29 November 2005

Rome II: Julius Caesar lays the smackdown

The Lone Gunman took a look at Roma Uber Alles last week and accused me of obscurantism. While it doesn't exactly take a training in Classics to figure out the ghastly parallels between Rome and Singapore (aside from having 7 or more hills), the link wasn't that clear in the previous post.

Here then, is your history lesson. I'll try to make it as interesting and entertaining as possible, like Julius Caesar laying the smackdown and leaving broken heads all over the Appian Way.

Proscription: Uniquely Singapore or Ancient Roman?

Proscription (Roman): The dictator, upon coming to absolute power, proclaims his political rivals as enemies of the state. These people are either stripped of their Roman citizenship (which means you could murder, torture, or crucify them), their properties confiscated, heirs dispossessed, and their wives prevented from remarrying (and hence condemning the entire family to penury).

Proscription (Singaporean)

A very long history, but let's start with the most recent cases.
Captain Ryan Goh, a Malaysian with a Singaporean PR, was stripped of his residency, expelled, and refused all future entry to the city state, for his central role in as a pilot in organising a wage negotiation movement in the pilots' union of Singapore Airlines. Papalee, the Father of the Nation and Minister-Mentor-for-life, declared the offending movement of the union as "breaking the rules of the game, the unspoken rules as to how we survive, how we have prospered". The heads of these people must be broken, he claimed sternly.

Tang Liang Hong, candidate in the 1997 elections, lost in the first real (and close) contest in a gerrymandered GRC constituency, Cheng San. The candidate and his team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, thanks to a last moment smear campaign by the Whiteshirts alleging Tang of being a Chinese chauvinist. Upon his loss, the police seized his documents for supposed tax evasion while he fled the country, but interestingly, the charge laid out was that of defamation. Like old fashioned Roman proscription, his wife was also dispossessed of his fortune by the state.

Let's not get into old-fashioned Singaporean proscription of the 1960s-70s, where the Barisan Socialists were shut down, their leaders exiled or jailed indefinitely...


Principate (Roman): The emperors after Julius Caesar were so afraid of getting assasinated by republicans that they did not dare call themselves King, but merely Princeps (First citzen, the first among equals in the Senate). The political reality of autocratic rule by the Emperor was still scrupulously masked by forms and conventions of oligarchic self-rule inherited from the political period of the 'uncrowned' Roman Republic (509 BC-27 BC) under the motto SPQR.

Principate (Singaporean): The hagiography (official biography, snivelling chroniclers at the Propaganda Times, etc) of Singapore's first Emperor also insist that he was the "first among equals" in a Cabinet graced by the genius that were Lee's Lieutenants.

Roman Succession: The emperor, while pretending to be just a First Citizen for life in a republic, still managed to name his heir, i.e. the next person to rule Rome. A strong emperor could even control the succession to the 3rd generation, while discreetly making sure the immediate successor isn't his son. No, his son would be the emperor after his heir.

Uniquely Singaporean Succession: The emperor, while pretending to be just a First Citizen, decided to hand over the reigns by naming his heir, i.e. the next person to rule Singapore. That strong Emperor even controlled the succession to the 3rd generation, while discreetly making sure the immediate successor was Mr Peanut and not Minilee. No, Minilee would be emperor after Mr Peanut.


Treason Trials (Roman): Lots and lots of them! Ex post facto criminalisation!
Treason Trials (Singaporean): Catholics branded Marxist for setting up maid union! Left-wing politicians branded Communist for being socialist! Ex post facto criminalisation!

Pandataria: Small rocky island 3km by 800m. Favourite exile destination of noble Romans like Vipsania Julia and Agrippina the Elder.
Sentosa: Small rocky island of 5 square kilometres. Chia Thye Poh was exiled there after 22 years of solitary confinement, detention without trial, and a good old-fashioned Roman purge.

22 November 2005

Roma uber alles

roma uber alles

From the final episode of HBO drama Rome, a screencap of Julius Caesar surveying a map of the city. Caesar intends to divert the river to reclaim land for the expansion of Rome. Strangely enough, the city has about the same shape as some other familiar place... No wonder our leaders have such delusions of grandeur, yes?

(Incidentally I find to my horror that Singapore is also a city of seven hills...)

18 November 2005

The best man for the job

Apparently the spokesperson for this year's Speak Mandarin Campaign is actor Hossan Leong.

Notable facts from the interview article from the Propaganda Times:

Hossan claims that he used to get F9 in Mandarin as a student, but has now "mastered the language". He also claims that none of his friends believed him when he told them of his appointment as spokesperson - as they've never seen him speak Mandarin before.

Mmmm yes. He's mastered the language without anyone noticing that he speaks it.

I mean... GURMIT SINGH has a better claim to mastering the language than Hossan.

14 November 2005

And if you are not queen, my dear

My colleagues at Singabloodypore have covered cut and pasted press articles and statements regarding the PLU/NLB affair extensively. Singabloodypore is a groupblog distinguished by the stringent analyses its contributors make on local issues and public policy, but in this matter, PLU has been given a free pass on the critical thinking treatment. After it has become apparent that no one here is willing to rise above their positions as PLU minions cheerleaders, I will have to make a sober assessment of the matter.

Let's go through PLU's initial announcement of the forum event on 1 November.
So we're going to hold a meeting there where the public can see real lesbian and gay people... talk about gay stuff. The public are of course free to wander in and listen. We're even going to allow members of the public to speak and offer their views. However, we will set one condition. If anyone wants to speak, he must take on the persona of a gay or lesbian person and speak from that perspective.

That's a stunning vote for free speech, don't you think? Especially when PLU was aware that the purpose of the NLB-sponsored open committee meetings was "allow the public to observe and perhaps engage with the issues that these civil society groups deal with."

The whole idea of fighting for gay and lesbian rights rests on the refusal of homosexual people to continue speaking up and acting in society under a default heterosexual persona. And here they are, stipulating the public can only speak at their event if they take on a gay/lesbian persona. I'm sorry, but do you seriously think you'll get a sympathetic understanding from any straight person from this "How does it feel to have the boot on your face for a change" exercise? No one from the left would support this lack of free speech. No one from the centre will be won over by this unfair rule of engagement. No one from the right will be... well, they never were anyway. As a festival open to all, the programming needs to be accessible and have a broad appeal - and this PLU event has a broad repugnance.

Today's reporters and PLU's steering committee clearly know what the real objection of the NAC was. Here, they backpedal and play down the significance of their silly rule: "While we are discussing, members of the public are free to offer suggestions. In a way, it's also interactive theatre." Yes, Alex. The public is free to give feedback, as long as they speak in the appropriate persona. I however fail to see how interactive theatre would not have been served if the audience were allowed to speak up as their real selves.

Then, there has been some form of defence for the rather odd rule. Put simply by pleinelune elsewhere, the gag rule is there to deter some homophobic zealot from grabbing the mike and hijacking the meeting/forum/theatre. Yet the founding father of the Singaporean struggle for gay equality denies this: In the Today article, he estimates that "not more than 10 PLU3 members and only a handful of members of the public would have turned up".

Now, if your event is so unpopular that only a handful would turn up, the NAC should give the venue to a more popular group - and one that doesn't attract so many disruptive homophobic zealots. And if among that pitiful handful, there is still a "homophobic zealot" (and what about free-speech zealots?), who then will ensure that the zealot will follow the gag rule? And should the zealots make a scene about the gag rule and flout it at the same time, who shall control them? The security guards of the NLB? Armed officers from Singapore's counterterrorism squad? Special officers from the NAC? One of your well-built committee members?

Now, this is purely from the point of view of the idelogical audience and the organisation of the event. What about the authorities? The state worries that if the event proves it is effortless, harmless, and equally human to speak from a gay or lesbian persona, it will lead to the normalisation of gays and lesbians in mainstream society. This is tantamount to the criminal act of promoting homosexuality and homosexual lifestyles! Yes. This gag rule was in effect a very good excuse for the machinery of the state to shut the event down. Why did PLU give them such a convenient excuse?

Then, there's the issue of the agenda. Note that the initial release didn't mention anything about the agenda - Spell#7 had just gotten the in-principle, preliminary go-ahead from NAC, which had not been in communication with PLU at that time. Yes, that's precisely what I just said. Read carefully the extract of NAC's clarification email to Spell#7:
Would you mind writing up a brief outline of how you envisage conducting the meeting, and what issues would be addressed? Perhaps if you have any other information about the PLU(3) group, and a list of its recent state interactions and public profilings, that would also be useful.

Now, when PLU says it got an "initial approval" from NLB, we must understand that
1. Spell#7 as the organiser of the series had definite approval of the series. It then got preliminary approval for the PLU event, not definite approval from NLB/NAC.
2. NLB/NAC was never in communication with PLU when it was alleged to have given its "initial approval".

Let it be known that the NAC tried to signal to PLU that it had to do a better job at selling its meeting. First, the original agenda was inappropriate:
In the planned Open Closed Door Session, a few of them, about 5 to 6, plan to talk about a Quarterly forum they are organizing in January and the forums after that. Possible forum topics are "The Singapore Constitution and Gender Issues" and "The Home Affairs Ministry's Review of Sex Laws"

Let's see. A public forum on state property, funded by state organs. Possible forum topics all lead to: we oppose these following policies of the state. And then you want to involve the audience, as part of performance theatre? This is of course more subversive than any piece of performance theatre (which is usually less direct) practised in Singapore.

When asked by NAC to reconsider the agenda, PLU's reply was a masterpiece. "The purpose of a committee meeting was purely organisational (i.e. we would be talking about setting up events and how to get speakers, venues, publicity, about attending other conferences, and arranging meetings with researchers, reporters and other activists coming to Singapore)". And the purpose of the series of events hosted by NLB is (just a reminder) allow the public to observe and perhaps engage with the issues that these civil society groups deal with. I'm sure the purely organisational stuff is something the public is keen to observe and engage with.

After news of trouble with the higher bureaucracy, PLU hastily changes the agenda to:

1. Quarterly Forum (Dec) - speaker(s), exact date, venue options?, publicity arrangements
2. 2006 Pride Month - activity proposals from JC, venue status, time to call for papers
3. Asia Pacific Network conference Kuala Lumpur (2nd week Nov)
4. Upcoming visit of PJ (4th week Nov) - meet and dinner
5. Asia-Pacific Queer conference 2006 - discuss possibility?
6. MC's idea for a Gay and Lesbian Film Festival - discuss possibility?

Great. Work. At. Getting. Support. From. Non-gays.
Yes, a Pride Month would definitely get the sympathy of the public. As with a film festival - Singaporeans watche an average 8 films a year? And the purpose of the series of events hosted by NLB is (yet another reminder) allow the public to observe and perhaps engage with the issues that these civil society groups deal with.

There's a time and place for everything. I have no problems with both agendas of the PLU, and the set of events in the second agenda seem interesting to cover in SBP in the future. Both agendas were inappropriate for the NAC's purposes - they wanted a safe and entertaining show, not this. And both agendas could be discussed in any other private meeting by the PLU committee; they didn't need the NLB/NAC event at all.

PLU clearly didn't try its hardest to get the event. It botched the negotiations with the wrong agendas and the wrong gag rules. So why the free pass at critical analysis? If Singabloodypore prides itself on dispassionately dispatching bloopers and objectionable policies from the establishment, why not do the same for alleged members of civil society? Equal opportunity, I say.

Also, refer to other mistakes made by PLU, the première [note: premier is spelt without an e and without the silly accent] Singapore advocacy group for gay equality.

Si non dominaris, inquit, filiola, iniuriam te accipere existimas?
And if you are not queen, my dear,
Think you that you are wronged?

08 November 2005

Solidarity Vigil Review

The Solidarity Vigil for Nguyen Tuong Van was organised by Think Centre and the Reach Out Campaign and held at Asia Hotel on 7 November. For today, I have no comments on the death penalty - readers already know my views through the discussions at Singabloodypore. Instead, I'll give a review of the vigil, which will serve as an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of this campaign/movement against capital punishment.

The Ticket

The vigil for Nguyen follows a different format from Shanmugam's vigil in September this year. Instead of a flower child and hippy poet procession-cum-performance reading session, this month's event is a soapbox parade of opposition politicians and civil society activists.

When you have a diverse group on the same campaign, giving speeches at the same event, the ticket is expected to show some unity and discipline. That was lacking, however. Signs of trouble first showed themselves when JB Jeyaratnam began to speak after Alex Au's introductory fact-laying. The veteran politician (the first opposition member to win a parliament seat after Independence), a fiery orator, never warmed up, giving a hestitant and sententious speech.

That is not a problem. The problem was with how his fellow panellists and fellow campaigners on the ticket showed their utter boredom during his speech. Au took off his spectacles and buried his face into his palms, while Anthony Yeo propped his jawbone with a hand. At least the ticket was not further disgraced, as Dr Chee and a Brother from the Catholic church sat attentively, looking and listening to the speaker.

When you're on the same ticket, even looking at your watch while another speaker is giving a speech is taboo, as any greenhorn campaign manager will tell you.

Message Discipline

Chee, Yeo, and the Brother stayed on message. They had just one point to make in their speeches (The Burma Question, the psychological harm to the family of the executed prisoner, the stand on the Catholic church on the matter), and delivered that one point to its conclusion. Contrary to public impressions of Dr Chee as an out of control slanderer of authority figures, the real loose cannon of the night was Nguyen's lawyer, Ravi, who had too many points to make and many more irrelevant points as well, including frequent jibes at the Nominated Elected President, SR Nathan.

There is a place for all things, and a vigil to drum up support for opposition to the death penalty is not the best avenue for politicking or political comedy - something that Jeyaratnam and Chee understood. One wished Ravi had paid attention to the lack of politicking by the two opposition leaders, who went before him.

Unity of Message

This simply means that for a properly organised campaign, speakers on the same ticket cannot afford to contradict each other. Yet, we have

Alex Au: I read a lawyer's account on the internet that the jury system was abolished shortly after Independence because Singaporean citizens were reluctant to convict a member of their peers, if it meant execution.

Jeyaratnam: That's not true. I was a prosecutor during that time and I assure you Singaporean juries never made adverse verdicts - that is to say, finding a clearly guilty man innocent because it would mean the capital punishment. That claim about reluctant Singaporean juries was first made by Lee Kuan Yew in order to justify the abolition of the jury system.

Yes. The poster boy of the internets shows the power of online research... Having contributed to several academic anthologies on the construction of gender, Au forgets to apply the same discourse theory to the lawyer's account he finds on the internets, and also neglects to put proper footnotes and citations for the statistics in the handouts for the audience. Plain embarrassing to have someone on the ticket to correct you like this, really.

Then, we also have, during the Q&A session, Ravi trying to blame everything on Nathan. He would've gotten scot-free and the audience none the wiser had not this exchange taken place:

Ravi: Why does Nathan, upon being nominated (audience laughter) - sorry, elected - as President, refuse to grant clemency to any of the over 100 criminals on Death Row during his tenure?

Jeyaratnam: Constitutionally, the President can only issue a clemency after being advised by the cabinet, which has to be advised by the Attorney-General.

Ravi: That's the elected President, yes? Who has less power than the ceremonial President? (audience laughter) All his predecessors, as ceremonial Presidents, managed to grant clemency to several criminals! So Nathan...

Jeyaratnam: Actually the ceremonial Presidents also could only issue a clemency upon the advice of the cabinet and the AG.

Clearly, one of these men here is wildly uninformed and wrong about how the presidency works. One is a lawyer of over 50 years. Another is a laywer who is currently petitioning the President for clemency for Nguyen. The horrors, the horrors! Ergo, no message unity.


For a campaign organised by a political group, there is clearly insufficient organisation per se, little coordination, little preparation. Just requiring the speakers to submit their points to each other for vetting would've prevented all this.

JB Jeyaratnam was lacklustre during his own speech. He had very little to say about the case itself, admitting at his opening statement that he is unfamiliar with the details of Nguyen's case, and what he had to say was put forth in tortured syntax that - given his reptutation as an orator - disappointed the audience. Yet his best contributions were as a fact-checker, to rein in the excesses of the claims by Au and Ravi...

One would've expected Think Centre to place Jeyaratnam as one of the last speakers, instead of being the second speaker. That way, he would've had some inkling of the case by the time he was due to speak...

Thankfully, the final speaker, Madam Letchumi Murugesu, Shanmugam's mother, gave a touching and sincere speech on the futility of the death penalty and its nihilism. She is the true poster child of this campaign, not Nguyen, and not Shanmugam. Think Centre and the Reach Out Campaign would do well to realise this.

Special mentions

Au, the so-called "founding father of the Singaporean struggle for gay equality", made the worst fashion faux pas ever for the vigil. In an event with dozens of video cameras by major news organisations (including Reuters), the dapper man wore a shirt with checked patterns. The rest of the panel, being much more media-savvy and fashion-conscious, wore solid colours. Au will be known as the Hypnotist or Mr Moire due to his satorical choice.

01 November 2005

Sedition by the numbers

3 down, 1 more to go

Usedbrainsforsale, my fellow writer at Singabloodypore, reports the capitulation in court of the third blogger to be charged with sedition (for posting racist remarks online) in Singapore.

As xenoboysg (another fellow SBP writer) points out, we are witnessing an incredibly efficient legal process at work: the machinery of the state moves on relentlessly, crushing all miscreants in its way. This is not hyperbole, by the way.

Even the token arch-conservative member of SBP - marked by his espousal of the doctrine of police infallibility and dedication to a strong crime and punishment style towards our polis, is awed by how the state has handled the trial of the bloggers. The judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney assigned to the case are top-notch pillars of the legal community. Judge Bala used to be the most senior deputy public prosecutors persecutors around, with his hardline stance - a stance which Mr Wang neglects to inform readers, may have continued in his tenure as a judge. The prosecutor for the case is Jaswant Singh, a "top guy" in the attorney-general's office. On defence was Edmond Pereira, an ex-judge and DPP.

Mr Wang is convinced that with the best of the crop involved in this case, justice will be impeccably served. Trust these men, he seems to say. Be assured that whatever sentence is meted out will be fair, just, and legal.

Now, all these blogging trials are remarkable. They involve young men shooting off their mouths online and having their politically incorrect remarks read by people who weren't expected to read them. This crime is of such national, political and racial important that it warrants the mobilisation of the Big Guns. Or, you could look at the identities of the judge, prosecutor, defense lawyer and say that they were impeccably selected to ensure a very entertaining and informative show trial. Propaganda through the courts.

So: 3 down, 1 to go.

The Internets problem

Also, gay dating websites with members-only galleries like www.sgboy.com and www.fluffboy.com were fined and shut down respectively. Despite fluffboy being hosted overseas...

Some political bloggers in Singapore have quietly stopped updating their sites, or completely changed the focus content. This is not to say that they can feel what may be in store soon: a political website and blogger(s) being made an example of, under the Political Broadcasts act. Their fear is overstated - the point about the sedition trials is Singapore has passed the age where the state can, with impunity, charge people who are really seditious (spies, traitors, guerillas) with sedition. We are reduced to having people who are nowhere seditious to be hammered with the sedition law. By the same reasoning, the upcoming shutdown of a select few political blogs will not affect any real political blogs.

It's not about racial harmony, promotion of undesirable lifestyles, or political punditry by ordinary citizens. It's about the internets.

No really, it's about the internets

Singapore has an efficient legal system where judges, DPPs and the police will pounce on any criminal and process his case swiftly finish him off.

I want to know why no sedition act was thrown at the following people for making certain racist, antireligious, and misogynistic remarks that were much more offensive and shocking, in view of their status as national leaders and the very public avenues their remarks, which have caused popular condemnation or moral outrage in their time:

Former MP Choo Wee Khiang, in 1992, made a speech to Parliament "One evening, I drove to Little India and it was pitch dark but not because there was no light, but because there were too many Indians around."

Then-Brigadier General (Reservist) and cabinet minister Lee Hsien Loong, in February 1987, clarified in Parliament the reason behind the non-existence of Malay figher pilots: The Government saw armed conflict with Malaysia as a possibility when he defended the policy of taking limited number of Malays into the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) and then not placing them in militarily critical roles. Minilee argued that the policy was intended to avoid dividing soldiers' loyalties between their nation and their religion. [The Pacific Review Vol. 4, No. 3] (Minilee leaves it to us to decide whether Malays cannot be trusted to defend Singapore because of their race or their religion.)

Then-Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, in September 1999, remarked in the "Tanjong Pagar Singapore 21" public consultative forum reiterated that Malays cannot be trusted to defend Singapore in stronger terms than Minilee: "If, for instance, you put in a Malay officer who's very religious and who has family ties in Malaysia in charge of a machine gun unit, that's a very tricky business. We've got to know his background."

As a prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew in December 1967 gave a lecture to the nation's top students at the Premier Institute for Social Engineering on the superior glands of the Chinese race (reported by Michael D. Barr, Journal of Contemporary Asia v29, n2 (1999). The lecture began with an anecdote: "Three women were brought to the Singapore General Hospital, each in the same condition and needing a blood transfusion. The first, a Southeast Asian was given the transfusion but died a few hours later. The second, a South Asian was also given a transfusion but died a few days later. The third, an East Asian, was given a transfusion and survived. That is the X factor in development."

Remarkable racism, and very public racism at that.

Note that the text in the Sedition Act do not specify race as a basis to identify groups that are clearly offended and divided from the state by a sedious remark. How about sex/gender as a group?

1990. Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, on a tour of Australia, expressed his regrets about extending higher education and equal rights to women. (Facts on File: Asian Political Alamanac, p387) "The government was young, ignorant, and idealistic," said Lee. In 1986, Lee Kuan Yew mentioned that it was "wrong, it was stupid" to introduce monogamy.

It is certainly my belief that the current crop of seditious bloggers being tried is a testament to the dictum that leaders aren't subject to the same laws they impose on their followers. There are lots of people online who defend the prosecution of the 4 racist bloggers as necessary, legal, and just. Where are they when our leaders shoot their mouths off?