The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Friday, January 16, 2009

Why National Service men should not be insured.

National Service men in Singapore, should not be insured. There is a better way.

The problem with the present proposed idea of insurance for the conscripted National Service men of Singapore (NSF) is that insurance provides Mindef with NO incentive to look after the safety of its recruits. I understand that, from January 2009, the option exists for NSFs to insure themselves for 100,000 dollars personal accident insurance for 12.80 dollars per month. They have to pay this themselves, out of their earnings which are to be raised 20 dollars (wow!) to cover the situation.

I find this situation troublingly dissatisfactory. If an NSF is insured and injured, maimed, or killed, Mindef is not going to compensate the family or victim. That means that Mindef will not suffer any loss if its servicemen suffer loss. This is an inherently unsafe situation. If the situation is, however, altered so that Mindef suffers loss each and every time a serviceman is injured, maimed or killed, then Mindef will do EVERYTHING IT CAN to ensure the safety of those servicemen. If, however, there is no loss to Mindef for harm to servicemen it may not be so careful with those servicemen's lives - because it will have no repercussions for them.

Every year there is a tragic toll on young National Servicemen (NSFs) who are injured, disabled or killed in the course of their duties. None of this suffering is necessary and none of it should occur. There are safe ways to conduct training and not so safe ways to conduct training. If training were conducted with the utmost safety in mind and the lives of the conscripts placed as the highest priority, I find it hard to imagine that there would be many casualties: the chances of such could be reduced to the point of rarity. Ideally, therefore, we need to create a situation in which Mindef is highly motivated to ensure the safety of its conscripts. There is one word for the way in which this would work: responsibility. Mindef must take responsibility for the safety, health and lives of its involuntary conscripts.

At first analysis, there are a few obvious ways to encourage a concern for the safety of recruits, of the highest order. Firstly, there must be repercussions to Mindef for every injury, loss or death. Secondly, there must be repercussions for the SENIOR STAFF of Mindef, for each such injury, loss or death. By having such accountability, the organization would take every step to ensure the safety of recruits that is possible.

This analysis leads to a conclusion: there should be NO insurance for NSF/National Servicemen. Instead, Mindef should be DIRECTLY financially responsible for the compensation of all recruits injured, maimed or killed. To make this work, the level of compensation needs to be high and punitive so that Mindef has a strong incentive to look after its recruits. Mindef should be responsible for all medical costs incurred by injuries sustained while recruits serve NS. Furthermore, there should be disability pensions to provide ongoing, lifelong compensation for any disabilities acquired in the course of duties. I know, for instance, a former American soldier who suffers from tinnitus (persistent ringing in the ears) from the sounds of heavy guns firing during a war. He receives a monthly disability allowance from the US government for this injury and shall do so for his entire life. That would be the kind of system which ensures responsibility on the part of Mindef. Not only that, but if a National Serviceman (NSF) dies while serving NS, there should be substantial compensation to the family of the deceased. I would suggest a sum equal to his ENTIRE LIFETIME EXPECTED EARNINGS based on his known academic attributes would be appropriate and fair.

These two measures would create a cost to Mindef for the loss of health or life of its recruits and thus a strong incentive for Mindef to look after its recruits.

There is another aspect. Mindef's and SAF's senior staff should have a performance element in their pay linked to the safety of their recruits. If a recruit dies, they should suffer financially, in a significant way. Similarly, if a recruit is injured. It should work both ways - being both a positive and negative incentive. By this I mean that if NO recruits are harmed or killed that year, there should be a large salary BONUS. This would strongly incentivize senior management to look after their charges.

Were all of these proposed changes to be implemented, we would soon see a fall in the number of NSFs injured, maimed or killed. We would also see a force of National Servicemen who are happier to serve, since they will be secure in the knowledge that their country will look after them, and their families, in the event that some harm should befall them. Presently, of course, this is not so. Presently, NSFs know that Mindef will not look after them and their families in the way that they should. This must change.

The other aspect about my proposal which should not be overlooked is that, in theory, it could cost relatively little. All that Mindef and the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) needs to do to make this a cheap but effective initiative is to ensure the safety of their recruits. In doing so, senior management would then enjoy bonuses to reward them for having guarded the lives of their charges.

I think everyone would be happier with my proposed system. Let, Mindef, therefore, be the automatic insurer of all NS men.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:54 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are absolutely wrong.
There should not be National Service AT ALL!

A professional army will beat a larger army of conscripts every time.

And we live in a era where we need counter terrorism specialists and not some armed kids more dangerous to the people they are supposed to protect than terrorists.

10:53 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Boy oh appear not to have actually read my post. I am not arguing that there should be National Service: there already is National Service. I am simply stating that Mindef should be responsible for the safety of its recruits - and how on Earth can that be "absolutely wrong".

I assume you are the poster who likes to go around saying "absolutely wrong" everywhere.

If you had actually taken the time to read my blog, elsewhere, you would have noted that I have strongly argued for a professional army and proposed an end to National Service: so how does that make me "absolutely wrong"? I have already argued for your suggestion.

If my proposal above were enacted, National Service would become a whole lot safer for everyone. That is if there has to be National Service.

11:41 PM  
Anonymous te said...

Most interesting post. And it does makes sense too, although I fear the extra money will eventually be tapped from increased taxes.

Anyway, regarding those incidents involving recruits: The activities are MAINLY conducted by other NSFs themselves, be they SGTs or Officers.

Would it be fair to put the blame on them, since they were conducting the training?

Within SAF, before any activity is conducted, a RAWR, which is basically a risk assessment needs to be done and adhered to by the conducting officer. If all the precautions had been taken, but still, say someone dies (e.g. the recruit some time back during a walk in BMT), is it fair to blame anyone, esp after the report concludes that it was due to some heart problems that are most difficult to detect?

Another discussion point is this: In the SAF, there are many good safety directives. While troublesome, they can be of great help in reducing risks. Unfortunately, many conducting officers simply print and file, without really adhering to them right down to the letter (except of course, during surprise safety inspections).
In this case, is it fair to blame the senior management for what the young NSF officer has done? Or rather not done.

Your opinion please. Thank you


11:59 PM  
Blogger Colin said...

There is always a conflict between realism and 'safety'. 'Safety' (in inverted commas because it denotes the bureacratic, dogmatic red tape in place to ensure that servicemen come to no harm) can be so stifling, as it now is, that realism suffers. Worse still, 'safety' and real safety are not synonymous, but this lulls us into a sense of false security.

How can you make war safer? You just can't. The things you will be called to do in war are inherently dangerous!

I've served, and I know, even though I've never seen a professional army train, that our training is so watered down in the name of 'safety', that it will bear no practical benefits.

Live firing exercises are carried out to familiarise troops to the procedures and necessary behaviours needed in order to cause maximum harm to the enemy and zero harm to friendly troops. So how can we demarcate and script where every soldier should go during the exercise?

The unexpected ALWAYS happens in combat, and you cannot always follow the script.

My point is, 'safety' is needed for safety's sake. But to what extent? To the extent that your own troops have never faced the possibility of accidentally killing a comrade in arms because of his own carelessness? So if we go to war what happens? This same soldier will likely cause several deaths, in my opinion.

"But it wasn't like what we went through in training!!"

How many lives have to be lost in combat because of poor training before we realise the dangers we put our boys through?

This sissified army is not doing anyone any favours.

The way I see it, real proper safety comes from professionalism and competence. These are qualities which even armies looked down upon by ignorant Singaporeans (because they belong to poor countries) possess.

If recruits are trained by professional soldiers (and not kids fresh out of JC and with only one year's experience in the forces) from day one, who relentlessly and mercilessly drill into them the meaning of being a warrior, and stamp out the civillian mindsets in them, then we will no longer have so many deaths, without the cloistering restrictions of 'safety' red tape. Then perhaps MINDEF will not be so compelled to scramble for cover everytime some mishap occurs, because fewer of such incidents happen.

It's ridiculous how each time someone dies, a new safeguard is put in place. How long can we keep this up?

1:49 AM  
Anonymous BP said...

Being accountable is really not one of our government's strength, I have to say. The Mas Selemat case for example. All they do when something happens is look for a scapegoat. Your idea sounds workable, but then again it would never ever be taken up by Mindef. Why would they when they feel no pressure to? Court ruling, maybe? I seriously doubt it.

1:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are too many victims already. If these proposals were implemented, then I am sure we may see more victims and ex-victims who will take their cases to court on many grounds of negligence.

9:42 AM  
Anonymous te said...

Latest news in today's papers: The family has successfully sued MINDEF

11:25 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Te, if a system of consistent accountability at all levels were implemented, safety would improve.

Firstly, it strikes me as negligent in the extreme for NSFs to be conducting the training themselves since they have little experience. Only experienced military personnel (regulars) should conduct trainings that carry a risk of death or injury - for only they would have the experience to be aware of the possible harm.

That NSF SGTs and Officers are doing most of the training indicates, to me, a systemic neglect of basic safety and care for the recruits. The lives of the recruits should not be entrusted to people who themselves have little experience. It is the responsibility of senior management for conducting things in this way - so they should be responsible and accountable for what happens.

Only if the senior management are accountable for everything that happens in their organization will they ensure that the right steps are taken to secure the safety of recruits.

"If all precautions have been taken" and someone comes to harm, then I would suggest that someone hasn't thought of something that might be harmful - and so responsibility should STILL fall on senior management for not having thought of the harmful situation that wasn't prevented.

As for heart defects etc: these ARE detectable if all recruits are examined properly with comprehensive heart tests. That this is not done is another instance of systemic negligence (ie. saving costs rather than saving lives). There is no excuse for such a situation when they can be detected medically.

If a young officer does not adhere to safety directives but just "prints and files" then they should face criminal charges. The penalties for not adhering to safety directives should be severe. You will find, then, that officers will actually adhere to safety directives.

Again, senior management should bear responsiblity and accountability in such failings. This will encourage them to ensure that their young officers ARE adhering to directives. If there is accountability at all levels, all will be more satisfactory re. safety.

It seems to me, that proper accountability does not presently exist (from what you have said) - and that is precisely why there are so many problems.

At all levels NSFs and regulars, junior and senior, they must know that if safety is disregarded, they will be held accountable and that the penalties will be severe enough to encourage them to comply.

It would work - and a lot of lives will be saved/improved.

3:50 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...


There should be no live firing exercises in NS. There are safer ways to demonstrate whether our trainees are going to kill people accidentally: how about paintball guns or the equivalent? The same exercise could be conducted and the same information extracted, without anyone being at risk of dying. There is no excuse for a soldier dying in training - that is a completely pointless and stupid death. Of course, soldiers will die on the battlefield if it ever comes to that...but you shouldn't be conducting exercises that will kill soldiers in training in the name of "realism" or any other ideal.

Actual safety should be the aim, not bureaucratic adherence to face saving rules. Such safety has a place on the battlefield too...despite what you say, to prevent friendly fire incidents.

I agree that only professional soldiers should conduct training - indeed I was shocked to learn that this wasn't so. Why are inexperienced people used to conduct trainings? Is it to SAVE MONEY? It strikes me as just a little stupid and quite a lot mad to do so. Personally, I wouldn't take orders from a 19 year old former JC boy of one year experience - and neither should anyone else. A boy of that age and experience may not even know how to tie his shoelaces safely, never mind fight a war.

War can be made safer. For instance, use body armour, tanks and helicopter/air support. However, it cannot be made SAFE, as such. Training, however, can and SHOULD be made safe. There is no need to kill trainees just because it is more realistic that some would die in a real situation. That indicates a lack of respect for human life of the highest order.

There is nothing wrong with safeguards if they are effective. They need to be put in place as long as people are still dying in training.

All lives are valuable, Colin - and none should be wasted: not in the name of "realism" and not in the name of anything else, either.

4:00 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

That is great news Te, re. the successful suit on behalf of Jeremy Tan.

The pity of it is, though, that they had to sue Mindef to get justice. They should have been supported automatically in this regard.

Thanks for letting me know the news.

4:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Singapore, we can talk until the cows come home. Nothing changes much. Not if the Government is going to lose big on dollars with your proposal.

Sure, wait for some cosmetic touch-ups, like the latest insurance coverage. Again, who pays?

I am not cynical. I am just beginning to understand the Lee regime after 45 years.

You take your time. Cheers.

3:17 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

The government would not lose "big on dollars" if no-one dies/rate of injury falls. They only lose big if they continue to put their young men through the meat grinder.

You express a helplessness before the way things are. Such a learned helplessness leads nowhere: it is when rats give up struggling for life and drown. Is that what Singapore has come to?

Yes. This is a country famed for not listening too much to its people...but nevertheless that should not mean one shouldn't at least point out things that could be improved. To do otherwise is fatalistic and ensures that nothing will ever improve for the people of Singapore.

Nothing lasts forever...not even in Singapore. This country will begin to change and perhaps sooner than people think. It will change, for the better, out of necessity or it will fail as a nation. Then, when it fails, it will change anyway. So change it will. It doesn't really matter what any particular set of politicians want for the country, for ultimately they have to face up to the reality of the global situation in which Singapore exists. Singapore must accommodate itself to that if it is to thrive. In so doing, Singapore will have to change in many ways, over time.

Best wishes.

4:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Change requires a collective will from the people to change. It is not happening anytime soon.

Why wait a lifetime for something you can get elsewhere?

Why sacrifice my next generation for my own idealistic notions.

My children will live elsewhere.

9:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read your entire post.

Any article that even gives a shred of legitimacy to an evil social engineering program (that has little to do with national security) is wrong.

In case you are still wondering, this government (in this case the army aspect) will NOT spend any money (on non-elites) unless it is forced to. We are just cows to be milked.

Had their plight not appeared in the media, they would have no chance of winning. That they (the "lesser mortals" in the eyes of the elite) won suggests one thing ... election is coming.

4:15 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

re. evil social engineering programme.

I have argued elsewhere on my blog that there should be no national service, but that there should be a professional army instead.

I, too, agree that had there been no media coverage a win was unlikely.

Fortunately for them, there was coverage and they did win.

I am still puzzled about the "elites" here...because by my means of measurement (intellect/creativity/genius) they don't seem very elite to me. But, heh, I am not the one making the decisions around here.

Thanks for your comment.

6:09 PM  

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