Sunday, February 22, 2004

Straightening the Straits Times (7)

The majority of us always believe (or are led to believe) that the only four-letter profanities start with either an “F” or “S” (and maybe even a “C”). We don’t think it’s a good idea to print these swear words right here. Suffice to say that the first rhymes with “phuque”, while the second involves a call to nature (and the last can be derived from the shortened pronunciation of “cannot”). Don’t get it? Never mind.

The truth is, the above is no longer true. These days, we have more nasty four-letter words, like “oral” and “govt”. Here’s why:

Run, chicken, run!
In a futile attempt to demonstrate our readiness to deal with potential bird flu epidemic in Singapore, the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority culled a total of 5,000 perfectly healthy chickens in a galling exercise codenamed Operation Gallus 2 on Feb 18.

Casting aside the justification of taking innocent lives in this instance (a common argument being that they’re just animals), this whole farce appears to be a knee-jerk reaction to Singapore’s failure to practise “barrier nursing” during the SARS outbreak last year, resulting in 85% of probable SARS cases in Singapore happening among doctors and paramedics in the hospital setting.

So suppose if dengue fever were to make a comeback in this part of the world, as was reported in the Straits Times – “Dengue: 17 dead in Jakarta” (Feb 17) and “Dengue: Indonesia’s death toll doubles” (Feb 19), would the authorities round up 5,000 mosquitoes (healthy or otherwise) and train our Baygons at them? I mean, how stupid can our government get?

Using the lame excuse that the public might mistake the exercise for a bird flu outbreak, a blanket ban on media coverage of the entire operation was imposed.


Still, there is no reason for the Straits Times’ self-imposed blackout of news related to the incident, apart from publishing a letter to the Forum page by a reader asking, “if the culling is carried out but the result is not satisfactory, do we need to kill another 5,000 chickens in order to refine the procedures?” (Feb 16)

In fact, there was scant mention of the issues involved in the Straits Times, either before, during, or after the exercise. Once again, our national daily demonstrated its compliant nature by not raising questions on whether the exercise can be carried out without taking unnecessary lives, whether it would be an obvious waste of resources killing 5,000 healthy chickens, and what kind of benchmark was used to measure the success of the exercise (other than just declaring that it was).

Windows crashed again
No, I’m not referring to the crashing of the Windows. That’s a given.

In another indictment that the government solution is always worse than the original problem, the Singapore government is considering a new legislation, likely to be in place by September, that will provide for fines or even jail terms for home owners who fail to maintain or retrofit their windows (“Make your windows safe, or risk a fine”, ST, Feb 21).

Falling windows has been a major problem with 190 such incidents in the last three years, out of which HDB flats accounted for 166 cases. The main cause is the corrosion of aluminium rivets, which were installed in most HDB flats from 1987 to 1998. However, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) has accused that “when windows fail, it is usually because the owners have not maintained them properly”. As such, home owners, who will have to pay about S$190 or more for an inspection and retrofit of the windows, “cannot expect the HDB or the authorities to foot the bill”, said the BCA and HDB.

In this case, it is obvious that the HDB is trying to shirk its responsibility of shoddy workmanship and pass the buck to flat dwellers.

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