Sunday, February 10, 2013

Aircraft Disaster

The air crash of Silkair 185 happened more than 20 years ago but that event is still fresh on my mind.  I suppose it's because when an air crash is alleged to have been caused by the deliberate and suicidal act of a pilot, it puts the crash in the same category as the tragic September 11 event.

An Air Craft Investigations documentary on the fateful Silkair 185 flight
Taken from youtube.

Any air crash is one crash too many.  There are many questions in my head for which I need answers before I take another Silkair or SIA flight.

Everyone knows Singapore has a compulsory enlistment of 18-year-olds and some of them are required to serve in the Singapore Air Force.  Some are trained as pilots and so, there is always a ready supply of Air Force pilots in this small island state.  What I would like to know is how many of these ex-Air Force pilots fly commercial planes whether as permanent or temporary staff.  What are the airlines in Singapore that use one or more of these former military pilots to fly their planes? 

I fear these are questions which will remain unanswered.  No airline would be willing to reveal such information especially if they do use former military pilots.  What about the budget airlines?   I would expect these pilots do come cheap and they may be up for grabs by budget airlines.

Surely airline passengers are entitled to this information?  After all, it's our lives that are at stake here and we should be in the position to make an informed decision on which airlines we may fly and which to boycott.

Friday, February 8, 2013

For Singh Only!!!

National Service is a huge thing in Singapore around this time of the year as different batches of conscripts take the ferry to Pulau Tekung for their basic military training before they are deployed to different army camps.  But like everything in Singapore, the procedure for enlistment and all notices given to conscripts are extremely clear, succinct and well thought out.  Nothing is left to chance or ambiguity.   You won't find here any of the lapses we see in the neighbouring countries.

Conscripts are all given a detailed packing list of what they should take with them to the camp and what they should not.  They are also given a list of what they will be issued with when they arrive at the camp.

While running through the list, I spotted an absolutely hilarious bloomer.  Here they are:

Look at items 27, 34 and 76.  Military helmets are clearly marked "NOT FOR SINGH" and turbans the colour of which we are specifically told is green are meant "FOR SINGH ONLY".  Presumably that is to stop the other recruits from asking for their green turbans.

I find it amusing that MINDEF (the Ministry of Defence) can overlook such a glaring error which some may say borders on racism.  But I really don't think this error was deliberate and was motivated by racism.  I'm positive it's not.  There are many racist names used on Sikhs but "Singh" is not one of them.  This is clearly a case of ignorance.  For all we know, the junior clerk who typed out this packing list probably wrote another word instead of "Singh" but that word which I won't repeat here is a common colloquial word used to refer to a Sikh man when I was a boy but which most people today would consider racist.  His superior saw the mistake and told him off, "That's racist!  You don't call them that.  They are collectively called Singh".

Of course his superior was wrong.  Calling a Sikh a Singh is rather offensive, I would imagine.  Supposing the SAF titled their Chinese menu "Food for the Chans, Lims, Tans and Chongs", wouldn't that be offensive to many of us who are the Chinese majority?  But that won't happen because we are the majority and we know what is offensive to us.

From my personal experience, Sikhs are a wonderful, peace-loving people with a huge capacity for tolerance.  They don't take offence easily and they are levelheaded and when someone makes an honest mistake, they will overlook it readily.

And this is an honest mistake.  It is easily overlooked and the Sikhs who see it probably just chuckle to themselves.  I've asked around and there are people who don't even see it as a mistake.  It is common for the Chinese in Singapore to know very little about other ethnic groups.  Many years ago, I saw a large group of Indians having a religious celebration in a field close to the pavement I was jogging on.  I asked a Chinese passerby what celebration it was.  He said he didn't know and it was a "Malay thing".  I quickly pointed out to him that they were Indians and not Malays to which he replied unapologetically with the monosyllabic "Same".  The Indians are the same as Malays?

I know of friends who would ask Indians who they know to be Christians if they are having a huge celebration for Deepavali.  When I quiz them further, they explain that Deepavali is an Indian festival.  I will remind them that Deepavali is a Hindu festival and no prizes for guessing what their reply invariably is.  "Same"!!! 

Finally, going back to the Sikh, almost every person I know thinks that "Singh" is the family name of every Sikh.  It's as bad as that!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Should Christian Morality be Imposed on the Laws of the Secular State?

We've heard the cries from some Christian quarters against the repeal of Section 377A which criminalizes homosexual acts between consenting adults.  What puzzles me is what blooming right has a Christian got to tell the secular state to legislate its laws or not to repeal its laws so that they conform to the teachings of the church?

Before I proceed, let me state clearly that I'm a Christian and I'm not just a pew-warming Sunday Christian.  I have served the Church from my earliest youth to the present day and I will, God willing, continue to serve the Church for as long as I am able.  However religious I may be, I'm not so egocentric as to expect the secular state to ensure that its legislation complies with the moral teachings of my church.

First, we must bear in mind that Singapore is a secular and not a Christian state.  Christians are only a small minority in this city state and let us not forget that.  The United Kingdom from where we got our Section 377A (the section originally came from a similar provision from the Indian Penal Code) has long de-criminalized homosexual acts.  They have even allowed for an official civil partnership of gay couples.  The United Kingdom has a State Church and its bishops sit in the House of Lords and so, the UK can more appropriately be called a Christian nation.

I have noticed that some of my fellow Christians openly oppose the repeal of Section 377A and from their firm stand and loud voices, one would have thought that the God of the Bible is obsessed purely with homosexuality and nothing else.  Of course, that is not so.  My church (as well as all the churches I can think of) is strongly opposed to gambling but nobody has raised his voice against the casinos.  My church (together with churches all over the world) is opposed to abortion but again, nobody has said a word against the killing of foetuses.  The church (all churches included) is dead opposed to divorce and any dissolution of the sacred rite of holy matrimony but again, I do not see my fellow Christians clamouring for an amendment in the Women's Charter to prohibit divorces.

In the heat of their anti-homosexuality rage, some Christians have gone to the extent of saying that those who are tolerant of homosexuality are not true Christians.  I have seen accusations levelled against a former Bishop of my church who, out of his Christian charity and kindness, has gone out of his way to help homosexuals who are rejected by many mainstream churches.

Why is there this rage against homosexuals as if homosexuality is the only thing the Bible condemns?  Most Christian groups are very quick to point out biblical verses that state that homosexual acts are sinful.  Some make references to the Old Testament where the condemnation against homosexual acts is very strongly worded.  But those of us who are Christians know that the Old Testament has similar strongly worded condemnations against the eating of shellfish.  Your common cuttlefish, prawns, lobsters, crabs and pork are all an abomination to our Lord God and anyone who eats any of these is firmly condemned.  Cleverer Christians will make references to the New Testament where some oblique remarks may perhaps be interpreted as a prohibition of homosexual acts.

What these Christians fail to consider is the fact that many other things are stated to be serious sins worthy of being struck dead by our merciful God.  Yes, it's all in the New Testament.  For example, in the Book of Acts in Chap 5 I believe, we read that Anaias and Sapphira (sorry but I'm typing this in the bathroom right now and I'm too lazy to google for the correct spelling) sold all the property they had and gave it to the church.  However, they kept a small portion of the proceeds of sale, presumably for their old age.  God took that to be a heinous sin and struck them both dead for not giving everything to the church.  Now, how many of us are guilty of this hideous sin of not giving EVERYTHING we have to the church?  Or let me put it another way: how many of us are gullible enough not to take that story with a pinch of salt and have given everything we have to the church?  I daresay not a single Christian has.  Do I hear my fellow Christians telling the Government to legislate so that Christians can't own property and everything we have goes immediately to the church?

Finally, every Christian will agree that the greatest sin is the sin of not accepting Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.  This is a universal truth for all Christians.  Should we legislate so that it's an offence not to accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour?  After all, this is the single most terrible sin in all the teachings of the church and the Bible.  Do you see how absolutely bonkers one can get when one forgets that Singapore is what it is today because it's a secular state?  Let any religion bring it under its wing and that's the end of everything we love and cherish in Singapore.

It is easy to hit out at the gay community.   They are a minority and all of us married folks aren't gay so whatever law there is against them doesn't hurt us one bit.  Is it not clear that when we oppose the repeal of Section 377A, we are just being hypocritical and selfish?  Adultery is a sin too so why not legislate to make adultery a crime?  I know someone who is very loud against the repeal of Section 377A.  He says nothing about adultery and fornication which are equally condemned by the Bible.  His own daughter has given birth to a child out of wedlock.  The Old Testament has a penalty for such "sin" - death by stoning!!!  But this man who is a pastor seems more interested in keeping the outmoded law that criminalizes consensual homosexual acts between adults than to deal harshly with his daughter.  I'm not for a moment saying that he should be cruel to his daughter for having "sinned".  I'm glad he's on excellent terms with his daughter and the son born out of wedlock is treated very well.  But he should show the same kindness to homosexuals as he has shown to his own daughter.

My prayer for Singapore is that it will stay secular and it will be strong enough to repel the loud voice of the Christian minority.  Not all of us Christians are that hypocritical and selfish.  I remember when the issue of a repeal of Section 377A was first aired, I supported the repeal and a good Christian friend of mine was horrified.  She told me that I should be responsible since I was a Christian and a family man.  I asked her if she would feel the same way if the government was going to legislate so that it became an offence for a person to reject Christ.  Her reply was startling.  It would be great, she said, if a rejection of Christ was a jailable offence.  So, before you jump on the Christian bandwagon and scream your lungs out for the keeping of Section 377A, just bear in mind that the same people you're screaming with might very well be happy to see you in prison if you happen not to believe in the same things they do.

For some people, there is a bigger agenda than merely cudgelling homosexuals.