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Brownout – Why mr brown got canned

Standard disclaimer applies here, as it does to all of this site, that I write on a personal level and do not represent any views held by my employer…yadda yadda. You get the idea. Though I am aware riding on this train may get me fired.
When I read <a href="http://www.todayonline.com/articles/127762.asp">Kin Mun's article on Today</a> I knew immediately that this article was very different from the ones he normally writes. It was less tongue-in-cheek and more angsty. There is an impotence that comes with being humourous; the joker, whose presence is acknowledged, is never used in a game of poker where real money is at stake. If you follow mr brown's archives you'll see that he has become increasingly political of late, drawing national attention with the <a href="http://www.mrbrown.com/blog/2006/05/browncast_the_p.html">bak chor mee podcast</a>.
Summarising it in roadside vernacular, hiding behind humour is like wrapping yourself in a sarong and hoping Superman can't see you naked. He only pretend he didn't see. <a href="http://www.mrbrown.com/blog/2006/07/letter_from_mic.html"><abbr title="Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts">MICA</abbr>'s response to mr brown's article</a> wasn't Superman using his x-ray vision to carefully analyse the arguments. It was Superman shooting laser beams out of his eyes and frying mr brown's balls.This is a classic example of the Singapore Government not understanding what they termed "new media". While they could have focused on addressing the issue of increasing prices everywhere, <abbr title="Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts</abbr> Press Secretary Bhavani chose the two-pronged approach – attacking mr brown with "facts" that should also address the issue.
The general public cannot and will not see this as anything other than an attempt to silence or punish mr brown for stating what seems obvious to all of us. Ms Bhavani, by diluting the purpose of her reply, has weakened her argument, crippled her credibility and lost her power to communicate objectively with the audience. Sentences like,
<blockquote>"As for means testing for special school fees, we understand mr brown's disappointment as the father of an autistic child."</blockquote>
though relating to mr brown's disappointment regarding the means testing, can very easily be read out of context.
<blockquote>"They are polemics dressed up as analysis, blaming the Government for all that he is unhappy with. He offers no alternatives or solutions.</blockquote>
Isn't <a href="http://www.channelnewsasia.com/sge/pap_manifesto_04.htm">a more involved citizenry</a> part of the ruling party's manifesto? How can we expect citizens to be analytical when it comes to business but vegetative when it comes to politics?
In my line of work we often conduct user testing sessions for the user interfaces we design. These users try out our products, giving us feedback as to what rubs them the wrong way and bring to our attention things that don't work they way they expect. We don't disregard their input simply because they didn't attach a proposed solution to the problems they raised. We are hired to come up with solutions.
The government is beholden to the people to come up with solutions to their problems. As it is they draw the highest salaries of any government in the world, and by a significant margin at that. To misquote a famous comic character's uncle, "with great money comes great responsibility". And looking around, we the people sure as heck have given more than enough power to these "cream of the crop" folks to do whatever they need.
Word on the street (especially in the cabs) is that they have taken that power and hurt us. So far the majority of their solutions have adversely affected the pockets of the common man. A cab driver asked me the other day, after finding out that I was a techie, whether it was possible to make the cashcards used for <abbr title="Electronic Road Pricing">ERP</abbr> work like the Transitlink cards we use for bus and train fares.
What he meant was this: if you used your Transitlink card, which contained $1.99, on a $2 train ride, the balance would read -$0.01. When you topped up your card with $10 the next time round, the total amount in the card would be $9.99.
For the cashcard however, if you had $1.99 and went under an electronic gantry with a $2 fee, you'd be sent a $10 fine the very next week. The cab driver's question was valid. Why couldn't we save citizens some time and money by giving in a little? It is not like the government would lose anything – you were required to put a $2 deposit whenever you purchased a new cashcard (i.e. you'd pay $12 for a new $10 cashcard).
Pardon the digression, but mr brown's angst is valid. His questions are valid. They are not to be swept under because he didn't "offer an alternative or solution". That's your job. When people write in to tell me they couldn't access the government website I am in charge of because they run on a Mac, I don't ask them to rewrite my HTML for me. It's my friggin' job.
There will be more problems than solutions. That's what keeps us employed. mr brown's article does "encourage cynicism and despondency", but we need to understand that the rate at which it spreads, and the volume at which it speaks tells us the severity of the problem – it is not a problem in and of itself. We need to respond. We need to become competent in solving problems, and if we are not competent enough, the least we could do is come clean and be honest, then try again. Or let someone else take a crack at it.
I am a civil servant. And my purpose, like that of my colleages in the civil service, is to serve you the people. I am employed by you. I am employed by me.
Forgive the duality of this post, for my current existence straddles both accuser and accused. I'll leave you to decide who was whom.

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