Thursday, September 18, 2014

History's many shades of grey

Sep 15, 2014

By Tan Tai Yong For The Straits Times

WHY is history important? Let me begin by asking another question: After 50 years of nationhood, how well do Singapore citizens know their country's history? In attempting to answer this question, I should make a distinction between historical literacy and historical consciousness.

Put crudely, the first is knowing what; the second, knowing why.

Show of force by Taiwan with its biggest naval exercise in 25 years

Sep 17, 2014

HUALIEN, Taiwan (AFP) - Taiwan's navy fired anti-submarine rockets and guns on Wednesday, simulating their response if China launched an invasion, as part of the island's biggest naval drill in 25 years.

The event was presided over by President Ma Ying-jeou and staged primarily in the coastal waters off the eastern Hualien county.

A total of 88 vessels were mobilised during the event, which is part of the five-day "Han Kuang 30" (Han Glory 30) war game that began on Monday. "By the number of warships, it is the biggest naval drill for 25 years," Defence Ministry spokesman David Lo told AFP.

The exercise, which is held annually, usually features around 50 vessels, Vice-Admiral Huang Shu-kuang said.

This year the war games included a scenario where Taiwan was facing attack by Chinese invaders and featured a simulated submarine ambush on the naval forces, as well as staged attacks by air and other ships.

"The scenario is multiple threats by the enemy from the air, the surface and under the sea," Vice-Adm Huang said.

At the end of the drill, Mr Ma reviewed the fleet in a rare grand maritime parade.

Ties between Taiwan and China have improved markedly since 2008 after Mr Ma from the China-friendly Kuomintang party came to power on platform of ramping up trade and tourism with China.

But China still refuses to renounce its use of force against Taiwan should the island declare formal independence.

Taiwan and China split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

Subverting Democracy - Elitism, Oligarchy, and Plutarchy

Sep 13, 2014

The poisonous politics of the elite

By Dani Rodrik

IT IS hardly news that the rich have more political power than the poor, even in democratic countries where everyone gets a single vote in elections.

But two political scientists, Professor Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Prof Benjamin Page of Northwestern University, have recently produced some stark findings for the United States that have dramatic implications for the functioning of democracy - in the US and elsewhere.

The authors' research builds on prior work by Prof Gilens, who painstakingly collected public-opinion polls on nearly 2,000 policy questions from 1981 to 2002.

The pair then examined whether America's federal government adopted the policy in question within four years of the survey, and tracked how closely the outcome matched the preferences of voters at different points of the income distribution.

When viewed in isolation, the preferences of the "average" voter - that is, a voter in the middle of the income distribution - seem to have a strongly positive influence on the government's ultimate response. A policy that the average voter would like is significantly more likely to be enacted.

But, as professors Gilens and Page note, this gives a misleadingly upbeat impression of the representativeness of government decisions. The preferences of the average voter and of the economic elite are not very different on most policy matters.

For example, both groups of voters would like to see a strong national defence and a healthy economy. A better test would be to examine what the government does when the two groups have divergent views.

To carry out that test, the authors ran a horse race between the preferences of average voters and those of the economic elite - defined as individuals at the top tenth percentile of the income distribution - to see which voters exert greater influence. They found that the effect of the average voter drops to insignificant levels, while that of the economic elite remains substantial.

The implication is clear: When the elite's interests differ from those of the rest of society, it is their views that count - almost exclusively. (As the authors explain, we should think of the preferences of the top 10 per cent as a proxy for the views of the truly wealthy, say, the top 1 per cent - the genuine elite.)

What's a Degree worth?

Sep 07, 2014

When degrees become the norm, what’s a parent to do?

By Chua Mui Hoong, Opinion Editor

When he was doing his postgraduate studies in England, economist Wilson Wong noticed that many waiters and waitresses were graduates.

As he wrote in an Opinion article published in The Straits Times on Friday: “It is not uncommon for fresh graduates to spend extended periods waiting on tables while clinging on to fading hopes of finding the elusive dream job in keeping with their university education. Currently, an estimated 1.2 million youth (between the ages of 16 and 24) in Britain are in jobs for which they are overqualified.”

Dr Wong’s point: It’s better for Singapore to strengthen vocational skills training to allow young people to climb the career ladder, than to have more university places. Too many uni places can lead to underemployment, he said.

It’s a call his colleague at UniSIM Randolph Tan would agree with. Dr Tan trawled through employment statistics to argue in this article that there are growing concerns about graduate employment.

“In Singapore, the number of unemployed residents with degrees is now higher than for groups of any other educational level,” he said.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Grade expectations

Ivy League grade inflation

An “A” is not what it used to be

Sep 6th 2014

“WE DO not release statistics on grade-point averages so we can’t speak to the accuracy of the information you have.” That was a flack for Yale, but other Ivy League colleges—with the partial exception of Princeton—were equally reluctant to discuss their grading practices with The Economist.

China's bad loans spell bad news for global economies too

Sep 16, 2014


THE risk of what Nobel laureate Paul Krugman calls "Japanification" - a semi-permanent economic funk - has haunted China for at least a couple years now.

Last week, a Bank of America Merrill Lynch report again asked: "Will China repeat Japan's experience?"

Let's dispense with the suspense: Yes, China very likely will. And the outcome will have far more serious global implications than Professor Krugman's main worry, which focuses on the chances of stagnation in Europe.

The Purpose of Education - or just Higher Education

Sep 10, 2014

What we have before us then, is three distinct purposes for a university: The commercial purpose (starting a career), Prof Pinker's cognitive purpose (acquiring information and learning how to think) and Deresiewicz's moral purpose (building an integrated self).

Moral morass plagues elite US varsities today


THIS summer, The New Republic published the most-read article in that magazine's history. It was an essay by William Deresiewicz, drawn from his new book, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation Of The American Elite And The Way To A Meaningful Life.

Everyone is born with a mind, he writes, but it is only through introspection, observation, connecting the head and the heart, making meaning of experience and finding an organising purpose that you build a unique individual self.

This process, he argues, often begins in college, the interval of freedom when a person is away from both family and career. During that interval, the young person can throw himself with reckless abandon at other people and learn from them.