Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The itinerant booksellers have returned to my neighbourhood. Guess what I found today? Woody Allen on Woody Allen: In Conversation With Stig Bjorkman.

Mostly done with A Defining Moment: How Singapore Beat SARS. I went through the main text first, leaving the little side panels and appendixed stories for later. Chua Mui Hoong treats this book as a blow-by-blow account of healthcare and governmental reactions to the unfolding crisis. Even as she carefully avoids any explicit bias towards the Government, our Ministers and top civil servants end up looking really good.

Chua asserts that the main factor behind our relatively successful control of SARS is a certain collective mentality shared by the rulers and the ruled that have led us to be labelled as a "nanny state".
Like a trusted nanny, the state was successful in getting its messages across because it had a deep reservoir of trust with its citizens, built up over the years, to bank on.
----- p. 139
To this effect, Chua gives adequate space to the errors and mistakes made, but takes care to emphasise that these occurred because of time pressures and the need to err on the side of caution. Throughout the book she takes as given that the decision-making structures put into place (or already planned for, as the case may be) were the best possible ones to contain the SARS outbreak. Moreover, she paints a largely rosy picture of all levels of society humming in tune with Government measures. Any resistance is either glossed over or rendered incredulous -- like the story about the Cat Welfare Society planning to send stray cats to a Johor pet shelter in protest at increased cat culling by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority here. In all, the book isn't so much an account of a society coming to grips with a deadly disease as it is a story about a well-oiled machine going through its paces. But no-one's perfect, and you can't argue with results.

The photographs are nice, but paper quality was selected with affordability in mind -- and rightfully so. There is little doubt that this is a feel-good book, meant to appeal to the masses and inspire Singaporeans everywhere. There is truly much that rank-and-file Singaporeans (especially our healthcare professionals) can be proud of. Just don't expect any deep analyses behind decision-making processes or public policy implementation and so on. If you're into that kind of meatier, more critical stuff, you will want The New Global Threat, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and Its Impacts. And hey, it's conveniently available at Select Books (hint! hint!).

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