When you can't live without bananas

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

So far, reaction to the "RK House - No Pork" pseudo-video has fallen into 2 broad categories: those predictably jumping on the "racism" bandwagon and expressing outrage and those who think it's very funny (personally I find it stupid, but not offensive). Those with more serious blogs mostly fall into the former category, and the more light-hearted blogs belong to the latter.

Sample: Singapore Angle, Xiaxue comments box, Singapore Patriot, Hear ye! Hear ye!, 我的心聲---留住記憶,分享回憶 - not funny, Wan's Site, Sakura-Sake 3.9 Feat. HAMASAKI AYUMI :: Secret, various people on Young Republic

But then, someone who frequents RK Eating House comments: "that RK video..all bullshit la! its funny but got no such person there who talks like that.. All fake one. All stage themselves. That RK eating house is in serangoon gardens there..i got go there eat so many times.. no pork la.. but there's no such person working there who talks like that.. I find it really really lame. LOL.", and one comment in Xiaxue's comments box is: "dat recording was done by my bf and his grp of frenz at the "indian" guy's house...but actually the ah neh is a chi...haha"

Amid all the furore, what is forgotten is that there's actually a Part 1, made by the same jokers. In Part 1 they go to some coffeeshop and disturb an Ah Beng waiter. Some choice bits (despite my near non-existent knowledge of dialect): asking for free samples of kopi peng, asking if the tea leaves in teh peng come from Cameron Highlands (and if they're ISO-certified), asking if they buy their Horlicks powder from NTUC, and ordering first teh peng, milo peng, horlicks peng and then changing it to some impossible order (ice kosong or something)

Essentially, the mode of amusement is the same - guai lan-ing someone, except that there's no religious element here. But since the guy's not Indian (Muslim?), no one says anything.

If you want to put anyone in jail under the Sedition Act, you should target the thousands who laughed at it rather than those who made it, since at least the latter were consistent in their attempts at humour. In other words, the people who made it did an Ah Beng version so they weren't targetting Muslims in general, but the people who laughed at it didn't laugh at the Ah Beng version, and therefore they're racist!!!11~OMGWTHBBQ!!~!

If Sacha Baron Cohen pretends to be anti-Semitic, he's a brilliant satirist.
If a non-Jew pretends to be anti-Semitic, he's racist and supports the Holocaust.

Damn, we need some Jewish comedians over here. Or at least a black guy - except that he'd be able to insult everyone except Jews.

[Addendum: The two jokers only asked the fake waiter for pork - they didn't throw it at him, force him to eat it or smear him with lard. The fact that so many Malays are waiters in Haram establishments suggests that there might be nothing inherently offensive about *serving* pork - one might compare it to driving a vehicle in which non-Halal materials travel.]

guojun: If they wanted to charge people for breaching the Sedition Act, they can go into any SAF camp and detain almost everyone.

Aaron, it is terrifying to be a minority - i am the sole Singaporean in my part of germany. But being the minority means being able, even forced, to go out, to see more, and to be more tolerant. I have endured jokes against me too by schoolchildren who didn’t know better.

So what was i going to do - charge them under the sedition act? I laughed it off, and joked with them. Intolerance only goes so far, and sometimes it is wiser and more gracious to take things with a pinch of salt.

got pork: i’m muslim and i’m not at all offended. People really need to have a sense of humour and stop acting like some self-righteous guardians of this and that.

lbandit: Looking (or rather listening) through the No Pok video, i truly could not detect any hint of racism. At most, i would say the video was about public mischief rather than racism. Gerald claims that the video was extremely insensitive to Indians and Muslims and downright racist. Mildly insensitive, perhaps. But racism? Seems like racism is invoked to make things sound more serious than it actually is.

As quoted about racism in Slavery: It couldn’t happen during my time 30+ years ago. We would not shoot each other but the muds from mudland.

We all made racist jokes in good humour and all laugh it off in good humour. Everyone understood that it wasn’t meant to be racist.

I remember my indian friends calling me cina kui or ah tee ah at times and I called them bayii, bangali, tambi, mamak but I don’t remember calling any keling. Malays were called mud. We poked fun at the bayii for their reputed tua kee. We poked fun at a short chinese for being well endowed “small boy big cock”. Even the bayii envied him, first time he saw in toilet, he exclaimed “wah lau! BIG FAT WORM!”. We openly envied the bayii for not having to wear that heavy stell helmet, the indians for not requiring to put on night camouflage. We always reminded them not to show their teeth during night training. Everyone laughed when one bayii sang “bengali one so long, mat salleh one so strong, melayu kenna potong, cina one macham sotong”.

Scott Adams: I decide when it’s time to move some group of people off the “protected list” and onto the firing range with the other legitimate humor targets. If I jump the gun, all hell breaks loose because it looks as if I’m kicking the weak. But if I time it right, it signals an important step in our collective enlightenment about the value of our fellow humans. And it means some group has demonstrated its value to the point where they can no longer be considered victims. You haven’t achieved equality until you’re a legitimate target for humor.
NUS Democratic Socialist Club: "Freedom of Speech - How Far Can We Go?"

When I came to NUS, I saw many JC students hanging around Science. At first I was heartened that the flower of the nation's youth had shrugged off the accumulated effects of 4 decades of depoliticisation. Then I saw a sign on the wall: "3 February 2007 - SRP Aptitude Test" (SRP = Science Research Program). Oh well.

I find it amusing that no photography/video/voice recording is allowed at this session. In fact, signs outside stated that no recording of any form was allowed. I wonder if this includes blogging and pen and paper. Unfortunately this session is also restricted to students from tertiary institutions and JC students (some of whom came in uniform despite being told that they didn't need to). Both these measures are probably meant to exclude the ISD agents who would otherwise come down and video-record the thing, but then they're taking photographs of us themselves, and the club *was* started in 1964 on the instigation of the PAP to counter the non-Democratic Socialist clubs we had in NUS at the time.

The 3 topics: Freedom of Speech in the Political Scene; Freedom of Speech in Media Coverage; Freedom of Speech in Blogging & Online Forums

The 5 speakers Mr Perry Tong, President of Youth Wing, Worker's Party; Mr Tan Tarn How, Senior Research Fellow at Institute of Policy Studies; Dr Cherian George, Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at Institute of Policy Studies & Associate Professor, School of Communication & Information, NTU; Dr Thio Li-ann, Professor, Faculty of Law, NUS, nominated Member of Parliament; Speech by Mr Wang, author of www.mrwangsaysso.blogspot.com

Freedom of Speech in the Political Scene (Speaker 1)

We have greater and greater freedoms, but there is a legal aspect. The government is praised (perhaps in a veiled way) for opening up, and that the [OB] markers are being shifted. I find it amusing that rights are taken to be privileges, and we should be grateful to the Powers That Are for granting to us poor peasants.

Opinion generators used to be newspapers, columnists, writers. Coffee shop talk and rumours have it that they are told what to write, but it's unverifiable. Now columnists and ST forum call government departments to task. There is more freedom for ordinary citizens to rail against inaptitude, apathy, bad service from government departments and private enterprise, but not in the political arena and for political commentators.

We need freedom of information to make political statements. When he writes on his blog he ends up with more questions than answers/statements. One institutionalised curb on freedom of expression is that we are unable to, with reasonable means to get facts to support statement to fend off legal implications. When politicians want to question policy, they can't get facts [Ed: Presumably only for certain types of politicians], so they speak in fear of legal retaliation, and there are questions raised about character credibility.

If we are a truly democratic society, our laws will be reflective society's values [Ed: Democracy is not the same as majoritarianism]. As a society, are we ready for more freedom of speech or not? We have to change society, it's culture and laws.

There is no real answer to the topic today, and there are stratas in society - those who push for more, and those who accept less/the status quo.

Freedom of Speech in Media Coverage (Speakers 2 and 3)

Speaker 2:
Freedom of the Press & Sustainability of Authoritarianism - Sometimes we're not aware of the curbs on us. We're like caged birds which can't see the bars of the cages. What happens in a society where freedom of expression is suppressed but where the desire for freedom of expression is not as strong as we imagine it should/can be.

How does the press play some stories to us? The press sometimes tries to 'fool' us, to convince us in a certain way. "They don't lie, they just give a different angle" - the press is sophisticated. They seldom or ever lie. He hadn't seen an outright lie in 16 years working there, because the government knows a press which lies loses trust, and a press which is not trusted loses its effectiveness as an instrument of nation building.

The only time it came close to that was in 1998 when there was the haze. When you looked out of your HDB window you can't see past the other block and when you drive you need to turn on your fog lights, but the ST/CNA said there was no haze. This was because we didn't want to affect the Indonesians. But quickly we realised this was not tenable. But the angle was that the haze wasn't so bad.

Accuracy is not truth: all the 15 blind men feeling the parts of an elephant are accurate but they can't come to the truth.

Of "residents", "foreigners" and "citizens": "123,000 jobs were created last year and economists estimate that some 70 percent of these jobs went to foreigners". CNA: "Middle class wage stagnation could lead to social stability".

A few hours later: "124,000 jobs were created last year and economists estimate that some 45 percent of these jobs went to foreigners" (there was an unannounced correction). "That's very bad journalism, but never mind".

Another few hours later: "Manpower Ministry data shows that 124,000 jobs were created last year and 45 percent of these jobs went to foreigners"

Chua Hak Bin at IPS Conference: MOM says that 40% of the jobs went to non-residents but if you include PRs, 70% went to PRs. "That's double the rate of the early 90s boom". The governent likes to lump PRs and citizens in one group.

"Reisdents" versus "non-residents" - why are no "foreign workers" "residents" but many "foreign talents" "residents". "Residents" versus "foreigners" - why are some "non-citizens" not "foreigners". Citizens vs PRs. Why the reisdent vs non-resident PRs.

"GST is to help the lower-income... so more money for social safety nets", vs Talking Cock response.

Do we know when we are being fooled? Do we know how we are being fooled? Most of us don't go "this is propaganda" when reading the ST. Media literacy is important: what is being said, what does it mean, who is saying this, why are they saying this, et al. Analysis of spin and propaganda.

More importantly: do we care that we are being fooled?

A: "Did you know that welfare is bad?"
B: "How do you know?"
A: "I read it in The Straits Times."
(lack of media literacy)

A: "Did you know that welfare is bad?"
B: "Who cares!"

"Fooling" vs "meta-fooling"
"Fooling" - When you're told something given as spin
"Meta-fooling" - You are fooled to the extent that you don't even care whether you're fooled, or whether the subject matter is important.

Democratisation theory: As societies get economic growth, capitalism itself, a middle-class, they tend to become more democratic (democratic effect of wealth). There should be a positive correlation between economic growth and democracy. eg Japan, Taiwan, South Korea.

"Sustainable Authoritarianism" - Not all will go the way of the Berlin Wall. Sustainable Authoritarianism doesn't refer to Cuba, North Korea, Turkistan (sic). Even the citizens don't want this. But if citizens want it, it becomes sustainable. If you can deliver the economic goods, then you can convince people that these material goods are more important than democracy. Convince = Fool?

Charissa: We need to look at the long run. In the timespan of hundreds of years (long run), this might not hold true.
Me: By the time we can tell, we'll all be dead.

Methods of fooling and meta-fooling: Education, Press, Political Culture. We've been brought up to think that things don't matter. Only if things affect us directly do we care.

Speaker 3:
You have to credit people for designing such an amazing and unique system of excuse. But this is an effective excuse for non-action, playing into the sensibilities of apathetic Singaporeans who want a long list of justifications for continuing in the way they have been. The system is very difficult to crack/replace/overhaul. The more you understand the system, the more justified you feel in deciding "there's absolutely no hope, let's go shopping".

Then again there's been no society on earth where fear/repression/government control has been enough of an excuse to suppress human beings who want to get things done. If we're a City of Fear, what about Iran, Indonesia etc? Unpleasant things happen to dissidents there. If they don't use it as an excuse, what excuse do we have?

How far can we go? It depends on where you want to go. It's where the Powers That Be want to take Singapore, then we can go a long way. There's nothing wrong with that. Political activism /= being anti-government.

Is this propaganda. Maybe I'm being meta-fooled: Internal dynamism is part of the reason for the party's success. The civil service buys into creative destruction etc. The public sector is deliberately using the Internet to cut across bureacracies so a civil servant in one ministry can use the net to help another. There're mailing lists across hierarchy. They are good at identifying smart young things.

Is the direction you want to go in expressly prohibited or is the government agnostic about it. There're some areas of activism here that if you take a firm position against them, you have to be careful. eg The death penalty: the few hundred campaigning against it have to be careful, since there're foreign voices talking about it also. Areas where there aren't strong governmental views: Animal rights. The process is far more interesting. You might run up against vested interests (eg More stringent controls on trade and MTI) but it's not an anti-national thing to believe that Singapore should not be a trans-shipment centre for illegal wildlife.

(Someone: "Singaporean no rights. Give animal rights")

Don't conclude from Chee that any form of activism/self-expression is taboo. That if you call strenuously for animal rights you'll become like Chee. If you make that claim you're making an excuse for your apathy and inaction. Where the line is varies across time. Like any good smart activist around the world you have to bide your time and look for opportunities because they shift. In the 1980s there were well-meaning social workers who felt they had to help domestic maids. They were imprisoned under ISA. 20 years later, there are well-meaning social workers who feel they have to help domestic maids. They're now a registered society. They're organising things not that different from their predecessors - photo exhibitions etc

Don't give up on your dreams/ideals. Just bide your time to make your case. Right now there're causes that may seem extreme. Stick to it and your time may come. In the 1990s I might be lablled things by the government by saying that government has failed Singapore by not promoting inter-racial/religious dialogue enough. Singapore's management model was keeping races in their silos. Stability by promoting distrust among the races. Cheating ourselves about the value of diversity - what we gain from each other is one of the most valuable things about Singapore. I was thought too idealistic and Western. But now they're talking about religious/racial harmony in a much more sophisticated way.

Another example: when I wrote the Air-Conditioned Nation, I included columns which had got me chided/ticked off. People asked if I'd get into trouble. When I came back from the US I got invitations to speak in schools - my book was used in secondary schools as supplementary reading. I was labelled a troublemaker but now my book is prescribed reading in schools.

2 questions to ask yourself:
1. How much trouble are you prepared for?
2. What is the maximum trouble you can expect?
(risk management)

Very few Singaporeans ask themselves these questions because they just want excuses. Usually nothing happens to people who open their mouths. Lightning rod treatment of Chee and JBJ - most citizens are not treated like that. If you aim to be a rising political star, you need to keep your taxes (and everything else) in order. Don't have too many assets that can be seized in a lawsuit. Make sure your family is supportive since you may be in for a rough ride. That's the bad news. The good news is you don't get the treatment that dissidents elsewhere get. You won't even get a black eye like Anwar, since the system here is too disciplined. No one will lose control and whack a high profile political prisoner - they're too disciplined.

Scrawny and pathetic looking police officer going to Chee and saying "Please do this". Chee will grandstand and go: "DON'T YOU KNOW THIS IS A FREE COUNTRY". I feel sorrier for the policeman. It's deliberate - calibrated coercion. Don't overplay their hand. It can send out the riot police or the SOF and seize people from their houses (like Anwar) but this is a rational and efficient government. We know the government has learnt - it's been 20 years since they last used the ISA against political opponents. LKY told Mahathir (about Anwar): Why did you use the ISA? You should've used civil proceedings. Brutal oppression does not go down well. It can backfire. It can make authoritarianism unsustainable.

If you say "I cannot sign this petition because I will be locked up under the ISA", you're a hypocrite. There's no evidence at all that such criticisms will get you in trouble. The instruments are still there - you have to read them for signs of desperation/irrationality.

Other forms of protest: people talk about OB markers, Catherine Lim, Mr Brown. Occasionally when they remember, they talk about me. I often feel bad about giving advice on OB markers - it's like asking Zinedine Zidane about anger management. But it's better to ask a footballer who loses all the time than a couch potato. I've lost the battle about predicting OB markers very often but I understand better than ordinary citizens. But even if you lose the game, nothing bad happens to you. You get scolded very publicly, you get called names. Beyond that it partly depends on if you've bosses who panic. Every time I've crosed the OB markers and been scolded, I've still been promoted. After the last time I got scolded I'm not acting head of Journalism.

Trust me, these nightmare stories generally don't happen. But you need to know if your bosses have testicular fortitude, and if they're in big establishment institutions and they know if a scolding is just a scolding. If your boss is over-eager to please the government, you're in trouble. That's probably what happened to Mr Brown. But he's not been victimised - he just lost his TODAY column, and knowing how much they pay for columns it's not a major house, he didn't have to sell his house.

The ST is treated as a very public forum. If you say something there you're entering a very public debate and they'll take you on. If you write in smaller media, ie Which nobody reads, it won't get a response. In most cases if you engage in public affairs it's not at that level yet, eg Blogging, student activities. There is no evidence of victimization of people like you. You may get a bad reputation - some profs will be suspicious of you, but some will encourage you. I would love to hear stories of how active individuals are victimised - I haven't heard any yet.

If you're just an individual having your say, there's no evidence the government is even interested in taking you on. Their success is because they know when to apply their coercion. If you make the transition from being an individual communicator to an organiser/mobiliser of larger groups. eg Petition, calling for people to meet somewhere, do something, you need to be more careful. You should get legal advice from people like Dr Thio. All activists need to do their homework.

Freedom of Speech in Blogging & Online Forums (Speakers 4 and 5)

Speaker 4:
The Singapore government has not seen it fit to create laws for bloggers. Every blogger in Singapore has the same constitutional rights. We have a constitution which purports to protect our rights. Our article 14 is quite different from America, which has a strong statement about free speech. Our free speech is subject to 8 restrictions so right off the bat it's qualified in Singapore but it's not so exceptional because in every court/country in the world courts will read in limits to speech. So we need to figure out the limits.

The governmental approach is 3-fold, and not strictly legal. There are legal/non legal methods of regulation. OB markers are not constitutional markers. The problem with them is that they shift, so the analysis may not be accurate. I like reading the previous speakers' articles in the State (sic) Times.

Not long ago a minister who ran in Aljunied said when you address a minister, remember (some malay words) 'boh dua boh soi' (Hokkien words) - which literally means 'bu da bu xiao' (in Chinese) (Thanks to Gwen for the correction), ie You need to be deferential and respect him. This is not about free speech, but your attitude. But in 2004 there was a change at a Harvard Law Club speech by the then-DPM: disagreement does not necessarily imply rebellion. Singaporeans should engage in public policy debates with rationality, objectivity and passion.

Free speech has a lot of useless views. Truth and falsehood are supposed to collide and out of many contending views, sense will emerge.

At one stage, the government was saying (but it probably does not apply anymore) that if you want to engage in politics you need to be a politician. This is rubbish since I tried to look for a definition of politics and in the Dow Jones case, there was some defintion of "domestic politics". The court defined it as anything pertaining to political ideas/structure of Singapore. So Singaporeans would not be able to talk about ANYTHING that affected them with a political link. eg Education.

The third bit: what you can or cannot talk about. eg Voltaire's reputed quote. How many of us really believe that? The legal framework of any state - in Singapore the taboos are only race/religion and the politics of envy, since the last could translate to a loss of political support. The former is the fear about tearing of social fabric.

Is a blog public or private? Can it be political commentary? They're not that divorced from traditional media, eg a Blog excerpting a ST article and highlighting fallacies [Ed: Hurr hurr]. Cherian made an important point about entering the Straits Times being playing with the big boys. If I write an academic article in a journal with 50 students reading it in 5 years, no one cares. But you can be marked if you go into the big arena - not someone changing the system from within, but overthrowing it from outside.

We're told political debate has to be serious, not trivial: Invective rather than genuine criticism of policy. One minister said we should promote factual and objective presentation rather than emotion, rhetoric and grandstanding. But this is not surprising cf Political Films act. They want to keep political debate serious and genuine, whatever that means.

Blogs are a hybrid environment, giving anyone the power of a printing press. But anyone can read them unless they're secured. Because there's that reach into the public domain there's a concern it'll translate into real world consequences. I read in page 2 of today's ST that the government is sending people into blogs to rebut people. If you're just private and spewing invective, no one will read you because no one can read vulgarity for more than 3 hours or in my case, 3 minutes.

The minister was asked what would happen if a lewd photo is on your blog, the minister: "We can't police everything". They will investigate only if someone makes a police report. The 3 fold approach: Laws, self regulation, education. The most that'd happen is a take-down notice from the MDA. It happened when a website soliciting for child sex got a take-down notice from them [Ed: Wth?! What/when was this].

You need to be careful about the laws on contempt of court and defamation unless you want to lose your homes. Free speech vs reputation (person or institution). If you criticise a judge or judgment, you might fall foul of contempt of court - lowering public confidence in administration of justice. In other countries you need to show a clear and imminent risk of downgrading public confidence. In Singapore you need to show an inherent tendency - this is broadly formulated.

Defamation suits - will they be used on Internet people? There've been no cases yet, but there's Jeff Ooi/Screenshots in Malaysia. The closest example I can think of is a student at the Uni of Indiana who criticised A*Star. He got a warning, took down the post and that was the end of story.

But there's also criminal law. In the penal code - under offence under sec 298. if you post something insulting/hurting the feelings of racial/religious groups it's a crime. The Sedition Act was an astonishing use. Normally sedition is something that tears down the state: Treason or leaking state secrets.

eg The so-called racist bloggers. This is in law, not an OB marker. The judgment was important: the punishment reflected the gravity of trying to upset social order - a seditious tendency. It was grave so they reacted firmly. If you post on your blog, will you cause a riot?

How do you define public order. Unfortunately here public order is defined broadly and rights narrowly. eg The Chee Siok Chin case. This is the first time in memory they've used it, sending 20 riot police down. I didn't know we had riot police but that's where tax money goes.

The judge himself said we in Singapore place a premium on public order. I'm doing research on what is it, how it is different from national security/law and order, and what threatens it. One facet is racial/religious matters.

Just because you have a right doesn't mean you have the right to use it. There's an unwritten contract - you need responsibility. Even Jeff Ooi - freedom of speech is not excuse an excuse for social irresponsibility. You have to define irresponsibility w/o forsaking free speech. In Singapore the Net is a powerful, important tool for free speech, because the press is not that free. The new media is promiment - there's a frustration with mainline media.

If the internet community can regulate itself it's alright, eg Wee shu min. Nothing happen from the government [Ed: That's because she supported their philosophy]. She was chastised by her peers. The law takes away your freedom when cannot you cannot regulate yourselves. Before uou can govern society you must govern yourself.

Speaker 5:
My name is not important. On the net the message is more important than the speaker/messenger.

Blogging from a technological point of view is constantly evolving. You have to bear that in mind - new features are coming which have consequences. Blogs are public/private. We know from past incidents that sometimes people write things intended to be private/for a small group of people but much more attention has been drawn than expected. Reach, audience potentially enormous.

*usual spiel about blogging, professional blogging, technorati, growing influence*

Legal worries: Defamation (Acidflask). I have a lot of inside knowledge on that knowledge. This is similar to NKF. None of you know what was being said, what the blogger posted. In my opinion as a lawyer the alleged post was not defamatory but excellent. What you expect of the bright author. The offending remark was left by a reader on his blog using comments. That's the only excuse you can use to initiate a defamation suit against him. In a law exam I would say the post isn't defamatory

Some cases are clear cut. Some are hard to tell. Sometimes we think the government is definite and fixed, but the mystery comes from the fact that we don't understand it. But that's not the case. When the DPP gets a funny case like the "racist bloggers" he'll be confused. It comes down often to ther judgment, ie Your luck. If the matter is considered to have serious policy implications, the DPP will check with the senior DPP who will check with the Attorney General. The judgment about whether the case should be escalated rests with the original DPP.

With the Sedition Act case it was probably interesting/novel, meriting a closer look because the charges were under that act which I never even heard of when I was a DPP.

Bloggers should worry about the Films Act also. eg The 2 unknowns who posted videos during the elections period. They'd be covered under the act.

The Penal Code has just been comprehensively reviewed. eg Section 298a making it possible to prosecute people for posting racially/religiously offensive remarks on your blog. It's always been there, it's just expanded now to cover either race/religion.

When you consider that all these acts/statutes exist it may seem that it is a highly dangerous thing to write on the net.

Audience poll: Many of you feel strongly about things but are afraid to express them online (including one of the speakers). Maybe I should reconsider what I write on my blog. But I think these fears are largely unjustified: you don't have to be afraid. There is not that much to be afraid of. I would say that there is plenty of room, more than enough space to express your views, most of the time.

It is important to understand that there's a big difference between law in theory and what happens in practice. But the laws are drafted in a wide sort of way. They potentially catch many situations. What may look illegal may not be - it's hard to get yourself in trouble. You've to write something not only illegal but so offensive and irritating that someone can be bothered to do something about it beyond flaming you. That he will kickstart the process, eg Philip Yeoh. The police are overworked, manpower is scarce. Sometimes they throw the police in a file and there's no followup. Even if there's a followup it may go to the DPP. The DPP may scold them for wasting his time for something nobody reads anyway. Scold the boy and let him off, end of story. So it's hard to get in trouble for writing stuff online.

5 reasons why I feel most of the time (qualifiers because I'm a lawyer) it's safe for most of you to express your full views online:

1. There're really only 2-3 danger zones. Race, religion, politics. If you don't write about those you're almost 100%. You can talk about so many other things.

2. Most blogs aren't read. I've 28-30,000 readers a month. So the probability that you will irritate someone enough is low.

You need to have been blogging regularly/a lot for a long time to get an audience. While you are blogging you are learning a lot and developing a sense of what can/cannot be said. You acquire this sense because blogging is interactive - comments. People will talk about you on their own blogs. cf OB markers. There's no formula or quantification but it helps me keep out of trouble. eg Alex Au, who writes on serious trouble but he doesn't get in trouble. In fact he was writing long before blogs became popular.

3. We are not extreme sorts of people. We're not terrorists, planning to start riots, intend violence towards any particular group. We don't have a need for censorship because our views are acceptable. The average citizen occupies the "average range". You may irritate people like Wee Shu Min, but you won't run into problems with the law.

5. (???) There is safety in numbers. James Gomez and Mr Brown. Mr Brown was perfectly safe in his podcast, because he captured a widespread sentiment both online and offline. If you went online you'd find so many bloggers sharing his feeling about turkwa. It'd be strange for the government to take action against Mr Brown but not the hundreds of bloggers who felt that way. It's not be possible to take action against them all.

eg My writing about Foreign Talent policies. I feel it is a pretty safe thing to do because it is a widespread sentiment. Many people share this view which is fair. The only thing I add to it is that I present it in a more entertaining/funny/interesting way, that's why I've more readers.


Unfortunately Prof Thio left, because someone had this suggestion for a question:

"section 377 of the penal code criminalises homosexuality. however, the gvt goes above and beyond this measure by clamping down on free speech for gays, depictions and discussions of homosexuality in the media, etc. ask her if this clamping down is constitutionally defensible. HOHOHO, she's probably spontaneously split into two"

Question: Pseudonymity, Internet's role in America. How does self-censorship in the newsroom work?

Tan Tarn How's article on WP pulling out of Aljunied. Was it a planned cockup? Did you write it out of personal conviction? Was the atmosphere in the newsroom directing energies in negative direction?

Answer: Mr Wang: My real name is like Madonna's - it means nothing. For blogging purposes my name is Mr Wang. But many people do prefer to be anonymous, probably stemming from an original fear of being known. At one point I was known by my real name, but I changed my name because I didn't want to be identified. Now I'm much more comfortable speaking up online. It's more useful to be known as such.

As for Gayle, she just closed her blog. My feel is that she has become tired over the past because of her high profile blog. She'll disappear and when she's taken her break she'll come back because she's interested in social issues.

Tarn How: That was an important and interesting question. There're varying degrees of anonymity. Some people mean pseudonymity. Mr Wang is not anonymous since people know who he is. You can use a pseudonym but not be anonymous. That was the problem with the attack on Mr Brown. Then there's the question: if you think you're anonymous, are you? Do people know you are?

Unless you're breaking the law intentionally you shouldn't be anonymous. You should have the courage to stand by your views. When Mr Wang does public the real person is there. I discount everybody who posts on my blog and doesn't leave a name.

About how censorship works and to what extent we express the views we express when we're journalists, my operating principle is that if it's a comment I only write the views I believe in. There're people who're quite comfortable with the message being watered down. When you write an article you debate/dialog with the editor.

It's a myth that everybody who's a dissident is a dissident in every area. Many who criticse the government agree in other ways. The danger: all your pro-government articles are published, but none of your anti-government articles are published. I'm very supportive of the government, but what's the use of adding/saying it if everyone is already. Some journalists want to write an equal mix to be seen as non-partisan but the fact is that we shouldn't simplify journalism to pro or against. There's a range of views, sometimes they're pro, sometimes they're against.

Cherian: Burnout: not jsut because of the effort. But because of the expectations once you develop a loyal following. You're put in a fix because the reason you wrote in the first place was because you have views to share as an individual. Once you have a certain level of prominence you're appropriated as public property. Your fans feel you should be a champion just for certain causes and shouldn't hold views they don't like.

As a journalist you're paid to be skeptical. It's your public duty to ask tough questions of everyone, including the opposition. Whoever tries to fool the public. The opposition does that too. But your fanbase may feel betrayed. Gayle probably had that problem - "You shouldn't be saying such things because we have annointed you as the spokesman of our cause". It's an unfair burden to place on any writer and for readers who put writers in that position, it's a sign of immaturity.

Perry: My blog touches mainly on politics so according to Mr Wang I'm on the endangered species list. Being in the WP, we're like a catch all situation. We're expected to be representative of every single individual view there can possibly be from our supporters. Being a political party we often can't do that. We can be both left and right wing at the same time - being centrist, being nobody. But the party cannot remain anonymous and has to take a stand. So sometimes that's why we prefer not to make a stand - we cannot afford to. In most cases it's imprudent to do that. So the party has no capability wrt anonymous blogging. I subscribe personally to the view that I write on what I believe on, readers respond anonymously or otherwise.

If anonymity works for you, good.

Question: As a Singaporean concerned about apathy in Singapore I'm concerned to hear that we can't take a stand on most matters. Most of us are aware of the RK House No Pork video

Answer: Tarn How: Can you send me the video? I've been trying to look for it but it's been taken down. I'm editing a book about freedom of speech on the Internet and this is a good test case for race/religion.

Perry: Please send it to me too. It's not clear if it's satire or racism. Is it meant to be comedy, social commentary? [Ed: One could say that it's like Borat. Too bad the makers aren't Jewish or no one would criticise them.]

Mr Wang: I saw it in the office. When I went home the video was gone. *I play video*

*Talks about Char case*

If you go to Google and type "jesus christ funny cartoons" a lot of things pop up. The person Char debated was very irritated and called the police. There's a difference between no further action and stern warning. Stern warning - you have committed an offence but because you're young/stupid we'll get a senior police officer to scold you.

As an ex-DPP - the first thing I'd do is look at the offender. There're religious extremists who want to insult people of another religion, very strong intention. They are adults. They know what they're doing, the intention is very clear. Sometimes the offender is young and stupid. Like the teenager who vandalizes.

Another factor: actual harm caused. Often no harm is caused. Some little corner in cyberspace 3 people read. There's no social harm. In the sedition cases, the senior district judge in handing out his judgment talked about something called the offence principle. Offence vs harm principle. The latter - you can express views if it doesn't cause harm (riot, violence). I'm more with Harm. But not everyone agrees.

Tarn How: Liberal view. Thick skinned principle. You need people to be thick skinned for democracy. You need stuff offensive/extremely offensive to a certain group of people. My limits are broad. Unless you ask people to stand up and go round rioting or hurting other people. It doesn't mean you should be condemned: legal or social sanctions.

Why put them to sedition? The public order argument - I disagree with it.

Cherian: Singaporans have gotten the wrong message from these cases: "See there are crazy people on the Internet and we need to send the police in". What they overlook is that it's successful self-regulation. Other Chinese scolded them, and they were expelled.

The unfortunate thing is that in a typical Singaporean way when people get upset, the first thing they do is call the government. The police and DPPs are not itching for work. But kaypoh Singaporeans will make police report. I would like to see the public being less trigger happy. [Ed: But in other countries trigger happy idiots are told to go and die]

Question: Many of the comments posted about RK House were encouraging, by Singaporean students. It reflects how the attitudes/values of our young Singaporeans are. When we talk about self-regulation, I'd agree on social regulation because of social norming. In RK House even popular bloggers like Xiaxue say it's funny. This encourages them to continue. So this kind of humour is cool, not wrong. I can continue. Next time I can crack this kind of joke.

Self-regulation: a famous blogger like Mr Wang has an important role to play in shaping our mindsets. You have high readership, your own formula. What you say has a strong impact on people out there. In Xiaxue's case, if there was self-regulation it'd be dangerous - she was encouraging it. She was for it. How would her friends have taken it?

Cherian: All of you should write in to Mediacorp and ask them to axe her.

Interjection: I hope she won't kill me for breaking her rice bowl

Cherian: It's okay. Stand up for what you believe if she's an unworthy role model. Ask Mediacorp to axe her, not ask the government to arrest her.

Tarn How: Write to the church, MP to condemn her, but not take the law to her. There will be a backlash against Xiaxue and there's a campaign against her.

Mr Wang: Popular bloggers need unusual/different elements. Xiaxue thrives on controversy so if you do these things you make her more happy/excited. She gets more publicity. She's in the top 100 of 70 million blogs in the world. I'm just pointing out one aspect.

Comment: Freedom of speech comes from the individual. Feel strongly about something, wait for the right time, do cost-benefit analysis, make your move. Mr Tan's point about: Authoritarianism. Individual drive vs societal level movement. How do we know if freedom of speech is cherished in the first place?

Whose way? Where to go? New and Old media seem to be going in different trajectories. How do we concile that? Online platform: Forums, blogs, videos. Self-regulation is interesting because in a forum people will gang up on an offensive guy. Youtube video - people will put in comments. Where does self-regulation come in? Like RK House - encouraging comments. Where's the responsibility of state? What's the responsibility of individuals?

Do you blame Jeff Ooi for not monitoring his comments?

Question: This question was to be directed to Dr Thio. Hopefully Mr Wang can answer this with his legal knowledge. This is with regard to defamation laws and free speech in Singapore and the rest of the world. To what degree does defamation take place? eg Talkingcock.com making fun of Singapore ministers, Mr Brown's Mai Hum podcast. A foreign magazine being circulated in Singapore is being sued for defamation despite it not talking about Singapore's nepotism/despotism, they didn't even refer to Singapore. I know of a Taiwanese show where the actors will playact politicians/celebrities and make fun of them. If they did it in Singapore would they be sued for defamation?

Mr Wang: I don't want to get into nitty gritty details which are soporific. The first thing is that the law of defamation is pretty threatening in the sense that you don't have to actually get to the point where the other party has shown you're commiting he evil you're writing about. Your life can get unpleasant if you're threatened. I think Acidflask would've won if he'd gone all the way. Unfortunately it's so much eaiser and wiser to just say sorry and apologise. "I'm the bad boy, I promise to take it down straightaway". It's more practical.

Defamation can also be used to silence critics where they kinda know something is wrong and they're trying to raise an important issue but they don't have all the evidence. This is what happened with NKF. Years ago when NKF was a good not bad word, some individuals said something about NKF and tried to suggest it didn't handle its finances properly. NKF sued them, and they lost. One of them paid out 50k which is a lot for the individual. Much later on we find that the allegations were probably true. Too bad for those 2 individuals. They knew something was wrong but didn't have the evidence to prove it.

A different story was with SPH. SPH pulled out the best litigation lawyer in Singapore. But the law of defamation is a pretty scary thing. There are some defences. One is the scope of fair comment, when you're talking about some public issue. You've some latitude to make some comments, not much. That's why reviewers of music and books can say "That was a really lousy album or book. Don't buy". It's under fair comment.

Satire: That's a very interesting point. There is a practical aspect to this. Not really a legal aspect. When you use satire or humour or comedy to make your point, in practical terms that's a very good defence because the person looks really ridiculous trying to sue you, so they'll back off.

The lawyer asks: "What did you mean when you say turkwa like this or like that?". Fo a person like Lee Kuan Yew you don't want to be in a position where you go to court and get asked questions about tur kwa. You look stupid.

Reasonable man's test - what will the reasonable man think? I don't think it's a defence here. The fact that it's a joke does't make it non-defamatory. I could make very insulting jokes about Lee Kuan Yew. I'd be in trouble.

The so-called victim, who may really be a victim, he's better off leaving you alone because if he sues you he draws attention to this and more people become aware: "*** is like a tur kwa man or something". It's not a good position to be in, they leave you alone. You may not want to draw attention to that anymore.

For example at some point somebody really hated my blog. I can't remember the name. He started to make some remarks about every single post I posted. I was wondering: what should I do. I just ignored him. That was probably the better thing to do. If I write about him, suddenly he is the one getting 30,000 readers. He just died due to lack of attention.

Perry: The comments/questions seek an absolutist stance. Will I get shot, will I die, will my parents live on after me, will my children have anything to live on after everything is over and done with.

Pragmatism vs realism. Pragamatism in my view is where you approach an issue from the stand of inferiority or not being able to change the situation. Indict me for attempting to invoke thought and provoke you to action. Where law is concerned at the end of the day it's in your hands. Laws are a depiction of the custom of the land, society. At the end of the day it's in your collective hands through the ballot box or otherwise to change it. If we all feel strongly enough about self-regulation we should take action promoting such legislation. Defamation laws - face to face and offline only

I've had to waste tax payers money to invoke police action on someone who attempted to impersonate me. Why do I do this? I'm operating under the fear of defamation or porential defamation in the future. I hope I'm trying to change this, to become a lawmaker/legislator to impact the laws of the land. An absolutist position is easy to take but we should take into consideration: what about the person sitting next to you. Is he/she going to believe in the same thing down to the last letter?

Unfortunately, if you bring the future to the present you tend to get shot first. If you're too fast forward for your time society tends to shoot first and ask questions later.
On racism in Singapore:

A: I just want to say that I experience far less racism in Britain than I do in Singapore, where in so many aspects of so many encounters -- the way I speak, the way I dress, who I date, what I find amusing or interesting -- I am unceasingly judged on the basis of whether I am "Chinese" or "Singaporean" enough for my interlocutors. My skin colour is everything to many people in Singapore, but people here just don't give a damn. And I'm not talking about big city Londoners: I never get half so many stares walking down the high street with my boyfriend in small Westcountry towns (about as white as they come) as I do on Orchard Road. Anyone who's ever been in an interracial couple in Singapore can probably relate similar experiences. And ask many Indian, Malay or Eurasian people about "barely concealed racism" and I bet many of them will tell you there's no advantage on that score to being in Singapore over being in Britain.

I'm not saying you don't have to struggle against racial stereotype -- I do often get the sense that a fair number of people assume I'm incapable of irony, for instance, from the get-go. But by far the majority of my daily interactions indicate to me that people are more than willing to relinquish stereotypes and take me on my own terms, without regard to racial classification, given even half a reason why. Sadly I can't say the same about my experiences in Singapore.

B: Well as for racism in academia, I think I can safely say that there is
more racism -- even against Chinese people -- in Singaporean academia than in British academia (at least in Oxford, I can't say for other universities). I note how NUS has a penchant for employing an endless series of second-rate White faculty, who (if sufficiently pliant) quickly get promoted to department head (I'm thinking of *** in particular) over similarly if not better qualified candidates who merely had the misfortune of being born not-White.

C: Moving to London made me realize what a multi-cultural, multi-racial city is really like.
"I simply cannot understand the passion that some people have for making themselves thoroughly uncomfortable and then boasting about it afterwards." - Patricia Moyes



Hollywood is famous for this. They steal ideas from Asian cinema and call it parody, and when asians make VCDs they cry murder.

The actvity in the IVLE forum is amazing. It's like you have a portable screen.

I don't like essays that meditate. Ramble. Transcend into another realm.

I also tend to reward people who have strange central theses... strange not as in 'cannot be understood'.

[On a race] After you fire the rifle, after you fire the pistol, everyone is off.

Dare'tro't (Detroit)

[On meritocracy] Merit is defined by you, your circle, your elite uncaring face.

A lot of the top students in secondary schools, instead of going to the good JCs like RJ they go to the middle JCs so they can remain at the top. [Instructor: Oh, I thought you said they had a more enlightened idea.]

[On circulation of elites in a multi-party democracy] In a country like ***, there's virtually no political competition. They begin to ossify. They think about staying in power... Kicking off political competition... They forgot why they came into power. You have a problem... You've one guy who's really strong, his name is ***.

[On perpetuation of power] Focusing their energies on telling these stories of vulnerability, rather than making the economy good.

[On being close-to-earth] When they go to events, they drink water.

Let's face it. Singaporeans are working class. Let's not take any leap of faith and imagine 80% of Singaporeans are middle class.

He said he generally agreed with her. The principal of RJC said he disagreed with what she said but he respected her right to say it. [Student: Wow.]

It takes us, in a way, back to Singapore's fear of Marxism... In the 70s, Marxism was something that people thought about. It wouldn't demonised in the silly way it is today.

When you look at National Day rallies, reifying a class as if it actualy exists. Patronising the class. Urging it to go on.

This TV show, the Arena. RI, this elite school. Loyang Secondary, this neighborhood school. RI - you could see the arrogance on their faces.

[On submerging consciousness] One way of thinking about it is that the things that really matter aren't talked about. The fact that race is talked about so much may be an indicator that it isn't so important.

I find it quite ironic that we're sitting in USP and talking about elitism. *uproarious approval from audience*

*Strange disembodied sound* What's that? Oh, it's my phone.

[On keeping options open to people] The option of feeling hat it's like having metal going through flesh... It may not be pleasurable.

A Neo-Marxist argument, that the market offers a false choice. Colgate, Darlie. It's the same thing branded differently.

I just realised I was actually looking at your hair during lecture and I realise it's quite nice. [Me: Thanks]

[Student on empirical values in the Lucas model: What kind of number will lambda be?] I don't deal with numbers, I deal with theories. I don't know, sorry.

I apologise for not keeping track of time. i decided last Saturday or Sunday to buy a watch.

I told the dean: We have the most talented school of Public Policy in the world. I'm amazed by the courage of these students to sing and dance and parade themselves... When I saw those 4 scholars from Beijing, I thought: the future of public policy in China is bright... If on the brink of a nuclear war in the Korean peninsula, Kim Jong Il. Let's make a rule... Why don't we get all the comedians to settle the issue?

That's the first fron'damental problem (fundamental)

A lot of public policy programmes in the world are driven by irrational exuberance of their benefits... Privatization privatization privatization... Everyone is pushing privatization. You have to understand the economics of the good [first].

When you think of Geylang, even prostitutes have warranties... They have certificates saying they don't have STDs.

In Singapore it's regulated by the government. As long as the money goes to the government it's okay. All other gambling is banned. Except during Chinese New Year.

[On anti-nicotine gum] You cannot buy unless you're a smoker. [Student: How can you prove {that}?] You smoke, then you buy it.

[On Hari-Kiri] You must dis-semi-bowel yourself (disembowel)

What happened in the past - I gave students takeaway exams. There was a lot of collusion and downloading from the Internet. I got reprimanded by my vice-dean. (take home)

[Me: Why don't you tell us about sexuality from a female perspective?] Orh. We just lie there, open our legs and let it go in lor.

Lit screws with the mind. That's the secondary reason why I'm so screwed up.

Kay'nee'zhearn economics (Keynesian)

My favourite taxi driver will always say: One People *draws one vertical stroke*, One Nation *draws another vertical stroke*, One Singapore *draws S*. Dollar sign... He says 'you get to the hawker centre, the sugarcane machine. You know what I mean'... I learn about Singapore from taxi drivers.

One thing that I discovered is that when you upload [notes] in Powerpoint format, someone somewhere in the world will steal the slies and use it as their own.

q1 + q2 > big (written) (?)

[On consulting] You do pretty much what your customer wants you to do. Just like a prostitute.

The good news is that if there's no project, there's nothing to do. At all... Wake up late, go out in the day... [If you] Go to work, there's nothing to do. Might as well stay at home.

[On his Alma Maters] The only thing I remember about Raffles is elitism.
"To pretend, I actually do the thing: I have therefore only pretended to pretend." - Jacques Derrida


13th January:

SIR – At the last election I voted Green because the party is strongest on public-transport issues. My mother voted Conservative, because she always has, and my neighbour voted Labour because she felt sorry for the prime minister. I am left unconvinced of the efficacy of the political statement I made. Voting is important, of course, but it is a blunt tool that we should use to favour politicians who listen. We also need to give them something to listen to and the way we consume sends a focused signal about what is important to us. Ethical shopping, like politics, may not be a simple activity, but let's not use this as an excuse to rubbish the pursuit of our goals.

David Martin
Much Birch, Herefordshire

20th January:

SIR – My research shows that countries with a higher economic and social quality of life have a higher suicide-rate. It may be that, as capitalism makes us wealthier and we can buy what we desire, we can no longer blame an external situation for our misery and are forced to realise that our unhappiness has its source in our own minds.

David Lester
Blackwood, New Jersey

SIR – An article that is written as a paean to contemporary country music jangles one almost as much as having to endure the stuff every day in just about every shop, garage and (yes) bank that one is forced to frequent (“Middle America's soul”, December 23rd). Not to mention being forced to listen to it while placed on hold during a phone call. Subtle as a sledgehammer, these maudlin musings set to tunes leave no musical or lyrical clichés untouched or any irony unexplained in their appeal to what Larry the Cable Guy, a redneck comic, calls country music's “patriotic fan base”. Forty years or so ago the musical “British invasion” changed rock 'n roll for the better. Would that something similar could happen today and make country music listenable.

J. Edari
Allenford, Canada

SIR – Perhaps you could explain how, notwithstanding a combination of conservative values and old-time religion, the “too sensible” and “God-fearing, rural-thinking folk” of states such as Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee have some of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, road death and divorce in America?

Robert King
Brookfield, Australia

"They poison the mind and corrupt the morals of the young, who waste their time sitting on sofas immersed in dangerous fantasy worlds. That, at least, was the charge levelled against novels during the 18th century by critics worried about the impact of a new medium on young people. Today the idea that novels can harm people sounds daft. And that is surely how history will judge modern criticism of video games, which are accused of turning young people into violent criminals...

Criticism of games is merely the latest example of a tendency to demonise new and unfamiliar forms of entertainment. In 1816 waltzing was condemned as a “fatal contagion” that encouraged promiscuity; in 1910 films were denounced as “an evil pure and simple, destructive of social interchange”; in the 1950s rock 'n' roll music was said to turn young people into “devil worshippers” and comic books were accused of turning children into drug addicts and criminals. In each case the pattern is the same: young people adopt a new form of entertainment, older people are spooked by its unfamiliarity and condemn it, but eventually the young grow up and the new medium becomes accepted—at which point another example appears and the cycle begins again."

Friday, February 02, 2007

"The nice thing about being a celebrity is that when you bore people, they think it's their fault." - Henry Kissinger



He's working in Goldman Satch as (Sachs)

[On panicking on the SPI tour] We [will] get someone to pacify you.

Positive freedom... We lack resources... We go to a bad school, with bad teachers.

[On positive freedom and a French restaurant] Identify the currants or little nutmegs in the wine.

[On I Not Stupid] That mother, since she's dressed in white, and flabby - flabby being a symbol of wealth. She is the ***.

The Prisons has this publication. They call it 'True Freedom', but it's actually the Bible... New Testament.

In FASS we have a Liberal Arts system. You choose. Modularity. No one's gonna to, in theory, tell you what's right or wrong. (gonna)

Professor? *** [Ed: His name], please.

[Student: Should we understand Positive and Negative freedom as a spectrum?] That's a question, that's an essay question type.

I'm going to take us ack to the 1980s in Singapore. 1980s. Let's be realistic here. I wasn't even born in the 80s. [Students: Ah! Har. Har. Liar!]

[Student in HDB policy role play: I'm a 19 year old Roman Catholic Single Mother...] I'm a 35 year old feminist.] [Students: *hoot*] And I think it's disgraceful that you let a man impregnate you and run off.

[Female student:] I'm a 24 year old guy who has had no luck at the SDU... Maybe I'm ugly. [Female student 2: Maybe you are]

In the past decade, men used to propose to girls by asking them if they want to buy a HDB flat. Isn't that sad? [Female student role-playing a lesbian: See why I go for girls?] (wanted)

I'm an orphan... I'm 40, where do I go? Stay in the orphanage?

I got retrenched. I can't even afford a studio apartment. [Female student role-playing a PAP cabinet minister: Work harder]

[On meritocracy] Everyone has an equal chance to succeed. President's Scholar - there must always be a taxi driver's son.

Start fruit (starfruit)

[Me on comments on the Cash Harvest Cult post: Not as many as the Dawn Yeo post] What does this show? Religion is not as important as pretty girls.

[Student: What're you majoring in?] Economics. Sorry, Applied Maths.

[On game theory] I took part in such a game. I won 30 Euros... Maybe next year I will also organise an experiment.

Razor and stone. [Student: Scissors, paper, stone] I don't know. My kids at home play it.

You play stone, you play eraser, you play paper. (scissors)

[On the Prisoner's Dilemma] They may cooperate, not wiht the policemen, but within them (between themselves)

mar'nu'fuck'tour (manufacturer)

Beer'trah'nd (Bertrand)

There's a firm Nai'k and a firm Mike (Nike)

R I D activity (and)

The next example is espionage. I'm saying it the French way... spy industry [is the English word]

[Student: You look very formal today.] It's the Theory of Relativity.

It's an infinite moving average of present and past disturbances with the coefficients being pi-i-s... You have infinite pi-s. It's a joke. *nervous laughter from audience*

[On the hardest undergraduate Economics module] This should be called 'Independent Study Module'

Now jump the Mathematics. We'll go to the Economics... The maths is a tool to help you learn Economics.

SMU people are really good at packaging their bullshit about their school.

[Me: I slack for ***, you help me with ***. I work on *** this sem, next sem I help you with it.] Inter-temporal smoothing. I see. Inter-temporal optimization.

[Me: {I'm doing} Democratic Possibilities in Singapore.] Is there democratic possibilities in Singapore? [Me: Precisely. That's why it's such a brilliant title] (are)
"A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read." - Mark Twain


NUS GSS: Food tasting for the temporary canteen at Carpark 16

"Person in charge: Zhao Hanying

Date: Monday, 20 November 2006

Name: Megabites Food Pte Ltd (KRISTON FOOD & BEVERAGE)

Address: SIM HQ

461 Clementi Road

Level 3, Megabites Cafe


Meeting Venue : Office of Estate and Development, Level 2

Meeting Time : 11.30 am to 2.30 pm

People: NUSSU representatives (3 people), One GSS representative (me), the rest officials, etc.

We set out at 11:45 from NUS. In SIM, Mr Tan who is the director of Kriston Food & Beverage presented during the food tasting process. There were chiken rice, several types of noodles, western food, Lasak, spaghetti, pasta, sandwich, fish soup etc. He provided various kinds of food. After tasting, we went back to OED and made appraisement. All admitted his operation in NUS in the future."

God, they really got conned.

I call "Megabites" "Megasucks" since it is without a doubt a leading contender in the "the worst food I've ever tasted" contest. It's bad enough that it looks like a setting of a Chinese funeral, but the food is horrible to boot.

Frigid Girl had spaghetti with cream sauce there and said it tasted like puke (beat that, Bambino's!) And everyone else tells me it sucks, though I don't even have semi-detailed reviews.

To see for myself just how bad it was, I sampled some Mango Pudding and Green Tea Jelly from there. The former was overly sweet (something coming from me), milky to the point of being stomach turning and was sickly smooth, sliding down my throat as rotten tuna might. Meanwhile the latter was bland and not sweet enough. so I tried combining the two, and the whole was greater than the sum of its parts, being almost edible (in the spirit of scientific enquiry, I ate much more than Screwed Up Girl's one spoon).

Meanwhile, I am also told that the stall outside LT10 selling Laksa and Nasi Lemak - someone had the Laksa and said it tasted like plastic. Ironically the stall is run by a Chinese Seafood Restaurant and was proudly displaying a certificate which it had won in its non-Halal food ventures.


"Minutes of the meeting of GSS and BGS

Board of Graduate Studies (BGS) has meetings every month. BGS invites GSS to bring up and discuss its issues once every semester...

Issue 6: Shuttle bus during school vacation

GSS: The shuttle bus from Gillman Heights to campus is stopped during school vacation. However, there are many students living in Gillman Heights have to come to school during the vacation time.

BGS: Graduate students are mature and do not have to depend on shuttle bus service."
"Cats are intended to teach us that not everything in nature has a function." - Unknown


A brilliant poem by Christian Bök Frigid Girl sent me:

atoms in space now drift
on a swift and epic storm

soft wind can stir a poem

snow fits an optic dream
into a scant prism of dew

words spin a faint comet

some words in fact paint
two stars of an epic mind

manic words spit on fate

(Each line is made up of the same letters, rearranged)
Survivor Singapore (M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2007)

Survivor Singapore takes the form of an enquiry into the aftermath of several students' attempts to initiate projects which creatively reach outside the proverbial box and embody the rhetoric about the New Economy and all that jazz. Kind of like SMU's Creative Thinking module, in fact, but only more creative.

Through a series of flashbacks we find out what went wrong with their various projects, and the process by which the school administration comes to terms with getting what it wished for, albeit in a way more true to the letter of its rhetoric than its spirit. As the saying goes: Be careful what you wish for, you may get it.

After watching the play, I get a bit of a sense why it was presented at a Fringe Festival.

In general it was a confused, vaguely related mash of cheap shots (local references [many in Malay, some in Tamil but oddly almost none in Chinese, probably because the playwright is Indian] and puerile jokes [for example, "Your dick is hard", "[Instead of Survivor or the Amazing Race I watch] America's Next Top Model", Indians rioting being a bad idea since there're too many of them on Crimewatch and turban jokes), angst about students' self-actualization and their struggles against the system and seditious outbursts, punctuated with mime set to spurts of throbbing music*. Many threads were not well developed or tied together, but merely hinted at or referenced. The tone was also awkward, with an uneven mix of didactic finger waving and surreal posing and posturing.

Interestingly enough, this also roughly describes another play I went to some months back - Campaign to Confer the Public Service Star on JBJ. Perhaps all this is symptomatic of much modern theatre, which explains why I am not fond of it.

All this might be intentional, for as one of the people involved in the post-show dialogue session explained, they wanted people to sit up a year later and suddenly realise a new layer of meaning in what they had viewed. Indeed, the construction of meaning for oneself instead of having it given to one is a tenet of post-modernist philosophies (insofar as they can be defined). Perhaps this delayed post-hoc realisation might occur for a few people, but what is more likely is that a year later it'll have faded from the minds of most of the audience. Not least because most were there as part of a school excursion.

The acting was good, with Kumar's appearance being a welcome surprise. Unfortunately, the bulk of his delivery was composed of the aforementioned cheap shots (eg Turban jokes).

* - During the post-play dialogue session, in respose to a question of mine about whether the mix of cheap shots and posing was meant to appeal to both arty farty types and the hoi polloi, the playwright said he wanted to write a bold play with a certain artistic quality, yet accessible to the public, so yes I suppose it was deliberate.

Interestingly, one of the play members said that the project about attempting to incite race riots was to question if we took racial harmony for granted. My interpretation of it was rather their mocking of the siege mentality engendered in Singaporeans by showing that no, we will not degenerate into chaos and ethnic cleansing the moment someone says something politically incorrect about race. The bit about the kids realising they were all speaking in the same language despite their being racialised by 4 decades of social engineering was also to me an indictment of how race consciousness is artificially accentuated. Unfortunately, the otherwise racially balanced group of students did not include an Other to point out the ludicrousness of racial corporatism.

All through the dialogue session, there was only reference to school and the problems and issues kids faced in being told to be creative et al., but I felt the play was obviously an allegory for Singapore - it *is* called Survivor Singapore, after all, and the problems the kids grapple with in obeying instructions to be creative and then getting into trouble for stepping in sacred cowdung are a direct parallel with Singaporeans doing the same.

This is the danger, perhaps, of the personal being political, since any personal act, no matter how innocuous, can be construed as a seditious attack upon pre-existing structures.

Conversations - 2nd February 2007

"Zoo: An excellent place to study the habits of human beings." - Evan Esar


Someone: I thought left wing = conservative and right wing = liberal


the labels aren't necessarily that accurate though
especially on the right wing, there's quite a lot of diversity
and where would you put libertarians?

Someone: ... aft?

Me: ...

Someone else: sigh. what's the next fashionable thing after pomo?
Me: don't know
can they sink any lower?
Someone else: there's always a shovel lying around, no?

Someone: i think you're quite a conventional guy

MFTTW: You know what makes me sick? The PRCs that I meet here who used Singapore as a stepping stone into the US, who go around identifying themselves as "from Singapore" when you ask where they are from. If they don't like the system so much why do they want to identify with it?

i'm not kidding
they are all like "i'm from singapore"
pisses me off

then i'll be like "no, you're from Chinea"

oh my friend was even better
there was a post doc who told her she's from Singapore
her reply :"oh, so why don't you speak like a Singaporean?"

Someone else: hey look at this

*** <***@nyu.edu>
to me

show details
12:29 am (11 minutes ago)
Dear ***,

Thanks so much for the typo. I continue to put revisions on my web page
almost daily. If you spot other typos, please let me know.

Best wishes, ***

how fucking cool is that

Me: you deprived lah

Someone else: eh
why deprive
help contribute to the production of a good book leh

he put up the monograph on the website so people can give comments spot errors etc, the book is gonna be published soon

Me: pdf on website right

Someone else: yeah
i printed it out a few sems ago
damn cheem

gonna print this email out and frame it. since he's my idol

Me: !@#$
as I said, you're deprived

Someone else: wah lau *** is GOD

Me: yah for killing us

Someone else: haha u all dun appreciate his contribution lah

Someone else: i agree that deconstruction taken to extremes is just plain silly
so is much of modern crit theory

however, they ARE worth engaging with at some level
if only for the fact that new evidence must always be at least considered before either accepting it or discarding

it's a fact that the 2 world wars happened and that this changed how people think drastically

we can't pretend that didn't happen
we also can't pretend that words are always infallible

but neither would i go so far as to say that "text is phallogocentric" or crap like that
or that menaing can't be got at

we have to take into account the inherent ambiguity of language but we shouldn't take it to mean the utter failure of language

or as it is more fashionably known "slippage of language"

bloody overused phrase

lemme give you another example

we handled a modernist text today
a novel by virginia woolf

it was observed that the pronouns in the novel seemed to slide
wasn't always clear who was being referred to

well, what's gonna surprise us -- what happened next was that we fell over ourselves trying to justify this
trying to figure out what kind of effect that produces

instead of simply saying, look, virginia woolf is a lousy writer

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

One irritating thing about cooking for my brother in law is how calculating he is. I suggested that I buy ingredients when I'm not with him and claim the cost back later, and he said he would only reimburse me if I had receipts.

My mother suggests I bill him for labour and transport costs. I could also bill him for marketing costs, and lump GST on top of that.

someone: u cd always threaten to pull the plug on TPBs. all Seah TPBs. imagine how he will feel if he only has CMM TPB. it will drive him out for a mcchicken...
MTI Dialogue Session (all posts)

Question: I joined NUS and there were lots of PRCs. This was the last thing I wanted to see, since I am from China.

I feel bad because a few days after joining NUS, I heard PRCs talking on the bus about how to break their bonds. It made me feel sick.

I've studied in Singapore for 8 years, 4 in ACS, and am grateful. I can't make promises but I'll come back and contribute if I can.

I ask my friends why they want to leave and they say they cannot fit into the culture so they just come here for a university education. Doing projects with Singaporeans, I find they're too conservative and hold back. They don't like to mix with foreigners so we should mix with them more.

With the rise of China and India I am reminded of a Credit-Suisse advertisement: "not competition but partnerships". It's not a Zero Sum Game.

I am jealous of Singapore because the government pays locals to go to China and India for internships. You don't see this happening in China and India.

Manufacturing is 27% of Singapore's economy now. In 5 years which sector will dominate and how do you decide?

Answer: Overseas students come here with the view that they should just study and go back. We have the home ground advantage so we are obliged to make the first move.

We want to keep manufacturing because it provides jobs, and more jobs than services, due to the fixed investment multiplier (?). We want to attract high end manufacturing. eg Semi-conductors - we don't just do wafer fabrication now but wafer coating (to improve conductivity and reduce heat). Shell's cracker is high end and a huge uinvestment. We also are looking into environment and water and finance.

We're trying to avoid hollowing out like Hong Kong, which has only services now. We need balance.

Question: Since you're promoting finance should we all go study Business?

China and India are cheaper for the lower end so how do we compete?

Answer: I've yet to meet an MNC which says it does all its business in one country. You need to diversify risk and secondary locations also give flexibility.

For high end jobs, in India and China they're paid on a world scale - in Shanghai the pay is just slightly discounted from New York/London salaries. The cost differential is not that much. Major cities are very tight with respect to labour. Meanwhile it's tricky to relocate outside Shanghai.

This is also happening in Bangalore with IT professionals; in 5-10 years it won't be cost differentials anymore.

Not everyone should do business because a lot of people who're engineers by training go into finance. Humanities people too. You need some direction in your degree without being too rigid, and get portable skills.

Ending of the dialogue session: Be optimistic, but not complacent.

Monday, January 29, 2007

MTI Dialogue Session (all posts)

Question: The arts scene has blown up. Local talent is more recognised. 5 years ago no one knew about the Necessary Stage. The Esplanade is a world space.

How about architecture? We keep depending on foreign architecture. Global architects can't do a good job because they don't understand our culture.

Answer: Foreign architects have a limited appreciation of local conditions. Europeans like high ceilings since they're cool, but with thunderstorms if you have a linkway with a high ceiling, it's not good for shelter.

The IR design by Frank Gary who did Bilbao was thought fantastic by aficionados. Someone said it looked like crumpled tissue paper. Genting is getting Robert Grays, a European with an understated style. Some people found it boring.

We can't force private companies to hire locals. Branding is chosen by the company. 'Scenic architecture' needs scenic architects. Locals can't do it.

'Architecture is like art. 2 guys draw a blotch. One guy is a famous artist. it's great. Another guy, it's rubbish.'

Singaporean architecture is HDB architecture, because that's our langscape. Our architecture is not imaginative, because people want to maximise plot ratios and the most efficient way to do that is to build a box. Circles are a waste of space. Bangkok has funny designs, but they waste space from a developer's point of view.

The challenge is to educate developers here. The government is trying to use locals, eg For Marina South international architects do most of the work but one portion is reserved for locals, so they can show what they can do.

Question: The real estate industry is booming. Property prices are rising. Speculaton is inevitable, but now there's speculation in mid-level condos. When is speculation too much?

Answer: Speculation is not a bad work. When people buy and sell in the stock market we call it liquidity and it's a good thing.

It's hard to only sell to Singaporeans. Speculation is not done in middle-range condos but Marina Bay types. There's market segmentation - District 9, 10 and 11, Sentosa Cove and Marina properties go for $3000/sq ft. In the middle tier, people buy to live and the base tier is HDB. For some people it's a good sign.

Hong Kong prices have risen 10-15% per year. Singapore is flattish. Now we have stamp duty upfront to cool the market a bit but not too much.

What indicators do we use to know when to step in? We have them but we can't say, since that'd defeat the point if the speculators knew.

Question: Why don't we focus on Africa and South America? Africa is high risk, but during the IMF, Africans were distributing brochures about their untapped markets.

Answer: Small companies and businesses are stretched to their limits; just covering China and India, they're finished.

You don't just deploy people - you need to understand the market and work on the ground so trading will be easier.

Latin America is far away and there's not enough activity to justify anything. There're some Singaporean firms in Brazil and there's an effort to cross barriers. Africa has risk but there're interesting spots like Algeria and South Africa. There's a need to target markets with opportunities. It's not the government's job.
MTI Dialogue Session (all posts)

Question (from a NOC person): 1/3 of NOC (NUS Overseas Colleges) people were foreigners, and once they arrived in the foreign country they just went to get the jobs there. They weren't interested in networking sessions. The money spent on them was not worth it.

We select people for such programs based on capabilities, but ultimately we want to get value for the money we spent.

Answer: We shouldn't take the attitude: 'You studied here, so you must be beholden to us for the rest of your life'. It's a free world - if you offer a good job, good, smart people will come. Good, smart people don't like to be dictated to. You must win their hearts and minds.

Don't look at it in a negative way. Some will choose to stay in Singapore, others will work here for a while and move on, adding value while they're here. It rankles to know that there're those who use Singapore as a stepping stone, but if they study here for 4 years, they'll have a small part of Singapore in them always. If you network with them, hopefully they will have good feelings for Singapore.

Interjection: We don't want to tie them down, but we give them the money and opportunities and they just hide in their room surfing the Internet and studying, and don't get involved.

Answer: It depends on their personality and character: some local students also just hide in their room surfing the Internet and studying, and don't get involved.

Point of information: Re: the previous point, the NOC director said that most NOC people who become entrepreneurs are foreigners.

Question (from a NOC person): I'm not Singaporean. I've mixed experiences: some of my foreigner friends feel for Singapore. I feel strongly for Singapore because I interact with locals. If I didn't mix with them, I wouldn't feel for Singapore. You need to pull them in.

[Ed: If you import foreigners from specific countries by the truckload, they can form their own ecosystems and won't interact with locals.]

Answer: Merging tensions (?). You should make an effort to interact with foreign students. What may appear to be aloofness/arrogance may be lack of confidence or language facility.

If you go overseas you'll be in a small minority so it's hard to reach out. The best entrepreneurial adventures are cross-cultural, eg YouTube.

Question: 80% of Music is made of foreigners, mostly from the PRC. We've many patrons and sponsors and most students are on scholarships. We have amazing facilities.

Many students want to go overseas to study. There aren't many music job opportunities in Singapore. I'm not sure I'd want to stay here. What is Singapore doing to try to support art?

Answer: The Arts are a vital component in a vibrant city. But you've to attract all the people. We don't have a long tradition of the Arts, because we've only recently come into affluence. Now we have the institutions - music and art schools.

The demand for the Arts is increasing, but I'm not sure if we can offer an environment for world-class pianists to stay here. It takes time to evolve. Top pianists like Lang Lang are based in Boston. Some centres in the world are huge arts magnets - we're far behind, unless world class people choose to come here.

Our culture is improving but we've not punctured through to a world class event yet. We need to take time to grow. We need to get Asian and ASEAN talent to become, at least, a regional centre.

Question: Are we becoming a global city of borrowed art, bringing in famous world culture? What happened to the local brand? Few Singaporeans appreciate local art.

Answer: The London arts scene is not just the West End, and New York not just Broadway. There're many community theatre clubs. The local scene here is pretty good. The Dim Sum Dollies are very good.

We always need some global productions. If we produce something Uniquely Singapore, it may not travel globally. But if it's Singaporean but with a universal theme, it will fly (that's how world famous acts succeed - they have universal appeal).

Our older writers like Catherine Lim and Gopal Baratham write with Singaporean themes, local contexts and local subtexts, but the younger ones have universal appeal. Even if the stories are in HDB estates, people overseas will be able to relate to them. The Necessary Stage is doing a lot today.

There may not be formal learning in the arts scene, but there's passion.
"Why do you have to be a nonconformist like everybody else?" - James Thurber


More feedback:

Subject: stupid slang

Message: Ok, maybe describing things you don't like as "Cock car" and "cockitude" goes over as cool in Singapore, but when used anywhere else you come across as a repressed homosexual. Get some new slang and quit that stupid Singlish bullshit (lah?)

(damn - see how stupid that "lah" shit sounds??? no wonder you never get laid!)

Reply: Thanks for the suggestion lah but whether I'm in Singapore or overseas I don't get laid and people think I'm a repressed homosexual, so it doesn't make a difference hor.

Incidentally ah, a friend informs me he got laid giving Singlish lessons to a French girl in the UK, so your theory true meh?

On the robustness of research showing children in Single Parent Families have worse life outcomes

"Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business, is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things." - Robert Louis Stevenson


(On Experiments in Living: The Fatherless Family)

A: I'm mostly interested in the self-reporting studies you cited since that goes to the heart of my objection in the way the others don't (i.e. they address how the children themselves perceive their relationships with their families). I would like to know what the "other factors" for which the various studies claimed to control are, since on those counts at least, they don't really seem to be explained on the website based on my perusal of it (not very extensive to be honest as I don't want to spend my precious weekend time arguing fruitlessly on the Internet (when I could be watching my newly acquired DVD of Jane Austen's "Persuasion"!!!!!!!! JOY!!!!!!! I LOVE JANE AUSTEN LOVE LOVE LOVE!!!)) And on the website itself there's some suggestion of other factors e.g. lack of community ties which are problems contributing to bad experiences which again strike me as pointing to many single mothers having other problems to start with rather than the one-parent household being the source of the problem... Not sure all the divorce-related statistics are very helpful either, or at any rate they raise the suspicion that some of the effects found may be the result of divorce rather than living in a single-parent household to start.

Me: Erm. What makes you so sure I want to spend my precious time arguing fruitlessly either?

And I'm not going to read *79 PAPERS*!

Do you think there's some vast conspiracy by the writers of 79 papers to maliciously ruin the reputation of single parents? Peer reviewed and published statistical papers are statistically robust (or at least, you won't find 79 of them with major errors of the sort you are hinting at).

If you come into here with your mind already made up, no amount of evidence or logic is going to persuade you of something that is intuitively obvious to everyone else.

Some of the factors controlled for:

- financial hardship
- household income
- prior psychological distress
- socioeconomic circumstances
- level of communication with parents
- educational levels
- age at menarche for girls
- sex
- time spent with family
- relationship with parents
- level of parental supervision
- attachment to family
- whether peers and siblings were in trouble with the police
- standard of work at school
- behaviour problems
- the effects of childhood problems
- early childbearing
- marital status
- early age at first partnership
- employment status
- other demographic factors

In all, suffice to quote this bit:

"Why all these Effects?

Reduced parental and paternal attention

Many of the problems associated with fatherlessness seem to be related to reduced parental attention and social resources.104 Certainly, a child living without his or her father will receive less attention than a child living with both parents. This difference in amount of attention is key, but differences in the type of parental attention are also important.

Recent scholarship has emphasised the important role played by fathers.

Social psychologists have found that fathers influence their children’s short and long-term development through several routes:

- financial capital (using income to provide food, clothing, and shelter as well as resources that contribute to learning),

- human capital (sharing the benefits of and providing a model of their education, skills, and work ethic), and

- social capital (sharing the benefits of relationships). 105

More specifically,

- The co-parental relationship of mother and father provides children with a model of adults working together, communicating, negotiating, and compromising. This dyadic resource also helps parents present a united authority, which appears much less arbitrary to children than one authority figure.

- The parent/child relationship: Studies indicate that a father can contribute uniquely to the development of his children independently of the mother’s contribution. In other words, in areas such as emotional intelligence, self-esteem, competence, and confidence, the father’s influence cannot be duplicated or replaced easily by the mother, no matter how good a mother she is (note that mothers wield similar unique and independent influence in other areas, such as some behaviour problems).106 Other studies indicate that fathers can be especially important in cases where families are experiencing difficulties, such as poverty, frequent moving, or where children have learning disorders.107"

>And on the website itself there's some suggestion of other factors
>e.g. lack of community ties which are problems contributing to bad
>experiences which again strike me as pointing to many single mothers
>having other problems to start with rather than the one-parent
>household being the source of the problem.

You do realise that what I'm showing - that single-parent families have some negative effect on child raising - is much easier than what you are trying to show - that single-parent families have no negative effect AT ALL on child raising.

This is why PC people always look silly; in the rape sex/power controversy, normal people do not deny that power plays a role, but PC people insist that sex does not matter AT ALL. In nature/nurture controversies, normal people do not deny that nurture plays a role, but PC people insist that nature does not matter AT ALL. And in the discrimination/inherent ability controversies, normal people do not deny that discrimination plays a role, but PC people insist that inherent ability does not matter AT ALL.

"Contemporary Politically Correct feminists, like Marxists, feel obligated to postulate a purely environmental explanation for all sex-related differences in behavior, because as soon as biological differences are admitted as relevant factors, the presumption that women are "victims of discrimination" cannot be supported. Should any male/female differences in behavior and career choices be admitted as innate and real, then the "null hypothesis" - the assumption that in the absence of discrimination, no differences in the two groups would be observed - is no longer tenable"


From basic statistics, we know that you can never find a case where one independent variable explains 100% of the variation in a dependent variable. This is why PC arguments totally based on nurture/socialization/discrimination (ie Absolving individuals of personal responsibility and blaming everyone/everything else) ring hollow.

Addendum: Related PC rant
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