People eating while queueing at the launch of a condominium project. Some were merely keeping a place for prospective buyers who had paid them to wait on their behalf. And in another example of how money creates separate worlds for the rich and the poor, a soon-to-be-opened private hospital in Singapore provides this suite (above), which is larger than a five-room HDB flat. -- ST PHOTOS: DESMOND WEE
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By Jeremy Au Yong, Political Correspondent
IT IS perhaps a sign of the times that a government minister has to address the traffic offence of a single individual.
The scrutiny plastic surgeon Woffles Wu received this week would have been unimaginable just 10 years ago. But now, it comes as no surprise that many are calling on the authorities to hit him hard.
A large part of this backlash lies in a perceived sense of injustice. In many cases, a country's laws are designed to deter, rehabilitate and incapacitate criminals for retribution as well as to lay down a moral marker for behaviour that a society frowns on.
However, Wu's $1,000 fine, for abetting an employee to give false information over a speeding offence, is seen as too small a part of his income to fulfil any of these functions. Instead, it becomes a mere fee that a rich man can pay for the right to do what he wants.
The backlash also reflects simmering antipathy between the haves and the have-nots.
If a delivery man were fined a measly $10 for a similar offence, perhaps few would bat an eyelid. Here, Wu's status as a member of Singapore's rich and famous set is working against him. And it is not just a case of 'tall poppy syndrome', though that surely plays a part; this seems symptomatic of a larger strain on social cohesion.
This is, of course, not a uniquely Singaporean problem. Societies all over the world are grappling with the heightened social tension arising from growing income inequality.
Some have concluded that inequality is an inescapable part of a globalised world and therefore a new reality that everyone needs to come to terms with.
However, political philosopher Michael Sandel has argued in a new book that even if the wall between rich and poor cannot be completely torn down, society can at the very least stop adding more bricks.
In his book What Money Can't Buy, Professor Sandel argues that macro-trends like globalisation are not the only forces pushing people apart. At fault are also national and perhaps even local-level decisions on how to run schools, hospitals and even highways.
He says that economic principles have increasingly crept into all aspects of everyday life. And when people can pay for the privilege to flout social norms that others abide by - such as to cut queues or pollute the environment - then they go ahead and do so without regard for right and wrong.
And he worries that when everything can be bought with money, the rich can more easily differentiate and separate themselves from the poor. The less the classes mix, the more foreign each side becomes to the other.
Sandel calls it the Skyboxification of American Life, named after the luxury suites now in almost every US sports venue. Where sports used to bring people together regardless of class to support a common cause, these suites mean the rich can now do so at a healthy distance from the working class.
Thankfully, Singapore still has some common spaces where rich and poor can mix, but these are becoming increasingly rare.
The country does seem to be headed down the same slippery slope the US is on.
Like in the US, there are theme parks in Singapore that allow visitors to skip the normal queues for a fee. Less formally, there is also a growing market for queue-sitters. People are paying hundreds of dollars to students to hold a place in queue for them for anything from a new iPad to a condominium.
Similarly, our economic growth has included a multitude of premium services like private banking, private hospitals and private schools that provide avenues for the rich to set themselves apart from the poor.
Indeed, this has not been an overnight process but the end result of years of everyone trying to maximise economic value through price differentiation, which in turn has led to an increased social gap.
The increasing demand for places in local international schools provides a particularly relevant example.
A Straits Times report in February found that three local international schools - Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) International, Hwa Chong International and St Joseph's Institution (SJI) International - were expanding facilities to take in more students.
Singaporeans and permanent residents make up half the students in ACS and Hwa Chong international schools, and 60 per cent of those at SJI. Officials from the schools attributed the demand from Singaporean students to the brand names, alternative curricula and smaller class sizes.
The Government has always maintained that it prefers Singaporean children to attend local schools for the purpose of building national identity and social cohesion.
That meant local students could not enrol in an international school except under special circumstances, such as having grown up abroad.
That works well from a social cohesion point of view but is value-destroying from an economic point of view. Value-destroying because there clearly was demand for these schools from wealthy parents.
In 2004, brand name schools were given the green light to start international schools that were open to locals. This was to attract foreign students and to give Singaporeans more secondary school choices.
That seems to have met some pent-up demand and increased the size of the economic pie but it also undermined the role of a local school as a melting pot.
None of this is to say that the economic way is inherently bad or to suggest that all policies should be totally egalitarian. There will be times - even possibly in the examples above - when it makes sense to put a price on a social good.
It is difficult to just lay down a firm law on how we decide what to keep sacred. In a country with limited resources, trade-offs will always need to be made.
Perhaps we can start with the non-negotiables, draw up a list of areas where money cannot be allowed to differentiate.
On this list already are National Service and the National Day Parade. The Government has rightly decided that such emblems of nationhood should not be up for sale. Voluntary conscription might lead to only the poor defending the nation and the sale of NDP tickets might mean only the rich make it to the floating platform.
In other areas, there is a need to make sure that the impact on social cohesion, and not just economic value, is factored into decision-making. We cannot preserve every hawker centre or every public park. But when we decide that one should make way, let us do it having taken into account that we may be destroying something money cannot buy.
Screen saver: Mr Bilal Sapuan, senior chief projectionist at Cathay Cinemas, recalls the time when a policeman helped to deliver the second reel when the runner got into an accident. -- ST PHOTOS: ASHLEIGH SIM
Hands on: Mr Iskandar Abdul Malek says people are still needed for troubleshooting. -- PHOTO: ASHLEIGH SIM
The Straits Times
Published on Jun 3, 2012
Reel change in cinemas
Cinema chains have been moving to digital formats because of cost savings and for a better final product
By Boon Chan
While the casual cinemagoer is likely to be goggle-eyed at 3-D offerings, a more fundamental change is taking place quietly at the local cineplex.
In the last five years, cinema chains here have been stepping up the transition from film to digital formats. Instead of unspooling from film reels, a digital film would be downloaded from a portable hard-drive obtained from the movie's distributors into a cinema chain's central server.
Cinema chains tell SundayLife! that there are several factors driving the conversion: from considerations of cost and efficiency, to delivering a superior product.
For the moviegoer, the digital wave promises sharper and more brilliant images and in more colours than ever before. Digital projection offers a 35 trillion colour spectrum, more than eight times the amount film can capture.
Ms Vivien Ong, WE Cinemas' sales and marketing director, says that going digital 'provides our customers with the best movie experience in terms of visual and sound effects'.
WE Cinemas, previously known as Eng Wah Cinemas, claim that they were the first cinema in the world to commercially screen a full 2K-enabled digital movie in 2003 - the animated flick Brother Bear.
The 2K format, referring to a horizontal resolution that is 2048 pixels wide, is currently the most common format for digital movies.
Currently, all 11 of their halls are equipped with digital and 35mm projectors. The standard format for film in movies is 35mm.
A Cathay spokesman notes that in 2007, less than 20 per cent of the movies screened in Singapore were showcased in digital format. This figure has now jumped to more than 95 per cent for Cathay Cineplexes.
To date, 85 per cent of its 41 halls have gone digital while the remaining 15 per cent will be converted by the end of the year.
At Shaw Theatres, with 47 halls in total, the mix is currently 10 per cent digital- only halls, 55 per cent dual digital and 35mm halls, and 35 per cent 35mm-only halls.
While they intend to go fully digital, Mr Terence Heng, vice-president of media at Shaw Theatres, says that they will also 'continue to maintain some capability to screen 35mm films for a while to come'.
At Golden Village, more than 95 per cent of its movies are currently screened in digital format.
All 81 GV cinema halls are equipped with digital projectors.
Its spokesman points out that major Hollywood studios, independent studios, Asian and even local distributors are providing their movies in digital format.
He adds that there are cost savings as it is more expensive for distributors to import a 35mm print compared to a DCP (Digital Cinema Package). Also, a DCP can be used to upload the digital content for screening at different halls simultaneously while the 35mm format requires a separate print for each hall.
With film being phased out, two projectionists talk about how their job has changed over the years.
Background: He joined The Cathay in 1988 as a ticket collector and usher, before being promoted to projectionist a year later. He is now the senior chief projectionist in a team of five at The Cathay and is affectionately known as Uncle Bilal.
He is married with three grown children, aged between 19 and 32.
As a boy of nine or 10, he would watch Clint Eastwood cowboy flicks and war films at the open-air cinema in Kaki Bukit for 50 cents. He wondered how the images were projected onto the screen.
He would later find out for himself, after short detours as an apprentice car mechanic - 'every Saturday, I saw that my fingernails were all black and I got fed up' - and then as a shipyard welder - 'too hot'.
When he was promoted to projectionist at The Cathay, he had to learn how to join reels of 35mm film together. Each reel holds 18 to 20 minutes worth of a movie and weighs 2 to 3kg each.
He says: 'You have to be accurate, 100 per cent perfect.' Otherwise, the film strip will split and the projectionist will be left facing the dreaded blank white screen.
Once, during a stint at Regal cinema in Jalan Bukit Merah, he found out exactly how important that was. The Gods Must Be Crazy 2 (1989) was being screened and when the film strip tore, the audience grew a little crazy.
Mr Bilal recalls: 'People were throwing bottles, tins, everything, and I got scared. Lucky we had a safety plate to cover the projector lens.' Good thing the projectionist's room is much higher now, he adds.
He managed to join the film reels after five minutes and the show went on. After the comedy ended, he remained in the safety of the projectionist's room for a while. He says with a laugh: 'Today's generation is more educated, last time all like gangsters.'
Back then, film reels would be shared among different cinema halls with the help of staggered screening times. Projectionists would wait for runners dashing between them to deliver the all-important reels.
The genial and obliging Mr Bilal also recounts a 'funny and scary' story in which he was waiting impatiently for the second reel to arrive from Kreta Ayer. The first reel had ended and the seconds were ticking away as the white screen of death loomed.
He was shocked when it was finally delivered - by a policeman instead of the runner. He says: 'The runner had gotten into an accident and had asked the policeman to help.'
Given all the offscreen drama that he has seen with 35mm film, perhaps it is not surprising that Mr Bilal is not sentimental about the format.
He embraces the switch to digital and says: 'Digital is easier to manage. You programme everything and then just go through one test screening.'
With 35mm, there was more prep work to do, including physically transferring the reels from hall to hall.
Mr Bilal prefers the sharper images offered by digital projection and he does not regret the passing of 35mm. He concludes: 'Everything must upgrade.'
Background: He has worked as a projectionist with WE Cinemas for nine months.
He is married with six children between the ages of six and 21.
To support his family, he was holding down two jobs at one point - security officer by day and parking enforcement officer by night.
The fascination with movies started at a young age and he used to save his pocket money - '$1.50 a movie' - for films such as Jaws 3-D (1983) at Changi cinema. To him, the best part of being a projectionist now is that he gets to watch movies for free every day.
The enthusiastic Mr Iskandar did not undergo any formal training but learnt on the job. As WE Cinemas is equipped with 35mm and digital projectors, he got to know his way around both formats.
He says: 'Digital is easier as it's similar to what we do on computers, uploading and downloading.'
That is not to say that digital has not presented its share of challenges.
In April, The New Paper's FiRST Film Festival was held at the cineplex and one participant was not able to provide his short film in the right format. It took Mr Iskandar 10 hours to convert the eight-minute work into a digital format that could be screened.
He points out with a measure of pride: 'It's the biggest success to me as a projectionist as I believe that someone with just normal projectionist knowledge would not be able to do it.'
WE Cinemas currently employs eight projectionists.
As technology progresses, would there come a day when the entire process of movie projection is automated? Mr Iskandar says that he has read on the Internet about such a possibility. He says though: 'I'm worried but it won't happen. You will still need a human being to do things such as troubleshooting.'
It might mean fewer people will be needed to do the job and he plans on being one of the few. He keeps himself up-to-date on the latest news online.
His dream is to attend courses from digital projector manufacturers such as Barco and GDC Technology in the United States.
The latest crop of bosses will have short and troubled tenures
May 26th 2012 | from the print edition
FOR a company, no decision matters more than picking the right chief executive. A good boss can turn a so-so company into a scorcher. A bad one can turn a successful firm into a flop. Last year about 350 of the world’s 2,500 biggest public companies appointed a new head honcho. What is to be expected from this brave new band of bosses? Booz & Company, a consultancy, has produced an annual survey of CEO turnover in these firms for the past 12 years. The latest survey offers a welcome chance to speculate.
The omens do not look good. In appointing the boss class of 2011, company boards appear to have made two big bets. The first is that the world economy is about to grow briskly. Judging by the past decade’s data, companies tend to hold on to their chief executive when the economy is doing badly and appoint a new one when they feel that spring is in the air. In 2011 they appointed a lot of new bosses. A hefty 14.2% of firms made a change at the top, up from 11.6% the previous year.
The second bet is on hiring from outside. Outsiders are 22% of the class of 2011—a big increase from the 14% in 2007 and a sharp reversal of a decade-long trend towards recruiting insiders. There are many possible explanations for this. Perhaps companies now think that breadth of experience matters more than depth. Perhaps they think that outsiders will be better at managing the convergence of different industries: a retailing company might gain an edge by recruiting somebody with a background in information technology, for example.
Both bets look rash. First, the economy. The euro crisis has paralysed Europe. America’s recovery has proved shakier than expected. And growth in the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) is slowing. Storms are brewing, and it is seldom wise to switch captains while waves are sweeping the deck.
Second, the rush to hire outsiders. Booz’s research has consistently shown that insiders do better, because they have a feel for how the firm actually works. A big firm is a complicated organisation. It has a culture that cannot be understood simply by reading the accounts. That is why a typical insider CEO lasts a year longer and produces better returns for shareholders: an average of 4.4% for insiders who left their jobs in 2009-11 compared with 0.5% for outsiders. Insiders are much less likely to be sacked, too.
The new bosses will receive intense scrutiny. Even their private lives are no longer off-limits: the boss of Stryker, a medical-devices firm, recently resigned after a kerfuffle over when exactly he should have told the board he was dating an employee. More important, the days when bosses could mark their own exam papers are gone. In 2011 only 14% of CEOs were also appointed to chairmanships; a decade earlier, 45% were. Boards are more professional (and more regulated) than ever before. More firms ask their outgoing CEO to become chairman: 37% of outgoing North American bosses and 63% of Japanese ones stay on as chairman. The idea is that the chairman will act as a mentor to his successor. But he may end up constantly second-guessing him.
The new CEOs will have less room for mistakes than their predecessors. The professional life-expectancy of a chief executive has fallen over the past decade from 8.1 years to 6.4. It would have fallen further were it not for China, where bosses are lasting longer than they used to. (There are many more Chinese firms in the global top 2,500 than there were ten years ago.)
Boards are showing more appetite for risk and less tolerance of failure. This could make for some swift defenestrations from the top floor. Bossicide is especially likely in Europe, where the economy looks darkest, where boards are the least forgiving and where a hefty 31% of incoming CEOs are outsiders.
What can members of the class of 2011 do to succeed in such difficult circumstances? Booz has distilled some interesting advice from interviews with established CEOs. New bosses need to rearrange their senior teams quickly, to put allies into key positions and remove potential troublemakers (such as rivals who have been passed over or stick-in-the-muds who have outlived their usefulness). André-Michel Ballester, the boss of Sorin Group, an Italian medical-device maker, puts it neatly: you need to decide who are the “keepers” and who are the “leavers” in your first few weeks.
At the same time, new bosses need to take a while to make strategic decisions. This is obviously true of outsiders, who need to learn the lie of the land. But it is also true of insiders, who need to learn that the view from the top can be very different from the view that they were used to as the head of a department or a region. A new CEO should not become a “superboss” of her previous territory. She must grasp that she has an entirely new job.
Find a spouse and a sparring partner
The two most difficult things that new bosses have to deal with are isolation and pressure. The best antidote to isolation is to listen to the right people. Ian Livingston, the boss of BT (formerly British Telecom), says that the best source of advice is not a shareholder or a broker. Rather, it is a chief financial officer or a human-resources director, because these executives have an overview of the entire business. Several CEOs in Booz’s survey talked about the importance of finding a “sparring partner”—someone you can shoot the breeze with without worrying that he is pursuing a personal agenda. The best antidote to pressure is to have a supportive family. Experienced CEOs say that little can prepare you for the relentlessness of the pressure at the top, nor for the bewildering variety of jobs that confront you.
There will never be a shortage of people jostling to be the boss. But the wheel of fortune is spinning more quickly than ever, and the knives and arrows are flying more thickly.
Group of 500 residents want Govt to stick to plans to build rehab centres
By Robin Chan
A GROUP of 500 residents in Mountbatten are fighting back against their neighbours' opposition to plans for rehabilitation centres for the elderly to be built in their estate.
In what appears to be a twist to the not-in-my-backyard (Nimby) syndrome, they have petitioned the Government to stick with its plans to build the centres in the void decks of Blocks 10 and 11 on Jalan Batu.
Made up mostly of elderly folk, the group includes residents who live in these two blocks. Their petition comes about a month after a group of 130 residents had petitioned for the facilities to be located elsewhere.
The second group made their move fearing that the authorities would drop the plans or build a centre over a communal fountain - as the first group had suggested - where many like to gather.
Some of them were also frustrated by the first petition, and believe it came from younger neighbours who did not want their void deck to be used, even though it would take up only about 30 per cent of the space.
'The younger ones don't understand,' said contractor A. Samat, 68, who lives in Block 10. 'It seems that some younger residents nowadays can only think of themselves.'
Housewife Gurdip Kaur, 55, whose son has been going to a temporary rehabilitation centre at Block 12 after being injured in a car accident, agreed. 'There are more old folk here than children,' she told The Straits Times. 'If the Government is doing something nice for us, we should let them.'
If built, the new centres will be about nine times the size of the temporary one, and have equipment to aid recovery from stroke or Parkinson's disease.
The neighbourhood rift had started last month, when about 130 residents who live in Blocks 10 and 11 submitted a petition to Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan. Their concerns included the safety of children playing at the void decks, construction noise, and the likelihood of the resale price of their flats dropping.
They then proposed alternative venues for the centres: a nearby waste-bin collection centre, a central fountain next to Block 10, or the void deck of Block 1 or 14.
But the ceilings at Blocks 1 and 14 are believed to be too low to accommodate the centres, while the fountain is a popular gathering place for residents. The other blocks do not have void decks.
The petition not only fuelled national debate over the Nimby syndrome, but also angered other Jalan Batu residents who wanted the centres built in the void decks.
Hearing their concerns, retired businessman Michael Tan and a few friends in the neighbourhood began to gather support for the pro-centre petition. Said the 72-year-old, who has lived there for 16 years: 'The old folks here are unable to speak for themselves and the estate, so somebody has got to do something.'
The signatories include residents of Blocks 10 and 11, but it is not known how many of them live in these two blocks.
Mr Lim, their MP, has submitted both petitions to the Ministry of Health, which he said is still reviewing the case. He said the Government would take into account the views of the 'silent majority' as well.
For older residents like Madam Teh Kar Gim, 84, the greatest fear is that the fountain gets removed.
Said her neighbour Madam Kong Mei Lan, 74: 'It is such a nice place. Why would they want to build a centre right over that?'
MAY: About 40 people submit a petition against plans for a 260-bed nursing home facing three blocks of flats on a football field at Bishan Street 13. The Ministry of Health is still considering the feedback.
MAY: Residents in Jalan Batu oppose plans for a rehabilitation centre in the void decks of Blocks 10 and 11. Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan tells contractors to stop work. MOH is reviewing the feedback.
FEBRUARY: Residents of Blocks 860 and 861 in Woodlands Street 83 petition against an eldercare centre planned in the void decks. MOH says construction will go ahead after considering the feedback.
FEBRUARY: Toh Yi Drive residents object to the building of studio apartments for the elderly in their neighbourhood. The Housing Board later says construction will go ahead.