Thursday 31 July 2014

Damned if you ban, damned if you don't

My daughter is very concerned about this.

After the Media Develoment Authority (MDA) banned the gay wedding issue of Archie (which became international news), someone at The Independent website pointed out that there is a gay wedding issue of X-Men which is not banned in Singapore.

According to the website:
The availability of Astonishing X-Men #51 – but not Archie: The Married Life V3 – raises questions over MDA’s review process.
I almost felt sorry for MDA. You ban, people complain. You don't ban, people also complain.

My daughter, who reads the X-Men comics, had earlier also noticed the inconsistency and asked me why one gay wedding comic book was allowed and not another.

I said shhhhhh! She should just be grateful MDA let the X-Men comic through and not make a big fuss about it. Or MDA will ban it.

Unfortunately, unlike my daughter, The Independent didn't come to me first.

When I read The Independent article, I thought the X-Men were going to become the Axed Men. Get it?

But suprisingly, aftr the article came out, MDA didn't ban the X-Men #51. Instead, MDA actually tried to explain why it didn't ban the issue.

Today reported:
An MDA spokesman said: “The issue featured characters who objected to the wedding and this offered a balanced treatment on the issue of gay marriage.”

The spokesman added that there was no breach of content guidelines, “which allow for the balanced depictions of same-sex relationships if they do not encourage or promote alternative lifestyles”.

The statutory board had assessed the X-Men comic in 2012 after receiving public feedback and queries from its importer.

“The MDA takes a holistic view in assessing content and considers all factors, including the context, presentation and language. While themes may seem similar on the surface, depictions and context often vary across different works,” the spokesman said in response to queries from this newspaper.

While some are relieved the X-Men aren't axed, others aren't buying MDA's explanation. As far as they are concerned, MDA is just inconsistent and incompetent.

But now my daughter is upset about another inconsistency.

She complained that if the X-Men gay wedding issue isn't banned, then why can't she find the book in the public library?

The obvious answer is that, as the gay penguins book saga demonstrated, the National Library Board (NLB) may decide not to stock certain titles even though they're not banned by MDA.

I guess NLB doesn't take "a holistic view in assessing content and considers all factors, including the context, presentation and language".

But that is little consolation for my daughter who has borrowed from the library and read the X-Men issues before and after the mutant gay wedding issue, and now there's a gap in the storyline for her.

Of course, I could offer to buy her the missing issue from the bookstore, but then I'm too much of a cheapskate. Kinokuniya is selling the book for about $24.

These gay weddings can get pretty expensive.

I should just be grateful she doesn't read Archie.

EARLIER: Germany had Nazis, we have... NLB?

Sunday 27 July 2014

How to help more NSmen pass IPPT: Learn from CPF

Dear Chief of Army,


I mean, good morning, sir!

Or good afternoon, sir!

I don’t know what time you’re reading this, sir!

You don’t know me. I “retired” from national service eight years ago after turning 40.

I just want to write you about the new Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) format you unveiled last week.

As you may know, the response has been mixed. I, too, am not sure how I feel about it.

On the one hand, as a former NSman, I feel cheated. Why didn’t you all introduce this “simpler” IPPT format earlier?

Like maybe 30 years ago, before I enlisted.

You know how much I suffered as a recruit because of the chin-ups?

I can still remember the rusty chin-up bar outside our barrack on Pulau Tekong.

And when I say “rusty”, I don’t mean like a nice even coat of rust.

I’m talking about gnarly barnacle-like growths of rust that cut into the palms of your hands as you gripped the bar to pull yourself up.

So the number of chin-ups you could do was determined not so much by your upper body strength but by how long you can endure the pain caused by the hand-eating rust barnacles.

And now you’re dropping chin-ups from the IPPT, along with the broad jump and the shuttle run.

Is that fair? Shouldn’t the younger generation suffer like we did?

On the other hand, as a father of a teenage boy who will be enlisting in a couple of years, I’m relieved he won’t have to suffer like I did.

And I want to thank you for that.

You’ve said that the main aim for the change in the IPPT was “to have a simpler format” that NSmen “can train for”.

What I take that to mean is that you’re sick of so many NSmen failing their IPPT.

(And NSmen are also sick of having to go for remedial training after failing their IPPT.)

The hope is that the new format will reduce the number. I have a suggestion to help reduce the number even further.

One problem many NSmen have with the IPPT is that the older they get, the harder it is to pass.

You have compensated for this by lowering the passing criteria for older NSmen.

But that may not be enough.

My suggestion is to make the IPPT like the Central Provident Fund.

No, I don’t mean organise a forum on the IPPT where the finance minister is interrogated by a blogger who is being sued for defamation by the prime minister.

And I also don’t mean make the IPPT scoring system so complex and difficult to understand like the CPF because you’ve already done that.

Kidding! The new IPPT scoring system is much easier to figure out than the CPF – but that’s what I want to change.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but in the new system, to pass the IPPT, you need a total of at least 51 points with at least one point from each of the three IPPT stations.

The maximum points you can get is 50 points from the 2.4km run and 25 points each from push-ups and sit-ups, making it a total of 100 points.

When you’re young, you’re likely to exceed 51 points easily.

But as you grow older, the points get harder to come by.

So my idea is that when you’re in your 20s, you can set aside a percentage of your excess IPPT points in what I shall call the Central Points Fund.

The purpose is to save these points to help you pass your IPPT in your old age.

And when I say old age, I mean after you hit 30.

So when you’re 30 years old, you can withdraw from the Central Points Fund – but only if you have reached the Minimum Sum to be set by a secret IPPT committee.

This will incentivise you to earn more IPPT points when you are in your 20s to ensure that you will reach the Minimum Sum (which will be raised every few years to keep up with inflation).

Of course, you don’t have to withdraw from your Central Points Fund after hitting 30 if you don’t need to.

In fact, you’re encouraged to leave your IPPT points in the Central Points Fund so that they can earn interest, which is pegged to the prevailing market rate.

This will also prevent you from squandering your points on gambling and a second family in Batam.

But rest assured that these are your IPPT points. The Government can’t take them away and invest them in another army in another country.

And when you die, you can even leave the points to your sons to help them pass their IPPT during their NS. (If you have only daughters, too bad. Maybe they’ll sign on.)

The only thing you can’t do with your IPPT points is use them to pay for a flat or pay medical bills. Okay, two things.

But what is important is that with this Central Points Fund scheme, I believe we can further reduce the number of NSmen failing their IPPT, especially the older ones.

Thank you, sir, for considering this humble suggestion I have offered.

It’s the least I can do after you’ve saved my son from the hand-eating chin-up bar.

Yours sincerely,
S M Ong

- Published in The New Paper, 27 July 2014

EARLIER: 2.4 to become 3.2? I couldn’t even run 1.5km

Sunday 20 July 2014

Germany had Nazis, we have... NLB?


That was the one-word headline for The New Paper report about Germany rolling over Brazil 7-1 in the World Cup semi-final over a week ago.

I almost felt sorry for Germans despite their victory.

It has been almost 70 years since the end of World War II and we are still referencing a military tactic Nazi Germany used during the war.

That’s barely a hop, skip and a panzer division from evoking Hitler again. Tanks for the memories, Fräulein.

And evoking Hitler is something you don’t want to do or you may be forced to apologise like Malaysian politician Bung Mokhtar Radin did. That’s the guy who tweeted “WELL DONE.. BRAVO... LONG LIVE HITLER” after Germany’s semi-final blitzkrieg.

Everyone knows who Hitler is. I don’t even have to mention his first name. He’s like Shakira. One name is enough.

But I wonder how many non-World War II history buffs really know what a “blitzkrieg” is, apart from it sounding German.

If I put a bayonet to your head and force you to name things associated with Germany, maybe you’ll come up with Oktoberfest and a few car brands.

But the first thing that comes to mind will always be Nazis. And no amount of beer and fahrvergnügen can wash that away. By the way, I don’t recommend mixing those two together.

Like Germany, Singapore has a similar image problem. Both are perceived to be cold and efficient.

At least they have Oktoberfest. What do we have? ZoukOut? Not any more if Zouk closes down.

But Singapore is famous for really just two things – caning people and banning chewing gum. (Sorry, Merlion.)

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the caning of Michael Fay.

It has been two decades since Singapore made international news by giving the US teen four strokes of the rattan for spray-painting a few cars and other offences, but the rep stuck.

Even Weird Al Yankovic, who just released a new album and a bunch of viral videos last week, dedicated a whole verse to the incident complete with caning sound effect in a song called Headline News back in 1994.

There’s a new music video called Singapore & Malaysia by Asian-American comedy duo Fung Bros where our country is introduced as “In Singapore, caning is a widely used legal form of punishment” and someone sings, “Heard they can’t chew gum.”

The rest of the video is mostly about food and plays like an extended commercial for Ayam brand.

Like the video, we like to tell people that chewing gum is not actually banned in Singapore, although the import of chewing gum is (with certain exceptions), but such nuance is usually lost on the rest of the world.

We may not be Nazi nazis, but we’re nazis against graffiti and chewing gum.

But lately, Singapore has also become well-known for other things after making international news at least three different times in the last two weeks.

First was the anti-gambling ad where the kid’s dad clairvoyantly bet the kid’s savings on the eventual winner of the World Cup.

Then came the National Library Board (NLB) saying it will pulp withdrawn copies of the gay penguins children’s book And Tango Makes Three.

And finally, news of the Media Development Authority banning the gay wedding Archie comic book last week makes three.

So in the eyes of the world, we’re no longer just nazis against graffiti and chewing gum. We’re also nazis against publications with gay stuff who happen to have an awkward penchant for predicting World Cup winners in our anti-gambling ads.

I was a little upset that a panel called Humour Is Serious Business at the Central Public Library was cancelled last Sunday after the participating writers pulled out in protest of NLB removing the books.

Why wasn’t I invited to be on the panel? I was very available.

Do you see the prominent orange word in all caps at the top left corner of this page you’re reading?

What does it say? That’s right – “HUMOUR”.

So I think I’m more than qualified to be on a panel called Humour Is Serious Business.

I’m going to boycott NLB just for not inviting me.

No, on second thought, I’m going to borrow a random book from the library, return it a day late and to top it off, not pay the 15-cent fine. That’ll teach ’em.

I’m sorry if it may appear like I’m going all nazi on the library, but my feelings have been hurt and you just can’t unring the gay wedding bells.

So what if NLB has now said it won’t destroy the books and will reinstate them in the adult section?

All the world will remember is, there goes Singapore again, banning more shit.

Last Tango In Paris was banned. And Tango Makes Three was withdrawn. Is Tango & Cash next?

(That’s the 80s movie where Sylvester Stallone wears glasses to look smart.)

We’re just gay for banning stuff.

Let’s say against all odds and reality, Singapore makes it to the World Cup in four years and beats Brazil 10-0, what do you think the headlines in foreign newspapers would be?

How about “Singapore ban Brazil from goal”?

Or maybe just one word.


- Published in The New Paper, 20 July 2014

Monday 14 July 2014

Sorry, World Cup fans, today is not a holiday

This picture surfaced online yesterday.

The message reads:
My fellow Singaporeans, I Tony Tan Keng Yam, President of the Republic is declaring a Public Holiday on the 14 July 2014 to allow Singaporeans to have a chance of watching the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina.

At the same time, this allows all Singaporeans to bond with their family members, neighbour and friends to make Singapore a much more bonded society. I have discussed this with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and he agreed with me. With that, all Government offices will be closed on 14 July 2014. I wish you all a happy holiday.

Best regards,
Tony Tan
President of the Republic of Singapore
I believe some Singaporeans believed this to be the real thing. I'm sure many wish it were.

I'll go out on a limb here and say it's not.

But I guess Andy's father can give himself a holiday.

As a result of this picture, my last blog post about schools starting later today because of the World Cup final has received about 3,000 page views from people googling "tony tan keng yam declare public holiday today", "14 july singapore holiday" and other variations.

A screen cap of my stats is below:

As you can see, someone even searched "malaysia world cup public holiday".

Please disregard the two hits for "ann kok porn".

The President's Office has since released this statement:
It has come to our attention that there is a letter circulating on mobile and online platforms in the name of President Tony Tan Keng Yam declaring today (July 14) a public holiday. We would like to clarify that the President’s Office did not issue such a letter.

Public holidays are announced by the Ministry of Manpower...
Well, at least now that the World Cup is over, we can stop cheering on foreign talent and focus on celebrating ourselves for National Day.

And go back to arguing over gay penguins.

EARLIER: World Cup final: Late school start is for Andy or Andy's dad?

Sunday 13 July 2014

World Cup final: Late school start for Andy... or Andy's dad?

On Thursday, I received this SMS from my daughter’s secondary school:
“All students are to report to school at 8.45 a.m. on 14/07/2014 (Monday) as SDL will be cancelled in view of the World Cup Final.”
The message raised a few questions.

So I asked my daughter.

What does SDL stand for?

She said Self-Directed Learning, which means a period where students are given worksheets to do.

What time does she usually have to be in school on Mondays? She said 7.55am.

So school will start 50 minutes later “in view of the World Cup”? It makes the World Cup sound like the equivalent of an MRT breakdown.

Hey, since people are going to be late anyway because of the cup final, which kicks off at 3am Singapore time, let’s plan for it. Let’s just cancel the first period.

But why should our children’s education be compromised because of a sporting event that we don’t even have a stake in?

It’s not like it’s a cup final between Singapore and Malaysia. If we were to beat Malaysia, I would even understand if the Ministry of Education declared the next day a school holiday.

But it’s a final between Argentina and Germany... oh, I know who has a stake in the match.

Andy and his father.

At this point, it seems the whole world knows about Andy and unseen father, who bet Andy's savings on Germany in an ad that is supposed to discourage gambling.

The month-old National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) ad went viral after Germany brutalised Brazil 7-1 in the World Cup semi-final.

Even US comedian Jimmy Fallon made fun of the ad on The Tonight Show, although wisely, unlike one Malaysian politician, Fallon didn’t make any Hitler jokes.

Some have commented that Fallon mocking the ad made Singapore famous again.

Actually, I watched the whole show and he never mentioned Singapore.

Before bringing up the anti-gambling ad, Fallon was doing a gag about Brazil’s goalkeeper tweeting during the match.

Then the talk show host said:
“Have you seen this? Before the World Cup started, they played this anti-gambling commercial. Gambling addiction is a serious problem. But obviously, they wrote this commercial before yesterday’s game because it doesn’t really make sense anymore.”

Who is “they”?

In this context, viewers were likely to assume that “they” means Brazil since Fallon had just been talking about the Brazilian keeper in Brazil.

The NCPG ad itself doesn’t mention Singapore anywhere.

And if you have never been to Brazil, you might even believe that the kids in the ad are Brazilian.

Maybe I’m loco, but Andy looks vaguely Latino to me. His father could be Ricky Martin.

But then if Andy’s father is Ricky Martin, who is Puerto Rican, then the singer would probably bet all of Andy’s savings on Puerto Rico, not Germany – and Puerto Rico isn’t even in the World Cup.

Then Andy would really have reason to be sad.

Anyway, my point is, Fallon mocking the ad didn’t make Singapore famous again, but it certainly made Fallon famous in Singapore.

While I’m at it, I also want to correct a Facebook comment about the ad by Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck, who posted:
“Germany beat Brazil 7-1! Brazil need to find out what went wrong and I need to find the scriptwriter for the gambling control advertisement.”
I’m sorry, but as a former TV and movie scriptwriter, I can’t let this pass.

While the actors in the ad may be saying lines from a script, the person who wrote the ad is called a copywriter, not a scriptwriter.

This is an important distinction to me because if I had become a copywriter and gone into advertising, I could’ve made more money and afford to become a gambler like Andy’s father, who is probably not Ricky Martin.

So on the one hand, the NCPG ad is telling us to “kick the habit” and “stop problem gambling” by showing a boy lamenting about his father betting on Germany.

On the other hand, my daughter’s school is cancelling a period because of a football match where many fathers could very well be betting on Germany.

Talk about mixed signals.

Actually, it may not be even for the students. My daughter said that when they were asked during assembly how many of them watched the World Cup, the response was “underwhelming”. She suspects that the later reporting time is more for the benefit of the school’s adult staff.

Of course, my daughter’s school is not the only one.

Serangoon Garden Secondary School is delaying its reporting time to 11am tomorrow. Other schools have gone so far as to organise late night screenings of the cup final and sleepovers.

Is this the new community norm?

So there are parents complaining about a children’s book about gay penguins in the library (Fallon should be making fun of Penguin-gate on The Tonight Show soon), but everyone is okay with this?

I think I know why.

One of the toughest jobs as a parent is getting the kids to wake up early every morning to go to school. So the later they can go, the better.

For parents like us, we wish there could be a World Cup final every night.

We don’t even care who wins. Well, as long as we’re not Andy’s father.

But for one night tonight, we’re livin’ la vida loca.

- Pubished in The New Paper, 13 July 2014

UPDATE: Despite this declaration by "President Tony Tan Keng Yam", the day after the World Cup final is not a public holiday. Sorry.

Also, NCPG updated its website after Germany wins World Cup.

Saturday 12 July 2014

Tangled by Tango: What can we learn from the gay penguins?

Maybe National Library Board should just call Arnold Gay to help burn the gay penguins books.

Actually, they may not be gay. Since boy penguins look like girl penguins, they just can't tell which is which among themselves. That has happened to me a couple of times.

To recap, NLB withdrew three children's books, which will be pulped. In protest, a few local writers withdrew from library-related events, which will be pulped.

This has been a PR disaster for NLB, which is in quite a dilemma. Should it be pro-traditional family or should it be pro-not banning stuff?

Either way, you're going to piss some people off. It's lose-lose.

If NLB sticks to its guns (which it has done), at least no one can accuse NLB of flip-flopping.

And it all started because someone named Teo Kai Loon posted this in a Facbook group called We are against Pinkdot in Singapore.

The lesson here is that if you managed to get NLB to get rid of the gay penguins books, don't go bragging about it on Facebook.

Someone else will screen cap your online gloat, share it on the Interwebs and cause NLB so much trouble just for doing what you asked.

That's not nice, is it?

Oh, what a Tango web we weave.

UPDATE: NLB to reinstate two books.

Monday 7 July 2014

Is PM trolling us with this picture?

While some people at Hong Lim Park were calling for his resignation on Saturday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was busy taking goofy pictures like this...


Earlier pictures...

Sunday 6 July 2014

Alamak! I may have objectified women but no award nomination for me

Hi, you may know me as the writer of this column.

What you may not know is that I am also a sub-editor at The New Paper.

What that means, at least in my case, is that I design some of the pages and write the occasional award-winning headline in the paper you’re reading.

About a week and a half ago, I laid out the centrespread about good-looking spectators at the World Cup, such as Korean newscaster Jang Ye Won, who had become an Internet sensation.

Besides a picture of her, I also included pictures of other attractive World Cup spectators on the two pages.

And, yes, they were all women.

But it’s not because I am a male chauvinist pig. I was born in the Year of the Horse.

I tried to find pictures of attractive male spectators in the wires but couldn’t. Granted, being a heterosexual man, I may not be the best judge as to what constitutes an attractive male spectator.

I’m sorry I don’t wear pink. I avoid pastels because they tend to make me look washed out.

Not that I have anything against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and Transformers. Some of my best frenemies are LGBT.

By the way, the new Transformers movie is terrible, but I can’t wait for the next one.

Like Hard Rock Cafe, my motto is “Love all, serve all.

I don’t let my gender and sexual orientation get in the way of my work. I have other biases for that.

Anyway, if you want good-looking men, The New Paper had earlier run a story about “the hottest footballers to watch during the World Cup”.

The list was topped by Portugal player Cristiano Ronaldo, better known in Singapore for the Zinger Double Down Ronaldo Box, Ronaldo Buddy Meal and Ronaldo Feast now at KFC. He’s not only good-looking – he’s finger-lickin’ good too.

I had nothing to do with that story.

So my beautiful spread on the beautiful women of the beautiful game was just to even the score.

To my chagrin, on the day it came out, the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) posted a snapshot of my page on Facebook with the comment:
“Like it if you hate it: Objectification of women emerges at the World Cup, with newspapers and commenters discussing the physical appearance of female newscasters and spectators.”

I was crushed that Aware didn’t compliment my layout.

But Aware is right. Such objectification of women is politically incorrect.

So why didn’t anyone object to the earlier objectification of the footballers?

That is why we need Amare.

But you know the greater irony?

On the same day that Aware called out the objectification of women in The New Paper, the paper also ran a two-page spread on senior Manhunt finalists with pictures of almost a dozen bare-chested men.

Actually, the Manhunt pictures showed even more skin than the World Cup spectators pictures. Objectification to the max, man.

Moobs over boobs, dude. Laddies over ladies, baby. Bros before hos, amigo.

And I laid out that spread too.

Like I said: “Love all, serve all.”

But all Aware cared about was the objectification of its own kind.

So on Thursday, when the association announced that its annual Alamak! Award is back to find “the most annoying, you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me instance of sexism in Singapore” over the past year, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be nominated.

On the one hand, I don’t want to be accused of sexism. On the other hand, it’s an honour just to be nominated.

But to my relief or disappointment, I wasn’t.

The nominees are:
  • Lawyer Suresh Damodara, who in defending a serial rapist, argued that the victims did not suffer “the usual trauma” of rape because they were unconscious after being drugged by the rapist.
  • Budget airline Scoot, which advertised that the airline is “better than your girlfriend” because it “knows when to be quiet” and “always spares a thought for your wallet”.

  • Science Centre Singapore chief executive Lim Tit Meng, who wrote in an e-mail to staff on International Women’s Day:
    “I have my reasons why not many women can have the stature to hold the highest position. One of them is simply about the complex nature of women which challenges them with communication barriers in even understanding their own gender well, let alone having to compete or co-labour with the men at work.”
  • Goldheart Jewellery, which wants women to find “strength” in their “own weakness” presumably by buying jewellery.

Online voting on the Aware website will close on Aug 18 and the “winner” will be announced on Aug 25.

The last time I checked, the Science Centre guy has the most votes.

Considering that Dr Lim is also an associate professor of at the National University of Singapore Department of Biological Science and part of his name refers to a female body part, he should know about the “complex nature of women”.

He has since apologised for the e-mail.

If Dr Lim wins the Alamak! Award, maybe The New Paper will do a story on him and I’ll get to lay out the page.

I want pictures of his moobs.

- Published in The New Paper, 6 July 2014

UPDATE: The Tit man did win the Alamak! Award, but no one cared.

Wednesday 2 July 2014

Me, my selfie stick & why I love it

I bought a selfie stick online from Qoo10 last month for about $8.50 including shipping.

The brand is Monopod.

You need to download a camera timer app on your phone to use it.

The first Instagram I took with the selfie stick is of me in bed with my complete McDonald's Hello Kitty Bubbly World collection.

That shot would not have been possible without the selfie stick.

Of course, I could always ask someone to take the in-bed-with-Hello-Kitty picture for me, but people are so judgey nowadays.

The selfie stick doesn't judge.

One little advice though: Make sure the phone is securely fastened to the selfie stick when you're taking pictures lying down because if the phone falls on your face, it hurts more than usual.

The Monopod also comes in handy when you're celebrating your birthday all by your mono self.

I think I found a new best friend.

That's what I call stick-to-itiveness.