Monday, February 20, 2006

Contradictions and Faceless Coins

I am Xenoboy. I am the Political Savant.
The fact that the Government is reviewing the PEA and factoring how to cope with political blogs is anticipated. In the last GE, it was the issue of political websites. The last review of the PEA caused the demise of Sintercom and severely circumscribed Think Centre. It is politically necessary and comes not as a surprise. It is a challenge and it must be faced.
The Channel News Asia article on the implications of political blogs in the coming GE is an exercise in poor journalism and perspectival contradiction. It spends half the time articulating that political blogs in Singapore are worthless and the other half talking about how the Government is figuring to restrict worthless political blogs.
Even more ironically, PM Lee in his Budget speech talks about empowering Singaporeans with a state-of-the-art broadband network with high connection speeds to keep abreast of world developments while simultaneously enacting regimes to restrict "local" content. What is the use of high speed broadband? Play WoW? Watch pornography?
Catherine Lim is clearly the most intuitive local political watcher. In a recent article, she commented that Government and people are engaged in a stylised dance. The affective gap between government and people is widening into a state of resigned despair. Both sides go through their motions. Just like how NUSSU negotiated with NUS administration in a rational way and results in an empty failure. And the disaffection widens.
A more consultative and open Government is equated as spending more time justifying policies. Whereas in the past, policies are jammed straight down people's throats, nowadays, it is rhetorically lubricated by the new and dynamic young Ministers. Think Casino.
The world has moved. The Government sees it. The people know it. My first experience reading a foreign newspaper coincided with my first trip abroad. Today, its no longer like that. The Government sees it. The people know it. But still the policy of depoliticisation is enforced as strongly as before.
Why fake it rather than face it? The average Singaporean today is much more politically aware than during the 70s, 80s and 90s. Singaporeans who leave are not quitters just as Singaporeans who stay are not fighters. More often than not, Singaporeans who leave are those who realised that there is nothing to fight for here and more importantly, they do not see the need to fight because there is no SIEGE. Why fake it rather than face it? Those who left are the paradoxically, the most politically aware, because they exercised the only political right remaining to them : leave.
The lost leafs.
I had mentioned previously, during an election period, there is an intensification of politics, creating a environment of unpredictability. Creating a chance for change. In Walter Benjamin's words, it is a monad, a moment pregnant with potentialities to rub history/reality against its grain.

But at the same time, it is during this period that we perceive the stark reality of the political system we are enmeshed in. For at a time when politics and change potential is at its zenith, our efficient system enacts regulatory measures of massive de-politicisation, de-political morphine hand-delivered by the mass media into our minds, into our hearts. And it hurts. This is a forgetting that hurts. An episteme of amnesia.

And we go through another four years of existence before the next period of potentiality arrives. A stylised tragic dance of a pantomime artist and his invisible audience, his invisible world.
To my readers. This political blog will not close. Just as my literary blog will not close. Because I see no reason why I as a Singaporean should close it. No reason why I should be de-politicised. No reason why I should forget.

Quotes of the Day --
"What then is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms -- in short, a sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins." -- Friedrich Nietzsche, "On Truth And Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense"
"Truth.-- No one now dies of fatal truths: there are too many antidotes to them." -- Friedrich Nietzsche, "Human, all too Human"

Friday, February 17, 2006

Like You, I Remember

I am XenoBoy. I am the Political Savant.
Black is a cool color. In a classic scene from Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, which was never shown in Singapore, the crew of bank robbers were assigned code-names so that their real identities would be protected. Their code-names were Mr Red, Mr Brown, Mr Purple etc. The crew were dissatisfied and wanted their own names. The Boss scolded them. His rationale : if he let them choose, everyone would want to be Mr Black.

In NUS, quite a number of students are wearing black. To protest the fee hikes, which seems to be a regular affair in NUS. Not protests but fee hikes. This is good. This is like the White Elephants and the black White Elephant t-shirts. This is new form of cultural protest, at least in Singapore, which vexes the Singapore authorities very much. The authorities are not psychologially equipped to handle this form of political action. The Police battalion mobilised in shenton Way against the CPF protesters. The Police scrutiny of the sale of White Elephant t-shirts at Buangkok. These are indicative of authorities who are paralysed when political actions lodge themselves in the interstices of law and authority.
You see. The fabric of security reality has been woven by an appreciation of protests like the Hock Lee riots, the racial riots, the Maria Hertogh riots. Random burning, murders, woundings. Mass violence.
When faced with a cardboard caricature, black t-shirts, lettered t-shirts, hanged statues, creative symbols and siguls of protest, the authorities are stumped. Scrambling to find that one piece of regulatory legislation which says "Yes! Thats it, it is not allowed." Whats the irony? In every regulatory regime, there is always an umbrella clause. That which covers everything. More often than not, modern protests fall under this umbrella's shadow. And its an uneasy fit. In the public's eye, it is not credible even if, under Law's eye it is valid. The Law's gaze is blind.
The protest in NUS via black t-shirts reflects an embryonic and necessary appreciation of political action which is part of the global movement of political expression which is no longer about violence, rioting. That more younger Singaporeans are increasingly comfortable with such forms of political expression is the hope for the future. This is creative protest. A protest form which challenges authority, challenges the system in place with grace and necessary emotion. The NUSSU spokesperson who urged students not to be emotional is wrong. His form of conflict resolution is based on an established paradigm of rational discussion. It achieved nothing as he himself has said. And what's worse, the failure is representative of nothing.
This NUS black t-shirt protest will fail but even while it fails, at the symbolic and representative level, it registers something into the consciousness of both student body and administrator body. That is the importance of such aesthetic protests, to build that sense of strategic awareness of political action and what it signifies.
One of the commenters, Gayle, in the Nian entry has very astutely pointed out that what is needed in Singapore is to move away from poltical criticism as a blame game and look at it from a systems view.
"There's not much point attributing blame to any one party. That which transcends time, and the plethora of parties involved, would seem to be systems; a concatenation of instances and circumstances that make things what they are, a system to be changed."
This is precisely the point. Creative protest forms chip away at the efficient systems, causing little stutters and little blips. At the same time, creative protest forms harness the power of the many and captures the imaginations of the many more. Protest as a beautiful art-form opposing the brute efficiency of a blind system. What better foes?
To capture the imagination(s). So that, when the next opportunity arises, we look at each other and say : Like you, I remember.
Quote of the Day --
"Don’t sacrifice your dreams for the illusion of security. There is no security. Realize there is no security and become comfortable with that. It will free you up to do what you really need to do.", David Mack, Kabuki

Monday, February 13, 2006

Rhetoric, Effects & Politics

I am XenoBoy. I am the Political Savant.

Election fever is picking up pace. Every other day, the media covers one or another election-related story. The first rhetorical salvo was fired by the WP's release of its manifesto. This quickly drew the ire of the PAP who replied with an escalating solidarity from Minister to Prime Minister to the Minister Mentor. It is then reported that SDP chief, Chee Soon Juan is as good as disqualified from contesting. Then today we hear PAP's Hougang candidate, Eric Low cranking up his rhetorical chikus while Minister George Yeo lays down the gauntlet in Aljunied.

All these developments need some analysis. Singaporeans need to re-attune their perception receptors during this period. Perhaps unlike any other prior elections, Singaporeans are going to be more fully provisioned with information. The numerous election watch blogs already in place is one such indicator. Blogs like Mr Wang, Singabloodypore, TVD, Singapore Ink, hopefully Molly and Sg Classics are ready to go. Single direction media information flow is not possible anymore. From the outset, Sinaporeans need to make the distinction between the use of rhetoric and its effects as an analytical perspective rather than questioning whether the rhetoric makes any empirical sense. This is a fundamental re-attuning of perception receptors because an election environment more than any other environment creates heightened levels of rhetoric. Example : the MOM statement on unemployment figures going down and Financial Times' suggestion that it is "massaged" figures. This is the distinction between empirical effect and rhetorical effect an the necessity of understanding messages disseminated during this period as rhetoric and concomitant effects.

The spat over WP's manifesto. As I have engaged a commenter, Luddite, in an earlier entry, the best way to look at this spat is at the rhetorical level, especially the effects that the rhetoric adduced. In this issue, some very good bloggers have tried to impute the empirical basis behind this debate, guessing racial quota statistics, rationalising possible scenarios ... but all from a black hole. There is no empirical data publicly available to back the analyses of the learned bloggers. And we find ourselves back at first base, what the WP said in its manifesto and the various PAP responses. Rhetoric and its effects. In this instance, the rhetorical effect of PAP's rebuttals is a radicalisation of the political discourse as the threat of racial dis-harmony is invoked.

Radic(i)alisation. This is a very very important point for Singaporeans to know. To understand the process of radic(i)alisation of Singapore politics. To realise which group starts this process because ultimately, there are legal instruments to crush those who radic(i)alise issues during the GE. This is one manifestation of rhetoric and accompanying effects.

The disqualification of CSJ is an interesting dynamic. Increasingly, CSJ and his political party have entangled themselves into civil society issues and it is much harder to define the political agenda of SDP today than before. CSJ perhaps more than any in the Opposition uses radical (at times overly explosive) rhetoric and perhaps more than any, barring JBJ, faced the sanctions for his rhetorical outbursts. Screaming at Goh Chok Tong at a hawker center and the $6 b/million (?) loan to Indonesia were the rhetorical incidents which led to his present disqualification. Though missing as a candidate, it may yet turn out that CSJ will have greater impact in the coming GE as he agitates without the confines bound by electoral candidacy. On the other hand, CSJ will face the constant rhetorical question : what is he fighting for? More than any, CSJ embodies the crippling effects of rhetoric, both self-generated and those adduced to him by his opposition. But it remains a big question. Without the distractions of actually needing to win a constituency, CSJ can turn out to be a surprise rhetorical actor in the coming GE.

Last, the assertions of Eric Low and George Yeo. Both are from the PAP and both are very different as can be assessed from what they say and how they speak. Eric Low is obviously a ground person. The use of chikus as a rhetorical device localises himself to Singaporeans. He is after all fighting the Teochew rhetorical master Low Thia Khiang. George Yeo speaks as what he is, a technocrat. He lays his gauntlet in the typical bland technocrat way. Whatever resources we have, we will fight for every vote. Hardly anything inspiring from a rhetorical sense.

Observers have always complained that the GRC system allows backdoor entries for PAP candidates not politically savvy. More precisely, the GRC system helps provide the rhetorical weight often lacking in PAP candidates; placing technocrats next to grassroots uncles who articulate like most Singaporeans. From another angle, look at how the Master Rhetoric, LKY had to be used in the last GE in Nee Soon to make up the light-weight and wordless Ho Peng Kee. This is a key political strategy of the PAP. The relative rhetorical capabilities of its candidates. In Opposition wards, the more rhetorically savvy like Eric Low cause a lot of problems for the incumbents. Because the incumbent has to devote a rhetorical master to counter him. But ironically, Eric Low is a nobody in the PAP hierarchy. Would the PAP ever send George Yeo to contest in Hougang? Never.

Politics is about calculating risk. Eric Low is a nobody in the PAP. Ultimately expendable since he is in Hougang. Why waste a rhetorical master on him? Why defend when you can attack?

I am XenoBoy. I am the Political Savant.

Quote of the Day --

"If ShanFu had not spoken Kongming's name,
Could Xuande's triple quest have ever been?
So Kongming at age of three times nine,
packed his books and lute and quit his fields.
"Take Jingzhou first and then the west!"
Here was a plan to alter destiny.
Across the realm his words created storms.
Juggling stars that held men's fate, he smiled.
Dragons danced, tigers stalked, heaven and earth stood becalmed;
Time itself can never erode his name"

--- Luo GuanZhong Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Red, White and the Story of Nian

There is a fable behind the red and loud origins of Chinese New Year. There is a little city in the middle of a wasteland. Every year, after enduring bitterly cold winters, the city inhabitants feel a sense of impending doom rather than joyful anticipation of the coming spring.
When spring returns, a terrible Beast (Nian) rampages through the wasteland, hungry and angry. Each year, it will ravage the city. Taking a few of its inhabitants. Spring sacrifice. One year, a inhabitant of the city decides to take on the Beast, challenge Nian, break its shackles of terror. He gathers the city and devises a plan against the Beast. Lets plant bright Red banners, bright Red flags and bright red Fire-Crackers as a planned defence against the Beast; surprise and terrify the Beast.

The inhabitants mumbled among themselves. Fear was ingrained in them. What if the plan failed? What if … what if? But the brave hero said break free. Why live in fear? Why wait for death? Why?

So the plans were put in place. Spring beckoned. That unmistakable crispness of a new life cycle was in the air. Familiar fear gripped the city folk. Soon, the terrible howl of the awakened Beast could be heard. The trembling folk hiding behind the city walls hid in the shadows. Will their ploy work?

Across the wasteland, the thunderous gallop of the Beast grew louder and louder. At the city walls, the Beast batters down the token locked gates and enters for its prize. The city folk act in unison : torches flare, fuses are lit and a cacophony of sound and color assaults the Beast. The Beast is beaten, it recoils in fear and runs away back into the wastelands. The inhabitants are overjoyed. Come the next spring, the city repeats this defence. Again and again, year after year, against a thinner and thinner Beast. Until one year, the Beast comes no more. It has died in the wastelands. But the city repeats this defence year after year when spring comes even when the Beast is no more.

The city is safe and secure now. In the middle of a threatening wasteland.

One year, in the heat of summer, a few white elephants from the wasteland enter the city via a forgotten and disused city entrance. They meander into a disused square, ambling aimlessly. Some children, seeing such a delightful sight, started playing with the docile creatures. It was a pleasant surprise for the children. They have never entered the wasteland and knew nothing of it.

The adults were horrified and appalled. In their adult eyes, it was a fearsome sight. For ensconced deep in the consciousness of these people was the specter of the Beast from generations ago. Told to them by their parents and their parents’ parents. Beast from the wastelands. Such a threat. Such possibility of a throwback to fear and instability embodied in the time of Nian, the Beast. The city folk come to a quick consensus, History has taught them so. They launch into their defensive postures: the children are ushered away, assault teams circle the white elephants. On cue, the red banners are unfurled and firecrackers lit. Crashing sound and bright color rush the senses of the white elephants. Terror, confusion. The white elephants stampede out of the city back into the wasteland. The children are educated to the horrors of the Beast, of the wasteland. From the city walls, hang the red banners and prepared firecrackers in spring, summer, winter and autumn. Perpetual vigilance. No more surprises from the wasteland.

The city is always safe and secure now. In the middle of a threatening wasteland.


Some of the children who played with the white elephants cannot forget the feeling of delight and discovery which the presence of the creatures wrought in them. The creatures brought something from the wasteland to them. Something they have never experienced, protected in the city as they are.

One night, the children slip out from the city. They find the white elephants in their sanctuary by a small lake. They scampered joyfully to the creatures.


The creatures shied away from them. Fearful of their presence, the white elephants kept moving away from the children. The children cajoled and called out, but the white elephants kept their distance. The red-garbed children sat by the banks of the lake. Dejected. The white elephants across the lake. Wary.

And under the night sky of fading stars and a turning moon, the wind whistled across the wasteland like a collective sigh. Rippling memories of delight, fear, joy and danger in the minds of all the beasts in the wasteland.

"For one lost, all lost. The chain that held them would save all or none ...

And the chain gang beat. The women for having known them and no more, no more; the children for having been them but never again ... More than the rest, they killed the flirt whom folks called Life for leading them on. Making them think the next sunrise would be worth it; that another stroke of time would do it at last. Only when she was dead would they be safe ...

Her past had been like her present, intolerable, and since she knew death was anything but forgetfulness, she used the little energy left her for pondering color."

-- Toni Morrison, Beloved