26 January 2006

2005 Birth Rates Released

Minilee Baby Bonus Failure!

Today, the Straits Times reports the official birth rate for 2005 in Singapore. Almost 15 months after Minilee's upsizing of the baby bonus in August 2004, the country's official bean counters report a staggering 1.13% increase in birth rates.

No doubt Minilee and Vivian Balakrishnan will stage a photo op at some hospital, with both of them in maternity dresses in a room full of newborns, and a huge banner overhead proclaiming MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

Let me just disabuse them of the notion.

1. Over the past 20 years, annual increase in births ranged from 15% (Dragon year effect) to 2%. Minilee's 1.13% certainly sets a new record, for lowest birth increase!

2. The release by Vivian Balakrishnan, of a 3% increase in birth rate for the period of May to July 2005, was designed to be a 'teaser' of the immediate effect of Minilee's new baby bonus plans (i.e. couples who conceived immediately after the bonus was unveiled in August 2004). For the average figure for the entire 2005 year to whittle down to 1.13%, it means no one else was fooled into reproducing - aside from the few stupid Singaporeans who bred in that short period.

3. Our national propaganda press has been at it since last August, reporting anecdotes of couples giving it a go after Minilee's 2004 NDRS, to surges in hospital visits by expecting parents. As with all Leninist states, reports of good news to the Dear Leader may be are indeed slightly exaggerated.

4. Note the figure for 2000. Mr Goh's baby bonus plan was unveiled in 1999, causing an 8% spike in births. Minilee has failed to beat his predecessor's plan, despite increased gifts to conceiving couples!

5. Gavin Jones of the National University of Singapore apparently believes that Minilee's baby bonus might take time to work, and looks forward to better figures next year. How very droll. I suppose he hasn't consulted the statistical records on the aftermath of Mr Goh's 8% spike: Birth rates have fallen steadily and continuously after 2000.

6. However, I'm waiting to see if Minilee will defend himself by saying Mr Goh had an unfair advantage (2000 was a dragon year!). This, of course, will invite questions from the public, such as: Why on earth did Mr Goh throw money at couples who were already going to conceive en masse anyway?

This will be very interesting, and I'll want to see how Minilee keeps the baby bonus failure out of national discourse.

Miscellaneous musings: What has happened to Singaporeans' will to live? Survival and reproduction being irrational urges that plague all living creatures, something has tipped Singaporeans to deny this Will, to seek permanent relief.

Is it life in industrial society? Or have our leaders failed to socialise Singaporeans, that they have become conscious of social reality, and hence rationally refuse to reproduce society by their refusal to reproduce?

24 January 2006

Reason #1,846,778,387 why the gay movement in Singapore is infantile

Blogger requested in email to cease criticisms of PLU

Yesterday evening, pleinelune, who speaks for gay lobby group PLU on Singabloodypore, emailed me, requesting that "for the sake of community image" and the image of PLU, I should not expose the public to further criticisms of PLU's modus operandi and public statements. Somehow, the image of PLU and the community is threatened every time I comment that I do not agree with their policies or actions. Newsflash: PLU does not have a mandate for sole representation of the community. Newsflash: Even in a one-party state, people are allowed to openly raise disagreements with party policy. Newsflash: Wong Kan Seng, Minilee, and Papalee have NOT said that criticisms by Singaporeans will lead to a diminishing of the public image of Singapore.

Most recently, Alex Au issued a statement that the NVPC is not a real NGO, because it gets funding from the government. His usual spokespersons on Singabloodypore also maintained that as the offices of NVPC are located in a ministry building, NVPC is not an independent organisation.

I have taken pains to point out this line of argument is untenable. Alex Au, with more than 10 years in activism and what his defenders call "constructive engagement" with the government, wouldn't know an NGO if it came up and slapped him with a trout. I pointed out several NGOs which receive substantial proportions of their budgets from governments:

1. A quarter of the US$162 million income in 1998 of the famine-relief organization Oxfam was donated by the British government and the EU. Applying Alex Au's logic, Oxfam is not independent!
2. The Christian relief and development organization World Vision US collected US$55 million worth of goods in 1998 from the American government. Therefore they are run by the government!
3. Médecins Sans Frontières gets 46% of its income from government sources. It's a stooge of the French government! It's NOT an NGO!

Gentle bloggers, these are facts that one can easily look up on the internets. Did Alex Au conduct due diligence before he accused NVPC of being non-independent due to government funding?

I have also commented that PLU's second press release "Behind the Liberty League Scandal", was a strategic failure. When the Ministry pulled a reporter's news story off the papers at the last minute, PLU went ballistic and accused the government of censorship, of poor governance of NVPC, and said "the hole is being dug deeper and deeper".

PLU's defenders then went on to say that MCYS and NVFP ganged up on the lobby group. Presumably, that's why the news article was pulled off. And presumably that's why PLU has issued a statement that preemptively cuts any lines of communication and goodwill it has with the bureaucracy.

1. NVPC is an NGO. It is not a "government body", as PLU's statement erroneously claims. Did PLU do any research before typing out its statement? The ministry provides the funds, but it is up to NVPC to spend it, as it wishes. There is no issue of governance here, merely an issue of poor judgement: NVPC foolishly funded a sex ed quack.

That Liberty League is a Pte Ltd is irrelevant. As long as it declares itself a non-profit to NVPC, it is obliged to provide full and regular accounts. That it has only $10 in startup capital is irrelevant. It will find the rest of the money elsewhere, in order to match NVPC's funding, dollar for dollar.

2. I don't know if there was a secret agreement by MCYS and NVFP to oppress gay people. Certainly it's nice to think so, and even to speculate on the basis of insufficient information. I don't know if MCYS called off the news story because it supports NVFP, or whether it needed time to conduct investigations with NVFP on the Liberty League, or whether it needed time to spin an appropriate response. Certainly it's nice to think of the possibilities, and even to speculate on the basis of insufficient information. Or even to blog about it.

It would be prudent, if one wanted to do more than blog about it (like say, issue a press statement), to make inquiries about the status of the investigation by MCYS and NVFP. PLU did not do so, and instead chose to issue its statement. For all we know, MCYS and NVFP could be doing background checks on Liberty League; making Leslie Lung conform to the rules; finding a way to drop the Liberty League quietly; anything. In fact, there is insufficient evidence for myself or PLU to guess what is going on.

Yet PLU has chosen to interpret the removal of the press story as outright censorship, whereas it could be a media blackout. One would assume that as PLU had cooperated with the reporter to write her story, it would've contained all the errors I have pointed out, like the insistence that NVFP is a government body, or that in effect the Ministry has sanctioned Liberty League for schools as a semi-official sex ed course, for example.

3. It's very nice to preemptively tag the issue as a "scandal" and frame it as a scandal, even before the public gets to know about it and get all worked up over it. Along with the insinuations of a ministry pulling the strings of an NGO, and the claims of press censorship, this is a particularly nice and constructive way to engage the issue with the government, and to persuade the bureaucrats to listen to your lobby group in the future.

By pointing out these flaws in PLU's statements and operations, I have once again undermined the image of PLU, an image so precious to them, they're asking me - through their proxies - very nicely to keep quiet. I'm sure the very possibility that mistakes should be pointed out when they're made doesn't matter. Or perhaps we're witnessing the doctrine of PLU exceptionalism - it is free to criticise the government, but for the sake of 'unity', no one is allowed to criticise them in public.

PLU is too weak to stand up to public scrutiny! The Government has always been hostile to PLU! Don't give PLU any more trouble by criticising it! I fail to understand how by pointing out the flaws in PLU's very open actions, that I'm washing its dirty linen in public. Or that it's a very bad thing.

As a blogger and contributor to Singabloodypore I take this request to stop talking about PLU as an insult to myself and to the ideals of SBP. They suggest I voice out my dissention privately to their organisation in the future, instead of subjecting it to public scrutiny. Actually, I find their suggestion very humorous.
I concede your point about PLU having to be open to criticism. Every organisation, every society has to be. However, the issue of washing our dirty linen in public comes into question. Yes, PLU has made mistakes, but it is ineffective to publicly denounce PLU in front of anti-gay people. We are only penalising ourselves.

No. I hold that the more mollycoddled PLU is, the less its mistakes are pointed out as such, the more its defenders penalise it. I don't wish to see PLU as a monolithic party that is more interested in party unity than an open marketplace of ideas. I would hate to think of PLU as having a monoculture, and dominated by groupthink, where no one dares to tell its leaders that what they're doing might be not quite right.

See also:
More reasons why the gay rights movement in Singapore is infantile.

21 January 2006

Design methodology

You may notice a longish period of absence from posting. I have developed carpal tunnel syndrome. Updates will be fleeting while I attempt to recover.

Meanwhile, here's a fun quiz for everyone who likes to bitch about badly designed quizzes.

Do it. I'm not going to put any spoilers here. And do discuss about it.

09 January 2006

The Artist's Pledge

The social ritual establishes a kind of truth; through each re-enactment, that truth is restated, reaffirmed as a timeless fact in itself. The speaker reads from an ancient score, his voice and part, an obliggato which drowns out the initial question, and reestablishes that primal state of innocence of his endeavor in the eternal silence of the natural, undisputed, commonsensical state of always-now.

Question: How do artists here operate, given the restrictions of the state?
Artist's ritual answer: There is freedom of speech, and we have to be very creative in putting certain politically-sensitive points across, and we occasionally have to exercise some self-censorship. So as an artist, I do not feel the heavy hand of the state.

So why is it the most important piece of art here in 2005 was created by a local businessman and PAP minion grassroots activist? I refer to the 1-day display of 8 white elephant cardboard sculptures at the unopened Buangkok train station last August, organised by Mr Leow, a grassroots activist of Punggol South and other leaders minions.

The white elephants installation epitomise the best of public art:
1. Site-specific art accessible to the public
2. Relevant to area residents
3. Strong, clear social and political criticism commentary that speaks on a national level
4. Controversial, yet humourous and cheeky
5. Safe and almost legal

Question: How do the grassroots minions leaders of Punggol South operate, given the state's testiness and control of public art and politics?

Surprisingly, their answer involves none of the 10-year series model artist's answer that we've heard far too often in arts forums. No, they did NOT have to tread carefully and censor themselves in order to put up the white elephant installation. No, they were not creative enough to avoid such a sensitive issue and an entanglement with the police and the incestuous transport authority-business complex. But they were bold enough to see a good idea and to see it through.

When will local artists make socially relevant public art instead of safe, state-sponsored, high concept, sterile public art?

02 January 2006

God Complex

In the unprecedented case of Job vs God, Job, having submitted his testimony in the form of the Oath of Innocence, and parried the cross-examinations of the defense team, now calls upon the defendant to the stand. Job demands to know why a decent man like him has been rewarded by failure in life despite his exemplary obedience.

From the tempest, like a whirlwind, God answers:

Who is this man who speaks darkly, without understanding?
Who is this man who has broken the unspoken rules as to how we survive, how we have prospered?

(Aside to ISD: Who is this man? Who was his lecturer? Who is he related to? I want answers)

Now put up your fists like a man; I will ask and you will answer.
If not, your head will be broken and your knuckles dusted.

Where were you when I founded Singapore from a tear in my eye?
Who decided how many people it should hold - sure, you must know -
or how many are selected as worthy elites?

On whose word is the law based, on whose existence does Singapore depend?
When the scribes at the Straits Times gather, whose name do they praise?

In all your life, did you command the nation?
Did you tell the stock market to rise?

Have you entered the Government Investment Corporation of Singapore,
and did you see the treasures of the Budget surplus?
These I have saved for a very rainy day,
and not to be raided by an opposition party or wild-eyed populists.

Can you ride a communist tiger, or lay the smackdown on gangsters and secret societies?
Can you imprison enemies of the state indefinitely, or bankrupt them to irrelevance?

Do your enemies speak softly to you, or offer apologies in newspapers and magazines?
Do you have to queue to get treatment in hospitals?

Then Job answered:

I know you can do everything and no purpose of yours can be frustrated.
You, whose designs and machinations are veiled in non-transparency,
I have heard your reply and my eyes have seen your face.
Therefore I despise my life, and I will be consoled on dust and ashes.