Friday, December 15, 2017

Human Rights Watch calls on Singapore to relax free speech, assembly laws

13 Dec 2017


SINGAPORE: The Singapore Government's laws limiting critical speech and peaceful assembly are overly broad and make the country a repressive place severely restricting what can be said and published, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday (Dec 13).

In its first wide-ranging report on Singapore in 12 years, the group called on the Government to amend or repeal laws and rules that restrict speech and assembly and drop charges against individuals for peaceful speech and assembly.

Singapore's Ministry of Communications and Information did not immediately have a comment on the report. The Government has held the position that Singapore's laws and regulations were needed to maintain social order and harmony.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Elderly to make up almost half of S’pore population by 2050: United Nations

[I have reservations about the stats here, and would like to see the assumptions for the projections. But I do not have time to analyse the figures or check against raw stats so I am just putting this out first. Critique, if warranted, to follow later.]


By Siau Ming En

06 December, 2017

SINGAPORE – The Republic’s population size is expected to reach 6.34 million in 2030, based on projections from the United Nations (UN) released this year.

By then, there will be 806,000 people under 15 years old, and 1.8 million people who are aged 65 years or older - making up about 28 per cent of the total population. The numbers will reach 722,000 and 3.08 million, respectively, out of a total population of 6.58 million by 2050. This means that in about three decades, almost half (47 per cent) of Singapore’s total population will be at least 65 years old.

According to the UN’s 2017 World Population Ageing report, Singapore’s population stood at 5.71 million as of this year, consisting of 855,000 people under the age of 15, and 886,000 people aged 65 and above.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

‘Journalism for rent’: Inside the secretive firm behind the Trump dossier

By Jack Gillum and Shawn Boburg

December 11 2017

Washington Post

Fusion GPS bills itself as a corporate research firm, but in many ways it operates with the secrecy of a spy agency. No sign marks its headquarters above a coffee shop in Northwest Washington. Its website consists of two sentences and an email address. Its client list is closely held.

The small firm has been under intense public scrutiny for producing the 35-page document known as the Trump dossier. Senior executives summoned to testify before Congress in October invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and the firm is resisting a congressional subpoena for bank records that would reveal who has paid for its services.

But hundreds of internal company documents obtained by The Washington Post reveal how Fusion, a firm led by former journalists, has used investigative reporting techniques and media connections to advance the interests of an eclectic range of clients on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley and in the nation’s capital. The firm has played an unseen role in stories that dominated headlines in recent years.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The "God" Question

[I drafted this post over a year ago, but did not publish it because I took a while to respond to the presumptuousness of the various "theists" and their interpretation of "atheism".

Then this letter:]

Give those with no religious beliefs a voice in efforts to promote peace
Last year, the release of the General Household Survey 2015 report showed that more Singapore residents are not identifying themselves with any religion.
Those without religious affiliation made up 18.5 per cent of the resident population, up from 17 per cent in 2010, with the numbers being higher among younger residents compared with those in 2010.
It was reported that of those aged 15 to 24, 23 per cent said that they had no religious affiliation, while the figure was 14.6 per cent among residents aged 55 and above.
There appears to be an increasing trend of young persons having no religion.
If the mandate of the IRO is to promote racial and religious harmony in Singapore and it is serious about this, surely the “faithless” that constitute such a significant part of Singapore need to have a seat at the table.
I hope the organisation will consider this suggestion.

[To be fair, perhaps this letter-writer was truly clueless. And did not warrant this response on FB:
Please identify the head of the "faithless" (which BTW is an implied insult) that will represent this group of people without religious affiliation.

The basic assumption of the "faithful" (and I use this as insultingly as I can) is that the "faithless" is s homogeneous group of anti-religious militants/bigots/zealots/fascists/ "insert your own derogatory adjective".

The "faithless" could be faithless for many reasons. Maybe their faith failed them. Maybe the dogma/doctrine of their faith made no sense. Maybe they were never raised in any kind of faith and they grew up and outgrew fantasy and magic. Maybe their faith collided with reality, and rationality won. Maybe they were betrayed by leaders of their faith. Or members of their church/temple/mosque. Maybe they were denounced by their faith. Maybe they are too rational or too proud, or too individualistic, or too disinterest, or too happy, or too depressed, or too troubled. 
Or maybe they just haven't found a faith that made sense to them.
Atheists are atheists for many reasons. The assumption that all atheists are the same, is the same thought processes that lurks beneath arrogant assumptions about gender, race, and other arbitrarily discriminatory behaviour.

Naming Singapore

[From over a year back - on the naming of Singapore. Two... "perspectives".]

Origin of 'Singapore' found in old maps

If we look at maps going back 500 years, we can form an alternative thesis for how Singapore got its name ("No lions in S'pore but..."; May 21).

Starting in 1502, maps of the region named the Malaysian peninsula south of Malacca with variations of the name "Barxingapara".

By the 1550s, the part of Malaysia east of Changi was called "Cape Cincapula".

The first known example of a name on the island we now inhabit comes from a hand-drawn Dutch chart from the late 17th century, where the island is named "T Lang Isyl" (Long Island), while the waterway south is called "Straat Sincapura" (Singapore Strait).

In 1755, Jacques-Nicolas Bellin, a great French mapmaker, published an extremely detailed map of the region, in which our island is named "Pulo ou Isle Panjang" (Long Island), the waterway that separates Singapore from Malaysia is named "The Old Strait of Sincapour" and the waterway to the south, "The New Strait of Sincapour".

It is not until 1787 that we find a map in which the island carries three names: "Paulau Panjang", "Iatana" and "Sincapour".

The historical record is clear: Years before any map located the island of Singapore, maps of the region were calling southern Malaysia "Barxingapara", then there was Cape Cincapula, and then a waterway, Sincapura Straits.

But why "Barxingapara"? Dr Peter Borschberg of the National University of Singapore speculates in his article Singapura In Early Modern Cartography that "bar" means a kingdom of a coastal region, "xin" means "China", and "gapara" is the Javanese word for "gateway".

As Singapore marks the transition from the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea, "The Kingdom of the Gateway to China" may not be as poetic as "Lion City", but has the history of printed maps to support its claim as the real origin of the name of our country.

Eric Rosenkranz

No lions in Singapore but...

We all know how our Lion City got its name, but indulge me for a moment.

"According to legend, Sang Nila Utama, a prince from Palembang (the capital of Srivijaya), was out on a hunting trip when he caught sight of an animal he had never seen before. Taking it to be a good sign, he founded a city where the animal had been spotted, naming it "The Lion City" or Singapura, from the Sanskrit words "simha" (lion) and "pura" (city)." -

I heard the name Sang Nila Utama for the first time when, as a newly arrived student in Singapore, I made my tourist's pilgrimage to the Merlion at Sentosa. Nila Utama (Sang being an honorific to show his royal descent) came to life in a cartoon film that co-starred a lion, a raging storm and a sea-monster, with a guest appearance by a prescient stag.

The movie was informative, delightful, engaging - all the things it was supposed to be. But by the time my fellow tourists and I had emerged into the bright sunlight atop the Merlion, Nila Utama and his fable had been replaced with more recent images of gleaming glass skylines and the bustling trade legacy of a multicultural, former-colonial port city: After all, that is what myths are for - to entertain, even astonish and inspire awe, not unlike a fantasy movie saga, but hardly to be taken seriously… aren't they?

Myths aggrandise history, sometimes to the point of distortion, but in doing so they preserve an account of it and ensure that it is transmitted from generation to generation. In all honesty, unless Sang Nila Utama had met the lion or overcome the sea-monster, the millions of visitors to the Merlion wouldn't have ever heard of him. But myth is a twin-edged sword because in aggrandising a story, it sometimes trivialises it. Example:

Me (to person chosen at random): "Hi. Can you tell me who founded Singapore?"

Unsuspecting respondent: "Erm… I think it was Stamford Raffles."

Me: "What about Sang Nila Utama? He came here centuries before Raffles."

Respondent: "That's just a myth. Not real."

And that's where that conversation remained for many years, during the course of which Singapore became home, not just in terms of a tax status but also in very personal ways - love, death, family and career. Even writing is something that happened to me here. It may have been why Sang Nila Utama continued to intrigue me. For a fact, my other books on mythology - or mythohistory as I prefer to call it - have been a means to reclaim identity in one form or another.

Nila Utama was my anchor as I dived into the emotionally loaded question of my identity as Singaporean; a sense of validation that I too belonged here. As a result, the above conversation was extended thus:

Me: "Not real? Why do you say that?"

Respondent (disdainful): "Because there never were any lions in Singapore. The whole story is fluff!"

Now that is an indisputable fact. Lions are not native to this part of the world. Indeed, some suggest that the animal the historical counterpart of Nila Utama may have seen was… wait for it… a tapir.

I like tapirs. I think they are cute and fuzzy. Honestly, I have nothing against them and make it a point to conduct every tired and happily sated visitor I accompany to the Singapore Zoo to the small, unassuming enclosure at the end of the walking trail despite their many protests; that is how much I like tapirs. The Asian in me, however, doesn't quite reckon tapirs on the same plane as lions, with the result that it was disappointing to hold on to the legend of a prince who couldn't tell the deadly, majestic king of the jungle from a harmless tapir as a source of self-validation.

I tried telling myself "it's just a myth". By then, however, I was far too invested - both in Nila Utama's story and the place I called home. Curiosity had turned into questions, sometimes arguments about what defined a nation and its people, what determined belonging and was the fact that I cared not enough to make me belong here. And from this maelstrom was born a book - "3", the story not just of Sang Nila Utama, but more.

The storyline is drawn mainly from the Malay Annals or the Sejarah Melayu, a genealogical work detailing the line of the Malay Sultanate, founded by Iskander Shah around 1390CE. The Annals identify Nila Utama, along with his father and brother, as descended from the skies in mythical magnificence and magical glory, the blood of Alexander the Great in their veins. For all the rhetoric, however, Nila Utama's antecedents remain historically obscure, enough to justify the aforementioned random respondent's view that Singapore's history can be deemed as properly begun only from the times of Sir Stamford Raffles.

"3" is, however, also a tale of the era, a window on how a relatively small geographical region both affects and is affected by global trends of economic and political change. At a time when the Delhi Sultanate is gaining sway across the Indian subcontinent, against the backdrop of Genghis Khan's aspirations to a Mongol empire and the ongoing Crusades across Europe and the Middle East, the seas become the source of political power and prosperity.

Consequently, it is during this period that the Srivijaya Empire, a thalassocratic state broadly comprising the region of the modern-day Indonesian islands, reaches its zenith and inevitably begins its decline. Trade drives the new trend of commerce as conquest, setting the stage for centuries of colonisation and economic dominion and, the Malay Annals tell us, a hundred longships from the Song Emperor fill the harbour at Palembang.

Was this impressive armada in fact a gift from China to the ruler of Srivijaya; an act that then inspired said Srivijaya ruler to give his daughter as wife and his empire as dower to the Song Emperor? Or are they hints at a history of conquest and exile, hidden in metaphor and preserved as myth so that the story would endure through the cusp of religion - and thus sanctioned record - over subsequent centuries and come to us through a variety of narratives: Indonesian, Malay, Indian and even Portuguese.

An important question, for this is where the story really begins. The exiled ruler leaves Palembang, taking with him his family, including his young son, the prince who will, one day, sail to the white-sand shores of Tumasik. What is it that he finds there, hidden in metaphor and preserved as myth; the myth of a lion?

Nila Utama's story is worth telling, not for the fact that he gave our country the name it now bears, but because he did so for a reason. Myth or history, there were those who welcomed Nila Utama on these shores, those who believed that identity comes from wanting to belong. They believed that a nation was made by those who cared. And that is the story that needs be told.

Sure, there were no lions in Singapore… or Tumasik… or whatever names this island once had. And there are, as yet, no categorical answers to the question of who or what Sang Nila Utama was: a coloniser, a refugee or simply a man looking for himself.

As for the rest of it - call it myth if you like, but I want to believe that it was the heart of a lion and the spirit of one that brought Nila Utama… and me… home.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Commentary: Trump's recognition of Jerusalem upends years of necessary shadow play

Peter Van Buren

8 Dec 2017


WASHINGTON: Donald Trump’s formal recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, reversing some seven decades of American policy, is arguably the most unnecessary decision of his time in office and one that will have consequences lingering far past his tenure.
The decision may yield some domestic political advantage among Jewish and evangelical Christian voters for the president, but at irrationally high expense globally.

Jerusalem is where Israel's president presides, and where the parliament, supreme court and most government ministries are located. In practical terms, it is the capital.

However, unlike in nearly every other nation, the US maintains its formal embassy in another city, Tel Aviv. It keeps a consulate in West Jerusalem and a consular annex in East Jerusalem, the part of the city annexed by Israel in 1967 and expected by many Palestinians to be the capital of their future state. Washington also has an office directly on the Green Line, the division point between Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Diplomats, as well as Israeli officials, understand normally an embassy is the head office located in the capital, and a consulate is a less important branch located elsewhere. But they also know from experience in Israel which door to knock on when they need to get business done, regardless of what the nameplate reads out front.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

At Yale, we conducted an experiment to turn conservatives into liberals. The results say a lot about our political divisions.

Inspired Life

By John Bargh

November 22 2017

Washington Post

When my daughter was growing up, she often wanted to rush off to do fun things with her friends — get into the water at the beach, ride off on her bike — without taking the proper safety precautions first. I’d have to stop her in her tracks to first put on the sunscreen, or her bike helmet and knee pads, with her standing there impatiently. “Safety first, fun second,” was my mantra.

Keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe from harm is perhaps our strongest human motivation, deeply embedded in our very DNA. It is so deep and important that it influences much of what we think and do, maybe more than we might expect. For example, over a decade now of research in political psychology consistently shows that how physically threatened or fearful a person feels is a key factor — although clearly not the only one — in whether he or she holds conservative or liberal attitudes.

Conservatives, it turns out, react more strongly to physical threat than liberals do. In fact, their greater concern with physical safety seems to be determined early in life: In one University of California study, the more fear a 4-year-old showed in a laboratory situation, the more conservative his or her political attitudes were found to be 20 years later. Brain imaging studies have even shown that the fear center of the brain, the amygdala, is actually larger in conservatives than in liberals. And many other laboratory studies have found that when adult liberals experienced physical threat, their political and social attitudes became more conservative (temporarily, of course). But no one had ever turned conservatives into liberals.

Until we did.