The past couple of days in the city has been a sweltering humid ick.

NY Times’ Thomas Friedman is in Singapore, and he came up with this analysis of Singapore’s reaction to US’ Hurricane Katrina situation:

There is something troublingly self-indulgent and slothful about America today – something that Katrina highlighted and that people who live in countries where the laws of gravity still apply really noticed. It has rattled them – like watching a parent melt down.

That is certainly the sense I got after observing the Katrina debacle from half a world away here in Singapore – a city-state that, if it believes in anything, believes in good governance. It may roll up the sidewalks pretty early here, and it may even fine you if you spit out your gum, but if you had to choose anywhere in Asia you would want to be caught in a typhoon, it would be Singapore. Trust me, the head of Civil Defense here is not simply someone’s college roommate.

Indeed, Singapore believes so strongly that you have to get the best-qualified and least-corruptible people you can into senior positions in the government, judiciary and civil service that its pays its prime minister a salary of $1.1 million a year. It pays its cabinet ministers and Supreme Court justices just under $1 million a year, and pays judges and senior civil servants handsomely down the line.

From Singapore’s early years, good governance mattered because the ruling party was in a struggle for the people’s hearts and minds with the Communists, who were perceived to be both noncorrupt and caring – so the state had to be the same and more.

Even after the Communists faded, Singapore maintained a tradition of good governance because as a country of only four million people with no natural resources, it had to live by its wits. It needed to run its economy and schools in a way that would extract the maximum from each citizen, which is how four million people built reserves of $100 billion.

“In the areas that are critical to our survival, like Defense, Finance and the Ministry of Home Affairs, we look for the best talent,” said Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy. “You lose New Orleans, and you have 100 other cities just like it. But we’re a city-state. We lose Singapore and there is nothing else. … (So) the standards of discipline are very high. There is a very high degree of accountability in Singapore.” [….]

The discipline that the cold war imposed on America, by contrast, seems to have faded. Last year, we cut the National Science Foundation budget, while indulging absurd creationist theories in our schools and passing pork-laden energy and transportation bills in the middle of an energy crisis. [….]

Janadas Devan, a Straits Times columnist, tried to explain to his Asian readers how the U.S. is changing. “Today’s conservatives,” he wrote, “differ in one crucial aspect from yesterday’s conservatives: the latter believed in small government, but believed, too, that a country ought to pay for all the government that it needed.

“The former believe in no government, and therefore conclude that there is no need for a country to pay for even the government that it does have. … (But) it is not only government that doesn’t show up when government is starved of resources and leached of all its meaning. Community doesn’t show up either, sacrifice doesn’t show up, pulling together doesn’t show up, ‘we’re all in this together’ doesn’t show up.”

So, Friedman has some interesting points, and I loved his dig at the ex-FEMA director.

Thursday night – I got home too late to watch George W. Bush’s primetime tv speech, but I actually watched ABC’s “Primetime” showing of how we can prepare for the Next Big One – i.e., a deadly possible avian flu pandemic that could kills millions, reminiscent of (or be worse than) the 1918 flu epidemic; or, a Big One earthquake in San Francisco (in which the mayor of San Fran actually admits that they are not prepared, having learned nothing from 1989’s earthquake); or a nuclear attack (hypothetically hitting… NYC. Gee, thanks, Chris Cuomo, for breaking down that particular storyline). Scary stuff. ABC’s reporters try to reassure that, with the right preparation and positive determined attitude, we could be okay, but apparently, US is hardly ready (we haven’t stockpiled enough flu medication; there’s no heightened awareness/public education about how to prepare or what to do; clearly, San Fran’s in deep doo-doo; and, yeah, Times Square will be wiped out by the nukes – but NY’ers are hardy people – as if this city hasn’t seen enough disaster). Oh, well.

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