Thursday, August 24, 2017

Let’s Get Our Priorities Right

I was relived to read the commentary “Time to hold last rites for marital-rape immunity” (14 April 2017). Professor. Eugene Tan has rightfully pointed out that the concept of “Marital-rape immunity” is anachronistic. More worryingly, the debate on Marital-rape immunity reveals something very disturbing about our legal and social approach to sex.

I support the government’s tough stand on crime. What I disagree with and find disturbing is the fact that when it comes to sexual behavior, there are laws which seem designed to encourage the wrong type of behavior like marital-rape immunity.

The lack of debate both in parliament and in the public sphere becomes even more disturbing when you compare it to the debates on the repeal of 377A, where you have the “LGBT” community and the “Religious” community going through great lengths and with great passion to get their point of view across. Whenever the topic of 377A comes into the public sphere, you will inevitably get letters for and against the law being published in the press.

By contrast, nobody talks about marital-rape immunity. Women do not talk about a woman’s right to say no. The religious community remains silent about social norms or moral standards. You might get the odd letter in the press by an academic now and then and nobody has challenged the constitutional validity of marital-rape immunity in the courts nor does anybody hold a march at Hong Lim Park.

Surely, something is wrong here. How is it possible for a society to turn the right of consenting adults to act in a certain way in the privacy of the bedroom into a national debate on social morality while we remain silent on the concept of allowing someone to force himself on another person without the other person’s consent?

I am the father of a teenage girl and I hope that she will one day find a good man to settle down with. As a father, I want my daughter to have the choice of when and whom she offers her body to. How can I accept that she needs to surrender her body whenever her future husband feels like it?

We have achieved so much in the last 50-years in terms of our economic development. I am proud of how our society is a mixture of cultures and religions. A good deal of this has been achieved by the hard work of strong women like the late Mrs. Lee Kuan Yew.

So, how is it that we’ve taken this long to lift legalized rape? Are we really a society that is happy to take from our women when they feel like it? Do we find it acceptable to be ambivalent about rape in any shape or form?

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Best and the Worst in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.

One of the things that you have to give the Trump Administration credit for is finding new lows. Just when you thought the administration could not get any more immoral and incompetent, they find a way to prove you spectacularly wrong.

During the weekend, far right protesters descended onto the town of Charlottesville in Virginia to protest the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee, the Confederate General who lead the Southern States to battle during the American Civil War. The protesters were met with counter protesters and violence erupted. People were killed and America finds itself at a bitterly divided point.

This event has been something of an eye opener and for me, it was an incident that brought out the worst and the best of what I’ve called “White America.” I stress the point about “White America” because the largest ethnic groups in the USA are of European ancestry and we have to acknowledge that this remains the ethnic group that holds the largest influence in what goes on in the USA and by extension the rest of the world. America remains the country that sets the tone for the rest of the world.

Let’s remember that we had hope when America elected Barak Obama to the Presidency back in 2008. I know lifelong Republicans who actually said, “I am proud of the fact that his name is Barak Husain Obama.” The message was simple – after 200-years, America had lived up to its promise of being a beacon of hope for the rest of us – a place where the son of a Kenyan immigrant could rise to the highest office of the land. While President Obama didn’t fulfil every hope and dream, he did turn around an economy that was in its worst state in several decades and he did bring healthcare to millions who couldn’t afford it. He wasn’t liked by everyone else around the world but he did make an effort to bring peace to places like the Middle East by being “fair” – so fair that Binyamin Nethanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister was quite open about his dislike for Obama and here in Singapore, the powers that be decided to remind the public on several occasions that “change” was a foreign concept.

Things are different now. The son of an African Immigrant has now been replaced by the scion of a wealthy family that made its money on government projects. He inherited office by playing up to the worst in people, stroking their fears and attacking anyone who wasn’t part his version of the main stream. Somehow, he made the obvious character flaws (inability to be pleasant, competent, brave, truthful) into things that the ordinary people could relate to (it still astounds me whenever people tell me that Trump tells it like it is when he’s openly collecting money for charity and then using the money to enrich himself.)

You could say that the events that took place in Charlottesville was the chance for Mr. Trump to prove to the world that he was more than the narcistic clown who had conned the American people. Instead, of choosing leadership and being as tough as he had sounded on North Korean missile threats, he decided to take the easy way out by condemning the hatred on “so many sides,” and then said somethings about how “ideally, we should love each other.”

It didn’t help that David Duke, the leader of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization that was founded on the premise of destroying black people, happily got plenty of air-time telling the world that he and his ilk got Donald Trump elected. More on Mr. Duke’s positions can be found at -  https://www.vox.com/2017/8/12/16138358/charlottesville-protests-david-duke-kkk
And

To put it crudely, Mr. Duke had chosen to commit an act of domestic terrorism and he had gotten away with it and even got the type of air time that the likes of Osama Bin Ladin could only have hoped for. The clan members, Nazis and other pleasant people at the protest took their chances to attack anyone who was of a different skin colour, Jews and even members of the clergy (which is ironic considering many of these groups consider themselves Christian. An example of the violence can be found at:  https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2017/aug/13/fatality-car-attack-anti-fascist-white-supremacist-rally-charlottesville-video-report

And


This was perhaps the worst in “White America.” The question of how this group of people who once claimed to have “saved the world from Nazis” be the actual Nazis themselves.

Having said that, there were great moments that were inspiring and saw the best of humanity come out. Let’s start with the most obvious – political leadership. If Trump didn’t have the courage to call out the worst in humanity, Governor Terry McAuliffe showed plenty of it when he told the “alt-right “ that their racism had no place and they were neither patriotic or American. This is what Donald Trump in a higher office should have said. The Governor did what a President should have done – told the world that there was no place for bigotry in a nation founded on the premise of giving everyone opportunity.

More of Governor McAuliffe’s speech can be found at:  http://time.com/4898560/virginia-governor-terry-mcauliffe-church-speech-transcript/

What was especially encouraging was to hear a lifelong Republican, who served under George W Bush (a President I loathed for his policies in the Middle East) denouncing the “alt-right” supporters and advisors of Mr. Trump for being unAmerican -you can hear his disgust at sight of the KKK and its ilk at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rO029In3oiI&feature=share

While White America was on the side of the devils, it was also on the side of the angels. The woman who gave her life was called Heather Heyer, a White American who chose to stand up to bullies and to fight for the victims. More on Ms. Heyer can be found at http://buzz.blog.ajc.com/2017/08/13/fundraiser-for-family-of-charlottesville-victim-heather-heyer-nets-42k/

I am emotionally involved in this. While I haven’t been to America in nearly half a decade and I don’t really do much with America in my daily life, America is the nation that gave me two great blessings – my stepdad Lee and his family and my step mum, Nora and her family. These are the families from “White America” that accepted me and took me for who I am. They helped to nurture me into the person that I am today. I like to believe that America, for all its faults, is a land of decent people who accepted people from around the world as one of their own (I do make the point that it’s the part of America that accepted people from around the world as their own that prospered).

The families from “White America” that touched me are the ones that remind me that Americans are intrinsically a decent people and it’s hard to look the KKK ilk and think of them as being “Americans.” I don’t recognize them as American and yet I have to acknowledge that they are sitting in America.


I can only pray that this Nation of Decent people triumphs over the likes of David Duke and condemns them to the dustbins of history quickly. 

Monday, August 07, 2017

What’s Next for Singapore?

Since National Day is only two-days ahead, I thought I would try and bash out a few thoughts on a topic which should be on the minds of every right-thinking Singaporean – namely, what is it that we want our little nation to be?

Image result for national day 2017
I’ve somehow avoided this topic for the last 12-years because, for all my complaints about Singapore, it’s been pretty much the “Celestial Kingdom.” I never tire of saying this but Singapore is pretty much what a city should be – rich, green and clean. Our crime rates are low and as long as you’re reasonably intelligent, you can get by. It’s been as if we got one formula right at the start and everyone after that just needed to follow the proven script. If you don’t believe me, just ask yourself – “When was the last time you heard the Singapore Government come out with a vision for the nation?” There’s plenty of talk about how to grow the economy but we haven’t exactly heard anyone talk about what they want for the nation.

I can say with all honesty that I’ve never thought much of the question of what I want Singapore to be. Like my fellow citizens, I’ve merely been following the path of just making a living and avoiding getting into any trouble. However, now that fatherhood to a teenager has become part of my life, the question has suddenly become important and why shouldn’t it – this is, after all, the ONLY country that I have an obligation to die for.

I guess we should start with what I hope never changes, which is for Singapore to remain a safe little red dot that remains open to the world.
Safety is something I never fully appreciated until I became a father of a teenage girl. I’ve lived in London, which is generally pretty safe and I’ve visited big American cities like New York and Chicago. While I’ve never experienced anything really nasty, there are parts of those cities that I wouldn’t walk in. I remember getting lost in “California Avenue” in Chicago with a best friend of mine who was driving a sports car. We were running low on gas but we drove on till we got the hell out of there – the local residents didn’t exactly look like they were going to let us keep the car if we got out.

You don’t get that feeling even in Singapore’s neighbourhoods. I remember a US Navy boy asking me if Geylang was our worst neighbourhood and when I replied that it was, he invited me to the States to show me what a bad neighbourhood was.

Image result for Geylang
This is officially a bad neighbourhood in Singapore


I hope that aspect of Singapore remains in perpetuity. I can live with a slowing economy but I don’t want to live in a place where I worry for my safety or more importantly not being able to sleep because I’m worried that my little girl hasn’t come home yet. One of my favourite Englishmen tells people, “Singapore is the freest place in the world – the safety it provides makes me feel free.”
I also want Singapore to be a place where we continue to accept people from all over the world. I love the fact that we remain a place where you see people of various shades walking around and having fun together. 

I love the fact that I can walk around and find a mosque, church and a temple side by side and worshipers popping into each other’s place of worship for a friendly nod to the divine. To my mind, God is everywhere and nothing is Godlier that human beings acknowledging him in all his various forms. I pray that we will remain the place where a Hindu temple is crowded with Taoist devotees worshiping the Hindu Gods outside. This is the way it should be. I want Singapore to always be the place where a Buddhist can enter a church and a Christian family will observe Hindu rights and Muslims celebrate Christmas.

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The Way it Should Be.

What would I change about Singapore? One of my biggest frustrations with life in Singapore lies in the fact that the minds of people tend to be preconditioned to look at the world in a certain way. Admittedly, it’s something that you could say about any other part of the world but I guess, since I live in Singapore I feel it the most here.

One of the most prominent examples of this “preconditioning” comes in the area of race. For all our talk about being a “multi-racial” society, we are shockingly racist. I go back to my favourite Englishman who tells me that when his son when to apply for a job at F1, it was quite noticeable that anyone who was white or yellow ended up as an usher while anyone who happened to be brown or black ended up on cleaning duty. I’ve refused to take up certain positions because what I was being offered was significantly lower than my predecessors and my colleagues have defended the discrepancy in what was being offered because the other person was of a lighter shade.

The other area that frustrates me about Singapore is that it can be an unforgiving place for people who don’t follow the prescribed cast system. I speak as someone who never had a conventional career path of going into the government or the government and decided to do his or her own thing. My own people could never look beyond the fact that I never took the position that New York or London were essential to global prosperity. For me, it was the companies from places like Dhaman (Saudi) or Chennai (India), that gave me a chance and I guess you could say I’m biased but I’m willing to give people outside the established order a chance because they gave me a chance.

It's like this, I applaud the fact that we welcome people from the third world to work here. However, if those people from the third world become uppity and try and go beyond the menial job we gave them, we don’t like it.

We need to be the place where second acts are celebrated. On my Facebook page, I’ve linked up with a few of the girls who worked at the bar that I drink at. They’ve gone back to the Philippines and reinvented themselves as online entrepreneurs. They came here with not very much and gone back as entrepreneurs.

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An example of the Capitalist Success Story of a Girl with Hunger

While I celebrate their success, I ask myself, why can’t we encourage them to start their second act in life here?

As well as celebrating the success of migrants, we should also be the place that encourages second acts amongst our mid-career professionals. We succeeded by producing the people who could work in one job and at one thing. So, as the world becomes more fluid, we should now focus on being the place where second acts take place and succeed. Would Ray Kroc, a milkshake mixer sales man at the age of 60 plus or Colonel Harland Sanders a washed out cook in his 60s get their second acts as restaurant owners in Singapore. The answer should be – why not.


Majullah Singapura.