Tuesday, August 28, 2007

some updates

i do have some ideas i want to play with, but i'm currently swamped with work (including 2 music performances in september), and i doubt that i'll have the time to blog a proper post until october or so. in the meantime, a few quick updates:

1) Intelligent Singaporean has closed down. i have been thinking what to say about this, but i am unable to come up with anything appropriate. InSpir3d's contribution to the plogosphere this past one year is arguably unparalleled, and i wish him the very best.

2) i have joined Singapore Angle (together with some dude called Teh Si). quite possibly i may write less on this blog now that i am part of SA, or possibly i may not. whatever the case, i will probably be too busy to blog for either until october or so.

3) i am working with (at least) two other bloggers on a (possibly very exciting) blogosphere-related project. watch out for it soon.

4) i just discovered that i'm on the blogroll of this dude from RJC called manman. and just above me in that blogroll is andrea fonseka's blog. hosay lah.

cheers =)

Monday, August 13, 2007

thoust art n00b hence thou shalt not blog (part 2)

In all honesty, when I wrote Part 1, I wasn't too sure what I wanted to write in the Part 2. After thinking about it and after a discussion with dansong, I realized that this is a complicated and not at all a straightforward issue. I am still going to present my thoughts, and I apologize if one finds them haphazard or incoherent.

Criticism 1: Aaron's article is flawed in many ways.
Criticism 2: Aaron is a n00b. He does not have expertise in this area.
Criticism 3: Aaron should not blog this on SA, as he is a n00b.
Criticism 4: Aaron should not blog this anywhere, as he is a n00b.

1. Dansong's argument of undesirable consequences
Dansong presented an argument which I found rather persuasive, and hence I find it quite necessary to present it. Putting aside all talk about "rights" (which we will return to later), Dansong presents an argument which focuses on consequences (i.e. a consequentialist approach). If Criticisms 2-4 are allowed to be made (or perhaps only 3-4), it will narrow the normative boundaries of what is acceptable discourse in the blogosphere. In other words, if this carries on, we will soon demand that everybody flash credentials (or otherwise prove sufficient expertise) before they can take part in discourse on the blogosphere. We assume, this is a non-desirable state of affairs for the blogosphere in general. Certainly, even those of us who criticize Aaron would not like to be in a blogosphere where they need to prove their credentials first before they have the right to criticize Aaron.

2. The Problem with Ad Hominems
Dansong was right to point out that if Criticism 2 was Ad Hominem, then so were Criticisms 3 and 4. I've glossed over the issue with Ad Hominems in Part 1 so that I can discuss it here instead. As someone who received training in Philosophy, I have been trained to regard logical fallacies (such as Ad Hominems) as poor or faulty reasoning. In fact, we view it with so much disdain that to accuse another individual of committing a fallacy is equivalent to saying that you cannot reason and that you are illogical. Occasionally, I see some fallacy-bashing on the Singapore blogosphere where someone (usually with some nasty words thrown in) accuses another individual of committing a fallacy, and thus Q.E.D., that individual was wrong.

I have a problem with such fallacy-bashers. The first is a philosophical issue: they could be committing what is known as the fallacy fallacy. But secondly and more pertinently, the plogosphere, as we know it, is not (just) a platform for academic philosophical discourse. When I first entered the plogosphere, I was absolutely aghast with the level of reasoning (by philosophical standards) and I wanted to bring up the level of discourse to that similar to academic philosophers. Since then, I have come to realize that while there is an important need for philosophers in the plogosphere, the plogosphere itself does not belong to philosophers alone but to everybody else as well. Of course it is important to point out faulty or poor reasoning, therein lies one of the roles of the philosopher, but there is no need to hold the whole plogosphere to academic philosophy standards. Some fallacies are so commonly used in our regular day-to-day thinking that it is almost hypocritical to fallacy-bash defaulters who commit ad hominems or commit appeal to authority.

3. The Argumentative/Meta-Argumentative Distinction
Dansong brought out a distinction between criticism 1 and criticisms 2-4. Criticism 1 is a criticism of Aaron's views, of what Aaron says. Criticism 2-4 is a criticism of Aaron himself. The subject matter of the criticisms are different, and this is what Dansong calls the difference between argumentation and meta-argumentation. For a philosopher, meta-argumentation is in the realm of the ad hominem, and is strictly a no-no. But something else came to mind when I was thinking about this: the Wee Shu Min affair. If I recall correctly, the entire fiasco was about Wee Shu Min's blog response to Derek Wee. Yet, although some of us did criticize her views, most of us were criticizing (and counter-criticizing) Wee Shu Min herself. This is certainly in meta-argumentative territory. Yet, on retrospect, do we think that the Wee Shu Min affair was good or bad for the blogosphere? I for one think it was good that it happened. If we did not venture into meta-argumentative territory we would not have debates and discourse about the issue of elitism and the side-effects of meritocracy. Although I was appalled by how low some of us went to make fun of Ms Wee, I am also glad that all of us (including the general public) could see and talk about how ugly Singaporeans can get when we sit behind a keyboard and a monitor. Likewise, while I may not personally agree with those who made criticisms 2-4, I am glad that they made it because now Dansong would counter-criticize and we can all discuss about this. At the end of the day, hopefully, some of us learn something and the blogosphere gains because of this.

4. Who's right is it anyways?
Even though I spent much time in the study of ethics, I have to say that I am neither familiar nor comfortable with rights-speak (I am more trained in the tradition of consequence-speak). Nevertheless, when we encounter a situation where rights clash (e.g. Aaron's right to blog VS your right to silence Aaron), the classical response would be that the rights will need to be balanced against each other. [Another obvious case where such a conflict occurs is in potential racist content, i.e. freedom of speech vs freedom not be offended.] In other words, there is not such thing as absolute unbridled rights, just like there is no such thing as unconstrained freedom. It is only human to see you own rights more clearly than the rights of someone else, which is why I think this often leads to the abuse of "free speech".

5. The Power to Silence
Does Criticisms 3-4 (or 2 for that matter) constitute silencing? In one sense it certainly does. As Dansong explained, criticisms 3-4 are negotiating the boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not, i.e. the norms of the blogosphere. If somehow these voices have succeeded in establishing the norms, presumably Aaron would either choose to follow the norms and no longer voice his views, or he will be chastised for not following the norms. But we don't need to get so technical. If Aaron was an especially sensitive young man, any form of criticism might be silencing (about norms or not). Yet in another sense, Aaron is not denied the freedom to blog even after the criticisms. His hands are not physically tied, and he is neither threatened by lawsuits or by violence not to blog. I think it turns out that whether or not we consider criticisms to be silencing depends very much on how we define freedom (to blog) to be. Is Aaron free to blog a flawed article and be free from criticism at the same time? I think not. Some might consider this denial of "freedom" to be silencing. Let's compare intuitions with two more examples. Consider again, Wee Shu Min. Wee Shu Min never posted a reply to her critics. Was she silenced? How about the "robust responses" given by the government to Cherian George or Catherine Lim. Were they silenced? Note that no legal action was taken or threatened against these individuals (let's leave aside political figures such as CSJ).

At the end of the day, I remember something KTM told me a long time ago: the blogosphere is not necessarily a nice place. You say something which is flawed, you get whacked for it. You say something which is unpopular, you receive flak. You say something which can potentially undermine government authority, you might get a "robust response". How much of this constitutes an infringement of your freedom of speech? If your skin is thin, then perhaps much of it does, but if your skin is thick then perhaps much of it is not. Anyways, I am personally glad that Aaron has this "baptism of fire" as an SA blogger. He will only improve and be a better blogger, and all of us can learn from by observing this exchange as well.

6. The Community that is the Blogosphere: Intensions matter
Dansong said that he was agnostic to the intentions of those who criticize. Well-intentioned or not, the consequences when it comes to narrowing the normative domain of discourse is still the same (see point 1). He is right of course. However, I personally like to think that intentions matter. Why I say so is that we bloggers are affective, emotional, ego-carrying creatures. It is very easy to pretend that discourse is pure intellectual exchange, but it is not, especially in the plogosphere. It is also a human-to-human exchange. And when it comes to dealing with other humans (and not just disembodied minds), things like our perceived intentions and how we phrase what we say all carry consequences. E.g., Does the person on the other side get offended? Does the person start to get defensive? Does this escalate into mudslinging?

My friend Ian has just written an article on sg entrepreneurs on how the word "community" is an overused buzzword when it comes to talking about Web 2.0. Perhaps so, but I really do believe that the plogosphere is a community. Not in the sense that we share a common agenda (we don't), but that what each one of us say affects each other, and we are hence somewhat affectively bonded to each other. Although I enjoy the discourse as well as the opportunity to think and to learn, I personally find that the friendships and the human-to-human bonds that I've made through the plogosphere are by far the richest gains that I've got out of blogging. Although it is true that the blogosphere may not necessarily treat you nicely, I think it still pays to be a nice person. [But don't ask me to ask KTM to nice. I've given up on that. =P]

Conclusion: The Blogoshere that we want to be
I've mentioned in Point 5 that those who use criticisms 3-4 are negotiating the normative boundaries (or norms) of the plogosphere. Like Dansong, I happen to disagree with them. But I think they have the right to, and that they should, engage in this negotiation. And others who disagree, such as Dansong and myself, ought to engage them and present our own cases and negotiate the norms we find acceptable. I've been told that when the Singapore Angle teams has to make a decision, whether on administrative issues or on approving a guest article, they usually argue internally among themselves, and these arguments are often heated and passionate. Being the organized folks that they are, they will eventually discipline themselves to make a collective decision, although not all may be satisfied with the outcome. Such is to be expected when we have a negotiation. I think the collective plogosphere is neither organized nor disciplined enough, and has too many members anyway, to ever reach a consensus on norms, but I don't think that makes the process of negotiation any less important. It is messy, and it is often unpleasant, but it is important that we take up the mantle to define who we want to be as a blogosphere.

I want the state of reasoning to improve but I don't want the plogosphere to be just a place for high-level philosophical discourse; that is good, useful and important, but I also want to leave enough room to poke fun at my friends, like what I've done with Aaron and KTM in this article. I want the plogosphere to be a place where people try to be nice at each other, although there will be misunderstandings and there will be conflicts. I want the plogosphere to be a place where people take responsibility with their views and understand that the freedom to speak comes with it the responsibility to stand by what you say. The plogosphere today is nowhere near there. That is why I will negotiate.

[Turns out that I've structured this article largely as a response to Dansong's comment. It is only appropriate that I thank him for his thoughtful comments and his contribution in the production of this second installment.]

Saturday, August 11, 2007

thoust art n00b hence thou shalt not blog (part 1)

My good friend, Aaron, has recently joined the ranks of Singapore Angle, and in his debut article as an SA writer he wrote about health care economics. Aaron's article has been heavily criticized. I know nuts about health care, so I can't comment on that, but what I found rather interesting were a series of comments saying that since Aaron does not possess enough expertise in the area, he should not blog about this issue at all. SA incumbents Dansong and Sze Meng both spoke out against such criticisms, on the basis (I infer) that even if Aaron does not do possess enough expertise, or even if Aaron's article is flawed, he still has a right to post it.

It appears that this is an issue about freedom of speech, or rather, the freedom to blog. This is something which I had talked about in the past (sort of), and before I discuss further I want to say that I am not a huge fan of "freedom of speech". I think that it is often abused to justify irresponsible and destructive talk. However, I do think that the basic premise is sound, and I will now go on to examine this with respect to Aaron and his critics.

Criticism 1: Aaron's article is flawed in many ways.
Criticism 2: Aaron is a n00b. He does not have expertise in this area.
Criticism 3: Aaron should not blog this on SA, as he is a n00b.
Criticism 4: Aaron should not blog this anywhere, as he is a n00b.

[Disclaimer: I do not know enough about health care to subscribe to any one of these views. But am I enjoying myself doing mimicry-Aaron-bashing? Yeah. =P]

I think we all agree that Criticism 1 is fair game. Of course, if you make criticism 1, then you ought to elaborate further where Aaron's argument was flawed, and offer your own arguments to support your case. That is, if you are interested in having a discourse, rather than just a criticism for the sake of criticizing.

Is Criticism 2 fair game? Technically, we call this a ad hominem, or a personal attack, and is usually something we don't want to encourage too much. Nevertheless, not everybody uses such a criticism with malicious intent, or as an attack. It may, for example, be used as an appeal to authority (still a fallacy philosophically speaking, but not totally unjustifiable) such as "Bart has much more expertise than Aaron in economics. So Bart is probably right if they disagree." Or perhaps, it maybe used as a consolation or an encouragement: "Don't be so harsh on Aaron. He is not a full-time economist" or "I commend Aaron for writing on such a difficult topic even though it normally requires much more expertise to do so".

I think people who said criticisms 3 or 4 were well-intentioned, not as to "put down" Aaron per se. For example: "This is really a difficult issue which even experts have a hard time. It is good that you attempt this, but truth be told, your attempt will look pretty ugly because of your lack of expertise. So perhaps, it is in your best interest not to attempt to do so." Nevertheless, the beef that Dansong (and presumeably Sze Meng as well) have with such advice is that it is silencing. Good intentions aside, Aaron is a big boy and has the right to blog whatever he chooses to blog, but he has to accept the circumstances. If he chooses to blog a flawed article which he is n00b in, that is his right. Of course he will be whacked left, right and center, but that is his choice and his right.

What is the difference between Criticism 3 and Criticism 4 then? The medium which is Singapore Angle is in question. Perhaps some are of the view that to blog on Singapore Angle there is some kind of quality control, and that only articles of a minimum quality of standard ought to be published on Singapore Angle. Perhaps one might also feel that, writing on an area which is outside your expertise, and committing lots of flaws, is somehow below this line of acceptable standard. I am not going to comment on this, but perhaps one should read this article by BL.

So plain and simple. It's okay to say criticism 1 (and maybe 2) but not 3 or 4?

Wrong. What happens to my right to say criticism 3 or 4? If it is my opinion that "Aaron should not blog this because I think n00bs should not blog about what they don't know about", am I not allowed to express my opinion? If I am not allowed to express my opinion, then are you then not silencing me?

Also, are we so sure that criticism 3/4 is silencing? Perhaps we ought to take it as an expression of opinion, not at all different from criticism 2. After all, criticism 3/4 is not a magic spell which binds Aaron's hands such that he may never blog again. Aaron is free to blog whatever he likes no matter how many criticisms he receives. Yet, one might argue, it is silencing because it causes a certain kind of psychological or emotional trauma in Aaron. That his views are not appreciated and not accepted, and that is sufficient cause to call it "silencing". Then, if phrased harshly enough, is criticism 1 not "silencing" in an equal manner?

My. Tricky huh?

[Part 2 here. Yes I know I'm doing lots of Part 1s and no Part 2s. Are you going to deny my right to do so? =P]

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

(for own reference) significant events in past 3 months

I went on a 3 month hiatus from May to July, and during that time I hardly read anything from the blogosphere. This article is an attempt to catalogue the significant events that during my time of absence for my own reference, as well as to comment briefly on each event. If I missed any events which you think are significant, do let me know and I'll fill it in.

1) Concern over State of the Blogosphere
Elia Diodati first brought up the view that the plogosphere is in some state of decline, especially after the prominent exits of Gayle Goh, Ben and Kitana. Mr Wang disagreed with Elia [he also had a run in with the brotherhood in that particular article], as did Aaron. BL writes about how social-political bloggers have unrealistic expectations about their influence, and also noted that it is controversies which stimulates the blogosphere into activity.

this in itself is probably not considered a significant event. mollymeek said that nobody else other than bloggers care anyway. however, as FO, i am usually more interested in the state of the blogosphere than issues itself, so this is a significant conversation for me to note. of particular interest is the comment left by RSE on aaron's article, which said that aggregators (in particular, IS) has a large role to play in this apparent perception. in the past netizens used to browse around, but now IS is the one-stop center of the plogosphere. this is a good thing of course and InSpir3d is doing a great job, but it is still a one-man-show, and many obscure entrances to the plogosphere are missed, and in the same fashion, prominent exits are highlighted.

2) Homosexuality
As expected, Yawning Bread is the forefront of gay rights on the blogosphere. The catalyst for a sudden surge in talking about homosexuality was the talk given by MM Lee at St James Power Station, which generated plenty of replies and counter-replies. The debate rages on till today, and in all likelihood, will not cease soon. Some important events which add to this discussion include the ban of Alex Au's kissing project, a gay-affirming speech by ex-Methodist Bishop, Rev Dr Yap Kim Hao, denial of Rev Dr Yap by the Methodist Church in Singapore, call for repeal by MP Baey Yam Keng on P65 blog, Nicholas Lazarus's infamous article on Young PAP Blog, a video by Ian McKellen, and the recent denial of permit for a lecture by Douglas Sanders.

this has been a controversial issue for the longest time, and will continue to be controversial issue for a long time. although "gay rights" seem like a simple concept, the factors involved are complicated, and they always are when you religion right at the middle of the debate. for the Singapore case however, it is important to note that it is not just a moral issue but also a issue of law (by now, all of us are familiar with the numbers "377A"). Although the Christian right has been the most vocal opposition, it is important to note that many non-Christians in Singapore also hold views that similarly oppose the gay movement, and could quite possibly be the majority voice. On the plogosphere however, it is overwhelmingly pro-gay, and now that whybegay has been driven into exile, there is no real opposing voice (unless one counts Nicholaz Lazarus). Of some interest to me is how Simply Jean, herself a Christian, argues for repeal by attempting to distinguish decriminalization from legalization.

3) The Perils of National Service
On 11th May 2007, a Taiwanese F5 jet crashed into a Taiwanese base. 2 SAF soldiers who happened to be stationed in that base were killed on the spot and a 3rd SAF soldier died in hospital later. Not unexpectedly, the SAF was much criticized in the blogosphere, and much of the attention is focused on the story of Lawrence Leow who suffered from heat stroke while he was serving his nation, and ended up incapacitated for life. Critics of the SAF included Mr Wang, Insane Polygon and Aaron. Meanwhile, Defector, an SAF officer (or ex-officer), argued against the views of Mr Wang and Insane Polygon. More views by Mr Wang, mrbiao, mollymeek and Jimmy Mun.

the relationship between the SAF and the general public has never been great, despite recent attempts to improve their image (L.I.V.E.). that said, there is something to be said about how it is only the males who voice their passionate disapproval towards the SAF and especially on issues about NS. although most females do not go through NS, it is not difficult for them to read the arguments for themselves. i think it is largely true that guys who have been through NS usually end up quite unhappy with SAF and Mindef, and we carry this chip on our shoulders unto our blogs.

4) University of New South Wales closes down
This was such big news practically all bloggers had something to say about this issue. After only 3 months after it was opened, UNSW closes down citing insufficient enrollment as the reason. In the ensuing weeks, UNSW and EDB will attempt to blame the other party on how they failed to prevent this from happening.

i actually have not much to comment on this event. there are probably millions of dollars of taxpayers money lost here, and some people's heads will roll (if not rolled already). this is a lose-lose situation for all involved (except maybe the students who got scholarships to go study in Australia) and i think unless you are really in-the-know, it is practically impossible to point the finger and find the real person at fault.

5) Termination of Alfian Sa'at
Alfian Sa'at is most famous in the plogosphere for his quote: "If you care too much about Singapore, first it will break your spirit, then it will break your heart." Other than that he is a nationally celebrated playwright and poet, as well as an outspoken critic of the government as well as an active proponent of gay rights. According to his blog, he was working as a relief teacher in East View Secondary School, but his appointment was suddenly terminated by a phone call from MOE. He sent an inquiry to MOE and received a response, which Alfian found unhelpful. Yawning Bread speculated that it could either be his anti-establishment views, or his being gay. Views also by Mr Wang, Xenoboy, TOC, and an interesting one (especially the comments) by Blogger Samurai.

it is quite understandable why there would be a reaction by the blogosphere. Alfian Sa'at is easily enshrined as a hero in the hearts of many, and this looks just like the evil gahmen coming down to make the life of one dissident difficult, a la CSJ. i don't know the details, and again it takes someone in-the-know, like the principal of East View Sec, or someone in MOE, to really know what is going on. nevertheless i admit, this termination is highly unorthodox, so it does seem like there is something fishy going on.

6) Local University Admissions
This huge firestorm started off by a letter written by Mr Ong Tong It to the ST forums asking for local universities to allocate more places for local students over foreigners, especially now that the dragon year cohort is entering university. Aaron and then Bart both blogged a reply to this letter, claiming that such a view is protectionist (or over-protectionist) and will hurt rather than help Singaporeans in the long run. Mr Wang disagrees with both of them, and argues that of course, priority must go to the tax-paying Singaporeans. Others who added to the discussion include KTM, Clarence, and mollymeek. [A few weeks later, during parliamentary debates, there was a wrong quotation of figures about the number of foreign students in local universities, sparking further criticisms.]

i remember talking to aaron and how frustrated he felt about his debate with mr wang. (do note how long the comments thread is on mr wang's blog.) to me, this is reminiscent of the SAF issue. it appears to me that many participants in debate had many strong emotions about foreigners in local universities, i suspect, due to negative personal experiences. i personally thought this debate was a good study in civil and rational discourse (or lack thereof) in the plogosphere, and also the intricacies and complexities involved in policy making (economics vs protecting citizens, managing reactions).

7) Issue of Blood
This actually came out on the mainstream media first; the original news clip can be found on Lucky Tan's blog. A mother giving birth to twins met up with complications and needed a blood transfusion. The hospital reportedly told the husband that she required so much blood that the hospital needed additional authorization to access the blood from the blood bank. In addition to that, the husband was told to top up the blood bank with their own blood donations. Frantic that his wife's life was on the line, he gathered 200 donors to appear at the blood bank, but eventually the mother still passed away. Stressed teacher predicted that there will probably be a scapegoat without a formal apology, and eventually, the hospital gave a press release which denied any lack of blood, and that the husband had been misinformed.

i found this event very interesting, but unfortunately, not many bloggers paid much attention to it as it was overshadowed by the last event on this list. there is obviously some cock-up here, especially since this made it to prime-time news. but the question is, what is the exact nature of the cock-up? how did the husband get misinformed? was he intensionally misinformed? Lucky Tan has an interesting hypothesis about hospitals making it regular practice to ask family members to top up blood supplies. the last we heard about what really happened is that it is still "under investigation". perhaps the hospital got lucky, because people soon forgot this issue as they were all preoccupied with...

8) The Li Hongyi Incident
By now, we should have all heard about the Li Hongyi incident. 2LT Li Hongyi, the son of PM Lee, broke the chain-of-command by mass-emailing a letter to his entire battalion as well as up the entire command chain including the Minister of Defense, and was formally charged by SAF for doing so. The purpose of the email was to blow the whistle on two of his superior officers, one for AWOL, and the other for failing to duly punish the AWOL officer. The email, edited to omit names, is available on most blogs, including Rockson's, who returned from retirement just to blog on this issue.

if we use the amount of traffic in the blogosphere as an indicator, the Li Hongyi incident seems to be the most significant event of 2007. i heard that the traffic was tenfold that of last year's Wee Shu Min incident. this story has all the right elements of a sensational scandal, but if you break it down there are actually several different issues and it is not just a simple case of for-or-against. there is the issue of the white horse (would Li Hongyi be punished differently if he had a different father?), the issue of silencing whistle-blowers (is the SAF using "breaching chain of command" as a tool to cover up?), the issue of an incompetent SAF (how often do officers get away with AWOL? are there really sufficient avenues to seek redress?) the issue of elitism, (was Li Hongyi disrespectful of authority because he grew up an "elite"?) and lastly, the issue of fear among netizens (why was the original story on hardwarezone deleted?). it is also important to note that the leaking the email to the public is a violation of the Official Secrets Act, and is a criminal offense, but it seems like the perpetrator has not been uncovered yet.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

congratulations aaron & peiying!!! =)

the food was quite good. but you never introduce me to any char bors....=(

neutral and objective (part 1)

In the recent interview of Ephraim Loy by TOC (very interesting in its own right), this comment by Sarek_home drew my attention:

“An eye for an eye leaves everybody blind.” Mahatma Ghandi

Fighting “Partisan” organisations with “Partisan” organisations will blind the society collectively with partisan also. We need to set an example and evolve beyond partisan politic.

Readers who distaste MSM biased reporting at one end of the spectrum do not want another online biased reporting at the other end of the spectrum.

The best way to defeat and balance off MSM biased reporting is to be neutral and objective.

Well I do not disagree in the general spirit of her comment, her last 3 words got me thinking about these questions: What do we mean by being "neutral" and "objective"? What does being "partisan" or "non-partisan" got to do with being "neutral and objective"?

Part 1: Non-Partisanship as an Indicator of Neutrality

In the context of the Singaporean plogosphere, whether a blogger is partisan or not simply refers to the whether or not a blogger is affiliated with any political party. [I guess it may not be so straight forward for an ex-member; is Goh Meng Seng (ex-WP member) partisan or non-partisan?] What beef do we have with partisan bloggers? Are they in some way inferior to non-partisan bloggers?

The concern, it seems, has got to do with neutrality. Perhaps one might think: a blogger who is affiliated with the PAP may very likely blog something which is "pro-PAP", and hence is "not neutral". Conversely, a blogger affiliated to WP is likely not to be neutral, because he is likely to blog something "pro-WP". Before I go on to talk about what is wrong with this line of thinking, it is worth noting that many partisan bloggers seem to blog about views which disagree with the views of their affiliated party. Read the interview with Ephraim, as well as this P65 article by Baey Yam Keng (both on Section 377A). I have previously noted examples in the Young PAP blog as well.

If we choose to define "a neutral blogger" to be "not affiliated with any political party", then partisan bloggers are, by definition, not neutral. In other words, the follow 6 statements are all tautologies (grammatically correct, but have no meaning):

1. A partisan blogger is not a neutral blogger.
2. A non-partisan blogger is a neutral blogger.
3. A neutral blogger is a neutral blogger.
4. A non-neutral blogger is not a neutral blogger.
5. A partisan blogger is a partisan blogger.
6. A non-partisan blogger is not a partisan blogger.

I believe most people will claim that the first two sentences are not tautologies, i.e. they are more meaningful than sentences 3-6. If you believe so, then the definition that "neutrality = non-partisan " cannot work. Here is an alternative definition of neutral: "free from influence from any political party". This makes sense to some people, because it is linked to the idea of biasness. If you are influenced by something, that makes you more biased.

However, ask yourself, have you ever listened to the views of politicians? Were you ever influenced by them? If say, you agreed with a certain view of Low Thia Kiang's, does this not mean you were influenced by him? Does that then make you not neutral? Maybe you heard or read from source A, which was influenced by source B, which was influenced by source C, which in turn was influenced by a politician. Does not that make you also (indirectly) influenced by the politician? Does that mean you are not neutral? With such a narrow definition of "neutral", it is hard to imagine any blogger being able to fit the description of "neutral", regardless if partisan or not.

I have a third proposition for the definition of neutral. A neutral blogger is a blogger that honestly blogs his or her own personal views, and not just the representative views of his or her affiliated political party. By this definition, all non-partisan bloggers must be neutral, since they do not have an affiliated political party. But now begs the question: how do we tell if a partisan blogger is being neutral (i.e. personally honest and not just being party's mouthpiece), or not?

One might say: just see what he/she blogs, and if it looks just like the political party's official stand, then it is not neutral. Perhaps so, but this begs another question. How do we know what is the political party's stand? Do we know what is a party's stand by what their politicians say? If so then consider this:

1) Politician ABC says Statement X.
2) Therefore Statement X is the party's stand.
3) Politician ABC is also a blogger (i.e. Partisan Blogger ABC)
4) Partisan Blogger ABC blogs Statement X.
5) Since Statement X is the party's stand (2), and since Partisan Blogger blogs Statement X (4), then Partisan Blogger ABC is not neutral.

This is of course circular reasoning, or another tautology at best. The example becomes even more ridiculous if you allow "what ABC blogs" = "what ABC says". In which it will become:

1) ABC blogs Statement X.
2) Therefore Statement X is the party's stand.
3) Since Statement X is the party's stand, and since ABC blogs Statement X, ABC is not neutral.

In reality, it is hard to see anyone falling for such obvious circular logic. Nevertheless, it does highlight a certain problem when it comes to judging neutrality: it is not that straight forward to decipher whether a partisan blogger is "being a mouthpiece" or really saying what he/she feels. After all, it is very likely that the individual happens to believe in the political party's views, which could be precisely why he or she choose to be affiliated with the party in the first place. What the party's views are may very well coincide with the individual's personal views as well. When your personal views coincides with your party's, does that make you non-neutral?

I think among most of us (especially those who are bloggers ourselves), we have developed a sense of when someone is blogging in a "forced manner" or someone is blogging "naturally". I personally find this the best way to tell if some blog is a "mouthpiece" or not. Nevertheless, this mode of discernment is more of an art than a science, and a blogger with a really good command of English may still fool many a reader.

Even among non-partisan bloggers, we often classify ourselves as "pro-establishment" and "anti-establishment". Many have objected to such a sweeping classification. Nevertheless, if you openly identify yourself to be "pro-PAP" or "pro-opposition", even if you are non-partisan, does it seem that you are neutral? Can you be "pro-opposition" and "neutral" at the same time? I think our intuitions differ on this question.

I only have one point to make here. When we use the word "neutral" (or rather "not neutral") to criticize one blogger or another, it can mean one out of many meanings, and not all of us may mean the same thing when we say the same word. Some meanings, as seen by the tautologies, totally don't work. Whatever the case, it appears to me that using non-partisanship as an indicator of "neutrality" seems sketchy at best. I am also not convinced if "neutrality" is really a virtue for a social-political blogger.

Part 2 (forthcoming): The Problem of Objectivity

Thursday, August 02, 2007

10 blogs i don't (like to) read

isn't making a list of links so fun? and there's no better way to make a comeback than by making enemies. =P

before i list the blogs that i don't like, it is important to note that just because i don't like them doesn't mean that i am discouraging you to read them. very often, my dislike for certain blog has got to do with my own personal tastes and preferences, and little to do with the actual quality, or lack thereof, of content.

also, just because i don't like the blog, doesn't mean i don't read the blog. on an important issue which is "hot" around the plogosphere, i usually read as many articles as i can find by whoever blogs about such an issue, just to get a good gauge of what different people think, and to expose myself to different point of views. sometimes, a particular comments thread on a single blog article might be the location for a particularly fierce debate, and I usually would follow the debate (assuming it got my attention in the first place) even if it is on a blog i don't like.

but on to more fun stuff:

Mr Wang Says So
when i first entered the plogosphere, Mr Wang was one of my favorite reads; it is still the favorite read of many people. there are many good qualities to Mr Wang's blog: he has amazing clarity and communicates effectively. he is also a very intelligent chap, and his persona generates much appeal to the average blog reader. nevertheless, several bloggers (most recently InSpir3d) are lamenting that in recent months, Mr Wang has moved his blogging focus away from social-political issues and more on self-help. that is not why i don't like to read Mr Wang. it's just that over time, i just started to not like the dude, that's all. =)

A Xeno Boy in Sg
if there is anyone more revered than Mr Wang in the plogosphere, it is Xenoboy. sorry, but i don't like him either. there was a time when i really adored Xenoboy, and he was once in my blogroll but not anymore. i used to think, and i still do, that he writes the most artistic and beautiful prose on the plogosphere. Xenoboy himself, is a really deep thinker, and it is good to pay attention to what he says. nevertheless, what i don't appreciate about him is that you can't really engage him and have discussion about his views. while i appreciate his artistry and his intelligence, i don't like his lack of clarity, and his sheer cheem-ness. while he has a right to express himself, i think he is doing no favors to those of us who believe that the plogosphere is a place to listen carefully and critically to each other's ideas and to engage each other in civil and rational discourse.

P65 and Young PAP Blog
actually, if i were to write a critical review of these two blogs, i would consider them to be fairly good blogs (sans shoot-myself-in-the-foot articles by Nicholas Lazarus), and i am rather impressed by how they are not just propagandist fluff. nevertheless, there are two important reasons why myself (and probably others like myself) don't read these blogs. firstly, they don't update regularly. it is okay not to blog regularly when you are xenoboy, because hundreds of netizens will salivate over each rare article you write. but when you are from the PAP, and actually hope to increase your influence over the blogosphere, you need to publish often, and publish good articles. secondly, as far as i can tell, these blogs are kept "out of the loop" as far as the plogosphere netizens are concerned. i.e., other blogs in the plogosphere do not talk about, or link to, these two blogs. (again, sans shoot-myself-in-the-foot articles.) you can only generate influence when people read you, and whether or not people read you is largely dependent on how many people connect to you. two ways they can fix this: write controversial stuff (like Nicholas Lazarus), or write good articles and publish often. not easy, but those are the cards dealt to the ruling party. i've said it before, the plogosphere is hostile territory. you do not have home advantage here.

on a separate but related point. i think InSpir3d is the most powerful person in the plogosphere right now. being the lone individual to decide what goes on or not goes on Intelligent Singaporean means he has direct influence over the minds of hundreds of netizens. this could be quite scary if you happen to know that InSpir3d himself is some young chap around my age. nevertheless, i think he's been doing a great job so far.

why i do not read TOC is partly due to the fact that i was on a hiatus the past 3 months, which was when TOC started growing and becoming very popular. all credit to TOC for doing (what i believe to be) the right moves: getting high profile individuals like Yeo Toon Joo and Leong Sze Hian on board, Andrew Loh ceding ownership of TOC to maintain a non-partisan image, and getting Ephraim Loy on board to help create balance. all very good. credit to them for their hard work and being a more successful and popular blog than 4 months ago, although i suspect the void left by Gayle and Kitana helped to increase their popularity. all very good. but still i don't like them. trivially, i don't like the way their blog looks. i don't like the color scheme, and i find the many links and small pictures too gaudy. perhaps less trivially, i find a number of their articles, while worth reading, contain much angst. perhaps Ephraim can help change that. we'll see.

Winter Is Coming
i think Ned is a nice guy. i really do. and speaking as someone who has had the opportunity to meet and interact with many bloggers offline, it is really not that easy to find nice guys in the plogosphere. that said, i'm sorry Ned, i'm not extremely fond of your blog. [i am in ingrate. Ned wrote a really nice article about me some more. =(] a big reason, like for TOC, was that i was on a hiatus the past 3 months, which was when Ned's blog grew in popularity. i also have trvial reasons why i don't like Ned's blog...i don't like his avatar =P, [talking about which, i don't like BL's avatar either, but i got used to it =P] and i don't like the stuff about "Lord of Winterfell, Warden of the North..." etc etc. sorry dude =(. also, he has 30 names on his blogroll, but i'm not one of them. =(. that's why i don't like. muahahahaha. =P.

[Ned, i'm sure you're reading this. what to have coffee sometime? we can invite Aaron, or whoever else you like to hang out with. drop me an email.]

George Yeo's blogs
i think no explanation are necessary here. although i am rather sympathetic towards BG George Yeo. i think he does try hard. =\

Diary of A Singaporean Mind
i have a great deal of respect for Lucky Tan. in his comments on other blogs, he has shown himself to be very intelligent as well as possessing a strong love for our nation. although i feel that his blog is a must-read for people who are new to the plogosphere, i have a hard time appreciating his sense of satire. also, like with xenoboy, satire pokes fun at an issue, but is not particularly useful if you are interested in engaging and understanding alternative points of view. i think it is more the fault of the medium than the author, and to his credit, satire is not something easy to write at all (you try lah!).

Anything from the Brotherhood Press
as we all know, anything we say about the brotherhood is very sensitive =X. i am not advocating or encouraging anybody to be less than civil to the members of the brotherhood (or any blogger, for that matter). i am just saying some people like to read stuff from the brotherhood, i am just not one of them.