29 June 2007

Compare and contrast. Discuss!

This is Alfian Sa'at on Trevvy.
This is Ramlah Abu Bakar on The Online Citizen.

Compare. Contrast.

Question for Alfian Sa'at: Are you the author of the Ramlah Abu Bakar article on theonlinecitizen?

Question for theonlinecitizen's editors: Were you aware that Ramlah Abu Bakar is Alfian Sa'at? If yes, when did you know? If you knew this, can you explain why you felt this fact had to be hidden from your readers?

Question for Alfian Sa'at: Why did you submit your article to theonlinecitizen under a different name?

Question for Alfian Sa'at: In your trevvy article, the title identifies Francis's story as a parable. I understand parable to mean "a fictitious narrative". Could you explain what are the factual elements in your report, and what has been fictionalised?

Question for theonlinecitizen's editors: Did the editors verify the details of Rmalah Abu Bakar's article and sources? Is RamlahAbu Bakar's article presented as a journalistic piece, or a parable? Enquiring minds want to know!

This is Alfian Sa'at highlighting an "interesting article"
This is theonlinecitizen's op-ed

Compare and contrast.

Questions for Alfian Sa'at: Are you the author of "Should homosexuals be allowed to teach" on theonlinecitizen?

If no, could you tell us why you've plagiarised and incorporated this article into a longer essay?

If yes, could you explain why you have chosen not to be identified as the author of this article?

Questions for theonlinecitizen: Could you clarify who is the author of this essay?

Could you explain why it appears without an author name this time, instead of a pseudonym? Enquiring minds want to know!

25 June 2007

No place I'd rather be

Dick Lee points that some NDP songs are just crap, but my friend the Samurai Blogger points out that this year's NDP song by Kit Chan is really the pits. I'm of the opinion that anyone who watched the National Day broadcast must be working off some serious karma.

Today, though, for your pleasure (or not), we have a youtube clip of No Place I'd Rather Be, lyrics by Jimmy Ye.

Contrast this with The Duprees singing You Belong To Me.

The Samurai rightly points out the poverty of imagination behind the lyrics of our NDP - it is no more and no less than a second-rate, third-hand reworking of the lyrics of You Belong To Me. I believe, though, that the point isn't about the lack of originality of NDP songs, or their derivativeness. To arrive at an understanding of the true weakness of Kit Chan's NDP, we must adopt a very close examination of its text and that of its possible ancestor.

The lyrics of both songs share the same strategy: No matter where you go, your home will always be here. No matter how awed you are, or sold on the idea that you just might have a happier life elsewhere, your home is here. There's not other place you should be, because you belong here.

Now, for some reason, You Belong To Me is seen as a love song, while No Place I'd rather be is supposed to be a patriotic NDP song. But to me, the possessiveness and the "I don't care where you've been, you belong to me" thematic refrain of the first song puts it down as the anthem of a wife abuser rather than a lover, and from the other end, Kit Chan's No Place I'd Rather Be, comes across as the anthem of the abused wife, coming back for more.

11 June 2007

The campaign to confer the martyrdom award to Alfian Saat

An incident, a talking point, a concerted campaign

Dear readers, we've known for almost a full month that Alfian Sa'at has been sacked from his relief teaching post at East View Secondary School. Word travels fast, especially since the playwright took it upon himself to tell his friends, fans, and acquaintances about it. We are not unsympathetic to Alfian's loss of the beginnings of a meaningful vocation, but since he has made it a public matter and since it appears that there is an ongoing campaign involving various bloggers to turn this into an issue to bash the MOE, the civil service, and maybe even the PAP with, it falls unto me to urge caution - and more importantly, common sense.

The talking points seem to go like this:

1. Draw issue to Alfian Sa'at, prize-winning, decorated playright having lost his job
2. Draw attention to MOE's refusal to provide an explanation for his sacking
3. Hint heavily at an unofficial campaign of persecution
a. He was sacked because he is a politically troublesome creature: a liberal, radical, and a critical Malay
b. He was sacked because he is an openly gay person who has written gay-themed plays
4. Ergo, Alfian Sa'at is a martyr for the cause - whichever cause it is. All hail his staggering genius and mourn his unjust persecution!
5. Storm the Bastille, lads!

My dear friend, the Blogger Samurai, has an important dictum that I wish whoever is participating in the campaign to award the martyrdom award to Alfian Sa'at could drill into their memory: Never attack in anger. I, too, have another dictum that I wish could have guided the leaders of this coordinated web campaign: Never sacrifice intellectual honesty for political ends.

Is there an unofficial campaign of persecution? No one knows, and by definition it can't be proven, which means it plays up to the very angry and radicalised hordes on the blogs right now. But the campaign does itself and the blogosphere an injustice when its proponents pointedly miss out the most obvious and probable cause of Alfian's sacking - one that could be backed with more tangible evidence than 3a or b.

The case against Alfian Sa'at

It is always a good practice to go back to the source material when unsure of the facts. In this case, it would be a good idea to pay a visit to the playwright's blog. This act alone could have saved the ongoing campaign from guaranteed embarrassment, and its participants from any fallout of credibility, really.

We note the following 2 entries on 24 April and 11 May.

Both are entries where Alfian Sa'at blogs about his teaching experience.

excerpt from the first entry:

The din from the classroom was overwhelming; a tidal wave of restless yelps, red-faced bully laughter, the wailing of the freshly-smacked...a boy at the back gripped the sides of his table and screamed, 'I hate History!' A girl at the side of the class stared at me as if she was putting a hex on me; how in the world did she leave her house in the morning with eyeliner on? A boy ran out of one of the classroom doors and re-entered through the other, as if he was an actor rushing to make an entrance from the opposite wing. A girl was putting some green dye in her mouth, probably Art Class leftovers, and spitting foul green liquid at her classmates. A rosette of lurid green sputum bubbled on her desk. She was like Linda Blair in the Exorcist, but ten times worse, because I couldn't wave a crucifix at her and make her hair evaporate.

Now, I wouldn't know, but that sounds like extremely bad form for a teacher to blog about his students in a demeaning manner. This isn't so bad until you realise that we know who the teacher is, where the school is, and we can thus identify the students...

But it's more than just that, of course. Alfian Sa'at is a master playwright, and we admire his narrative abilities that are shown off here. But not quite - why is Alfian Sa'at adopting this passive-agressive love-hate tone towards his students? Like some colonial anthropologist studying a native tribe, he exclaims how much they drive him up the wall, and in the next breath tearfully admits how charming they are, in their impish innocence. Like some arrogant, patronising colonial anthropologist:

It is an illusion to think that the classroom is a homogenous neighbourhood. There are overlapping ghettoes.

Impossible how a member of an oppressed ethnic minority ends up conferring the word ghetto on the students of a neighbourhood school. But there we have it - an exoticisation, a romanticisation of the neighbourhood school students. Who are of course tamed by the redeeming quality of Art:

I have to constantly strain my throat to get them to quieten down, but I realised that when I draw on the whiteboard they are rapt, respectful. And thus I would sketch the faces of Brahmins and Shudras, the four Ministers of the Melakan Sultanate, the Shang dynasty Emperor. I would draw four-clawed dragons, cavemen, even the faces of some of the students, who would blush at the attention. I have had so many requests for drawings: Stamford Raffles, a character called Lady Xin, exhumed from her tomb, from their textbook, and even a hamster.

Alfian Sa'at teaches racial harmony, of the exoticised mythical peoples category.

And if that weren't enough, the second entry takes the cake:

12:40 pm - red river
I'm a relief teacher.

You see where I'm getting at, hopefully? Anyone would be fired for blogging about their work and workplace in such a manner.

And if that weren't enough, remember this is a blog where Alfian Sa'at posts updates on his gay plays, his coterie of hangers-on, his adventures in New York - meeting up with self-exiled dissidents and telling the MDA "Fuck you".

A clear inability to apply common sense, to keep professional and personal matters separate, to behave professionally.

The moral of the story: Never blog about work in a negative manner

Beware if your blog is related to work
Microsoft fires worker over weblog
Looming pitfalls of work blogs
Blogging on the Job

12 June update: The Blogger Samurai has spoken on the issue. Listen to him.

04 June 2007

גם זה יעבור

Gam zeh ya'avor: this too shall pass

Foucault's discourse theory places primacy on the zero point, the beginning point where a certain mode of discourse shaped from that time on how we see the world, describe it, and picture ourselves in it - such that we can scarcely think of any other way to see the world, describe it... that it appears as though from time immemorial we have always been seeing the world this way... naturally.

As an illustration, it is little known that "kiasuism" was coined in the late 1980s during a speech where a MINDEF general made fun of the go-getter characteristics of some soldiers in BMT. What is known is that since that zero point, that word grew to encompass and define everything that is Singaporean, that it is impossible to think of Singaporeans never being kiasu before - isn't it obvious they have always been in this state?

Hence, the Foucauldian project's obsession with zero points, with historical breaks that demonstrate that certain paradigms of thought, of social perception, weren't always so, and should never be taken as natural or commonsensical.

Gam zeh ya'avor: this too shall pass

Obsessed with beginnings, the Foucauldian project forgets that there are endings, that dominant modes eventually fall away; that, if certain social, political conditions, or a set of accidents could lead to a dominance in one form of discourse, that dominant discourse could very well pass away due to certain accidents - social or political. To gain a full understanding of political discourse, we must shift our focus from the zero point at its inception, and look to - and look forward to - the other zero point at its passing.

I'm going to build a list of political phrases that have fallen out of fashion in Singapore. These are well-turned phrases of closing off discourse, whose time have passed. It is important to remember, for those live in a city whose political nature seems unchanging, that seemingly unchallenge-able rhetoric have sell-by dates. After all, you can't use the same threats as people become more mature. Simply put, if the rhetoric is out of step with the populace, or too nonsensical, they will just make fun of it or even refuse point blank to accept such arguments - and hence such rhetoric is dropped from public discourse. From zero point to zero point, as it were.

The death of politicised phrases

Quitters vs Stayers
Died because: too many ministers had children who have settled permanently out of Singapore, including Goh Chok Tong's daughter.

Foreign talent
Died because: too many Singaporeans now realise it's just a disguise for foreign labour import substitution - even foreign labour and development specialists like Stephen Appold insist the foreign talent here "are not needed in the large number in which they are found".

Asian values
Died because: the Asian economic crisis of 1997 happened.

Unconstructive criticism
Died because: logically speaking I don't have to tell you to zip up your pants to point out that your fly is undone.

Boh Tua Boh Suay
Died because: no one agrees with George Yeo that criticising the leadership is tantamount to disrespecting the leaders. No one agrees with George Yeo that there is a natural hierarchy of order.

Helicopter vision
Died because: ministers in the Minilee cabinet were seen more as bumbling fools and incompetents making "honest mistakes" than infallible supermen.

OB Markers
Died because: fewer and fewer people believe that the government has the right to make up rules, stop discussions in their tracks arbitrarily, and issue red cards out of its ass.

And now, this too shall pass

This weekend, theonlinecitizen has released the full Attorney General's report (available in 4 parts) on its audit of over 12 ministries and statutory boards.

As the Blogger Samurai points out, the first lesson of political blogging is never attack in anger. Instead, we must use this unfortunate incident, this embarrassing report, to put to an end a particular dominant mode of thinking - that, for the sake of national competitiveness, ministries and statutory boards need not be subject to full transparency, oversight, and accountability to the public taxpayers. Instead of shrilling corruption and other accusations on the ministries, playing "Aha!" games with them, or like some political illiterates who conflate the ministries, the civil service, the government and the ruling party as a single entity, I suggest that the path of action for Singaporeans is clear, simple, and shrill-free.

It is time for us to reject, point blank, any future rhetoric designed to protect the operations of ministries and statutory boards from accountability and oversight. It is time for us to decisively and loudly remind our leaders that certain arguments just don't work anymore, and have lost their persuasive power. Softly but firmly insist "I don't buy your argument", and you shall see yet another political death, another political, politicised discourse fade into zero point.

Gam zeh ya'avor: this too shall pass