Friday, April 17, 2015

Speech That We Hate

When Professor Gunaratna, from the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore, asked US Under Secretary of State Richard Stengel why the US could not take a tough position on radical websites and social media messages, he was probably thinking of ISIS videos of beheadings. Furthest from his mind, and that of Teo Chee Hean who was also one of the panelists, must be the grassroots leader who made his plans quite clearly on Facebook about genital mutilation of a precocious child.

Like the ISIS monsters who carried out acts of violence while invoking praises of their higher entity, Jason Tan alias Cookie Tan saw no wrong in stringing the blemish of a religious leader and destructive phallic intent in one same sentence. How do these deviants come up with their sick ideas?

The Ku Klux Klan justified the killing of blacks with a story from the Old Testament (Book of Numbers, Chapter 25): While the Israelites are staying in Moab, some married lovely Moabite women. But when they started to worship their god, Baal, Moses is told that he needs to impale all the chiefs of Israel. Phinehas, son of Elezor, rushes into the tent of an Israelite who married a Midianite woman, and pierces husband and wife with one spear, right through the stomach. Apparently, this makes God happy again, so he stops the plague that he has been pouring down on the people. The New International Version (NIV) account reads like this:
So Moses said to Israel’s judges, “Each of you must put to death those of your people who have yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor.”
Then an Israelite man brought into the camp a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the tent of meeting. When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear into both of them, right through the Israelite man and into the woman’s stomach. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.
The Lord said to Moses, “Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites."

It's not fully established that the grassroots leader is a church going Christian, or what kind of bedtime stories his parents read to him. One thing is clear, religious extremists come in all shades and guises. Just try to avoid being tarred with the same feather.  Stengel's Parthian shot is worth repeating, "Social media is a powerful tool for them, but it should be an even more powerful tool for us."

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Mother's Pain

Everybody knows Lady Macbeth will never win the Miss Congeniality award. Not after the way she prodded her husband into steely resolve to do the dastardly deed:
"I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums
And dashed the brains out."

Amos's mom is not Lady Macbeth. She's not even the evil Empress Dowager that Francis Seow claimed was actually running the show here. Mom would not report her own flesh and blood to the police, in a horrible place like ours where waving a copy of a report is already condemnation. J B Jeyaratnam did just that, at an election rally, and was taken to the cleaners.

Mom (“I did not file a police report to have my son arrested”) thought that a public apology lodged at a police station would sate the hellhounds' unquenchable thirst for blood, or at the least make the grassroots leader shy off from legalised castration. However, where we are, as the Bard penned, there's daggers in men's smiles (Act 2, Scene 3, Page 8).

It was was clever juxtaposition of words that fanned the flames to effect. A mother's declaration that her charge is beyond her control could be a cause of celebration in other circumstances. Like the breakaway states that chose to be unshackled from Mother Russia. Or a young nation longing to be free from the tyranny of colonialists. Let's not go overboard here. We are talking about a kid; mom was probably just driven up the wall in frustration, let's not escalate it into a family breakup.

Nathan Heller of The New Yorker (total circulation: 1,044,524 total audience: 4,476,000) reminded the world that Singapore today has a well-guarded culture of political deference. The writer from the state press that is ranked a hundred and fifty-third out of a hundred and eighty countries, just below Russia, by Reporter Without Borders, may soon discover the horror of Lady Macbeth when she finally realised, "Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, Oh, Oh!"

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Political Pimps

Taking politics seriously
It has to be rubbing salt into the wound when a brave anti-colonialist fighter is parodied as a sparring partner in a musical at Marina Bay Sands' MasterCard Theatres. We are not talking about a Jean Valjean duelling with Javert in Les Misérable, an unknown warbler is trying to pass himself off as Lim Chin Siong.

The blemish on his good name started when he was wrongly accused by a diagnosed dyslexic who could have mistakenly transposed "communalism" into "communism". Lim had on 31 July 1961 stated categorically in a forum letter to the Straits Times, "Let me make it clear once and for all that I am not a Communist or a Communist front-man or, for that matter, anybody's front man." Since the credibility of the 153rd ranked daily rag has always in question, Lim told Melanie Chew ("Leaders of Singapore", Chew, Melanie, Resource Press, 1996):
"To brand someone as Communist at that stage was the best and most convenient way to put him into jail.. . Of course, my brief period of association with the Anti-British League had become a "useful pretext" to brand me as a Communist."

Lim Chin Siong (Chinese: 林清祥) was an influential leftwing politician and trade union leader during the 1950s and 1960s. He had the dubious distinction of being detained without trial twice in his life: first from 1956-1959 during Lim Yew Hock's government, and subsequently from 1963-1969 during Operation Coldstore. His wife was locked up in the Women's Prison from 1967 to 1969. Lim co-founded the People's Action Party (PAP) in 1954, and was elected Legislative Assemblyman of Bukit Timah in 1955.

In 1955, Lim was alleged to have instigated a labour strike (the euphemism preferred today is "industrial action") by bus workers that resulted into the Hock Lee bus riots. Historian Dr Thum Ping Tjin, however, notes that a transcript of Lim's speech shows that far from inciting violence, Lim used humour to diffuse the tension, reminding the crowd that the police were employees and did not deserve anger. This was in the good old days when cops don't bash citizens at the flip of an ID tag. Lim would have been useful at Little India.

It's bad enough when history gets written by victors, it's horrible when distortion is set to tune. Whoever is putting propaganda into musical score to be - to borrow a phrase from Dr Poh Soo Kai's statement on 23 March 2015 - a political pimp of the worst kind.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Stuff Of Nightmares

It's difficult to fathom the motive behind former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's tongue lashing, but one postulate has it that both he and his punching bag, current Prime Minister Najib Razak, risk being exposed, tried and jailed if opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) were to come to power.

Mahathir thinks Najib has at least two skeletons that can't be locked up in the cupboard forever. Najib's Strategic investment firm 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) has amassed debts of around RM41.9 billion (S$15.5 billion). There is also the affiliation to the sensational murder of Mongolian national Shaariibuugiin Altantuyaa, whose beautiful body parts were obliterated by military grade C-4 explosives at a deserted area in Shah Alam, Malaysia.

If misapplication of public funds is a jailable offence, some Singapore politicians, and those politically affiliated, may soon be having sleepness nights. Top of the list heading for the Changi accommodation has to be the profligate who blew S$300 million on some kiddy game event. And then there's the short runt who paid global branding company Interbrand S$400,000 to rename Marina Bay as Marina Bay. We don't know, and may never know, what is the running tab for hosting the F1 night race, but whoever is bankrolling Ecclestone's lifestyle will ultimately have to account for the numbers one day.

But nobody got killed, right? Wrong. The family of the late Private Dominique Sarron Lee is not about to forget that “if the Training Safety Regulations (TSR) had been complied with, Pte Lee and his platoon mates would not have been subjected to smoke that was as dense as that during the incident, and… for as long as they were during the incident”. They are now taking legal action against MINDEF. Changi quarters may soon require expansion if justice is served on this island.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Father Knows Best

It was a kopi-tiam argument that tested the best of friendships - at stake was the erudition of a Cambridge scholar. We had to pipe down quickly before being accosted by plain clothes law enforcers for "disorderly behavior by speaking loud in the general public". The demi-god had said steamboat was two words. The redolence of mass adulation will brook no contrarian view.

In chapter 12 of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (first published 1885), Jim and Huck continue down the shore of the Missouri mountains and come upon a steamboat crippled on a rock. Cliff's Notes say Mark Twain's decision to name the boat the Walter Scott continues his mockery of romantic novels and their authors. The wreck's importance to the novel, however, is found in the contrasting images of peace and police brutality and Huck's inevitable deliberations on death.

If literature is not your cup of tea, you may find this easier to swallow. Steamboat Willie is a 1928 American animated short film produced in black-and-white by Walt Disney Studios and was released by Celebrity Productions. The cartoon is considered the debut of Mickey Mouse and his girlfriend Minnie. In 1994 members of the animation field voted Steamboat Willie 13th in the book "The 50 Greatest Cartoons", a compilation of the greatest cartoons of all time. In 1998 the film was selected for preservation in the United States' National Film Registry for being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". It is not found at the National Museum of Singapore. That would take the mickey out of somebody.

The founding father did arrive home that day, we are told, but not by battleship. He explained that he wanted steam boat for dinner, but as “steam boat” was two words, and telegrams were charged by the word, he wrote “battleship” instead, to save words and money!