June 22, 2017

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MICROSOFT unveiled the Xbox One X at E3 on Sunday, June 11. Can the new, powerful console grab market share back from Playstation? Watch Microsoft’s press announcement here.

Broadcast for the first time in 4K UHD on Mixer, Xbox showcased a record 42 games in its briefing including 22 with console exclusivity from creators large and small. It will be available in Singapore and other selected markets from Nov 7 and will retail for $499, 449 pounds, 499 euros, CA$599 and AU$649.

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Xbox One X was designed to be the best console to create and play games on, putting the greatest graphic fidelity in the hands of the world’s best game creators to create true 4K games. Head of Xbox Phil Spencer underscored that every game will play great across the Xbox One family, and Xbox One X also makes your existing library even better, with better textures, smoother frame rates and faster load times.

Xbox One is the only console system designed to play the best games of the past, present and future. The Xbox One games and accessories you already own are compatible with Xbox One X, so if you’re an Xbox gamer, chances are you already have a library of games that will look and play better on Xbox One X.

Spencer announced that Xbox will expand the Xbox One backward compatibility library of nearly 400 popular Xbox 360 games to include original Xbox classics, starting with fan favourite “Crimson Skies”. Xbox also revealed that “Gears of War 4,” “Forza Horizon 3,” “Minecraft,” “Resident Evil 7,” “Final Fantasy 15,” “Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands,” “Rocket League” and dozens of other popular Xbox One games will receive free updates to take full advantage of the power of Xbox One X. A host of these titles will be enhanced to run in true 4K, and many will be available at the Xbox One X launch.

Video provided by Microsoft Corp.

 

Featured image is a screen grab from the video provided by Microsoft Corp.

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by Suhaile Md

YOU’D think the mother of a young child would be put off by the bloodthirsty ways of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Apparently not.

Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari (Izzah) was planning to take her 4 year-old daughter with her to war-torn Syria and marry an ISIS fighter. Even if her fighter husband died, she believed that “her ‘elevated status’ as a ‘martyr’s widow’, she felt she could easily marry another ISIS fighter”, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) today (Jun 12). The 22 year-old single mother was arrested for radicalism earlier this month. She is the first female Singaporean Muslim radical to be detained here.

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Her radicalisation began in 2013 after exposure to ISIS propaganda online. It “deepened over time” thanks to her contact with ISIS supporters and militants online, said MHA. A year later, Izzah herself “actively posted and shared pro-ISIS materials online”. By 2015, the infant care assistant at PCF SparkleTots Preschool was “looking for ‘a Salafi or an ISIS supporter'” to marry and settle down with in Syria. Salafis are followers of Salafism, an ultra-conservative branch of Islam.

Izzah’s sister came to know about her pro-ISIS social media postings and her intention to join ISIS back in 2015. Her family’s attempts to discourage her from flying to Syria were in vain but they did not tip off the G about her radicalisation. One family member also “destroyed” evidence in order to try to “minimise her acts”. It’s not clear if any action will be taken against the family member for destruction of evidence.

Had Izzah’s family members brought her to the G’s attention, she “could have potentially been turned back from the path of radicalisation”, said the MHA. Furthermore, given the global threat of terrorism, it “makes it imperative for family members and friends to raise to the authorities anyone they suspect of being radicalised or planning terror activities”, it added.

Said the MHA: “Early reporting could enable the individual who is at risk of becoming radicalised to be given proper guidance and counselling. They could be steered away from the path of radicalisation and may not need to be severely dealt with under the law.”

Signs of radicalisation include, amongst other things, expressing support for terrorist groups, having the intention to or encouraging others to commit violence, sharing and reposting content related to terrorist groups and so on.

To report concerns about someone who seems to be radicalised, call the Counter-Terrorism Centre hotline at 1800-2626-473 (1800-2626-ISD).

Izzah’s detention is the first such arrest under the ISA since August last year when then 33 year-old Asrul bin Alias was arrested for social media sharing of pro-ISIS content with the intention of spreading its extremist ideology (read more here). According to a MHA report on June 1, there were 14 radicalised Singaporeans who were brought in under the ISA since 2015.

Other arrests in 2016:

On August 19, MHA said that four self radicalised individuals were arrested for their intention to move to Syria and fight there.

On July 29, MHA said that Zulfikar Shariff was arrested and detained for joining the hardline Hizbut Tahrir organisation in Australia, among other things like showing support for extremists online.

On May 3, MHA announced the arrest of eight other Bangladeshis who were planning to overthrow the government in Bangladesh.

On March 16, four more people were arrested under the ISA. Three of them took part in the sectarian conflict in Yemen, although one of them only did “sentry duties” and “did not fire” said MHA. The fourth was arrested for intending to join Kurdish militia to fight against ISIS in the Middle East.

On January 20, MHA said that 27 Bangladeshis were arrested in late 2015 for recruitment attempts as well as possessing materials that taught how to kill.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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TRUE Fitness and True Spa outlets in Malaysia were shuttered abruptly today, following the company’s sudden closures of True Fitness and True Yoga outlets in Thailand yesterday (June 9). 

The company’s announcement to customers in Malaysia said that the business is “no longer financially viable due to evolving market conditions”.

True Fitness Malaysia said on the website that it has purchased memberships and personal training sessions for its members to redeem from Chi Fitness, a different fitness centre that has yoga, pilates and muay thai classes.

Affected customers can only redeem their fitness sessions after July 3. True Fitness Malaysia said that “The validity of these redemptions would be for 24 months from July 3, or until all membership months and personal training sessions have been utilised.”

A spokesman from True Group told the Straits Times that it’s still business as usual for True Fitness Singapore. 

Many have taken to social media to air their grievances. 

 

This is not the first time that an international fitness chain has ceased its operations abruptly.

On July 20, last year, California Fitness announced that all its Singapore branches would be closed. Just a week before, it had closed all 12 outlets across Hong Kong. The company faced severe backlash as it did not have enough money to refund customers.

 

Featured image by Flickr user Health Gauge. CC BY 2.0

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by Danielle Goh

GOOGLE announced on June 1 that it will be launching an “ad blocker” and a tool called Funding Choices on Chrome early next year.

But Google’s “ad blocker” is more of an ad filter that will rid websites of ads blacklisted by Coalition for Better Ads, an industry group that develops global standards for online advertising. Those on the black list includes auto-playing ads that blare loud music, ‘sticky’ ads that are pinned to the page even after scrolling, and ads with a ten second countdown.

Funding Choices will prevent Chrome users from depriving publishers of revenue by blocking all ad blockers. Users will have to disable their ad blockers to view the website. It will also provide publishers with an alternative source of revenue. An option to pay for ad free access will be available to users. 

On twitter, some welcomed the move but voiced their concerns that Google might have a conflict of interest. Currently, advertising makes up 86 per cent of its revenue. 

Some were not too happy about Google’s new ad blocker…

While others understood that the move will have a widespread impact on digital advertising. Google is a dominant player, accounting for 40.7 per cent of digital ad revenues in the US. Chrome is the internet’s most popular browser.

Mr Sridhar Ramasawamy, senior vice-president of ads and commerce at Google said in a blog post that Chrome will stop showing ads on websites that are “not compliant with Better Ad Standards starting in early 2018.” The “ad blocker” is expected to be turned on by default on mobile and desktop. Google has not elaborated on the tech it will be using to filter ads.

But Google is helping publishers to prepare with a tool called Ad Experience Reports, alerting them to offensive ads on their sites and explains how to resolve the issues.

Funding Choices is currently available to publishers in North America, UK, Germany, Australia and New Zealand, and will be available in other countries later this year. This new tool will allow publishers to charge users for ad free access. Google will get a ten per cent cut from each charge. Details are not yet announced about how Google plans to distribute the money.

Mr Ramasawamy, said that Google’s new initiative would prevent people from blocking all ads, a solution that takes a “big toll on content creators”. About one in four people are estimated to have used a desktop ad blocker, and about one in ten on phones. 

By removing the most intrusive ads, Google hopes that it can improve browsing experience, and safeguard a vital source of revenue for publishers. Chrome already blocks some adverts such as pop-ups. Some publishers see the move as a good thing. “We’re supportive of action as it helps to clean up the ad-ecosystem and improves consumer trust,” said Mr Jason Klint, the CEO of Digital Content Next, the trade group for digital media publishers like Vox Media and CBS Interactive. (Vice News, Jun 2)

While it may be good news for the advertising industry, smaller publishers and ad companies might find it harder to adapt to the changes. With fewer resources, it might be financially challenging to reformulate ads to meet Google’s standards.

Others are concerned that Google will have a conflict of interest as advertising makes up 86 per cent of its revenue. Previously, Google controversially paid Adblock Plus $25 million annually to ensure that its ads are unblocked. EU antitrust regulators might be extracting a $9 billion fine from Google, if it’s found guilty of skewing search results for its own shopping service.

Google’s new “ad blocker” seems to be a good thing for everyone, publishers, advertisement companies and consumers. But concerns remain that Google’s expanding influence and policing of advertisements might also be a move to block competitors.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Skyler Wang

PERHAPS more than any of the iterations before, this year’s Pink Dot is being afflicted by a series of peculiar developments. One after another, attempts were made by both Pink Dot detractors and the State to curtail the success of the event.

The most recent incident, concerning a Pink Dot advertisement found on an escalator in Cathy Cineleisure, broke just days ago. Members belonging to the Facebook group “We are against Pinkdot in Singapore” heavily criticised Pink Dot organisers for the ad placement, as well as the shopping mall for agreeing to display it. The contention around the ad eventually found its way to the tables of The Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS), which, upon deliberation, came to the conclusion that the ad’s slogan, “Supporting the Freedom to Love”, violated one of the general principles of the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (SCAP) – those of “family values”. According to the authorities, public advertisements should not “downplay the importance of the family as a unit and foundation of society.” They ultimately instructed Cathay to “amend the advertisement”, adding that follow-ups will be made to ensure its compliance.

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Beyond highlighting the State’s limited and inadequate definition of what constitutes a family unit, this incident exemplifies a persistent strategy the Singaporean government uses to quell public dissent—by exerting its influence in the form of policy and legality. In fact, what occupied much of the media attention on Pink Dot prior to this latest episode illuminate this exact pattern. To those unfamiliar with the issue, amendments made to the Public Order Act by the Ministry of Home Affairs in Nov last year imposed a blanket ban on foreign involvement from all future Pink Dot assemblies. There are two ways in which this policy takes shape. One, the State has limited sponsorship rights solely to domestic corporations. Since the inception of Pink Dot in 2009, the event has largely relied on the funding provided by multinational companies such as Google, Facebook and Barclays. When juxtaposed to the collective amount traditionally pledged by foreign enterprises, local sponsorship, although not insignificant, pales by comparison. More specifically, for Pink Dot 2016, only five out of the 18 corporate sponsors were domestic entities. By circumscribing Pink Dot’s fundraising process, the government created artificial barriers that hinder the execution and success of the event.

Aside from restricting sponsorship rights, the new amendments also banned foreigners from showing up at the event itself. Before, a participant’s citizenship status was irrelevant to his or her attendance. Immediately prior to last year’s event, the government imposed sanctions on foreign involvement by prohibiting non-Singaporeans and permanent residents from participating in a demonstration, allowing them only to peacefully observe (holding up placards was still acceptable). According to the most recent amendments, “the law no longer distinguishes between participants and observers, and regards anyone who turns up to the Speakers’ Corner in support of an event to be part of an assembly.” Foreigners, thus, are altogether barred from the Hong Lim Park event on July 1 this year (only Singaporeans and Permanent Residents can be physically present).

In response to media queries on these new circumstances, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued the statement below:

“The Government’s general position has always been that foreign entities should not interfere in our domestic issues, especially political issues or controversial social issues with political overtones. These are political, social or moral choices for Singaporeans to decide for ourselves. LGBT issues are one such example. This is why under the rules governing the use of the Speakers’ Corner, for events like Pink Dot, foreigners are not allowed to organize or speak at the events, or participate in demonstrations.”  

I take issue with several of the State’s claims. First, note that by exclusively highlighting the need to protect political and social issues from foreign interference, the State strategically leaves out economic issues. This reflects the State’s ideology when it comes to managing foreigners, where the relevance of these ‘outsiders’ is confined to their economic contribution. It suggests that foreign talents, labor and investment are encouraged in our country to the extent that they help with our economy, but these entities should not have any further influence beyond that. This not only assumes that the social experiences of foreigners are external to our sociopolitical and cultural makeup, but it simultaneously reinforces the falsehood that foreigners are somehow unaffected by the workings of today’s inequalities. This is highly problematic because the criminalisation of same-sex acts and relationships do not exclusively affect Singaporeans—LGBTQ-identifying foreigners face similar forms of discrimination both at work and in their personal lives. Sometimes, we forget that foreigners who attend an event like Pink Dot may share some of the very same grievances as their Singaporean counterparts. Pink Dot could be as much about standing up for one’s own rights as it is about advancing a particular brand of politics for these non-Singaporeans.

Furthermore, it is important to remind ourselves that social issues have economic consequences. The State likes to use terms like ‘domestic’ or ‘social issues’ to trivialise the effects of certain inequalities, disregarding the fact that these very issues lead to real crevices in one’s material life. For example, and as aforementioned, the criminalisation of homosexuality (a social issue) could prevent LGBTQ individuals from gaining fair access to job opportunities (an economic issue). By failing to recognise same-sex unions (a social issue), same-sex couples are deprived of the same rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples when purchasing public housing (once again, an economic issue). For those LGBTQ-identifying foreigners who desire to naturalise in this country and settle down with their partners, their aspirations may not differ that much from other queer Singaporeans. This universal yearning to belong is what that propels both citizens and non-citizens alike to mobilise.

As sociologists love to say – humans are a product of society, and our thoughts and actions are never independently formulated. When the State claims that there are “political, social or moral choices for Singaporeans to decide for ourselves,” there is an underlying assumption that Singaporeans possess an intrinsically different set of morals from foreigners, and that it is vulnerable to foreign disruption. This assumption, of course, stems from a long-held belief that homosexuality is a western-imported concept that remains incompatible with Asian values or ‘true’ Singaporeanhood. This assumption also situates Singaporean culture as static and ahistorical, and that it somehow contains an essence that is ‘pure’ and non-evolving (even though the greatest irony is that in almost all other aspects of our lives, we have wholeheartedly embraced foreign technologies, cuisines and ways of being). It further suggests the fact that it is almost inherently wrong to be both gay and Singaporean, insofar as these are contradicting and irreconcilable qualities. This is a carefully engineered social narrative that still holds much cultural influence over Singaporean society today, oftentimes used by the older generation to denigrate young LGBTQ Singaporeans for their cosmopolitan and westernised worldviews.

This urgent need to restrict outside influences (“foreigners are not allowed to organize or speak at the events”) is also an unsatisfying explanation for the new changes in law because Singaporeans are leading increasingly interconnected and transnational lives. Democratic ideals travel across the world through mainstream and social media outlets. We lived through the events that led to the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defence of Marriage Act in the US in 2015, just as how we witnessed the Taiwanese’s high court’s ruling that brought same-sex marriage to its legal fruition this May. These historic events do not exist in social vacuums; we hear about them and they have the power to shape how we understand and navigate our world. Moreover, in this day and age, websites such as Netflix and YouTube grant us instant access to content that expose us to the lives of LGBTQs and the sexual activism that is happening all around the world. This global diffusion of narratives, values and knowledge have happened, is happening and will continue to happen, whether the Singapore government likes it or not. Banning foreign speakers and participants from an LGBTQ rights event for the fear that they would transmit un-Singaporean values to its attendees should be the least of the State’s concerns.

Singapore prides itself for being a diverse and multicultural nation, oftentimes flaunting its cosmopolitanism as a means to legitimise its position in the global arena. An international city puts people of all creeds and citizenship into constant social intercourse, facilitating the formation of friendships and partnerships between citizens and non-citizens. Singaporeans befriend and date folks who are non-citizens—this is a social fact that could not get anymore mundane. However, under the new Public Order Act, couples, families and friends with mixed citizenship status will be unable to attend this year’s Pink Dot together. This laboured and politically-motivated effort to separate particular forms of social union poignantly points to the reality that underpins the need for Pink Dot’s existence, where notions of “freedom” and “love” have yet to transcend the rigid boundaries of socially constructed categories such as gender, sexuality and incidentally, citizenship.

To sum up—queer politics in Singapore cannot and will never become a purely Singaporean affair because amidst an increasingly cosmopolitan and global world order, it is impossible to trace and defend what one might call an ‘authentically Singaporean ideal.’ In fact, we need to move away from the pursuit of this false sense of pureness by aspiring to become critically aware global citizens (by balancing values and morals from a wide array of cultures and traditions), rather than the static and non-evolving Singaporean our government so desperately wants us to be.

Besides, take a minute to think about what the State just tried to accomplish—by removing foreign involvements, the governing power, as I believe, ventured into slowing down the momentum of Singapore’s first and only LGBTQ movement. This suggests that the State’s imagination of the average Singaporean is someone who is politically apathetic and unsupportive of, or at best, neutral towards the idea of gay rights (‘without foreigners, the movement would fail’). For galvanised Singaporeans, showing up and mobilising is one of the most powerful ways to overcome such an inadequate conception of themselves.

In addition, the idea that only someone with the right documentation can participate in a social movement is not only fundamentally undemocratic, but it sends a disturbing message to non-Singaporeans living in the nation state—that your voices do not matter, and that you do not get to mess with the status quo. Foreigners who disagree with such a treatment should also find meaningful avenues to express their discontent towards this form of exclusionary politics (e.g. voicing your concerns through both online and offline platforms). Regardless of whether this could lead to a tangible change of heart by the government, getting the conversation going is key.

Perhaps a heartening outcome that emerged amidst all of this controversy is that in just under six weeks, more than 100 Singaporean firms have stepped up and committed financial support for this year’s event, a size twenty times larger than last year’s five. According to The Straits Times’, as of early May, Pink Dot organisers have raised a total of $201,000—surpassing their initial target of $150,000. It is important to remember though, that in a country where 30 per cent of the population is made up of foreigners, most domestic firms have foreign representation. Embedded deep within the backing of Singaporean firms lies the support of their non-Singaporean constituents as well.

Online, many overseas Singaporeans have expressed their intentions to return home to attend this year’s Pink Dot (to make up for some lost numbers). I assume that during their time abroad, many of these overseas Singaporeans would have accumulated new cultural values and understandings of democracy. Perhaps their way of navigating the world resembles more closely to the foreigners residing in our country than those who never left. In the eyes of our government, might these individuals also be unworthy of civic engagement in Singapore?

Ultimately, what matters most for us is that when faced with the State’s repeated attempts at redrawing the contours of the Pink Dot, movement organisers and their allies need to fight to ensure that the integrity of the movement is not lost. How the story develops depends less on the shape or size of this one dot, but how many new ones we can inspire as new and imminent waves of activism await us.

Skyler Wang is a PhD student in Sociology at UC Berkeley. Broadly, Skyler’s research foci include sexualities, culture and the global economy. His interest in the sociology of sexualities was sparked by his personal experiences growing up queer in Singapore. He can be reached here.

 

Featured image from Pink Dot SG’s Facebook page.

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Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May waits for the result of the vote in her constituency at the count centre for the general election in Maidenhead, June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

by Sharanya Pillai

DISMAY for Theresa May, as the UK general elections returned a hung parliament today (June 9). The UK Prime Minister’s Conservative Party lost its parliamentary majority after May’s decision for a snap election backfired disastrously. Calls now abound for her resignation.

While the Tories won the most seats, the party is still short of the 326 seats needed for the majority, having lost 26 seats to the opposition Labour Party and five to the Liberal Democrats. Seven frontbencher Tories are out, including Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer, who authored the widely-criticised Tory manifesto.

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The opposition Labour Party meanwhile has had a field day, gaining 31 seats as of 0700 GMT (3pm Singapore time) and nearly wiping out the Tories in London. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has called on May to step down, and pundits are taking bets on whether May will make way for the left-wing political outsider to become PM.

In a hung Parliament, the incumbent PM continues to stay in office while it is decided who will form the next government. May has until June 13 to form a majority coalition to keep herself in power or resign. In 2010, the Tories and Lib Dems formed a coalition government after the elections failed to deliver a clear winner.

Jeremy Corbyn and Labour Party candidate Emily Thornberry gesture at a counting centre. Image by Reuters.

Amid increased political uncertainty, the British pound fell sharply. There are also increased fears over whether the UK will see Brexit through. Former UK Independence Party (Ukip) leader Nigel Farage has voiced alarm that the process is “in jeopardy”. The Ukip, once a leading voice in the push for Brexit, lost all its parliamentary seats in the election.

With chaos over the unexpected result, there’s a strong sense of deja vu. Like former PM David Cameron’s stunning Brexit loss, the election defeat was largely of May’s own making. The PM called for snap elections three years earlier than required, because opinion polls indicated that she outranked Corbyn. After Trump’s unexpected victory in the US elections, it seems like pre-election polls have once again blindsided politicians.

Now, May’s own party is turning against her. Anna Soubry, a senior Tory Member of Parliament, called May’s campaign “dreadful” and said that the PM should “reconsider her position”. Meanwhile, May has refused to resign, reiterating her pledge to bring “stability for the nation”.

 

Featured image by Reuters.

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WANTED for robbery, David James Roach may finally be serving time behind bars – but not for the reason one might expect. The suspect in the Standard Chartered bank robbery was sentenced to 14 months in prison for money laundering by a Thailand criminal court yesterday (June 6).

The 28-year-old Canadian was charged for failing to declare cash worth over US$20,000 to the customs – for which he was sentenced to a year in prison. He was sentenced to another year for money laundering and four months for violating the foreign exchange act. The sentences were to run consecutively.

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However, Roach’s sentence was halved because he confessed to those charges. And the Singapore robbery case continues to hang in balance. According to The Bangkok Post, Roach’s lawyer said that his client only confessed to money laundering, and not to the robbery.

Roach has till July 6 to appeal the Thai court’s decision. Meanwhile, he is being held in the Klong Prem Central Prison in Bangkok. He has been in prison for about a year.

It’s been nearly a year since the robbery and now the question is: Will Roach be extradited back to Singapore after his sentence? Thai authorities declined to extradite when they first arrested him.

On July 7 last year, Roach allegedly walked into a StanChart branch in Holland Village, handed the teller a piece of paper which reportedly said “This is a robbery, I have a weapon, give me money, don’t call the police”, and made off with over $30,000. 

On the same day, Roach fled to Bangkok, Thailand. Just two days later, on July 9, he was caught by the Royal Thai Police. But Singapore’s requests for assistance to extradite Roach were rejected by the Thai authorities, as the two countries do not have an extradition treaty. The Attorney General’s Office of Thailand commented that it was “not in a position to consider” extradition, without elaborating.

The Canadian government had then requested the Thai immigration police to deport Roach back to his home country. Singapore also does not have an extradition treaty with Canada.

If found guilty of robbery in a Singapore criminal court, Roach could face up to ten years jail and six strokes of the cane under Section 392 of the Penal Code. If found guilty of possessing a firearm or offensive weapon, he could be jailed for up to three years under the Arms Offences Act and Corrosive and Explosive Substances and Offensive Weapons Act.

He’s now in for 14 months. Maybe that’s just the start of it.

 

Featured image by Najeer Yusof.

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Bertha in coffee shop

by Bertha Henson and Sharanya Pillai

A WEEK after he returned home to Singapore for his university vacation, the sky fell on Shrey Bhargava. After what can be described as a “bad day at work’’ (my words), he took to Facebook to rant about his experience with an audition for a part in Ah Boys to Men 4, found support and sympathy among his friends – and decided to make his post public.

“I never thought it would go viral,’’ he said. But with the thousands of “likes’’ came the brickbats, smeared with heinous racist comments, which almost sent him into a depressive spiral. His girlfriend and family members took to banning him from looking at his Facebook account for a while, to shield him from the harsher barbs.

Then he got an invitation to lim kopi with the police. He and his family spent a couple of days worrying that he might have landed on the wrong side of the Sedition Act or other laws, for starting a conversation that was proving so divisive.  It turned out all right. You can read it here

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Sitting across me at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf outlet in Century Square on Friday (Jun 2) night, there was no sign that the incident was getting him down. In fact, he seemed energised. He was sparking a conversation that he said had to be held: the casual racism that minorities experience all their lives. Not that the majority Chinese were deliberately racist, he caveated quickly, they were just oblivious to the impact of their words and actions.

Mr Bhargava is 22 years old, a first-generation Singaporean whose parents hailed from north India. He is studying at the University of Southern California, and plans, he made it plain, to be an artiste who means to put up a “mirror to society’’.

Online, he is crossing swords with the likes of blogger Xiaxue, the crew associated with the Jack Neo film, and those who thought he was being overly sensitive about being asked to act “more Indian’’ and to put on a thicker Indian accent because this would raise more laughs.

He was derided as an appuneneh, told to “go back to India’’, quit acting and flip prata – and those were just the milder versions. He quipped that he would be a rich man if there was a dollar for every prata remark levelled at him.

We had a long tangle about his original post, trying to pin down the key reason for his angst. I suggested that people were attacking him on several fronts, on his past, authentic accents, the right of movie producers and so forth, because his post could be read in many different ways. He concedes that he should have been more temperate, instead of using words like “disgusted’’ in his post. But, hey, he never intended it to go viral! 

But because of the reactions he had received, he had been trying to dissect his own feelings – why he felt what he felt. It came down to this: He was upset that a non-Indian casting director had assumed that she knew more about what makes an Indian “more Indian’’ and decided that it was a “thick Indian accent’’. He was told to project this image in a big budget movie, which wasn’t even in line with the thoroughly Singlish script he was asked to read. Worse, he was told to make it ‘’funny’’.

So, it would be okay if an Indian casting director suggested this? He initially said it would be a little more acceptable, before adding later that an Indian wouldn’t even have asked for such a portrayal, having been at the receiving end of casual racism himself. The casting director simply did not think twice that what she was telling an Indian could be derogatory.

The premise of the film also matters, he said: “NS is a very Singaporean topic. (For) a film that has that sort of responsibility to then use words or phrases like ‘be more Indian’ so casually in an audition is necessarily problematic.”

He thinks that the Chinese were upset by his post because they believed they were being called out as “racist’’ and hence, “bad’’ people. This was not the case, he said; they just didn’t know better. They would recognise the impact, however, if they had lived abroad and become members of a minority community. In other words, an “outsider’’. The majority everywhere have always enjoyed the privilege of being secure in their identity, he added.

So you are asking for everyone to be more politically correct, especially in the way the Chinese majority interact with the minorities? He prefers to describe it as a heightened awareness of their words and actions.

The responses to his post were proof enough of their ignorance. They just couldn’t understand why he was upset because they never had to experience life as a minority member.

“I’ve got a ton of really nasty remarks that have served to prove my point that this is a problem,” he said.

“Personally, that demoralised me a lot. But for each message I got like that, I got 10 messages from Chinese and non-Chinese friends, teachers and mentors who have poured their support for me.”

He thought people who said he should “just act’’ know nothing about the meaning of being an artiste. While movie-makers have the right to cast roles whichever way they please, actors themselves could start trying to influence the portrayals of ethnic groups.

The Mind Your Language days were so 70s, he said. People have moved on and expect to see more diverse experiences.

His is the confidence and idealism of youth, who hope for a race-blind society and a media environment which stops caricaturing races and therefore, embedding these stereotypes even further. He thinks this will be achieved with a more vocal and more informed younger generation. This, notwithstanding “institutionalised’’ or structural racism like the CMIO categories and the reserved elected presidency.

“Since young, it’s somehow embedded in you that you are defined by your race. This is a structural problem that is ingrained and takes years to change,” he said, and wondered aloud if we could imagine a Singapore without the CMIO racial categories.

We decided not to go there because, among other things, we’d be stuck overnight at the café.

What about the standup comedy routine in which he caricatured Indians, which Xiaxue said showed him to be a hypocrite? He held forth on how most comedians make fun of themselves. In any case, it was his first comedy routine done while he was in junior college. He was young and regretted the act as soon as he performed it.

What about his Arab journalist character in one episode of The Noose? He said he was trying to “satirise a stereotype’’– that Arabs cannot run away from the perception that they are terrorists, despite earnest attempts to do good. “Cheem,’’ I said.

What does this episode do for his acting future?

He acknowledged that his bridges had been burnt with the companies associated with ABTM4, such as J Team Productions. But the reach of his post has made him known to a wider network. He had been getting messages of support, including from a filmmaker based in the United States.

I wondered about how different this young man was compared to many others his age I’ve had contact with in university. Mr Bhargava was never at a loss for words. His responses came quick. He could see that the issue was a big one but never shied away from saying his piece with aplomb.

Perhaps, it was because unlike most other young Singaporeans, he’s a first-generation Singaporean, unfettered by the experience of past generations who grew up in a minority setting.

His parents, he said, were amazed at the racist comments directed at him. They themselves were never subjected to such barbs, given that they belonged to the majority community in India.

He said that as a first-generation Singaporean, it may take a “smaller threshold” for him to speak out against casual racism than a Singaporean Indian “who’s had generations ahead of him”.

“Maybe as they are growing up, the grandparents might be like, this happens, just learn to deal with it,” he said.

Years of co-mingling with other races might have led to the minorities resigning themselves to the slights and comments directed at them. But – why should they?

I suggested tentatively the idea that talking about race could pose law and order problems. He caught on immediately and said fears of racial riots such as what happened in the 1960s were part of Singapore’s “post-traumatic stress syndrome’’. He wouldn’t be drawn into saying whether tempers would result in violence, but asked if the alternative of staying mum was any better.

He added: “Just because [racism] has existed for a long time, or generations of Singaporean Malays and Indians have internalised this as something that will exist or have a defeatist attitude to just deal with it – does that make it okay for it to exist?”

Two hours later, and Mr Shrey Bhargava looks like he could go on forever. What was a personal post about a bad day at work had led him to explore the multi-faceted aspects of racism. He was eager to continue the conversation and I had to keep saying that I was more than twice his age and needed sleep.

Yes, we could talk about race forever. It’s a never-ending story for Singapore.

 

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Kok Wei Liang

THERE is gaynger in Singapore. That’s “gay danger”, to any uninitiated straight people.

I am writing this in the painful seclusion of my room, shunned by friends and frenemies, my hair frizzy and free of product because the assistant at my hairdresser’s refused to blow it out and apply hair wax, my nails chipped and uneven because no manicure bar will have me anymore.

In light of a recent post on Facebook about how “young punk” cafes are serving gay cake disguised as rainbow cake, I thought it would be a good idea to tell the public what gay cake actually is.

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The Gay Overlords disagree.

I visited them at Gay Headquarters, during Gay Communal Hours, when all the straight people of Singapore were soundly asleep, dreaming of contributing to society in productive ways. The Gay Overlords do not think my exposé will be useful in furthering the Gay Agenda. They even refused to accept the favour baskets I prepared for them, of homemade his-and-his coconut oil shaving gel with flakes of avocado butter. That is how I know they meant business.

I can tell that the repercussions from this perceived act of treason will shake the LGBT Underworld for years to come. But I will not be silenced.

Here is how to make gay cake.

You will need six ingredients. The post on We are against Pinkdot in Singapore got that much right.

True rainbow cakes have seven layers, like the seven layers of a rainbow. Gay cake has six layers, because of our favourite sex act – the 6.

In the 69, you 6 me and I 9 you, but in the 6, you 6 me and I fall asleep. Show me a gay man who doesn’t love the 6, and I will show you a liar.

1. Vanilla-scented candle.

2. Almond milk. If you cannot squeeze the juice from the nuts yourself, store-bought is fine.

3. A photo of something really gay. My go-to is of the man with the gayest job in the world – the Pope. I like using the one where he wears jewellery.

4. Twinkies.

5. Ice.

6. Music by a certified gay icon. Here is an alphabetical list of acceptable icons: Beyonce, Cher, Donna Summer, Kylie Minogue, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Queens of the Stone Age. You may, in a pinch, resort to Elton John, but your cake will turn out a little bitchy.

Mix the first five ingredients in the gay bowl. That’s whichever bowl held all the condoms at your last gay party.

Blare the music from your certified gay icon to your mixture. The volume should make your batter rise and harden.

Cut the resultant hardened mixture into little pieces. It is recommended that they be cut into little round blocks so as to not arouse suspicion, but other shapes will not actually affect the efficacy of the cake.

Find a public male restroom. Place the cake in a urinal. Wait for a straight man to piss on it. It will turn him gay.

Caution:
Do not let gay men piss on this cake, that’s how we got whatever Milo Yiannopoulos is.
Do not let children piss on this cake, that’s how we got Justin Bieber.
Will make bisexual men hungry for brunch.
DO NOT EAT THIS CAKE.

 

Kok Wei Liang does not want you to know anything about him, because he likes anonymity when he does standup and slam poetry.

 

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skillsfuture_300x250

By Suhaile Md and Johannes Tjendro

WHEN the National Wages Council (NWC) sets wage guidelines, do you reckon that bosses will fall in line?

In 2015, when the NWC suggested that workers who earned less than $1,100 have their basic monthly wage increase by $60, 18.5 per cent of bosses did so. Last year, when instead of a fixed number it suggested an increase of between $50 and $65, a slightly higher number of employers did so – 21.2 per cent. In total, there are now 92,400 workers earning less than $1,100 a month, according to the Manpower ministry.

Yesterday (May 31), the NWC said that it wants what it calls the threshold salary to be raised to $1,200 a month. What this means is that another 40,700 people would fall into what it considers the low wage bracket. The NWC had done its sums and suggested a pay rise of $45 to $60 to lift up this group at the margin.

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Except that the economy isn’t doing as well as before. And there hasn’t been any extension of the mandatory Progressive Wage Model (PWM) from the cleaning, landscaping and security sectors to other sectors. The PWM was introduced over the last two years to these three sectors as they make up a majority (72 per cent) of outsourced workers, which was identified as a vulnerable group. Under the PWM, employers are obliged to stick to a minimum wage for the lowest rung employees. It also keeps workers on a wage ladder that allows incomes to increase with the acquisition of skills and experience.

It is clear that, being mandatory, the PWM has had an impact on the take-up rate of NWC guideline. The take-up rate by employers of low wage workers in outsourced work was 48.5 per cent, more than double the 21.2 per cent take-up rate by employers of all workers. Even the 21.2 per cent figure has a caveat. Since the NWC includes employers who are bound by the PWM when accounting for the number of employers who took up NWC guideline, the number of bosses who voluntarily adopts the recommendations is actually lower than the 21.2 per cent.

NWC chooses to look not at employer numbers but worker numbers. Since introducing the wage increments in 2012, the number of workers earning up to $1,000 has more than halved, said Mr Melvin Yong, Executive Secretary of the National Transport Workers’ Union (NTWU) and member of the NWC. And after NWC  “raised the wage threshold to $1,100”, the number of workers earning less than $1,100 “dropped by about 30 per cent”, he added.

The number of employers who took up NWC guidelines increased by 2.7 percentage points (18.5 per cent to 21.2 per cent) from 2015 to 2016. NWC attributed this rise to a change in its suggested wage increment from a fixed value of $60 in 2015, to a range between $50 and $65 in 2016. NWC said that the greater flexibility provided by the range encouraged employers to adopt its guidelines.

The range however was lowered yesterday to between $45 and $60 to account for the “uneven business conditions” and structural changes in the economy, said NWC. The lower range makes it more manageable for employers who will then be encouraged to implement the pay rise, said Dr Robert Yap, President of the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) and member of the NWC.

Nothing much was said about the effect of rising wages on unemployment numbers, which had gone up to 3 per cent last year, the highest since 2010. The unemployment rate stood at 2.3 per cent as of March this year. Dr Yap did note that real wage increases outstripped productivity growth in the last 10 years. In the past, economists have said that “wage growth that outstrips labour productivity growth translates into declining profit margins, business closures, and layoff of workers.”

Neither was anything said about the plight of Professionals, Managers, Executives, and Technicians (PMETs), who had a higher share of those who were laid off last year. The higher share could be attributed to the fact that PMETs are more badly affected by skills mismatch due to ongoing structural changes in the economy.

Or perhaps there is simply greater demand for non-PMETs, such as cleaners and security guards, than PMETs. Whichever the reason, NWC’s silence about PMETs represents its continued determination to focus on low wage workers.

 

Featured image by Flickr user Bernard Spragg. CCO 1.0

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