Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Problem with Knowledge

Allot of people have asked me why I bother entertaining a certain young grassroots leader from Pasir Ris GRC. At the age of 18, this young man has mastered the art of incoherence. When confronted by a clear and reasonable argument, the young man retreats into a rant on the most indefensible cases. While most young men his age become idealistic to do good, he strives to climb the most slippery pole of the political achievement. So, why do I bother sitting down to listen to his incoherant rants? A part of it is ego. He provides me with an audience and his comments add spice to my postings. But I think the most important part of my dialogues with him, is that he's had an inevitable talent of drawing out the issues that I've commented on

Singaporeans are on the whole like most people. There are good ones, bad ones, pretty ones and ugly ones. Perhaps its just me, but I've started to notice a trend of incoherance and gobbldygook speakers becoming more prominent in public life. Two examples that have come to mind are Nominated Member of Parliament, Professor Thio Li-Ann and Young PAP member, Nicholas Lazarus. Both Professor Thio and Mr Lazarus have mastered the art of disguising ignorance as public morality. As I've said in previous writings, they have their right to their personal views, but it becomes a different matter when they make their views public from the positions they hold.

I've demonstrated Mr Lazarus's lack of analytical ability and after a glance at one of Professor Thio's key speeches, I could blow away her points with a ten minuite search on the Internet. Call me an alarmist but I think it's very worrying that a public, political figure and a representative of the ruling party don't see anything wrong with passing of ignorance as defending public virtue.

What's more disturbing is when you get young, impressionable people like my young politician believing that the arguments that Professor Thio and Mr Lazarus present are credible defenses of 'conservative values.' It just took a bit of common sense to see that neither Professor Thio nor Mr Lazarus presented credible or conservative arguments during the 377A debate. So, why do people like my young politician find them convincing. We're not talking about major government shakers here, so I can assume that this has nothing to do with an effort to carry favour.

I suspect, this is a mindset that has been cultivated within Singaporeans during the past 40-years. One Indian businessmen described Singapore as being a nation of 50 Ministers (Shepherds), 500 civil servants (sheepdogs) and 4,499,450 sheep. This system has worked wonders for Singapore. We are a small nation and as long as our shepherds know what they're doing, its very easy to follow. While state control and central planning have failed miserably in other countries, its worked brilliantly in Singapore - just look at the way the URA has made 4,500,000 people fit on an island 640 square KM, with plenty of parkland to spare.

This is a fine and dandy situation when the shepherds are in control and obviously know what they're doing. It works when the shepherds and sheepdogs are genuinely interested in protecting their flock. Look at Singapore's cabinate in the early days. Men like Goh Keng Swee were genuinely driven by the need to make something for the people they were looking after.

But what happens when the shepherds and sheepdogs don't have the ability to guide their flock and more importantly have no genuine interest in the welfare of their flock. Do the sheep have the ability to recognise and do something about an incompetent or worse - rogue sheherd?

Well, I hope my young politician's attitudes are not a reflection on the rest of the sheep. He's now taken to calling me a 'Gay Right's Western Liberal' because I've proven Mr Lazarus's arguments to be of poor quality. Try and point out the obvious to him and he'll acuse you of undermining Asian Values (the brand espoused in Singapore was incidentally taken from an English Bording school). Poor old God (I mean the Hebrew Yahweh or Muslim Allah, not Lee Kuan Yew), gets dragged in there to enforce the point that "Liberals Know NUTS." (Not that he knows the difference between a liberal conservative).

What was most interesting was when he chose to defend the Bush Administration's indefensible policies - ie it was necessary because Saddam had WMD (5-years still not found), links with Osama (Pentagon admited to be not true) and so on. He proudly told me that the Modern State of Israel was "Liberated for the Jews," (He's Muslim) and the land belonged to God (I assume Yahweh/Allah)

I told him that Sykes-Picot (British and French Foreign Secrateries who carved up the Ottoman Empire after WW1) were not God. When I asked if he knew who Mr Sykes and Mr Picot were, he proudly told me - "Dun Know, dun care to know." He calls it, "Not ignorance, but prejudice against liberals who are trying to do us in."

I can only wonder if he's an odd cookie or if he's representative of the generation below me. Have we reached such a state where the sheep are so comfortable being sheep that they would rather be swindled by a rogue shepherd than to try and live a good life for themselves.

Perhaps I cannot be hard on the "Dun know, dun care to know," mindset of being a sheep. As anyone who has been a unit man during national service can tell you - it's fun because you have no responsability. You just do what the Officer Commanding, Platoon Commander and Section Commanders tell you to do. If anything goes wrong, it is someone elses fault. The bottom will pass the blame up the chain of command, while the top will pass it back down. In the end, passing the buck becomes more important than solving the issue at hand. Just revisit the escape of Mas Selamat - the man remains at large but the sheep, shepherds and sheepdog are still passing the buck.

But the modern economy does not function like that. It is increasingly important to know things and more importantly, one has to care to know things. Singapore's sheepherds remain, thankfully comitted to the welfare of the sheep. But in today's world, its necessary for the sheep to go beyond places where there may be no sheepherd. The sheep will get information and advise in their new pastures. It's common sense to point out that the system in new pastures are not always like at home. How do you know what you've just been told will fill your tummy with fresh grass or turn you into lamb chops for the wolves? So, you have to care to know.

Knowledge, is of course problematic. It means, you have to take responsability, which means you may have to suffer consequences. However, this is how lambs develop into rams. You take responsability and you take ownership. As such, you grow and develop and become stronger.

Yes, my young politician has a point when he tells me that in the Singapore system, we don't have to worry about Temasek Holding's S$18 billion profits, which they derived from S$17 billion worth of asset sales. After all there is the sheepherd to take care of these things.

But we are increasingly moving into a world where relying on the sheepherd is no longer good enough for basic survival. It's no longer to have the Singapore Syndrome of "Not Me" when things happen. One has to care to know things rather than to sit there and accept what any idiot with title offers as good stuff. The sheep who insist on the 'dun known, dun care to know,' mode and blissfully munch on any old crud without taking 10 minuites to analyse things are the ones who end up as someone elses lunch.

The One Thing We Do Right

I can't sleep so I think I'm going to add another rant at an hour when I should be doing the decent thing and trying to get some sleep. I think, it must be a case of events and perhaps a pretentious desire to sound intellectual that is keeping me in this state of happy insomnia. But since I'm awake, I think I'm going to try and bash out another blog entry in the hope of being able to leave something for posterity.

Perhaps I'm destined to be a cynic but I've never seen married life with kids as an achievement. I've seen the way my Dad had to plow money into my education and I think...for what? I've seen my mother plow her time into her children and I've not seen her get anything out of it. I think pretty much the same thing for my stepfathers. Why do they bother? Kids, contrary to what many people think are an ungrateful bunch. You spend your life devoted to them and in the end, they leave you to rot in a hovel. Of course, in Singapore, it's a little different - they spew allot of crap about Asian values and how much they respect you and then they leave you to rot in a hovel.

For the life of me, I can't see why my friends have been so keen to get hitched and burdened themselves with kids. Every time one of my friends tells me they're better halves are pregnant, my only thought is ...... "Another one bites the dust."

I won't say I became a changed man overnight but I think my attitude to the parenting business is becoming softer and I have a midget Vietnamese girl to thank for it. For those of you who have followed my blog, you will know, Thui as Han Li's daughter. I had the privilege of meeting Thui in 2006, the year that I had a career high of working for the Saudi Embassy, helping them when Crown Prince Sultan visited Singapore. The work was exhillerating but if I have to remember the year 2006 for anything, I will remember it as the year I learnt the value of living beyond myself.

To put it crudely, Han Li, Thui's mum is a hard nut, a tough cookie who, to put it politely would probably break a few arms to get what she wants. I'm told its a typical Vietnamese trait - the men sleep, while the women work like mashines. If racial/cultural stereotypes are anything to go by, Han Li fits into that one. So, I guess when she declared me "Boyfriend" in 2006, who the hell was I to argue. The lady is on a long stay in Vietnam as I type these words. I suspect Singapore Immigration found her a little bit too hard for their liking. As such, boyfriendome is wearing down a bit and I'm slowly but surely reverting to the type that needs constant distraction.

Having said what I've just did about Han Li, there was one thing good about my relationship with her and that's Thui, her 7-year old (She's 9 this year). For two months of my life, I got to take care of a little girl who made me understand the meaning of what it was like to live for something beyond yourself. It's thanks to Thui that I think I understand that although most of us end up screwing up our lives, we have a chance to do something correct, and that usually takes the form of the kids that touch our lives.

As you can tell, I managed to speak to Thui on Sunday. Felt really good to speak to her. She's becoming more articulate in English, which is probably a good sign, especially when you consider the fact that she moved back to Vietnam two years ago. It's a tough line to follow. I got to play by certain rules...namely I must remember that she's not my daughter. As much as it disturbs me, I have to accept that she's Han Li's kid and she has every right to set the tone of how Thui develops. It's not like there's custody to fight over....I'm not providing financial support for the kid. I even remember my mother telling me that I was doing things the screwed up way, falling for the kid instead of the mother.

But what can I say, this is the little girl that made two months of an otherwise dull and jittery existence, joyful and eventful. I don't know what it is about having a midget touch your life but Thui obviously knew how to make mine joyful. What little contact I have with her, is precious and while I can't predict how my relationship with her mother will turn out, I know that I have to make at least a single trip to Vietnam, just to see her.

Human's are funny creatures. We have a talent for screwing up and making our screw ups compound. However, we have a wonderful capacity of getting at least something right and that's usually in the form of caring for a small kid. Perhaps I have two wonderful stepfathers to thank, but I've been very fortunate to appreciate that sparks in your life don't have to be your own flesh and blood.

I look at my friend Bijay, the Nepaleese Naan maker. The guy has a talent for screwing up. We're talking about a guy who enters the USA illegally, strolls out like he's in a park and then tries to get back in through the official channel. The man had a wife who cared for him financially, and yet he left her for a cow of a character who's main function is to whine and bleed him dry. Sometimes you want to slap him. But when all that is said and done, Bijay fathered Puja, who is the most amazingly beautiful child and when you look pictures of the child, you think, thank God, the guy existed to this one good deed.

Perhaps I'm naturally cynical about life but at least I got that bit of time with Thui, just to live a few moments outside the cynical shell. I look at Bijay, and all his idiocyncracies are forgotten when I consider the fact that he had a role in bringing Puja into the world. It's a cynical and cruel world out there and it has the ability to warp us as we get older. But I think, I understand it a little better, now. May be my folks were not that silly after all. May be touching the life of a child and letting the life of a small child touch you is perhaps the one and only chance most of us have of doing something right, something to make our screw ups seems irrelevant.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Return to Logic

I owe Singaporeans an apology. In my last two postings, I made it a point to demean the non-existent analytical skills of a member of a member of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), called Mr Nicholas Lazarus. In my previous postings, I made it a point to destroy Mr Lazarus's case which he presented on why Singapore's government should keep consensual homosexual sex illegal.

I believe an apology for several reasons, of which I will start with the easiest. Mr Lazarus was speaking in a personal capacity and his presentation of his case was amateurish at best. Destroying his case in my private blog was similar to stating the obvious - making statements like fish swim.

More importantly, I think I owe my fellow Singaporeans an apology. In my boredom to rip Mr Lazarus's case to where it belonged, I alluded to the fact that Mr Lazarus was expressing views that the public might hold. I seemed to be under the impression that Mr Lazarus's position in the ruling party was something to worry about. I am clearly wrong.

Mr Lazarus's posting was rightly slammed for its lack of intellectual argument and most of the people who set Mr Lazarus in his place were Singaporeans. Say what you like, not all Singaporeans are sheep. In cyberspace, you will find people who can express themselves and are willing to expose the unintelligent when the unintelligent make themselves known.

More importantly, this morning's Today Newspaper carried a piece by Mr Ho Kwon Ping, Chairman of MediaCorp, Singapore Management University and Banyan Tree Holdings. Mr Ho, called the current legislation on homosexual sex (377A) a "Mockery of the Rule of Law." Mr Ho desereves credit for pointing out the obvious. In a society, dominated by the principle of "Don't rock the boat," Mr Ho has shown the courage to point out a piece of leglislation or more importantly, the official attitude to a piece of leglislation was running contrary to something that has made Singapore a good society to live in.

So, thank you Mr Ho and my fellow Singaporeans for giving me back my faith in the nation. Just when I was about to despair at the lack of intellectual power of our young elite, Singaporeans from all walks of life have shown me that there is yet some hope.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

My Avnery Strikes Again

Only in Israel can a man take on the State with such truthfulness


Georgia: Hottentot morality
Uri Avnery I avnery@actcom.co.il

IF he steals my cow, that is bad. If I steal his cow, that is good” — this moral rule was attributed by European racists to the Hottentots, an ancient tribe in southern Africa.

It’s hard not to be reminded of this when the United States and the European countries cry out against Russia’s recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two provinces which seceded from the Republic of Sakartvelo, known in the West as Georgia.

Not so long ago, the Western countries recognized the Republic of Kosovo, which seceded from Serbia. The West argued that the population of Kosovo is not Serbian, its culture and language is not Serbian, and that therefore it has a right to independence from Serbia. Especially after Serbia had conducted a grievous campaign of oppression against them. I supported this view with all my heart. Unlike many of my friends, I even supported the military operation that helped the Kosovars to free themselves.

But what’s true for Kosovo is no less true for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The population in these provinces is not Georgian, they have their own languages and ancient civilizations. They were annexed to Georgia almost by whim, and they have no desire to be part of it.

SO what is the difference between the two cases? A huge one, indeed: The independence of Kosovo is supported by the Americans and opposed by the Russians. Therefore it’s good. The independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is supported by the Russians and opposed by the Americans. Therefore it’s bad. As the Romans said, what’s allowed to Jupiter is not allowed to an ox.

I do not accept this moral code. I support the independence of all these regions.

In my view, there is one simple principle, and it applies to everybody: Every province that wants to secede from any country has a right to do so. In this respect there is, for me, no difference between Kosovars, Abkhazians, Basques, Scots and Palestinians. One rule for all. There was a time when this principle could not be implemented. That was the era of the “nation state”, when a strong people imposed itself, its culture and its language, on weaker peoples, in order to create a state big enough to safeguard security, order and a proper standard of living. France imposed itself on Bretons and Corsicans, Spain on Catalans and Basques, England on Welsh, Scots and Irish, and so forth.

That reality has been superseded. Most of the functions of the “nation state” have moved to supernational structures: Large federations like the USA, large partnerships like the EU. In those there is room for small countries like Luxemburg beside larger ones like Germany. If Belgium falls apart and a Flemish state comes into being beside a Walloon state, both will be received into the EU, and nobody will be hurt. Yugoslavia has disintegrated, and each of its parts will eventually belong to the European Union.

That has happened to the former Soviet Union, too. Georgia freed itself from Russia. By the same right and the same logic, Abkhazia can free itself from Georgia.

But then, how can a country avoid disintegration? Very simple: It must convince the smaller peoples which live under its wings that it is worthwhile for them to remain there.

It is rather funny to hear Vladimir Putin, whose hands are dripping with the blood of Chechen freedom fighters, extolling the right of South Ossetia to secession. It’s no less funny to hear Micheil Saakashvili likening the freedom fight of the two separatist regions to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Nobody can know what was passing through the mind of Saakashvili. He is an inexperienced person, educated in the United States, a politician who came to power on the strength of his promise to bring the separatist regions back to the homeland. The world is full of such demagogues, who build a career on hatred, supernationalism and racism.

But even a demagogue does not have to be an idiot. Did he believe that President George W. Bush, who is bankrupt in all fields, would rush to his aid? The elite units of the Georgian Army have been trained by Israeli officers, including the one who was blamed for losing Lebanon War II. If the Israeli officers infected their Georgian colleagues with their own arrogance, convincing them that they could beat the mighty Russian Army, they committed a grievous sin against them.

When Henry Kissinger was still a wise historian, before he became a foolish statesman, he expounded an important principle: In order to maintain stability in the world, a system has to be formed that includes all the parties. If one party is left outside, stability is in danger. The present American policy, with its attempt to push Russia out, is a danger to the whole world. (And I have not even mentioned the rising power of China.)

A small country which gets involved in the struggle between the big bullies risks being squashed. That has happened in the past to Poland, and it seems that it has not learned from that experience. One should advise Georgia, and also the Ukraine, not to emulate the Poles but rather the Finns, who since world War II have pursued a wise policy: They guard their independence but endeavor to take the interest of their mighty neighbor into account.

We Israelis can, perhaps, also learn something from all of this: That it is not safe to be a vassal of one great empire and provoke the rival empire. Russia is returning to our region, and every move we make to further American expansion will surely be countered by a Russian move in favor of Syria and Iran.

So let’s not adopt the “Hottentot morality”. It is not wise, and certainly not moral.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Being a Total Arse - Thank Goodness I Don't Know my Place in Society

I must admit that I am a total arse of a character. I am poor, fat and balding. I refuse to work in the civil service, even though it would enhance my career prospects and I have decided I will avoid the model of Singapore womanhood - namely young, Chinese graduates. I drink too much, exercise too little and smoke whenever it suits me. And yet, instead of accepting my place as a worm, I've decided to spice up my life by poking fun of those who are rich, successful and obidient.

So, since this is my blog, I think I'm going to continue my previous topic of making fun of Mr Nicholas Lazarus, whom, for those of you, who read the last entry is a highly successful lawyer, trying to show off his powers of analysis on the Young PAP blog. Mr Lazarus, as on record, made his views on homosexuality well known.

While I fully support his right to have his views, as well as sharing a dislike for a good many homosexuals, I find his ability to argue his case in a logical manner, free of personal prejudice to be rather ammusing. The fact that Mr Lazarus has made his way into a senior position in a party that has dominated Singapore for so long, makes him a depressing symbol of my generation's ability to apply common sense in daily life. We have, I fear, become a generation so able to absorb what we read, that we have become incapable of think for ourselves.

On July 28, 2007, Mr Lazarus informed cyberspace that he felt that any moves to abolish a law that served no purpose would create social tension within Singapore. He painted a picture of how abolising the law against a private act between consenting adults would lead to...horror or horror's - people holding hands on the MRT. I won't repeat myself, but do take a look at his comments in the previous posting and try to work out the logic in his statements.

When the rest of cyberspace pointed out that he was speaking rubbish, Mr Lazarus proceeded to post the following reply on July 29, 2007:

Leaving aside my religious views on this matter, I am against any change of law/policy on homosexuals because:

1. They threaten the social fabric of the nation. Their ways represent an alternative for which we should not accept as being mainstream.

2. They cannot procreate and thus cannot produce offspring for our nation.

3. They cannot serve as soldiers because instead of serving alongside our men in green, they are more keen to sodomise them.

I do not accept the notion that homosexuals are "creative" and thus we need homosexuals to make our nation more "creative". There is no evidence to suggest that homosexuals are any more or less creative than heterosexuals.

If an analysis is done, they seem to bring more problems than benefits.

This is the analysis on a trained lawyer. My Young Politician from Pasir Ris GRC was most offended by my decision to riddicule Mr Lazarus's efforts to protect the 'moral' fiber of the majority. But since Mr Lazarus has decided to post his views in cyberspace, he's made his views, public property. More importantly, because Mr Lazarus has made his membership of the rulling party public, the public has every right to scrutinise his postings and assess what it says about his thought process and what he's likely to do if he gets political power.

Let's take a look at this lawyerly analysis:

Point 1 - They threaten the social fabric of the nation. Their ways represent an alternative for which we should not accept as being mainstream.

a - How do they threaten the social fabric of the nation? Does homosexuality cause a rise in HIV? Not if you believe the Ministry of Health's statistics, which show that HIV/AIDS is a predominantly a hetrosexual disease. Does homosexuality cause an increase in violent crime? - thus far there are no global statistics to suggest that it does. - What evidence has this lawyer shown that "They" threaten our social fabric?

b -
Their ways represent an alternative for which we should not accept as being mainstream. - What is it about 'their' ways that their ways that the rest of us don't accept? Is it because men hold hands? Well, obviously Mr Lazarus remains removed from Little India, where hetrosexual construction workers from ASIA hold hands as part of their culture. There are plenty of Asian men who like Fat girls - this is unacceptable to many people, but is it criminal?

I'm not sure what the argument is over here? Is he suggesting that if the government were to decriminalise a private act between consenting adults, the population would turn homosexual?

Point 2 -
They cannot procreate and thus cannot produce offspring for our nation. -

a - Obviously he never studied biology? A homosexual male is able to produce the same sperm with the same capability of impregnating a woman. Homosexual's do not reproduce because their sperm ends up in places where there is no human egg.

b - Which is exactly the same for hetrosexual couples that chose not to allow the male semen and female eggs to meet. If one follows Mr Lazarus's logic, homosexuals should not be allowed to have sex because it does not lead to procreation - which is the same logic for having birthcontrol.

c - Would it be illegal for a homosexual man to donate his sperm to a single woman? WIth IVF, homosexuals can easily reproduce.

Point 3 -
They cannot serve as soldiers because instead of serving alongside our men in green, they are more keen to sodomise them.

a - Where is the evidence that homosexuals are keen to sodomise everyone?

b - In the 1990s, the US Army allowed homosexuals to serve on a "Don't Ask, don't tell," basis. Thus far, there have been no major reports citing vast ammounts of sodomy taking place within the US military.

c - More importantly, any of the decline in morale in the US military since then seems to come from combat fatiqgue in Iraq than from fear of being sodomised by homosexuals on their own side.

Finally, Mr Lazarus, along with the 'moral' crowd missed the point that 377A was about criminalising a particular sexual act rather than homosexuality itself.

I'm no lawyer, it was pretty darn easy to destroy Mr Lazarus's case. If this fat, balding, unemployed drunk who prefers the company of Geylang's residents to the Tai Tai's group can demolish Mr Lazarus's analysis of a situation, what can his clients expect when they go to court and face opposing counsel?

I hope I'm wrong about Mr Lazarus. Perhaps, like Mr Neil French, former WPP Gloabl Creative Head, Mr Lazarus is a genious for self-publicity - the 70 plus responses he got have given him good positions on Google. But I wonder. Is showing off your inability to analyse and getting caught trying to fool the world into thinking you can analyse what you want to be known for, especially if you have political aspirations?