If “politics malfunctions if the PAP fails to deliver”, then we’re already screwed.

S’pore can’t go down ‘red vs blue’ path: PM Lee


(Image Credit: TODAYonline)

I’m thankful that PM Lee has moved away from his past rhetoric, which I thought was rather unbecoming of a Head of State:

“What is the Opposition’s job? It’s not to help the PAP do a better job, their job is to make life miserable for me (straw man argument), so that I screw up, and they can come in and sit, where I am here, and take charge. Supposing we had a parliament with 10, 20 Opposition members out of 80- then, instead of spending my time thinking of what is the right policy for Singapore, I’m going to spend all my time- I have to spend all my time thinking (false dichotomy), “What is the right way to fix them? What is the right way to buy my own supporters over? How can I solve this week’s problem, and forget about next year’s challenge?

He’s progressed from utilizing these sorts of flawed arguments and simplistic thinking- I think that’s a step forward for Singapore.

But we’ve still got a long way to go. Here’s why- let’s look at his newer rhetoric:

“I think in Singapore, if the PAP is not able to deliver, I think the politics will malfunction because it’s not going to be easy to put together another group to make Singapore work.”

Here’s what I think. If we have come to a stage where we are overly dependent on any single group to make Singapore work, then we have already failed.

How is it that somewhere along the line we became so willing to trust a single institution with essentially absolute power, as if it were absolutely incorruptible? After all, as MG Chan Chun Sing said, Diversity Is The Only Survival Strategy.

Why did we ever allow ourselves to get into such a position in the first place? (I am almost afraid to start exploring this train of thought, because I suspect it might reveal something rather tragic about our cultural identity. It would be sad if a good part of the Singaporean identity turns out to be “pussy-whipped.”)

The PAP is using a “too-big-and-too-important-to-fail” argument. (aka the Abusive Spouse argument.) Keep us in power, even if we become irrelevant or obsolete, because you can’t possibly risk having anybody else. You can’t have anybody else because nobody else is qualified. Nobody else is qualified because nobody else has the experience. Nobody has the experience because we’ve monopolized politics in this country, for your own sake. (Not ours!)

From the PAP’s perspective, it’s a beautiful position to be in. Singapore’s survival depends entirely on the PAP’s promise of quality and goodwill.


(My smile, if I were a PAP member)

We just have to take their word for it. And I’m sorry lah, this really isn’t personal- but no matter  how sincere your intentions may be, in matters of public interest, I simply can’t take your word for it. That’s just too much risk!

Think about this: We have no counter-measures in case of PAP failure. If the PAP fails, we’re all screwed! Why is that somehow completely okay? Point to me ONE example of any institution in the history of mankind that has never failed.

I don’t want to sound doomsday-ish. I’m genuinely optimistic about Singapore’s future. Over the past year, I have had the wonderful opportunity of interacting with individuals like Indranee Rajah, Irene Ng, Tan Chuan-Jin and PM Lee himself, and I am very convinced of their conviction and the content of their character. They are pretty great people by any standard, and Singapore is lucky to have them.

Even so, I wouldn’t want them to be running the country all by themselves, even with the most golden of hearts and the best of intentions. I would never put all my eggs in one basket because that’s just a damn stupid thing to do no matter the situation!

My primary motivation in voting Opposition isn’t that I think they’re going to do a better job.  I have no idea what kind of job they’re going to do! That’s the problem. I’m voting Opposition anyway because the very idea of Singapore being overly-dependent on a single group is TERRIFYING. 

So, in my mind, the PAP is going to have to learn to work effectively with other parties. It just has to, I see no other strategic alternative. (What, “Trust the PAP forever?” NO. I’m sorry. It’s not personal, I love Singapore too much to have that much faith in any particular political party.)

For Singapore to survive 50, 100 years into the future, we must have a crucible where it’s always “easy” to put together a group to make Singapore work, because we have just that much damn talent lying around, eager to serve, and highly skilled at working together.

PS: I want to reaffirm that MPs like Indranee, Chuan-Jin, Irene, etc are doing absolutely fantastic work and Singapore is much better off for having people like them. But it’s still bloody stupid for us to be over-dependent on a single political party.

TL;DR:

What do you do when you’re in a relationship  where your partner says “You’re nothing without me?”

Meeting Tong Yee

You are to speak for 3 hours about what it means to be Singaporean.

Perhaps you could talk about our past, our present, and our future. About the tangibles (geography) and intangibles (reputation, trust) that matter, and about the larger global context and trends that influence us, and will influence us in the future (automation, migration, declining birth rates in developing countries). Yes, you are allowed to make sex jokes.

You could talk about the differences between the perennial (things that can’t change, like our lack of natural resources), and the persistent- (things that can, like a one-party government).

You could talk about your personal vision for the future, and how we might continue to move forward as a nation. Above all, maybe you could talk about what you love, what you hate, and what keeps you up at night.

You are to fill up an entire auditorium (160 seats)  with Singaporean teenagers and young adults. By yourself. On a Sunday evening, which they might otherwise spend socializing, doing schoolwork or any of the countless things a young person is likely to prioritize over nation-building. You publicize the event. If and when anybody turns up, you are to have their full attention for the full 3 hours.

Could you? I think pretty highly of myself, but I don’t think I could. A couple of months ago, though, I met a man who did just that.

On the 30th of September 2012, I attended a lecture by Mr. Tong Yee from School of Thought, which left me hopeful, inspired and energized. He spoke from the heart, with conviction and hope, and he spoke with a thoughtfulness that was both intellectual and honest.

He was neither blindly optimistic nor drearily cynical. He had an aura of sincerity about him, whether he was cracking a joke or talking about his worries for the future-and if you were sitting in the audience, you’d have gotten a refreshing sense that you were witnessing something real. The young crowd never had the slightest chance to doze off. (Even in NS, when dozing off might be punishable with weekend confinement, some poor guys struggle to stay interested, and fall asleep.) This wasn’t the case with Tong Yee; he had all of us in the palm of his hand.

At one point in time, he needed three volunteers from the audience to make a point. He got them in a matter of seconds.

I met him after the lecture to get an opportunity to speak to him. During his speech, he was springy and energetic, passionate and powerful. As he spoke to the students and well-wishers that lingered, I got a closer look at him- he was a man more than twice my age, visibly tired and drained from ceaselessly fighting an uphill battle- but also, a man with shining eyes. You can’t sustainably put in the kind of work that Tong Yee puts in without passion and belief.

I had to wait quite a while to talk to him- he had sizable crowd of well-wishers and fans who stayed behind to ask him questions, and he patiently gave all of them his time.

“Thank you so much for doing what you’re doing,” I said as I shook his hand.

“You too,” he quickly reciprocated. He had read my post on meeting PM Lee. I gestured to the crowd.

“You must be really proud!”

He looked at me quizzically.

“Not really.”

I’ve been putting this post aside for a couple of months now, and I almost completely forgot about it until I saw Mr. Tong in the papers. (The first thing I thought of was- “Alamak, kena scooped by The Straits Times! Wasted.”) I was delighted to discover that Mr. Tong was a repeat student like myself, and I was amused to read about him not bothering to get a driving license. A man after my own heart.

But you know, while reading the article gave me a better sense of what Mr. Tong is like, it didn’t quite capture the feeling of energy and excitement I got from attending his lecture. It didn’t quite communicate just how interesting and meaningful his work is, it didn’t make me think “Holy crap, this guy needs a larger audience.” Because he does!

I had forgotten that Mr. Tong had said “Not really” in response to “You must be proud!”, but now that I look at it again, I find it to be the most interesting question to ponder.

My hypothesis? Having students voluntarily come down and pay rapt attention to him has been too much a part of his reality for him to question it- a man like Tong Yee operates with brutal sincerity, and the idea of NOT having everybody’s rapt attention is odd. Like Benjamin Zander (TED Talk linked above), I imagine Tong Yee would ask, “Who am I being that my children’s eyes are not shining?”

Tong Yee knows something about education that a vast number of our teachers and educators don’t. He’s communicating it to hundreds of people as it is, but from where I’m standing, this seems way too slow. He’s sharing something of fantastic value, but it’s not spreading as far and wide as it ought to. I envision sharing his work and his passion in videos and blog posts that go viral, and I imagine his thoughts and perspectives occupying a very valuable space in the vast spectrum of our “National Conversation”.

After the lecture, I met a couple of Tong Yee’s former students who were listening in to our conversation, and we ended up having a divergent conversation ourselves about the state of art in Singapore, about passion and civil society. Tong Yee had inadvertently functioned as social lubricant- he had gotten us inspired and excited, and we had some animated conversation for over an hour afterwards- breaking only because it was getting rather late and we had to go home.

Tong Yee taught me not to underestimate our youth. We tend to think of them as apathetic, superficial and maybe even irresponsible or unreliable, and yes, sure, some of them might be that way. I’m beginning to think that there aren’t many “lazy” students (have you seen a lazy student play DotA or World of Warcraft? Does the amount of effort and study that go into that look ‘lazy’ to you?). There are only uninspired students.

Who are we being, that our student’s eyes are not shining?

(I’m hoping to meet Tong Yee after my exams to dissect his brain for insights about teaching and passion. Also, I can’t help but imagine his lectures being broken down into bite-sized videos for mass consumption and dissemination.)

On the banning of Sex.Violence.Family Values

Sex. Violence. Family Values. This is a film. Part of the film depicts a Chinese director mocking an Indian actor. The film has been banned, receiving an NAR rating (Not Allowed For All Rating). I will show the preview here, because my readers are awesome, intelligent, discerning folk.

As an Indian, I am not offended by the trailer, and I doubt that I’d be offended by the film. It looks hilarious to me.

“Out of the group, 20 felt that while the film may be a satire, there were specific comments which were offensive and demeaning to Indians, to the extent that the film should not be given a rating.”

Why ah? Why is it so bad to have specific comments which are offensive and demeaning to Indians? Did you consider the context of these comments? If you say “context doesn’t matter”, then even Indians shouldn’t be allowed to make specific comments which are offensive and demeaning to Indians. But wait, check this out:

You’ll need to know Tamil to understand what Vadi is saying- but essentially, he’s insulting Indians. (If you find that hard to believe, just imagine him as a Chinese guy with his face painted brown.) To great comedic effect! I find it hilarious, too. Apparently it’s okay for Indians to make fun of Indians. Why ah? Some of these jokes span socio-economic classes- so you could say it’s a certain kind of Indian making fun of another kind of Indian. Is that okay? Because, like SVFV, this has “specific comments which (are) offensive and demeaning to Indians”.

How do you legislate “offensiveness”, anyway? When does it start to all fall apart?

How about this- how about we create a new rating, called “SATIRE: Not For The Blur Or The Easily Offended”? If you’re someone who gets offended, don’t watch this film! Or if racism is really such a big deal, then maybe we could have a racism-specific rating, something along the lines of “This film got racism one, unlike real life, where there is no racism, so better not watch, and better not step outside of your bubble also”.

I would like to join the Films Consultative Panel (FCP). It looks like they get to watch all the fun films.

Vadi, the Indian actor who plays the porn actor in the film, also famously acted in the “Mumbai, dei!” advertisement, which I’m sure every Singaporean Indian remembers because it was quoted, caricatured and butchered so bloody often. Here it is:

Personally, if you want to be consistent, and you’re going to ban SVFV because it depicts racism and racial stereotypes, then you should ban the above commercial too, for the same reason.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more offended and enraged I become that SVFV is banned, because it implies that Singaporeans are stupid and cannot be trusted! Isn’t that offensive? Anger! Outrage! Can I ban the FCP? No? Why not? Why doesn’t anybody care about my feelings? Is it because I’m Indian?

Okay, okay, fine, enough with the jokes and nonsense. Let’s be a bit more straightforward.

Here’s what we have in front of us: a strong case of “cover backside”. Everybody involved is doing just that. They’re covering their backsides. They’re afraid to allow a film that MIGHT offend people, and so they ban it. If people watch the film and get offended, they look bad. So it’s safer to just ban the film.

The unfortunate victim here is film-making (and liberal arts) in Singapore, because why would a budding young film-maker make a challenging film on the fringes of OB markers (one that wins international awards, no less!) if it’s going to get banned? Better to make “safe” films, or better not to make films at all. And everybody suffers as a result, of a loss that they never knew they suffered.

No but seriously, I’m very offended at the idea that Indians can’t take a joke when we already face some form of racism or another in Singapore every other day. It’s laughable to think that a clearly satirical film would be any more offensive than the fact that so many people refuse to date, employ or rent to Indians.

Someone wrote in to TODAY to say that “Singapore cannot afford a tiny tear in society’s fabric” Again, does anybody see how this could be rather offensive? Are we playing the “I’m more offended than you” card?

Fun thought- when you exercise, your muscles get lots of little tiny tears in them. This actually weakens you. Afterwards, when you rest and hydrate and eat, your muscles rebuild, stronger than before, to withstand greater tears.

Isn’t it scary (and tiresome!) to live in a society where the slightest supposed insult is guaranteed to rip us apart? Is our union that superficial, that weak? Shouldn’t we have been torn to shreds by now, then?

I’ll be completely real- sure, we’ll get a few letters from people being upset and offended about the movie. But no, it won’t tear our society apart. There’s a lot of subtle racism in our society already, a film that draws attention to it won’t tear us apart, it sets us up to have some pretty important conversations about something that already exists.

CISCO wayang level: Over 9000!

My brother noticed something interesting a few weeks ago, but I never got around to writing about it. (Sorry, I’ve just been really busy!)

A CISCO vehicle was parked very precariously along Upper East Coast Road, as follows. I don’t know the traffic rules, but apparently this is illegal, and kind of dangerous.

So my brother called the Police, who told him to call LTA, I think- who said that they would issue a summons. I believe my brother even jokingly asked whether they were really going to do anything about it, and asked if he should put pictures on Facebook- to which whoever answered supposedly said, Sure, carry on, go ahead.

Well, my brother returned that night, and noticed that the Cisco vehicle had reversed a little. But wait, there’s more! Can you see it?

There’s a traffic summons! Wow, Cisco is really on the ball, huh? But wait…

Notice anything special about the summons? Let me get a close up:

Aiyoyo! Nothing on the slip! Wayang only! Now I’m curious- are all Cisco officers allowed to have this kind of wayang summons? Is this a one-off case, or is there a system of I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine? I’m not personally too bothered by this because I don’t drive, but I imagine a lot of Singaporean drivers are going to have a lot to say about this one…