The Null Device
And in light of recent events, The Age looks at democracy, Singapore-style:
I was reminded powerfully of that one afternoon. Stepping out of Singapore's state-of-the-art subway system, I rode the escalator into a small park. There stood an unkempt old man with a small pile of books for sale. It was former opposition leader J. B. Jeyaretnam.
In 2001, JB was declared bankrupt after losing a series of libel cases to government figures from Lee Kuan Yew down. Now he was banned from Parliament and reduced to selling his own books to live.
It is a strategy routinely used by Singapore's ruling People's Action Party to shut up the opposition. The courts in Singapore are an arm of government. In this case, JB's final crime was to accuse the organisers of the Tamil Language Week of being "government stooges". He was penalised more than $A500,000 in damages and court costs. It ended his political career.
Lee and his successor, Goh Chok Tong, then sued another opposition leader, Chee Soon Juan. An American-trained neuropsychologist, Chee is already banned from the next election after suggesting that Malay schoolgirls should be allowed to wear headscarves to school. The courts ruled that that was speaking on religion, a forbidden topic.
One last example: in August, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made one of his occasional gestures of liberalisation, saying Singapore must become more "open" and "inclusive". Yet days later, the thought police ordered filmmaker Martyn See to hand over his video camera and his new documentary on Chee, Singapore Rebel for Singapore law bans films "directed towards any political end". See now faces a possible two-year jail term and an $A80,000 fine.One can imagine this happening in Australia after a decade or so of unchallenged Liberal-National rule. Between the sedition laws that the government's determined to push through despite growing opposition and Australia's severe defamation laws (which. as in Singapore, are derived from English defamation laws, designed primarily to protect the interests of the establishment from the rabble), suppressing troublesome opposition should not be too difficult, requiring only the political will and lack of concern for pluralism. Perhaps within a decade, we'll see a bankrupt Bob Brown or Buffy Stott-Despoja, recently released from a prison sentence, flogging their books or JJJ Hottest 100 compilations at a flea market somewhere. Meanwhile, the Labor Party will, by then, have morphed from the shadow government to the government's shadow: a "lite" version of the Tories, whose only difference from the government is a vaguely mumbled promise to "be nicer". So no difference there, then.
Nifty objet d'art of the day: the Pong clock:
It's an embedded computer with an LCD display screen, which plays a perpetual game of Pong, with one round per minute. The right-hand side wins once a minute, except on the hour, when the left-hand side wins (and the right's score is reset); hence, the score displays the current time. Clocks go on sale next year, though there will be a downloadable screensaver soon.
In a sense, this seems to be the computer-age equivalent of those mechanical clocks from centuries past, in which tiny figures promenaded around illustrating the time of day.
(I wonder what it's implemented on. If the device contains, say, a Mac mini or an entire Linux system and X server, it would seem somewhat decadent.)
(via bOING bOING)
A hoaxer in the US Midwest has reprised the Milgram obedience experiments by calling fast-food restaurants posing as a police officer and instructing managers to strip-search employees, subjecting them to bizarre and degrading ordeals. The managers in question, being selected for unthinking obedience, never realised that anything was wrong, accepting "Officer Scott"'s authoritative tone of voice, stated reasons and the sounds of police radios in the background as sufficient reason to start obeying, and the fact that they were already obeying as sufficient reason to keep doing so, up to committing rape.
On May 29, 2002, a girl celebrating her 18th birthday -- in her first hour of her first day on the job at the McDonald's in Roosevelt, Iowa -- was forced to strip, jog naked and assume a series of embarrassing poses, all at the direction of a caller on the phone, according to court and news accounts.
He had mastered the police officer's calm but authoritative demeanor. He sprinkled law-enforcement jargon into every conversation. And he did his homework. He researched the names of regional managers and local police officers in advance, and mentioned them by name to bolster his credibility. He called some restaurants in advance, somehow getting names and descriptions of victims so he could accurately describe them later.
In her book, "Making Fast Food: From the Frying Pan into the Fryer," Canadian sociologist Ester Reiter concludes that the most prized trait in fast-food workers is obedience. "The assembly-line process very deliberately tries to take away any thought or discretion from workers," said Reiter, who teaches at Toronto's York University and who spent 10 months working at a Burger King as part of her research. "They are appendages to the machine."Several people who followed orders were jailed for rape and related crimes. The hoaxer was later found to be a 38-year-old prison guard with a fantasy of being a police officer. Meanwhile, one of the victims is suing McDonalds for allowing this to happen; McDonalds, meanwhile, blames her for not reading the employee manual where it said that strip searches were prohibited and not recognising that the caller wasn't a real police officer.
(via bOING bOING)
Melbourne's liberal-except-when-the-proprietors-pull-the-strings newspaper The Age is shocked and appalled that, on the day that convicted heroin trafficker Nguyen Tuong Van is hanged, the prime minister will be insensitive enough to attend a cricket match, rather than registering his outrage as a liberal Australian sickened by the very idea of the death penalty.
I'm not all that surprised. Could it be that one of the reasons that Howard did not protest too loudly is because, in his ideology, far from being a barbarically illiberal backwater, Singapore is a model for what a modern Australia could look like, reconciling the cherished authoritarian conformity of decades past with a dynamic economy and a place in the globalised world? Let's see: an extremely business-friendly regulatory environment, a work ethic that aggressively minimises threats to economic performance, strict censorship of the media and arts, criminalisation and marginalisation of political dissent, harsh penalties for conduct the leaders find inappropriate (such as chewing gum, for example) and the near-total power of the state over all aspects of public and private life. Add a good dose of Anglo-Saxon Christian moralism, suburban wowser ideas of propriety and traditional iconography to that and you have a perfect recipe for a "relaxed and comfortable" Australia John Howard could love.