Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Singapore Idol and Singaporean Attitude

The following is written by our favourite Singaporean Mr George Lim. He could be Mr Lim Heng Chye, and I would like it to be that way. And somehow, I agree with him. It is a slippery slope! Noooooooooo...

Reinvent Singapore Idol talent hunt

It is time the Singapore audience spoke up to the organiser of Singapore Idol for exploring other methods of talent scouting among youth. Singapore Idol epitomises talent but confines it to singing and dancing. Is that all there is to talent?

It has been several years since Singapore's entertainment industry aped American Idol, which is showing signs of audience fatigue in the West with the same theme year after year.

Nothing refreshing has been added to its predictable agenda. Thousands of young and impressionable people queue to audition, only to be mocked and dismissed by judges who inevitably favour the typical 'idol' image.

I notice the same humdrum rituals by participants in every show here. Perhaps MediaCorp, the organiser, can be more creative rather than drone on with the same script year after year. Where is the value add and creativity?

Singapore is made up of many races, cultures and religions. MediaCorp should consider the need to pull in a greater crowd of viewers who are well-travelled, well-read and intelligent.

Do we want the young to seek worldly fame solely via song and dance? Or should we aim for meaningful programmes that focus on other skills as well?

Some refreshing tips can be taken from reality shows like So You Think You Can Dance, Project Runway (which focuses on fashion design) and the Ninja Warrior obstacle course. These draw throngs of appreciative viewers on a global scale.

I urge programme directors here to deliver new, original and bold themes to satisfy an audience that is increasingly sophisticated and spans all ages and income levels.

George Lim

George Lim talking about diversity? What is happening to this world? Is this his new year resolution? I hope so.

Interestingly, in raising the criteria of singing and dancing in the past couple of Singapore Idol seasons, I notice something peculiar. In the first seasons of Singapore Idol, the show was often communicated to the audience as a show on talent, mostly singing ability and that "x-factor". The singing part has often been stressed by the judges and the host, especially when the show threatened to be a farce when you had, in the first season, Jerry Ong with a limited vocal ability but strong voting contingent (he thanked the god of the Christian religion on national television by the way), and in the second season, you had Joakim Gomez and Paul Twohill making the top 5 because they had the personality and stage presence respectively, qualities that overshadow their singing ability. Of course, Ken Lim nailed the final nail onto Paul Twohill's coffin by selecting a horrible song for him to sing, Adam Sandler's "Grow old with you".

Rightly and deservingly, Taufik Batistah and Hady Mirza respectively came up tops in the competition. Malay guys, one bad-boy persona and one boy-next-door persona, able to sing soulfully, and being relevant in an industry where pop music has been desecrated by urban music, R&B and a bit of dance.

And out of no where, we got Sezairi Sezali, obviously not of the same musical mould as Taufik or Hady. Taufik's a talented performer, Hady lets his singing do the talking, and Sezairi, well, is this skinny lad who did what smart musicians do - he adapts.

The judges, for the first time, justify the selection by saying that Sezairi is a talented musician. Wait, isn't Singapore Idol a singing competition as professed in the earlier two seasons? I guess they have to say what they said to salvage the Singapore Idol franchise.

As a musician myself, I look forward to Sezairi incorporating more guitar into his music. Now that he would have access to music executives, old fogeys who only go where the money is (which is anything R&B and guitar-less these days), he should seize the opportunity to make some decent music, and in doing so, I believe he will pave the way for local guitar-driven band music's development.

George Lim is right (that took a lot out of me to say). These reality shows and contests are predictable, but despite waning interests, they still rake in the money. A show like that seldom goes bad or wrong. It is so mainstream, so prime time, so national, that it already has what it takes to be successful.

Of course, being George Lim, the problem/challenge here is seen in isolation because attention is focused on the producers and programme directors (and their implied lack of creativity). You forgot to note that Mediacorp is struggling with viewership, as they self-destruct with lack of talent and wither away in the face of other entertainment alternatives (i.e. the internet, video streaming, cable television). We pay our television licenses to help our industry, but we end up getting more charity shows on television demanding more money.

I agree with George Lim (ouch, my brain) that we should adapt and localise some popular reality television and contests. Ninja Warrior would be a good start. Given how the newspapers complain about Singaporean youths being unfit and all, we can have a Ninja Warrior, so that more will be drive to train. Unfortunately, since we are discussing localisation and culture, we must note that ours is a culture of apathy, rationalism and self-conscious pride. So, which Singaporean will actually find the time to do something on national television and risk being humiliated?

That is why during the Singapore Idol 2009 auditions, we saw a majority of Malay hopefuls. They were more game and had more fun. The ethnic Chinese are more scared of "losing face", because they are probably too aware of the nature of the show. Moreover, given our respective pop culture influences, the ethnic Malay Singaporeans are more savvy with singing (with) soul, a key ingredient to being a pop star these days. Unfortunately, not many Chinese Singaporeans are able to vocalise soulfully.

While we need to adapt and localise certain tried-and-tested programmes (Mediacorp always does that, right? They follow the money and don't take risks. This is part of the ass-covering culture we have in Singapore), we need to consider the cultural situation Singaporeans are part of. Programmes should connect with local viewers, and to connect, we need to have a critical understanding of the cultural competencies we have.

Every time Mediacorp, production houses and this mysterious entity called "network" conceive of a creative programme, they'll start to dumb it down, because they want it to be commercially viable to the mainstream. How do you capture a majority of viewers in a country that is multicultural, multireligious and multi-valued? You have to dumb it down significantly to make the show appealing, and unfortunately, they overdo it, throw creativity and their brains out the window, and the show starts out with no appeal at all.

Singaporeans are already watching cable and internet streamed videos, at least there are proportionately more ethnic Chinese (English-speaking ones) doing so, since they have no connection whatsoever with Channel 5.

As for the Mandarin-speaking ethnic Chinese and the Malay Singaporeans, they do tune in to Channel 8 and Suria respectively on occasion. And Mediacorp will often shamelessly plug programmes from another channel on the local channel these people are watching. Maybe this is the luxury afforded to a monopoly. Nevertheless, that is how we hone a small morsel of local identity and sense of belonging, believe it or not. Of course, that is not the only factor, as we need to consider minority solidarity, among others, too.

Producers often talk about this entity, called "network". They mention "network" without any articles, "a" or "the". For example, "Ah, the script's too edgy. Network won't approve," or "Dark skinned Indian guy cannot be lead on a Channel 5 show. Network won't like."

I believe "network" is all about making money. Having viewership and retaining it always has a commercial side to it. They may be torn wanting to balance their money-making interests with the entertainment interests of a diverse Singapore. Plural programming, wherein shows are made specifically for different segments of the Singaporean population, is never viable. Given the lack of advertising, talent and obviously smaller (but loyal) viewership. It still boils down to money.

I believe that if advertisers invested in local programmes, we wouldn't be paying for the farce that is television license.

There are many stakeholders involved in this industry, and our fingers should not only be pointed at and unforgivingly stuck into the orifices of programme directors and producers. Advertisers are losing confidence in local programming and seeking other avenues of marketing/advertising such as the internet, cable channels, guerrilla marketing, flash mobs and other innovative and non-traditional ways.

George Lim already acknowledges our audience have become more sophisticated (which means they should be more open-minded to diversity too, huh?), but unfortunately, that provides an insufficient force to change the industry and how we receive our entertainment, simply because it figures as one piece in an elaborate money-oriented jig-saw puzzle.

It is more than just demand (Singaporean audience wanting exciting programmes) and supply (Mediacorp giving exciting programmes), we need to consider the (new) media landscape as well as advertiser confidence too. I would advise Mediacorp and its affiliates to do what their doing, and take about the "dumbing downs". Stop thinking about how marketable or commercial the show will be at primetime. Be a leader for once, and not a slave to dollar (i.e. advertiser/investor money). The money will come because the audience will follow these programmes which are, hopefully for once, not dumbed down. Surely Mediacorp can afford to have 3-4 of such programmes on a weekly basis. Because so much money is saved from producing cheapstake food and cooking shows, isn't it?

We live in a country where a majority of Singaporeans want a job. If we can have a sizable portion of people who want to "be a star", we can definitely set the ball rolling for our entertainment industry. Someone has to be leader, and the rest of the stakeholders should be supportive - and I'm looking at Singaporeans, our local media, the internet and of course advertisers.

Do this first: Tackle loan sharking in tandem with proposing financial alternatives

(Published - Dec 30, 2009)

I refer to Mr Ronald Lee's letter last Friday, 'Loan sharks: Rid society of this scourge', and support his call. However, putting an end to illegal moneylending does not in any way solve the problem of people who are in need of money. Before clamping down hard on loan sharks, we should have viable and safer alternatives for Singaporeans in debt, as well as measures in place to prevent youths from joining syndicates as runners.

Ho Chi Sam

Full version (Sent - Dec 25, 2009)

I refer to Mr Ronald Lee’s letter ‘Loan sharks: Rid society of this scourge’ (Dec 25).

I support Mr Lee’s call to end loan sharking in Singapore.

However, putting an end to illegal money lending does not in any way solve the problem of people who are in need of money.

Loan sharks are more accessible to the public than existing financial institutions, which are stringent and scrutinising.

What most of us condemn in loan sharking is the harassment loan sharks cause in the event money is not repaid. Such despicable acts involve vandalism, criminal intimidation and even violence.

Furthermore, runners and youths are recruited to do the bidding of these gangs, and end up taking the fall for them.

I feel these are reasons why loan sharking should be tackled without refrain.

If we were to clamp down hard on loan sharking in Singapore, we had also better come up with viable and safer alternatives for Singaporeans with debt, as well as youths who might have otherwise join these syndicates.

Persons in debt may not only be because of gambling addiction, but also unfortunate financial decisions, escalating bills, joblessness and so on. In addition, we need to understand that not all persons in debt are so because of their own doing, but are affected by external unforeseen circumstances.

We should be looking at these social and financial situations people in debt face, in tandem with our fight against loan sharking.

At the same time, it has to be made known and clearer to Singaporeans other avenues for financial aid. Banks and relevant institutions could provide more accessible loan plans too.

We only need to understand the reasons why people turn to loan sharks in the first place to come up with helpful alternatives.

Ending illegal money lending may reduce the incidences of loan sharking related harassment, but it alone cannot end the respective financial problems faced by others.

Ho Chi Sam

Monday, December 28, 2009

Singapore Idol and the invisibility of the Chinese majority

You know what? I am very happy for Sezairi Sezali, the third Singapore Idol.

I haven't followed a single episode of Singapore Idol this season, because I cannot stand the tackiness and plasticity of the pop music industry. But at least someone could and he made it.

Sezairi is a musician. He makes band music. And someone who makes band music is an Idol winner. That is quite a feat.

If you're from a band in Singapore, you're most likely to be labelled "indie". You'll most likely to perform before a crowd of youths, clad in dark coloured t-shirts, black skin-tight jeans, thick plastic framed spectacles, wind-swept hair and the whole get-up, which borrows influences from an assortment of subcultures such as emo and goth.

To make that transition to a pop music platform is quite a remarkable feat.

The essential yet contentious element to the Idol show is the voting. Popularity and fanaticism matters in the pop music industry. You need to generate demand for your products, i.e. artistes, their music and relevant merchandising.

As with past Singapore Idols, we've got a male ethnic Malay winner. But this season, instead of your long-haired ethnic Chinese finalist, we had a woman of Filipino heritage.

Singapore Idol teaches us something more important than having talented Singaporeans work hard and fulfill their dreams; we learn about the ethnic idiosyncrasies that have come to characterise our nation.

We learn that non-ethnic Chinese solidarity is strong as always in Chinese-majority Singapore. It is the ethnic Malays who set a shining example on how to support members of your own community, and often times, unconditionally. It appears to me that the ethnic Malays are also openly supportive of our countrymen and women. If you need examples, just look at the folks who actually turn up at the stadium to support our national football team.

The visibility of such support from our ethnic minority Singaporeans reflect the invisibility of the ethnic Chinese Singaporeans. In my opinion, the Chinese are relatively more calculated, overly rational(ised) and often times too cynical and unsporting to join in or even match half the fervour and passion displayed by our Malay friends.

We are too cynical to have a hero of Chinese ethnicity.

When people start criticising Singapore Idol, and make those Malay-reference jibes, we need to start wondering why the Chinese are so invisible and inactive. There is something in our upbringing, "values" and socio-economic conditions that mould our social behaviour as such.

Well, I think some (or most, if you liked it) ethnic Chinese Singaporeans are too obsessed with the big picture, the end product of things, and everything they see or experience has to have some pragmatic function, that we forget to smell the roses. We will fidget with impatience whenever we try to stand behind a potential hero/icon, because we probably do not like the idea of making the little sacrifices to support/help another person, as it is considered irrational to do something that doesn't result in immediate benefit to yourself.

I speak for myself too. I have never voted in any Singapore Idol season. It is because I do not want to part with my money. Perhaps there is a cultural element to stinginess, and if there was, it would have shades of Chinese-ness.

The stereotypical Chinese would be one who will only support so long as it does not come as a great expense. He/she would expect something in return, because that is only rational. However, reducing it to (race-based) culture would be too simplistic. We need to consider national culture and our political culture. Singapore is all about carrots and sticks, and the entire civil and public service (private sector too, actually) is all about rational milestones, pragmatic decisions and more pragmatism.

It is a political and social system, created and sustained by a Chinese elite of politicians, community leaders and businessmen, so obviously ethnic Chinese integration into this system would be seamless like urinating into a public swimming pool (I KNOW YOU DO IT!). It is so seamless we think of it to be natural, and do not question it or critically evaluate or appreciate our Chinese position in an elite Chinese-run Singapore.

That is why, inadvertently, we alienate other ethnicities. We think of our system as a fair system, that is rational, and ding ding ding "multicultural" and "cosmopolitan", and other words cooked up by the Chinese elite.

Symbolically, and to indulge in some twisted (pseudo-)anthropological analysis, Singapore Idol is an opiate for the ethnic Malay Singaporeans. It gives them the hero they can so celebrate, and takes the attention (and pain) away from the political, social and economic realities they face in Chinese-dominated Singapore.

Be Malay is very important, especially in an environment in which there is rapid deculturalisation and suffocating ethnic Chinese political and economic discourses saturating your social and political spaces.

The Chinese have been streamlined and knocked out of their respective heritages and cultural identities. No dialects but Mandarin. Half-baked English and half-baked Mandarin. Urbanised and compartmentalised. Increasingly less affinity to culture, but to your Church (especially the ethnic Chinese Christians). I say it's a result of policy and how we are socially governed. We have our culture of kiasu-ism, microcosmic of how the PAP government runs the place.

I don't value cultural identity or national identity as much, but the ethnic Malay Singaporean have shown how solidarity works and how you can derive happiness from it. The industry may not believe in Malay talents, but they will always have a community who do so. A 7-11 endorsement is a pure insult, and just reflects the industry's confidence in our talents. Surely there can be more Singaporeans doing more endorsements. We don't need a caucasian or a pan-asian (except me) telling us what to buy or how to live our lives.

I hope Sezairi gets to have creative freedom to do his stuff, and not be overly disciplined by the industry. Pave the way for band music!

Monday, December 21, 2009

NS deaths: Confidential Operational Matter or Issue of Public Interest

(Unpublished - Dec 13, 2009)

I refer to the report on Alex Tan's ban from the Young PAP Network Facebook group (Dec 13).

I am shocked at the part of the report which stated he was put into detention barracks for five days for blogging about the number of National Service related deaths over the years.

He was reported to have been detained because this is an operational matter, which suggests that what he did was a compromise of operations.

Since the number of training-related deaths is a statistic for public interest, I cannot understand the extent to which knowing the number of deaths is a compromise of operations.

Furthermore, should the government not be more accountable for something that annually receives a lot of public funds and taxpayer money?

Most training and operational matters deserve their confidentiality, but I hope the rules are not abused just to silence people who are deemed to be potential threat to the establishment. We are today definitely beyond such political strategies, because such strategies remove the agents of debate and lead to the avoidance of debate itself.

Having served five cycles of reservist training and being fortunate enough not to suffer any severe injury, I feel as a member of the public, that I deserve to know training-related deaths and injuries. I want to know how our training safety track record and serviceman welfare have improved.

It is sometimes relatively apparent that the blanket ruling of confidentiality and secrecy is more of a public relations management strategy than an actual safeguard of training confidentiality itself. The related defence organisations see public embarrassment and lack of public faith and trust as great a threat as actual confidentiality compromises.

I hope Alex Tan's detention will not create a chilling effect on servicemen, preventing them from providing feedback, contributing to public opinion, and demanding accountability.

Ho Chi Sam

Teach Political History with Different Accounts

(Published - Dec 21, 2009)

I read with interest last Thursday's report, 'Educate students about politics, says Shanmugam', in which Law Minister K. Shanmugam proposes more political education for younger Singaporeans.

While political education is helpful to cultivate an informed citizenry, I cannot help but feel it might serve as a platform to further legitimise the People's Action Party's (PAP) political domination.

I believe we should shift away from the political paradigm in which the Western model of liberal democracy is viewed as diametrically opposed to the Singapore brand of democracy, and hence unfit.

I agree with Mr Shanmugam that the best political systems are those that fit the societies they govern. But people and societies change. And political systems change as a result. The proposal to have greater political education indicates the PAP's wariness of the younger generations of voters.

Introducing political education in schools is fine, but it should not be one-sided. We need to have media literacy programmes, and also teach a clear and undoctored political history that is not dictated by one source, but contains different accounts. That would be a decent start.

Ho Chi Sam

(Original Version)

I read with interest the report ‘Educate students about politics, says Shanmugam’ (Dec 17).

In the report, Law Minister and People’s Action Party member K. Shanmugam proposes greater politican education for younger Singaporeans.

While political education is helpful to cultivate an informed citizenry for generations to come, I cannot help but feel it might serve as a platform to further legitimise the PAP’s single party political domination.

I believe we should shift away from the political paradigm in which the “Western model of liberal democracy” is diametrically opposed to the Singaporean brand of democracy, and is hence unfit.

We often invoke our multi-culturalism and Asian identity as reasons why this system will not work. This draws attention away from the actual critical evaluation of our political system.

I agree with Mr Shanmugam that the best political systems are those that fit the societies they govern.

However, people and society change. And political systems change as a result.

People are savvy enough to see beyond the PAP’s rhetoric and political threats of slower development and lower quality of life in the event of the political ascension of a non-PAP regime.

I believe, amidst the hard work and achievements of the PAP government, the PAP members in power have had the privilege of being both a Member of Parliament and a political party member at the same time, and are able to oscillate freely between the capacities of a political party member and an MP or Minister.

Singaporeans are savvy enough to understand this privilege and see the extent to which it self-servingly impedes political opposition.

The government’s introduction of political education has its benefits. However, its introduction by the PAP regime is indicative of its political insecurity and its wariness of younger generations of voters.

I recommend that the introduction of political education, especially in schools, cannot stand alone. We need to have media literacy programmes, and also teach a clear and undoctered political history that is not singularly dictated by one source but contains different accounts. That for me, would be a decent start for political education.

If we want political education, we must be ready to openly engage inquisitive minds and questions without invoking history to put these minds into their place, or make hypothetical situations that tell a story of Singaporean dystopia should the PAP’s influence, under the guise and rhetoric of “current government/system”, withers away.

Ho Chi Sam

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Coming to terms with our past

(Unpublished - Dec 10, 2009)

I wish to the write to the ST Forum about security in Singapore.

We live today in a Singapore that is relatively safe from threats to internal security, such as terrorism or violent ideology.

However, is our short history of homeland security fraught with human rights abuses, particularly detentions without trail and tortures to alleged political dissidents?

It could be ironic when we as a nation are standing up for democracy and human rights, exemplified in our calls for the release of Burmese political detainee Aung San Suu Kyi, without ever properly reconciling with a past that has been allegedly peppered with abuses.

There have been ex-political detainees who have spoken up and reflected on their time in detention. Their views and statements appear to be buried in history, and I believe Singaporeans are building on a selective history being dictated to us.

One way to clear the air is to provide a larger public platform for all parties to air their views, with truth and without fear. This young nation has some secrets that the younger generation like myself would be interested in knowing.

I hope the press will pick this newsworthy issue up, as it concerns the history and relationship between citizens and the state, and has an impact on how we can achieve a better form of governance.

Surely there is some truth when a group of elderly individuals step forward over the past few years and spoken about their detention, torture and interaction with detention officers and enforcers of the law.

The truths in our past may be hindered by mortality, security classification and media blackouts, but I feel we are mature enough today to confront it with humility and an open mind.

I hope the media and government can give this some attention.

It is from our history that we learn how to make a better future for ourselves.

Ho Chi Sam

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Feedback and Recommendations to CRC 2009

The following is an email sent to the Censorship Review Committee, which had asked the public for feedback and recommendations. The points are a bit random and disorganised though. But I'll still reproduce it here. Email was sent Dec 10.


It is a great idea that there is an avenue for the members of the public to get involved in the CRC 2009. I write to you as a Communications and New Media Masters student who is an advocate of media literacy.

1. I hope the committee is critically aware of emerging media and new media trends, as well as contentious and/or archaic media theories.
Co-regulation is the viable mode of media governance for now, as all relevant stakeholders share the responsibility in media. However, this domain is not impervious to the development of new media, social media and emerging info-communication technological trends. I feel the job of the CRC is not to censor or be over-zealous in enforcing a censorship regime in Singapore. It will only alienate younger, media-savvy media consumers from mainstream media platforms. There is unfortunately no single magical solution, but I advise the CRC to respectfully acknowledge that while we are multi-cultural and multi-religious, we are even more multi-valued and heterogeneously diverse in opinion. The incessant mentioning of 'multi-cultural' and 'multi-religious' is just empty talk when you fail to realise the fundamental diversity of opinion and values and their implications on society and media content. The governance of media should then be pluralistic and segmented according to variables such as the time of broadcast, the modes/channels of broadcast, degree of accessibility, etc.

I also hope the CRC will consider the extent to which media theories (from experts) are conflicting. Some theories may propound that what you consume may sensitise or desensitise you, which may not always be the case. When you watch the positive portrayal of a happy gay couple shopping, you will not become gay the very next minute; when you watch violent movies, you do not become violent immediately, because we already have anti-violent social norms and legal norms to regulate Singaporean behaviour. That said, the study of media should not be isolated to media itself, and it definitely should not inform the decisions of the CRC 2009.

2. I hope that members of the CRC 2009 will be able to confront and reconcile with their pre-existing biases and prejudices prior to passing any proposal, paper or release.
This will safeguard the interests of the CRC 2009 from, to just name one example, the imposing values of middle class ethnic Chinese person with Christian imperialist ideas.

3. I hope the committee will be sensitive and respectful towards sexual minorities in Singapore.
Apparently, the mainstream portrayal of sexual minorities (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered people) have consist of demeaning stereotypes and misrepresentations, and they are presented as frivolous and condemned. Heads will roll if the same treatment was given to ethnic minorities or specific religious identities. I hope the CRC 2009 will not uncritically use the hollow rhetoric of 'mainstream values', because we live in a Singapore that is heterogeneous, and no single group has exclusive ownership of the definition of 'mainstream values'. It is because this rhetoric has gone unchecked over the years, that media content regulation/governance is always a step behind societal developments. At the same time, I hope the CRC 2009 is also critically aware of the potential over-representation of fairly-educated and vocal conservative ethnic Chinese Christian Singaporeans in the governance of media. That said, is middle-class ethnic Chinese values more a 'mainstream values' than working class ethnic Malay?

The CRC 2009 should not cave in to homophobic discourses that label non-heterosexual identities as lifestyles and that positive media representations of gay people as glorification and endorsement. Clearly, an educated mind would be able to see this rhetoric as derived from conservative Christian discourse. If the stand is against promiscuity, by all means state it. Media content has an impact of society, and I hope the decisions made by the CRC 2009 will be not only for national harmony, but for the distribution of proper information, the debunking of myths and stereotypes, as well as the fostering of a more equal Singapore. The media obviously has a role to play, because a large portion of our lives is built on stereotypes, falsities and hearsays.

4. I hope there will be a greater push for media literacy among the younger Singaporeans.
This will empower the consumers in the consumption and interpretation of information and media content. The government and the industry can only do so much, but governance is incomplete without an empowered and informed media consumer. I believe that our censorship regime has long been founded on the impression that Singaporeans are media illiterate cultural dopes, hence the idea of the need for more regulation and censorship (and hence why we even use the word "censorship"). The dynamics of media governance will change when we first recognise the emerging trend of media literacy, and later push for better media literacy across the board for Singaporeans. State censorship, industry censorship, self-censorship, authority filters will never be as efficient in governance as the cultivation of media literacy among media consumers. This arrests the problem with media censorship. I hope the CRC will push for greater media literacy in Singapore - more media literacy programmes, courses, material, etc.

5. I hope the methodology of the CRC research is revised.
You need more focus groups, instead of surveys comprising a sample allegedly 'representative' of Singapore.
Remember, the CRC is not in the business of making every Singaporean happy, but to ensure a censorship regime that will not impede the social, cultural and artistic development of Singapore. Go plural, not total. Have focus groups with specific groups of media consumers, by age, race/ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual identity/orientation, political convictions, degree of media savvy, and so on. The existing survey methodology, which obviously includes the tokenistic participation of certain racial and religious minorities, is insufficient, and will probably give you a reflection of Singaporean society only to a certain degree. What's the point of finding answers when the foundations of your question are shaky?

6. Stop censorsing of R21 films.
It is simply and utterly ridiculous that rated R21 films are censored, which defeats the purpose of classification. The classification system already segments and excludes certain age categories from consumption. Please review that. If you want the help the industry, you should definitely release uncut R21 films, otherwise the media savvy Singaporeans will turn to free alternative platforms for their entertainment. Remember, you are complicit in the media economy and it's decline. If you choose to view censorship in isolation, i.e. the relationship between content and the rhetoric of 'consumer values', and ignore new media trends, the proposals you make may bankrupt the industry.

7. Allow Singlish and Chinese dialects.
I believe that Singlish and Chinese dialects can co-exist with English and Mandarin in the mainstream media. If we truly want to be multi-cultural, I think we should not be subservient to the PAP government's definition of multiculturalism. There is nothing shameful with Singlish in our media.

Thank you for reading my feedback. I wish the committee well.

Sam Ho

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My NDP song for 2010

I tried so hard and got so far, but in the end, I think I'm feeling a bit disappointed. At least I tried submitting a song for next year's National Day Parade celebrations. I'll probably keep trying again for subsequent years. There may be people who scoff at NDP songwriters, but I think there's an art to it worth looking into/at.

Since it's rejected, I feel it's time to share it on my blog (see left, titled "Chasing Dreams NDP2010 demo") and on my website (here).

Here are the lyrics to the song entitled "Chasing Dreams". The music is exactly the same as a previous song of the same name. I replaced the lyrics of the song with a bunch of Singapore-loving words.

Chasing Dreams by Sam

We walk down the road
We go straight that way
And we know it will be winding

When trouble's ahead
Or right here today
It will be us who do the changing

We're different but we relate
We're stars and crescent on red

Hey it's here where we will stay
It's here where will be
Where we're chasing dreams yeah
It's here where we can play
It's here where grass is green
Where we're chasing dreams yeah

We're friends in this place
We're family here
We are one when we chase our dreams
Some call it a space
It's home to us here
It is always more than it seems

We're different but we relate
We're stars and crescent on red

Hey it's here where we will stay
It's here where will be
Where we're chasing dreams yeah
It's here where we can play
It's here where grass is green
Where we're chasing dreams yeah

We're different but we relate
We're stars and crescent on red

Hey it's here where we will stay
It's here where will be
Where we're chasing dreams yeah
It's here where we can play
It's here where grass is green
Where we're chasing dreams yeah

Activism: Self-service or self-serving

Last evening's tennis session was rained out. But I still had a good workout with the wife, playing squash.

Prior to the squash, I had a talk with my tennis friend, who was equally disappointed with the gloomy weather. It was more like me asking him questions on how to do activism and all.

I guess most activists begin as hotheads, and are far too eager to lynch any one who makes a transgression. My friend told me that angry activists always have a personal agenda, i.e. they want something for themselves, which is why they are angry.

It is an interesting perspective, and as I began to reflect on myself. I think the nature of my anger is different. I was just angry at the homophobia and misinformation being thrown out in the press by people claiming to be straight, by people claiming to be embracing family values and all that. I felt I was being misrepresented. I am not like that. I do not have that much hatred nor do I want to spread such harmful lies about sexual minorities. Perhaps that is the source of the anger.

Although he didn't say it, I sort of took home the message that "you must be happy first before you can do your best to help others". My initial goal/strategy was to silence the homophobes, bash them back and expose their stupidity and all. But I realise, as a champion of diversity, that method totally goes against the principles of this form of activism.

I related the many hurdles, doubters, critics and bashers I have come across in my short time in queer rights/awareness activism (maybe it's a good thing I was given that amount of attention in the first place) to my friend and he told me there was no point trying to make everyone happy and I had to do what I can in my capacity. There will always be individuals, people and groups who will weigh you down with expectations and their agenda, but it is important to concentrate on your agenda and be patient.

Sometimes, you need not match the urgency of the people/ideas you are fighting against. My friend believes that change (i.e. queer advocacy) will take place slowly over a few generations and work today is all about laying the framework/foundations.

While it might be a seemingly simplistic two-horse race between homophobes and queer-affirming people, there exist many factions in each group with the same dream, but different strategies to reaching the goal. My lecturer once told me it is only natural that groups of similar interests split and/or multiply.

An ally was angry with me for not being active enough during the Aware saga. I had openly advocated for a better understanding of what Aware stands for, and urged people to join Aware not for the sole purpose of joining one camp to vote out the other, but for the reason that they genuinely care about women's issues in Singapore. Both of us shared the same goal, that we didn't like what the new guard (Josie Lau and gang) represented, but had different agenda. It's just like that and bridges between allies are burnt. We don't dovetail to become formidable, but we collide and self-destruct. No one wins, because I consider victory when there is a change in society rather than an achievement on my part or that a point of mine was proven right.

I don't think people should be afraid of standing up for what they believe in and helping others. I have the impression that to be "ultimate activist", you must be a animal-loving, anti-death penalty, pro-LGBT rights, advocate of ethnic minority and migrant rights/awareness, free speech advocating vegetarian. But that is more a myth than a reality. If you want to help someone or some group, just stand up and do what you can. No one will expect your help, so every little thing you do is just a bonus. You can be part of a group, or speak in your own capacity. Just don't let anger be the driving force of your activism. And on top of asking yourself what you want to change and how, you should ask yourself if you are helping others or helping yourself.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Malay problem is sociological; Chinese problem is statistical

I cannot remember when it was reported and who the exact Minister was, but an ethnic Malay politician (MP or Minister?) recently expressed his concern regarding the Primary School Leaving Examination pass rates of Malay students. (By the way can someone enlighten me who's the Malay Minister? Really bad memory)

I recall him mentioning that this problem must be looked at sociologically. I agree. A sociological understanding of the plights and challenges faced by Malay Singaporeans in a cosmopolitan Singapore inhabited by a majority of ethnic Chinese, will provide some pointers on how we can best accommodate/integrate our Malay children, and make sure they do not "lose out".

But the sociological perspective (to understanding the challenges Malays face) may not provide the solution. You may be able to identify the problem of Malay kids growing up in an education modelled after the "Chinese"/Confucian brand of education, and schools being moulded in a way to equip students with the proper English-speaking ethnic Chinese middle-class values, the kind of cultural capital that will empower them to be successful in Singapore.

Imagine the scenario:

Researcher: The Malay problem has a sociological side to it. Malay kids grow up in a predominant ethnic Chinese system, in a school whose educational values and pedagogy are modelled after Chinese Confucian scholarship, in will struggle to live in a society that is largely ruled by Chinese elite ideology... etc... Ethnic minorities will not have the same cultural headstart as their ethnic Chinese counterparts in the education system.

(Presumably ethnic Chinese) Politician: But aren't all values the same? Aren't all values universal? Singapore is a meritocracy. (Obviously reeks of ignorance given his/her privileged Chinese position)

Researcher: ARGHHHH. It's a cultural thing. There are subtle cultural differences and differences in values, and the school system and pedagogy just benefits the Chinese more, as they are in a better position to adjust to the system.

Politician: I don't see your point. We are all Singaporeans. We a multi-cultural. Every child has the same opportunity to excel. We are a meritocracy. School are all the same.

Researcher: ARGHHHH. That's the problem. Every child is different, and comes from different cultural backgrounds with different values. And our school system just happens to allow children from a certain cultural background to excel more. The playing field is not level, even if we gave everyone the same opportunity.

Politician: The schools are all impartial, so the playing field for children of all races is level. What are you talking about?

It's just a frustrating thing, because even if you look at the so-called Malay problem sociologically, you will have the Chinese political elite looking at it non-sociologically, because they probably have no sociological imagination, let alone the ability to self-interrogate. For the ethnic Chinese, it's all about statistics and numbers. We want our 2.1 children, don't we?

If our education policy is entirely informed by sociological research, it will spill over to other sectors and policies and there will more be criticisms of Chinese, something a privileged majority would not like to endure.

The newspapers will probably not have the guts to publish a sociological finding concerning the struggles of ethnic minorities in the primary schools. There will be far too many suggestions, insinuations or explicit critiques of how middle-class Chinese ideology rules the roost. Imagine you're a stiff-limbed Mando-pop band joining a music competition comprising all the veteran Mat rocker bands, and the judges are all from the underground scene. Same competition, equal opportunity to win. Everyone plays their music competently, but your Mando-pop band won't go very far. Bad analogy, say you're a tight English thrash-metal band joining a band competition consisting of contestants who sing Mando-pop and English worship music, and the judges are from the pop industry. How to win?

There are many things the ethnic Chinese often take for granted. For example, when we think of equal opportunity, we believe that everyone starts off from the same line and run the same race. When we think of equal treatment, we think it is a fair system and only ability will differentiate people.

Think about this. An employer wants to hire a bilingual worker. In Singapore, bilingualism is a euphemism for the ability to speak English and Mandarin. All Singaporeans have the same opportunity to vie for this job, true. But not all Singaporeans are in the same (cultural) position to ace the interview.

As for equal treatment, we often give attention only to who are being treated, and forgot to notice who is the person dishing out this equal treatment. For me, in Singapore, equal treatment is on the terms of the (values of the) ethnic Chinese. By convenience of being the majority, the ethnic Chinese can (inadvertently) make the rules in-sync with Chinese values, aspects of which might be at odds or contradictory to Malay values. That is cultural difference.

And what is worse that our Ministers and policy-makers mostly come from top schools, which are almost void of ethnic Malays. It is a vicious cycle that continues to spin and reproduce itself. So how can a system created and run by the Chinese elite ever be understanding of ethnic minorities? Worse, this system also runs on ethnic stereotypes too.

I think the education for ethnic Malays is a legitimate issue and should be addressed and engaged by everyone. But it is the Chinese leaders who must first look at themselves sociologically, and stop making policies based on statistics alone. The reason why we have Malay politicians to listen and represent the Malay population is not only because they have cultural similarities, but also reflects the extent to which they are alienated by the Chinese elite who carry on uncritically judging/assessing Malays with ethnic Chinese benchmarks passed off as universal. I really hope our Chinese leaders will work with an open mind and some degree of introspection to help our Malay children, and use some sociological imagination in deriving solutions to these social problems.

-add- I recall in my days as undergraduate student. We would have question and answer sessions at the end of the student presentations. We would ask the presenters, after they have presented their findings, observations and criticisms, "So what is the solution?" or "So what do you recommend?" and as a continuing in-joke the nature of which we are all aware of (HA! tautology sial!), the presenter will reply, "I'm just a social science student, I offer no solutions!" and the whole class will burst into laughter.

Now as a graduate student, I am more focused on providing solutions, but fear it might not be "academic" enough.

As for the Malay education problem, I wonder if the Chinese elite/politicians, upon reading the sociological research and findings, will go, "Oh, it's like that. That's too bad" and no change will take place. Sad.

For me, as an ethnic Chinese, I am more concerned with working-class kids struggling in an education system moulded by English-speaking ethnic Chinese Singaporean middle-class values (and aspirations). There is some incongruity there, and it will create some dissonance that will result in what we middle-class folks will identify as social problems. The problems of race intersect with the problems of class, and in the case of working class ethnic minorities, the problem is just compounded for them.

-add again- So sad, I never talked about Indians. Whenever there's a race issue, Chinese and Malays are the protagonists; Indians are just tokens. When we talk about progress, camera pans to Chinese. When we talk about multiculturalism, camera pans to Malays, then zooms out to reveal the Indian guy beating the drums. Guess what, the camera man is Chinese!

I hope more ethnic Chinese people will be interested in issues of race and ethnicity, because Singapore vomits out too much rhetoric on multiculturalism, but we know so little and do so little about it. Ethnic Chinese Singaporeans must make use of their privilege to help ethnic minorities be part of the gang. We can still share a racist joke with one another along the way.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Defending What's (Y)ours! National Service Deaths and Grievances

The following letter was sent to me on Nov 18 from MINDEF.

I refer to your email dated 1 Nov 2009, requesting for clarification on whether MINDEF would be able to pay for your school fees in the event that you are unable to complete your course.

National Service (NS) is a duty to the nation. MINDEF recognises that it is not possible to fully compensate every National Serviceman (NSman) for his sacfrifice and commitment towards NS. Nonetheless, as mentioned in our earlier reply, MINDEF recognises NSmen’s contribution by providing them with service pay for each day of call-up, and make-up pay if they suffer a loss of income due to the call-up. NSmen also enjoy additional allocations in growth dividend schemes such as the Progress Package. MINDEF also tries to minimise any inconvenience to our NSmen by providing them with up to six month’s notice on their NS training.

We understand that you were called up for a two-and-a-half-week training which had caused some disruption to your thesis research and writing. For this reason, you had request for MINDEF to pay for your school fees in the event that you are unable to complete your course. MINDEF recognises your sacrifice made for NS but this sacrifice would be applicable to every other NSman as well, though they may be in other forms. We regret to inform you that MINDEF is unable to accede to your request.

XXX for Permanent Secretary Ministry of Defence

In other words, NO.

The abovementioned logic would be like the following: Well, I recognise the sacrifices made by the PAP for this nation, but I regret to inform the PAP that I will not be voting for them.

I read the news of Alex Tan of the Young PAP being banned from Facebook. I think what is worse is the knowledge that he was put into the detention barracks for five days, for allegedly blogging about (alleged) operational matters.

I guess the number of NS deaths is more an operational matter than public opinion.

What is certain is that you cannot and must not criticse National Service, SAF and MINDEF when you are in uniform! It is a cardinal sin. Like WWE’s/WWF’s icon Dwayne Johnson, also known as The Rock, you must “know your role and shut your mouth”.

Look at the rank on your sleeve/shoulder and shut up. When someone of a higher rank asks you for your opinion or feedback, you should just shut up. When you want to criticise the military, you do so in the capacity as a tax-paying civilian, and not as a member of the military.

You should not talk about operations, reveal your rank, your unit, the names of your superiors, but focus on the matter at hand instead. If the contention is with policy, stay on the path of the discussion. Don’t stray and twirl around the mine-field. The rules of confidentiality (breaches) are like huge nets that serve not only to protect training and operations confidentiality, but also double up as public relations/communications management. When we talk about public relations/communications management, it is about safeguarding MINDEF from embarrassment, erosion of public trust, faith and confidence in the organisation.

Singaporeans are the biggest stakeholders in MINDEF and national defence. In order to “make” them trust and be confident of the organisation, information needs to be controlled. You don’t need to fabricate or tell lies; you just have to disseminate the favourable bits of information to the public. Yup, favourable information, favourable truths – like enhanced safety procedures and serviceman welfare systems (despite the presence of injuries, deaths and suicides and the follow-up cover-ups, which is an unfavourable truth), or the Malay Brigadier General (despite their continual disproportionate representation in the army in general).

The problem is that critics of National Service often have the wrong or no rules of engagement with the institution of National Service. You just do not tell (true) stories of what happens in camp or during training to the public. MINDEF will definitely find a way to punish you, by saying that you have compromised confidentiality.

You should engage policy. Engage the nature of unfair treatment, bullying or torture. Do not engage personalities, because the government always prowls the internet for such things, which is very ironic. The government is funded by Singaporeans to spy on Singaporeans.

If you feel national service is a waste of time, you should say so out of uniform and make sure your name is not preceded by a rank. Make an argument without any expletives. Criticise with simple words and short sentences, so that the government will be able to engage you. Number your points, so that the government will be able to answer your questions and address your points, although they only care about the buzzwords being raised, rather than the questions themselves.

If you want to write a long essay expressing your loss of faith in NS, don’t do it. Just put all your feelings into one sentence, like “I don’t like the idea of NS, don’t support it, and have no faith in it” for example. Wow, that’s really strong. (But personally, if National Service was voluntary, I would have considered serving. But my national service experience is fraught with budget constraints, bullying, time-wasting, poor communications, threats, etc. such that being proficient in something takes probably 10 times the time it would normally take)

National Service is such a touchy thing, because it protects itself and its interests. The only way to beat it is to outgrow it – grow old.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"Alternative lifestyle" is a condescending and ill-informed myth

(Unpublished - Dec 3, 2009)

I refer to Mr Bernard Tan's letter 'Respect is fine but don't glorify' (Dec 3).

Like Mr Tan, I have gay friends. But unlike him, I have a different attitude towards my friends.

I do not hold bigoted misconceptions and spread myths about gay people that put them in a lesser position.

It is a myth to regard the sexual orientation or identity of a person, other than heterosexual, as a lifestyle.

With all due respect to people of faith, it is a condescending value judgement, and is obviously derived from religious dogma - that identifying as homosexual is wrong and immoral.

The word lifestyle suggests homosexuality is a temptation and one that can be chosen, rather than a legitimate identity, and for Mr Tan to classify the realities and lived experiences of gay people as a lifestyle is incorrect and disrespectful.

Unfortunately, it will require a paradigm shift for people to come to fully understand sexual orientation and sexual identity. They need to be readily open to information and studies from different fields, be aware of history and also be a little more self-interrogative towards their privileges and prejudices.

Some people will always be blind to their own prejudices. They are the ones who deem any neutral or positive portrayal of what they misclassify as "alternative" to be glorification, and attempt to create moral panics to mobilise ill-informed people to continue being prejudicial towards minorities. They attempt to be righteous as they demonise and alienate other communities.

I think we will never have respect, empathy, compassion or tolerance, given how we live our lives according to misinformation and myths that wrongfully represent other people.

I believe the government, the media and all of us have a responsibility to make Singapore a land of diversity with equality. Unlike sexual orientation, most of us can "choose" to be responsible.

I support the traditional family too, because I came from one and am about to start one myself. However, I do not see a need to glorify my choice nor shove the idea down the throats of others.

Ho Chi Sam

Note: It's been almost more than a week since I sent my letter, and don't think the Straits Times Forum will publish my letter. I'm having a real dry spell in the Straits Times Forum. Very frustrating when serious messages can't get published.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Shame of Singlish: The Story of Ah Dan and Eve

I am kind of irritated with people who continue to advocate "proper English", at the expense of Singlish. I don't have to write a 1,000 word blog entry to explain it.

Eve: Sia la! Got someone say the apple si beh juicy sia! You try la.

Ah Dan: Siao char bor! Cannot eat lah! Got rules one. Die die must follow.

Eve: Aiyah, the ang mo pai snake tell me it's very good, crunchy and sweet one. Ang Mo say good, confirm must be good one. He don't bluff you. He say it is succulent. Dunno what that means. His ang mo very powderful.

Ah Dan: Nah beh chee bye. You listen to the jiak kang tang kia.

Eve: Eeyuuuurrrr. Ah Daannnnnnnnn. Why you like daaaaat? Hmmmmmm *pouts* Mai hum ji la, just one bite.

Ah Dan: Ok la ok la. You want me eat, I eat.

Eve: Hehehehehe

Ah Dan: Siao char bor. *takes a bite* Eh, quite nice leh...

Eve: *grabs apple* See la, I told you one. *takes a bite*

Ah Dan: *posture straightens up* Young miss, why are you speaking such barbaric English? You should be ashamed of yourself. You lack the necessary rhoticity in most of your pronunciations. Preposterous!

Eve: Aiyaa... *posture straightens too* Oh my oh my. Our shameful past. We must eradicate this linguistic tumour from our culture. It is utterly embarrassing to our country. What will others think of us if we could not speak proper English?

Ah Dan: Indeed, my young naked friend for whom I may suddenly have lust. Let me control the tumescence of my appendage before we head done the garden for some tea and crumpets.

Eve: Jolly good idea, Ah Dan.

Ah Dan: You can call me Adam, a more refined anglicised version of my old shameful broken English ways.

Eve: I see you now steer clear of your broken ways.

Ah Dan: Indeed, let's go for tea now.

*Exit Ah Dan and Eve*

Serpent: Muah hahahahahahahahaha.

Are you the serpent?

Monday, December 7, 2009

No but Yes to Violence

I read the news today about performer Douglas Oliverio being attacked by several men near his home. I feel quite enraged about the senseless beating.

As a strong advocate of non-violence, I find myself trying to rationalise this, but guess there is no point. I realise that when I speak for non-violent measures to solving problems, the problem sometimes does not get solved.

We may blame violence on gangs, differential association and youths facing family and social problems. But there are times when violence is random and remotely related to social problems. We may get a little sociological and talk about the socio-economic conditions that put the thug-would-bes together at a certain place at a certain time.

I feel that, unlike what Douglas told the reporter, there should never be a "wrong place wrong time" in Singapore. Even if people have nothing better to do other than to congregate at places, there is no reason to use violence to resolve disputes.

It appears to me that amidst the bunch of Singaporeans who are disaffected and couldn't care less to help others in public, there are those who are spoiling for a fight. Well, we could rationalise and look at this sociologically, but sometimes I feel violence stops violence.

I personally do not believe in self-defence, but believe in the incapacitation of your assailant until help arrives. Ordinary civilians do not know how to properly block, parry, hold or subdue their assailant in times of attack (and confusion and panic). While they are not technically equipped with these skills, they can employ strikes, chokes and clawing - things that aren't pretty or technical, but efficient.

Often times, people will look on from a safe distance as you get beaten up. And by the time the fight stops or when your assailant(s) leave you in a pool of your own blood, the police will come. This is a very sorry reality.

You just run to a safe place with lots of people to save yourself. But if your assailants are by the dozen, you only have yourself to defend. If you are trapped, you have to "defend" yourself. Self-defence classes aren't enough. You need street-fighting, which basically involves eye-gouges, punches to throat, thrust kicking the knees, breaking fingers, attacks to the groin, etc.

I feel that by protecting yourself with street-fighting techniques (which aren't beautiful or artistic), you are not taking the law into your own hands, but merely doing what the law can't do for you in the few minutes that you are being attacked.

Another tricky situation is when women are using violence on men. If the men "takes it like a man" until the police comes, I often have the impression the incident becoming a real police case is merely a probability - it could happen or it could be laughed away by the policemen, who feel they shouldn't be bothered with such a minor case.

That is of course, you make your injuries known (with dramatics) to the police and your doctor and it could be both a criminal and civil case. If you subdue a female assailant, and in the process hurt her, you are probably liable to being prosecuted yourself. And this is what irks me - then what's the point of self-defence? Maybe the attacks may cause injury but they are not life-threatening, so how do we draw the line between "taking it like a man" and giving her some hair-pulling, open palm strikes to the nose, an eye-gouge and a thumb to the throat. Maybe self-defence in modern society is a female privilege, no? I think we should talk about "auntie violence" some other time. Imagine an auntie punching and scratching you, and you deliver a punch in actual self-defence, which happens to be fatal, and the law punishes both of you.... kwaaa kwaaaa kwwaaaa

I personally feel that "excessive force" as defined by the law is sometimes required to subdue your assailant. If the fundamental rule of self-defence is to "stay out of trouble", I think the fundamental rule of getting out of trouble is to use "excessive force". You should be like the PAP and be relentless and do something to your tormentor that parallels suing someone till they are bankrupt. How else do you react to or deal with cold-hearted senseless attacks? I feel that if someone wants to find a violent solution with you, (and if you have no way out at that moment), you should give them the violence they seek, because either way, you will be hurt or killed.

Sometimes, violence doesn't escalate when there are two aggressors. It is not a heated debate where both sides give each other bitchy dagger stares, puffing their noses and shouting their points out. Violence will still be there if you curled yourself into a ball, praying to your deity of choice that you don't get a fatal kick to the skull by the gang of thugs who are raining blows on you. You stand and fight back, and let your assailants know they are at the wrong place at the wrong time themselves (while hoping some Singaporean who isn't apathetic enough will call the police).

If it is a gang attacking you (without weapons, because if there are weapons, you have a higher chance of death), you should try to incapacitate at least one of them, so the police will have something to work on, and so that your case will not be those pitiful ones that appear in the papers and end with the sentence "police are still investigating" (which probably means they are looking for suspects, leads and clues, and which probably means they are no wonder near finding the guys who beat/killed you).

Violence is never the solution to anything except the use of senseless violence itself. No one likes or deserves to be attacked or have his/her life threatened.

Being human, I do think about violence when faced with other non-violent crimes, for instance vandalism (of your property, especially that), burglary, snaft-theft, outrage of modesty of loved ones. Sociology goes out the window, and sometimes you feel like you want to knock these criminals further down the poverty scale, the very categorical realities that were supposed to have compelled them to crime themselves.

My mum was livid when the brand new car she got (only 900 cc, it is a cheap small car) was vandalised the very next day in the mid 1990s. She reported the case to the police but they told her it would be difficult to make it a case because it was probably impossible to find the crook. Cars in the neighbourhood were being vandalised too, deep scratches on their sides, bonnets and boots. All the police could do were to step up patrolling the area, which is just wayang for the neighbourhood. This is very much similar to my littering neighbour problem - used sanitary pad, food packet/boxes, cigarettes, cigarette pack, sweet/candy wrappers, etc. on my air-conditioner compressor and ledge. We contacted the National Environment Agency and they sent one guy to check for one day. He even gave me a call to let me know he is staking out and watching, obviously to give me the impression he was doing some work instead of hanging out at the coffeeshop enjoying his morning off. The Town Council did its part by distributing pamphlets to educate residents against littering. These are reasons why people like myself feel so strongly about "taking the law into our own hands", not because we are psycho/sociopaths, but because the law enforcement is such that we have no other choice but to do so. The law the completely fine, but it is the enforcement is absolutely sub-par.

I really want(ed) to find the vandal to scratched my mum's car. Well, vandals get imprisonment, fines and caning by the law, and they say the law is impartial and unbiased. But what about aggrieved parties who take the vandalism personally? It is after all an attack on personal property, which are the products of financial and emotional investment. For me, violence is the better solution to resolve this personal attack.

Before I forget (and I actually did for many years), I recall that my dad was a victim of road-rage many years ago. Call it whatever you want, it is still violence to me. It was a criminal case and he stood before the judge along with his assailant. I think he was punched while he was in his car. At that point in time, my mum's health wasn't exactly the best and we just wanted to case to end. My dad's face was bruised, but bruises heal. What's worse was the emotional effect it had on him. It probably took him a few days to weeks to shake it off, but he is a quiet man to all of us any way. I was in my teens and wanted my parents to "sue the fucker". My brother was also very enraged. He was even more pissed off when the court order to the man to pay my dad money in court. Looking back, I felt it was just another fucking kissing booth, you punch a man and you pay him some money in court. My brother told me that was even more humiliating, and we both agreed that the man either deserves to go to jail or get a punch himself. I think that man was lucky my brother and I weren't with our dad when he hit our dad. We would have made him really sorry - there would have been fists, elbows, headbutts, kicks, knees and other weapons. That man was lucky my mum was ill then and didn't want the case to drag on. And in case the man who hit my dad happens to read this blog (at home or in prison if there is broadband), I want to let you know that I still remember this. You are just lucky you picked on a (smaller and older man) and his wife, two people who are not vindictive and just wanted to case to end. Violence is not the solution, but when it comes to fuckers like you, I can use everything I own and can carry to beat the hell out of you and make sure you still live. Money can't heal physical and emotional attacks.

This encounter reminds me of one my mum was in. Somehow, my mum had a confrontation, rather she was confronted by an angry man at Viacom (I think it was there, but could be wrong) many years ago. Apparently he got out of his car first and she got out. And it was probably because she was slow in moving her car around the place, given she was unfamiliar. What I recall is that she was shouted at, as the man angrily gesticulated at her, which almost resulted in him touching/brushing her. This is obviously enough to traumatise my mum. I recall when I spoke to her later in the day, she slowly related this encounter to me. She was a little shaken. Obviously, the Viacom folks didn't do anything to calm things down. I think it is sad that firstly, people are not calm, and secondly others don't come to help. Well, this is not a violent encounter, but there has been needless aggression. How do we deal with needless aggression?

The politics of violence control is interesting. I believe the governance of violence consists of stakeholders who have never been victims of violence or experience critical violent encounters before. They would spew their middle-class views of violence being uncivil and having no place in society, therefore leading to the (uncritical) absolute outlawing of violence, except for state-sponsored violence when Singaporean men are trained from the age of 16.5 years to kill on order. I think the legislators associated with outlawing violence are mostly removed from violence themselves. They see not the realities of enforcement. The law may be perfect, but its enforcement lets it down. What happens then? People start taking the law into their own hands and they get punished for it. The problem is still not solved.

I feel very angry that Douglas Oliverio was attacked. Maybe it is because I am reminded of my dad being a victim of road-rage (which is something I haven't thought about for many years and this news had to bring up this memory), or because Douglas is a personality I know from watching TV. I hope he's recovered and stronger than before. I hope his assailants are identified and there can be some justice.

-add- on a somewhat related note, sometimes I think about those who genuinely help society and fellow Singaporeans, from grassroots volunteers to the Prime Minister. It might be for self-satisfaction, karma, power, money, blowjobs, whatnot but I admire people who help other people, especially in a place where most people are selfish self-conceited ungrateful fuckwits. Perhaps in such a society, the achievement of helping is all the more a greater thing.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Unite for Diversity of Values

(Unpublished - Dec 2, 2009)

I refer to the report ‘Unite against alternative values, Anglicans urged’ (ST, Nov 30).

While the sermon delivered by Archbishop John Chew pertains more specifically to the parish, it poses possible widespread repercussions in diverse Singapore.

I disagree that mainstream culture is being threatened or eroded by what has been suggested as undesirable counter-cultures.

Given we are multi-religious, multi-cultural and subsequently multi-valued, no Singaporean can exclusively claim and define mainstream culture.

Mainstream culture and values are not a collective absolute set, but a mix of heterogeneous cultures and values, in constant dialogue with one another.

I believe the way to go is to acknowledge, appreciate and respect diversity, which includes diversity of identities, communities, values and opinion.

We cannot move forward if we seek to isolate ourselves and create a bunker or siege mentality against cultures and values that appear contrary to ours.

This is not without implications, as policy may be influenced in a way that might bring greater disincentives, discrimination and stigmatism of people who do not meet the dogmatic standards of any politically influential group.

For instance, single parents and divorcees may perceivably pose an ideological threat to some, but in reality, they need all the help and support they can get, and they can definitely do without being identified as demonised posterboys for any specific socio-religious agenda.

I am personally not affected by the reality that people, as individuals, are redefining for themselves what constitutes family. I am neither interested in casting these persons as threats to the ‘traditional family’. For instance, I do not see homosexuality as a threat to my family or my personhood.

The procreative traditional family structure is not exclusively synonymous with mainstream family values. There are young couples, old couples, couples who cannot conceive, couples who adopt, and couples who choose to remain childless and each unit decides for itself what constitutes “family”, “love” and “safety”. They too are deserving stakeholders of “mainstream family values”.

The fact that there is diversity in our everchanging landscape shows that there are persons who are no longer bound by the guilt-traps and fear-mongering, but independently make decisions for themselves.

I urge people to critically observe how we identify threats and scapegoats whenever we are faced with emerging social problems. The fact that people and values change does not necessarily translate to a cultural threat.

Our concern should not be on the lack of consensus on mainstream values, an issue Archbishop Chew raised, but should be on how we can derive harmony and peace in a land of diversity and difference.

Ho Chi Sam

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Singapore General Elections in 2010

We all can be cheeky once in a while, just like the cheeky PAP government teasing us about when the upcoming General Elections will occur. You know, if you're the single heterosexual guy, trying very hard to get the attention of one girl, but she keeps giving you mixed signals not knowing she's screwing with your feelings? Yup yup yup, but I'm not saying the government is a prick-teaser, but just being a prick and a teaser.

I have heard different sources telling me different dates, end 2008, end 2009, and now March 2010. This is so reflective of the Mayan end of days prediction, filled with speculation and to an extent riddled with doubt and skepticism.

Of course, photogenic experts interviewed by the History and Discovery Channel would interpret it not as the end of the world, but the beginning of change. Maybe it might be the beginning of a change that the incumbent PAP might find difficult to accommodate, which probably explains a series of election-related discussions and releases, as well as monologues concerning Singapore's future and sustainability - the latest being the one-day 'cool off' period prior to the day of voting.

The ruling party will always have the advantage in terms of preparations for elections campaigning and what not. Any time the Prime Minister decides it's time to do it, information will immediately be disseminated within his party. At the most, the press will take at least a "press day" to let the public (and the opposition parties) know the news.

This election, like any other election, will still have the same narrative of race being played up. All you need is the multicultural visual of the prominently dark skinned ethnic Indian woman, the middle-aged motherly tudung-clad Malay woman, and of course a young middle-class seemingly fairly educated Chinese person, all dressed in white, waving the PAP flag, and having their moment on the national press, and voila, you'll create something that campaign rhetoric cannot achieve.

This is the propaganda, solidarity and public relations machinery that the opposition lacked in previous elections. They parade their candidates, faces of whom glistening with sticky sweat, their unappealing mug shots immortalised in the mainstream newspapers, but the number of their photos far overshadowed by the many toothy smiles of Lee Hsien Loong. For instance, the Straits Times made Sylvia Lim look like the unglamorous disheveled coffeeshop cleaning aunty at the end of her day's shift. Image may not be everything, but it plays a part in getting people's attention, just look at well made-up Kennedy versus pale-looking Nixon.

For a couple of years now, the Straits Times has been sensitising us to political issues, or at least issues with political implications. MM Lee Kuan Yew, either a Minister Mentor, or Maverick Minister, has made his regrets clear concerning one policy (the bilingual policy). Well, at least he said he regretted it. Regretted it, that is government speak for "I'm sorry", but the government will never say it's sorry. Unfortunately, what's the point of apologising to an ungracious and unforgiving Singaporean population?

Iron-fisted but always radical in my opinion, I think Lee Kuan Yew's leadership is still needed in some areas of governance and policy. Unlike many of his younger (all of them ARE younger) PAP counterparts, he still knows when to change and how to change. Sure, he might have come across as power hungry and arrogant, but he knows 'change' more than some Ministers, some of whom probably know nuts beyond their comfort zones.

It makes me wonder sometimes if Lee Kuan Yew is the fengshui master for the PAP government. You know, the guy you would consult before implementing a policy or in this case, deciding the best time to hold the General Elections. Interesting consideration.

Back to the elections, I really hope the PAP stops talking about overarching policies and governmental achievements over the years, and start looking at what the Members of Parliaments have actually done for their constituencies and the grassroots. While the rites of passage for every Member of Parliament is a necessary thing involving grassroots work and getting your hands "dirty" (in a noble way), it is a phase you should never walk away from once you have completed it. Voters need to consider the work of the MP, other than just the work of the team the MP belongs to.

Essentially, no party will want to contest just so they can be popular or stay in power. The reason why they are always striving to renew themselves is so that they can help Singapore in areas they identify in need of help. And on the other hand, I feel that Singaporeans are generally insatiable, petty and ungrateful, and there are more people out there who expect others to owe them a living, than those who don't. All the more, it makes grassroots work and politics a tougher challenge. But of course, you may deduce that our shitty attitudes have an intimate relationship with the governance and policies of the PAP government, and the kind of (selfish) people culture they have created. Policy is never independent of the kiasu culture that we have now.

As we are recovering from the economic slump, it will be a good time to have an election, and a team to take us forward. It just depends whether you want to give the PAP the mandate to do that, or not. Our lives are always graded in terms of performances, A B C grades and such, and it is probably time the PAP report card gets its grade. If only the uncontested constituencies had voting too, and since there's only the incumbent PAP, we could have a YES/NO vote for the voters to voice their confidence of their MPs. At least that way, the government would not be able to take for granted that it is a government "voted into power" while we all know that most of it entered Parliament uncontested.

And in the event of a "freak election result", maybe they will start their whole discourse again on "complacency" and blame random/all Singaporeans. "Ya lor, you vote for opposition because you give them sympathy, thinking that they will still not win majority vote, sekali they win majority vote, you complacent kia! We must blame this on complacency! All of us have been complacent!!!" and you have most Singaporeans wondering what the hell is going on.