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