Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Who Blames the Victim?

Gray Matter


IF you are mugged on a midnight stroll through the park, some people will feel compassion for you, while others will admonish you for being there in the first place. If you are raped by an acquaintance after getting drunk at a party, some will be moved by your misfortune, while others will ask why you put yourself in such a situation.

What determines whether someone feels sympathy or scorn for the victim of a crime? Is it a function of political affiliation? Of gender? Of the nature of the crime?

In a recent series of studies, we found that the critical factor lies in a particular set of moral values. Our findings, published on Thursday in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, show that the more strongly you privilege loyalty, obedience and purity — as opposed to values such as care and fairness — the more likely you are to blame the victim.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Singlish: Friend or foe?

Sumiko Tan
Deputy Editor

JUN 5, 2016,

I don't think we should celebrate Singlish, but there's no escaping how it identifies and brings Singaporeans closer together
I've not seen my sister for nearly four years, which is why I'm looking forward to the next two weeks.

We have planned a family holiday in Edinburgh and London.

She, her husband and two children will be flying in to Heathrow Airport from the United States to meet my mother, H and me. H's daughter from Wales will also be joining us.

We've booked two Airbnb houses with kitchens, so I'm packing some Singapore goodies that we can cook and eat there.

I've bought Prima Taste Singapore Curry mix and will be getting Bengawan Solo pineapple tarts, Ya Kun kaya, Bee Cheng Hiang bak kwa and Spring Home frozen roti prata.

There's nothing like the taste of Singapore to bond two Singaporean sisters, right?

Actually, it's more likely going to be the sound of Singapore - Singlish - that does it.

If Europe gets its power from bus-size nuclear reactors, why can't we?

August 14, 2009

[Note: this article is from 2009, 7 years ago as of this blogpost.]

Dear Cecil:

Are there really bus-size nuclear reactors all over Europe (especially in France), that can safely power small towns? If so, why don’t we have them?

— Keith Runfola

Cecil replies:

If by “bus-size” you mean “not bus-size,” and by “all over Europe” you mean “not all over Europe,” then sure. Otherwise, no.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Robots may cut off path to prosperity in developing world

Sarah O’Connor

June 27, 2016


There is a gloomy view you hear in the developed world that goes something like this: First the factories went overseas, now the robots are coming for the jobs that are left. In other words, automation will sweep up the crumbs that globalisation left behind.

But the relationship between globalisation and automation is more interesting than that. Rich countries are beginning to see factories return to their shores — and they have the robots to thank.

Take Adidas. When chief executive Herbert Hainer joined the German sportswear company in 1987, factories were beginning to close in Germany and move to China. This month, he announced Adidas would bring some shoe production back to Germany for the first time in three decades, thanks to a highly-automated factory in Bavaria. “I find it almost uncanny how things have come full circle,” he said.

The European Union expanded too fast and will probably fail, Lee Kuan Yew said back in 2012

June 27 2016

As the world struggles to make sense of Brexit, there has been renewed public interest in the future of Britain and the European Union(EU). One Singaporean who had tracked Europe's great effort at integration over many decades was the late Lee Kuan Yew.

In the years following the European debt crisis which began unfolding in late 2009, Mr Lee was asked on several occasions for his views on the EU. He weighed in, speaking with clarity, depth of understanding and keen insight.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit referendum: A question both naive and necessary

[The "Leave" votes may have it. ]

Janan Ganesh

June 23 2106

A decision can be reckless and unavoidable as a film can be lousy and underrated. When Mr David Cameron committed to a referendum on Britain's place in the European Union (EU) three years ago, allies of the Prime Minister - especially his nearest, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne - feared for their Conservative Party. Economists anticipated an expensive chill on confidence and investment. Sticklers for representative democracy pictured a tawdry, unreflective campaign.

Their every dread has transpired, and even they did not expect a further problem that any advertising executive could have seen coming. A proposition, however barmy, gains a spurious credibility when offered in a side-by-side choice with something else. There was never a clamour to leave the EU. But once exit was tabled as an official option, it attained a rough parity of esteem with the status quo, and not just because broadcast media had to give each side equal weight. It is hard to damn a course of action as unthinkable when you have just opened it to the country. The vagaries of choice architecture should engage politicians as much as the peddlers of washing powder and brands of cola.

A naive referendum, then, that has left Britain with a material chance of exit. Yet it made all the sense in the world. Without that pledge, Mr Cameron would certainly have succumbed to mutinous forces in his party before the 2015 general election. The Tories would have fallen to right-wing leadership. A referendum would have been held eventually anyway, most likely by a Conservative prime minister set on leaving. All else being equal, the campaign for exit would have stood a better chance than it does today.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Brexit and the burden of being Germany

Jonathan Eyal
Europe Correspondent

JUN 20, 2016

Its leaders' hopes of a federal Europe and further integration are all but dead

LONDON • Being Europe's biggest power is no fun, for it entails more liabilities than advantages. Just ask the Germans, who are invariably expected to pick up the pieces in every European crisis, but are then also invariably blamed for any outcome.

However, this week's referendum on Britain's continued membership in the European Union (EU) will test German power and patience to their outer limits. For almost regardless of whether the British decide to stay or leave the EU in the ballot scheduled for Thursday, it will fall on Germany to guide Europe the day thereafter. And this time, even Germany's legendary powers won't be enough, for the country is no longer as big as Europe's mounting problems.

It is an article of faith among those who oppose the European Union that the organisation is a German "plot" to dominate the continent through nefarious bureaucratic means. One of the most disgraceful slogans by EU opponents during the present British referendum campaign claimed that Hitler tried to dominate Europe "with gas", while current German Chancellor Angela Merkel "does it with paperwork".

Asean's disunity undermines its centrality

Thitinan Pongsudhirak
Director Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University

June 21 2016

The confused statements coming out from the recent Asean-China foreign ministers' meeting highlights an Asean in disarray. But big powers should also realise that a strong Asean is good for regional stability, and for themselves too.

One thing is clear from the confusion and controversy arising from the recent special meeting between Asean and Chinese foreign ministers in Kunming: South-east Asia's premier organisation is structurally split over its divergent territorial interests.

While the facts are still being debated in Beijing and South-east Asian capitals, Asean foreign ministers did produce a media statement from their meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The meeting, held at a lakeside resort in Kunming in China's south-western Yunnan province, was organised partly to review and build on 25 years of Asean-China dialogue relations.

The statement included Asean's concerns on the South China Sea in no uncertain terms. In view of China's disagreement, a decision was made that Asean, which was to have been represented by Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan as co-chair of the meeting with Mr Wang, would not attend any joint press briefing as it would be rude to disagree with the Chinese minister in public. Singapore is the current country coordinator for Asean-China relations.

Monday, June 20, 2016

In China, this Singaporean flute-maker is a ‘sifu’

By Lam Shushan
19 Jun 2016

Master craftsman Ng Teck Seng’s lifelong devotion to fixing a century-old discord in chinese orchestral music has gained the attention of China’s leading music school.

SINGAPORE: Shelves of bamboo and homemade tools line his 3- by 4-metre workspace, while sawdust coats the floor and floats through the air.

This is the special room in his HDB flat where, over the course of 20 years, Mr Ng has crafted more than 2,000 bamboo flutes (Dizi) and 100 Chinese violins (Erhu) used by musicians from world-class Chinese orchestras in China, Singapore, Hong Kong and beyond.

The 57-year-old claims to be one of the few people to apply the western music theory of acoustics to the ancient tradition of Chinese flute-making. He also claims - and not without merit - to be able to make better instruments than anyone else.

After all, late last year, he was invited by the China Conservatory of Music to head a new department that will focus on the research and development of Chinese musical instruments. He heads to Beijing in August this year to lead the team.

And just this month, he learnt he would receive financial support from the National Arts Council (NAC).

Local study confirms why breakfast is the key meal

Jun 20 2-16

What's eaten sets the tone for the day for sugar in the blood

Salma Khalik
Senior Health Correspondent

Experts have been saying for decades that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Now, researchers from the Clinical Nutrition Research Centre (CNRC) here have proven why this is so: What is eaten for breakfast sets the tone for the rest of the day in terms of sugar in the blood.

The centre has shown that people who have a low glycaemic index (GI) breakfast and afternoon snack have significantly less sugar in their blood for the rest of the day.

GI measures the sugar in the blood from the carbohydrates eaten. A glycaemic response is the amount of sugar in the blood over time resulting from food.

The trial found that while participants were offered a standard buffet lunch and were free to eat what they wanted for dinner, what they had for breakfast made a vast difference to their glycaemic response.

The difference was even larger on the second day of the study.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Let's get off the 'euphemism treadmill'

Justin Lee
For The Straits Times

June 10 2016

There is no need to whitewash someone's disability to show them respect

We no longer have cripples, the mentally retarded or old people in Singapore. It is not because we found some scientific solution or elixir of youth, but that the preferred terms have become "the physically disabled", "intellectually challenged" and "senior citizens", respectively.

Our polite intentions have resulted in name changes for voluntary welfare organisations that serve people with disabilities - the Singapore Association for Retarded Children became the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds); the Spastic Children's Association of Singapore became Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore (CPAS); and the Society for Aid to the Paralysed became The Society for the Physically Disabled, which more recently became simply "SPD" because they now serve people with other, and not just physical, disabilities.

These politically correct terms and phrases were developed to avoid the stigmatisation and discrimination of people with disabilities. But we now have a situation of what Harvard University linguist Steven Pinker calls the "euphemism treadmill" - where words originally intended to be politically correct take on the negative connotations of the original words and new terms have to be invented to be less offensive.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Nature, fossil fuels, and global warming: How many trees should I plant to balance my yearly CO2 output?

[From: January 3, 2003]

Dear Cecil:

In my high school biology class we were studying biogeochemical cycles, including the carbon cycle. One paragraph detailed how humans, by burning fossil fuels, are putting more carbon dioxide into the air than is being removed, causing global warming, etc. According to my textbook, transportation accounts for most of the carbon dioxide being added to the air since our cars use petroleum-based fuels. The book also notes that trees and other green plants remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. How many houseplants, acres of grass, and trees should I have if I want to take as much carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as I'm putting in?

— John L. White

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A rare glimpse into the processes behind Singapore's waste disposal


By Monica Kotwani

08 Jun 2016

SINGAPORE: Last year, Singapore generated 7.67 million tonnes of waste, an increase of almost 160,000 tonnes compared to 2014. The amount is increasing with population growth and rising affluence.

In the 1960s and 1970s, landfills existed on the mainland, in places like Choa Chu Kang and Lorong Halus. Over time, the process has become more advanced, but also remote. Much of it takes place out of plain sight of the people who produce the vast amounts of waste.

On Wednesday (Jun 8) the National Environment Agency (NEA) offered a rare glimpse of what happens after rubbish is tossed down chutes, when it arrives at Tuas South Incineration Plant, and finally, at the Semakau Landfill.

Singapore supplying more potable water to Johor due to severe dry weather

June 6 2016

[Is it obvious now?]

SINGAPORE - The Public Utilities Board (PUB) has begun supplying additional potable water to Johor after the Malaysian state's water regulatory body put up a call for assistance.

With the current dry weather severely affecting water levels in Johor's Sungai Layang dam, the Badan Kawalselia Air Johor (Bakaj) had requested that PUB provide an additional six million gallons per day for a month.

This is to supplement the water supply in areas serviced by the dam, and increases Singapore's supply of treated water to its closest neighbour to 22 million gallons daily.

PUB, in a press release on Monday (June 6), said it had agreed to help, and started injecting the additional supply from the Johor River Waterworks - which it operates in the state - last Saturday (June 4).

It stressed that the arrangement was temporary and subject to regular review.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

News Reaction: Harambe or #GorillaLifeMattersYourOpinionDoesn't

So a toddler squeezed himself through the barriers, and fell 15 feet (approx) into the moat of the gorilla enclosure of the Cincinnati Zoo. A male gorilla rushed to see what had intruded his compound and found the boy, sitting in the water. He came into contact with the boy. Some who looked at the video (in full or more likely partially) decided that the gorilla was just being friendly, and even protective.

Others who saw the gorilla, disturbed or agitated by the screaming crowd, grab the boy by a leg and first drag him through the water to another spot in the moat, before taking the boy further away (not sure from the video posted on line), decided that the gorilla was a danger to the boy, whether intentionally or accidentally. That is, even if the gorilla meant the boy no harm, his rough handling of the boy, might just injure the boy, perhaps fatally.

The Cincinnati Zoo assessed the situation and decided that the risk to the boy was too great, and the only reasonable course of action was to shoot the gorilla. Tranquillisers were out of the question as a) they took too long to work, and b), the proper dosage would be an educated guess, and c) even if the dose was correct in a normal situation, an agitated gorilla would present uncertainty in estimating the dosage. Moreover, the shock of a tranquilliser dart hitting the gorilla may cause the already agitated gorilla to respond unpredictably.

So the zoo that have spent months and perhaps years looking after the gorilla, and who had plans for Harambe in their breeding programme, decided that the most reasonable course was to shoot the gorilla.

And the internet got outraged.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Beastly behaviour on the Internet

Ong Hwee Hwee
Deputy Digital Editor

JUN 5, 2016

From animals to algorithms, social media had plenty to raise a ruckus over


A curious topic has been trending on the Internet: What determines what's trending on Facebook?

The popular understanding is that a set of complex, top-secret algorithms acts as the invisible hand which draws up the influential list of trending topics appearing on the pages of its 1.6 billion users.

But it has emerged over the past weeks that there is in fact a team of men and women - known internally as news curators - behind the invisible hand.

The issue is still a talking point but the debate has shifted from who decides what's trending to what it says about what we read online, and how it shapes our views.

First, a quick recap of the saga.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Barack Obama settles the family 'business'

Ravi Velloor
Associate Editor (Global Affairs)

June 3 2016

The American President has pulled his nation out of its morass.

For all practical purposes, United States President Barack Obama has just had his farewell trip to Asia. True, he is indeed likely to turn up in Laos for the East Asia Summit at the year end but he will be a lame duck by then and, really, all that can be expected from him in Vientiane is the photo op of a farewell wave with perhaps the Mekong as the backdrop.

The heavy lifting, to borrow an American expression, has been largely completed, now that he has removed the embargo on weapon sales to Vietnam in its entirety. Not to speak of last week's memorable visit to Hiroshima, a city whose bombing in 1945, along with that of Nagasaki a few days later, decisively ended World War II and established American dominance over the world.

While making no apologies for that action, Mr Obama may have tacitly helped his friend Shinzo Abe cast his nation in the garb of a victim - subtle nuance that should no doubt help the Japanese Prime Minister push Japan, the wartime aggressor, into the status of a more "normal" nation. No US president had visited Hiroshima before.

Mr Obama apparently counts the iconic Mob movies of the 1970s, The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, among his favourites. If that is so, then he could privately say to himself that in his second term, like the reluctant Michael Corleone in The Godfather who is forced by circumstance to do distasteful things in order to protect his flock, he has "settled much of the family business".

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Getting to the future with honour

Lim Siong Guan and Joanne H. Lim For The Straits Times

JUN 2, 2016

Last year, Singapore celebrated 50 years of independence. We had risen from Third World to First in economic terms.

But Madam Halimah Yacob, Speaker of Parliament, said at the launch of the Honour International Symposium recently that Singapore 50 years from now will have to be defined much more in social terms than economic ones. "Economic vibrancy is important, but life has to be more than economics and countries have to be more than GDP," she asserted.

Lee Hsien Loong’s American Exceptionalism

Singapore’s prime minister says the U.S. might be roiled by politics, but its leadership on trade and security is indispensable.

March 31, 2016

By any global measure, a prime minister of Singapore presides over a minuscule patch of earth and speaks for a tiny fraction of the world’s population. Yet notwithstanding the city-state’s small size—or maybe because of it—its prime ministers often have a keener grasp of American interests than Americans do.

So it’s no surprise that Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore’s current prime minister, would come right to the point in a meeting with The Wall Street Journal editorial board. When asked for his take on the Obama administration’s unratified Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, which neither the leading Democratic nor Republican candidate for president supports, he answered this way:

“You have an administration which understands America’s international responsibilities and interests, but you have a population which is anxious, tired, and doesn’t want to bear any burden and pay any price. And that’s very difficult for whoever becomes president.”