Monday, July 03, 2006

O Bhavani

In Singapore, when the Government says you are distorting the truth, and you are dressing up polemics as analysis and that you are speaking in a calculated manner to foster despondency and cynicism, that you are hiding behind a pseudonym, exploiting access to the media to champion political issues, such accusations are usually targeted at Chee Soon Juan, James Gomez and the other Opposition politicians who irritate the ruling party tremendously.

No. This time round, they are targeting these accusations at Mr Brown. Yes, the blogger Mr Brown, and the owner of browntown in the pre-blog days.

In a letter dripping with sinister undertones and implied intimidation, which is the other ever-present hallmark of our Government other than its smiling and happy public face, Mr Brown was given the Catherine Lim treatment. Yes the Catherine Lim treatment which gave birth to the famed lexicons of political speak in Singapore : "OB markers".

This letter bears the exact same discursive triggers as the admonishments levelled at Dr Catherine Lim almost a decade ago. Exact to a chilling degree. With only one deviation.

Making use of the privileged role as a columnist in a mainstream newspaper to champion partisan political views. Check.

Distortion of truth, the dressing up of polemics as analysis. Rememeber Dr Catherine Lim and her views on Ministerial pay and the great affective divide that was then, in her eyes, opening up between Government and Singaporeans. Check.

Offering no solution and alternatives. Unconstructive criticism. Hiding behind a pseudonym and hence, freed from accountability and responsibility to answer for his views. Read : talking politics having not joined politics. Check.

Seeking to undermine the standing of the Singapore Government. Check.

The only deviation is this. There was no challenge to mr brown to join politics. Perhaps they fear him joining a political party. Or perhaps they were saving this challenge for the next salvo to be fired at mr brown, probably by a Minister-level personality. This letter is the formal opening of hostilities. Lee Boon Yang's veiled threats at the IPS seminar were but the pre-cursors.

Despite having progressed another ten years plus in Singapore, these relics which subdue expression still re-surface in Singapore with easy impunity. When such relics lose their cloak of invisibility and comes out into the open again, we are at once reminded of what has really changed in Singapore? When such relics re-appear, Time in Singapore has inched into a crawl, a horrible Trauerspiel, slowed down to an extent that we realise that the song remains the same. Oh dear.

What has really changed in ten years plus of Singapore's progress? What has changed? Nothing. Simply nothing.

New Prime Minister, old Prime Minister, all the promises of change, more good years, Singapore21, Heartbeat Singapore, inclusive society, lose their glamour, lose their sheen of hope when such a cold cold letter emerges in our mainstream media of impeccable high standards. Standards so high that only those of similar stratospheric vision can read and understand.

You see, mr brown is entitled his views but such views cannot grace the mainstream media which is of loftier and higher standards. His are views which belong below. For the low standards. And so in one fell swoop, one cold letter relinquishes all readers of mr brown as of low standard. Low brow.

The standard of the mainstream media is so high. So much so that the phrase "to stretch out incomes" is not a distortion of truth. So much so that a civil servant can impugn with subtle and cold sarcasm the motivations of mr brown as driven by his own child's experience. These are then the high standards of civil service correspondence which automatically qualify into the same league as our impeccable mainstream old papers? The letter contained an insinuation, a sinister insinuation. It reeks with the stench of dirty Government, dirty politics.

This is the type of humour that these people enjoy.

This is the type of laughter that the Minister of the same ministry condones. This was how he laughed when he first levelled the veiled threat at mr brown in the IPS seminar. This is the laughter of vindictiveness, of malevolence.

A laughter of men in political power.

Read this letter by Bhavani as a threat. Nothing less. And I anticipate that this will be addressed in the National Day Rally speech. Couched in the exclusive humour of all Rally speeches where the audience comprise the power elites of Singapore.

You see don't you? mr brown is deemed a corruptor of us pure Singaporeans. His views, his polemics contaminate the mainstream media. Poison the minds of us pure Singaporeans. The "masses" who are always deemed pure, optimistic people. Shiny, happy people. Us pure Singaporeans who are always four minutes to midnight or one tiny slippery slip from the chasm of despair and cynicism. His views are for STOMP. Not for TODAY.

His views are politics. Partisan politics. Which party Bhavani? The party which is not the PAP? That party which from another view could actually mean the rest of Singapore. The real Singaporean? Come on Bhavani. Which party if partisan?

Like a Trauerspiel, we are stuck in a terminal loop, watching the same narratives flash us by, watching re-runs of History, absorbing the same stories, the repeated morals.

Give me a Catherine Lim story anytime, when the rich and the powerful, the snobs always get their come-uppance, in an ironic kind of a way.

Mr Wang and Molly, my two most admired Sg blogos hath spoken more quickly on this. And so too will others. Let it not rest as it did ten years ago.

Quote of the Day --

"Once she was tempted to approach Ah Soh to borrow some money-she had heard whispers of the immense sum of money that Ah Soh had slowly accumulated over forty years, money she had saved from her sale of cakes and puddings, and from extreme frugality ... But she had quickly rejected the idea. What, degrade herself by seeking help from a relative who was no better than a servant? Mrs. Khoo’s inherent dislike of Ah Soh was increased by her suspicion that behind all that effusive humility and deference was a shrewdness and alertness that saw everything that was going on, and she even fancied that the little frightened-looking eyes in the thin pallid face sometimes laughed at her." -- Catherine Lim, The Jade Pendant


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis! :-)

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

What does not change is the PAP's desperation in fighting for every bit of mindshare of average Singaporeans, to continue to lull them into back into their sleepwalk through life, that all is fine with PAP in control, while we continue to be denied freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of our minds!

The PAP makes me sick.

6:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just read the essay by Catherine Lim. Its amazing, what she said 12 years ago is the same as now. what she got is what brown is getting down. Surreal. Scary.

Excerpts below from

The Great Affective Divide has created a model of government-people relationship that must be unique in the world: solid, unbreakable unity of purpose and commitment on the economic plane, but a serious bifurcation at the emotive level, resulting in all kinds of anomalies and incongruities. A kind of modus vivendi appears to have developed, by which each agrees to live with the other's preference as long as both work together for the good of the country. Hence the Government continues to say: "We know you dislike us, but...", and the people continue to think: "We are totally grateful to you for the good life you've given us and will vote you again, but ..."


If loyalty towards the country is blocked, it has to be directed elsewhere. In Singapore, it is directed at the good life which the country has come to represent. Hence, the object of the people's fervour is not the Government, nor the country, but the good life made possible by the first in its successful leadership of the second. There is by now an almost adulatory quality about the attachment of Singaporeans to the affluence which their parents never knew and which came their way so quickly. It has been wryly described as the new religion of "moneytheism".

This kind of loyalty is, of course meretricious. It changes with its object. Hence, when the good life diminishes, so will it. When the good life disappears, so may it. But the most insidious aspect is its mobility. It will uproot and move with the good life. Hence, if economic prosperity is no longer in Singapore but moves to Canada, Australia, the United States, China, it will re-locate itself accordingly. This is already happening, say some cynical observers: the current buying up of properties and businesses in other countries by the more affluent Singaporeans may be more a quiet preparation for this eventuality than a straightforward investment.

Such a volatile, mobile loyalty is of course a travesty of the patriotism it has displaced and a mockery of all the earnest effort that the Government and the people have put into the building of the country over three decades.

Even if such a sinister scenario does not arise, a growing emotive estrangement between the Government and the people is not a healthy thing. It could create a schizoid society where head is divorced from heart, where there is a double agenda and double book-keeping with people agreeing with the Government in public but saying something else in private.

Neither side of course wants this to happen. Both want this discomfiture to go away. The slogan of "a gentler, wiser society" borrowed by the Prime Minister to signal a new dispensation of greater sensitivity, concern and communication, reinforces an earlier one of "gracious society". The new concern with the aged, the handicapped and the destitute is clearly an attempt to put a human face on public policy that is often accused of being elitist. The new encouragement of the arts is an acknowledgement that man does not live by bread alone but also by creative expression, energy and passion. In the process of narrowing this Affective Divide, the Government will learn that lecturing and hectoring are sometimes less effective than a pat on the back, that mistakes may be just as instructive as success and are therefore forgivable, that efficiency and generosity of spirit are not mutually exclusive, that compassion is not necessarily a sign of effeteness.

The people, on their part, will learn to praise and commend as readily as they are to criticise and complain, to appreciate the hard work of the leaders and possibly the personal sacrifice and frustrations that must lie behind some of the achievements that have contributed to the good life and above all, to realise that whatever the Government now says about its accepting the fact that it does not have the people's regard as long as it has their respect, it needs and wants both.

The Great Affective Divide is an incongruity, to say the least, at a time of phenomenal achievement and intense awareness of the need for a national identity. If openness and tolerance are to be the new temper of the times, they must, first and foremost, address this problem, a definite thorn in the side of the body politic

7:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok 12 years ago, catherine writes a "serious and well articulated" piece, no humour, no saracsam -- kena slammed. 12 years later mr brown writes a funny witty piece -- kena slammed


like dat write what? say what? how to write?

KNN -- I wish to puke in the face of bhavani and the rest of Sg Govt. This kind of oppression is incredible!

8:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is not exactly correct for you to say that Sinkapore did not make any progress over the last decade.

After all, the rich and elite did progress over the years toward the swiss standard of living, only us peasants are supposed to stay behind and compete with China and India. Didn’t our first world world class President just get his pay increment? I am sure he got no problem with all the rising in cost of living and he don’t even need to touch his progress package.

I believe this is why the MIW is so buay song with Mr Brown. He only highlighted how we the peasants are struggling, but then why would the noble want to read about the swines in the mud? So Mr Brown should actually show us how the noble had progress over the years and living in first world world class swiss standard of living and how their income had been going up and up, rather than trying to distort the true with humor on how we peasants are getting poorer and struggling with hardship. Not to mention that is bad for Sinkapore 4 million smiling face image they are preparing to show the visiting Ang Mo, don't you agree?

5:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


As a citizen of Singapore, I find it appalling that someone who writes for a newspaper can hide behind a peudonym. When, this happens, the writer throws all sense of responsibility out of the window. He can then use the newspaper to influence the masses in a negative manner.

What we need in newspapers are credible journalists who know what their roles are supposed to be. They should report the facts which are backed up by proper research and not be engaged in just "venting" or "ranting". This is irresponsible and unconstructive behavior.

Mr Brown's article in TODAY reflects a biased article and should not be allowed in an environment where we speak and report truth in a responsible manner.

Imagine what will happen if readers are unfluenced by his pessimism and cynical views. Our country will end up with a population of cynics that will only know how to criticise and not be able to contribute to the greater good of Singapore.

I sincerely hope that TODAY will reconsider the terms of Mr Brown's employment. These are views that should be confined to the coffeeshops and not be allowed free air-time across the whole of Singapore.

lionel de souza

9:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bloggers, please take note that the government wants only praises and not criticisms.We will slam you if you do not listen to us.

10:17 PM  
Blogger redbean said...

maybe you are all over reacting. and i think hsien loong will invite mr brown to his national rally. and he will call out mr brown to be recognised and there will be a big applause.

this is what hsien loong has been preaching and doing all the time. he invites singaporeans to speak their minds and all views will be accepted, even those who don't agree with the govt.

this is a new singapore, an inclusive society, with more freedom of speech, and every singaporean counts.

bhavani may have just undermined hsien loong's open and inclusive society concept. maybe it is an honest mistake on her part.

i also post at

11:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This would not have happen if PAP did not politicise everything deem to their advantage.

PAP should not politicise the media.

I mean it is like PAP have politicise everything including NDP.

But why the need to politicise?

Is controlling Singaporeans right down to the bone that important and advantageous to PAP? Nothing more is important to them?

This would not have happen if the media was not politicise. The determination by PAP to control all things is scary.

They want to control but refuse to be responsible or apologetic when things go wrong is even scarier.

All we ordinary people can do is vote Opposition in every election even if the Opposition loses. I cannot think of any other way to make PAP eat humble pie.

Then no one would have the need to feel fear,tension and paranoid in their own homeland.

PAP has to be Opposition for some time for Singapore's culture and climate to change, that is the only way.

My vote is nothing but many votes is something.Please do not forget today's lesson even if PAP loosen control come GE 2011.

5:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess only PAP is right and citizens are wrong in these KIND of situation. These KIND of situation have repeated many times over the years.

What is more scarier is that PAP took the most popular blogger in Singapore to put on chopping block and use it to show as an example to everyone who wants to blog about politics. (Kai Dao: Open Knife)

It is a very good political move by PAP.It has increased the fear factor by many notches. We are back to the 70s & 80s again.

Most probably after this episode, there will be less activity on political blogs and Singaporeans will be apathetic again which PAP always 'advocates'.

Maybe Mr Brown might even fizzle out.

5:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please suspend all the Pro PAP Journalists as well for being partisan and politicised.

There are train loads of them. Everyday churning out Pro PAP news until like PAP is God.

Paint Opposition like demons.

Please be fair in implementing laws(if any) and policy.

I can name some for you: Chua sisters, Loh Chee Kong, Aaron Low, Nicholas Fang etc.

Please suspend all of them as well.

9:31 PM  

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