Dust flux, Vostok ice core

Dust flux, Vostok ice core
Two dimensional phase space reconstruction of dust flux from the Vostok core over the period 186-4 ka using the time derivative method. Dust flux on the x-axis, rate of change is on the y-axis. From Gipp (2001).

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Book review: Beyond the Blue Gate

The interrogation of persons engaged in security threats and subversive conspiracies is not an invitation to a dinner, as Mao said of revolutions. It is a very serious matter. No person would implicate himself if he can help it. It is therefore necessary to break down the defences which a suspect automatically builds around himself. To discuss ISD's [Internal Security Department] methods of interrogation is to risk reducing their effectiveness. The government makes no apology for their effectiveness in uncovering the truth without torture. And they have been varied and improved from time to time.
                                   - Chin Fook Leong, in Far Eastern Economic Review, Nov. 12, 1987

Beyond the Blue Gate: Recollections of a Political Prisoner describes the arrest, interrogation, and imprisonment of the author, Teo Soh Lung, for "taking part in a Marxist conspiracy" (according to the Internal Security Department). The book also deals with the arrests of her "co-conspirators", who appear to have been arrested for making statements critical of legislation passed by the government headed by Lee Kwan Yew.

The book should be viewed as a cautionary tale--about government agencies with virtually unlimited power and no oversight.

In the mid 1980's, according to the government, Singapore's democracy was under threat of imminent violent overthrow by Marxists bent on creating a Communist government. In support, on 21 May 1987, some two dozen individuals (including the author) were arrested in connection with this conspiracy. Not a single gun, bullet, knife, or slingshot was presented as evidence--however, as we have seen in many places since, once security directorates have made such a claim, they will go to extraordinary lengths to cover up their errors. If that means that a few dozen individuals lose their reputations and businesses, the government views that as preferable to its own loss of prestige.

Ironically, the People's Action Party (which was and is the ruling party in Singapore) originally began as a socialist party allied with pro-communist trade unions.

The loss of reputation is a grievous blow, particularly when there is no chance the government will admit to a mistake. The author describes how, during her arrest, she saw one of her neighbours standing outside, but the moment they made eye contact, the neighbour disappeared inside. It is a scene reminiscent of Solzhenitsyn (though unfortunately not as well written)--the arrest in the wee hours of the morning; the neighbours pretending not to know you. And during the interrogations, the dropped hints of arrest or punishment of your friends and family--and the long days and weeks in isolation, never knowing.

I recall dimly hearing of these events at the time, and smugly thinking that such things could never happen in any North American country. I viewed it as evidence that Singapore was not a "real" democracy.

Reading this book in light of the War on Terror, and the prospects for unlimited detention (or even assassination) on the basis of an assertion by an executive authority has broken my earlier smugness. Instead there is a mounting horror of what is happening in what I used to think were real democracies.

They, too, do not apologize for the effectiveness of their interrogations.

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