09 November 2007

I sent an email to Thio and all I got was this lousy T-shirt

Part 2 of 2

I hope you're happy... I hope you're happy now! I hope you're happy how you've hurt your cause forever, I hope you think you're clever...

Poor Kway Teow Man is flabbergasted at why some gay activists say that even though the failure to repeal Section 377A was as expected, this was a sign of progress.

Why ye of little faith, have ye no faith in the Father of the Singapore Gay Equality Movement? Question not the judgement of the Bread That Yawneth! For assuredly, there is victory in defeat! Life in death! Honour in debasement! Just like how Alex Au finds victory in his failures to get gay interest group PLU registered as a society, our efforts to repeal 377A have resulted in a resounding victory that must be shouted from the rooftops and echoed in basement carparks! And you too of little faith and much naivete, yes you: Kway Teow Man, you too shall cheer along with us in this historic triumph that will be recorded in the annals of history, and recited by Singaporean schoolchildren of the future in their gay civics class!

Oh yes, indeed, the greatest achievement Alex Au has contributed to the victory of our cause is when NMP Thio Li-ann (whom Alfian Sa'at wishes would "douses herself with the petrol of her own rhetoric and lights the match unaided") became the victim of a second threatening note!

Oh yes, Alex Au, there's no need to be so modest =D "I will totally condemn any malicious letters. It's completely against the spirit of civil discourse and democracy", you say to Li Xueying. Oh no, don't you dare pile it on by saying you have "made it known in gay forums that any criticism should be issues-based rather than targeted at the person."

My leader, do not belabour yourself! We hear you loud and clear, and we get your nudge nudge wink wink!

O Kway Teow Man, look and learn! Rookie reporter Li Xueying clearly is no match for the witty wits of our esteemed repeal 377A commander in chief! He has run circles around her, for nowhere in the SIGNEL gay forum has he explicitly advised his legions of gay activists who dedicate themselves fully to the gay agenda that they have to be "issues-based rather than target at the person"!

In fact, in the entire month of October leading up to today, Alex Au has mostly posted without comment, several news articles and essays regarding gay issues in Singapore and around the world! In his only 2 posts where he does make any personal comment, it was to ask our 21st Keyboard Legions to find sources to corroborate or demolish a claim that Andy Ho made, as usual without citing his sources! And in the 1 week between Alfian Sa'at and the second threatening note, Alex Au has made a total of 0 comments on the issues of civility, civil discourse, or democracy in the gay forums!

O Kway Teow Man, look and learn from the matchless machinations of warmaster Alex Au! For clearly he no longer uses the gay forums to issue his pronouncements! No, open your mind, humble yourself in a mind of servitude, and direct your willing ears to the Bread that Yawns! Here you see the Warmaster's only pronouncement on malice, civil discourse and democracy in the light of the fight to repeal 377A!

For clearly, young KTM, as Alex's article is titled: there are LIMITS TO CIVILITY! Yes, the spirit of civil discourse has a limit. For the shrill stalking and malicious machinations of Thio on the 377A repeal has bent the mind of poor Alfian Sa'at and caused him to issue a somewhat embarrassing email to her... And who do we blame, young KTM? Of course the blame is with NMP Thio!

"I would not crown civility as supreme in all situations."
Indeed so, my liege and lord!

"When the Religious Right (and this includes Thio) are out to bludgeon me psychologically, socially and politically, they don't deserve respect or civility from me. Nor from Alfian and thousands, thousands more." And indeed so, my liege and lord!

And it is no wonder, praise Alex Au, that the wise have heeded, and the willing have put into action Alex's desire that Thio and her Religious Right collaborators no longer deserve any civility or respect!

My friend, Alfian Sa'at did not do anything we should be ashamed of! On the contrary, his bold attack must be defended by pointing out that Thio deserves no civility nor respect - and that thousands more people should boldly attack her! Follow the footsteps and heed the pronouncements of our great leader Alex Au!

But seriously, the repeal 377A campaign doesn't need Thio Li-ann, the fundie churches, or a Parliament stacked with conservatve and Christian MPs as their enemies. They merely need Alex Au, and that is sufficient.

08 November 2007

I weighed in the 377A debate and all I got was this lousy T-shirt

Part I of 2

I hope you're happy... I hope you're happy now! I hope you're happy how you've hurt your cause forever, I hope you think you're clever...

Fellow conservatives, Professor Thio Li-ann has failed us all. I speak of course about her contributions in the 377A debate, of her fiery speech in Parliament and her defence of how fundamental religious viewpoints must be allowed expression in public policy making in the context of a secular society.

But wait, you say. Did the eminent Professor Thio, in her impassioned speech, not scuttle the gay agenda to repeal 377A, and halt our nation's slippery slide into the endorsement of homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle, gay marriages, and weekly gay pride beach parties at Sentosa? What can possibly be lacking in how Thio has served the conservative cause, you ask.

We must go back to the first principles: What is an NMP supposed to do? Who is Thio Li-ann, and why has she been appointed to serve as an NMP? Is she serving her role as an NMP, in a manner that adheres to constitutional and historical expectations of NMPs?

As the constitution states, the list of candidates are proposed by the public to the Special Select Committee, who eventually appoint the Non-Elected Member of Parliament.

The criteria for selection?

The persons to be nominated shall be persons who have rendered distinguished public service, or who have brought honour to the Republic, or who have distinguished themselves in the field of arts and letters, culture, the sciences, business, industry, the professions, social or community service or the labour movement; and in making any nomination, the Special Select Committee shall have regard to the need for nominated Members to reflect as wide a range of independent and non-partisan views as possible.

In practice, all NMPs have been chosen for their expertise in their respective fields, or for their leadership roles in civil society groups, special interest groups, or minority groups. Hence, the list of NMPs include Malay businessmen, law professors, the heads of aging associations, AWARE, environmentalists, and so on. These NMPs have steered Parliament through difficult issues, providing their professional views and unique viewpoints. This is a system that, despite serving to co-opt dissent and opposition into a "non-elected" representation scheme, works.

And then, we have Thio Li-ann. She's a law professor, an expert in constitutional law and human rights law. She's not uncritical of the NMP scheme, and very critical of the changes Parliament has made to the Elected Presidency since its creation. By all accounts, Prof Thio understands the role she is expected to play.

Back in her appointment to the non-elected seat, she proposes several areas of jurisdiction that she expects to advise Parliament on. They are all constitutional issues - "She wants to scrutinise legislation on the Elected Presidency, for example, and probe further into the mechanics and powers of the presidency." (Lynn Lee and Sue-ann Chia, "Looking forward to advance the debate", in ST Review, 9 Feb 2007)

Note there is no mention of her staking out the repeal of 377A as a platform she is interested in. Nor does 377A fit coherently in the bag of issues that her expertise should touch on. Yet for all this, Professor Thio's maiden speech in Parliament is a pungent, stinging attack on homosexuality. Yet for all this, her entire attack on homosexuality was based on the morality and moral repugnance argument. Her subsequent articles in the Straits Times defends her attacks as a legitimate expression of religious convictions in a secular state.

In the midst of all this, it is easy to forget that Thio Li-ann is an NMP selected for her expertise in the law. One would have expected, if Thio were indeed fulfilling her role as prescribed in articles 39.1.c and 44.1 of the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution of Singapore and as established in the practice of her predecessors, that Thio would have at least provided the one viewpoint and area of expertise that her colleagues in the entire Parliament could not.

But we haven't heard her speak from a legal or constitutional basis on the 377A debate. Astonishingly for a legal expert charged with educating the nation's future lawyers, there is not a bit of legal theory in it. Where, when we need her expertise most, is the legal reasoning whether to keep or repeal 377A? Where, when the debate is clouded with categorical morality arguments from the right and unbending liberal rhetoric from the left, is the voice of reason, the clear-headed and non-partisan voice of a law professor?

Instead, we find that we might as well have elected Pastor Kong Hee as the NMP, who could have given the same speech Thio gave in Parliament.

If there is a constitutional argument for not repealing 377A (note that I do have one for repealing 377A!), Thio Li-ann has not made it known. Shocking! She could well be batting for the gays, since her utter reliance on the moral repugnance argument suggests that there isn't a constitutional argument for keeping 377A.

The pro-377A faction doesn't need an Alex Au, a gay agenda, or a well-organised campaign as their enemies. They have Thio Li-ann, and that is sufficient.

05 November 2007

The same problem, elsewhere

UK politician steps down for questioning immigration policy

The row over the Midlands candidate was ignited after the Observer reported details of his column in the local Express and Star newspaper, in which he claimed that "we roll out the red carpet for foreigners while leaving the locals to fend for themselves ..."

Also related:
Intra-EU immigration patterns, via takchek.

One way to shift the focus of the debate, to neutralise the Whiteshirt playbook of maligning critics of its FT policy as revanchists playing up the politics of envy, is to note that the cosmopolitan/heartlander, FT/native debates and fissures... are a result of late capitalism under the sign of the elite global labour market... that creates the same problem and social fissures in every country.

We who despair over this country's ridiculously lax FT immigration policy do so not because we are parochial, near-sighted, and not cosmopolitan enough - but precisely because we are aware of how this problem is replayed in every country whose labour market is as free as ours.

18 October 2007

The conservative case for 377A

Gabriel Seah has recently argued that the energies of the state and the activist citizens of Singapore should not be spent on a campaign to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code. The act criminalises homosexual sex as unnatural gross indecency, yet for all that it's worth, various leaders of the state (i.e. father and son) have stressed repeatedly that this law will not be enforced.

For male homosexuals in Singapore, a curious state of affairs now exist: the very acts that some say define their existence are illegal, yet these theoretical criminals are free to practise their lifestyle choices, free of legal persecution. J.Tan may froth at the mouth, alleging continued persecutions of homosexuals, but the fact remains - and is acknowledged even by Alex Au, leader of the gay equality movement in Singapore, that the only instances of prosecution since 1988 have been in cases involving minors, non-consensual sexual activity and public play.

Practically speaking, gay people can pretty much practise whatever they want, wherever they want, in the privacy of their homes or business establishments (clubs, spas, etc). They are free even now to strike up friendships in singles bars, attend the ubiquitous gay-themed plays at Theatreworks and other stage productions, and so on. We can no longer speak of active persecutions, only the usual restrictions against political organisation (aka registration of PLU) and perhaps civil marriage (a fight for another day) and inheritance and maintenance of spouse and surviving children (then again, HDB rules disadvantage single mothers too).

Yet for a conservative, this fine balance or legal impasse is intolerable. Singapore is first and foremost a nation run by the rule of law. That we as a populace observe its laws, that Singapore as a polity lays down laws and regulations, is the key to its success. Singapore is not a cowboy town, not a free-for-all; we are not ruled by strongmen and robber barons, for our laws ensure that Singapore is seen as a predictable and safe place to do business, and to nurture businesses.

Singapore, run by the rule of law, is seen as a well-run polity. Laws are reasonable and logical, otherwise they won't be laws. Our legislators make good laws, simplify complicated ones, and remove those that no longer serve the state.

Our leaders refuse to enforce Section 377A for moral reasons: Minilee believes that "some people are like that and some people are not. How they live their own lives is really for them to decide, it's a personal matter." In other words, this law is not enforced because it does not have a legal basis.

For it to remain on the books is to say that we have a law where the leaders forbid the police to enforce, the attorney-general to prosecute, and the judges to administer. Given that we all agree not to enforce 377a, not repealing it means that we now proclaim to the world Singapore does not take its laws seriously - some laws will never be enforced because they are wrong and baseless, yet there they are on the statutes, as fully legal as every other law on the statutes...

If one law is seen to be unfair yet legal, legal yet unenforced, then we make a mockery of the system, and encourage people to think they too can decide which laws society should not enforce. Worse, we encourage a mindset where people disrespect the legal framework and undermine it. By letting one toothless law stay on the statutes just for show, the government of Minilee encourages others to cherry pick other laws as possibly unfair, just for show, and deserving of flouting.

Because one law does not apply, others will be encouraged to rely on their own personal interpretations of the constitution, to discover for themselves other laws that should not apply. Then as every man becomes the law unto himself, the rule of law will no longer hold sway in Singapore, chaos and riots will break out, and Singapore will be finished.

Singapore must not just be seen as a place where the rule of law prevails, but where the rule of law must be seen to prevail. Given that Section 377A is seen as legally unsound, that it is unenforceable, that the guardians of the state refuse to enforce it, they must therefore take steps to ensure that the law is struck down, and Singapore's legal framework is not undermined by this unenforced law.

04 October 2007

Sedition! Russian Edition

Jonathan Eyal (read as "isle") is the research director of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, and also apparently the correspondent for the Straits Times Europe bureau in London. On most days of the week, Eyal has a doctorate in International Law and Relations, and is by all means a respectable military historian and analyst.

Of course, respectable is a relative term; as a respectable analyst and Eastern Europe specialist, Eyal was part of the intellectual community that facilitated and provided justifications for the conquest and occupation of Serbia, but still he did deconstruct the GWOT for the charade that it is.

What I do not get is how Eyal manages to be a ST correspondent on some days of the week. Note that whenever he talks about Europe, it is almost always through a libertarian set of glasses: Europe outside UK is almost always economically sclerotic, addled with overtaxed citizens paying for exorbitant and inefficient social welfare, losing the civilisational will to live in contrast to its immigrants and probable heirs, the Muslim immigrants. And so on, and so forth. While not supportive of Bush, Eyal has made a living supporting any European leader who supported Bush. And so on, and so forth.

Here's Jonathan Eyal on Putin's Power Play:

"Russian President Vladimir Putin has indicated that he intends to retain political influence when he steps down from the presidency... By accepting to lead United Russia - the country's biggest political formation - he could become the next prime minister.

It all sounds cleverly simple: a new figurehead president will be elected to respect existing constitutional provisions, while Mr Putin continues to run the show as prime minister...

Top powers will have to be granted to the government rather than the head of state. Furthermore, Russian prime ministers are not popular for long. They are expected to take controversial decisions..."

Eyal muses therefore that "Mr Putin... could become a kingmaker from the sidelines."

"But this scenario would be even more confusing. Governments and investors would have to deal with officials who, despite their formal titles, would have no real power, while the man really pulling the strings would have no official position."

I'm sure Jonathan Eyal would have realised that's how Sonia Gandhi is the leader of India even though she isn't the President of India.

And looking closer to who's paying for Eyal's bills, he might as well have saved us the sight of reading yet another "analysis article" (WTH is it that all his analysis articles are in the news section and not the op/eds?) if he just wrote a 4-word article:

Senior Minister Vladimir Putin

26 September 2007

Malicious, mendacious, and meretricious

Recently in the news, 3 major challenges facing Singapore getting some discussion in the current Parliament session.

1. The re-tweaking of CPF, the annuity, and the "Longevity Insurance"

Goodness knows why the government of Minilee has finally acknowledged that the average Singaporean is still unable to have any significant savings when they retire.

Of course, Minilee holds fast to the sacred tenet that Singapore Must Never Have Social Welfare - nevermind that Singapore's healthcare, education, public libraries, and housing are funded and discounted by the state in what appears to be classic social welfare policies. Instead, the Dear Leader reiterates that Singaporeans must continue to save on their own, with minimal support from the state, which will of course from time to time adjust and introduce a few schemes here and there.

"Oh most gracious Minilee, our poor cannot afford to feed themselves once they retire! What shall we do?"

"Let them eat their CPF savings and annuities!"

2. Employment of seniors

Not entirely unrelated to the fact that one can't retire in Singapore without sinking into poverty is Minilee's push for employers to start hiring seniors. Bravo!

But let's not forget that Goh Chok Tong had previously pushed for this idea as well, but without bothering to make it a compulsory law, because our leaders would rather be seen as pro-elderly, but not at the expense of business interests.

And so it is that Minilee has taken steps to assure business interests that even if he decides to draft a law to make them to hire seniors, they'll be sheltered from the worst. The compromise, apparently floated by Minilee, is to let companies only pay for the basic health insurance of elderly workers.

BASIC HEALTH INSURANCE. But aren't seniors more prone to developing complications if they fall ill? Ah, I guess Minilee wants to save companies from footing the bills when the seniors in their employ get seriously sick!

3. The optimal population and foreign talent

Not discussed in this Parliament so far, but take note that according to Dear Leader's great plan, we're 2 million shy of the optimal population of Singapore, and hence the need to import even more foreign talent.

Not wholly unrelated to the influx of FTs are a corresponding hike in rentals of private properties that these expats tend to exclusively go for. It's simple economics, but they're now complaining of the ridiculous rents, the hardship it's causing and might even begin to leave in droves.

Welcome to Singapore, I say! Now you Foreign Talents finally have a taste of what every local experiences on a daily basis: having to pay for lodging that eats up most of your savings! How do you suppose Singaporeans end up cash poor and asset rich when they retire? Again, it's simple economics, and now I hope FTs will finally realise why the hell Singaporeans complain so much about their government.

But just so you know, Minilee claims that it's not true Singapore is only for the rich.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the government of Minilee.

14 September 2007

Holy real estate, Batman!

Via Asiabuilders:

Capitaland joins with Rock Productions (aka the business arm of New Creation Church!) to build a $600 million lifestyle hub at Buona Vista...

Holy real estate, Batman!

"COME 2011, a futuristic-looking lifestyle hub with a 5,000-seat theatre, restaurants, shops, chill-out wine bars and even dance clubs will emerge in Buona Vista."

Guess who's going to use the 5,000-seat theatre? And will the alcoholic version of Cafe Galilee operate the wine bars? Inquiring minds want to know!

"Designed by Mr Andrew Bromberg of Aedas Hong Kong, it will have eight levels of civic and cultural space, and four levels of retail and entertainment space."

Yup, Rock Productions will manage the 8 levels of "civic and cultural space", which I bet is some crypto-fundie term for "NCC and NCC-related enterprises space"...

But heck, since Rock Productions invested 280 mil out of the 660, it gets a cut out of any rental profits that come out of the retail and entertainment space as well. Whaddaya know, the church has hit on a plan to accumulate fat profits, through its Jesus Mall!

Up next: Consumers for Christ! Or knowing the Singapore megachurch, Capitalists for Christ. Will someone be so kind as to deregister CHC as a non-profit religious group and start taxing the hell out of them like we do any other business?

30 August 2007

Architectures of Control

From the introduction to Architectures of Control:

Increasingly, many products are being designed with features that intentionally restrict the way the user can behave, or enforce certain modes of behaviour. The same intentions are also evident in the design of many systems and environments.

I usually add to my blogroll without much fanfare, but here's a site that I would make some noise about. And I'm sure Singaporean readers would find this fascinating - architectures of control exist everywhere in the world, and it's time we start recognising in our own landscape, geography, and urban design as well.

Need proof of this blog's mandatory reading status? You might want to begin with:

Casino design and slot machine winning chances
Why your third-party battery lasts shorter on a Nokia
The default choice in OSes, programmes, and Starbucks
How airports keep people moving

28 August 2007

Founding legends

Was vaguely aware of the Army Half-marathon run on Sunday; I had to wait twice as long for my bus to come from Marina. It turns out that a 25-year-old Captain collapsed and died after completing his run that morning.

That's tragic, but what can one expect from a sport whose founding legend involves someone dying after the run? The Greek soldiers were hardly a sedentary bunch; if they could collapse after a 22km run, anyone could - regardless of preparation or physical condition.

Everyone in Singapore had to read the founding myth of the Marathon as part of their second language/mother tongue syllabus - surely they must have learnt something?

24 August 2007

Nazi board games

Excerpts from the BBC:

Nazi board games under the hammer

A collection of Nazi era board games - including one where players are given points for bombing British cities - are being auctioned in the UK...

The rare trove of wartime board games also includes a version of Snakes and Ladders based on the exploits of U-boat captain Gunther Prien.

"They say a lot about the Nazis, and about the German regime. Our kids were still playing trains and Meccano and hopscotch and things like that. These show how the Nazis were determined that children as young as four or five needed to get into the swing of things."

The two word that come to my mind, though, are National Education.

Think about it, few other countries in the world incorporate national goals, ideology, and the official slant on current affairs into child education and childplay as much as Singapore.

One imagines the family of National Education learning tools that inhabit the same social space as the Nazi boardgames: The Fall of Malaya board game, Command and Conquer, SAF edition...

And for the wired generation, The Fall of Malaya/Japanese Occupation MMORPG!
Play as 3 factions! The Japanese 25th Army , the Malaya Command (i.e. Percival and his Australian and Indian minions), and the Communist irregulars!

Each faction has its unique strengths! Play as the Japanese with their Mobility doctrine, Malaya Command with its Manpower doctrine (easy recruitment from the Commonwealth), and the Communist irregulars with their Progaganda doctrine!

And of course, the moral of the game is: We must ourselves defend Singapore! Woohoo...

22 August 2007

From the mouth of a scholar

You just can't write these stuff up.

The Straits Times
Aug 17, 2007

President's Scholar follows in dad's footsteps

The money quote that appeared below the headline: 'I think the President's Scholarship is, more than anything else, responsibility. It tells you you can't slack off, but have to try to enrich yourself in as many ways as possible.' - Stephanie Koh 18, on what it means to be a President's Scholar.

Seriously. Scholars in Singapore now think their duty is to enrich themselves in as many ways as possible.

My friend the Samurai Blogger points out that not all President's Scholars end up in plum positions within the state bureaucracy, as it's not a bonded scholarship and recipients aren't ushered into academic paths by the scholarship. It's an unfair stereotype, he claims, that all scholars have silky smooth ride even if they are good.

Even so, I'm reminded of a conversation I had with some friends on National Day, shortly after watching the NDP, where my opposite number put forth the view that it is natural and expected that scholars are promoted to positions in the bureaucracy where they can prove and exercise their leadership qualities. That's another unfair stereotype for you.

And Straits Times coverage of "where are these scholars now?" basically conflates and celebrates these 2 stereotypes together: the worthy scholar who will one day lead us into the great future, the worthy scholar whose bond is surety of leadership and success, the scholar whose sole duty to the state, once they have received the scholarship, is to enrich themselves in as many ways as possible.

The Willow Tree

From the Iranian director who gave Children of Heaven to moviegoers everywhere and Homerun to Jack Neo, comes a rare movie revolving around adult characters. One might be forgiven for thinking that this marks a move away by Majid Majidi from his trademark magic realist, sometimes rustic, but always emotionally effective directing style, but nothing can be further from the truth. Yet at the same time, The Willow Tree does offer a subtle and sophisticated philosophy of cinema to critics who say the director relies too much on trite metaphors and cliched symbolism.

In Majid Majidi's latest masterpiece, Youseff (Parviz Parastui) is a kindly and awkward university don who has been living with blindness since a childhood accident involving fireworks. It is not an uncomfortable life that Youseff leads: he has a loving wife who reads his students' thesis for him, as well as perform clerical tasks like typing transcripts of his essays, a child who adores him, and an extended family who is there for him, no matter what. Hampered by his disability, true and complete happiness eludes him until the man regains his sight through a cornea transplant procedure - and this is where the film begins in earnest.

From the setup, it's clear in advance how the film will roughly proceed: the rediscovery of the delights of sight, the end of Youseff's long childhood and innocence, and the deflating of his dreams of having his sight complete his happiness. What makes this film a piece of art are the eventual choices that the director makes to cover these plot points, out of the scores of far easier, emotionally hamfisted, or visually showy options available.

Take for example the representation of sight regained - in the hands of a showy, less creative director, you'd have lots of camera candy, distorted, oversaturated, or just overdone visual effects to present to the audience the world from the eyes of the formerly blind man. It's just the sort of cheap repertoire that gives cinema the reputation of being an overly literal medium, where every visual metaphor is unimaginatively direct. In fact, audiences only get to see directly from the eyes of Youseff about three times in The Willow Tree. What we see, and what is more important in this story, is how Youseff begins to see things for the very first time, and not what he sees. In a way, Majid is far more acquainted with the limits of film as a representational medium than any of the younger, MTV-inspired directors of this day and age. Yet there is no doubt that when you are watching Youseff see things anew, that there is a certain mood of exuberance and uncertainty that is conveyed, far better than any distorting lenses or filters. What Majid has done here is to create a highly symbolic, but anti-symbolist visual language - an achievement in itself. This visual language is paralleled and augmented by the director's painstaking efforts to evoke the lost sense of touch in cinema - the audience can only see Youseff grasp, grapple, play with surfaces and textures, but can never do so themselves.

In a way, the director's ironic treatment of the representation of sight and touch in film leads on naturally to the twist and the true story of the movie: the end of Youseff's prolonged childhood and his simultaneous loss of innocence. What is paradise to a blind man - will it remain a paradise once he regains his sight? What is love and care to a blind man - will his relation to his caregivers and loved ones remain the same once he is able-bodied and able to fend for himself again? Filmed at times as a tone poem, the transition to emotional drama that begins to take over is handled very well - as the film burst with ironies and seething with resentment, what's noteworthy is how Majid's script and directing is extremely subtle and restrained, compared to how a Mediacorp television drama would play out the exact same scenarios. And if this isn't enough, do note that the emotional drama is infused with a philosophical and melancholic touch, courtesy of Sufi devotional poetry by Rumi.

Acting-wise, this marvellous if subtle film is bolstered by the efforts of Parviz Parastui, who effectively plays two different roles that are not entirely separate from each other: the likeable if helpless, childlike don and the troubled but reborn, re-sighted man who grows in self-hood. Roya Taymourian shines, in a classic movie sense, as his onscreen wife - she compares well to a younger Lee Heung Kam!

The Willow Tree is a movie I'd recommend for arthouse fans, as well as any moviegoer hankering for some subtle fare after last month's summer blockbusters. Buy a ticket, take in the movie slowly, and you won't be disappointed.

07 August 2007

More great moments in television history

(Part 2 in a continuing series)

Very shortly after touching down in Singapore, Sir Ian McKellen begins to ask reporters for directions to the nearest gay bar. The climate of oppression against homosexuals in Singapore has either dissipated recently, or has always been a myth invented by certain activists - luckily for everyone, The New Paper, former (or supposed) scourge of many a gay agenda in the early 1990s, did not publish this headline in font size 42 on the front cover of the following day's issue:

"Ian McKellen, gay sex tourist?"

Lessons for gay activists

In part, the nonreaction and the unscandalised treatment of this affair could stem from the charm of Sir Ian. In just one day, the actor managed to continue his 20-year history of gay activism in Singapore with a fresh and winsome approach that must have endeared him to the journalists at Channelnewsasia (even if they had to feign some embarrassment) and Class 95FM.

Unlike the "father of the gay equality movement in Singapore", Sir Ian delivered his plea for delegalisation of section 377A with skill, style, and panache. At CNA, it was done in a jokey manner that still got the point across. At Class 95FM, Sir Ian repeated his query on gay bars in Singapore (the gay sex tourist joke becomes increasingly difficult to avoid!) to an amused Vernetta Lopez. Yes, he made an additional statement, about how antiquated Section 377A is - and left it at that. Short, sweet, and simple.

Ian McKellen's model of gay activism should be studied very closely by those who purport to fight for the community here. Alex Au would do well to note that Sir Ian did not have to be confrontational. He made his point without slamming the government and the civil service or calling them insincere liars, without slamming the Church or deriding the Bible, without insinuating that the civil service and church are in cahoots with each other, and without forcing security to throw him out of the building so he could prove to the world that indeed the state of Singapore has failed his test of tolerance. This is real activism, Alex. Look, listen, and learn!

Ian McKellen, pink tourist

And so, someone must have told Sir Ian of Singapore's gay bars. For days after his arrival, the actor made it a point to tell anyone who asked about his experience in Singapore, that this country has over 20 gay bars and pubs. That's something to put in one of those Lonely Planet guides.

Enterprising establishments which hosted Sir Ian during his stay in Singapore should seriously consider naming their bars or rooms after him. You know, like "The Sir Ian McKellen Room".

Even though Sir Ian cannot be the first pink tourist in Singapore, there's no better way to celebrate this actor. If Singapore has commemorated the stay of another LBGT artist for almost 70 years by naming a room in its most famous and oldest hotel after him, I can't see why we can't do the same towards this luminary.

05 August 2007

Asian Boys Vol. 3

At the end of Kill Bill Vol. 2, Uma Thurman as The Bride walks out of the mansion with her young daughter- not into the sunset, for that fate has been reserved for Bill (David Carradine). Instead, the lioness and her cub retire to a hotel where The Bride, resolved of the burden of her karmic duty, experiences joy mixed with an equal amount of sorrow, held together by tremendous relief.

Uma Thurman crying and sobbing next to the water closet, in a closet-like room

Asian Boys Vol. 3 is a theatrical adaptation as peculiar as the novel on which it is based. The 2-act drama takes Singapore's first published gay novel, Peculiar Chris, and does very different things to it in each act - the first half takes a playful, postmodern view on the original text, while the second "plays it for real", as a straightforward speculative continuation of the novel, almost 2o years on. What makes ABV3 a peculiar fish is how the concepts of these 2 acts struggle at odds with each other.

The idea behind Act 1 is a postmodern presentation of Peculiar Chris: Joe the author is himself a character in this play, in the process of completing Singapore's first published gay novel; amidst the reenactment of the novel's highlights, the author - doubling in the part of Chris - is on occasion reproached and interrogated by his muse and all other characters of the novel.

The metatextual repartee between the author and his subjects make up much of the wit in this act, but it is a wit that dulled by the simultaneous urge of the play to pay tribute to the landmark status of the novel. Act 1 is queer fish indeed; one cannot decide whether this is a somewhat straightforward adaptation of the original material, a gushing tribute to the importance of Peculiar Chris and Johann S Lee, or with the references to sometimes naive writing of a 19-year-old, a arch deconstruction of the novel. It is unfortunate, because the script fails to see through any of these 3 approaches far enough.

Armed with the best lines of the play (all taken from Peculiar Chris) and a playful and inventive approach, it's a mystery how Act 1 falls a short distance off the mark it should have reached.

This scene with Uma Thurman stretches for almost a full minute

Act 2 is a fresh beginning, a fresh approach: imagine if all the characters of Peculiar Chris were "real characters" existing in the current milieu. The setup is brilliantly done: Chris returns from the UK to a Singapore changed radically (at least for the gay community), and in revisiting old friends, finds himself embroiled in the politics of gay activists in the island, amidst a gathering movement for a repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code, an upcoming talk by an ex-gay ministry, and the sacking of a gay teacher from MOE.

The setup is well-done and mostly carefully constructed, garnering laughs from its skewering of current affairs. However, what follows feels more like a pleasant evening at the 4th National Bolshevik Theatre for the People. Audiences will find themselves lectured at by several characters serving as mouthpieces for various ideological positions within the community - all shouting at each other. One must have a great reserve of patience to sit through the laborious and lengthy speeches, all telegraphed beforehand so you know when it's coming. One must have a great deal of curiosity for Singapore's gay politics to stomach through a Communist purge style denunciation of the class traitors, the fifth columns within the community. And above all, one must have a great deal of tolerance and forbearance for the out-of-control ranting and constant references to gay teachers sacked by MOE.

Well, you know what they say when art imitates life, but I'm very curious to know how Act 2 of ABV3 could have turned out if Alfian bin Sa'at had not had his unfortunate run-in with the Ministry of Education. Surely, a playwright who has more than 15 years of writing experience can do far better than the second act of ABV3.

The Bride rolls on the floor, at times laughing, at times sobbing

Looking at both acts, one realises that ABV3 is afflicted with the same problems as most of Alfian bin Sa'at's plays - often the latter halves fail to match the first halves, in terms of coherence as well as quality. Often, the two halves are more like 2 self-contained plays, conceptually complete in themselves. Now, there are 2 things I don't get in the play - two things that illustrate Alfian's continuing problems with the 2-act structure:

1. Act 1 ended with the muse revealing himself to be Chris, and inviting the Author to hop into Act 2 with him, to find out what happens to his characters after more than 10 years.
A. Where is the Author in Act 2?
B. Why, if Act 1 allows the Muse to deconstruct, comment on, and at times poke gentle fun at the self-seriousness and naivete of the Author and Peculiar Chris, does Act 2 not extend the same self-reflexivity?

2. Why does the play end with the Muse asking the Author how things will turn out in the end, when Act 1 ended with the Muse inviting to show the Author how things turn out in 10 years?

"Thank you. Thank you. Thank you." The Bride whispers this gratefully between her tears and laughter

Let me make it clear that it is possible to like Asian Boys Vol. 3. It's a good play to watch if you haven't been exposed to the theatre, or if you're a gay person seeking some form of self-validation through the gay play, through community theatre. And even if you're not that way, Act 1 of ABV3 is probably one of the best postmodern adaptations ever attempted in Singapore theatre - it is far more sincere and authentic than certain other postmodern plays like the "Amazing Asia" production of Lear, for example. It's a pity that the level of invective in Act 2 may well de-endear any audience to the homosexual cause, and for queer people who are more comfortable in their skins, the artistic shortcomings of this play will be what they'd latch onto, instead of the fact that it's a gay play.

The Summary

Asian Boys Vol. 3, as a gay play and a piece of politicised community theatre, can only find justification for its existence from closetted and newly-out gay people who need to find justification for their existence from the play. There is something off-putting about the strident politics of this play - from its fast and loose attacks at the evil oppressive government1, the class traitors, the fifth columns, and the almost Marxist project of creating class consciousness: that gay people must act as a class-for-itself, and stop existing as a class-in-itself.

The disconcerting thing is how ABV3 leaves no room - no, glosses over entirely the existence of well-adjusted gay people who reject both a life spent in local gay activism and a life spent in clubs and saunas. In the universe of Asian Boys, in the politics of Alfian bin Sa'at, you cannot exist, you do not exist.

1. References were made in Act 2 to the police raids of gay saunas. The truth is, gay saunas are a legitimate business in Singapore and have been allowed to operate unmolested for much of their existence. There has been a grand total of 1 drug bust at a sauna. Once every 2 or 3 years following lurid sauna exposes by The New Paper, the police feel obliged to make general and cursory inspections - to check for alcohol licenses and serving of underaged customers. That hardly qualifies as a "raid", and this frequency hardly qualifies as a pattern of oppression. One could argue artistic license - except when this is a community play.

21 July 2007

An announcement

This isn't one of those things that I'm happy to have done; but
this isn't one of those things that I'm happier not to have done.

11 July 2007

Theonlinecitizen replies

Choo Zheng Xi, currently a law undergrad at NUS and the co-editor of theonlinecitizen, has replied via MSN. He is the original author who broke Alfian's story, advised Alfian to send in his essay on Francis under a pseudonym, and also published Alfian's op-ed piece "Should homosexuals be allowed to teach" as an uncredited article.

The sum of it: Choo Zheng Xi has refused to answer any of the questions raised almost 2 weeks ago. I am reproducing his reply, stating his refusal to reply, word for word here, with no additions, subtractions or alterations:

[01:47] choo: hey sorri dont think ile be replying to your piece
[01:47] akikonomu: i didn't expect you to
[01:48] choo: ok
[01:53] akikonomu: you see, i don't expect you to have what it takes to explain away that breach of journalistic ethics
[01:53] choo: more like i dont think i need to actually
[01:54] akikonomu: nope. because you can't explain it anyway
[01:54] choo: well you wouldnt know would you =)
[01:55] choo: honestly it'd give the issue more publicity than a non issue deserves
[01:56] choo: none of the grand total of 3 ppl ive asked to look at your piece thinks it matters
[01:56] choo: they're probably the only ppl who read it
[01:56] choo: if i'd replied
[01:56] choo: i might have doubled your readership
[01:59] *** "choo" signed off at Wed Jul 11 01:59:14 2007.

I would like to thank Choo Zheng Xi for taking the time to explain that an explanation isn't needed, and to take the effort to impress upon me that this is a non-issue.

03 July 2007

Alfian writes in

Mr Alfian Sa'at has emailed to clarify the questions raised in the earlier post, and I am reproducing his reply here word for word, with no additions, subtractions or alterations:

there is no big conspiracy. The story goes like this:

a) I file in the 'Francis' article for Trevvy.
b) Trevvy editors freak out; they think it's sensitive. They tell me they're not going to run it.
c) I consider passing it to Fridae (Which will piss off my eds, but I felt the story needed an airing. Francis needs to have people relating similar experiences with him, for people to step up and offer assistance, etc)
d) Someone from TOC is on MSN with me. I mention Trevvy spiking the story.
e) That someone suggests that I run it on TOC, but with a pseudonym. When I ask why a pseudonym, he says certain people in the blogosphere will just jump at it and accuse me of non-objective reportage.
f) At his insistence, I give him a pseudonym. 'Ramlah' is a silly drag name I have for myself; it's an inside joke among my friends.
g) Trevvy decides to run the article. But eds want to call it a 'parable' so as to cover their backsides.
h) Now Trevvy wants TOC to stop running it, claiming exclusivity.
i) It's messy. Ideally I would love to have the story on two different sites catering to two different readership profiles.

As to why I appear as various avatars for the articles (Alfian, Ramlah and one uncredited), much of it was based on editorial decisions rather than my own.

I wish to assure my readers and Alfian's friends that we have cleared the air between us, more than 3 days ago when he sent me this clarification. Notice that all outstanding questions posed to Alfian in the previous post have been cancelled. And I would like to note that 3 days since the poet and playwright explained the situation in his forthright and honest manner, we have heard not a peep from the editors of theonlinecitizen.

Here's what is really at stake: Suppose an article is reprinted several times over, with very minor differences, in multiple locations, but with different author names - or under no name at all - one might jump to the conclusion that either

a. there are different authors, and someone is clearly plagiarising from an original source, stealing someone else's intellectual work to pass off as their own, or

b. there is just one single author, who is running a sockpuppeting operation.

In the case of Alfian Sa'at, it appears that the editors of theonlinecitizen have clearly made a fool out of the poet and playwright - making him look either dishonest or conspiratorial, as either a plagiarist or a sock puppeteer.

Note that it is the editors of theonlinecitizen who have split Alfian's long article into 2 shorter ones - publishing the first under the pseudonym of Ramlah Abu Bakar, and the second as an anonymous article with no author attributed.

We are unclear why the editors of theonlinecitizen have chosen to do this. According to what Alfian has been told by the same editor, certain people in the blogosphere will just jump at it and accuse me of non-objective reportage.

I would understand this as an issue of a possible conflict of interest, i.e. "Some people would say Alfian's writing about Francis being rejected by MOE because Alfian himself was rejected by MOE". But here's the thing, and I hope the editors of theonlinecitizen pay attention: you do NOT deal with conflicts of interest by making the decision to withhold knowledge of the conflict of interest from your readers. An ethical journalistic source would actually *state* the conflict of interest, so that all readers can judge for themselves whether the article is fair and balanced, given the positioning of its author.

It's a simple, fundamental, publishing rule of thumb. Yet theonlinecitizen's editors have chosen to withhold information from its readers, to engage in deception (note the second article here is still uncredited, even after Alfian acknowledges authorship in his blog.

There is nothing wrong with conflicts of interest issues in writing, reporting, or opinion essays - that happens all the time. What is wrong is knowing that there's a conflict of interest, and then deciding to withhold that information from readers. The withholding of the fact is the real ethical issue - knowing who the person is, knowing his conflict of interest, and advising him to withhold his identity - so as to keep readers unaware of the conflict - that is not being open and honest.

It is to my regret that I find theonlinecitizen's silence on this issue most disturbing. That its editors had the arrogance to decide that its readers - and other blog aggregators who linked to those 2 articles - do not need to know the fact is most disturbing. That theonlinecitizen urges full disclosure on the part of the government and yet behaves as though they don't need to practice it themselves is most disturbing. And so it goes.

29 June 2007

Compare and contrast. Discuss!

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

Compare. Contrast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compare and contrast.

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

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

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

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

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

25 June 2007

No place I'd rather be

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

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

Contrast this with The Duprees singing You Belong To Me.

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

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

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

11 June 2007

The campaign to confer the martyrdom award to Alfian Saat

An incident, a talking point, a concerted campaign

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

The talking points seem to go like this:

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

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

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

The case against Alfian Sa'at

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

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

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

excerpt from the first entry:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

04 June 2007

גם זה יעבור

Gam zeh ya'avor: this too shall pass

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

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

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

Gam zeh ya'avor: this too shall pass

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

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

The death of politicised phrases

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, this too shall pass

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

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

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

Gam zeh ya'avor: this too shall pass

24 May 2007

The vile and malevolent Ng Eng Hen

Khaw Boon Wan may be the stupidest man in the Singapore Cabinet, but his sheer destructive capability is dwarfed by the sheer mendacity and malevolence of his colleague Ng Eng Hen.

The illustrious Mr Ng is, after all, the labour minister who wanted to reclaim jobs for Singaporeans - in the marine, nursing, and cleaning industries. He is the same man who runs a ministry that won't let anyone know the real unemployment rate in Singapore. And yes, he's also the man who chairs the PAP's covert blogger operation.

However, Ng Eng Hen has just about outdone himself this time, in a rare application of massive stupidity in wrong-headed public policy that can only bring about the apocalypse - witness his "new initiatives to lure talented professionals".

Q: How on earth does he want to lure talented professionals (read "foreign talents")?
A: By luring them even before they are talented professionals!

The Work Holiday Pass scheme of Singapore is aimed at young students and graduates from overseas, according to the Channelnewsasia report. It is open to those aged 17 to 30. There will be 2000 places available a year. "A positive experience of living and working in Singapore under the Programme would encourage some of them to work here when they graduate, or at a later stage in their careers", says Ng Eng Hen.

There are, to put it mildly, some problems with this scheme. How on earth are we luring foreign professionals by extending visas to college students? Apparently, the phrase "talented professional" has become so debased that anyone could qualify, even before they enter the workforce, or gain the experience that sets them apart of elite professionals - i.e. the type of foreign talents that Singapore should really be going after.

Unlike the Work Holiday visas offered by the US, Canada, UK, or any other country, Singapore's WHP has virtually no conditions and restrictions on what sort of jobs the applicants can apply for, or how much they are allowed to earn. One non-obvious implication of this uniquely singaporean Work Holiday scheme is this: in effect, it introduces 2000 foreign undergrads into the short term labour market. Given that fresh local graduates in recent years tend to spend about a year working in contract or temp jobs - a sign of a shift in the labour market to contract work - it means that these 2000 young students will compete directly for the same jobs as local grads.

How should we put this into context? According to Singapore's Department of Statistics, in 2005 there were 3,500 graduates from local universities. So... picture dumping in 2,000 foreign students and fresh grads into the labour market right now. Is there any wonder that I consider Ng Eng Hen to be the most destructive and malevolent man in the Cabinet?

I've always wondered about how sincere our leaders are about their love for foreign talent - ooops, "talented foreign professionals" - and whether Singapore really needs so many of them. Stephen Appold has wondered the same thing, and actually bothered to find out. The final report is gruesome in its details, and even horrifying in its conclusions, written 2 years ago:
Arguably, university-educated migrants are not needed in Singapore at all. Less controversially, they are not needed in the large number in which they are found... Despite the high employment growth, an expanding surplus of university graduates has been chasing the available jobs with predictable effects: slower salary increases, the downward filtering of graduates into less-desirable jobs, the erosion of the relative income advantage of educated labour.
And the 2,000 visas for young students and graduates will just make it even worse. Ng Eng Hen aims to further depress wages and destroy local graduates!

Update (12 noon)

So the University of South Wales has shut down operations barely 3 months after its new buildings opened to students here. It's not economical, its dean says, to run the place given the drastically lower-than-projected student rate - and there's the matter of MOE and the Singapore government not allowing UNSW to reduce its operations and retool plans for a lower student intake. WTH. IMPEACH Ng Eng Hen! Impeach Ng Eng Hen now!

Of course, the moral of the story is still the same.
Despite the high employment growth, an expanding surplus of university graduates has been chasing the available jobs with predictable effects: slower salary increases, the downward filtering of graduates into less-desirable jobs, the erosion of the relative income advantage of educated labour.
It's a lesson that might actually explain the reason for UNSW's failure to attract students. Greater implications - if potential university applicants are aware of their drastically reduced rewards, the downward filtering into less-desirable jobs... then Singapore is just about finished as an education hub - no uni can attract a sustainable amount of local or even foreign grads. The domestic economy and labour market just simply don't have the space.

References: Appold, Stephen J. "The weakening position of university graduates in Singapore's labour market: Causes and consequences", in Population and Development Journal, 31, no. 1 (Mar 05): 85–112.

21 May 2007

Woody Allen spoof

"At first, we didn't know exactly what this was, but we've developed a theory. We feel that when citizens of your society were guilty of a crime against the state, they were forced to watch this."

Mary Douglas is dead

I found out on Friday, but didn't get around blogging about this. At least we'll have the cold comfort of commemorating her and other anthropologists here.

The Guardian has a thoughtful obituary:

Dame Mary Douglas, who has died aged 86, was the most widely read British social anthropologist of her generation. If she had to be recalled for a single achievement, it would be as the anthropologist who took the techniques of a particularly vibrant period of research into non-western societies and applied them to her own, western milieu. Within her lifetime, this was so far accepted within British anthropology as to become almost lost to view. Posterity should restore most of the credit to her, and remember her as an innovative social theorist and for her contributions particularly to the anthropological analysis of cosmology, consumption and the analysis of risk perception.

In 1966, Douglas published her most celebrated work, Purity and Danger: an Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. This book is best remembered for its stylish demonstration of the ways in which all schemes of classification produce anomalies: whether the pangolin for the Lele, or the God incarnate of Catholic theology. Some of this classificatory "matter out of place" - from humble house dust in her Highgate house to the abominations of Leviticus for the Hebrews - was polluting, but other breaches of routine classification had the capacity to renew the world symbolically.

The Times duly notes her passing:

Dame Mary Douglas was one of the outstanding British social anthropologists of the latter half of the 20th century. Her books, Purity and Danger (1966) and Natural Symbols (1970), were seminal for anthropologists and were widely appreciated in other disciplines.

Starting as an Africanist, she branched out to cover contemporary Western society, addressing such topics as risk analysis and environmentalism, and food and consumption. Old Testament religion was another interest, first in her famous discussion of the "abominations of Leviticus", in Purity and Danger, and latterly in studies of Numbers and Leviticus.

Daniel Miller remembers her as an intellectual giant on whose shoulders we stand:

Even when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge it seemed almost impossible not to devote at least one essay to the application of Purity and Danger to almost any genre of objects that one chose. When you told people you were hoping to become an anthropologist it was the most common point of recognition. 'Oh an anthropologist, you mean like Purity and Danger.'

For good reason; this was a book that simply changed the way people saw their world and made sense of every day distinctions that we observed but failed to understand. In my case the most important impact came with The World of Goods. Along with Bourdieu’s Distinction these were the two books that ensured that it was in some ways astonishingly anthropology, the discipline least associated with modern industrial society, that actually invented the modern study of consumption which was the path I took into material culture studies. Furthermore she established the essential grounds for those studies of consumption - the critique of economic assumptions as to why we desire goods and the critique of the consequences of those economic assumptions, for such fundamental issues as to what we mean by poverty.

Mary Douglas is still taught even now at undergraduate level. I haven't really made that Bourdieu connection before, but now I know why her essays never bored me. It is, in the end, a way of seeing the world and all its apparent arbitrariness as a bounded text that comes with its symbolic code: sense, purpose, and message to communicate.

And that's why I treat IS as a literary text - there's no other way.

13 May 2007

The Great Firewall of Singapore, episode 2

Duly noted: Singnet users have problems displaying their blogs.

Affected blogger users, all logging in from Singnet accounts, experience decreased functionality with blogger.

1. Missing Blogger bar on front page of all blogs

Singnet users get this page. Note the cropped Blogger 404 banner where the blogger bar should be.

Hello, blogger bar!

2. Logging into blogger, the Dashboard looks funny...

Singnet users get this page. Note the dashboard table just seems... broken.

Ah, this is the real deal! Note how uncluttered this dashboard appears.

3. Singnet users may no longer edit their templates.

Note that Singnet claims the entire page does not exist, leading users to think the problem lies with blogger.

Of course, that's just a bloody lie.

4. If you just want to blog... things still look funny.

I'm told that in actual fact, clicking on the buttons produce nothing. No bold text, italics, etc.

It seems that the wonky appearance of the create posts page just drives affected users cranky.


Under the internet settings for your browser of choice (Firefox/Mozilla/Seamonkey, IE6/7, Safari/Camino), switch from Direct connection to Internet to force a manual proxy of your choice, either the standard proxy.singnet.com.sg:8080 or anything on this page or that one.


Transparent Singnet proxy has hiccuped once more. Strangely enough, instead of transparently sending to the user what the server is sending, the transparent proxy implementation of Singnet is doing some sort of interpretation AND rearrangement of what the server is sending, instead of being transparent.

This isn't the first time, though, that Singnet's transparent proxy has created problems for its users on blogger, livejournal, and other services.

12 May 2007


Not a good week for wankers, apparently. On one hand, the gang of wise old men are called out by Elia Diodati and twashers.

On the other... The Void Deck has pronounced Wankerdämmerung on the Brotherhood, while Mr Wang Says "Wankerdämmerung!" to the Brotherhood as they invade his blog.

Agagooga has looked into the eyes of the Brotherhood, and he says Wankerdämmerung to them.

It is now twilight for these wankers as more and more people decode their self-referential prose, their space opera stories, their posing as some kind of sg Illuminati.

As a satire of anonymous commentors, the Brotherhood illustrates the principles of strength in anonymity (no one knows who you are, that you're just the same person posting), strength in numbers (always intimidates people if you seem to be a huge movement), strength in incoherence (very easy to dismiss arguments if you have a dozen anonymouses posting non sequitur replies).

As a satire of local parliamentary debates and online discussions, the Brotherhood's "Great Hall Debates" and discussion style elsewhere illustrate the tendency for discussions to dissolve into brinksmanship, namecalling, thinly veiled threats, obfuscation, and fallacious and illogical arguments by the second reply.

As a satire of aggregators, the Intelligent Singapore illustrates the principle that for a political blogosphere that's as populous as the number of digits in two human hands, people should just use their own blogroll or rss feeds because it'll be the same blogs featured over and over again.

Sure, we kind of appreciate the satire that the Brotherhood is performing, a triple satire on the state of the blogosphere. But it's done in a style that very few people get the joke; that those who do get the joke won't find it in good taste; that the space for reasoned discourse is cut off each time the Brotherhood brings their discussions onto other blogs.

So, I also say Wankerdämmerung!

10 May 2007

An academic debate

Duly noted: Ellia Diodati and twasher have set into motion what I call the Wankerdämmerung.

Elia calls out the current Singaporeangle as "trapped in its self-pleasing, obsessive groupthink over academic rigor as applied to things that really don’t deserve such standards", while twasher notes that a recent article on the Angle is marked by confused thinking, doubtful operationalisation, and ultimately empty academic rigour masking an irrelevant argument.

Also duly noted: the dignified, overpolite but "We are not amused" response on SA, the exaggeratedly polite Victorian era Botanist Society meeting manners masking a definitive stonewall to the problem pointed out by the barbarians outside the gate, an academic invocation of the right to end a discussion by saying I am not arguing on that context... (however you want to interpret and however you induced that context), by declaring "I am not going to indulge in arguing this further" as a unilateral end of discussion announcement.

I will not repeat my commentary on the gang of wise men (see footnote in cited article). Instead, I am content to refer to a previous post which was made more than half a year before the institution of the Angle groupblog.

Academic and critical writing

...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.

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."

The pseudo-academic language (posts beginning with "I refer to X's article, which was a response to Y's article on...", "In this post, I shall attempt to argue that...", the use of the word treatise, the careless word-dropping - longue duree as applied to the life-span of intellectuals!), the exaggerated politeness masking a mutual agreement not to show up, call on, or embarrass the authors, not to critically examine and reflexively interrogate academic arguments, the rigorous analysis over issues of non-importance...

Now I see why Olsen and Worsham really believe it is possible for academics to work against their own duties as public intellectuals.

01 May 2007

Post mortem for a political blogosphere

1. Technological essentialism

The argument comes back in vogue every few decades: new inventions will fundamentally change human behaviour, reconfigure power structures, show us new ways to think and see the world.

Fireworks. The moveable type. Ocean-sailing ships. The telegraph. These are inventions that changed the world the second time round. Or perhaps you could say they intensified patterns of behaviour that were already there, like how the steam engine merely made global colonialism easier.

2. Relative autonomy

The illusion that the internet, the political blogosphere, seems to operate under different rules, with a different culture and mindset, ties in neatly with the technological essentialism argument. Yet technological essentialism provides no explantatory value when the political blogosphere goes the way of Sammyboy, soc.culture.singapore, singabloodypore...

That the blogosphere could, for a while, be seen to operate under unique internal rules, can be explained by sole virtue of the miniscule population of political bloggers and commentors on their blogs, hence its relative autonomy with regards to institutional politics, the market.

What destroyed the blogosphere's power to create an idealised platform to comment and collaborate on measured criticisms of the larger polity, was simply the loss of its relative autonomy. The elections of 2006 provided the onslaught of commentors, who had their own ideas of discourse (one liners, mudslinging, ranting), and the attention of the institutional political players (both parties supplying their own anonymouses, setting up groupblogs, helping party members to set up their own blogs, creating and coordinating their own stables of bloggers).

3. Exit and silence

The exit of various bloggers is a deliberate resignation, not forced, and certainly not all that dire. The proxies of various political parties may now find conquering the blogosphere far easier, as is swamping readers with more pliant bloggers who can always be counted to rouse the troops. They will find, in time, that the blogosphere's credibility and respectability a halo created by the practices and discursive rigour and ethics of the ex-bloggers, and that this credibility and respectability will never be in their hands, ever, by the black ops virtue of their operations.

A fair warning: yes, some of us may be disillusioned or weary. There will be some of us, who are like the Magician.

We have read deeply into the rules that govern our blogging enterprise, the changing relations that govern us in the current situation created by the entrance of the anonymouses and the functionaries of the Whiteshirts and Redshirts. And we see one, and only one true exit, only one path of action that is morally and spiritually satisfying.

And then, we leave.

And yet, our magic (the halo of credibility!) was never in the microchips, the fibre optics, the blogging software that lie on the internet. Some of us may be silent. Others will simply do what we've always done, and start talking and convincing people around us, in this flesh-and-blood world, of our arguments, to invite them into our analytical projects. While you play your game of turning the blogosphere into your echo chamber.

The magic lies with the Magician's ability to understand and read the game, it is an inalienable part of the Magician. The magician remains the magician, even without the staff.