Archive for the ‘patrimony’ Category

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revolution 302

September 30, 2005

My life is so interesting now that my friends have left for university. I am starting to expand my circle of gay friends in the absence of the foresaid friends (don’t ask what we do and I won’t tell), and the experience is, to say the least, most disheartening. I walk away from most conversations feeling rather demoralised at the entire sad affair of their sad lives, and sometimes feel like I need a lobotomy. Just so I can be as braindead as these are.

Just yesterday, I had a conversation with a thirty-three year-old gay man about homosexual rights in Singapore. We concluded that gays and lesbians are really treated quite badly here. However, his conclusion was: it could be worse, I could have been born in Iran, where gay people are hanged. This struck me as particularly disingenuous. I mean, yes, thank heavens I’m not a North Korean. Whoopee! Bring out the, er, champagne.

But just because shittier things have happened doesn’t excuse the fact that shit is happening. And if gay men and women keep telling themselves that, then they are seriously deluding themselves into a false security. Push comes to shove, the government will sacrifice us to safeguard their power. Look at the recent (mis)handling of the burgeoning AIDS threat in Singapore. It’s difficult to institute the proper reforms, like safe-sex-education, or distributing condoms, or encouraging the open discussion of sexual topics. It’s very easy to demonise gay men. No prizes for guessing which method was used to solve the problem (read: reassure the general public).

For at the heart of the matter is an insidious, cancerous attitude: ‘Gays and lesbians are economically viable.’ Studies have shown that cities with many gays/lesbians tend to be vibrant, creative, cutting-edge, fashionable, attractive, in short, economically viable. But to tolerate these ‘alternative lifestyles’ for this fact is extremely shitty: does that mean we do not tolerate poor people, because they don’t make enough money? Shall we deprive them of basic rights, like reproductive rights? Hasn’t the Singaporean government suggested this before? Isn’t this really shitty?

No. Homosexuals should be tolerated because they are human beings and have a legitimate right to self assertion and fulfilment. And the numerous gay men and women who pay taxes to the government and who live peacefully and peaceably within the Singaporean community should realise that Singapore treats them like shit. And they should do something about this: namely, vote with their feet and move to somewhere more tolerant. Let’s conduct a thought-experiment: if someone were not to hire a gay man/woman solely on basis of sexuality, this would clearly be against the law in Britain and America. In Singapore it would really be business as usual. And don’t say ‘oh but it could be worse, I could be living in Tehran or Bahrain or Pyongyang.’ Because there’s still SF, NY and London to move to.

To accept people based on their contribution to GDP is a foolish concept which is dangerous and ultimately misleading. Singaporean homosexuals should realise how precarious their position really is, and start reconsidering the basis of their entire lives. Can one truly be happy in Happy, when there is Heaven to be discovered?

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free to choose

September 30, 2005

Dinner tonight was with my uncle (paternal, dad’s younger brother), during which I realised that my family is excessively different and diverse. In the midst of the stilted conversation I came to a rather surprising conclusion (well, surprising because I rarely think about thinking and/or like to think and/or the accompanying good grades): I’m really the only one in my extended family who’s done well academically, and it’s rather surprising when you consider that there is a strong tendency, in Singapore at least, with the family unit so strong and the parental upbringing so roteish and similar, that academic performance runs in the family.

But this isn’t a post about how I don’t feel close to my family. It’s more about the differences which can exist between us and how people should be free to choose the life that they think suits them best. My cousin hates Chinese, Math and Science. He pretty much hates everything to do with school. He is, however, brilliant at drawing and drum-playing, two activities which he loves. He should be allowed to do whatever he wants to do with his life. Which is really what my boho uncle (who once quit his media job to work as a rockwall designer. Come again?) and his wife (who really is quite a cool mom who buys the nicest clothes for the children) have let him do, which is fantastic. They’re really the ones who have looked past the narrow definition of success that has come to haunt the landscape of Singapore. (On the other hand, my parents are the embodiment of the Singapore Dream. Assiduous, thrifty, moralising, authoritarian, pro-establishment. They’re like the Tampines GRC chairpersons on crack.)

For there is really no such breadth of mind or broadness of spirit. It is all about realising your dreams! Your bourgeois nouveau-riche doctor-lawyer-banker dreams which will lead you to buying a piece of land and a car. Your boring middle class dreams where the hardworking succeed and those left on the shelf are benevolently matched together by the SDU. The end of the road. Greater than Marx’s predicted revolution is the colossal ossification: not the overthrowing of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat, but the mass hollowness that will drive them like desperate housewives into the arms of dangerous liaisons and suicide.

That is why the government’s attempts to promote not only a ‘single peak of achievement’ but a ‘mountain range’ will ultimately fail. How can the government succeed, when it is the greatest promulgator of that single peak of achievement, prosperity with its attendant progresses? For no regime which whose only claim to legitimacy is stable and continued economic growth can ever promote other forms of success than the one it does now. Come to us, they say, all ye who labour, and we shall give you peace, progress and prosperity. (And my parents have bought into this dystopian nightmare.)

But not. Their peace is not peace. The progress is not my progress. And the prosperity does not belong to everyone (have you seen recent estimates of our Gini Coefficient?). Until the government learns political pluralism and that people have a right to do whatever they damn well fucking please without harming other people, there will be no mountain range of success. There will be no success other than the president’s scholars, who sell their souls to the government so that they can go on to perpetuate themselves, like incestuous Urobori, snakes swallowing their tails. There is no success. We are not free to choose.

Postscript: it’s really not all about the money. Quick quiz: Ashley Isham and Col Tan Chuan Jin probably earn the same amounts of money. Who’s considered more successful, the Singapore-boy turned London haute couturier(e) (that was below the belt, I apologise), or the one who’s chased his own dreams to eventually become someone or other in some minister’s office or other?

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the last gasp?

September 16, 2005

Recently, two Singaporeans were charged with sedition after having posted supposedly racist comments on web forums/their blogs which apparently could have incited and inflamed racist sentiments amongst the general population.

The proper response to this is: what the fuck?

Before we move on, a quick clarification: the media, once again, has been excessively deficient in their coverage of this report. When news of this first broke, it was misleadingly portrayed by Channel NewsAsia (henceforth referred to as Channel Asia, since, as I have tried to point out many times, it’s not actually news), which claimed that two bloggers had been charged with sedition for publishing racist content on their blogs. No mention was made of the forum. Now, even as we move into the third or fourth day after the charges have been made, we still have no inkling of what these two netizens have asserted on their blogs, except for the tantalising comment that either one or both of them made comments that:

a) had something to do with dog saliva and how it is haram,
b) full of expletives,
c) claimed that ‘Muslims ruin[ed] [his] day’.

Therefore any conclusions I draw on this blog must needs be filtered through this paucity of coverage.

I am most of all disturbed by the invocation of the sedition charge, which, as we all know, is deprecated in most modern countries today with any inkling of political progression. ‘Sedition’ is a term redolent of the Nazis, the Fascists and Robert Mugabe. More importantly, ‘sedition’ seems to my mind to be a particularly fluffy term which can refer to almost anything that the government dislikes. Since domestically there is a confluence of party and government, essentially sedition can refer to anything that the ruling party deems unacceptable. Although it has become quite apparent that the two involved are not persons of the highest calibre, nor are their actions highly esteemable, this sets a frightening precedence: what next? Sedition heaped onto the heads of the ? Sedition for the many bloggers who dare to expresss different views from that of the official and accepted norm, because they are inciting unrest? There are things more important than racial sensitivity (which in my opinion was not much disturbed anyway: idiots who shoot their mouths off and say really stupid things will always alienate themselves): for example, the knowledge that we will not be fined and/or thrown into prison for more acceptable forms of behaviour that threaten the position of society or the government at present.

That sedition can be charged for views alone is frightening enough: since no-one can ascertain the full extent of the effect of anyone’s words on the issue of ‘sedition’. In other words, rarely can a precise causal link ever be ascertained between the saying something and something bad happening. E.g. if tomorrow I say that ‘Malays are smelly idiots’ or ‘Indians are fat and useless’ or ‘Americans are just dumb’ and the day after attacks on Malays, Indians or Americans occur, the logical conclusion is not ‘I caused the attacks!’ Instead, the logical conclusion is: inconclusive. That is to say that the racist remarks were not by themselves so much seditious as they were libellous, since no-one will doubt their stupidity and intention to hurt. Therefore it would have made more sense to charge them with libel. That would, in my opinion, be equally effective, and have the double benefit of warning everyone else that one is responsible for one’s own views, for the dissemination of these views. One does not deny that wrong has been done. One merely must come to terms with the fact that there are better ways to deal with the issue than to resort to outdated, rather draconian laws.

More frightening, however, is the fact that the sedition charge is made for remarks posted on the internet, and that so much issue has been made of the fact that the two were bloggers. As I have mentioned in my previous post, the internet is the great mechanism by which the phenomenon of the democratisation of information has asserted itself, and will continue to assert itself. This is truly a great asset. But in such a realm of ultimate freedom there is a need to assume responsibility for the opinions and ideas that are reflected and broadcast for much of the world to access and see/hear. The solution to such problems as this which has arisen is not less freedom, but more: since these two can be properly flamed and chastened, to the benefit of society. Indeed the internet is unexplored territory; many countries have not had enough time or experience to draft up proper laws dealing with internet related issues, and increasingly sentences passed on stare decisis seem increasingly inadequate. Once again, the proper course of action is not to return to draconian laws, but to enact new ones which have to capacity to deal with new situations. I am worried that this may have prompted many bloggers to rein in their own views online, even though many of them may merely be completely reasonable and intelligent. In terms of race and religion, for example, what is acceptable and what isn’t? Is commenting on racialist policies, for example, seditious? Is criticising certain aspects of Islamic law, which in its most fundamental and unimagined formulations can be sexist and unprogressive?

On an ending note, it is, in my opinion, hypocritical of the authorities to have let this happen. In my opinion, Singaporeans are still rather primitive when it comes to matters of race, and perhaps racism is at present still too widespread and ingrained to be uprooted by this mere court case. Perhaps this incident is reflective of a greater tendency of the general Chinese population, which is still rather insular and elitist. Personal experiences inform me that I have not got this wrong: many people I have met are downright racists through and through, some of whom are illogical enough to want not to eat anything from Malay or Indian hawker stalls. What to do? Better education which is more candid and frank rather than jingoistic. Suppression is rarely the answer.

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symmetry of information

September 11, 2005

It is impossible to claim that Singapore is a true democracy, or anywhere near a true democracy, or anything remotely resembling a democracy. I will argue that more insidious than the oft-quoted defamation trials or the koshering of candidates or the gerrymandering of electoral districts is the government’s control over all branches of information: a far more subtle and pervasive phenomenon. A true democracy is, in my opinion, fundamentally a political version of the free market. A few caveats apply, of course, but many will agree with this analogy. Critical, however, to the proper functioning of the free market, aside from the obvious factor of competition, is good information, is disseminated equally and fairly. Clearly Singapore lacks this. The typical excuse given is, of course, that like most other markets in Singapore, the information market is too small to support more than one firm – ergo, a ‘natural’ monopoly results. (On a tangential note, that is also the oblique argument that the PAP implies when it speaks of its own monopoly over power.)

This is obviously detrimental. Without any good information, any decision made by the population at large is rendered irrelevant at best. The ruling party often claims that it has the mandate of the people: there is competition, since there is an opposition, yet the party is constantly re-voted into power again and again and again, therefore the people must really support the PAP. This claim is nonsense. It is rubbished by the fact that there is no open, fair source of information for the citizens. Controlling the national newspapers (‘news’ is used loosely; I shall henceforth refer to it as the papers) and the channels must have something to do with this constant re-voting into power. There is no such thing as a free election without free information.

Take, for example, the recent case of the National Kidney Foundation scandal. Protected for years by a sympathetic media, the NKF and its very cushy management were left uncriticised, despite certain misleading claims and some dubious policies which existed prior to when the scandal broke. Yet suddenly, within the short span of a month or so, the NKF was left floundering and struggling. This was not only exacerbated, but, I shall argue, caused by the media’s sudden vilification of TT Durai et al after a period of relative calm. This in turn, was only possible with the green light of the government: if the media were truly free as it is said to be, then how was it that the story only hit the news this year, long after some of the NKF’s doubtful practices had been known to take place? This is not comforting; and no one should feel triumphant that the dubitablity of the NKF has now been reined in. Instead, one should be disappointed that the NKF fiasco has ended only now, when, if the press were freer, and more talented, it could have ended much earlier, or could have been avoided in the first place, if NKF were subordiate to the transparency and public scrutiny that comes with good information.

Similarly with the economy. It is impossible to say, definitively, that Singapore’s economy is doing ‘well’. Singapore’s leaders are notoriously tight-lipped about crucial indicators, for example, the band within which the exchange rate is floated and the markers beyond which they are regulated. Economic growth indicators are managed and collated mainly by the government: since, according to Goodhart’s law, to control is to distort, then might we not end up in a situation where the government is so taken in with its own ability to work magic that it becomes just that: magic, without any grounding in reality? To draw a parallel, no-one in the 1960s or 1970s would have thought that the Soviet Union was on its way to self-destruction, what with its phenomenal growth rates. The Soviets, to some extent, became enchanted with their own rhetoric and gradually failed to establish a connection with actuality. There is no guarantee that this will not happen (or has not happened) in Singapore, if information is guarded jealously.

The good news is that information is slowly but surely becoming more democratised. With the rise of blogs, wikis and other online resources, more can now participate in not only the collating of information, but also the dissemination of information. Blogs and wikis, to my mind, are the way of the future: where not only Dr XX YY, PhD MP Kembangan-Punggol, can express a view that is deemed sound of mind, but instead power of information is returned to the people. Yes, there are dangers involved, for example, demagoguery becomes more important than accuracy: but no system is perfect, and taking responsibility for one’s own views is perhaps the highest mark of maturity, and will truly show that we have ‘made it’. Already this democratisation is spreading to Singapore, and many local blogs reflect a certain level of sensibility and intelligence that is at once unexpected and comforting. How the ruling party must contend with this phenomenon is an exciting prospect which has yet to fully unfurl.

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through the rain

September 1, 2005

The recent discussion of the 1968 National Day Parade is killing me. It is absolutely fucking murdering me. It is cracking me up with derisive laughter. I mean, you (yes YOU, as in the general rude in-your-face YOU that was addressed at the National Day Rally, which really was very redolent of a grade-school show-and-tell session) build a nation, and the defining moment of the national process was…

… standing in a parade, in the rain.

Hello, can anyone say 1789? Can anyone say World War II? Can anyone say the Arab-Israeli conflict? Can anyone say pogroms? Can anyone say the vast ideologies of the twentieth century that held imagined cultural and political entities together, no matter how spuriously?

Please. It’s not like surviving the bloody holocaust. If this is the central event of nation-building, then we (YOU, actually, I’m not part of this shit) are just bloody screwed as a nation. I mean, c’mon. It is really a Mariah Carey song.

I can make it through the rain
I can stand up once again
On my own
And I know
That I’m strong enough to mend

And every time I feel afraid
I hold tighter to my faith
And I live
One more day
And I make it through the rain.

It’s also very Bobby Darin as re-imagined by LaToya London:

Who told you you could rain on my paraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaade!

What in bloody blazes? No wonder Singaporeans have no sense, no absolute bloody sense of perspective. This island is a pimple on the face of the earth, and yet has an ego the size of Texas (and all the people who come from Texas, including dear George Bush). Singaporeans get flustered when others think their country lies somewhere in China – poor dears! And then this piece of fabricated nonsensical shit comes up and proves to every bloody one that really, Singapore isn’t that important after all – bad weather on a parade? And while we’re at that, can Singaporeans answer the following questions?

1) In what state is Nashville?
2) Who is the US’s latest Supreme Court Justice?
3) Which Eastern European country was recently witness to a massacre of its own citizens?
4) Who is gunning for the post of Gerhard Schroeder?
5) What did France recently say no to?

So really, if Singaporeans can’t answer these questions, as I’m sure they can’t, since the Straits Times is, like the island itself, a piece of perspectiveless shit, then really, they shouldn’t complain if others think that their country lies in the heart of mainland China.

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on why our national newspaper sucks, part I (or XXVI, I lose count)

August 29, 2005

So on Sunday I flip to the LIFE section, which is the only section that is actually bearable (I mean, how wrong can you go with entertainment news, but sometimes I give the ST even too much credit for this: look at the ‘Hits and Misses’ column, and you pretty much have a general idea of how lousy the editors and columnists really are), and I see this travesty against the English language:

JENNIFER ANISTON OR ANGELINA JOLIE:
WHO DO MEN PREFER?

And I have to read it at least three or four times (Aniston and Jolie do men prefer? As in, were they lesbian before and did women prefer? Or what are men prefer, and why are they doing them, ew!) before I finally realise that it’s a grammatical error, a bloody fucking obvious damn grammatical error adorning the front page of the entertainment section of our trashy tabloid masquerading as the newspaper of the nation.

So much for good English. Yes, I do realise that the who/whom distinction is slowly fading out of common use, thanks to the bloody Americans, but this is blatantly nonsensical. It does not even vaguely sound correct. And that is why the editors, journalists and proofwriters of the Straits Times really ought to be shot. A hundred monkeys at typewriters could write better columns than that bloody bunch of idiots (Andy Ho who thinks he’s a bloody expert at everything, give me a bloody break).

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das capital

August 28, 2005

Took Leng How was recently sentenced to death for the murder of Huang Na. I find this hardly surprising, since Singapore courts have pronounced capital punishment upon offenders for much less. While I shall not extrapolate if Took was really guilty, I do have a certain contempt for the death penalty, with which I disagree in all circumstances (but that will require more time and another post). I especially object to the way local courts treat the death penalty.

Two thoughts immediately come to my mind. First, the mandatory death penalty for drug-traffickers. I strongly object to this: it serves no purpose whatsoever, and clear, lucid thinking will immediately demonstrate this. Most obviously, I cannot think of a rational reason why drug use is wrong – it harms no one but the abuser; alcohol and cigarettes are legal; addiction manifests itself in various forms, for example, gambling. Yet cigarettes, which generate externalities and cause harm to third-parties in the form of second-hand smoke, are allowed; alcohol and tobacco importers are not equivalently hanged; the government is building two integrated resorts with casinos to feed off the urge to gamble. Therefore, in the first place, no logical explanation exists as to why taking drugs is wrong. Hence, no such severe punishment should exist for the drug traffickers.

Even if we relax the logical premise that drug consumption is not wrong, no rational mind could conclude that the death penalty for drug-trafficking is sensible. The ‘deterrent effect’ argument is both silly and hypocritical – silly because it does not work, and has been shown not to work, since most drug traffickers are driven to their vocation by desperation (as in the recent case of Shanmugan Murugesu), not by a self-serving interest to make it big and strike it rich; hypocritical because sentencing drug traffickers to death in no way deters drug lords from operating their businesses, since they may always pay traffickers more and pass the labour costs on to the consumer. The ‘deterrent’ argument is also morally repugnant – to my mind the ‘kill one warn hundreds’ proverb from the Chinese is not only a trite, untrue banality, it also betrays a cavalier attitude towards human life, which is reduced to a tool meant for ‘deterrence’, a life we sacrifice so others may no better. This argument is dangerous, of course: what stops us, then, from conducting public caning on Orchard road for rapists, or chopping off the hands of thieves, or public executions (aside from the fact that it would be too Iran for the tastes of the US?). In other words, the death sentence for drug trafficking is a bunch of bollocks.

The second thought is that death sentences may be, in Singapore, pronounced on purely circumstantial evidence. The case I have in mind is the one recently featured in the newspapers, where a bus driver was first (and rightly) acquitted because no evidence was found that could prove his culpability beyond the shadow of a doubt, i.e. no motive was established, the murder weapon not found, no eye-witnesses came forth with statements, and, if I am not mistaken, the body was not even recovered and therefore no autopsy could be conducted. The case was appealed and the accused was found guilty; this time the damning piece of evidence was that someone had seen the victim board the bus of the accused. So much for ‘without a shred of doubt’. This seems to me intensely illegal (or at least without much legal ground). Thus when I encounter a capital case, I do not immediately think ‘justice has been served’, rather, I tend to distrust the final decision of the courts. The bias of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ (as opposed to the contrary) must do more harm than good.

That is why, in a not-so-nutshell, Singapore is really quite a rubbish place to live in. When people tell me that I’m so lucky to be a beneficiary of the Singapore system and its stable government, decent education, good healthcare et cetera et cetera et cetera, the proper response is not ‘I agree!’, the proper response is: ‘But here you may be sentenced to death if you traffic drugs, or for a murder you did not commit.’