Wednesday, March 31, 2010

We are a multi-valued Singapore

(Unpublished - March 23, 2010)

In light of recent events that raised considerable public discussion on social harmony in Singapore, I feel that there are a lot more things we should consider as each of us play our part is fostering and maintaining peace and harmony.

While it is continually made known to us that Singapore is multicultural and multireligious, it is important that we also recognise that we are multi-valued.

We have the freedom and protection to live our lives according to the values we hold, so long as they do not impinge on the rights and well-being of others.

That includes the discrimination and denigration of others and their respective sets of values. The right to hold your values does not involve making another person feel fearful, guilty or inferior, psychological weapons that either coerce the abandonment of one’s values or the forceful adoption of another.

It is unfortunate that some are overzealous in their ideological campaign to conquer, as numbers alone do not prove the superiority of a particular set of values.

It is not only culture and religion that determine difference in one’s values, but other legitimate identity markers such as age, gender, family background and upbringing, class, sexuality, political leanings and personal experiences.

Some may believe that social harmony is derived from the creation of homogeneity of values, at the expense of a diversity of values, but I believe that we can achieve harmony despite our differences, so long as we have graciousness, respect and humility.

Harmony involves more than just tolerance, but a legitimate acceptance that diversity, of any kind, is a natural and key part of our daily lives. Co-existence rests not on mere tolerance, but is underpinned by strong relationships forged by communities of different beliefs.

We should not be resigned to the idea of co-existence, but look forward to how we can make it meaningful for ourselves and others.

With this respectful and humble acceptance, only then will we be able to have continuous and meaningful dialogues that bridge peoples torn apart by polarisation and fed by fear, stereotypes and misinformation.

We can first start by recognising that different values exist and that each holds special significance for some.

Ho Chi Sam

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Jack Neo is not Tiger Woods

Jack Neo isn’t Tiger Woods.

There has been lots of buzz in the repressed nation they call Singapore surrounding the latest developments of Jack Neo’s affairs and attempted affairs with almost a dozen women.

What makes it so shocking and yet so newsworthy (or gossip-worthy for that matter), is the man most of us know as Jack Neo. He is a cultural medallion winner, comedian, actor, director, and feel free to insert in many other entertain industry-related accolades and achievements. The same guy is also a married man with four children.

He committed the moral crime against monogamous marriage and strayed.

We often seem to enjoy the kinds of stories that break the mundanity of daily life. Not everyone has access to the riches. Not everyone can be in a position of considerable power. Not everyone have the talent, opportunity and luck to excel and succeed. Jack Neo is one special guy, an entertainer with whom we have come to be smitten, and an industry (local) personality most have come to respect.

That said. Jack Neo found himself in darker, less talked of places in the entertainment industry. We know of entertainment hubs like Hollywood and its sex and sleaze, and we have come to associate a form of white-ness and Western-ness to this debauchery. People and the paparazzi in Hollywood are open to sex, and talk about sex.

Elsewhere in the East Asian entertainment industry, there are talks and rumours of sex and sleaze too, dispelling the myth of the square peg that is the concept of “Asian Values” that has for a couple of decades now been shoved into the round hole of Asian societies. Just because we don’t see sex, but hear talks of it, does not mean it doesn’t exist.

If the entertainment does follow an Asian-ness, it would be the respect for hierarchy. But then again, so does Hollywood. Executives and producers have the power to make or break careers, and many seem all too aware of the importance of being in their good books.

Similar to the Singaporean elite education system, wherein students with straight A’s are a dime a dozen, talents in the industry are various periods of time are almost equally as gorgeous, equally as promising. What set you apart are your extracurricular activities and the evaluation of your “performance”.

Jack Neo is in a different situation than Tiger Woods. Neo is in an industry and found most of his women within the industry. Woods, on the other hand, lives in the sporting world, and most of his trysts come outside this world. Woods had a choice, as a disciplined athlete, to limit his engagements with this domain. Neo had a choice too, but he had to make it in a domain that was also his livelihood.

The two share a similar situation. Married with kids and committing adultery.

It is intriguing that Neo had a situation of “affairs”, while Woods had one of “sex”. Perhaps this is due to different reporting styles?

Still, Jack Neo’s case is not unique to the entertainment industry, and probably not unique at all in any industry that has a hierarchy (every industry has, by the way). It is only flame-baiting-ly damning that he is a famous – if not even more famous now – personality, who happens to be married with kids.

For the women within the industry he had affairs with, they could have rejected him, but there would always be the fear that that might have repercussions on their careers. If you don’t sleep with the big guy, he or she will find some other “promising” talent to do and finish the job. The entertainment industry is just a microcosm of society today, because sex is everywhere, and is sometimes either a means to something greater or a result of another thing.

There will be one segment of the interested population who might feel that there is an overcompensation in the reverse victimisation of Neo. The female flings will enjoy/suffer their moment, only to quietly anticipate the day they can bring the man down. What are their reasons for not saying “no”? That will speak of the industry, if it doesn’t speak of the characters of the “victims”. I liken this “suffer first, complain later” mentality to be a (stereo)typical Singaporean mentality. It shows that people are too obedient, too fearful, sufficiently so that they choose to suffer first, pretend that it is perfectly normal and then complain later.

The reason why adultery is morally wrong, religious dogmatism aside, is that it is an irresponsible non-consensual promise-breaker. And every family member and friend that is socially and emotionally involved in this is an important stakeholder. This is a broken contract, which is why we frown on adultery. Of course, to enshrine adultery as an even more severe and evil crime, we ascribe symbols onto it that people fear and do not readily question – religion.

Whatever happens between Jack Neo and his wife and family is up to them. We should take their (or rather, her) calm fa├žade as it is and respect that. None of us are in a position to tell Neo how to live his life or run his family.

It is interesting that from various media, we get various personifications of the women in his life. I’m not talking about the Virgin-Slut portrayals, but close. We are being made to read and watch the quiet strength of his wife versus the aggressive vindictiveness of some of the women. So much diversity in character that it puts a Mediacorp Channel 8 drama series to shame.

It polarises our society. Some feel the women are all victims, and all men, as rightly affirmed by Neo, are scumbags.

A reverse discourse, if I were to use it loosely, emerges when some of us stick out heads out on the feminist chopping block and say that some of these women should have known better and not get involved. As part of the industry, they would have known or heard of these things and could have had been better prepared for instances like these if they ever wanted to carve out a career. Of course, in Singapore, sometimes criticising a woman is like attempting to block a kitana with your palm – you can block it, but you’ll still lose your fingers. Man-bashing is the dominant discourse because it sits comfortably on the right side of the fence that separates political correctness and everything else.

That said, Neo’s case speaks of the importance of marriage. You don’t use marriage and kids as an excuse to change (your previous ways). Marriage indicates a shift in priorities. And with respect t o priorities, Neo has got it all wrong. He now pays for his past crimes. It is inconvenient that he lives in sunny little Singapore, because we are a society that unfortunately derives pleasure from the shame of others even though we are very much fearful of the mechanism of shame itself (see Chinese and the concept of “face”).

It is also a feel-good thing for Singaporeans too to revel in the ongoing demise of Neo. Some of us live our lives through the destruction of someone powerful. It is our very own World Wrestling Entertainment. We get to live our lives through heroes, villains and anti-heroes because in the “real world” in which we inhabit, we are in no position to do such things, and even if we could, it is not without repercussions. We cheer when Stone Cold Steve Austin flipped the middle-finger at the WWE chairman Vince McMahon, because we want to do that to our superiors and bosses, to our government and the people who control our lives. We live our lives through Hulk Hogan and John Cena, because they always get back up whenever they fall or get beaten down.

The ongoing tomato-pelting of Neo and his women (seems that no one is spared) appear to reflect how the different people who identify with different elements of the story. The identification with the (archetypal) characters is sometimes accompanied by the process of living our lives through them. We become invested in the saga because we need to identify a hero and a villain.

I believe a hero and a villain both have to exist in a context. And one context is the entertainment industry. The industry needs to clean up and stop this tradition of sex. I hope more personalities can come forward with their experiences to tackle this problem. Anyway, this problem is something not many of us will understand even though it is reality for some. But I believe sex can and should be made a smaller factor in the decision-making in the industry, so much to the point that it is not used.

Jack Neo and Tiger Woods tell a story of power and sex. The ascension to and stay in power grants you access and excesses. However, I feel the contexts are different. And if we wanted to prevent, or rather minimize the occurrences of such things, we should not only tackling the subjects, but the context in which these subjects reside.

My word to Neo is that you can say you’re sorry and be sorry, but a million apologies will never help. You are still a husband and a father, and you still have remnants of your career. These are things that you should work for. One reason why you do this (career) is because it gives you the money to raise your family. This is why most of us strive to earn an honest living. The ugly record will stick, but there are still many more empty pages to be written with achievements.

Some men (although according to some, ALL MEN) have their problems staying faithful. Neo has undergone his rites of passage, baptism of fire, to being that guy now, and hopefully he is no longer the person the newspapers and flings have described him.

In a couple of weeks time, the rest of us will probably go “now what?” as we search for the next victim to lynch or pelt.

Eugene Loh's obsession with cross-dressing... on television!

(Unpublished - Mar 3, 2010)

I refer to Mr Eugene Loh’s letter “Why this cross-dressing fever on TV?” (March 3).

In it, he justifies his concern of the prevalence of cross-dressing in television programming by raising its potential impact on youths.

He suggests that the media can have a strong influence on how children behave, and that cross-dressing was being “promoted in the media”.

It is farfetched to state that any depiction in the media constitutes “promotion”.

The context in which cross-dressing takes place is within the domains of variety, comedy and entertainment, in a limited period of time on specific channels.

Surely this does not constitute "promotion" or producers' obsession with cross-dressing. If anything, it might indicate a lack of creativity in the face of a diverse audience with different senses of humour.

Now place this observation of television cross-dressing on a backdrop of social norms being regularly enforced by parents, peers, schools, society and government.

In fact, with regards to cross-dressing in television, it is often associated with humour and parody. These are strategies that negate the much feared normalisation of cross-dressing itself.

Furthermore, and to a large extent, these depictions mock and trivialise cross-dressing and cross-gender behaviour, rather than promote it. The mainstream media are wise and responsible enough not to offend the vocal self-professed members of “conservative majority”.

We should recognise our society is increasingly media savvy, and more individuals are in better positions to discern between what constitutes harm and what does not. This means that they can do without being authoritatively instructed on what is good for them.

That said, we cannot view the media in isolation and overestimate the power of its influence.

The studies of consumption of violence in media correlating with violent behaviour fail to take into account constant changes in society and the economy, as well as the context of the studies, for instance that of a rapidly modernising city with high population density, traffic density and stress levels.

If we can to enforce a media policy, we have to consult studies not only in the areas of psychology, but that of sociology and culture.

The fears of psychological harm to our young are often misdirected to a few convenient suspects.

And the more we give our attention to the media, the more we will censor and the more we will be a repressed society.

There are already enough policing mechanisms outside media that serve to regulate and sanction social behaviour, so please let the media do its job of entertainment and information.

Ho Chi Sam

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Quoted: False tale stirs online outrage; Blog post claiming MM Lee had suffered a serious heart attack draws netizens' wrath

(Quoted - Straits Times. March 9, 2010)

A blog post by a former Singaporean, claiming that Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew had suffered a serious heart attack, incurred the wrath of netizens.

The post by Mr Gopalan Nair, a lawyer who gave up his Singapore citizenship in 2005 and now lives in the United States, created a stir in cyberspace on Sunday night and much of yesterday.

The buzz died down when he wrote another post admitting it was a hoax, but many netizens continued to fume.

They condemned what he did as 'fear mongering', 'malicious', 'distasteful' and 'shameless'.

'Such a poor and bad lie that it does not help anyone or any process,' wrote blogger Sam Ho.

'It's not even April Fool's Day yet,' wrote another Facebook user.

The Online Citizen website ran a strongly worded editorial criticising Mr Nair for abusing free speech by 'spreading deliberate misinformation'.

Its writer Choo Zheng Xi noted the 'outrage' of those led on a 'wild goose chase' by Mr Nair's post, and worried Mr Nair's act had the potential to 'cement the public's perception of the Internet as untrustworthy' and 'provide the Government with the best excuse to regulate the Internet'.

Mr Nair's blog post appeared on Sunday at 3pm local time. It quoted 'latest reports' that MM Lee was hospitalised at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) after a 'massive heart attack' on Saturday night. He also said that Singapore would face 'total destruction' due to a 'power vacuum'.

Within the next few hours, the post was reproduced on many other websites and social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. By midnight, there were more than 140 tweets linking to Mr Nair's blog and discussing the issue.

Netizens asked if Mr Nair's 'news' could be verified, given that he did not name any sources. Some wondered what would happen to the stock market the next day.

Online news site A Pakistan News even reported the hoax as factual news.

A handful of more sceptical netizens, noting 'exaggerated embellishments' in Mr Nair's post, suggested that he had made the whole thing up.

Mr Nair, a former Workers' Party election candidate, was last in Singapore in 2008. During that brief visit, he succeeded in getting himself entangled with the law twice.

He was fined $3,000 for disorderly behaviour and hurling expletives at police officers, and two weeks later was jailed for three months by the High Court for contempt after he was convicted of insulting a High Court judge in a blog post.

He returned to California, where he is based, after his jail term.

Commenting on the incident, law lecturer Eugene Tan of the Singapore Management University said that Singaporeans have a social responsibility to verify information and not to spread falsehoods.

'In this case there hasn't been any damage done, but can you imagine if someone says that three persons of racial group A were killed by 10 persons of racial group B?' he said.

Institute of Policy Studies deputy director Arun Mahizhnan said hoaxes have always been around, but what is different today is the speed at which they spread, and their global reach.

'One single person with the help of a mobile phone or a laptop can have a far-reaching impact. That is new,' he said.

He said governments cannot prevent hoaxes but can manage them, picking and choosing their battles and intervening only when absolutely necessary.

'In the Internet world, there are many responsible netizens, contrary to popular belief. Netizens will play their own part in quashing hoaxes.'

Contacted yesterday, an SGH spokesman said the hospital had indeed received 'quite a number of calls' since Sunday, and was still getting them.

The stock market was, however, unaffected. Most traders were aware but generally sceptical about Mr Nair's original post, said a local remisier who did not want to be named.

The benchmark Straits Times Index, which tracks the largest stocks on the Singapore Exchange, opened higher than Friday's close and rose steadily throughout the day.

The Government declined comment. Separately, a statement from the Prime Minister's Office yesterday said MM Lee arrives in London today for a four-day visit, during which he is scheduled to meet British political and business leaders.

Cai Haoxiang

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Gopalan Nair: Lee Kuan Yew suffers massive heart attack (a hoax)

Gopalan Nair wrote on his blog, Singapore Dissident, that Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has suffered a heart attack and is in Singapore General Hospital, along with the usual criticisms of the old leader and his regime.

For the sake for public interest and information, I shall reproduce the blog post here. It is not even April's Fools yet. If this is not true, I find it a distasteful thing to say, not of a leader, but of an ageing man. I have also posted on Gopalan's blog (pending moderation), asking for verification of his sources and stated my disbelief.

-add- Turns out the post is a hoax. It definitely has a different effect on me as a Singaporean than what Gopalan intended. I think it does not help anyone or any process. If anything, it got Gopalan some racial slurs on his blog comments for his efforts. -add-

Saturday, March 6, 2010
Singapore strongman 87 year old Lee Kuan Yew suffers massive heart attack
Ladies and Gentlemen,

According to latest reports received from Singapore a few minutes ago, the 87 year old Singapore strongman, Lee Kuan Yew, had suffered a massive heart attack at 9.34 pm yesterday Singapore time.

He is reported to be presently in the Intensive Care Cardiac Unit of the Singapore General Hospital under sedation and respiration, carefully watched by a team of doctors, with his son whom he appointed the Prime Minister and his 2 other children beside him.

It is understood his wife is also in the same hospital in a coma now for several years.

It is uncertain if he can recover at his age, and the pacemaker which he has in his heart is believed to have contributed to it.

According to reports, the pacemaker malfunctioned triggering this massive heart attack.

With the entire country run by this one man, the fear that business leaders and bankers had for very long may have finally come true; that such a happening can destroy the business confidence and cause total destruction in the small island city state.

The reason for the lack of confidence is due to the general lack of confidence in his son's, the prime minister's capacity to govern thereby creating a power vacuum with no single person able to assume control in the island.

In fact reports have been coming in that some investors have already started transferring their funds overseas creating a fear there could be a run on the banks.

There are reports that several top officials who have amassed fortunes under Lee Kuan Yew's patronage and connections have begun to have the jitters and started moving their funds overseas.

A few high ranking civil servants and judges who were responsible for human rights abuses against his political opponents have also been on alert ready to leave the island any minute.

Reports have also been coming in that peaceful protesters and demonstrators have begun assembling in small pockets at the Geylang and Mountbatten Road junction and the Orchard Road and Patterson Road junction holding placards
reading "Democracy" and "Down With the Dictator" and chanting slogans.

The situation is very fluid and I will be reporting on the situation as it unfolds. There have been numerous telephone calls to the Prime Ministers Office and the Singapore newspaper the Straits Times for information.

Gopalan Nair
Fremont, California
March 06, 2010

The rumour/post has been spreading like wildfire on the internet for the past 24 hours.
CNA Forumer OsamaBinLaden, a registered forumer since March 2 2010, said the rumour "could be true, just came back from SGH, the place is filled with policeman, have to register with NRIC to visit sick relatives. Outsiders not allowed to walk into the wards." and "no joke, security very very very strict liao, visiting hours only 12-230 and 5-830. police officer stand guard at the lifts, no 'registration pass' cannot go in."

SgForums has its own little discussion going on too.

In true panoptic Singaporean society, netizens are warning one another of the dangers of spreading such "false rumours" that might be potentially defamatory, while there are people like myself who feel that Gopalan's post pushes the envelope, mixing alleged facts with scathing criticisms. In his post, Gopalan talks of "peaceful protesters and demonstrators have begun assembling in small pockets at the Geylang and Mountbatten Road junction and the Orchard Road and Patterson Road junction holding placards reading "Democracy" and "Down With the Dictator" and chanting slogans", a sight uncommon - and often times, unreported and invisibilised - in Singapore.

Furthermore, the post paints an unsettling picture that undermines business confidence in the country. But if the "news" turns out to be true, what will actually happen? For now, let us not speculate too much, but get our mainstream press to do the work they have been paid to do. Give them the space and time to cover the news and the news of the "news". This is where professional journalists and reporters come in.

The question is whether the state and the press would want to give Gopalan Nair visibility to his blog, in the process of addressing his post and attempting to prove or disprove it. It appears that this is a very sticky situation for the PAP government, even in the face of such writings, which border on being ridiculous and damaging.

The problem with such a "rumour", is that it can only be confirmed by the mainstream media. But given the implications of such a situation, information and media management will be at its tightest. For now, we can only take this news to be false and created with no good intentions, either that, or that there is a genuine media blackout.

Twitter and online forums are going into overdrive. Forces go all ways, agreeing, disagreeing, trolling, joking, fence-sitting, and more. It is kind of ironic when given the perceived "democracy" that is the internet, we wait even more eagerly for the next mainstream media report.

Maybe the searing Singaporean heat and dry spell has got into our heads. Now there's lots of heat online.

March 8: Gopalan Nair writes that his post is a hoax and clarifies his intentions.

Updated:March 07, 2010, 1715 hrs, Pacific Standard Time.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My last post in this blog, Saturday, March 6, 2010 "Singapore strongman 87 year old Lee Kuan Yew suffers massive heart attack", was a hoax. But the hoax was deliberately written by me. It was a deliberate attempt to highlight how tenuous Singapore really is, with all power in the island vested in one man, and the dire consequences to the island of his parting.

And especially so as he is 87.

I have received no less than 40 comments to it, with so many readers really bowled over as to what will happen. What calamity, what disaster, what misfortune! In fact it appears the Singapore General Hospital had its security tightened and the stock market is vary and keeping a watch on developments!

Is it not stupid that a mere blog like mine, which is not a major newspaper and not a news source of any major importance can be taken so seriously and cause such worry and uncertainly. I must say the overwhelming reaction to my humble blog about the Dear Leader is gratifying.

I wonder whether the recently sacked Lee Kuan Yew's Attorney General Woon Seong Ming, who is going to teach law in Singapore University, to which position he is amply qualified since it is a Singapore University after all, and not one in a democracy; will be coming out with his swan song of a lawsuit or a prosecution against me of some kind?

You never know, if he does a good job of suing me or prosecuting me this time, Lee may allow him to keep his job.

This overwhelming reaction is characteristic not among the democracies of the world which can weather the death of anyone but of Stalinist dictatorships.

You will see the same agitation and worry when Kim Jung Il kicks the bucket and so will the Cubans when Raul Castro or Fidel does the same to it.

This is what I have been telling Singaporeans all along. I do not really know one way or the other whether Lee Kuan Yew has had any heart attacks because even if he did, as is the custom in Stalinist closed societies, you are not going to be told of it.

At the same time, I do not know if the 87 year old octogenarian had run the mile in under 3 minutes yesterday.

In fact I don't know anything. And neither do you. And that my friends is the story of living in Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore.

And let me tell you something. Even though I made up everything I said about Dear Leader about his heart attack, and none of it is true, I can assure you that the scenario that I painted assuming that he dies is completely correct.

And even if he did not have the heart attack yesterday and is not housed in the Intensive Care Cardiac Unit of Singapore General Hospital at present, if in fact that had happened, which I am sure is likely to happen this week or next, given his being a tottering old man of 87 years of age, all that I said is going to happen very soon.

Noone can live forever.

Those with money will begin transferring it abroad, there will be a run on the banks, his corrupt friends at the top will be leaving with their money and their lives, there will be demonstrations at the junctions of Geylang Road and Mountbatten Road and Orchard Road and Patterson Road. There will be mayhem. And it will happen soon.

My advice to those in Singapore with their cerebrums intact is this, if you can stand and protest the system, do it for your own good. Bring about a new Singapore. One that does not rely completely on an 87 year old tin pot.

If not pack up your belongings and your families and fly Qantas to Australia or some other safer country. Singapore is not longer safe.

And now, as someone had intimated, since this report of his having a heart attack was a deliberate fabrication, I have been advised that Lee Kuan Yew, as is the custom of Stalinist strongmen around the world, will either sue me or if he cannot do it, shoot me.

I am holding my breath.

Postscript: I think my writing the hoax about Dear Leader Lee Kuan Yew may in fact contribute to his demise sooner, due to the stress of it. Stress and tension contribute to heart attacks, especially in 87 year old men.

Gopalan Nair
39737 Paseo Padre Parkway, Suite A1
Fremont, CA 94538, USA
Tel: 510 657 6107
Fax: 510 657 6914

Ouch, I don't think we are worth this experiment. On the one level, Gopalan might reveal how Singaporeans will behave. On the next level, there will be implications on the credibility of the internet, which has long been establishing itself as a viable source of information. That said, we can definitely do without such hoaxes and distasteful speculations. This does not help Singaporeans nor Singaporean netizens one bit.

Wishing someone's death is not the best strategy, even against someone who has committed atrocities and human rights violations. You should be the better man and not stoop as low, if not lower than, as your oppressor. If anything, it might generate more support and sympathy for the Minister Mentor, and to a small extent, his party. It will only make you look malicious and petty.

Since Gopalan has admitted the hoax, there is really nothing much to say now, right?