Archive for September, 2007

Strong team of leaders ‘needed to keep S’pore going’

September 22, 2007

PM Lee was reported (ST, 22 Sept 2007) to have said that bigger countries can recover from weak leadership but Singapore enjoys no such luxury and needs a strong team of leaders to keep the country going.

If what he says is true, it then implies that bigger countries have less of a need for strong leaders. Can you imagine what would happen if China didn’t have strong leaders? How to control a country as vast and populous as China without strong leaders? Do we not remember those final days of the Qing dynasty when warlords roamed all over China, throwing the country into chaos?

Surely, when a country is big, the task of keeping the country together is more difficult and the need for strong leaders a lot more imperative. In other words, contrary to what PM Lee says, the need for smaller countries to have strong leaders isn’t as great as that for bigger countries.

The United States president is probably the strongest leader on this planet who has the power to order his troops to walk over countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet George Bush never goes around telling his people that the country needs strong leaders like himself to survive. The people can joke about him, make fun of him, kick him out of office. What does that all mean?

Whenever someone tells us that we need strong leaders, we need to ask them what for? Yes we need strong leaders for national security and law enforcement but do we need strong leaders in other concerns like education, economy and social aspects? Do we need strong leaders for education? There is an increasing need for imagination and creativity in education. Does strong leadership promote or suffocate imagination and creativity? Likewise for economy, as we move towards research and innovation based industries, do we also stress the need for strong leadership? Can strong leaders bark innovation out of researchers?

In the early days of nationhood when the country has yet to find a firm footing, strong leadership is necessary to keep the country together and steer it forward. But when a country matures but strong leadership continues to be applied to every aspect of our lives, it can only inhibit growth and stifle creativity. The govt has always wondered why there is a dearth of innovation here while the US is a fountain of creativity. The difference lies in where strong leadership is applied. In the US, strong leadership is used to address external threats, not beat the people into submission. For a country of slaves can never outperform a country of free men.

Mr Otto Fong – crusader for the homosexuals

September 13, 2007

The recent case of Mr Otto Fong, an RI teacher who declared himself a homosexual to the online world, ignited a heated debate. I find myself arguing against a crowd that is mostly supportive of homosexuality.

My starting arguments were:

1. If our society accepts homosexuality, we would not have had a commotion in the first place. Since it causes such a big stir, it means our society is not ready to accept homosexuality. Why force the majority to accept the quirks of the minority simply because the minority demands it?

2. If we say that homosexuality is right, are we also prepared to say that sex with animals is right? If rights are so almighty that we must not be denied anything that we desire, can we have nudity in public? Can we have drugs and guns?

The replies I got are these (bold and italics are their arguments, the rest are my counter replies):

1. Society changes with time. Examples being the abolishment of black slaves and women’s suffrage. It is time, they say, for change in attitudes towards homosexuality.

Society changes with time but at its own pace. We should not push society before society is ready but should adapt to society’s pace instead.

Abolishment of slavery came with bloodshed. Is it worth paying the price of blood for homosexuality? Women’s rights were first championed decades ago and is still work in progress. Do we expect society’s view of homosexuality to change over night?

The causes of the American civil war were more than slavery. Many countries abolished slavery without bloodshed.

Still, slavery was one of the main causes of the American civil war. The fact that many countries abolished slavery without blooshed didn’t prevent the American civil war and does not guarantee that future conflicts will be without blooshed.

2. Animal sex, pornography, nudity and drugs are extreme but not homosexuality. Homosexuality is more acceptable to society than say nudity.

If animal sex and so on are extreme but not homosexuality, then we’re practising double standards.

Homosexuality can be distinguished from the other categories by the harm that it inflicts. Nudity is harmful because it makes people behave like animals. Pornography is harmful only if seen by children. Some drugs are not harmful. Animal sex is animal abuse. Homosexuality on the other hand, causes no harm.

The fact that many people on the internet spoke up for Otto Fong shows that they support homosexuality more than nudity.

The French likes to sunbathe in the nude on the banks of the river Seine in front of children. Are the French animals? So nudity isn’t necessarily harmful and can be acceptable in other societies. But nudity’s acceptance by other societies doesn’t imply we should embrace it. The same can be said with homosexuality.

The fact that homosexuality caused so much commotion shows that our society is very intolerant of it, probably more so than nudity.

All drugs harm although to varying degrees. If drugs are openly distributed in Australia but not in Singapore, it goes to show that what is acceptable elsewhere may not necessarily be acceptable here.

If having sex with animals is animal abuse, then what about chaining an animal by the neck? What about keeping a fish in a tank?

3. Heterosexuals cannot say that homosexuality is offensive because it impies that homosexuals can say the reverse – that heterosexuality is offensive. Furthermore, heterosexuals cannot assume that they are right simply because they are in the majority because the govt implemented casinos despite disagreement from the majority of Singaporeans.

We are a democracy and should abide by the wishes of the majority without trampling upon the minority. It may be wrong for the govt to force its will down our throats but one wrong doesn’t justify another wrong so it doesn’t imply it is right for the homosexuals to force their will down the throats of non-homosexuals.

4. Public debate should always be encouraged.

Up to a point yes, but if proponents of homosexuality continue to press on with their issue even though society has clearly said no, then it shows that they can’t take no for an answer and are in fact the ones who are intolerant.

5. Otto Fong is fighting for his own rights just as Rosa Park did.

Yes but there is a fundamental difference. Rosa Park was denied the right to a bus seat whereas Mr Fong isn’t denied his right to homosexuality. In fact no one bothers with what he does in bed and no govt agency rounds up homosexuals and puts them in jail.

But homosexuality is outlawed.

But thus far, no one has been jailed for homosexuality.

If it is a law that is never used, it serves no purpose and ought to be abolished. Otherwise people might be encouraged to break it.

Gambling is against the law but that doesn’t stop people from gambling at home during Chinese New Year. So everyone’s breaking the law during Chinese New Year but nobody gets caught. Nobody bothers with the law yet the law is there.

The law acts as a deterrent. Gambling is not tolerated but no one will care if you do it as part of a festive custom behind closed doors. Similarly for homosexuality, the law is necessary as a deterrent because it is against general public sentiments. But nobody will stop you doing what you do behind closed doors.

So we shouldn’t abolish the law simply because no one has been caught yet. It is because of the law that no one dares to try in the first place.

6. Mr Fong is trying to teach tolerance and acceptance and tolerance has economic value because globalisation necessitates that we do business with gays.

We don’t force acceptance down people’s throats. Neither do we demand society’s acceptance of our quirks.

To what extent must non-homosexuals go to demonstrate their tolerance? Should they abandon thier own beliefs and subscribe to those of homosexuals?

The moment we put an economic value to our beliefs, we degrade them into something totally unworthy. Should we endorse drugs, casinos and prostitution simply because they are lucrative?

The need to do business with gays doesn’t mean we need to be like them. Just like we need not become muslims to do business with muslims.

Everything can be rationalised from an economic perspective. The economic burden of drugs is greater than the money that drugs bring whereas prostitution is legal.

If Buddhism explains karma like a bank account then morality can also be explained in terms of money.

If a police officer tells me I shouldn’t take drugs because our country would suffer economically, I would give him one tight slap. We stop drugs because we want to save lives not to enrich the economy but simply because it is the morally right thing to do.

Prostitution is legal not because of the money it brings but because of a social need that it satisfies. Because it isn’t about money, prositution is neither promoted nor advertised.

You can use money to explain concepts. but you can’t use it to judge matters of principle and morality. Because if you do, it means your soul can be bought with money.

7. Get MM Lee to endorse homosexuality.

MM Lee is the wrong person to endorse homosexuality because he isn’t concerned with homosexuality per say but with the economic value of homosexuals.

One should fight for one’s own beliefs with one’s own abilities rather than hide behind a powerful figure. If one only fights when supported by a strong figure, does it mean one won’t fight when there is no strong backing?

8. Chinese are behind in accepting homosexuality. Malays and peranakans have no problems.

Being ‘behind’ isn’t necessarily wrong. Animal sex, drugs, carrying of arms … these so-called ‘infront’ practices in the west are nothing great but rubbish in fact to our society.

9. Supporters of homosexualism demand an explanation of why society thinks homosexualism is immoral and wrong. If it can’t, it means society is being irrational and if moral standards are arbitrary, then anything can be immoral and wrong and you end up with situations like the Nazis exterminating the jews (and homosexuals).

The stance has always been that our society cannot accept homosexualism (yet). Whether they feel it is immoral or are simply uncomfortable about it or don’t like it, the fact remains they can’t accept it.

It’s like I don’t like coffee and I cannot explain why, but you insist that I explain why I don’t like coffee and if I can’t, you say I’m being irrational. What kind of rational demand is that?

Furthermore, having been told explicitly that I don’t like coffee, you still insist in shoving it into my face. Are you not being unreasonable? Despite the fact that I don’t like coffee, I don’t prevent you from drinking it. Yet, you insist on shoving coffee into my face.

Everyone has different moral standards. Some people can be bought with money, some cannot. But the society as a whole has a general standard that most conform to. You and I may be extremes but we cannot expect everyone else to be like us.

Yes, Nazis exterminated homosexuals, but no Singaporean has ever lifted a finger on homosexuals. So in this respect, Singapore is far from Nazi. On the other hand, there are similarities between the Nazis and the proponents of homosexuality. The Nazis is a small group that ended up forcing their will upon an entire nation. Similarly, the homosexuals is also a small group clamouring to force their lifestyle upon the rest of the nation.

So the moral thing for the homosexuals is to not force those who cannot accept their lifestyle to accept their lifestyle.

10. People need to come out to express their views on such matters as homosexuality. To be prevented from doing so is to deny them their rights.

Let’s say I have a peculiar fetish, do I need to tell the world before I can truly enjoy my fetish? So to begin with, what need is there in telling the world matters that are so private?

Furthermore, if we are really convicted of something, then whatever the world thinks or says will not change that conviction. We do not need approval to do what we want to do. We do not need approval to feel good about who we are. Because if we do, then perhaps we are not as convicted as we claim to be.

Spread scholars across schools: Ngiam Tong Dow

September 8, 2007

I refer to Mr Ngiam Tong Dow’s speech at the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ST, 8 Sep 2007, Grace Ng).

Two of Singapore’s important inheritances are Chinese entrepeneurship and British administration. These were respectively referred to by Mr Ngiam as Chinese ‘guile’ and English ‘rationality’. ‘Guile’ has negative connotations and a better word might be ‘cleverness’. Mr Ngiam may have over stereotyped Chinese ‘guile’ and English ‘rationality’. Would the English educated LKY have been able to ‘ride the tiger’ that is the Chinese educated without guile? Mr Ngiam quoted LKY as saying that English school students were goldfish in an ornamental bowl whereas Chinese school students were piranhas in the wild. As the course of history would tell us, it was the ‘goldfish’ which ended up gobbling the ‘pyranha’.

While it is true that most of the prominent businessmen in Singapore are Chinese educated and that Chinese ‘guile’ has found success all over the world, Singapore is no longer the Chinese-English dichotomy that characterised our early days. We are all effectively bilingual now, such differences are hardly distinguishable now.

Mr Ngiam suggests spreading talent across schools so that they do not come out from the same cookie cutter mould. In saying this, he implicitly implies that a leader’s outlook and thinking is mostly shaped by the school. But isn’t the hand that rocks the cradle that rules the world? It is the family that primarily shapes a person, so whether or not a bright kid goes to Raffles or not would not overcome what he learns at home.

The problem of infusing public administration with more ‘guile’ stems from the need to cope with a world that is changing ever faster. The solution is to decentralise and to devolve responsibilities throughout the population. That devolvement is not equivalent to spreading talent throughout schools. For even if they come from different schools, the moment they are locked in the constrains of the same organisation, their outlook will become the same. That’s why they need to be liberated, to be unleashed.

Global warming – another dimension

September 4, 2007

Scientists have convinced us that the global warming we are experiencing now is the result of the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide emitted from cars and power stations forming a layer around the earth and trapping heat in. While the explanation is fundamentally sound, I think there might be a more straight forward reason to global warming.

Apart from the greenhouse effect, it is also possible that global warming is contributed by human activities that directly release heat into the atmosphere. From the day man first learnt to harness fire, he has been burning firewood for cooking and heating and in turn releasing heat into the atmosphere. This heat doesn’t just dissipate into thin air but gets absorbed by the earth which in turn raises its temperature, albeit by infinitesimally small amounts.

With the industrial revolution and the invention of cars and electricity, man’s capacity to convert coal, oil and gas into energy becomes increased tremendously. For each watt of electrical power that we consume, another watt of heat gets dissipated into the atmosphere and presumably warms up the earth. Even the energy that finally reaches us, be it in the form of light from the television or sound from the hi fi system, ultimately gets converted to heat. The energy of a moving car or train eventually gets dissipated as heat from braking, wheel friction or wind resistance.

There is one obstacle to the theory however. Current global energy consumption is a mere 0.02% of the energy that we receive from the sun. Compared to the heat from the sun, heat from human activities is almost negligible.

Nevertheless, the theory is still defensible if we compare it with the well known greenhouse theory. Scientists have estimated atmospheric CO2 levels to have gone up from 300 ppm (parts per million) to 380 ppm as a result of man’s activities. In terms of atmospheric composition, this is an increase of less than 0.01%. If a 0.01% increase in the atmospheric composition of CO2 is deemed to be the cause of global warming, then the 0.02% increase in heat caused by man’s activities certainly deserves attention as well, since it is of the same order of magnitude.

The significance of the ‘man heating up the earth’ theory is that measures taken to reduce atmospheric CO2 may be missing the real target.

Lastly, the extensive deforestation that has occurred as human civilisation spread across the globe means that less vegetation is available to absorb CO2 and also to soak in the sun’s heat. So perhaps reforestation and converting deserts into grasslands may help balance CO2 and absorb heat.

Odorous Odex

September 1, 2007

The ongoing Odex saga has caused much uproar amongst the anime community. Odex has seemingly taken advantage of parents’ fear of their children getting prosecuted and becoming blackmarked for life to extort exhorbitant sums of money from them. The judge’s decision to protect the identities of Pacific Internet subscribers suggests his disapproval of Odex’s ostensibly harsh punitive actions. But Odex has fought back with strong support from Japanese anime companies. It may be a lost cause for the anime community but something good may come out of this saga.

No, I’m not referring to greater respect for intellectual property. Coercive methods serve to increase the fear of the consequences of getting caught more than anything else. The good that I see, is that deprived of free anime, many teenagers and young adults might become weened of Japanese anime and move on to more beneficial endeavours like studies or sports.

Lastly I would like to attempt to explain why Singapore has the highest per capita number of illegal anime downloaders in the world. I am of the opinion that it has something to do with our high broadband internet prices. It is true that while countries like Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong have very competitive broadband rates, we on the other hand have some of the most expensive broadband rates in the world. Think about it, who would pay $60 a month just to check email and do light surfing? $60 is a lot of money to a student and you can be rest assured that he would want to make the most out of his expensive internet connection.

It was reported in the news yesterday that Starhub’s court case with Singnet has been settled out of court. I remember Singnet fighting tooth and nail with Starhub over commercial interests yet when it came to protecting consumers, Singnet did practically next to nothing.