Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Riot in Little India - What could happen next: Considerations and Consequences

I was a little surprised to hear that a riot happened last night in Little India. But not very.

The benefits and necessities of massive immigration have been repeated ad nauseum by the government. In contrast, for years, I have warned of the unintended consequences of immigration, which include erosion of social cohesion and the increased risk of civil unrest.

I do not intend to recap the details of the Little India riot in this post. If you are reading this, you should be well-apprised of the details reported in local media. What I will discuss are perspectives that I think not many people will realize, and what I think will happen next.

That a riot happened is not a surprise. That Singaporeans are genuinely shocked is.

Seriously, with fully 30% of the population here foreign-born, and a large chunk of migrant labor coming from lower educated and poorer countries with more violent histories of protest than Singapore, why should it be a surprise that a riot can occur? Forbes has an article with a similar sentiment as mine.

The police commissioner said that "the incident last night was not the Singapore way".

Indeed. However, one third of the population here is not Singaporean. On balance, looking at the sheer numbers of immigrants, arguing that everyone who lives here should conform to the "Singapore way" is foolhardy at best, and at worst, rings of either naivete or hubris.

As to why foreign workers could be so unhappy as to riot in the streets, I do not know. It could simply be a case of emotions running high after seeing a kinsman fatally knocked down and then escalating into a riot.

What I do know is that based on well-documented incidents by TWC2 of how foreign workers are abused in Singapore, there are plenty of reasons for a foreign worker in Singapore to be less than happy. If later investigations reveal an underlying current of simmering resentment that drove the workers to riot, I would not be surprised to find out.

The government has no good choices of how to respond to this incident. Humpty Dumpty can't be put back together again.

A riot by foreign workers happened last night. Nothing can change that fact.

This raises so many obvious questions among Singapore citizens and residents.

Is it safe in Singapore? Is it safe to go to Little India?
Why did the riot happen?
Will riots happen again?
How should the rioters be dealt with?
What will this do to labor relations with our migrant workers?
What does this mean for our country's immigration policy?

The most damaging consequence of this incident is that it illustrates that Singapore is not immune to civil unrest. The illusion that massive uncontrolled immigration is an unalloyed good has been shattered.

That the riot was caused by foreign workers calls into question the wisdom of our immigration policy AND underscores the importance of how we as citizens and Singaporeans navigate our relationships with the foreigners in our midst.

The government has no good choices as to how to respond to this incident. If they are seen as not prosecuting the arrested to the fullest extent of the law and meting out justice, some Singaporeans, the more xenophobic ones, will perceive this as softness. Already, we can read comments online excoriating the rioters and blaming them for threatening Singapore's stability.

If the government does not exercise restraint in its response however, the consequences could be dire too. A harsh response could be reasoned to have a deterrent effect; yet it could equally have a inflammatory effect and lead to a higher likelihood of more riots and civil disturbances, such as strikes.

Remember, there are thousands of foreign workers here. And even though we think of rioting as irrational behavior, when you are a foreign worker in a foreign land incensed at what you perceive as unfair treatment of your peers, the calculus of what is 'rational' is very different.

Even irrational behavior looks reasonable when you can find enough people to agree with you, and again I remind the reader, we have thousands of foreign workers here.

If I were an employer in the construction industry hiring hundreds of foreign workers, I would be worried.

"With so much chaos, someone will do something stupid."

I'm aware that I'm probably hyperventilating a little here, but let's hope that no one actually does something stupid, either foreigner or Singaporean. Something stupid meaning another incident that could fan the flames of discord and lead to another major civil disturbance.

The quote is from the movie V for Vendetta. It is taken out of context here, but the parallel should be clear. It is right for the government to appeal for calm.

Despite the riot, imposing a curfew, rules on assembly or stricter policing in Little India is asking for trouble.

Why are there so many foreign workers in Little India anyway?

It should not be hard to empathize and understand why. Because Little India feels like home to many foreign workers. And for a few hours at least, a foreign worker can pretend that he is not far away from family and a life he understands and instead in a cold metropolis of glass and steel.

So, why do I think that imposing heavier rules and policing in Little India is a bad idea?

Here's a passage from The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren, possibly the most celebrated gay love story ever. The passage is from the protagonist's recollection of the Stonewall riots and I reproduce it here to illustrate what might happen when law enforcement encroaches into a space occupied by a marginalized minority:

"The street was full of cops and flashing red lights.But what was more amazing, the street was full of hundreds of gays, and they were fighting the cops. For years they...submitted to harassments and arrest...But the night of Stonewall, they made the instant visceral decision that they had had enough. They were throwing rocks and bottles...They were fighting New York's Finest with their bare hands.

I watched with growing anger and sorrow. I didn't drink, but those bars were about the only public places where gays could be themselves. No straight could understand how precious they were to us. I had always believed in law and order, supported the police. But those cops were busting me...They were riding over me with their big horses and shoving me into vans handcuffed...

Then an amazing thing happened. I had a rock in my hand, and I threw it."

A enlarged police presence in Little India will likely have the effect of fueling resentment and ironically, may lead to a higher risk for future riots. Yet, some may feel that the government needs to make a show of force to demonstrate it takes public order seriously. I am neither for one or the other. Again, I reiterate. There are no good choices here. Humpty Dumpty lies broken and in pieces.

With what has happened last night, we can only hope that such an incident is a one-off and Singaporeans can put it behind us.

Yet, the disquietude persists.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Book List Refreshed 1/10/2013

I have removed:

Without Conscience by Robert D. Hare
A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
The Race for What's Left by Michael T. Klare
OB Marker by Cheong Yip Seng

I have added:

Full Planet, Empty Plates by Lester R. Brown
The First Muslim by Lesley Hazleton
The End of the Suburbs by Leigh Gallagher
Reinventing Collapse by Dmitry Orlov

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Diversity in the Top Echelons of the Public Sector

Eddie Teo wrote another open letter on PSC scholarships a few days ago. It was on *The Value of Diversity*. 

You may find it here

I commented on his previous letter here, and I will comment on his latest one here in this post.

My first reaction on reading his letter? Rolling my eyes inwardly, with the word "tosh" appearing in my mind.

It's all well and good that the PSC is actively soliciting scholars from less selective schools.

Unfortunately, it's a long distance from budding scholar to head honcho policymaker. And guess what? The head honchos today are the products of yesterday's scholar selection process, which means that while today's scholarship recipient may have a slightly lower probability of coming from Raffles JC or Hwa Chong, s/he almost certainly will be working under someone who did.

And who gets promoted faster? Not the mavericks, misfits or outlier types who come from non-pedigreed backgrounds, that's for sure.

"Those aspiring to be public servants should realise that their performance will often be enhanced if they can bring a new perspective to help tackle a public policy issue, gained by their stint in a “non-traditional” university or “non-traditional” country."

Oh, originality and imagination certainly get you brownie points, but Singapore's favorite kind of innovation has always been the kind that comes in a nice, neat box with a bow tied on top.

Science and engineering research? Only if there's a financial return on investment.

Family values? Yes, certainly. No problems with keeping Section 377A on the statutes, but steamroll the casinos into Singapore over the protests. Sometimes, I really wish they did condone spousal rape and would sentence people to death for adultery here. At least it would be consistently medieval here and we would all be treated equally as serfs.

Scholars fresh out of university, who have had good grades throughout school and the same sparkling CCA records, are the most vulnerable to craving external validation. I should know: I was a scholar once upon a time too.

Your unconventional scholars with non-traditional perspectives are going to adapt to innovate within a tightly circumscribed space, drinking the Kool-Aid as it were, which will render them indistinguishable from their more pedigreed peers, or they will exit the system out of sheer frustration. 

We also do not care what schools they come from when deciding on whether or not to award a scholarship. Several of this year’s President’s Scholars came from neighbourhood primary schools [Emphasis mine].

Yes, because of the angst-filled and heart attack-inducing process of primary one registration (just ask young parents), we know that getting into a name brand primary school is a complete crapshoot. So, obviously, we won't hold it against you.

Now, secondary schools on the other hand...

What is not said is sometimes more important than what is said...

Just as the government is changing the way it governs Singapore, Public Service leaders are learning how to manage a new generation of younger public servants, who want greater participation and more voice. The PSC’s effort to bring diversity into the Public Service will come to nought if divergent views are discouraged within the system and those who dare to question assumptions and have a non-conventional perspective are not valued and appreciated.

Eddie's thinking here is that by recruiting these non-traditional scholars from non-traditional backgrounds, they will be the leading edge of the Public Service's transformation into a more diverse and dynamic civil service.

My problem with this view is that these non-traditional scholars will either exit the system before they attain leadership positions, or they will be assimilated by the system they were meant to change from within.

Do we have evidence for the latter? Of course we do. 

While it does not follow that only those with a less fortunate background can empathize with the poor,...
...Yes, there are a few scholar public servants who lack humility and have forgotten that they are where they are because of the support and help from those around them.

The converse is not necessarily true either. The kicker is that sometimes, it is precisely the people who rose up from the bottom who turn out to the least sympathetic ones of all. Mah Bow "affordable" Tan and Ng Eng Hen came from supposedly humble backgrounds, but look at how sensitive they are to the lower strata of Singapore society. See here for instance.

Groupthink already exists in the public sector. We know this because our government willfully sticks its fingers in its ears and went "la, la, la" when we told it years ago that current immigration policy is unsustainable, and that housing and public transportation is badly in need of new investment. 

Groupthink by its very nature perpetuates itself. Thank you Eddie, for striving to put new wine in old bottles. Personally, I would do something about the bottles instead, but good on you for trying.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

On the Parliament Vote to Endorse the Population White Paper - Redux: Who didn't vote?

As promised in a previous post, I kept a close watch on the release of the votes and proceedings of the parliamentary vote held on 8 February to endorse the controversial population white paper.

You may find the proceedings here. Naturally, I saved a copy to my hard drive. Even with legislation that compels the government to release this information, I have zero trust in the PAP in such matters.

And given the compromised nature of the mainstream media in reporting political news, you will never hear the specifics of the proceedings in the Straits Times, so if you find this blog post enlightening, please disseminate this as far as possible. Our citizenry need to be informed citizenry if we are to have influence in charting the course of this nation of ours.

Given the short attention spans of most people, I would not be surprised if many Singaporeans have forgotten about the specifics of who voted for what. And this was probably something that the PAP was counting on.

This post will serve as a reminder of the voting record on that fateful day.

From the parliamentary proceedings, in the matter of endorsing the population white paper, there were 77 ayes, 13 noes, and 1 abstention. There were 5 absentees on that day.

All opposition party MPs voted no.

All non-constituency MPs voted no.

Of the nominated MPs, Eugene Tan abstained, as is well known. Janice Koh, Faizah Jamal and Laurence Lien all voted against the motion, as is also known.

What was not stated in the mainstream media was that of the remaining five nominated MPs, Tan Su Shan was absent, while the remaining four voted aye.

These four, whose names were not mentioned in the media, are Nicholas Fang, Mary Liew, Ramy Dhinakaran and Teo Siong Seng.

Remember these nominated MP names. When the time comes to re-appoint the nominated MPs, it will be interesting to see who gets the nod for re-appointment, and who doesn't, and see how the re-appointment reconciles with this voting record.

Now, the most interesting part of this post.

There are 99 MPs in parliament. With 77 ayes, 13 noes, 1 abstention and 5 absentees, that still leaves 3 MPs unaccounted for.

It was known that Inderjit Singh absented himself during the vote, and well he did, given the misgivings he voiced out prior to the taking of the vote.

But who were the other two?

The answer is: Indranee Rajah and Ng Eng Hen. 

Read into that what you will. Myself? I would note that Ng Eng Hen is a Cabinet Minister, while Indranee Rajah is a Senior Minister of State, unlike Inderjit Singh who is just a regular MP. It's bad form for people that high up in the PAP hierarchy to absent themselves from a vote as widely watched as this one.

I do not have information on how or why they absented themselves. And our mainstream media doesn't seem to either, or doesn't want to tell us, or just plain doesn't want to know.

*Remember, if you found this post noteworthy, please disseminate.  As citizens, all of us need more information.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Google Reader is shutting down

Like many users of Google Reader, it is the number 2 Google service I spend the most time on, after Gmail, so it's a terrible shame that I now need to find a new RSS solution.

And as Hitler so eloquently put it, some "social shit sandwich" isn't going to cut it in replacing my reading experience. I am *so* anti-social network. Don't even get me started on Twitter.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Book List Refreshed 13/03/2013

I have removed:

The Honest Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely
The Vanishing Face of Gaia by James Lovelock
The Wisdom of Whores by Elizabeth Pisani
The Porning of America by Kevin M. Scott and Carmine Sarracino

I have added:

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brian Sanderson
Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb
OB Markers by Cheong Yip Seng
The Race for What's Left by Michael T. Klare

Friday, March 8, 2013

Straits Times 8 March 2013 - Taking Flight

Long time readers of my blog will know that I am a paragliding pilot.

Last Saturday, a Straits Times journalist who had found our club's Facebook page requested for a photo shoot and an interview. Fortunately, the wind at the field next to Marina Bay Cruise Center was accommodating. =)

The article was published in today's Life!, along with some pretty pictures.

To all my earthbound friends who have not seen me strapped into my wing, well, I'm the one with the silver and azure glider, circled in yellow above. It's a Gin Bolero III model.

The secretary of our club told me that he expects a flood of enquiries after the publication of this article, given the large number of adventure sports enthusiasts in Singapore.

Me? I'm not so sure. The sport has traditionally been small and mostly limited to those comfortable with the risks inherent in an air sport. It's very much a self-selected sport, especially given the constraints faced by paragliding pilots in Singapore. Most Singaporeans in the community had to find ways to learn and practice the sport on their own. I, for example, traveled to Nepal by myself in Winter 2009 to learn.

Incidentally, that's one of the things I love best about the sport. The pilots that I've met have tended to be the independent and free-spirited types that I identify most strongly with. Many of the people I've met through the sport are true kindred spirits.

Still, it would be interesting to see the response to wider publicity of our community in the coming weeks ahead.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On the Parliament Vote to Endorse the Population White Paper

So much ink has been spilled on the Population White Paper. And many, many commentators have shredded it most capably in their analyses that I feel I have nothing fresh to add.

[In truth, I do have some unique opinions on the white paper and their 'sanguine' population projections. But because there are some uncertainties in my own predictions, I would prefer to wait for certain events to pass  before publishing my thoughts in the fullness of time.]

So, I am left to comment on peripheral issues. There are two in particular, one unrelated to the title of today's post. That one will be in a separate post. The topic for this post is below.

In the recent Parliamentary vote to endorse the White Paper, Low Thia Khiang called for a division to the motion.

The news article that I linked to above described it thus:

"WP leader Low Thia Kiang stunned those in attendance by standing up to ask the Speaker for a division to the motion, effectively meaning the House could not decide to pass the paper by a verbal vote. The House doors were then locked and the assembly took to an electronic vote.  "

Low Thia Khiang is more canny than most politicians. Certainly more so than your regular PAP MP who most likely coasted in on the coat-tails of a "heavy-weight" in a GRC.

Here is why Low Thia Khiang's request is important:

In the USA, there are many websites that record and consolidate the voting records of senators and representatives on bills presented before Congress.  One such website is Project VoteSmart. The idea behind such websites is that citizens can better distinguish between what politicians say and what they actually do

In particular, as a citizen, because you elect someone and send him or her to Parliament to represent you and your interests, it behooves you, then, to check that your representative votes on legislation in accordance to your wishes. Checking your representative's voting record is one way of seeing whether you've been taken for a ride during the election campaign.

In the vote to endorse the White Paper, there were 77 "ayes", 13 "nays" and 1 abstention. All "ayes" came from the PAP. The sole abstention was from NMP Eugene Tan. 

Notwithstanding the PAP party whip, tellingly, because there are a total of 99 MPs, there are still 8 MPs unaccounted for, 5 of which are NMPs and 3 are from the PAP. Inderjit Singh was the most prominent in being absent from the vote, being a PAP MP and one who had openly voiced his misgivings prior to the vote.

In another news article, he was quoted as saying, "All I want to say is I was not present for the vote. I spoke from my heart and will do what I can to change things."

Thanks to Low Thia Khiang's request for a division to the motion, who voted for what is now a permanent part of the parliamentary record. Clearly, a lot of people are interested in this. I expect that the record of that parliamentary vote will be found here soon.

We will see what the coming years ahead hold. And in 2016 or earlier when the next elections are held, some PAP MPs may regret not absenting themselves as Inderjit Singh did.

Even if they backtrack on their endorsement in the interim, if nothing else, because of Inderjit Singh's example, the voting record would show them to have been either spineless or indecisive.

On Mainstream Media's Non-Coverage of the White Paper Protest

The recent non-coverage of the protest at Hong Lim Park this past Saturday has once again demonstrated how captured they are by the PAP. Bertha Henson had the best commentary on this, but then again, she should; she used to be part of the establishment, which gives her not just insider information but also the freedom to speak, now that she's no longer working for SPH.

One minor quibble, Bertha, if you're reading this. I would prefer if you distinguished between the PAP and the Government. I know it's understandable to use G. as shorthand for the PAP-controlled government, given Singapore's history, but it should bear repeating that the PAP and the Government of Singapore are not one and the same thing.

Bertha had one good piece of advice. Go read OB Markers by Cheong Yip Seng, former editor-in-chief of the Straits Times.

After reading his memoirs, I can categorically state that I have a better understanding of the pressures that editors and journalists in the mainstream media face, being excoriated sometimes by both the public and cabinet ministers for the same published articles. If there was ever evidence that people view things in a way that confirms their preconceived notions and suspicions...

I can also state categorically that I empathize with the view (espoused by LKY) that the mainstream media has the role to educate and persuade the public to certain points of view for the benefit of the country.

To a point. On matters of national security and foreign policy for example. But I am far from convinced that this is an appropriate role for mainstream media on other matters of national policy where the paths ahead are less clear. Like population growth. Open, informed and vigorous public debate would be preferred to propaganda.

Cheong Yip Seng's memoirs were in fact more interesting for what they did not cover rather than what they did cover. Part apologia and part hagiography (of LKY), they skipped over how the media has been used as a political weapon to silence and/or discredit opposition party politicians, and to muffle criticism or hush up failures by government agencies or processes under the rubric of "protecting confidence in the government".

But to me, this is now all moot. I no longer read the Straits Times, and I stopped watching TV a long time ago. Ergo, I no longer consume mainstream media in toto.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Workers Party - The secret behind being oh-so-"conciliatory" towards the PAP

In 2007, on the eve of the 2008 Financial Crisis, the major US automakers Ford and General Motors were in trouble. They would soon approach the US government for a bailout.

In contrast, Toyota was on the ascendant. The New York Times ran an article on the contrasting fortunes of the Japanese automaker vis-a-vis its US competitors.

The money quote came from James P. Womack, founder and chairman of the Lean Enterprise Institute:

“The last thing Toyota wants is for any of those guys to collapse.” For one thing, it could be politically disastrous for the Japanese company if it were considered responsible for the death of a grand American institution. “But it’s also completely worthless to Toyota in the market,” Womack adds. “They’re selling all the vehicles they can make already. What they actually want is just continuous, slow decline — decline at the same rate that they have the ability to organically expand. That’s the ideal world for them.”

Let me parse that for you with a few substitutions in case the parallel I have drawn is not clear enough.

“The last thing the Workers Party wants is for any of those guys to collapse.” For one thing, it could be politically disastrous for the opposition party if it were considered responsible for the death of a grand Singaporean institution. “But it’s also completely worthless to the Workers Party in the political landscape,” mjuse adds. “They’re winning all the seats they can win already. What they actually want is just continuous, slow decline — decline at the same rate that they have the ability to organically expand. That’s the ideal world for them.”

The general Singapore population is not ready for a government that is not majority PAP. As Yawning Bread has frequently put it, the average Singaporean is not desirous of a complete change in government; they just want the social compact of old renewed: surrender of civil rights, liberties and a robust democracy in exchange for economic growth and the good life.

The average Singaporean wants a bigger, more equitable slice of the pie. They don't have a problem with the baker who bakes the pie (other than his miserly ways) or the taste of the pie itself.

[As an aside, some very intelligent people have postulated that in today's consumerist, capitalist society, the pie is in fact rotten in toto. I am sympathetic to this argument. But then again, I'm a greenie. You can read more here.]

I don't buy the argument about Workers Party wanting to be a "co-driver" to keep the PAP on its toes. Politics is ultimately about power, and the Workers Party eventually wants to be in the driver's seat. So, why mess with something that has worked? Given the realities of our population's sentiments, PAP-lite is the way to go if a political party wants to eventually come to power in Singapore. Low Thia Khiang obviously understands this. Anything more radical than that is a path to political marginalization.

I know educated urbane professionals who, while they have problems with the PAP's arrogance and high-handedness, have difficulty imagining a post-PAP Singapore. These are the middle class folks who decide the shape of our political landscape.

So, when the WP says that they will work with the PAP going forward, I keep getting that creepy tingly feeling like a brush of cold fingers across the back of the neck. And I'm not even a PAP flunky.

Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer. *Shudder*.

One further thing. You might think that I'm referring only to the PAP in the above paragraph when I state that the Workers Party wants a slow decline. Really, that applies equally to all the other opposition parties. The WP is cannibalizing the opposition vote where they can.

Ironically, the beneficiary of the decline in the vote share of the other opposition parties could well be the PAP, if voting tactically is no longer something to consider as the WP becomes more significant in Singapore politics and less differentiated from the PAP.

As one last aside, differentiating themselves further by casting themselves more left or right of the PAP/WP, or carving out a niche issue in which they enjoy strong support could be a viable strategy in the future for an opposition party to play kingmaker, in the event coalition government ever comes to Singapore.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Facebook’s Graph Search

Have you heard of Facebook’s Graph Search? You should. The buzz has been everywhere these few days. Wired Magazine has an article on it, but it’s a little too much of a cheerleader for Facebook for me. Still it gives a good overview of Graph Search.

Forbes had a more nuanced article, found here. The Forbes article references a short Gizmodo article, also worth reading, linked here. Techcrunch has a decidedly negative take on Graph Search. Their article can be read here.

I am not a heavy user of Facebook, despite being an early adopter (I joined in 2005, when I was a senior at a university on the East Coast.)  I am what you might call an “unenthused” poster of links, videos, photos and (god forbid) status updates. No Timeline for me, thanks.

[As an aside, I am also a smartphone holdout, despite being a bit of a geek. I carry a super basic Nokia phone without even a camera. I've long maintained that the deficit today is not of technology or connectivity, but rather of attention. Everyone's attention is spread way too thin these days.] 

Now, with the unprecedented “discoverability” of personal data enabled by Graph Search, I think I will be even less inclined to post stuff online. This is George Costanza’s fear of worlds colliding, writ even larger than what people have already experienced. Any user of Facebook will be able to query the database of user-generated data stored on Facebook and interpret that data in ways that you probably didn’t anticipate when you ‘liked’ something, posted a comment, or were tagged at an event.

I’m not even sure if Graph Search will be a useful feature for most users. I certainly don’t think I would use it, except perhaps for cyberstalking (there, I’ve said it. Not that that’s considered deviant behavior these days; all of us online have PhDs in cyberstalking).

The reason why I don’t think Graph Search will be useful to me is because I rarely have the habit of asking my friends’ opinions when I need to buy something, hire a service, watch a movie, read a book, play a computer game etc, all hooks that Facebook can use to monetize its database of personal information. This is because I search for information independently, and I have a very good idea of what I like and what to look for.

Even for people who value their friends’ opinions and would want Facebook to give them the results of an instant poll of their friends (based on friends’ past ‘likes’ and behavior), most people wouldn’t base their decision making on the opinions of ALL of their friends. I certainly wouldn’t trust the opinion of my friends on certain matters.

You wouldn’t ask a non-foodie about her favorite makan places, would you? And you would probably have zero use for another friend’s tastes in music and books, if for example, you privately think that he’s a Neanderthal (but you love him anyway).

And this is assuming Facebook users religiously post all of their opinions and ‘likes’ which are immutable and unchanging and completely context-independent. We are not even going to go into the thorny thicket of problems that have to do with users being facetious, or ironic or just plain obfuscating.

Or the related problem that even for someone who assiduously prunes his Friends List, and who resists adding new Friends unless he has known them a while, one third of the people on my list are people I don’t actually know…and another one third are people I have not spoken to in years.

To put it simply, Facebook data on is not clean. The signal to noise ratio is abominable, and careful interpretation is needed to make sense of the data to generate actionable insights. That sounds like an awful lot of work to get a restaurant recommendation near Ion Orchard on a Friday night, one that you agree with at the end of your dinner and that you could not have just as easily pulled from hungrygowhere.

More likely than not, the results of Graph Search are going to be dominated by the people on your Friends’ List that are perpetually online, post status updates incessantly, and have the attention span of hamsters. On steroids…and coffee.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The PAP AIM Saga

Predictably, with the PAP finding it increasingly difficult to explain why Aljunied Town Council sold their computer system to a PAP-owned company when Aljunied was controlled by the PAP, the PM decided on the nuclear option of lawyering up. A lawyer's letter was sent to Yawning Bread demanding an apology, which Yawning Bread complied with.

Separately, Tan Chuan Jin did the same to Vincent Wijeysingha over comments he made in relation to the SMRT strike fiasco.

This is what you do when you realize that you are losing control of the conversation. Send in the lawyers and shut down the entire conversation.

[Oh, and put in a few nice articles of the PM patting the shoulders of students and Chan Chun Sing reading to kids at the library -- see today's Straits Times (6 January 2013) in the pages following the articles on the apologies.

I am reminded of George W. Bush reading "The Pet Goat" during the events of 9/11. Note to Straits Times editors: anodyne pictures do nothing to dispel citizens' disquietude with what the hell is going on with AIM. If anything, they only serve to reinforce the perception that our ministers are completely disconnected from the ground. Straits Times editors, you need to go back to propaganda school.]

Frankly, I am bemused by this whole turn of affairs. For the two activists under legal injunction to retract their words, there is no shame attached to apologizing over a defamation charge from the PAP. Everyone knows the PAP doesn't fight fair. Apologizing is easy and the better part of valor. In fact, being served with a defamation letter is a sign that you're being taken seriously.

It is not, however, the PAP's cheap tactics which I find distasteful; politics is inherently dirty. What is particularly odious is the hypocrisy. Despite what Goh Chok Tong once said about the PAP being a party of 'junzi', the PAP really is a party from the 'hood. Lee Kuan Yew himself said that famous quote about putting on knuckledusters and ambushing his opponents in a cul-de-sac.

There may not have been very many palatable options other than lawyering up and putting a stop to this particular AIM conversation, unlike that time-waster of a national conversation. Still, by doing so, the PAP has opened several cans of worms.

The first is the ineffectiveness of such a move. The words "Pyrrhic victory" come to mind. This is the information age. What's online stays online, as anyone who has ever been tagged in some particularly mortifying picture on Facebook would have found out.

If someone was so inclined, setting up several mirror sites to mirror the content of objectionable (to the PAP that is) sites would be a cinch. Heck, your average content scraper or forummer copying and pasting articles wholesale onto forums alone would ensure the longevity of any web content. And Google's PageRank algorithm guarantees that should enough people access the link, it will automatically float to the top of the search rankings.

And everyone's connected to the Internet these days, to judge from the number of iPhones I am surrounded with each time I board the MRT. Get with the program already. A gag order, particularly on Internet content, is no longer effective in the information age. It just shows that you're...out of touch. Then again, perhaps the party from the 'hood hasn't heard of smartphones.

The second thing to note is that by lawyering up, the mainstream media has to report on the controversy. Cue Striesand Effect. As terse as the Straits Times would prefer to be, and they were indeed very tight-lipped, they still had to explain why exactly the PM found Yawning Bread's articles defamatory, and that just puts front and center the raison d'etre behind the whole AIM Saga: why was a town council system developed with public funds sold to a company controlled by a political party by the politicians then in charge of the town council?

The last time I remember the mainstream media having to twist a story into such unnatural contortions was during the floods of yesteryear, when they hastened to explain what the government was doing before describing how f***ed up bad the flooding situation was on one particular weekend. Remember putting the cart before the horse?

The third can of worms is that employing a defamatory charge as a first and last resort is inherently a self-liquidating power. Self-liquidating because each time you use it, it becomes far less convincing. The PAP has resorted to defamation charges countless times. So much so that it has become predictable and boring (which in my mind, is the bigger crime. I hate boring. That includes people and things.).

See above my point on defamation no longer carrying any stigma whatsoever for the defendants. It truly begs the question of whether PAP politicians are really being defamed each time they cry foul, or do they in fact have malfeasance to hide. I am reminded of City Harvest's strenuous protestations of innocence on the part of its high priests. Apparently, the party from the 'hood is not so different from a cult either.

A completely separate point about self-liquidating powers is that they're often so effective at first that their users quickly stop thinking of alternatives. Strategies and tactics work...until they don't. The PAP's key strategy of using the threat of defamation lawsuits to shut down criticism is looked about as dated as penicillin, and about as effective.

My fourth and last point is that more than any other incident from recent memory, the AIM saga erases any doubt in my mind of what I have conjectured before: that the PAP is more than willing to put party above country, and as a result, a smoking ruin is what will result prior to any transition of power.

You have been warned. Everyone needs a plan B.