Questions for Heterosexuals

June 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Ordinarily I’m not overly enamoured of The Online Citizen, but this gem caught my eye. It is a little screwed up, but not more screwed up than the kind of stuff LGBT people put up with.

Questions for Heterosexuals
developed by Martin Rochlin, Ph.D., 1977

  1. What do you think caused your heterosexuality?
  2. When and how did you first decide you were a heterosexual?
  3. Is it possible your heterosexuality is just a phase you may grow out of?
  4. Is it possible your heterosexuality stems from a neurotic fear of others of the same sex?
  5. Isn’t it possible that all you need is a good gay lover?
  6. Heterosexuals have histories of failures in gay relationships. Do you think you may have turned to  heterosexuality out of fear of rejection?
  7. If you’ve never slept with a person of the same sex, how do you know you wouldn’t prefer that?
  8. If heterosexuality is normal, why are a disproportionate number of mental patients heterosexual?
  9. To whom have you disclosed your heterosexual tendencies? How did they react?
  10. Your heterosexuality doesn’t offend me as long as you don’t try to force it on me. Why do you people feel compelled to seduce others into your sexual orientation?
  11. If you choose to nurture children, would you want them to be heterosexual, knowing the problems they would face?
  12. The great majority of child molesters are heterosexuals. Do you really consider it safe to expose your children to heterosexual teachers?
  13. Why do you insist on being so obvious, and making a public spectacle of your heterosexuality? Can’t you just be what you are and keep it quiet?
  14. How can you ever hope to become a whole person if you limit yourself to a compulsive, exclusive heterosexual object choice and remain unwilling to explore and develop your normal, natural, healthy, God-given homosexual potential?
  15. Heterosexuals are noted for assigning themselves and each other to narrowly restricted, stereotyped sex-roles. Why do you cling to such unhealthy role-playing?
  16. Why do heterosexuals place so much emphasis on sex?
  17. With all the societal support marriage receives, the divorce rate is spiraling. Why are there so few stable relationships among heterosexuals?
  18. How could the human race survive if everyone were heterosexual, considering the menace of overpopulation?
  19. There seem to be very few happy heterosexuals. Techniques have been developed with which you might be able to change if you really want to. Have you considered aversion therapy?
  20. Do heterosexuals hate and/ or distrust others of their own sex? Is that what makes them heterosexual?
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Lies, damned lies, and GDP figures

June 10, 2010 Leave a comment

This morning I read ST’s front-page article “Economists raise growth forecast to 9%” with more than the usual distaste. Besides the fact that it came next to a picture of the Health Minister exposing more skin than I can block out with one eye closed, the article reinforced a simplistic, flawed understanding of GDP.

GDP is simplistic and flawed as a measure of an economy’s health. This should be clear to anyone looking at the growth figures from the last few years. According to this table from the department of statistics, GDP grew 1.8% in 2008 and shrank 1.3% in 2009. Breaking it down, in Q1 of 2008, GDP grew 7.4% – which was offset by low growth (2.7%) in Q2, complete stagnation (0%) in Q3 and shrinkage (-2.5%) in Q4. In Q1 2009 GDP shrank another 8.9%. Yet I’m sure if it wasn’t pointed out, no one would have noticed that our economy was 11.4% smaller in Q1 2009 compared to six months ago. Did you earn 11.4% less at the start of 2009 than in the middle of 2008? Similarly, did you earn 15.5% more at the end of Q1 2010 than at the start? Probably not. Looking at it from a different perspective, how would you like it if the price of meat or eggs or milk went down 9% in 3 months and up 15% in another 3 months? This should make it clear that the volatility of Singapore’s GDP figures (down 9% one quarter, up 15% in another) makes analysing them, even attributing any significance to them, an exercise in futility – and what use is a statistic that can’t be analysed?

Another thing about GDP figures: they’re a mere numbers game. As CIMB-GK economist Song Seng Wun puts it in the article, “the simple mathematics of the numbers suggests that it’s quite tough to fall below 10 per cent growth for this year.” What he’s saying is, even if the economy stagnates for the next six months, we’d still be “growing” at least 10% for the whole year. What he’s saying is that the next 6 months and whatever follows next year is irrelevant, at least for this year’s growth forecast. This is attributing way too much importance to the figures and too little to actual movements in the economy – it’s akin to saying “who cares about the next half of the year? The numbers still look good!” I’m sure this isn’t quite what he intended, but the image of Nero fiddling does come to mind.

Besides criticising the utility of GDP figures in general, there are some aspects peculiar to (or “uniquely Singapore” about) Singapore’s GDP figures. Singapore is a small, open economy – when we say that, we mean that Singapore is a relatively small economy compared to, say, the UK, or Brazil, and that it depends on international trade far more than most other economies. In fact Singapore is the one country that’s more dependent on international trade than any other in the world (that’s because we’re not counting Hong Kong). As a result, a slight shrink in big economies (and trade partners) like the EU and the US can result in a very big drop in GDP here in Singapore. We’re like a small sampan caught in a huge storm in the middle of a very big ocean. In more technical language, that translates into more volatility in the growth statistics – rendering them even more useless as a measure of economic health. Is the strength and robustness of our economy – our companies, our institutions – dependent on what’s happening in the US or Japan or the EU? Probably yes, but probably not to such an extent as the statistics suggest.

Furthermore, there is massive foreign participation in our economy. Take a look at the table on page 5 of this document. Total GDP in 2008 was $257.4 billion, out of which the share of resident foreigners and resident foreign companies was $117.6 billion (roughly 45%) and “indigenous” GDP $139.7 billion (55%). In most economies the foreign share of GDP is far lower, and the indigenous share far higher. What we can expect from this is that the amount of money taken out of Singapore by foreign companies would be far higher than in most other economies (profit repatriation and such), and proportionately less would be available to trickle down into the wages of the man on the street. I expect the picture for wages is similar, since expatriates probably make up a disproportionately large minority of high-wage earners, compared to most other countries. I am not advocating that we chase foreign companies and expats out of Singapore – the benefits they bring in job creation, experience and other less tangible areas surely outweigh the costs. I’m merely pointing out that, given that their share of GDP is so high, GDP itself is not useful as an indicator of the benefits of economic growth that accrue to Singaporeans.

Given all the above, I do find it distasteful that the media adopts this relentlessly self-congratulatory, back-patting tone every time it reports good GDP growth figures. It would be far more revealing and truthful if they reported good wage growth or a fall in income inequality, and we would be the better for it.

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“Spoilt princesses”, rly?

May 31, 2010 Leave a comment

A nation of spoilt princesses?

THE Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) seemed to suggest last Thursday (‘Singapore still far behind in true gender equality: Aware’) that women are free from blame for the declining birth rate in Singapore.

In Singapore, most parents urge their children to excel in studies and focus on their career. Few prepare their children for the rigours of parenthood.

Many households also employ maids. As a result, our boys and girls grow up lacking parenting skills and are clueless about household chores. The boys, however, have responsibilities forced upon them in the form of national service. Not so the girls. They are free to place personal ambition above all else.

Many women choose to remain single because they do not see the need or the urgency to get married. They do not need a man to provide for them and they can always depend on their girlfriends for emotional support. As for sex, few see the need to have it regularly.

Even when a woman does want to get married, her expectations get in the way. The man must be her ‘type’. He must have a great job, good income, be reasonably good-looking and he must also charm her off her feet before she will contemplate marriage.

Our society glorifies the career woman. Lifestyle and fashion magazines devote pages to tips for the career woman to get ahead. Floors in shopping malls cater exclusively to the needs of these women and credit card and insurance companies vie for their money.

As a result, women are spoilt for choice. Egged on by society, free from national service and reservist obligations and not needing a man, they are totally free to focus exclusively on their careers. Choosing to get married and have children is committing career suicide.

The conclusion is inevitable. We have raised a nation of ‘spoilt princesses’ unwilling and unable to handle the rigours of motherhood.

Sulthan Niaz, May 26 2010, ST Forum

I’m guessing Sulthan Niaz must have suffered a whole lot of painful dumping experiences because I can’t think of how else such concentrated misogyny could ever have developed. “As for sex, few see the need to have it regularly” – clearly this suggests that he isn’t getting any.

Okay, other than dissing this poor sick dude, I think that putting the blame on the ladies is going too far. Playing a blame game isn’t going to solve anything. Is anyone seriously going to advocate motherhood classes for schoolgirls to “prepare children for the rigours of parenthood” (at the very least it would be sending out terrible mixed messages – on one hand “don’t have sex”, on the other “this is how you look after kids”)? Is anyone seriously going to try to reduce the role of maids in our society (what conceivable mechanism – short of increasing the maid levy – would achieve that)? Or encourage / tell / force women to get married? Make them lower their expectations of an ideal partner? De-glorify career women? Reverse decades of social progress by reducing the choices available to the modern Singaporean woman?

Some social norms are changing, while others aren’t. For instance, it’s become far more acceptable to stay single, especially for women (think Sumiko Tan, Lee Wei Ling), yet I’m quite sure cohabitation and having children outside of marriage is still beyond the pale. Put more bluntly, it’s more acceptable for women to stay single but not for single successful career women to have kids. Obviously having a growing segment of the population on semi-enforced chastity (or at least childlessness) is bound to have an impact on the birth rate.

Clearly something has to be done about the birth rate (I agree with Mr Niaz on that point). If that entails the diminution of the role of marriage as an institution, so be it. Society has naturally evolved in response to modern career pressures; we need to keep up with the times, not turn back the clock as Mr Niaz seems to be suggesting.

Mr Niaz pins the blame squarely on the women but how about employers and broader society? We hear too often of women employees sacked or their career advancement put on hold because they choose to have kids – this reflects terribly on employers here and the kind of zero-sum relationship they have with their workers. Besides becoming more accepting and encouraging towards unconventional partnerships and living arrangements, Singapore society needs to change attitudes towards childbearing and childcare, especially amongst employers, so that having kids is no longer “committing career suicide”.

Mr Niaz ignores the broader social circumstances completely, choosing instead to paint a simplistic picture of increasingly modern, selfish women who, quite rightly, refuse to go to bed and have kids with men like him. After having cultivated well-educated, (somewhat) independent-minded women, it would be a huge mistake to pander to the kind of half-baked neanderthal drivel that Mr Niaz espouses.

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In memory of greatness

May 25, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s almost a general truth that generation after generation, people tend towards mediocrity, in the stature of their accomplishments and the strength of their character.

Examples abound in literature and the written word. Genesis 5 has the pre-flood patriarchs living about 900 years on average. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, in its large-scale structure (but I’m not a LOTR fan and my memory could be wonky) deals with the passing of the age of Elves and the coming of the age of Men. Michael Ende’s Neverending Story is about the decay of the realm of Fantastica (the spread of “the Nothing”); similarly The Magician’s Nephew (the first Narnia book) has Queen Jadis from an older, dead world coming to London and messing up.

(Incidentally CS Lewis, as narrator, often inserts his own commentary on the more mundane action of the story, for instance “she (Polly) was given dinner with all the nice parts left out and sent to bed for two solid hours. It was a thing that happened to one quite often in those days” – and through that he makes a clear distinction between the time of the narration and the time of the action – “those days”. But I digress.)

Dr Goh Keng Swee passed away 10 days ago, and was immediately remembered as a giant of a person. Quite rightly so. I was surprised that Temasek Review put out an article “Why Singaporeans do not owe Goh Keng Swee or other PAP leaders a ‘debt’ of gratitude” which to my mind bounded on historical revisionism. It was at the very least rather petty to politicise the whole thing, given that the guy’s dead. Some points are valid or at least worth consideration, but TR should have had the decency to leave a seemly interval between his death and running that article. And I don’t buy their “PAP propaganda” spiel, just like the way I don’t buy most of the stuff that passes for commentary in ST – I resent that their pieces are uniformly and predictably biased, which is an insult to the discerning reader.

But I’m not so much thinking about his achievements, as wondering why there is such a tendency to mediocrity. I think it’s perceptible in many areas – school exams always seem to be getting easier; politicians make larger boo-boos more often these days; and of course decay is a favourite theme in literature (especially fantasy – which is about the only genre that explores story arcs on the scale of generations).

If this is indeed the case, what’s the reason for it? Why is it that we had such people as Dr Goh, S. Rajaratnam, LKY, David Marshall, while now we simply don’t seem to have people of equivalent calibre (in a population more than twice the size)? I think this is worth examining, because as trends go this one is particularly alarming for the quality of the political leadership we’re going to get in a few decades’ time.

I have no answers but a few guesses – partially reassuring.

  1. Eulogies are invariably glowing, glorified affairs; it’s a given that they put a positive gloss on everything a person has done.
  2. The crop of post-independence leaders were taking over at a low point in Singapore’s development; naturally there were more avenues and opportunities for development then compared to now, and since we’ve come so far their achievements are also bathed in the same light of glory. To my mind this does not quite address the objection that many other post-colonial states failed to achieve similar trajectories of development despite starting from a similarly low level.
    (However it does present an interesting (though irrelevant) form of observer bias – a well-educated observer living in a state of material well-being is more likely to be living in a country where, at some point in the past, good leadership has emerged that has brought about the current state of affairs.)
  3. People’s achievements are built up over a career spanning decades – most of the political leadership are still in the prime of their career and it’s understandable that their accomplishments aren’t of the same magnitude as the founding fathers. (But this seems to be too charitable in that it relieves the current leadership of the pressure to excel.)

I hope I’m wrong about the tendency to mediocrity, and somewhere out there there’s an answer that I just haven’t stumbled across.

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I pity Dr Ng

May 17, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s quite rare to see a full minister so thoroughly and publicly rebuked as Dr Ng Eng Hen was last week. If you still have the ST from last Wednesday (May 12), he looked absolutely dejected – and on the front page too, what an embarrassment! He issued a public apology (for giving the false impression that Mother Tongue weightage at PSLE might be reduced) and sent a letter out to all Mother Tongue teachers for reassurance. I can’t think of any incident where a minister has been left quite so spectacularly to take the flak for his ministry’s screw-up.

My purpose here is not to thrash out the pros and cons of reducing the MTL weightage, to highlight the disproportionate amount of airtime that’s been devoted to Chinese Language advocates, or indeed to comment on the pedagogy – I’m not an expert on that, and many better (and worse) minds have covered the ground quite thoroughly enough. What I see here is a bureaucratic mess-up leaking into the public sphere and igniting general fury; in short, the grind and gristle of government, but in public, for a change. Too public, too messy and too embarrassing for the people in charge.

I’m not going to call for anyone’s scalp to take responsibility, neither do I see this as a victory or defeat for anyone – it was just an idea that got floated out before its time had come, and got spectacularly shot down. But I do think this should be taken as a sign of two things – the civil service is very perceptibly losing their connection with the feeling on the ground, and the same is starting to be true of politicians, even ministers. Although we have no idea what happened in MOE HQ in Buona Vista, it’s plausible to suggest that this incident happened because there aren’t enough MT advocates in the MOE bureaucracy (or that they aren’t being heard).

One other thing – I find it inexplicable that Dr Ng took three weeks to finally cool the sentiment, and that when it happened the PM had to get involved. It looks like a big slap in the face for Dr Ng (literally, if you take a look at the front-page photo last Wednesday). If the PM got involved, obviously it was considered to be serious enough to warrant his involvement. This begs the question: if it was that serious, why did Dr Ng take so long to call that press conference? If it was indeed a policy turnaround, why were people not consulted before his “wrong impression” interview last month? Focus groups, dialogues, all that jazz – that would have saved a lot of embarrassment all round.

A charitable interpretation (that I choose to believe) is that Dr Ng suffered a momentary lapse of judgement in his choice of words – perhaps he thought he wasn’t being clear enough and ended up reaching beyond his brief. Or perhaps it was a genuine signal for a policy shift, but the semi-public hush-hush consultations that should have occurred were overlooked (an unforgivable oversight). A less charitable, but plausible, interpretation is that the government (civil service and political leadership) is losing the political will to make decisions that matter. And if that’s the case, it had better address the problem before it loses the political mandate to make decisions that matter – still a long, unthinkable way more, but perhaps – worryingly for the people in power – not quite so unthinkable as three weeks ago.

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[ST Forum] UN Official’s Remarks

I think this was one of the most cogent and persuasive responses I’ve seen to the UN Special Rapporteur Githu Muigai’s comments – in stark contrast to the MFA’s own disappointing response.

UN official’s remarks
Don’t be too quick to dismiss views

Rather than adopt a knee-jerk response to United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur Githu Muigai’s proposals on Singapore’s policies on race, meritocracy and related issues (‘UN expert’s comments draw swift govt reply’; last Thursday), should we not, instead, have signalled our open-mindedness to reflect on the proposals, especially coming from an experienced official with UN credentials?

Mr Muigai’s recommendation to consider offering Malays a ‘stimulus package’ within a specified timeline, particularly in education, should be mulled over rather than dismissed hurriedly.

I would certainly have disagreed if he had called for abandoning meritocracy or implementing a permanent policy of affirmative action, practised, until recently, by Malaysia.

While meritocracy has benefited Singaporeans, it has been less successful at resolving the educational and economic gap between Malays and non-Malays. The disparity has persisted since independence; Malay progress is slower and less than that of Indian Singaporeans whose population is half that of Malay citizens.

Official data on students’ performances in the Primary School Leaving Examination and the O and A levels in a 25-year period from 1980 to 2005 showed that while students from all ethnic groups have progressed, Malays still lagged behind Chinese and Indian students in all these exams, and in mathematics and science.

So too with median household income (2005) and occupation (2007): The Malay figure of $3,050 was the lowest among all ethnic groups, and Malays held a mere 2.4 per cent of administrative and managerial jobs compared with Indians (11.4 per cent) and Chinese (14.6 per cent). It is imprudent of us to stick rigidly to meritocracy.

After all, government pragmatism has seen meritocracy fine-tuned. The rule barring Malays from sensitive appointments in the Singapore Armed Forces and the adoption of group representation constituencies to prevent qualified Malay candidates from defeat are evidence of this.

That our brand of meritocracy can do with a bit more equitable tweaking is apparent if we reflect on this poser: Why, after 45 long years, have the socio-economic gap between Malays and non-Malays and the jarring absence of Malays in senior positions in the civil service still not been resolved adequately?

One can think of two possible answers to this conundrum, both of which cannot be true: First, Malays (acknowledged in our Constitution as the indigenous people) are being discriminated against, and second, non-Malays are simply smarter than Malays.

Associate Professor Hussin Mutalib

Prof. Hussin is right to suggest that there is a middle way between pure – and increasingly inequitable – meritocracy, and affirmative action. I think the government has done too good a job of making affirmative action look evil, so much so that even any hint of it becomes unpalatable without question. The fact that the Malays are under-represented at the top of our society, and like the elephant in the room it goes quietly unaddressed and unnoticed. What Prof. Hussin leaves unsaid in the last sentence is particularly sharp – is there a third option? what’s the right answer? And coming from a Malay, this shouldn’t be ignored.

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2 weeks more to get your pink shirts!

April 29, 2010 Leave a comment

The Freedom To Love

This is the first-ever picture on this blog, and for a good cause! Pink Dot 2010 is happening on 15 May 2010 (Saturday), 5pm at Hong Lim Park. If, like myself 5 minutes ago, you don’t know how to get there, it’s just across the road from Clarke Quay MRT (map here).

Why show up? Whether you’re gay or straight or anything in between, your presence there is going to be a powerful signal and a great comfort to all those out there who’re lost and alone and confused because our society has rejected them. This isn’t about repealing 377A or legalising gay marriages (not yet, anyway) – it’s about their readmission into the human race. This isn’t a protest or indeed a “procession” – it’s a celebration of human love, whatever form it takes.

For more info: pinkdot.sg or pinkdotsg.blogspot.com

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