And Lawrence Makes Trouble [Pro-Family Ending]

[An unauthorized Fanfic Sequel to And Tango Makes Three]

Roy and Silo were happy to have Tango in their lives. Every night as Roy and Silo were fast asleep, smiles of bliss could be seen brightening both their faces.

Sadly, their happiness did not last long. One night, they were awoken by a group of noisy penguins led by another penguin, Lawrence. The group of penguins surrounded their houses and shouted at them.

Lawrence was upset that Roy and Silo were both boys, and felt that theirs was not a real family. He felt that a real family needed a boy, a girl and a baby of their own.

“Stop hiding in that house of yours!” yelled Lawrence.“Tango shall not live with you. Neither of you gave birth to her! This is not the way of penguins!”

The penguins behind Lawrence echoed his words. “Not the way of penguins! Not the way of penguins!” they yelled ferociously.

Roy and Silo looked at each other sadly. They could hardly believe themselves. Then they looked at Tango who was waking up between the two of them.

She, in turn, looked at Roy with her large, confused eyes. Then she turned to look at Silo with her frightened eyes. All three of them felt helpless.

Finally, the family of three walked out of their house to face the other penguins.

Upon seeing them, Lawrence demanded that Roy and Silo hand over Tango to him,but they refused. Tango was their daughter and they would do all they could to protect her from being taken away by rogue penguins.

“We don’t care what you think. You are not fit to raiseTango!” shouted Lawrence. 

The crowd behind him echoed him once again. “Not fit to raise Tango!” they shouted in unison. “Not fit to raise Tango!” they shouted in anger.

Fearing for Tango’s safety, Roy and Silo ran back into the house with Tango.

“Get out at once!” shouted Lawrence angrily. “Or I will shoot angry penguins at you!” It turned out that Lawrence had a troop of penguins who were prepared be penguin-missiles against Roy and Silo.

If you were there outside the house, you would have heard nothing but petrified silence coming from the house. If you were inside, you would have heard Tango sobbing with fear as she sat between Roy and Silo. You would have seen Roy and Silo looking at each other in pain.

The silence of the house was soon broken by a loud crash. Lawrence had shot a penguin at Roy and Silo’s house, breaking a window.

Another crash.

Crash.

CRASH.

CRASH!

If nothing was done to stop the angry penguins, the house would sooner or later be torn down by angry penguins.

Roy and Silo looked at each other, and they looked at Tango.They knew what they must do.

Roy walked towards the door and opened it.

Roy mustered his courage and shouted, “Stop shooting! You are going to hurt Tango!”

Tango was grasping at Silo tightly. She was unable to understand what was going on. She did not know why the other penguins were so angry. However, she knew that her fathers would protect her from harm.

Unfortunately, the only way to protect Tango from harm was to let her be taken away by Lawrence and the other penguins.

Weeping, Silo wriggled out of Tango’s clutch.

“You must be brave, child. Papa Roy and Papa Silo will always love you,” Silo told Tango gently. He tried to sound strong, but voice was at the verge of cracking in pain.

As Silo led Tango towards Lawrence, Tango started bawling. She could not understand what was happening, and she did not want to leave her fathers.

Unmoved by Tango’s cries, Lawrence sent a few penguins to Tango and they dragged her away.

Roy and Silo were devastated by their loss.

They could sometimes be spotted sitting on stones, hoping that they would hatch. However, whenever they did so, other penguins would throw stones at them.

No smiles were ever seen on their faces again.

 

 

 

[Alternative Ending]

Want an alternative ending? Write it yourself.

Midnight’s Seniors: The Generation of Perpetual Indebtedness and Gratitude

It is almost puzzling when we see that someone who turns sixty-five any day this year will be eligible for the Pioneer Generation Package that the government has recently introduced whereas someone younger by perhaps just a day—perhaps even less than a second—will be ineligible. What a difference a second makes when it comes to one’s contribution to society as recognized by the state.

Where policies that benefit specific age groups are concerned, the line has to be drawn somewhere. If I were distribute sweets to kids, there is only so much that I can stretch the age range that can be reasonably considered childhood. A mere second does make all the difference here, and justifiably so. The Pioneer Generation Package, announced as part of Singapore Budget 2014, is very much articulated as an initiative created with the elderly in mind even if it is not necessarily stated as such officially. As reflected the Budget’s tagline, “Opportunities for the Future, Assurance for our Seniors,” those eligible are the elderly and they will be assured of several benefits “for life“—or whatever is left of it (I assume the government hopes it is not too much). Yet, if it were supposed be a package for the elderly, why would someone born on 1 January 1950 at 0000 never get the package? It is not as though he, and those born after him, has been bestowed the fountain of youth by Singapore’s magical, if somewhat illusory, third-world-to-first development over the years. It would seem that, as far as the brains behind the package are concerned, these people either never grow old or they will grow old without needed the same kind of assurance as pioneers.

While the Pioneer Generation Package may be said to be a long-term policy insofar as it may take another few decades for every single eligible person to have passed on (though this day may never come because Kuan Yew, The Pioneer Supremo himself, is apparently immortal), the package is shows the government’s lack of commitment to policies that truly strengthen the social safety net. Despite the way it has been marketed, the Pioneer Generation package is never meant to be a benefits-for-seniors initiative to begin with. It cannot exactly be faulted for being dishonest—the name says it all. It is a single package, not a policy sans expiration. However generous the age range may be, the package applies only to a particular generation of people (and somewhat belatedly too, given that some of them could already have been languishing in old age and impoverishment for decades), not to a category of citizens that will have more and more new members over time. The Pioneer Generation Package is, of course, not meant to help the elderly—screw such policies for they can’t ever make the current government appear benevolent one election cycle after another! But the lack of commitment could, ironically, make for good marketing. Not only is the package targeted at one group of people, but it is also helps to cultivate a sense of exclusivity, giving the sense that the government sees the people for their unique contributions.

It is not as though the nameless elderly citizens, now labeled pioneers in a state-directed marketing exercise, are going to get special privileges as a recognition for their exceptional contributions to the country. The benefits included the Pioneer Generation Package are invariably meant to alleviate the burden of the less than affordable health care in Singapore. They offer no reward. Instead, they fulfil a desperate need—and this need is not even new at all. Whereas it is possible and reasonable for an authority to delimit a group that deserves to be rewarded, whether or not people have a need is not something that can be decided arbitrarily. If the need exists, it will not go away just because no one acknowledges it. If the elderly who are called pioneers today have financial needs (sure, this is an invalid premise since absolutely no one in Singapore has problems affording health care), so will those who are sooner or later going to reach the age of today’s pioneers unless everyone who is not classified as elderly today has miraculously enough money to retire comfortably. But their needs have so far been disregarded. Branding the package as an initiative born of a desire to recognize the contributions of a group of “pioneers” is a convenient way to alleviate their financial burdens without being obliged to do the same for those in uncannily similar predicaments.

Yet it is not devoid of persuasiveness, and that is where its danger lies. Rhetorically, it tells an existing and ever-shrinking group of people that they are visible and will be taken care of. As for the ever-growing group of elderly people who are not eligible for the package, their numbers will still be relatively small by the next General Election, and more one-off packages can be created when their size grows big enough to matter in a future election or when there is a perceived political need for the PAP government to repeat the same rhetoric. They can always have a package repackaged. If a policy is implemented for the future-elderly now, there will be nothing—no publicity, no novelty—to remind them of their obligation to feel grateful in future. It is not that the government does not have the foresight or the money to help a group that will over time have more and more eligible members. Rather, it is merely mercenary enough to avoid long-term commitments so that it can milk the most political mileage out of short-term packages. The iterability of a move like the Pioneer Generation Package, with its endless potential variations, ensures that there is a constant potential lack and hence a constant need for similar acts of ostensible recognition. It is no more than an elaborate and manipulative ritual of political courtship masked as nothing less than true love.

The Pioneer Generation Package is by no means an exception, but is representative of how the PAP has been and will be courting Singaporeans in a bid to regain the vote share it has lost to the opposition over the last couple of General Elections. We have the NS45 vouchers, for instance, which were supposed to recognize (the vocabulary recurs, as one might observe) the contributions and sacrifices of NSmen—while continuing to cripple them with inflexible policies and inescapable commitments, of course. Then there is also the implementation of a mandatory entry-level pay for those in the cleaning and security industries, a policy which the government refuses to call a minimum wage, perhaps because the minimum starting salary of $1000 is too embarrassing to be called a minimum wage to begin with when the cost of living in Singapore is amongst the highest in the world. As far as possible, the PAP regime will compartmentalize the demographic into segments that need to be targeted—segments that may feel disadvantaged by the PAP’s policies all these years—and try to hoodwink them one by one. If the government had truly wanted to recognize the efforts of NSmen, why limit the package to those who have finished serving or were still serving NS instead of making it an entitlement for all servicemen upon enlistment? Clearly, it prefers one-off packages that can be reinvented in cycles to permanent policies that benefit the people without anyone needing to feel exceptional gratitude to those in power year after year. The logic is impeccable—why be generous when there are more benefits to reap from being stingy?

To be sure, the government is all too capable of implementing policies that affect entire groups permanently, whether it is conscription or the setting of the CPF withdrawal age and minimum sum. Policies that make demands on citizens can be introduced sweepingly with token attention to objections (packaged as “engagement”) whereas initiatives that are meant to benefit citizens must be packaged in exquisite little gift packages that never become entitlements. There is always the excuse of fiscal prudence and the rhetoric of self-reliance to mask any hint of callousness in governance when ideas related to minimum wage or unemployment benefits are vehemently rejected. One of the PAP’s favorite tropes used to be the crutch mentality and its dangers for Singapore. According to the laws of Singaporean reality, it is a travesty for someone with a broken leg to ask for crutches (since he can still crawl to his MP for some food vouchers, I suppose), but perfectly fine to get him to go to war with a rifle since his hands are perfectly intact and he will have no problems shooting.

Undoubtedly, there are bound to be those who will want to tease out any iota of merit in the policies of the PAP regime, whether these people are voluntary apologists or salaried propagandists. But at least people still do benefit regardless of the political intentions behind the policies, don’t they? Of course they do! Enslavement is not possible unless there are tangible benefits (to strain the poor word a little), such as the minimum amount of food to keep the slave alive and the minimum amount of rest to ensure that he is able to continue working even when his basic human dignity has been sacrificed. There is also always a more cruel slave master elsewhere. If Singaporeans are to become individuals who can live with dignity, fundamental changes to ensure that the needy do not have to depend on well-choreographed acts of kindness that can always be withheld, changes that go far beyond the short-term and limited packages the PAP is so fond of creating, are needed. The human body may survive the PAP regime, but not the human spirit. How is a society able to live with firefighters who allow fires to take place so that they will always be needed even though they are well positioned to prevent the fires to begin with?

Until we recognize that we must and have the will to do wean ourselves off mercy of our overlords, we will always be at their mercy.

Forum Theater: An Farcical Parody

Not only was the “Ask the Prime Minister” TV forum on 24 September a rehash of tired issues addressed with stock replies recycled with renewed idiocy (which apparently is a term that can be used on the Almighty Leaders of Singapore without the backlash of defamation suits), it also exposes the hollowness of the PAP’s Grand Rebranding Movement and its lack of even a pinch of commitment or sincerity to make required fundamental changes both the party and the society it lords over.

Other than the valorization of the LKYian leadership style (an element that has landed the PAP in its plight of increasing political irrelevance) in Hsien Loong’s belief that another Kuan Yew would be ideal for Singapore, the déjà vu-inducing replies made the 2013 TV program seem as if it were rerun of a 2003 program except that the same ideas are articulated in a patently post-2011 style of simulated engagement, with a semblance of the willingness to listen and pay some superficial attention to the severe problems that have been brought about by overpopulation and too much economic growth bringing too few benefits to the general population. Obsolescence is the new relevance.

clone

But the veneer wrapping the same old disrespect for Singapores can hardly conceal the true nature of the PAP’s policies as it becomes increasingly translucent and heads towards unintended self-ridicule. All it can depend on is the blindness and naivety of the electorate (and there is no doubt this is all 2016 prep), which is itself an insulting even if not altogether risky bet.

Blame the people, accuse them with insinuations, tell them that it’s wrong to be too reliant on the government to solve problems, presume that PAP and government will always be synonymous, conspire with pliant and compliant members of the mainstream media that ask questions without ever questioning. Refer, with blatant disregard to the lived experiences of the people, to every policy tweak or measure implemented as though it hasworked. At times, one wonders if Hsien Loong has been possessed by a Singaporean Stephen Colbert:

You can afford a flat, there is no need to worry. Get one, get married, start a family.

Say it enough, and it becomes a norm. Say it enough, and it becomes truth.

Say it too much, and you do yourself in, silly.

Mention work-life balance, and we will be told that there are going to be trade-offs. It’s an irrefutable, immutable truth—life is dangerous for the living. But we’ve heard that before, haven’t we? If we want a slower pace of life, we will sacrifice economic growth altogether. If we say that the government is growing the economy at all costs, it will be denied and the retort will be that we are ignorant of how everyone would suffer. It is as if we would all die if we were to attempt to live a more dignified existence. It is as if every PAP member has attended a meeting during which a list of prescribed responses to such issues was circulated—the PAP politicians sound identical, and when they beg to differ, they sound as if they have been directed to offer difference. Perhaps for the sake of that perverted sense of balance that is always so precious to the PAP. Everything is calculated, orchestrated, but no one will be caught having really deviated.

Work-life balance? No, shut up and continue to lead a zombie-slave’s existence. And remember to look happy while doing it, or else . . .

If we ever dare to challenge the enlightened PAP’s worldview because we don’t have pink lenses through which to examine world, it is because we are ignorant and “very preoccupied with our own problems.” The evidence of our ignorance, ironically, happens to be the state’s prescribed source of information—our newspapers preferred to have on the frontpage reports of the Jem ceiling collapse instead of the mall attack in Kenya. We are so ignorant that we do not know how to be grateful to the PAP for having crafted Singapore into a theater of, for, as the absurd. In an absurd-tragic twist of fate, the deficiencies of the state and its instruments have become the character flaws of the people they seek to manipulate. But no one bats an eyelid simply because the suspension of disbelief works best when we have imbibed the logic supporting the diegesis of this political nightmare, which has supplanted any conceivable reality which must now seem to us anything but realistic.

If we dare to challenge the rhetoric, we will be reminded that we are competing against developing countries like China, India and Vietnam, where the people have more spurs in their hide. To be sure, Hsien Loong did not mention any spur or hide—he is probably capable of repulsive metaphors, but not such sophisticated ones. But he clearly echoes his father, who did tell once us that Singaporeans are not driven or diligent enough and need more spurs. (To be honest, I would prefer to have Wolverine claws, especially when I write about the PAP.) If one had the liberty or audacity to hope, one can only hope that Singaporeans grow enough spurs to spurn the PAP for there’s no better performance indicator in the spur-growing industry. Meanwhile, we have to content ourselves with wondering why Singaporeans are perpetually consigned to competition with the people of the developing world, and why Singapore’s cost of living is never meant to rival Vietnam’s, but the workers’ wages are.

To be sure, workers worldwide face competition and pressure, but some have rights and are empowered by real unions whereas Singaporean workers face competition while wearing corrosive state-supplied apparel such as NS and holding water pistols known as the NTUC. Neither are workers everywhere in the world made to internalize a siege mentality while being permanently relegated to the lower rungs of Maslow’s triangle, prowling around miserably in order guard their few precious grains lest they are gobbled up by their competitors—or their government. This is totally in the interest of the PAP gravitational force, which ensures that everyone remains grounded. Self-actualization is bad for authoritarianism.

Such a governance style may appear to be the perfect vessel for brewing a full-bodied cup of rebellion, but revolt in any form, like all the lost selves of Singapore, never ever gets actualized. For Singapore’s main life-sustaining produce is ideology. As Hsien Loong says in response to a question about building trust between the electorate and the government (i.e. the PAP):

what you do together is critical

Graft the muzzles into the people using living tissue carefully excised from them. If people can’t grow into oppression, grow it into them. This is why the PAP enjoys bandying terms like participation and active citizenry. Initiatives like the Singapore conversation and the TV forum are no more than processes to refine the grafting techniques that have been in practice for decades. They supplement tried-and-tested techniques like The Straits Times, national education (and in fact education itself). The post-2011 modus operandi: implement a superficial or half-hearted measure that supposedly alleviates one of the things that people have been complaining about, advertise it, harp on it ad infinitum, and hope that everyone would believe that the PAP is exercising the political will to truly change things. Ministries spend money on TV ads. The HDB keeps telling us that housing is affordable, and the LTA keeps telling us how many more buses and trains there will be, or how certain roads would be expanded. The PAP has always believed that it has done no wrong and simply needs to convince the unappreciative plebeians to accept what is right. Undeniably, the PAP believes in change post-2011. It’s just that the PAP seeks to change the electorate, not itself.

When it comes to mass manipulation, just telling isn’t all that effective, as Hsien Loong knows. Everyone must be a participant. Just recently, the news that young students are encouraged to make use of taxpayers’ money to promote integration attracted much attention. Such a move is typical, allowing the people to actively produce and indulge in the inane while treating it as a hallmark of social responsibility and maturity. And youths are encouraged to spread the gospel by telling tales (which is to say, by sharing motivational stories about foreigners online). These are merely an insidious ideological opposite of with an identical character to the xenophobic stories one might find in certain sources such as The Real Singapore. When executed with finesse, such initiatives are infantilization-cum-interpellation par excellence.

If we make any more noise, we will be reminded that we should not rely on the government to solve all our problems (vintage vomitus which Hsien Loong did not hesitate to rereregurgitate during the TV-forum). Irrefutable.

There is certainly one problem that Singaporeans can and must solve on their own: the PAP.

Free Speech and What(is)not

# This article first appeared on my Facebook page as a note.

When the minister blocked these anti-singapore bloggers, they cry no freedom of speech . And when they blocked , they say is their rights. [sic where applicable] (Quoted from Fappers)

 

Not unlike how the PAP pointed fingers at Town Councils managed by the WP when people questioned its transactions with AIM, the mythical PAP IB (which comprises rare specimens of mutant life forms dedicated to furthering the PAP cause, such as the fab fappers) points fingers at others such as The Real Singapore when you question its insane moderation policies.

 

It is true that there are anti-PAP websites and social media groups such as The Real Singapore that have deleted comments exposing their lack of integrity and banned users who do so. Nevertheless, just because The Real Singapore appears have practiced censorship unncessarily, it does not mean that everyone else not sharing the political views of the pro-PAP groups has done so too. Neither does it mean that the PAP IB has any sound justifications for doing so. And it certainly does not mean that no one is allowed to criticize groups like the fab fappers for indiscriminately deleting reasonable comments.

 

To be sure, there remains the question of why anyone (Molly, for instance) would harp on the censorship practices of the fab fappers instead of on the same behavior on the part of TRS. The reason can be rather straightforward—one is more likely to comment on what one is affected by, so if I do not read TRS posts and see comment deletions or if my comments have not been deleted by its administrators, then I am less likely to comment on its behavior as compared to that of another group that has deleted my comments and banned me. Of course, people like the fab fappers would stubbornly, and rather childishly, insist that this is a matter of having double standards. According to such a line of reasoning, one cannot condemn one particular act of terrorism without also mentioning every other act of terrorism in history.

 

One issue that tends to be neglected by the adamantly simplistic, though, is whether every act of comment deletion or user banner in social media is equal. Quite obviously not. But those who relish in self-aggrandizing reductionist discourse will not acknowledge this. If someone posts defamatory comments about others, hate speech, or information that intrudes on people’s privacy on your website, you have a good reason to delete the comments even if you are a fierce advocate of free speech. There is no ideological contradiction here—no sound advocate of free speech believes that free speech has no boundaries. Ironically, it is sometimes the same people who accuse free speech advocates of being proponents of “irresponsible” speech that pretend that true believers of free speech should never delete comments or practice any form of censorship under any imaginable condition. One can only hope that netizens are generally not taken in by such arrogantly warped attackers of sound thinking.

 

A distinction should also be made in terms of content. When a group that posts on public issues with a consistently pro-PAP slant keeps deleting reasonable comments that expose how it attempts to pass ideology of as unmediated truth, it has the authority to do so. Such behavior is, however, questionable and can be distinguished from the actions of a blogger who blogs about his personal life and deletes derisive comments about him. In the latter scenario, it is arguably reasonable enough for two reasons: firstly, the blog is his and he should be free to decide what to allow there; secondly, it is not an issue that concerns others.

 

Perhaps one might employ the same reasoning for groups that comment on politics: they are the owners/administrators of their own websites or Facebook pages, so it is also fair enough that they determine what comments to allow. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with deleting comments in itself. (If you come to my house and my cat hates dogs, you had jolly well not bring a dog along. It is not as if I’m stopping you from bringing your dog anywhere else.) Nevertheless, one may question the intentions behind the deletions when the comments are on issues of public interest. A blogger like Xiaxue can delete nasty comments about her looks for all I care, but when a site that posts on issues of public concern deletes comments that express disagreement with the original posts, it could also be effectively disallowing clarifications of misrepresented information of public concern. It has the authority to delete whatever comments it wants, but there is a good reason to criticize it for making deletions.

 

Lest the issue be confused, it is not even a matter of free speech here. After all, just because FAP or TRS deletes my comments, it does not mean that I am not free to express myself in general. The problem is one of how misinformation is circulated without a chance of being challenged in its immediate context. Anyone who accuses FAP or TRS of curtailing free speech is wrong for they are not powerful enough to do so. It is not as if they have the authority to put people under arrest for expressing themselves in their own Facebook pages, for instance. The problem lies in the potential for public opinion to be manipulated by disingenuous (or perhaps downright malicious groups)—and it is not limited to any particular political stance—when differing opinions and additional information at a particular page are disallowed.

 

From my observations, there are Internet groups with different political views that have unethical moderation policies. While there are new media groups or individuals critical of the government which do not practice indiscriminate censorship, I have yet to see one from the staunchly pro-PAP camp having similar practices. But perhaps I’m just unlucky.

 

*A more rudimentary version of the thoughts here have been posted in a comment under a photo deleted by Facebook. There is a possibility that the original comment had been the inspiration of the epigraph.

Confessions of a Prime Minister

By now, most Singaporean netizens who are concerned about their country are likely to have heard that Kuan Yew’s son, the Prime Minister of Singapore, has made a confession that the government had lacked foresight. While his detractors tend to lambast him and his party based on the admission, it can only be considered a confession as much as his utterance of a ‘sorry’ two years ago could be considered apology.

In 2011, he made a pre-General Election confession. Two years later, he is still at it, post-election. The pre-election, post-election timings are like fine patterns in an intricate work of art, giving the entire charade such an artistic feel that you almost want to forgive him:

[I]f we didn’t quite get it right, I’m sorry, but we will try and do better the next time. (Kuan Yew’s son, pre-General Election, 2011)

So we lacked that 20/20 foresight. Next time, we will try to do better. (Kuan Yew’s son, post-Punggol East by-election, 2013)

Next time. Do better. Try. More contrived than contrite, his words exude more indifference than assurance. The PAP has become a pathetic echo of itself at its prime, holding us captive like a monstrous team of Norma Desmonds in their delusional bid at preserving a glory long faded, tragic yet deserving no pity.

With the irony that comes immediately after the confessional moment with the release of the population white paper which presents a utopian scenario where Singaporeans are compressed like gases in a pressurized can, one cannot help but marvel at how Singapore appears to be the work of an ingenious artist with a wicked—even cruel—sense of humor.

The confession, though, is no confession. In fact, instead of being an explicit display of remorse, it is an implicit self-exoneration coupled with an insinuation that the accusers, and not the accused, are the guilty ones. Clearly, it would be unreasonable for us to blame anyone for not being able to predict the future with complete accuracy (with 20/20 foresight, in other words); so the PAP is really not blamable, and it is unreasonable of  the people to expect the PAP to be clairvoyant.

If there is a difference between the 2011 and the 2013 statements, it is the lack of the semblance of something like an apology this time round, suggesting perhaps a hardened attitude. Nevertheless, the mainstream media spin it as an admission of fallibility—as if the PAP has finally realized what they had done wrong. Channel NewsAsia came up with the headline, “PM Lee admits govt lacked 20/20 foresight”, which makes it seem as though the government is now able to see where it has gone wrong. It is unfortunate that even the PAP’s detractors, in acknowledging and emphasizing the lack of foresight, are paying more attention to what appears to be said than what is really being said. To unwittingly seem to expect the government to have 20/20 foresight is also to be susceptible to the accusation of having unreasonable expectations.

While what the prime minister is saying could have been a good retreat-as-defense strategy had it been executed with more finesse, the 20/20 reference betrays him from the outset by making him appear excessively defensive. A more astute politician might have said that he could have done with better foresight, but Kuan Yew’s son wants to emphasize that the only way the PAP could have avoided screwing things up was to have an impossible amount of foresight. In doing so, he also unintentionally reminds us precisely of the fact that not much foresight was needed to ensure that Singapore’s infrastructure is adequate for its population. Khaw Boon Wan, in the typical way the PAP politicians try to engage what they probably see as the unintelligent masses by using analogies of the mundane, makes this apparent. The Straits Times reports:

The Ministry of National Development . . . released its Land Use plan, which details how the planners will find enough land for the 6.9 million population and the 700,000 extra homes they will need.

Mr Khaw likened this effort to throwing a wedding banquet. When one invites 1,000 guests, one must cater for all 1,000, he said, even if they have not RSVPed and perhaps only 600 or 700 ultimately turn up.

Thanks to the PAP’s eagerness to pacify Singaporeans, who are getting increasingly frustrated with the ever-expanding population, by assuring them that the infrastructure will be sufficient, it has become clear to the people that ensuring that there is enough land, housing, and amenities is, far from requiring exceptional foresight, actually a matter of common sense. In defending himself and his party, the prime minister has indirectly admitted to either lacking common sense or to having bulldozed his way through the population increase with iniquitous disregard for the people’s quality of life.

In both the non-apology of 2011 and the vapid self-defense of 2013, Kuan Yew’s son is perhaps right in holding one particular assumption about Singaporeans: Singaporeans, by and large, are not motivated by a strong desire for democracy when they vote—even when they end up voting for the opposition; many are likely to vote for the PAP if it gives the impression that it will take care of their livelihood. They are often unwilling to rock the boat lest they fall into the water, however illogical such thinking is. The apology of 2011 was aimed precisely at giving this group of voters, even those who were skeptical of how sincere the apology was, the hope that the PAP would start to solve the problems it has caused. Hope and conservative voting behavior help the PAP’s triumph. The same hope could have been generated by the admission of 2013. The message is simple: “We already know what went wrong, and we will fix it.” The PAP has always banked on a general lack of political maturity to actually want a more democratic system.

The last week of January 2013, however, could well mark a significant turning point. With the release of the white paper on population, Singaporeans were left in a state of helplessness for a few days as the state-controlled media churned out visions of the future and ministers repeatedly assured Singaporeans that their lives would continue to be good (as if there were any goodness left to continue). It is this sense of helplessness, especially just days after a by-election where the opposition emerged victorious, that pushes Singaporeans to start drawing the connections between democracy and agency, between neglected democracy and the bread-and-butter issues with which there is a constant preoccupation. Perhaps—just perhaps—a strong opposition presence, which Singapore sorely lacks, could help Singapore avoid the 6.9-million nightmare.

Of course, the PAP has been relatively quick to change its tack. Now, Minister Khaw and the son of Kuan Yew are saying that the 6.9-million population is simply a worst case scenario. We may find yet another confession here. For years, the influx of foreigners has been marketed as a compensation for low fertility rates. Yet, if this were true, how could the influx of foreigners ever lead to a worst case scenario? Imagine a Singapore where the fertility rate has always been what the government now claims to be the ideal. Would the problems resulting from population growth still exist? If so, then high fertility rates would be the culprit with which we do not have to concern ourselves. We can only conclude, therefore, that the influx of foreigners has not been calibrated to compensate for low fertility rates, but to drive economic growth that can be seen in official digits but not experienced by the average Singaporean. It has been and will continue to be excessive.

Nevertheless, we may just be surprised for a while—things may actually improve. Even as the population grows, the infrastructure is having a race with the population. There may be a point when the infrastructure overtakes the population, allowing the people to experience some respite and feel the temptation vote for the PAP again. Kuan Yew’s son has been reported as saying that there will be improvements within three to five years. Some respite as early as 2016, the election year? Things may improve, but only until the population overtakes and wins the race. There is only so much space in Singapore, and so much that can be reclaimed, but there is an endless supply of foreigners to increase the population till apocalypse strikes. The same old trap of thinking that things are finally improving works as long as Singaporeans keep walking into it.

Eventually, we will relive the same miseries. Immigration policies will continue to be liberal. Singaporeans will continue to experience overcrowding, crushing wages, and unhappiness which we will always be made shameful of articulating. The less privileged foreigners will continue to be lowly paid, easily replaceable pawns of economic growth as Singapore maintains its zero tolerance for strikes, high tolerance of exploitation. The PAP will continue to promise to do better next time. There’s always a next time for the PAP. Unless we collectively and decisively put a stop to it.

Papers Full of Nonsense

Lucky Tan recently posted an article,  “US Presidential Debate: High Stakes, High Drama…” in which he says, “[i]n the US, they don’t do “conversations”, they debate.” In an article that makes no reference to Lucky Tan or his blog post, the article “Fiery Debates? I’d rather have boring politicians” by Jeremy Au Yong in The Straits Times also compares political discourse in America and Singapore. Predictably, Au Yong favors “conversations” over debates. It is as if the paper is on auto-pilot mode to help the PAP engage the people by praising the status quo with remarkable feats of illogic.

As a start, Au Yong describes the Obama-Romney debate with seemingly innocuous and almost positive words such as “fiery”, “exciting”, “fireworks” and “fiesty [sic]” without actually making any reference to the contents of the debate. He even compares the debate to sports. The purpose is clear. The descriptions are a sneaky way of discrediting and trivializing the debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, making it appear as spectacle sans substance.

Au Yong then makes an odd, if not downright ridiculous, comparison between the debate between the American presidential candidates and a forum attended by both opposition politicians and PAP MPs. While he is certainly entitled to prefer the forum to the debate, he frames the issue as one of two forms of politics involving two types of politicians: the first being the fiery American politics and politicians, and the second being the apparently polite Singaporean politics and politicians. It is like comparing a Windows notebook with an iPad instead and saying that one is better than the other when they are not meant to be comparable.

Clearly, the fact that there are debates between American presidential candidates does not mean that American politicians cannot be at other times behave more like Singaporean ones too. Neither does the politeness between politicians in the forum in Singapore mean that politicians do not sometimes (or at the same time) resort to mudslinging and unsubstantiated claims, especially when one party has every local newspaper presenting its twisted representations of reality as immutable truth.

If Au Yong’s article is not a display of plain ignorance about the different natures of debates and forums at work, it could simply be a devious disregard of logic, semantics, and context for the sake of supporting political insipidity while demonizing other practices that could lead to a freer flow of ideas. Au Yong is evidently not blind to the difference. This is obvious when he says:

The comparatively sedate nature of the discourse between Singapore’s politicians does lead suggestions – every once in a while – about holding an American-style debate here.

Au Yong does know that just because local politicians attend forums, it does not mean that they cannot also debate with one another. It is obvious that having supposedly “American-style” debates in Singapore does not mean that it is the only way discussions are going to be conducted in Singapore. This does not matter to Au Yong, however. As far as I can see, he believes that the mere existence of debates between politicians as one of the various modes of political discourse is bad for Singapore politics:

But is a televised live debate good for Singapore’s politics?

To answer that question, it is perhaps worthwhile to first understand how such a debate works.

What the audience sees is a 90 minute face-off between two articulate people who effortless [sic] shoot off insults and attacks at one another.

In Au Yong’s eyes, the debate between the American Presidential candidates is nothing more than a trading of insults without any actual arguments about policies. He must have watched an different cut of the debate from the rest of the world. Indeed the trading of insults is a taboo in Singapore where only the PAP is allowed to insult others while the press helps to publish and circulate these insults. When others insult the PAP, it is called defamation. God forbid that politicians from different parties be allowed to insult one another in Singapore! Insulting opponents is the prerogative of the PAP, which is made up of really polite people who will never label their opponents as cheats, liars, sociopaths, chauvinists, etc.

Au Yong must have totally forgotten about debates in the Singapore Parliament, where PAP politicians would offer rigorous “rebuttals” to what severely outnumbered opposition politicians are saying, even when the rhetoric of the dominant party is full of fallacies. No, I am just kidding. He has not forgotten anything; he just thinks that politicians here are very polite to one another:

In Parliament, MPs generally remain polite even when they are pushing for something they believe in passionately.

Perhaps he is right. There is probably a limit to how rude politicians here can be, even if they are PAP politicians. After all, when the opposition is threatened by the specter of repressive laws and severe consequences, they tend to be careful with how they argue with the PAP. With a relatively tame opposition, a PAP politician would have to be infected with rabies before he gets as heated up as Obama or Romney when he is speaking to an opposition politician. In Singapore, face-offs are rare. Insults, when one is entitled to the prerogative, tend to be behind the back or below the belt.

Au Yong believes that the “American-style” debates are all about style and not substance:

Given the cut and thrust nature of the debate, it is impossible to verify instantly if everything said by either side is true. And as such, winners are rarely determined by whether they had the best facts, but on whether they had the better style.

Fact checkers do run through the points raised in the debate, but the results of these come out well after the viewing audience has already decided in their minds who won.

While Au Yong may well be justified in having reservations about political debates, the concern applies to all other modes of political discourse. It may be true that facts may be misrepresented and the audience misled. If the person with more sophisticated rhetoric has an advantage, it really does not matter whether it is delivered in a debate or a forum. Is the apparent politeness itself as something more credible not also a rhetoric move in politics? Where Au Yong has a valid concern, his distinction between the debate and the forum proves to be spurious, if not cunningly deceptive.

If the problem of debates is ultimately that the audience may be misled by articulate but less than truthful speeches during a heated debate, there is also a worry that the audience is misled by speeches in apparently polite exchanges. The problem is, in fact, aggravated in Singapore where the ruling party enjoys unfair advantages and the mainstream media helps to circulate the rhetoric of the ruling party while misrepresenting ideas from the opposition. At least there are different newspapers taking different sides in America, even if there is a lack of truly objective papers. In Singapore, there is only Singapore Press Holdings and the publications that offer dead trees as sacrifices to the PAP gods. If Au Yong is concerned about the audience being misled, he ought to be paranoid about the potential effects of this particular article of his, and the very paper he works for.

Au Yong seems to acknowledge his partiality at the end of his article, but not without throwing more misleading claims at his readers:

Look across Parliament and you will likely see many who would not otherwise do well in a debate format but have useful contributions to offer.In fact, in many ways I am partial to boring politicians.

Because there is a good chance these people won because of their track record and what they can do, rather than how good they were at talking about those things.

While Au Yong has been careful not to clearly favor the PAP for a large part of his article, preferring to support the way politics is conducted in Singapore instead of overtly supporting the way the PAP conducts itself, his final remark makes his political affinities clear. He is saying that in the PAP-dominated Parliament, many of the politicians won their seats because of their good “track record” (this echoes the PAP’s claims during elections) and trivializes any verbal gaffes they may have committed. Politicians win not because of the unfair GRC system, not because the media help the PAP generate propaganda, not because of how opposition politicians have been bankrupted with defamation suits, and certainly not because they have misrepresented anything to the people since they are such polite people.

In reality, politics in Singapore is not at all polite and benign. In many ways, it is worse for Singaporean politicians than for American politicians – unless one happens to belong to that one very powerful party in Singapore. While not everyone would agree that Singapore should emulate America, the political scene in Singapore has to change if are truly concerned about preventing the public from being misled. The change needs to come from politicians as well as the state apparatuses that have been built over decades to ensure political unfairness.

PAP’s Engagement Yields Results [Or: Who is afraid of being radical?]

After the 2011 General Election, the PAP realized that it is important for them to focus on hoodwinking more supporters over to their side. (This is not to be taken seriously. Actually, PAP politicians already recognized the importance way before that. The election performance is just a way to help them show that they truly want to win more people over.) The PAP’s strategy is intelligent—one even wonders if they have consulted professionals on the matter before proceeding with their efforts—and one cannot helped but be impressed by their measurable success. The strategy employed  is perhaps fairly simple—target a few citizens, including prominent ones and lesser-known ones, that are moderately against the PAP, give them a different impression, and let them spread the news that the PAP really is not what its detractors have made it out to be. In fact, these do not even need to say anything—a mere talk with the PAP that leaves them with nothing to criticize will be effective enough for others who can still be convinced to support the PAP. A blogger like mrbrown would thus be an ideal target because mrbrown is popular, he is critical, but he is never radical—the very traits that have helped to give voice to dissatisfaction with the PAP can be exploited to the PAP’s advantage. He does not even have to be co-opted by the PAP or say anything positive about it—merely leading the pledge on National Day with a minister is more than enough to give the shaky masses an added inclination to have a renewed faith in the PAP without any real change in the PAP at all other than the way it communicates. In fact, even when those who are supposed to be engaged can even criticize the PAP’s endeavors, the propaganda will automatically spring to life because it will seem to show that the PAP is willing to engage its critics. The factors that matter here are visibility and naivety, a trait for which Singaporeans are notorious. (I offer my deepest apologies to mrbrown and my fellow Singaporeans. Please do not be offended. Molly will be pleased to engage you if necessary.)

A change in the perception of those who are looking intently at the PAP is certainly easier to effect than a change in the character or policy paradigm of the PAP itself, and the PAP itself seems to have realized this. On the other hand, with such a strategy, the PAP has made true engagement—should they ever want to do it—more difficult than ever. For once, talking to the PAP signals heretofore non-existent ideological perils. The more successful the PAP is, the more it is distancing itself from those it truly needs to engage. Then again, it is a numbers game—the PAP does not need to care about whom it ought to engage; it simply needs to convert enough to halt and reverse its growing unpopularity. Until most Singaporeans realize this, which is unlikely, given the national character, the PAP will continue to be successful. Of course, the trick is not anything new. A similar strategy was probably adopted around the time the Prime Minister took up his current position, picking up together with his position a new fashion sense and a greater tendency to smile, both of which help to give a sense of renewal until people became sorely disappointed with the discrepancy between appearance and reality. (Left with no other plausible alternatives, Molly would actually very much prefer the stern ‘I may just slap you’ look of the past. But Molly represents the exception rather than the rule.) The same trick can be tried again with fresh sensitivities to its pitfalls that will enhance its chances of success, but it remains a trick, an optical illusion. There is no real wizardry.

The mission to change public perception is, quite naturally, far from completion. Every time anyone who is not obsessively pro-PAP wants to write something giving the PAP credit, a disclaimer lengthier than the actual piece of work is obligatory. (Molly is the exception here again because no one believes that she would ever give the PAP credit even when she does so.) Nevertheless, this also helps to further limit the number of ideological positions available for us all. It serves to redefine what constitutes the political moderate. Arguably, this is the only group that the PAP needs to target since targeting PAP fundamentalists (such as those represented by Fabrications about the PAP) is unnecessary whereas targeting devout non-believers is futile. If the political moderate tends to criticize the PAP most of the time, the PAP has a problem. One solution is to redefine moderation via engagement. It will no longer be possible, eventually, to be a moderate and be consistently critical of the PAP. Prima facie, this would seem to be an ineffective solution if we assume that political stands do not change even when positions are redefined—if one supports the PAP, one supports the PAP regardless of whether it is labeled mainstream, alternative, fundamentalist or stupid. Nevertheless, the situation is perhaps more complex. When the political moderate is redefined, there are likely to be a number of people who will be interpellated into the position of radicalism, which, oddly enough, seems to have a bad name in Singapore. (As I might have said before, moderation is often the worst form of extremism.) If it is the case that most people are averse to being radicals or labeled as such, they either accept the new label or they change. Of course, the way this happens will be natural, invisible, and often unintentional—just like evolution in nature except that the forces governing the change is anything but natural. More than ever before, the moderate must be supportively critical. If this is an oxymoron, it is one that Singapore has brought into its political reality. Whereas the PAP used to demand constructive criticism in the past, it now does so more subtly by providing its fundamentalist supporters and other naïve citizens with the lexical ammunition to launch tirades against those who do not conform to the same ideology. “One-eyed dragon” is such a term. The same job of mudslinging that the PAP and the state-controlled media used to perform so successfully is now outsourced to its multiple agents.

The redefinition may already be taking place. I have never been a follower of Visa’s blog though I recall seeing it before. He seems to be one in a growing line of netizens with whom the government is willing to practice their engagement attempts, and he has recently met the Prime Minister in person at the Istana. In his blog post about the meeting, he has the customary disclaimer—perhaps several of them—that he is not a PAP supporter, he is critical of them, he thinks it is necessary to have opposition, etc. This gentleman doth protest a little too much for comfort, methinks. Does anyone really care if a blogger is an old lapdog, a new convert or simply a freshly redefined moderate giving off the aroma of engagement from the PAP bakery? In their excessiveness, the disclaimers are effectively, if unintentionally, passive-aggressive accusations against harsh PAP critics:

Before anything else, I want to start by clearly stating that I am not a PAP “lapdog” or “bootlicker”. I am not pro-PAP. I am not pro-Opposition either. I don’t believe in picking sides. I’m against PAP super-dominance, but I would be against Opposition super-dominance too. (Of course, then they wouldn’t be called Opposition any more.) If you have to pin me down on something, consider me pro-Singapore, regardless of political affiliation.

While no one should ever fault Visa for having his own opinions, he makes it seem as though he would be attacked by merely making one positive comment about the PAP. It is people like Visa whom the PAP would love very much to redefine and use as agents to redefine moderation. To be sure, he is not pro-PAP, but he certainly does not mind having the PAP in power for a long time to come. If the PAP were a religion, it is not the believers but the naïve ones amongst the agnostics who are the truly potent lot in perpetuating PAP hegemony while being sincerely against it.

It is the naïve agnostics who actually have implicit faith in the establishment and crave for recognition from it. We see this from Visa’s reaction to being invited to the Istana:

Receiving the email from the Prime Minister’s Office- with “@pmo.gov.sg” in the address- set my heart in a flutter. It felt like validation from the world, telling me that I’m on the right track, and that it makes sense to do what I’m doing with this blog and everything else.

It is as if the right track that can be taken by a political commenter or PAP critic must be the PAP-sanctioned one. (Despite having blogged for so many years, no one has ever invited Molly to meet the Prime Minister. She is probably on the wrong track, thank God!) After expressing his exhilaration about being selected, however, Visa seems to contradict himself with words in bold later in his post:

I’m thoroughly, completely convinced that we were not “carefully handpicked” for “wayang” purposes.

What was there to be exhilarated about then? It is no validation at all if there was no selection criteria. After all, it could simply mean that one is randomly picked from a mass of hopeful applicants. With prominent bloggers like mrbrown and Andrew Loh being amongst the 19 people selected (a fact mentioned by Visa himself), the selection process if clearly not random. It has got to be strategic. Nevertheless, Visa is already helping spread the anti-one-eyed-dragon ideology by humbly implicating himself in what he is criticizing:

[. . .] it’s absolutely sickening and disgusting how how [sic] vile online comments can be. I mean, I’m probably guilty of it too, which makes it even worse- we are so quick to label and demonize others that we don’t even know. I’m absolutely certain that this isn’t the Singapore (or world, or internet) that I want to be a part of, and I’m sure that if you take the time to think about it, you’ll feel the same way.

Comments are just comments, actually. There is only so much a vile comment can do to its victim before the commenter’s own reputation is tarnished beyond repair. As a useful digression, what is truly vile to me is the way some PAP supporters can support the PAP cause at the expense of those who suffer the most in Singapore. There is certainly nothing vile about the comments made by Fabrications about the PAP when it posted the news article about a family of eight that manages to survive on a $1500 salary and even manages to go on a holiday once in a while. In fact, respect is expressed for this family. It could have been totally motivational if not for the fact that the purpose behind the post is to suggest that those with difficulty are whining unjustifiably when it is totally possible to survive and be happy and make lots of babies even with just $1500. According to the budget reported, the family spends less than $2 per head per day on food. A vile comment pales in comparison to a vile heart, especially one that is dressed with beautiful comments. By helping to harp on superficial attributes, Visa is unwittingly drawing attention away from that which truly needs to be examined. He does seem to realize this and superficial attributes are enough to convince him about the core:

PM does know what’s happening on the ground. He’s very observant and perceptive for one, and he listens carefully to people, and he has a fantastic team that surely updates him. He has a natural curiosity about him that I think is in the best interests of the country- and I’d say the same for BG Tan.

Visa must have been a little out of his mind (sorry for this vile comment, Visa) if he had, prior to the meeting truly thought that the Prime Minister did not know what was happening on the ground. Of course he knows what is happening even if he is disconnected from it. Politicians, particularly those in police states, always know what is happening. Whether they care or empathize is a different matter.

Like students who score top scores in examinations by regurgitating answers they have memorized without even understanding the content or having any passion for it, politicians can always provide the textbook answers and conduct themselves in the textbook way. In the new age of PAP engagement, PAP politicians are even better than ever at providing the textbook answers. Netizens have provided them with all the textbook answers by ranting at them for years. Whether there is any commitment to address the concerns of citizens is another matter. The pressing matter for the PAP, it seems, is to reverse the loss of support. Unfortunately, the PAP is not made up of people who are adept at changing themselves. If the content of their textbooks is modified, they change their answers and their tact accordingly. But they are unable to change their studying style, to use the same analogy. These are the very people who have propagated the KPI mode of thinking where the existence of the signs is proof of the reality. (Molly has pointed out examples in her series, The Annotated National Day Rally Parts I, II, III, IV, V)

What the PAP is doing is motivated by narcissism. iIt will orchestrate a “national conversation” to demonstrate that it is listening. PAP MPs and ministers may meet bloggers (as Shanmugam has done with Gintai and Teo Chee Hean has done with Reuben Wang), and they may communicate with bloggers through facebook. The crux of the problem here is not that the PAP’s engagement is what we might call wayang. If it is just wayang, the implication is that the politicians are putting up a show simply because they have to. They may in fact be doing so because they want to. But even they may fail to realize that what they want and what they are doing is not engagement but a demonstration of their willingness and ability to engage. There is otherwise no need for all these demonstrations given that, as Visa says, they essentially already know what is going on in the “ground” and could simply act upon their knowledge.

If we ignore the distinction between the intention to demonstrate to engagement and the act of engagement itself, the PAP may even seem willing to embark on engagement sans frontières, allowing everyone to say whatever they want, even anonymously. It reserves the right, of course, to choose what to respond to. It uses the same engagement attempts to propagate the ideology against anonymity and privilege those who trust it enough to divulge enough details to get themselves fixed. In the PAP’s attempts to engage the Other, the Other is always already circumscribed—by the format, by the delineations of topics, by the platform. We may be allowed to ask questions, as though we needed to ask questions and get answers from those who know better. We may be allowed to comment at other times, but the topic is likely set beforehand—even when off-topic comments are not censored or deleted, they are already displaced and disqualified. The very focus on online engagement reflects a certain phobia—the fear of the unruly Internet that could cost the PAP more votes in the long run. (If you are a homeless, illiterate old man, wait till there are enough of you to threaten the PAP’s vote count.) It is also this fear that defines engagement while also destroying it. It is a transaction, not an unconditional free embrace. People are offered the space to air their views insofar as they contribute to the PAP’s image building, even with the harshest of all comments?

How could the PAP engage in spite of its history of authoritarianism? How could the PAP engage with the ISA still current? How could the PAP engage if it essentially rejects democracy? How could the PAP engage if “engagement” has been de-notionized and is purely rhetorical?

Engagement it is called, engagement it is not, engagement is nought.

If there is what Catherine Lim called the “great affective divide” between the citizens and the PAP government, has been aggravated by the PAP’s own engagement efforts, it is now masked with pretty paper bridges under which crocodiles could lurk. If there is hope for Singapore politics, it is when engagement between the government and the citizens is unnecessary. By then, bridges would have been burnt—for a good reason.

[No, please don’t invite Molly to the Istana for tea—well, not unless you want her to be the next president. Admittedly, the pay is very attractive even after a cut. Don't invite her to kopi either.]

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