Three clippings from last Saturday’s newspaper

“In search of the other story” was the headline for Saturday’s Insight section of the Straits Times (14 August 2010). It looked at the small phenomenon of “a flurry of books on Singapore’s left-wing movement of the 1950s and 1960s, ranging from personal memoirs to academic tomes.” Many of these books, published in the last 10 – 15 years, were authored by the actors of history themselves, such as Fong Chong Pik (also known as Fang Chuang Pi) and Said Zahari.

Academics interviewed by the newspaper for this story welcomed the trend. Constitutional law professor Kevin Tan was quoted as saying, “If you don’t write alternatives, you leave the space entirely to the state.” Tan is also the president of the Singapore Heritage Society.

Here’s an excerpt from the Straits Times article:

So why are young, intellectually engaged Singaporeans delving into varied perspectives of the past? This is part of a ‘generational shift’, says Mr Thum Ping Tjin. He is completing a history of Singapore’s decolonisation using Chinese-language sources for his PhD at the University of Oxford.

This younger generation ‘recognises that Singapore must adapt and evolve in order to survive into a new century’.

‘However, before we can understand how we need to change, we need to understand who we are and where we come from. An examination of our past – in particular, the events which shaped the structure of today’s society, institutions, politics and culture – is necessary,’ he says.

Ah, but “understanding” can only go so far. Here’s another excerpt:

As you can see, K Kesavapany took pains to point out a line drawn in the sand: “must not . . .  reinterpret history” and must not “attempt to vindicate the roles and contributions of certain players.” Wouldn’t those be major roadblocks to enquiry? How does one read history, or anything else for that matter, if minds must remain closed?

* * * * *

The next cutting I have is a short letter to the editor, grumbling about the fact that the clinic in the Olympic Village — Singapore is currently hosting the inaugural Youth Olympics — supplies condoms among other things.

His last question beggars belief: “Is there any purpose in promoting safe sex and preventing unwanted pregnancies?” I would have thought the public health imperative of both would be strikingly obvious, but it seems there are people in this world who believe there’s no merit in promoting safe sex and preventing unwanted babies.

Perhaps his question was badly phrased. Perhaps Billy Lui meant to say that since this is the Youth Olympics, and participants are “youths”, there should be no demand for condoms. The logic, from what I can see goes like this:

1. So-and-so’s idea of morality is that teenagers should not be having sex;

2. Reality surely follows moral prescription;

3. Therefore just saying that teenagers should not be having sex is enough to make it a fact that teenagers do not have sex.

4. Therefore there is no need to stock the clinic with condoms.

There is a variant of this logic:

5. If the clinic is capable of giving out condoms, teenagers will have sex.

6. If the clinic has no condoms to give out, teenagers will not have sex.

It is bad enough that we have people who have such warped logic in their heads, it is even worse that our press sees such letters as fit to print, in the process legitimising this kind of “non-think” in our citizenry.

By the way, in case you’re wondering what exactly the report of 11 August said, and which Billy Lui objected to,  it is in the image at right.

One last factoid readers may be interested in: According to a factsheet dated July 2009 from this website,

Age group and limit
Depending on the sport/discipline they compete in and their gender, athletes participating in the YOG sport competitions must be 15, 16, 17 or 18 years old on the 31st of December in the year of the YOG. The age groups eligible for participation in a sport or discipline were defined together with the relevant International Federation (IF). For example, for modern pentathlon, athletes born between 1 January 1992 and 31 December 1993 are eligible.

* * * * *

In Nuns have been known to go wild, I mentioned a second press conference called by the ArtsEngage group. This collective aims to roll back censorship in Singapore. Reporters from the mainstream media were there and wrote up the story for the subsequent day’s edition or the evening’s news broadcast. I didn’t bother to monitor what exactly they wrote, but as is apparent from this letter to the editor by T Sasitharan, one of the key movers of ArtsEngage, the Media Development Authority (MDA), our State censors, also responded with a statement:

In saying “The facts show this is not true”, Sasitharan put it as strongly as he possibly could that the MDA was once again trying to deny and conceal their actions.

And at this point, the issue goes beyond censorship. At this point, the issue becomes one of honesty and integrity of our government.  It’s one thing to do something (censoring) that citizens criticise and object to, it’s another to circumlocute, equivocate and deceive (to deny that they have censored when they have indeed censored).

Is there much moral difference between covering up such action, and covering up taking a bribe?

Here’s more proof, if you’ve ever needed one, that the rot has set in.

10 Responses to “Three clippings from last Saturday’s newspaper”

  1. 1 yuen 17 August 2010 at 23:48

    so exactly who are the people who might be worthy of (but, from the comments you quoted, probably would not get) vindication and even triumphalism? “vindication” is for someone treated unfairly/not given due credit, while triumphalism is for people whose ideas ultimately came out on top after earlier neglect; Mao might feel he deserves vindication, but Deng is more in the triumphalism category; if we take, say, David Marshall or Devan Nair, you could say they might desire a bit more of a favorable press, but they are hardly cases for triumphalism

  2. 2 J 18 August 2010 at 00:30

    I am pissed off with the offering of condoms, but for different reasons.

    Last year, our triathletes got struck with a ban for simply being in each others’ room.

    Now compare this with the condom distribution for YOG. Why is it ok for the YOG kids to have sex, but not for our own athletes (who are not teenagers, by the way) to even be in the same room unless the door is open? Why the flagrant double standards? Just because the YOG kids are foreigners?

    The other related point is, of course, if all these services are for the public good, why aren’t there any such clinics for the general public?

  3. 5 anony 18 August 2010 at 09:22

    If 14 year old kids regardless of nationality are having sex in the Olympic Village at NTU, would that not constitute statutory rape in Spore? After all, it takes place on Spore soil so Spore jurisdiction applies.

    So if some Spore or conservative nationalities observe one of their compatriots entering into a dorm room to make out with their own compatriots or other nationalities, would that not trigger a call to the Spore Police?

    • 6 yawningbread 18 August 2010 at 12:12

      Anony – indeed, I think it would be a crime and worse, in Singapore’s practice the presumption would be that the boy is the criminal and the girl is the victim. We cling to an archaic conception of sexuality.

  4. 7 Robert L 19 August 2010 at 20:39

    I know this article is not the right place to put my comments, but they are directly flowing off this thread navigated by our host YB.

    Continuing from YB’s point on the archaic conception of sexuality, I have to raise the suggestion that the organisers must have briefed the participants – athletes, officials etc – about the archaic laws they are subject to when in Singapore. About the death penalty for drug taking and the criminisation of gay sex.

    There is no way in hell that such a briefing is not done.

    So, I have to pause and ask: do you think Singapore’s image gets a boost to be a modern and progressive state, or do you think we have spread the word that Singapore is a backward and repressive state?

    There is no better vessel to highlight the plight of the gay community being repressed in Singapore than the YOG. Indeed, the repression may end much much sooner if some of the boys in YOG are caught and jailed for gay sex (thinking clinically and casting aside personal emotions).

    • 8 KiWeTO 21 August 2010 at 01:33

      Unless someone gets killed or maimed or in any way scarred for life, I would posit that temporary “diplomatic immunity” would be best for all parties concerned to go away rather than embarrass all the parties.

      Not all competitors are <14. 😉 the age limit is 16!

      And as for double standards, perhaps the condom requirement is another IOC edict? 😉


  5. 10 snow leopard 26 August 2010 at 10:46

    Under Singapore law, wouldn’t sexual activity between the young athletes be in breach of s. 376A of the Penal Code (Cap. 224, 2007 Rev. Ed. Sing.) or under s. 140(i) of the Women’s Charter (Cap. 353, 2009 Rev. Ed. Sing.)?
    Any one has any idea how this was circumvented?

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