Moving to

I'm moving to Mostly.

I plan to use that site as a "self-marketing website" of sorts and to manage content in a way that I would otherwise not be able to do on blogger alone.

This blog will stay, ostensibly for more provisional ideas prior to refinement. I'll be gradually moving content (I still like) over to the other website. =)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

On Fairness in National Service

The recent fracas about Dr Patrick Tan, son of presidential hopeful and former DPM Tony Tan, arguably escaping a doing proper NS term raises the old issue of fairness. Let me outline some of the relevant considerations:
  1. Patrick Tan's background would have made him a suitable "Defence Medical Scientist".
  2. If the position was created just for him, it points to nepotism. On the other hand, it may have been his case which highlighted the usefulness of creating such a post.
  3. If the position was not retained following his exit, the evidence of MINDEF functioning with both fear and favour would be rather damning.
I haven't been able to find anything about the role/career of "Defence Medical Scientist" on the MINDEF, DSO and DSTA web pages, so I've tentatively resolved the greyness for myself on this matter.

On my own experience, I myself disrupted, did my undergrad degree and my masters in what might essentially be operations research (same as Tony Tan amusingly, and at the same institution). Now, when I came back, I returned to 3rd Battalion Singapore Guards to a combat role. It was a good time. I did another ICT in July (it was a high key), and it was fun too. I can't really complain too much.

However, I could have been better deployed, the only time I used my knowledge was when I did a simple network simulation for NDP 2008 to identify choke points in the movement of performers to and from the floating platform. There was a certain SAF Operations Research Office in MINDEF and I would have definitely been better deployed there. My skill level would have been, conservatively putting it, between that of a Senior Analyst and Principal Analyst, and since the equivalent pay would be between $5k-$8k, that would have meant considerable cost savings to MINDEF, along with the introduction of new ideas to that office. (Well, the money may be peanuts to a certain some, but the ideas would be even more expensive to buy.)

It would not have been too difficult for the Central Manpower Base to have conducted interviews with returning scholars to determine if they might be better deployed elsewhere. It is markedly unfair if this process is only available to the privileged and well connected.

If the purpose of National Service is to train young men to be a cohesive fighting force to serve as a credible deterrent, the claim that a descendent or relative or a minster can better serve the nation in NS by not really doing NS is highly disingenuous and dishonest.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Singapore and The Talented Tenth

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois graduated from Harvard, where he earned his Ph.D in History, the first African American to earn a doctorate at Harvard. One of his most memorable quotes reads:
    The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races.
with the clarification that
    ... the power of this aristocracy of talent was to lie in its knowledge and character, not in its wealth.
I would argue that a position like this is precisely that which is behind the Singapore government scholarship scheme and other highly exclusive talent development schemes in the civil service. The obvious, and most serious, problem is the identification of "the talented tenth". It is my position that this problem has not been solved.

(In response to any personal attack of the sour grapes variety, I was/am a PSC Scholar and gave up the chance to be assessed for absorb-tion into the Administrative Service in favour of doing more engineering work.)

At the other end of the ladder, which begins with scholarships and the "all important" GCE 'A' Levels, is cabinet - "the talented 1/100000". Again, the long selection process suffers from a similar but lesser problem. While the issue of capability is largely solved, issues of motive remain. Will they work to guide the Mass away from contamination and death? This has consistently been on trial in the public sphere. To play the devil's advocate, can there be smoke without fire?

Later in life, Du Bois came to believe that leadership could arise from many levels, and that grassroots efforts were also important to social change. He wrote that:
    When I came out of college into the world of work, I realized that it was quite possible that my plan of training a talented tenth might put in control and power, a group of selfish, self-indulgent, well-to-do men, whose basic interest in solving the Negro problem was personal; personal freedom and unhampered enjoyment and use of the world, without any real care, or certainly no arousing care as to what became of the mass of American Negroes, or of the mass of any people.
This time, his position was consistent with observed outcomes around the world. While Singapore has been busy learning about development from the West, it may have neglected this trajectory of development. Sadly.

Further Comments:
These "cut-off" schemes are extremely ugly from a mathematical/engineering/risk point of view. They are highly discontinuous and do not provide a good hedge. Purporting to have correctly identified the talented 1/10000 or 1/100000 is not only arrogant but stupid. (Considering self-selection, I would grant that it may be successful in identifying the politically ambitious 1/10000 or 1/100000.)

It would be good to move for a more broad based distribution of resources to kindle the talents of many that may be otherwise obstructed by socio-economic obstacles.