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.

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