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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Anti-gay-discrimination laws in schools

A thread in relation to Finally, I’ve decided to take the plunge. I’m coming out . . . (as a post-homosexualist):


> Do cats witter endlessly on about being cats? Do redheads drive us
> to distraction with their thoughts on being ginger? How many serious
> comment columns in the editorial pages of newspapers are devoted to
> the musings of straight men on what it is to be a heterosexual? No,
> they just get on with it – with being cats, redheads or straights.
> Such things are for the lifestyle sections of weekend magazines, not
> rubbing shoulders with the debate on global warming, housing or the
> terrorist threat.

So much for the historical injustice and oppression that is used to justify angst and grievances in the present.

A: If only Parris' vision were accurate with respect to all kinds of historical injustice and oppression. Unfortunately, not are all as widely discredited, and the discredit as deeply internalised, as in the context of gay rights in the specifically public political and public social arena in the particular context of Britain in 2007. And there may be a sizeble number of gay schoolchildren who might find it difficult to agree even with that.

B: Gabriel: I believe gay teenagers are still much more likely to commit suicide than straight ones.

Dying, generally, is not a good thing.

Gabriel: Men are also much more likely to commit suicide than women (3-4x).

Cock: Actually if I recall correctly, women are more likely to attempt suicide but men are more successful at ending their own lives.

In any case, get a grip. I fail to believe that the lot of the white gay teenager in britain is worse than a female kurdish teenager in britain, considering the honour killings. Problems with acceptance exist but they are much better than in the past and are improving.

B: Er... Yes, but no.

No one said it was the shittiest thing to be in Britain. I know you like coming up with spurious comparisons, but not everyone likes wasting time reading them. The fact merely is that there is still much work to be done.

Take Section 28. Yes it has been abolished. But that merely means that it is not unlawful for a teacher to 'promote' homosexuality, whatever the fuck that means, in state schools. In no way is it mandatory for a teacher to ensure that gay schoolchildren are not picked on, etc etc. Do you really think that kids in all C of E or Catholic or Muslim schools are being told by their teachers that it's ok to be gay? Sadly I don't think so.

Gabriel: What about kids who are bullied by their peers because they are fat, ugly, poor (I am told that "His father drives a Mazda" is a slur in ACJC), short, bespectacled (okay, maybe the days of being called four-eyed are past), immigrants, speak with a funny accent, unpopular, orphans, politically conservative, have orange skin and/or vegan?

Beyond a certain point, authorities cannot and should not do anything; I don't see how it is acceptable for certain causes to be privileged above others.

Cock: But in Britain, the problem of schoolteachers making unacceptably discriminatory opinions of their gay or whatever students in Britain, while still there, is less and less likely to be a problem no thanks to the tireless efforts of legislators and the courts in placing a duty of care upon school authorities not to cause psychiatric harm on their students (i.e. fear of getting sued). It is only a matter of time before religious schools are also under the new sexual discrimination regulations too.

In contrast, while I am optimistic about the end of discrimination against gay teenagers in schools pretty soon, not enough is being done to prevent women who live in cultures which practice honour killings from being maimed, killed or driven to suicide. It is far more insidious than the gay discrimination problem in Britain because much of the abuse takes place in the private life context ( i.e. not in employment, dealings with government or business).

And Gabriel, the good news ( for the human rights lawyers and the zealous human human rights campaigners that is. Okay fine, the victims too, just to stop B and C frothing at the mouth at my lack of sympathy for their real suffering. ) is that school authorities can be held sued for failing to take steps to stop bullying on all those assorted grounds you mention. There was in fact a landmark case in Australia recently where a school was made to pay compensation for laughing off bullying of one of their students by his peers.

A: I used to find it difficult to identify why responses of this nature were so dissatisfying. Some recent comments threads on feministing.com have helped me figure it out. The thing is, the conversation wasn't about men committing suicide or women committing suicide. It was a conversation about gay teenagers. Why does it have to become a conversation about whether men have it worse than women? Even if it had been a conversation about women's problems, why would it have to have become a conversation about men's comparative problems? Is it so difficult to beleive that gay people may suffer from specific problems, and that women may suffer from a different set of specific problems, AND that men may suffer from yet another set of different specific problems, without having to conflate all these conversations? Why, if I were talking about the genocide in Sudan, would it be necessary or even helpful to say "Oh well, it's not as bad as the Holocaust" (Alan Bennett's The History Boys has a great sequence on this topic) or even "But what about the Holocaust?" I mean, how ridiculous is this:

A: "Gay kids are bullied."
B: "Fuck gay kids, what about the honour killings, man!"

Well, yeah, honour killings are awful, but _they_ _are_ _another_ _topic_, and do we have some kind of problem with considering the possibility that there are different kinds of problems that different people face, which are all problematic? If we were policy makers, of course, there would be the problem of limited resources which poses a constraint on the directions to which you point certain resources to solve the problems. But we are not policy makers dealing with a budget, this is a conversation, and the amount of time we spend making the point about the COMPARISONS seems to suggest our time for having the conversations about the THINGS being compared is not so very limited. And if that's the case then surely the point of having a conversation about things is to deepen our understanding of such problems as do exist. It's not like we can each only talk about the problems that are MOST IMPORTANT at any one time.

For instance, when the issues that women (for instance) face are brought up, is it really meaningful to respond with "but men face XYZ issues too"? Why not respond with "but LOBSTERS face ABC issues as well!" So what? OK, fine, the lobsters/men have it tough, but what does it have to do with the problems women face that were brought up? Why does the fact that there are generally problematic gender relations affecting BOTH genders in bad ways mean that when one specific manifestation of this is brought up with respect to women, any other specific manifestation of this to do with men should necessarily be relevant? And if you accept that, then if turning a conversation about women into a "men v women: who has it most shit" smackdown is so meaningless, what more turning a conversation about gays into "men v women: who offs themselves more"?

Now maybe you just find the original conversation uninteresting: you don't want to talk about gay men, you want to talk about honour killings. You don't want to talk about women, you want to talk about men. Obviously, that's fine. Some people are more interested in some things than others. But then why does it seem to take the form of a comparison, a response, a refutation, rather than introducing a new topic? Clearly there is something more than mere disinterest at work here? The dynamic isn't just one of "mere" disinterest, it's almost like the problems need to be in some way dismissed. As if even the fact that other people find it important or interesting is so distasteful or problematic. Why is this the case?

Will Young responded to Matthew Parris in Saturday's Times, giving an opposing view, by the way. If anyone gives a shit about the situation gay people face to begin with, as opposed to this ridiculous "whose genocide was worst" dick-waving.

Gabriel: The point is not that "men have it bad so gays should shut up", or about scoring points to prove who is more miserable.

The point is, B says that gay teenagers are more likely to commit suicide than non-gay (presumably straight) teenagers. He says that this is evidence that there is a big problem, and that we should be more vigorous about making gay teenagers feel welcome, loved, cherished etc than catering for people with orange skin who might also similarly be laughed at, but presumably do not kill themselves at as high a rate.

The reason I made the point about the suicide rate of men is that nobody says that men are discriminated against, marginalised etc and that we should therefore revoke the Women's Charter (or whatever) so they stop killing themselves. Comparisons allow us to get a sense of perspective. For example:

A: "Gay kids are laughed at. Negative peer pressure is ruining their self-esteem. We need to make sure they are not laughed at by fining teachers who do not protect them from excoriation."
B: "Vegetarian kids are also laughed at but they turn out fine. Being laughed at for being different is part of growing up. Perhaps you are barking up the wrong tree."


> that
> nobody says that men are discriminated against, marginalised etc

My perception is that on the contrary there are many oft-discussed men's issues: for instance, boys are lagging behind girls in school, men have more addiction problems than women, men are often unfairly denied access to their children when relationships between parents sour, men are under pressure to behave in a traditionally masculine way which leads to emotional repression, men who suffer domestic or sexual abuse do not get adequate support, many men commonly lack role models in terms of father figures in their lives, men who are gay suffer more violent responses generally than women who are gay (who face a different set of problems), so on and so forth. It isn't a binary case of being "marginalised" or "not marginalised". There are different contours to the way both men and women are treated which creates different sets of problems for both. Most people who are conscious of gender issues (and granted many aren't, many are blissfully unaware or uninterested in one or both sets of problems) tend to become sensitive to both. You will probably almost never, for instance, find a conscientious feminist saying, "Yuck, that man has been raped, now he is less of a man" - that's more likely to be something a misogynist will say!

I feel that you are still taking a "men v women smackdown" attitude so that because women have traditionally received more attention as a class (having traditionally suffered more severe and more identifiable repression and had a wider array of more obviously identifiable problems) and had had to organise more self-consciously as a class (for the same reason), this means that "nobody says" men also have problems as a class or that nobody pays any attention to those problems, and therefore such statistics cannot be a useful indication of some kind of underlying social problem. This seems to me to be wrong. If there ARE problems affecting men which have been overlooked, that lead to those higher suicide rates, that is a problem that needs to be explored and rectified - that suggests a lacuna in looking at problems men face, REGARDLESS OF WHETHER WOMEN ALSO FACE DISCRIMINATION. I cannot say this enough. Women and men can BOTH be oppressed on account of their gender, IN DIFFERENT WAYS.

Thus, the statistic is not in any way a reason not to consider that gay teenagers face certain pressures that straight teenagers don't, as well. This is your chain of logic, with my summarised responses in square brackets:

(1) People don't think men are discriminated against, they only think women are discrimimated against. [But some of us do think men are discriminated against, it is not inconsistent with women being discriminated against]

(2) THEREFORE the comparative suicide rate (men v women) doesn't say anything about whether men face specific difficulties and discrimination that may require attention [But just because some or even many people don't think men are discriminated against doesn't mean they can't be]

(4) THEREFORE the comparative suicide rate (gay v straight) doesn't say anything about whether gays face specific difficulties and
discrimination that may require attention [Because surely on its own terms it suggests a problem!]

On another note, the kind of "comparison" you did in the email below is very different from the kind of "comparison" you did in the earlier email regarding suicide rates and would not, even if on its own terms helpful, redeem the point of the earlier email. Taking it on its own terms however, I am very doubtful whether very many vegetarians have been beaten up in school or even murdered for being vegetarian - or whether negative attitudes towards them have resulted in the past in imprisonment, legal restrictions on their practising vegetarianism, being stared at whenever they walk down the street with their salad wraps in hand, being ostracised from their own family, having exorcisms performed on them by their religious communities, and being denied jobs or fired from jobs. Which may be going on to a lesser extent with gays, now, as compared to in the past, but only as a result of very recent changes, which means we can expect the social attitudes of (for instance) schoolmates of gay children to probably still be influenced to some
extent by this extremely recent discrimination.

C: No seriously. When did B say "we must privilege gay rights above everything else". This is something that you cooked up yourself. And seriously, orange skinned people? Who the fuck are you talking about? WHAT the fuck are you talking about? Actually, forget that I asked. You'll just copy and paste some ludicrous Wikipedia link and go "aha! I have proven you wrong! Orange skin syndrome actually exists! I am so clever!" Which is not only irritating, but pointless.

As I have said. There are more persistent issues at hand. Gay teens still commit suicide at a higher rate than straight teens. There is no corresponding evidence for vegetarians, orange-skinned people, or martians sent to earth to pretend to be teenagers so that they can spy on our planet. Presumably because discrimination on grounds of sexual preference is still rampant, widespread and unacceptable in any situation. That is all B is saying. That is all.

In other news, perhaps you could laugh at vegetarians, but I assure you that vegetarians are not laughed at in the same way that homosexuals are. It is not, for example, said that vegetarians are perverted. It is not said that they are morally wrong. It is not said that they will never amount to anything just because they are vegetarian. You are full of shit.

D: But this could simply mean that we should be more vigorous about making vegetarians feel accepted. However, there is a reasonable case to be made that vegetarianism is a relatively less central part of vegetarians' identity compared to gayness and the identity of gays. And there is the issue of 'choosing' vegetarianism but not 'choosing' sexual orientation (this is thorny territory, but at least it has to be acknowledged this is a potentially problematic difference between the two). So discriminating against vegetarians could be considered a less severe offence than discriminating against gays.

On a broader point, I have no idea what you mean by 'sense of perspective' --- if all you mean is that we should acknowledge that these other problems exist, then well and fine --- we do, but it's hardly germane to the current conversation. If you mean that the present 'tolerance' ('part of growing up') of these other problems has any bearing on whether we should deal with gays' problems, then I disagree. Ok, we've got the perspective now, honour killings and gender discrimination are also big problems --- so what does that have to do with gays? The 'being laughed at for growing up' point can be used to get people to tolerate essentially any kind of childhood hardship. For example, it's often part of growing up that one is caned by one's parents. Does that mean we should tolerate corporeal punishment?

In other words, the 'sense of perspective' point is either irrelevant, or, if it prescribes any attitudes we should take towards gayness, relies on fallacious reasoning.


> My perception is that on the contrary there are many oft-discussed
> men's issues:

Okay you're right.

What I should have said was that much less attention is paid to the discrimination and marginalisation etc of men than that of women, gays etc, and nobody suggests privileging them with protection of the sort that women, gays etc get.

This is not just in a historical context but also a contemporary context.

>If there ARE problems affecting men... that suggests a
>lacuna in looking at problems men face, REGARDLESS OF WHETHER WOMEN
>ALSO FACE DISCRIMINATION. I cannot say this enough. Women and men
>can BOTH be oppressed on account of their gender, IN DIFFERENT WAYS.

The point of raising the comparison is not to go: "Men are oppressed, therefore women cannot be oppressed as well". I accept and acknowledge that certain groups are oppressed, but the fact is that some phenomena which are labeled as, or being due to oppression or discrimination may not be so.

The classic example is that since men make up the overwhelming majority of the prison population, this means that the justice system is structurally biased against them and that there is massive and unacceptable discrimination perpetrated against them.

This is incorrect.

The reason why men make up the bulk of the prison population is because they commit more crimes.

>I am very doubtful whether very many vegetarians have been beaten up
>in school or even murdered for being vegetarian - or whether
>negative attitudes towards them have resulted in the past in
>imprisonment, legal restrictions on their practising vegetarianism,
>being stared at whenever they walk down the street with their salad
>wraps in hand, being ostracised from their own family, having
>exorcisms performed on them by their religious communities, and
>being denied jobs or fired from jobs.

The solution is to legislate against beating gays up or murdering them etc, not to fine teachers who do not prevent them from being laughed at (or whatever it was in the first place).

Going back to the gay suicide example, there seem to be 2 questions here:

1) Is the higher gay teenager suicide rate indicative of a problem?
2) If so, should we do anything about it (eg fine teachers who do not prevent them from being laughed at)

1) Looking at simple correlations is oftem misleading. I trust that no one would look at correlations of race and IQ or school performance and then proclaim that Blacks/Malays/insert-your-favourite-marginalised-minority-here are stupider than insert-your-favourite-non-marginalised-minority-here/insert-your-favourite-majority-here. Yet this is what is being done with gay teenagers.

The higher gay teenager suicide rate may not be indicative of a problem, for a variety of reasons. One that comes to mind are that gay people, almost by definition, tend to be less conventional and more eccentric (which results in the problem for the individual of social integration above and beyon the fact of being gay).

Another interesting point to consider is suggested by this paper:

Suicidality and Sexual Orientation: Differences Between Men and Women in a General Population-Based Sample From The Netherlands

"Homosexuality has been shown to be associated with suicidality and mental disorders. It is unclear whether homosexuality is related to suicidality, independently of mental disorders... Younger homosexuals were not at lower risk for suicidality than older homosexuals in comparison with their heterosexual counterparts. Among homosexual men, perceived discrimination was associated with suicidality. This study suggests that even in a country with a comparatively tolerant climate regarding homosexuality, homosexual men were at much higher risk for suicidality than heterosexual men. This relationship could not only be attributed to their higher psychiatric morbidity."

Even in what is probably the most gay-tolerant and friendly culture in the world, homosexuals are more likely to kill themselves than heterosexuals.

If you want to tell me that homosexuals in the Netherlands nevertheless still face discrimination and are marginalised, this would be marginally plausible, but for the fact that younger homosexuals were at as high risk of suicidality as older homosexuals. Presumably with the passage of time social attitudes towards homosexuals became more tolerant, yet we see no change in suicidality. Hell, even if, grasping at straws, you want to claim that Dutch social attitudes towards homosexuals had become less tolerant, we see that sucidality had nonetheless not changed.

With regard to 2) there're practical issues as well as philosophical issues.

How do we draw the line? What would constitute a transgress against the putative (or are they already implemented) rules/laws?

Determining when someone has been assaulted is easy.
Determining when someone has been offended is not.

Of course death threats and the like should clearly be disallowed, but what about more subtle forms of 'discrimination'?

In secondary school, 'faggot' was a popular perjorative hurled at people. A gay would probably feel insulted if called a faggot. A gay could also feel offended if someone else (even if a straight person) were called a faggot, yet I'm sure one could agree that this offence is of a lower degree than the first.

But what about other examples? Is kids crowding around a laptop laughing at a Hard Gay video evidence of discrimination against gays? (For those not in the know: Hard Gay is this Jap guy who dresses up in tight black leather and does pelvic hip thrusts. In real life he is straight, so he's just pretending to be 'gay' for laughs. He has been criticised for plumbing homosexuality for laughs)

Aggrieved gay students could thus allege discrimination when it is mostly in their heads (Someone listening to "Rudolph the Deep Throat Reindeer" on their iPod) or even non-existent (eg If they hang a rubber chicken from their bags and get laughed at, they could think it's because they're gay and make a complaint).

I'm sure you can think of many more examples.

Furthermore, how is the former example different from the atmosphere of derision that surrounds short people when they are called 'shorty'? If you do not understand the structural biases in society against short people, please ask The Cock how he feels.

You could say that it is more morally wrong to make fun of gays than short people. Why this is so is hard to fathom (perhaps someone could explicate).

You could also say that the consequences of making fun of gays are worse than those of making fun of short people. Yet this is untrue; it is alarming to note that one study has found a Strong Inverse Association Between Height and Suicide. A 5cm increase in height was associated with a 9% decrease in suicide risk (http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/162/7/1373). Clearly, we should fine teachers who do not stop height discrimination in school. Yet, we privilege gay issues above height issues despite the greater awareness and legal protection given to the former.

There is also potential for abuse. Allegations of homophobia could be made to ruin disliked students or teachers, especially since verbal assault is so difficult to prove. Laws protecting underaged females are already used to blackmail men; this is not to say that these laws should be repealed, only that one must remember the potential for abuse and circumscribe these laws and provide safeguards. Ditto for the anti-homophobia laws/rules that are proposed.

Perhaps fining teachers who do not prevent gay students from being laughed at is not what we were originally discussing and we have wandered somewhere out there. If so, please prod me back in the right direction. Nonetheless I hope at least some of the above points are relevant.

>The 'being laughed at for growing up' point can be used to get people
>to tolerate essentially any kind of childhood hardship. For example,
>it's often part of growing up that one is caned by one's parents. Does
>that mean we should tolerate corporeal punishment?

For the record I favor spanking but not caning.

Yet, the paranoia to protect children has resulted in some schools banning playground time (I can't remember the details).

Traditions should not be adhered to for the sake of adhering to them, but there is at least a case to be made of considering whether they can be kept. Going back to 'being laughed at for growing up', just as someone who doesn't visit Malaysia and eats clean food all the time gets diarrhea when he goes to Hangzhou (to wit, Me), so too will a child who has been sheltered from even the mildest form of derision when growing up find it hard to survive the real world.

A: I'm not sure where this discussion about fines originated. However, I don't like the idea - it's a minefield for enforcement and I don't as a general rule think that criminal liability for failure to prevent fairly open-ended behaviour perpetrated by others in the complicated social context that school constitutes is a good idea. That said, there are a number of points still open:

(1) Do gay kids face homophobic bullying/discrimination on a significant scale?

Obviously, this varies between contexts. In Singapore I cannot imagine how anyone could have got through the schools that I attended without verbal harassment or physical abuse if they were openly gay. In the UK it probably varies between regions and the type of school, but I know barely any gay people who feel they could have or did comfortably come out in school - which immediately puts them on the outside with respect to something which is a huge part of a teenager's life. It means, for instance, not being able to date, as many of their peers do; and not being able to discuss dating, as many of their peers do, without discomfort or subterfuge. It sets the stage for a sense that they live in a society where, because of prejudice, they may never realise hopes that are one of the greatest sources of joy and meaning for the vast majority of people. (It puts me in mind of the long-standing past practice of many light-skinned American blacks, adopted so they could participate fully in society, known as "passing" i.e. pretending they were white. It's impossible to describe that as anything other than evidence of racism.)

So injustices in the statute books have been redressed in Britain. This does not necessarily mean homophobia is not still severe in some contexts. Taking forcible repression out of the laws doesn't cause attitudes comprehended in those statutes (and thus bolstered by them and enshrined in other social institutions and the public consciousness) to go away immediately. It's barely been a historical blink of the eye since those laws were changed. I don't think your Dutch example is apposite - it's not like the people who victimised older gay people aren't still around, interacting with younger gay people.

Re the continuing "men v women" conversation which I don't seem to be able to make go away - there's a substantial body of opinion that regards the disproportionate incarceration of young males as the product of, amongst other things, social problems afflicting that demographic (for example, being the target of pressure to join gangs in which substance abuse, violence, risk-taking and rule-breaking are badges of masculinity). So, well, yeah, "nobody" says it's the result of problems with the way society treats/views men... except some people do.

As for the claim that gay people are somehow generally eccentric, regardless of marginalisation on account of sexual orientation, and this would lead to difficulties fitting in, accounting for the higher suicide rates. I disagree for reasons too complicated to go into at the moment, but even taking it as read, this is simply a reason to take their social difficulties even more seriously, since it would mean they were a particularly vulnerable group.

(2) Should we do anything about it?

(a) In principle, you suggest, we shouldn't do anything about milder forms of bullying, based on a "character-building" argument. The gist is kids'll fall apart as adults if sheltered, and being bullied helps them "toughen up". This seems to be based on a belief that stopping these forms of bullying is detrimental because they bring benefits (so even where the balance of harms/benefits would otherwise suggest intervention, we might nonetheless want bullying).

But is the emotional strength to deal with bullying like resistance to disease? Emotional resources are a function of emotional support as well as innate personal constitution. In general, we expect people from supportive families, with sympathetic circles of friends and in positive school environments to develop more self-respect and be more emotionally resilient and better at dealing with unpleasant behaviour as adults than those without these advantages. It is not clear to me that someone love and encouragement throughout childhood is less well equipped to deal with emotional hardship in future than someone who is bullied, scorned and abused. The oft-cited correlation between victimisation in youth and abusive behaviour towards others in adulthood seems apposite.

Obviously, people can be given support even if the bullying is not prevented or addressed as such. They can be loved at home while bullied at school, or treated with respect by teachers even if scorned by peers. But one important form of validation is having other people stand up to those who are doing wrong to you and say "We do not accept this." People who feel that there is no place for them in their community, because their suffering is not regarded by others as a problem, are going to have difficulty becoming emotionally "strong" in a socially integrated way (which brings about other problems for the rest of us, who have to live with them).

And even if we did our best to address bullying, given other practical constraints, some of it would still be there. So even if we accept that using childrens' avoidable suffering to create Emotionally Resilient Adult Ubermensch is okay, this isn't much of an argument for inaction.

(b) Your second argument for not doing anything is based on the idea that dealing with homophobic bullying specifically unfairly "privileges" gay students over others who are bullied. I don't really follow. Consider the following, greatly simplified for illustrative purposes:

Case #1 - Short kids are bullied. Gay kids are bullied.
Case #2 - Short kids are bullied. Gay kids are not bullied.
Case #3 - Neither short kids nor gay kids are bullied.

Presumably Case #2, where there is less bullying than previously, is preferable to Case #1, though Case #3 is preferable to both. (I'm confused about why I'm even having to say this.) And in the case of the UK at least the political movement against homophobic bullying is part of a movement against bullying in general, which condemns all forms of bullying including on grounds of personal appearance, while recognising that homophobic bullying is especially prevalent, brings its own nuanced set of specific problems, and is often overlooked by schools uneasy about tackling a sensitive topic.

I wonder if your objection is still based on a curious idea that talking about bullying based on gayness is somehow excluding conversations about bullying based on height - i.e. we're back to wholly irrelevant items for the sake of 'fairness'. If you want to have a conversation about short people, I think I'm qualified to participate! - but, again, it's a different conversation.

(3) OK, so what can we usefully do about it?

Depends on who you are. Parents can encourage children to be sensitive to the feelings of bullied gay children and teach them to refuse to participate (or even tell their friends off) when their friends engage in bullying. Similarly if you are an older sibling, a cousin, an uncle or aunt, or any other relative or friend. As an individual (especially a teacher) who notices what's going on you can take the time and effort to draw out a victimised child (or a bully) and act as a supportive/influential figure in his or her life.

Individual teachers can do even more: gay issues can be touched upon, however briefly, in existing class discussions to do with equality (e.g. historical lessons on the Holocaust) to make students aware of parallels. The occasional hypothetical example can feature a gay couple. The sexual orientation of historical, literary or political figures can be remarked upon without adverse comment where relevant. (And obviously if you are a parent or a friend you can do all of these when simply having conversations.)

Institutional measures - even if there are instances where bullying is not obvious, there are many instances where it is. Schools can formulate policies requiring teachers to reprimand and report instances of unambiguously homophobic language (I think "faggot" qualifies without difficulty), or jeering at someone for real or putative homosexuality, which create a stifling environment for gay people even if directed at straight kids (and obviously impairs the quality of life of straight victims). It can be mandatory to address the homophobic element of physical bullying, where that occurs. They can discipline staff who set bad examples (one can imagine, for instance, a sports coach egging a team on in a homophobic way). They can hold training sessions to make gay issues more accessible to staff and answer misgivings. Perpetrators can be required to go for counselling. Homosexuality can be included in a factual, informative way in the sex education syllabus. Regular meetings can be held in which bullying is discussed and each teacher can make others aware of problem cases so they can be more attuned to what's going on with their students.

Re allegations being made up, obviously that's possible with any kind of verbal abuse. That doesn't mean there shouldn't be mechanisms of redress. Presumably, notwithstanding this risk, we still want schools to have disciplinary procedures or responses of some kind in place where a teacher verbally sexually harasses a student, or a group of students chant racist abuse at a classmate. I don't see that this is different (and I understand you agree).

I'm sure you can come up with more ideas - but I want to illustrate that it is not pointless to think about or discuss the ways in which gays face discrimination, even in a relatively enlightened society like Britain, because there are plenty of things we can do in different capacities to contribute to reducing it.

Gabriel: I agree with most of what you said, and don't really feel like flogging this dead horse further, so unless someone has something new/novel/interesting to add I shan't continue this thread.

C: A, I admire your pluck and sheer blind optimism at casting your numerous pearls before this swine. It seems as if these days you are the only person who can stare stupidity in the face and not say "ok, I give up, you can keep on being a dumbass, dumbass."

B: Again, yes, but no. This reminds of the Patrick Mercer incident in the UK recently. Basically, some Tory shadow minister who was once a Major in the British Army was interviewed about the setting up of what was in all but name a union among UK military personnel in order to tackle issues of racism. Patrick Mercer is a man much like Gabriel Seah in this respect. His line was 'oh many people feign racist attacks but actually they are just trying to excuse their poor performance, etc'. That may be so, but this applies to everything. Saying so is neither helpful nor insightful. For example, many people turn in fake MCs to get extra leave. In no sense is this phenomenon an argument for ignoring the plight of the genuinely ill, etc. In any case, such things usually have a natural constraint in the 'boy who cried wolf' syndrome: if you constantly take MCs or if you constantly say 'I am being attacked because I am of X race', without basis for those claims, or at least without apparent basis, then your credibility (and I mean your *individual* credibility) will take a beating, and with good reason. Patrick Mercer went on to construct an utterly false and idiotic moral equivalence between racism and other types of bullying or teasing. That is, he acknowledged that it was common in the British Army to call black soldiers 'you black bastard'. But, as if this was in any conceivable sense an excuse for racist language, he went on to explain that 'oh but some people who have ginger hair get bullied too, sometimes more badly -- we hear taunts on the assault course like "come on, you ginger bastard" or "come on, you fat bastard" so in fact it is not simply on the basis of race that people are singled out for abuse'. This was a shockingly stupid thing to say and Mercer was (rightly) called on to resign his shadow ministerial position. Firstly, surely the right attitude to take in this situation is to say that all such taunts should be avoided. Secondly, there is NO moral equivalence between attacking someone for his race and attacking someone for his hair colour or weight. The former is a constitutive part of many people's identity, and in any case is utterly immutable, the latter two much less integral to personal identity and self-respect. Similarly, there is NO moral equivalence between kids in school who are bullied for their sexual orientation and kids who are bullied for being vegetarian. This point is fairly obvious. If I say 'I hate blacks' this is completely different morally from 'I hate vegetarianism'. Obviously. Lastly, at no point did I say that I PERSONALLY experienced discrimination in Britain stemming from my sexuality. Indeed in Singapore, apart from obviously the legal discrimination which is blindingly obvious, I experienced very little. But a lot of gay teens who commit suicide etc etc are probably more tormented than I was, especially by being consumed with self-doubt, etc. I'm not saying "oh my God you do not feel my pain", I am saying "there is much work to be done". And there is. Matthew Parris made the mistake of thinking that every gay man is Matthew Parris -- affluent, well-educated, and moving in progressive circles (for a Tory, at any rate). Sadly, this is not the case. I am in general also getting rather weary of these 'I hate political correctness' diatribes by Gabriel. They have been neither interesting nor illuminating, which is surprising since contrarian positions are usually entertaining in some way. Gabriel has made his point that most of the people who suffer prejudice in the world are merely perpetuating a culture of victimhood. You may agree or disagree -- and clearly I disagree -- with this point, but it is literally only ONE very uninteresting point, which has been laboured many times already. Give it a rest.

>Obviously, this varies between contexts. In Singapore I cannot imagine how anyone
>could have got through the schools that I attended without verbal harassment or
>physical abuse if they were openly gay

Apropos the Singapore/Britain comparison: Raffles Junior College, Singapore was less homophobic than Christ Church, Oxford, and by a significant margin. So this doesn't alway hold true.

Gabriel: Somebody asked me to add the following remarks:

"someone should bring u pthe point that there IS a moral equivalence between teasing someone for being gay and teasing them for being fat

so B is in effect saying it is ok to tease someone fo being fat butnot for being gay

woot. i get it now.

clearly i am not subtle enough either.

fat people go into bouts of depression because of societal prejudice against their weight. and kill themselves. and do strange things. it's clinically documented!

teasing/making fun of people ont eh basis of them being the "other" is equally unaccceptable in all situations

it is indeed rather presumptuous to assume that it's marginally more acceptable to tease someone for being fat than for being gay"

B: No. (Obviously.) That is all.

D: While I do not condone teasing people for being fat, I don't think
it's obvious that there's a moral equivalence. One condition is more
avoidable (through free will) than the other. One is more central to a
person's identity than the other.

E: I disagree. Bringing the idea of free will into discussion treads a dangerous line. One might, for the purposes of example, pose the argument that gay people have the free will not to engage in active homosexual relationships. And while the scientific evidence is not definitive, there is ample proof to suggest that free will (or lack thereof) is hardly the only explanation for obesity, childhood or otherwise.

Anyway, posing such faux-equivalences are kind of besides the point. Any form of bullying so extreme that it results in emotional scarring/psychological trauma should be treated with equal severity, regardless of the original motivation. That is all. I don't see the need to hold one form of "otherness" over another, in this context.


>I don't think your Dutch example is apposite - it's not like the
>people who victimised older gay people aren't still around,
>interacting with younger gay people.

I remember I said I wasn't going to comment on this, and you're on holiday now, but I thought it important to explain this bit.

Many of the people who victimised older gay people in the past have now died. The population has since seen an influx of younger people who are almost certainly more progressive.

Also, state policies on homosexuals and cultural attitudes have surely changed over time (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gay_rights_in_the_Netherlands). Most notably the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2001.

Frankly, it's ludicrous to claim this example is not apposite. Discrimination is not a binary aye/nay thing, but rather a wide spectrum which can range from lynching on one end to cries of "faggot" muttered sotto voce near the middle to refusing to marry 2 same-sex partners in your religious institution if your denomination opposes
same-sex marriage near the other and imprisoning Jerry Falwell for 20 years for saying Tinky Winky is gay since he carries a handbad, since as we all know this is advocating the lynching of homosexuals.

> Case #1 - Short kids are bullied. Gay kids are bullied.
> Case #2 - Short kids are bullied. Gay kids are not bullied.
> Case #3 - Neither short kids nor gay kids are bullied.
> Presumably Case #2, where there is less bullying than previously, is
> preferable to Case #1, though Case #3 is preferable to both. (I'm
> confused about why I'm even having to say this.)

Hell, since I'm at it (and maybe also because you're on holiday and won't reply to me, hee hee): the point is that we don't see short kids as being "bullied" (MFTTW scolds me for being too subtle), so the vastly different standards some have for the bullying of homosexual kids are puzzling. Many forms of social disapproval are not serious enough (this is why telling someone "You smell, your body odour is
quite bad, please use deodorant" is not considered a hate crime even though the person can't help smelling, was born with genes giving him sweaty armpits or whatever etc).

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Yawning Bread mention

The Cock will be pleased to note that this mailing list has been featured on Yawning Bread.

yax-684 Hate speech law badly drafted

Attacking Christian creationism

On the mailing list Young Republic, the hottest thread is currently "Why (fundamentalist) Christianity is dangerous". If you're the sensitive type, you might say, aha, such an accusation that this religion is dangerous wounds the religious feelings of some Christians. Charge them all under Section 298 of the Penal Code!

The fact though is that the thread is about some Christians' attempt to lay their theory of creationism thick upon us, to discredit evolutionary biology and indirectly, the very foundations of scientific rationality. The discussions in Young Republic are first class, full of meaty arguments and citations. There are no rants.

But as the law stands, these rebuttals could be construed as criminal. On the other hand, the creationists who seek to damage the education we provide our young and Singapore's hope of building a science-based future -- they get off scot-free.

As a libertarian you might say, freedom of speech includes the freedom to spread word of creationism. Fair enough. But then shouldn't freedom of speech include the freedom to criticise the religion that promotes creationism?

How does one square that with the Penal Code as written or proposed?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Online Citizen

It has been a long gestation period, The NEW Young Republic magazine finally gets an online home!!!!!!!

This project was a collaboration between a team from the Young Republic- that is me, Zheng Xi, Enming and Vernon, and Andrew Loh and his team.

As you can see from the site, what this site will need to sustain itself in the future is content and readership. I hope you guys will support this project by contributing articles and commentary. This is one of the better opportunities we have to create an alternative media. Play your part in helping it grow!

As splintered blogs, we are "internet chatter"; as "The Online Citizen", we will have a more robust voice.

Please send articles (in word format) to Zheng Xi, who is contactable at:


Jie Kai

Friday, September 29, 2006

Someone on Scholarships

> Anyhow the term "scholarship" is misleading. It's a business contract
> pure and simple, despite all the moral overtone those who award them
> try to pile on.

That's exactly right, and it's something which even the scholarship-awarding bodies seem to have genuinely forgotten. They wonder why so many break their bonds and never think that trying to 'trap' people into a job where they aren't really challenged and have far lower compensation than they could get in the private sector simply doesn't make sense. If the civil service really wanted to attract talent, they could significantly streamline their scholarship scheme so that it acts more like a bursary scheme and then significantly increase the pay of civil servants from day one. They should also do away with this ridiculous admin officer scheme -- there's no reason why a select few on some special scheme should be paid very handsomely while the rest of the civil service is paid (comparatively) very poorly. Even scholars know that they won't necessarily get into the admin service, so the mere prospect of large pay packets in the admin service alone may not offset the opportunity cost they run by foregoing lucrative jobs elsewhere, since the risk remains that they will be stuck in the non-admin service track.

If you think of the UK, for example, civil servants are well paid from day one (I'm talking about graduate civil servants). Of course civil servants will be paid less than bankers or city lawyers, but it isn't a ridiculous pay differential. Moreover, there isn't an admin service (although there is a fast track for some graduates) -- you can get promoted quickly, and therefore earn some serious money (civil servants were ranked only slightly below doctors in pay in the UK last year) but it doesn't depend on some retarded one-off ticket into some special scheme. It is completely possible that a non-fast track graduate in the UK civil service will later overtake a fast track graduate (and anyway the non-fast track graduate is paid quite well as it is) while in Singapore a non-admin officer will forever languish below an admin officer.

It appears to me that the Singapore civil service and govt agencies think that the best way of securing talent is by offering a plush scholarship when potential applicants are literally young and stupid, and then trap them into the job for six years. They then wonder why scholars are poorly motivated, many break their bonds, and why some turn out not to have been that great anyway. (Not to mention the huge amount of resentment created among NON-scholars in the civil service). Moreover, the low pay in the civil service discourages potentially interested applicants who have spent lots of their own money on the their education from joining the civil service.

Chris's idea is interesting, but I would suggest also post-graduation debt forgiveness (i.e. students are allowed to take loans to fund their education at reasonable rates, and then they have this debt forgiven if they take up a contract at the end of their studies), or large sign-on bonuses.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Finally, the government's position on the press explained in crystal clear clarity!

First of all I want to make a few declarations. I am a completely biased observer- I'm a bit of a wishy washy liberal when it comes to things like freedom of speech, and I look forward the day will be when the Straits Times publishes stuff that shows Gayle's level of insight.

I would also like to be prime minister one of these days. However I am completely useless at the whole business of electioneering. Like the only elections I've ever won were all walkovers. That was how I really got to be treasurer of the Salsa Society in Oxford and part of the disciplinary panel on the Corpus Christi JCR. I am known to many people who know me as an over-excitable and annoying personality. I managed to lose Agagooga's memory card with all his photos on it in a CPU in a Munich Internet Cafe. I have an embarrassing video of myself on Youtube dancing to a Gunther song. Worse, I can't speak any dialects. One of my baby cousins is also positively frightened of me.

So what political party still wants me as a political candidate again? I wish.

Having completely trashed my own potential political credibility as one would wipe a dishcloth on a Newton Hawker Centre table, let me now go on to my completely and utterly biased criticism of something that really ground my gears today.

By now I am sure you are all familiar with the rebuke of the famous blogger mrbrown.

However I want to point all of you to this passage from Mr Lee Boon Yang's press secretary

"mrbrown is entitled to his views. But opinions which are widely circulated in a regular column in a serious newspaper should meet higher standards. Instead of a diatribe mr brown should offer constructive criticism and alternatives. And he should come out from behind his pseudonym to defend his views openly.

It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government. If a columnist presents himself as a non-political observer, while exploiting his access to the mass media to undermine the Government's standing with the electorate, then he is no longer a constructive critic, but a partisan player in politics."

How it is logical to offer "constructive criticism" and yet not at the same time "champion issues" or "campaign for or against the Government", hence undermining "the Government's standing with the electorate" completely escapes me.

Suppose I thought that preserving the now-demolished national library building, because of its historical value, was more important a priority than building a tunnel through it. That is constructive criticism. But my value system, and those who agree with me are at odds with the Government. By putting forth my views in the papers, I'm trying to persuade more people. In this way I'm undermining the Government's standing with the voters.

Similar logic just about applies to everything else.

Of course, unlike the prime minister, I did not get a double first in maths from Cambridge. Perhaps with his vast and undeniable intellegence, the prime minister can help clarify how the government's position is not an incoherent crock of garbage.

koh Jie Kai

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Singapore Politics Drinking Game

The Singapore Politics Drinking Game

Every time the Party, the State and the Government are conflated, drink once.

Every time you see a stupid ST Forum letter about how democracy and Freedom of Speech are bad for Singapore, drink once. If the letter ends with "Majulah Singapura", drink twice.

Every time you see the archived shot of MM Lee crying, drink once. If it is accompanied with moving music in the background, drink thrice.

Every time a new buzzword is thrown up, drink once. Every time we have a new silly acronym ("SPRING Singapore"), drink twice. Every time a new false dichotomy is introduced ("Stayers" vs "Quitters"; "Heartlanders" vs "Cosmopolitans"), drink thrice.

Every time a Minister says things like "save on one hairdo and use the money for breast screening", drink once. Every time someone else doesn't say whether they want tur kwa or not and we get a week long scandal in the media, drink twice.

Every time ministers get a pay rise following xxx years of no pay rise, drink once. Every time the CPF contribution rate is cut, drink twice. Every time the GST rate is raised and income tax for the top brackets cut, drink thrice.

Every time citizens get lectured for being choosy or grumbling, drink once.

Every time someone talks about Asian Values, drink once. Every time someone talks about the decadent West, drink twice. Every time we want to emulate the decadent West, drink thrice.

Every time a new ERP gantry goes up, drink once. Every time public transport fares go up, drink twice. Every time COE prices drop to S$50, smash the bottle.

Every time someone talks about radical English-educated intelligentsia or ivory tower academics, smash the bottle over said someone's head.

Every time a Progress Package or something similar is announced, buy more alcohol in preparation for more drinking ahead.

Every time the PAP wins an election despite high Opposition rally turnouts, discontent from many, promises that the tide will turn this time and to cries of "never again!", finish the whole bottle!

If alcoholic liver cirrhosis is added to the already insanely large appendix of 'diseases you cannot claim Medishield for', jump off a building.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Okay offical line out....

Official description of The Young Republic

The Young Republic is a private mailing list set up in October 2003 to discuss political and social issues. Most of its members are Singaporean.

>4) What is the significance of Young Republic to you and to other young

What the Young Republic represents I think is an experiment to build a community for young people interested in Singapore's political and social development. It provides a forum for young Singaporeans to test their ideas, to share their ideas, and be prepared to debate and defend them.

It also represents a way to make free discussion more mature in Singapore. From the heated and passionate tone of some of the emails making up the discussions, a casual observer may commentators that the commentators with the most serious disagreements would kill each other if they saw each other on the street. Yet very often it is the exact opposite which is closer to the truth. I think that encouraging this sort of culture is healthy in Singapore's development.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A reply to the opinion below ( read the below opinion too! )

Young Republic is fair and balanced. Here is another view on the issue:


Your five-page rhetoric is mostly just that - rhetoric. Plus your claims that you are not anti-PAP are really, really convincing.

I have not fallen for the "media tripe", neither do I believe Gomez is dishonest just "because Inderjit Singh and Wong Kan Seng say so". Nor do I assume any nobility in PAP's words and actions during this election campaign - there is no doubt that they are trying to assassinate Gomez's character. But that is hardly relevant.

What I have done, basically, is made a common-sensical evaluation of Gomez's honesty as a human being, which, to me, is important in deciding whether or not he deserves election (not that I'm an Aljunied voter - I'm just making a hypothetical point). Despite your five-pager, there is actually some objective evidence regarding the events of the past week that we possess. We have:

1. The videotape of what happened at the ELD last Monday

2. The transcript of the conversation between Gomez and the ELD official

3. Inderjit's (and his fellow PAP man's) account of his conversation (which has yet to be challenged by Gomez)

4. Gomez's own apology

5. Sylvia Lim's non-backing of Gomez's account of what happened on Monday (he claims she saw him hand in the forms)

You talk about objectivity, Ben, but you have chosen not to analyse the hard evidence that we have regarding the man's integrity.

From the evidence above, we can at least infer that Gomez lied about 2 things - (1) that he handed in the form and (2) that Sylvia Lim had corroborated his claim that he handed in the form.

But let us first assume he was not lying in all the circumstances above. If this gives us a better explanation of the events of the past week, then we might be tempted to accept this hypothesis.

If we assume he has been truthful (i.e. he was indeed distracted at the time and had subsequently given only honest, albeit false, replies), we are faced with at least two problems that defy our logic.

1. He claims during the conversation with the ELD official (before he became aware of the CCTV recording) that Sylvia Lim had corroborated his claim that he had handed in the form. If this were so, why is Lim evading reporters' questions and refusing to give a committal answer as to whether or not she had indeed given Gomez such a corroboration? If she had indeed corroborated his version of the events, then it only makes sense for her to support him by saying, perhaps, that she was also mistaken. As it stands, her non-backing of his version casts more doubt on his character, which hardly helps her election chances. It is far more likely that he had not gained such a corroboration in the first place and was using her name without her knowledge during that conversation.

2. His response to Inderjit's questions are especially baffling. If he was indeed being honest and really thought he had handed in the forms, a more likely response when Inderjit asked him about the incident would go along the lines of: "You know, Inderjit, I really don't know what happened. I am sure I handed in the forms but they said I didn't." He chose instead to speak about it being a "wayang" and a ruse to fool the media about him running in Ang Mo Kio. A really odd answer for an honest man.

Given these two problems, you can, of course, still choose to believe that he was honest. But it would require a greater stretch of your imagination. Common sense would point you to the more natural reading of the events - Gomez was dishonest.

You talk about the PAP having the burden of proof and that Gomez was "innocent until proven guilty". I have two responses to this poor point. (1) the PAP has put out enough evidence and has already fulfilled their "burden", if they had any; and (2) "Innocent until proven guilty" is a principle that applies only to criminal charges. There is no criminal charge here. It is a question of the people evaluating Gomez's honesty. However, if you still insist on using the principle (why I do not know), I would submit that he has indeed been proven guilty from an initial state of innocence.

That the PAP has a lot to lose in Aljunied and is using this opportunity to assassinate the character of an opposition member is not doubted. Nobody assumes the PAP is noble and altruistic. However, that hardly changes the fact that objective evidence points to Gomez's dishonesty on the matter, and his unwillingness to admit it (he still claims he was distracted and had made an honest mistake).

The implications of his dishonesty is to be decided by the individual voter. Some will consider this level of dishonesty acceptable. Some will point out that no politician is honest anyway. These views are fair and can be debated.

My point is, there are two issues at hand here: (1) Gomez was dishonest, and (2) Gomez does not deserve to be an MP because of his dishonesty. (2) is debatable, (1) is not - unless fresh evidence emerges to exonerate the man.

One opinion from the Young Republic discussions

The following is an opinion from one of our subscribers. As I repeat, IT IS ONLY AN OPINION BY SOMEONE.

To be fair and balanced here, may I also add that the House Of Lords upheld then DPM Goh Chok Tong's side in a lawsuit launched against him by Jaybix.

A full account of Charles Gray's cross examination can be found in Jaybix's book "make it right for singapore". And in this editor's opinion, GCT held a fairly consistent line then. If you're curious, ask Jaybix if he will supply you a copy the next time you see him outside your neighbourhood MRT station. Alternatively try looking for it in your neighbourhood public library ( surprise surprise! The NLB stocks Jaybix's books!)

Remember, decide for yourself!

Jie Kai.


To anyone who actually believes that James Gomez is dishonest and a liar etc.. I suggest that you attend the WP rallies and listen to what they have to say, instead of relying on the media for information. Please do remember that this is the media ranked 140th out of 167 in the world.

I have followed every election keely since 1997 and I have also read extensively about the incidents in 1988 with regards to Francis Seow. While I am not so foolish as to take what the opposition says at face value, I urge everyone here not to do the same for the PAP. Read factual accounts, based on past trends and make your own judgement.

The Defamation Suit Trap

To me, it is clear what the PAP is trying to do. They are trying to round on Gomez and assassinate his character. He is in a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't situation. Watch what happens. It is perfectly conceivable now that he says "I am not the liar, Wong Kan Seng in the liar" and I assure you that defamation suits galore will immediately start pouring in. This is based on the "doctrine of innuendo" that the Singapore courts have evolved, to which there is completely no objective test. I have provided 3 examples of precedents for this:

1. Tang Liang Hong

In 1997, they labelled Tang Liang Hong "a dangerous man", a "racist", "Chinese chauvinist" etc, allegations which were all untrue. The fact is that Teo Chee Hean had heard Tang speak at a dinner function in 1994, where the latter urged more members from the Chinese community to step forward, as the number of English educated in the Cabinet was disproportionate to their actual number in society. Strange then that they waited 3 years to bring this up. Just like Inderjit Singh in this case, Teo was the 'whistle blower' whose intention was to warn Singaporeans of this so-called dangerous man.

Tang refuted their claims by calling them 'lies', and this invited 13 defamation suits, with damages totalling some $6+ million, because this implied 'by innuendo' that the Ministers were morally bereft, dishonest and therefore unfit for office. Tang's assets were frozen BEFORE the court had reached a verdict, and his wife (who had nothing to do with it at all) was made a co-defendant in the case.

2. J.B. Jeyaretnam

At a rally during the same election, J.B. Jeyaretnam held up a police report which Tang had made against the PAP leaders for slandering him and tarnishing his reputation. Police reports are supposed to be confidential. However, Wong Kan Seng retrieved the police report (so much for the separation of powers) and passed it on to Lee Kuan Yew, who released it to the press. Then 13 PAP leaders sued both Tang and Jeyaretnam for defaming them, by insinuating that the leaders were guilty of a criminal offence and therefore unfit for office.

Jeyaretnam was also sued for saying "I have a police report which Mr Tang has made against Mr Goh Chok Tong.." because this was implying that Goh was a criminal and therefore unfit for office. In the first instance, the court awarded "derisory damages" to Goh because it held that the lawsuit had been brought frivolously. "Derisory damages" amounted to $20,000 - hardly "derisory". This was largely due to Goh admitting, under cross examination from Charles Gray QC (now Mr Justice Gray) that he had had "an excellent year", in contrast to his claims in his affidavit that his reputation, both locally and internationally, had been severely impugned by Jeyaretnam's words. Interesting then that the trial judge, Rajendran J, was subsequently removed, and Mr Justice Gray is now barred from appearing as counsel in Singapore courts because he is a person of 'questionable moral character'. Goh appealed against the judgement of Rajendran J on the basis that the damages awarded were "manifestly inadequate", and the Court of Appeal duly increased the sum ten-fold, to $200,000. Jeyaretnam, who had already paid off millions in damages, still remains an undischarged bankrupt to this day.

3. Chee Soon Juan

During the 2001 elections, Chee Soon Juan asked Goh Chok Tong during a community walkabout, using a loudhailer, "Prime Minister, where is the money?" This was held to be an insinuation that Goh was corrupt, dishonest and unfit for office. Duly, Chee was made to pay $500,000 in damages, and, as the court held in a 'summary judgement' earlier this year, was subsequently made a bankrupt. How convenient that the elections were to be held this year, eh?

Can you not notice the trend here?

I am not anti-PAP in my personal political outlook, but I believe that their politics of slander and character assassination are most unbecoming of a Government who has accomplished so much. There is no doubt in my mind that Wong Kan Seng, Lee Kuan Yew and George Yeo et al are trying to bait Gomez into making one of those "implicitly" defamatory remarks so that they can destroy him once and for all, because thus far, all of the Workers' Party leaders have been very astute in terms of making their public comments. What good is Lee's "dare" to Gomez to sue him, when it is unequivocally clear that Lee effectively owns the courts? The incident involving the Cheng San polling centres in 1997 and then-AG Chan Sek Keong has been given sufficient consideration in another thread, and shall not be discussed further. Wong Kan Seng noted that Gomez's apology "had been drafted by a lawyer" and was therefore "insincere". He means that Gomez's apology is overly tactful, and as a result, the PAP has little room with which to rub further salt in his wounds. I believe Gomez has, given the cirumstances, acted very prudently in doing so.

Now, they are trying to bait Sylvia Lim and Low Thia Khiang. If you read their latest response, again they have been very careful. Low merely says that he never planned to field Gomez in Ang Mo Kio. He never expressly accused anyone of lying, nor did he even go so far as to say that "what the PAP says is untrue". What else do you expect him to do, with the threat of the cripping defamation suits loomimg over his head?

Refusal to Engage Policy Points

It is also telling that the PAP has steadfastly refused to debate the WP's policy points. They refuted the WP's manifesto saying it was "dangerous" but without giving any specific details of why this would be so, save the same old rhetorical arguments as to why GRCs are important, why government-led unions are important. In fact, in response to WP's suggestion that the PAP gets out of the unions, Lee Hsien Loong merely gave examples of other parties in other countries that are linked to the unions, and took a humourous jibe at the fact that the WP was not befitting of its name "Workers' Party". They also did not respond to Perry Tong's points about healthcare, I have had the privilege of listening to sound clips of his speech, and I think they are very sound policy suggestions.

They said that the policy of free healthcare has been proven to be disastrous overseas due to long queues (I presume they are referring to the NHS, and they are right) but that was never Perry Tong's point. They failed to respond to his suggestions to lower GST on medical supplies and to set up a medicine manufacturing hub in Singapore to both lower the costs of medicine and to create more jobs. And they repeatedly accuse the WP of failing to suggest ways to create more jobs. Their response to other points in relation to public transport have also been dealt with only in passing, in a dismissive manner rather than substantively. Unsurprisingly, the proposals made by Perry Tong (who is a Berkeley grad and a management consultant) and Tan Wui-Hua (who is CFO of a billion dollar company) have been given almost no airtime, with the media instead choosing to focus on the Gomez "scandal".

Question of Intention

As to those who believe that Gomez is truly dishonest, an electioneering rat, and a person of dubious moral character, I have this question to ask. Where is the evidence that this is so? Because Inderjit Singh and Wong Kan Seng say so? If you were to watch the video recordings, what do they actually show? Nothing, other than the fact that Gomez indeed placed the forms in his bag, and questioned the Elections Department about the submission of his forms.

Now, why do you think the PAP has come out and 'exposed' Gomez? In order to warn Singaporeans of this dangerous man who is out to harm them at his own expense?

Has it never occurred to you that the PAP is a politicial party trying to win an election, and that there is a realistic chance that they may lose Aljunied GRC?
Has it never occurred to you that this outcome would be unfavourable to them?

I cannot believe, for the life of me, how some people actually believe that the PAP is 'exposing' Gomez out of altruism and goodwill. So, when Gomez does something, it is serving his own selfish ends, but no PAP member would ever do such a thing? Please stop believing the 140th ranked Singapore media, and have a look at the rallies, the independent political blogs, and internet forums to get the true 'feel of the ground'. The media has lionised the PAP leaders and made them appear to be larger than life, but at the end of the day, we musn't forget that Wong Kan Seng and George Yeo are as much politicians as James Gomez is . At this point, it is their word against his, and I am choosing to believe his account, not because I am biased against the PAP, nor because I am outraged at the sheer disgracefulness of what they are doing, but because I have seen this happen many times before, and based on track record, past evidence and trends, I am inclined to believe that they are assassinating Gomez's character in order to gain political mileage, or rather, to destroy the WP's political mileage (which has become rather significant in recent months).

Objective Test

If we were to apply the 'Objective Test' to this incident, that is, what would a reasonable-thinking, objective third party think -

1. Is Gomez trying to orchestrate an elaborate and deceitful plot in order to discredit the entire elections department in order to gain political mileage?


2. Did he genuinely forget to submit his forms?

I believe most reasonable thinking people would go with the latter. The former is hard to believe because so far in this election, the WP's main issues have been policy ones, unlike the SDP who have been focusing their efforts on disparaging the PAP's underhand tactics. The WP has taken jibes at these underhand tactics, primarily the use of upgrading to entice voters, but they have not made it their main election platform. I don't think Gomez would 'break ranks' with the party's stand, I think it appears that the WP is actually taking a very united stand this time round, and they seem determined to focus on 'bread and butter issues' as opposed to liberal ideals etc.

Of course, Wong Kan Seng would tell you that the ENTIRE WP created this impression so as to deceive Singaporeans, and lull them into believing that they were genuinely concerned about their well-being, when in fact they are actually opportunists who are trying to get into Parliament by any means necessary. Even though Low has already said that ALL the WP candidates are prepared to lose.

Now, to consider the second possibility. Is this even remotely as far-fetched as the scenario above?

Have you never seen anyone insist to a teacher that "I am sure I have handed my assignment in" only to realise that the assignment was actually in his bag?

I think that comparison is much more apt than George Yeo's far-fetched and tenuous 'shoplifting' analogy, where the subject-matter is concerning theft, i.e. removing something, as opposed to failing to submit something.

Burden of Proof

Lastly, why has the burden of proof now shifted on Low, Gomez and the WP to disprove the PAP's allegations? Whatever happened to the rule that a person was innocent until found guilty? So far, what conclusive evidence do we have that Gomez is guilty? A video which suggests nothing by way of wrongdoing, and a bunch of opinions from Wong Kan Seng, Lee Kuan Yew and Inderjit Singh, who are all PAP members, and who can all be presumed to have a conflict of interests with the subject-matter here.

Just because a bunch of PAP politicians say so, does it mean Gomez is guilty?

Look at Wong Kan Seng's "statement", upon more careful scrutiny I think you will find that he draws very tenuous links and fails to substantiate most of them. It is laced with self-righteous rhetoric, and fails to convince me that Gomez was indeed trying to orchestrate a plot to discredit the Elections Department and the PAP. One must realise that this is a very serious allegation to be making, so it needs to be well substantiated. I do not think the standard of proof has been at all satisfied here.

So why has the burden of proof shifted to Gomez? Are you telling me that in Singapore law, there is a doctrine of "presumed" immorality/dishonesty just because someone is from a party other than the PAP?


For voters who are in Aljunied and any other WP-contested constituencies, I must urge you to consider your vote very carefully. Do not be taken in by what the PAP and the sycophantic 140th ranked media says, research the facts and the precedents yourself, and if you arrive at the conclusion that you should indeed be voting for George Yeo, then so be it.

But please do not distract yourselves from the main issues here. Please also familiarise yourself with what George Yeo et al stand for, and compare this with what Sylvia Lim and the WP stand for.

"If you are not of a certain economic class, then you shouldn't even be thinking about going to [the casino].. you should stick to 4D, Toto and Horseracing"

This is what George Yeo said about whether Singaporeans would be allowed to visit the casino. In my honest opinion, it smacks of arrogance, haughtiness and elitism.

As I've said, I am not a WP supporter nor am I anti-PAP, I personally take a more holistic view, that whatever benefits Singapore as a whole, ought to be done. I think Ngiam Tong Dow's interview posted in the other thread was spot-on. Singapore needs to be bigger than the PAP, and people need to accept that. I just think that it's dangerous for us media consumers to accept, at face value, whatever we are told.

The PAP talks about making an informed choice, debating the bigger issues, "clean and fair elections", etc. Well, suffice to say that whoever has made those promises, has gone down more than a notch in my estimation.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Why the rationale for the rules on internet broadcasting are not convincing

As a registered overseas voter, I am following the upcoming elections closely.

I wish to express my disagreement with the rationales given by the government for the general restrictions on internet publishing. In an answer to a question posed by Mr Low Thia Kiang in parliament on the 3rd of April 2006, Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts Dr Balaji Sadasivan identified several reasons why there are such restrictions.

He said that "in a free-for-all Internet environment, where there are no rules, political debates could easily degenerate into an unhealthy, unreliable and dangerous discourse flush with rumours and distortions to mislead and confuse the public. The Government has always maintained that political debates should be premised on factual and objective presentation of issues and arguments. The regulations governing Internet campaigning have served well to safeguard the seriousness of the electoral process."

He also said that "[w]e recognise that in our society, people will have their diverse opinion and some will want to share their opinion. But people should not take refuge behind the anonymity of the Internet to manipulate public opinion. It is better and more responsible to engage in political debates in a factual and objective manner".

There are problems with this reasoning.

It is true that generally, there is a lot of nonsense being said with regards to political issues on the internet. Much of this nonsense is also published anonymously. But is the average internet user really going to take such views more seriously than views which are published by writers who are willing to reveal their identities? Probably not.

Moreover, many bloggers publish their personal details on their websites. They can hardly be described as anonymous. When they express their views on political issues, they are likely to do so responsibly. If they do not do so, they face liability from other areas of the civil law ( for instance, defamation) or the criminal law ( for instance, if they incite racial hatred).

The requirement that discussions be made in a "factual and objective" also makes it difficult for any meaningful political discussion to take place. It is not clear what this requirement means. Does it mean that every time an internet user comments on a political issue, he needs to mention an alternative view? Or is it that an internet user must appear not to condone any particular view at all?

Why the rationale for the rules on internet broadcasting are not convincing Part II

The previous post was a draft letter to the Straits Times and Today. I shall further explain my viewpoint.

Generally, if we ever need to advance rules against freedom of speech ( as Germany does with Nazi symbols and salutes- doing the Hitler salute in Germany can land you in a couple of years of jail!), the position we need to start from is that the benefits and necessity of freedom of speech are so overwhelming, that the reasons needed to control it need to be strongly compelling, and that the measures taken be no more than neccessary.

Mad right wing punditry is one thing. Having press laws that would place me in possible criminal liability if I go ahead to strongly criticise either only the PAP's election manifesto or only the Worker's Party election manifesto between now and May 6th is another. For that might be construed as "party campaigning"!

It also makes Singapore and Singaporeans a lot less politically savvy than they should be. What happens when do not have the right to even publish a reasoned case for or against a political party's platform? It affects decision making, simply because part of the process of coming to a reasoned decision is discussing what you have just heard. It seems wholly irrational, according to the mainstream view in Singapore anyway, that a convincing case necessarily is a demagogic case. Why are voters who may not have very much sympathies with any politicians at all being prevented from discussing and questioning what sort of work their members of parliament have been doing in their respective Government Parliamentary Committees?

No wonder this election will inevitably see in Sembawang GRC, an automatic 25% of the vote for the SDP simply because no one during this period ( apart from PAP candidates of course) can criticise the SDP for its unneccessary and unhealthy advocacy of "martyrdom" politics. Conversely, there will probably be many voters in that contested GRC who may be under the illusion that the job of a member of parliament is nothing more than being a glorified city councillor. Not being able to publish critical reasoning on the issues has a detrimental effect.

Take for example this whole quibble about whether Singapore has a "first world" government. Both the PAP and the WP can be said to be simply vague in expressing what they mean by this. I think for instance Lee Kuan Yew is probably correct in a sense in saying we have a first class government in terms of its efficiency ( no really shitty cock-ups like letting 1000 foreign prisoners out into the streets of singapore instead of undertaking a promise to deport them) and its current and foreseeable lack of corruption in the near future. Low Thia Kiang on the other hand seems to be saying that we don't have a first world government in the sense of inadequate internal checks in our constitution- in other words a government which really works only because it is governed by gentlemen.

So there are real problems with these slew of restrictions on internet publication. You throw out intellegent commentary together with rubbishy commentary. Is that really what we want? Worse, what is available for legal publication is to my mind, often very insipid. And so we continue to get stupid letters from writers like Raymond Ng being published in our most respectable national newspaper. To show you how silly these letters can get, I am reproducing Raymond's letter in full below. As someone who is currently pursuing a university degree in Britain, you might disagree with my lack of respect, of course.

TV forum with MM Lee shows English-educated S'poreans are westernised, lack Asian values. Fix the school curriculum

I refer to the recent televised forum with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. Why should anyone be surprised about what happened? It is not a question of who's right or wrong.

When you remove all OB (out-of-bounds) markers, you expect nothing less than a free-for-all discussion. Blaming the young participants in the forum is counter-productive and unfair. They genuinely believed they were doing their best in such a one-off opportunity with MM Lee in a televised dialogue.

There are several conclusions we can draw from this forum.

Firstly, some of our young, especially the English-educated, are not just modernised but also westernised. They lack knowledge of Asian values which older people acquire as they get older and wiser.

Like our children, most of them do not understand their parents, take everything for granted and rebel when they get nagged. Most of them get over this phase when they grow up and settle down with children of their own.

Secondly, no matter how mature a society is, especially a diverse one like Singapore, you need OB markers. Remove them totally and chaos will prevail. Just look at the other societies around us. Personal or group freedom prevails over national interest. The result is perpetual disruption to economic growth and social instability.

I think the present government's policies are already in place insofar as the OB markers are concerned. What needs to be improved are Asian values studies in the English education curriculum.

Chinese culture with strong Asian values are inherent in the Chinese language itself. In my opinion, most of the Chinese-educated are more likely to have a stronger feel of Asian values.

Raymond Ng Chay Boon

There are many things that are very, very wrong with this letter. I will just deal with two issues. Firstly the whole notion that there exists a set of values called "asian" values. As opposed to what? Decadent western notions of freedom and liberty? African values? Suffice it to say it is a very debatable point.

One might even say that Mr Ng has painted a completely misleading picture of many societies where there there is a bias towards individual freedom. In my stay in England, and in my 30 days of travel around the Netherlands, France, Austria and Germany, I observed that these countries continue to be relatively at peace. I observed a large and noisy street protest during my stay in Paris, and Sorbonne university had to be barracaded off by the police. That hardly disrupted my holiday there at all.

Indeed there are animal rights protesters making a lot of noise in the middle of my university town every week and guess what Mr Ng? Most people's lives are not really affected!

This is not to say that Europe does not have its problems- it was somewhat eerie and depressing to observe a depopulating east German town like Chemnitz.

The point still stands however, that letters published in the Straits Times are not necessarily the font of wisdom. As already has been demonstrated, the opinions expressed in the above letter are the font of stupidity. In Britain, Raymond's letter would probably be worthy of being consigned to a cruddy tabloid like the Daily Mirror or The Sun.

I will end by concluding the following:

1- The current rules as they stand totally deter Singapore based bloggers from saying even sensible things about Singapore politics. It is a source of national shame that everyone, even talkingcock.com and everyone who contributes to tomorrow.sg, is chickening out simply because the rules about what we cannot say are so unclear. For heaven's sakes, what do you have to do to fall below or reach the standard of "fair and objective" comment?

2- What sort of action am I advocating? One thing that is clear is that I don't approve of breaking the law. What I am approving, and it is the only thing that I am affirmitively approving in my two posts, is for members of parliament passing a bill in parliament to CHANGE THE LAW in a constitutionally approved manner i.e. in a session in parliament.

3- As I have already explained, I think the reasons that are given for the law are on the first level, not convincing enough on their own grounds to curtail freedom of speech. Even if one agrees that some level of control is desirable, the general scaring off of all political comment whatsoever DOES show that the effect of such laws has been disproportionate to the aims that it is trying to achieve.

My name is Koh Jie Kai. Don't tell me I'm hiding behind the anonymity of the internet to "mislead the public". The public can jolly well make up its own mind as to whether I am making sense or not.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Does this call anything to mind?

VI.ii.2.17 The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the slightest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much east as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserable, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.

VI.ii.2.18 Some general, and even systematical, idea of the perfection of policy and law, may no doubt be necessary for directing the view of the statesman. But to insist upon establishing, and upon establishing all at once, and in spit of all opposition, every thing which that idea may seem to require, must often be the highest degree of arrogance. It is to erect his own judgment into the supreme standard of right and wrong. It is to fancy himself the only wise and worthy man in the commonwealth, and that his fellow-citizens should accomodate themselves to him and not he to them. It is upon this account, that of all political speculators, sovereign princes are by far the most dangerous. This arrogance is perfectly familiar to them. They entertain no doubt of the immense superiority of their own judgment. When such imperial and royal reformers, therefore, condescend to contemplate the constitution of the country which is committed to their government, they seldom see any thing so wrong in it as the obstructions which is may sometimes oppose to the execution of their own will. They hold in contempt the divine maxim of Plato*, and consider the state as made for themselves, not themselves for the state. The great object of their reformation, therefore, is to remove those obstructions; to reduce the authority of the nobility; to take away the privileges of cities and provinces, and to render both the greatest individuals and the greatest orders of the state, as incapable of opposing their commands, as the weakest and most insignificant.

* - that is, "never to use violence to his country no more than to his parents" (VI.ii.2.16)

Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, VI.ii.2.17, 18

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Heartfelt but naive letter

TODAYonline: Do S'pore teens know they have it much better?

Before I go on, the biggest difficulty that I have with this letter is that it could have been much much more. By simply focusing on economic needs being met and the subsequent tsk-tsk over ungrateful youths, the author fails to make the much larger point that this is then the time and perfect opportunity for self-actualisation to occur according to Maslov's hierarchy of needs.

The answer to his question is not just going to be met with a "so what?". Yes, we should be thankful perhaps, but this is simply a naif and insipid approach.

Letter from Harry Chia

Mr Nick Danziger's selection of the photos, "So, who stole their smiles?" is a poignant reminder of the harsh and stark realities of life.

As I read the narratives of each photo, I wonder how our teenagers, who, hopefully, would have picked up a copy of Today, felt.

Their lives here are a paradise, compared with those in the photos.

Sure, but by comparison, we live in relative poverty compared to the Swiss.
The teens here have everything cut out for them — they are able to go to school regardless of their parents' socio-economic status and given every opportunity to excel. Our environment is clean and most of us have a roof over our heads.

Yes, granted that this is good, it's uber simplistic. Let's take each of the claims and examine them to observe if we should be doing better (and that's what the letter should be advocating instead of some argument from gratefulness)
1. Right to education, article 16. It's great, as long as you don't mind giving up your right to expression (including dress) and freedom of speech within the context of having an education. Same price to pay it may seem, but dangerous in the long run
2. Opportunity to excel. Not a constitutional right perhaps but the notion of meritocracy is highly valued. But for meritocracy not to become a self-perpetuating elitist cycle, there must be equality of opportunity and socio-economic background must not be an advantage nor a disadvantage. Early streaming and the misallocation of resources towards the 'smart' starts the cycle early and entrenches it.
3. Our environment is clean. Very true.
4. Most of us have a roof over our heads. *Cough* No right to property people. There are very sound economic reasons for it. And the legal intricacies of Eminent Domain would make most law students cry even more during Public Law and Property Law anyway.
The kids here are relatively safe from abduction and child prostitution.

I'm not sure why this is here but I presume it is in contrast to the rest of SEA.

The fact is, it's got to do with economic poverty. Children don't choose to become prostitutes but are often forced to do so due to economic destitution or organised crime rings which can only flourish in such destitution. I'm all for fighting to end the prostitution but just make sure there are jobs waiting for them ya?
Life in Singapore is more than good.

So let's make it better. Now that we have achieved a great measure of economic prosperity, it's time to consider society and self-actualisation. Poverty in the midst of plenty is a blight upon the conscience of society and welfare is simply the recognition of the basis of Humanity (and equality of dignity of all persons. There are economic arguments to be made but it would be kinda crass here).

It's also about putting all those educated people to use and spur the notion of civil and civic society, rights and freedoms and the ultimate notion that the person herself is a person and that no other person or organisation should be able to strip that away from her.