November 12, 2009
[The State's Times]
SINGAPORE : China will be loaning two baby pandas to Singapore for a 10-year period, as part of China’s recognition of Singapore’s open and unconditional affections for the mainland. Senior Chinese spokesman, Ling Dingdong, said, “In view of Singapore’s long-term commitment towards blowing sunshine up where the sun doesn’t usually shine, the PRC has decided to bestow this honour on the city-state”.
According to Wildlife Reserves, Singapore will be the 7th country to get these animals on loan – after the US, Japan, Austria, Australia, Spain and Thailand. Members of the Singapore Democratic Party gathered in Speakers Corner to protest the fact that 7th was not good enough for the highest paid ministers in the world. Local animal welfare group, ACRES, also protested against removing the bears from their natural Mandarin-speaking habitat to a multicultural Singlish-speaking one, believing that such a move would cause the animals great psychological trauma, cultural confusion and civilisational loss of “face”.
“Imagine how awkward it would be for the two bears to re-adapt when they have to return to China in 10 years time. They won’t be able to speak proper Mandarin, or English for that matter. They won’t have any opinions of their own and would only want to shop their lives away. They would be pulverised by the other bears back home. We’re only weakening them by hosting them”, observed ACRES member, Dolphin Lim.
But Singaporeans won’t get to see these bears soon. They will arrive in the second half of 2011. They will have to be quarantined for stringent ISD checks to ensure they have no secret Falongung connections, as well as to be warned against violating their social visit visas by engaging in vice activities such as soliciting the moon or polar bears. After which, there would be a month of intensive broken-English training in order that they may understand local zookeepers.
There are also plans to offer these pandas PR status, in the hopes that they would later take up Singapore citizenship and sink their roots here. Singapore government spokesperson, Florence Tan, noted that “this is in keeping with the policy to attract the best foreign talent and to retain them”. There was some reported unhappiness among Southeast Asian animals like the Sumatran rhino, Indian elephant and Malayan tapir as to why they were not offered Singapore citizenship but they were promptly tranquilized before they could run amok.
Others were disappointed for different reasons. Head of the SPG Association, Tammy Worthington-Cheng, complained that, “it would be better to bring in more polar bears because they are bigger and whiter. Panda bears are so patchy and small….so cheena”.
The pandas will be located in a special area – a 1,600 sq-metre climate-controlled enclosure that is fully air-conditioned with temperature set between 18 and 22 degrees. “This is in keeping with how we treat our foreign talent” said Singapore Zoo Director Quah Liow Hor. Again local animals were heard grumbling of the special treatment but Mr Quah retorted, “the local animal gene pool is small, and unless we want the zoo to shrink, we have to accept and welcome foreign talent”.
But veteran zookeeper K Subramaniam had another take. He believed that the special enclosure was necessary because “PRC animals are noisy and very competitive and may create conflict with the local animal population, so it’s better to separate them lah. Scarly the female panda bear go and seduce the older local animals how? Wait got trouble then must shoot all of them how?”
November 6, 2009
I had a friend called Kevin in secondary school. He was a clever boy. He was smiley and polite. But Kevin came from a poor family. His father was usually unemployed and his mother worked on the factory floor of some garment manufacturer. This made Kevin pretty insecure, especially when he hung around us middle class boys.
And because of this Kevin was always trying to be someone else. He tried to talk like us, tried to act like us, tried to become us. Pretty soon, Kevin stopped being Kevin. And because he could never become us, he became nothing, neither here nor there. And because he was neither here nor there, we found him less and less interesting.
Singapore is like Kevin.
According to Goh Chok Tong Singapore needs a new identity to ‘stay ahead’. We must project a new identity – “one that captivates the eyes, moves the heart, stirs the soul and inspires the mind”. In other words, lie. We do many things. We knock down old buildings for fun, we sue people for saying things we don’t like, we censor films, we have androids for MPs, we have a “nation-building” press, we have leaders we have to worship, we deny people the right to love others of the same sex, but we certainly don’t do ‘captivation’, ‘soul’ or ‘inspire’. Anyone who says otherwise either works in the Singapore Tourism Board or wants to get his letter published in the Forum Page of the Straits Times.
We do safe. We do clean. We do efficient. We do corruption-free, green, family-friendly, and very good propaganda. We already have an identity – a hardworking obedient people with a keen ear for the jangling of coins. Inspiration is one of those high falutin ideas for the birds.
Goh tells us that we must be a “Distinctive City”. But O Great One, we already are! ERP, CWO, COE, no chewing gum, no spitting, no littering, no opposition, no opinion, no intellectuals, no newspaper, no satire, no TV, no one man assembly, hell, we couldn’t be more distinctive if we wore neon pink thongs and a feather boa to the Church of Our Saviour holding hands and singing “It’s Raining Men”! Let’s decide once and for all what kind of Distinctive City we are ok? “Boston of the East”, “Global City for the Arts”, “Renaissance City”, “City of Possibilities” – I’ve not been this confused since Father Mathews asked me to sit on his lap!
This neurotic desire to keep re-inventing ourselves, to be what we’re not, tells us more about our insecurities than anything else. Londoners don’t say they need a new identity. A new transportation system yes, but not a new identity. Nor do New Yorkers, Parisians or any other global city dweller. They know that what they are is exactly that which distinguishes them from the competition.
But like Kevin, Singapore is never at ease with itself. It’s a little ashamed, a little awkward and completely unaware of how to accentuate its qualities. And like Kevin, we’re in danger of becoming neither here nor there.
October 29, 2009
Do you know your ancestors?
No, I’m not into séances.
No, no, are you in touch with your relatives?
My uncle stroked my bum once many years ago but he told me not to tell anyone.
Not that kind of “touch” stoopid.
He gave me a lolly-pop.
Gross. Let’s start again. Do you maintain your ancestral links?
Oh, no why?
SM Goh says Singaporeans must keep in touch with where their forefathers came from.
Isn’t what chap gor meh is all about?
Stop with all that spirits stuff. I’m talking cultural history here.
Why? Since when?
Since SM Goh went to China. There he visited his father’s village called Wu Ling in Yong Chun. He was so taken up with seeing the room where his father was born that he called all Singaporeans to get in touch with their ancestors.
But I don’t speak Hakka.
Minor impediment. I don’t speak Cantonese either.
So we have to get to know our ancestors and distant relatives without speaking the language?
That’s the problem with you government critics. The damn glass is always half empty. Next you’ll be saying you have nothing in common with a ruddy-face peasant farmer who earns $1 a day scooping pig shit.
Was that what your ancestors did?
Think so. Didn’t you know, “humble” is the new cool! SM Goh said “It is in a way humbling to know that my origin was that humble”.
My great grandfather was a magistrate.
You should be ashamed of yourself.
Anyway, SM Goh says it’s important to keep in touch with your ancestors.
Like I said, I don’t speak the dialect anymore…*sob* The government’s systematic efforts to kill off our dialects over the years has torn me from my motherland *sob*.
There, there… don’t take it too hard. Just think of it as propaganda and reality passing each other like two ships in the night.
A bit like chopping off a man’s legs and then asking him to keep fit by jogging?
Ouch. Yes. But SM Goh also said all Singaporeans should be loyal to Singapore. Even the new ones.
What new ones?
Those that aren’t maids, construction workers, or masseuses on social visit passes.
But those make the best Singaporeans!
The maids are abused, the construction workers are worked to the bone and the masseuses are constantly screwed.
Abused, worked to the bone and screwed?
The perfect Singaporean.
None of your wise cracks now. Be serious. There was a time when people said that Singapore won’t make it, but we did. There was a time when trouble seemed too much for us to take, but….
August 25, 2009
Aunty Lucy deserves more respect. The Chinese-speaking heartlander has long been a poster child for moral conservatism. Every time anything morally controversial crops up, whether its censorship regulations, topless shows, or 377A, the debate is always lazily poised between the more liberal cosmopolitan and the conservative heartlander. The “liberal cosmopolitans” being the convenient label for the English-speaking well educated middle class and “heartlanders” for the uncles and aunties who live in Toa Payoh. This is class politics at its most deceitful.
Labelling the heartlander ‘conservative’ has been very useful in demonising the Chinese-speaking working class as the socio-cultural laggard in a progressive global city. Painted as unsophisticated, uncouth and resistant to change, the heartlander is the cosmopolitan’s country bumpkin cousin who needs to be patronised and shielded from the decadent forces of globalisation.
However, even a quick glance at how the Chinese working class views “morally controversial” issues will force many to reconsider its reputation for conservatism. When it comes to issues of sex and sexuality, it’s clear the heartlanders have a far more enlightened attitude towards homosexuality and cross-dressing. Channel 8 is filled with cross-dressers from Liang Po Po to Aunty Lucy. Homosexuality is not a big deal when drama serials and comedies have their fair share of effeminate characters. Do we have their equivalent on Channel 5? Can you imagine Kumar in full drag with his own show on Channel 5 at primetime? The English-speaking moralists will have a collective heart-attack (right after penning a million outraged letters to the Straits Times and Mediacorp).
It also seems as though the heartlanders have a far healthier attitude towards sex. Pick up any issue of the Lianhe Wan Pao and there’ll be sensational sex scandals, racy celebrity gossip and titillating pictures to send any puritan into a full-blown epileptic shock.
Even euthanasia is not taboo subject for the Chinese-speaking community. When Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan broached the topic of euthanasia late last year as a topic of debate in the context of an aging society, he was citing an on-going debate that was already taking place in the Chinese press. Such a debate would not have been possible in the English-language press because of the high levels of moralising that would invariably overwhelm the discussion. [http://www.asiaone.com/Health/News/Story/A1Story20081020-94922.html]
Over a variety of issues, the heartlander holds more enlightened and progressive views than the English-speaking middle class. There are two possible reasons for this. Firstly, the Chinese-speaking heartlanders are predominantly Buddhists (still the biggest religion in Singapore) and Taoists. Both religions are generally very tolerant of contrary morals, and often possess a more pragmatic syncretic streak, thus allowing them to adapt to liberal values and lifestyles. Secondly, as more economically marginal they do not presume a great stake over the political and moral character of the country or state, and are thus more ambivalent to trends in liberalisation or liberalism.
So who are the ones patronising our heartlanders? There are two groups who do this. The first are segments of the English-speaking pseudo-nationalist middle class who view the heartlander as some sort of house pet who needs protection. They are the ones vocal about saving Singlish in the name of preserving the Singapore identity but then turn around and exaggerate the way heartlanders speak it to make fun of them. Think Gurmit Singh’s Phua Chu Kang. The mole, the perm, the yellow boots, the unreal accent – Singh’s portrayal of Phua Chu Kang was not an attempt to find comic elements in the nouveau riche but a straightforward caricature of the working class by the English-educated. Phua Chu Kang is a cartoon figure to poke fun at and to make people who speak good English feel better about themselves.
The second group consists of middle class moral and religious conservatives. This group has long sought to forge a morally conservative society. It is very uneasy with increasing liberal trends such as the casinos, ‘R’ rated movies, topless shows and so on. Sometimes it campaigns against these trends on moral grounds. However, most of the time, it campaigns on the behalf of the poor helpless heartlander for whom society is moving too fast. This group of moral conservatives use the heartlander as its proxy to construct a conservative society. And by doing so, issues of religion and morality are magically disguised as class issues, where uncompromising religion-influenced doctrines are hidden behind the ignorant working class.
Anybody who says Singapore doesn’t have class politics doesn’t know Singapore. The politics may not be pronounced or manifested in violent clashes but they are there nonetheless.
July 21, 2009
And that is what I love about this goddamn country; the contradictions. Ask any conservative Singaporean about whether we should change the way NDP is celebrated to, say a mega concert and a big BBQ, and you’ll get a chorus of protests. These folks, so resistant to change, prefer to cling on to the gayest possible mode of celebration.
The latest media hoo-ha (the local media likes to create fake controversies to fill up its pages in the absence of investigative journalism) is the howls of protests against the new NDP song What do you see? by local rock band Electrico. It’s not the greatest song in the world but it marks a progressive change from the rest of the kitschy nonsense like Count on Me Singapore or Stand Up for Singapore. People who tear up when singing the latter two songs most probably also own The Sound of Music DVD (director’s cut), ABBA’s Greatest Hits, and know the words to every Barry Manilow song…ever. Nothing makes me more agitated, more unpatriotic than the strains of “there was a time when people said that Singapore won’t make it…but we did”. And when its sung by 60,000 flag-waving Singaporeans who queued overnight for their tickets all dressed in their red $9.90 Giordano T-shirts, well it’s just like a sweet natured version of the Nuremberg Rally isn’t it?
NDPs are depressing. They remind me of everything that is orchestrated, superficial, rehearsed, practiced, and devised from top-down in Singapore. They are artificial cauldrons of whipped up frenzy and heightened emotions where quick spasms of ecstasy are mistaken for patriotism. Not too dissimilar from how churches use music to stir up mass feelings of elated bliss. At the end of the day NDPs are pure theatre.
I would like to put out a suggestion to readers. Celebrate National Day differently this year. Think back to your childhood. Go to a location, a space or a building that first springs to mind. It could be an old estate, a torn down building, an empty parking lot where your old school used to stand, the beach or even a lonely road you used to take to primary school. Ponder for a while how far you have come since, how far this country has come, and what sacrifices it has made to achieve what it has. Ask yourself if these sacrifices have been worthwhile, both for yourself and the country. Get to know yourself a bit. I promise you, it’ll be more meaningful than watching grown men jiggling in tights and foundation.
July 1, 2009
Singapore is a nation trapped in a shopping mall.
If new malls like ION and Orchard Central are not spouting out like fresh H1N1 cases, then old ones like Wisma Atria and Tanglin Mall are constantly going under the knife for a new lease of life. As a people, we are obsessed not with buying lots of things, but with the shopping experience. Sure, we enjoy the act of purchasing, but buying alone does not drive Singaporeans to malls. It’s the long-drawn foreplay of purchase that we crave.
We crave the experience of being in a crowd, of being mesmerized by bright coloured lights, of being entranced but uncommitted to fresh shinny shoes, clothes, belts, bags and the lot. We love to play the role of the urban butterfly, flitting from one cold mannequin to another, absorbing the sensory experience of loud bad music, reveling in the masochistic joy of the dull ache in our feet while secretly enjoying the annoyance from blank sales assistants. It’s the ultimate non-confrontational, passive activism. It is so Singaporean.
Arguments from nurture are always tricky. Do dog owners grow to look like their Chihuahuas, or do they choose Chihuahuas that look like them? Similarly, do we love shopping because we’re so damn politically neutered or does shopping divert our energy from politics and civil society? It is not a completely pedantic question because while the joys of mass consumption have indeed spawned generations of mindless consumers everywhere in the world, it has also produced an anti-capitalist, anti-globalisation, anti-establishment backlash we don’t get here.
From groups like The Third Position, Peoples Global Action, or publications like Adbusters magazine and No Logo, it is clear that the consumer experience has its fair share of heretics. But why not in Singapore?
Could it be because our entire national survival is predicated on shopping? Here in Singapore, national survival is synonymous with economic survival. Economic survival is only possible with capitalism and globalization. Singapore is the ultimate ‘capital city’ and we have to shop to safeguard our national sovereignty.
And we really do perform as Singapore citizens as we move from mall to mall, sucking in the stale air-con, gazing the endless advertising façade of beautiful people looking out to nowhere in particular. It is pure politics in motion. We hear the PM saying something on TV but don’t quite listen hard enough. We have PAP MPs posing in carefully crafted photos in The Straits Times as they advertise their competence and grassroots connection. We are captivated by the officious droning from Parliament because like elevator music we cannot escape it but cannot quite explain why we want to.
It’s wrong to say that shopping is Singapore’s favourite pastime. A pastime is something you do when you’re free, when you’re released from the chores of life, something you do for pleasure. Here in Singapore, we live a shopper’s existence.
May 28, 2009
I have a recurring dream. Lying in a beautiful green meadow, the fluffy clouds suddenly turn into rich mocha ice-cream. The sky begins to drizzle crushed nuts and M&Ms on the ice-cream as great big dollops of it fall into my open mouth. The flowers on the ground open up their petals to reveal cheap Cadbury chocolate as the petals turn into Kettle potato crisps. I eat and eat without ever getting sick. I’ve never known such bliss. And then I wake up. The echoing void in me is resounding. The disappointment is crushing.
And so I felt a sense of déjà vu on Wednesday when PM Lee Hsien Loong announced proposed changes to the country’s electoral system. This was to encourage a wider range of views in Parliament, including opposition and non-government views.
The changes were in three forms. Firstly, to increase the number of Opposition MPs in Parliament to at nine for every term; secondly, to make the Nominated MP scheme a permanent one; and thirdly, to increase the number of Single-Member Constituencies (SMCs), reduce the number of six-member Group Representative Constituencies (GRCs), and increasing the number of five-member GRCs.
The public reaction has generally been positive. Academics, observers and commentators have noted that these are small steps towards a more open political sphere.
But why announce the changes now?
According to PM Lee, these changes are announced now in order that they may be debated and discussed before the next General Elections scheduled by 2011.
But could there be some strategic agenda behind it?
There has been a clear and irrefutable trend in neighbouring countries in recent times towards greater democratization. Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia have all undergone greater political liberalization in the past few years, and have seen greater Oppositional representatives in respective parliaments. More importantly, such events have been closely watched by young Singaporeans. On platforms like Internet forums and public seminars, many Singaporeans have openly wondered why Singapore has not yet achieved such political liberalization and when would it do so? There can be no doubt that the People’s Action Party (PAP) is aware of such aspirations from the young.
This must be worrying for the PAP. Fearing that amongst the young and restless there may be a change-for-change’s sake attitude, PM Lee has made a pre-emptive strike.
These changes may be a matter of keeping up with the Jones’, politically speaking. It makes better sense to have these pre-emptive changes before the comparisons between the one-party state and more politically pluralistic neighbours become too loud, thus acting like a political valve that releases pent up pressure from idealistic young Singaporeans clamouring for more Opposition in Parliament. Such a move ensures that Singapore’s political system, while not completely liberal, does not lag too far behind the zeitgeist.
The introduction of more Opposition into Parliament must surely be to sharpen the response, debating skills and reasoning of PAP backbenchers. Some of the reasoning of PAP MPs in the last few days has been truly shocking not only for their intellectual poverty but also for their lack of original thought. PM Lee must surely be uncomfortably aware of this. However, will more Opposition lead to better debates?
I doubt it. It is more likely that the current bunch of PAP MPs will develop a siege mentality and become even more defensive. The lines between us-and-them will be more clearly drawn.
Lastly, the announcement of such changes also comes before the APEC Summit in November. This would invariable win the city-state some good press coverage given the inevitable reportage on the restrictions to protest groups which will be descending on to Singapore.
Of the three changes, the increase in NCMP seats has garnered the most attention. This is because, together with the compulsory nine NMP seats, there will be a guaranteed 18 non-PAP MPs in Parliament. This is unprecedented since 1965.
The number of NCMPs will now be increased from a maximum of six to nine. There are three real consequences.
Firstly, the message sent to voters will be this: there is no need to cast your ballot for the opposition because some will get in as NCMPs anyway. In actual terms this would spell a dip in the popular vote for the Opposition. It is a psychological gain for the PAP.
Secondly, with more NCMP seats up for grabs, different Opposition parties will find it harder to agree amongst themselves which constituencies to contests and which to avoid. There would be more 3-corner or even 4-corner fights. This would of course split the Opposition vote and benefit the PAP. Take for example Aljunied GRC in the last election. The PAP team won 56 per cent of the votes, while the Worker’s Party won 44 per cent. With the promise of two NCMP seats up for grabs in GRCs, other Opposition parties will be tempted to contest in Aljunied too as it is popularly perceived as the weakest GRC. This would surely cut the Worker’s Party’s 44 per cent share.
Thirdly, meanwhile there are also strategic gains too. NCMPs have limited voting rights. The more Opposition MPs that come under the NCMP scheme means that there will be more opposition MPs in Parliament who cannot vote on constitutional matters, public funds, no confidence motion or to remove the President. Ultimately it means more Opposition MPs with fewer voting rights.
Sigh. Dreams are a bitch.
May 26, 2009
The level of debate in Parliament has never been particularly high. With PAP MPs the overwhelming majority, robust debate in the house is as common as entertainment is on Mediacorp.
And the government knows this too. When birds of the same feather flock together, all dressed in white plumage, there is bound to be group-think and very shoddy reasoning. Which is why the NMP scheme was introduced in 1990 to inject quality into parliamentary exchange. Nevertheless we’re still susceptible to the occasional clanger.
Low Thia Khiang’s suggestion two days ago that an effective opposition can provide checks and balances on the ruling PAP party created a storm in the proverbial teacup.
The Worker’s Party leader was speaking in response to Goh Chok Tong’s recent teaser that the government would refine the political system to keep pace with society. Any changes however, according to Goh, needed to abide by three things – fairness to all political parties (at this point I had to duck because the flying pig zoomed dangerously overhead); ensuring a strong government; and protecting harmony, unity and economic growth.
For Low, a strong opposition served as viable recourse for Singaporeans if the PAP were to a) abuse its power; b) trample on people’s rights; and c) become corrupt.
As sure as the sun rises and The Straits Times winning SPH’s newspaper of the year, PAP backbenchers rose to rebut Low. Indranee Rajah and Josephine Teo being the most prominent of the lot. Rajah argued that Low’s premise was flawed. According to her,
He’s really saying just in case PAP becomes corrupt in the future, then people had better vote for the opposition now. But if you apply the same logic, then the argument can also be made that if you vote in the opposition, then they may become corrupt in the future, so in order to avoid that, you might as well vote for PAP now.
Going by Mr Low’s argument, the logical outcome is that in every other country in the world with an opposition it should be squeaky clean, and in Singapore, in which a large majority of the Parliament comes from a single party, then Singapore should be the most corrupt country in the world. That as we know is not the case.
Firstly, this is probably the most selective form of arguing one can hope to witness. Instead of addressing Low’s overall argument – that a strong opposition would be a viable alternative should the PAP falter – she chose to harp on just one point, corruption, in the hope that this would be enough to discredit his broader argument. It’s an old lawyer’s trick; find a loose thread in your opponent’s argument and then put the spotlight on it, however small the thread, in order to cast doubt over the rest of the argument.
It may work fine in the courtroom but such forms of intellectual disingenuousness really have no place in Parliament. They lack earnestness and sincerity, and rely on facetious point-scoring. Cheap lawyer tricks are like two-bit magicians, they bedazzle the kids but thinking adults ought to know better.
Secondly, while she correctly argues that a two-party system does not guarantee that there will be no corruption, she goes on to shoot her own foot with her reasoning. Just because a two-party system is no guarantee, does not mean that a one-party system necessarily is! Just because our one-party system has been relatively corruption free does not mean it will remain this way forever. It’s your garden variety red herring argument. A bit like saying, oh, white bread is no good so that means brown bread is very good. It makes as much sense as Zoe, Fann and the three brain cells they share.
Josephine Teo’s contribution was not much better. She wondered,
Is it better for Singapore to support an opposition – even if it is not up to mark – in the hope that it could govern well when it overthrows a corrupt PAP? Or is it better to make sure that the PAP does not fail Singaporeans, that it has the strongest team to serve Singaporeans?
This is a typical false dilemma fallacy. Why can’t we nurture a strong opposition that is able to takeover if the PAP fails? Why do we have to choose between a weak opposition and a dominant PAP? But to push the envelope further, what would Teo propose we do if for some reason the PAP fails even after all our best efforts to ensure it doesn’t? What then? No contingency plan? Doesn’t sound very PAP-like does it?
In the end, while the MPs debated back and forth over the last two days, the best argument for a strong opposition came, ironically, from the shoddy reasoning of the PAP MPs themselves. Low didn’t really need to push too hard. All he had to do was to dangle the bait and let the PAP MPs, so lacking in debating experience, make the case for him. To be fair, he probably did this unwittingly given his awkwardness as a public speaker. But the point he made, intentionally or not, remains – the case for a strong viable opposition is made most forcefully by PAP MPs who do not believe that the PAP will ever fail.
May 13, 2009
It ain’t easy being Singaporean.
Your life is run by a series of acronyms like ERP, COE, CPF, PSLE, NS, PMS; you have to endure the relentless tropical heat; you have nothing to read but The Straits Times; your national culture consists of shopping and whining (I’m nothing if not patriotic); and it’s still considered a crime to strangle Gurmit Singh. You get called names like ‘little red dot’, ‘useless piece of snot’ and even Jacky Chan craps all over you. Let’s face it, when a man who made his living jumping around like a monkey says you have “no self-respect”, well, it ain’t been a good week.
But still, you try. The great Romantic poet John Keats once wrote:
It matters not what the crowd bays
Or what the angry gods may say
For all that matters is the heart
And the values you cling hard
What beautiful lines. It means that regardless of what people may say or think about you, what matters is what you believe in. Words deserving of colourful embroidery indeed. Ok, I completely made the lines up. Keats never said that. I could have looked him up but I really can’t be bothered. Laziness is one of my many charms. But don’t let that take anything from the message. It’s still pertinent.
And so I try, as a citizen, to narrow the gulf between our national values and what we do as a country. After all, if morality means practicing what you preach, then being a great country means practicing what you teach. Under George Bush, America tore up their Constitution, practiced torture, invaded the wrong country and became the pariah of the international community. Under Barack Obama, America is heeding the call of its ideals and founding principles and, in the process, is becoming great again.
I think a little red dot can be great too. I think greatness is not limited to the measure of size and might, but the loftiness of one’s ideals and one’s faithfulness to them. By this definition, Singapore can be great.
And so I turn my eyes towards our ‘Shared values’. Phrases like “Nation before community and society above self” ring so sweet. They stir up a sense of pride deep inside. They make me want to do something. Oh shut up, it’s true. They really do make me want to give of myself.
But then I see our ministers’ legendary salaries and their need to “facilitate the recruitment and retention of the quality of talent we need for the government and public sector.” My enthusiasm becomes more flaccid than an 80 year old man in a cold shower.
What about Shared value #3 -“Community support and respect for the individual”? Pretty uncontroversial, we can’t go wrong here. 377A, AWARE new exco, Thio Su Mien – enuff said.
What about Asian values and Confucian ethics ? I think to myself, well, perhaps cynicism aside, the clarion call to be moral, ethical and righteous, regardless of their political intent, is worth heeding. My cynicism is about to slip away when I also recall our on-going manufacture of landmines, their sale to war-torn countries, our economic dealings with the Myanmar junta, our medical offerings to Robert Mugabe, and most recently, our welcome of North Korean President Kim Yong Nam. Ah well, you know what they say, we’re just a little red dot and must look out for our national interests.
Pragmatism is a wonderful device. It allows you to do anything you want, however you want, and then blame it on reality. It’s an excuse for abandoning higher morals and ethics without looking like a dick. It makes you a man because you’re seen to be ‘realistic’ and ’grounded’. It’s the ultimate backstage pass, allowing you to bypass everyone to get straight to the goodies. And being pragmatic also means that you have to pretend to have values, whether shared or of the Asian variety because there are idealistic saps out there who, believe it or not, romanticise principles. It’s just pragmatic to be an ethical Confucianist.
It’s hard being Singaporean. It’s damn hard. Screw it. I’m going shopping.
May 8, 2009
If there is one thing worse than terrorists, its terrorist experts. Ever since Bush’s ‘War on Terror’ began, every half-baked academic/analyst has fashioned himself into a media whore ‘terrorist expert’. It’s a highly rewarding job in this post September 11 world. Governments are jittery, people are panicky and all you need to do is go ‘Boo! Terrorists!’ and you’ll get more media attention than Thio Su Mien walking naked down Holland Village. (That may actually qualify as an act of terrorism).
‘Terrorism experts’ today remind me of snake oil sales men of yore. They talk about ailments they know absolutely nothing about, holler in thunderous tones, warn that the itch in your inner thigh marks the return of SARS, and then recommend cheap cooking oil to rub over your body. All for $10 bucks a vial. Fear is what keeps ‘terrorist experts’ in business. Without the fear of IMMINENT ATTACK, where are they going to get their funding?
And it’s all so simple. Everyone can be a ‘terrorist expert’. All you need to do is to speak vaguely and be as ambiguous as possible. Here, let me give it a go.
“Mas Selamat is a terrorist with a high level of skills, a man with deep resolve. Only a small number of such terrorists have the ability and know-how, and it shows that Singapore and the rest of Southeast Asia is under persistent danger. JI is a group that’s always expanding,… always working and he’s been able to connect with some JI members.”
There, how hard was that? I said absolutely nothing that cannot be lifted of any newspaper. I must be a ‘terrorist expert’. So how did I fare in the Basic Terrorist Expert Test? Check with the model answer below.
“Mas Selamat is a terrorist with a very high degree of experience, and a man with tremendous determination. There are very few terrorists of that competence and capability, and it demonstrates that Singapore and the region faces a continuous threat. JI is a group that’s constantly growing,… constantly active and he’s been able to link up with a number of JI members”
Dr Rohan Gunaratna [http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/427853/1/.html]
Not bad eh? I’m getting my Anti-terrorism Proficiency Badge in the mail tomorrow. Will sew it next to my crotch. You kids can play this game at home too. Just circle the appropriate word: Mas Selamat/Osama bin Laden/Derek Hong is a very dangerous man. He has bombed an airport/twin towers/gay spas to spread fear and to establish a caliphate/KFC empire/24 hour chapel over the region. He is very skilled and hardened, and is a high ranking member of the very insidious/happy-go-lucky/self-help group called the Jema’ah Islamiyah/al Qaeda/Chingay Parade. He is currently building a network of terror/call girls/terror call girls in order to infiltrate Singapore/Southeast Asia/the universe and beyond. He must be closely watched.
If these office-dwelling air-con loving pot-belly ‘experts’ are so knowledgeable, how come they could not even pin-point the country Mas Selamat was in? He’s in Java, no he’s in Pattaya; he’s in Surabaya, perhaps Batam. There was more confusion amongst these experts than MOE and the sex education programme!
Intelligence work is boring. It’s about following leads that 90 per cent of the time lead nowhere. It’s about undercover work and monotonous stakeouts, missing your family and wishing you didn’t sign up with the Ministry of Home Affairs as you bake in the hot sun watching innocuous-looking people. The real experts are ISD intelligence officers and grunts who will not be named because they cannot be named, not some well-paid blowhard talking a lot but saying absolutely nothing.