Monthly Archives: June 2012

Some useful GP Iphone Apps

(Re-blogging links from a really savvy ex-colleague, Ms Adrienne De Souza http://thegeneralpaper.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/gp-iphone-apps/ )

” 1. gp@mjc

Articles and snippets of information are organized according to GP topics. I did find that it took a while to load though, and some snippets didn’t come with links to full articles. However, it’s the only GP-specific app I’ve seen, and I think it’s worth checking out.

2. pulse

The app allows you to subscribe to your favourite news sources, but what I like even better is the option to subscribe to top stories within certain fields. For example, if I subscribe to the top science stories, pulse will compile only the biggest stories (rather than just give me everything and make me figure out which stories are more important) – ideal for time-strapped students (and teachers).

3. intelligent life (by The Economist)

I’ve loved The Economist since the time I was a student, and this recently-acquired app is definitely set to become one of my favourites.

4. Flipboard

This app reminds me of pulse, so I like this for most of the same reasons I like pulse (see above). I also quite like the layout and look of this app.”

Criticism against UN’S Rio+20 Summit as “unsustainable nonsense”

Activists pushing an inflatable globe during a ‘Global March’ as part of the People’s Summit for Social and Environmental Justice in Defence of the Commons, a parallel event during the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, in Brazil this week. — PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

IF GEORGE Orwell were alive today, he would be irritated, and then shocked, by the cynical way in which every lobby with an axe to grind and money to burn has hitched its wagon to the alluring phrase ‘sustainable development’. In fact, the UN’s Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development is about pet projects of all and sundry – many of them tangential to the major environmental issues, such as climate change, that were the principal legacy of the original Rio Earth Summit.

Thus, the International Labour Organisation and trade union lobbies have managed to insert ‘Decent Jobs’ into the seven priority areas at the Rio conference. I would love for everyone, everywhere, to have a decent job. But what does that have to do with either the environment or ‘sustainability’?

No one should pretend that we can magically offer decent jobs to the huge numbers of impoverished but aspiring workers in the informal sector. Such jobs can only be created by adopting appropriate economic policies. Indeed, the really pressing task facing many developing economies is to pursue policies that promote economic opportunities by accelerating growth

The flavour of the week in Rio is ‘sustainability indexing’ for corporations, by way of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Such indexing is being compared to accounting standards. But the latter are ‘technical’ and gain from standardisation while the former are not and must reflect variety instead.

Corporations can, of course, be asked to conform to a ‘don’t’ list – don’t dump mercury into rivers, don’t employ children for hazardous tasks, etc. But what they practise as ‘do’s’ by way of altruism is surely a matter of what they consider virtuous to spend their money on.

The notion that a self-appointed set of activists, in conjunction with some governments and international agencies, can determine what a corporation should do by way of CSR contradicts the liberal notion that we should ask for virtue to be pursued, but not in a particular way. At a time when the world is emphasising the importance of diversity and tolerance, it is effrontery to suggest that corporations should standardise their notion of how they wish to promote good in the world. Continue reading

For those about to (punk) rock, we salute you.

Real Punk belongs to Fighters –

Jessica Bruder, NYT, June 11 2012

NEW YORK — Exactly 35 years after the Sex Pistols were arrested for trying to perform their version of “God Save The Queen” while boating down the Thames, punk’s politically subversive snarl has never been louder. But you won’t hear it in the U.S. and the U.K., the countries where punk was born.

Instead look to Moscow, where three women have been detained and face up to seven years in prison because their band, Pussy Riot, staged an anti-Putin “punk prayer” in a cathedral. Amnesty International now classifies them as prisoners of conscience.

Consider Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where six months ago officers hauled more than 60 young punks off to reeducation camps, sheared off their Mohawks, removed their piercings and forced them to bathe, change clothes and pray. Or contemplate Iraq, where human rights groups report that dozens of emo kids — followers of punk’s tender-hearted offshoot — have been slain by extremists since February, when the government’s interior ministry released a statement equating emo style with devil worship. Continue reading

Sticker Lady: What’s the fuss, really?

Peter Beaumont, The Guardian, June 17th 2012

In Hoxton or New York, it might be regarded as commonplace – witty stencils and stickers posted by an artist around public spaces. In Singapore, however, a city obsessed with order and where “vandals” can be flogged, 27-year-old Samantha Lo – the so-called “Sticker Lady” – has inspired a massive online campaign after being arrested for posting stickers.

Lo, founder of an online arts magazine, has been arrested for sticking messages on traffic signal buttons, including “Press to Time Travel” or “Press to Stop Time”, as well as on suspicion of painting messages on roads reading “My Grandfather Road” – a Singaporean pun on bad driving and, some believe, the out-of-touch government of Singapore.

Lo’s arrest, which has been condemned by more than 14,000 people who have signed an online petition calling for leniency in the way she is treated, has triggered deep soul-searching in the city state, which is infamous for its enforcement of strict social order and banned the sale of chewing gum to keep its pavements clean.

If charged under Singapore’s draconian 1966 vandalism law, Lo could face up to three years in jail and a $2,000 (£1,000) fine. Men who are convicted, even of first offences, also receive three strokes of the cane. Continue reading

Banning the sweet tooth- an EVOLUTIONARY need?

Daniel Lieberman, New York Times, June 21 2012

OF all the indignant responses to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan to ban the sale of giant servings of soft drinks in New York City, libertarian objections seem the most worthy of serious attention. People have certain rights, this argument goes, including the right to drink lots of soda, to eat junk food, to gain weight and to avoid exercise. If Mr. Bloomberg can ban the sale of sugar-laden soda of more than 16 ounces, will he next ban triple scoops of ice cream and large portions of French fries and limit sales of Big Macs to one per order? Why not ban obesity itself?

The obesity epidemic has many dimensions, but at heart it’s a biological problem. An evolutionary perspective helps explain why two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, and what to do about it. Lessons from evolutionary biology support the mayor’s plan: when it comes to limiting sugar in our food, some kinds of coercive action are not only necessary but also consistent with how we used to live.

Obesity’s fundamental cause is long-term energy imbalance — ingesting more calories than you spend over weeks, months and years. Of the many contributors to energy imbalance today, plentiful sugar may be the worst. Continue reading

Is NIMBY flak an excuse not to engage?

Eugene Tan and Patrick Loh, for TODAY, June 19th 2012

The “Not In My Backyard” syndrome, or NIMBYism, has been very much in the news recently.

It has been singled out as the reason for the strong opposition to plans for a variety of facilities and amenities such as a nursing home (Bishan Street 13), a rehabilitation centre (Jalan Batu), an eldercare centre (Woodlands Street 83) and studio apartments for the elderly (Toh Yi Drive).

Are these “oppositionists” merely mindless NIMBY enclaves demonstrating reflexive opposition? Or is attributing such resistance to NIMBYism too simplistic, and an easy way out to dismiss such opposition?

Ordinary citizens should have a say in what happens in their community, for several reasons.

It contributes to active citizenship and a stronger sense of ownership of one’s environment; town Councils were created in 1988 for that explicit purpose of getting residents involved in their own communities.

And while bureaucrats may know what is needed at a national level, they may lack the ground knowledge of how best to implement national-level initiatives at the precinct level.

CONTESTATION THE NEW NORM

In all four recent events, we see a well-coordinated effort by an apparent vocal minority to challenge and resist the location and construction of the amenities.

In the Jalan Batu case, this has motivated another group (often described as the “silent majority”) to welcome the proposed rehabilitation centre. We should not be surprised by this robust debate in which different groups contest each other based on their competing, and sometimes conflicting, needs.

Indeed, this contestation will probably be the norm going forward. This means that there is an urgent need to develop the rules of engagement lest these differences of views result in divisiveness and confrontation. Respect, civility and lawfulness will be necessary.

But, it would seem, the dialogue sessions organised to discuss the relevant issues were characterised in some media reports as one group trying to railroad the other group.

While we cannot expect a total meeting of the minds – especially when participants have diametrically opposite start- and end-points – it would be a pity if participants and organisers alike proceeded with closed minds. Then a valuable platform to better understand and address the issues, concerns and fears would be lost – and deeper misgivings of the other party fostered instead. Continue reading

Hope springs a trap – lack of optimism locks people in poverty

The Economist, May 12, 2012

THE idea that an infusion of hope can make a big difference to the lives of wretchedly poor people sounds like something dreamed up by a well-meaning activist or a tub-thumping politician. Yet this was the central thrust of a lecture at Harvard University on May 3rd by Esther Duflo, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology known for her data-driven analysis of poverty. Ms Duflo argued that the effects of some anti-poverty programmes go beyond the direct impact of the resources they provide. These programmes also make it possible for the very poor to hope for more than mere survival.

She and her colleagues evaluated a programme in the Indian state of West Bengal, where Bandhan, an Indian microfinance institution, worked with people who lived in extreme penury. They were reckoned to be unable to handle the demands of repaying a loan. Instead, Bandhan gave each of them a small productive asset—a cow, a couple of goats or some chickens. It also provided a small stipend to reduce the temptation to eat or sell the asset immediately, as well as weekly training sessions to teach them how to tend to animals and manage their households. Bandhan hoped that there would be a small increase in income from selling the products of the farm animals provided, and that people would become more adept at managing their own finances.

The results were far more dramatic. Well after the financial help and hand-holding had stopped, the families of those who had been randomly chosen for the Bandhan programme were eating 15% more, earning 20% more each month and skipping fewer meals than people in a comparison group. They were also saving a lot. The effects were so large and persistent that they could not be attributed to the direct effects of the grants: people could not have sold enough milk, eggs or meat to explain the income gains. Nor were they simply selling the assets (although some did). Continue reading

Singapore: tough choices and trade-offs

Leslie Koh, Straits Times, June 17 2012

TRY putting your finger on one current hot-button issue – whether foreigners, Nimby, transport or housing, and up pops the word – ‘trade-offs’.

It is almost a mantra now, used repeatedly by national leaders.

Most recently, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong laid out the trade-offs involved in opting for slower economic growth. He acknowledged that growing too fast causes ‘stresses and strains’ but warned that slow growth would mean fewer new investments and good jobs.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan too said the Government had made the ‘tough choice’ of bringing in more foreign workers in 2005 and 2006, to draw investments and create jobs, although this led to the current infrastructure crunch.

‘Sometimes we have to take a decision which has both negative as well as positive consequences. We have to weigh and make the trade-offs,’ he said.

Indeed, this concept of balancing ‘trade-offs’ appears to be the basis of how Singapore tackles these pressing issues.

Essentially, the process seems to work like this: The Government lays out the stark choices that Singapore faces; it then tries to arrive at a consensus with the citizenry on which option to take – or it persuades them that one is better than the other.

Naturally, the final answer will not always go down well. There will always be a group of people who will lose out or remain unconvinced.

As Mr Khaw said in a recent interview with The Straits Times, voters need ‘to understand the larger picture and accept the need for trade-offs’. On its part, the Government needs ‘to explain more, engage more, and earn the trust and confidence of the people’.

In speeches and dialogues, ministers have been explaining the tough choices that Singapore faces, and trying to convince their audience that the Government is taking the better path.

That seems to be a fair approach to ensuring consultation while avoiding the policy paralysis that would result from trying to please everyone, which some countries are experiencing.

But the approach does not seem to be working too well, as each attempt to explain the trade-offs seems to bring on a new wave of anger and criticism.

Some economists, for instance, argue that the fears of slow growth are misplaced. Others argue that economic growth does not require a growing population or more foreign workers. Yet others contend that welfare and high growth are not exclusive. Continue reading

The Prime Minister’s defence of the pursuit of growth has stirred fresh debate on the right mix of economic gain and social welfare. In the first of a two-part series on economic growth, Political Correspondent Robin Chan delves into the issue.

SINGAPORE’S seeming ability to grow against the odds has been a hallmark of its economic development.

To spur growth, the Government has consciously driven change, in the 1960s through industrialisation, in 1985 – post recession – by making wages more flexible and cutting direct taxes, and then again in 2003, when it launched its third economic ‘paradigm shift’.

From 1997 to 2003, the economy suffered a series of setbacks that included a debilitating Asian financial crisis, the post-Sept 11 gloom, a dot.com bust and the Sars public health crisis.

BACKGROUND STORY

The Government has acknowledged the need to step up social spending significantly as the population ages and health-care costs rise. Over the last five years, social spending rose from $13 billion in 2006 to $21.5 billion last year.

BACKGROUND STORY:mKey events in the debate

2003Economic Review Committee focuses on developing entrepreneurship and liberalising the business sector to rejuvenate the Singapore economy. Key themes: keep costs low and doors open to foreign labour.

2006PM Lee says at his National Day Rally speech that Singapore ‘must grow as fast as we can’.

2007 Economists discuss the growing concerns of a dual economy in Singapore – one that has benefited the wealthy but is hurting the poor and middle-income – at the Institute of Policy Studies conference.

2008 MP Inderjit Singh coins the term ‘growth at all costs’ in his 2008 Budget Debate speech, to describe the Government’s economic strategy which he said had overheated the economy and hurt small business owners.

Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam calls his speech ‘entertaining, but flawed’.

2009 Economist Linda Lim, a professor at the University of Michigan, criticises the Government’s ‘growth fetishism’ for trying to achieve growth in too many sectors, with too little reward.

Amid the global financial crisis, an Economic Strategies Committee (ESC) is formed to look at new ways to grow, including a sub-committee on inclusive growth.

2010 ESC recommends tightening foreign labour tap and raising productivity by 2 to 3 per cent a year.

At the Budget debate, Mr Tharman defends the Government’s growth model over the last decade in the face of criticisms by Workers’ Party MP Low Thia Khiang and Mr Inderjit Singh.

2011 Unhappiness over lack of affordable housing, public transport congestion, high cost of living and income inequality take centre-stage during the General Election.

February 2012The Government raises its social spending in a Budget that includes a $100 million boost for the Inclusive Growth Programme to raise wages of 100,000 workers; $3.6 billion in GST vouchers for low-income families over five years; and Workfare payouts for 400,000 workers.

June 2012 PM Lee speaks at the Economic Society of Singapore dinner: ‘Without growth, we have no chance of improving our collective well-being… For Singapore, slow growth will mean that new investments will be fewer, good jobs will be scarcer, and unemployment will be higher.’ Continue reading

Excellent read: When should nations intervene?

This illustration is by Margaret Scott and comes from <a href="http://www.newsart.com">NewsArt.com</a>, and is the property of the NewsArt organization and of its artist. Reproducing this image is a violation of copyright law.

Joseph S Nye, Project Syndicate, June 8 2012

CAMBRIDGE – When should states intervene militarily to stop atrocities in other countries? The question is an old and well-traveled one. Indeed, it is now visiting Syria.

n 1904, US President Theodore Roosevelt argued that, “there are occasional crimes committed on so vast a scale and of such peculiar horror” that we should intervene by force of arms. A century earlier, in 1821, as Europeans and Americans debated whether to intervene in Greece’s struggle for independence, President John Quincy Adams warned his fellow Americans about “going abroad in search of monsters to destroy.”

More recently, after a genocide that cost nearly 800,000 lives in Rwanda in 1994, and the slaughter of Bosnian men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995, many people vowed that such atrocities should never again be allowed to occur. When Slobodan Milošević engaged in large-scale ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in 1999, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution recognizing the humanitarian catastrophe, but could not agree on a second resolution to intervene, given the threat of a Russian veto. Instead, NATO countries bombed Serbia in an effort that many observers regarded as legitimate but not legal.

In the aftermath, then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan created an international commission to recommend ways that humanitarian intervention could be reconciled with Article 2.7 of the UN Charter, which upholds member states’ domestic jurisdiction. The commission concluded that states have a responsibility to protect their citizens, and should be helped to do so by peaceful means, but that if a state disregarded that responsibility by attacking its own citizens, the international community could consider armed intervention. Continue reading