26 December 2005

More improbable iPod fashion items

Are you happy to see me, or is that an iPod in your briefs?

(Okay, fine. Not the most improbable iPod fashion item, since there's a ladies' accessory involving iPods, batteries, and vibration...)

23 December 2005

NKF roundup

The auditors from KPMG have spoken, and their 442-page report is damning.

Agagooga compiles the juciest quotes from their report as a public service, in his "National Education Lessons we can learn from the NKF scandal" series, in 3 parts.

We suspect KPMG had a fun time writing the report. As rench00 also notes, the lessons and failures of NKF are far too close to what we know about the governance of Singapore.

Even Ong Soh Chin of the Straits Times compares the NKF to the Matrix. And for the past 5 or so years, the Matrix has been compared to Singapore...

Note the similarities:
Heavy reliance on lawsuits to silence critism.
Concentration of power in one person.
A system of checks and balances that actually act as a rubberstamp (NKF board. Parliament backbenchers.)
Failure of board to challenge decisions or even discuss them. Unanimous voting.
And so on.

Then, there was that live press conference yesterday, where Minister Khaw Boon Wan admitted that he now "looks silly", having stalwartly defended NKF for the past 3 years.

But no, he did not explain how the Ministry of Health renewed the IPC status for NKF (enabling donations as tax-deductable) less than a month after the National Council of Social Services withdrew the IPC status. Minister Khaw did not mention what the auditors from MOH found that actually proved the NCSS complaints wrong. He did not reveal what criteria the MOH used to give NKF a clean bill of health. There should be an official inquiry and investigation on MOH's actions in January 2001, since the Minister is not forthcoming with the details.

The media should also be taken to task. The Q&A session of the press conference was not telecast live and unabridged. This is not the time to protect the Minister from embarrassment - he should by rights resign from his post for this.

20 December 2005

The Great Singaporean Novel

In your opinion, what should the Great Singaporean Novel be about?

Some answers from offline people so far:

Protagonist(s) contemplating emigration
A taxi driver (perhaps contemplating emigration... to Perth?)
Compilation of Xiaxue's online posts
A researcher/scholar finding out some discrepancies between official history and actual history (Major whoopass and conspiracy follows??)
The rise and fall of civilization with 3 generations, a story of transition and transience.

What is your opinion? Consider this an open thread, or post the reply on your site, or ask other people you know!

14 December 2005

Daughter of Papalee, Sister of Minilee

They say the fruit never falls far from the tree.

Recently a letter Dr Lee Wei Ling wrote to the Straightened Times forum titled "Prestigious school not always the wisest choice", shows that credulity towards crackpot theories is indeed hereditary.

Like her sire, who believes in the superior glands of the Chinese race as the contributing factor to their dominance in Singapore, Dr Lee writes that
Our meritocratic system, and the fact that academic intelligence (some would call it IQ) is to a large extent genetically determined, has already allowed the cream to float to the top.


On the heritability of IQ, Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis (2002), The Inheritance of Inequality, report after a meta-analysis of existing IQ research:
A person’s IQ — meaning, a test score — is a phenotypic trait, while the genes influencing IQ are the person's genotypic IQ. Heritability is the relationship between the two. Suppose that, for a given environment, a standard deviation difference in genotype is associated with a fraction h of a standard deviation difference in IQ. Then h^2 is the heritability of IQ. Estimates of h^2 are based on the degree of similarity of IQ among twins, siblings, cousins and others with differing degrees of genetic relatedness. The value cannot be higher than 1, and most recent estimates are substantially lower, possibly more like a half or less.

It is NOT a fact that intelligence is "to a large extent genetically determined". It is irresponsible and possibly a breach of ethics for Dr Lee to mislead readers so, and worse yet, fail to provide figures to illustrate (or rather disprove) the extent of genetically determined IQ.

It is also sheer incompetence and disconnection from reality that Dr Lee cheerfully advises academically outstanding students not to worry if they don't get into elite schools. After all, it's not as though the Old Girls/Boys Network actually exist. In Singapore, people succeed due to sheer intellect, not their connections and social capital!

The posthumous pardon of Devan Nair

Chengara Veetil Devan Nair died in exile in Canada, aged 82.

Much has been made about Papalee's character assasination of President Nair, which continued years after the latter's forced resignation in 1985. Even more has been said about how Nair was to survive, for the next 20 years, in Canada, where he stepped up criticisms of the authoritarian rule of Papalee, his proscription of various opposition leaders, and his perversion of NTUC (whose independence was guaranteed in its founding constitution) into a branch of the Whiteshirt Party. Absent in the national propaganda press's coverage and state-coordinated posthumous pardon of Devan Nair is his outspoken support of the opposition movement in Singapore during his exile.

It amazes me that Malaysian blogs constitute the vast majority of online writing about the passing of Devan Nair, reporting with more objectivity and honesty than the Singaporean press.

Dear Reader, you can find them easily, and I shan't repeat their talking points and accurate historical narration. Instead, let's examine why the need for Papalee to invoke the vast machinery of the state to pass what is effectively a posthumous pardon for Singapore's 3rd President.

One might note that amongst Papalee's Old Guard, Devan Nair stands out as the most politically loyal (until his forced resignation). He was the only leftist member of the pre-schism Whiteshirt Party who did not cross over to Dr Lee Siew Choh's Barisan Socialis. He was the father of the national union movement that proved to be a shortcut for Papalee's control of the masses. And yet the stalwart soldier became the voice for a non-authoritarian polity, even deterring Papalee from one of his trademark suits against the Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper, in 2002.

Despite his forced and dishonourable resignation, despite the years of character assasination that followed, Devan Nair's credentials as former Lee loyalist, patriotic anticolonialist fighter, and father of the NTUC gives him and his later criticism of the Lee regime credibility. This makes Devan Nair more dangerous in death than in life.

If Papalee could not finish his character assasination properly, the sensible action would be to pardon the former President, let the NTUC hold a memorial service for the dead hero, just in case a genuine love by the natives for Devan Nair turns him into Singapore's Hu Yaobang.

12 December 2005

NTU Blogging survey: questions and answers


While blogs in Singapore are largely accounts of personal lives with the odd post on social and political issues, several prominent blogs have appeared that choose to focus on such issues, including at least three by opposition politicians. This paper will thus examine the effects the sedition incident and other recent incidents involving online speech have had on the local blogging community. Through interviews with 20 bloggers, the paper explores if a "chilling effect" is being produced among those who blog on political subjects, given the vagueness of the laws and code of practice that govern online discussion of political issues. Also, the paper looks at how bloggers who discuss such subjects negotiate the various legal pitfalls that surround online communication. By doing so, it is hoped that the paper provides an insight into the future of blogs as applied to social and civic discourse in Singapore and the potential effects that these non-traditional sources of information are capable of invoking.


What is your blog about?

This blog is a practical application of cultural studies, rather than a springboard for cultural theory. Inasmuch as current issues (say, the economy or politics) are raised on Illusio, I am more interested in the cultural significance of these issues. Other topics claimed by Illusio: comparative literature and cross-cultural studies.

You may say Illusio is an academic cultural (practical) blog, in the sense that its posts ensure (in the words of Bourdieu) the social world loses its character as a natural phenomenon, that the question of the natural or conventional character of social facts can be raised. This blog combats orthodoxy, straight, or rather straightened opinion that aims at restoring the primal state of innocence of doxa (the natural, undiscussed, and undisputed), and instead become heretical, heterodox, to alert consciously to readers of the existence of competing possibles and the sum total of the alternatives not chosen that the established order implies.

Who do you want to read your blog?

There are 2 important questions: Who are my ideal audience, and who actually ends up reading my blog?

Let us examine Illusio. It does not operate in a vacuum, but exists in the wider field of blogs. Like any social field, there are positions to be taken, an investment of interest and reputation, by both participants and spectators who are invested, taken in and by the game. To be interested is to accord a given social game that what happens in it does matter, that its stakes are important and worth pursuing.

Identify the position my blog occupies in the field of blogging and you will have the profile of my 'ideal reader'.

Now, do a technorati search to see who links to Illusio. Those are players who have invested and positioned themselves through linking to me. Then do a survey on who I have linked on my blog. Do they match the profile of A) your analysis of the positioning of Illusio, and B) the associated profile of who you'd expect to read this blog?


Regarding the AcidFlask and racist bloggers incidents, were the actions taken against the bloggers in each incident appropriate? Why or why not?

My opinion on the racist bloggers have been expressed in an earlier post (see 3 down, 1 to go and no, it's really about the internets).

Illusio has not commented on AcidFlask previously. All I'd say is we'd better look at the historical records on the eccentricities of Chairman Yeo and how he wishes to control public discourse on his A★★ agency. You'll find in more than a few parliamentary debates in the Hansard record, of his demands that MPs and ministers send him drafts of any speeches mentioning his A★★ agency. Then imagine what would happen when an ex-scholar attempts to break the iron curtain of non-transparency of his agency...

Were the actions taken against AcidfFlask appropriate? It was an extrajudicial silencing. Chairman Yeo and AcidFlask need to answer this question, not I. Was the action expected? Definitely, with that consistent pattern of behaviour from The Chairman.

How have these two incidents affected your blogging activities?

Were the bloggers punished because of what they did, or were they punished because they were bloggers? Or were they punished because the internet must receive the extension of the legal authority/policing of the state and the extrajudicial authority of Chairman Yeo's A★★ agency? Or were they punished for things that they would've been punished for if they had committed their acts offline? Note that not all of these possible intepretations require Akikonomu's blogging activities to be affected.

However, it may be noted that Illusio has never shied away from commenting on Singapore's leaders, and instead you may find it has increased in such commentary, and even provides links and citations to the more outrageous or courageous assertions made in blog posts.


In your understanding, what makes an issue political?

A. The political is the realm of the disputed. Disputed positions, facts, membership, positioning make things political.
B. The political is whatever touches on issues, events, anything related to the polity.

How do you blog about political issues? If you don't, why not?

Let's assume you mean to imply that Singaporean bloggers who are political are conflicted because of a popular interpretation on a law banning political publications and broadcasts. Then you should be asking the original crafters of the law, or lawyers, or politicians, on whether the issues raised on selected blogs in your study are political.

Let me reiterate: I blog about cultural issues as a practical application of cultural studies (as opposed to blogging on cultural theory). Given the blog's purpose to denaturalise the social world and its undisputed, commonsensical facts, you can call it political (in the sense of politics as the realm of the disputed). Any more and I would be repeating what my blog is about.

What do you think of current levels of control on blogging?

There's the comments feature. There's the linking. There's the whole goldfish in a fish tank, voices in an echo chamber feature and the public lynching thing that's so charming about the blogosphere. Bloggers and their readers police their own pretty well. Do a study on BBSes, internet newsgroups, and see what sorts of control evolve on their own.

But that's not what you're asking, is it? Can the entire internets be controlled? What is the current extend of control Singapore government holds over the internets? Compare that to the current levels of control on blogging, and compare that to whether blogs can be controlled. There's that neat cross-national study on state control of blogging and internet access by the Electronic Freedom Frontier that you may wish to consult instead (it's linked by Singabloodypore somewhere).

Ideally, how much control should there be?

There's the comments feature. There's the linking. There's the whole goldfish in a fish tank, voices in an echo chamber feature and the public lynching thing that's so charming about the blogosphere. Bloggers and their readers police their own pretty well. But... that's not what you really wanted to ask, was it? Can the entire internets be controlled?

Do the current laws/regulations help you understand what can or cannot be said in blogs?

Certainly there shouldn't be defamation or incitement to crimes. I write on cultural issues, in a semi-academic style. The rules of my positioning as a certain type of blogger constrains and enables me to write on certain subjects in a certain manner, with a certain agenda. Cultural studies, with analyses that open up the field of interpretations on taken-for-granted "social facts". Those are the rules of the game that I am governed and am empowered by. I occupy the position of a cultural studies blogger, not a political blogger.

You wanted to ask "Do the current laws/regulations help you understand if something blogs are allowed to be political" or something along the lines. That didn't prevent Chairman Yeo from taking an extrajudicial, extralegal action against AcidFlask. That certainly didn't prevent the 4 bloggers to be found ex post facto guilty and punished under a law that has never been used for the purpose of punishing those crimes.

Indeed, as your abstract points out, there is this "vagueness of the laws" that pervades the whole issue. Let me tell you it is the vaguenss of the legal code in the Political Broadcasts Act, in the whole political-legal arena (re: Papalee sentencing proscription on Capt Ryan Goh for "breaking the rules of the game, the unspoken rules as to how we survive, how we have prospered".

Ex post facto criminalisation is the constant threat when a state operates with vague laws and unspoken rules. For a political blogger, that would be the gravest thing. For myself, it's merely a topic to blog about, to analyse its cultural significance and implications.

10 December 2005

Academic and critical writing

Newly graduated with a masters in economics, Wei ponders over a book he just borrowed from the National Library, Critical intellectuals on writing (Olsen G, Worsham L, eds; 2003). The anthology consists of interviews of leading scholars by the editors, on being intellectuals.

Interestingly, Wei notes their introduction attempts to delineate the difference between academic and intellectual writing:

Simply stated, the distinction is this: academic work is inherently conservative inasmuch as it seeks, first to fulfill the relatively narrow and policed goals and interests of a given discipline or profession and second, to fulfill the increasingly corporatised mission of higher education; intellectual work, in contrast, is relentless critical, self-critical, and potentially revolutionary, for it aims to critique, change, and even destroy institutions, disciplines and professions that rationalise exploitation, inequality and injustice.

I never noticed the distinction between academic writing and critical writing - or rather, that distinction was not adhered to when I wrote my honours thesis. Of course, most of my classmates were trying to game the system...

Then, my reading material consisted of Pierre Bourdieu, who had this to say in Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977):

The social scientist has an obligation to see to it that the social world loses its character as a natural phenomenon, that the question of the natural or conventional character (phusei or nomo) of social facts can be raised. Academic discourse, in the universe of discourse or argument, must combat orthodoxy, straight, or rather straightened opinion that aims at restoring the primal state of innocence of doxa (the natural, undiscussed, and undisputed), and instead become heretical, heterodox, to alert consciously to readers of the existence of competing possibles and the sum total of the alternatives not chosen that the established order implies.

It's a completely different view altogether: ideally, academic writing is critical writing.

09 December 2005

Let all the poisons hatch out...

The latest revelations about the NKF hardly come as a surprise. We knew all along that NKF was poorly managed, that they had a creative approach to accounting, that without any transparency, Durai and his minions got away with their misdeeds for years.

Previous NKF coverage on this blog:
Get that Man a Peanut!
He who lives by the peanut
and The peanut that launched a thousand ships.

So far, all my accusations and analyses have proven true, and Matilda Chua is apparently the next in line for a Durai treatment.

I urge Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan to step down after investigations are over.

1. Minister Khaw knew about the massive reserves and defended them last year. Khaw now muses regretfully why NKF got away with it for so long. The fact is NKF's excesses had always been under public scrutiny for the best part of the past 5 years. The fact is Minister Khaw and his precedessors at the ministry had always risen to NKF's defense. The fact is, with the backing of the Minister of Health, who would dare go up against NKF?

2. Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the government taxman, and the commissioner for charities have all audited the NKF's books for years and found nothing objectionable or illegal. I urge all of them to step down from their posts as well. They're bloody incompetent since it didn't take too long for Gerard Ee and his gang of newcomers to pick apart NKF's game plan.

3. If Minister Khaw says NKF can't be run by an emperor like old China, why should Singapore be run by an emperor like old China?

07 December 2005

Julius Caesar is not amused

Apparently students in Temasek Junior College in Singapore think Chia Thye Poh, the prisoner of Sentosa, was an urban legend.

At their student forum page, the fruits of 20 years of tertiary History syllabus and incorporated National Education subliminal messages are shown for all to see.

rehtse: the ISA is used to deal with not just terrorists, but ppl who pose security threats to S'pore. however, the foreign media chooses to interpret it as "ppl who pose POLITICAL threats to the ruling party". that's their main reason for objecting to the ISA.

Solos: Yes, that's right... but I have not seen it used on any political figure as yet.

ashke: ummm... about out of point but wasn't there this fellow who's been exhiled to sentosa???

Solos: You mean exiled to Sentosa??? Never heard of it before... care to elaborate on it.

ashke: that's the problem, I've only /heard/ of it, it's like some kind of Singapore urban legend kind of thing or something...

Rench00, if you're reading this post now: THIS is the ultimate failure of Singapore education.

06 December 2005

Condi Rice Jedi Mind Trick!

With more than half of Europe up in arms from reports that the CIA has been flying terror suspects to secret jails in Romania and Poland for torture and questioning, US Secretary of State unveils her Jedi Mind Trick.

So onwards with the top 5 Condi Rice Jedi Mind Tricks, all of which are preceded with the customary wave of the hand!

#5. "The US does not engage in torture."
#4. "These are terrorists, not terror suspects."
#3. "Renditions are legal."
#2. "It is US policy that questioning is to be conducted without using torture."
#1. "I just answered your question on whether the US operates secret prisons in Europe."

Yes, folks: the perpetual scowl on the face of Condi Rice (or what Jon Stewart calls her "stinkeye") is the result of constant concentration needed to pull off Jedi Mind Trick 24/7.