Monthly Archives: May 2012

Chinese clones of US shows a big turn-off

The New Big Bang Theory’s (above) opening scene featured terracotta warriors, while the American series used pyramids. — PHOTOS: KU6

China’s The Unbeatable Ugly Girl (above) had office layouts similar to those in American series Ugly Betty. — PHOTOS: NESOUND INTERNATIONAL MEDIA
By AW CHENG WEI, STRAITS TIMES, 26 MAY 2012BEIJING – ‘Smart? I would have to lose 60 IQ points to be classified as smart,’ says actor Jim Parsons in the American award-winning television comedy about nerds, The Big Bang Theory.

An actor in China repeats the line in a similar series, this time in Mandarin. He even resembles the tall and lanky Parsons, though he is Chinese.

It is an episode of The New Big Bang Theory, a Chinese remake of the Hollywood series.

Background story: Big Bang Theory replica

The copying of America’s award-winning TV comedy about geeks was blatant and bad in The New Big Bang Theory.

Its theme song, opening sequence and even the characters’ physical traits mirrored the original’s.

Canned laughter peppered jokes that fell flat too often. It came as no surprise that this Chinese remake was dropped after just two episodes. Continue reading

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Who killed privacy?

Simon Chesterman, The Straits Times, 26 May 2012. 

The writer is the dean of the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law. 

IT IS more than a decade since the former chief executive officer of Sun Microsystems Scott McNealy infamously declared that privacy was dead, urging the reporters who had asked him about the subject to ‘get over it’.

That was before the launch of Facebook, Google’s Street View, the iPhone, and a proliferation of other tools that many saw as driving nails into privacy’s coffin.

As Singapore prepares to adopt a new Personal Data Protection Act, it is telling that the word ‘privacy’ does not appear once in the draft legislation. This might be dismissed as a typically wary approach to rights by the Government, but Europe is also reviewing its data protection regime in a way that renders privacy a marginal rather than central concern.

So who killed privacy?

The desire to keep certain aspects of one’s life private has ancient origins, but the assertion of a legal ‘right’ to privacy is actually quite recent. Often traced to late-19th century developments in the United States, it was a response to the rise of sensationalistic journalism, the invention of the handheld camera and changing views on the proper role of the mass media. At the heart of this early conception of privacy was the right ‘to be let alone’. Continue reading

The issue on Aging: Looming weight on shoulders of the young

By Phua Mei Pin

YEE Yan Wan is just three years old but policymakers here are already worrying about her future choices.

The concern arises because of Singapore’s shrinking old-age support ratio. That is the number of people aged 15 to 64 available to support each person 65 or older.

If Singaporeans do not start having more babies, and even with a steady intake of 30,000 new immigrants each year, the ratio will plummet from 10.3:1 in 2010, to 3.9:1 by 2040.

That is the year Yan Wan turns 31 and enters her prime working years.

Strip away the foreigner quarter of the population, and that ratio shrivels to 2.7:1 by 2040.

To get a preview of what Singapore will be like then, look to Japan. It has fewer than three workers supporting each retiree. By 2025, that figure is expected to drop to two. As the workforce shrinks, Japan’s economic weight will follow suit.

Japan scholar Lam Peng Er says the Japanese government is caught between a rock and a hard place.

On the one hand, voters demand more medical benefits for the old and worry about the insolvency of the pension system. On the other hand, they are reluctant to pay more taxes to fund more social security.

Will Singapore be subject to these same pressures? What are its options in dealing with this shrinking base of working adults?

Assets or liabilities? Continue reading

What is it about Singapore?

The unofficial capital of Asia is the place to be to witness an exciting future unfolding

By AYESHA and PARAG KHANNA, FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

IT IS a cliche that the Pacific Ocean is displacing the Atlantic, China will replace America at the top of the world’s hierarchy of power, and the East will surpass the West. We do not believe any of that for a minute. The multipolar world we are entering will have no single winner, and the three-pillared West of the European Union, North America and Latin America remains a triangular zone of peace and the foundation of global stability.

But a world of continued Western power is not a world of Western dominance. Areas once considered the West’s eminent domain such as the Middle East and Africa are now looking East for investment and exports, and new models of growth, development and governance. It would not hurt for the West to do the same.

We can all start by looking at Singapore, to which we are relocating shortly.

For the past generation, Eastern talent has been educated in the West and stayed, rising to the top of professions from medicine to academia, and founding over 40 per cent of Silicon Valley start-ups. But Asia’s wave of economic growth, infrastructure spending, and improved governance have been luring back Chinese ‘sea turtles’ and non-resident Indians, among others, to shiny new corporate parks and research labs. You do not even have to be Asian: China is launching a new scheme to recruit the best and brightest talent from all races and nations on permanent visas – call it a ‘red card’.

Migration is about opportunity, not loyalty. Americans too have become economic migrants. Since 2008, tens of thousands of Americans have sought employment in fast-growing emerging markets, their CVs pouring into financial capitals such as Abu Dhabi, Shanghai and Singapore.

During a recent lecture to an Indian firm in Mumbai, we noticed that a third of the audience were young American MBAs. At the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing, hundreds of Americans and Europeans are enrolled in the English language master’s programme in international relations, where they get not only the professional training for global careers, but also Mandarin language classes and guaranteed summer internships in China as well. Continue reading

Sustained thought can control robotic arms

Recent scientific breakthrough makes it more viable for sustained use of thoughts to control robotic arms, giving hope to paralysed people

Andy Ho, Straits Times 26 May 2012

NEW study just published in the journal Nature reports on a 58-year-old woman and a 66-year-old man, both with longstanding paralysis, who are now able to move a robotic arm using pure thought.

Their brains have been implanted with hair-thin electrodes comprising a brain-machine interface. This device interfaces the patient’s brain to a computer. The interface can pick up thoughts. That’s not as fanciful as it sounds, since thoughts or brain activity generate electrical signals. These are passed on to a computer which reads and interprets these signals to offer control of an external object or device.

The woman, who was paralysed in all four limbs after a stroke, had such an interface implanted in her brain five years ago. At that time, she had already been paralysed for 10 years.

So the latest success as reported suggests that the brain region called the motor cortex involved can still function after it has not been controlling any limb movement for 15 years. Continue reading

Indonesia: When intolerance becomes more intolerable

Backgrounder: The most disturbing aspect of all this is not the violent behaviour of the radicals or the failure of the state or the police in providing protection, but the indifference shown by the majority of the people towards the attacks on freedom of speech, association and religion. The silence of the majority is read in some quarters as condoning the violent attack

Endy Bayuni, for Straits Times, 23 May 2012

FOR much of the last 14 years, May is the time when Indonesia marks the end of three decades of authoritarian rule and the start of a more democratic and accountable system of government.

This year, however, there is little to celebrate for many Indonesians because – in spite of democracy or because of it – they have lost some of their freedoms.

There is every reason to worry that Indonesia is backsliding on its commitment to protect freedoms of speech, association and religion. All these freedoms and more are enshrined in the Constitution, and for a few years they were widely observed. Rising intolerance, however, is starting to rear its ugly head to curtail the civil liberty of a wider net of people. Inevitably, the quality of democracy suffers.

Freedom of speech and expression has been under fire this month, coming not only from the usual suspects like radical Islamic groups, but also from the police and, of all institutions, from state universities.

When Canadian Muslim writer Irshad Manji came to Indonesia to launch her book Allah, Liberty And Love, one of her speaking events was forcibly stopped by the police, another was violently disrupted by a radical Islamic group, and yet another, at the prestigious state-run Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, was cancelled on orders from the rector.

Few of these perpetrators had read her book – which encourages young Muslims to break free from old traditions – but they had objected to her presence nevertheless because Ms Irshad is openly lesbian.

Early suggestions that the university ban was an isolated case have been squashed. The Diponegoro University, another state- run institution, based in Semarang, in the same week banned a film festival from being held on the campus, apparently because some of the films portray the lives of same-sex couples. Homophobia runs deep. You can tell freedom is in peril when universities, the very institutions that should be on the front line in pushing freedom to promote free thinking, are leading the assault. Continue reading

Why China Won’t Rule

Will China surge forward and be the next Superpower as the rest of the developed world is mired in recession or near-recession?

Robert Skidelsky, Project Syndicate 

LONDON – Is China poised to become the world’s next superpower? This question is increasingly asked as China’s economic growth surges ahead at more than 8 per cent a year, while the developed world remains mired in recession or near-recession. China is already the world’s second largest economy, and will be the largest in 2017. And its military spending is racing ahead of its GDP growth.

The question is reasonable enough if we don’t give it an American twist. To the American mind, there can be only one superpower, so China’s rise will automatically be at the expense of the United States. Indeed, for many in the US, China represents an existential challenge.

This is way over the top. In fact, the existence of a single superpower is highly abnormal, and was brought about only by the unexpected collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The normal situation is one of coexistence, sometimes peaceful sometimes warlike, between several great powers.

For example, Great Britain, whose place the US is often said to have taken, was never a ‘superpower’ in the American sense. Despite its far-flung empire and naval supremacy, nineteenth-century Britain could never have won a war against France, Germany, or Russia without allies. Britain was, rather, a world power – one of many historical empires distinguished from lesser powers by the geographic scope of their influence and interests.

The sensible question, then, is not whether China will replace the US, but whether it will start to acquire some of the attributes of a world power, particularly a sense of responsibility for global order. Continue reading

The Ethics of Internet Piracy

Peter Singer, Project Syndicate 

PRINCETON – Last year, I told a colleague that I would include Internet ethics in a course that I was teaching. She suggested that I read a recently published anthology on computer ethics – and attached the entire volume to the email.

Should I have refused to read a pirated book? Was I receiving stolen goods, as advocates of stricter laws against Internet piracy claim?

If I steal someone’s book the old-fashioned way, I have the book, and the original owner no longer does. I am better off, but she is worse off. When people use pirated books, the publisher and the author often are worse off – they lose earnings from selling the book.

But, if my colleague had not sent me the book, I would have borrowed the copy in my university’s library. I saved myself the time needed to do that, and it seems that no one was worse off. (Curiously, given the book’s subject matter, it is not for sale in digital form). In fact, others benefited from my choice as well: the book remained on the library shelf, available to other users.

On the other hand, if the book had not been on the shelf and those other users had asked library staff to recall or reserve it, the library might have noted the demand for the book and ordered a second copy. But there is only a small probability that my use of the book would have persuaded the library to buy another copy. And, in any case, we are now a long way from the standard cases of stealing. Continue reading

Liberal Arts – different in Yale and NUS?

Two staff reporters for the News, Ava Kofman and Tapley Stephenson, traveled to Singapore over spring break, interviewing more than 80 sources on the founding of Yale-NUS College — how Singaporeans view the project, how the liberal arts function in Singapore and how the country’s values differ from those on Yale’s campus. This is part two of the three-part series. (Read part 1and part 3.)

SINGAPORE — On other days, the giant halls in the National University of Singapore’s Sports & Recreation Centre might feel empty. But the 18,000 Singaporean students who passed through campus on March 17 and 18 for the NUS Open House entered rooms packed with booths from all of the NUS’s 16 schools and countless other student programs.

This year, tucked in a corner next to a booth for the NUS Business School, there was a new option on display. Under a sign that read “1 + 1 = 3,” Yale-NUS admissions representatives fielded questions from curious students about how Yale-NUS, the country’s first liberal arts college, will recreate Yale’s academic model in a Singaporean setting.

Although the booth looked similar in appearance to its neighbors at the open house, Yale-NUS will differ drastically in its academic structure from its peer institutions in Singapore.

Yale and NUS administrators have said their first priority is crafting “a unique and powerful education,” but they face the challenge of attracting students to a new school with an unfamiliar educational model.

A NEW MODEL

In a nation where most undergraduate degrees are offered in vocational subjects such as dentistry, engineering, business and law, some still understand the concept of “arts” as exclusively fine arts, rather than broad-based learning.

“Liberal arts is a misnomer; Asians think it means music, dance and drama,” Yale-NUS governing board chair Kay Kuok told the Straits Times in an interview last November.

The Ministry of Education has previously brought elements of foreign educational models back to its own universities through 60 international partnerships with academic institutions and internal programs like the NUS University Scholars Program (USP). The USP allows for more academic breadth than most NUS programs, though students still take 70 percent of their classes within their majors. Continue reading

A Mean World Syndrome?

For years, debates have raged among scholars, politicians, and concerned parents about the effects of media violence on viewers. Too often these debates have descended into simplistic battles between those who claim that media messages directly cause violence and those who argue that activists exaggerate the impact of media exposure altogether. The Mean World Syndrome, based on the groundbreaking work of media scholar George Gerbner, urges us to think about media effects in more nuanced ways. Ranging from Hollywood movies and prime-time dramas to reality programming and the local news, the film examines how media violence forms a pervasive cultural environment that cultivates in heavy viewers, especially, a heightened state of insecurity, exaggerated perceptions of risk and danger, and a fear-driven propensity for hard-line political solutions to social problems