Thursday, July 26, 2007

Hospital bills up 10% to 30% across all ward classes!

This is crazy. The Ministry of Health had already known that the average hospital bills for the class C wards had increased by nearly 30%, they still want to implement means testing on Singaporeans who wanted to stay in class C wards?!

Now, who wouldn't want to stay in better wards when they are suffering for serious illnesses like cancer if he or she can afford it?

The only reason why more and more Singaporeans are choosing to stay in class C wards for serious illness is because they are increasingly unable to afford stay in better class of wards!

And now instead of thinking of ways to reduce the medical burdens of Singaporeans, our dear govt wanted to means test Singaporeans?

Don't tell me that there isn't enough money for an ESSENTIAL NEED when they had just raised BOTH GST and their own salaries!

Add on:

I would like more Singaporeans to watch this video and think about the points Tony Benn made.

Hospital bills up 10% to 30% across all ward classes
By Tan Hui Leng, TODAY | Posted: 25 July 2007 1100 hrs

AVERAGE public hospital bills have increased across all ward classes from 2005 to 2006, with the hikes ranging from 10 to 30 per cent.

The Ministry of Health's (MOH) data showed that the average bill size for a class C ward cost $1,112 last year — up 29.6 per cent from $858 the year before.

As for B2 class wards, it went up 17.4 per cent from $1,094 to $1,284.

The higher ward classes of B1 and A registered smaller hikes of 16.7 and 10.3 per cent respectively.

The B1 wards increased from $2,736 to $3,193 and the A wards went up from $3,473 to $3,830.

An MOH spokeswoman attributed the big C-class increases to the inclusion of Intensive Care Unit patients in last year's data, medical inflation and the fact that more patients with complex medical conditions chose to be admitted to C class wards.

In the C class wards, which are 80-per-cent subsidised, 1 per cent of patients paid $9,071 or more — even higher than their counterparts in the B2-class wards, who paid $8,813 or more.

Speaking at the opening of the Wonca (World Organization of Family Doctors) World Conference yesterday, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan described hospital bills here as "relatively inexpensive" for the high medical standards patients are getting.

With Medisave and MediShield, almost all patients can afford these bills, Mr Khaw added.

"The Ministry will continue to manage medical inflation without compromising the quality of patient care," said the MOH spokeswoman. "We will use market forces, where appropriate, to manage medical costs — for example, through publishing bill sizes and quality indicators.

She added: "This will allow Singaporeans to make informed choices on where to seek treatment and provide transparent benchmarks on the comparative efficiency of healthcare providers." - TODAY/ra

Monday, July 23, 2007

Taiwanese on Singapore

By: decentguy1

If you can understand Mandarin/Hokkien, this is a very brilliant discussion about Singapore. Although I have no liking for the pan-Green faction, I agree with their comments totally.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Interview Transcripts: Atheism, & What It Means To Be An Atheist In Singapore

In my previous post, I mentioned that I had the ignominious honour of being interviewed by a Straits Times journalist (Straits Times is a national, major newspaper in Singapore), who, upon chancing upon my post with regards to the issue of interfaith dialogues, decided to conduct a email interview, with what I presume as a further query with regards to the atheistic point of view.

Transcripts of the interview was sent to me on the 3rd of July, and my reply was sent out on the following day.

While I was hoping that the interview would be published (knowing full well the conservative nature of Straits Times, I was expecting a watered-down version of it), but the latest word I have received was that the journalist concerned, Ms Li (I shall not divulge the full name. For those who are infinitely curious, leave a note in my email or this blog's comments) seems to be occupied with her work.

So, without further ado, the transcripts, as follows. My replies, in red:

1) As an atheist, do you feel marginalised in Singapore? Why/why not? If so, do you have any specific examples?

With regards to feeling marginalized, I feel that much of what has been said and touched on about faith is mostly centered on two or three faiths, namely Catholicism, Christianity and its related denominations, and most important of all, Islam.

Take the latest issue on interfaith dialogues. We have imams, priests, reverends and even the odd Confucian scholar who gets invited. But no one, none from the scholastic circles, such as historians, scientists and the like, gets invited to such talks, much less atheists.

What is it about religion that allows them this privilege to get a piece of the limelight and spread their propaganda in such a manner? Are we saying that, short of discussing each other's religion, people from the various religions can't really communicate beyond mere religion? Or are atheists and other members of the free thought community so highly ostracized that we aren't even allowed a whiff of these bunch of self-appraised folks?

Dialogues are a good thing, but dialogues such as these are much political tools fabricated by people who wish to glamorize religion and portray a falsified unified front of various religious views.

2) Do you feel that because of the sensitivity of religious issues and the emphasis on inter-religious harmony in Singapore, you do not have freedom of expression, when it comes to airing your views?

I think a few years back, two young people or teenagers were arrested and charged with the Sedition Act, one for slandering Islam and the other for drawing Jesus-zombies munching cute little babies.

To talk about freedom of speech in Singapore is pretty much like playing Russian roulette: You can heap as much vitriol as you want, but once you bothered some higher-ups, get prepared to be slapped with ignominous charges, such as the ISA (Internal Security Act) and the Sedition Act.

3) Do you think that atheism is a faith in itself? And should it be accorded the same "respect" that other religions have?

Atheism, by its very definition (Atheist from the Greek word, atheos: A, without, theos, God), refers to a negative position of non-belief. An atheist, in essence, is a person who does not believe in God due to the absence of proof (To some atheists, it means observable, empirical proof).

Faith requires an element of belief. In the case of faith, it is more aptly described as "Belief in things unseen", which really boils down to blind belief.

If anything, atheism is the exact polemic of faith: One is an atheist because one sees no proof to validate the claim, while a person who dwells in faith believes because he or she has subjected to himself or herself a creed irregardless of evidence.

As for the question of respect, I feel that we should respect everybody who is generally law-abiding. The case of the gay movement (which I did wrote on my blog), for example, is one that deserves respect, because gays have long been marginalized and in a way, segregated from the majority heterosexuals because of this misguided notion that sex outside the realms of procreation is an abominal sin, a view justified and mortified by the biblical code of stoning gays to death.

Just as law-abiding gays deserve respect, recognition and dare I say, the rights to marriage, atheists deserve to have their voices and views heard. Unfortunately in Singapore, the religious right has mostly reserved for themselves the right to be heard, and many times, their views are highly eschewed by their belief systems. For example, one would not expect a priest to extol the virtues of condoms and other contraceptives, despite the devastating effects of AIDS and other sexual diseases. To the priest, sex for pleasure is a sin, regardless of the outcome.

4) Do you think that atheists should be allowed to set up an organisation to propagate their views, such as Christians have church organisations, Muslims Islam organisations and Buddhists Buddhist organisations to propagate their tenets? Why/why not? How do you think the society and the Government will react?

I feel that the atheist community in Singapore is too small at the moment: Unlike the American Atheists (AA), atheists here are mainly closeted and disjointed, so no, at the moment, atheists should simply focus on getting out of the closet, which itself is a difficult thing to do, especially for those who are stuck in very strict, fundamentalist sects like I was in the past.

If an atheist organization were to exist here, I cannot really fathom the framework which we should go about in setting up such an organization. Religion in Singapore is something that is held in excessive awe and respect, even rationalized in the form of moderate belief systems. If the organization seeks to be just a freethought organization, then I would feel that there is no need for an atheist organization, or for myself to joing one. An active atheist organization that is highly vocal against religious irrationality may be too hot a potato for a distinctively conservative and highly cautious society here in Singapore.

5) Do you think that a Singaporean atheist would be allowed to write a book like that of Richard Dawkins' or Christopher Hitchens'?

The problem here in Singapore, I suspect, is that in higher academic circles here, is that any academic must be strictly neutral, or at worst, slightly sympathetic of religiosity in order to continue their research here.

That aside, most publishers in Singapore would baulk at publishing such controversial material here. If there is even an outside bet that one could actually sneak past such works, I would gladly be the first one to try.

6) Do you feel that there are increasing tensions between those who are religious, and those who are secular, within Singapore? Some will call you a "secularist fundamentalist". Do you agree with such a label?

One of my earliest blog posts (still there, but I have abandoned it) was about this pastor in a megachurch who actually proclaimed that "the red colour of the Singapore flag symbolizes the blood of Christ".

I had attended that service on the behest of a friend,and was profoundly shocked to hear this lie being spoken life in front of 20,000 church members.

While it is too early to say whether the secularity of our nation is under threat, I think there are people in Singapore who definitely enjoy the idea that the tenets of our Constitution is somehow aligned with the Ten Commandments, even if it clearly isn't.

At present, I do not detect this threat in the Parliament. To me, the status quo quo of "Equal playing ground" still holds true up to a point, and I for one would definitely not want to see our nation turn into a fascist theocracy.

The final question with regards to "secular fundamentalist" was left out, because I find that such a term is indeed a grave insult to rational people, religious or otherwise, who do not seek to widen the religious scope towards the secular sector, be it in government institutions or even to the tenets of government.

Frankly, I doubt this interview would ever be published in our closeted media, and hence I have decided to publish this without the permission of the journalist.

In concluding this article, I urge all Singaporeans to speak up in the face of religious domination within our media. We must find a voice in a society that continuously trumpets the need for religious reconciliation, without sparing a thought for the 13%-15% of us who refuse to be part of this hypocrisy of grovelling towards religious moderates who, ironically are the major source of inspiration for fundamentalists and their dastardly plans of terror and extremism.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Invisible Atheists of Singapore?

I must admit: in recent weeks, I have been thoroughly frustrated (to put it mildly) by the hypocrisy that has surrounded the recent rise of Atheism brought about by the meteoric rise of Richard Dawkins and other prominent atheist authors.

In response to this trend, the local media in Singapore has decided to entrench itself with the religious right. This pro-right stance is so pervasive that much of the opinions from the pro-left are either ignored, or moderated to a point that they do not offend "religious sensitivities". Our pro-religious Ministry of Home Affairs has actively supported inter-faith dialogues that effectively cater to the major official religions, effectively ignoring the non-religious communities altogether. Everyone in Singapore is either religious to the hilt, or are merely non-Singaporeans to begin with.

In short, atheists and the non-religious do not exist within the Singaporean clique.

According to this article, written by Today, atheists do not even feature in the sectarian landscape. No atheists. No infidels. Period.

Excerpts From Today Online
Tug of War for America's Soul
14th July 2007
By Tiffany Tan

A wave of secularisation is again sweeping through industrialised nations, but will it come around to our corner of the world? Even though Singapore is on the same economic development scale as secular Western countries, experts say atheism in the city-state is a distant possibility. In a study, Dr Pereira discovered that Singaporeans value religiosity and it is "deeply embedded in society".

For some religious leaders, atheism is no reason to lose sleep over.

"If there is a war, it has been going on for the last 300 years and atheism is clearly not winning," said Dr Simon Chan, a professor of systematic theology at Singapore's Trinity Theological College.

"Previous generations of atheists had been no less vehement and hopeful, but a vast majority of the world's population are too incurably religious to be bought over."

A distant possibility??? For the love of Zeus, I don't know where these journalists got their facts from, but just for the sake of "objective journalism", we shall take a sneak peek into a population consensus report taken in the year 2000 (Link here).

According to the report, 340,094 Singaporeans have no religious affiliation, out of a population of 2,494,630. The minimum age group of this consensus was in the 15-19 category, so we can safely surmise that no kids were involved, which would have muddled up the numbers and give the religious ranks a higher boost in numbers.

With these figures, one can assume that at least 13% of Singaporeans do not subscribe to any religion. Unfortunately, there is no way to break the figures down further into atheists, agnostics, deists and other non-religious affiliates, but surely, there ought to be atheists amongst them?

Quite contrary to the news article, religion has not been "embedded deeply" into the fabric of society. Considering that there were only 9733 Sikhs reported by the consensus, the non-religious community occupies a sizable chuck across the sectarian board.

And then there is the "vehement" culture of atheists. Of course, we are riff-ruffs of the sort that really do speak out against religious abuse, but hey, we aren't the ones strapping bombs and flying planes to skyscrapers for the sake of paradise and some 72 virgins (I am sure most atheists like sex, but we are not delirious enough to believe in bullshit of this nature), or for any particular father figure in the sky.

Not a good word, it seems, can be said about atheism. If this article is to be taken as gospel truth, then atheists are no more than invisible shrews, so to speak, good only for spewing vitriol at our persecuted religious counterparts.

Ignoring the Non-Religious Community In Singapore

But why are we, the non-religious sector, constantly ignored by the mass media? Are they trying to tell us that we do not belong here, or that we are, at least in the metaphorical sense, "expendable"???

On a more personal note, I have had an email interview with an ST journalist, who has somehow stumbled on one of my articles regarding interfaith dialogue. While she did not promise to mention about it from her political correspondence desk, I doubt she will ever publish it (again, to my frustration) because of the anti-religious nature of my replies.

Perhaps it is time for the atheist community in Singapore to rally together and break this religious monopoly within the ranks of the mass media. Only then, will our voices be heard by those who will spare no afford to undermine the interests of the non-religious community.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people.

If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people.
Former UK MP and Minister, Tony Benn

If we can find S$10.58 billion this year for buying weapons and training army, why is that when come to finding money for healthcare the only solution from the PAP govt is to means-test Singaporeans patients in C-class wards?

Big Ideas That Changed The World : Democracy-Tony Benn

Part 1


Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Thursday, July 12, 2007

1987 Marxist Plot revisited

From ST:

It is very interesting ST chose not mention the fact that many of the ppl arrested under Operation Spectrum were actually volunteering at Workers' Party, helping Mr JBJ with his political activities.

In fact Mr Francis Seow, a former Solicitor General of Singapore, was arrested and detained for 72 days without trial under ISA, when he tried visit one of the alleged "Marxist Conspirators", whom is Mr Seow's former student.

If I am not wrong, the reason for arresting him was that Mr Seow was somehow an agent for USA.

Mr Seow went on to take part in the 1988 GE in Eunos GRC under Workers' Party banner, securing 49.11% of the votes.

At least one of the detainees,Tang Fong Har, were also allegedly tortured by ISD while under detention.

The legacy of 1987
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the arrest of 22 Singaporeans under the Internal Security Act for their involvement in an alleged Marxist conspiracy. LYDIA LIM and LI XUEYING look back at this episode in Singapore's history and its impact on the intersection between religion and politics

ISA DETAINEE: Vincent Cheng in a televised confession in 1987 about wanting to set up 'a classless society' in Singapore.

THE press statement contained skeletal information. There were only names, and no details of age, sex or occupation. From it, the public was to learn that 16 people had been arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

As reporters fanned out to attach faces to the names on the list that evening of May 21, 1987, the Law Society confirmed that one of its council members was among the 16 held. The society, already gripped by a series of altercations with the Government the previous year, met for yet another emergency meeting that night.

More arrests followed. On June 20, another six people joined the original 16 in detention.

This time, at least one of them was prepared.

When the fateful knock on his door came in the dead of the night, he took a shower and put on a suit and tie so that he would not look dishevelled when the police photograph was snapped. When the detainees' headshots were released to the media, his would be the only one wearing a ready smile.

However, nothing could conceal the seriousness of the affair. It was the biggest ISA swoop for more than a decade, and would not be surpassed in scale until the terrorism-related arrests post-Sept 11.

Through a series of statements and television interviews, the 22 men and women were presented to a stunned public as members of a Marxist conspiracy out to topple the Government by illegal means.

The spectre of communism was nothing new to Singapore, but the profile of the detainees was seen as unusual: They were mostly English-educated professionals; four worked full time for social organisations under the Catholic Church. These were not Singaporeans influenced by Chinese communism, but by the leftist liberation theology that had been gaining ground within the worldwide Catholic Church.

Aged 18 to 40, the individuals were detained without trial for between one month and three years at Whitley detention centre. The last was freed on June19, 1990.

At the time, the affair was stunning, complete with official revelations that one of the conspirators visited a training camp of Tamil Tiger guerillas, confessions broadcast on national television and condemnations by international human rights groups.

Twenty years since the arrests, the shock and trauma have been all but forgotten. Even a visit to the Internal Security Department's Heritage Centre, which relives earlier security swoops, will not unearth anything about 1987.

The intervening years have shed little or no additional light on the affair, with no new documents having been released.

The former detainees themselves seem equally reluctant to reopen the issue. It is understood that one group met some months back and, anticipating media attention in this anniversary year, agreed not to grant interviews.

A handful of them live and work overseas. Most chose to remain in Singapore after their release. None is engaged in political or civil society activism. A number of them have successful careers in the private sector, and two have retired.

Two former detainees did agree to speak with Insight on condition of anonymity and a third gave a short e-mail reply.

The first two showed no obvious rancour and even laughed as they recalled how officers from the Internal Security Department (ISD) banged on their doors in the early hours of the morning 20 years ago, changing their lives forever.

When described as a Marxist conspiracy, the affair seems almost quaint in hindsight.

The post-1987 years witnessed the implosion of communism as an alternative ideology. Communist literature is now available here and even former members of the Malayan Communist Party have been on occasion granted special permission by the Government to re-enter the country.

Time appears to have healed the psychological wounds and neutered the radical left, perhaps explaining why the anniversary of the arrests has been a virtual non-event.

Civil society

YET, 1987 may have cast longer shadows and caused deeper political changes than most people assume.

Although the Government described its swoop as anti-Marxist, many critics read it as a much broader clampdown on political activism - and therefore as relevant today as it was 20 years ago.

These alternative interpretations are still being debated. On Internet forums these past months there have been a few fierce exchanges, with some praising the Government for being 'proactive' in putting down a genuine security threat, while others portray the Marxist spectre as a 'bogeyman' conjured up to justify crushing any potential political challenge.

What is not in doubt is that many of those who were arrested were doing social work to help the poor and migrant workers, in organisations linked to the Catholic Church. Their ultimate goals, however, were a matter of dispute.

The official account stated that the detainees had infiltrated these various social organisations as part of a clandestine operation aimed at overthrowing the Government through illegal means.

In a televised confession, detainee Vincent Cheng said that he and former student leader and fugitive Tan Wah Piow, based in Britain, wanted to establish a broad base of groups to oppose the Government using violent means, if peaceful ways did not work out. The aim: to set up 'a classless society' in Singapore.

He used the Church because it provided 'ready cover' for his activities.

After their release, however, nine of the detainees retracted their confessions and denied the Government's allegations.

In April 1988, they issued a joint statement saying that they had, through legitimate means, 'advocated more democracy, less elitism, protection of individual freedoms and civil rights, greater concern for the poor and the less privileged and less interference in the private lives of citizens'.

Eight of those who signed the statement were re-arrested and detained for a second time. The ninth was out of the country and did not return.

What followed was a recanting by the eight of the charges of ill-treatment. Nineteen of the 22 detainees also made statutory declarations reaffirming their involvement in the conspiracy.

Many Singaporeans found it hard to reconcile their image of radical communists, like those of the 1950s or 1960s, with this crowd, several of whom were English-educated graduates who were economically well-off and had along the way developed what appeared to be a social conscience.

This uncertainty was even expressed by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam when he was interviewed upon his induction into politics in 2001.

'Although I had no access to state intelligence, from what I knew of them, most were social activists but not out to subvert the system,' said Mr Tharman, who is now Education Minister.

In London, he had been part of a study group led by lawyer Tan Wah Piow - the former dissident student leader named by Vincent Cheng and accused by the Government of being the offsite 'mastermind of the communist conspiracy' days after the first arrests in 1987.

The detainees included friends of Mr Tharman, who himself was questioned for a week by the ISD.

Since many civil society types saw the detainees as fired-up do-gooders not very different from themselves, the arrests were interpreted by critics as a warning against activism of any kind.

The Government's later encouragement of active citizenship had to contend with this deeply-held perception, especially in areas perceived to be politically sensitive - such as foreign workers' rights.

Today, TWC2 (Transient Workers Count Too) and other groups speak up openly for migrant workers. Several of the 1987 detainees had taken up this same cause.

Ms Braema Mathi, former president of TWC2, says it has had to work at exorcising the ghost of 1987 along the way.

'What got ingrained was the power of the state and the instruments that the state could use. What we embraced was fear. This kind of thing takes a lot of time to shed,' she says.

Says Think Centre president Sinapan Samydorai: 'If the intention was to break the backbone of a social awakening of people who could become politically active, then I think they - more or less - achieved it.'

Others take a less bleak view. Mr Robert Kee, founder of Operation Hope Foundation and former president of the Community Outreach Services, the social outreach arm of the Methodist Church here, believes that 1987 had no impact on social activists such as himself, much less caused them to fear.

He believes the Government had done the right thing.

'It's a matter of trust, we have to trust the Government to do the right thing. Some people are quite easily misled. You always find people who are attracted to certain causes for whatever reason.

'In this case, the detainees had not blown up anything. Prevention is always very boring.

'So, unfortunately for the Government, what it did was not appreciated.'

Religion and politics

THE events of 1987 had a tangible and lasting effect on the relationship between religion and politics in Singapore.

Indeed, one of the counter-conspiracy theories around is that this was the Government's real target - but since the Government could not be seen as attacking the Church, the 'Marxist' label would have to suffice.

Theories aside, the facts are that of the 22 detained, four worked full-time in organisations affiliated to the Catholic Church: the Justice and Peace Commission, the Geylang Catholic Welfare Centre, the Young Christian Workers' Movement and the Singapore Polytechnic Catholic Students' Society.

Others volunteered their time at these organisations, which were involved in causes such as the rights of workers, both local and foreign.

In the aftermath of the detentions, the Government showed clearly that it was more concerned about political activists' links to God than their links to the avowedly anti-religion Karl Marx. It tabled the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Bill, which - in addition to regulating aggressive proselytisation - banned the mixing of religion and politics.

In the Government's White Paper on the Bill, the ISD said the 1987 detainees had shown how religion could be used for subversive purposes. The ISD highlighted the activities of four Catholic priests who had 'ventured into social action and acted as a political pressure group'.

These were the same four priests who had led the Catholic organisations implicated in the alleged Marxist plot.

These priests had also published 'political booklets' that criticised the Government for 'emasculating the trade unions and enacting labour laws which curtailed the rights of workers', and made statements that 'agitated' against the ISA detentions, the ISD said.

The White Paper spelt out the Government's position that, in a multi-religious society like Singapore, religion and politics must be kept 'rigorously separated'.

The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) became law in 1990.

With the Act in place, people who repeat the kinds of activity that the Catholic workers were accused of in the 1980s would not need to be detained under the ISA: The Act empowers the Minister for Home Affairs to issue restraining orders against preachers who engage in harmful conduct, which includes causing ill will between religious groups, promoting a political cause or exciting disaffection against the President or Government, under the guise of propagating or practising any religious belief.

Anyone who breaches a restraining order can be fined and jailed.

In February this year, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng informed Parliament that no restraining orders had been issued since 1990, although the ISD had on several occasions warned religious leaders against mixing religion with politics and putting down other faiths.

It would be unrealistic, however, to claim that the MRHA settled once and for all the age-old issue of how best to separate church and state.

Even during the debate on the Bill, religious leaders and several Members of Parliament voiced their concern that the faithful cannot be expected to keep their beliefs completely out of public life.

The Government itself has nuanced its position. With the means in place to discipline errant religious leaders through the MRHA, it was able to invite religious groups, along with other people-sector organisations, to help build a stronger civic society.

So it was that in 1991, then acting minister for information and the arts George Yeo acknowledged in a landmark speech the need to 'prune the banyan tree', an apt metaphor for the state to recede a little, to let civic organisations grow. The growth of groups of people invested emotionally in the country would help in transforming it from a hotel into a home, he said.

'What are these civic institutions?' asked Mr Yeo, who went on to list five major categories. Religion was one of the five.

'I would say that so long as we avoid extreme positions, civic activity organised around religious worship is a positive, not a negative, force,' he added.

Social organisations have proliferated over the past decade. Today, many social services are run by religious groups, and their leaders are actively consulted on relevant policies. Singapore is not a 'fundamentalist secular' state, as the religion scholar Karen Armstrong has put it - one that bans religion from public life.

But where exactly to draw the line between welcome engagement and questionable interference remains a much negotiated issue.

While there is broad agreement that religious groups should not be directly involved in elections and party politics, Singaporeans may differ in how much they are prepared to separate their spiritual from their day-to-day public lives.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Education) Masagos Zulkifli maintains that an attempt must be made to keep religion and politics separate, to avoid a descent into explosive confrontations.

He cites the example of compulsory education, which the Government introduced in 2002 to ensure a minimum level of mainstream education for all children here.

The madrasahs, or Islamic religious schools, and some members of the Muslim community reacted to the move but left it to their political and community leaders to engage the Government on the issue.

'Had this been also debated in the pulpits of mosques rather than the two-way engagement of the Government and the Muslim community leaders, it could have potentially further enraged and incited the Muslim public,' he says.

But religions such as Christianity and Islam have their own conceptions of what makes for a just society. Here is where clashes can arise between the teachings of these faiths and the policies that governments consider right and necessary.

As Catholic priest Father John Paul Tan explains: 'At times, in this goal of ensuring a just society, there might be different approaches and that is when a reason-based discourse is needed.'

Similarly, Imam Syed Hassan Alattas of Ba'alwi Mosque says Muslims have a duty to speak out against injustice.

'In Islam, you cannot be impartial. To say, 'I don't want to get involved', means I am letting injustice happen. That is wrong,' he says.

In her recent public lecture here, renowned scholar Armstrong noted that religion had a special responsibility to question political power when important principles were being violated.

Yet, it is when they get involved in such issues of social justice that preachers and religious groups are at greatest risk of being seen to be engaging in politics.

A new balance?

THE most profound effect of 1987 may have been to dampen overtly faith-based social activism.

Mrs Bridget Lew recalls that when she first began working with migrant workers 10 years ago, as chairman of a group under the Catholic Church, '1987 was like a ghost haunting many church workers'.

Her work was seen as politically sensitive and she found it difficult to express her views in public, she says.

In 2004, Mrs Lew left the church-run group to set up her own non-profit and secular outfit, Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics.

Mr Samydorai is another Catholic who has chosen the secular route to politics as a result of 1987. That year, he was president of the Young Christian Workers' Movement, one of the groups linked to the alleged Marxist plot. He left for Hong Kong a day before the second round of arrests.

Back in Singapore since 1999, he took on the role of president of the Think Centre, a political NGO, in May 2001.

Mr Shane Pereira, 29, believes that self-censorship set in as a result of 1987. He claims that the National University of Singapore Catholic Students' Society underwent a major shift in direction as a result. He was a member of its executive committee from 2000 to 2005.

'Pre-1987, they were more active, bringing up issues such as the concerns of poorer Singaporeans to the media,' he says.

'Now, we do not engage in any such activities, merely in faith-building for our members. The most 'civil society' thing we do is to visit old folks' homes, but we do not desire to lobby for better welfare,' he adds.

Others see no such obstacles. Says Buddhist youth leader Yap Ching Wi, 39: 'If you want to be active in the community or civil society, there are certainly risks involved, and you have to reckon with how the Government will feel.

'Following 1987, in the 1990s, we knew that if you mix social welfare and religion, it was a lethal combination. But it didn't turn me off because if something needs to be done, whether it's in correcting social injustice or whatever, it just needs to be done.'

Mr Mohamad Saiful Mohamad Anuar, 22, a youth leader at An-Nahdhah Mosque in Bishan, is among those at ease navigating the unclear lines overlapping religious and social activism.

He says he would like to see faith-based groups speak out more in areas where they see a need for social change, such as on the poor, homeless, and abortions.

As the Government encourages Singaporeans to participate more actively in shaping the society they live in, it has gradually opened up the space available to secular advocacy groups such as TWC2 and sought to engage them in their areas of expertise.

Where a consensus has yet to be forged is on the extent to which members of religious groups can engage in the same kind of activism, in line with the social teachings of their faiths.

The question is whether society is the poorer for failing to harness the energies of all its socially conscious citizens, whether their motivation springs from religious or secular sources.

Given that wars and revolutions have been fought through the centuries to redefine the relations between political and religious authorities, it is unlikely that Singapore has seen a final resolution to this eternal tension.

Seen in that light, the events of 1987 were a significant milestone, but not the end of the road.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Gays In the Animal Kingdom: Homosexually Not So "Unnatural" After All

In a bid to somehow mask homophobia with a more "naturalistic" and "secular" reasoning, religious conservatives conclude, rather prematurely of course, that homosexuality is "unnatural", and that it somehow defiles the very laws of Nature which requires us to "go forth and multiply".

Because sodomy and lesbianism do not contribute to the procreation theme, homosexuality is somewhat perceived as an anomaly in Nature.

The concept of "unnatural" in this case may yet take another somewhat different twist.

Gay Penguins???

Roy & Silo

At New York’s Central City Zoo, in the penguin’s enclosure, are two cuddly penguins, Roy & Silo. They behave and resemble most penguins, except for one unique trait that binds both birds together: They are both gay!

Not only do the penguins nest together, they built their own nests, engage in sexual activities, and have acted as surrogate parents when an egg was placed in the nests by their handlers.

Homosexuality, once thought to be a product of man’s depraved sexual tendencies, has, it seems, unwittingly drawn gay animals into the spotlight.

Homosexuality in The Animal Kingdom

The idea that homosexuality is an abominable crime rests upon one religious dogma: The primary function of sex is not to partake in pleasure, but merely as a essential tool for procreation.

While humans are apt to observe this kind of archaic, convoluted protocol, animals, it seems, have no qualms with regards to humping each other whichever way they choose: Modern biologists have observed that at least 1,500 animals exhibit some form of gay behavior, with 500 species well documented to have performed "outrageous sodomy" in full view of the biologists.
Talk about hot monkey sex and animal gay porn....

Other species known to exhibit homosexual tendencies include:

Bisons: Giving a whole new meaning to "brokeback mountain".....

1. The American Bison: This stocky, well-built animal has long been known by native Red Indians to engage in mounting, and full anal penetration. Apparently, mounting of one female bison on another female counterpart is also common.

Baah......... (Translation: I am gay, I am gay, I am gay!!!)

2. At least 6-10% of male sheep engage in homosexual activities (makes one wonder where all the meat we get in supermarkets really do come from).

Birds of the "same feather" flock together.........

3.Pairs of male flamingos have also been witnessed raising eggs of female counterparts.

Homosexuality: A Genetic Anomaly, or a Case of Sacrificing for the Common Good?

Homosexuality seems to go against the very grain of evolution: If the genetically encoded goal of every animal is to ensure the survivability of its genes, why then, do some animals choose an act that, at first glance, seems to be the equivalent of an evolutionary dead end?

In scientific parlance, homosexuality does serve several purposes. In the case of the gay penguins, it may be that gay penguins like Roy and Silo may have somehow evolved to play the role as "male nannies" to help look after abandoned or lost eggs and chicks, which would surely help boost the survivability of chicks in the harsh environmental conditions in Antarctica.

Territorial aggression may also have a part to play. In the case of the flamingos, it may be that male flamingos hold larger territories than females: A pale of gay flamingos, followed by their heterosexual counterparts, may be boosted by a pair of alpha males, instead of just one alpha male. The presence of gay flamingos may also lessen the competition for mating partners amongst heterosexual males.

More importantly, homosexuality in herd animals may actually tone down and ease animistic aggressions amongst male animals, who may otherwise fight each other to the death in order to vie for the sexual services of their female cohorts.

Homosexuality: Not A Travesty Unto Nature

Contrary to popular opinion, gays are definitely not outcasts in Mother Nature's scheme of plans. Just as homosexuals play a positive role in the Animal Kingdom, gays can and will contribute to our society as well.

Rather than view homosexuals as travesties of Nature or some other bigoted religious mumbo-jumbos, the better, or should I say best, option is to regard gays as normal, healthy adults with a somewhat different take on sexual preferences.

After all, as the saying goes, one Man's meat is another Man's poison. So long as homosexuals practice consensual, adult relationships, there is no reason for anyone (Religious fundies included) to pry and poke his or her nose behind the doors of every locked bedroom.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Dr Chee's speech

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