Sunday, May 20, 2012

Who will stand up for Singapore? SCDF fire fighters douse flames in real world; syndicate of discontent fans flames in cyber world

If some Singaporeans find it so tiresome living in the Lion City, it's a fair bet they won't die for it either.

The chorus of discontent from (mostly) unnamed voices in the cyber world must make sobering reading for defence and security professionals tasked with making Singaporeans feel that this city state is a place they can truly call home.

Visit any discussion site on Singaporean affairs and you will find it doesn't take long for the topic du jour to develop into yet another bout of Establishment bashing. Before anyone concludes that nothing seems right for these commentators or that this island nation is on the brink of a social implosion, it is worth remembering that trolls are not unique to Singaporean affairs nor are these trolls any less vicious on websites elsewhere.

This past week, a news portal reported a collision between two United States Navy vessels while refuelling at sea. That story triggered a flood of comments directed at the American military. Not all were objective nor complimentary. Some appeared to be planted on the discussion board as flame bait, which are Internet comments maliciously written to provoke, insult, irritate or hurt another party.

Netizens familiar with US Navy operations and friends of the USN warships involved in the collision, USS Essex and USNS Yukon, also said their piece.

"A routine refueling operation at sea, and due to a steering malfunction, a minor collision occurs.. I've never seen such asinine comments as ones I see here... " Rick, 17 May'12

"I love stories like this as it presents an image, guage (sic) if you will, of the direction of this country and the world. When an article is obvious to the most causal (sic) observer, even those that read with their lips, and I see the comments, then I know where we stand as a nation. An article like this screams to me to reinstate conscription. At least these kids will have to put down their video games, turn off the TV for 2 years, learn responsibility and get a decent education at the same time." - James, Charlotte, North Carolina, 17 May'12

The remark from Rick could also apply to replies directed at all things Singaporean. Toxic comments are not unique to the land of the free as we get our fair share of barbs.

Awas: Foreign Trolls
In this regard, Singaporeans must be mindful that the borderless nature of the cyber world makes it all too easy for anyone, anywhere to plant flame bait. These nameless typists can do their deeds anytime of the day and bitch about any topic. It can even be on blogs about obscure topics, like the blog on lighthouses that seredipitously popped out from nowhere some years ago with an agenda that Singaporeans found suspicious.

Not all netizens are Singaporean or have this country's interests at heart. Some are foreign nationals or foreign talent on their off day out to stir shit. They pepper discussion sites frequented by Singaporeans with flame bait that Singaporeans find irresistible.

We unwittingly fall for such traps, taking a handful of negative comments authored by people you cannot verify to be reflective of an educated society numbering more than three million souls.

Taken to extremes, toxic comments make this country look like it is a socially dysfunctional, morally bankrupt nation run by fools which is on the brink of an Arab Spring-type collapse.

Before we go into overdrive bashing Singapore for all it's worth, give credit when it is due. Learn to be thankful for little mercies that have made tiny Singapore and all its citizens who live on this 20km by 40km  island live and work as a team. We are an anomaly in a precarious region in which nation states are a new concept. We are the smallest, most resource-deprived yet the most economically prosperous in Southeast Asia. No one owes us a living. Yet the jobs we have are coveted by foreigners.

When threatened with water supply restrictions, we put our minds to making our own through desalination or recycling water for industry as NEWater.

When airspace restrictions threatened to clip the wings of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), we took our training elsewhere to places where friends made us feel welcome. Along the way, plans, programmes and procedures for moving RSAF combat and combat support squadrons long distances, at short notice, with or without mission rehearsals, were refined and improved upon. Our Air Force is the only one in SE Asia and one of the few in the world that trains in a range of countries around the world, all this while deployed for operations in exotic airbases near the Gulf of Aden and in Afghanistan.

This globe-trotting readiness proved invaluable when RSAF airpower was tasked for deploy to Indonesia and Thailand to work in partnership with military forces from the TNI and armed forces from the Thai kingdom during the tsunami-relief mission in 2004.

Give credit where it is due
But some netizens are so obsessed with milking political capital from any and every incident in Singapore they fail to give thanks where it is due and make us seem more inept/inadequate than we really are.

The blazes fought by Singapore fire fighters earlier this month (see clipping above) underline the professionalism of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF). But surf to discussions on the incidents in places like Yahoo News and and one gets a sense nothing is ever good enough for these anonymous netizens.

The fact that the SCDF responded to the heartland fires quickly and evacuated residents decisively is lost amid all the net chatter from jabbering netizens falling over themselves to find fault with officialdom.

Town council was slow? How about some good old gotong royong where community self-help is marshalled and deployed to remove real flame bait - in this case discarded furniture that is a fire hazard? Have Singaporeans been so spoiled by years of self-governance we would rather sit in our flats and risk being roasted alive than help ourselves when officialdom is seemingly blase or inefficient?

Who cares that the SCDF has the training, equipment and command and control apparatus that ensures a response time of around eight minutes from the time of activation?

Did anyone credit fire fighters for handling the nocturnal high-rise fires professionally and with zero fatalities among residents and the SCDF personnel who responded to the incidents? Many were full-time National Servicemen. Yet the unnamed voices who condemn NS are possibly the same ones who expect other people's sons to turn out quickly and professionally when they dial for help.

Why do we blindly assume that the SCDF will magically appear when we need them? Without the necessary funding, training, equipment and motivated fire fighters and ambulance personnel, such routine emergency calls could make headlines for the wrong reasons.

One supposes that crediting the Establishment for doing a good job in keeping Singapore's fire and rescue services at the cutting edge is too much to ask from certain netizens.

And so, despite the successes in urban fire fighting, we hear hardly a word of thanks from netizens. Not a squeak.

Just as the Home Team hardly earns credit for its professionalism, the thousands of professionals who toil to ensure we receive clean water drinkable from the tap, sewers that work and household and industrial rubbish is cleared and disposed of despite land constraints (it takes forward planning to develop infrastructure like the Semakau landfill and incinerator plants) are taken for granted.

Also swept under the carpet are efforts to help our various racial and religious groups - bloodied at one time or another in our short history through racial riots - integrate and live in harmony.

Alas, nothing on this Little Red Dot is good enough for some people. Every fault - man-made or act of nature - is blamed on the Establishment. Certain netizens love nothing more than using the (supposed) anonymity of the Internet to share their bigoted, politically-inspired, self-serving and unsubstantiated points of view to one and all.

It is so easy for the syndicate of discontent to complain and gripe about everyday issues, making this island nation appear to be one of the most angst-ridden and pitiful countries on this planet to live in. This negative mindset poisons Singaporean society, making us overlook successes and positive aspects of life here that other societies hanker for and may never achieve.

The worst sorts are those who cannot or refuse to see the positive aspects of Singaporean society while constantly bleating about life's ills, challenges and misfortunes which are neither uniquely Singaporean nor absent in other developed societies. Constructive feedback isn't in their dictionary.

To be sure, there are some Singaporeans who are tired of this place because living in a city state is just not for them. These are the ones beyond help of any National Education campaign. No amount of National Day sing-alongs, fancy fireworks displays or heart-to-heart chats will anchor a person if his/her heart is set on migrating elsewhere. If these souls feel constrained by Singapore's limited land area, urban density, hot and humid weather, perceived lack of job opportunities or growth potential and prefer the beautiful four seasons, wide open spaces of a foreign land, then nobody should stop such wanderlust.

People movements flow both ways. Some former Singaporeans will discover the hard way that school systems in other countries have their fair share of challenges. Others will find that religious tolerance and racial tolerance are not one and the same. Yet others will fail to find their dream job and learn why personalities like Eduardo Saverin moved from the US to this maligned little island (his move here is worth a blog entry on predatory FTs).

Our island nation isn't perfect. Which social or political system is?

But if we ourselves fail or do not want to stand up for Singapore, who will?


Anonymous said...

Yes, we should acknowledge the positives and yet when we see the direction Singapore is heading and compare the increasing number of social ills, inequality, policy failures, I guess we can only be thankful for the "little mercies". Oh yes, we are still doing better than our neighbors but we are closing the gap.

Blockhead said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Void Deck said...

Nice one. Mindless mob + trendy to be anti-establishment without knowing facts and weighing seriously opposing views = dumb troll comments.

And sometimes those who offer moderate views are then labelled as establishment cronies. Heh

Anonymous said...

You parlayed it well. Not surprisingly, no one bothers to stand next to you. Just so that you may get discouraged, I can tell you there are still many of us left who share your sentiments, at least I do.

Anonymous said...

The establishment also has its brigade of trolls, liars and logic benders. Too often the actual establishment blatantly takes these views as organic support for itself, its policies and its purposes.

Their views are not always defensible. But anonymous venting online is the only outlet that Singaporeans of different views have for their grievances. The establishment should heed this in mind. To push the limits of patience any further is brinkmanship.

David HL Low said...

Low Hou Loke is still around, from the days of soc.culture.singapore to the original Sintercorn, etc., etc.

Anonymous said...

Funny you didn't mention someone like Gilbert Goh, who once called for a boycott of F&B places that hire foreigners.

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Anonymous said...

Why should we not pass our comments under assumed identities?

Look what Xiaxue did to those who commented on her blog, and their families. There are others like her.

7-8 said...

"Some appeared to be planted on the discussion board as flame bait, which are Internet comments maliciously written to provoke, insult, irritate or hurt another party."

Flaming is "Internet comments maliciously written to provoke, insult, irritate or hurt another party". Flame bait are comments written to induce other people to flame. Know the difference.

I have some respect for our servicemen, especially the hard working ones, those on the front line who step up and provide service to the people of Singapore, or other missions around the world.

That does not change my view that we are spending too much on defence, that the reason why the military is as big as it is is because bureaucrats want to hold on to their turf, or that a military of around half its current size can do its job equally well.

Apparently such a situation also exists in America.