Archive for the 'society and culture' Category

Flats are not houses, think hospital beds instead


Where we go wrong is in our use of words. I have always cringed when Singaporeans use the word “house” to mean their flat. I may be old-fashioned in this respect, but I would only use the word “house” when I refer to a dwelling that sits directly on a plot of land; I would not use it for a pigeon coop in the sky. If one looks at international usage, that’s probably the norm.

The wrong choice of words affects how we think of something. Words come with associations and values. I’d argue that our careless choice of words warp how we think of Housing and Development Board flats — public housing in which 85% of Singaporeans live. Continue reading ‘Flats are not houses, think hospital beds instead’

In our circus, few understand what ‘equal protection of the law’ means


Andrew Loh posted a ‘scratch head’ article recently about the contradiction between what then-Minister of State Halimah Yaacob said in 2011 at a CEDAW conference in New York and the Court of Appeal affirming Section 377A to be constitutional. In A difference of opinion between the gov’t and the Court of Appeal?, he quoted Halimah as telling delegates at that UN conference that

The principle of equality of all persons before the law is enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore, regardless of gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. All persons in Singapore are entitled to the equal protection of the law, and have equal access to basic resources such as education, housing and health care. Like heterosexuals, homosexuals are free to lead their lives and pursue their social activities.

But just a month ago, the Court of Appeal ruled differently. Continue reading ‘In our circus, few understand what ‘equal protection of the law’ means’

Khaw finds obedience school ‘meaningful’


The recent controversy about a ‘riot control exercise’ reveals a blind spot among ministers and not a few decision-makers and ‘grassroots’ surrounding them. They seem unable to see a point of view that is emerging in Singapore: what I would call the ‘Post-independence generation’ outlook. This outlook is subtly but importantly different from that of the People’s Action Party and its devout followers in terms of how they see race and nationality in our society.  PAP et al see race and nationality as a reality we have to accept and work with, but the new outlook puts a moral (dis)value on such distinctions and want us to actively avoid using them. Continue reading ‘Khaw finds obedience school ‘meaningful’’

How to help ripped-off tourists


The past week saw a remarkable story of how people here rallied to redeem Singapore with no help at all from government agencies. After video surfaced of Vietnamese tourist Pham Van Thoai on his knees begging for a refund from a callous shop owner, over $14,000 was raised within a day on Indiegogo to help compensate him for his loss of $550. According to reports, news reached all the way back to Vietnam, earning much praise for Singaporeans.

Yet, I daresay that for every one Thoai, there must be a thousand more tourists and local shoppers scammed by get-rich-quick businessmen (and women). Ad hoc bottom-up indignation and fundraising, however laudable in one instance, cannot be a practical solution to a persistent cancer. We need a structural response, and in the nature of structural responses, the role of the state in implementing one cannot be avoided. Continue reading ‘How to help ripped-off tourists’

So now, the constitution’s the problem?

pic_201410_16Bad news this morning. The Court of Appeal, Singapore’s highest court since we abolished appeals to Britain’s Privy Council, has ruled that Section 377A of the Penal Code is not unconstitutional. Section 377A criminalises sex between men, and is the key piece of legislation that justifies a plethora of other rules and regulations that discriminate against gay people.

I haven’t had time to read the 100-page judgement — thus a short post today — but snippets reported in the press this morning, such as this below, suggest that it is going to be a screamer, crying out for deconstruction. Continue reading ‘So now, the constitution’s the problem?’

About 64,000 naturalised citizens between 2000 and 2010


About 64,000 persons became naturalised Singapore citizens in the decade between 2000 and 2010, my calculations show. About 50,000 of them would have been be old enough to vote in the 2011 general election, making up about 2.3 percent of the 2,211,102 registered electors in that year. Some readers may consider 64,000 an alarming figure, others would more likely say this is quite ordinary for a city-state that has always been open to migration. There will even be some who, objecting to the high influx of foreigners, consider my estimate unbelievably low.

Certainly, the government considers this a very sensitive piece of information seeing how they steadfastly do not release the numbers. I had to sleuth through the census figures of 2000 and 2010 to make this estimate.  Continue reading ‘About 64,000 naturalised citizens between 2000 and 2010’

Time to realise we’re suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome


Vikram Khanna’s review of the book Hard Choices: Challenging The Singapore Consensus (Donald Low and Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh, with contributions from Linda Lim and Thum Ping Tjin, NUS Press) has gotten me to write after — deep apologies — a long break. My thoughts have also gathered as dread mounts over the likely onslaught of propaganda next year marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Singapore state’s caesarian birth. I will explore here the ways in which we continue to be traumatised by those beginnings.

More common than the belief in God is the opinion in Singapore that the PAP government is more focussed on economic growth than anything and everything else. Some speak of this focus as understandable; others would describe it as a curse. Few outside of government see this obsession as an unalloyed good thing.

What I have found interesting is how infrequently people choose to explore where this focus (or pathology, if you wish) sprang from. Like mental illness, we have a tendency to take it as something whose origins are beyond our understanding. It just is. It may not be easy to live with, but who knows how such demons of the mind came to roost? Continue reading ‘Time to realise we’re suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome’

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’

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




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