Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Volte Face in Singapore Politics? Nay Nay

I am XenoBoy. I am the Political Savant.

I have deliberately refrained from commenting on the death penalty for Nguyen until today. Holding out some misplaced hope that this entry will be unnecessary. But it’s a couple of hours before Nguyen hangs. And it is necessary now to speak. What I say will be brutally realistic. Mistakes were made. No blame is meant. This is an analysis on taking on the Singapore political legal system. And it all boils down to Face.

It was all about Face. Whatever fancy terms political scientists or politicians can coin, Game Theory, Great Man theories, brinksmanship politics, realism, post structuralism, Asian values, sovereignty, National Interest, international law etc, when we analyse this Nguyen affair, it was all about Face. No disrespect to Rodan, political activists, lawyers, journalists and the politicians both Singaporean and Aussie, who have all come out with the same tropes to appeal and defend their respective positions in this affair. It was all about Face. Face is not a topic covered in textbooks. Face underlies a lot of political decisions West or East. But it is perhaps only in the latter where Face is an art form. Coded by Confucius.

First, Nguyen has a pretty face. He is caught with heroin while in transit in Singapore. This happened a fairly long time ago. He goes through the entire legal process. This is the first mis-step for the Australian Government scrambling so desperately now. In Singapore law, the death penalty is mandatory for such a drug offence. The judge has no choice and sentences based on the mandatory requirement. Why is this a mis-step? If the Government of Australia had known and had acted during the pre-trial process, for it should have since death is mandatory, the Hope lies here. Political realism some will say, but Face underpins this necessity. To work behind the scenes as forcefully as it is doing now. Affect the process through quiet diplomacy. Give the Singapore Government Face, settle this behind the public eyes. Owe the Singapore Government a big favor for helping you out. Let the Singapore Government settle it for you. Give them Face. This was the best chance. The white elephant grassroots leader was not even charged, the young blogger was given a reprieve, a NS defaulting pianist is given a light sentence; instances where given leeway, the Courts can act generously. Were there negotiations behind? I do not know, but the point is this : at this pre-sentencing stage, it is so much easier to effect something; since every political scientist now has come up with the defining model of Singapore's "demo-cracy", it is deeply ironic that Aussie politicians do not know that to negotiate with such a "demo-cracy", you have to go behind, go behind the rhetorical program; not challenge the program head-on and publicly contradict the Sg Government's rhetorical program. Once the sentence was uttered. Public in a courtroom. The dice is thrown.
Am I condoning such a political process? No. But the realities in Singapore politics are such.
Face, face, face.

The second and most fatal mis-step occurs when the family of Nguyen decides to publicise this beyond the Aussie Government; further make it public, more public : challenge the Face of the Sg Government. To bring in popular pressure, to bring in the press, bring in the civil activists. This can work in a Grisham novel. This can work in a Western democracy. This can work in a society with a powerful CRM. In Singapore, the people advocating for Nguyen are seen as political enemies of the State. The Opposition. The civil society. To capitulate to these forces, will be an immense loss of Face to the Government. To capitulate to the foreign press is a similarly immense loss of Face. Loss of face = loss of political capital. This loss will be translated to a gain to the Opposition, to civil society activists, to the foreign press. Remember this is a regime in power for almost 50 years. And it is a regime steeped in a model of politics that blends the mercantilism/capitalism of Western economic idelologies with the control ideologies of Eastern feudal models. To expect it to lose Face willingly, when it knows it has done nothing wrong legally, in a public arena is impossible.

Loss of Face. When PM Lee apologised to PM Howard, it reflects how much currency the incumbent regime places on Face. The Sg Government recognized immediately that what had happened had constituted a loss of face first to the Sg politician as his system had made a huge mistake and further, it was an even bigger loss of face to the Australian PM. Hence, the apology issued quickly and with such contrition. The Sg Government immediately sees Face as the determining factor.

Loss of Face. When the hangman went public with his stories. It was another loss of Face to the Sg Government. When its own citizens can only know of the hangman through a foreign newspaper and not via its vaunted Straits Times. It was a huge loss of Face to the efficient and anonymous Sg politico-bureaucratic machinery. We are not supposed to know about these Agents of the State. These who do the dirty work. The life scientist, the economist yes. The hatchet men, the hangmen, a big emphatic No. Yes, it was a huge scoop for the Aussie press but it was a huge loss of Face to the Sg Government. Hence, the hangman is not hanging Nguyen. He is not sacked. But he will hang no more until his contract runs out. This way of handling the hangman’s fate similarly boils down to Face. To sack him outright means loss of Face to the Government, gain for the foreign press, gain for the hangman, seen as a victim of the State and hence, a hero. To freeze him out slowly is political grace while retaining Face.

In this entire Nguyen affair, there has been so much loss of Face already for the Singapore Government with regard the two incidents, will it want to lose more?

Sadly, the answer is No. Not only for drugs, but for Face too, Nguyen will hang.

I am Xenoboy. I am the Political Savant.
Postcript : after my third bottle of wine, I come back and apologise to Nguyen as a Singaporean. And to the political/media/activist circus watching this sordid affair, including myself : f u c k y o u a l l

Quote of the Day,

“So the sum total is 80 beheaded, 69 of whom had their eyes put out and their fingers cut off, which comes to 114 florins and two cents. From this should be deducted: 10 florins, received from the citizens of Rothenburg; 2 florins received by Ludwig von Hutten; leaving: 102 florins. To this should be added 2 months' pay; for each month 8 florins = 16 florins, which makes: 118 florins and two cents” -- Receipt of Augustin, known as Awe, the Executioner of the rebel peasants of Frankenhausen

Monday, November 21, 2005

Running From the Darkness in the Night

I am XenoBoy. I am the Political Savant.

In Singapore, there are two dominant political forces. The PAP Political State (with its attendant quasi-state appendages) and the Conservative Singaporeans. The relationship between the two is complex. They feed off each other and reinforce each other through the promise of service efficiency and a rhetorical program par excellence. In Singapore, if you do not belong to either side, you belong to the rest. The marginalized. The Annabel Chongs. The homosexuals. The dissidents. The Opposition. The exiles. The seditious bloggers.

Modernity as promised by the State is premised on acceptance by the Conservative Singaporean. Modernity as envisaged by the State is presaged on the sensibilities of the Conservative Singaporean. This is the reason why duality exists in Singapore society. In the Middle East, this form of modernity is referred as fundamentalism. In Singapore's case, this is secular fundamentalism. Conservative modernity. What if the Conservative Singaporean is a lie?

Once upon a time, there was a Prince whose name was Sang Nila Utama. He was on a hunting expedition on an un-named island. Separated from the safety of his entourage, he was hunting alone, without the usual protection accorded by his bodyguards. A stir in the bushes. Suddenly a creature appeared, it had a shaggy mane and it bolted in a flash. Sang Nila Utama shrieked. He let his arrow fly. It struck nothing. There is a mad scramble in the jungle. His bodyguards rush into the clearing fearing the safety of their Prince. Poise returned, Sang Nila described his adventure at close proximity with a fearsome creature that threatened his life. A Lion. Singa. His acolytes swoon at the Prince's bravery. A Singa was a creature hitherto unseen in these parts. That one was spotted on this island meant this was a sacred place, abode of the King of Beasts. Hence, Sang Nila Utama named the island Singapura. All this time, the wild boar was watching the entourage deep in the cover of the jungle foliage.

If one of the acolytes had stood up and said : Prince, it may have been a wild boar. Then the possible futures of this acolyte are simple. The Prince kills him for doubting the veracity of his observation since his words are Law once uttered. Second, he gets silenced by his fellow acolytes and told to re-think and to accept the Prince's proclamation. Third, when they return to the palace, he is shunted to the job of night soil carrier. Fourth, when he returns, he finds his career so limited he has to leave the palace.

It’s the end of the year. Elections are probably on the way to Singapore. In Singapore blogosphere, I see isolated frustration.

A great teacher, Tym, has quit her job, the crushing State system has simply exhausted her. She cites Alfian so aptly, “if you care too much for Singapore, first it'll break your spirit, then it will break your heart". She says,"But I can't change a system when its fundamentals are so alien and divorced from my own. There is no basis for dialogue and discussion. stay and be co-opted? I don't want that on my gravestone".

Pleinelune, a lesbian, from a minority race, says "I am tired of fighting against this. I am tired, of being gay". This, in the face of the latest NLB restriction on a gay event.

A 21 year old Dottie, studying in Copenhagen, says "When I am amazed by the extent that free speech is respected here (Denmark), a concept that is almost completely alien to me. When I realised that it is wrong that we're shut in a box and still told that we're actually free - free to make money, be rich, but never step over the OB markers." Just a song can do this to someone who will be going Home.

These are Singaporeans. What if the Conservative Singaporean is a lie? A constructed Fact? It is not a Lion. It is a wild boar.

Yes, the system will crush you. When it is close to killing you. Run. Its okay. Better than running from the darkness in the night. Rebuild yourself and one day, hopefully, return and fight again.

In the meantime, we still have a couple of cats running around in Singapore blogosphere, one a bimbotic Cat, another an ex DPP. Some bloody Singaporeans. A philosopher. Several soon-to-be lawyers. Some expatriates whose lives have transited, transiting, and are still in transit with Singapore.

And there is You still my dear reader.

I am XenoBoy. I am the Political Savant.

Quote of the Day,

"He will do all that for him when his time comes. It will be little enough, less than little: nothing. He crosses the surgery. 'Was that the last?' asks Bev Shaw. 'One more.' He opens the cage door. 'Come' he says, opens his arms. The dog wags its crippled rear, sniffs his face, licks his cheeks, his lips, his ears. He does nothing to stop it. 'Come.' Bearing him in his arms like a lamb, he re-enters the surgery. 'I thought you would save him for next week', says Bev Shaw. 'Are you giving him up?' Yes I am giving him up" -- JM Coetzee, Disgrace

Monday, November 14, 2005

Cover Citizens, Cover Country, Cover Bands & U2

I am XenoBoy. I am the Political Savant.

At some moment in your life, you achieve awakening. When suddenly you realise that life is not about a rhetorical "making a difference". Many many years ago, I attended a U2 concert. It was smoky, delirious, passionate. The riffs for an acoustic version of Sunday Bloody Sunday slide forth from Edge's hands. Bono unfolds a piece of paper and starts to ramble against the IRA, Peace in Belfast and more importantly, the list of countries where human rights contraventions still exist. The usual suspects and than from his voice of passion comes the word : "Singapore". Heart sinks. Amongst the thousands of packed fans, no one knew I was Singaporean except myself and my Sg friend whom I lost in the wave of music-induced pandemonium. It rankled and it disturbed. It was shame. And I knew that U2 will never ever perform in Singapore.

Last week, I found out that a cover band, dedicated to covering only U2 songs, is performing in Singapore. It is remarkably ironic. Emblematic of the conundrum residing snugly within the multiple layers that is Singapore. A polished sheen of modernity. The State has created a generation brimming with potentiality, the possibility of flowering because each and every Singaporean has had an empowering education. But this potentiality gets lost along the way. And we, Singaporeans, find ourselves walking on by in a dry and waterless place searching for a forgotten fire.

Ice. Your only rivers run cold.
These city lights, they shine as silver and gold
Dug from the night, your eyes as black as coal. Walk on by. Walk on through.
So sad to beseige your love so head on
Stay this time. Stay tonight in a lie
Come on take me away.
Come on take me home.
Home again
The State creates an illusion of vibrancy that cannot look within itself. The restrictions on Gay party events, the 'loosening' of the Arts scene, the 'encouragement' of contrary opinion are all counter-poised with censorship, sedition and regulation. The State creates this illusion of creativity but refuses to let it out of the Box. 15 and Royston : restricted and censored. Jack Neo and Prison Life : Cultural Medallion. Reality and contextuality denied, hyper-State reality and textuality programatically processed. Reject the process, reject the reality and ship out to Van Diemen's land.

Now kings will rule and the poor will toil
and tear their hands as they tear the soil.
But a day will come in this dawning age
when an honest man sees an honest wage.
Hold me now, for I'm gone to face Van Diemen's land

So we have a cover band of U2 performing in Singapore, because my country is a cover country in so many renderings of the word. That a cover band is performing in Singapore slices open the heart of the cover band itself and explains why it remains a cover band without the soul of U2. In so doing, it slices open the perplexing state of Singapore and its people. A cover citizen of a cover country hearing a cover band in a state of the art stadium. Hearing but deaf for the beauty and the message delivered in the songs of U2. Deft betrayal. I was a cover citizen of a cover country. Once devoid of soul, empty in heart. Staring at the sun, happy, blind, deaf and mute.

It's been a long hot summer. Let's get under cover.
Don't try too hard to think. Don't think at all
I'm not the only one. Staring at the sun, afraid of what you'll find. If you took a look inside
I'm not just deaf and dumb. Staring at the sun. Not the only one.
Who's happy to go blind
Than, years ago, I attended a U2 concert. I saw the real thing. And it was even better than the real thing. I still have a bootleg CD of the concert where Bono talked about this blacklist of countries. Hunted for it and bought it off the Net. To remind myself that I am a citizen of Singapore and dreaming out loud to stand up for Singapore.

I am XenoBoy. I am the Political Savant.
Quote of the Day --
"Don't believe what you hear. Don't believe what you see. If you just close your eyes. You can feel the enemy. When I first met you girl. You had fire in your soul. What happened your face of melting snow? Now it looks like this. And you can swallow. Or you can spit. You can throw it up. Or choke on it.
And you can dream. So dream out loud. You know that your time is coming 'round. So don't let the bastards grind you down.
No, nothing makes sense. Nothing seems to fit. I know you'd hit out. If you only knew who to hit. And I'd join the movement. If there was one I could believe in. Yeah I'd break bread and wine. If there was a church I could receive in. 'Cause I need it now. To take the cup. To fill it up. To drink it slow. I can't let you go. I must be an acrobat. To talk like this. And act like that.
And you can dream. So dream out loud. And don't let the bastards grind you down"
-- U2, Acrobat

Monday, November 07, 2005

Cynics With Utter Faith

I am XenoBoy. I am the Political Savant.
There is an understanding that during the Nazi Holocaust program, Jews were systematically and deliberately exterminated. They were exterminated not as humans but as lice. The Holocaust is a program. Gas chambers were ingeniously engineered, railways were mapped, camps were designed for the purpose of extermination. It was a scientific process. Logical and efficient Nazi engineering.

Behind this program were countless agents of the State. They had designated jobs and functional responsibilities. Strip the Jews. Sieve through belongings. Push the green button. These agents were human beings. They are people, normal people just like you and me. They may not have liked the Reich, but they had utter faith in the Reich. Taken at each compartmentalized juncture, these people were just doing their jobs. Taken as a totality, it was the Holocaust Program.

There was a scientific-rational engineering pillar to the Program which is counter-balanced by the rhetorical pillar of the Program. The invocation of Race beyond the Present into a Future Past. The Volk. (Note : For an exposition of rhetorical programming, please see the maiden entry in Sin Galore,

No. This entry is not about the impending hanging of Nguyen from Australia. On that issue, there is only one question which all the conflicting parties in cyberspace have not asked : why have a Presidential Pardon if it is never used? Dangling an Illusion of Hope?
This entry is about Singaporeans. Especially the cynics with utter faith. This entry is for politicians who wish to prosper in Singapore. To understand that herein the majority of the Singapore polity lies this great contradiction of perspective. A contradiction which has been evolved by the efficient subtle Singapore system. One hopes there are less cynics with utter faith with each successive generation. But this is the here and the now. By dint of the make-up of a cynic, it is hard to reach his/her core. The other part of the equation, the utter faith is where one can work on.
In quasi-benign political systems of total domination, hardcore or softcore, the system functions, prospers not only by Pure Terror, Vague Terror, Referential Terror, Legal Terror. It is only one end of the ruling spectrum. The system employs Singaporeans, cynics with utter faith, but compartmentalizes the processes. So that they remain cynics without access to the True Referent. The Big Picture. They complain, they chirp, they grumble. But utter faith remains. First, with the creation of an efficient Infrastructure Program and corresponding efficient processes, instilling an unwavering pride in the system. A Nation of Firsts. Second, with a Rhetorical Program through total domination of the spectacle producing elements in general society. Hence, the System hums.
The totality of Program Singapore must first be grasped. At each level, each agent of the state must recognise this totality before utter faith can be truly chipped away and not fall into the action-less embrace of utter cynicism. Introduce the seed of doubt into efficiency which fosters counter-action, even blind counter-action. Deconstruct the rhetorical program and Reconstruct Singapore.
The PAP will not fall in one day.
I am XenoBoy. I am the Political Savant.
Quote of the Day,
"And she leads him gently through the vast landscape of Lamentation, shows him the columns of temples, the ruins of strongholds from which long ago the princes of Lament wisely governed the country. Shows him the tall trees of tears,the fields of flowering sadness ... And we, who always thinkof happiness as rising feel the emotion that almost overwhelms uswhenever a happy thing falls." -- Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies