Syonan a great insult to Singapore

From ‘Name is a great insult to S’pore’ and ‘Why should we name our gallery Syonan’, 11 Feb 17, ST Forum

(Ong Lay Eng): The name Syonan is a great insult to Singapore and Singaporeans (“Revamped war museum’s name sparks questions“; Feb 10).

We must not forget the war crimes of the Japanese during World War II and the immense sufferings Japan inflicted on our forefathers. This is Singapore’s history and we need to tell our descendants what their forefathers experienced.

(Gan Kok Tiong): If the gallery at the war museum was created by the Japanese for the people in their own country, then I would have nothing to say (“Revamped war museum’s name sparks questions“; Feb 10).

But in this instance, this is our gallery to show Singaporeans the atrocities and humiliation that our people, especially the Chinese, suffered during the Japanese Occupation.

What was light to the Japanese was calamity to the people of Singapore. I suggest that the name be changed to the hanyu pinyin shounan and zainan, meaning “calamity” in English; or simply “The Japanese Occupation Gallery”.

Last year, the National Gallery decided to name a gala event as ‘The Empire Ball‘ and anti-colonialists freaked out. Likewise, any reference to ‘Syonan’ would conjure images of our once imperialist tormenters decapitating prisoners or stabbing babies in mid-air with their bayonets. Though Syonan-to translates to ‘Light of the South‘, those 3 years and 8 months of the Japanese occupation were dark times indeed, but with the state of the world under a Trumpian leadership, perhaps our darkest days are yet to come.

But would this furore over historical fact be a case of jumpy denialism? Would simply naming the museum the ‘Japanese Occupation Gallery’ downplay the grisly emotional heft of ‘Syonan’, a word that implies utter domination and a loss of national identity? How would these symphatisers feel about the word ‘Nippon’, as in ‘Nippon-Go‘ (Japanese language), which children during then-Syonan were expected to attain a ‘complete mastery’  over, since it was the ‘lingua franca’ of Malaya? Or would they complain to MOE if teachers dashed into history class dressed as Japanese soldiers shouting ‘Banzai’?

st_images_amteacher25be

Yes, we should not forget the dreadful war crimes inflicted upon our forefathers, even as we fiercely embrace Japanese culture today – from otaku to sakura, sashimi to hentai. But self-censoring a part of history just because certain people find it ‘insulting’ is exactly what our rulers tried to do with their propaganda drives during the Occupation. Now that, in my opinion, would be the true ‘calamity’.

UPDATE(17 FEB 17): After some ‘deep reflection’ by Yaacob, it was decided that Syonan Gallery would be renamed as the less hurtful-sounding ‘Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies”. Well, maybe not deep enough. You can’t even abbreviate the place now. If you’re taking a cab, you’ll probably have to tell the driver to take you to ‘the place formerly known as Syonan Gallery’.

Now let’s do something about ‘Syonan Jinjia (shrine)’ in Macritchie reservoir, perhaps ‘The Temple in the Woods that commemorates the Dead of our Japanese oppressors’

Culling animals to make space for humans

From ‘Make no apology about culling animals if needed’, 4 Feb 17, Voices, Today

(Douglas Chua Hock Lye): From otters in Bishan to wild boars in Pasir Ris to fowls in Sin Ming, Singaporeans now see more animals invading our already-constrained living space.

Pet-lovers are clamouring for tolerance and advocating protection for these animals, while those who detest animals are putting up with noise pollution and nuisance, and have safety concerns.So where do we draw the line between protecting animals and accepting them as part of our lives, and eradicating them totally because they have no relevance to us?

I readily admit I am not an animal lover. I am also not an animal hater. However, if these wild animals turn on us with aggression and harm us, as crows did at Pasir Ris last month — attacking people — we cannot turn a blind eye and pretend all is part of nature.

As it is, space is scarce in Singapore. For some, going for a jog means the possibility of encountering a wild boar, for instance. Animals will be animals. Do we want to read about someone being attacked by a wild boar before we decide to act?

We need to find a balance to please all parties, and the culling of animals, without bringing them to extinction, is the best option.

Culling is done in other parts of the world whenever an animal population poses a threat to humans. In the end, the safety of Singaporeans comes first, and we must make no apology about reducing the size of these animal populations when it is necessary.

In the 1930s, if there was a report of a mad dog with rabies running around biting people, the animal would be readily “DESTROYED“. These days, the nasty business of animal control is crouched in euphemisms like ‘culling’ or ‘management’, which takes away the sting of what we’re really doing; Killing animals for our own selfish reasons, whether it’s crow-shooting with rifles or putting chickens down ‘humanely’ via euthanasia.

Take the Harambe case, for example. An artificially created space for a wild animal ‘invaded’ accidentally by a human baby. Human judgement decided that shooting the gorilla dead was the best call. Likewise, we dictate how much is too much when it comes to roaming strays, though the fact that Singapore is so land-scarce is no one’s fault except our own. And the animals, the sudden ‘invaders’ of that realm we call civilisation, are paying the price for the progress of our own making.

Experience shows that culling is NEVER the best option. MP and animal activist Louis Ng questions the effectiveness of AVA’s culling of 630 monkeys in 2015. Despite our best efforts, rats continue to plague food establishments. ACRES has even declared that culling is ‘not an internationally endorsed practice‘ and may even be unethical. We are not ‘pretending’ that being attacked by a pigeon is ‘part of nature’. It is, in fact, nature’s response to HUMAN nature. We also can’t predict how culling would affect other flora and fauna. To target a specific animal without due consideration of its impact on biodiversity betrays our lack of understanding of how nature works at all.

Culling of shitty human beings, on the other hand, which is what our judicial courts are already doing to murderers, or what military assassins do to terrorist leaders, would do more good for the world than culling any animal that’s remotely capable of goring a random jogger to death.

So ‘animals will be animals’, and humans, being the worst animal of them all, will still be incorrigibly, ruthlessly, arrogantly, ignorantly – human.

Drink don’t drive ad difficult to understand

From ‘Simple language works best in public campaign advertisements’, 30 Jan 2017, ST Forum

(Michael Loh Toon Seng): An advertisement by the Singapore Police Force, Singapore Road Safety Council and Sgcarmart.com reads: “Get a ride home. Don’t drive to drink, and you will never drink and drive.”

It took me a while to figure out what the message was. At first, I thought it was saying that if you drive to drink, you will never drink and drive again because you will surely die in a road accident.

Why didn’t the ad just say that to avoid having to drive after drinking, don’t drive? A plain “don’t drink and drive” would also have sufficed, as there is strength in simplicity.

It is well and clever to use catchy phrases in ads, but if people cannot grasp a message’s meaning at the first reading, they will likely ignore it. Messages in public campaigns should use plain, easy-to-understand language so that they get the right message across.

The current anti-drunk-driving slogan may be tongue-twistingly catchy as “She Sells Seashells”, but breaks the first rule of public communications; it needs to be re-read at least twice. ‘Don’t drive to drink’ on its own already requires some cognitive juggling to interpret as ‘Don’t drive the car to the pub/bar’, while ‘you will never drink and drive’ requires a background understanding that drinking and driving is bad. There are limits to how you want to play around with words and puns in such a campaign, and while simplicity would work for the first time reader or drinker, people would soon grow tired of repetitive warnings and it’ll just become naggy after a while.

In 2011, the Traffic Police went for the jugular and presented the drink-driving message as an obituary, hoping to shock people into abandoning their cars and alcohol altogether. While the content was painfully obvious, some found it in bad taste.

anti-drink-drive-obituary-600-66500

Like visuals of oozing cancer on cigarette packs, the authorities also tried to pump up the gore factor, with a 2009 campaign that looks straight out of a slasher flick. It may have been too ‘PG’ for some parents’ liking.

3553506640_d5c1b27f13

So how do you find the middle ground between in-your-face viscera and pedantic finger-wagging? How about a morality tale of killing your best friend and living the rest of your life in eternal regret as an amputee in a wheelchair? This 2005 ad reminds boozers that it’s not just your life at stake when you DnD.

In real life, though, a different story pans out if you happen to be a Mediacorp celebrity. A decade back, Christopher Lee was jailed 4 weeks for drunk driving. Today, he’s still promoting bak kwa during CNY and likely to be given a Lifetime Achievement Award despite his past drunken indiscretion. Drink and drive, and all is forgiven.

Or a light-hearted approach with cute doggies? Check. Though some would say it trivialises a serious crime.

Not saying that such campaigns are entirely futile. The number of drink-driving cases reportedly fell in the first half of 2016, though that could also be attributed to the Government’s overall crackdown on public alcohol consumption, enforcement, the rise of private car hires, ride-sharing and bars offering valet services, or even ‘drink-counting’ apps. 

So, like the fact that smoking kills, everyone already knows that drunk-driving does too, but it’ll take more than blunt public announcements to steer the message home. Maybe the Traffic Police can turn their attention to campaigns urging people to actually drive in the right direction on roads too, like ‘Drive on the Right Side of the Road, or we’ll See you on the Other Side’. Hur. Hur.

 

Old criminals being spared from caning

From ‘Review age limit for caning sentences’, 6 Jan 2017, Today Voices

(Liew Lai Khiun): I refer to the report “Ex-teacher, 66, jailed for molesting girl, 7”; Jan 4). It is always saddening to read about child victims of molestation, especially by teachers.

What angers me is that by dint of the culprit’s age, he was spared the caning punishment and given an extra six weeks of jail in lieu.

Besides serving as a deterrence, the purpose of judicial caning in Singapore has evolved since its codification in 1871 into an additional punishment to underscore the enormity of the crimes committed, particularly those involving bodily harm.

The age limit of 50 years for caning was set at a time when life expectancy was lower, probably around 60 years. With advancements in health, however, people are now living longer, healthier and into their 80s.

Unfortunately for many, wisdom does not come with age. As with most developed societies, Singapore does see violent crimes committed by those we consider as “elderly”.

To serve justice, the authorities should review the age limit for caning, for a more discretionary model based on the individual’s general health. Being old is no excuse for being spared the rod.

While the writer seems to be pushing for sexagenarian perverts to be brutally spanked as well, he does not mention if there should be a MINIMUM age for getting the rotan treatment. In the early 20th century, petty thieves as young as 14 were giving a walloping, even for cases as trivial as stealing a BICYCLE BELL.  Of course there are no available statistics on youths or middle-aged people getting seriously injured from the punishment, though you have to wonder how much of our healthcare cost goes into tending to people at the receiving end of this barbaric practice. You may have a broken leg but are stuck in the emergency waiting room because they wheeled in a convicted molester with a whipped arse on the verge of a massive haemorrhage.

As it stands, the maximum number of strokes for a ‘youth’ is 10, while adults get 24. There is clearly no scientific basis for these numbers, though there has been one case of a robber who received TWICE the maximum number of strokes and lived to try to sue the Government for it. That case was settled ‘out of court‘. Other convicts have also complained of getting bonus strokes beyond what they were initially sentenced. Those on death row also need not be caned, though you may argue if rotanning them to death could be a preferred option to the hangman, the latter seeming relatively quick and painless compared to say, 48 damn strokes of the cane.

Other than the old getting off lightly, we might as well question why females are spared entirely, and how the authorities deal with transgender offenders. Is it because hitting women is not the ‘gentlemanly’ thing to do? The rotan descended from the old British legal system, ironically from the same country where women used to be burned at the stake for practising ‘witchcraft’. Today, the rotan remains the symbol of the Janus-faced paradox that is the Singaporean identity, cosmopolitan and forward-looking on one hand, and a stickler to inhumane capital punishment on the other.

We already give our pioneer generation priority queues among other perks, let’s apply the same compassionate principle when they’re in prison, shall we?

Terrorism is like a spring

From ‘Terrorism is like a spring – stretch it to make it lose its strength’, Today Voices, 31 Jan 2016

(Ng Chee Keon): The spate of attacks in Germany, Turkey and Jordan suggests that it is tough to prevent such terrorist acts, notwithstanding the plots foiled in Indonesia and Australia (“World needs a better plan to confront threat of terrorism”; Dec 22).

Terrorism is like a strong spring; compress it with military force and the recoil will be just as hard, with more retaliatory attacks. Overbear it with military successes in Mosul and Raqqa, and the attacks spread from the Middle East to Europe, South-east Asia and other countries.

Another way to handle such a spring would be to stretch it. The world could start by attempting to appreciate and address the terrorists’ sources of hatred and any grievance suffered, real or perceived, as part of the deradicalisation process.

The next step could be to identify common ground and explore possible win-win solutions to the problem. I am sure that, barring any groupthink or wish to be seen as politically correct, many terrorism experts would know of other ways to elongate this spring slowly so that it loses strength over time

And I hope the scourge of terrorism may thus abate steadily.

In 2002, then DPM Lee Hsien Loong compared the JI threat to a stubborn cancer that refuses to go away. The analogy to a condition once stigmatised as the ‘Big C’ has stuck ever since. Terrorist groups are called ‘cells’. When legions expand, they’re described as ‘metastasising‘.

Like cancer, the war on terror demands a multi-faceted solution, and not just rely on precision killing or sweeping obliteration. The problem with this metaphor is that cancer can actually be defeated and most healthy people don’t need to be reminded of getting it in the first place. On the other hand, this anxiety over the scourge of terrorism will live on with us for posterity as long as warped religious doctrine, guns and large vehicles continue to exist.

Yes there are things we use to describe the war against terror like the ‘Crusades’, a disease, an epidemic, and then we have the writer above with the bizarre insight to peel away the layers of bloody violence surrounding the idea of terrorism and compare it to something innocuous that goes ‘boing-boing’. If terrorism had a name, it would be King Coil. With a crown made of flaming blades. Dealing with terrorism may be the ‘new normal’, but there is such a thing as over-normalising something that makes young children bomb-strap and blow themselves up with other innocent human beings.

Regardless, analogies are useless even if people understand them. Calling terrorism a deadly, insidious plague, a sprawling weed in your backyard or a satanic bouncy mattress won’t make it go away. If there’s anything that needs to SPRING into action it’s getting everyone to play a part in slowly excising this growing cancer at its root.

Terrorists using Pokemon Go to launch mass-casualty attacks

From ‘Think twice about giving Pokemon Go-ahead’, 21 July 2016, ST Forum

(Estella Young): The frenzied playing of augmented-reality game Pokemon Go abroad makes it increasingly clear that the Singapore authorities should think twice about allowing the game to be played here (“Local fans try various ways to get hold of Pokemon Go“, last Thursday).

Apart from the reported incidents of “Pokemon zombies” injuring themselves or others due to poor situational awareness, is it in Singapore’s best interests to permit a game over whose targets it has no control?

Pokemon Go should not be played at certain locations for reasons of public safety and human decency. Schools, hospitals and public transport interchanges should be off limits due to the risk posed by uncontrolled surges of human traffic.

Nor does it befit the dignity of other locations, such as houses of religious worship and cemeteries, to be invaded by gamers blindly chalking up points.

Americans have already objected to the appearance of Pokemon Go characters at the Holocaust Memorial Museum and Arlington National Cemetery, while the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland has had to ask game developer Niantic to exclude the former Nazi death camp from the game to safeguard the solemnity of the site.

At present, Pokemon Go targets are assigned by Niantic. While one can request certain locations to be removed from play, the game developer is not legally obliged to do so and cannot be held accountable for the consequences.

Since private individuals can purchase “Lures” to attract Pokemon Go players to a location, a person could harass someone else by placing a Lure near the victim’s home or workplace to attract disruptive crowds.

And in this age of lone-wolf terrorism, an extremist could easily buy a “Lure” to draw players into a low-security zone before launching a mass-casualty attack.

While Pokemon Go is certainly good for getting fans off the couch and out exploring the “real world”, Singapore would do well to seek a degree of control over how Niantic assigns its Pokemon targets before letting the game into the country.

Until Pokemon Go makes its long awaited debut in Singapore, its potential as a weapon of mass destruction blasting all the Pokezombies into ‘Vaporeons’ remains to be seen. It could, however, be a concern for our SAF when it comes to trespassers stumbling into protected areas. You don’t a situation where a Pokemon Hunter treks through a forest and finds himself smack in a rifle range.

In order to protect national security like stopping random mobs from infiltrating MRT stations resulting in freak deaths everywhere, I won’t be surprised if Singapore would be the first in the world to lead by example and ban Pokemon Go entirely, nevermind that there’s another non-gaming module of the handphone that ‘gets you off your couch’ but puts you in extreme peril at the same time. Various people have died using it while standing on the edge of precipices. If Pokemon should Go, then we should ban SELFIES too.

Calling for regulation on the distractions of technology is nothing new. People were complaining of pedestrians walking out plugged into their Walkman headphones in the 80s. If video games like Mortal Kombat were not blamed for violence in children, they drew flak for promoting gambling, like the Pokemon-inspired Animal Kaiser . Despite fans debunking the writer’s unfounded fears of Pokemon destroying us all, her underlying concern that Pokemon Go is not exactly harmless either is worth ‘thinking twice’ about. If a crowd of Pokemon trainers go berserk at a ‘Lure’ and a fight breaks out, would they all be charged for an unlawful assembly? If a child sneaks out past midnight to catch a rare Pokemon and gets hacked down by a psycho killer, would the parents file charges against the game creators for being partly responsible for murder? Already we have reports of people getting robbed while in pursuit of  Pokemon so such a scenario, bizarre as it may be, may not be entirely implausible.

So while using Pikachu to launch a terrorist attack may seem rather far-fetched, just as businesses could jump on the Pokewagon to draw more customers, there will be that random oddball who will use Pokemon for nefarious means like how fake DHL phone-scams you of your life savings. Pokemon Go may well boost the economy or our general well-being, though at the expense of a few people bumping their heads in a cemetery, or otherwise bright students failing their exams because they’re hooked. Still, you don’t need an addictive game to get people to make a nuisance of themselves at solemn places. Folks from church group Rock of Ages ran wild over Kranji memorial some years back, Pokemon or no Pokemon.

With education, creativity, some self-discipline and the appropriate privacy settings, the Pokemon Go concept could be harnessed as a force for good where you need the power of crowdsourcing to get a job done, like drawing players to a place to clean up a mess for Poke-points, or deliberately planting Poke-stops where illicit activity tends to take place like forest brothels. Given Singapore’s national psyche of Kiasuism, we can be certain that local gamers will go PokeBALLS-out to ‘catch them all’. Let’s hope what they catch is just pixellated monsters and not bio-engineered smallpox.

Metal detector gates in MRT stations

From ‘Install metal detector gates at MRT stations’, 11 July 2016, ST Forum

(Seow Joo Heng): Terrorist hits are becoming daily news nowadays, and they are inching ever closer to our homeland. It is not a matter of if they will happen, but when. We must act to minimise potential casualties in such an eventuality. We must provide a bulwark for one of our softest targets – our MRT trains and crowded stations.

Approximately 2.9 million people use the trains daily. The sheer numbers warrant our best protection efforts. There are bag-check counters at MRT stations, but they are ineffective as the checks are ad hoc. Only one person carrying an explosive device needs to slip through to create carnage in a packed train.

Similarly, the presence of armed guard patrols serves as a general deterrence. The patrols can handle altercations in open spaces, but their effectiveness is doubtful when the threat is in a packed train.

Metal detector gates are one idea to explore. They can be installed just before each fare gate.

No doubt, such an implementation will slow down passenger flow, but people will understand and get used to it, just as they readily accepted the inconvenience when airports started doing additional checks as a result of terrorist attacks.

For a start, we can have trial runs at a few train stations, to build up patience and foster such a culture before extending this to more stations. A side benefit of such a scheme could be a change in travel patterns, so people will travel during the less-crowded hours.

Metal detectors will no doubt deter terrorists from bringing assault rifles into the train. It’s also effective against lone wolf samurais.

BUT.

It also means you have to momentarily surrender your house keys, ipad, handphones, watches and goddamn nose rings before even tapping your EZlink card. We have ‘accepted the inconvenience’ of airport security because we don’t take plane rides every single day. Making us walk through a detector at least once a day as if we’re paying a visit to the President in his private suite is totally impractical, unacceptable, and frankly, rather lame.

Introducing another barrier to make MRT travel more irksome than it already is will only push commuters away from achieving our ‘car-lite’ ideal. To address a risk as remote as a drunk Hawkeye boarding the train with bow and arrows, the writer suggests an inexplicably expensive and cumbersome option that slows things down for everyone. If this rolls out, you’d have to start queuing for your train OUTSIDE the station, next to the bubble tea shop. Add a train breakdown and half your working day is already gone. The terrorists have won before even stepping out of their caves.

Terrorists think outside the box too. If they can’t bring in anything metallic, there’s the less deadly, but no less dramatic option of spraying ACID on everyone. In fact, someone already managed to lather a seat with corrosive fluids, burning someone’s buttock off in the process. And of course POISON GAS may make a comeback, a nod to the sarin attacks in Tokyo’s subway. If these murderers had the means they could kamikaze a damn helicopter right into a passing train without bothering about our metal detector gantries no matter how sophisticated they are.