcely over 60% of the popular vote the loss of a GRC (a whole GRC!) to the opposition was sufficient to shake their belief of eternal rule to the core. Following a softening of attitude to the public immediately after the elections, they have recently reverted to their old heavy-handed ways since nobody with half a brain believed a word of it.
  • Orchard Road flash floods - The sleeping bureaucracy, probably too comfortable in their air-conditioned offices, were totally blindsided by this one, imagine a flash flood in the middle of the premier tourist shopping district of Singapore! We know that the problem goes even deeper than that, because the floods are happening everywhere. One doesn't expect these sorts of "third-world" problems to occur in developed Singapore, don't they?
  • Punggol East by-election - It took one small Black Swanette of an event (Michael Palmer's resignation due to an affair with a PA staff member), and the PAP's fragile reaction to the event (parachuting an unknown Koh Poh Koon, who didn't know how to keep his "elite" mouth shut) to trigger another Black Swan event - losing Punggol East to the WP, again.
The esteemed former MM has just celebrated his 90th birthday last month, but given the PAP's "proven track record" for dealing with Black Swans, how would it react to probably the greatest Black Swan (well technically not a Black Swan due to its inevitability, but you get my drift) of them all? 

May 28, 2012

Can't Buy My Vote (A Song for Hougang)

(Sung to the tune of The Beatles "Can't Buy Me Love")

Can't buy my vote, vote
Can't buy my vote
You say you'll give me upgrading if vote for the men in white
Covered walkways and everything if I just can see the light
But I don't care too much for money
Money can't buy my vote
Every five years you come back here and say you love me too
Dangle carrots in front of me and treat me like a fool
I don't care too much for money
Money can't buy my vote
Can't buy my vote
I've been telling you so
Can't buy my vote
No no no no
You keep on using dirty tricks and oh so hard you try
But Worker's Party loyalty your money just can't buy

I don't care too much for moneyMoney can't buy my vote

Oct 21, 2011


Link to full speech: Chen Show Mao's speech (Debate on President's address)

An impressive maiden speech by Chen Show Mao, especially the Chinese part, which I imagine must have left not a few "effectively bi-lingual" PAP MPs not catching the proverbial ball that Chen has thrown at them as his opening salvo in parliament.

While his references to profound sayings by dead Chinese philosophers and idioms may have challenged the incumbent MPs scrambling to Google what the hell he was saying, they might discover in the process that CSM was actually taking a dig at the them, and even the PAP as a whole:


The full saying of “君子和而不同”, is actually “君子和而不同,小人同而不和。” Confucius has already said 3000 years ago: "The gentleman is harmonious with his fellow man, although he does not necessarily agree with them. The non-gentleman, on the other hand, agrees with others views on the surface, but deep down harbours discontent and dissent in his heart."

Did Chen deliberately leave out the second part of the saying, to suggest that some (or all) non-gentlemanly members of the PAP camp are toe-ing the party line to keep out of trouble, but secretly harbouring (shock!) dissenting views? Very guai lan, indeed, Mr. Chen.

Jun 3, 2011

Healthcare insurance - The view from Taiwan

Of all the many rally speeches I've heard over the course of the 2011 GE, one that stands out for me is that given by NUH Senior Consultant Paul Tambyah at the SDP's downtown lunchtime rally on May 5, where he points out the dire inadequacies of Singapore's healthcare system and how ordinary Singaporeans fall through the cracks in the events of major illness and disease, due to inexorably costs of medical care.

"You can afford to die, but you cannot afford to get sick", NUH Professor Paul Tambyah said to rousing cheers, obviously striking a common chord with the crowd.

“As a medical doctor, I come into contact with patients on a regular basis. I hear them tell me that in Singapore, you can afford to die but you cannot afford to get sick. I see people who have to sell their homes and move into rental flats to pay for their medical bills. Do you think this is right?”
The problems with our healthcare system are known to you all – mostly they are about money.

He further gave an example of the financial burden of one of his patients due to medical costs:

"A Patient of mine has an infection that has caused him a stroke. He needs medication that costs more than $250 a day. There is no subsidy for this medication . It is recommended in all the guidelines including local guidelines. If he does not take this medication, he will most likely have another stroke and could even die."
"I tried to help him by appealing to the medical social worker. We received the reply that he was unlikely to get help as he lives in a private condo with one of his sons. The other five siblings are not well off but this one son living in a condo disqualifies this citizen of Singapore from financial assistance. We even went to the extent of writing a prescription so he could buy his medications in Johor Baru but this did not work."
"How many people do you know living in condos with their own families can afford to pay $250 a day or $7500 a month for medications for three to six months on top of the needs of their own families???"
"There is something seriously wrong with our system."

I agree that there is something very wrong with our healthcare system, and the "can afford to die, but can't afford to get sick" refrain is an often heard one, even my mother said that one before. Quality, timely healthcare in Singapore is expensive, there's no denying. A week's stay at Mount Elizabeth (where wealthy Indonesian tycoons and Saudi sheiks rub shoulders) by my late grandmother racked up a bill in the region of $10,000, but that was no problem because my entrepreneur uncle could well afford it.

But that set me thinking, can my modest salaried income support my mother's hospital bills if she really needed the medical care in the future? Will it bring me and my family to financial ruin? This is a disturbing question to ponder, more so after listening to Dr. Thambyah's anecdote. And I'm sure, I'm not the only sandwiched Singaporean with such concerns.

But before I give my two cents, let me state for the record that having spent my entire working life in Taiwan, I have absolutely no idea how Medisave, Medishield and Medifund work, except that the first one is a paltry number that shows up in my yearly CPF statement. Hence, I will not attempt to make any comparisons.

I will instead give a picture of a healthcare system that I am familiar with and use on a daily basis - the Taiwan National Health Insurance (NHI), and let you, fellow Singaporean, to judge for yourself the difference between the two systems. I'm not a medical professional, just someone who uses the system, so I don't know what it's like from the healthcare provider's (i.e. the doctor's) point of view. If you're interested in the economics of health care in Taiwan, you can check out this paper.

Having lived and worked in Taiwan for the past decade, I've been enrolled in the NHI. In fact, all Taiwanese citizens and permanent residents are enrolled by default and must pay the monthly insurance premiums. So how much premium does one have to pay? It basically depends on two factors - your occupation and income.

Firstly, let's look at occupation. This determines the contribution ratio, or how much the individual, employer and government has to pay in terms of insurance premiums. So if you're an average employee in a public or private company, you pay 30%, the company 60% and the government tops up the remaining 10%.

People in the military, veterans and low-income households get full government assistance and don't have to pay any insurance premiums at all. Self-employed people pay 100% of their premiums.

Secondly, income. Basically, the more you earn, the more you pay. The average adult in Taiwan pays around NT$749 (~S$32) a month out-of-pocket in insurance premiums per person. If you're married have children, you can choose to peg the insurance premiums for your kids to the spouse with lower income to avoid paying higher premiums. An average family of four can expect to pay about NT$3000 (~$129) a month for healthcare insurance.

Okay, so you pay the compulsory NHI premiums every month. What do you get in return?

For starters, you'll be issued an IC card by the NHI, which entitles you to seek medical services at any NHI-registered clinic or hospital. The IC card above stores all your medical data and treatment history, so no doctor has a monopoly over your medical records, hence you're free to seek advice from any doctor, knowing that he or she has access to your medical history instantly and can make more accurate diagnoses based on it. Practically every man, woman and child in Taiwan has one. My daughter was issued an IC card on her birth.

In Taiwan, almost every single clinic or hospital, large and small is registered with the NHI. This means you can pick and choose which doctor to see, at your preference and convenience. No need to queue at some polyclinic for hours, because clinics are available everywhere. Only in the event of emergencies (or on Sundays when most clinics are closed) then you go straight to a hospital. If there are queues, people do so voluntarily because they prefer the doctor for some reason, not because they have no choice.

When you see the doctor at a clinic or hospital, you have to pay outpatient charges as a form of copayment, this is to avoid abuse of the system through overuse. For ordinary neighborhood clinics, one usually pays around NT$100 (~$4.30) for a visit (NT$50 for consultation and NT$50 for appointment fee). Disabled people pay a flat fee of NT$50 for medical care no matter at hospitals or clinics. Visits with referrals cost less than those without referrals.

After the consultation, comes the medication costs. For everyday illnesses like flu or cough, usually you don't have to pay anymore for the medicine. Only if the actual cost of the medicine exceeds a certain amount, only then you'll have to make up the difference. Medication co-payments are capped at NT$200 (S$8.60), so regardless if the medicine costs NT$2000 or $10000, you only pay NT$200.

If you have chronic illnesses such as hypertension or diabetes, you are exempted from the co-payments, and are eligible for "chronic illness refill prescriptions", i.e. you can get your medication straight from a pharmacy without having to visit the doctor.

Finally, let's look at coverage. What does national healthcare in Taiwan cover? Besides outpatient care at clinics and hospitals, it also covers:

  • Chronic Disease Patients (includes cancer, diabetes, hypertension, etc.)
  • Catastrophic Illness Patients (click here for full listing)
  • Occupational Injuries or Disease
  • Rare Diseases (click here for full listing)
  • Emergency Care when Travelling Aboard

So what this means that all the major illnesses like cancer and diabetes is fully covered by health insurance. While this means escalating medical costs to the government, it makes a world of difference to the patient, especially those who are disadvantaged to start with.

And there you go. I know it's not a comprehensive report, but I hope it covers enough for you to get an idea of what it's like to be part of an affordable healthcare system. I don't have to worry about exorbitant medical costs breaking my piggy back, because I have an army of decent doctors (many with overseas degrees), dentists and ophthalmologists to take care of me and my family in case anything goes wrong.

Of course, it only covers the basics, so if you want extras like the latest medicine, high-tech medical tests and a single hospital suite all to yourself, you still have to pay extra. But forget the high-end, the rich can afford quality healthcare no matter the price. It's how we take care of the people at the lowest rungs of society that really counts, I feel.

May 26, 2011

The perfect ending to the 2011 General Elections

Original article by Lianhe Zaobao, May 25 2011. Photo taken from Pritam Singh's FB album.

The perfect ending to the 2011 General Elections

"May we take a photo with you?"

When former Minister Mentor Lee Kwan Yew heard the request from opposition party leader Low Thia Kiang, he gladly agreed, even exchanging a few words with him.

This was after last Saturday's Cabinet Swearing In ceremony, in which around 700 guests attended the subsequent reception at the Istana Gardens, the country's political patriarch Lee Kuan Yew and the Worker's Party Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang, together with five other Worker's Party elected MPs and two NCMPs, were gathered together in this precious photo.

Low Thia Kiang: "I respect MM Lee's contributions to Singapore."

This photograph is not only of historic significance, it also leaves a lot to the interpretation of the imaginative viewer.

It turns out at that time, the eight Worker's Party MPs were taking a group photo near MM Lee's seat, so when Low Thia Kiang saw him, he walked over and asked if MM Lee would like to take a photo with them.

When answering questions from our reporters last night, Low Thia Kiang remarked: "MM Lee is Singapore's founding father. Although I oppose some of his policies made during his term in office, and am unhappy with the way he ran the country and some policies, including the closing of Nantah University, this also led me to join opposition politics. His achievements in bringing Singapore to where it is today is there for all to see, and I respect that. The Worker's Party MPs asked to take a photo with MM Lee before his retirement from the cabinet out of respect for him."

In the recent elections, Low took the bold step of leaving his familiar Hougang ward where he defended successfully for the past 20 years, to lead a team to contest the neighbouring Aljunied GRC, and took five steps from the PAP in one fell swoop. His successor in Hougang, Yaw Shin Leong, also successfully defended the single seat constituency.

In addition, Worker's Party candidates Yee Jenn Jong and Gerald Giam were offered Non-Constituency MP seats, as a result of being the losing opposition candidates with the most votes.

According to the Worker's Party MPs who took the photo with MM Lee, even though they only exchange a few words with him, the atmosphere was very cordial and MM Lee and Low Thia Kiang were all smiles throughout. This may reflect on the beginning of a new, sophisticated political era, making it the perfect ending to the fierce competition that was the 2011 elections.

Reform starts at home

Barely a fortnight has passed since the end of the elections, that two PAP MPs have made a fool of themselves for making inappropriate comments, one on Facebook and the other on mainstream media, no less.

Obviously not taking a lesson from Tin Pei Ling to be careful of what to say on social media, Tampines MP Irene Ng made a comment on Facebook complaining about the extensive media coverage of the Meet-The-People sessions of the Worker's Party in Aljunied GRC (implying she's not getting any):

Her sour grapes comment brought her no small amount of flak, since being the incumbent in Tampines GRC (to which unfortunately I belong), the RC with its air-conditioned office and hordes of eager grassroots leaders at her beck-and-call will be as she left it before the elections. So of course she can start work two days after the elections.

Compare that with Low Thia Kiang and team having to take over Aljunied GRC (which will take another 1~2 months pending account audits) from scratch, and having to conducting MPS in void decks Hougang-style sans air-conditioned offices, which one is more newsworthy?

Irene Ng, your constituents are not stupid, we will know if you have served us well whether or not your trumpet it on social media (and shooting yourself in the foot in the process) or not. It's your mindset that the mainstream media is the sole entitlement of the PAP that is really off-putting.

Not wanting to be outdone, barely two days later, ‎MP for Nee Soon GRC Dr Lim Wee Kiat expressed how he felt about cutting ministerial salaries to the Lianhe Wanbao:

“If the annual salary of the Minister of Information, Communication and Arts is only $500,000, it may pose some problems when he discuss policies with media CEOs who earn millions of dollars because they need not listen to the minister’s ideas and proposals, hence a reasonable payout will help to maintain abit of dignity.”

After recently starting a review of the contentious issue of ministerial pay, it seems that PM Lee is really serious about reform. But all that effort (whether going through the motion or not) will go all tumbling down if more MPs like Dr Lim continue making such stupid remarks that clearly do not show that they're not in it for the money. In fact, money equals dignity in the value system of your average PAP MP, which I'm not sure if the kind of characteristics we are looking for in our future leaders.

In a rally speech at Raffles Place on May 3, PM Lee once remarked:

“Supposing you have a Parliament with 10, 15 or 20 opposition members out of 80, then instead of spending my time thinking what is the right policy for Singapore, I will spend all my time, I have to spend all my time thinking of what is the right way to fix them, what’s the best way to buy my own supporters over”.

If PM Lee is really serious about reform, he should get his own house in order really soon, to avoid further embarrassment by his own party MPs. Otherwise, instead of spending his time thinking what is the right policy for Singapore, he'll have to spend all his time thinking of how to stop the nitwits within the party from embarrassing themselves and the PAP.

Time to get the Whip out.

May 23, 2011

Taiwan talk show on LKY and Singapore politics

A recent Taiwanese talk show devoted an entire program to cover the recent 2011 General Elections, the Lee dynasty and Singapore politics. Although there are some inaccuracies in the commentary, it is an interesting look at Singapore from a Taiwanese perspective.