Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Self-Destruct Code.

Or subtitled: How to shutdown this blog?

I read this from mrbrown of the defiant "gahmen oso not scared" declaration. And he has claims to have picture of his pet fish plastered all over his blog. (For the record, I did not see the pictures of his pet fish.)

If I spoke to these Singaporeans overseas, what stories will they tell me?
I am interested in why they have made their journey from our island's comfort zone. Or discomfort zone. I want to know, if they have migrated overseas, whether they found their greener pastures there, or whether Singapore is really where they should have stayed. I want to hear this in their own words, unfiltered by any agenda to persuade our overseas brethren to come home.
- from
Voices from a little island
That may not be such a good idea. It may be a.very.bad.idea indeed.

[ Why? The short answers are at the end of this blog entry. ]


This blog is by no means anonymous.

A government sleuth does not even to be a technical master of the dark magic of correlating IP addresses and MAC address and ISP databases via any of the many comments left using this account on a whole bunch of other blogs.

There are under 3000 Australia PR visas issued to Singaporeans annually. Previous blog entries contain enough timeline information to narrow it down to a week or two, reducing the candidate list to around 50 names. Even without any help of the Australia government, the applications database for the CNCC would be sufficient. Using the personal profile gleaned from previous blog entries, the list could easily trimmed to a mere handful of candidates.

Alternatively, it would not be difficult to track down (via their posted photos) of at least 3 fellow bloggers that I have met up in person previously. And bribe or beat my contact information out of them.

Paranoia? Perhaps. But I harbour no illusions of my anonymity. Even politically sensitive sites careful enough to be using a PO Box out of Amsterdam could also leave partial clues to their identity on the blogsphere. My attempts to shield my real-world identity are only sufficient to deter the casual attempt to locate me. Think of my "anonymous" position as a cheap pin-tumbler lock - it will deter the casual opportunist, but it is no defence against anyone determined to unmask me.


AF: You're giving out too much info about yourselves, you know

Was online this afternoon on IM with AF. [No, not AcidFlask.] This AF is an old friend who I first mentioned in Smart People Say and later in Counsel of Two. It was a very long conversation over IM. We could have exchanged the same thoughts in an in-person conversation that would last a fraction of the time. Stripped of vocal cues and body language, it takes too long to exchange ideas sometimes.

We were just catching up on things and the conversation turned to blogging. And we disagreed. Now, AF qualifies for Mensa and is much smarter than I am - but after much thought on this, I am not sure I totally disagree now. AF feels that I am incurring an unnecessary risk of being persecuted by the Powers-That-Be for maintaining this blog. However I feel that that is an unnecessary worry as this serf's blog is no threat to the Powers-That-Be ruling this country.

My arguments are as follow.

  • Emigration for Singapore is a sensitive matter. Even the emigration numbers are considered a state secret that, if exposed, would threaten the stability of our nation. It would be not in the interest of the Powers-That-Be to direct more attention to this phenomena.

  • The blog provides a resource (hopefully) and support for those already in the process of emigrating or starting the process. I am not encouraging anybody to leave Singapore by handing out flyers in Orchard Road, or making unapproved public speeches speaking out against the state of affairs here. This is not a public appeal.

  • It would actually be in the interest of our rulers to have potential troublemakers leave the country. By definition, those who choose to leave are obviously dissatisfied with the situation here (economic, social, political, etc). Stability is better served by removing dissidents, and preventing infection of the "healthy" contented population.

  • The emigration population is very small. The most pessimistic rumours have the number to be about fifty to eighty thousand a year. That is a mere 2% or so, based on a citizen population of around 2 to 3 million. The numbers can be (and are being) easily replaced by our immigration policies.

  • Emigration is a deeply personal decision. I write primarily to clarify the thoughts in my head. And have any interested reader help double-check my thought processes. I just try to show the facts as I perceive them. And in documenting the facts, it clarifies ideas in my head. Even if nobody reads this blog, I would probably still be writing anyway. My reasons are not the same as other people's reasons - and should never be.

I have tried to leave AF's arguments in the original form as much as possible to avoid misrepresenting the position. Edited for readability. [ IM conversation quoted with permission from AF. ]

  • AF: The [rulers] ARE afraid of the brain drain. "Loyalty" to Singapore is a big issue for them - that kind of thing can never be replaced by PRCs who are looking at Singapore as a springboard only. This issue was brought up by GCT in a National Day speech! Engineered carefully, of course - the "Are you a stayer or a quitter" debate was beautifully done. I mean, "quitter" has so many negative associations. They need people like [a mutual friend] - who will take up arms and defend the country if need be

  • AF: Your blog does not only cater to those who have already decided to leave - it persuades those who are on the fence, and those who never gave it much consideration because they never plowed through the technical details. Your blog puts a human face and struggle on the journey which makes the information easier to digest. It shows up the [rulers] for what they are, and how they see us as "interchangeable economic units".

  • AF: I see you being quoted on a number of blogs. You're a part of the singaporean blogosphere. And I know you write for yourself, that's not the point! Your blog is persuasive, don't give yourself too little credit. [Me: if it is persuasive, it is the facts that are persuasive. I just try to be honest and call it like I see it.]

  • AF: You think the [rulers] like how you dissect the situation? Don't think so. Singaporeans like to see the [rulers] as a father figure, there to pull them through times of need. The [rulers] should do this, should do that. The reality is that they don't care - and you make that clear.


We make jokes about being persecuted for crimethink and thoughtcrime, but AF raises a frightening possibility that I had not previously considered. One that terrifies me.

AF: It's not worth the risk of sorting out your thoughts in writing! Face it, you wanted discussion, you wanted to be part of the blogorati - and you have to accept the possible consequences.

Me: so telling the truth [as I see it] may get me persecuted?

AF: Telling the truth has gotten many people persecuted! Look at history!

Me: do you realise what you are saying? that crimethink (orwell) will get me persecuted. That thinking and writing my thoughts will get me persecuted!

AF: Yes, dear. Might, not will. What if you become an example because they happened to track you down? Or better - they send you a letter, and like you said in your blog - you'd close it down, no explanations. You'll do that if they threatened you, won't you?

Me: of course. who fights for a hopeless cause? not me.

AF: It needn't be another acidflask, even. crimethink, indeed. Sigh.

Me: oh.. great.. I hate pen-and-paper writing. and such a waste of thinking not to share since it is already on digital media

AF: You can't think and be happy in 1984.

Me: err.. I sort of cannot "can't think". kind of hard to just turn off the thinking part of my brain without affecting my ability to do anything - everything

Me: yeah.. so what if the "disenfranchised intelligent people" are already leaving? why is my blog a threat? (sorry to push the issue, but I cannot understand why it will/might be considered a threat) since these people have been written off already by our rulers. I am just sharing whatever emergency rations I have on our long trek to wherever we are going (and information does not diminish when shared).

AF: They haven't, lah. [Mutual friend] is a case in point. [Another mutual friend] too. Intelligent, not happy with some of the stuff in Singapore, but not thinking about leaving - unless they get a kick in the butt.

Me: and besides, writing it out for a third-party helps me clarify my thoughts

AF: Safer if you had written it privately, and made it public AFTER you have emigrated.

Me: but I would lose the advantage of real-time feedback to check the logic / correctness of my thinking. for all I know, my emigration may be the BIGGEST mistake of my life. perhaps a non-recoverable ERROR. am I doing it for the right reasons? what if my mistake can save someone else later from making the same mistake? besides, would I publish a blog BELATEDLY after I know it is a mistake? my pride and ego may not be able to handle it

AF: You're still thinking on a personal level. Of course it's useful for you, very useful. But a public blog is never personal.


So the answer to the first issue: How to shutdown this blog?

Answer: Just ask. Preferably politely. By the Powers-That-Be.

Nonpartisan serfs like us have no interest to be political martyrs. We just want to be left alone to live in peace. Unfortunately as AF points out astutely, "a public blog is never personal".

However I will continue documenting my thoughts on this emigration journey until I am otherwise informed that it is unacceptable to our rulers. I am not sure I agree with AF on this little-read blog in the corner of the Singapore blogsphere being any kind of threat to public order.

The answer to the second issue:

Why is mrbrown podcasting about the unfiltered stories of overseas Singaporeans not a good idea?

Especially so if they are unfiltered without a positive spin to persuade them to return. Because my blogging is like a couple of friends sitting around a coffeeshop talking the issues that upset them about living in Singapore.

An unfiltered mrbrown podcast (or Today article), absent of any pro-ruling-party agenda, would be akin to providing a platform to broadcast directly onto that big cinema screen at Shaw Centre on Orchard Road. mrbrown could probably get away with it due to the position as a leader in the Singapore blogsphere, and blogging on all things generally Singaporean with no specific focus.

The unedited raw stories of even a few dissenting emigrants openly expressing unhappiness with the status quo in Singapore broadcast directly to an undifferentiated public audience would make it soon no longer viable for a niche blog like Singapore Serf to exist without great personal sacrifice. That is if AF is right and I am wrong - which is the case, most of the time when it comes to politics.

Because to close down this blog, all you have to do is ask.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really doubt the PAP even care that there are some people that are unhappy.

There will always be people unhappy in any country, even in the US, and LKY himself said he rather be feared than loved.

So I think there is really nothing to worry about. Singaporeans are all so used to living under fear that they forgot how to live hehe. After all, what profits a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?

Kelvin Tan

May 04, 2005 7:20 PM  
Blogger Adrian said...

I do not think the stuff you write about is threatening enough for them to want to shut you down.

May 04, 2005 8:23 PM  
Blogger Jeff! Lim said...

and then suddenly, u begin to leave in fear, of what u do, and say, and act, and think.... They would rather see u go than stay, let me tell u that!!! Who would be so inclined as to turn back and help once they have found their own wonderland? Tell me. Would u be that altruistic???

But a person like u with such clarity of thoughts and arguments will prove to be like a cancerous tumour, that spreads itself onward and onward...

May 04, 2005 9:16 PM  
Anonymous Lisa said...

I carried the sense of paranoia with me when I came to Australia. Even then, I didn't have a blog. I started writing in caution. That was the legacy given for living in Singapore.

Guarding one's privacy is one thing, but to express your thoughts not in dissent but to clarify your mind, as said, is hardly a threat. If the Big Brother starts doing that, I think Singapore will be extremely short of taxi drivers.

In a way, the online freedom of expression in Singapore is considered much flexible than, say China.

May 04, 2005 11:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michel Foucalt's book 'Discipline and Punishment : The birth of the Prison' is a very good read. ;)

May 05, 2005 8:53 AM  
Blogger mb said...

My pet fish:


May 05, 2005 10:04 AM  

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