Monthly Archives: April 2012

Sample Essay: To what extent do advertisements reflect what society desires?

To what extent do advertisements reflect what society desires? – Jolyne 1T37, 2012

 In a highly competitive economic environment where advertising is used to ensure the survival of a brand, it is no wonder that product advertisements have to reflect societal wants in order to be differentiated. Advertisements aim to enhance sales of products being advertised by enhancing the image of the products to increase consumer awareness, interest and make an impact in society. Successful advertisements will stimulate or arouse the human appetite for a given object of attention to buy and encourage feelings of being deprived if having to do without. To achieve this purpose, advertisements have to target consumers by presenting products in a way that appeals to consumer’s desires so as to create the desire for the product. Hence, advertisements do reflect what society desires to a great extent. However, advertisements also create new desires in consumers and they can do so while reflecting what society desires to get initial attention. Continue reading

long march of international justice

There is still a long way to go before the goal of ending impunity for crimes against humanity has been reached

The conviction of Charles Taylor for aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone was an important step in what can only be described as the faltering path of international justice. The sentence pronounced in The Hague sent strong signals to both his victims and former supporters in Freetown and Monrovia.

The court was not persuaded beyond reasonable doubt of the most serious charges. While it agreed that Taylor had “substantial influence” over the leadership of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which terrorised civilian populations with murder, rape, sexual slavery and enforced amputations, it ruled that that influence fell short of command and control. It similarly rejected counts based on a joint criminal enterprise. But in finding that Taylor knew about the campaign of terror the RUF was waging, fuelled it with arms and ammunition, and told RUF commanders to seize the diamond-producing areas so that he could continue trading gems for arms, one part of the truth of that dark period has been established. Continue reading

Questions to practice for the Mid Year Exam

  1. “A young person is powerless to influence today’s world.” How far is this true?
  1. Do you agree that Singaporeans today face great anxiety?
  1. “Modern life has made us lonely.” How far is this true?
  1. “The youth of today are a deprived lot.” Discuss.
  1. Is reading fiction a waste of time?
  1. To what extent do you think new forms of technology will render teachers unnecessary?
  1. “The harsher the laws, the safer the country.” How far do you agree that capital punishment makes a country a safer place?
  1. “He who opens a school door, closes a prison” (Victor Hugo). Is education the best way to solve the problem of crime?
  1. “Success is never final, failure is never fatal.” Is this true of your society?
  1. ‘Our leaders have failed us.’ In the light of developments in the world today, to what extent would you agree?
  1. ‘The most exciting way to live is on the edge.’ Is this necessarily true?
  1. To what extent do you think the media prevents us from thinking for ourselves?Drop me a mail and a text if you’re sending me essay plans or would like to meet for a review of a written piece – and in the absence of genius, try.

Men, women and power

Some interesting view points here, and key facts about the disparity between men and women in the economic sector. Feminist Gloria Steinem gives her opinion about not ‘fitting into’ male-dominated and created leadership model, but transforming it –  creating an equally respected, alternative model.

Encyclopedia Britannica halts print – victim of a digital age?

Encyclopedia Britannica halts print publication after 244 years

The paper edition of the encyclopedia ends its centuries-long run, but is it a victim or beneficiary of the digital age?

Encyclopedia Britannica

Seven million sets later, Encyclopedia Britannica will no longer publish volumes in print. Photograph: Robert Mullan / Alamy/Alamy

Its legacy winds back through centuries and across continents, past the birth of America to the waning days of the Enlightenment. It is a record of humanity’s achievements in war and peace, art and science, exploration and discovery. It has been taken to represent the sum of all human knowledge.

And now it’s going out of print.

The Encyclopedia Britannica has announced that after 244 years, dozens of editions and more than 7m sets sold, no new editions will be put to paper. The 32 volumes of the 2010 installment, it turns out, were the last. Future editions will live exclusively online.

For some readers the news will provoke malaise at the wayward course of this misguided age. Others will wonder, in the era of Wikipedia, what took the dinosaur so long to die. Neither view quite captures the company or the crossroads.

Jorge Cauz, president of Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc, suggested that the encyclopedia was already something of a relic within the company itself, which has long since moved its main business away from its trademark publication and into online educational tools.

“The company has changed from a reference provider to an instructional solutions provider,” Cauz said. He projects that only 15% of the company’s revenue this year will come from its namesake publication, mostly through subscriptions and app purchases. “The vast majority” of the remaining 85% of revenue is expected to come from educational products and services, said Cauz, who declined to provide dollar amounts but said the company was profitable.

Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc, is owned by the Swiss banking magnate Jacqui Safra. The company’s websites, which include Merriam-Webster dictionaries, attracted more than 450 million users over the course of 2011, according to internal numbers.

If the company’s move over the last decade into the education market is an impressive example of corporate versatility, the competitive difficulties the encyclopedia faces are easy to grasp.

Wikipedia English has 3.9m articles. The comprehensive Britannica has about 120,000. Wikipedia is free. The DVD Britannica, which includes two dictionaries and a thesaurus, costs $30 on Amazon. Individuals will also be able to sign up for an annual $70 subscription (universities will be charged about $1 per student).

Cauz said the product was worth the price.

“We may not be as big as Wikipedia. but we have a scholarly voice, an editorial process, and fact-based, well-written articles,” Cauz said. “All of these things we believe are very, very important, and provide an alternative that we want to offer to as many people as possible. We believe that there are 1.2 to 1.5bn inquiries for which we have the best answer.” Continue reading

Google’s Art Project – a museum of the museums of art

THIS IS ABSOLUTELY AWESOME (and other superlatives).

Click HERE to virtually walk through some portions of the greatest museums.

Would the world be more peaceful if women were in charge?

MUNICH – Would the world be more peaceful if women were in charge? A challenging new book by the Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker says that the answer is ‘yes.’

In The Better Angels of Our Nature, Pinker presents data showing that human violence, while still very much with us today, has been gradually declining. Moreover, he says, ‘over the long sweep of history, women have been and will be a pacifying force. Traditional war is a man’s game: tribal women never band together to raid neighbouring villages.’ As mothers, women have evolutionary incentives to maintain peaceful conditions in which to nurture their offspring and ensure that their genes survive into the next generation.

Skeptics immediately reply that women have not made war simply because they have rarely been in power. If they were empowered as leaders, the conditions of an anarchic world would force them to make the same bellicose decisions that men do. Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, and Indira Gandhi were powerful women; all of them led their countries to war.

But it is also true that these women rose to leadership by playing according to the political rules of ‘a man’s world.’ It was their success in conforming to male values that enabled their rise to leadership in the first place. In a world in which women held a proportionate share (one-half) of leadership positions, they might behave differently in power. Continue reading

Jeremy Lin and the Political Economy of Superstars

Do celebrities and sportsmen deserve the pay they get?

CAMBRIDGE – The biggest news around Cambridge in recent weeks has been Jeremy Lin, the Harvard economics graduate who has shocked the National Basketball Association by rising overnight from ‘nowhere’ to become a genuine star, leading a losing New York Knicks team to an unlikely string of victories.

Lin’s success is delicious, partly because it contradicts so many cultural prejudices about Asian-American athletes. Flabbergasted experts who overlooked Lin have been saying things like ‘he just didn’t look the part.’ Lin’s obvious integrity and graciousness has won him fans outside the sport as well. The whole world has taken note, with Lin being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated for two consecutive issues. The NBA, which has been trying to build brand recognition and interest in China, is thrilled.

I confess to being a huge Lin fan. Indeed, my teenage son has been idolising Lin’s skills and work ethic ever since Lin starred on the Harvard team. But, as an economist observing the public’s seething anger over the ‘one percenters,’ or individuals with exceptionally high incomes, I also see a different, overlooked facet of the story.

What amazes me is the public’s blase acceptance of the salaries of sports stars, compared to its low regard for superstars in business and finance. Half of all NBA players’ annual salaries exceed US$2 million, more than five times the threshold for the top 1 per cent of household incomes in the United States. Because long-time superstars like Kobe Bryant earn upwards of US$25 million a year, the average annual NBA salary is more than US$5 million. Indeed, Lin’s salary, at US$800,000, is the NBA’s ‘minimum wage’ for a second-season player. Presumably, Lin will soon be earning much more, and fans will applaud. Continue reading

Cyber Conflict

Joseph S. Nye, a former assistant US secretary of defense, is a professor at Harvard University and author, most recently, of The Future of Power.

Project Syndicate, April 16 2012

CAMBRIDGE – Two years ago, a piece of faulty computer code infected Iran’s nuclear program and destroyed many of the centrifuges used to enrich uranium. Some observers declared this apparent sabotage to be the harbinger of a new form of warfare, and United States Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta has warned Americans of the danger of a ‘cyber Pearl Harbour’ attack on the US. But what do we really know about cyber conflict?

The cyber domain of computers and related electronic activities is a complex man-made environment, and human adversaries are purposeful and intelligent. Mountains and oceans are hard to move, but portions of cyberspace can be turned on and off by throwing a switch. It is far cheaper and quicker to move electrons across the globe than to move large ships long distances.

The costs of developing those vessels – multiple carrier taskforces and  submarine fleets – create enormous barriers to entry, enabling US naval dominance. But the barriers to entry in the cyber domain are so low that non-state actors and small states can play a significant role at low cost.

In my book The Future of Power, I argue that the diffusion of power away from governments is one of this century’s great political shifts. Cyberspace is a perfect example. Large countries like the US, Russia, Britain, France, and China have greater capacity than other states and non-state actors to control the sea, air, or space, but it makes little sense to speak of dominance in cyberspace. If anything, dependence on complex cyber systems for support of military and economic activities creates new vulnerabilities in large states that can be exploited by non-state actors.

Four decades ago, the US Department of Defense created the Internet; today, by most accounts, the US remains the leading country in terms of its military and societal use. But greater dependence on networked computers and communication leaves the US more vulnerable to attack than many other countries, and cyberspace has become a major source of insecurity, because, at this stage of technological development, offence prevails over defence there.

The term ‘cyber attack’ covers a wide variety of actions, ranging from simple probes to defacing Web sites, denial of service, espionage, and destruction. Similarly, the term ‘cyber war’ is used loosely to cover a wide range of behaviors, reflecting dictionary definitions of war that range from armed conflict to any hostile contest (for example, ‘war between the sexes’ or ‘war on drugs’).

At the other extreme, some experts use a narrow definition of cyber war: a ‘bloodless war’ among states that consists solely of electronic conflict in cyberspace. But this avoids the important interconnections between the physical and virtual layers of cyberspace. As the Stuxnet virus that infected Iran’s nuclear program showed, software attacks can have very real physical effects.

A more useful definition of cyber war is hostile action in cyberspace whose effects amplify or are equivalent to major physical violence. In the physical world, governments have a near-monopoly on large-scale use of force, the defender has an intimate knowledge of the terrain, and attacks end because of attrition or exhaustion. Both resources and mobility are costly.

In the cyber world, by contrast, actors are diverse (and sometimes anonymous), physical distance is immaterial, and some forms of offence are cheap. Because the Internet was designed for ease of use rather than security, attackers currently have the advantage over defenders. Technological evolution, including efforts to ‘reengineer’ some systems for greater security, might eventually change that, but, for now, it remains the case. The larger party has limited ability to disarm or destroy the enemy, occupy territory, or use counterforce strategies effectively. Continue reading

No social progress without political progress

David Brooks, New York Times, 10 April 2012

If you attend a certain sort of conference, hang out at a certain sort of coffee shop or visit a certain sort of university, you’ve probably run into some of these wonderful young people who are doing good. Typically, they’ve spent a year studying abroad. They’ve traveled in the poorer regions of the world. Now they have devoted themselves to a purpose larger than self.

Often they are bursting with enthusiasm for some social entrepreneurship project: making a cheap water-purification system, starting a company that will empower Rwandan women by selling their crafts in boutiques around the world.

These people are refreshingly uncynical. Their hip service ethos is setting the moral tone for the age. Idealistic and uplifting, their worldview is spread by enlightened advertising campaigns, from Bennetton years ago to everything Apple has ever done.

It’s hard not to feel inspired by all these idealists, but their service religion does have some shortcomings. In the first place, many of these social entrepreneurs think they can evade politics. They have little faith in the political process and believe that real change happens on the ground beneath it.

That’s a delusion. You can cram all the nongovernmental organizations you want into a country, but if there is no rule of law and if the ruling class is predatory then your achievements won’t add up to much.

Furthermore, important issues always spark disagreement. Unless there is a healthy political process to resolve disputes, the ensuing hatred and conflict will destroy everything the altruists are trying to build. Continue reading