PM’s National Day Rally

Political films, political material during election and outdoor demonstrations

These are the three main thrusts of his speech aimed at liberalising the political sphere here.
The second and third items are not anything new. He has hinted at these before and yesterday’s annoucements were but elaborations.

a) Political films to be allowed – but safeguards will remain. His exact words were

“Some things are obviously alright – factual footage, documentaries, recordings of live events…. If you make a political commercial so that it’s purely made-up material, partisan stuff, footage distorted to create a slanted impression, I think those should still be off limits… Just as we deal with it for non-political films, we have censorship, we have classification standards. It depends on subjective judgment but we’ve worked out a workable system, a panel applies their minds, they make a judgment”. (Bolded for emphasis)

Clearly, that is where his OB markers are. “Factual footage, documentaries, recordings of live events.” In other words, if you whip our your camera and tape something happening right in front of you and upload it to YouTube or produce a DVD, you’re safe. This is assuming you do not edit it or put “footage distorted to create a slanted impression.” This is obviously fraught with problems – what is distorted footage, or slanted impression. He is clearly referring to videos like the one which had Obama morphing into Osama and Mccain endorsing his right-wing pastor.

Obviously, someone has to make the call to judge what is permissible and what is not. So far, it has been civil servants. As Alex Au pointed out, most laws are left to lawyers to interpret. The Films Act gives civil servants the power to interpret; not the most objective legal system around.

This is where I think the PM is hinting at a slightly different system, or so I hope. He alluded to the Films Classification system. Correct me if I am wrong but civil servants currently sit on the censorship board. If a filmmaker or distributor is unhappy with the ratings, they can go to an appeals board, made up of private citizens. This panel abitrates on the film.

Is PM hinting that political films will likewise go through the same process? That what is judged political be left to a panel? Possibly. If so, it too is fraught with problems and does not escape the key argument raised by liberals – such laws are practically unenforceable. The latest viral video on Hitler and ERP is such a film. Clearly political and very funny and satirical. Who uploaded it? Nobody knows. Can we catch them? Probably not. But it sure made an impact and it was *gasp* an emotional one too. It made me laugh and expressed exactly how I feel sometimes at the ERP system.

b) Political rules during election to be eased

Podcasts/vodcasts – I suppose this will be added to the positive list. Nothing new. In fact, it is still the same. Instead of saying what cannot be allowed, it is still “we give you a short list of what can be allowed. The rest can’t.” This is actually a better way of controlling than vice-versa but in the wild wild west of the Web, it makes no sense. Podcasts – okay but what about social networking sites? Can they be used in elections? They too offer podcasts and videocasts. In this, does this mean that the medium of audio and film is allowed but not the platform? As PM himself pointed out, a cyber-year is 7 years in real life. Things move so fast that his rules now will seem outdated by next GE.

To be fair, government has always moved slower than society. And rightly so. But in this, it just doesn’t make sense.

c) Demonstrations at Hong Lim

I was most intrigued by this actually. On paper, it looks interesting. No police registration but NParks. But like his pronoucement a couple of years ago about allowing discussions indoor on anything but race and religion, this too need to be treated with some caution.

There will certainly be restrictions on who and how many can participate in the demonstrations. I think they know that from the past few years with SDP moving to “civil disobedience” they had to react. They cannot continue arresting people. Much like talking cock, this will certainly become a zoo. A few select individuals are allowed to exhibit resistance but in a controlled environment. “Being subject to public order conditions,” gives the government a great amount of room to play their cards. They probably wouldn’t object to harmless people like Ng E-Jay making a stand and complaining…but the moment the Chee gang steps in, the police will move in.

So what has changed?

In substance, nothing much. But, I refuse to be a cynic, much like others in cyberspace. I actually think PM does want to move forward. But he is being held back by a conservative Cabinet. These rules are in place to check SDP really. I would think that if say a normal dude goes onto demonstrate, they will certainly have no problems doing so. Is this progress. Yes. Undeniably. But is it enough. No. Unfortunately.
I await to see the details of his proposals

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Sports and the soul of competition

You look into the eye of your rival, he stares right back. With a quivering hand and a slight twist of your wrist, you serve. He steps back and unleashes a volley, which you parry. He smashes it back but it goes out. Point, to you. You win, he loses.

At the heart of every sport is competition. It is that will to win, to triumph over your rivals, to best them in the sporting arena that drives one to compete at the highest levels. Forget that rubbish about beating yourself; you had to master yourself if you wanted to beat your competitors. How could you face them, if you knew you weren’t fully prepared?

No, it is that urge to smash that ball down the table or court, to volley the football into the net, to power down the 100m lane into the first position. Top dog. Numero Uno.

That is why the greatest nations have always put an emphasis on sport. The smartest rulers understood this basic need for competition. Xenophon, who some say invented beauracracy, observed, whether factually or through fiction, how Cyrus the conqueror made it a point to always exhaust his soldiers when they weren’t on the battlefield. Whether it was a gladitorial bout or a simple sport of running and throwing, it was always a priority to keep soldiers occupied and fighting their own battles against each other while on the march.

And that is why in peacetimes, sports like the Olympics are greatly celebrated. It is the event to mark the greatest human beings on earth when it comes to physical and mental toughness. And it is no wonder why it is so prophetic to see China dominating in this Olympics. Forget the conspiracy theories of judges cheating or atheletes taking drugs. Those who have watched the Chinese compete know that they are deserved winners.

This is their Olympics and it marks the asendency of the one true Asian dragon. It is sad to see the US fade away; but a new world order is upon us and the 2008 Olympics is just the dawn of that new era.

Jiayou Jiawei!

I’m seated with my laptop in front of the computer watching the semi-finals of the table tennis competition in the Beijing Olympics. In fact, these past two weeks, I have been gorging myself on the Olympics. I can watch any sport they put on TV; shot-putt, tennis, diving, gymnastics, weight-lifting, fencing. Name it, I’ll watch it. I’ll even spend 2 hours watching the shooting competition.

Right now, Li Jiawei and Wang Yue Gu are leading the South Koreans 2-0 in the first doubles of the tie. Jiawei just lost heart-achingly in the second singles to Park and she has to bounce back to win the doubles in order to have a chance of moving into the finals against China. If Sg wins this, we will be guaranteed a silver, if not gold – our first medal in since Tang Liang Hong’s much celebrated and over-nostalgic silver in the 1968 Olympics. I will be updating this entry as the results come in.

UPDATE: Jiawei and Yue Gu have won the first doubles. Yue Gu is up next. If she wins, we go through!!

UPDATE: Yue Gu was down 9-1 in the first set, fought back to 9-8 before losing, 11-8. Amazing stuff!

UPDATE: WE ARE IN THE FINAL! WATCH OUT CHINA, WE ARE GUNNING FOR GOLD fo sho

Internet deregulation seminar

I was at the Internet deregulation forum hosted by NTU as a curious onlooker. I tend to see this blog as a site for random ramblings, which sometimes get read. Maybe 3 people have read this blog? *shrugs* So I don’t really consider myself an active blogger the same way these people see themselves as. Maybe that’s why I see myself as looking outside in.

Anyhow, quite a bit has been said about it already in other blogs, over at Alex Au’s blog and at Gerald Giam’s blog too. If you want a gist of what happened there I suggest going there to read.

What did strike me about the seminar were two things.

First, the idea of self-regulation and a slightly more controversial about extending protection beyond racial and religious discrimination.

Self-regulation is not new in the Internet. In fact, it is acknowledged as one of the outstanding virtues of the Net. In many ways the Internet is like the Hobbesian idea of a dog-eat-dog, man-kill-man type of landscape. It is literally every man for himself, the individual at the centre of the universe, except that he is not alone. Men are NOT made equal. Some are biggers, faster, stronger than others. If it was everyone for himself, the biggest, fastest and strongest would beat the pulp out of everyone else. He would rule by sheer strength. But the catch is, even the Hulk has to sleep or turn back into Bruce Banner, and that’s when the smaller guys would stick a knife in his back.

The idea is simple: In a dystopian world without rules, chaos would ensue. No one would be safe and hence, to gain liberty one must put liberty at stake. That is when the idea of socities, polities, citites, kingdoms, states and nations was formed. There has to be a central power to ensure that the big guys don’t beat the pulp out of the smaller guys, and the smaller guys don’t sneak in to stab the big guy in the middle of the night. At the end of the day, all individuals throw down the guns to the floor and say, we all agree not to kill each other but to let someone else decide who needs to be killed to maintain stability and peace.

That was enforceable in real life. Geographical boundaries, physical weapons made it possible for a state to enforce laws that would ensure stability in a given piece of land.

The Net on the other hand has overturned this equation. It has brought the individual back into sharp focus. On the Web, there are only individuals, or individual computers acting within a larger network. This same self-serving nature is raised as a result, although not with the same effects as it would in real-life. No one dies, but many people get flamed, gamers get “ganged” on by other players, cheated, spam is sent en masse by bot farms..etc. Generally, there is a lot of bad stuff going on in the Net, which would not be condoned in real lif, but which real life police don’t act upon simply because it is virtual reality.

What then could be done? Forum creators appointed moderators to moderate forums to ensure that discussion threads are not offensive or disruptive to the theme being discussed. But this was not enough because moderators are not robots who are on 24/7. What usually happens is that forum members would end up policing the forums they frequent. For instance, in a game trading forum, if there was a guy trying to cheat others in the forum, members would flag the person to the moderators so that the cheat would be booted out of the forum.

Similiarly, in an MMORPG virtual world, it is not uncommon to see individuals coming together to defeat or beat off “bullies” who prey on newbie characters. Others would join guilds – a form of a Hobbesian state – to seek protection, among other things, and maybe even beat up newbie guild-less characters.

Yesterday, the group of “13”, as it were, tried to sell the idea of a IC3, Internet Citizen Consultative Committee (correct me if I am wrong) to act as the group that would regulate the Net, based on self-regulation. Their premise was simple: In the case of controversial issues, instead of sweeping it under the carpet and into the cupboard through strict regulation, relax the regulation and let’s talk. They based this on several principles, as far as I surmised:

1) People need to build social immunity – the idea that the more we keep silent the more sick we get when the next bout of “illness” hits us. So instead of putting us on antibiotics, let the body deal with it through its defence mechanisms. For instance, in the case of race and racial incitement, if something happens like the seditious bloggers of 2006, instead of sending them to jail, let the community deal with it and condemn such behaviour. That way, talking about it would spur further discussion and let Singaporeans know that racism is no accepted.

2) People can handle race and religious slurs without resorting to violence – I believe it was Arun who pointed this out. He noted that racial slurs are commonplace in private discussion. In other words, in the words of Avenue Q’s Kate Monster – all of us are a little bit racist, it’s true.

3) Sometimes, people just need to know that other people disavow such actions – It was a point raised by Cherian who wondered if those people who made police reports of the racist incidents really wanted the police to act or whether they just wanted to voice displeasure. Maybe there was no other mechanism and that people still generally looked to the government to act?

I agree with all these principles, but I wonder: What would other Singaporeans think? Bearing in mind that their proposal is to the government, I’m not sure they are, by any means, representative of the blogosphere, much less of the population of Singapore. I know of people who have very deep-seated racism within them, without even being aware of it. Many automatically think of Chinese as moneygrubbers, Malays as lazy and Indians as smelly and Eurasians as playboys. I suppose the next question to ask is no one really knows, so shouldn’t we talk about them? The question I would pose back is: What are the limits, if any? Can people hold a discussion without feeling wounded if their religion, race or sexuality is painted in a stereotype that maybe what was outlined earlier, or even in worse terms? Do we then ban these people from the conversation or do we include them because they are society and they deserve a place in the discussion?

Obviously, I don’t have the answers to these questions. But I sure hope the group of 13 has and that when they put their theories into action, we can see the results. In fact, I hope this IC3 can be formed as quickly as possible. You’d be amazed at some of the racist crap that’s being spewed online right now.

As for the second interesting thing, I think I’d save that for another post. Didn’t realise I’ve written a blooming essay! 😛

Char siew potato please

This is kinda old news but I couldn’t resist writing about it, in light of what UN has just released on food and worries over starving people. The UN said that if nothing was done to correct food shortage and prices, we could see 1 billion people starving by 2030.

Pretty dire.

We are seeing the effects here. Everything is getting more expensive. A plate of chicken rice costs at least $2.50 now. A meal out at Sakae cost on average $15 a person easily.

Of course we know the problem – rising oil prices, biofuels, subsidies dumped by Western countries on their farmers who then dump excess on 3rd world countries destroying the agricultural industry there, rising demand from affluent Chinese and Indians, inefficienct use of farming space etc.

So these things take time to correct. Some may not even be corrected. And the solution, at least in the short to medium term, is the humble potato.

There is even a UN website to mark this year as the year that human beings turn to the humblest of root vegetables for humankind salvation.

According to experts, the potato yields more bio-mass (the stuff that powers human beings), more nutrients per land area than any other staple, including rice, maize and corn. It is also the cheapest stuff that is on the market and is the easiest to produce of all staples.

So next time you go out to the auntie to buy chicken rice, ask for potatoes instead.

Horrors of civil service speak – SG style

Been a bit bored today because work’s hit a snag. So instead of producing stuff, I’ve actually been catching up on reading the material I’ve been gathering for my work. On top of that, I’ve also been reading stuff online.

One of the sites I visited was the e-government website for the Singapore government. Now before I umm comment, I would like to state for the record that I have many friends in the civil service. They are intelligent, sensitive and bright human beings who can laugh at themselves. But somehow, the bigger organisation does not seem to shine with the same intelligence as individuals who make up the organsation.

Now first, the website’s address is at http://www.igov.gov.sg. That must be in itself a warning that it isn’t going to be very original.

Being unoriginal is fine in my book. After all, everyone copies everyone else.

But horrors! The language. Every sentence I read was a knife that continually stabbed at my heart deeper and deeper. The red of its words were bleeding across my screen and my eyes.

“Our vision is to be an Integrated Government (iGov) that delights customers and connects citizens through the use of infocomm technology.”

How does the Government delight me with e-services? Can it make me a doughnut? Or read me a fairy tale? Maybe it can tickle me subtly with its horrendous language…

“To achieve an iGov, we have to hasten the reworking of backend processes that cut across agencies to strengthen customer-centricity in service delivery. Our next step will be shift the focus from front-end to backend integration, and to advance from integrating services to integrating Government.”

What is an iGovt? Integrated government? What is customer-centricity? It must be Singlish. And horrors!!! “Integration” “Integrating, integrating” In one sentence at that!

Oh and on the Chee vs Lee trial, my friend, who can only make bad jokes had this to say:

SDP got Gandhi, now got Cheesus. Wonder who they have next? Martin Luther King? Oh they got aung san suu CHEE also.

Politics and the courts – a sad day for all

When the courts become the last place where political debate can take place, the country has become a sad sad place.

Chee obviously has a right to pursue the topic through legal means. And in courts is where he gets his day; open trial, immunities, etc.

But to do so in the courts, where politics is supposed to stay out is lowering the standing of the courts. Of course, one can argue were the courts originally even clean of politics in the first place? That is not for me to answer. What I do not want to see is using the courts to hold political debates, as the reports very well show that it is.

Was Chee forced into this? That political openness can only be demonstrated in the courts? Maybe. Possibly. Probably. Would this have been better aired in an open debate outside of the courts. Definitely. Would it have even taken place? Unlikely

Questions and maybes. What is certain is that the courts have become poorer because of it.

Mas Selamat Part Deux

Okay I guess I blogged without really thinking about the issue. I’ve read the dozens of pages of reports and the followups in ST and I’ve followed some, not all, of the discussions on the blogosphere.

I think PM played a politically shrewd move. I had myself asked the question, should Mr Wong Can’t Sing resign? Of course, it was a question that was asked in passing, knowing full well that it would not happen. Did I want it to? Maybe not entirely and that is, I think, why Low Thia Khiang also hesitated when asked point blank by PM.

No, it was a shrewd move to focus entirely on the extreme measure of the sack and argue that its ridiculous, thereby deflecting the necessary need for censure.

The Online Citizen wrote that it wanted at least the offer of resignation. That it was not just the incompetence that let him out in the first place, but how it handled the entire situation. From the slow leaking of information, to the reluctance to acknowledge that it was at fault, to the opaqueness of the COI report and to its arrogance to the final end. And of course, that the PM himself has refused to censure his trusted DPM.

Therein lies the problem. A ahem confluence of factors has really created this cauldron of boiling sentiment. It’s not just Mas Selamat, who I think we have to thank for for the raising of such hackles, but everything else that is wrong with this government. It’s sitting in the clouds, insisting that it has the monopoly of information and wisdom by surrounding with people scoring 4 As. It refuses to open itself up to criticism, taking any jibe at its leaders as a personal affront to the PM. It is the hegemon, writhing and squirming against a rising tide of opposition, pushing back and ceding none except for a few steps.

By focusing on the sack and the ludicrousness of the suggestion, PM has done it again. What we, I at least, really want is to see someone being taken to task. Surely, a low level failure is connected to something higher. As a sergeant in the army, I am always always questioned if my men does something wrong, in camp or outfield. Even if its a minor thing, much less a major thing. If the squadmate, say, lets loose a spare round without being told to do so, it’s a major incident and everyone down the line from the CO will be questioned, interrogated and, if needed, censured. Where was this process of discipline? For a government which prides itself on integrity, this is sorely lacking.

So instead of calling for the sack, which everyone knows is not going to happen, let’s settle for something less. A demotion to Parliamentary Secretary. At that level, he is able to clean up the ISD’s act without having to worry about SDP’s antics on the road and maybe learn some humility in the process.

Singapore Idol: Mas Selamat

All’s been said has been said. Ridicule, sacarsm, shock, even calls for resignation.

All I want to say is incompetence deserves censure. What censure has there been?

One wonders

I was privileged to have attended a roundtable discussion on the Impact of ICT on the Malaysian Elections: Lessons for Singapore conducted the Institute of Policy Studies in NUS.

Of course, everyone in Singapore by now would have read about the great political tsunami in the recent Malaysian elections when the opposition, led by former Malaysian Deputy PM Anwar Ibrahim, toppled Barisan Nasional off their 2/3 majority in Parliament. Much had been said about the impact of the new media, when bloggers like Jeff Ooi actually made it to Parliament. Much had also been said about news websites such as Malaysiakini, Malaysia Today , the videos of Hindraf, VK Lingam, photos of the Bersih rally and Badawi sleeping and how they changed the way Malaysians received their news and thus formed their opinions

Today I got to hear these main actors first hand and I heard about their stories and what they experienced. It was inspiring. I mean, to be able to have real political competition, choice – that is something I’ve never had and hope fervently that I will.

I am not supposed to blog about the seminar because it was a closed-door session but suffice to say I just want to reflect upon the points raised in that seminar

Did Internet play a crucial role?

The feelings were mixed on this one. Internet definitely allowed voices to be heard where the mainstream press did not previously allow. It allowed ideas to float, issues to be surface: it set the agenda, an agenda that came from the bottom. Witness the Lingam video, Hindraf etc. It united people across the country, it gave a voice to the voiceless.

But is that enough? Probably not. The panelists all agreed that stepping out of cyberspace into the real world is what really mattered. That people were willing to get off the butts and off the keyboard to do what matters, mattered. So instead os just writing about MPs and wanting freedom of speech, they went out to encourage people, to empower them, to get them to walk the streets, to even be arrested.

Does an independent media make a difference?

Yes. Without Malaysiakini , without Raja Petra, would the people have known about what really went on? Would scandals have been exposed? Would there be enough to talk about? Given that MSM in Malaysia is controlled directly, owned by the political parties – a big fat no.

So, will PAP suffer the same fate as BN?

Again, no one is a fortune teller and it is hard to say. But as Yawning Bread pointed out, even if PAP lost as many votes as BN, no way would they lose as many seats. 66.6 per cent to get 82 out of 84 seats.

Three words: GRC.

We could go into a long discussion about GRCs, but better men and women have already discussed the issued to its logical end, which is that it is illogical and serves only to protect the incumbent party.

That said, PAP would do well to learn from BN, but the costs of change are high. Are they willing to pay it? Or will democracy evolve?

I am well pleased.