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#ThatAwkwardMoment when you "erroneously" chop down a forest

Over at Samseng Zhabor, my newsletter of whimsy and musings, I’ve written about how I hoard books.

Before we begin, a question

Some of you might know that in 2019, I ran democracy classrooms where people could come together to discuss a topic — ranging from inequality to healthcare to public order laws — and practice engaging with others on political issues.

These classrooms had to stop in 2020 because of COVID-19, which was a real pity. Now, I’m thinking of reviving them… but how? There are still strict limits on gatherings, but it might be possible to do small group sessions. There’s also the possibility of doing a classroom online, although what platform should we use?

Here’s where you come in: click one of the options below to vote for your preferred platform!

  1. In person
  2. Clubhouse
  3. Discord (call/video)
  4. Google Meet/Hangout
  5. Zoom

Thank you! This will help me think through how best to plan and formulate democracy classrooms in this silly pandemic reality.

How does one chop down a forest by mistake?

A large chunk of forest in Kranji has been cleared, and the state-owned developer JTC says that it’d been done “erroneously”. The environment impact assessment (EIA) hadn’t even been completed; it was only due in April this year, although now it’s kind of moot since the forest is gone. JTC said that they discovered the mistake on 13 January, and immediately put a stop to the clearance. They also said that they’d given the contractor, Huationg, a stern warning.

But how can so many trees be chopped down and cleared by mistake?! And when did this first happen? JTC had told the Straits Times that the clearance began in December, but satellite imagery suggests otherwise: it shows that clearing operations might have begun as early as March 2020, and ramped up in August that same year.

Investigations are still ongoing, but a lot of Singaporeans aren’t really satisfied with what we’re hearing at the moment. So far, the penalty is only a stern warning to the contractor — that’s nothing compared to the destruction of those woodlands. How could the contractor have started clearing the area without sign-off or some payment from JTC? This isn’t something you can just go off and do my yourself; it’s a big, big job that requires manpower and heavy machinery, and costs lots of money.

The loss of these woodlands in Kranji isn’t an isolated issue — other forests are also being cleared, or slated for clearance. It won’t just be trees that we’re losing, but also the ecosystem and biodiversity that took decades to develop.

It also undermines the part of the government’s Green Plan that’s about planting one million trees — what’s the point of that if we’re chopping down trees elsewhere? And these newly planted trees won’t be able to replace the ecosystems that are lost, particularly since a lot of them are going to be planted in manicured parks.

Another data breach?!

Here comes another big data breach: the personal information of about 129,000 SingTel customers — a combination of IC numbers, names, addresses, dates of birth, and mobile numbers — were stolen after a third-party file-sharing system was breached. The bank account details of 28 former SingTel staff, the credit card details of 45 employees of a corporate customer, and information from 23 enterprises were also taken. 😱

SingTel has started informing those affected, and says it’ll be hiring a global data and information service provider to provide identity monitoring services, to help manage the risks of having one’s data stolen.

This isn’t the first big data breach we’ve seen in Singapore, and it’s certainly not the last. 😫😫😫

Got some more…

Jolovan Wham is back in prison. This time he’s serving a 22-day sentence after pleading guilty to organising a silent protest on the MRT drawing attention to Operation Spectrum and detention without trial in Singapore, as well as vandalism, which actually refers to the awful, awful act of *checks notes* sticking two pieces of paper up in the MRT carriage (which was later removed with no damage). He also paid a S$2,500 fine for refusing to sign the statements he gave to the police.

Attendees of the World Economic Forum won’t need to serve quarantines. The forum was meant to take place in Singapore in May, but was pushed back to August. The government says that instead of the stay-at-home period, there’ll be rigorous testing, mask-wearing, social distancing, and the use of TraceTogether. They’re also planning to physically segregate event attendees from the rest of the Singapore community. (I don’t really understand why people would want to fly all the way to Singapore to stay in a “bubble” just to attend this forum, and then fly home again, but then I am also not the target audience of the World Economic Forum. 🤷🏻‍♀️)

More and more attention is being drawn to Singapore’s position as the largest foreign investor in Myanmar. Saying that business and politics should be kept separate doesn’t really work when business helps the perpetrators of the coup make money and prop themselves up. I’ve put together a letter that Singaporeans can use as a template to write to MPs or government ministers.

Read in Solidarity!

While Jolovan’s doing time in prison, the Read in Solidarity Book Club has put together a 22-day Reading Challenge, from 16 February to 8 March 2021. It’s a way to stand in solidarity with Jolovan and learn more about the ideas and thought processes behind his activism and tactics. Get the reading list here, and put discussions groups together with your friends!

For Milo Peng Funders, I’ll be sending out a discussion thread a week that can be used as a space to share thoughts and ideas corresponding to the reading material.