Tuesday, November 21, 2006


To continue the vulgarisation of the notion of welfarism, the Singapore media highlighted a few forum letters from new Singaporeans who have experienced the "crush" of funding a welfare state. A letter by a former Finn has earned the ridicule of Singapore cyberspace. Other than criticisms directed at his foreigner status and hence, not obliged to NS liabilities, some netters probably googled his name and found that he was previously involved in an assault case against a neighbour. Apparently, his neighbour's golden retriever rushed to attack his dog and the ensuing spat resulted in the retriever being kicked and the female owner being punched in the eye. He was found guilty of causing hurt and fined $1,000.

There are more interesting google bytes of this Finn. It appears that he is no stranger to publicity and controversy other than the dog case. His name has even made the rounds in local cyberspace as actually a "hero", ironically. In a TODAY report, he was in the news because he rejected the Depart of Statistics request for him to participate in the General Household Survey. Subsequently, he was served with a warning of a possible fine of $1,000 if he failed to cooperate. The article went on to report that following his refusal, DOS staff actually knocked at his door late at night. Causing him lack of sleep. An allusion of course, to those Gestapo/KGB visit at night syndrome. In the report, the Finn goes on to defend his right to privacy and his right to decline taking part in the survey; citing the culture of Finland in his defence. As balance, he reiterates his love for Singapore on the usual cliches of it being safe and secure. This case was posted in several blogs, including Singabloodypore.

And then as you scroll down the Google list, there is a forum letter to TODAY by the same name. In the letter, the Finn actually complains about the exorbitant and arbitrary charges by a private clinic along Orchard Road for the removal of moles from his scalp. It is a a well-penned rant. Perhaps it is this experience more than any that shapes his perception of the general standard of Government healthcare in Changi hospital. Of affordable healthcare. Perhaps it was this experience which made him foreswear private clinics and opt for the cheaper hospitals.

It is really hard to imagine this Finn. His relics in cyberspace paint a strange picture. There is something uncanny about this individual. He loves Singapore, citing that its a very "safe country", but alludes to the sinister Government knocking on your door after ten syndrome. He whinges about being over-charged at a private clinic for a cosmetic procedure. He reacts violently to a neighbour over a rushing dog. He resorts to fistcuffs after probably, a heated argument with the lady. He is strangely like an Ugly Singaporean. Except that he is Finn.

But right at this juncture, based on this latest letter, it appears that he still chooses Singapore. He loves Singapore and the vaunted Singapore system. He is willing to forego some rights, some aspects of privacy. Just so to escape the "crushing taxes" in Finland. In the end, he hails : "Long Live the Singaporean Model".

And you realise that even as he comes from Finland, he shares that intrinsic value inculcated into so many Singaporeans. That value which David Marshall so despised. That worship of the Golden Calf. The eating of rice bowls full and brimming with jade chopsticks. It is money, money, money. It becomes clearer now. He is Finn but he is as Singaporean too. He buys into this system. This system of material wealth. It is a system which guards the selfish. Ask the cukongs from Indonesia. They were the first foreign talent to recognise this safe haven of money.

There are some who always tell me. Face reality. Prices will always rise. There is a global economy. I have no quarrel with that. I am not asking for North Korea. I am asking simply this. If you raise prices because you want to help the poor; than help the poor. In ways that can be seen, that can be felt. There must be change as obvious as raised prices. Its that simple.

Quote of the Day ---

"I have slain old Wainamoinen,
Slain the son of Kalevala,
That he now may plow the ocean,
That he now may sweep the waters,
On the billows rock and slumber.
In the salt-sea plunged he headlong,
In the deep sank the magician,
Sidewise turned he to the sea-shore
On his back to rock forever,
Thus the boundless sea to travel,
Thus to ride the rolling billows."

-- Kalevala, compiled by Elias Lönnrot

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Killing You Softly

There is something seriously wrong in Singapore. We have Ministers who are justifying the proposed GST hike with utterly pathetic reasons. The following headline from CNA sums it up :

Proposed GST rise helps lower-income group and grows economy

This is a line that screams contradiction. When GST rises, everything in Singapore rises. Your kopi-o will go up by ten or twenty cents. Your chicken rice goes up by fifty cents. Your groceries which are already bought on the cheap at Sheng Siong will go up. Public transport companies are already raising fares. In short, the cost of living in Singapore will go up. Oh, but we are not suppose to talk about rising costs of living according to MICA. It costs you your job if you write about this. Unless you are responsible and have a solution. So this is the solution. Raise GST to help Singaporeans who are affected by rising costs of living. So this is the great solution which citizens cannot come up with. And in truth it is a staggering solution. How can mere mortals come up with a solution to help Singaporeans hit by rising costs by raising a general consumption tax?

Lets not be sarcastic, nor do we make fun of this solution. Lets just say that this solution screws the lower income group. It does not help them at all. The truthful headline should be that the proposed GST hike hopes to stimulate the economy and then, hopefully help the lower income group. That is approximating the truth of the situation. There is no guarantee the lower-income group will be helped, but through the spin-offs of the fare hike, benefits will trickle to the lower income. However, going by the track record of a failed "many hands approach" and the continued vulgarisation of the word "welfare", the GST hike will most likely not help the lower income group. It screws them again.

The reasoning is that costs of living goes up but this increase will be offset by packages and more jobs, lower personal taxes etc. But very simply put, the Government is raising prices first, which the citizens bear the brunt in the short-term and forever-term, which are then returned to the citizens in the longer-term. Hopefully the returns will be greater. But it just does not make sense. Especially for the lower income group where the short term is the only term. Thye may not even make it to the long term where the supposed benefits of this GST hike will materialise. And even if materialised, the benefits may be in sectors of the economy or sectors of society which the lower income are not in.

But the benefits will be manifest. We can bet on it. The benefits of this GST hike will be magically manifest in 2010 or 2011. A couple of months or weeks before the GE. Suddenly, the State will give their hand-outs. Promise is fulfilled. To help all Singaporeans. When its just a sweetener to buy votes. And singaporeans will then forget that they funded their own GE progress package through acceptance of these hikes.
Raising the cost of living will help the lower income group. It is ridiculous, this reasoning. On the same page, we have NTUC Fairprice promising to help low wage workers by cushioning the impact of the GST hike.

NTUC promises help for low-wage workers to cushion proposed GST hike

On the one hand, the GST hike is supposed to help the lower income. But at the same breath, we are told by our trusted media that there will be help to cushion the impact of the GST hike. But the hike is suppose to help? We are used to such ScrewSpeak. Innured to such contradictions. We just accept these. And our politicians get away with this.

Quote of the Day --

"He was a spry, suave and very precise general who knew the circumference of the equator and always wrote 'enhanced' when he meant 'increased.'" -- Joseph Heller Catch-22

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Soothing Brute

The stoic Singaporean is valued by the State. That strong, suffering Singaporean who looks at injustice and lives through it, abiding by his own principles of self-determination, of personal perseverance. He looks askance at the complexities of the environment in front of him. He forges through the environment. That stoic Singaporean. Even when he fails, he picks himself up, complains to none, and presses forward. Never questioning the without. Only believing that his failings are from within. It is his fault. That stoic Singaporean.

Unlike the sayers of sooth, the stoic Singaporean never foretells the sooths of the future. He deals only with the sooths of now. It is more practical, more realistic to focus on your immediate needs. Let those who can vision worry about the future. The stoic Singaporean never complains. He accepts the environment as it is. He seeks solutions from the available options as presented in front of him. There is no need to hope for, to wish for something when it is not there. The stoic Singaporean does not waste energies there. He sees changes in the environment and he adjusts to them. He asks for nothing from no one. He seeks no favours. He is self sufficient. That stoic Singaporean.

He does not foretell. That stoic Singaporean. But he knows things. He knows for example, that after the GE, prices for everything will go up. He knows too that the State will never lift its hand to take a dominant role in the provision of welfare to its citizens. He knows that the 2% GST increase, ostensibly to help the needy, is a sham. Simply because three days previous, the State just reiterated that the failed approach to helping the needy will not change even though it is failed. He knows things. He can see sooth. But he utters nothing. That stoic Singaporean. Because he accepts his place. In society. He looks only at what is in front of him. If it is too expensive to take a feeder bus, he walks. If it is too expensive to eat in a restaurant, he eats in a coffeeshop. If it is too expensive to buy smokes, he rolls his own cigarette. If it is too expensive to buy foodstuffs, he does not marry. If married, do not have children. If it is too expensive to live, than die. That stoic Singaporean.

From cradle to grave, that stoic Singaporean takes what is given and gives back what he can give. He asks no questions. He reacts according to what the environment presents to him. Life is life. It is neither good nor bad. There are good times and there are bad. That stoic Singaporean. He takes it all. All the cards that are dealt him. He asks for nothing and utters not. Ridiculed by the children of those he put in power. Betrayed by those he put in power. He accepts these stabs without wavering. He works on and on. That stoic Singaporean. He is educated than he works than he retires and then, he dies. He lives his life and he adjusts to changes. He asks not for changes. He reacts. If there are foreigners, he competes. If he fails, he fails. If he is asked to re-train, he retrains.

That stoic Singaporean. He performs his role. He sees not the vision. He sees not his place in the cogwheel of the great Singapore Masterplan, the Singapore Dream. But he does not want to see that vision. Because he sees only what is ahead of him. He works so to be able to live. Driven only to live and not to dream. That stoic Singaporean. So valuable to the State. The priceless citizen. The great Singaporean Worker.

That stoic Singaporean. His life cut constantly, cut infinimestially. Just enough to breathe, just enough to live. Bleeding but never dried. Breaking but never broken. That priceless stoic Singaporean. Living to live and dying without a dream.

Quotes of the Day --

""O Crito, if it thus pleases the gods, thus let it be." -- Epictetus

"No, not by silence, but by being softer than a feather. Nore fragile than an egg ... This will be a different kind of war. Long and arduous. And for weapons we will use stubborn patience and infinite weakness. They will not be able to bear it." -- David Grossman, The Smile of the Lamb

Friday, November 10, 2006

On Babble

And so there is a lull. Catching up on movies and some books. There is a movie called "Babel" by Alejandro González Inárritu, its probably not showing in singapore yet. Its a multiple narrative, non linear film in the tradition of Traffic, 21 Grams and last year's Academy Best Picture Crash. Its a style favoured too by Wong Kar Wai, most notably in Ashes of time and 2046.

Babel is an intense movie. The title is an allusion to the Genesis story of the Tower of Babel; a mythic tower supposedly built during a time when humanity was unified by a common language after the Flood. Tired to be beholden upon God's grace to enter Heaven, these humans embarked on the grand construction project of the Tower to ascend Heaven without judgement from God. To stop these arrogant and ambitious humans, God confused the builders by creating a multiplicity of languages. The builders could not understand one another and the Tower collapsed. The builders were dispersed across the world. Humanity never to be united again.

The movie has three stories. They are set in Morocco, Mexico and Japan. The characters speak a myriad of languages. As with Inárritu's previous films, there is a relentless bleakness in this story. A fatalism that pervades throughout, a helplessness of humans in the face of larger forces, of Fate. If there is one common language in this film, it is the grief of the characters. In the end, the stories end with tears as stated in the NYT review of the movie. That seems to be the common language, the emotions which are intensely amplified by several powerful scenes, powerful close-ups. The isomorphosis between the diverse characters is grief, they share grief. Perhaps the Japanese character, a deaf girl, symbolises the only way to understand the language of humanity. But as she understands, so too is she cut off from society because she is deaf. As she understands, no one understands her.

Babel is etymologized with the Hebrew word "balal" which means to confound or confuse. The art of Babel is well practised in Singapore, especially in application to politics, or issues which have political resonance. For example, the respected MM, Molly Meek, recently dissected the myth of the P65 MPs with absolute clarity. No matter how the media tries to portray these MPs as different, as promising a more diverse, a more differentiated Parliament, they are fundamentally still PAP and governed by the Whip. Babel. In the building of Casinos in Singapore, semantic displacement was artfully practised. Casino is replaced with IR. All the three proposals for the Sentosa casino, as reported in the public media, makes little if no reference to the casino itself. A child born today would not know that all the three exciting proposals have in their hearts, a casino. Babel. The sweeping legislative changes to the Penal Code to make the laws more relevant, more in line with current reality. But like another language, it becomes Babel. The cleansing of TODAY, moving it towards a new direction. Babel.

But occasionally, a common Singapore language surfaces in the political landscape. During the NKF scandal, it was outrage. A common language of anger and outrage. In the recent MRT suicide of a desperate Singaporean, there was a common language of sympathy, of shock. In the WSM issue, there was a common language of anger, indignation and outrage. Despite the attempt at Babel by WSM and her father, the common language of Singaporeans shone through clearly, refusing to be confounded, to be confused. Sometimes, when Singaporeans articulate in a common language, there are positive effects even if it is limited. PAP MP Sim Boon Ann's opening Parliament speech is an example. That is some form of differentiation, to his credit. Even though he is not seen as a P65. Its a welcome riposte to the attempt by his party to manufacture a common language and build a state-sanctioned Tower of Babel for Singapore, a Tower which has some commonalities to the biblical story.

A common language in Singapore remains mostly elusive though; usually an anomaly rather than a norm. Without which we cannot build a tower to reach those ensconced above who are building the Tower of Babel. Instead, we are confounded and confused most of the time. And we lose the determination of our selves. And we end up as helpless citizens in the face of larger forces. And the promising share in emotions of disenchantment and disillusion to be dispersed across the world. Victims of balal, fragments of Babel.

Quote of the Day --

""Lo! [they are] one people, and they all have one language, and this is what they have commenced to do. Now, will it not be withheld from them, all that they have planned to do? Come, let us descend and confuse their language, so that one will not understand the language of his companion". And the Lord scattered them from there upon the face of the entire earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore, He named it Babel, for there the Lord confused the language of the entire earth, and from there the Lord scattered them upon the face of the entire earth." -- Genesis 11:1-9

Friday, November 03, 2006

That Last Tyger

This is a story of Hurricane Harry. Hurricane Harry O'Brien is his name. Not much is known of this mysterious adventurer. From his name, we can guess he must have some Irish blood somewhere along the family tree. Hurricane was born in Singapore in 1900, born no less in the semi-majestic Raffles Hotel.

It is a story by itself. His birth. They say that when he was born, a tiger snatched him away. Right from the crib. This was the last tiger in Singapore. His snatching caused an uproar in the Enlgish community. Savage savage nature. A posse of hunters was gathered in the Palm Court of Raffles Hotel. That very stormy night. with their wyatt Earp-ish moustaches, eyes glinting with anticipation at the hunt, double barreled guns gleaming in the faint electric lights of Raffles Hotel. Bets were traded. Who would bring back this tiger's skin.

The hunt could begin only when the local convicts had been escorted to the Raffles from their cells. A tiger hunt was an elaborate affair. There were equipment to be hauled, torches to be lit, trails to be tracked, defending of the hunters to be done. And cheap labour, in the form of native criminals and convicts, was provided by the prison warders. It was a good way to ease the over-crowded prisons. You sent 25 convicts and sometimes only 5 returned. All for a good cause.

Once the hunt began, the hunters and their guides swarmed into the steamy jungles of Singapore's heartland. They fired several shots and found dead mousedeer, a wild boar and the occasional collateral damage, typical of such hunts.

But elusive still was the tiger. Try as they might, the tiger was never seen, not even glimpsed fleetingly. The tiger's presence was there though. Without doubt. In the hunters' minds, they could feel the tiger everywhere. Behind the clump of bushes. Hiding behind the rainforest. Threatening them always. But what they had were only half prints in the mud, An occasional pile of excreta. But still the hunters persisted. It was a question of pride after all. And perhaps also that there was not much other things for them to do anyway. The plantations were well-run. There was an ample supply of cheap coolie labour.

The hunt went on. And on. Some of the hunters succumbed to typical tropical diseases. Malaria, typhoid, dysentery, the likes. Others got lost in the fetid jungles. But as one hunter succumbed, there were others who took up the cause. The prize was the tiger. It was the last tiger in Singapore. The last threat. The final solution to safe Singapore. So the hunt went on, and on.

The last tiger was found and killed in the western jungles of Singapore. A place they call Choa Chu Kang. Some say the old tiger died before the bullet pierced its worn skin. Too exhausted and too hungry to escape. The tiger just laid down and died as the guides surrounded it. But the hunter still had to shoot. Just to make sure. This was some time in 1930. Singapore was finally free from the scourge of tigers.

The weary hunters made their way to Raffles Hotel. To claim their prize. But to their horror, they were told the last tiger in Singapore was slain in 1902. Right at the Bar and Billiards Room. The tiger was crouching under a table. Ready to pounce when an Englishman snatched one of the ornamental rifles and blasted the tiger into oblivion.

Some say that this is a false story. what really happened was that a drunk Englishman, on exiting the Bar, saw a civet cat in the lush garden of the Raffles. And mistaking it for the fearsome tiger of lore, he drew his handgun and killed the poor civet cat. The Englishman who was really a professional hunter in Malaya, what we commonly call as poachers in current parlance, quickly thought up a scam. Replace the civet cat with a tiger. He had some ready carcasses anyway. And so, with the connivance of the Raffles staff, they "killed the last tiger" in Singapore and claimed the reward money.

Ah! Imagine the injustice felt by those true hunters. They who spent almost their entire lives pursuing the real tiger. But some of the wiser hunters thought that after all, it was really the thrill and spectacle of the hunt that mattered. And so ends this story of the hunt for the last tiger in Singapore.

Quote of the Day --

"In the midst of this entomological banquet there is, however, one drawback--a sword suspended by a hair over the head of the unfortunate flycatcher: it is the possibility of being eaten up by a tiger! While watching with eager eyes some lovely insect, the thought will occasionally occur that a hungry tiger may be lurking in that dense jungle immediately behind intent upon catching you. Hundreds of Chinamen are annually devoured. Pitfalls are made for the animals all over the country; and in one of them, within two miles of our house, a tiger was captured a short time before my arrival. Only last night a party of Chinamen, going home to their plantation, turned back afraid, having heard the roaring of a tiger in the path. These are unpleasant reminders of the proximity of a deadly foe; and though perhaps the absolute danger is little enough, as the tiger is a great coward and will not attack unless he can do it unawares, yet it is better to have the mind quite free from any such apprehensions." -- Alfred Russel Wallace, Letter from Singapore, 1854