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


Anonymous robbie said...

marvelous writing and marvelous blog!

6:36 AM  
Anonymous Layman said...

Exactly the thing I was searching for about the situation here. The common language can be used to displace the strongest, that is why multiple languages are created by design to never let the common language exists in the first place.

7:41 AM  
Blogger *The Lunatic Fringe* said...

Another insightful and incisive commentary on the tragi-comic circumstances that we call "Uniquely Singapore".

The MIW's strategy is to divide and conquer. To allow Singaporeans to dictate the political conversations is to allow us to think, there IS an alternative to the MIW. Hence, the MIW uses fear, uncertainty and doubt to continue to monopolise the political conversations from ruled to rulers, from non-elites to elites , from have-nots to haves.

Singaporeans need to unite under a common language, i.e. we want a Singaporean Singapore, not a MIW Singapore not a Singapore LEEgime and certaintly not a disguised dictatorship under tyranny of the E*LEE*T.

Lunatic Fringe
"Living in a tragi-comedy that is Uniquely Singapore!"

7:53 AM  
Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

I just love Inarritu's movies, but they make me so depressed! .. I'm gonna see Babel Sunday, and I can't wait

1:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Part III

See also All in the LEE Family

Lee Kuan Yew claims that he is incorruptible and has - successfully - sold this notion to many throughout the world. On the other hand Singaporeans who know better dispute this claim. Let us take a closer look at the facts behind Lee's boast.

Lee Kuan Yew & Sons
If this heading sounds more like the name of a company, that's because it is. Singapore is still run by Lee Senior. Yes, he has given up the post of Prime Minister and Secretary-General of the People's Action Party. But there is still one post that he has not relinquished - Chairman of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GSIC) which manages the country's financial reserves of more than $60 billion. Lee knows that in the island republic, money is power and Goh Chok Tong can have all the titles he wants. Lee still calls the shots. He once told reporters that if he senses that things are not right, he would send a note "down" to the Prime Minister.

With his power, Lee knows that he can manipulate the system and push his sons up to positions of power. Hsien Loong, Lee's older son, miraculously (but meritocratically, insists the senior minister) became a Brigadier-General in the army by the age of 38. Fellow cadets who had attended officer training with him reported that Hsien Loong couldn't even pass his marksmanship test. Then there is the second son, Hsien Yang, who is also this incredibly competent soldier to attain the rank of Brigadier-General while in his thirties. Both have no combat experience.

Hsien Loong, according to the PAP, was so brilliant that he left the army to become Deputy Prime Minister and will soon be Prime Minister. Hsien Yang was also so bright that he also left military service to become the head of the biggest and most lucrative Government-run company, Singapore Telecoms.

Lee genes
Of course, all this intelligence had to come from somewhere. Mother Kwa Geok Choo was apparently responsible for all this. She was so clever that she built up Lee & Lee into one of the biggest law firms in Singapore - never mind the fact that all conveyancing work of the government-owned Housing and Development Board flats were channelled to her firm. Today, she reportedly holds major shares in companies such as Wing Tai, a property development conglomerate, and TIBS, a bus company. Information about how extensive the business arm of the Lee family reaches remains a highly guarded government secret.

Even daughter-in-law Ho Ching is so smart that she now holds the top positions in Singapore Technologies (ST), a major industrial holding company, and the all-powerful Economic Development Board. A few years back she suddenly resigned from ST. One month later, she waltzed back in. No one, least of all the subservient local media dared ask why. It was rumoured that she had differences with a former government minister who was also involved in the company. Even when Micropolis, a computer company run by ST failed, costing Singaporeans S$600 million Ho Ching was never made to account.

How about Lee's siblings? Lee Suan Yew was recently caught with his pants down over the HPL saga (see other story). He was not investigated over the matter even though that was clearly a breach of regulations under the law. Unbelievably, he was subsequently appointed Justice of the Peace! Another brother, Freddy, quit the police force under clouds of suspicion that he was involved in an illegal chap-ji-kee (gambling) racket. He is now the chairman of Vickers Ballas, one of Singapore's biggest brokerage firms. The firm suffered enormous losses in 1998 due to the stock market crash. It was quietly rescued by another brokerage firm belonging to the Government-owned Singapore Technologies. Another Lee brother was given a banking licence to start Tat Lee Bank when other more qualified institutions were denied the opportunity. Recently when Tat Lee went bust due to heavy loan exposure in the Indonesia market, the state-owned Keppel Bank came to the rescue to bail the Lee-owned bank. It was a very astute merger, the Government claimed. Corruption by any other name reeks just as foul.

Meritocracy through nepotism
Do Singaporeans know about all this? If they do, why aren't they speaking up? As in all dictatorships, to speak up and challenge the powers that be would attract so much scorn from the dictator that people prefer to keep quiet - at least for now. If one were to so much whisper "Corruption!" by the Lee family, defamation suits come raining down. With a judiciary that has Lee's intimidating face firmly etched in its mind whenever it delivers judgments, verdicts are predictable.

But as with all dictatorships, the time will come when the dirt will surface and the truth is revealed. Perhaps then, Singaporeans will be able to see for themselves how much the Lee family's achievement is due to competence and how much to corruption and nepotism.

By S Chua (pseudonym)

4:16 PM  
Anonymous Rowen said...

Dear Xeno

My idea of Babel are towers to unite the people for a common goal to reach for an ideal in a unified manner and making everyone understand everyone else forcefully.

Mr Bill Gates Tried to build his tower of Babel, to create a common computer language for all to use. His attempt fail, (by God's hand? by people's conscience?) everyone will come up with something to topple his tower. Linux, Java, Apple computers.

Mr Stalin of Soviet Union, tries his babel with his communist teachings and his control of his people, but the nation did not last a century.

Mr Chen shiuh Bian, in his attempt to build his Babel tower, to unite the taiwanese people into a nation which is independent of China. Fails as there is no common language between himself and the people and his moral values and corruption ridden family did not help much too.

The first emperor of Qin dynasty of China, Qin Shi Huang, tried building his tower of Babel fails even after he united all written china, after his death and the collapse of his dynasty.

Adolf Hilter tries his Babel to rid the world of all other races other then his master race. Fails as the other nations rise against his demonry.

Mr Lee is trying to build his tower.
An example
His vision of graduate father and graduate mother will come out with a good, defect free, graduate son, failed with the result of his first grandson.

It is a signal that there is force greater than he which exists in the world……

How long will our Singapore attempt at building a tower of Babel last?

Will our country be split by differences in values, in classes, in race?

Will it become another desolved Soviet union?

As you have said, there are cracks in the foundations of the tower of Babel known as Singapore.

Just my 2 cents worth.

5:35 PM  
Blogger Robert HO said...

Dear All Commenters,

My blog [url above] is documentary proof that LKY rigged the 1997 Cheng San GRC election. It is important reading. How to publicise it as widely as possible? I only have 160 page views so far.

These documentary proofs explain many things, in particular why Cheng San GRC DISAPPEARED FROM THE ELECTORAL MAP AFTER 1997. LKY lost Cheng San and could not afford to contest Cheng San ever again.

Robert HO

5:35 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home