25 December 2006

Christmas telethon

Christmas is pretty much the only major Western (Judeo-Christian) holiday that Chinese people can identify with. No kidding - you'll have to travel miles to meet with your extended kin, spend an entire weekend consuming too much food, and as luck will have it, at your grandparents', there won't be much in the way of entertainment - unless your gramps are hardcore gamers .If you live in the kinless big city, it's an entire weekend of hosting or attending parties, hopefully with company you can live with.

Oh, who are we kidding... That's the reason why people end up sitting in front of the telly or secretly watching it from the corner of their eye as they make an effort to talk to someone else. Obviously in this corrupt and degenerate age we live in, there's nothing festive on telly. No. We have dreg like The Mask of Zorro, Jumanji, and the Powerpuff Girls Christmas special. And then you realise you took a few days of annual leave to rest at home as well.

It's time to stand up for your own Christmas entertainment. At parties, gatherings, or at home, insist on your own festive selection! It helps to bring along a few DVDs, of course. Here's my perfect Christmas selection, tastefully chosen to suit all stripes of Christmas celebrants.

For a Heartwarming Christmas

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

Because you know that this is the most mushy, sentimental flick about how an angel makes one ordinary, do-gooding Joe's life better on Christmas, when he's at his lowest point. When I get slightly depressed, watching this helps.

Going My Way (1944)

Bing Crosby is a singing priest newly transferred to a depressed parish. Not only does he win over their hearts, he saves the impoverished church from closing down/getting sold, and makes everyone's life better. By singing, of course.

Christmas Carols

Scrooge (1951)

The best film version of A Christmas Carol, IMO. Also manages to humanise the miser by giving him a touching backstory. Born poor, mother died in childbirth, was an honorable and hungry (in the sense of ambitious/hardworking) guy until he got mentored by a crooked capitalist who helped hone his business sense. Makes his interactions with Tiny Tim and the Cratchitts, and his transformation all the more touching later on.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Very faithful adaptation of the Dickens story, even more faithful to Dickens than the previous film. It just has Muppets instead of human characters in the rest of the cast, and Michael Caine as Scrooge. That's TWO reasons to watch this.

Blackadder's Christmas Carol (1988)

You don't expect me of all people to wallow in feel-good holiday movies, right? By the end of the 15th Christmas movie, you'd want to see something that skewers A Christmas Carol, just for the heck of it. Scrooge is a very nice man, an honest and philanthropic businessman whose company is just about to fall apart and die. Until a visit from some Ghosts of Christmas...

Because it's about the birth of Jesus

Hail Mary (1985)

Jean-Luc Goddard made a very reverential transposition of the Nativity Story to a modern day setting. Most of the "controversy" raised by ignorant Christians are due to their own inability to realise how scandalous a virgin birth would have been viewed in 6 A.D., and how well Goddard evokes that sense of scandal in his movie.

The Gospel according to St Matthew (1964)

Pier Paolo Pasolini may have been a socialist, but this film - all dialogue from the Gospel, with nothing added or fabricated - was endorsed by the Vatican. Made with non-actors and real-life peasants, this looks like a very artistic documentary at times. Pasolini knows his Jesus well: he's the guy in old and dirty clothes siding with the poor, the trodden, the weak, and the criminals that are routinely condemned, ignored, or exploited by the rich, the morally superior, the hyper-religious leaders in church. Pastor Kong should watch this movie the next time he makes a stupid speech about God wanting people to be rich, hallelujah!

Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)

Brian's not a messiah, he's just a very naughty boy! Who, for the entirety of his life, is mistaken for The Messiah...


A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

It's like the animated version of It's a Wonderful Life. Everything seems to be going wrong for Charlie Brown as he helps put up the school Christmas play. Charlie Brown's almost existential search for the meaning of Christmas is embarked while the entire Peanuts gang seem to be occupied with other stuff and ignoring him. But all goes well when Linus tells him the true meaning of Christmas in a speech that gets you all warm and mushy inside.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Personally, my favourite Christmas cartoon ever. And now, in 3D!

Just Christmas Movies

Perhaps the best part about doing your own Christmas programming is the offbeat choices you can make that will throw people off, yet impress them when they realise that these films ARE really set during Christmas, and perhaps do say something about how we celebrate it nowadays.

Brazil (1985)

Yes, it's a dystopian scifi comedy/satire. But it's also about Christmas. In fact, if you pay attention, there are lots of Christmas jokes in Brazil - every day seems to be Christmas in the movie, everyone seems to be giving the same gifts, and for the win, we have Capitalists for Christ marching on the streets...

Jingle all the Way (1996)

What Christmas without last minute shopping? Mugging people in stores? Fighting over the last item in the store? Jingle All the Way is a culturally important film that depicts all these. Watching Arnold as a wimp of a dad who endures all and then blows his top makes you realise that he paved the way for the Adam Sandler brand of comedy.

Die Hard (1988)

Your Christmas action movie! It's Bruce Willis foiling a plot involving a plane, lots of explosives, and Alan Rickman as a master terrorist!

Gremlins (1984)

Now I bet you didn't realise Gremlins was set during Christmas. Go shock the hell out of everyone with this factoid =D

13 December 2006

Playstation3 economics explained

Being on leave today, I went down to Sim Lim to take a look at the PS3s. And yes, they do cost about $1,600. Normally this post would be the domain of a singapore economist, but since he's on hiatus and I thought I'd do the honours. While the Straits Times article was more interested in playing the "parallel imports are almost illegal, unsafe, and overpriced" angle, there's a perfectly logical reason why they'd cost that much, and we don't even have to invoke price speculation in the explanation.

We need to understand the economics of importing items into Singapore.

1. Take into account the US exchange rate fluctuates between 1 USD to 1.6 to 1.8 SGD (currently 1 USD = 1.55 SGD).

2. Take into account the price of freight.

These factors give us

3. Rule of thumb for sole importers is to set the pricing at double the US price in Singapore dollars. If an item costs X USD, its selling price in Singapore would be 2X SGD, in other words.

(This, by the way, explains why Borders tends to price certain books over the sky. Of course, with competition, the "double the USD price" method of calculation doesn't work anymore, leading people to just walk over to Kinokuniya to get the same book for cheaper prices.)

But you'd say "Look, the PS3 retails at about 510USD in Japan and 600USD in America. S$1,600 is far more than double those amounts!" But we're looking at the wrong figures - what the Singaporean PS3 importers are looking at is the Australian retail price: about 800USD. If we assume that Sony's suggested retail prices are essentially base price + freight/shipping, then Singapore's retail price might end up around there as well, being approximately the same distance as Australia from Japan or the US (or whereever they manufacture and assemble the PS3).

And what do you know, 1600 = 2(800).

I do foresee the price to drop, but only on a few conditions:

1. Sony announces a launch date and retail price for the PS3 in Singapore. Imported sets will fall to double the USD value of this announced retail price.

2. Sony clarifies the DVD region of the PS3 sets sold in Singapore. Yes, all PS3 games are region-free, and for once, Singapore is in the same Bluray region as the US and Europe, but one wouldn't want to be stuck with a PS3 that plays all new games, but refuses to load any US-region PS2 games, would we?

05 December 2006

Seah Chiang Nee: Blogosphere moves from infantile to shrill

Dear Readers, feeling somewhat discouraged about the state of the blogosphere and bearing the disappointments of a blog project gone wrong, I had decided to take a break. In the 3 months that followed, I realised that perhaps Singabloodypore has now been superceded by more credible groupblogs and aggregators (kudos to singaporeangle and the intelligent Singaporean!), but also that the streak of invective commentary I detested in SBP had in fact spread far and wide - witness the tenor of the rhetoric and sophistication of the criticism of the Wee father-daughter duo.

So you'd expect me to be somewhat sympathetic and in agreement with Seah Chiang Nee's recent proclamation that not only is the local blogosphere infantile, but shrill and out of touch with reality and not credible at all. I beg to differ, really - with almost every assertion he writes.

IN the real world, the economy is humming strongly, more jobs are being created than at anytime in the last 10 years

In the real world, Singapore has just had an entire decade's worth of recessions and meltdowns. Understandably, more jobs will obviously be created this year than anytime in the last rotten 10 years.

the stock market is near record high

Stock markets historically double every 7 years, a factoid quoted by Brad Delong, economic advisor to the Clinton administration - but that doesn't mean that the economy doubles every 7 years at all. In fact, there is no one-to-one correlation between the heights of the stock market and the health of the economy.

and so are high-end properties.

High-end properties are at record highs, but Seah neglects to say that public housing and even mid-end private property prices are still languishing at historic lows. Perhaps it has something to do with a record creation of millionaires here last year?

The Singapore dollar has strengthened to around S$1.55 to the US dollar on speculation that economic growth would quicken, thus encouraging investors to put more funds in the city-state.

The US dollar has fallen against every major currency - including the SGD - because of the record trade deficits, massive government and private debt, and the embarrassing conduct of GW Bush in Iraq. In the unreal world, the SGD has actually depreciated very slightly against the basket of currencies that it is pegged to, not counting the US dollar.

The sanguine mood is reflected on the streets. With the school holidays on, the crowds are out in force. At night, it is virtually impossible to get a cab in the city centre without prior booking.

Ah, yes. And all the time in these past decade, everyone in Singapore was wondering why the cabs suddenly disappeared an hour before the midnight surcharge. And in the past 2 years, everyone in Singapore was complaining about the single red line along all of Orchard Rd, making it illegal for cabs to pick up passengers on the street. Hurray for Seah, who finally solves the mystery with his impeccable logic!

Restaurants and shopping malls are full, and people are spending ahead of a hike in Goods and Services Tax from 5% to 7% next April.

A little premature. Not even the Straits Times has reported or even hinted at a really-existing spending spree. Obviously the ST is out of touch with Seah's reality.

Year-end festivals are a month away but a fairyland of lights already covers the kilometres stretching from Orchard Road and Bras Basah Road to Marina Bay.

Dude, every year in Singapore the Christmas and Chinese New Year lightings go up by November. Where do you live, in Malaysia?

While the mood is upbeat, the Internet world, however, is painting a very different picture. Here, the talk is of continued weakness, rising unemployment and people committing suicide.

Hasn't Seah heard of jobless recoveries? Hasn't he even read the reports from the Economic Policy Institute, or seen this graphic?

Seah is a former editor in various news agencies. Clearly he hasn't picked up any shred of economics 101 despite his years in the job.

Forums are still full of tales of retrenched managers driving taxis, and 70-year-old “uncles” cleaning tables when they should be enjoying their sunset years.

They also feature pictures of homeless families sleeping in housing estate lobbies.

In the mind of Seah Chiang Ngee, it is impossible to have an economic recovery and continued unemployment occur at the same time. It is also impossible - in his world - for companies to be enriched and ordinary workers left behind in an economic recovery. It would blow his mind even to contemplate that even in an economic recovery, the poor could get poorer while the rich get richer.

Hence, OUB bank is shrill and out of touch with reality when it prints posters like this:

The brochure explains: On the 4th of april 2006, the Straits Times reported that "among all active CPF members, the median amoiunt saved is s$66,400." Assuming that you retire at 54 and live up to the age of 85, this means you would spend 30 years in retirement.

Note: this is probably why there really are 70-year-old uncles cleaning tables when they should be enjoying their sunset years.

But wow... this means that not only is the UOB shrill and unbalanced, unduly pessimistic and out of touch with reality... so is the Straits Times! And obviously the Department of Statistics in the Singapore government! The web of shrillness and unbalanced, gibbering entities widens!

Ironically, this is happening as the city is flourishing with growth expected to reach 7.5% to 8% this year and new jobs created – 132,000 in the first nine months – being at a 10-year high.

You know, if you start with a very low base (i.e. 10 sucky years), a half-baked recovery would register a similarly high percentage growth. Again, the new jobs created aren't quite enough to cover the new graduates coming out of NUS and NTU in about a month's time. And not to mention, the millions of unemployed new PRC grads who will flock to Singapore because our government gives them a 1 year Social visit pass, no strings attached, specifically to find a job here...

So who is right? Are we in a time of boom or doldrums? Why is there such a large disparity between the real world and the blogosphere?

Yes, Grasshopper, it is possible to have what is known as a jobless recovery. Also, refer again to the graphic from the EPI.

A Citigroup analysis recently asked if it is sustainable or heading for a bust like that in the 1990s when the economy fell into a recession. By keeping labour plentiful and wages low, it said Singapore should continue to perform strongly. Other reports predicted a 6% annual growth for the next 10 years. There is a caveat, though: the wage gap between rich and poor will continue to widen. The Internet community, which considers itself an alternative information source, carried few, if any, of the good news.

1. Citibank's analyst says Singapore can continue to grow, only if it artificially depresses wages.
2. Other analysts - as well as our political leaders - admit that the growth will continue, but at the expense of a growing income gap. Which coincidentally, should explain why it's possible for bloggers to report on the plight of the poor even in this sparkling year.

I shudder to think what Seah Chiang Ngee would consider as bad news.

So why is there a credibility gap? There are several reasons. Firstly, the growing influence of a liberal-minded Internet, which often paints the sufferings of a minority as a city-wide phenomenon.

High-end property prices at record highs, stock market at record highs. Yup. That's the bounties that a majority of the people have experienced and benefitted from, a real city-wide phenomenon.

Which brings me to a serious point: if the youths are so active and the Net is anti-government (a government backbencher said she was shocked to find they made up 80% of postings) it is a worrying trend.

A rising number of youngsters have stopped reading the traditional media, or what the government says, and have cocooned themselves into a sub-culture group that just talks to each other.

No. Seriously. How on earth can the liberal blogosphere criticise and make fun of ministerial policies and speeches, if they stop reading the traditional media and stop listening to the government? Where does the liberal blogosphere get its talking points of penniless uncles and MRT suicides - if not from the Straits Times itself?

Hurray for Seah Chiang Nee, keyboard kommando, social commentor and economic theorist par excellence! May he smite the ever-increasing hordes of shrill, unbalanced, out of touch and non-credible bloggers, who have managed to take over the Dept of Statistics, the Straits Times, and even the UOB!

09 October 2006

Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund 2006

Don't you think Syahid deserves your support, the advertisement asks. Err... no. I'd rather support those who clearly need it - students who are poor and weak in their studies.

In fact, ST hopes to raise 2.7 million dollars to 9000 students who, like Syahid, "excel despite the odds". I struggle to comprehend why they would STILL need any kind of monetary help, and I really struggle to comprehend why the Straits Times feels it should fund poor top students and not poor, weak students.

I may not be a singapore economist (I sometimes wish I were), but let's see if the ST school fund makes any economic sense, and what kind of economic sense if it does.

From the looks of it, the ST pocket money fund is a Meritocratic Charity. The advertisement (you can click on it for a full-size image) says the money is especially for needy top students. Why needy average or needy struggling students won't receive your money is made through a silent appeal to the word *DESERVE* in the ad headline.

But really:

1. Decreasing marginal returns.

It is far easier to pull up a straight-Cs student to a straight-B performance than to pull up a straight A student like Syahid to straight A pluses. You'll need less resources to benefit the more numerous weaker students than to benefit the elite (but poor).

2. Deserving to needing.

Social statistics available online (for other countries) could be used to predict a student's salary on their first job from their grades in school. Syahid's straight As are an indicator of his probable rich bastard or high-flying senior civil servant status 15 to 20 years down the road. This is like tax cuts for the rich, even before they become rich.

He doesn't need the money. The weak students who will be stuck with lesser education and MacJobs in the future do. Syahid has the means to break out of the circle of poverty. They don't. His current poverty will be outweighed over time with the riches he'll be earning in the future. For society to give him money now is to tip the balance even further. For society to privilege him over poor and weaker students is to simultaneously create a legion of the "undeserving poor", the poor that you should spit upon and despise because they fully are responsible for their poverty.

I believe society has a duty to alleviate its poor out of the poverty trap, and that takes precedence over... setting up a meritocratic charity.

3. (mis)Allocation of resources?

From the description, Syahid is doing tremendously well for a poor kid. Poverty has not impeded him from getting straight As, having a healthy ambition, and ample extracurricular activities. Like most other star students, Syahid will be streamed to a class taught by the best teachers in his school, following the next round of streaming. He has access to an entire pool of resources that poor, weak students can never touch.

Tell me, if he's such a star student, doesn't he already qualify for some scholarship? I can imagine half a dozen school and community centre bursaries. If he's dirt poor and brilliant, there are plenty of avenues for him to get the money, even if I feel he doesn't need and shouldn't need the help.

Evidently state and quasi-state welfare schemes are insufficient means to help poor students, and the question is... what's wrong with the way they are allocated, why not enough of it is going automatically to the kids who need it, and how this famine of support can occur despite our national reserves.

20 years from now, as Syahid leads a department, will his underlings admire him because he was brilliant but poor, and succeeded to the top due to his own efforts, or because he was brilliant and taxpayers eliminated his poverty?

I prefer a little truth in advertising here: ST should just rename this fund to "Tax Cuts for the Future Rich", "The Straits Times Meritocratic Charity", or simply the "Straits Times Bursary/Scholarship". Don't go on about pocket money, because that's not the real issue or motivation for the fund.

27 September 2006

How can we trust Tan Tarn How?

Granted, the man may now be a researcher at the Institute of Policy Studies, and he may have retooled himself as an analyst and an advocate, according to his blog>, but doubts remain.

Why is he one of the very few researchers at the venerable IPS without even a postgraduate degree? Just how did he manage to be a "senior research fellow", given that other senior research fellows in the IPS have not just postgraduate degrees, but teaching qualifications to boot?

And why was he even chosen as a key speaker in the Singapore Theatre Festival 2006 (otherwise known as the Singapore Political Theatre Festial) "Art and Life Sessions" forum, alongside other pro-democracy dissidents like Gayle Goh, Martyn See, and Sylvia Lim?

Does anyone remember this hatchet job of a piece, written by the same Tan Tarn How on 29 Oct 2001? Does anyone remember how Tan Tarn How was the hatchet man at the Straits Times, or how he single-handedly demolished the credibility of the Worker's Party 2 election cycles ago, by whispering... either WP is honest but incompetent or they are dishonest and putting a joke on us?

Bungle and break-up may help WP, Poll Watch, Tan Tarn How

Disqualified from Aljunied GRC, it can focus its resources on two wards, while JBJ's exit may strengthen Low's hand.

The joke going round after the disqualification debacle by the Workers' Party (WP) is that it is junking its "Power to the People" slogan for a new one: "No More Forms".

Whether that would go down better with the electorate, no one will ever know.

Meanwhile, being barred from contesting in the Aljunied Group Representation Constituency after the pathetic slip-up with the statutory declaration forms leaves Mr Low Thia Khiang's party with fights in only two single wards, Hougang and Nee Soon East.

Add to that the acrimonious break-up with former party boss JB Jeyaratnam and his supporters, and some are saying the WP now looks a little like the walking wounded, shot in the foot both by itself and its former commander-in-chief.

This, after the recent hype that Mr Low is likely to lead the party and the opposition into a new future.

But things may not be what they seem on the surface.

While Mr Jeyaratnam's joining forces with Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan and the slur on his erstwhile protege for the bungling at Aljunied will, no doubt, draw some of Mr Low's blood, it may make the incumbent MP in Hougang and his party stronger for the future.

The reason: Mr Low's rebuilding of the WP is perceived to be strapped not just by Mr Jeyaratnam's legacy but by his continuing membership of the party.

Thus, Mr Jeyaratnam's quitting legitimises Mr Low's succession by sparring him the difficult task of removing the old warrior, which would have tarnished Mr Low for betraying a former patron.

As for the disqualification, it leaves the WP with only two contestants and this is four short of the six needed to get free air time for political broadcast on television. It has denied itself the straight to the living room search given the PAP, the Singapore Democratic Alliance (13 candidates) and the Singapore Democratic Party (14 candidates).

If the WP has ended as a "small player" this time round, so be it, Mr Low said.

The new WP faces among the rejected Aljunied hopefuls, Mr James Gomez and Mr Yaw Shin Leong, would also not be able to earn their bustings spurs, valuable since in the last 20 years, no opposition candidate had made it to Parliament on his first try.

But the pros of the disqualification may overweigh (sic) the cons.

Fighting fewer battles will help the WP by concentrating its forces.

Mr Low's Hougang bid thus gets a lift; but more crucially for the party, Dr Poh Soh Guan's closely-watched one-on-one skirmish with PAP candidate Ho Peng Kee in Nee Soon East will get a boost from the extra hands - and handshakes - in a widely anticipated close contest.

And the Aljunied red card lets Mr Low plug the party fine and accuse the PAP of not giving the people a choice.

The PAP's stand that it was the Election Department which made the decision and that the PAP would not have objected about the technicality is unlikely to work with Mr Low's supporters.

All in all, the WP may now stand a better chance of wrestling a second seat from the PAP - and if the SDA and SDP fizzle out, Mr Low will then be the de facto leader of the opposition, ahead of Mr Chiam.

It is not how many seats you contest but the number you win that counts.

In the end, the most beguiling theory about the Aljunied fiasco is that it was an elaborate piece of wayang put up by Mr Low.

How else can one explain that he did not spot the basic error?

Mr Low, the theory goes, intentionally did not fill in the name of the GRC in the candidate's statutory declarations for all the above considerations.

There is only one hitch: Mr Low seemed visibly and genuinely frantic on the mobile phone when he heard of the trouble with the forms on Nomination Day.

He didn't seem like acting, so there goes that line of speculation.

Unless, of course, he is a better actor than anyone can imagine.

And the joke wasn't on him, but on all of us.

22 August 2006

NDRS focus!

Analyses of NDRS 2006 should be filing in soon in every corner of the Singapore political blogosphere.

Okay, so maybe Gayle Goh is the only one to attempt an in-depth post on the NDRS. It just has the trademark hindsight of her youthful years, with gems like "There was no mention of new policies, which is a change from last year's National Day Rally Speech". Girl, every year NDRS got new policy announcments. Mr Wang is taking the NDRS apart, piece by piece. It's certainly a far better read. The bloggers at Singaporeangle have made predictions on this year's NDRS, but haven't come back with a post-mortem of the speeh.

However, an interesting exercise is to observe how the media is spinning the speech and deciding how the reader-citizen should react to it. I imagine the Straits Times spin will be covered by other writers very soon, so I'll just stick to Channelnewsasia.

PM Lee's rally speech inspiring and assuring, say Singaporeans

I suspect you wouldn't read this article if it were titled: MPs and other invitees full of praise for NDRS - yet this is what the article is really about. The article talks about the reactions of Singaporeans but neglect to mention they were all invited to the speech and are the type of people whom you can count to applaud vigorously at any Baby Bonus announcements regardless of the soundness of the policy, or laugh heartily at any lame joke Minilee would make. Yet according to CNA, they are not members of the establishment who attended the rally, but merely "many of those who heard Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's speech".

Channelnewsasia is just as bad as The Straits Times. Wong Siew Ying, Noor Mohd Aziz, and S Ramesh are hacks who have less integrity and honesty than bloggers.

Singaporeans say PM Lee's rally speech resonates with them

CNA spoke to Singaporeans among the lunchtime crowd at Raffles Place, one day after PM Lee Hsien Loong's speech on Sunday. But does this even count as a news article?

"Many felt it touched their lives"
"They said they liked what they heard"
"It was a speech that resonated with them"
"Blah blah blah," said a Singaporean.
"Yakkity yak," said another.

And for those who have just arrived on our shores, they said that Singapore is a most welcoming home away from home.

"Blah blah blah," said one immigrant turned citizen.
"Yadda yadda," said another immigrant.
"So on and so forth," said a third.
... and a fourth.
Whatever their views, Singaporeans took Mr Lee's message to heart.

Dominique Loh certainly fails as a reporter, with his torrent of unnamed, anonymous, unverifiable sources. Is it that difficult to get those people to stand up for what they said? That's troubling, actually.

Who are these people who said Minilee's speech is good?
What are their names?
How many people did you interview?

And no, I am not channelling the spirit of Papalee here.

But this is how the media is attempting to pre-shape the reactions of really existing Singaporeans to this year's NDRS, and creating an orthodoxy of opinion, an acceptable range of responses for them to choose from.

08 August 2006

EOL for win98, winME

Readings from the Book of Leaves

WinME died. It was some time ago, but still I don't know. There was the unfortunate case of my week-long fever, the nastiness of the pneumonia, the drug induced haze that was the recovery.

I never had a relationship with WinME, and now I never will. When we met, she was with a friend of mine, the one who dated all the OS-tans. It was a brief and cordial encounter, and I did not see in her all the faults that circulated in current gossip.

Today, WinME is dead. So is Win98, whom I was seeing on a daily basis until 2002. We decided to call it quits when she didn't get along with my broadband modem. It was a long time ago, and with the passage of time, it feels like a very silly reason to split.

All I know is today, and the day after, and all the days after that, there will be this empty space in my heart. And I know this space is reserved for them.

25 July 2006

Infantilism in the blogosphere

Soci, the founder of Singabloodypore, loves to go on about how infantile the local blogosphere is. That was last April, I believe. Half a year later, there was a solicitation for co-contributors for SBP. What had me sold was this vision of a non-infantile blogosphere:
I have often contemplated the idea of running a 'socio-political blog' about Singapore that allows contributions from the public, other than just comments and has a group of editors monitoring the content.
It was all it took, really, and I began writing for SBP in October. You'll have to understand it was a time of opportunities. By 2004, SBP had become a news aggregator site where Soci would cut and paste entire news articles without comment or analysis. His call for contributors and fellow editors, could that be a start of a new blog? At that time, anything was possible. Or perhaps at that time, I believed anything was possible.

This was my statement of intent, as well as a sort of acceptance email to his call for co-contributors:
If the blog is run along the lines of crookedtimber.org, obsidianwings.blogs.com, savageminds.org, or long-sunday.net - ie. with group contributors who run/edit the site and with serious and sustained comments by contributors and members of the public, I'm all game for it.

If, on the other hand, you envision a super singaporean sociopolitical news aggregator blog along the lines of boingboing or tomorrow, where the emphasis is more on posting rather than developing a good idea from an original post through replies in the comments section, the site will have my support but I will NOT join in the running of the endeavor.
Yet almost a year later, I am still waiting for my fellow contributors - Soci included - to actually write their own articles instead of cut and pasting articles written by other people. Was there a policy message I missed somewhere down the line? Or did I not get the memo that said "Given the precarious legal position of bloggers, contributors of SBP are advised to write as little of their own opinion or analysis as possible, to protect themselves"?

With every 50-line article SBP contributors cut and paste, a little bit of our collective credibility dies. And we do this, 5 articles a day on average. What SBP has become is indeed a blog with more emphasis on posting, than on developing ideas and discussions. Indiscriminate and voluminous cut-pasting sends out a signal to all readers that the contributors don't respect the blog they run.

And so, SBP gets the readership that it deserves: hordes of anonymouses posting one liners, mostly non sequiturs. Some are spammers, like the commentor who cut/pastes entire falunggong news articles to comment on any blog post, regardless of relevance. Or ranters who just feel great posting their angry denunciations of the gahmen. All done as one-liners, of course. SBP has become a platform for anonymouses to rant and post non sequitors.

You know, once upon a time I thought the sammyboymod forums were pretty wild. Discussions there would start off fine and brilliant, but always degenerate into shouting matches by the third page. Once upon an even longer time, I thought soc.culture.singapore was the gutter of political commentary and discussion in cyberspace. Today, I am forced to change my opinion. Singabloodypore is the new gutter of online political discussion.

Indiscriminate cut/pasting encourages rants and indiscriminate commenting. Neighbourhoods with broken windows, and all that. The failure of SBP members to moderate comments, to guide discussions to a higher ground of analysis and insightful commentary, the wilful policy of benign neglect - all this encourage even more indiscriminate commenting. I have noticed, as have other contributors, the precipitous decline in the tone and quality of comments, coupled with a marked rise in anonymous commentors.

Today, Singabloodypore looks like a slum. The main column is cluttered with miles of cut-and-pasted content that go on and on. We could excerpt just one or two paragraphs, and then use either article truncation or just provide links, if we just want to cut and paste. The side bar is cluttered with too many links. Singabloodypore has not just become a site that I would not personally want to read, it has not just become a site that I do not want to be associated with, it has become the most infantile political site in Singapore's blogosphere. In fact, far more infantile than the sites Soci made fun of last April.

23 July 2006

Imperial Overreach, redux

Being my sole comment on the entire Mr Brown affair. And I assure you, despite the lateness of my foray, that still no one - not even the brightest of our political bloggers - no one can think like I do, and write as I do.

Imperial Overreach

Occurs when organisational forces attempt to push the limits of their power from a stable configuration.

Typically through an extreme move or a hardline statement, going above and beyond established and accepted principles.

While achieving momentary shock, the move or statement are inconsistent with existing principles, hence untenable, unsustainable, and plain illogical.

Overreach occurs when the population is insufficiently shocked to accept the new proposed standards, or when the organisation is unprepared to back up its new stance and backpedals to the old status quo.

The government this, the government that

Most reactions in the blogosphere make the key assumption that Bhavani's vehement outburst was

1. Officially sanctioned by the Cabinet and the PM
2. Made in her official capacity as a spokesperson for MICA/MITA

leading to the conclusion that

3. Bhavani's smackdown is just the latest manifestation of the age-old plan of our Evil Overlords to curtail freedom of expression.

Bloggers below the age of 25 who made this argument may be forgiven for their ignorance; bloggers like Tan Tarn Howe and Cherian George who made this argument should be viewed with suspicion by any reader - they of all people should know better.

Applying imperial overreach to Bhavani, MITA, and Brown

Nothing profitable comes out of viewing history as a continuous procession of "always has beens". Only when we cast our vision on the continuous erruptions, discontinuities, and zero points of history and discourse can we understand when something profoundly new has taken place, or whether something is truly the same old, same old, or whether imperial overreach has occured.

Just for fun:

1. State MITA's public stance on journalists, their role on political discourse, and the function of the press. State how MITA coordinates its doctrine with the media.

MITA's preferred model of the media can be summed up in the phrase "Nation-building press". It goes back to George Yeo's long reign in the ministry, and every 5 years or so, the Chief Editor of ST would remind everyone in his annual ST anniversary Op-ed that the Straits Times does not wish to adhere to the Western notion of a Fourth Estate imposing curbs and exercising oversight on the national leadership. The press in Singapore is a Fourth Estate that is responsible to frame and present issues to occasion the happy reception of national policy to its citizen-readers, and promote the affections of the public for their leaders.

The Straits Times takes the side, advocates for the Whiteshirt government, and says so brazenly in every other anniversary Op-ed. This policy and stance has been worked out with MITA oversight and approval, and Bhavani is a batshit loony or very, very ignorant of long-standing MITA press policy when she says "It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government", or "If a columnist presents himself as a non-political observer...". Highly amusing, somewhat.

2. Name a single occasion when MITA spoke out against journalists in public.

Gee, I certainly can't think of any previous occasions! Cherian and Tan, please take your potshots at me now.

3. State the preferred means and method of rapping journalists' knuckles.

That's because MITA *never* castigates, bodyslams, or gives journalists the smackdown. What is the standard procedure, the historically informed method then? Cherian can answer this, right? The PermSec of either the Minister or the Prime Minister, or the PM himself will do the bodyslamming. Always with a humorous touch, just to show that "even if we believe Mr George got a few facts wrong, he is most certainly welcome to air them, since we will set the facts right. Of course, he is most certainly welcome to air his views, since Singapore got press freedom mah ; )"

Mr George, isn't that essentially how lighthearted your rapping by the PM's PermSec was? Mdm Bhavani, as a PR lecturer, don't you agree your letter to the Today forum page is a classic example of a big character poster (大字报), and far more shrill and poisonous than a Malaysian poison pen letter? Were you hoping that Mr Brown would start walking around the streets with a self-criticism saying "I, Lee Kin Mun, hereby confess to the crime of being a dirty counterrevolutionary, a rightist, and a collaborator. I hereby volunteer myself to 30 years of re-education and hard labour in the countryside"?

As we may notice, Bhavani is not the PermSec to Lee Boon Yang, Balakrishnan, or Balaji. Bhavani is not the PermSec to Minilee, Papalee, or Peanut Goh. Bhavani is a peanut of a mid-level bureaucrat who has embarrassed MICA, the Cabinet, and her political masters by violating protocol, precedence, and contradicting the ministry's long-standing doctrines.

We may have also noticed the off-the-cuff statements by Balakrishnan and his superior, Lee Boon Yang, on the Brown affair.

4. When multiple Whiteshirt ministers speak on the same issue, they will take care to reinforce the rhetoric of the original speaker, and not to contradict any claims made by that speaker. Y/N

Balakrishnan and LBY have commented on the issue. They are bound not to overturn Bhavani's claims, but they made a conscious refusal to adopt or repeat her rhetoric: "distort the truth", "polemic", "encourage cynicism and despondancy", et al. Instead of repeating the Bhavani doctrine that "it is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government", LBY again reiterated the nation-building role of the press.

Imperial overreach: Balakrishnan and LBY are unprepared to back up Bhavani, and backpedal to the old status quo.

If we had a real press instead of the clown show at Today, The New Paper and The Straits Times, we would have reporters continually asking the 3 ministers at MICA:

Where oh where are you, Balaji? Enquiring minds want to know why you're silent on the Brown affair!
Will the Ministers confirm who approved and cleared Mdm Bhavani to write her letter condemning Brown?
Mdm Bhavani, as a lecturer in a PR college for civil servants, do you feel your letter was a model of what not to write as a civil servant?
Will the Ministers explain why they have not referred to Mdm Bhavani's letter, or to the terms she used to castigate Mr Lee Kin Mun, nor her comments on the role of journalists?

My predictions:
Bhavani to be thrown to the lions.
Lee Boon Yang to be kicked upstairs to the Prime Minister's Office as a Minister without Portfolio by year's end.

16 July 2006

On film censorship in Singapore

There's an interesting thread going on in Singabloodypore, sparked off by my fellow contributor Clyde posting a clip from Youtube, of Royston Tan's Cut, a diatribe and musical condemning the Film Censorship Board's historic and boundless butchering of films.

You'll have to understand it was made in 2004, shortly after the Film Censorship Board made an incredible 37 cuts to his arthouse homoerotic gangster film 15. You'll have to understand that in Q4 2005, the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) announced a broad restructuring of the censorship system, such that
Distributors indicate preferred ratings upon submission. The Board of Film Censors (BFC) assesses if the film is suitable for the requested rating. If not, the BFC will suggest an alternative rating. Distributors may either accept the BFC's recommendation or edit the film to meet the guidelines for their preferred rating.
Anonymous posters in SBP charge that this is a purely cosmetic change, that "though MDA censorship board no longer cuts films, they can tell "distributors to edit the film" till MDA approves - which is just as good as cutting films.

You'll have to understand that the changes made to the Film Classification Board puts Singapore's film censorship procedures in line with that of the US MPAA film classification process.

You'll also have to understand that the claims made by various anonymouses about the cosmetic changes to Singapore's film censorship system can be easily verified or disproved. Surely any of you can click on this link to the Film Classification Database with me, and look at the films of 2006.

1. Controversial films with sexual content

Basic Instinct 2. R21. Passed with cuts. Of course, audiences need to be protected from sex scenes starring a 47 year old Sharon Stone.
Brokeback Mountain. R21. Passed Clean.
C.R.A.Z.Y. M18. Passed Clean.
Combien tu M'aimes (How much do you love me?). R21. Passed Clean.
Capote. NC16. Passed Clean.
Ask the Dust. R21. Passed Clean. Salma Hayek's rocks rock!
4:30. NC16. Passed Clean. Disturbing images of a 13 year old snipping of sleeping adult's pubic hair didn't get the chief censor incensed. Royston Tan complaineth too much.
Zombie Dogs. R21. Passed Clean.
Kinky Boots. PG. Passed Clean. Sympathetic account of drag queens.
The Hours. M18 DVD. Passed Clean. Lesbian kiss survives.
Chicago. M18 DVD/VCD. Passed Clean.

2. Simply controversial films believed to be blasphemous by fundie Christians
The Da Vinci Code. NC16. Passed Clean. Take that, NCCS!

3. Horror films. Presumbly the biggest beef in "Cut" was the rampant censoring out of all gore in horror films. In 2006, has anything changed?

The Devil's Rejects. M18. Passed Clean.
Boo. NC 16. Passed Clean.
House of the Dead. R21. Passed Clean.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003 remake). RA. Passed CLEAN on second submission even though distributor didn't do any censorship or cutting on their own.
Frostbiten. NC16. Passed Clean.
Saw II. Distributor submitted one uncut version for M18 and one self-edited version for NC16. Both PASSED Clean without tampering from the censors.
Mortuary. NC 16. Passed Clean

All gore in horror films are intact in 2006.

Verdict: Anonymouses should just do some research before shooting off your mouths and indulging in masturbatory spiels, conspiracy theories, and rants on how the film censorship board is oppressing you.

Verdict: Since the liberalisation of film censorship and the reformation of the Film Censorship Board into a proper Film Classification Board, much less censorship has been exercised, with horror/controversial/sex-themed movies moving into NC16, M18 and R21 categories, where they tend to be overwhelming Passed Clean, i.e. passed without cuts.

13 July 2006

Imperial Overreach

Being the last in the triptych of comments on Char, Wong Kan Seng, and the NCCS

Imperial Overreach

Occurs when organisational forces attempt to push the limits of their power from a stable configuration.

Typically through an extreme move or a hardline statement, going above and beyond established and accepted principles.

While achieving momentary shock, the move or statement are inconsistent with existing principles, hence untenable, unsustainable, and plain illogical.

Overreach occurs when the population is insufficiently shocked to accept the new proposed standards, or when the organisation is unprepared to back up its new stance and backpedals to the old status quo.

I write this in the light of the police dropping the investigation against Char.

The acquital without formal charges proves overreach - not just by Wong Kan Seng and the police, but by the NCCS and the fringe fundamentalists in Singapore. We witness the breaching of several commonsensical rules:

7. The police should never be used as a tool of frivolous investigation. DPM Wong's asinine announcement that the police will investigate all and any complaints against anti-religious bloggers breaches this rule.

8. There must either be clear guidelines over what on earth is truly offensive to Christians, or investigations should never be held unless there arise pictures that actually incite a supermajority of Christians into possible violence.

8a. Will the NCCS have the guts to seize upon the momentum it has built over the past 5 years, and mutate into the National Circle-jerk of Christian Muftis? Will any Protestant really allow such a body to make essentially pronouncements on church doctrine?

8b. Liberal Christians who have either quit the established churches in light of the recent shift to fundamentalism in the churches during the past 10 years, or have remained silent but not exactly happy campers, will never allow the fundamentalists to make a grab in defining religious doctrine and matters of "sedition" and "blasphemy". Disengaged as they are from formal church politics, the possibility of a backlash by liberal Christians has prevented the mufti-wannabes of the NCCS from speaking out on the Char issue.

8c. Objectively speaking, there was never any majority of Christians wildly offended by Char's pictures. Speaking as a Christian, I find those pictures rather funny, somewhat infantile, but never that insulting. And some of them had nothing to do with Christianity at all.

9. The NCCS should remember what the censorship board and the MDA said when the mufti-wannabes tried to send a secret letter to the ministry to ban the Da Vinci Code movie. The reply, if I recall, was "Fuck off". Grown adults, including Christians, are able to differentiate between fact and fiction. Why a secret letter? I do suppose there was a sizeable fraction of Christians who would not have been comfortable with the idea of the NCCS trying to ban a movie in their names.

9a. What has always been allowed cannot be disallowed. It's bad precedent, for example, to ban any and all depictions of Jesus Christ now, because we HAVE allowed the Da Vinci Code to be screened.

We have allowed Bruce Almighty to be screened.

There was no police investigation or sedition charges thrown at any Singaporean who has made "Father, Son and Holy Goh" jokes since 1992.

Al Franken's Lies: And the lying liars who tell them continues to be sold openly in Singapore's bookshops despite its depiction of a certain Supply-side Jesus.

T-shirts saying "God, save me from your followers!" are still widely available at any good pasar malam or streetwear store.

10. Note to the ever-opportunistic National Circle-jerk of Christian (i.e. Protestant, with self-appointed representatives from Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Rev Kong Hee's church) Muftis: My Jesus forgives your Jesus.

10 July 2006

Flash Mob for Mr Brown

Excerpts from the AFP:
Supporters of a Singaporean blogger have gathered at a busy subway station for a silent protest at the suspension of his weekly newspaper column after the government criticised his latest satirical piece about high living costs.

At least 30 supporters turned up at City Hall station at 2:00 pm dressed in brown attire in support of the blogger, who goes by the moniker Mr Brown.

Unfortunately for the news wire agency, the real news wasn't that 30 people in Singapore bothered to take part in a flash mob for a proscribed blogger-columnist. I could think of several more newsworthy stories on the top of my head, such as:

How did a secret SMS-only invite leak out to the press, which turned up in battle positions and recording equipment shoved up the noses of participants, even before the flash mob was scheduled to begin?

Or how's this for a more newsworthy story:
Plainclothes police accost flash mob participants at end of event

At least 2 participants were approached Citylink mall by 4 plainclothes police operatives after the flash mob event concluded. The operatives presented themselves to the duo, requesting a "short and private discussion at a more private place".

The operatives, marshalled in a line formation, herded the two to a remote corner of the underground mall, where they proceeded to ask the following questions:
Who organised this protest?
How did you know about this protest?
What are the names of the people who informed you of this protest? What are the names of the people you informed, in turn?

And the winner: Look, we know all about this protest. You better cooperate with us and tell us the truth.

Thankfully one of the cornered persons did read up on his rights, as well as the extent of cooperation citizens are bound to give to plainclothes operatives presenting themselves without a warrant or charges, and gave them his name, his lawyer's contacts, and told them to fuck off.

Several, even more newsworthy issues present themselves in the aftermath:
1. Flash mob sparks police actions by government
2. Seeing the flash mob as a bona fide protest, Wong Kan Seng, the Minister for Home Affairs, does not send in the riot police.
3. Instead, the clown show is mobilised.

Apparently there is no formal investigation, no indication that said flash mob is an illegal and destablising event, so what the MHA and Wong can do is send in the clown squad and hope that the idea of plainclothes operatives asking questions and claiming to know everything about the event... will actually scare off the participants, make them piss in their pants, and scar them for life. Remember, kids: for real protests and destabilising events, the riot police is used. When the authorities want to stage a political comedy, they send in plainclothes operatives!

But really, this flash mob was rather lame. People showed up and stood around. No silly waving, cheers, synchronised actions or what have you. No immediate and sudden dispersal. And the best part? People who didn't get the message won't get the message at all. So much for a flash mob for Mr Brown.

Don't get me started on the organiser's horrendously unironic satorical decision wear brown shirts to support a columnist who was unfairly axed. This is what you get when Singapore's artistes pose as political activists.

Ladies and gentlemen, the continuing clown show from Wong Kan Seng. As if the dropping of the police investigation against Char isn't embarrassing enough, they send in a clown show against a not-very-successful or well-planned and conceptualised flash mob.

06 July 2006

Down with the NCCS!

The high fever stretched over the weekend, made a detour into a lung infection, finally diagnosed by SGH. With new medication, I can look forward to a fever-free week, with scattered wooziness and weird-tasting saliva as the only side effect. That, and reduced breathing capacity until some therapist gets my lungs working at 100% again.

To recap from the last instalment, one apparently Christian person complained to the police that pictures depicting Jesus on Char's site were presumably offensive to Christians.

Question: Does this warrant an investigation? Does this warrant the investigating officer to recommend to Char not just to take down the pictures, but shut down his blog?

Although the police and Wong Kan Seng have decided to investigate this case as if it were already a potentially seditious case, they have been expecting an official stand from the NCCS to cover their overreaction. When that was not forthcoming, the clown show over at the Straits Times did an article on Saturday 19 June trying to put the question to Religious Experts.

Why do the police, Wong and the Straits Times think a National Council of Churches is the appropriate body to answer the question: were the pictures really seditious?

Noting first that the clown show at the Straits Times apparently did not bother to show the interviewees the actual photos, nor were the interviewees interested to find out before issuing their replies to the clown show, of interest to us are two statements in that article:

4. From the chairman of Centre for Contemporary Islamic Studies, Ridzuan Wu: "images char posted were unlikely to cause a strong reaction... because Muslim societies have a stronger tradition of condemning blasphemy through legal action."

What is blasphemy in Muslim societies? Presumably any visual depiction of the prophets, humorous or not. We hope Ridzuan Wu is clear that this does not mean any visual depiction of Christ is therefore automatically blasphemous in a Christian context, but what he says is indeed true: these images, whatever they may be, are unlikely to cause any kind of strong reaction, any kind of mass reaction amongst Christians, even in Singapore.

5. To understand why, we must first take a look at the giant turd laid by Anglican Bishop John Chew, the vice president of the National Council of Churches: "We cannot say that just because the west has allowed these pictures to be freely available, we should accept them."

Setting aside for the moment the fact that this does not constitute an official statement from the NCCS, or the fact that the clown show at the Straits Times didn't bother to get clear in what capacity John Chew was speaking in, Bishop John Chew is clearly talking out of his arse when he cannot accept that... just because the west has allowed these pictures to be freely available, we should should accept them.

Historically, rival Christians have been making caricatures of their opponent's beliefs. That's part of a long Greek rhetorical tradition. Historically, under the signs of the printing press and the Protestant Reformation, rival Christians have drawn very seditious pictures, for example, of popes being advised by devils, with 'idolatry' and 'superstition' on papal vestments. Christ himself has been caricatured in cartoons by Voltaire, Sade and others - who didn't get stoned by Christians or accused of sedition by the police, whose pictures sparked off no riots amongst Christians. That is Protestantism for you, and a history lesson for the shockingly ignorant Bishop John Chew.

Let us note therefore, that caricatures of Jesus Christ rivalling or (given that Voltaire drew some of them) even exceeding the cheekiness of the Char pics, do exist from post-Reformation periods onwards. Somewhere on the internets is an archive of them. Somewhere in real life is an exhibit of them. Nowhere in this reality - one that John Chew apparently does not partake of - are there riots or even morally, religiously insulted Christians. It is almost a Christian tradition already lah.

6. The National Council of Churches Singapore is...

Contrary to expectations, NCCS is not a religious high council of Protestant Churches in Singapore. Despite its posturing, the NCCS does not dictate ecclesiastical decisions on its member churches. Despite its official sounding name, NCCS does not function as a National Council of Christian Muftis. Despite its aura of officialness and representativeness, NCCS statements are non-binding on member churches, local pastors are not legally or religiously bound to agree with any of its statements.

What then is the NCCS? The body was set up in 1948. Since then, the organisation, far from representing all Protestants in Singapore, has suffered ups and downs, and has experienced a surge only in recent years. To put it bluntly, the NCCS has a temporarily high profile today thanks to its opportunism. These actions have catapulted it to the public eye, above and beyond its natural capacity -

Signing the declaration of religious harmony
Issuing a statement on homosexuality
Issuing a statement on the casino issue
Issuing a statement to back the banning of the Mohammed cartoons
Issuing a private and secret letter to the MDA on The Da Vinci Code

What is apparent: the National Council of Churches dares not do unpopular things. Its only activity is discursive and declamatory.

1. Any Protestant worth their salt will point out the absurdity of a Protestant organisation condemning caricatures of Christ.
2. There are a significant amount of liberal Christians and church leaders who are in opposition to the NCCS on the condemnation of Char's actions.
3. This significant, if minority opposition, is what keeps the NCCS from issuing any official statement on this matter.
4. Liberal Christians who were already annoyed at how the NCCS took it upon themselves to negotiate with MDA on a movie they didn't think amounted to much, will be even more annoyed and possibly outraged if the NCCS proceeds to condemn Char.

Charting the recent history of the NCCS through its statements, several propositions can be made:
1. An upward and accelerating sense of importance
2. An attempt - intentional or expected by the state by now - to serve as a National Council of Christian Muftis.
3. The impossibility of 2 points towards an eventual jumping of the shark by the organisation. Their letter to the MDA might just be that.

The NCCS should just give up and die.

30 June 2006

Fevre Dream

4 days facing wave after wave of high fever. And dear reader, you too must wait for the final wave to break.

Beyond the waves lie a flood of articles that I hope to publish during the weekend. Some of these topics are old... but I assure you, no one will write them like me.

10 short notes on sedition: The National Council of Churches
10 short notes on sedition: what other guidelines should demarcate a clear case from a frivolous case?

The brilliant timing of STOMP: lessons and a warning to the local blogosphere
IPS post-election survey

Finally, here's some good news to cheer about. SCOTUS rules Guantanamo military tribunals are illegal. Court opinion here.

22 June 2006

Pensées: 10 short notes on sedition

Part I

1. Sedition complements treason and martial law: treason controls primarily the establishment, the civil service, the police and the army; martial law frightens heartlanders; and sedition frightens intellectuals.
(with apologies to Curtis Breight)

2. "The police will investigate when someone complains about offensive material on the Internet because it can have an impact on the public" - Wong Kan Seng, 17 June 2006

What counts as overreaction in a case of sedition? Even in the bad old days when the sedition laws were designed, sedition - like treason - was an accusation not lightly made, a charge not taken up by the state unless there was a clear case to answer to.

Here, Deputy Minister Wong Kan Seng shows his utter disregard for the common law, acceptable procedure, and common sense. An individual makes a police report, complaining that certain pictures posted were offensive to Christians, ergo damaging the racial and religious harmony of Singapore, ergo seditious.

Yet any man with common sense will ask: are the pictures really seditious? do they offend Christians? a vast majority of Christians? to the extent of inciting riots?

Any man with common sense will state: material that mildly offend, that a sizeable proportion of Christians do not find offensive, is not seditious and warrants no investigation.

Any man with common sense and more brains will believe there must be clear guidelines to prosecute only cases that are offensive enough to threaten the population. Otherwise, unchecked, this leads not to the preservation of racial and religious harmony that Minilee so loves and will do anything to protect (anything, including allowing the frivolous prosecution of mildly offensive bloggers), but the creation of a frivolously litigious society most feared by Papalee, who reformed Singapore's legal system to avoid just this sort of scenario.

The system needs to distinguish, at the earliest stage, what constitutes a genuine case of religious sedition and what is evidently a frivolous application, a mendacious attempt by a lone gunman to create a litigious society - and worse, a frivolously litigious society via the proxy of mandatory police investigations for any and every allegation of sedition.

Reprise: "The police will investigate when someone complains about offensive material on the Internet because it can have an impact on the public" - Wong Kan Seng, 17 June 2006

Any single person can complain over any alleged slight, any perceived insult? And the police will investigate? Thank you for encouraging every nutcase. Thank you for turning Singapore into a country of intolerant assholes who sic the police on anyone they disagree with. This is a clear indication of how vastly incompetent the Deputy Prime Minister is, of how much he values hot-headed, hard line rhetoric over cool sensibility, of fostering intolerance and tearing apart the social fabric of Singapore over creating a real legal framework that protects it.

3. "Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng on Saturday apologised for the way the police overreacted to a group of school girls' plan to sell and wear white elephant T-shirts at the opening of Buangkok Station." - The Straits Times, 22 January 2006

We eagerly await the inevitable apology from DPM Wong Kan Seng to Char and the citizens of Singapore, over the overreaction of the police and his own overreaction in the press. It seems that Wong has a certain proclivity towards overreaction, to using the police as a vicious dog to maul undeserving schoolgirls and bloggers. It seems Wong has the illusion that he is the chief of the Gestapo instead of a senior cabinet minister in a country with respectable and reasonable legal procedures.

For his mendacity, incompetence and sheer disconnection from reality, impeach DPM Wong Kan Seng! Impeach him NOW!

12 June 2006

Smile 2006

Ah, Minilee wants to welcome the world with a smile - or more precisely, he wants the entire nation to greet the IMF/World Bank conference with 4 million smiles.

It's as though Singapore is a gigantic Potemkin village, yes? That the entire population of Singapore will magically transform into obliging, smiling flight stewardesses to welcome the robber barons of global capitalism? And why on earth would Singaporeans be so docile and obedient to smile for the Prime Minister and his WTO, just because he's asking nicely?

Then again, this isn't unusual from the man who claimed that there is no angst in Singapore.

Okay Minilee and Mr Wong Kan Seng, here's my submission for Smile 2006.

Welcome to Singapore!
Protesters will be caned!
Have a nice day =D

06 June 2006

Goh Chok Tong speech decoded

3 May 2006 - Washington, speech to reporters

"The PAP is not out to have a clean sweep. What we are trying to offer is certainty of good government and good people in charge. So my message is this: Have your desire for opposition fulfilled, but never to the extent of changing the government."

--- Peanut Goh

Get your decoding rings ready!

1. "I do not have the calibre to function in a true democracy."
2. "In Singapore, the PAP decides how many opposition MPs Singaporeans are allowed."

Peanut Goh should grow up and accept the challenge of governing in a democratic country, where the voters decide how much of an opposition they want in Parliament. If he's unable to deal with the decision of the voters, he should either step down or work for peanuts.

My question to Peanut Goh: Let's cut to the chase and forget about elections, in this case. How many opposition MPs do you allow us to have, at maximum? Please, I want some more.

3. "We will do what we can to prevent Singaporeans from voting in more opposition MPs."

Peanut Goh admits he wants to control how Singaporeans vote! We need a clarification on what legal or extra-legal means he is contemplating. Does this include fixing opposition candidates? Or finding more ways to buy his supporters votes?

4. "The PAP will never allow voters to change ruling parties."

But Peanut Goh, you have no right to make this kind of statement. It is not your place to dictate to voters who they can and cannot vote for; how many seats the opposition is allowed and not allowed to win. It is not your place to tell voters they can vote in opposition politicians, but not too many.

Need I say that this is scandalous? Peanut Goh should withdraw from Marine Parade GRC for the insult to Singaporean voters he has made. The PAP should take clear, unambiguous steps to do the right thing, to sack Peanut Goh from the party before he damages their credibility any further.

"We can't fight the next battle using today's strategies," says Peanut Goh. But it is clear that the objectives of the Whiteshirt battle still remains the same as yesterday's battle. It is clear that the Whiteshirts still view voters as frightened children who must be told who they can vote for, and how many sweets they're allowed. It is clear that the Whiteshirts continue to be wildly out of touch with reality.

22 May 2006

Singapore Urban Legends Part Deux

Cherian George opines: Opposition coverage has been greater and fairer than at any point in the past 30 years at least.

Get your debunking tools ready!

In the previous post, I went to the National Archives with fellow SBPer Pleinelune to search for the Holy Grail of Singapore politics: undeniable proof that Papalee threatened to find out who exactly voted in Jeyaratnam and Chiam in 1984, and why.

We didn't find any such account in the Straits Times.

What we did find:
A much more sympathetic report of the opposition in its stories (although numerically, articles covering the Whiteshirts still dominated).
More critical reporting of the Whiteshirt campaign and election issues, compared to the 2006 election.
The combination of sympathetic and critical reporting led Papalee to accuse the press of being biased against his party, a claim he continued to make as late as 2006, in a televised dialogue session with ST journalists.

What does Cherian George say about this editorial from the Straits Times, in 1984?
"Let's take it in our stride"
What is disturbing is talk of the need to re-examine the one-man, one-vote system in light of what happened. Equally disturbing is the prospect that residents of Anson and Potong Pasir are in for a lesson, for voting in opposition candidates.

Can Cherian George honestly say that today's Straits Times is capable of printing such editorials? That it is more fair towards the opposition?

We also paid attention to photographs of the politicians. All were of low quality and in black and white. Papalee had one of the worst photos (him in side profile, clenching a fist at the microphone), while other PAP and opposition MPs and candidates had full-face passport photo style mugs, regardless of position and post.

There was also a half page interview with Chiam, where he outlined what he'll do in Parliament. A quarter page interview with an outgoing opposition party leader, his analysis of how his Malay party managed to garner suprise Chinese votes in 1984. ST also published full articles from foreign newspapers (the Bangkok Post, the New Straits Times, the Wapo). These were articles chastising Papalee for being a sore loser, pondering over his rejection of one-man one-vote democracy, and suggesting that voters, in their 12% national swing towards the opposition, were rejecting the increasingly hectoring style and torrent of Papalee's national campaigns.

Which is the Pro-PAP ST?

A. ST in 1984: Quoting Whiteshirts word for word, no matter what they say. Headlines are direct quotes from their speeches, and come with quote marks.

B. ST in 2006: Spinning Whiteshirt speeches, dressing up headlines to mislead readers, editing out unfortunate phrases like "fix them and buy my supporters votes".

Cherian George, I'd like to see a retraction of the statement in your blog, really. And it took just 2 people 1 hour at the National Archives to do what you thought would take 2 years by NUS/NTU honours thesis candidates. Gah.

Bonus Section

Just to see how the Whiteshirts have commited the mistakes it accused opposition parties of making in 1984, and how little things have changed, here are the headlines of the post-election coverage from 24 and 26 December 1984:

PM replies to voters' signal (papalee promises a more open and less austere government)
Genuine distress or blackmail, asks Raja (Raja vows to show voters they cannot blackmail the government into compromising policies and principles. This man does not understand the meaning of democracy)
Senior ministers' pay to go up (he did promise a less austere government. and is leading by example)
PAP has support of most younger voters (claim by Goh Chok Tong, then a new MP)
26,000 voters cast spoilt or rejectd votes
Snake pit politics will scare off credible candidates (now we know why the Whiteshirts find it so hard to recruit)
Brigadier-General Lee makes early "thank you" call
We will settle accounts (Papalee refuses to congratulate Chiam and JBJ, vows not to put election clashes behind)
PAP must make greater effort (to bond with voters. GCT)
Not so much a vote for opposition: Mah (it's a plebiscite)
Chua to step down from Cabinet
By-elections may be needed (to allow Mah Bow Tan to get back into parliament after defeat by Chiam)
Let's take it in our stride (critical editorial by ST chief. Soon replaced by a more pliant and cooperative candidate)

26 December

Voting is not like making a film (excerpt from Papalee election victory speech)
Voting not based on racial lines, says Yatiman (denies Malays ever vote as a bloc)
Opposition denies playing gutter politics

Singapore Urban Legends

"Some elections back when the 'Mentor' was PM, he threatened the electorate by saying he would find out why those who voted against the PAP did so. That was in a speech after an election when the public was beginning to be brave enough to rub the dictatorship up the right way. I still remember the sinister and menacing tone when Harry Lee made his open threat."
From A.K. Tan, in comment to Voting must be kept secret

Pleinelune and I went down to the National Archives during the weekend to verify this claim. A.K. Tan has to be referring to the 1984 General Elections, notable for the loss of 2 seats to the opposition JB Jeyaratnam (WP-Anson) and Chiam See Tong (SDP-Potong Pasir). As the election was on 23 December, we checked the Straits Times from 24-27 December.

There was no account of Papalee issuing threats to find out who voted for whom. The Straits Times in the 1980s had to print every single word of Papalee's speeches; we waded through 5 pages of his election victory speech, printed over 2 days, and found nothing similar to AK Tan's anecdote.

That's not to say there weren't any harsh lectures from the then-PM.

On the morning of 24 December 1984, Papalee made several interesting remarks:

Because they had begun losing seats to the opposition: "at this rate, the one-man, one-vote system could lead to decline and disintegration"

He accused the opposition of "gutter politics": "Every election campaign starts off on a reasonable note, then in order to get the crowds excited, they make more and more brazen, scurrilous, wild accusations." (Like for example, accusing their opponents of planting bombs with their election manifestos?)

Papalee sternly warned the electorate in Potong Pasir and Anson that they would have to live with their choices; "the party would withdraw services to the two opposition-held seats of Anson and Potong Pasir"

Of course, there were the usual admonitions about Singapore descending into riots, that the people must realise this is not a game, you cannot change governments, etc.

However, the best lines came from the recently deceased S Rajaratnam, then Second Deputy Prime Minister in Papalee's cabinet. Said the man who wrote the national pledge: "If this is an attempt by voters to blackmail the government, to compromise on important issues or principles, then we must show them we cannot be blackmailed. No government should succumb to blackmail." That was the most chilling quote from the 1984 election, and it didn't come from Papalee.

It was Rajaratnam who made the threat AK Tan remembers. In "Genuine distress or blackmail, asks Raja", the then-2DPM wanted to find out whether the vote swing to the opposition was a genuine distress signal or an attempt by voters to blackmail the Whiteshirts. He then followed up by saying "we must show them that we cannot be blackmailed". Perhaps due to the passage of time, we now have the impression that it was Papalee who threatened "he would find out why those who voted against the PAP did so"?

Now, on that night, with Papalee raising a clenched fist at the microphone during the election victory speech and interview, with Rajaratnam, Mah Bow Tan, Richard Hu taking turns to reiterate their leader's disappointments, one threat would've seemed indistinguishable from the next.

So please, everyone. Let that urban legend rest. Papalee did not threaten to undermine the secrecy of the vote.

11 May 2006


In Chess, the endgame can be seen as mop-up action. The stage where you finish off the weakest and yet most significant pieces. The endgame in Go is similar - players move to clarify which formations are alive and dead.

Whiteshirt endgame

James Gomez. Frankly if I were the Whiteshirts, this would be exactly what I'd do anyway.

Fact: Authority and power inspire obedience and confidence
Fact: Singaporeans scored high in authority and tradition in the last World Values Survey
Fact: It will take about 25 years for this country to have a sufficient liberal electorate to make this strategy cost too much for the Whiteshirts.

In addition, it's also a gambit.
WP central committee offer no public comments about Gomez, show no support, no effort to work public opinion to frame Gomez as innocent: WP is discredited in the eyes of liberal voters.

WP central committee back Gomez up to the hilt: WP is discredited in the eyes of conservative voters, who will see them as the next SDP.

How WP responds will determine if it can keep the gains it made in the public mind last week.

Since the Public Prosecutor has chosen not to prosecute James Gomez, he has not been found guilty of criminal intimidation by the courts. It's up to the opposition to frame this as their victory, though. And that concludes the Whiteshirt endgame.

Opposition endgame

MPs Chiam See Tong (SDA-Potong Pasir) and Low Thia Khiang (WP-Hougang) have SM Goh Chok Tong (PAP-Marine Parade) in their crosshairs. Their strategy is simply

Where is the money, Mr Goh?

The mistake Goh made was to announce the exact figure of the upgrading funds set aside for Potong Pasir and Hougang - in the almost 12 years of using the upgrading carrot-and-stick (in Chua Mui Hoong's own words), the Whiteshirts have never specified any monetary value of their sweeteners.

Very well, you have set aside 180 million dollars. Or so you claim. In which account books is the money budgetted under? Who will pay the 180 million dollars? How much of it will actually come from the residents of Potong Pasir and Hougang? What happens to the money now? Where does it go to? And so on.

Bury the Whiteshirts under accountability of funds. But Mr Goh, while being weak, isn't a significant piece in the Whiteshirt machinery.

Focus on Khaw Boon Wan (non-NKF)

In a little-known CNA report, Minister Khaw announced that the Government has shortlisted several locations for retirement villages in Batam and Johore Bahru. That's right, and at least one will be built. The opposition needs to question Minister Khaw to reveal more details on this.

Khaw says that in the past, "the Singapore market was... too small for retirement villages to be commercially viable". That overseas retirement villages are now viable indicates that Singapore's cost of living has become unaffordable for the old, that Singapore becomes unlivable for retirees. It also means that the CPF system has failed: despite a high rate of enforced savings, retirees still cannot survive. It also means that the rate of poverty in the old will rise, and the Whiteshirts have no real solution. It also means abalone porridge was a hypocritical election ploy. The opposition needs to frame the retirement village as a failure of social security and a cost of living issue.

As Minister Khaw makes a big deal out of being a devout Buddhist who cannot lie, who will refuse to answer questions if he feels he'll make a lie, further frame the issue: Is the retirement village idea not an immoral thing - both in itself, and the implication that social security in Singapore has fallen apart?

The man who said "If you do wrong things, tell lies, defame people, create trouble, incite hatred...then I think you have wasted your life and I worry about your afterlife" and "In my religion, one of the biggest sins is to tell lies. The next life, you'll become a cockroach or something" needs to be reminded that ill-treating the old and failing to care for the old is even more immoral.

The opposition should get the message out before the first session of Parliament begins. The silver lining in SDP losing the Sembawang contest is this: it's more embarrassing and damaging for the Whiteshirts to be forced to reshuffle Mr Khaw out of his Ministry.

Citizen endgame

3rd May 06 - Lunchtime Election Rally

"Right now we have Low Thia Khiang, Chiam See Tong, Steve Chia. We can deal with them. Suppose you had 10, 15, 20 opposition members in Parliament. Instead of spending my time thinking what is the right policy for Singapore, I'm going to spend all my time thinking what's the right way to fix them, to buy my supporters votes, how can I solve this week's problem and forget about next year's challenges?"

--- Minilee

Thanks to some creative editing by Chua Mui Hoong in the Straits Times, Minilee wasn't completely damaged by his fix them and buy votes speech. We need to keep this issue in play as much as Minilee and the Straits Times want to bury it.

100 letters to the Straits Times and Today forum pages will remind them of their journalistic failure to scrutinise Minilee's speech. They could include most of the following points:

1. We thank Minilee for clarifying his use of "fix" during the lunchtime election rally of 3 May.
2. However, we still require him to make further clarifications in the clearest language as possible.
3. Most importantly, we as Singaporean citizens look forward to hearing an explanation for what our PM meant when he talked about buying supporters votes.
4. Not only must Singapore have no climate of fear, Singapore must be seen to have no climate of fear. Use of sharp and violent language like fixing people, buying votes fosters impressions of a climate of fear.

(Of course, if the opposition were strong enough, I'd recommend Minilee as their joint endgame target, along with Khaw)

Blogger endgame

A relevant ministry will examine the effect of the internet on the election. Bloggers have two viable targets and two strategies that can be carried out simultaneously.

Moral and international right to comment freely on elections

From Comment 25 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights,
Voters should be able to form opinions independently, free of violence or threat of violence, compulsion, inducement or manipulative interference of any kind.

In order to ensure the full enjoyment of rights protected by article 25, the free communication of information and ideas about public and political issues between citizens, candidates and elected representatives is essential. This implies a free press and other media able to comment on public issues without censorship or restraint and to inform public opinion. It requires the full enjoyment and respect for the rights guaranteed in articles 19, 21 and 22 of the Covenant, including freedom to engage in political activity individually or through political parties and other organizations, freedom to debate public affairs, to hold peaceful demonstrations and meetings, to criticize and oppose, to publish political material, to campaign for election and to advertise political ideas.

The blogosphere right now needs to frame the upcoming debate from one about the dangers of irresponsible blogging to one about the right to comment and take part in elections, to form opinions and discuss issues with each other freely.

Fix the media, don't fix bloggers

The reputation of SPH and Mediacorp has taken a beating from foreign press reports of their biases in reporting this election. Day after day, from nomination day to the day before polling, the main newspapers and television stations showed endless reports of Whiteshirt campaign, written and read in the highest and most congratulatory language, while giving opposition candidates next to zero airtime.

Where were the pictures of the Workers Party rallies?
Why did Chua Mui Hoong change Minilee's speech to "counter my opponents" instead of the actual "fix" and "buy" line?
Why were the teams from prize-winning, world-class Mediacorp unable to track down opposition politicians for their victory speeches, some of which are podcast anyway by bloggers?

1. The mainstream media is biased
2. The mainstream media is incompetent
3. The election coverage was so awful that bloggers provided NEWS that Singaporeans kept going online to get.

We bloggers aren't political, we aren't making crazy, unverifiable, outrageous statements about the election campaign. We offered our comments and analyses and from the looks of it, countless citizens wanted to hear what we wanted to say.

The message bloggers need to make loud and clear to the "relevant ministry" and the MDA is this": Fix your mainstream media. Don't fix us.

Bloggers should remember that for months, SPH and Mediacorp were hatchet men, painting bloggers as dangerous, irrelevant, or irresponsible. Spare them no quarters this time.