Thursday, December 31, 2015

Exporting the Chinese model

Francis Fukuyama

30 Dec 2015

STANFORD • As 2016 begins, a historic contest is under way over competing development models - that is, strategies to promote economic growth - between China, on the one hand, and the United States and other Western countries on the other. Although this contest has been largely hidden from public view, the outcome will determine the fate of much of Eurasia for decades to come.

Most Westerners are aware that growth has slowed substantially in China, from over 10 per cent a year in recent decades to below 7 per cent today (and possibly lower). The country's leaders have not been sitting still in response, seeking to accelerate the shift from an export-oriented, environmentally damaging growth model based on heavy manufacturing to one based on domestic consumption and services.

But there is a large external dimension to China's plans as well. In 2013, President Xi Jinping announced a massive initiative called "One Belt, One Road", which would transform the economic core of Eurasia. The One Belt component consists of rail links from western China through Central Asia and thence to Europe, the Middle East and South Asia. The strangely named One Road component consists of ports and facilities to increase seaborne traffic from East Asia and connect these countries to the One Belt, giving them a way to move their goods overland, rather than across two oceans, as they currently do.

Moral Dispute or Cultural Difference?

By CAROL ROVANE

NEW YORK TIMES OPINIONATOR

NOVEMBER 23, 2015

The word “relativism” tends to generate strong reactions. This is odd, given that the word is not generally used with a clear and agreed upon meaning. I want to offer a specific proposal about what it means, with a view to navigating the following “real-world” problem, discussed by Alex Rosenberg here at The Stone in July: What should we do when we face what are often described as irresolvable moral disagreements?

It’s possible for two people to live in different moral worlds, in which different moral truths hold.
In a disagreement, two parties affirm and deny the same thing; because the parties contradict each other, they cannot both be right; because they cannot both be right, there is something to be resolved between them by figuring out which of them is mistaken; a disagreement remains unresolved so long as both parties continue to think the other is mistaken; it is irresolvable when there is no method by which to resolve it.

Are there any such irresolvable disagreements?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Falling oil prices and Saudi Arabia

Saudi posts record US$98 billion deficit in 2015: Ministry

Revenues were estimated at US$162 billion, well below projections and 2014 income. 

28 Dec 2015

RIYADH: OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia posted a record $98 billion budget deficit in 2015 due to the sharp fall in oil prices, the finance ministry said on Monday (Dec 28).

Revenues were estimated at 608 billion riyals (US$162 billion), well below projections and 2014 income, while spending came in at 975 billion riyals (US$260 billion), ministry officials announced at a press conference in Riyadh.

Future Trends 2065: Whither Singapore?

[Some of these may have been saved previously, but this is a thematic collection of the essays.]


JUN 14, 2015

Chua Mui Hoong
Opinion Editor

What do you get when a bunch of thinkers - some sombre, some out-of-the-box, all specialists in their fields - are tasked to put on their horizon-scanning caps to imagine the future?

A cornucopia of ideas, that's what.

The Straits Times has been running a series of essays on Mondays in the Opinion pages from leading thinkers, titled SG+50: Future Trends 2065.

Their brief: Write about trends that will affect Singapore in the next five decades.

We have published five so far; and have another 15 to go. The series is supported by Singapore's port operator PSA.

As the editor in charge of commissioning and shaping this series, I've been having an exhilarating journey reading the essays as they land in my mailbox.

Tips for First-Time Buyers [New York City housing situation]

With the median price for a Manhattan apartment nearing the $1 million mark, buying your first home can be a daunting task. And don’t forget to add in the fees.

By MICHELLE HIGGINSNOV. 20, 2015

After renting a one-bedroom for seven years, Catherine and Peter Bertazzoni had saved enough for a down payment and were ready to buy their first apartment together. They knew it would be a challenge to find a move-in-ready two-bedroom on the Upper West Side within their $1.5 million budget, but with a baby on the way, they needed more space.

It wasn’t until they made their first offer, about $1.3 million for a two-bedroom one-bath listed for $1.25 million, that they realized just what they were up against.

“We came in at what we thought was significantly above ask and ended up sixth out of 11 bids,” said Mrs. Bertazzoni, 31, a tax manager at an asset management company. “It was a real wake-up call.”

Monday, December 28, 2015

When gun violence felt like a disease, a US city turned to the CDC

 DECEMBER 25, 2015

WILMINGTON (Delaware) — When epidemiologists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came to this city, they were not here to track an outbreak of meningitis or study the effectiveness of a particular vaccine.

They were here to examine gun violence.

This city of about 70,000 had a 45 per cent jump in shootings from 2011 to 2013, and the violence has remained stubbornly high; 25 shooting deaths have been reported this year, slightly more than last year, according to the mayor’s office.

A city councillor, Dr Hanifa G N Shabazz, said the violence felt like an illness, so city and state leaders turned to the nation’s best-known disease specialists for help investigating it.

“Just like any other epidemic,” Dr Shabazz said, “we need to be quarantined, categorised by severity, infused with nutrients, healthy substance, programmes and healed.”

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Dying art? A recipe to save Hong Kong’s handmade dim sum

December 25, 2015

HONG KONG — For the past 60 years, Mr Chui Hoi has risen in the early hours of the morning to prepare bite-size steamed morsels for his small but popular dim sum restaurant in Hong Kong.

Sun Hing opens its doors at 3am, seven days a week, with a loyal clientele from students to the elderly filling the 60-seat restaurant in the western district of Kennedy Town.

At 85 years old, Mr Chui is committed to handmaking his dim sum — parcels of meat, seafood and sweet fillings served in stacks of bamboo baskets — saying that freshness is key to their success.

But many in the industry fear the traditional art of making dim sum is dying as restaurants choose factory-made versions to save money and meet demand.

“Fresh handmade foods are beautiful after they are steamed, but many are made in factories now,” says Mr Chui.

Younger chefs are less interested in the hard graft it takes to prepare dim sum, he adds — it is usually eaten in the morning, so cooks must get up in the night to prepare.

“Young people think being in this industry means no freedom because you have to get up early and the hours are long,” he said.

At Maxim’s Palace in the harbourfront City Hall building — a favourite with locals and tourists — chandeliers sparkle over dim sum diners in the buzzing banqueting hall.

But, like Mr Chui, Maxim’s supervising chef Tang Leung-hung says there is a dearth of young talent to produce its handmade fare.

“The problem with the industry is the manpower. Young people are not willing to join us,” he told AFP.

“Many of them have turned to hotels’ western restaurants and sushi restaurants for jobs instead of Chinese ones,” says Mr Tang, with younger people seeing them as more fashionable and with better hours.

TEENAGE HOPES

Dim sum — which means “touching the heart” — is a Cantonese-style cuisine from southern China, often served with pots of tea.

Typical dishes vary from parcels of ground pork and shrimp “siu mai” to sweet treats including custard buns and “ma lai go” steamed sponge cake.

Once mainly part of a leisurely weekend ritual which could take hours, many dim sum joints in Hong Kong now have a quickfire approach, including take-away kiosks inside subway stations.

With demand growing and rental costs high, mass-produced buns and dumplings imported from mainland China are a way to up the volume and cut costs.

But there are those who are actively seeking to prevent a culinary art from dying out.

In the kitchen of Hong Kong’s famous five-star Peninsula hotel, teenagers don chefs’ whites to knead dough and fill intricate parcels as part of a cooking contest.

“We need to attract youngsters to join this trade. Craftsmanship is what is needed,” says Mr Frankie Tang, executive chef of the Peninsula’s Spring Moon Restaurant and organiser of the contest.

Of the five finalists making dim sum from scratch, 17-year-old Wu Cheng-long won after making dishes including crunchy lotus-seed pastry and a spring roll filled with fruit.

“We should make people not forget (how to make) dim sum. We should continue to develop this tradition,” said Mr Wu, who won HK$25,000 (S$4,528) cash and a one-year apprenticeship at the hotel.

CULTURAL HERITAGE

There is also hope among the city’s food experts, who say dim sum’s enduring popularity at home and increasing appeal abroad will inspire young chefs.

Several of the city’s local dim sum restaurants have received international accolades, including Michelin stars.

“The tradition (of eating dim sum) is still thriving... On Father’s Day, for example, you don’t go to a western fast food restaurant, you go to ‘yum cha’,” says Hong Kong food blogger KC Koo.

“Yum cha” — Cantonese for “drink tea” — is the name for the meal during which dim sum are eaten, washed down by hot tea.

Mr Koo adds that it is important to preserve the handmade tradition as it is a key facet of Cantonese culture.

“I have confidence that there will be new blood as the market is there,” he said.

Back at Sun Hing, the elder Chui’s 48-year-old son Chui Kwok-hing is following in his father’s footsteps.

“I come in at 1.30 am. Sometimes I feel like I have migrated to another country as the hours are upside down,” he says of the exhausting routine.

But he sees a reason for waking up in the dark.

“People like to have dim sum in the morning, to be energised with some tea before going to work,” he told AFP.

“I feel happy when people think the food is delicious.”

He adds that he wants to preserve the restaurant’s hard-won reputation.

“My dad is already 85-years-old but he still works here — as the young generation, we should try to be even better.” AFP

Monday, December 21, 2015

Thucydides Trap? Prospects better than they look

Chan Heng Chee
Chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities,
Singapore University of Technology


Dec 19, 2015

Are the United States and China headed on an inevitable collision course that will lead to war? Not when shared threats and opportunities can guide leaders to an escape from the "Thucydides Trap", which predicts war between a rising and the incumbent superpower.

What sort of a world are we facing going forward? Will the United States and China go to war?

Globally, there is a sense of great unease as we see and palpably feel the strategic shifts unfolding before us. A recent meeting in Singapore organised by the Asia Society and the S. Rajaratnam Endowment gathered a number of distinguished current and former office-holders, diplomats, strategic intellectuals and business leaders from the Asia-Pacific to discuss the dynamics of "Asia Rising" and its impact in the region and the world.

Professor Graham Allison from the Harvard Kennedy School published a provocative article just before Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to the US which set Washington abuzz.


In the article titled "The Thucydides Trap: Are the US and China headed for war?", Prof Allison argues that in his study of 16 cases of the rise of a new power in history, 12 ended up in war. "It was the rise of Athens and the fear of Sparta that made war inevitable."

He concludes that in the case of the US and China ,while war is not inevitable, it is very likely. He warned: "A risk associated with the Thucydides Trap is that business as usual - not just an unexpected, extraordinary event -can trigger large-scale conflict."

His presentation in Singapore was more nuanced and he argued that wise leadership in the US and China could help avoid the conflict.

In fact, the meeting quickly recognised that the entire global scene needed careful tending. Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in his keynote address reminded everyone that the world was seeing several fragilities coming together, and this was not a passing phase.

In the economic realm, we see the growing insecurity of the middle class in the US and advanced countries. The world is also affected by China's slowdown and its shift to higher- value manufacturing, which means it produces what it previously imported.

In the political realm, the centre is weakening, with extreme views capturing a larger segment of society than at any time in the post-World War II period. Finally, terrorism will be a continuing global reality. It would take a long time to resolve conflicts within Islam, geopolitical fights in the Middle East and the social legacies of segregated immigrant communities in some advanced economies.

DPM Tharman noted that "geoeconomics unlike geopolitics allows us to look at the world not as a zero-sum game".

Geopolitics for the major powers sees power shifting to one at the expense of the other. Geoeconomics is not zero-sum because everyone benefits from growth and enhanced interdependence. "It mitigates the inevitable tensions as the geopolitics shifts." But he also noted that there is now a growing disjunct between the central influence on global financial flows, which is the US, and the centre of global economic flows, which is increasingly China. The disjunct was a source of instability, especially for Asia's emerging economies, and it would take a long time to rebalance global finance.

It was China's rise that consumed the discussions. I came away with the distinct impression that while the participants heard war between the US and China was very likely, they thought more in terms of possibility, no one showed imminent anxiety.

Everyone recognised that China was not just another rising power. Size matters. Size changes everything, even when intentions are good. China is the elephant entering the swimming pool and whether the elephant jumps in or slides into the pool, it displaces the same amount of water. So to ask if China would be disruptive or play along with the established order is perhaps asking the wrong question.

NEW WORLD ORDER

There was no disagreement that there is no settled world order any more. Rather, rising insecurity among nations and within nations describes the state of nations and economic interdependence does not preclude strategic competition.

Ascendant nationalism in India, China and Japan will add to the unpredictability of the direction and outcomes of the strategic challenges as these countries work out territorial and boundary disputes.

One speaker claimed he remained optimistic about the strategic shifts because, based on their history, the Asia-Pacific countries are not motivated to re-create the world order. They are about restoring the old order. None of the new powers are missionary and want to convert others to their values. There is absent the "city on the hill" ideal which inspired America to actively promote its values abroad.

But China has just begun to discuss world order internally. China is asking itself what sort of order it wants. Chinese strategic intellectuals never fail to remind others that the world order was designed by the US for the Western world, and that during the Cold War, the Soviet Union was excluded from it. They see the world order today led by the US consisting of primarily three orders - one, the international economic system of which China is a member; second, the creation of a value system against which China is judged to be politically incorrect; and, three, a military alignment left from the Cold War which it has tolerated.

We are told China has asked itself what it should do. Should they "open it (the order) up"?

Before one jumps to the conclusion that there lie the seeds of conflict, China has reiterated in many forums that it is not fundamentally challenging the US.

I think it means it.

In fact, China has done well by the present order. The breathtaking growth of China as an economic power took place under the American-led world order. But China wants its new reality and status acknowledged. Finding that new balance is the challenge of the times.

Dr Henry Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State, has described this task as "working for a transition which recognises the arrival of the new power and preserves America's integral role in Asia".

The rivalry seems to be centred on the South China Sea where several states have overlapping claims. So far, neither the US nor China is prepared to step over the line to end in conflict and rules of engagement have been put in place.

China needs to work out the disputes with the four Asean claimant states. Disputes over sovereignty and territory are a matter between the disputants. Freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea is a concern of all countries. But big power tends to suffer from "big power myopia" and do not grasp how small nations feel.

MUTUAL ASSURED DEVELOPMENT AND DESTRUCTION

So can the US and China escape the Thucydides Trap?

Prof Allison himself offered clues for the escape. He highlighted "shared threats and shared opportunities" that could bring both powers to work together.

The possession of nuclear power and the nightmarish potential of the doctrine of mutual assured destruction, climate concerns, mega terrorism and fear of chaos would head the list of shared threats.

It was no surprise that of the four cases of no war accompanying the emergence of rising powers, all occurred at a time when the US, the Soviet Union, Britain, China and France possessed nuclear power.

During the Cold War in the 1950s to 1980s, when the Soviet Union was the rising power, the superpowers never went to war. They fought proxy wars instead. And we have seen the US and China work together on climate change for the Paris agreement.

The fear of chaos in international financial and monetary markets would be another instance when both the US and China would want to put their heads together.

On shared opportunities, Prof Allison spoke of the flip side of shared threats and gains in trade.

It is the emphasis on the economy and mutual assured economic development, and integrated supply chains, that would build interdependence. With the

"One Belt, One Road" initiative generating much interest, it was even suggested that understanding the enormous need for infrastructure throughout Asia, US participation in the project should not be discounted further down the road.

Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew has written that one of his greatest concerns in the US-China relationship is that the United States and China underestimate each other.

The recent forum provided a platform for all the regional players to discuss the Thucydides Trap fully because, as one participant said, to define the trap is to stop falling into it. Taking everything into account, the prospects are better than they look.

Professor Chan Heng Chee chairs the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities in the Singapore University of Technology and Design. She is also director of S. Rajaratnam Endowment and Trustee, Asia Society.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Inching towards uncertain times

Dec 19, 2015

ST Editorial

The US Federal Reserve's decision to nudge up the key interest rate by a quarter-percentage point ends an era of unprecedented cheap money that was put in place to tackle the global financial crisis, which was sparked by the bursting of the housing bubble and which spread through the US system to emerge as the worst crisis since the 1930s Depression, and thereafter roiled every Western market. Intimated months ago, the rate hike is a cautious endorsement of the health of the world's largest economy, which has emerged from its stupor to expand steadily, even if not spectacularly. As the recovery progresses, the Fed has signalled that it intends to lift rates by a quarter-percentage point every three months until next December. President Barack Obama, who assumed office when the crisis was at its most severe, can look back with satisfaction that he is bequeathing a robust enough economy to his successor, unlike the situation he inherited.

["Cautious Endorsement" or "Optimistic hope"?]

Friday, December 18, 2015

Humans are slamming into driverless cars and exposing a key flaw

DECEMBER 18, 2015


SOUTHFIELD (Michigan) — The self-driving car, that cutting-edge creation that’s supposed to lead to a world without accidents, is achieving the exact opposite right now: The vehicles have racked up a crash rate double that of those with human drivers.

The glitch?

They obey the law all the time, as in, without exception. This may sound like the right way to program a robot to drive a car, but good luck trying to merge onto a chaotic, jam-packed highway with traffic flying along well above the speed limit. It tends not to work out well. As the accidents have piled up — all minor scrape-ups for now — the arguments among programmers at places like Google Inc and Carnegie Mellon University are heating up: Should they teach the cars how to commit infractions from time to time to stay out of trouble?

“It’s a constant debate inside our group,”said Mr Raj Rajkumar, co-director of the General Motors-Carnegie Mellon Autonomous Driving Collaborative Research Lab in Pittsburgh. “And we have basically decided to stick to the speed limit. But when you go out and drive the speed limit on the highway, pretty much everybody on the road is just zipping past you. And I would be one of those people.”

NEW ZEALAND WOOS SINGAPOREANS TO MOVE THERE


THINKING OF GOING? HERE'S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Nov 29, 2015

BY CATHERINE ROBERT

It was an unusual invite from a foreign government that got people here talking in November.

Emigrate, said the New Zealand government, and enjoy a better quality of life in a less crowded country.

On its website, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) compares the lifestyles of the two countries, saying New Zealand isn't as densely populated as Singapore.

It was a repeat of a call first made in 2010 and, yes, it appears that some Singaporeans have accepted the invitation.

Since that year, 20,775 permanent resident visas have been granted to Singaporeans although not all of them have moved there, INZ tells The New Paper on Sunday.

Why Singaporeans?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

New grant, second HDB loan, two-room flexi flats possible for Fresh Start Housing Scheme

Dec 15 2015

Janice Heng

SINGAPORE - A new scheme to help public rental households own a home again could allow these second-timers to receive another Housing Board (HDB) concessionary loan. It could also give them the option of buying two-room flexi flats on shorter leases, which is now possible only for elderly buyers.

And while this Fresh Start Housing Scheme will include a new grant, this might be disbursed gradually over time, subject to conditions, as a way of motivating the new homeowners.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong shared these latest ideas for the upcoming Fresh Start Housing Scheme in a blog post on Tuesday (Dec 15). The MND and the HDB are now gathering views on the scheme through public dialogues.

One group consulted comprised former flat owners who are now living in public rental flats. Said Mr Wong: "Most said they wanted to own a flat again for their children to grow up in, but were unable to get mortgage loans. Some also said it was difficult to pay the resale levy in cash."

The Fresh Start Housing Scheme will help them with a Fresh Start Housing Grant, to reduce the amount they need to pay for their new flat, he said.

On Data Sharing by the Singapore Govt - A critique, a rebuttal, and a rejoinder

[First the Rebuttal and the Rejoinder... and then the original critique.]

Govt more open in sharing data

Dec 15 2015

The commentary last Friday ("S'pore can afford to be more open in sharing data") cited data from the Global Open Data Index, which attempts to benchmark openness of data internationally.

In the latest 2015 rankings, Singapore ranks a joint 23rd out of 122 places, and not 63rd, ahead of places such as Germany, Switzerland and Hong Kong. In the government spending category, Singapore scored the same as countries such as Australia, Denmark and the United States.

On Interest Rates, Housing and Property, Oil Prices, Employment and the Economy

[This is a collection of news article that paints an interesting economic picture. And by "interesting" I mean "depressing" and "pessimistic". 

Interest rates may be returning to the "old normal" of tracking inflation rates (which is currently low).]


Climate deal may be terminal for coal, but death will be lingering

DECEMBER 15, 2015

It is tempting to take the champagne-fuelled view that the historic global climate agreement reached in Paris signals the death of coal, but even if the dirty fuel is terminal, it will be a long, lingering demise before the final hacking cough.

This is simply because coal is, and will remain for decades, the main fuel in the world’s top and third-biggest emitters, China and India.

While China has changed direction on coal fairly dramatically in the past two years, its pledge at the climate summit that ended last weekend in the French capital is only that its emissions will peak by 2030.

That means the Chinese are allowing themselves 14 more years of increasing emissions, despite their commitment to lower the share of coal in their energy mix to below 60 per cent.

NDP saga raises bigger questions

Marc Lim
Sports Editor

15 Dec 2015

The sandy field issue at the National Stadium was down to unforeseen problems, said the Singapore Sports Hub. Give us time and it will be fixed. The same mantra was repeated with the leaky roof.

But when there is a question mark hanging over the staging of the National Day Parade (NDP) at the very venue built in part to showcase the nation's annual extravaganza, alarm bells must ring. For unlike a substandard pitch or leaky roof, the inability of the hub's bigwigs and the Government to see eye to eye on a national project that was always on the cards goes beyond aesthetics.

It hints at problems that go much deeper, perhaps of a disconnect between the two sides over how the project's public-private partnership (PPP) should be working out, or even how it is being managed.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Paris has created a gigantic carbon 'take-back scheme'

Myles Allen

14 Dec 2015

I wonder how many of the delegates in Paris realise that they have just created the mother of all "take-back schemes".

As a consumer, you may have already come across this sort of deal: if you don't want to dispose of the packaging of your new sofa, you can take it back to Ikea and it's their problem. In many places, you can even take back the sofa itself when your kids have wrecked it.

For the Paris climate deal to succeed, something similar will have to happen, where companies that rely on fossil fuels will be obliged to "take back" their emissions.

The agreement reaffirms a commitment to stabilising temperature rises well below 2 deg C, and even retains the option of limiting warming to 1.5 deg C, if possible. But it also confirms national targets that do little more than stabilise global emissions between now and 2030.

Given those emissions, sticking to within 2 deg will require us to take lots of carbon out of the atmosphere and store it in the ground. The parties to the agreement are, in effect, saying "we're going to sell this stuff, and we're going to dispose of it later".

How do I know? Well, peak warming is overwhelmingly determined by cumulative carbon dioxide emissions.


Global supermarkets selling shrimp peeled by slaves

DECEMBER 14, 2015

SAMUT SAKHON (Thailand) — Every morning at 2am, they heard a kick on the door and a threat: Get up or get beaten. For the next 16 hours, No 31 and his wife stood in the factory that owned them with their aching hands in ice water. They ripped the guts, heads, tails and shells off shrimp bound for overseas markets, including grocery stores and all-you-can-eat buffets across the United States.

After being sold to the Gig Peeling Factory, they were at the mercy of their Thai bosses, trapped with nearly 100 other Burmese migrants. Children worked alongside them, including a girl so tiny she had to stand on a stool to reach the peeling table. Some had been there for months, even years, getting little or no pay. Always, someone was watching.

No names were ever used, only numbers given by their boss — Mr Tin Nyo Win was No 31.

Pervasive human trafficking has helped turn Thailand into one of the world’s biggest shrimp providers. Despite repeated promises by businesses and government to clean up the country’s US$7 billion (S$9.9 billion) seafood export industry, an Associated Press investigation has found shrimp peeled by modern-day slaves is reaching the US, Europe and Asia.

The problem is fuelled by corruption and complicity among police and authorities. Arrests and prosecutions are rare. Raids can end up sending migrants without proper paperwork to jail, while owners go unpunished.


As China and Europe Age, Path to More Children Lies Beyond Bedroom

By STEVEN ERLANGER

NOV. 9, 2015

New York Times



LONDON — China’s decision to allow more families to have a second child is an effort to confront a problem that is facing much of Europe, too — aging populations and not enough babies. But reversing a demographic slide involves a complicated set of incentives that have more to do with social mores than with government policies, experts say.

Studies indicate that countries with healthy demographic trends are not those that promote birth, but those with higher levels of gender equality, of trust within society and of immigration.

So even for authoritarian China, raising the fertility rate will not be simple.

Examples of countries that recover from low fertility rates are rare, scholars and experts say. Immigration can play a positive role — not because immigrants have many more children than natives, but because they tend to be of childbearing age and have their children in their new countries.


Unusual factors in SGH hepatitis C outbreak

Paul Ananth Tambyah For The Straits Times

DEC 12, 2015

An infectious diseases expert assesses the independent review committee's report to highlight what was done well, and the need to empower healthcare workers to do their job better


The independent review committee (IRC) report on the recent outbreak of hepatitis C at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) has 81 pages of detailed facts, figures, assertions and conclusions. It would be good, first of all, to review what we know about hepatitis C viral outbreaks globally.

Unlike hepatitis A and E, which are spread by contaminated food and water, hepatitis B and C are spread exclusively by blood and body fluids. Hepatitis B is being brought under control globally with successful vaccination programmes in which Singapore was a leader and pioneer. Hepatitis C has no licensed vaccine but, in recent years, there have been a number of drugs which have been remarkably successful in curing the disease. However, these drugs are very expensive and can cost in excess of US$80,000 (S$112,400) for a three-month course.

Patients with acute hepatitis C usually do not have any symptoms at all, although occasionally patients will have jaundice (yellowing of the skin) and other signs of liver disease. As a result, most outbreaks, even in major academic medical centres internationally, were not detected for months.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Keep bird's-eye view of airspace issues

10 Dec 2015

Misperceptions of flight turbulence are exemplified by the common synonym "air pockets", which is misleading because pockets or spaces without air do not exist in nature; the bumps are in reality the result of varying airflow. In a somewhat similar way, there is misunderstanding of the airspaces managed by a country, called flight information regions (FIR). Such management is not a form of control that undermines the sovereignty of another nation. It is in fact the provision of services by a designated country - a flight information service and an alerting service.

Aircraft could scarcely travel efficiently and safely without the presence of seamless, standardised and technically sound services within the different flight regions that every bit of the atmosphere has been divided into. This was brought about by global agreement, facilitated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Moving Asia beyond GDP-ism

Jean-Pierre Lehmann

Dec 8 2015

The planet is adrift and in a mess.

Today, as this year comes to a close, this would seem a pretty incontestable statement.

For one thing, humanity appears increasingly less human - whether in terms of how we treat one another as human beings, or the way we treat nature. There is too much inhumanity.

While considerable progress has been made in recent decades in poverty reduction, there remains a great deal of poverty and misery, the eradication of which demands growth. A lot of growth, however, has been neither inclusive nor sustainable. Inequality and injustice rise, while conditions of living (or, in many cases, dying) due to pollution remain dismal.

As the climate change talks in Paris are likely to produce - at best - a mouse, surely there is an urgent need to ponder the question: Where are we going and what legacy will we leave our children?

There is obviously no easy fix-it, but I shall argue here that while growth may be required, the obsession political leaders and policymakers have had with gross domestic product (GDP) has been harmful.

Crafting responsive housing policies

Dec 8 2015

Public views are being sought on the Fresh Start Housing Scheme to be aimed at struggling families with children, living in public rental flats. At first glance, some might frown at those who've squandered public housing ownership benefits obtained earlier, wound up in rental homes again, and are now back in line for another flat offered cheaply by the state to the low-income. Indeed, the received wisdom, that has made the nation a crucible of self responsibility, is built on the notion that it's both need and the motivation to move forward on one's own steam that justifies wide social support given to those who are down. If such individuals seek to simply cash out subsidised assets, that would be ruinous for both them and society as a whole over time.

However, a changing ethos has led to policymakers seeing the issues affecting low-wage families through the multiple lenses of sociology, economics, culture and psychology. Dysfunctionality can arise for a variety of reasons, like unstable relationships, money woes, unemployment, a family member's addiction or imprisonment, and illness. To implement housing rules strictly could further hobble such families, while lax regulation of benefits might not bring about positive change.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Wahhabism to ISIS: how Saudi Arabia exported the main source of global terrorism

Although IS is certainly an Islamic movement, it is neither typical nor mired in the distant past, because its roots are in Wahhabism, a form of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia that developed only in the 18th century.

27 Nov 2015

BY KAREN ARMSTRONG

As the so-called Islamic State demolishes nation states set up by the Europeans almost a century ago, IS’s obscene savagery seems to epitomise the violence that many believe to be inherent in religion in general and Islam in particular. It also suggests that the neoconservative ideology that inspired the Iraq war was delusory, since it assumed that the liberal nation state was an inevitable outcome of modernity and that, once Saddam’s dictatorship had gone, Iraq could not fail to become a western-style democracy. Instead, IS, which was born in the Iraq war and is intent on restoring the premodern autocracy of the caliphate, seems to be reverting to barbarism. On 16 November, the militants released a video showing that they had beheaded a fifth western hostage, the American aid worker Peter Kassig, as well as several captured Syrian soldiers. Some will see the group’s ferocious irredentism as proof of Islam’s chronic inability to embrace modern values.

Malaysia moving towards ‘apartheid’ tendencies, NUS academic warns

DECEMBER 6, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia is on a slippery slope towards authoritarian nationalism with “apartheid” tendencies, a professor from the National University of Singapore (NUS) said today (Dec 6).

Dr Syed Farid Alatas, a Malaysian who teaches at NUS, highlighted as examples the proposed supermarket trolleys for non-halal food, a school’s plan for separate classrooms for non-Muslim students, and a Bumiputera-only gadget mall that is set to open this month.

“The lack of a multicultural approach, whether it’s towards Shiites, Sufis, anti-Christianity...we’re on the slippery slope towards very strong authoritarian nationalism with, I would add, apartheid tendencies,” Dr Syed Farid told a forum organised by G25, a group of retired Malay senior civil servants, here on Islam and democracy.

“Next thing that will come is — some Muslims will say I feel offended seeing the non-halal section in supermarkets. ‘When I peep into the section, I can see pork and alcohol’. They’ll say, ‘let’s have separate supermarkets’,” the associate professor of sociology added.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Criminal Law Act is useful — but handle with care

EUGENE K B TAN

DECEMBER 3, 2015


In a significant decision last week, Singapore’s highest court ruled that alleged global football match-fixer Dan Tan Seet Eng’s preventive detention was unlawful. His detention went beyond the scope of discretionary power vested in the Minister for Home Affairs under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA). The court’s ruling drew criticisms from a former Interpol chief and, ironically, FIFA, football’s graft-ridden governing body.

Based on the grounds for the detention put up by the Minister, the Court of Appeal determined that Tan’s activities were not of a sufficiently serious criminal nature to threaten or undermine “public safety, peace or good order in Singapore”, the raison d’etre of the CLTPA.

The court noted that Tan’s alleged match-fixing syndicate activities took place outside Singapore. Furthermore, Tan’s criminal acts had ceased almost two-and-a-half years before he was served with a detention order. Neither was there any suggestion that witnesses were intimidated and unwilling to testify against Tan.

China's dilemma: Populists could hijack policy response

China and South China Sea

Jiang Zongqiang and Hu Xin For The Straits Times

3 Dec 2015

US assertiveness in disputed region has stoked nationalism in China and risks increasingly aggressive responses by Beijing

[A summary of the issues in the South China Sea. China has made vague claims and have left the exact nature of their claims ambiguous to allow them flexibility in their response. However, the popular opinion of the people is jingoistic and wants China to make them proud... apparently by taking military action and possibly precipitating a war. And that is why government should not be left in the hands of the people. Strangely, Communist, centrally-planned China seems as vulnerable to populism as democratic USA.] 

At the Halifax International Security Forum on Nov 21, Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the United States Pacific Command, confirmed that "the United States will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows and that the South China Sea is not, and will not be, an exception".

However, such actions can make it seem that the US is intent on demonstrating its predominance in the South China Sea. As such, there is no denying that these activities have worked to undermine China-US military trust and aggravate regional tensions by disregarding Chinese concerns on sovereignty and security interests in the area.

It has also stirred up a wave of populism among Chinese policymakers, scholars and netizens.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Singapore's entrepreneurship X factor

Ike Lee

2 Dec 2015

It should not aim to become like Silicon Valley but exploit geography and cultural mix to become a world-class launch pad
I'll confess, I am a late adopter of Singapore. Although originally from Asia, I had not set foot here until April last year, when I was invited to speak at NUS Enterprise's Innovfest conference for entrepreneurs. Since that first visit, I have been back eight times and, each time, I notice something special; something that gets my heart racing.

It's the same feeling I got when I first arrived in Silicon Valley in the late 1980s - a buzz that comes about when a place has achieved a particular critical mass of physical, human and intellectual infrastructure. Like a chain reaction coming alive, this magical formula is the X factor that powers entrepreneurship and innovation. It's what has made Silicon Valley the global ground zero of the tech industry.

Foreign touch in national healthcare

2 Dec 2015

Singapore is hardly the only country facing a shortage of medical professionals, including doctors. With its population ageing at a rapid clip, a shortfall will remain a challenge in the years to come. Considering the global contest for healthcare support, it is a boon for Singapore that many physicians from abroad have found this an attractive place to work and live. Still, figures showing that the share of foreign doctors in the public sector has now risen to more than a quarter do pose implications worth pondering.

The foreign component of healthcare teams is a welcome addition as it would not do to have a shortfall as the nation ramps up its healthcare infrastructure. However, the large number raises the issue of whether the conservative approach in training local doctors ought to have been reined in earlier. The numbers are now being boosted in local medical schools but it is a game of catch-up.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

China’s Twin Challenges

Nov 30 2015

LONDON – This month’s monetary-policy statement from the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) contained a striking statement: “If endogenous momentum is inadequate and returns on investment low, growth must rely on debt to a great extent.” Those words highlight the twin challenges – real and financial – that the Chinese economy now confronts.

On the real side, China needs to achieve a transition away from unsustainable investment-led growth. Even before the 2008 crisis, China’s investment rate of 41% of GDP was extraordinarily high. But by 2010-2011, it had soared to 47%, as the authorities unleashed a real estate- and infrastructure-construction boom aimed at offsetting the threat to exports and employment arising from advanced-country deleveraging.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Dan Tan case: 'Groundbreaking' judgment raises question about Act

Nov 27, 2015.

Ng Huiwen

Groundbreaking - that is how legal experts and lawyers here have described the decision by Singapore's highest court to declare that alleged match-fixer Dan Tan Seet Eng's detention without trial was unlawful.

They agreed that it showed how the courts were ready to scrutinise the reasons behind the Home Affairs Minister's decision to detain a person under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA), and ensure that the state does not overstep the powers granted by the Act.

But the case has also led to another debate - on whether the CLTPA, first introduced in 1955 to fight secret societies, should be tweaked to take into account the global nature of organised crime today.

On Wednesday, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, delivering the judgment on behalf of a three-judge panel, said the key purpose of the Act was to prevent violence or cases in which witness intimidation made prosecution impossible.

But Tan's alleged match-fixing activities "all took place beyond our shores" in countries such as Egypt, South Africa and Nigeria, said CJ Menon. That meant there was little risk to "public safety, peace and good order" here. He added that no evidence was presented to show that potential witnesses were being intimidated.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Feeling useless at your job is key to success


LUCY KELLAWAY

NOVEMBER 25, 2015

If you want to be successful, the first step is not to know yourself very well. For years the emotional intelligence movement has been telling us the reverse — that self-knowledge is vital to get anywhere at all.

There has never been much evidence to back this up, but it sounds good, and so everyone takes it on trust. However, even the most casual acquaintance with the world of business suggests otherwise. Over the past three decades, I have met large numbers of senior business people, and cannot help noticing that the only thing most of them have in common is that they do not seem to know themselves at all.

Last week, I came across some research that backs up my hunch that self-knowledge is not all it is cracked up to be. Zenger Folkman, a leadership consultancy, has conducted a large piece of research in which it compared what 69,000 leaders think of themselves to what their teams — 750,000 people altogether — think of them. It found little correlation between how managers rate their own abilities and how others rate them, which is precisely what I would have expected.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Pinning down the elusive S'pore identity

Denise Chong

Nov 22, 2015

Try to clutch it and it slips right out of our hands like imported fine beach sand

The year-long self-hug that is the SG50 celebrations is drawing to a close with Tuesday's opening of the National Gallery art museum, and next month's The Future of Us exhibition.

Looking back, in trying to squeeze Singapore's short history for all the jubilee juice we can get, have we created commodified pieces of our identity that feel comforting but are somehow too comfortable to be true?

Some of us haven't got the foggiest idea what the Singapore identity officially is, despite decades of National Day parades-songs-videos. But this year, surely, we got the message, as it was delivered home fiftyfold. Vignettes of Singapore life - from a moment of anguish to hours of waiting around the Padang, from dragon playgrounds to being a playground for the rich - were flashing before our eyes on all sorts of media and in exhibitions. National Day funpacks given to families were filled with nostalgic games, snacks and figurines.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Why the same diet doesn't work for all: What's healthy for one may lead another to gain weight

Nov 20, 2015,

MIAMI (AFP) - A healthy food for one person may lead another to gain weight, according to a study out on Thursday (Nov 19) that suggests a one-size-fits-all approach to dieting is fundamentally wrong.

For instance, one woman in the study repeatedly experienced a spike in blood sugar after eating tomatoes, which would generally be considered a low-fat, nutritious food.

The findings are based a study of 800 people in Israel, and are published in the journal Cell Press.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Western govts’ failure to deliver a reason for gridlock: PM Lee

NOVEMBER 20

SINGAPORE — The gridlock common in Western governments is “partly a weakness of the leadership” and also a recognition that the system is not delivering, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a recent interview with a foreign newspaper.

Also, people in these countries do not feel that they have an interest in what the system is doing for them, he said. “You promised, but in the end, you cannot deliver. That is a challenge,” said Mr Lee, adding that political deadlock is particularly a problem in the United States “because of the way their system of government works”.

ST Global Outlook Forum 2015: Malaysia PM Najib's position secure, says Ong Keng Yong

Nov 20, 2015.

Bhagyashree Garekar
Deputy Foreign Editor

SINGAPORE - When it comes to developments in Malaysia, it pays to look beyond the headlines.

"What you see is not what you get," said Mr Ong Keng Yong, Singapore's Ambassador-at-Large and deputy chairman at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at the Nanyang Technological University.

He was referring to reports that have highlighted Prime Minister Razak Najib's supposedly precarious position in the face of financial scandals that have dominated headlines from Malaysia.

"In spite of all the scandals, the situation is not so dire to make us all worry about the economy and  business situation," said Mr Ong, Singapore's former high commissioner to Malaysia.


China's Unwilling Consumers

China’s Unwilling Consumers

Project Syndicate

LONDON – For several years, Chinese leaders have been pursuing economic “rebalancing.” The country’s longstanding growth model, based on investment and exports, is to be replaced by one based on services and domestic consumption. It’s a necessary transition for China. Unfortunately, consumption-led growth remains a distant prospect.

Yes, the contribution of domestic consumption to GDP has risen slightly over the last few years. But that mainly reflects weak investment demand, not strong consumption growth. In fact, wealth accumulation remains the primary objective of Chinese households. And, given China’s economic structure, under-developed financial market, and weak welfare state, high levels of precautionary saving will persist for the foreseeable future.

Indeed, one key factor impeding consumption is the imperative faced by China’s older workers to save for retirement. In the past, the Confucian tradition of filial piety meant that children supported their parents in their dotage. But, after more than three decades of the one-child policy, retirees cannot reasonably expect nearly as much support, and China lacks a strong pension system to pick up the slack.

The realities of social media’s impact on GE2015

CAROL SOON

NOVEMBER 19, 2015

Two hours after polling closed, as sample vote counts were released to the public, it became evident that the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) was the runaway winner in the 2015 General Election. While some wondered what went wrong and others asked what went right, for many, the reaction was: “What happened to social media?”

The expectations held by many concerning social media’s ability to mobilise political support were largely because of the online buzz that tilted towards opposition parties and personalities such as the Workers’ Party and Dr Chee Soon Juan.

Photographs and videos of people thronging opposition party rallies were also circulated widely on social media, encouraging the perception that the Opposition would garner more votes than in 2011. Instead, more voters chose the PAP this time and it improved its score from 2011 with a vote share of 69.9 per cent.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Finding peace within the holy texts


David Brooks

Nov 18, 2015

It's easy to think that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is some sort of evil, mediaeval cancer that somehow has resurfaced in the modern world. The rest of us are pursuing happiness, and here comes this fundamentalist anachronism, spreading death.

But in his book Not In God's Name: Confronting Religious Violence, the brilliant philosopher Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues that ISIS is in fact typical of what we will see in the decades ahead.

The 21st century will not be a century of secularism, he writes. It will be an age of desecularisation and religious conflicts.

Part of this is demographic. Religious communities produce lots of babies and swell their ranks, while secular communities do not. The researcher Michael Blume looked back as far as ancient India and Greece and concluded that every non-religious population in history has experienced demographic decline.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Internet Makes You Think You’re Smarter Than You Are: An Interview with Matthew Fisher

by Scott Berinato

FROM THE JULY–AUGUST 2015 ISSUE

The research: Yale doctoral candidate Matthew Fisher and his colleagues Mariel Goddu and Frank Keil asked people a series of questions that seemed answerable but were actually difficult. The questions concerned things people assume they know but actually don’t—such as why there are phases of the moon and how glass is made. Some people were allowed to look up the answers on the internet, while others were not. Then the researchers asked a second set of questions on unrelated topics.

In comparison with the other subjects, the people who’d been allowed to do online searches vastly overestimated their ability to answer the new questions correctly.

The challenge: Does the internet make us overconfident? Are we unable to distinguish
between what’s stored in our own heads and what’s in the cloud? Mr. Fisher, defend your
research.

Fisher: We’ve zeroed in on access to this massive online database of information as the
cause of an illusion of understanding. Even when people did searches and got irrelevant or
no results, they were far more confident that they’d know the answers to unrelated followup
questions.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Don't let hawker fare disappear

Han Fook Kwang

Editor-at-large

Nov 15, 2015

The odds are stacked against hawkers - the hours are long, prices of ingredients are high and the public won't pay more

Did you notice how blue the sky was last week when the haze disappeared?

The air seemed fresher, and even the birds sounded chirpier.

It is true - you don't appreciate the little pleasures of life until they are taken away from you.

Then you miss them like the earth and begin to understand what they mean.

What else do we take for granted that might disappear one day?

Here is one that tops my list - good old hawker food as we know it.

If present trends continue, they will disappear in 10 to 15 years.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Divining election voting behaviour

11 Nov 2015

The General Election 2015 survey by the Institute of Policy Studies offered some useful clues to voter attitudes, after the outcome took many by surprise. The study posits that the vote swing of almost 10 percentage points to the People's Action Party was due to a pronounced conservative twitch defined by relative "support of the political status quo", and qualified by the observation that this cluster's "political attitudes are changing with each survey". IPS did similar surveys after the 2006 and 2011 elections. The attitudinal tilt was inferred by responses to a "mix of political ideals, materialist and practical concerns".

Students don't perform better with tech use in school: OECD

11 Nov 2015

Finding also applies to Singapore, whose top ranking in digital skills is attributed to maths and science foundation

Sandra Davie
Senior Education Correspondent

Singapore students aced global benchmarking tests conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2012, including the test on digital skills.

But Singapore's top-rate performance may have little to do with the use of technology in schools. Computers may harm grades instead.

The OECD released a study recently that found that computers and classroom technology do not improve student performance.

Overall, the study's results also showed "no appreciable improvements" in reading, mathematics or science in countries that invested heavily in information technology.

In fact, the frequent use of computers in school is more likely to be associated with lower marks, OECD officials said.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The great Hong Kong versus Singapore debate: China Daily


Nov 9, 2015

Asia's financial centers offer distinct advantages, but decades-old competition is not going away.
By Thomas Zhang

China Daily/Asia News Network



In the midst of the global financial crisis in 2009, investment banks in London were shedding thousands of jobs.

A Chinese friend of mine in the United Kingdom fell victim to the cuts and was considering a move back to Asia.

"Where do you think I should go?" he asked. "Singapore or Hong Kong?"

As someone who had spent a lot of his professional life in the UK, I was of little help.

Both are prominent regional financial centers and were being touted as a refuge for bankers looking for opportunities away from Western markets during the financial crisis.

This is a dilemma facing every banker who wants to work and settle in Asia. If you are a banker in North America, you probably wouldn't hesitate too much where to work before heading to New York, and London still has the biggest draw among financial centers in Europe.

But in Asia, Singapore or Hong Kong is a less obvious choice, because these two de facto financial centres in Asia (ex-Japan) have long been competing to be the preeminent financial hub in the region.

After moving to Singapore a little less than a year ago, I realised that the appeal of these two cities largely depends on your personal status.

Monday, November 9, 2015

What does it take to domesticate an animal?

November 6, 2015

Dear Cecil:

How long does it take to "officially" domesticate an animal? What is the last wild animal humans have domesticated? If we tried long enough, could we end up with domesticated koalas or beavers?

— Dane Coffey, Bella Vista, Arkansas


Saturday, November 7, 2015

News organisations increasingly turning off online comments due to excessive nastiness

7 Nov 2015


Washington (AFP) - The Internet was supposed to facilitate better exchange between the public and news media. But vile and hateful comments changed all that.

In the face of rising vitriol - attacks, bigotry and general nastiness - news organisations are increasingly throwing in the towel on online comments.

Last month, Vice Media's Motherboard news site turned off reader comments, saying "the scorched earth nature of comments sections just stifles real conversation".

It instead began taking "letters to the editor" to be screened by staff.

Vox Media's online news site The Verge said in July it was "turning off comments for a bit", noting that the tone was "getting a little too aggressive and negative".

Blogging platform Medium this past week allowed its users to hide reader comments, acknowledging that "sometimes you may not want to get in a discussion".

The Big Read: After the high of GE2011, a reality check for the Workers’ Party

Some answers have emerged as the Workers' Party continues to examine where it could have done better
Kelly Ng

Saturday, 07 November 2015

SINGAPORE — Four years after the capture of Aljunied Group Representation Constituency — a first GRC win for the Opposition — ushered a “Workers’ Party fever”, the WP was brought back to earth with a thud following the results of the recent General Election (GE).

Attendances at its open houses — held at its Syed Alwi Road headquarters — have thinned significantly in contrast to the weeks following the 2011 GE.

At the first open house after the elections four years ago, about 150 people turned up. This time, fewer than 20 members of the public showed up at the first session after the Sept 11 polls, a party volunteer said. When TODAY visited a session two weeks ago, there was just a handful of members of the public, and they were outnumbered by party members and volunteers.

In the immediate aftermath of the recent GE, many of the party members and supporters were at a loss to explain its showing: It retained its Hougang stronghold with a smaller winning margin, and scraped a victory in Aljunied GRC, which had to go through a recount. The party lost the Punggol East single-seat ward, just two years after wresting it from the People’s Action Party (PAP). Overall, WP’s share of votes in the wards it contested slipped 6.8 points to 39.8 per cent, compared with the 2011 GE.

The party is in soul-searching mode, and some answers have emerged as it continues to examine where it could have done better.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Singapore-China ties: 7 things to know about 25 years of diplomatic relations

4 Nov 2015

Chew Hui Min

SINGAPORE - Singapore and China mark 25 years of diplomatic relations this year.

On Friday (Nov 6), President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan will make their first state visit to Singapore.

In many ways, the ties between Singapore, a city-state of 5.6 million, and China, a behemoth with 1.3 billion people, have been unique.

Here are seven things about the two countries' relationship.

Red tape, bureaucracy put brakes on SMEs in China

Dan Levin

4 Nov 2015


BEIJING — With the blessing of local officials, Mr Amir Porat, an Israeli entrepreneur, set up a surgical supply factory in 2013 in China’s coastal Jiangsu province, training workers and taking orders. All he needed to start production was US$250,000 (S$349,471) of specially designed moulding equipment from Israel.

More than two years and US$1 million in costs later, he is still waiting for the shipment. Chinese customs officials have demanded a permit for importing medical devices, although Mr Porat insisted the equipment was ordinary manufacturing machinery. Last year, he decided to close the factory before it ever opened.

“We had to pay salaries and rent,” Mr Porat said by telephone from Israel. “We’re not a big company and we just couldn’t afford to lose and lose.”

At a time of slowing economic growth, Beijing has sought to assure foreign companies that China is a welcoming place to do business. In a speech to United States business leaders in September, China’s president, Xi Jinping, pledged to protect the rights of overseas investors and to provide “a level playing field”.

But the plight of Mr Porat and other overseas entrepreneurs underscores some of the challenges small and mid-sized businesses face once they arrive. While China beckons with opportunity, cheaper labour and a huge market, it often frustrates with bewildering bureaucracy, entrenched corruption and a byzantine legal system, experts say.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Robin Williams was 'disintegrating' before suicide, widow says

NOV 4, 2015,

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Comedian Robin Williams had been planning to undergo neurological testing the week before he committed suicide last year, and likely only had three years to live, his widow said on Tuesday (Nov 3).

In her first interview since Williams hanged himself with a belt at their California home, Ms Susan Williams described how the Good Morning, Vietnam Oscar winner was "just disintegrating" physically and mentally in the months before his death.

The actor died in August 2014 at age 63; he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease three months prior.

He was showing symptoms including stiffness, slumping gait and confusion, she told ABC television's Good Morning America.

GE2015: Post-mortem and Analysis

Institute of Policy Studies Post-Election Conference was held on 4 Nov 2015. Results of a survey of 2015 Singaporeans two weeks after the polls was presented. The results found that there was a dip in “pluralists” — those who support greater political pluralism and changes in the electoral system, relative to other respondents — among the youngest group of voters, and a spike in “conservatives” — who support the political status quo — within the oldest group.

“While Singaporeans still want some diverse voices in Parliament, the electorate has voted more conservatively this time because some elements they thought were unsatisfactory and caused them to vote for the Opposition (in 2011) have now been addressed,”

Investor sues DBS over option advice

4 Nov 2015

She claims bank misled her into buying 'useless' options to protect margin positions

Selina Lum

SINGAPORE - A Singapore businesswoman, who lost US$6 million (S$8.4 million) in forex trades, has sued DBS Bank, seeking to restore her accounts to their levels before the bank closed out her trading positions.

Ms Florence Suryawan, 53, alleges that the bank had misled her into buying options meant to protect her against volatile forex markets.

These options, which work like insurance, turned out to be "useless" for hedging her investments.

In September 2011, the falling Australian dollar caused Ms Suryawan, who was acquiring the currency through structured products known as accumulators, to suffer massive losses.

After DBS closed out her positions, the total balance of her accounts with the bank fell from US$6.2 million to about US$410,000.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Will things fall apart in the Malaysian federation?

NOVEMBER 3, 2015

The Irish poet WB Yeats was not thinking about South-east Asia when he wrote “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”, but his words may accurately describe the situation in Malaysia. The monarchy governing the state of Johor is rattling the federation agreement and talking of secession. Sarawak wants significant devolution. And Sabah is gearing up for the same demand.

So is secession a real possibility? And why has the issue of federalism suddenly emerged after half a century of relative calm?

Secession is not realistic for Johor, or even for Sabah or Sarawak. Advocating secession constitutes the crime of sedition in Malaysia, making it difficult to create momentum behind a secession movement. The Johor princes have said that secession is possible and is a right of the Johor “nation”, only if the federal government does not honour the federation agreement.

That agreement involves guaranteeing Islam as the state religion, non-interference by the federation in the Johor Constitution and maintenance of the state’s armed forces. But all of these aspects of the agreement are being met. So by the princes’ own reckoning, there is no case for Johor’s secession.

The legacy of Mr Lee, Dr Goh and Mr Rajaratnam

3 Nov 2015

The idealism of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his comrades Goh Keng Swee and S. Rajaratnam was rooted in hard-headed understanding of power, Ambassador-at-large Bilahari Kausikan said at a conference on The Legacy of Lee Kuan Yew and the Future of Singapore, organised by Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge.

The most valuable thing they imparted to us was a cast of mind.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Malaysia’s ‘Islam’ has negative impact on Singapore, says lecturer

MSN

From The Malaysian Insider

by Hasnoor Hussain, 

October 31, 2015. 

Malaysia’s brand of Islam has a negative impact on its neighbour across the causeway, a Singaporean academic said today.

Dr Nawab Osman, from Nanyang Technology University, said a puritanical mindset and intolerance has begun to seep into Singapore and Malaysia was one of the contributing factors.

“Singapore is where Malaysia was about 10 years ago. The impact of Malaysia’s Islam is real.

“When (well-known Malaysian preacher) Ustaz Azhar Idrus came to Singapore, 10,000 people went to his talk,” he said at the “Maqasid Shariah in a Constitutional Democracy” forum in Penang organised by G25 and think tank Penang Institute today.

Speaking on Islamic revivalism and its socio-political impact, Nawab cited incidents in the island republic such as the issue of Muslim women wearing headscarves, as an indication of the shift of Islam in Singapore.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Cutting fat isn’t the best way to lose weight

October 30, 2015

NEW YORK — I know what you’re thinking. Another diet headline that will whiplash people trying to lose weight. The debate over the best way to shed pounds never ends. A new study isn’t going to change that.

Dr Deirdre Tobias hopes hers will. A researcher in the division of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, she co-authored a new analysis that finds reducing fat isn’t any more effective for losing weight than other diets. The paper was just published yesterday (Oct 29) in the journal Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

While fat-cutters lost some weight, compared with people who didn’t diet at all, they lost less than carb-cutters in trials that lasted at least one year. No approach was a magic bullet, though. All the dieters in the studies Tobias analysed lost, on average, just six pounds in a year. “That’s not very clinically meaningful,” Dr Tobias said. Such modest weight improvements won’t dent the obesity epidemic that affects 35 per cent of Americans.

Singapore effort to fight haze ‘almost futile’

Neo Chai Chin

October 30, 2015

SINGAPORE — By the time Singapore’s fire-fighting team headed to Indonesia this month, “nothing short of an act of God”, like rain, could have stopped the fires altogether, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli, as he urged early action so that such efforts do not become “almost a futile exercise”.

Despite dousing 50 hotspots in two weeks in Indonesia, the area covered by the Singapore team recently was “miniscule” compared to the total area that had to be tackled, said Mr Masagos to reporters a day after he returned from meeting his Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) counterparts in Vietnam.

At the meeting, Mr Masagos had pushed for the requesting of international assistance early in the haze season to become standard practice, once an appropriate alert level is reached. The ministers agreed to it.

Earlier this month, after repeated rejections from Indonesia, Singapore’s offer of haze assistance — including a Republic of Singapore Armed Forces Chinook helicopter with a 5,000-litre heli-bucket — was accepted. The Singapore team returned last week after more than 10 days in Palembang.

Friday, October 30, 2015

South China Sea - Control of Air and Sea; China, US

China has already faced difficulty enforcing an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) it set up two years ago covering the islands disputed with Japan in the East China Sea, which is closer to the Chinese mainland. Setting up and maintaining a zone over the much larger South China Sea would be even harder.
“The South China Sea is a completely different beast,” said senior researcher at the Chinese Naval Research Institute in Beijing, Li Jie. “The territorial disputes there involve many more countries, and if you take out a map, the topographic features are much more complex. It’d be more provocative in the eyes of the Americans.”

Feeding Singapore

Farms tap $63m fund to boost yields

They should press on to invest in automation to further strengthen food security: Minister

Oct 30, 2015

Melissa Lin

They used to pick out the bad eggs by hand, but this was not easy as the defects were like hairline cracks.

But from next month, workers at Seng Choon Farm can leave it to a machine that can go through 120,000 eggs an hour, sorting out bad ones more accurately and efficiently.

The machine of more than $2 million was co-funded by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) through a $63 million fund launched last August to help farms here boost yields and increase productivity.

Some 20 local farms from 17 companies have tapped the fund, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong yesterday.

"If we continue to ramp up our local production in cost-effective ways, we can become more self-reliant over time," he told some 300 food industry players gathered at Orchard Hotel for an AVA convention.

Putting the brakes on haze financing

OCTOBER 30, 2015

In all the finger-pointing over the transboundary haze, some banks in Singapore have come under the spotlight for allegedly financing the culprits behind Indonesia’s forest fires.

Now the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) has a new set of guidelines for banks to incorporate responsible financing practices into their business model. While the guidelines, announced this month, are not specific to the haze, their announcement is timely and commendable.

Currently, banks typically assess their clients’ creditworthiness solely on financial grounds. By broadening the credit-approval criteria to include the client’s social and environmental impact under the new guidelines, it could help prevent irresponsible business practices such as the land-clearing fires that cause the haze.

With this, Singapore is moving beyond intergovernmental cooperation and legal action against companies responsible for the haze. It is exerting influence through its financial institutions, a significant move given its financial hub status in the region.

U.S. Navy's challenge in South China Sea? Sheer number of Chinese ships

OCTOBER 30, 2015


HONG KONG - When a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer sailed near one of Beijing's artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea this week, it was operating in a maritime domain bristling with Chinese ships.

While the U.S. Navy is expected to keep its technological edge in Asia for decades, China's potential trump card is sheer weight of numbers, with dozens of naval and coastguard vessels routinely deployed in the South China Sea.

Asian and U.S. naval officers say encounters with Chinese vessels, once relatively rare, are now frequent, even at the outer edges of the controversial nine-dash line Beijing uses to stake its claim to 90 percent of the waterway.

Such encounters will only increase after U.S. officials said the U.S. Navy would conduct regular freedom-of-navigation operations akin to the patrol by the USS Lassen, which penetrated the 12-nautical-mile territorial limit of Subi Reef in the Spratly archipelago on Tuesday.

"They are everywhere ... and are always very keen to let you know they are there," said one U.S. naval officer in Asia, requesting anonymity, referring to the Chinese Navy and coastguard.

"If you're in the South China Sea, you can expect to be shadowed."

In an actual conflict, the U.S. technological advantage could be crucial, but China's numerical superiority had to be taken into account, particularly in any stand-off at sea, security experts said.

Is Singapore’s hawker culture faltering?

Joy Fang

October 29, 2015

SINGAPORE — Everybody in Singapore loves it. Renowned chefs such as Ferran Adria and Gordon Ramsay have raved about it. There is no doubt hawker grub is quintessential Singapore, and any Singaporean worth his or her salt would know where to tuck into the best char kway teow, chicken rice or laksa.

But despite the renewed interest, the street food culture here is in danger of fading into the sunset. Why? Because older hawkers are retiring or passing away, and there is not enough new blood to take their place, said industry observers.

With the Government building 20 new hawker centres over the next 12 years — the first, co-located with Ci Yuan Community Club at Hougang Avenue 9, opened in August after a hiatus in 1985 — it is now more essential than ever to revitalise this tradition and attract a larger number of hawkers to run the stalls.

But, what is holding aspiring hawkers back from entering the trade?

While some may say entering the hawker business seems relatively simple with little capital cost, those in the know say it’s not as easy as it seems.

The biggest hindrance stems from a lack of opportunities for aspiring hawkers to learn how to cook and enter the business. There are no comprehensive and sustained efforts to ensure these continue for the long haul, said Makansutra founder KF Seetoh. “There is not enough information, not enough opportunities or support to ignite the continuation of this heritage food culture for tomorrow,” he noted.

Many younger hawkers also prefer to whip up what they feel is more interesting fare, such as fusion or western cuisine, and few know how to cook authentic dishes such as bak chor mee and char kway teow, he said.

And even if some aspiring hawkers do manage to learn some techniques, nobody teaches them how to market their food or which events to participate in, locally or regionally, to get more exposure, he added.

Seetoh had launched Street Food Pro 360 course last year to train the next generation of hawker entrepreneurs, but found it difficult to sustain. The subsidised programme was meant to give participants an overview of street food business operations, skills training and an understanding of the culture of Singapore’s food heritage.

“I felt the industry needed but ... Then I could not light it up,” he said. “I wish it was done on a larger scale, officially, at the higher level ... Ideally the Government should just take an old school and convert it into a street food academy,” he said.

Executive director of social enterprise Project Dignity Koh Seng Choon agreed. “Many people now want to have more experience before they jump in. They want to learn first,” he noted. “So you must have a structured learning process to train them, that’s what’s missing at the moment.”

While there are a few programmes out there (Fei Siong Food Management launched an entrepreneurship programme, for example); projects to train hawkers are relatively ad hoc and individual in nature, he said.

In 2013, a collaboration between Knight Frank, Business Times, YMCA, National Environment Agency (NEA) and Singapore Workforce Development Agency initiated the hawker master pilot training programme to train aspiring hawkers. It had “master hawkers” such as Thian Boon Hua of Boon Tong Kee Chicken Rice and Sulaiman Abu of D’Authentic Nasi Lemak impart their skills to trainees. While it was launched with much fanfare, the second round never took off in a big way because of a lack of sponsors. Due to the small budget, they are currently running the course for only four people, said Koh.

IT’S ABOUT SPACE AND PERCEPTION

Another problem, said industry players, is the lack of sufficient spots for aspiring hawkers to set up a stall. This was cast in the spotlight after Douglas Ng, 24, who runs a fishball noodle stall at Golden Mile Food Centre, complained about the selection process of upcoming hawker centre at Bukit Panjang. Ng said the shortlisting method adopted by NTUC Foodfare, which operates the hawker centre, was unfair and lacked transparency.

Foodfare clarified later that they had purposefully introduced a new set of criteria that would not award the stalls based on the highest rental bids. The new evaluation criteria is based on a scorecard with only 40 per cent weightage for tendered rent, while the remaining 60 per cent consists of quality, variety, selling price, operating hours, experience and concept. They had shared with interested tenderers during their briefing that only shortlisted cooked-food stall tenderers with the best scores were required to participate in a food-tasting exercise by a selection panel, said Foodfare.

For new hawker Peter Mok, who opened his stall Noodle Evolution last December, finding an available location at Government-owned hawker centres was his biggest challenge. There are not many options — and not many stalls are available for bidding every month, with most meant for Indian or halal cooked food, he pointed out.

With few stalls available for bidding, Mok, a former quality assurance inspector in the apparel industry, had to bid for a stall at Kopitiam’s Lau Pa Sat instead, where rents are higher. Add maintenance and washing fees, and wages for workers; and it comes up to quite a large sum, he added.

Foodfare said the Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre had received more than 300 bids for six kiosks and 26 cooked-food stalls. An NEA spokesman also said that their cooked-food stalls “are generally well taken up”, with a vacancy rate of 2 per cent. NEA currently manages and regulates 107 markets and hawker centres.

But, observers say this is not reflective of interest from young hawkers. For instance, Seetoh pointed out that the number of bids also includes bids from existing players looking to expand their business. As for existing hawker centres, they are not vacant because many old hawkers refuse to let go of their stalls as they are paying old rental rates, he noted.

The stigma surrounding the hawker culture is another factor inhibiting the industry’s growth. Despite growing interest in hawker fare, fewer young people are interested because it is still seen as “unfashionable”, said Seetoh.

Hawker centres are seen as very hot and dirty, hawkers are not dressed well “and the presentation of food is not as fancy as many would like it to be”, he added.

“The bulk of a newer generation still likes to eat what’s trending online, such as pop-ups, food trucks, or artisanal farmer’s market type of food ... If given a choice, street food isn’t up on their list.”

This disconnect with hawker food among the younger generation also translates to their lack of enthusiasm in taking it up as a form of livelihood, he added.

While some young hawkers have emerged in the headlines recently - such as Ng, prawn noodle seller Li Rui Fang and Japanese teenager Reina Kuribara who is learning the ropes of serving mee pok from her father - this trend is “very sporadic and far and few between”, said Seetoh.

Many old hawkers also do not want their children to take over the reins, and so many types of “authentic food” may disappear, he said, citing Mitzi’s Cantonese Restaurant as an example. “With every falling legend, a chunk of heritage falls off.”

“The youngsters will not work in this kind of environment,” added Mok. “Nobody wants to work so hard because there are other opportunities available. (Old-style) hawkers are dinosaurs, society will evolve and they will no longer be found. The hawker culture will change with the changing tastes of the newer generation.”

A SUBSTANTIAL SUM NEEDED

Then there are the financial risks of setting up a hawker stall. While these may be less daunting compared to a restaurant or cafe, it can still be considerable; and many face the problem of having enough seed money.

The prospect of having to bid for a stall and compete with more seasoned hawkers is another hurdle they’d have to face, said some observers.

Starting a stall at an old public hawker centre — including equipment, utilities and ingredients — could set a hawker back by some S$18,000 to S$20,000, said Seetoh. At private food courts, that could go up to S$50,000.

The challenge could be in having enough money to set up, as well as to sustain for at least three months, said Mok. “When you first start, your customer base is not established, so you may not be able to break-even, or make a profit, until three months later. You can have partners, borrow from banks, work in a stall and try to build up some cash, or borrow from relatives.

“This is one of the barriers to setting up — the basic finance,” Mok said.

Whether one can earn money from the business also depends on several factors, such as stall location, the number of operating hours, cost per bowl and the quality of the food.

“All these things have to be factored in before one opens a stall, but nobody teaches you that,” said Seetoh.

This is important as take-home profits for a hawker can range between S$2,000 to S$3,000 a month and a five-figure sum “for really good ones”, he noted; while Mok opined that hawkers can earn an average of between S$50 and S$1,000 a day.

NEA said several of their recent policy changes have lowered barriers of entry to the hawker trade. For example, the agency disallowed the practice of sub-letting or assignment of hawker stalls to prevent stallholders who have no intention of operating the stalls themselves from engaging in rent-seeking behaviour which could drive up food prices. It also removed the concept of reserve rent for tendered stalls in 2012, which resulted in some cooked-food stalls getting awarded for as low as S$1 rent per month.

“This has allowed aspiring hawkers to enter the hawker trade without having to pay high rentals,” said the spokesman.

NEA has also invited social enterprises to operate its new hawker centres, to bring new ideas as well as their experience in food and beverage operations, property and lease management, to diversify food options and enhance the dining experience, she added. “NEA will continue to explore suggestions and proposals from all stakeholders to ensure our hawker centre policies and initiatives remain relevant and continue to serve their social objectives.”

Still, a glaring loophole remains: Hawkers do not come under any ministry, neither does it have any central body that could guide hawkers, pointed out Victor Thya, the Singapore Marine Parade Merchants & Hawkers Association’s honourary secretary. Hawkers are usually members of loosely formed associations within their individual hawker centres, and the amount of help and guidance differs. A large part of their discussions are about logistics, such as which cleaning services to employ.

It would be nice if hawkers could have consultants provide advice and transfer skills, said Thya. “We just go our own right now — we survive on our own.”

Restaurants or small and medium-sized enterprises have associations of their own, hawkers do not, noted Koh. And while hawkers need to be licensed by NEA, they don’t require company registration. Without that and CPF contributions, it will be difficult to access Government grants, said Koh.

With an estimated more than 20,000 hawkers in Singapore, it is strange that this group is not taken care of, he added. “This is like a lost baby that nobody wants to look after. Hawkers have no parents.”

Added Seetoh: “NEA only runs hawker centres, they don’t own food culture. Nobody does. Perhaps the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth should.”



Thursday, October 29, 2015

People Don't Actually Want Equality

They want fairness.


PAUL BLOOM

OCT 22, 2015

Bernie Sanders talks about economic inequality all the time, and it’s a message that resonates. You don’t need to be a socialist to worry about the divide between rich and poor in America. Many Americans across the political spectrum claim to be deeply troubled by economic inequality, and many say they support changes that would yield a more equal distribution of income and wealth.

But in his just-published book, On Inequality, the philosopher Harry Frankfurt argues that economic equality has no intrinsic value. This is a moral claim, but it’s also a psychological one: Frankfurt suggests that if people take the time to reflect, they’ll realize that inequality isn’t really what’s bothering them.

People might be troubled by what they see as unjust causes of economic inequality, a perfectly reasonable concern given how much your income and wealth are determined by accidents of birth, including how much money your parents had, your sex, and the color of your skin. We are troubled as well by potential consequences of economic inequality. We may think it corrodes democracy, or increases crime, or diminishes overall happiness. Most of all, people worry about poverty—not that some have less, but rather “that those with less have too little.”

Frankfurt argues, though, that we aren’t really bothered by inequality for its own sake. He points out that few worry about inequalities between the very rich and the very well off, even though these might be greater, both absolutely and proportionately, than inequalities between the moderately well-off and the poor. A world in which everyone suffered from horrible poverty would be a perfectly equal one, he says, but few would prefer that to the world in which we now live. Therefore, “equality” can’t be what we really value.

Election campaign cost: $7.1m

29 Oct 2015

PAP candidates spent $5.3m while the eight opposition parties' expenses totalled $1.8m

Chong Zi Liang
Rachel Au-Yong

Candidates in the general election (GE) held last month spent more than $7.1 million altogether, according to expenses submitted to the Elections Department.

People's Action Party (PAP) candidates spent $5.3 million on the 89 seats the party contested, while the expenses of the eight opposition parties contesting these seats totalled $1.8 million.

The Sept 11 GE saw the ruling party challenged in all seats for the first time since Independence. It won 83 out of 89 seats and 69.9 per cent of the votes.

In all, spending in this general election was about 30 per cent more than the $5.5 million in the 2011 polls. Still, the average spending per voter was below the maximum $4 that candidates were allowed, a sum that was raised this year from $3.50 in 2011.

The PAP spent $2.16 per voter and the opposition parties, 73 cents.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

WHO classifies processed meat as carcinogenic based on 'sufficient evidence'

26 Oct 2015


PARIS (AFP) - Eating sausages, ham and other processed meats causes colon cancer, and red meat “probably” does too, an arm of the World Health Organization (WHO) said Monday (Oct 26).

The findings support “recommendations to limit intake of meat,” said the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which compiled a review of more than 800 studies on the link between a meat diet and cancer.

“In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance,” IARC official Kurt Straif said in a statement.

[The IARC appears to be a agency dedicated to spreading alarm, as this article points out:

...when the IARC makes its decisions, it does not consider whether the substance in question is actually likely to cause cancer in the real world. Its panels do not assess whether a chemical will cause cancer – only if it is capable of causing cancer.
If we use the IARC's panels approach to evaluating danger, we would ban cars because they can cause death.]

For an individual, the risk of getting cancer from eating processed meat was statistically “small", said the agency, but “increases with the amount of meat consumed.”

“Each 50g portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 per cent.” The report was compiled by 22 experts from 10 countries. 

[And that's ridiculous. So you eat 250 g of luncheon meat and you will DEFINITELY get colorectal cancer?]

The evaluation revealed “strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect” for red meat consumption – mainly for cancer of the colon and rectum, but also the pancreas and prostate, said the agency based in Lyon, France.

Red meat includes beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat.

As for processed meat, including hot dogs, sausages, corned beef, dried meat like beef jerky or South African biltong, canned meat or meat-based sauces, there was “sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.” Meat can be processed in various ways, through salting, curing, fermentation or smoking.

Given that red meat is an important source of human nutrition, the results should help governments and regulatory agencies balance the risk and benefits of eating meat, said the agency.

It did not make a finding on whether the cooking method of meat affects the cancer risk.

The agency added processed meat to the same category of cancer-causing agents as tobacco smoke and asbestos, but stressed this did not mean it was just as dangerous.

[That's helpful. So WTF does that mean?]


Australia says WHO study linking processed meat to cancer is 'a farce'

Oct 26, 2015

SYDNEY (AFP) - One of the world’s top meat exporters Australia on Tuesday (Oct 27) ridiculed a landmark UN report linking sausages and ham to cancer, saying it was “a farce” to suggest they could be as lethal as cigarettes.

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) analysed 800 studies from around the world and found that processed meats such as sausages, ham, and hot dogs cause bowel cancer, and red meat “probably” does too.

It placed processed meat into its Group 1 category of carcinogens. Other substances in the group include alcohol, asbestos and tobacco.

“No, it shouldn’t be compared to cigarettes and obviously that makes the whole thing a farce – comparing sausages to cigarettes,” Australian Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce told national radio.

[Well, to be fair, sausages and cigarettes are both cylindrical or tubular...]

“I don’t think that we should get too excited that if you have a sausage you’re going to die of bowel cancer because you’re not. You just don’t want to live on sausages.” The Australian meat industry’s research and development corporation, Meat and Livestock Australia, said “promoting red meat as part of a healthy, balanced diet is important”.

“Red meat such as beef and lamb is a critical, natural source of iron and zinc, vitamin B12 and omega-3 – essential nutrients needed to keep the body and brain functioning well,” it said in a statement.

Australians are among the biggest consumers of meat in the world. They also have the eighth highest incidence of colorectal cancer globally, according to the World Cancer Research Fund.

[If they are the biggest consumers of meat, then they should have the highest incidence of colorectal cancer. Instead they lead the world in skin cancer. I think red meat causes skin cancer.]

Cancer Council Australia estimates that red and processed meats are associated with around one in six bowel cancers diagnosed in the country.

Back to a cave

Meat producers elsewhere were also sceptical of the report with the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) saying IARC “tortured the data to ensure a specific outcome”.

NAMI vice president Betsy Booren pointed to the high consumption of processed meats as part of the Mediterranean diet, yet “people in countries where the Mediterranean diet is followed, like Spain, Italy and France, have some of the longest lifespans in the world and excellent health”.

In Hong Kong, where bowel cancer is the number two top-killing tumour, the food industry blasted the findings as “too rash” saying they failed to specify what kind of preservatives and additives in processed meat are carcinogenic.

“They should explain if some processed food does not contain these kinds of additives, the risk of causing cancer would be lower,” Simon Wong Ka-wo, chairman of the Chamber of Food and Beverage Industry, told the South China Morning Post.

Australia’s Joyce said “the biggest thing is to make sure you get a balanced diet” as it was impossible for humans to avoid every cancer causing toxin in modern day life.

“If you got everything that the World Health Organization said was carcinogenic and took it out of your daily requirements, well you are kind of heading back to a cave,” he said.

“If you’re going to avoid everything that has any correlation with cancer whatsoever – don’t walk outside, don’t walk down the streets in Sydney, there’s going to be very little in life that you do in the end.”

The IARC evaluation revealed “strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect” for red meat consumption – mainly for cancer of the colon and rectum, but also the pancreas and prostate, said the agency based in Lyon, France.

As for processed meat, including hot dogs, sausages, corned beef, dried meat like beef jerky or South African biltong, canned meat or meat-based sauces, there was “sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.”

[Ok. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, as the name explicitly spells out, exists to find cancer-causing agents. Meat and Livestock Australia exists to sell meat.

Should you be surprised that one sees carcinogen in almost everything, and the other is upset about a study that finds meat causes cancer?

My take on it is very simple. Meat causes cancer the way roads cause tyres to wear out. 

We aren't meant to live forever. Nor is the purpose of life to die with a pristine body. Life is to be spent, not to be saved.

The fear of death does not keep us from dying. It only keeps us from living.

If you are a vegan, take comfort in the IARC's finding. 

If you love bacon (or meat), feel free to reject the IARC's message. Unless you want to live forever.]