Singapore Censors Push Amendments to Films Act

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The Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore is seeking amendments to the Film Act. Among sundry amendments like classification of video games and clarification of films licensing, the IMDA wishes to ‘enhance’ its investigation and enforcement powers.

To quote from the relevant section:

Today, the Films Act provides IMDA and Police with powers to enter premises without warrant to search for and seize unlawful films. However, for other breaches of the Films Act, such as the distribution or public exhibition of unclassified films, such powers are vested with the Police who assist IMDA with enforcement and investigations. Going forward, the enforcement and investigation for breaches under the Films Act will be taken on by IMDA, and the Police will only be called on when necessary. Accordingly, the Films Act will need to be amended to empower IMDA with
the necessary enforcement and investigation powers to take on this role:

(a) Request any documents and information from any person to investigate a suspected breach of the Films Act or licence conditions.

(b) Enter and inspect, without warrant, any premises and examine any film or advertisement for a film found on the premises.

(c) Dispose of films, equipment or materials that have been seized during enforcement and is unclaimed, forfeited or has to be disposed without returning to the owner; and

(d) Provide for the composition of offences

Nothing good can come from this.

The IMDA develops the media through censorship. All broadcast media in Singapore must be scrutinised by the IMDA before they are allowed to be aired. The IMDA routinely demands cuts and edits from films and television shows that are deemed to be contrary to the public interest (positive depictions of homosexuality, stirring up religious tensions, over-use of dialects), and has banned films, books and TV shows that do not meet its guidelines.

The power to search a home and seize ‘unlawful’ films without warrant is a dangerous power. Section 33 of the Films Act bans the production, distribution and exhibition of ‘party political films’, which are films that cover any political party in Singapore or cover Singapore’s politics. The sole exception are documentaries deemed ‘factual and objective’ by the Political Films Consultative Committee. In practice, almost all films about Singaporean dissidents have been banned with the excuse of being ‘biased’ or ‘distortions of history’, such as Zahari’s 17 Years, To Singapore, With Love and Dr Lim Hock Siew.

Presently, with the police being required to participate in investigation and enforcement actions, citizens can expect a reasonable standard of professionalism, training and legal expertise from the police officers. Citizens will also have access to legal advice, and have the ability to file complaints to the Internal Affairs Office.

Should the amendment pass, the IMDA becomes the judge, jury and executioner. It will have the power to decide who broke the law, how to punish him, and how to dispose of the offending media. There is no Internal Affairs Board to complain to if the IMDA officers abuse their authority, no reasonable expectation that IMDA officers are properly trained to handle search and seizures, and no way to know if citizens will still be allowed legal representation and consultation.

Coupled with the power of warrantless search and seizure, the IMDA will be able to arbitrarily enter a filmmaker’s home, seize his films and dispose of them. From here, it’s a slippery slope towards allowing the IMDA to seize and destroy films that run afoul of its infamous ‘guidelines’, and then to the State being allowed to censor anyone for any reason at all.

This proposed amendment is a step away from rule of law and a step towards rule of bureaucrat. The civil service should not have the power to interpret and enforce the law; that is the province of the judiciary. I must oppose the amendment and suggest the following changes:

  1. Require the IMDA and the police to seek a warrant and justify their decisions before the court prior to embarking on search and seizures.
  2. Require the IMDA and the police to continue working hand-in-hand in investigations and enforcement.
  3. Investigation and enforcement actions shall be limited only to specific instances of criminal behaviour, such as breach of contract, breach of copyright and national security.
  4. Limit the powers of the IMDA to censor films, and by extension all Singaporean media, solely on the grounds of national security–which does not include Singaporean politics or political parties.
  5. Require the judiciary to pass sentences and levy punishments on people who breach the Films Act, instead of empowering the IMDA to impose fines and other penalties.
  6. Abolish Section 33 of the Films Act, enabling filmmakers to produce, distribute and exhibit films about Singaporean politics and politicians.

A healthy society requires the powers of the state to be carefully calibrated against the liberties of the individual to prevent abuses of power. While Singapore has enjoyed a stable, meritocratic and relatively benevolent government to date, we cannot assume that this will continue forever. There must be checks against the power of the government and the bureaucrats to prevent rule by fiat.

I urge all Singaporeans to write in the IMDA, oppose these amendments, and push for greater freedoms and checks on government power.

 

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Marital Rape Laws Expose Men to Abuse

 

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Two days ago, the Straits Times reported an impending review of Singapore’s law on marital rape to “ensure that married women have the same protection against violence as unmarried women”. Singapore’s legal code is built on English Common Law, which includes immunity from prosecution for men who have sex with their wives.

Removal of this immunity would expose the other half of humanity to legal jeopardy and manipulation.

Marriage is the recognition and legitimisation of a relationship between two parties. Marriage is a public, binding and lasting declaration of consent to sexual intercourse. Rape within marriage cannot exist.

The Other Half of the Sky

This review of marital rape is framed as ‘women’s rights’. In other words, it codifies the myth that men are the sole perpetrators of rape and women the sole victims—a myth that Singapore continues to perpetuate by defining rape as a crime committed only by men on women. It sweeps aside men who were coerced to penetrate someone else with their body parts. It exposes married men to false rape accusations and place undue legal burden on them.

The report says:

The Government may be wary that abolishing immunity may lead to false allegations of rape, or open up criminal proceedings that are overly intrusive to families.
But these are issues that can be worked out through consulting various stakeholders.

I am not convinced. Abolishing immunity will lead to false allegations. If a woman feels her husband offended her and wants to spite him, all she has to do is to have sex with him one night and accuse him of marital rape in the morning.

Since the ‘evidence’ states there was sexual contact, the onus is now on the husband to prove that he didn’t rape her or threaten to use violence unless she has sex with him. This is compounded by the fact that Singapore does not have Miranda rights. Suspects only have access to lawyers after the initial interview—and if the police and the public prosecutor decide to press charges, an innocent man is out of luck. It will be tempting for irresponsible police officers to pressure the husband into confessing for a crime he didn’t commit to speedily clear cases and to ‘protect women’. Regardless of what happens, the man will be dragged through the mud.

And if the woman were the manipulative sort, the criminal investigation is all the evidence she needs to file for divorce and a rich alimony.

If a system makes it easy for unscrupulous women to cry rape, it will happen. In America, between 6 to 8% of rape accusations are false. In India, it is 53%. Even if an allegation is proven false, the investigation would have caused great deal of emotional, financial and psychological harm to the accused.

‘Consulting various stakeholders’ is meaningless. The government did not consult stakeholders when formulating the White Paper on Population, its policies on new media, or, indeed, anything it have already made up their mind to achieve. The government may claim it will solicit feedback, but whether it will listen is something else. With the People’s Action Party retaining absolute dominance in Parliament, if the PAP believes something should be law, it will be law, regardless of stakeholders think—and nothing will stop them.

The Question No One Asks

Why do you want to be married to someone you don’t want to have sex with?

This is the question no one is asking about marital rape. Marriage is a partnership involving sexual rights and responsibilities, and holds both parties to uphold their duties of fulfilling the other’s sexual needs and desires. If either party consistently demonstrates an unwillingness to accommodate the other, the partnership is broken. In such a state, there are three legitimate responses: acceptance and adaptation, therapy and reconciliation, or divorce.

If you want the benefits of marriage, you must also fulfil the duties of marriage. If you do not want to fulfil the duties of marriage, then the marriage is over.

Marriage is a lasting declaration of consent. Defining marital rape as a crime opens the possibility of the wife unilaterally deciding to withdraw consent at any time without necessarily informing the husband and exposing him to criminal investigation. This isn’t just irresponsible and unfair; it opens the possibility for abuse.

If a woman no longer consents to have sex with her husband, she should revoke consent through divorce. If a woman believes that her husband is so violent that he will use force to coerce her into sex, then she should either divorce him and seek help, or better yet, not marry him at all. If a woman’s husband insists on having sex with her when she doesn’t feel up to it and she feels it is not right, she should either discuss it with him to resolve the issue, or file for divorce. Instead of abdicating all responsibility to the state, she should exercise it for herself.

Law is Not the Answer

The law is not a first resort. It is the last. Before entering a marriage, the parties involved must be certain that they are both willing to fulfil the other’s sexual needs. If either partner is not, rushing into marriage is a set-up for disaster. If either or both parties no longer wish to meet these obligations within a marriage, and do not wish to compromise or work around it, the responsible thing to do is to file for divorce.

A law that places undue burden on men is a law that will be abused. The law is not a hammer with which to beat the other party into psychological submission, nor to extract benefits from a former husband, nor to spite him. It is reserved for punishing and deterring actual criminals, not to take sides in a domestic dispute.

The answer to the problem of a person coercing his spouse into sex is not more law. It is teaching men and women the responsibilities of marriage and imparting life and relationship skills. It is educating people to recognise abusers and dissuading them from marrying such people. It is reaching out to abuse victims and getting them to leave abusers as quickly as possible.

In other words, it is teaching men and women to be responsible adults.

Amos Yee and the Freedom to Offend

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Yesterday 18-year-old Singaporean Amos Yee was granted asylum in the United States, throwing a spotlight on freedom of speech in Singapore. Judge Samuel Cole called him a “young political dissident”, and the ruling claimed that Yee has a “suffered past persecution” and has a “well-founded fear of future persecution”. Yee has been jailed twice, once in July 2015 and again in September 2016.

A victory for freedom of speech?

Maybe, but it’s a hollow victory indeed.

Yee has spoken no hard truths, fomented no revolutions and started no grassroots movements. He has created no groundbreaking works of art or philosophy or politics, nor has he revealed any government or corporate malfeasance. He has run for no political party and has contributed not one iota to the development of Singapore’s civil society.

Yee is merely a shock jock.

In 2015, Yee released an expletive-filled video praising the death of Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, calling him a ‘totalitarian’ and comparing him unfavourably to Jesus and Mao Zedong.

The government opened investigations into Yee and detained him for 53 days. A family and youth counsellor, Vincent Law, bailed Yee. On May 13 Yee demonstrated his gratitude by falsely accusing Law of molest on Facebook. Yee then claimed he would be present at Bukit Panjang MRT station to speak to the media. The media swallowed the bait hook, line and sinker, and Yee didn’t show up. The following day, he posted another expletive-laden Facebook post laughing at the media, boasting about how he had trolled them.

In 2016, Yee produced and uploaded a picture and two profanity-filled videos insulting Muslims and Christians. Once again, he was arrested, this time for ‘wounding religious feelings’. He was further fined $2000 for failing to show up at a police station twice to give his statement.

Amos Yee is no hero. He has not furthered the cause of democracy and freedom, nor has he contributed meaningfully to society. He is no free thinker or dissident, only an attention-seeking teenager whose only talent lies in offensive speech.

But freedom of speech means the freedom to offend. Wounding ‘feelings’ is no reason to arrest and jail people; down that path lies ritualised self-criticism, the gulags and the killing fields. People like Yee are canaries in the coal mine: when the government squashes the canary it’s a sign that freedom of speech is under fire. If people approve of shock jocks being arrested for spurious reasons, the government will be encouraged to crack down on people with legitimate arguments and different points of view. Free speech must be for everyone, or it applies to no one.

With that said, I don’t see Yee making the most of his second chance.

Yee claims he is now an ‘anarchist communist’ who believes in feminism. He has a known history of turning on people who want to help him, displaying callous disregard for anyone whom he hurts, employing vulgarities in place of cogent argument, and generating content that rely on offensiveness instead of rational thought. When the going gets tough and he’s in trouble, he has no qualms about compromising his principles to save his skin. Anarchist communism calls for abolition of private property, capitalism and the state; but he relied on a state organ to grant him safety, and when he was held in America, he asked for people to give him money to cover his costs instead of doing stuff for him like a proper anarcho-communist. He also claims that he supports free speech but like all good social justice warriors he has no problem with media platforms taking down ‘anti-feminist’ speech.

Yee is an arch-SJW who has doubled down and continues to double down. If Yee won’t change his ways — and I don’t see that happening anytime soon — he’s not going to amount to much.

What about the impact on Singapore?

Singaporean politician Kenneth Jeyaratnam claims that the ruling “may create waves in Singapore. It may show Singaporeans that there’s nothing to be afraid about. The Singapore government is a paper tiger. We don’t have to swallow the brainwashing that is constantly put out.”

Jeyaratnam sure is optimistic. The government has not softened its stance on Yee or hate speech. The police has not signaled any shift in policy, overtly or otherwise. Opposition politicians have not argued for liberalisation of Singapore’s laws on hate speech nor proposed new free speech laws in Parliament. Political bloggers are still free to say what they want, within the blurry boundaries of the law. Citizens still won’t know what are the limits of the law until someone like Yee tests it and is slapped down. Nothing has changed.

Save for one thing.

Amos Yee is America’s problem now.

Image from Yee’s Facebook page

The Ethics of Piracy in the Digital Age

Ebooks, digital downloads, torrents and the Internet have fundamentally altered the nature of commercial transactions, but definitions of ‘piracy’ remains stuck in the 17th century, in the heyday of pirates at sea.

Maritime piracy is clearly evil. Maritime merchant shipping transfers goods from a supplier to a buyer. The supplier expects payment and the buyer expects goods. By attacking ships at sea, pirates deny the buyer his goods. If the buyer doesn’t receive his goods, the supplier either will not receive payment or will lose future customers. Many pirates also take the opportunity to rob the crew and passengers, and sometimes kidnap them for ransom.

Software piracy is far more ambiguous. It is the act of illegally reproducing a work of intellectual property. No physical goods are stolen; rather the original is cloned. No goods are stolen, no payment denied. No middlemen and no innocents are harmed.

The primary argument against digital piracy is lost sales. After copying the IP to physical media, the pirates sell the media at much lower prices. This undercuts the original merchant, translating into lost sales. The pirates are profiting from the creators’ efforts at almost no cost to themselves. The creators are not rewarded for their work, discouraging them from future work.

This argument might be true in the era of CDs, DVDs and printed matter. But that era has passed.

The Reality of Digital Piracy

Torrents and download sites are everywhere. If you have an Internet connection, five minutes on a search engine will turn up plenty of pirate sites. The authorities might squash one or two every now and then, but more will inevitably pop up. The cost of hunting down pirate sites, identifying the owners, obtaining court orders and serving warrants is far greater than setting up anonymous sites and obtaining proxy servers. And there will always be demand for piracy. Further, pirated digital goods — music, movies, games, ebooks — are freely available. There is no reason for consumers to buy pirated material if they can download them from the Internet for free.

The pirates do not normally profit from sales of software. Many pirates do not even sellsoftware to consumers. This indicates that the people who pirate software are people who would not have purchased anything from the creators. No sales are lost. This undercuts the primary argument against piracy.

If no goods are physically stolen, if payments are neither intercepted nor prevented, if no innocents are harmed, is piracy still unethical?

The Ethics of Digital Piracy

Here we see manga in their native habitat: a bookstore in Japan. Many Japanese manga are not translated into English, and will never be. Even if they are, the salacious covers of some of these manga will ensure they will never be imported into my home country. These linguistic and legal barriers will prevent the manga from reaching a wider English-speaking audience.

Enter scanlation groups. These groups scan and translate Japanese manga, posting them online for people to read. While many are amateurs, they provide a service professionals do not or cannot. Most scanlation groups do their work for free, covering their costs from out of pocket. Some will solicit for donations, but only to cover operational costs — including purchasing a legal copy of the original manga to scan and translate.

Scanlation groups make Japanese-language manga available to people who speak different languages free of charge. The author loses no sales; his books were never for sale in those languages to begin with. Nobody is harmed and no profits are made. While this is technically piracy — how does it harm people?

What about goods that are widely available, such as computer games? Here, pirates are consumers who do not want to buy a good at a certain price point. This is an argument for proper price strategy, not anti-piracy measures. This is why many game companies run sales regularly on outlets like Steam and GOG. With that said, we can’t expect publishers to constantly set a price that forces them to make a loss, and there will always be people who will never pay a cent for games.

There is no way to extract profit from people who won’t pay for a digital product. If piracy were not available to them, they would simply not consume the good. Going after these pirates would tend to generate bad press for the company, especially if people think the goods are overpriced. On the other hand, if these pirates are left alone, some of them will inevitably talk about the goods, driving brand awareness. So long as the pirates do not resell their copies for profits or attempt to pass off the creators’ work as their own, they are harming no one. Instead of wasting finite time and resources chasing people who won’t give them money, publishers should instead serve their paying customers and make more products.

Piracy doesn’t just affect publishers; it also undermines state power. In 2007, the Media Development Authority banned Mass Effect in Singapore for portraying same-sex relationships — never mind that the relationship in question was between Commander Shepard (who could be male or female) and Liara T’soni, a monogender alien who appears female to human eyes. Elsewhere, Germany bans anything that depicts Nazism in any form, while Australia has a dim view of games with graphic violence or sexual content.

In those countries, piracy of prohibited content is undoubtedly commonplace. If a product is widely and openly available everywhere but in a consumer’s home country, a consumer who wants the product will seek it out through illegal means. It is simply human nature. Since these goods are already banned in these markets, no sales are lost. On the other hand, the creators’ brand name continues to spread — and it is this brand name that makes or breaks artists. Through piracy, state power is undermined — but this is neither an unmitigated positive nor negative outcome.

Consider that Singapore also bans pornography of all kinds. If you believe that pornography is immoral and harms people, then obvious piracy of pornography weakens the moral fabric of the nation, making it evil. If you believe pornography is harmless, than this ban is excessive and piracy circumvents it.

But piracy is not just about immorality and mindless entertainment, either.

Singapore has banned a number of books, including The Satanic Verses. It is illegal to buy or sell any copies of The Satanic Verses in Singapore. But this book can be found freely on sites like Amazon. Similarly, you can find plenty of material on Amazon that would otherwise be banned elsewhere. Not so coincidentally, the Kindle store is not available in Singapore, making it nearly impossible to purchase many ebooks from the Kindle store. More often than not, if you are Singaporean you can only obtain Kindle-exclusive books through pirate sites.

It is easy to claim that piracy performs a social good by defeating censorship and supporting freedom of speech and expression. But consider this: Singapore is a tiny Chinese-majority nation surrounded by large Muslim-majority neighbours. Race and religion informs practically every political decision Singapore makes. By banning The Satanic Verses, Singapore arguably prevented any possibility of a race and religious riot in Singapore andanti-Singapore protests in Malaysia and Indonesia. If censorship could potentially prevent social disorder and unrest, is it necessarily an undiluted evil?

Beyond questions of state power, there is also the question of the publisher’s power. Many digital products come with some kind of digital rights management software. The idea is to prevent unauthorised use, sales or reproductions of the software. While DRM does a fine job in protecting a publisher’s profits at the point of sale, in practice it harms users past the point of sale.

DRM takes away control of the customer’s computer and degrades software performance. It requires the computer to perform actions not ordered by the customer. Unscrupulous publishers can insert spyware into a consumer’s computer under the guise of DRM, allowing them to gather or destroy the user’s private data. DRM that requires a constant Internet connection, especially to authentication servers, make the software fragile: the moment connection is lost or the servers are shut down, the game is gone for good. Ebook DRMs prevent the user from reading the same ebook on another personally-own device – which can be troublesome if you need to convert an ebook into another format before you can read it.

There is also another aspect of piracy: making old and outdated products available. When books and movies stop being profitable, when software is superseded by new hardware, these products are permanently taken off the market or relegated to distant specialist shops. This does not mean that they have no worth, only that they are no longer profitable to be placed in the market.

Piracy makes these products available to a fresh generation and ensures their continued circulation. Nobody makes a cent from this, but more goods that are no longer in the market are created. For companies that have a long and storied backlist, piracy of no-longer-available products allows their fans to see how far they have gone and introduces new ones to the company. While many companies these days are seeing profit in remastering, converting and re-releasing old products, these companies tend to come from the gaming, music and movie industries. Books, instructional videos and obscure artistes get the short end of the stick.

An Ethical Framework for Piracy

With so many issues to resolve, how does one create an ethical and legal framework to handle piracy?

The fundamental principle must be to do no harm. Laws are broad and uncompromising, and are enforced at the point of a gun. The broader a law, the more innocent people will be swept up into jails and morgues. Restricting laws to the harm principle means the state may only prosecute people who have caused measurable harm to a party.

From a digital piracy perspective, this means that publishers and creators must make a strong case for harm. They must prove that the pirate stole goods and profits. They must prove that the pirates discouraged creators from creating new works. They must prove that the pirates have harmed innocent people. If the pirate has not harmed anyone, they must not be prosecuted. This would mean a legal framework that is strongly in favour of individual liberties, freedom of expression and consumer rights.

As for DRM, the answer is simple: no DRM. If a publisher wants to introduce DRM, the onus is on the publisher to prove that the DRM cannot be used to subvert the user’s computer, will not gather private information, and will not degrade product performance. Any DRM that infringes upon the user’s property rights should be eliminated.

What about the individual? If a specific act of piracy harms no one, as we see in a number of cases, then the question is simply a matter of individual conscience.

Photo Credits:

  1. Mass Effect wallpaper by Suicidebyinsecticide
  2. DRM protest by Electronic Frontier Foundation

More Laws, More Crime

In 1920, the United States passed the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing the production, sale and transportation of alcohol. The next thirteen years saw an upshot in banditry, the rise of organised crime on the backs of alcohol smuggling, gang violence, police corruption and an international alcohol smuggling racket that raked in millions of dollars and became increasingly tolerated by society.

Lawmakers supporting Singapore’s islandwide alcohol ban evidently did not learn the lessons of Prohibition. While this softer Prohibition would not lead to the depravity described above, it would nevertheless make more criminals out of otherwise law-abiding citizens for the most spurious of reasons: complaints about public drunkenness and excessive liquor consumption..

Should the ban pass, alcohol may only be sold from 7 am to 10.30 pm. The reality is that most actual alcohol sales would be restricted from 6.30pm to 10.30pm, at best, for the working week. Most people need to go to work or school, and then travel to the nearest retail outlet when they are finished. Given Singapore’s working culture and traffic conditions a more realistic time frame would be 7.30pm to 10.30pm for the majority of alcohol sales. Even on weekends, alcohol consumption tends to take place in the evening during social gatherings — the new restrictions would force people to purchase alcohol well in advance, hustle to shops before they run out of time, or do without. Retailers might see a shift in alcohol sales patterns to the weekends — or else drop off altogether.

According to the Straits Times, retailers ranging from supermarket chains to convenience stores would potentially see a loss of 20 to 30 percent of their revenue due to this ban. Should the ban pass, retailers would have to contemplate three courses of action: accept the loss in revenue, sharply reduce stock to accommodate the new sales time, and increase prices to make up for reduced income. Large retailers with many in-demand goods like Sheng Shiong and Fairprice might be able to accept the loss of income and make up for it elsewhere; convenience stories, especially mama stores with established reputations, may not.

One of the great flaws of the ban is that it sharply reduces supply without affecting demand. Economics theory predicts that a black market will inevitably arise. To combat this, the government allows retailers to apply for exemptions on a case-by-case basis, both for retailers and for people wishing to organise public events with drinking. The problem is that just about everyone who drinks and sells alcohol anywhere in Singapore would be affected by this ban; this would require the creation of a large bureaucracy to handle the inevitable paperwork and mass appeals, in the form of a Licensing Officer and a Liquor Appeal Board.

One of two things are likely to happen. First, a huge number of people would apply for and be granted exemptions to the act. Secondly, only a fairly small group of retailers, those able to make their case and afford to do so, are granted the exemptions. The first scenario effectively defeats the purpose of the ban, unless its purpose were simply to impoverish retailers, inconvenience citizens and expand the role of the government in everyday life. The second outcome would mean that the unlucky masses whose petitions are rejected would be increasingly dissatisfied with the government and seek workarounds at higher cost to themselves. Retailers, in particular, would have to raise prices if they cannot absorb the loss in revenue. Not just prices of alcohol, but everything else, since the latter now has to yield a greater proportion of income than alcohol for the retailer to remain profitable.

Which would fuel a black market.

The alkie bootlegger’s playbook is almost a century old. They could buy alcohol legally in neighbouring regions, then smuggle them into Singapore. Some retailers, forced to choose between feeding their families or breaking the law, would choose the latter and quietly sell alcohol under the counter to trusted customers past the cut-off time. Other enterprising sorts would legally purchase alcohol from retailers in bulk, then sell it on the streets or in their homes after 10.30pm. There would always be demand, and it is impossible to curb demand by attacking supply.

Even if every single retailer somehow complied with the law, the law still would not address the problem of public disorder caused by drunkenness. Evidently the ones who proposed the bill have no understanding of human nature. None of them contemplated the possibility of someone getting drunk at home or in a pub, then going out and causing trouble on the streets. Nobody ever thought of people going into a pub, buying liquor, and smuggling it out to enjoy outside. Nobody wondered whether people, already drunk, would confuse the boundary between private and public space.

That, or they just did not care.

As a corollary, with new laws on the books, the police now have to take on a greater enforcement burden. They need to study the new laws, be familiar with legislation, figure out new workflows to liaise with the liquor control authorities, inspect and regulate premises, chase black marketeers and wrangle drunks.

The police cannot be everywhere. A police officer deployed to investigate reports of a retailer selling liquor past 10.30 pm is a police officer that is not investigating a theft. A police officer arresting someone for drinking in public is a police officer who is not arresting a loanshark. A police officer who is chasing someone for failing to pay alcohol-related fines is a police officer who is not walking the beat and preventing more serious crimes.

Further, as this article by Stephen Carter points out, police are charged with enforcing laws, with violence if needs be. Should the ban pass, police officers will now have to go after people illegally selling alcohol in public. Inevitably some of them will resist arrest, and some would resist with violence. This exposes police officers to a greater risk of injury — and treatment would be paid with taxpayer dollars. It also means that there will be a greater chance of police officers hurting or killing someone they did not have to, over something as trivial as selling or drinking alcohol in public, when it was not a crime otherwise. Will there be a Singaporean Eric Garner? I don’t know — all I know is that the more trivial laws are passed, the more likely there will be one.

A government that seeks to legislate permissible behaviours in society will increase its population of criminals. A government that requires people to seek approval to do something is a government that aims to increase its ability to control its people. In neither case should the government go unchallenged, especially when it wishes to pass blunt, sweeping measures over what is essentially a public nuisance. Should the ban pass, it is likely to make people poorer, force people to jump through even more hoops, impose a greater burden on the police and judiciary, and make criminals out of a larger segment of the population, all in the name of curbing public drunkenness.

Is the ban worth it?

Banning Julien Blanc: NIMBYism on a global scale

I feel Julien Blanc is a loathsome, repulsive person. I feel that the tactics he employs are designed to subtly dominate people by invading their personal boundaries and psychologically overwhelming them to prevent a decisive rejection, treating people as commodities instead of humans. I feel the world would be better off without men like him who interact with women primarily to obtain sexual favours.

My feelings are also utterly irrelevant, because banning Julien Blanc undermines freedom of speech and movement.

Activists and social justice warriors are accusing Blanc of promoting violence against women. Assuming this is true, why ban him from travelling to different countries? A person of his dubious stature would still be able to travel to countries whose governments care more about tourist dollars than women’s rights, and the prevalence of information communications technology means that Blanc and his fellow travellers can still continue to propagate their doctrine. The techniques and technology available to Blanc and his ilk are no different from those employed by international lecturers and thinkers, SJWs, local celebrities breaking out into the world stage, and terrorists.

Banning Blanc does not only send the message that he is not welcome in a country, it also signals that the people of that country do not want to have to deal with him — they want someone else to do it. This is Not In My Backyard syndrome.

The court of public opinion has charged Blanc with misogyny, and produced as evidence his infamous choke opener. The photograph shows Blanc placing his hand on a woman’s throat, which he calls ‘choking’.

I have seen Blanc’s lectures and I have heard him speak. I noticed he used techniques commonly employed by public speakers and debaters. He promotes repeating memorised phrases at high speed, deluging the listener in a barrage of words to shut off rational thought and resistance while promising fun and pleasure. The choke opener is an extension of this: he begins a conversation with a woman, then places his hand on her throat to physically dominate her and force her to pay attention to what he is saying. The use of hand gestures, like a finger over his lips or a hand covering her mouth, is an extension of this.

Blanc calls it a choke opener, and activists call it choking. I am a martial artist, and I study combatives. I train in Pekiti Tirsia Kali, I have undergone some training in Krav Maga, and I am in contact with karateka, boxers, judoka, grapplers, and force professionals. Going by that picture alone, I sense Blanc isn’t actually choking her.

Let’s break it down, starting with Blanc’s motivations. I think it’s safe to say the following: Blanc wants interaction. He wants to elicit consent from the woman. He wants her to feel she can’t say no. He does not want her to start screaming for help or to attract unwanted attention. He does not want to be arrested and sent to jail. He does not want to be branded a sex offender, both for professional and personal reasons. The choke opener lies in that murky ground between assertiveness and violence, creating psychological dominance without actually harming the target.

A real choke, on the other hand, does two things: it closes off the airway and it defends the choker from a counterattack. The choke opener superficially resembles a front choke — only, it likely doesn’t actually do damage.

Place one hand on your throat and squeeze. It should feel uncomfortable. Sink into the moment, and imagine that a complete stranger was doing that to you. Feel the pulse in your neck, the pressure against your veins and windpipe. This produces a heightened state of awareness, and enhances a feeling of vulnerability. Now, maintaining that pressure, talk. Say something, anything, just talk.

If you can talk, you can breathe, and if you can breathe, you are not being choked.

Blanc wants the woman to be able to say ‘Yes’. This is domination, not violence. Violence harms the mark, dominance simply attempts to manipulate the target into surrender. Dominance can be countered with assertiveness or violence; the only answer to imminent violence is escape or even greater violence.

real front choke is completely different. Both arms and hands would be locked up straight and tight to provide maximum stability and biomechanical strength. The choker would be pressing the intended victim up against a wall or hard surface, arching the back to break the balance and prevent a counterattack. The choker would be leaning into the victim, applying his body weight and borrowing gravity. A real front choke will close off the airway, induce a panic response, and can leave bruises on the throat. The last can be used against Blanc in court, which he probably does not want, so it is not likely he is actually choking the woman.

Blanc calls this technique a ‘choke opener’ because he needs a dramatic, memorable name for that particular technique. It is linked to the idea of a can opener, comparing the act of opening up a can to opening up a woman. In this sense he is no different from a salesman-entrepeneur naming a product by metaphorically linking it to a commonplace item. Activists have seized on the very unfortunate name to turn it against him, using it to springboard their narrative of violence and generate outrage. Blanc’s propensity for aggrandisation got him into trouble — not actual or intended violence.

But assuming Blanc actually escalated to violence, front chokes are also very easy to break out of. Going back to the picture, Blanc only has one hand on the victim. Assuming some aggressor tries something similar, the defender need merely grab his thumb with both hands and peel back. Normally the technique requires bending the aggressor’s arm for leverage, but he has very thoughtfully done so already. This technique would break the choke and expose him to follow-up strikes.

Against a true double-handed choke, the defender should step back to stabilise herself, then circle her arms under the aggressor’s and shoot her palms through the empty space between his arms, going for his face. This has a high chance of breaking the choke. Even if it doesn’t, the attacker is likely to step back, weakening the choke, or release his hands to defend his face. If he does neither, the palms will strike, causing damage. If the attack rakes the eyes, this induces pain and blindness, encouraging him to let go. If the attack misses or he still insists on holding on, the defender can bring her hands back to his thumbs and peel them off. Or grab the back of his skull and introduce his face to a sharply rising knee.

For armed defenders, the counter is even simpler. Draw a knife and cut the biceps and inner forearms. If he holds on, back cut at the eye to force him to step back, bring his hands back and diminish his vision; stab through the armpits and ribs to collapse the lungs; and/or cut his throat to force blood down the windpipe and air into his heart. Or just draw a gun and shoot him until he drops. This is a lethal force situation, and crippling or killing an attacker is justifiable here.

If Blanc were promoting violence against women, he’s pretty inept about it, relying on his targets to be untrained and unarmed, and unwilling to defend themselves. On the other hand, I don’t see very many SJWs and feminists teaching women how to protect themselves against monsters in human skin. It seems to me that modern-day activists aren’t interested in actually dealing with threats or empowering people to handle them; they just want someone else to do it.

Even if I’m wrong and Blanc actually advocated physically harming women and has sexually assaulted them, banning him from various countries still won’t do any good. He is still free and still able to hurt people in his home country and wherever else would have him. To protect society from such a menace, the best approach is to arrest him and try him in a court of law, and if found guilty, punish him to the fullest extent of the law. This removes a threat from society and sends a message to other would-be predators that society does not tolerate such villainy.

Conversely, if he were found innocent, it means that he is guilty of nothing more than hurting feelings.

I know people who have lived in places where there is no law and no police presence. For people like them, a sexual assault is met with violence: either the woman will kill the attacker during the act (see what I wrote above?), or her friends and family will find and lynch the attacker after the assault. This serves the same purpose of destroying a threat and sending a message to other monsters. The main difference is that they step up and take responsibility of the problem, instead of delegating it to someone else like most civilised people.

The people who want to ban Blanc are not interested in actually dealing with the problem. They just do not want him in their backyard. This is NIMBYism on a global scale, sparked by little more than hurt feelings.

Blanc’s speech may be offensive, but the solution to offensive speech is more speech. His ideas have roundly criticised by people around the world, which means people are less likely to believe him. Or else just ignore him, denying him the fame he needs to continue his lifestyle. To curtail his ability to travel on the basis of offensive speech is to seize the tools of oppression on the basis of hurt feelings, punishing someone for saying the wrong things as opposed to actually harming someone. This sets a powerful precedent: if an international network of people can degrade someone’s freedoms for nothing more than saying politically incorrect words and hurting their feelings, who will they target next?

The answer: anybody else who disagrees with them and hurts their feelings.

People who use their freedom of speech to accuse someone of oppressing a designated victim group and take away his rights are not interested in freedom or protecting people. They just want to be the ones holding the whip.

Justice for All

Reading this commentary, Romans 12:17, 12:19 and 12:21 come to mind.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. (12:17)

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (12:19)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (12:21)

(New International Version)

I’m not a Christian. The closest I had to a Christian education was three years in Anglo-Chinese Junior School. To my non-Christian eyes, this verse reads as a call to lay down thoughts of vengeance and do what is morally right. (As this blog is about humans and human behaviour, I won’t comment on a divine being taking vengeance.) Thane Rosenbaum argues that revenge is moral because it is natural, and that “the actual difference between vengeance and justice is not as great as people think”. I must disagree.

Rosenbaum says, “Recent studies in neuroscience and evolutionary psychology have claimed that human beings are hard-wired for vengeance.” He goes on to say, ‘Legal systems should punish the guilty commensurate with their crimes and recognise a moral duty to satisfy the needs of victims to feel avenged. ”

This claim sounds reasonable, but it is not. It is impossible for the legal system to fully satisfy these needs, because there is no objective standard to meet. The ‘needs’ Rosenbaum speaks of are emotional in nature, and emotions vary from person to person. I feel no need to avenge myself on the people who have tried to rob, con, kill, or otherwise harm me or mine. But I have known people who sought ways to seek vengeance on others who have done little more than exchange harsh words with them. Plus, quite clearly, the cases Rosenbaum brings up show people who declared a desire for vengeance. So different people have different reactions to something, and the courts cannot accommodate them all.

The ‘need’ Rosenbaum speaks of is not a need. It is really a desire. A ‘need’ is something a person cannot live without for a healthy life. Vengeance does not fall into that category. The root of vengeance is anger, and its cousins hatred and aggression.  A person seeks vengeance because he is angry and feels aggressive. Taking vengeance is to take action on the world outside of a person – but anger is an emotion within a person. An aggrieved person doesn’t need vengeance so much as need to discharge anger. Vengeance and discharging anger are, in my opinion and experience, too easily conflated.

Vengeance is taking injurious action against someone. Anger is a sense of being wronged. The former comes from the latter. Taking vengeance does not remove anger. Removing anger removes the desire for vengeance. Taking vengeance to deal with anger is like dipping a half-full glass of water into a filled sink to empty the glass. You don’t always succeed, and you’ll get wet. There are consequences to vengeance, chiefly legal prosecution, and starting a cycle of revenge pitting you, and your friends and family, against everybody you have acted against. It’s much easier to simply empty the glass. This removes the cause of vengeance. It addresses the very human need of attaining emotional tranquility, and removes the desire to take vengeance.

Even if taking vengeance were an appropriate course of action, the criminal justice system is not the means to do it. The criminal courts have four priorities. First, they need to isolate dangerous people from society. Second, they need to ensure the innocent are not harmed through the judicial process. Third, they need to neutralise criminals as short- and long-term threats to society. Lastly, they need to deter potential criminals from committing crimes. This, in fact, is all the courts can do.

The social contract between the people and the courts requires the courts to mete out justice for all. Justice, not vengeance. Justice is essentially moral rightness, and punishment of breaches of morality. For the justice system to apply equally to all, this demands objective standards. Vengeance is a desire to take action to address a perceived wrong, so it need only meet individual subjective standards. Justice and vengeance, unlike what Rosenbaum says, is essentially incompatible at this level of analysis. The courts are not empowered to take vengeance on behalf of the aggrieved. Nor should they.

To be clear, while the courts hands down punishment for criminal activity, I do not define this as vengeance. This is retributive justice. Its goal is to neutralise the criminal as a threat to society – and perhaps transform him into a productive member of society when he has served his time. The key difference between vengeance and retribution is that the former pays evil unto evil – the latter destroys evil and overcomes it with good. Instead of punishing someone to make someone else feel better, the idea behind legal retribution is to reform someone through punishment and rehabilitation.

Rosenbaum says that the legal system must “pass the gut test of seeming morally just; and revenge must always be just and proportionate.” The trouble with a ‘gut test’ is that it is subjective. Everybody is different, and therefore so is everybody’s gut test. ‘Just and proportionate’ only applies if there are objective standards – this is what people think of as the laws for criminal justice. Revenge is neither just nor proportionate, because revenge is based on subjective standards of satisfaction. Should the courts mete out different punishments for the same crime, the courts would breach their social contract much more grievously than its perceived failure to avenge.

Earlier, I said that the courts have four priorities, amongst which is deterrence. Inconsistent punishments will have little to no deterrent effect. Criminals will not have any standard to weigh against when planning crimes, and might feel more tempted to engage in more aggressive crimes if they believe they can pay the price if they are caught. A criminal who believes his victim might not press charges, or would be lenient, would be more likely to be more vicious than a criminal who thinks the law will come down harshly on him. This alone could be the difference between robbing someone at knifepoint, and ambushing a victim, beating him senseless, and then relieving him of his possessions. In both cases, the perpetrator gets what he wants – money. But a predator would be more likely to pick the second option, as it eliminates resistance and allows him to carry out his plans without interference from the victim. One of the reasons such crimes tend to be rare(r) is because the penalty – and therefore police attention – for the latter is much higher than the former. Without objective standards, there is no deterrence. Without deterrence, there may be more and more violent crime.

There is also a further implication of court-administrated revenge: objective standards of proof, prosecution, and defence would be compromised. The courts would focus on assuaging the victims’ anger, not justice. This opens the door to abuse of the justice system. A woman, angered by an ex-boyfriend, may cry molest or rape to get back at him. With a legal system primed to address the victim’s claims instead of determining the facts, a man could be punished for little more than having a bad break-up. And similar incidents have occurred.

In addition, compromised standards would lead to slipshod police work. One of the roles of the court is to ensure that the police and the prosecution do their jobs properly, by measuring their performance against those standards. With a legal system primed for revenge, the legal system would be under pressure to find someone guilty and punish that person as heavily as possible, instead of determining what happened. The result is poor work by the police and the prosecution. In Singapore, Ismil Kandar was wrongfully convicted of murder after sloppy police work. If a legal system seeks revenge instead of justice, more innocent people could be hauled up for crimes they didn’t commit, and more guilty ones could walk free.

It seems odd that Norway, a country in which just 2% of the population go to church weekly, has a criminal system with the Biblical goal of overcoming evil with good. As reported in the media, Norway has a rather ‘humane’ prison system, which aims to rehabilitate instead of just punish. Mass murderer Anders Breivik could sentenced to 21 years in jail, with additional indefinite 5-year sentences if ‘preventive detention’ were necessary – which is a far more lenient sentence than what an equivalent murderer in Singapore or America or most anywhere else could expect. The system certainly does not meet standards for revenge.

Does the system mete out justice for all? This is something the world is grappling with. But there is something to consider. A mass murderer is fundamentally an aberration. He attracts a lot of attention because of the scale of his crime, but he is not representative of the criminal population. The truest measure of a justice system lies in the nation’s crime demographics. As the Economist points out, the United States has one of the world’s worst prison systems and among the world’s highest crime rates (5 per 100000), while Norway has one of the world’s most humane prison systems and among the world’s lowest crime rates (0.6 per 100000). The United States focuses on punishing criminal behaviour, while Norway looks at rehabilitating criminals.

It’s time to reconsider notions of justice and vengeance. The purpose of having a justice system is to protect society, prevent and overcome evil, and reform criminals. It looks like the world can learn something from Norway.

Responsibility AWAREness

About two weeks ago, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) posted this article. The sheer vitriol in the text turned me off immediately, and I thought nothing more about it. Later, I saw my contacts on Facebook reproducing the link to the article. I re-read the article, and felt that something was off. Approaching American self-defence expert Marc MacYoung (again on Facebook), I held a brief discussion with him about the article, and concluded that I had to comment on this article. (You can find the full discussion here.)

The author has written a very messy piece. There is no clear line of logic or argument. From what I understand, the author is furious that the prosecutor pushed for ‘reduced charges’ (aggravated outrage of modesty instead of rape), and attributes this to an unspecified ‘we’ putting a kind of ‘blame’ on the victim. This line of thinking is both fallacious and extremely dangerous.

Rape is a very complex crime. The layman definition is that the perpetrator(s) had sex with the victim without the latter’s consent. However, in a court of law, the prosecution must decisively prove that the victim did not give consent prior to the act. The prosecutor’s job becomes exponentially more difficult when alcohol and high risk behaviour comes into play.

Alcohol makes crime more complicated. It lowers inhibitions, impairs judgment, and compromises memory. In this case, everyone involved had played a drinking game prior to the assault. The victim had sex with someone after the game and before the crime. To someone under the influence of alcohol, the victim’s behaviour could be interpreted as a signal of sexual availability. This effect could be pronounced because the members of the group could have pressured each other towards that interpretation (assuming that had happened).

Here, the woman claims that she did not agree to have sex with the others. However, it is simply the word of one woman against five others — all of whom were under the influence of alcohol. it is very difficult, if not impossible, to clearly prove in a court of law when the line between consensual and non-consensual sex was crossed. The victim said she consented to having sex with one guy, but she did so after being pressured and drinking heavily. The accused might have said that they did not attain consent, and this might have been true, but the prosecution cannot prove the veracity of this statement. The accused could have said that as an expression of guilt and remorse, and not necessarily as a factual recount — or perhaps the accused thought that they did not seek consent, and had convinced themselves that the woman did not give consent. A good defence lawyer, seizing upon alcohol, would probably be able to muddy the waters and prevent the prosecution from using this to decisively prove a rape case.

I cannot say for certain what the prosecutor thought. But I think the prosecutor believed that it’s easier to prove a case of aggravated outrage of modesty than rape here. Further complicating matters are other facts:

1. There was no sign of sexual assault. Rape is a form of sexual assault. Without signs of sexual assault, it is hard to prove a rape case.

2. The perpetrators stopped when she started to bleed. This is not typical behaviour for rapists; this calls into question their intent to carry out their act, and maybe (but I do not know) mitigates their actions.

3. The victim’s boyfriend called the police. The victim had a boyfriend. But by choosing to engage in what she did, she is showing to the court that she lacks a sense of responsibility.

Robin Rheaume says that ‘we’ are blaming the victim. That is not true. There is a distinct difference between ‘blame’ and ‘responsibility’. To blame someone is to find fault with someone. To be responsible is to take on an obligation. Responsibility is a part of blame, but blame is not a part of responsibility.

Here, the woman failed to take responsibility for her actions. She deliberately engaged in high-risk behaviour. To declare ‘The failure of a woman to adequately assess the risk of attack does not mean that she caused what happens and should take blame for it’ is to declare that a drink driver should not take responsibility for running over a pedestrian. It is simply absurd to think that one can divorce one’s action from the consequences of that action. Every action has consequences; the woman has to take responsibility has to take actions. To not do so is both foolish and dangerous.

The woman engaged in high risk behaviour. An example of such behaviour is for a young woman to go alone late at night to a place with plenty of strange young men and alcohol. Another is for a single young woman to play drinking games in a private place with young men unknown to her. Such behaviour puts her at a very high risk of being robbed, raped, and/or killed. This whole case could have been avoided had the victim not showed up, left the moment she realised she didn’t know most of the people at the gathering, or went home before the drinking became serious. She took a risk, and she got burned.

Ordinary and sober people do not normally commit crimes. An ordinary citizen who sees an unguarded purse sees someone else’s property. A thief sees free money. In this case, hormonally charged young men under the influence of alcohol could have interpreted her behaviour as that of sexual availability, or at least an opportunity for sexual activity. This, or a permutation thereof, could have occurred in this case.

The judge, prosecution, and defence know this. It will be very difficult in this case to prove a case of gang rape. The judge may say that it is ‘factually rape’, but that is his opinion, and his opinion does not and cannot count. What counts in a court of law is proof, and as shown above, there is no clear proof that rape had indeed occurred. Had the judge acted on his opinion, he would have perverted this principle of justice.

This is a very messy case all around. It is all the more tragic because it could have been prevented. Had the woman not showed up, all of this could not have occurred — and that is why she is not totally absolved of responsibility for what happened to her.

—-

I would like to highlight something MacYoung said in the discussion:

[I]t is the opinion of myself and many other personal safety experts that many of these advocacy groups are promoting ideas that guarantee they always have a client base. With the information they give about a woman’s ‘rights’ to behave in dangerous and stupid ways, they are guaranteeing there will be a never-ending supply of rape victims for them to ‘help.’

…[L]ook into the funding that AWARE Singapore is getting and their political/legal lobbying and activities. The big money isn’t in the front lines actually helping women who were raped (Here in the States, most of the front line people are volunteers). The big money is in administration, ‘education’ fees, lobbying, medical and psychological funding.

MacYoung’s opinion might be a valid one. I know MacYoung doesn’t think highly of American groups similar to AWARE. But American advocacy groups operate differently from AWARE.

In its Constitution, AWARE states it shall not ‘indulge in any political activity’. According to its 2008 financial statement, AWARE had a deficit of $5,975 in 2007, and a surplus of $19,934 in 2008. Net current assets for 2007 were worth $208,365, and $407,699 in 2008. In 2009, AWARE had a deficit of $9,407, with net current assets worth $398292.

I guess it’s safe to rule out lobbying from the agenda — AWARE’s constitution prohibits political activity. Much of AWARE’s funding comes from donations and subscriptions. The ‘big money’ MacYoung refers to would fall under ‘other income’ in the financial statement, in addition to other revenue like sales from its online store. In 2008, AWARE made $33,596, and in 2009 it made $18,359. These figures are significantly less than donations ($319,300 in 2009, $328,207 in 2008) or fund raising activities ($72,683 in 2009, $43,584 in 2008’s flag day).

Given that AWARE cannot lobby and makes more money from donations and other fund raising activities than ‘other income’, it’s safe to say that AWARE is not out to spread a ‘rape agenda’ to guarantee a steady stream of income from activities that would make big money in America. However, I cannot as yet disprove the notion that AWARE is deliberately spreading a rape agenda to attract more support and donors.

Still, AWARE does a lot than just talk about rape. If one wants to spread a rape agenda, one would fixate on rape, which AWARE is not doing. AWARE discusses everything from financial knowledge to secularism; rape is just one facet of many. I can’t see a rape agenda here, at least for now.

In light of what I have seen so far, I think Rheaume was simply expressing an opinion based on illogic, and nobody at AWARE caught it. Still, the article should have been fact-checked, and its opinions compared to those of recognised self-defence experts. If there were an editor, that person failed. If there were no editors, there should have been one.

I guess MacYoung got this wrong here, but his experience is mostly limited to America. I wish there was someone like MacYoung in Singapore, someone who is extremely knowledgeable and experienced with self defence and the law, but I’m not going to hold my breath, and I won’t hold out for him. Nobody should.

The author thanks Marc MacYoung for permission to use his material and the discussion on Facebook for this post.