"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Saturday, April 19, 2003

Amid the millions of letters on SARS, some interesting ones on animal cruelty:

No cruelty in shark harvest

NOT all sharks are threatened with extinction. In fact, only two rare species are. Also, it is not true that cruel treatment is meted out when the fins are harvested.

At the 12th Meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) held in Santiago, Chile, from Nov 3-15 last year, it was stated that sharks, by and large, are not endangered with the exception of two - the whale shark (Rhincodin typus) and basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) - included in Citses Appendix II which came into effect on Feb 13 in Singapore.

As far as our association is aware, these two species of sharks are hardly traded in Singapore. So there is no justification to raise a hue and cry about eating sharks' fin in Singapore. Sharks are often hauled in by a tuna/sword-fish fishing fleet and the normal method used by fishermen is to electrocute them with an electric rod if they are still alive before harvesting the fins and cleaning the stomach, then freezing them.

The major portion of meat is a valuable commercial product. It is stored in a huge refrigerator and is never discarded or thrown into the sea as alleged.

Singapore Marine and Land Products Association

Chickens suffer more than foie gras ducks

I HAVE followed with interest, but also a certain feeling of unfairness, recent letters to the Forum about foie gras (duck liver).

Ducks raised to produce duck liver (and magret, and leg confit) are over-fed (not by pump, air guns) for the last 12 days of their lives.

It is pure fantasy to describe their lives as an ordeal. Those poultry live in small farms, outside, and are treated in the best manner possible. Stress and mistreatment ruin the finished product.

The last few days of their lives are, however, not the most comfortable.

Pinpointing those ducks is extremely unfair. Comparing them to endangered species is dishonest. Naming the countries that are banning them is laughable: in those countries, millions of people eat in fast-food outlets every day.

Have you read anything about chickens, for example? They spend their 40-day short lives in a cage, they cannot move, their bones often break from sickness and weakness, they are fed with flour made of bones and unusable parts of chickens (it is called cannibalism), lowest-cost supplements and antibiotics, their beaks are cut so they do not harm themselves (tells you a lot about the mental health of the birds).

A scientist is currently proposing a genetically modified featherless chicken, easier to process. A lot more misery can be described.

We can agree that thousands of ducks have a rough time at the end of their lives. But before hitting on that industry, perhaps we should bring some attention to the billions of chickens whose short stay on earth is a constant torture.

Classic Fine Foods Pte Ltd Singapore

All very reasonable sounding, but written by people with vested interests. I will give them the benefit of the doubt, though.

In contrast, this one pissed me off. Maybe I will finally get down to writing in:

Seeing red over new censorship proposals

I STRONGLY object to the new censorship rules proposed by the Censorship Review Committee.

Firstly, by allowing some previously banned materials or shows in, we are compromising our moral standards. This has serious implications for the values younger Singaporeans (including myself) will grow up with.

I respect the panel of academics, journalists, professionals and artists who are taking the trouble to review the censorship rules and proposing changes they see as liberating for a society like Singapore.

However, I would like to challenge the way such decisions were made. Were community groups consulted? How did the panel arrive at its proposed changes?

A society is shaped by popular culture. What kind of values are we suggesting to our young people if we allow racier shows like Sex In The City to air on television? It may have won an Emmy but the values that come across at the end of each episode are less than desireable.

I also want to question how the Censorship Review Committee is going to deal with shows that explicitly exploit images of women. I believe many shows that were censored are shows dealing with female nudity or themes relating to female sexuality.

How are we to ensure that Singaporean women's image will not be compromised by Western definitions?

Singaporean women have already been caught in so many debates regarding their sexuality. We do not need popular media to blatantly play out on a greater scale what men want to see in their fantasies.

[Name removed at the writer's request on 26/02/04]

The last mail pissed me off so much, I sent in a reply.

My sister says it's too ideological, and that I've to be more dispassionate. Everyone else says it's good, though I'm sure The Associate would have much to say!

Let's see if it's rejected, or how horribly mutilated it is if it's accepted :0

[Ed: This is the text of the letter I sent in:

'I refer to the letter "Seeing red over new censorship proposals", published in the Forum on Saturday, April 19th.

*** appears to be distressed over the proposed relaxing of censorship rules, and I am certain many Singaporeans are lamenting our declining moral standards.

However, just who defines these nebulous moral standards? Beyond certain broadly defined universal constants, like "Thou shalt not kill", "Thou shalt not lie" and the like, it is hard to find morals which all societies uphold. What is one man's meat is another man's poison - the Amish and the Taliban, for example, thought the naked ankles of women to be as immoral as most of us think the naked bosoms are. Morals change with time, too - just as most people today think both polygyny and polyandry 'immoral' and unjustified, our great grandparents would have viewed the increasingly risque beer posters with more than mild displeasure. Besides, it seems that the moral standards in Singapore, at least as far as movies are concerned, are that the mere flash of a nipple is deemed unsavoury, but it is perfectly fine for strapping males to gun down everyone in a room.

She also wonders what will happen to the young, who are vulnerable to influences. Regulators in more liberal countries have also pondered this, which is why attempts are made to restrict the young and impressionable from being influenced. For example, more explicit television shows are only permitted to be screened on television at late hours, when parents will likely be at home, parental locks are built into most televisions, and the viewing of pornography is restricted to those above 18. In any case, Singaporean youth are immsensely resourceful and curious, especially when it comes to the Internet. Does anyone have any illusions about what most young boys (and not a few young girls) laugh or giggle about during their whispered conversations? It is said that Forbidden fruit always tastes sweeter, especially to impetuous youth, so by imposing a blanket ban on everything some of us consider "undesirable", we are actually increasing their appeal. At the end of the day, it is up to parents to teach their children about the birds and the bees, but sadly most do not, leading them to seek out alternative sources and be "corrupted" (if you like).

Lastly, she is concerned about the image of women. However, the very show she reviles, Sex and the City, is about female empowerment. These women do not depend on men like Ally McBeal, but are financially and emotionally independent. Whatever men can do, they can do better.

Censorship in Singapore is justified by claiming that it reflects the views of a majority of Singaporeans. What if a majority of Singaporeans got it into their heads that bandanas should be banned as they are unsanitary? Would Singapore then outlaw it? I think not, for why should the majority be allowed to impinge on the freedom of a minority when the minority is not causing any trouble for others?

John Stuart Mill famously pronounced that, "Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign". The idea of censorship - of stopping mature adults from being exposed to new ideas because it's "not good for them" or society "disapproves", smacks of unreasoned, unjustified repression, and shows that the Powers That Be do not trust their own citizens, and condescend to blindfold them. Censors can not and should not be babysitters for mature adults. Besides, there is the problem of enforcement - does anybody doubt the availability of obscene VCDs in Singapore today? For a sobering lesson on the unfeasibility of puritanism, just look at the disaster that was Prohibition in the 1920s.

Simply, if you're offended by something, you can choose not to view it. Just as nobody is forcing you to watch the latest R(A) movie, nobody will be forcing you to watch 'Sex and the City' if you do not want to. If we can restrict the consumption of currently censored material to adults above 18 and keep its advertising subtle, as with R(A) movies presently, there is simply no reason why mature adults should be restricted from watching what they want. Ultimately, we cannot and should not try to impose our subjective "moral standards" on other people, for as the Golden Rule says - "Do not do unto others what you would not have others do unto you". Sadly, I do not think that Singaporeans are mature enough to accept greater freedom, so we will continue to have to let the vocal minority dictate what we should be able to watch. Nevertheless, I applaud the newly proposed guidelines on censorship, as they are a step forward in the right direction for a maturing nation.'

Added 26/02/04]
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