Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Woman now 'owns' the Sun

Nov 27, 2010

SPANISH WOMAN REGISTERS SUN AS PROPERTY

MADRID - AFTER billions of years the Sun finally has an owner - a woman from Spain's soggy region of Galicia said on Friday she had registered the star at a local notary public as being her property.

Ms Angeles Duran, 49, told the online edition of daily El Mundo she took the step in September after reading about an American man who had registered himself as the owner of the moon and most planets in our Solar System.

There is an international agreement which states that no country may claim ownership of a planet or star, but it says nothing about individuals, she added.

'There was no snag, I backed my claim legally, I am not stupid, I know the law. I did it but anyone else could have done it, it simply occurred to me first.'

The document issued by the notary public declares Ms Duran to be the 'owner of the Sun, a star of spectral type G2, located in the centre of the solar system, located at an average distance from Earth of about 149,600,000km'.

Ms Duran, who lives in the town of Salvaterra do Mino, said she now wants to slap a fee on everyone who uses the sun and give half of the proceeds to the Spanish government and 20 per cent to the nation's pension fund. She would dedicate another 10 per cent to research, another 10 per cent to ending world hunger - and would keep the remaining 10 per cent herself. -- AFP

Copyright © 2010 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.

[Ha! Stupid woman. Now when communications are adversely affected by solar flares, she can be sued. When people get sun-burned, they can sue her. Alternatively, Singaporeans can refuse to pay her and request that she turn off the sun every few days to cool our little island down. And if she doesn't turn off the sun on those days, we can sue for trespass. And if we want sun for say parades or other national events, sports events, we can sue if it doesn't shine. ]

US federal debt may trigger next crisis

Nov 29, 2010

By Sheila C. Bair

TWO years ago, the United States experienced its worst financial crisis since the 1930s. The crisis began on Wall Street, where misguided bets on risky mortgage loans resulted in enormous losses that few anticipated. More than four million jobs were lost in just six months after the peak of the crisis. There is hardly one Main Street in America not still feeling its effects.

Even as work continues to repair America's financial infrastructure and get the economy moving again, urgent action is needed to forestall the next financial crisis. I fear that one will start in Washington. Total federal debt has doubled in the past seven years, to almost US$14 trillion (S$18.5 trillion). That's more than US$100,000 for every American household. This explosive growth in federal borrowing is a result of not just the financial crisis but also government unwillingness over many years to make the hard choices necessary to rein in America's long-term structural deficit.

Retiring baby boomers, who will live longer on average than any previous generation, will have a major impact on government spending. This year, the combined expenditures on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are projected to account for 45 per cent of primary federal spending, up from 27 per cent in 1975. The Congressional Budget Office projects that annual entitlement spending could triple in real terms by 2035, to US$4.5 trillion in today's dollars.

Defence spending is similarly unsustainable, and America's tax code is riddled with special-interest provisions that have little to do with broader economic prosperity. Overly generous tax subsidies for housing and health care have contributed to rising costs and misallocation of resources.

Unless something is done, federal debt held by the public could rise from a level equal to 62 per cent of gross domestic product this year to 185 per cent in 2035. Eventually, this relentless federal borrowing will directly threaten financial stability by undermining the confidence that investors have in US government obligations.

Financial markets are already sending disquieting signals. The cost for bond investors and others to purchase insurance against a default by the US government rose markedly during the financial crisis, from an annual premium of less than 2 basis points in January 2007 to 100 basis points early last year, before falling to the current level of 41 basis points.

With more than 70 per cent of US Treasury obligations held by private investors scheduled to mature in the next five years, an erosion of investor confidence would lead to sharp increases in government and private borrowing costs. And while the US enjoys a uniquely favoured status today - investors still view US Treasury securities as a haven during crises - events in Greece and Ireland should serve as a warning. The yields on their long-term government securities have risen from rough parity with US Treasury obligations in early 2007 to levels that are hundreds of basis points higher.

If investors were to similarly lose confidence in US public debt, we could expect high and volatile interest rates to impose losses on financial institutions that hold Treasury instruments, and to raise the funding costs of depository institutions, which can be highly vulnerable to interest rate shocks.

Recent proposals by the co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform and by the Bipartisan Policy Centre represent credible first steps towards recognising and addressing the nation's fiscal problem. Both propose to reduce and cap discretionary spending, enact comprehensive tax reform, reduce mandatory spending on health care and other programmes, and ensure the long-term solvency of Social Security.

Fixing these problems will require a bipartisan national commitment to a comprehensive package of spending cuts and tax increases over many years. Most of the needed changes will be unpopular, and they are likely to affect every interest group in some way. The changes will have to be phased in as the economy continues to recover from the effects of the financial crisis.
Establishing a comprehensive plan now would demonstrate a firm commitment to the type of long-term budget discipline that will be needed to preserve America's credibility in the global financial markets and a stable banking sector at home.

The writer is chairman of the United States Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

WASHINGTON POST

Workfare better than minimum wage: PM

Nov 29, 2010
 
By Cai Haoxiang

SINGAPORE has something better than a minimum wage and it is called Workfare, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday, in his first public remarks on the issue of whether there should be a minimum wage in Singapore.

He said the Workfare Income Supplement scheme is more effective at helping low-income Singaporeans as it is more targeted, and is funded by the Government instead of the employer.

'People say, why not have a minimum wage in Singapore? Actually, we have something better than the minimum wage, we have Workfare,' he said at the 31st PAP party conference yesterday.

'With the minimum wage, we put the burden on the employer.

'He has to pay extra, so instead of encouraging the employer to hire more low-income workers, you are discouraging him from hiring workers and the result is not going to be what we want,' he said, as he highlighted the minimum wage's tendency to increase unemployment.

The Government has spent a total of $1.65 billion in the last five years, or $400 million a year, to help 400,000 low-income workers, he noted.

Workfare started as a pilot scheme in 2006 and was institutionalised in 2007.

The scheme gives cash and Central Provident Fund monies to Singaporeans aged 35 and above who earn up to $1,700 monthly - roughly the 30th percentile of wage-earners here.

A 65-year-old earning $1,000 a month will get the maximum payout of $2,800 a year, of which $800 will be in cash and $2,000 will go into his CPF account. The self-employed get up to $1,833 a year in their Medisave accounts.

The debate on whether to legislate a minimum wage in Singapore resurfaced in recent months after lawmakers in Hong Kong passed such a law in July.

Academics and politicians have weighed in on both sides of the issue in the media and other public fora.

Proponents say it will improve the lot of low-income Singaporeans who have suffered from the influx of cheap foreign labour, while critics say it is difficult to implement and locals will lose out if wages are set too high and jobs move abroad.

In his speech, Mr Lee listed other measures, in addition to Workfare, that the Government has introduced to help low-income Singaporeans.

These include an Additional Housing Grant of up to $40,000 for low-income households, over and above the market subsidy for flats and existing grants of up to $40,000 to buy new and resale flats.

Mr Lee also highlighted the three-year, $190 million Workfare Training Support (WTS) scheme that gives low-wage workers cash grants and course fee support, to encourage them to go for training and be equipped with skills to get better jobs.

Mr Lee also mentioned the three 'M's that underpin Singapore's health care system - Medisave, MediShield and Medifund - to help poor families afford good medical care.

He said that Singapore's health care social safety net works so well that there are very few residents who come to MPs' Meet-the-People sessions seeking help to pay their medical bills.

'When they do come, we are usually able to solve their problems,' he added.

Mr Lee also cited hardship fund ComCare, which grassroots leaders tap on to help needy residents.

PM Lee emphasised that there is no shortage of schemes to help needy Singaporeans, as long as they are willing to help themselves upgrade.

Singapore remembers the people at the margins, he said, whether they are from low-income groups, or are people whose household income places them just beyond qualifying for subsidised government flats.

'But most help must go to those who are most in need,' he said.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Paracetamol may affect young

Nov 29, 2010

WELLINGTON - THE use of paracetamol for infants may be linked to the development of allergies and asthma later on, according to a report.

But more research is needed to clarify this and the benefits of paracetamol use for fever control still outweigh the potential of later allergy development, said Julian Crane, a professor at Otago University in Wellington and author of the report.

The report, which has appeared in 'Clinical and Experimental Allergy' journal, is based on the New Zealand Asthma and Allergy Cohort Study, which investigated use of paracetamol for 505 infants in Christchurch and 914 five and six-year-olds in Christchurch to see if they developed signs of asthma or allergic sensitivity.

'The major finding is that children who used paracetamol before the age of 15 months (90 per cent) were more than three times as likely to become sensitised to allergens and twice as likely to develop symptoms of asthma at six years old than children not using paracetamol,' Mr Crane said in a statement.

The research found that by six years of age, 95 per cent of the study sample was using paracetamol and there was a significant increased risk for asthma and wheezing.

But the findings depended on how much paracetamol was being used, with the risk greater for those with severe asthma symptoms. -- REUTERS

Sunday, November 28, 2010

'More tussles likely' at next GE

Nov 28, 2010

PAP chairman Lim Boon Heng expects more seats to be contested, given electoral changes
 
By Cai Haoxiang

The ruling People's Action Party (PAP) can expect to face more contests at the next polls, its chairman Lim Boon Heng said yesterday.

Addressing 1,700 party activists at an awards ceremony, he said it was 'almost certain that more seats will be contested' as the opposition's chances for entering Parliament have increased with changes to the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) scheme.

At the last general election in 2006, opposition parties contested 47 out of 84 seats, up from 29 out of 84 in 2001.

This year, the Government changed the Constitution to increase the number of opposition MPs in the House from the current minimum of three to a guaranteed number of nine.

From the next general election, as long as the number of elected opposition members falls below nine, their ranks will be topped up to nine by allowing the best-performing losers to be admitted into Parliament as NCMPs.

As a result of this change, Mr Lim predicted yesterday that 'the uncontested constituency is likely to be the exception rather than the norm'.

That will be good for the PAP, he said, as their branches will 'gain battle experience that will be valuable for future elections'. He urged all branches to include as many young people as possible in their election committees.

Recent reports suggest that the opposition may well be working the ground in all 84 wards islandwide.

Mr Lim, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, was speaking a day ahead of today's PAP party conference, when its cadres will elect a new central executive committee.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's address will cap the conference, the last before the next polls due by February 2012.

On the general election, Mr Lim said: 'I trust all branches have made preparations and are ready, as the Prime Minister can decide to call the general election at any time.'

Election buzz has been on the rise since Oct 30, when Prime Minister Lee revealed that the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee had been convened.

On party renewal, Mr Lim said the coming general election should see the emergence of younger faces who will form the next generation of leaders.

'People will judge not just how able they are, but also how sincere they are,' he said.

Another change is that the electorate will be more diverse and the PAP will need to cater to the aspirations of the young as well as the concerns of the old, he added.

During yesterday's awards ceremony, Mr Lim honoured 338 activists for their contributions to the party, saying they have been a critical force in the party's success since 1959.

Among the award winners was Bukit Gombak branch secretary Kee Wei Heong, 61, who said that his election teams have been 'on standby for the last six months' and have been gathering feedback.

The oldest award recipient, Taman Jurong branch's Mr Lee Kock Meng, 84, has been an active grassroots volunteer for 45 years, since 1965. A retired primary school principal, Mr Lee reflected on changing voter aspirations.

'Last time, voters just want to have a place to stay. Now, they want their children to have a good education, find a good job with a good salary,' he said.

Thanking the activists for their sacrifices, Mr Lim hailed them as the 'soul' of the PAP's political movement. They put a 'human face' to the party's work for the welfare of Singaporeans.

'The future well-being of our people will rest on the outcome of the general election,' he told assembled activists.

'Our party has served the people well in the past 50 years. Together, let us work hard to renew our mandate for the next election term, and put in place the team for the next 20 years.'

haoxiang@sph.com.sg

[The PAP should be aware that the opposition will be increasing this coming election, and the election changes - more guaranteed opposition with the NCMP scheme, smaller GRCs, more SMCs - are all moves that will encourage the opposition to contest in more wards. This addresses two, possible three issues.

Firstly, Singaporeans have complained that they are 30, 40 years old and have never voted in an election because their ward always gets a PAP walkover.

Secondly, more opposition would be challenging the PAP even without the changes to the election procedures. This way the PAP takes some of the sting out of it, but taking steps to encourage electoral contests.

Thirdly, by having more SMCs and smaller GRCs, they minimise losses, and the number of "lower-quality" opposition members in parliament. Consider, if Sylvia Lim contests in a 5-seat GRC, there is a small chance that her influence may be enough to win the day. If she is contesting in Aljunied like the last election with the same line-up on both sides, she would be in, with 4 "lightweight" or even poor quality opposition. Meanwhile the PAP would lose George Yeo and Lim Hwee Hua - 2 ministers.

But if Aljunied were to become a 4 seat GRC with say Mdm Cynthia Phua or Mr Yeo Guat Kwang splitting off into an SMC, Sylvia Lim might want to consider if she might have a better chance in an SMC, because the electorate may weigh the advantage of voting for Sylvia Lim against the liability of less able opposition members.

The increase in SMCs to 12 (up from 9 currently) may see more opposition members in single seat wards. There are two now, it may be 3 or 4.

Chiam See Tong has indicated plans to pursue a GRC. However, the plans are all falling apart. I doubt he will win because of his age, his health, and his lack of history in a new ward. Moreover, I fear Potong Pasir may revert to PAP without him. However, I do no know what sort of support his wife has, but the people may decide it is time to switch and with him leaving, they would have a good excuse to flip - after all, he abandoned them first.

Low Thia Kiang is safe where he is. Sylvia could take a SMC. And maybe Kenneth Jeyaratnam.

Maybe Chiam and his wife Lina, can come in as NCMPs being the best "losers".]

Friday, November 26, 2010

Moderate Muslim author condemns virulent anti-Semitism infiltrating Islam

By Barbara Yaffe, Vancouver Sun November 23, 2010

Toronto author Tarek Fatah is peddling a radical notion: Muslims and Jews really ought to get along.

In his newly published book, The Jew Is Not My Enemy, the founder and former head of the Muslim Canadian Congress argues that if Muslims in the Middle East have anyone to blame for their plight it's their own political and religious leaders.

Moreover, "Despite my solidarity with the Palestinian cause, I denounce anti-Semitism and refuse to hate either Israel or the Jewish people."

The 61-year-old Pakistaniborn journalist immigrated to Canada from Saudi Arabia in 1987 and in the early 1990s ran unsuccessfully for the Ontario New Democrats. (He later left the party, believing "the NDP today has become the bastion of anti-Israeli sentiment.")

Fatah, a moderate Muslim who is not Arab, hosts a Toronto radio show.

Against a 2010 backdrop of Islamic terrorism, his views are intriguing. For example: "By any rational standard, Muslims and Jews should have been, and could be, partners."

Their faiths are similar, he says, and more unites than divides them.

According to the author, there are no boy scouts in the Middle East conflict. He's critical of Israel's "immoral" occupation of Palestinian land: "If Israel is to survive as a nation state, not a pariah, it will have to get Palestine off its back."

And, the Palestinians, espousing an all-or-nothing doctrine, repeatedly have squandered opportunities to secure a state for themselves.

But the bigger theme in his book is a condemnation of the virulent anti-Semitism that has infiltrated Islam, a "medieval madness that is creating monsters within the Muslim community."
Fatah, who -- no surprise -- has received his share of death threats, debunks a flotilla of ancient myths regularly deployed to feed Muslim hatred of Jews.

Muslims are told early and often by clerics and in religious tracts that Jews are the descendants of pigs and apes and the brothers of monkeys, that they annually sacrifice people to drink their blood.

This nonsense has only been fuelled by the spread of Wahhabism, courtesy of a wealthy "Saudi hate machine" that geared up in earnest after oil prices soared in 1973.

Fatah writes that Saudi Arabia preaches hatred of Jews in its schoolbooks and that it exports Korans that feature interpretations promoting Judeophobia.

He says clerics regularly close Friday prayers with a call to arms to defeat the Jews.
By contrast, Fatah notes, Jewish scriptures and teachings do not feature anti-Muslim preachings.

"I have spent countless hours trying to locate explicit attacks on Islam by Jewish religious authorities, but have found little evidence of such literature."

And, he recalls centuries during which Jews and Muslims lived cooperatively in the Middle East. In India and Pakistan in the early 20th century, Jews were safe and welcomed.

His book points out that Israeli Arabs regularly state a preference for living in Israel rather than under Hamas or Fatah rule or other Middle East regimes. Many hold favourable views about Jews, says Fatah.

In addition, he reports that when he has randomly asked Israeli Arabs if they believe Israel is an "apartheid state," they laugh out loud.

In the end, argues the author, Muslims "have a choice. Either we allow ourselves to be consumed by hatred, or we approach Jews as fellow human beings, at worst as adversaries in a political dispute, not as monsters destined to be our enemy for all time."

Fatah will be in Vancouver on Monday at 7:30 p.m. to discuss his dispassionate and meticulously researched tome.

The venue: Temple Sholom, 7190 Oak St. Free admission.
Pity he isn't speaking at a mosque.

byaffe@vancouversun.com

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver SunRead more: http://www.vancouversun.com/life/Moderate+Muslim+author+condemns+virulent+anti+Semitism+infiltrating+Islam/3870305/story.html#ixzz16NFiCiW7

Old maid cafe

Nov 26, 2010

SWEET YOUNG THINGS V GRIM-FACED GRANNIES

Girls make way for matriarchs to celebrate old age in greying Japan

TOKYO: Japan's famed 'maid cafes' featuring coy young girls serving tea in frilly aprons and bonnets have been given a new twist - a cafe of unsmiling, grim-faced grannies celebrating old age in a fast-greying nation.

Tokyo's Ikebukuro district now boasts Cafe Rottenmeier, named after the disciplinary housekeeper in the hit 1970s animation series Heidi, Girl Of The Alps.

It has been drawing some 500 customers daily during weekends this month.

Patrons are greeted with a terse 'welcome home' by an unsmiling Fraulein Rottenmeier lookalike before being scolded for slouching in chairs or not removing their coats in the cafe's warm and cosy interior.

There are 30 'Rottenmeiers' who work shifts, including students, office workers and retired real-life grannies, as part of the Festival/Tokyo contemporary arts gathering being held until Sunday.
Although the 'grannies' range in age from 24 to 77 - with the younger matriarchs sporting heavy make-up to look old - the woman behind the concept said she is making a statement on accepting an ageing society.

'Many people think one must be young to do certain things. It's an unnatural obsession,' said 43-year-old artist Miwa Yanagi.

Especially in a country that is rapidly greying, with one of the world's lowest birth rates of 1.37 children a woman taking a dwindling population even lower, helping to deflate an already sagging economy.

The average age of Japan's farmers, for example, is 66.

But Ms Yanagi sees the nation's elders as a cause for celebration.

'Japan is the world's greatest nation of grannies,' she said, in a reference to the nation's average life expectancy of over 86 for women, the world's highest.

Yet despite this, Japan 'worships young women', Ms Yanagi said. 'It loves young women, as you can see in maid cafes or images of women in subculture. Why can't there be a grannies' cafe?'
The grannies, selected from some 50 applicants through an audition, are enjoying being old as much as clients seem to be enjoying being disciplined, said Ms Naomi Akamatsu, a 42-year-old actress wearing fake wrinkles.

'Young boys and girls nowadays long to be scolded,' she said of the concept, which Ms Yanagi says demonstrates the need for strong elders in a nation of small, two-generation families.

Questions about the erosion of social bonds in Japan were raised earlier this year following a nationwide survey which found that more than 230,000 registered centenarians were missing.
Japan launched the search after a string of grisly discoveries - including a mummified man in his bed and an old woman's remains in a backpack - sparked alarm over the fate of many of the elderly.

The cases also triggered a wave of soul-searching over elderly people living in isolation.

But while the cafe remains a light- hearted meditation on Japanese society, it is also a celebration of the Heidi legend.

Many of its customers were children when the Heidi anime first enchanted audiences on Japanese television in 1974.

The popular series, based on the 19th-century novel by Swiss author Johanna Spyri, illustrates Heidi's days in the Swiss Alps with Fraulein Rottenmeier keeping a strict watch.

Young patrons such as Ms Yui Tokunaga, 23, turn up just to see the older, hardline contrast with Japan's famous maid cafes, which usually feature young girls in skimpy outfits, bowing and kneeling as they stir drinks.

'I associate the image of maids with being cute, but here it's fun to see them not being so,' she said.

Madam Kayo Ishikawa, 66, a grandmother of three who started acting after she retired, enjoys being an unsmiling, dour Rottenmeier and appreciates the spirit of the fictitious character despite her age.

'I think she is a woman who devoted herself to her job... I have the impression that she is a woman who earns money by herself and provides for herself,' she said.

Ms Yanagi, the artist, said it was great that 'elderly women are ready to take on new challenges'.
And while she is too young to be a grandmother now, Ms Yanagi said she is ready to embrace the challenges of old age when they arrive.

'I'm looking forward to it,' she said.

AGENCE FRANCE- PRESSE

Thursday, November 25, 2010

University admissions: Go beyond exam smarts

Nov 25, 2010

By Robert J. Sternberg

WAIT list. That was the outcome of my application to Yale University. I was eventually admitted, and I later had an opportunity that very few applicants ever have: I got to find out why I had been on the wait list.

My first job after college was in the Yale Admissions Office, and one day I sneaked into the attic where old records were kept and read my interview report, which described me as having a 'flaky personality'. I did not read the rest of my admissions file - I felt too guilty - so I cannot say whether it was the interviewer's assessment or some other perceived deficiency that consigned me to the wait list. I do know that when I finally got in, it was through the intervention of the admissions officer for my area of residence, who saw something special in me.

Most students do not benefit from this kind of intervention; Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores and Grade Point Averages (GPAs) are much of what make or break a college application. Yet, over the course of my years in the Yale Admissions Office, I was continually surprised by how many of the students we accepted had sky-high SAT scores but seemed to lack basic practical and creative skills, whereas others with more modest scores were stunning successes at Yale, both academically and personally.

Great schools do not always produce great people. But it is not just what happens after students arrive on campus that is the problem. By and large, the best schools do not always pick the best people in the first place. Many students who appear to have tremendous potential at age 17, based on their SAT scores and GPAs, do not look so wonderful 20 years later.

An executive at a major investment bank, looking back on his 25 years on Wall Street, told me that SAT scores predicted quite well who would be good analysts - that is, they predicted the technical skills needed to evaluate investments. What they did not signal, he said, is who could envision where various markets are going, to see larger trends and to make decisions that go beyond individual stock or bond picks.

We can do a much better job of college admissions if we start thinking about student abilities differently. We should assess and value analytical, creative and practical skills and wisdom, not just the ability to memorise or do well in tests. And we should admit people on the basis of their potential for leadership and active citizenship.

Many admissions offices in the United States try to do this already, through essays and the like, but their applications nonetheless remain anchored on test scores and grades. This is in part because scores and grades can be quantified and therefore get more weight than more abstract, seemingly 'fluffy' qualities.

There is, however, a way to test these other important skills, and get this: The students we select using this new method, which puts more emphasis on things other than GPAs? They'll have higher GPAs in college. I know, because this is what has happened at Tufts University.
'Use one of the following topics to create a short story: (a) The Spam Filter; (b) Seventeen Minutes Ago...; (c) Two by Two; (d) Facebook; (e) Now there's the rub...; (f) No Whip Half-Caf Latte; (g) The Eleventh Commandment.'

This was one of seven questions that appeared on the Tufts undergraduate application for the class of 2013. How did it get there? The short answer is that it was crafted by a clever group of Tufts admissions officers, led by Dean of Admissions Lee Coffin.

The long answer goes back a few years. I became a psychology professor at Yale University and in 1997 proposed a theory of successful intelligence, based on the idea that people are meaningfully intelligent only to the extent that they can formulate and achieve their goals by synthesising their creative, analytical and practical skills and their wisdom.

People need creative skills to generate new ideas, analytical skills to determine if they are good ideas, practical skills to implement their ideas, and wisdom to ensure that their ideas help achieve a common good. This theory inspired me to design two projects to improve college admissions.

In the early 2000s, I collaborated with teachers and researchers at two high schools and 13 colleges and universities in the US on a study we called the Rainbow Project. Our goal was to determine whether including a mix of creative, analytical and practical questions on an admissions test might benefit the admissions process.

It did: Incorporating the results of our tests made predictions of freshman GPA twice as accurate as those based on the SAT alone, and 50 per cent better than those based on SATs and high school grades combined. We also found that differences between ethnic groups were substantially smaller on our questions than on the SAT.

In 2005, I became Dean of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University and helped start the Kaleidoscope Project, which added to the Tufts application optional questions designed to assess creative, analytical and practical skills and general wisdom.

The example given earlier was a 'creative' question. Others might ask students to draw something, such as a design for a new product; post a video on YouTube; or imagine an alternate history (what if the Nazis had won World War II?). An analytical question might ask a student what his favourite book is and why. A practical question might ask a student how he convinced a friend of an idea. And a wisdom-oriented question might ask him how a high school passion might be turned towards the common good later in life.

This model provides a simple way of quantifying important qualities so they can become more central to the selection process. How could we evaluate answers to questions that seem so subjective? Through well-developed scoring rubrics. For example, one can score creative responses based on how original and compelling they are and how appropriately they accomplish the task at hand.

This system has been in place for five years, with about two-thirds of Tufts' roughly 15,500 annual applicants choosing to answer one of the optional questions. My collaborators and I have published a study in the journal College And University on the results.

Among the key findings: After controlling for high school grades and SATs, Tufts' new admissions questions, like those posed by the Rainbow Project before them, improved prediction of college grades. They also helped forecast which students would shine as active campus citizens and leaders, and virtually eliminated the admissions edge enjoyed by some ethnic groups.
Our approach is one that any college can adopt by merely adding a few questions to its application. But some schools, in their rush to improve their US News & World Report rankings, are moving in the opposite direction. They are stripping their applications to the bare bones to make their applications easier to fill in. They hope to thereby increase application numbers, and thus rejection rates and the appearance of 'selectivity'.

But they should ask themselves: How, exactly, does this approach make their schools any better?

It certainly does not make the world better. Many of the major messes confronting us today - in corporate boardrooms and on Wall Street, in politics and even in churches - have been created by people who tested very well and earned high grades at prestigious institutions. They are smart, but foolish.

The world might improve if we deliberately and systematically selected students not only for their knowledge and analytical skills, but also for their creative and practical skills - and their wisdom.

The writer, provost and senior vice-president of Oklahoma State University, is the author of College Admissions For The 21st Century.

WASHINGTON POST

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

SCHOLAR ON CHILD PORN CHARGES

Nov 23, 2010

MOE revokes scholarship
 
By Jane Ng

THE Education Ministry has revoked the teaching scholarship of the University of York undergraduate Jonathan Wong who has pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography in Britain.

It will also tighten its processes so that schools must provide information on specific behavioural problems which may affect their selection as teachers.

In the case of Jonathan Wong who was awarded the Teaching Scholarship (Overseas) in 2006, MOE said it had reviewed his academic and CCA records, as well as testimonials written by teachers from Chinese High and Hwa Chong Junior College but was not aware of his past behavioural problems.

'The teachers did not include in his testimonials the fact that he was publicly caned as a student in 2002 for peeping in a lady's toilet as they thought that he had overcome this errant behaviour after professional help,' said an MOE spokesman.

MOE said in a statement on Tuesday that it decided to revoke the scholarship as Jonathan has 'committed serious criminal offences, and pleaded guilty to the charges against him'. 'MOE expects our teaching scholars to conduct themselves in a manner that upholds the standards of the teaching profession, and will take the necessary actions against those who have behaved inappropriately,' said the spokesman.

Wong, 23, a third-year history undergraduate, was caught with 50 videos of child pornography on his computer hard disk after the police raided his room in March. Some of the videos were graphic, had audio, or lasted more than an hour, and featured girls as young as six. Of the videos, 25 were rated four out of five on a scale used to measure the severity of pornography.

He is now out on bail and will be sentenced by the York Crown Court on Dec 13. He faces up to five years in jail.

[The peeping incident could have been a once-off youthful indiscretion and mistake, and I think the teachers or people giving him their recommendation did nothing wrong in wanting to believe that he had been rehabilitated. However, MOE is right to revoke the scholarship and presumably should not allow him near children especially in a position as a teacher. ]

MOE likely to fire Mas Selamat's niece

Channel News Asia
23 November 2010 1801 hrs

SINGAPORE: The niece of terrorist Mas Selamat Kastari, who is in jail for her role in his escape, will be facing disciplinary proceedings by the Ministry of Education (MOE).

MOE said in a statement that it will initiate the proceedings against Nur Aini Asmom, who is a Malay language teacher, with a view to dismiss her from service.

MOE said it takes "disciplinary action, including dismissal" against teachers who have been charged and convicted in court for a criminal offence.

It was revealed on Monday that Nur Aini was sentenced to 18 months' jail for harbouring a prisoner of the State.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam revealed in Parliament that Nur Aini helped Mas Selamat following his escape from the Whitley Road Detention Centre in late February 2008.

It was Nur Aini who persuaded her mother Aisah to allow Mas Selamat into their flat in Tampines.

Nur Aini also helped Mas Selamat to destroy material evidence -- such as his Whitley Road Detention Centre-issued attire.

The next day Mas Selamat left the flat, but not before Nur Aini applied make-up on him and secured a tudung or headscarf over his head to disguise him as a woman.

She also gave him supplies, and a map of Singapore.

Nur Aini's mother and father were also jailed for their roles in harbouring Mas Selamat.

[While I do think that she has made a serious mistake, I believe she would have been punished appropriately with the jail sentence. She needs to make a living as well, and we need to show her that if she has realised her mistake, she should be given a chance to reintegrate into mainstream society. Ostracising her would only harden her position against the general society.]

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ties between civil servants and ministers

Nov 22, 2010
 
This is an edited excerpt of a speech by Foreign Minister George Yeo at the launch last Friday of a book, Dynamics Of The Singapore Success Story, by former permanent secretary Ngiam Tong Dow.

IN THE popular mind, the relationship between ministers and civil servants is often simplified in one of two extreme ways. In one, civil servants implement what their political masters want. That is the impression that good civil servants try to project, and maybe ministers too, when there is credit to be gained. The opposite simplification is the one caricatured in the British satire Yes Minister, where the title belies the truth, which is that civil servants manipulate their ministers and are the real masters.

The real relationship between ministers and civil servants falls somewhere in between. It is not a static relationship. A new minister should take good counsel from his permanent secretary to avoid making unnecessary mistakes. A more experienced minister may know more about his portfolio than a new permanent secretary, and so should give closer guidance to his civil servants.

Depending on the ministry, the issues of the day, and the relative experience levels, personalities and capabilities of the minister and the permanent secretary, that relationship can be at different points on the continuum between the two extremes. I believe the constitutional position is that while it is the Prime Minister who appoints permanent secretaries, the minister to whom a permanent secretary is appointed to serve must agree to the appointment.

Our formal system is inherited from the British. It makes a clear distinction between political appointments and the permanent civil service.

In practice, however, principally because the People's Action Party (PAP) has been the governing party since internal self-government in 1959 and independence in 1965, many aspects of Singapore's governance resemble the Chinese bureaucratic state that (John King) Fairbank, (Joseph) Needham and other scholars of Chinese history have written about, in particular, the practice of meritocracy in both the political and administrative elites. The induction of administrative talent into the PAP has become a Singapore hallmark, and is likely to persist. In the Singapore reality, the formal British system is built upon what is essentially a Chinese political and cultural substrate.

One illustration of this is the word 'scholar', which is used to describe a civil servant, Singapore Armed Forces officer or police officer who was chosen on the basis of high academic achievement and given a scholarship at the point of recruitment. It is an English word that in a British, American or Indian context would be incomprehensible. For them, a scholar is a scholar doing academic research. In Singapore, the scholar is often an administrator not doing academic work at all.

In fact, this is a Chinese idea expressed in English that has become a part of our vocabulary in Singapore. Singapore, of course, is only three-quarter Chinese and has to be multi-ethnic in its deep structure. However, the dominant political culture remains recognisably Chinese.

Seen against this common cultural background, it is perhaps not surprising that a China intent on reforming its public administration should take so much interest in the grooming of Singapore's administrative and political elites. In a curious way, the counterpart of our Public Service Commission and Public Service Division in China is the COD, the Central Organisation Department of the Chinese Communist Party - but only up to a point.

The Chinese government is increasingly concerned with its own relationship with ordinary people, more and more of whom now live in cities. It is therefore experimenting with democracy at the lower levels, seeing it as an important feedback loop against corrupt, despotic or unresponsive local authority. Study visits to the PAP's Meet-the-People sessions have now become almost compulsory for visiting Chinese delegations. Chinese leaders are convinced that Western or Indian democracy can never work in China. However, the hybrid that they see in the Singapore bonsai fascinates them.

All this is by way of background to Mr Ngiam Tong Dow's book. He speaks and writes like a mandarin. When he was in the civil service, his views were expressed within government walls. In retirement outside those walls, he speaks and writes publicly, which sometimes raises eyebrows. But - and I can personally vouch for this - it is the same self-confident, high-minded individual whose starting and end points are what is good for Singapore and Singaporeans.

When I was at the Ministry of Information and the Arts, Mr Ngiam was the permanent secretary at the Finance Ministry. He almost killed the Esplanade project, about which he paid me a high compliment years later. On the revolutionary transformation of our National Library system, he gave his fullest support. The acquisition of knowledge has always been his passion.

Could he, like Hon Sui Sen and Howe Yoon Chong, have joined politics? I don't know. But what I do know is that he is well aware of the pressures and constraints which political leaders face and which civil servants have to factor into their recommendations and in their implementation of Cabinet decisions.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Is the opposition READY TO ROCK?

Nov 20, 2010
 
As the General Election nears, Insight takes a party-by-party look at the state of the opposition. Have the various parties been making the rounds? Do they have enough candidates? Are they ready to go into battle with the ruling party? Kor Kian Beng, Zakir Hussain, Tessa Wong and Andrea Ong report.
 

SOME operate like stealth fighter planes, preparing for electoral battle while flying under the radar.

Others are like cavalry troops, declaring their intentions openly as they charge into People's Action Party-occupied territories.

The various opposition parties may have adopted different strategies but they seem to be heading towards a common goal: to contest as many seats as possible in the coming elections.

Based on what opposition leaders and sources tell Insight, they look like they are gearing up for the biggest electoral fight since 1988 when the opposition contested 70 out of the 81 seats.

The Workers' Party (WP), National Solidarity Party (NSP) and Reform Party (RP) are aiming to field at least 20 candidates each for the upcoming polls.

The Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA), a grouping of three opposition parties led by Potong Pasir MP Chiam See Tong, plans to put up at least eight candidates. This is assuming the alliance, now riven by infighting between Mr Chiam and his former protege Desmond Lim, stays intact.

Up to 10 candidates can be expected from the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and the newly minted Socialist Front.

What all this means is that the opposition is eyeing or working the ground in all 14 GRCs and nine SMCs totalling 84 seats for the general election which is due by February 2012.

Of course, their battle plans hinge on whether the parties will have enough finances for electoral deposits and the campaigns to contest so many seats.

They are also based on the current electoral map, which will be redrawn when the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee publishes its report. The recent electoral amendments will pave the way for at least 12 SMCs and fewer six-member GRCs in the next polls.

[Perhaps the PAP recognises 3 things: 1) the voters want more opposition in parliament; 2) the quality of the opposition candidates are getting better; 3) if the opposition takes a GRC the PAP would lose at least 1 minister and a few MPs, and the opposition are good enough to possibly take a GRC.

So far, opposition candidates have only gained ground in 2 SMCs. Offering more SMCs could divert some of the opposition efforts to SMCs and away from GRCs. Consider: the number of credible opposition candidates are relatively small. Expecting a high potential opposition candidate to lead a board of no-names, low potential candidates to victory against the PAP slate of candidates is quite a long shot. For example, Sylvia Lim might do better in an SMC than trying to lead a GRC where her co-candidates may be more of a liability than an asset.]


Any boundary changes, however, should not dampen the intense interest of the opposition parties. Those eyeing or working in the current wards are likely to stake their claims on any new SMCs or GRCs that will be carved out.

If two or more parties have their sights on the same ward, expect the usual electoral talks and horse trading to avoid three-cornered fights.

An all-out blitz at the next polls means the opposition is abandoning the by-election strategy used in previous elections. Under this strategy, the ruling party is returned to power on Nomination Day so that voters will feel free to vote for the opposition without risking the fall of the PAP Government.

Another aim is to pin PAP heavyweights down in their own wards so that they have less time to campaign for fellow candidates in other wards.

Yet another factor behind the move by the opposition parties to cover all bases could be to maximise their chances of winning in the light of the new electoral changes.

Opposition candidates will have more chances to enter Parliament, following amendments to the Constitution to guarantee a minimum of nine opposition MPs, whether elected or via the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) scheme.

As NSP secretary-general Goh Meng Seng notes, the expanded NCMP scheme helps the party as more potential candidates will be willing to stand in the next polls, as they see the NCMP post as a step towards getting elected in future.

Political commentator Alex Au says that by 'just shooting at more targets', an opposition party will have a higher chance of chalking an unexpected win or two. But the risk of a three-cornered fight, which tends to split the opposition vote, is also higher, he cautions.

At the end of the day, the big question is: The opposition parties may have the numbers to contest all seats but do they have enough quality candidates to rake in the votes and improve on their showing at the 2006 polls?

The PAP's vote share at that election was 66.6 per cent, a drop from 75.3 per cent at the 2001 polls, which was held in a year dogged by terrorism and recession. It was the best opposition showing, in terms of vote share, since 1997.

Pundits think the answer is a probable yes, given the stable of new faces unearthed by RP and SDP. They include social work advocate Vincent Wijeysingha from SDP, and former government scholars Tony Tan Lay Thiam and his wife Hazel Poa from RP.

If WP's line-up in the last elections is any guide, it will unveil yet another crop of well-educated candidates.

But whether the newcomers will have the gumption to survive the electoral campaign and the perseverance to stay in opposition politics if they lose the next polls is anybody's guess.

Associate Professor Hussin Mutalib of the National University of Singapore's political science department says the quality of opposition candidates will be a key factor deciding the next GE's outcome.

Much will, of course, depend on how the issues are fought between the opposition parties and the PAP at the hustings and how they resonate with the voters.

Expect immigration, housing, cost of living and health care to be among the top issues that the opposition will be campaigning on, based on the manifestos that have been released or are being worked on now.

But also expect, as previous elections have shown, the unexpected.



Stability key to Singapore staying ahead: MM

Nov 20, 2010

By Rachel Chang, Cai Haoxiang & Rachel Lin

HOWEVER the world changes in the next five to 10 years, Singapore will play a key role as long as it remains ahead of its neighbours.

This will involve keeping up with the latest technology and maintaining one of the best-educated workforces in the world, said Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew at a dialogue last night.

But he emphasised that to stay ahead of the curve, a stable society is necessary - one where it is 'easy to go to school and come back, easy to go to the hospital and come back'.

Speaking to an audience of 200 business leaders at the 40th anniversary of Hewlett-Packard's operations in Singapore, he said: 'A person needs to have a life free from unnecessary hassle.

'That's what we set out to create, and that's something we should keep improving on. It doesn't matter how the world changes, we have to stay ahead of the pack.'

During the half-hour session at the Raffles City Convention Centre, Mr Lee repeated his belief that Singapore must remain connected to the world in order to survive.

Four decades ago, Hewlett-Packard was one of the first multinationals to set up shop in newly independent Singapore. At a time when all its neighbouring countries were closing their doors to multinational corporations in order to grow their local industries, Singapore flung its doors open to the world.

Mr Lee recounted how, lacking a critical population mass, this was Singapore's only option, as 'growing our own companies to compete with the successful ones' was 'a pipe dream'.

He said that having English as the country's lingua franca was what gave Singapore 'an enormous advantage'.

Because of the lack of a language barrier, the ease of doing business in Singapore still trumps everywhere else in the region, he said.

'Had we taken Chinese as our working language, there would not be a Singapore today as it is,' he declared.

'How would we make a living? How do we connect with the world?' he asked rhetorically. 'But we speak English, and Chinese as a second language. (Multinationals) come here, we connect with them.'

Even in the face of China's blistering rise in the world, this is still Singapore's advantage, he added.

'For every talented person we have, they have 4,000,' he said to laughter. But Singapore stays ahead because of its global exposure and connectedness.

He asked the Singaporeans in the audience how many of them did not travel in the course of their work and lives. Not a single hand went up.

'That speaks volumes,' Mr Lee said. 'If you go to China, and say, all Chinese who've travelled and who also speak English please raise your hands, there would be very few.'

'So yes, they can invent new gadgets, but we're better-connected. And we can leverage on their number of researchers to do our R&D there.'

Through the evening, asked by several participants to predict the future, Mr Lee repeated the same theme: the world is ever-evolving, and Singapore must be ready to ride the change. In response to a question on the United States' supposed economic decline, he said that while he believed the Americans would find a way out of their impasse, a unipolar world is a thing of the past.

[Everybody asks him to predict the future! Give him a break!]

'Over time, China will be an enormous consumer market and so will India. So the world will have a multi-polar number of big consumer countries, and you have to be ready to serve them,' he noted.

'The world is not static,' he added later, in response to a question on whether Singapore would ever see another company like Hewlett-Packard, which is one of Singapore's biggest exporters.

'Every day, somebody is creating something new which the rest of the world would want to use,' he said. 'So, we make ourselves useful to them and they'll come here.'

But despite the fighting words, he struck a sanguine note when asked what about the country keeps him awake at night.

'I don't stay awake at night,' he said. 'I sleep. It doesn't help to stay awake.'

[Good Answer. It's good to see him still making his rounds after his wife's passing.]

Friday, November 19, 2010

Minimum skills, not minimum wage

Nov 18, 2010
 
By Augustine H.H. Tan

THE debate about whether Singapore should legislate a minimum wage has attracted contributions from academics as well as prominent citizens such as Professor Tommy Koh and Mr Ho Kwon Ping.

Like them, I am concerned about the widening income and wealth disparities in Singapore. I share their compassion for the disadvantaged and I agree that markets are imperfect and that government intervention is needed.

However, I am even more concerned that measures like a minimum wage do not create distortions and distract us from undertaking real remedies for the problem of income inequality.

To begin with, it should be noted that the widely quoted Gini coefficients from last year's United Nations Development Programme Human Development Report are based upon household surveys from different countries that differ widely in their methods of data collection.

Moreover, Singapore's Gini coefficient has been rising since the 1990s, mainly because it has let in very highly paid as well as very lowly paid people from abroad.

Interestingly, the coefficient declined from over 0.47 in 2007 to 0.425 (the 2002 level) in 2008-09, mainly because the financial crisis drastically reduced the bonuses and salaries of high earners.

Singapore's need to attract highly talented people whose salaries are globally determined will certainly skew its income and wealth distribution. Of course, too many immigrants with low skills will also accentuate the income inequality.

Obviously mindful of this, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently set a quota of 80,000 for this year's intake of foreign workers.

Nevertheless, Singaporeans should be mindful that we need migrants at all levels of skills because Singapore has the third-fastest ageing population in the world.

This fact should be brought home to Singaporeans, especially the young who complain about overcrowding as a result of immigration. If immigration is curtailed, our young will have to be prepared to pay burdensome taxes in the future to support their ageing relatives.

Furthermore, if we are not careful, our economy will stagnate like that of Japan, which is unwilling to absorb immigrants. Over the last two decades, many young Japanese university graduates were able to find only temporary jobs at best.

There is a middle strata of workers whose plight should not be neglected. Studies conducted by the United States National Bureau of Economic Research have shown that technological changes and offshoring have destroyed middle-level jobs and lowered middle-level wages.

If such is the case in Singapore too, then it is imperative that we emphasise skill improvement for our workers at all levels. It would be a mistake to concentrate solely on the lowest 20-30 per cent of our workers.

Newer technologies - including computers, robots and software - are displacing workers with mid-level skills and depressing their wages, while enhancing the productivity and wages of higher-skilled workers.

Similarly, the rapid fall in the cost of communication technology is enabling offshoring to move up the value chain, threatening more white-collar jobs and depressing wages. Singapore has already seen jobs offshored to countries such as India, Malaysia and the Philippines

Obviously, setting a minimum wage will not help mid-skill workers. Even for low wage earners, having a minimum wage by legislation can also be problematic: Too high a level would create unemployment; too low a level would not benefit workers and might even penalise marginal workers.

Plenty of empirical studies can be quoted to prove that a minimum wage would both increase as well as not increase unemployment.

What remains indisputable, however, is that a minimum wage is a handy political tool. It can distract us from focusing on improving skills and raising productivity - the only way, ultimately, of closing the income gap.

We should be mindful of the rapid rise of China and India. With bountiful talent, improving educational standards, increased spending on research and development, and much cheaper infrastructure and labour, the competition they present is upsetting the global power balance.

We need to ensure that Singapore stays competitive enough to attract enough investment and talent to generate full employment and, hopefully, a rising standard of living. Minimum wage legislation can be a costly distraction from what is really necessary.

The Singapore Government has rightly emphasised productivity improvement via skills upgrading and educational scholarships. At the same time, Workfare and direct financial assistance have been implemented to alleviate the plight of poorer workers.

Undoubtedly more can be done. But let us continue to pursue skills upgrading at all levels with the seriousness it deserves.

The writer is a professor at the Singapore Management University.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Flipping on the nuclear power switch in Singapore

Nov 17, 2010
 
By Seeram Ramakrishna

WHILE delivering the Singapore Energy Lecture during the annual Singapore International Energy Week recently, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that nuclear power is a clean source of energy and Singapore cannot afford to dismiss the option of nuclear energy. When a member of the audience pressed him for a definite timeframe for Singapore to consider building a nuclear power plant, he quipped: 'I would say possibly during my lifetime.'

Nuclear experts from around the world, who are observing developments in the region, said that these were wise words for the following reasons:

Opting for a nuclear power plant is a long-term commitment - a 100-years decision, in fact. A typical nuclear power plant is designed to generate electricity for six to eight decades; the time needed to build, commission and decommission a nuclear reactor spans a few decades.

Countries that have harnessed nuclear energy successfully tend to meet 20-40 per cent of their respective national electricity needs from nuclear power, with the remainder from diversified energy sources including coal, natural gas, hydro, solar and wind.

Singapore's electricity need is in the range of 6,000 megawatt electrical (MWe) to 6,500MWe, and is expected to grow by 2-4 per cent annually. Going by the experience of other countries, Singapore may consider harnessing nuclear energy approximately in the range of 1,000MWe to 2,500MWe.

Over the years, the capacity of a single nuclear power reactor has increased substantially, so it is possible to benefit from the economies of scale. For instance, the most recent European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) has an electrical power output of 1,650MWe.

Though a single such reactor may meet Singapore's needs, back-up arrangements would be necessary to take care of the electricity needs during the down time of a nuclear power reactor. Finland is building an EPR in Olkiluoto with significant project delays and cost overruns for a host of reasons. The nuclear industry needs to wait for a few more years to fully assess the price competitiveness of electricity generated from such nuclear power plants.

Given Singapore's relatively modest total electricity needs, it is logical to consider small modular reactors (SMRs), whose capacities range from tens of MWe to few hundreds of MWe.

Nuclear organisations in the United States, South Korea, China, Russia, Japan and India have embarked on SMRs with objectives such as these:

# To meet the electricity needs of off-grid, remote places and smaller cities;

# To lower the upfront substantial financing burden a large reactor would entail;

# To site a nuclear power reactor below the earth's surface;

# To be nuclear-proliferation-resistant;

# To meet the enhanced safety requirements of nuclear regulators and the public; and

# To generate water and hydrogen in addition to electricity.

These features of SMRs would be attractive to Singapore, considering the densely populated and geographically limited nature of the country.

But SMRs are now in different stages of design, analysis, demonstration, and regulatory review and licensing in different countries. It would be realistic to assume that it would take another two to three decades to prove the economic competitiveness and commercial viability of SMRs.

There are other major considerations that new nuclear nations need to consider: among them, the security of the nuclear fuel supply, and the safe management of used reactor fuel.

International discussions are ongoing to provide 'cradle to grave' service for nuclear fuels. In other words, an arrangement will likely emerge for suppliers to take back the used reactor fuel.

Such an arrangement would be desired by several new nuclear nations, since they would have limited scope and abilities to develop their own full nuclear fuel cycle capabilities. However, it would take several years for such a 'cradle to grave' arrangement to emerge and become an accepted international practice.

Taking all this into consideration, it is obvious that what appeared to be a light-hearted quip by PM Lee - 'possibly during my lifetime' - was indeed a realistic assessment.

The writer is vice-president (research strategy) at the National University of Singapore.

Anti-terror dog attacks shopper

Nov 17, 2010

MANILA - A DOG deployed at a Philippine shopping mall to sniff out terrorists has attacked and mauled a woman customer, authorities said on Wednesday.

The Manila shopper, who was with her child, told local television stations she was hospitalised with bite wounds between her eyes, across the bridge of her nose, and on her forehead when set upon by the Belgian Malinois.

Police officer Paulo Ortega told GMA network that the woman sought and got permission from the bomb-sniffing dog's handler to pet the animal last weekend.

'According to the handler, the dog allowed the woman to touch it. But when she sat down to continue the petting, that's when it bit her on the face.' The victim's child was unharmed.

It was not known if the dog was put down. The canine unit involved was owned by a private security firm contracted by the mall operator.

The Philippine coastguard, which deploys its own canine units at strategic locations in Manila to deter terrorist bombings, confirmed the incident on its website. It said its handlers had been instructed to take extra precautions 'in view of the recent K9 attack wherein a lady victim in a supermarket... was badly bitten in the face by a K9 that went wild'. -- AFP

[Ok. First, working dogs are not pets. Second, even if they were pets, why do people assume that such dogs would tolerate a stranger's handling. Thirdly, the handler shouldn't have agreed to let the woman approach the dog. Sure the dog doesn't bite... the handler. Maybe her perfume smells bad to the dog. Maybe she owns cats. Maybe she has a dog at home. In any case, it is not professional behaviour to allow strangers to interact with a working dog. I hope the dog was not put down, and dog handlers maintain a higher level of professionalism.]

No need to be too PC about racial profiling

Nov 17, 2010

THINK-TANK

By Lee Wei Ling

A CIVIL service friend once forwarded to me an e-mail entitled 'Raised Security Levels'.

It read: 'The British are feeling the pinch in relation to recent bombings and have raised their security level from 'Miffed' to 'Peeved'. Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to 'Irritated' or even 'A Bit Cross'. Londoners have not been 'A Bit Cross' since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies all but ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorised from 'Tiresome' to a 'Bloody Nuisance'. The last time the British issued a 'Bloody Nuisance' warning level was during the great fire of 1666.

'Also, the French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from 'Run' to 'Hide'. The only two higher levels in France are 'Surrender' and 'Collaborate'. The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France's white flag factory, effectively paralysing the country's military capability.

'It's not only the English and French that are on a heightened level of alert. Italy has increased the alert level from 'Shout Loudly and Excitedly' to 'Elaborate Military Posturing'. Two more levels remain: 'Ineffective Combat Operations' and 'Change Sides'.

'The Germans also increased their alert state from 'Disdainful Arrogance' to 'Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs'. They also have two higher levels: 'Invade a Neighbour' and 'Lose'.

'Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual, and the only threat they are worried about is Nato pulling out of Brussels.'

I doubled over in mirth. The author of the article must have been British, a product of public school and Oxbridge. I guess one could categorise its content as racial profiling and its statements as politically incorrect. But as is often the case with such sweeping statements - including, one might add, of Asians - they contain a modicum of truth. But not all racial profiling is even remotely accurate.

After my A-level examinations in 1972, I had some months to spare before medical school began. I decided to learn German. My tutor, a Mr Smidt, was a German in his 50s who was helping our Education Ministry set up a vocational school.

I remember him telling me in all seriousness that Russians were dumb. The relationship between Germany and Russia had been unfriendly for some decades. So although my tutor meant what he said, I was not sure whether he was fair.

I was in Moscow some months ago, accompanying my father, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. I joined him for lunch with some Russian foreign policy experts. I had read their CVs beforehand, and listened intently to the discussion over lunch. It was obvious to me that they were highly intelligent people, as intelligent as, if not more so than, some of our Cabinet ministers.

Afterwards, I told my father what Mr Smidt had told me about Russians. 'He was wrong,' my father replied.

Then he told me about a four-star German general who had helped train the Singapore Armed Forces in the early years after independence. He had fought in World War II. He had told my father that the German Army had conducted IQ tests on some of the Russian soldiers they had captured. The Russians scored very well on the IQ tests.

The question as to whether intelligence varies among the races is a sensitive one. As a neurologist, I know how one thinks, one's verbal or spatial problem-solving capacity, whether one can read someone's emotion, even how one would react under a variety of circumstances, are determined by genes, although other factors play a part.

A significant percentage of racial differences is genetic in origin, so it should be no surprise that different races may have varying intellectual abilities.

Jews as a race tend to have superior academic intelligence. This may be because centuries of persecution had selected the intelligent ones to survive. Another possibility is that rabbis, or religious teachers, among Jews are highly regarded and viewed as extremely desirable husbands and sons-in-law. Rabbis tend to be scholars; so if they have an advantage at marriage and procreation, it stands to reason that the genes for academic intelligence will be propagated widely.

This does not necessarily mean that a Jew will always be smarter than an Australian Aborigine. But if we took representative samples of Jews and Aborigines, the average academic IQ of Jews is likely to be significantly higher than for Aborigines, though some Aborigines will score better than some Jews.

But suppose we use a test other than the standard IQ test, which predicts academic ability. Suppose we use a test that measures the ability to track and hunt an animal in the wild. I would not be surprised if Australian Aborigines were to do better than Jews.

In modern society, the Jews have an advantage, and are over-represented in professions such as professors, researchers, lawyers and doctors. In the United States, neurology conferences are arranged to avoid Jewish festivals because a disproportionately high percentage of neurologists are Jews.

Different races do differ in various ways. To deny it just to be politically correct is foolish. For large-scale planning in education, knowledge of racial differences is useful. But we must remember that at the individual level, it is not race or genes alone that determine talents or weaknesses. We must assess each person individually - the whole person, character as well as intelligence.

The writer is director of the National Neuroscience Institute.


Think-Tank is a weekly column rotated among eight leading figures in Singapore's tertiary and research institutions.


[No doubt there will be forum letters telling her off for being racist or propagating racism, cos all people are equal.]

Wanted: Common sense in economics

Nov 17, 2010
 
By David Brooks

MANY of the psychologists, artists and moral philosophers I know are liberal, so it seems strange that American liberalism should adopt an economic philosophy that excludes psychology, emotion and morality.

Yet that is what has happened. The economic approach embraced by the most prominent liberals over the past few years is mostly mechanical. The economy is treated like a big machine; the people in it like rational, utility maximising cogs. The performance of the economic machine can be predicted with quantitative macroeconomic models.

These models can be used to make highly specific projections. If the government borrows US$1 and then spends it, it will produce US$1.50 worth of economic activity. If the government spends US$800 billion (S$1 trillion) on a stimulus package, that will produce 3.5 million in new jobs.

Everything is rigorous. Everything is science.

Conservatives, who are usually stereotyped as narrow-eyed business-school types, have gone all Oprah-esque in trying to argue against these liberals. If the government borrows trillions of dollars, this will increase public anxiety and uncertainty, the conservatives worry. The liberal technicians brush aside this soft-headed mush. These psychological concerns are mythological, they say. That's gaseous blathering from those who lack quantitative rigour.

Other people get moralistic. This country is already too profligate, they cry. It already shops too much and borrows too much. How can we solve our problems by borrowing and spending more? The liberal technicians brush this away, too. Economics is a rational activity detached from morality. Hard-headed policymakers have to have the courage to flout conventional morality - to borrow even when the country is sick of borrowing.

The liberal technicians have an impressive certainty about them. They have amputated those things that can't be contained in models, like emotional contagions, cultural particularities and webs of relationships. As a result, everything is explainable and predictable. They can stand on the platform of science and dismiss the poor souls down below.

Yet over the past 21 months, it has been harder to groove to their certainty. To start with, the economy has not responded as the modellers projected, either in the months after the stimulus Bill was passed or this summer, when it was supposed to be producing hundreds of thousands of jobs. It has become harder to define how much good the stimulus package is doing. An US$800 billion measure must leave a large footprint, but it is hard to find in a US$70 trillion global economy.

Moreover, it has been harder to accept that psychological factors like uncertainty and anxiety really are a mirage. The first time a business leader tells you she is holding off on investing because she is scared about the future, you dismiss it as anecdote. But over the past few years, I've had hundreds of such conversations.

It's been harder to dismiss morality as a phantom concern, too. Maybe in a nation of robots the government can run a policy that offends the morality of the citizenry, but not in a nation of human beings, as the recent mid-term congressional elections showed.

Nor has the world come to look simpler and easier to manipulate since the stimulus passed. It now looks more complicated. It's one thing to hatch an ideal policy in an academic lab, but in the real world, context is everything.

Mr Ethan Ilzetzki of the London School of Economics and Messrs Enrique Mendoza and Carlos Vegh of the University of Maryland examined stimulus efforts in 44 countries. In a recent National Bureau of Economic Research paper, they argued that fiscal stimulus can be quite effective in low-debt countries with fixed exchange rates and closed economies.

Stimulus measures are generally not as effective, on the other hand, in countries like the United States with high debt and floating exchange rates. The authors of the paper pointed to a series of specific circumstances that complicate, to say the least, the effectiveness of increasing public spending: How much stimulus money ends up flowing abroad? What is the relationship between fiscal policy and monetary policy? How do investors respond to fear of future interest rate increases?

One could go on. It's become harder to have confidence that legislators can successfully enact the brilliant policies that liberal technicians come up with. Far from entering the age of macroeconomic mastery and social science triumph, we seem to be entering an age in which statecraft is, once again, an art, not a science.

When you look around the world at the countries that have come through the recession best, it's not the countries with the brilliant and aggressive stimulus models. It's the ones like Germany that had the best economic fundamentals beforehand.

It all makes one doubt the wizardry of the economic surgeons and appreciate the old wisdom of common sense: simple regulations, low debt, high savings, hard work, few distortions. You don't have to be a genius to come up with an economic policy like that.

NEW YORK TIMES

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

CONTEMPT OF COURT CASE

Nov 9, 2010

Apology a 'tactical ploy'


By Selina Lum


THE lawyer acting for British author Alan Shadrake, who has been held in contempt of court, told the High Court on Tuesday that his client 'will certainly apologise if he has offended the sensitivity of the court'.


In arguing for a lenient sentence for Shadrake, 76, Mr M Ravi maintained that the freelance journalist has never intended to undermine Singapore's courts in his book Once A Jolly Hangman: Singapore's Justice In The Dock.

Mr Ravi said his client should be given only a censure.

But Deputy Senior State Counsel Hema Subramanian dismissed it as a 'half-hearted' apology that was 'insufficient and insincere' and a 'tactical ploy' by Shadrake to escape punishment.
Ms Subramanian said the contempt in Shadrake's case far exceeded past cases.

'This is an especially pernicious case of grave and aggravated contempt that is without precedent in Singapore,' she said, pressing the court to jail Shadrake for at least 12 weeks.

Mr Ravi argued that Ms Subramanian's arguments were a mockery to logic that 'brings us back to the dark era of the Middle Ages'.

He said it was 'the joke of the century' that the Attorney-General's Chambers claim the book undermines public confidence in the courts but yet has done nothing to ban it.

'If they mean what they say, ban the book,' he said.

Justice Quentin Loh, noting that submissions from both sides are 'far apart', said he would think about it and give his decision on Shadrake's sentence next Tuesday.

------
Nov 16, 2010

Author gets 6 weeks jail, fine

BRITISH writer Alan Shadrake, 76, was sentenced to six weeks in jail and fined S$20,000 on Tuesday for contempt of court.

Shadrake was also ordered to pay S$55,000 in costs to the prosecution by High Court Judge Quentin Loh.

The judge dismissed a last-minute apology by Shadrake as 'nothing more than a tactical ploy in court to obtain a reduced sentence', and ruled that the freelance journalist will have to serve two more weeks in prison if he fails to pay the fine.

'A fine should be imposed to prevent Mr Shadrake from profiting from his contempt (of court),' the judge said. The High Court delivered the verdict against Shadrake in connection with his book Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock, which was deemed to have insulted the Singaporean judiciary.

The attorney-general's office, which took Shadrake to court, claims that statements in the book impugn the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judiciary.

The writer accused Singapore's courts of succumbing to political influences and favoring the rich over the poor in his book 'Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore's Justice in the Dock.' The book contained 'half-truths and selective facts; sometimes even outright falsehoods,' Judge Loh said in his Nov 3 verdict.

The prosecution had sought a jail term of at least 12 weeks because of Shadrake's 'continued defiance' and allegations of 'the worst possible kind' against the judiciary. Shadrake had no intention of undermining the city's judiciary and ought to be censured instead of jailed or fined, his lawyer M. Ravi said at a Nov 9 hearing. -- AFP, AP

[There is a valid point raised by the defence attorney. If the book is in contempt of court, then the remedy should require the sale of the book to be stopped, or the contempt would continue. Moreover, a fine to ensure the author does not profit from the sale of the book assumes that profits will not exceed $20,000. This would perversely incentivise Shadrake to promote sales so that he recovers his fine. A proper decision would be a ban or an order to cease and desist. This smells of half measures and as the defence notes, makes a joke of the entire charge of contempt of court.]

Monday, November 15, 2010

I'll miss you, Singapore



THE EX-PAT FILES

By Victoria Vaughan

The date is set, notice nearly served, packing boxes delivered and the one-way flight booked.
I am leaving Singapore - once again playing the role of 'trailing spouse', a hideous phrase.
This time I am trailing back to London.

As I spread the word, the list of people to say farewell to seems to grow, and with it my waistline - for to say farewell without food is just not done in Singapore.

The question most have posed is: 'What will you miss most about Singapore?'

And while I start the list, of friends, food, sunshine... I realise the answer is my life here, for there is no doubt that much will change when I land jobless and homeless on the frosty shores of England, or less romantically, at the drab reception that is Heathrow Terminal 3.

I will miss being able to go outdoors all year round without freezing, eating out most nights, and leaving a cold office for the balmy evening air.

I will miss thinking that rain is fun and cooling, and relishing thunderstorms of biblical proportions.

I will miss the food. The dizzying choice at hawker centres. Chilli crab, laksa mai hum, bee hoon soup, yong tau foo, nasi lemak and fresh-fruit stands.

I will miss the dragon fruit (I had never seen or even heard of one before coming to Singapore), aloe and lime juice from the News Centre canteen and the auntie who prepares it, and 'afternoon tea' with colleagues.

I will miss cuisine from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, China and India. British versions, where they exist, while more suitable for my chilli-shy tastes, pale in comparison.

I will miss my home. Moving to Singapore was a huge leap in quality of life. We went from a one-bedroom shoebox to a three-bedroom condo with pool and gym - for the same rent as said shoebox. I know I'll find it harder to nestle back into shoebox living.

For one thing I have more shoes, which brings me to another thing I will miss - Charles and Keith. I would have learnt nothing in Singapore if I hadn't at least taken a few brands to my heart. Gentlemen, please open a store in London!

The huge rain trees lining the roads, smelly cannon ball trees, and mysterious banyan trees, all still impossibly exotic to me.

Strange nature, from jumbo-sized crickets to the nightly frog chorus and squawking hornbills. But I am happy to leave the big bees behind.

The speedy commute in the super-clean MRT.

The safe journey home in the wee hours, and leaving handbags on bar stools with little regard.

I will miss surprising people with my Singlish. Saying farewell to my lahs, my lehs, and my personal faves of aiyoh and alamak, will be a sad affair.
I will miss my constant tan as I say hello to pasty white legs again.
Farewell to taxi uncles - well those who are not grumpy about taking Nets - with their doses of wisdom on politics and religion and their professional advice.

That hour just before sunrise and sunset when the light is blue and the leaves are still and strange birds slice the stillness with their calls.

The friends I have made here who I never seem to have enough time to see.

But there are things I will not miss.

I will not miss ridiculous half-hours spent saying, 'No I can't hear you, can you hear me?', as Skype is too busy when I am trying to phone home.

I will not miss 32 deg C heat on Christmas Day, because no matter how pretty Orchard Road is, it just ain't Christmas without the big chill.

I won't miss having to take a flight to see some countryside.

I won't miss wrapping up in thermals to head to the cinema.

I won't miss saying 'two' and it being heard as 'three'... or is that just me?

What I definitely will not miss is family, and their weddings, christenings and birthdays any more, as I will be a drive away instead of a long-haul flight.

I am nervous that the things I've missed from England don't outweigh what I will miss from Singapore and that I won't feel at home in my home country.

But life is a big adventure and the Little Red Dot is just one pinpoint on the map.

When I go I will leave a piece of myself here, and on the coldest of days, eating a limp sandwich in some dreary setting, dipped in the sarcasm and irony of England, I will remember my sunny days in Singapore.

Thanks for having me.




[I often wish Singaporeans appreciated what they have here. And it often takes an outsider to tell us how unique or amazing our country is. When I was overseas, it rained a lot but it was slow, light, drizzly rain that lasts for days, instead of the dramatic thunderstorms we have here. I really love a good thunderstorm.]



Saturday, November 13, 2010

Poor man's doctor of Yunnan calls it a day

Nov 12, 2010

After 14 years in remote rural China, Dr Tan is returning to Singapore

By Sim Chi Yin

CANGYUAN (YUNNAN): In near pitch darkness, two men walked towards the van that had just pulled in to the carpark. 'Chen yisheng (Doctor Tan),' they called out, shaking hands heartily with the Singaporean doctor who had just arrived after a six-hour drive through pot-holed, mountainous roads.

It was almost 1am and most of rural Yunnan was fast asleep, but the two local officials had insisted on waiting up for the doctor, who has brought help to their poor, remote county year after year.

Dr Tan Lai Yong receives a warm reception wherever he goes in Yunnan, where he has put in more than a decade of medical aid work in the villages.

That, to the humble doctor, at once symbolises why he is here and also why it is time to pack up and go home.

'I know it's local hospitality, but I came here to work with the very poor. When I go places now, I get treated like a VIP and I have to dine so much with officials... this is dangerous for my soul,' said the 49-year-old, flashing his boyish grin.

In 1996, the Christian doctor uprooted his family from a comfortable life in Singapore to move to rural, mountainous Xishuangbanna - where, as he puts it, 'we knew no one and no one knew us'.

Packing up to head home at the end of this month, he feels his work here is done - with good reason. Over the years, he has been a provider, running clinics and giving local farmers basic medical training to become 'barefoot' doctors.

He has acted as a bridge, bringing in Singapore doctors who perform free or subsidised surgery, as well as Singapore students, who help build facilities such as toilets and schools, teach English or plant trees in the villages. He has also helped send some 500 Chinese doctors, nurses and officials on trips to Singapore to study how its hospitals, family service centres and rehabilitation centres are run.

For Dr Tan, who still gets around mostly by bicycle, tractor or simply on foot, the past 14 years have been a quite a ride.

His road to China and missionary work was by no means preordained. The youngest of seven children, he grew up in a two-room Housing Board flat near the former Kallang Airport, where the single box that held his parents' belongings when they first moved in doubled as a table.

His father was a 'pirate' or unlicensed taxi driver who picked up Indonesian sailors from Finger Pier, and his mother was a seamstress.

Three of his six siblings made it to university. But Dr Tan, who admits he 'fumbled through his A levels', did not think he stood a chance.

After completing his national service, he signed on as an infantry officer. In the end, with a score sheet of three As, he applied for medical school because a friend did so.

'Even at the entrance interview, I told the professors, 'Anyway, my mother has no money to put me through medical school',' he recalled.

Not only did he get admitted, he also got a government bursary to study medicine at the National University of Singapore. It was there that he found his calling: to be a missionary doctor.

A talk by one of Singapore's pioneer missionaries, surgeon Andrew Ng, who had worked in Niger in the 1970s, inspired the medical student, who had become a Christian in secondary school.

The young man decided he did not want to be like the next doctor.

'We have just one life to live,' he said.

For Dr Tan, who is more fluent in English and Cantonese than Mandarin, to end up doing his life's work in China was more accidental.

After serving his eight-year bursary bond working in Singapore hospitals and the Prisons Department, he stumbled on a non-profit organisation in Yunnan's Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture which was looking for a medical practitioner to train local doctors in impoverished villages.

With his wife Lay Chin, who quit her job as an accountancy lecturer at the Nanyang Technological University, and their 16-month-old daughter, Amber, in tow, Dr Tan was off to China.

But as he stood on the Kunming airport tarmac watching the SilkAir plane that had just unloaded them, their 60kg of luggage and a stroller take off again, he burst out crying.

'It sunk in,' he recalled, wondering what he had got his family into. 'I wanted that plane to turn back and fly us home to Singapore.'

But he soldiered on and set up a new home in a lychee and mango orchard that was part of a commune where they had electricity only from midnight to 5am.

Over the next four years, Dr Tan ran 10-week training courses, teaching farmers how to diagnose and treat patients, and how to prevent ailments.

Meanwhile, his daughter and son, Edward, who was born three years into their China stint, grew up feeding the neighbourhood elephant sugarcane, climbing trees, riding tractors, going to the local school and visiting ethnic minority Dai, Miao and Lisu families. Dr Tan then moved the family to Kunming, where he lectured at the local medical college while continuing to take aid to the villages.

In two weeks' time, the siblings, now 16 and 11, will say goodbye to their childhood in China and fly home with their dad and 49-year-old mum. 'I want my children to grow up Singaporean and the friends they will make in secondary school are the friends they will keep for life,' Dr Tan said, explaining a key reason for his decision to return home.

He will leave China with bags full of thank-you notes from patients and students. He will be leaving behind a Kunming-based Christian medical NGO he helped found. The outfit, which he now runs with four more recently arrived Singaporean doctors, will continue the work he started.

Over the years, Dr Tan has earned accolades and numerous awards from China and Singapore. Two of the awards were presented by President S R Nathan and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

Above all, he will be remembered by many in China as the Singaporean 'barefoot' doctor.

Cangyuan county official Yang Jun, who has worked with Dr Tan for the past five years, said: 'When I first heard about a Singaporean doctor who was training village doctors in Xishuangbanna, I was very moved. Although he's ethnic Chinese, he's a foreigner and working, living in such a poor, remote area.

'People really respect him. I try to tell as many people as I can his story, his spirit of serving. And I tell them they can be like him.'

Mr Yang, who now ropes in local doctors and nurses at the weekends and takes them to villages where no medical care is available, said: 'We knew of the idea of volunteering, but no one actually did it. Through watching Dr Tan and the Singaporean doctors he has brought here, we've come to practise it.'

Dr Tan feels humbled by all he has seen and experienced at the very grassroots of a fast-changing China.

'In one village, I told every pregnant woman to eat at least one egg a week to improve their health. They looked at me blankly. The interpreter told me that if they had an egg, they would share it with the whole family,' he recalled. 'At the time, a shampoo containing egg yolk was popular in Singapore. I never used the shampoo again.'

By the same token, he has seen the mud and dirt roads around Yunnan become tarred highways and watched Kunming airport turn from a 'tin shack' into the three-storey building it is today.

'When I first got here, people in China begged those going abroad to buy TV sets for them when they come home. These days, I joke with my mother-in-law about buying her a TV set from China when I go home,' said Dr Tan, who still speaks Mandarin with a Singapore accent, but tends to end his sentences with the typically Yunnanese 'ga'.

'Poverty has gone down a lot. But hypertension, diabetes are going up at an alarming rate - although in the medical schema, it is less cruel to die of a stroke than to die of diarrhoea.'

The Tans lead a simple life, getting by with financial support from their church in Singapore and Dr Tan's monthly wage as a partner in a Chinatown clinic. In any case, good begets good. They have not had to buy rice for the past seven years because they receive 'more than enough' from grateful villagers.

The children's school fees of 10,000 to 20,000 yuan (S$1,900 to S$4,000) a year were waived by the local government in recognition of their father's contribution to rural health care. A neighbour, who saw that the Tans had only bicycles, offered them the use of his BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

As he heads back to a place where his peers are driving those cars, Dr Tan is preparing himself for the culture shock of being asked for his KPIs, or key performance indicators, he said with a laugh.

He will study for a master's degree in a health-related field while working in clinics that his doctor friends run in migrant worker dormitories.

'There are needs in Singapore too,' he said.

simcy@sph.com.sg

[Bravo! Truly a rare and generous soul.]

Nov 21, 2010

A rare Singaporean

When he was studying medicine on a government bursary at the National University of Singapore, Dr Tan Lai Yong, a Christian, knew he would be a missionary doctor and serve the poor in a remote, impoverished part of the world. That was how, after having served his eight-year bond in government hospitals, he ended up in Yunnan's rural south, tending to the sick and training local farmers so that they could become barefoot doctors. He was accompanied by his brave wife, who gave up her job as an accountancy lecturer at the Nanyang Technological University, and their 16-month-old daughter. They would have a son three years into his stint.

The family led a simple life, with funds provided by their church in Singapore and Dr Tan's monthly wage as a partner in a Chinatown clinic.

After 14 years, Dr Tan, 49, feels it is time to come back to Singapore. In Yunnan, he now finds himself treated as a VIP wherever he goes and has to dine often with the local officials. 'This is dangerous for my soul,' he says.

By a typically Singaporean measure, Dr Tan and his wife have paid a huge opportunity cost to have spent those 14 years in Yunnan. They were in the prime of their lives, and if they had pursued their respective careers here, they would be living a very comfortable, air-conditioned life. And it is not as though Dr Tan comes from a wealthy family. The youngest of seven children, he grew up in a two-room Housing Board flat. His father was an unlicensed taxi driver.

Certainly, few Singaporeans can be like Dr Tan. But in their headlong rush to achieve material success, Singaporeans could do well to pause and reflect on his inspiring story. He has led a richer life than most precisely because he has chosen not to chase after material wealth.

Dr Tan's riches are of the soul.