Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

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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.’

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what’s wrong with the picture?

July 21, 2005

We all know, of course, that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the swing voter on many crucial issues decided by the US supreme court, has announced her retirement. We all know, of course, that George W. Bush has announced her successor, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge John G. Roberts. We all know, of course, that this could have a potentially revolutionary impact on the state of the United States in the coming years.

Or, if one reads the Straits Times, one wouldn’t know. The National Kidney Foundation kerfuffle, unfortunately, continues to haunt the headlines, even though we all know where that will conveniently end up. Other incidents like a girl falling from the 11th storey of a building scream for our attention, but not once have we had a proper critical review of O’Connor’s legacy and the incipient war between the polarised Republicans and Democrats.

This is rubbish. No wonder Singaporeans have no critical perspective and think that they are the centre of the universe. No wonder Singaporeans have no inkling of what a power the Chinese are, choosing to dismiss them as backwater and primitive – not knowing that this is exactly what they think of us and our lack of facility in the Chinese language. No wonder Singaporeans are arrogant, rude and supremacist.

Because, you know, this nation is nothing more than a little red dot. And its citizens should stop deluding themselves into thinking that we have the same foreign-policy clout as, say, the US, China or Britain. Furthermore, the country’s newspaper(s) is/are obliged to disabuse Singaporeans of their petty illusions – which is hard to do with the press’s self-delusions, considering the fact that this nation’s newspaper is conducting a colossal celebration of its 160th anniversary, far too extravagant for 160 years of increasingly shoddy reporting in a tiny island state.

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conspiracy theory

July 18, 2005

Over at No Concept I came across a highly astute observation about the entire National Kidney Foundation fracas. I have to admit that it does sound a bit farfetched, but then again, not so. It is indeed curious that the primum mobile of the entire kerkuffle is that paragon of free speech and guardian of the guardians, the Straits Times. Which, as we all know, is under government employ – so nothing that it churned out could have been without the knowledge of those in power, and they must surely have known the ramifications of this. After all, death penalty, no-one gives a shit. Gay rights infringed upon, no-one gives a shit. Severe restrictions upon democracy, no-one gives a shit. The government being too cushy with the military (rendering it suspiciously approximate to a junta), bringing about an opacity that is at once convenient and tragic (to those who have unfortunately lost their lives while being repugnantly drafted to serve the notion of the nation), no-one gives a shit.

But this, the two or five, or heck, since Zoe Tay’s on TV doing card tricks, fifty dollars that is phoned in after dinner from a comfortable distance, this sum of money: everyone’s bound to give a shit. After all, what is more important to Singaporeans than cash: two dollars can buy them a plate of chicken rice each, five can get them a McDonald’s extra-value-meal, and fifty can procure a convenient suck in the red-light district. Now, this: this, people will give all the shit that they have. Because when they find out that the money that they give out of sympathy, or guilt, goes to bloody buying the CEO a golden toilet bowl, they realised that they’ve had the wool pulled over their eyes and that they should perhaps have done a bit more homework on where they’re placing their bets and their trust.

The entire issue is just a whole lot of bullshit. This isn’t going to dramatically change the face of charity in Singapore: Singaporeans will go on donating bits of spare change when they feel like it (like when Charity accosts them in the train stations begging for coins to be dropped in a metal box, or when it arrests them on the telly with startling images of pain and suffering), and ignoring the concept of community work when they can avoid it. Because really, Singaporeans are typically a bunch of apathetic souls who really just don’t give a shit unless they can help it, or unless it costs them their chicken rice, extra-value-meal or blowjob.

I wonder what will happen when they finally realise that the government is pulling the wool over their eyes for a whole lot more than golden toilet bowls. And I am thankful that I won’t be here (probably) when it happens.

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reactionary revolution

June 20, 2005

So that day a friend asks me, over ice-cream, how to solve a math problem which looks a bit like someone vomited an algebra textbook on bit of tissue paper (well, he did write it on a serviette). Turns out that this guy‘s sister recently attended a introductory camp/intellectual gulag with some newfangled monstrosity of an integrated programme with some newfangled monstrosity of an institution*: no, not the casino, that’s an integrated resort. The IP refers to students skipping the O-levels and going straight to some higher qualification, like the A-levels (wow, what a big change!), preferred by the school’s premier institution, the Raffles Academy (hey, I don’t come up with the names), or the International Baccalaureat (with the acccent aigu over the ‘e’), preferred by some other schools, for example, the Anglo-Chinese family (I have no idea what funky name they’ve come up with for themselves).

Which is all very fine and dandy. This will free up more time for the students to pursue their own interests, be it sports, drama, art, music, dance, etc, since now there will be less exams (I mean, the O-levels really are quite tough for 16 year old kids). Furthermore, new subjects such as philosophy, logic, art history, languages, etc are being introduced into the syllabus, to give students a broader-based education. Not only that, teaching will be reduced to a minimum, with teachers increasingly looked upon as ‘facilitators of learning’: they ‘teach less’ so students can ‘learn more’.

Well, they could have fooled me. Except that, well, like everything else in Singapore (banning gay functions, the war on AIDS, allowing casinos oh the horror), this is essentially a reactionary revolution. And sit tight to the edge of your seats because nothing is going to change. Nothing at all.

Already in my alternate career as a tuition teacher I am receiving many requests for tutoring students in subjects such as philosophy, logic, problem solving, and, most egregiously, Creative Thinking. I propernounise this term because I have no idea what their idea of ‘Creative Thinking’ is supposed to mean, and it’s sort of become a useless brandname like ‘Romancing Singapore’ or ‘Be Prepared’ or ‘The SAF Seven Core Values’. I mean, seriously. Who the hell really wants to teach something like Creative Thinking? Isn’t creativity meant to be learnt elsewhere, outside the classroom? Which school in its right mind wants to introduce something as brainless as a class for creativity? If there ever was a prize for the least creative, most thinking-within-the-box idea ever innovated, it’d be this.

And what is up with teaching philosophy, etc? Most obviously, the proper, qualified facilitators-of-learning are not the ones hired to facilitate the learning of these funky subjects. Literature teachers are summoned to design a syllabus for philosophy, which as a result seems awfully skewed to the existentialist topics of modern literature, notably French Literature. Camus and Sartre are given more importance than Descartes. Epistemology is glossed over, Kant is barely mentioned. We may see a bit of the Greeks but really not enough thought is given to their thought. As for logic, who else but math teachers? Yes, logic may have a lot to do with math, but they aren’t the same and certainly most math teachers will have no conception of formal logic (prove means prove, lah). And I can bet you that none of them have ever read the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

Which brings me to my second point: why bother teaching these notoriously difficult subjects to 12 year-olds verging on 13 when these disciplines really aren’t the point. These topics are tough, and typically beyond the range of a young adolescent: at best one is able to give the students a vague impression of or an introduction to the issues involved. I am willing to wager that they are even beyond the abilities of a nonspecialised, smallminded pedagog in his/her late thirties who has received little formal training in the field. Which means that they shouldn’t really be taught as an examinable subject. Why bother to do it when no one is really going to do very well in it, and when no one can tell when anyone has done very well or not?

It’s tough to teach these exciting subjects to sundried teens for whom knowledge is a body of work waiting to be imbibed by the eyes. Few nowadays have a passion for learning, a natural curiosity when it comes to matters of the unknown. Few nowadays have the breadth of mind and of spirit to accept disagreement and controversy and be comfortable with these facets of academia. Few bother to venture beyond the artificial construct known as the Syllabus, spelt out in stark words on the first page of every textbook.

Can we blame the students? I don’t. It’s really not their fault when everything really is working against them. It’s hard to be creative when you have to be taught creativity. It’s hard to participate in genuine discussion when debate and free speech and being opinionated are seen as dangerous and decadent Western ideals that must be shunned. It’s hard to be passionate about knowledge when it remains now and forever grades at an examination. It’s hard to create a respect for truth and knowledge and learning when in the first place the economy is prized above all else. It’s hard to bother with the unquantifiable when in essence all that Singaporeans are concerned with is the quantifiable.

And that’s why ultimately any revolution ends up in reaction. When new policies like the independence given to schools emerge, teachers don’t want to know what they can teach and students don’t want to know what they can learn. Instead, teachers want to know what they must test and students want to know how they can score. And in this way continued success of bureaucracy and the system is ensured. Our children still have no childhood, and age prematurely into the exact adults who have surgically removed their childhoods.

*in no other country in the world will a a place of learning and teaching, an institute, be confused with a place where madmen are incarcerated and observed, an institution. One need only look to the name of its foremost school (and my dear alma mater, whatever), Raffles Institution, and a the name of a mental hospital, the Institute of Mental Health. I suspect that this is merely because ‘institution’ has a ‘tuition’ in it. I also suspect that this is why the leaders of this country are really insane: they have come from an institution. Just kidding don’t sue me for defamation! Love and hugs all round to this country’s wellrespected politicians.