Archive for the 'society and culture' Category

On academic responsibility

Guest essay by Liew Kai Khiun

In May 2013, Harvard Professor Niall Ferguson caused a storm by attributing the limitations of the premises of the theories of the prominent economist John M. Keynes to his sexuality where:

Speaking at the Tenth Annual Altegris Conference in Carlsbad, Calif., in front of a group of more than 500 financial advisors and investors, Ferguson responded to a question about Keynes’ famous philosophy of self-interest versus the economic philosophy of Edmund Burke, who believed there was a social contract among the living, as well as the dead. Ferguson asked the audience how many children Keynes had. He explained that Keynes had none because he was a homosexual and was married to a ballerina, with whom he likely talked of “poetry” rather than procreated. The audience went quiet at the remark. Some attendees later said they found the remarks offensive.[i]

Continue reading ‘On academic responsibility’

Is Lawrence Khong’s battle flag for victory or for show?

It’s difficult to make sense of what Pastor Lawrence Khong is trying to do. In the past few weeks, he’s taken the lead in attacking the Health Promotion Board (HPB), and now the Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, over the HPB’s FAQ on sexuality. Khong accused the HPB of disseminating a message that “condones same-sex relationships and promotes the homosexual practice as something normal”.

When Gan answered a parliamentary question from Lim Biow Chuan (PAP, Mountbatten) in a manner not to Khong’s liking, Khong turned his guns on the minister too. You can read Gan’s parliamentary reply here. Lim, in case people have forgotten, gave one of the most homophobic speeches in Parliament in 2007 when Section 377A, the anti-gay law, was debated. Continue reading ‘Is Lawrence Khong’s battle flag for victory or for show?’

Not at taxpayers’ expense

I had a sense of deja vu when Law Minister K Shanmugam said that allowing migrant workers to challenge deportation orders through the judicial process would mean that  “every foreigner is entitled to stay here at taxpayers’ expense, housed here at taxpayers’ expense” (source), while the cases wend their way through the courts.

The same “it costs too much” argument was regularly deployed by supporters of the death penalty in previous years. It goes along these lines: society should not be burdened with having to feed and clothe a prisoner on a life sentence; it’s more economical to hang him. However, the government itself did not, to my knowledge, use this argument. It came from various members of the public. Continue reading ‘Not at taxpayers’ expense’

From words to deeds, attention to detail matters

I see bad English all over Singapore, but because I don’t want to sound like a language Nazi, I hold myself back, seldom writing about it. On the other hand, I don’t think I need to be apologetic about it. Getting language right takes the same attitude — attention to detail — that stands a person in good stead. More generally, a culture or economy that devalues the striving for excellence shortchanges itself. I sometimes think a widespread neglect of language quality in Singapore reflects a neglect of perfectionism, which shows up in a myriad ways from train breakdowns and bus delays to stark gaps in the social safety net. Continue reading ‘From words to deeds, attention to detail matters’

As space tightens, Singaporeans suffocate

It’s taken me a while to think of a theme for this end-of-year post. Just in time, I have it: Space. Or rather, the ever-tightening amount of space in Singapore. The space I speak of is not just physical space, but also expressive space.  Continue reading ‘As space tightens, Singaporeans suffocate’

Riot police didn’t fire a shot, but propaganda artillery in full barrage

Just like what happened in the days following the Chinese bus drivers’ strike November last year, the government is bringing out the artillery to pound Singaporeans’ minds with their preferred framing of the riot that occurred in Little India 8 December 2013: It’s wanton mayhem, monstrous criminality, pure and simple. The small riot (blown up big for its usefulness as bogeyman) is entirely a law and order issue. No sociological enquiry should be entertained, the message insistently says, especially any that asks questions whether the prior behaviour of the the ruling class (both government and business owners) contributed to the state of mind of the underclass. Continue reading ‘Riot police didn’t fire a shot, but propaganda artillery in full barrage’

Riot in Little India: spark and fuel

There rarely is any definitive explanation of any riot. There won’t be one of the brief incident — it lasted barely an hour — at Little India last night, Sunday 8 December 2013. The reason why definitive explanations are elusive is because there is always an element of chance and irrational behaviour. Moreover, riots are complex events involving many actors with many contributory factors. Continue reading ‘Riot in Little India: spark and fuel’

Mexico tries to tax away obesity

A fortnight ago, the Mexican legislature passed two new laws. One imposes a new one-peso (S$0.10) per litre tax on sugary drinks. Another imposes an 8 percent tax on foods that contain more than 275 Calories per 100 grams. Mexico is the latest country to try using tax policy to stem the tide of obesity. Continue reading ‘Mexico tries to tax away obesity’

Shout out: bullying of LGBT kids must stop

Judy and Dennis Shepard chose to turn their grief into action. They set up the Matthew Shepard Foundation to honour their first-born son, who was brutally tortured and killed in 1998. Fifteen years on, the parents are still going from school to school giving talks.

It’s not easy getting access to high schools, especially the public schools, Judy tells me. “All it takes is for one parent to say no,” and school administrators get cold feet.  Continue reading ‘Shout out: bullying of LGBT kids must stop’

Hacker strikes fear among “good” citizens

pic_201311_03Maybe the Stompers best represent our beating heart. There was a passing mention in a Facebook post that 87% were happy with the hacking of Straits Times’ blog website. Schadenfreude is a totally legitimate emotion.

“Stompers” is the name we give to mostly anonymous readers and contributors to the Straits Times wild wild west site Stomp where digital natives can post anything they think newsworthy — mostly pictures and videos of bad behaviour, overflowing drains and women with cleavages.

Continue reading ‘Hacker strikes fear among “good” citizens’


For an update of the case against me, please see AGC versus me, the 2013 round.

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