Monday, October 18, 2010

On Women's Charter: What About the Menz!?

This is the final week Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) is seeking public feedback for the draft Women's Charter (Amendment) Bill 2010. You can download the consultation paper (PDF) that lays out the proposed changes in simple language, or attempt the Amendment Bill (PDF).

Some of the more interesting parts of the proposed amendments are the creation of Children's Development Account where a portion of divorcing parents' shared assets is automatically channelled into for the children involved. Courts will also be empowered variously to crack down on maintenance defaulters. My personal favourite is that "divorcees who are remarrying will be required to declare in the presence of their new spouses, whether they have any maintenance arrears towards their ex-wife or children from their previous marriage(s)."

We on the farm strongly encourage everyone to give MCYS your opinion on changes to the Women's Charter. Now, however, the animals and I are departing from our usual farming duties to present a roundtable discussion we have on the Women's Charter. Gentle readers are free to steal our ideas and submit them officially, because it's very hard for us to explain why farm animals are so concerned about the Charter.

Roundtable Discussion.

Contrary to popular belief of who we are, it is the belief here on the farm that the biggest lacuna in the Amendment Bill is in its maintaining the alimony-only-to-women stance. Last year, Kanwaljit Soin reintroduced the idea of revising the Women's Charter Act to a Family Charter Act [ed: AWARE used to host "Women's Charter to Family Charter" speech transcript here, but not anymore; after the cut, we offer you instead an excerpt of a parliamentary debate by Dr Soin from 1996 when she first introduced the idea], in which maintenance is adjusted to allow husbands to claim maintenance should their wives be the higher earning spouse--I believe it's for shared custody cases.

I think this makes some sense as roles change, and men begin to step up in their caregiving roles. Not to mention, perhaps with such a system in place, we can begin to drop any machoistic shame of being primary care-givers. An adjustment to leave entitlement will also make especial sense for single fathers.

If we focus on the benefit of the children, rather than What About The Menz, there's probably much more that can be done in terms of this bill as well, perhaps latching onto expanding benefits to single parents.

Oh My Goat:
I think there are also men who have some pretty reasonable issues with the Women's Charter. It's not to say that it's unnecessary - it was revolutionary as far as its protection of women was concerned - but there are parts of it that need to evolve with the times.

Maintenance payments, for one, need to be fairer - it doesn't make sense for a father to pay maintenance to a wife (note: not for the child, but for the wife, which is a separate claim altogether) who out-earns him or is more than capable of caring for herself. It was probably unheard of when the Charter was introduced, but it's not so uncommon nowadays.

If you're a husband living a lower middle class sort of existence, your finances are more worse off after a divorce. You frequently find yourself homeless, likely not earning enough to rent another flat and on top of that, you have legal fees and maintenance payments. It's what it is, and yes, men ought to be responsible for their children, but if you're not earning much to start with, it can make you feel like you have the rough end of the deal.

Magical Chicken:
Wholly agree with Oh My Goat. There's no reason whatsoever why gender should become a blanket proxy for financial capacity and contributions, when these are matters which can be reasonably easily assessed by a judge in and of themselves. I was really glad to see Kanwaljit Soin raise this last year. It's actually rather surprising that men (since they are the demographic disadvantaged by the status quo) haven't organised to push for appropriate change themselves. I wonder if there might be some kind of conflict for some men between wanting to support traditional notions of masculinity to shore up their sense of social status, and what's in their actual financial interests. Another example of how patriarchy is an ideology which fucks us all up.

Badly Drawn Pig:
This is why I think the law can take a progressive lead on things. It shouldn't always be a case of the majority, sometimes unaware or unconscious, society setting the pace of things. The law and the government can, in fact, recognise that certain change would be beneficial - I think we've actually got this in practice in many other areas - and effect amendments that would pave the way to mindset changes. A society where legal mechanisms are in place for husbands' receiving maintenance, is a largely different one in which maintenance is afforded only to the wives. We cannot possibly deny the fact that such an arrangement puts ideas in the minds of people, as often is the case such as Rony Tan, who refuses to retract his foul statement on gay people simply because a legal clause is actually in place that in principle criminalises gay men sex.

Like Oh My Goat has said, my primary problem with the Women's Charter is the arbitrary provision requiring a man to maintain his wife, irrespective of the fact that she may have a greater earning capacity. I think the Court now deals with this issue by varying the quantum of maintenance, but I don't think this is enough in the circumstances since the wife will always have the right to apply to Court for maintenance. I think the issue of parity must cut both ways and the law needs to be amended to reflect this.
Second, re: maintenance for the child. Legally, both parents are obliged to maintain the child, but perhaps more can be done by the law in a situation where the man's earning capacity is lower than his wife. As Oh My Goat says, there are many fathers out there who feel they've drawn the short straw, especially keeping in mind that care and control of the child usually is awarded to the mother (with the father being granted the right of access) unless there are extenuating circumstances. I would imagine this is really painful in itself.
However, it needs to be kept it mind that there is only so much money to go around, especially if the father is earning significantly less, or not at all (as was the case in the article). In these situations, inevitably, maintenance payments are going to be a financial strain, along with legal fees, bills and rent etc. I don't think it's got anything to do with not wanting to help the child - it's not having adequate means to do so, and this is a salient factor which needs to be expressly considered.
(But of course with checks to prevent the other side of the coin - recalcitrant fathers who withhold maintenance payments for whatever reason.)

After the cut, read the brilliant parliamentary debate excerpt by the woman who started the ball rolling for all of us, former-NMP and a personal heroine for us on the farm, Dr Kanwaljit Soin; taken from Yawning Bread:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

How to tell the world you're an asshole

Oooh, who likes getting all het up and furious first thing in the morning? You had better if you, like me, get the Straits Times on subscription. In today's Life! section, a letter from Asshole Alpha:

Stay lean, SIA girl

I refer to the report, I Don't Mind A Fatter Singapore Girl by Jeremy Au Yong (Life!, Oct 9).

I do not mean to be disrespectful or discriminate but I honestly do not want to sit beside an overweight person during a long flight, especially when flying home.

Singapore Airlines did not become a leading airline just because the SIA Girl looks slim, clean and pretty.

She is just one of the building blocks that fit very well into the whole operations. When there is a lapse or drop in service quality, SIA has to correct and improve. In every successful business, there are certain identities and standards associated with it. These form its culture and infuse its soul.

It is easy to say you do not mind having a fatter Singapore Girl but it will be a problem for many.

Teo Yee Chee

Fatphobia: check. Equation of service staff's physical features with 'service quality': check. Commodification of service staff as mere 'building blocks': check. Cluelessly trumpeting the opinion that the other people should be in service to the pleasure of your unpleasant, privileged ass: check. (The one grain of truth in this letter: that many will share the same retrograde views that you hold.)

Hey, Teo, next time you might want to lighten up on the disingenuity, and just declare that you think fat people don't deserve to be treated like fellow humans. I have a lot of things to do and it would save everyone's time if I didn't have to point out the contemptible ridiculousness of your opinions before I told you to fuck off.


ETA: I haven't read the original Jeremy Au Yong article that this letter refers to, but I don't have high hopes for it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Degrees of hate.

Char Siew Pau here was ambivalent to see news of American teen, Tyler Clementi's suicide appearing in the local Straits Times last week. It wasn't clear to this male unfeminist, badly drawn pig what exactly it meant for him that the papers prioritised the article on the third page of the main papers, because he was still reeling from a couple of events that broke with the news of Clementi's death.

Such as learning that one of the two guys recently caught having sex together in a local mall toilet is being charged under Section 377A [ed: please read People Like Us's statement in full!], i.e. the anti-male homosexual act law that our parliament said it won't repeal for symbolic appeal. Then there were debates amuck on the veracity of saying that homophobia was the key ingredient in driving Clementi off the bridge.

From the latter thread, one such detractor was the very rational and evidence-based--let's call him--Mr Mensch, asserting--and I paraphrase, "Until I see evidence of homophobia, I'm inclined to believe it has nothing to do with Clementi's death. Charlotte’s Interwebz encourages people to distribute exposés all over. It's free-market sexcapade galore for straight people, for gay people, for all!"

Why, what a wonderfully insightful libertarian mensch! I would have totally gotten my Pork Trotters twisted in the excitement of such sound revelation if not for fact that, hey, my stupid gay, asian Lup Cheong self looked around and saw that he remains in the shadow of a vigilant heteronormative state. A state in which the assumed default and premium is in being heterosexual (or at least discreetly straight-acting), failing which you are a frowned-upon deviant. It precedes that when straight people, who aren't presidents, hotelier heiresses or pop stars, are caught in the hanky panky on film, there's practically no uproar about their sexual orientation, only mixed reactions of privacy invaded.

Never fear, you could be a random breeder snogging in China, Alaska, South Africa or Greenland but still find that nowhere will you so pervasively come against some bigots calling for your demise, accusing you of bearing some hidden agenda that seeks to devalue the family, desecrating one's holy ground, insulting one's gods, or going against nature's ways. If you are caught on film making out with the opposite sex, no one in any part of the world has the image of you in mind when zie plans for the never-going-to-exist ex-straight conversion camp that will fix you of your widely-popular choice of lifestyle. If you were caught on film doing the heterosexual hoochie coochie, some people may be happy to reenact the scenario on a R-21 screen without the fear that censors will snip you out because we don't want to promote deviant lifestyles--and they don't mean being caught on camera.

No, the sensationalism here never rode on the fact that Clementi kissed someone--few 18 year-olds warrant any attention with their snogfests, but that he had "asked for the room till midnight" (oh, he must be hiding something!), and later caught "making out with a dude"! GAY! TRYING TO HIDE!? GAY BUSTED! - to the whole fucking world, both friends and foes. The thrill of it comes in irrevocably exposing Clementi of his furtive engagement in something still denounced in many circles, inviting the floodwalls to collapse for all to see, celebrate, wank to, but also jeer, hiss, laugh, mock, cuss and pitchfork.

And the gates will open to the nefarious, especially since a person already doesn't even need to be caught doing anything (homo-sex-ual) except exist to cause a stir in others, then finding hirself at the brute end of all forms of physical, mental and emotional attacks from others of all walks of life--family, friends and absolute strangers—and for no reason than that they *think* zie's quee, which somehow justifies abusive behaviour. Even if one's truly queer, making no excuse for living as a proud and openly queer person, coming out as such is to continually navigate through a minefield. Because despite hir feeling secured in hir own skin--a feat not to be belittled ever, there are always unsafe spaces to come out in, and forever the unsafe people to come out to.

In Clementi's unfortunate case, such a person was Dharun Ravi, the sneaky little asshole who not only recorded but also broadcasted Clementi's make-out session. Ravi may seem like such an equal-opportunistic mercenary to the likes of Mr Mensch, but really his tactics are but a leaf out of the books of anti-gay witch-hunters, exploiting nothing but the dangers, fears and anxieties associated with an out gay person, and the sickening, self-righteous thrill of those who seek to uncover and tabloid the secrets of bones and people in closets for effect beside the well-being of the outed. (Newsflash: if you care about a queer person, do not out hir in any manner, or demand to know if zie's queer.)

So guess what? Just because thick-skulled Ravi is, presumably, unable to recognise the cause and effect of a hate crime does not mean he operated by anything less than that--imagine what the world would be like if members of the Ku Klux Klan actually knew they were being assholes! And just because Mr Mensch proves himself equally obtuse to the undercurrents of context, it proves nothing but that there're people who continue not to grasp the extant of homophobia and the real-life cruel aftermath it has on a whole lot of people.

That said, what really chaps this Suckling Pig's hide is that despite how much we protest this grave injustice, and even come to the point of publishing news of deaths brought on by homophobic pressures, this sunny-but-not-so-happy island of Singapore remains guilty of similar exploits all the way up the ranks. It makes it nearly impossible to take home any lesson on tolerance and acceptance of queer people that can be taken from this reportage when anti-sodomy laws are kept for what seems to be the express purpose of making it central to any sex-related crime between two consenting men.

Seriously, just what the fuck was the egregious crime here that Tan Eng Hong and his partner are caught for? Having sex in a public location, or having homosexual sex in a public location? A similar case involving a straight couple might have been charged under Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act--like how the nude couple in Holland Village were--instead of S377A, noting that not only is there no equivalent in “gross indecency” in heterosexual terms following the repeal of anti-straight oral/anal sex in 2007, but also that, technically speaking, "gross indecency" between two men may occur in and out of the private sphere. This is imprecise a charge, and frankly a disappointingly unfair one, given what was envisaged by PM Lee Hsien Loong in 2007.

This only leads my Braised Pig-head to conclude that, just as how the problem wasn't about Clementi kissing someone but about him "kissing a dude", this is now not about displays of sexual acts but displays of male homosexual acts between two men.

Even with the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in so many parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, United States, China, Japan and Taiwan, it is still an uphill battle for queer people to get even an ounce of respect and acceptance. A not-so-symbolic anti-gay law in our legislature, so arbitrarily reapplied despite claims of non-pursuance, empowers people to continue doing and talking shit about gay people without the slightest hint of contrition (read: Rony Tan). Because always it's what the government believes in, and now even it's the greater crime prosecutable. Abusers will always be on the right side of the law, and by the government's suggestion, they’re bedfellows to a wider, bigger majority that is all right with the active discrimination and abuse of gay people.

If you think Clementi's case is free of homophobia, if you think it's okay to throw S377A at Tan et al, then you are part of this----in a clever play of language to make them sound so marginalised—(mythical)silent majority that the government seeks to valiantly protect.

Don't be mistaken though, I hear and feel every sub-decibel of contempt your silence holds to my piggish ears even if you think you know otherwise.

A voice of reason writes to the newspapers - finally

I wonder why the national English broadsheet doesn't produce an investigative report on the fraudulent advertisements that sell people false hope and snake oil at "best" (scare quotes in full effect), and cause physical harm and pain to them at worst - not to mention all the self-hatred and judgment that goes in between? I guess it's because 50% (figure arrived at via unscientific estimate) of the Straits Times' advertising space is given over to ads hawking slimming treatments or bust enhancement (or sometimes both, by the same company, because the Body Police have decreed that you can't have too much fat in some places or too little in others).

Which is why I'm glad that someone at the Forum Desk had their finger on the right button and chose to publish the following missive (despite potential irate phone calls from account managers):

Oct 4, 2010
More teeth needed to curb false ads

I READ with concern last Tuesday's report ('Rise in false ads in beauty industry'. Only the most misleading advertisements, mostly by small players, get acted on by the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS).

In contrast, Britain's far more professional Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) does a much better job.

Last year, a top multinational cosmetics company ran a national press advertisement in Britain claiming that one of its anti-wrinkle products could deliver practically instant wrinkle-filling capabilities based on clinical studies.

ASA asked for substantiation. The company submitted two 'clinical test' reports on 25 and 23 women. ASA rejected the studies because they were not randomised, not blinded and did not include a control group. The advertisement was banned in its original form.

The same advertisement ran its full course in Singapore. If a complaint had been made to ASAS, would it have had the clout to take on a huge multinational corporation?

Cheng Shoong Tat

Who's going to take responsibility for this? The beauty industry sure as hell isn't. The media has no legal obligation to turn down fees paid by a legitimate advertiser. The government does not regulate the beauty industry. So it's down to... a body that 'comprises representatives from advertisers, advertising agencies, government agencies, media owners and other supporting organisations'? I guess it's up to us, the consumers, then.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Thank the Heavens I'm a Magical Chicken

Thanks the Heavens I'm a Magical Chicken. I can go about my merry way without enduring shit being slung at me on account of being a Magical Chicken. Same can't be said, I'm afraid, of being a human woman or girl. I couldn't be quite so chipper if I were one of them - I'd probably want to slam my own head against a wall repeatedly to drown out the torrent of woman- and girl-hating abuse that passes for... for everything, really: law, language, history, news media, statesmanship, advertising, and bicycles, yes, fucking bicycles.

To say nothing of my absolute favourite thing ever - really, this is my favourite thing ever, I love it THIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIS much - Rational Male BloggingTM.

Today my favourite Rational Male BloggerTM is Benjamin Cheah, who has taken it upon himself to RationallyTM address Robin Rheaume's mighty fine post about victim-blaming in the recent gang rape case that's been all over the press.

Benjamin Cheah has difficulty grasping the simple proposition that women and girls are human beings, who seek quite rightly to live full and rich human lives, uninterrupted by the violence of having a penis forced inside you against your wishes. For some people, this full and rich human life may even include socialising with new people, drinking, and having consensual sex. Benjamin Cheah, however, appears to believe such acts - socialising, drinking, having consensual sex - can appropriately be punished with rape. Thus:
Here, the woman failed to take responsibility for her actions. She deliberately engaged in high-risk behaviour. To declare ‘The failure of a woman to adequately assess the risk of attack does not mean that she caused what happens and should take blame for it’ is to declare that a drink driver should not take responsibility for running over a pedestrian. It is simply absurd to think that one can divorce one’s action from the consequences of that action. Every action has consequences; the woman has to take responsibility has to take actions. To not do so is both foolish and dangerous.

The woman engaged in high risk behaviour. An example of such behaviour is for a young woman to go alone late at night to a place with plenty of strange young men and alcohol. Another is for a single young woman to play drinking games in a private place with young men unknown to her. Such behaviour puts her at a very high risk of being robbed, raped, and/or killed. This whole case could have been avoided had the victim not showed up, left the moment she realised she didn’t know most of the people at the gathering, or went home before the drinking became serious. She took a risk, and she got burned.
Benjamin Cheah appears to be suggesting that we should simply accept, as an immutable fact, that men will rape women. Gang rape is a simple consequence of drinking and engaging in sexual activity with strangers, apparently, which has nothing to do with the rapists in question choosing to take their penises out of their pants and force them into the body of a non-consenting woman. It's a foolish pipe dream for Magical Chickens to think that maybe, just maybe, censuring, prosecuting, punishing and strongly denouncing gang rape will create an environment in which rapists are discouraged from taking their penises out of their pants and forcing them into the bodies of non-consenting women. (Rather than an environment in which they will be excused because being gang-raped is understood primarily as what happens to women because of women's own actions.) Actually, women who drink and socialise and have sex are extending mysterious tentacles of dark matter from their very bodies, which physically compel other men - struggling and wailing in protest - to take their penises out of their pants and force them into the bodies of non-consenting women.

I'm finding this hard to square with the occasions when I've gone drinking with and/or climbed into bed with strangers without, funnily enough, being raped, because nobody there chose to take their penises out of their pants and force them into me, but hey, what do I know, I'm just a Magical Chicken.
The victim had sex with someone after the game and before the crime. To someone under the influence of alcohol, the victim’s behaviour could be interpreted as a signal of sexual availability. This effect could be pronounced because the members of the group could have pressured each other towards that interpretation (assuming that had happened).
Oh dear sweet fucking kitty cats, where to start with this? Maybe with the terminally stupid concept of "sexual availability", as if the vagina is either Open for Business and must accept all customers, or Regrettably Closed for the Day and must be shut to everyone. I hate to break it to you sunshine, but women sometimes like to fuck. A woman may be sexually attracted to one man without being attracted to his entire cabal of friends. A woman may feel horny at one point (like, just before having sex with one man) without feeling horny at another (like, just after sex with that man). This is basic stuff, please keep up.

To those of us who take the humanity of women seriously, a woman having sex with person A at time X does not amount of consent to having sex with persons B-E at times Y and Z. Yes, to some men the first sex act "could be interpreted" as consent to penetration by their own penises: but their interpretation is misogynist and wrong, and when they act on this belief they become rapists.

If the men in the gang rape scenario had raped the first man in this scenario, I wonder, would Benjamin Cheah believe the same argument applied? After all, he'd been drinking and signalled his availability for sex, ce n'est pas?

And where are Benjamin Cheah's strong words for the men in this scenario anyway? At which point in the entire piece does he ask them to "take responsibility" for their "actions" - including the "action" of taking their penises out of their pants and forcing them into the body of this girl? When will he tell men that they must not socialise with strangers, or have consensual sex, or drink, or go into someone else's home, so as to avoid becoming rapists? The words of one Magical Chicken, circa January 2010, seem appropriate here:
The suggestion that we should solve any problem by deliberately sequestering men at home is ludicrous and unacceptable on its face - and it should be equally so when it applies to women.
I don't want to go into depth about the ridiculousness of Benjamin Cheah first of all claiming there was no evidence of bleeding, and then claiming the rapists stopped when they saw blood. (Apparently, also, stopping at the sight of blood is "not typical behaviour for rapists", a statement Benjamin Cheah supports with absolutely zero evidence, as if rapists are by definition also necessarily men who don't mind getting blood all over their penises or don't find bleeding a turn-off.) I will also pass over his bringing in irrelevant factors like the victim engaging in underaged drinking or having sex with someone who isn't her boyfriend, as if it's more OK to rape women who meet this arbitrary designation for "irresponsibility".

No, I want to highlight Benjamin Cheah's serious, RationalTM consideration of the possibility that AWARE opposes victim-blaming because of a "rape agenda" which might bring in "big money". There's only one possible response to this idea...


Oh God, I do love being a Magical Chicken: you human beings are so gosh-darned funny. "Big money"! A "rape agenda"! Those terms certainly don't apply to the vast pop media and advertising industries which continually tell us that violence against women is sexy, the enormously rich and powerful "family values" lobbies who tell us that merely being female is inherently obscene, or the multi-billion dollar global pornography businesses who consistently push the narrative that rape is what women are for. No, the "big money" is in feminism, who have invented a "rape agenda" of - lookit, this term is also in inverted commas! - women's "rights".

Thank the Heavens I'm a Magical Chicken, or this would all be enough to make me weep.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Why not Morrissey?

There's a certain buzz going around outside of our farm regarding former-Smiths musician, Morrissey's racist remark about Chinese people:
Did you see the thing on the news about their treatment of animals and animal welfare? Absolutely horrific. You can't help but feel that the Chinese are a subspecies." (Sauce.)
Here at the barn, we are well aware that everyone farts up once in a while, and hold no illusion -- especially since child rapist Roman Polanski walked free, TWICE -- that even the cutest, most talented, smartest and even most cuddly sorts are saved from being fucked up. Little surprise, hence, that there's very little I care to say about who and what Morrissey is, and why his racism is any more or less egregious than if uttered by mere mortals.

On the other hand, there is much to be said about how fellow concerned life form can deal with famous assholes, much of it brought on by a Guardian commentary by Tom Clark, in which Clark calmly urges Morrissey's fans to "not feel obliged to disown the music we love" and that "nothing Morrissey says or does now would taint my enjoyment of the songs". Obviously the mileage varies between Clark and this male, unfeminist, gay Chinese pig, because I don't see why it's so impossible for offended fans to renounce their loyalty to any artist for the latter's assholicism.

In fact, I think any fan or music lover who gives a flying fuck about making the world a better place has every right to exercise some consumer discretion for an embargo. Here at the farm, we care to do something.

And just why fucking not?

My taking pleasure in one's art rings the latter's cash register, and in Morrissey's case it is precisely because his records are still selling that he feels his artistry will forever save him from truly being held accountable, or being remembered as a racist (apart from a good musician) long past his death. If his being popular from our listening to his music is empowering him to express his racism without contriteness, which is the case, then the obvious key to some humility may very well be in a boycott.

Then Morrissey's music wouldn't live forever. Maybe some day Someone will ask, "Hey, what happened to all the Morrissey songs that you liked?" And you can go, "I stopped listening to them because he turns out to be such a racist asshole that it pains me to even listen to him pluck his guitar." Then maybe when Someone listens to Morrissey on the speakers at your favourite bar, zie will share the racist factoid with hir friends, and they in turn can remind others that this brand of good music is spun from some moral bankruptcy--warning label reads "Enjoy at your own risk."

Personally, I don't have a problem with forgoing some good art for the sake of some humanity. I would rather the holocaust not have occurred and forgo "Schindler's List", than appreciate the impetus for art that Nazism provided. I would rather we didn't live in a kyriarchy and be writing about fluffy bunnies than exercising my writing chops here. Likewise, I would rather a musician not be a racist than have to exercise mental acrobatics over the fact that his racism is somehow an intrinsic part of some very complex, very profound whole, from which good music apparently stems, and which a simpleton like Bacon Bits here will never possess or understand.


Newsflash: greater people have lived without being assholes.

Why not Morrissey? Why not Polanski? Why couldn't Larkin? Why couldn't Churchill even?

The best art simply cannot justify the diminishing of human decency. And if you choose to ignore that, then don't mind if I stop listening to you too.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

International Burn A Koran Day

Oh chickadees. Haven't we been over this before with the whole "Draw Mohammed" fiasco? Haven't I already explained why "protests" like this are really just thinly veiled excercises in xenophobia and racism?

Obviously I need to go over this again.

By violating objects and ideas that are held sacred by marginalized populations with an eye to upholding your own privileged hegemony you are doing harm. You are doing harm by normalizing and celebrating violence (for the violation of the sacred is a form of violence) against an entire population of people. You are doing harm by courting a negative reaction from this population that will then add to the fire that caricatures Muslims as reactive and unreasonable. You are doing harm by using your position of privilege to publicly deride an already marginalized population.

Sure, I realise this time this display of ignorance and prejudice is being organized by a fundamentalist non-denominational church in Florida (that has previously joined with the Westboro Baptist church, a punchline in and of themselves, to protest homosexuality) so commenting on it is like shooting fish in a barrel, but the Poultrygeist over here just sent me a link to the goddamn Facebook page for the "event" and over 1200 people have liked it.

Thank you humanity for this current fail that I may use it as an education tool. Hopefully. And I pray to whoever the fuck cares to listen that this time MY LESSON WILL STICK. Yours in faith, Cat.

P.S. If you are tempted to leave a comment about how no one has the right not to be offended and this is all about free speech, please read the comments on the "Draw Mohammed" post first, as I've spelt out a reply to that quite clearly. If you want to continue the conversation, by all means, but just make sure you read that first. I really don't like repeating myself.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Reminder: say no to censorship

Recent events like the arrest of Alan Shadrake and the ban on Martyn See's film are reminder of how live the danger of state censorship of dissent remains. Don't forget to sign the Arts Engage paper to show your opposition to these oppressive tactics.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

No You're Racist, and Sexist and I'm AWESOME

You may have noticed a cute new webpage floating around the internets called "I Write Like" (not linking). It's a page with a text box where you have to copy and paste (or compose on the spot) a few paragraphs, press a button and you'll get a something you can paste on your blog or Facebook to let everyone know which famous writer you write like. (In case anyone was wondering, I got Margaret Atwood - YAY! - and Dan Brown - kill me now.)

If you've heard of the website, you may also have caught wind of the kerfuffle around the fact that when it first launched, there weren't any female writers in the database of writers you could resemble. A week or so later, there are now 3 female writers (to 37 male writers) all of whom are lily-white. Now I understand that this is just a silly-for-fun website for people to feel briefly thrilled that their name can be used in the same sentence as a famous (or infamous) author (sorta Nicholas Sparks vis-a-vis Cormac McCarthy style), but representation matters, even in trivial things.

Representation matters because our actions are shaped by our environment. Our environment primes us on levels so far below our consciousness that even if we are asked about our motivations, we come up with narratives that, while consistent with how we view ourselves, have nothing to do with reality. A website that uses only white, initially all-male writers to represent how the internet writes, well, the implicit message isn't even all that subtle there.

So people start to comment. Some people cut and paste female writers' texts into the boxes and lol-sob at the male writers they are called instead. Eventually tea berry-blue wrote to the guy who runs "I Write Like". She describes the disheartening and miss-the-point exchange well, but what I want to talk about specifically is this:

Thanks for your reply. I’ve added more writers into the database
recently. But I *absolutely* will not add people into the database due
to their race or gender. I will not search for lists of white, black,
Asian, Hispanic, or any other types of people that you _took care to
differentiate_. All people are equal to me, and equality means not
looking at skin color or different types of chromosomes.

I think the question is closed.

Dmitry Chestnykh
I Write Like
In other words, it's the I don't think people are different...and since you seem to, YOU'RE SEXIST and also racist.

Honestly, if everyone was so damn equal, why did you only have one kind of person represented? If everyone was all the same to you, then your sample should have approximated what the sampling of writers out there was really like. Include writers like Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Amy Tan, Candace Bushnell, George Eliot, A. S. Byatt, Zadie Smith, Helen Fielding, Monica Ali, Stephenie-frikking-Meyer, Jhumpa Lahiri, Miriam Toews, Tamora Pierce, Holly Black...I could go on. That's just off the top of my head and includes a nice sampling of award winning authors, classics, pop fiction, all women, some of colour. NOT THAT HARD. If gender and race were non-issues for this person, then why the glaring omissions?!

It's because it does matter. And I want to make it very clear that I'm not blaming Dmitry Chestnykh for it in the least. Like the rest of us, he grew up in the same damn world we all did. A world in which whiter is better and where men are main characters. I was talking about priming earlier yeah? Well, we've been primed our whole damn lives to not notice that despite the actual diversity of the world around us, the white male is always the assumed default (Tasha Fierce breaks down the assumed default even in activist circles here). A world in which the only people who don't notice race or gender are the only ones who are the default, and therefore are privileged enough not to. It is also, ironically, a world where we are taught that racism and sexism are bad and that you are a bad person if you're racist or sexist. So people are scared to talk about race or gender. First because any time a light is shone on privilege it does get pretty damn uncomfortable. Secondly because it's as though noticing that people are different qualifies you as some sort of reprobate.

But of course everyone notices race. It starts when we're children, mainly because our parents don't talk about it. It's the same for gender too. Noticing it and talking about it and discussing the deleterious effects of it is how we can fight this shit. It's the opposite of being racist or sexist.

Let's recap. We're not all bad people just because we've grown up drinking the Kool Aid. We're not bad people for noticing differences and diversity. It's not racist or sexist or any-other-ist to make an effort not to under-represent entire populations of people. People that exist in this amazingly diverse and challenging world of ours. The same people whose lives are made worse because we are assumed to be uninterested because we're not talking about it. And while it can be awful to get called out, particularly if you already make efforts to not be racist or sexist, listen because we all have something to learn. Don't just fling it back and start name-calling.

Update: Shakesville's SKM Biblio-vore whose blog can be found here did a quick experiment on "I Write Like", plugging authors' actual works into the engine and seeing what comes out. Interesting and insightful!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I'll Be There For You

While you're at school, life is delineated into neat chunks bookended by expectations that need to be met. Assignments and projects with set deadlines, exams to be completed on un-moving dates. Always something to shoot for, always something to move toward. This is piss-poor training for real life, but it's the only training we get.

So I'm not all that surprised that once we leave school and are technically free agents (although if you asked me, I'd assert that true freedom doesn't strictly exist and that our actions are bounded by our circumstances and environments, but that's for another day)we still continue the slow, slightly cyclical grind of trying to get to that next milestone and mark off the next thing on the big to-do list of life. As a result we get on this hamster wheel of mundane routine, an opiate of sorts, locking us into a pat, comfortable life getting us to accept the status quo. Combine this with the undue importance placed on the individual (Barbara Ehrenreich calls this "the cult of the individual" near the end of this illuminating and intoxicatingly animated speech) and what we have is an entire population of people trapped in their single-minded pursuit of the next hurdle. Individually ensconced in the same patterns of thought that got them there in the first place. Embedded deeply in the Matrix (or what we like to refer to around here as the kyriarchy).

Distracted by the small things in front of us, it's damn difficult to look up and see the institutional injustices and when we do see them when they're splashed all over the news in an effort to erase them from our public consciousness *cough* (not that it was really there in the first place - which of us learnt about Operation Coldstore in history class? It should be right there alongside the emergence of Singaporean government. Quite a glaring omission, amongst many others) it's so terrifying and ugly and disheartening that it's easy to bury your head right back down in the sand, re-mire yourself in the day-to-day reaching for the next-thing-in-life.

Many of my friends don't want to talk about the things we talk about on this blog. They don't want to hear that hospitals discriminate against fat people - staff in this example (in the interest of your own mental health you may want to avoid the comments on that) or that being oppressed can cause entire populations to birth pre-term and low birth weight babies. I can't really blame them. Outrage is upsetting and the realization that you as an individual is ineffective against these large institutional forces can really ruin your day, your month or even your year (sorry).

Yet I continue to start these conversations. I subscribe to many, high output blogs that chronicle the march of the kyriarchy on our personal rights and freedoms. I hang out with the rest of the animals on this blog and in between watering sessions, which I must note does include a substantial amount of mirth, and discuss these things at length. I do this because this is how us the individual will affect the changes we want to see. If we get enough people talking about it, enough people upset, enough people aware of the gross injustice perpetuated daily just because that's the way things are then things will change. It will be gradual, halting, frustrating and sometimes seemingly futile. But it's not. I'm a firm atheist, but I do have faith in this.

Don't keep your head down, eyes blinkered to the next expectation you feel you must meet. Look up, look around, get mad, join the movement. Reassess what's important to you. You may benefit from the status quo in some measure. We all do, everyone possesses some privilege in some form (admittedly some more than others) and that's the lure of it. That's the bait in the trap we keep falling for. Ignore it. Unplug from the Matrix. Let's get in some ambulatory robots and talk about the things that matter.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The public is interested

More sober heads than mine have already discussed the pointlessness of the ban on Martyn See's film of Dr Lim Hock Siew, who spoke of his detention without trial for almost 20 years. (Transcript here, film here.) Distributing a film of an elderly, mild-mannered man giving an account of his personal experiences has now become a criminal offence.

Ostensibly this has taken place because the film is "contrary to the public interest". According to the mighty MICA:
The Singapore Government will not allow individuals who have posed a security threat to Singapore's interests in the past to use media platforms such as films to make baseless accusations against the authorities, give a false portrayal of their previous activities in order to exculpate their guilt, and undermine public confidence in the Government in the process.
My main question is, what exactly is the public interest served here?, but in order to ask it, I need to back up a bit and look at some fundamentals. They had this man in custody for almost 20 years, and they did not convict him of any crime. MICA talks about "exculpating guilt", but guilt for what exactly? Even the people who detained him didn't manage to work that one out.

But let's assume (gingerly, trying not to wrinkle our noses at the implausibility of it) that Dr Lim Hock Siew was once a genuine "security threat", supposedly because he had links to supposedly violent Communists or somesuch. If so, what is the public interest in restricting the present day circulation of the film? If detention was justified, let the government justify it; if his account of what happened was false, let the government contradict it. They've got all the records, right? They haven't flushed important paperwork down the toilet somewhere?

If we posit that the government was completely right to detain him, there is no possible harm in sharing this information now. It's not as if there is sensitive, ongoing operational security work against these violent Communist groups, which would be jeopardised by public discussion. (If there ever was.) I mean, yo, newsflash, PAP: the Berlin wall fell 20 years ago. Grab someone off the street and talk to them about "the alienation of labour" or "the internal contradictions of capital" and they will reply leh kong simi? The government cannot seriously be claiming that public discussion of the long-decomposed carcass of a defunct historical "threat" is somehow "against the public interest".

Remember, we've been giving the government the benefit of the doubt here. Even if Dr Lim is spouting total B.S. (and I don't think he is lor), the "public interest" doesn't make any sense, since the government can just whip out their thousands of detailed documents and prove to us, incontrovertibly, that they were right. "Public confidence" would not be "undermined", but strengthened.

And if he's not talking B.S., if the government stuck unconvicted citizens into prison for years on end and it was all about "saving face" and people underwent months of solitary confinement and women were force fed with tubes until they vomited and their vomit was cleaned off the floor with their own pants, might there not be a rather large public interest in the public hearing about it?

The film raises questions which any government should be prepared to answer, like, "Hey, man, why did you lock that guy up? And did you torture him while you were at it? Just, like, wanting to check, you know." And that's the whole point of the ban. It's meant to be a ban on questions. Shut up because we know best, and we don't even have to prove it. By "public interest" they mean the public should not be interested.

Well, I damn well am. And we should all be. Find out as much as you can about the detentions and let's question them until their ears bleed.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Transcript of Dr Lim Hock Siew's speech on the ISA.

Ex-political prisoner speaks out in Singapore

Posted on Youtube, 15 November, 2009.
By Singapore Rebel (Martyn See).

Video description: Dr Lim Hock Siew is Singapore's second longest-held political prisoner.

From the video:
[A founding member of the ruling People's Action Party, Lim was accused of being a communist and was arrested without trial in 1963, and had his detention prolonged by the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew until his release in 1982.]

[On 14th of Nov 2009, Lim made his first post-detention speech in Singapore during a book launch.]

[The day coincided with the arrival of US President Barack Obama in Singapore for the APEC Summit.]

My contribution to this book is very modest. Because of my ill-health, I've not been able to write too much. It comprises mainly of a statement which I made when I was in prison in 1972, after 9 years of incarceration.

As you know, I was detained in Coldstore Operation in February the 2nd 1963, and I was the last one to come out from the batch of detainees almost 20 years later. Now this statement mainly stated my stand on my detention.

After 9 years of incarceration, they wanted me to issue a statement to firstly support the so-called democratic system of Singapore, and secondly to renounce politics. I told them that these two demands are self-contradictory, because if there is parliamentary democracy, then I don't have to give up politics. So they said, "You must say something to show repentance other wise Lee Kuan Yew will lose face."

For me this not a question of pride, it's a question of principle.

In the first place, if a person has to save his face by depriving somebody else of his fundamental rights, then that's not a face that's worth saving. So the, the main democratic right is a fundamental constitutional right of the people of Singapore. And no one should be deprived of their right, and held ransom to extort statements of repentance and contrition. So the whole thing bogged down to having to issue a statement of repentance, which I refused.

Subsequently, I was detained for another almost 10 years, after that statement was issued. So a total of 19 years and eight months, longer than a life sentence. Life sentences will be released after 13 years, after the initial one-third remission, but for no charge, no trial, I was detained for longer than life sentences.

A lot of hullabaloo have been said recently on the right of political detainees to appeal to an Advisory Board. I want to tell you about my experience in this Advisory Board.

After about one year of detention, I was asked to the prison main gate at about 4pm, and a statement of notice to say that I had to appear before the Advisory Board the next day, and I was given a two fool-scap paper of so-called charge sheets. I said I wanted to keep these sheets of paper so I could prepare for my next morning's appearance. They said, "No, you cannot keep it. Just read it and we'll take it back."

I said I want to inform my lawyer about this. They said, "No, you have the right to inform your lawyer, but you cannot telephone him now." I said, "In that case, how do I contact my lawyer?" He said, "That's the law."

So the next morning I was called to the High Court in handcuffs and all that to appear before an Advisory Board comprising three persons. A judge called Judge Winslow and two other persons. One is a certain Elias, I think he's a lawyer, and the other one a Chinese gentleman whose name I cannot remember.

So, on these so-called charge sheets, there were a lot of blank spaces. I asked Judge Winslow what do these blank spaces mean? He said, "Oh, these are charges which are so sensitive that they can be shown only to the Advisory Board but not to you."

I said, "How the hell can anybody defend himself against a charge that's not even revealed to him?" I asked him for advice, he just said [shrugs shoulder]. I said, "Is this a mockery of justice or what?" He said, "This is the law."

You see, the whole thing is a judicial farce. I mean, it's incredible that anyone has to face this kind of mockery, this kind of so-called justice, and the fact that a High court judge is being put as the chairman of this Advisory Board gives the public an illusion that there is judgement, there is justice. And I told him that if I were a High court judge, I would not lend credence to this mockery by my presence.

Then this Elias threatened me with contempt of court. I was very happy when he with contempt of court, because after all I was already in prison, so threatening me with contempt of court and al that makes no difference to me.

By the way, in my 20 years in prison, I was detained in practically all the prisons in Singapore, except of course the female prison.

In the end, the judge said, "No, no, let the doctor have his say, there's no question of contempt of court." So I gave a three-hour statement to debunk all the so-called charges. One of the charges was in fact a false charge: I was charged for being one of the right Fajar students who were charged for sedition. I said, "As a matter of fact, I didn't have the privilege to be one of the eight. In fact, I would be flattered to be one of the eight, and that I was not one of the eight. So why should I be imprisoned for allegedly being one of the eight, when these eight were acquitted without being called, and acquitted and defended by Lee Kuan Yew himself, who is now detaining me?"

He said, "This is the law."

Everything is the law.

So recently you have heard all this so-called rule of law. Now there is detention without trial by ISA [Internal Security Act], a law which makes a mockery of the concept of rule of law. It is a law that is outside the rule of law. Once you are detained under the ISA, you have no legal defence whatsoever.

I tried the habeas corpus twice. On one occasion I succeeded on the technical error on the side of the government--they did not sign my detention order. It was supposed to be signed by a minister, but it was delegated to a civil servant. So on that account the court has to release me on a technical point. So when I was released, there was the Special Branch waiting for me outside Queenstown Prison. I was re-arrested one minute later. It was a mock release. And for that habeas corpus, I was punished and sent to the most hideous of all detention centres, the Central Police Station head office.

That was a place that is not fit to keep animals let alone human beings. The place was so dark, so stinky and so ill-ventilated that you cannot stand inside for more than 24 hours, but I was locked in there for 24 hours a day. And the whole place was infested with bugs. I had a lot of bugs for company. No reading material and the light was so dim that I could hardly see the crease of my hand. So immediately the five of us went on hunger strike, and my ulcer bled and I had to be transferred to hospital. That was the so-called habeas corpus right there you have. Try it at your risk, or be severely punished.

The second time I went for habeas corpus case was when they tried to force me to do manual labour. That was in 1972. They said all detainees should do manual labour as a programme of rehabilitation. I was supposed to do carpentry. So this superintendent told me that it was good for you as a doctor, you try to become more dexterous with your hand. So I said, "You do not have the qualifications to enter a medical college, and here you are telling a doctor what is good for post-graduate education. Are you over-reaching yourself?" He said, "This is the law. You have to be paid 8 cents a day." So we all went on hunger strike, and some of us went on hunger strike for three months in order to frustrate their attempt to make us labourers like criminals. I went on hunger strike for three weeks before they came in and said, "Okay, we exempt you from that."

And the women detainees in Moon Crescent Centre went on hunger strike for 130 days, and they were forced-fed. Some of them vomited after being fed milk by the tube inserted forcefully into their oesophagus. One girl vomited and the superintendent forced for wardens to carry her and wiped the floor with her pants. This is the kind of treatment meted to detainees. All these of course suppressed by the press, but this is the thing we all had to go through.

Now all of us had to go through detention in solitary confinement. Solitary confinement according to Lee Kuan Yew himself is a very bad form of torture. I will read to you what Lee Kuan Yew said of solitary confinement: "The biggest punishment a man can receive is total isolation in a dungeon, black and complete withdrawal of all stimuli. That is real torture." Lee Kuan Yew, January 2008.

Although he knows it is real torture, he had no compunction in meting out this real torture to all detainees without exception. Some of us had to undergo this real torture, not for one day, two days, but for six months. Now under the law, there is a protection for even criminal prisoners from this kind of torture. A criminal prisoner when found guilty of infringing prison rules will be sentenced to solitary confinement for not more than two weeks, because of the obvious mental health effects. But for political detainees, there is no protection.

And Lee Eu Seng, the general manager of Nanyang Zhao Pao, was put into solitary confinement not once but twice, and it is to his credit he withstood that kind of real torture. TT Rajah, a lawyer who was detained for two and half years, was put under solitary confinement for six months. Twice. Said Zahari was put into solitary confinement four times in his long 17 years of detention. It is to our credit that we did not back down despite our difficult ordeal. We stood our ground and held on to our integrity.

Today, they are asking us to be magnanimous. What does magnanimity mean? Only those who have suffered have the moral right, the moral standing to be magnanimous, not the culprit. The culprit can seek forgiveness, if they admit their mistakes and apologise for it. Not for the victims of this torture to seek forgiveness. We are the ones who have to be magnanimous, and we are prepared to be magnanimous provided the culprits admit their mistakes and seek our forgiveness.

In my statement which I released to the press in 1972, through my wife Beatrice Chen, and which was of course suppressed by the newspapers, but was distributed a lot to all student organisations--I said the proper way to settle our case is that you must release us without conditions. Unconditional release. Moreover, you must compensate us for our long detention and also apologise. I said I'm prepared to forgo these two last conditions of having to compensate us and also having to apologise to us because I don't believe an arrogant man like Lee Kuan Yew would concede easily. On that question of release unconditionally--that we stand firm, I stood firm and had to suffer for two decades. That is the price that we had to pay for our integrity.

In Singapore, we have a situation where the government leaders said they have integrity that has to be sustained by the highest pay in the world, but yet they demand from political opponents and detainees an integrity that has to be sustained by the longest imprisonment in the world. This kind of two types of integrity, to compare them is to compare heaven and earth. Why should anybody has to sacrifice so much just to sustain his integrity and his beliefs? And the government have to reward themselves with so much high pay. This is the immorality of the political situation in Singapore today.

Now, detention without trial is not a peaceful action. It is an act of violence. They come to see you not in the daylight with an invitation card. They come in the morning, 4am. That is the time when decent people sleep, and when political terrorists and tyrants strike. And when you are detained, you are subjected to all kinds of mental and even physical torture. This is not only unique for the 1963 batch, it was also practised in many other batches of detention: 1972, and as late as 1987. When Teo Soh Lung and her group of so-called marxist detainees were subjected to mental and physical torture. ... And women lawyers can be subjected to torture. But when these women lawyers came out and issued a statement to describe how they have been tortured, they were again detained and compelled to withdraw their accusation.

What type of rule of law is that when the accuser can be punished by the accused against the government, and compelled to withdraw their accusation? Is it not a rule of law justice turned upside down? Now this is a situation where even the Law Society dare not utter a word of protest. They are so impotent after what they had done to the Law Society in 1987.

Now, Poo Soo Kai has written a very good article on Operation Coldstore. In it, he has revealed a lot of declassified British archive documents, showing how the British and Lee Kuan Yew conspired and collaborated to crush the opposition before the 1963 General Elections. The whole aim of this merger was to crush the opposition before the 1963 elections.

And today, the PAP is standing on high moral ground, demanding human rights in other countries, even demanding the realise of political detainees in Myanmar. But precisely on what moral ground are they standing to have this demand? In examining their past records, they are standing on a pedestal that is leaking with worms and vermin, Let them repent first their own dismal record of human rights and then you may have the moral right to cast aspersions on other people's lack of human rights.

Poh Soo Kai has also written the last chapter of this book [The Fajar Generation], about the future of Socialism. Many of you may ponder what is the relevance of Socialism in this era. after 50 years when the club was formed, Socialist movements all over the world has suffered a lot of setbacks and even defeats, and some wonder whether we are still relevant. The recent economic crisis, the recent financial crisis, has once again exploded the corruption and immorality of the capitalist system, and feel that human beings should deserve something better than a system that is generated by green and by corruption.

Now some of you may have heard that when you are young you are idealistic, when you're old you are realistic. Now this is the kind of rubbish that is used by those who have either lost their ideals or have sold their ideals for self-interests. Each should not wither one's ideals or convictions. If anything, it should only consolidate and make it more resolute. If age has anything to do with it, it is only by way of expression and application of these ideals and convictions having the benefit of a youthful experience. And a life without convictions, without idealism, is a mere meaningless existence, and I'm sure most of you will agree that as human beings, we are worthy of a life much more meaningful than just that.

Thank you.

[Dr Lim Hock Siew is currently 78 years and is a retired physician.

[He remains a staunch socialist.]

[Lee Kuan Yew remains in political office, and now holds the title of Minister Mentor.]

ETA - 11:53pm: to download the video; it'll be illegal to own it in Singapore in about six minutes time.

Friday, July 2, 2010

It's not like people are dying or anything

Forum contributor Tan Lek Lek is gravely worried about a "current obsession with banning lorries from transporting workers". (Whose obsession exactly? Some things, my little chickadees, must remain mysterious.) My sober Magical mind was disturbed by this news. Obsessions are dangerous things, best avoided. I mean, taken to the extreme, they can result in people dying, you know?
Many who are pressing for a ban on using such vehicles to transport workers do not understand the practicalities of operating a small business.
Yeah, think of the practicalities! That's important stuff. I mean, it's not like people are dying or anything.
The immediate consequence of restricting worker transport to buses or vans for small construction and service companies is a sharp spike in costs, as these firms are forced to buy vans or small buses and hire additional drivers.
A spike in costs? Oh shit. We can't have that. I mean, it's not like people are dying or anything.
Second, the vehicle population will swell by a few thousand buses and vans.

Assuming that there is a small job that requires five or six workers with some materials to be transported, the company will have to ferry the workers by van to the site and use another lorry to transport the tools and materials.
That's telling them - road congestion, that's a major problem! I mean, it's not like people are dying or anything.
The van and driver will remain idle for a long stretch until it is time to pick up the workers in the evening.
See how bad it gets? There could be IDLENESS! We can't risk it. I mean, it's not like people are dying or anything.
Are Singaporeans willing to pay for such a sharp increase in costs?
Yeah, seriously, get a sense of perspective, it's not like people are dying or anything.
Can Singapore businesses remain competitive?
Precisely. Business competitiveness is the real meat of the issue. It's not like people are dying or anything.
And what does it say about productivity when transport vehicles and drivers have nothing to do for such long stretches daily?
Exactly! Vehicles and drivers sitting around, low productivity figures, now that's what we should be concerned about. I mean, it's not like people are dying or anything.

I was going to tag this "Bullshit" - but let's give Tan Lek Lek his due, he doesn't bother dressing up these mercenary reckonings with any even superficially human veneer.

See Humans Not Cargo for updates.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Admit impediments

(Confused about the title? See Sonnet 116.)

Faithful visitors to the Barn will know that there is much disquiet among the livestock about the ghastly fetish society has for marriage.

It's a fairly egalitarian fetish, as these things go, shared equally by cranks whose powers are mercifully limited to writing stupid Forum letters and cranks of considerably more influence. Sulthan "Spoilt Princess" Niaz has the benefit of honesty; he at least more or less out-and-out acknowledged that his vision of marriage was unattractive and unpleasant to women. Lee Kuan Yew's "sadness" on behalf of unmarried women (who by his own account are perfectly happy) lacks even that virtue. He just knows, knows, knows, in his infallible bones, that we females* need this thing that we haven't chosen.

And which, according to this excellent article from British newspaper The Guardian, in some developed countries at least, statistically correlates to poorer health and happiness outcomes for women:
In Committed: A Sceptic Makes Peace With Marriage, the follow-up to her international bestseller Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert tries to answer why we make such a hash of it. She uncovers sobering facts about what sociologists call the "marriage benefit imbalance", showing that marriage is an institution that greatly benefits men, not women. A partial list: married men live longer than single men; married men accumulate more wealth than single men; married men are far less likely to die a violent death than single men; married men report themselves to be much happier than single men, and married men suffer less alcoholism, drug addiction and depression than single men. [...] But married women versus single? There's more depression, less career success and less good health in married women and, until recently, a greater chance of dying a violent death – usually at the hands of the men they love.

Only last month another study came out of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany which showed that women who are seven to nine years older than their husbands have a 20% higher mortality rate than if they were the same age. Marrying an older man shortens a woman's life span, but having a young husband reduces it even more, the study found.
In Singapore, you can add the fact that most women who contract HIV do so from partners, including husbands, to whom they have been faithful.

I'm not writing this to knock marriage. It works for some people, and we should all be very happy for them. But this universal assumption that it is or should be every woman's goal in life, and the ordering of our cultural and political priorities around that assumption, and the relentless delegitimisation and hounding of women who might choose differently? Those are pure poison.

The Guardian article quotes Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, A History, as saying, "It is the relationship, not the institution, that is the key."

As all Magical Chickens (global population: 1) like to say, "No shit, Sherlock."

* After the revolution, everytime someone uses "female" as a noun when they mean women and/or girls, they will be given 50 hours of remedial English lessons through the medium of interpretive dance as performed by a troupe of sea slugs. Consider yourself warned.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Dear Oliver, I'm sorry.

Bacon Bits here just learnt that the Swiss graffiti artist Oliver Fricker, who had a month or two ago broken into our SMRT depot to tag an MRT train, is receiving 3 strokes of Singapore's cruel cane, accompanied by 5 months in jail:
But Swiss IT consultant Oliver Fricker ... failed to convince District Judge See Kee Oon that a deterrent sentence was not in order.

Finding that Fricker, 32, had displayed a "calculated criminal conduct", Judge See sentenced him to five months' jail and three strokes of the cane.

The sentence was handed down about six hours after Fricker pleaded guilty, around noon, to charges of vandalism and entering a protected place. A third charge stating that he had committed an act of vandalism by cutting the fence of the depot was taken into consideration.

Judge See agreed with Deputy Public Prosecutor Sharon Lim who said Fricker had committed "a very serious offence" - and that the whole incident had "alarmed the general public" and "shaken their confidence in the security of protected places".
Shake my confidence in the security of protected places!? What fucking rubbish!

The only thing that is being reinforced here is the stranglehold that the State has on the insecurities in its people of itself. The fear that Singapore insists in instilling in her people of the elusive terrorist, of the potential invasions by our regional neighbours, of all sorts of bloody calamities effected by external enemies who hate the State and apparently also her people. The constant insistence that I need to be wary of suspicious looking people at all my public spots, and that I need to mindful that there're terrorists out there waiting to kill me and my family.

Strangely enough, I already know that.

I also know that if the terrorists really want to get us, they're likely going to go about it in ways and at times least expected. Because terrorism is essentially an element of surprise. That's why it's scary: you never know when it's going to happen.

But I also don't know when I'm going to die. I also don't know when I'd finally meet the Hamsomest Porkchop of my life. I also don't know when my buses and trains arrive. I also don't know what my life will be like in the future: will I be happy, sad, single, sick, with kids, unemployed, married, with a cat (hello Cat in the Cream!), the first gay porcine Prime Minister of Singapore, a war hero, a dissenter, or even a terrorist?

This fear that our State security can be compromised should be like any other existential woe. It is difficult to dissipate but we roll with it as and when the shit hits the fan. Instead, what we have now is constant pressure to turn this precautionary stance into a debilitating phobia that arrests us in our own minds and country. There're basically two types of people who we're also encouraged to be wary of. If by media standards (read: stereotyping), it's always going to be some darker-skinned person, or who looks like he might be a Muslim (that's two assumptions there: male and Muslim), or who looks poor, or doesn't speak well, etc.

If like me you have actually been physically attacked by random pigs, you know that the kindest and friendliest people can indeed turn into major arseholes who'd beat you up. The only way to effectively get around this is to either develop an unhealthy paranoia of everyone, or become a conspiracy theorist who never leaves his/her house.

But I don't want to live in a state of constant arrest. I don't want to fear for all these potential arseholes who are out to get me and my barnmates. So I refuse to put on my tinfoil hat and x-ray glasses and with all those off, I inadvertently gain a clarity and the eventual realisation that there's someone else far more frightening than real and imagined criminals.

In the case of the People versus Oliver Fricker [2010], who is the one sending terror down my spine? Allow me to share with you what Jolene Tan dug up for her argument against caning, published at The Online Citizen--from a victim of State atrocity: (do read her whole article, it's really good!)
I heard the cane. It sounded like a plank hitting the wall. A split second later I felt it was tearing across my buttocks. I screamed and struggled like a mad animal. All I thought was that I want to run away. If I’m not tied up, one stroke could keep me running for a mile.

And I just could not control my screams. It went on and on, one stroke, one minute. Some lashes fall on the same spot, splitting open the skin even more.

Some prisoners urinate and even faint because of the pain. I felt giddy and went limp on the trestle at the last stroke. My bleeding buttocks throbbed with pain and felt like they were on fire.

A few prisoners pretend to faint to escape more strokes but the warder will go on flogging to see if you cry out. That’s because if you’re conscious, you will scream.

After we were flogged, a medical officer applied some antiseptic on the wounds. My buttocks then swelled to twice their normal size. My thighs went blue-black. I had to go without shorts for more than two weeks so that my wounds could heal. I couldn’t sit or sleep on my back or bathe all this time either.

The pain burns in your mind long after it is over. Until now I have nightmares about it.
You know who scares the shit out of me? It is none other than the bloody State! A State that can so easily turn to arcanely barbaric corporal punishment involving intentionally splitting people's skin with the crack of a cane because so-and-so premeditated some crime. A State that continually justifies the premeditated use of such punishment because--and I paraphrase--this is written in the books, you know our practices, so if you don't want to suffer these consequences, then you jolly well don't transgress.

Really? So if you decide that, hey, thieves should have their fingers chewed off by sewer rats, or that male rapists get their penises skewered by a satay stick, or that homosexuals get publicly stoned to death, or that spouse abusers will have mouths stitched together, then it's all okay. Because, come on, don't like the punishment? Just don't commit those illegal acts.

Make no mistake here, the message might be subtle but eerily clear: the confidence that the State has the will, power, and temperament of an enraged hulk must be protected. It is not an entity to be fucked with because it will unleash its cruelty against you even if you do something as completely harmless as give commuters a delightful experience. Peddling fear of others, fear of truths, and fear of the State. State torture. State murder. State terror. This State will tell you when, where and how to have fun; please, declare and surrender all imagination, initiative and peace of mind at immigration checkpoint.

Dear Oliver, on behalf of the many Singaporeans and farm animals who don't believe in the legitimacy of your sentencing, that tag was awesome, and I'm sorry for my country.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Filial piety: fine feelings and hard work

Parenting is hard work. If only the Singapore government were as good at recognising that when making policies that have material consequences for parents, as it is in making sappy videos full of fine feelings.

But that, of course, as Funny Little World explains, is the whole point. This video on filial piety is about displacing political responsibility from the government for collective problems that need (to some extent) collective solutions. It promotes a moralising discourse, about the fine feelings we should all supposedly have about our parents (failing to recognise that they might have been wholly abusive, indeed perhaps specifically notwithstanding any abuse), to avoid questions about society's and the government's welfare obligations, about the fair and appropriate distribution of the hard work of eldercare, as between individuals and the state.

We were all ruminating on this in the Barn, prompting the following wisdom from the Complaining Cow:
The ad plays on people's fears about growing old alone and unassisted, a huge source of insecurity in a country without a social welfare system. The idea that it's possible for elderly people to be abusive is generally unrecognised (even though many people have experienced this firsthand in their own family, from what I've been told -- in particular elderly people abusing each other). Such behaviour is seen as 'demanding' and 'unreasonable' at most, but something to be put up with because the way society functions is stacked up against older people, so family members have to be accommodating.

I was thinking about the ad, where the elderly mother says she wants to move out. Personally, I think I would want to have my own household when I'm old (whether or not I have children), and I wonder, in the context of the fictional ad family, why her moving out would be a bad thing for the family? The family in the ad seems to have no choice but have the grandmother live with them. I'm aware there are all sorts of possible reasons: eg if someone for some reason she can't afford their own home anymore, or needs assistance, or does want to live with their child's family but just suffers occasional fits of pique against them, etc.

But these in turn point to problems like homelessness, access to care for mental/physical disability, general accessibility of our built environment to anyone who's not 100% able-bodied; and MCYS's response to that seems to be: have children now so that they'll provide you with these social services FOC when you need them, 'cause we sure as hell ain't going to. Which fucks over everyone who can't or won't have children, or for whatever reason doesn't want to depend on them.
The Cow also raised questions about the other toxic messages packed away in the ad:
Also: what's up with all the other toxic narratives that are peripheral to the ad's intended message but tightly woven into its fabric?! Eg setting up the woman as the primary caregiver of the family in both generations (it wasn't the man's cooking the grandmother was criticising, was it?), framing relations between the woman and her mother-in-law as adversarial, etc.
My Magical eye alighted upon these items too. Not only does the filial piety conversation attempt to displace collective obligations onto individual households, it also (less overtly) displaces collective obligations onto women, in particular, who are assumed to be the ones who should provide free care work for the sake of family togetherness. The stamps of this assumption are all over the video, which is - funnily enough - entitled "Father and Son". There is no indication of what relationship the woman has with her own parents (presumably this is a nod to the notion that they ought to have bothered to have a useful child, i.e. a son and not a daughter, of their own); in fact, there are no daughter-parent relationships portrayed at all. Not only is the work of cooking done by the woman, but also, at the beginning, she goes off to sort out tasks on behalf of the family, while telling her husband and son to stay with her mother-in-law and with each other. The lesson the boy learns is evident in his question: he asks not about the work involved in caring for his grandmother, but about his father's feelings.

The message here is gendered. The fine feelings of filial piety are for men and boys: but the hard work of elder care, which makes the sustenance of those fine feelings possible, is for women and girls.

If we have to watch videos about fathers and son, I think I prefer this ad:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Make Censorship History

We're not fans of censorship over here at the Barn (although we reserve the right to uninhibitedly critique the living fuck out of shitty speech).

So I'm very pleased to raise a Magical wing and point you to the Arts Engage proposal in favour of replacing censorship of the arts with regulation. Check out, in particular, their eminently sputter-worthy collected accounts of censorship.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Rhymes with witch

A few months ago I was waiting for a bus with a friend. The bus stop was one of those where no buses arrive for 15 minutes, then seven of them show up all at once. Our bus was stuck two bus-lengths behind the bus bay, so we had to shuffle between other buses in front and the grass verge on the pavement to get to the bus, as did a small queue of other passengers in front of us. While performing said shuffle, we were made aware of the presence of a man behind us by his snapping at us: 'Are you getting on the bus or not? If you aren't, get out of the way.'

Now, this Cow is not one much for bucolic meandering. This Cow gets het up into a state of Complaint frequently due to an impatient nature, and the only thing that stopped me from joining the 'I Secretly Want to Punch Slow-Walking People in the Back of The Head' Facebook group was the fact that I don't want to punch people; I just want to tell them very loudly and imperiously, EXCUSE ME. Seeing as humans and cows have one anatomical feature in common—namely: the absence of eyes on the back of the head, I think it's only fair to give warning to slow-walkers in front of you that something impatient (and/or late to an appointment) their way comes. There's no need to be snippy about it too. Imaginary imperial pretensions notwithstanding, I always manage to be quite polite and meek with my 'Excuse me's. It's like directional signals on cars; you don't get pissed off with other cars just because they're there in front of you on the road, right?

So I was not liking it one bit, the tone with which this interloper was telling me to 'get out of the way'. We have an expression 'round these parts: Your grandfather owns the road issit? ('Issit' = 'is it', but said in demanding tone which promises a world of pain to whoever responds in the affirmative.) This sentiment was strong in my mind, but being the younger, smaller-sized and less drunk party in this public confrontation, I thought it wise to restrict my reply to the un-sarcastic and purely factual, so I told him that we were indeed trying our best to get on the bus, and if he'd just let us get on with it, he could also achieve the same.

So we all Got On The Fucking Bus. See, it wasn't that hard, was it? Except that Angry Man felt the need to extend our inadvertent interaction by saying, quite loud enough for the entire bus to hear: 'Bitches!'

Gentle readers, I saw red. My companion, with much quicker reflexes, responded with 'Bastard!' as Angry Man disappeared up the stairs to the upper deck. The bus trundled on in stony silence. The entire encounter had taken less than a minute in real time, but my heart pounded as if I'd just done the 100m sprint. I was angry and shaken.

And this, my dear friends, is why 'bitch' cannot be reappropriated to empower women.

'Bitch' was, is and always will be a gendered insult. It will always be used to shame, degrade and encourage violence against women for the sole reason that they are women. There is no equivalent insult whose power to degrade springs from being a slur against intrinsic maleness. ('Bastard': illegitimate children are not confined to the male sex. 'Asshole': everyone has one. 'Idiot', 'moron', 'retard': Slurs against mental disabilities, not maleness.)

I am well aware that many people (and many of them women) think that 'bitch' is a relatively mild term, that their lives would be that much poorer if they didn't use this epithet, and that if I can't handle it, then it's because my skin is too thin—that if I just don't let it hurt me, then the insult loses its power. I could do all that, but that would be a purely selfish way to live, because I live in privileged circumstances that allow me to treat 'bitch' as merely a word, and not have to suffer the most extreme physical consequences of woman-hating. And you know what: I wasn't hurt by being called a bitch. I was insulted. My emotional state of hurtness or lack thereof had no bearing on the degree of insult that was offered to me.

'Bitch' is reserved with special vehemence for women who are 'difficult', who are angry, who exact the same standards as the toughest male managers at the workplace, who make our own sexual and reproductive choices without shame, who refuse to quietly and gladly submit to what men want us to do that is in contradiction with our own needs, wishes and choices.

But we cannot reclaim 'bitch' to celebrate women's independence and women's anger, because 'bitch' can also be used on any woman. In the incident related above, all I did to get called 'bitch' was get on the bus. If I had been a man, Angry Man would have insulted me for being slow, not for being a man. To the person who uses 'bitch' as an insult, it's just another word for 'woman that I hate', and as we have seen, women can be hated for doing almost anything. And that is why we can never use the word 'bitch' without even inadvertently tapping on and feeding into this deep well of hatred.


After posting the above, I was reminded by my companion on that night of some details I had elided. Apparently my memory was too forgiving to Angry Man. What actually happened was, after he'd asked (in rather bad faith, in light of what followed) whether we were getting on the bus, we said yes, and he replied, 'Then why are you walking like you're at a funeral?' My companion (again, with the lightning take-no-shit reflexes) shot back, 'None of your bloody business,' which is the comment that preceded his calling us bitches.

In addition to the name-calling, another feature of Angry Man's behaviour which I have noticed in other unpleasant public encounters with aggressive men, is the entitlement they feel to encroach on that radius of personal space that everyone is entitled to in a public place, if that space happens to surround a woman. In this case, Angry Man chivvied us on our way because he clearly felt that our claim on the space that we occupied was trumped by his desire to board the bus at record-breaking pace. I'm sure he'll do well in the Night Bus Olympics, douchebags' division.