Friday, May 29, 2009

"Sexually challenged" is offensive

(Unpublished - May 26, 2009)

"Sexually challenged" is offensive

I refer to Tan Keng Soon's letter "'Sexually challenged' isn't an offensive term referring to gays" (ST, May 26).

Even as a happily married straight-identified man, I feel the term is offensive.

I disagree with Tan in his equation of "sexually challenged" with the "physically challenged". While the latter is a politically correct neutral term we use today, the former is far from harmless.

The fact that we use "challenged" indicates a presumption that there exist a singular, superior, desirable and rightful identity or form of being.

In this case, "sexually challenged" delegitimises and devalues non-heterosexual identities, shoving them to the margins and keeping them there.

To use "challenged" shows an arrogance, ignorance and intolerance that creates division and undermines diversity.

In other cases, does it not speak of chauvinism that a woman be labelled as "gender challenged" relative to a man?

Does it not speak of self-righteous bigotry that a person of monotheistic faith calls another person of polytheistic faith "religiously challenged"?

How about "morally challenged"? Do we label others just because they do not fit our expectations or live up to the dogma we respectively subscribe to?

As in the above examples, the use of "sexually challenged" indicates that sexual minorities are lesser people, subnormal, deficient and inferior.

"Sexually challenged", in this instance, is laden with specific kind of value judgement that is heterosexist and homophobic. It also exposes the reliance on reproductive sciences to dehumanise homosexuality.

Just because gay or transgender people cannot reproduce does not mean they are not people.

At the same time, do single heterosexual persons fall under the category of sexually challenged just because they cannot singularly reproduce?

It is fear, misinformation and the lack of interaction with sexual minorities that causes many like Tan to believe homosexuality is experiment, optional and merely a lifestyle.

Ho Chi Sam

I feel a bit tired writing to the press. Most of the time, I find myself repeating the same message. But perseverence is key to getting the message across, I guess. People have told me not to put too much effort into writing, because the editors will just 'destroy' it any way.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sam is away

I'm off to Boracay. And I will probably dread coming back. Bye bye!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A response to MOE's statement on sexuality education

(Unpublished - May 7, 2009)

A response to MOE's statement on sexuality education

I refer to Ministry for Education (MOE) Press Secretary Jennifer Chan’s statement on sexuality education programmes conducted in schools across the nation.

I am concerned with MOE’s usage of the rhetoric of ‘social norms’, and the label of ‘alternative lifestyles’.

MOE should take more responsibility in addressing and engaging the term ‘social norms’ and its implications.

I feel MOE should encourage an open and free-flow of information to empower our children, not use the rhetoric of ‘social norms’ to justify the omission of certain aspects of sexuality education.

Social norms, to a large extent, perpetuate and legitimise division and discrimination in our society.

For example, social norms cause the stigmatism of single mums and ex-convicts; arisen from these norms are also gender hegemony, ageism and racism.

Social norms perpetuate ideas of men being tougher than women, of the elders being slow and economically worthless, and of ethnic minorities as generally underachieving.

In this scenario, in leveraging the rhetoric of ‘social norms’, MOE is doing a huge disservice to youths who either identify as queer (non-heterosexual and/or non-cisgendered/non-cissexual) or struggle with their sexuality.

The concerns and issues of queer and questioning youths become treated as irrelevant and left unaddressed.

Essentially, a portion of a sexuality education programme should touch on sexuality.

The use of ‘alternative lifestyle’ is reductive, simplistic, dehumanises and renders invisible other varieties of non-heterosexual identities.

Sexual identity is part of a person’s humanity, as it consists of individual sexual and emotional preference, desires, fantasies, preference for specific aesthetics, physiologies, body and gender types, and does not merely manifest in a ‘lifestyle’.

Providing information on homosexuality does not equate to the promotion of homosexuality; only ill-informed closed-minded homophobic fear-mongering from various opinion leaders can create such a false equation.

Furthermore, youths today are more media and information savvy, and are in general becoming more sexually active at a younger age.

What they first deserve is information and options, not moralising; moralising does not make you more responsible or safe.

Might I suggest MOE adopt a more polycentric approach to sexuality education and let parents and their children choose which sexuality education programme they would like to attend?

Families will then have a buffet spread of sexuality education programmes and finally take some responsibility in choosing which type best fits their respective moral ideologies.

This is aligned with Jennifer Chan’s statement that “families are ultimately responsible for inculcating values in their children”.

This beats the suspension of existing programmes or the streamlining of sexuality education.

MOE should also appreciate that its stakeholders consist not only the mainstream, but also the marginal.

That way, MOE will be able to serve families who are more concerned with form (e.g. structure and make-up of the family), as well as families who are more concerned with function (e.g. to love, to support, to nurture).

The political pressure of the well-educated moral elite should not, in any way, hamper continuous and credible research in the area of sexuality education.

MOE is and should always be a servant of education and to the young in Singapore.

Ultimately, education is to empower a person to think and to make informed decisions that will be beneficial and aligned to one’s goals in life.

Ho Chi Sam

-add-

Below was written by a teacher in response to the discussion on sex education:

I Teach General Paper, not Homosexuality

With all due respect to the well-meaning “concerned parents” out there, this is starting to sound like a dodgy GP essay to me.

Apparently, because my students and I “discuss topics such as the legalisation of gay marriage and parents of the same sex forming families through adoption” in class, I am guilty of promoting homosexuality.*

Right.

But never mind. MOE has already come to the rescue with their statement that “GP lessons are meant to promote critical thinking” and GP teachers “should also adhere to social norms and values of our mainstream society”.*

Oh yes, apparently one can facilitate critical thinking, that is, the reasoned questioning of assumptions, norms and values AND fully reinforce and adhere to social norms at the same time.

And wait, I see this again, in the debate on sexuality education and just what should be said about homosexuality:

1. Homosexuality is against the social norms and values of mainstream society.
2. Homosexuality is illegal and considered unnatural under Singapore law.

The first thing any student of GP (or indeed, any human being who knows anything about world history) will realise, is that social norms change.

Secondly, if you insist on going by “mainstream” values and beliefs, you may like to follow 43% of Singaporeans and look to Buddhism, which views homosexuality on neutral grounds, as opposed to Christianity (15%) and Islam (15%).

In any case, the legal argument will only hold as long as homosexual acts are considered illegal in Singapore.... and judging from the force of change in the world, frankly my dear, you can't hold the dam for much longer.

Singapore's law criminalising homosexual acts is based on British law – which decriminalised this in 1967.

Other countries which have decriminalised homosexuality include France (1791), The Netherlands (1811), Brazil (1830), Ottoman Empire (1858), Germany (1871), Japan (1880), Italy (1889), USSR (1922), Denmark (1930), Iceland (1940), Switzerland (1942), Sweden (1944), Greece (1951), Thailand (1956), Israel (1963), Chad (1967), Canada (1969), Kosovo (1970), Australia (1981), South Africa (1994), China (1997) etc.

This shows an increasing acceptance that personal preferences that do not harm anyone else should not be governed (in this case, criminalised) by the state. As with the wearing away of all other forms of inequality, I believe this discrimination of homosexuals cannot last.

So what are we left with?

Are we justifying a brand of education with reasons that won't hold weight for much longer?

You may argue that making something legal doesn't make it right, and you have a point.

But then that would depend on what you consider “right”, which really is a moral issue and one that concerns personal belief.

So I have two points for you:

1. Personal beliefs – religious or otherwise – should not influence the laws of a secular society. The onus is on parents and preachers to educate their children in these beliefs. Say what you want at the pulpit, not in Parliament, and certainly, do not foist this responsibility onto your child's teachers in secular schools.

2. It is unfair, impractical and dangerous to insist that youths be given only the old rules when they live in a completely different world. Parents, if you insist on a black-and-white moral education for your children, you only drive them into secrecy when they need you most. If teachers cannot teach openly and factually, rest assured that the internet will.

As an educator and maybe future parent, I admit I am less concerned about whether my children are homosexual/transsexual/(fill in the blank) or not, and more concerned that they should always respect others and themselves, never discriminate, always critically examine issues, always feel free to share their thoughts with me without fear of condemnation, always love and always be loved no matter what.

This is my hope.

Lisa Li
11 May 2009

PS. If you think your children will rush to become homosexual/transsexual/(fill in the blank) because of my words, I THANK YOU for crediting me with such influence! By the way, your children are smarter than you think....

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Kenneth Paul Tan's "Against Uncritical Pragmatism"

An interesting piece, delivered by Kenneth Paul Tan, at the Outstanding Educator Award Public Lecture, 28 April 2009, National University of Singapore.

Obviously well-written. And worth reading.

Against Uncritical Pragmatism: Education for Doers Who Can Think and Thinkers Who Can Do
by Kenneth Paul Tan

Pragmatism is today celebrated around the world as a virtue of contemporary decision-making. The ability to adapt to changing circumstances, to focus on achieving results, and to compare options using cost-benefit analysis is highly valued over inflexible obedience to totalizing dogma and stubborn habits. In public administration, pragmatism is opposed to the worst forms of bureaucracy. In politics, closed-mindedness, extremism, and fundamentalism are mitigated by various moderate ‘third way’ approaches that deconstruct competing ideologies like liberalism, capitalism, and socialism in order to eclectically combine their best aspects, leaving behind the unhelpful, irrelevant, and harmful fragments.

In Singapore, pragmatism is held up as a pillar of governance and a cultural reason for the nation’s widely acknowledged success, achieved, it is commonly argued, through policies whose overriding objective is to ensure continuous economic growth. The right thing to do in order to achieve this continuous economic growth will depend on the context and is, in fact, whatever works best in that context at that point of time. For instance, when the government needed to strengthen its moral authority, it adamantly refused to allow casinos to operate in Singapore. But when it became clear that a flagging tourism sector needed a boost, the government abandoned its more moralistic language for a hard economic justification for building not one but two casinos in global-city Singapore.

The pragmatist seizes opportunities and manoeuvres nimbly around threats, so focused on finding technical solutions for achieving the overriding goals that these goals practically disappear beyond the horizon of critical consciousness. Few Singaporeans would ever think to question the goal of continuous economic growth as the ultimate goal that makes all others possible. Pragmatism, initially an open-minded attitude, can therefore degenerate easily into an uncritical focus on technical mastery directed solely towards the achievement of a narrow and limited set of human aspirations, obscured and shielded from philosophical reflection, moral reasoning, and critique. Ironically, uncritical pragmatism can become a new dogma.

The focus on ‘how to’ without thinking about ‘why’ encourages an ‘anything goes’ attitude that disregards the larger implications of one’s choices and actions. That humanity has been so successful at developing the technical means to control nature and satisfy an expanding set of human needs is testament to its remarkable creativity and drive. Yet, this narrow focus on technical mastery has endangered the very habitat that humanity needs to survive. And it is the same drive for technical domination, fuelled by indiscriminate prospects for profit-making, that has enabled people to control other people in a deeply inequitable global market that overproduces things while turning to the lucrative business of advertising and branding to convince consumers that they really need to consume more, and therefore have to work harder, obtain loans, and invest their earnings to be able to afford it. Today, we have some agreement on the dangers of this logic as the world embraces the now-fashionable language of sustainability and contemplates the serious economic crisis that it finds itself in. But is this too little, too late?

To prevent pragmatism from degenerating into yet another dogma that shoves into the blind spot the larger and less tangible consequences of our actions, we need to ensure that pragmatic decision-making must happen not in an intellectual vacuum. Pragmatists must not act in ignorance, but be deeply informed by a rationality that can expand beyond the narrowly technical and into the moral-political and the aesthetic. This will require a critical understanding of the significant ideas and values that have shaped the world.

I want to argue that universities play an important role in preventing pragmatism from degenerating into a short-term and self-destructive obsession with technique and profit. More than a role, it is a responsibility.

But universities today are vulnerable to the very same reductive pressures against which it must protect culture and knowledge. Can universities genuinely exceed the limited and limiting expectation that they must, first and foremost, serve the purpose of economic growth? Furthermore, it is not easy for a neoliberal university to maintain genuine autonomy in a world where universities compete fiercely in a global market for talent and resources. In this context, success can so easily degenerate into an uncritically pragmatic question of technique, with universities devoting their efforts and resources towards mastering the techniques for scoring top marks in the international ranking exercises. Thankfully, many universities have been able to play the game without too much losing sight of their larger and nobler educational purpose. But there is tension and the balance may not always hold positively when it is most needed.

Traditionally, universities are perceived as spaces that provide a temporary life of contemplation in preparation for a ‘real’ life of action in the world: The use of the word ‘commencement’ to describe graduation ceremonies reflects some of this thinking. The pejorative reference to universities as ivory towers is a clear sign that this traditional model is inadequate. Thinking and doing must not be artificially separated and associated with student life and work life respectively, with the former subordinated to the apparent needs of the latter. The university experience should not be reduced to a stage in life that one has to put up with in order to obtain the right qualifications to get ahead in real life. Universities must graduate people who are more than excellent technical problem-solvers with little capacity for moral reasoning, critical thinking, and the imagination of alternative realms of possibility. Doers must also be thinkers; and, for higher education to be able to facilitate this, thinkers should also be doers.

What we need is an educational approach that opposes uncritical pragmatism. Whatever the discipline or subject, curriculum and pedagogy can be designed to build not only technical competency, but also capacity for philosophically informed critical thinking, a vital skill and habit for today’s leadership in the public, private, and people sectors. I know that many of my NUS colleagues are driven by a similar ethic and are very experienced and successful at performing their vocation according to these values. I would like now to share from my own practice some examples of how I have attempted to break down the boundaries that separate thinking and doing. I will focus on the setting of assignments and examinations, the design of classroom activity, and the bridging of classroom and world.

Dialogue-Writing
The ‘dialogue’ is an assignment I devised for the University Scholars Programme module called Democratic Possibilities in Singapore. Student teams were assigned to topics such as fear, multiculturalism, meritocracy, pragmatism, and globalization, and asked to look for one or two news articles with a theme that related strongly to their assigned topic. They then wrote dialogues surrounding the central issues in these news article, spoken by fictitious characters who took distinct theoretical and philosophical positions such as liberalism, communitarianism, Marxism, and feminism. Finally, the students performed scenes from their dialogues – some even made short films based on the dialogues – and led the entire class in a discussion of the main ideas and issues, the theoretical and philosophical applications, and the moral-aesthetic dimensions of politics and democracy. To encourage active, out-of-the-box thinking during these seminars, the students themselves designed experiential activities, in some cases very elaborately executed.

Imaginatively entering into the worldview of each character, the students were expected to ensure that their characters engaged with one another in an effort to resolve their differences or at least to clarify them. Through this collective writing exercise that called for creative engagement of the abstract and the concrete, the students quickly learnt to identify clearly the commonalities and fundamental differences among these important theories and philosophical traditions that have shaped the world, and that continue to be embedded – sometimes unnoticed – in our contemporary institutions and practices. The collective writing experience, as frustrating as it often turned out to be, made students appreciate what was at stake in negotiating their differences.

In designing this exercise, I had also hoped that the dialogues themselves could serve as academic and democratic models of civility amid fundamental differences in ideals and values. The process of writing the dialogues followed by their open discussion in class would help develop skills for real-life discussions and negotiations, rehearsing for future action in a complex world that is diverse and multicultural, yet profoundly interdependent even at the most global levels. Students learn that in such a world, we do not have to give up our ideals and convictions, but we should first listen to what others are saying (or not saying), then understand why they believe the things that they do, and then appreciate what is at stake if they were to abandon or compromise these beliefs. Only then can our own ideals be nuanced and strengthened not by dogmatic insistence, but by critical engagement with others and oneself.

Focusing only on the instrumental value of ideas and ideals, an uncritical pragmatist might suggest that we should forget about historical, foundational, and embedded reasons and motivations. But these reasons and motivations become the 800-pound gorilla in the room that prevents deep understanding amid an unavoidable diversity and threatens to wreck any superficial success at forging collective agreements and agendas.

24-Hour Take-Away Exam
24-hour take-away exams are a useful way to develop a student’s ability to handle intellectually challenging tasks within a realistic and less stressful time constraint. They also allow, in fact demand, more original, unexpected, and sophisticated questions to be set that require students to apply and critique what they have learnt rather than regurgitate this material as a demonstration of their short-term memory. Such questions call for deep understanding of concepts and analytical tools, and sufficient imagination to look beyond issues and contexts discussed in class. The 24-hour exam gives students the opportunity to produce good quality responses that demonstrate their capabilities, while retaining the important element of working under pressure, but doing this in a more realistic setting than a 2-hour closed-book exam.

In 2002, the examination questions for the Democratic Possibilities in Singapore module referred to an actual advertisement of a commercial slimming and beauty centre graphically promoting its bust enhancement treatments. In the first question, the student had to play the role of a neo-Marxist feminist and, from that position, write a tightly argued letter to the newspaper’s forum page. In the second question, the student had to play another role, as a feminist with a different theoretical position – for example, a liberal feminist – and, from that position, write a letter to the forum page that engaged in debate with the neo-Marxist feminist’s arguments. In the third question, the student had to play a third role, as government advisor and, from that position, formulate recommendations for responding to a public outcry against this sort of advertising deemed to be exploitative, obscene, and inconsistent with Singapore’s ‘Asian values’. By setting up these hypothetical situations and roles that students could relate to, I was able to test them on the depth of their knowledge of Marxism, liberalism, feminism, and communitarianism, all in an action-oriented approach.

Case Studies and Role Play
For the module State-Society Relations in Singapore, which I taught at the LKY School, I developed a classroom activity that combined a case study approach with role play. At the start of semester, student teams were tasked to write factual case studies on a range of suggested topics such as the casino debates in global-city Singapore. In the second half of the semester, once the theoretical material had been discussed, seminars were dedicated to ‘working through’ each of these case studies. Having carefully studied the cases ahead of class, students would role-play scenarios carefully designed to foreground difficult moments of decision-making as well as raise problems that arise from the collision of theory and practice. For public policy students, these role-play scenarios were useful in setting up open-ended situations that allowed theory and concepts to be ‘experienced’ and problematized. They were also an opportunity to practise or rehearse the kind of real-life functions that political leaders and public managers often do perform.

For instance, the team that wrote a case on the casino debates were asked to imagine that they were corporate communications executives in various relevant ministries who, in 2004, were tasked to brainstorm ideas in order to produce an outline for a comprehensive press statement by the Minister for Trade and Industry announcing the government’s decision to go ahead with the integrated resorts proposal. They were also asked to cooperate on drafting some talking points in anticipation of questions from the press and other stakeholders who may be present at the press conference.

Through this exercise, students used research skills (library work and interviews mainly) to write the case studies. They engaged with the more conceptual material introduced in class to frame the empirical data so that key learning points would come to the foreground. And, through role play, they actively experienced the situations, dilemmas, and challenges of working and negotiating with one another in a scenario that may in fact serve as a rehearsal for real life.

Service-Learning
My efforts to develop service-learning at NUS are, perhaps, the most elaborate example of how I have attempted to connect the classroom with society. Service-learning is a two-way process through which students can learn how to deal with the many complications of connecting theory and practice. Through attachments and projects designed to enable critical engagement with society, students can enrich their classroom learning and actually experience for themselves how ideas, values, debates, and contradictions play out in social and political life. Through classroom learning, students acquire different analytical lenses for making sense of a complex reality, learning how to make judgements and decisions within such complexity. This two-way process, which rarely happens without design, instantly transforms students into social agents and empowers them in profound and often unpredictable ways.

Civil Society: Theory and Practice was an advanced module mounted by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences for the University Scholars Programme. In this module, students were required to dialectically engage the experiences they gained on semester-long practical attachments to civil society organizations with theoretical and comparative case study materials discussed in class. The attachments provided students with the opportunity to work with organizations in the identification of real community needs and the co-execution of projects through which these needs could be authentically and realistically addressed. A central question was ‘How do we make sense from diverse and often incompatible sources of and approaches to knowledge on the one hand, and experiences gained from practical exposure on the other hand?’ Writing assignments and closing seminar sessions were designed to provoke sustained critical reflection on their experiences and theoretical knowledge.

Over 10 weeks, students gained some first-hand experience of the life of civil society organizations, including the more mundane aspects of their work. Partner organizations have included Action for AIDS, AWARE, Consumer Association of Singapore, Nature Society (Singapore), Rainbow Centre, Singapore Heritage Society, Singapore International Foundation, Teen Challenge Singapore, The Necessary Stage, Theatre Works, and Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2). In their closing seminars, students devised various creative means of conveying the significance of their attachment experiences and what they made of the often contradictory, or at least untidy, relationships between theory and practice.

Conclusion
Today, I have argued that pragmatism can serve us well in a diverse, multicultural, and globalized world. I have also argued that pragmatism can easily degenerate into an unthinking mindset, more dogmatic than any ideology it pretends to distance itself from. Uncritical pragmatism engenders the doer who will not think beyond the most narrowly technical and profitable; the doer who is incapable of moral reasoning, critical thinking, creativity, and imagination; the doer who despises such things as naïve, time-wasting, or troublesome. The doer-who-will-not-think engenders and imprisons in a stereotypical ivory tower its opposite, the thinker-who-will-not-do. I have argued that universities must, now more than ever, break down these barriers between thinking and doing. They must resist the temptation to appear superficially practical and useful to the powerful doers-who-will-not-think, if this will mean compromising their mission to educate people more holistically so that they will have the philosophical capacity, the moral courage, and the imaginative vision to understand what it really means to be in the service of humanity.

by Kenneth Paul Tan, Aprli 28, 2009.

Pink Dot: The Freedom to Love

SUPPORT LGBT SINGAPOREANS AND THEIR FREEDOM TO LOVE: COME AND BE PART OF THE PINK DOT ON 16 MAY

Do you support the freedom of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people to love? Then show your support by joining our smart mob at Hong Lim Park on 16 May, 4.30pm!

This is NOT a protest nor a parade, just a simple call for open-minded Singaporeans to come together to form a pink dot, of which aerial photographs will be taken. This pink dot is a celebration of diversity and equality, and a symbol of Singapore's more inclusive future.

Venue: The field at Hong Lim Park
Date & Time: May 16 (Sat), 4.30pm
What to wear: Pink (caps, hats, glasses, sunglasses and accessories are recommended.)
What to bring: Anyone who supports the freedom of LGBT Singaporeans to love.
What to expect: The human pink dot will be formed by around 5pm and a photograph will be taken from a vantage point nearby.

To pledge your attendance, please click here:
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=41037205735#/event.php?eid=106116639688
For updates, please join Pink Dot Sg on Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=41037205735#/group.php?gid=41037205735

More about Pink Dot SG:
http://www.pinkdot.sg

For queries, please e-mail pinkdotsg@yahoo.com

This event is 100% legal; no registration is required.





Be there.

Friday, May 8, 2009

I care about family too

(Unpublished - May 5, 2009)

I care about family too

I refer to mother-of-three Jessline Lim’s concerns voiced in the ST Forum (May 5).

In the wake of the old guard regaining leadership at Aware over the weekend, Madam Lim said she was ‘perturbed’ that many of those who turned up at the EGM were ‘struggling with their gender’.

It must be clear that gender is a cultural trait.

Across different cultures, there are different definitions and prescribed sets of behaviours for what is deemed feminine or masculine.

Across different timelines, gender behavioural traits also vary, given the changes in the cultural, intellectual, ideological and scientific landscape.

In most cases, scientific and religious discourses have conflated gender into biological sex.

This means that masculine and feminine behavioural traits are ascribed to male and female physiological traits.

What one may deem as a ‘struggle’ with gender, I see it as the comfortable acceptance with his or her gender identity.

I also would like to address the term ‘alternative lifestyles’.

On the first level, labeling other identities as ‘alternative lifestyles’ indicates a tolerance for only one kind, which is inferred to be right and moral.

On the second level, the label simplifies and reduces other identities to mere traits that can be unlearned and discarded.

The lack of information and contact with people of different gender identities and sexual orientation will only worsen our attitudes and intolerance towards these queer-identified people.

This is will only manifest in one being susceptible to moral panics, never mind the participation in one.

Lack of information will also lead to specific kinds of moralising that will breed demonization and discrimination of certain segments of society.

For instance, this moralising will involve the attribution of what is good or bad to various words and terms.

It is thanks to organisations like Aware that help us to be more understanding, and to feel comfortable and safe from guilt, fear and misinformation.

I too value family like Madam Lim, but I believe a family is more about function than form; a family is not defined only by its make-up, but by the support, care and love.

Ho Chi Sam

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Singapore Idol and one Ace Kindred Cheong

When I first saw the television advertisements plugging the local installment of the popular singing contest, I felt a little less excited compared to the last couple of times when we had our Idol contests.

A talented Taufik Batisah and a polished (bar) singer Hady Mirza were respectively crowned winners in 2004 and 2006.

If trends are anything to go by, judging from the two Idol contests alone:

1) The finalists will be between an ethnic Malay (portrayed to be homely) and an ethnic Chinese Singaporean (with a street-smart persona, or 'beng' if you like to call it).

2) The winner will be an ethnic Malay, because in my opinion, if votes are cast based on race (often times a horror turned into a weapon by the People's Action Party), the support from and solidarity of the Malay community triumphs over the Chinese community, the latter of which are generally more cynical, penny-counting, adopt a mind-my-own-business, and harbour other complementary mentalities.

3) The winner will be male. This is probably because female voters will be doing most of the voting, and I believe girls/women are generally a lot more unabashed than their male counterparts in engaging in such idolising rituals and activities. This is perhaps boys/men are socialised in a way that they have to live up to societal standards of masculine behaviour, that they do not want to be seen as supporters of a male artiste. And even if they vote, they may not vote as much as their female counterparts, because often times, when a girl does it (the excessive voting), it's called fervent undying fan support, but when a guy does it, it is called "gay", "stalker" or "pervert". The male voter is also assumed to be more rational than the stereotypically irrational and emotional female voter. This translates into lesser votes from the guys, as compared to the girls - standards the men have to live up to (or under). These are the social sanctions to regulate gender behaviour.

4) There will be an Idol contestant with widespread support from his/her religious community, and might stay beyond his/her welcome in the competition.

5) The odds will be stacked against the female contestants, as well as the ethnic Indian Singaporeans.

6) The show will probably air sometime after the National Day Parade or something, to harness the tide of television ratings.

I hope the music will not be synthesized and synthetic. No disrespect to composer/arranger Iskandar Ismail, Singapore Idol needs a live band, and not synthesizers and drum machines.

Up till the first Idol contest, I always looked up to Iskandar Ismail, because my music teachers will talk about him. That he was the guy to turn to if you want to make music. But unfortunately, his choice of instruments, along with the cheap production quality that Mediacorp enjoys sloshing around in, have created a hollow soul-less accompaniment for the Idol contestants.

And again, why "Singapore Idol" and not "Singaporean Idol"? Have we naturalised "Singapore" as an adjective?

#


I hope the swine flu does not hit Singapore.

Given the way the temperature checks are conducted, I feel the least comforted.

Most of them are not conducted professionally, nor by trained personnel. Nobody should get a reading below 36 degrees Celsius.

If we hold the unprofessional and untrained temperature checks constant, the healthy range would be any where from 32 degrees to 36.1 degrees Celcius. So if you get a reading of 36.5 in this scenario, you probably are very ill. But according to the protocol, you are fine and free to cough and sneeze and kiss everyone.

This is what happens when we try to enforce protocols and operating procedures. As the instructions get passed down from the higher-ups, they get carried out half-heartedly - in the sense there is inadequate training and that some personnel feel they are doing beyond what they were hired for.

Perhaps the rhetoric of being a "flexible" and "multi-talented" employee is being perpetuated by the system/employer to manipulate, abuse and squeeze to the last drop the employee. In true capitalist exploitation, the employee's utility is maximised for cost reduction (and profit maximisation).

And when/if the swine flu hits, it will be the lower level personnel that gets the axe.

This shows that the "lower-downs" do not share the same enthusiasm as the "higher-ups".

My wife shares the same concerns about the temperature checking procedures and I hope her letter to the Forum will be published.

And swine is a male pig. Why not sow?

And it appears that there is no limit to political correctness, since "pig" is sensitive to Muslims and Jews. The use of "swine" is also sensitive, so we settled for H1N1. I think that is the beauty and problem with the world of cultural differences, but I worry about political correctness going overboard, leading to a global culture of (self)censorship, just so we do not "offend". That is probably why some groups want a monocultural (and monoreligious) environment, so there would be some consistent code/definition of what constitutes offensive. Ok, I shall try not to make any references to the AWARE saga, but you are free to think about that.

#


Still back to Singapore Idol, I believe Singapore is a better place thanks to people like Ace Kindred Cheong.

After Googling his unique name, you will find that this man has been insulted and blasted by various netizens for being a PAP government boot-licker.

I guess that is what happens to most people in Singapore who try to be 'conservative', or appear supportive of the establishment, or even try to be fair or politically correct.

Ace Kindred Cheong writes to the newspapers (mainly Straits Times) regularly, probably more than most of us, like myself, given that we usually write about specific issues.

This guy is different, he writes about almost everything and shares his opinion with all of us. I believe he has a genuine concern for Singaporean society and Singaporeans in general, but unfortunately, some of us are unable to see these qualities through his writing.

Why am I saying nice stuff about Ace Kindred Cheong?

This is because my wife and I met him at Plaza Singapura a while back (not sure if it was last year or the year before).

My wife left her wallet in Manhattan Fish Market, where the food is good and the batter is nauseating. Along with another friend, we did not know the wallet was there, and ended up tracing back our steps to the food court and the MRT.

Ace Kindred Cheong noticed that I was frantically looking around the foodcourt and under the chairs. He did the most un-Singaporean thing and bothered me with a question that probably went like "Are you looking for something? Did you lose something?" and offered to help me find the wallet.

He probably was as clueless as we are, but he still took the time to listen to my description and look around the place.

We checked with the Manhattan Fish Market people and requested to look around the table we previously sat. The management said no, because a couple was sitting there. On hindsight, I say "fuck you" to Manhattan Fish Market @ Plaza Singapura.

The wallet was lying on the seat next to the couple. It was finally found.

Apart from the shithole that is the customer relations and decision-making capabilities of the restaurant, I remember Ace Kindred Cheong for his selfless act.

He is more than just the perceived government boot-licker. In my brief encounter with him, and from reading his forum letters, I believe he is a person who cares, and that matters in a society characterised by people who don't.

He has a heart many of us don't. He is genuine and he is a good person. If there are more Ace Kindred Cheong's on the streets of Singapore, and if graciousness could be measured, our graciousness index will improve.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where people and organisations exploit and abuse well-intentioned persons like Ace Kindred Cheong.

Even though he did not find the wallet, he taught me a lesson that a little help goes a long way. He was calm, reassuring and ready to help. Such a positive attitude can make your day and that is priceless.

I hope I do not get slammed for licking your boots, polishing your apples, currying your favour, carrying/licking your balls, like what you have been accused of on many occasions on the internet.

Ace Kindred Cheong, if you happen to read this, I would like to say that you are a good person. My wife also says you are a good person. I think that is enough.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

AWARE restored

There is nothing much to talk about now.

The AWARE executive committee that was "legitimately" voted in on March 28, were given a vote of no confidence this evening.

1414 members passed the vote of no confidence, while 761 members voted in favour of the new exco.

Former two-term president Dana Lam has been elected president.

Chew I-Jin, who resigned from the previous exco, is elected vice-president.

The newly formed exco will soon consider making amendments to the constitution to prevent a similar coup in the future.

The extraordinary general (EGM) meeting started 40 minutes late today, as about 3,000 people were reported to have turned up.

Supporters for the two camps came in red and white t-shirts, featuring slogans and messages aligned with their respective ideas of what AWARE should be.

The EGM was widely followed on the internet and via Twitter.

It was reported there were chants and jeers when various members of AWARE respectively took to the microphone.

The month-long president Josie Lau revealed that the organisation had spent about $90,000, way above the monthly constitutional limit of $20,000.

Well, check your newspapers and tabloids tomorrow.

Watch out for interviews and the press conference.

If the now-former exco are passionate enough to help women, they should now form their own organisation, given the publicity they have received and could ride on.

Many strains of feminism are welcomed in our society, all of which seek to improve women's position in society.

Non-action will only serve to further tarnish their reputations as champions of women's interest and rights in Singapore.

I cannot help but feel the mainstream media has been sympathetic to the old guard.

Credit still has to be given to those who have treated the media with respect and openness.

What does this mean for sexual minorities in Singapore?

It shows that there is finally a recognition that queer-identified people exist and their issues are legitimate and no longer invisible.

More importantly, I celebrated my one-year anniversary with my wife and cooked probably the best-tasting oyster sauce chicken we have eaten to date.

-add- I have and will be cautious in using "win", "won", "victory" to describe the latest episode. I feel there are no losers after last night, so we cannot possibly say there are winners. There is only more hard work ahead.