29 August 2004

Sustainable Development

And now, we're out of water as well.

I told you so here. Not only is the world running out of oil, it's running out of water.

Before you say I must be more nuts than the cranks who rave about Peak Oil...

Well. This isn't so funny now, is it?

27 August 2004

The End of Teflon Blair?

An Impeach them, impeach them NOW! Edition

Tony Blair has survived 2 official inquiries, 1 vote of no-confidence, and a Labour Party conference. For that, he deserves to inherit the Teflon Leader crown from Clinton.

But wait... what's this about Blair being impeached?

Proceedings have begun to begin formal impeachment process against Blair shortly. Just like Clinton's impeachment, Tony Blair is expected to survive easily. However the impeachment process will surely force the PM to submit to yet another debate and even further scrutiny from his critics within and without the party.

But is he really that unassailable? Some people, while not baying for his blood, are clearly sharpening their knives.

Bush's "coalition of the willing" dwindles by the day. Spain and the Philippines have withdrawn, Japan is hesitating to send more troops, while his most ardent cronies in the UK and Australia face serious political challenges in the coming months.

24 August 2004

Language as War

The Speak Mandarin Campaign Edition

Random Errata (i.e. it helps to think all these are random!)

1. Had to conduct an interview in Mandarin with an artist last week. I, apparently tried to speak with such careful diction and the proper neo-Beijing accent (overcompensation for marginally passing the subject in school) that my interviewee added 6 years to my age.

I just sound too sensitive or refined when speaking Mandarin. And OLD.

I'm going to speak less Mandarin from now on.

2. I watched the National Day rally speech by the newly-crowned Prime Minister. He speaks Mandarin much better than his predecessor, which is a blessing to my ears.

I timed his speeches.
The speech in Malay took 15 minutes.
Speech in Mandarin took 25 minutes.
There was no speech in Indian Tamil, but it will be a 5 minute broadcast by a cabinet member at a later date.

It's a good deal, considering that the "offical race demographics" taught in Singapore schools have the Chinese as 70%, Malays as 10%, Indians at 8%, and "others" making up the rest.

Now, the CIA World Factbook - which has more accurate (i.e. less faked) statistics than what our newspapers and schools teach - puts the Chinese population as 76%. Now you know how meritocratic our immigration policy is - there's a good reason why hundred of thousands of nationals from China have been given Singapore citizenship or permanent residence over the past decade.

3. There's a really fun programme on Channel U called 北京你好吗, which translates to "Bejing, how are you?" or "Greetings, Beijing" (or Peking, whichever romanisation tickles your fancy). Being the Mandarin chauvinists Channel U are, the title in English is "Beijing Ni Hao Ma".

But I digress. This entertainment programme aims to promote Chinese culture and Mandarin language, and does so by sponsoring Chinese Singaporean celebrities who can't speak much Mandarin on an immersion tour to China.

There, it's a matter of teaching the celebrity useful Mandarin phrases, making sure they use the language instead of English, and deducting cash bonuses the more mistakes are made. (I wonder why the celebrity contestants really need cash prizes...)

It's all in good, clean fun. Yes, some Chinese people can't speak Mandarin, but instead of kvetching about this deplorable state, why not inject lots of humour as we laugh with and at stage and TV actor Adrian Pang as he heroically mangles (unintentionally, of course) Mandarin?

It's harmless fun, unless you consider that the producers who have absolutely no guts to make alternate and equally arbitrary versions like:

a. A humourous programme about teaching English to Chinese Singaporean celebrities who can't speak much English. I mean, the population of Singaporean Chinese actors who can't speak English far outnumbers the population of Singaporean Chinese actors who can't speak Mandarin...

b. A humourous programme about teaching Malay Singaporeans to speak Mandarin.

Realistically speaking, they'd be accused of insensitivity and language-Nazism if they tried to pull off (a), and racial insensivitiy if they tried to pull off (b).

Let me rephrase: are you sure this Beijing Ni Hao Ma programme is harmless fun? What makes it harmless and fun now, when it clearly won't be considered so if the variables were tweaked just slightly? Do the Chinese population and Mandarin language hold some special position in Singapore?

4. Anyone who still thinks the race/language policy of our government is coherent and rational should read this. But our government is of the view that if the system it creates doesn't fit an individual, that individual is the one to blame.

22 August 2004

Searching for Bobby Fischer

The Flag of Convenience Edition

Remember Bobby Fischer? The greatest chess player of all-time appears to have failed his legal challenge to halt Japan's extradition procedure, and is now considering a final solution: marrying the president of the Japan Chess Federation and applying for Japanese citizenship.

If Mr. Fischer fails, Singapore should seriously considering offering him citizenship on the condition that he takes up the post of head coach for chess in the country.

After all, Singapore's tried and tested approach to building entrepeneurs, artists, sportsmen, the economy in general... seems to consist of hiring the foreign guy and giving him citizenship, a nice landed property, and some cash.* If the foreign talent policy could work so consistently the past few years, why not invite Bobby Fischer now?

While he may have retired from competitive chess, this just means he has all the time in the world to analyse current chess competitions (instead of merely preparing for them), and coach young chess players here towards the goal of say, achieving a grandmaster rating for a Singaporean by 2010, and a FIDE or PCA championship contender by 2020. We might even surpass Cuba in the chess world!

* Factoid of the day: Did you realise Hongkong comedian Stephen Chow - yes, he of the Shaolin Soccer fame - was a Singapore PR for a grand total of 3 years in the early 90s? Offered a cool figure, the comedian sensibly accepted (Hongkong's movie industry was in a slump then, and he didn't make any movies in that period) and bought a condo here as part of the PR deal. When the time came to renew the PRship, the sensible Stephen Chow sold off the condominium and returned to Hongkong to make his greatest film to date...

21 August 2004

The War on Journalistic Quality

An I told you so edition

I wasn't too surprised that the Straits Times eventually reported on the growth of the biotech industry in India.

As usual, they are 1. slow to report on any new trends, and 2. when they do, they leave out the most important points.

Because it's way too sensitive to claim that India's biotech industry is capable of outpacing Singapore's in just a few years, the article concentrates on local Indian pharmaceutical companies who are starting to get 'into the game'.

No mention of the billions of dollars US pharmcos are moving to India's biotech outsource companies, in fact, no mention at all of any biotech outsourcing. Why? Because that one word would set off all the alarm bells in Singapore.

But it is obvious that there has to be a vast amount of outsourcing from foreign pharmcos, in order for a huge pool of locals interested and skilled enough to amass and build their own pharmaceutical companies.

One of these days, I will explain why outsourcing is not just a matter of free trade, why it hurts job markets, and why it needs to be regulated.

17 August 2004

The War in Outsourcing

India is poised to be an outsourcing powerhouse in the next 2 years... in biotech.

1. I predict the end of Singapore once this happens. There's too much our leaders have invested in this industry, too much to lose once someone starts outsourcing biotech in a big way, the only way the Indians are capable of.

2. More importantly, this is a battle worthy of the Iron Chef. Whose vision of how to build an industry is superior? Whose biotech shall reign supreme?

On one hand, the mandarins in Singapore continue to insist the only way to build up an industry is to airlift several aging, over-the-hill 'experts' in the field to transplant in local soil. Throw them enough money and hopefully they can build Singapore into a biotech hub.

What can I say? It's a tried and tested approach? Substitute foreign 'biotech expert' for foreign 'sportsman' and you have Singapore's Olympic and football strategy. Substitute with foreign 'artist' and you have Singapore's arts policy. And so on...

On the other hand, we have the Indians, who believe that a strong industry can only be built from the bottom up, not from the top down. And with local labour too.

3. Much more interesting is the idea of sustainable development. Both Singapore and India's biotech industries are ultimately driven by foreign capitalists. These industries will produce goods that are relevant not for the local population or economy, but for the North American First World.

Contrast that with the recent biotech breakthrough: the DNA sequencing of the coffee plant in Brazil.

It's a classic question: Do we really want to produce millions of Rebok shoes that will be exported immediately, or use the same resources to produce goods that our people need to use?

16 August 2004

Sustainable Development

Peak oil and Olduvai Theory neatly explain the phenomena of soaring oil prices, Shell's recent debacle, and the US interventions in Sudan, Afgahnistan, Iraq, and Venezuela.

If you think it's bad enough that the world is running out of oil (no more electricty to power the Internet!), think of how bad it will be when we run out of water.

14 August 2004

Discussions and Discourse, a Discourse on Discussions and Other non-Discursive Formations

As Chua Beng Huat pointed out a year ago, not all discussion is discourse. Never substitute the word 'discourse' when you just mean 'discussion', he warned. So, when is discussion not discursive?

I present to you the creativity of Singaporeans in killing off meaningful discussion.

1. The Non Sequitur

Usually a one-line reply that is either very tangential to the original discussion or completely irrelevant.

Like: during a discussion on the mechanics of water usage and ecological friendliness of bathing using showers vs. soaking in bathtubs vs. scooping water from a tub, X replies: "When Bathers get violent they hit the Showers, lolz!"

2. The I Don't Care

I don't care who you are, I don't care where you come from, all of you have no right to comment on X issue, and all of your concerns are irrelevant.

3. You have launched a personal attack!

Yes, personal attacks are unfair and should not be used in a civilised discussion. Instead, lots of people call every argument they don't like a "personal attack", and then use it as an excuse to launch a real one of their own.

What constitutes a personal attack? I'm in a charitable mood today (being on heavy flu medication helps), so here's a list.

An ad hominem fallacy refers to when someone makes an attack "on the person", and not the merits of the argument.

It begins by making a negative assertion of a person's character, state of mind, morality, or circumstances. Because of the imputation of the person, their argument is invalid and wrong...

Examples: "You are a thief, therefore your arguments against the DCMA are invalid." Or, "Michael Moore is an anti-Bush fanatic. Of course the documentary he makes will show Bush to be a nincompoop."

It is, however, not a personal attack to pick out in detail every single logical flaw in a series of statements or a process. The person who made the statement or oversaw the process may feel personally hurt to suffer such scrutiny, but it DOES NOT constitute a personal attack.

4. You are just an armchair critic!

Usually in the form of: Because A is just an armchair critic (i.e. denied power to effect change), A has no right to criticise B (the activist, the president, whoever's running the show)...

And usually followed by a challenge to A to offer 'constructive criticism' and provide 'real solutions' and alternatives to B...

We must learn to reject this "armchair critic" argument. It doesn't matter who the speaker is; what matters is whether his criticisms are logical and correct. Whether or not there are alternatives makes no difference to the merits of an argument or process under scrutiny. I would even suggest that if people took the time to refine their 'solutions' with more inputs from critics, they wouldn't end up with such disastrous results.

5. Blah, blah, blah!

Could possibly be accompanied by the speaker sticking their fingers in the ears while uttering the words.

It's disappointing that people, even - and especially - adults in real life, often do react in these 5 ways in discussions.

13 August 2004

The National Day Speech by a Prime Minister

In lieu of a State of the Union address, Singapore has its annual National Day Speech and a National Day Rally Speech, usually given by its PM.

(Factoid alert: I'm told that mostly Communist countries celebrate National Days, whereas most of the free world (even in Africa) celebrate Independence Days. Can someone verify or falsify this claim?)

I find a most interesting and incomprehensible issue about these two speeches: that the Prime Minister (or a member of the cabinet) delivers them in English, Mandarin, Malay, and Indian Tamil. The 4 speeches are not identical to each other; instead, the main speech in English consists of mostly economic and political content whereas the rest of the shorter speeches have to do with emotional content.

On one hand, clear-headed and disinterested analysis of the State of the Nation (Mostly disinterested until he calls for able men to join politics - read PAP - to serve the nation); on the other, a babying and pandering of the various official ethnic communities.

Like most features of the most unique state of Singapore, the normal people have taken it as granted, as common sense - certainly not unquestionable, but if pressed, no questions are raised about it...

In Three Guineas, Virginia Woolf asks why men have a fetish for uniforms, and another fetish for sticking medals up their uniforms to signify some status. Why not women, sprucing their gowns with sprigs of broomsticks? Or children, marking their shirts with symbolic blobs of ink to signify "scholar"? How ridiculous and arbitrary! But yet, so is the idea of sticking medals and pins on a uniform.

In the grand Virginian tradition, let me deconstruct the National Day speeches and rallies. Why shouldn't the PM divide his speech differently, like having separate speeches for

a. atheists, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims.
b. The lower classes, the middle classes and the elites ("People call you the elite but I call you my base!")
c. civil servants, Temasek-linked servants, and everyone else in the private sector.
d. The Singapore-born, the naturalised, and the foreign talents (of course no mention about the quitters).
e. members of civil societies, private companies, the Churches, and the think-tanks
f. Men, women, and children

and so on? All these are equally effective as demarcators of the population, some even more so than just 'race' or 'ethnicity'.

What is it about race that makes it THE paramount divider of Singapore society, that the PM must have separate segments for his National day rally and speech?


Why is the PM so intent on dividing Singapore society on the principle of race (instead of say, class)?

Many people would point out that it's such a no-brainer: Singapore's National Day speech and rally are conducted in the 4 major languages as a nod to racial harmony. So here's a poser: what in the name of racial harmony allows the Chinese speech to be twice as long as the Malay speech, which is in turn usually twice as long as the speech in Tamil?

Perhaps the Malay community has lesser concerns than the Chinese?
Or smaller racial communities = less talk time on tv?

That's supposed to help racial harmony, how?

08 August 2004

Sports is War!

Not the World Peace Edition

Sports facilitates world peace. Nations across the world put to rest violent rivalries in favour of civilized competitions. And the last time anyone believed in those two lines were...?

We need a more realistic way to talk about sports. That way, much heartache can be prevented. Just like how even children outgrow their beliefs in the infallibility of Santa Claus, the President and the Church, we owe it to ourselves to wean adults from the myth of sports.

1. Sports is big business.

A. Witness the amounts of corruption and jockeying at the IOC even as they choose a city to host the Games.

B. Witness the amounts of illegal sports betting that accompanies sports.

2. Sports is about winning.

It really is an old story, but people don't seem to realise sportsmen and sportswomen are mostly in it just to win. At any cost. Granted, we hardly see females swimmer grow beards these days (aside from the Chinese swimming team), but doping is now a big business involving top athletes and pharmaceutical companies.

3. Sports is war between nations.

Seriously, if you were to organise a sports competition that tried to reconcile nations, the first thing that comes to mind would be to organise it as a competition between nations?

Most recent case in mind: The Asian (soccer) Cup. Apparently the Chinese fans kept jeering at the Japanese team in all their matches in China. Even at the final match, the guests were booed during their national anthem, during every pass and goal. When they won despite the hostile crowd, the Chinese started a riot.

So much for sports facilitating peace.

The other lesson of the day? Apparently no matter how incompetent or unpopular the dynasty ruling China (Ming, Qing, Communist...), the rulers can always count on xenophobic patriots rising up to defend the nation, and even slaughtering a few foreign devils in the process.

Many such patriotic movements have done so throughout China's history, with the more recent examples being the White Lotus Cult and the Boxer Rebellion.

In a way, if I were an incompetent ruler, I'd want to turn a blind eye and hope the patriots get caught up in their anti-foreigner nationalism instead of getting interested in the corruption of the government.

03 August 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11 Opens in Singapore on Friday

Things to note:

1. The film is rated NC-16 for "war images and coarse language".

No kidding.

They'd have to put the NC-16 rating for all news broadcasts too, to be consistent. And with Channel12/CNA's use of direct feeds from CNN and FOX 24/7 during both wars on Iraq, did any of that have to go through the censorship board for rating approval? They even managed to show Band of Brothers on national TV (not cable or PayTV) here at primetime, and I didn't see any huge PG or NC-16 rating for that.

2. Is there any way to find out which scenes have been deleted by Singapore's film censors? There has to be an official list somewhere.

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I BET that 99% of the deleted scenes in the Singapore release would have nothing to do with violent war images or coarse language.

01 August 2004

Do You Live in a Fascist State?

Here's a fun checklist you can go through in your free time! From "Facism, Anyone?" Free Inquiry, Spring 2003, p. 20

Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military - Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism - The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

6. Controlled Mass Media - Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security - Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined - Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is Protected - The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labor Power is Suppressed - Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts - Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment - Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption - Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections - Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

How Facist is your country?