Wednesday, April 29, 2009

First dip in resale flat prices since 2006


Prices of HDB resale flats fell 0.8 per cent in the first quarter compared with the previous quarter, marking the first decline since 2006.

This was slightly worse than the 0.6 -per-cent fall estimated by HDB earlier this month.

Price increases in resale flats have been moderating since the third quarter of last year. The median Cash-Over-Valuation amount for resale transactions dropped to $4,000 in the first quarter, a plunge of 73 per cent from the fourth quarter of last year.

The number of resale applications rose by 4 per cent to around 6,400. 938LIVE

From TODAY, Business – Weekend, 25/56-April-2009

2007 homebuyers at risk


Tay Huey Ying

THE islandwide property price index registered a decline of 14.1 per cent in the first quarter, slightly steeper than the flash estimate of 13.8 per cent.

This is the worst quarterly decline to date. It's also worse than the 13.1 per cent quarter-on-quarter drop recorded in the third quarter of 1998 when the residential market was adversely affected by the Asian financial crisis.

Private home prices have now fallen for the third consecutive quarter, with a total decline of 21.2 per cent since peaking in 2Q 2008.

Based on the URA's statistics, the private home property index is now almost back to 1Q 2007's level. Hence, purchasers who bought their properties after 1Q 2007 are at risk of having the valuation of their properties fall below their purchase price. For those who bought their properties on the deferred payment scheme and have yet to secure a loan, this would limit the loan-to-purchase price ratio that they can secure from financing institutions.

Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence has thus far shown that a majority of such buyers are able to cough up the amount of purchase price not supported by valuation in cash. This has helped to keep the number of distressed sales at a controllable level.

Moving forward, although private home prices are expected to remain depressed, the rate of decline is forecast to moderate from the high of 1Q 2009, as developers have already marked down prices substantially in the quarter. Mass-market homes could see more gradual price corrections averaging in the region of 8 to 12 per cent over the next three quarters, as more sellers in the secondary market and developers of unsold units from earlier launches could be expected to adjust their prices to near-current levels.

The mid-tier and high-end segments could witness larger average price declines ranging from 10 to 15 per cent over the same period.

The writer is director for research and advisory at Colliers International.

From TODAY, Business – Weekend, 25/56-April-2009

Last Letters


One man is helping others say that final farewell

Loh Chee Kong,

DRIVEN to desperation by the Asian financial crisis, Mr H Y Teo faced the prospect of losing his home right after his IT business went bust — had his parents and siblings not helped him repay his mounting bank loans.

He recalled: "I wanted to tell them how much I appreciate and love them but I didn't know how to say it."

So, he wrote them heartfelt letters, and it struck him then that there must be many others like him, "who had something to tell their families but they didn't have the opportunity, or the time was not right, they were not ready, or they were too embarrassed".

Eleven years on — and facing another recession — Mr Teo, a part-time IT consultant, has turned that realisation into a business: The idea is to get people to pen their last words in advance, leave them in the hands of a total stranger who would deliver the letter to the intended recipients — wherever they are — for a modest sum of $39.90 (until June, when Mr Teo will review the pricing strategy). has, since its launch in January, attracted an average of 60 to 100 visitors a day from around the world (mainly from Americans and Australians, with Asians making up less than 10 per cent).

According to the website, the company would contact the client once a year for the first two years upon receipt of the letter — and once every six months thereafter.

Should such attempts fail to contact the client, the letter would be delivered to the recipients.

Unconvinced? Apparently, some 400 or so people out there beg to differ. They have been interested enough to contact Mr Teo to ask for more details — on top of pouring their sorrows over marital problems or complaining about the neighbours.

"There was this Australian who said he wanted me to pass a letter to his neighbour when he dies. He wanted to tell his neighbour to be nicer to the next guy who moves in, and make sure his dog doesn't bark so loudly," Mr Teo recalled.

A common refrain among the enquiries was while they liked the idea of penning so-called "last letters", they were unsure how to do it. Apart from letters — which have to weigh less than 100 grammes — Mr Teo also offers to safekeep and subsequently deliver personal artefacts to intended recipients. A 75-year-old Briton has already asked Mr Teo if he could help him pass a grandfather clock to his son after he dies.

Mr Teo has yet to close any deals but he is optimistic — so much so that he is planning to retire in two years and concentrate on building up what his friends have disapprovingly described as a "black business".

Some friends have argued that people contemplating suicide can now count on Mr Teo to deliver their last words.

But Mr Teo is adamant he is doing more good than harm.

Said Mr Teo: "If people want to take their own lives, nobody can stop them." What his business intends to do is to give people the peace of mind to "go anywhere they want, and take on any jobs they want".

And he was convinced he would be making the world a "better place"— even if people do not buy his idea, which was exactly what some have told him via email.

Said Mr Teo: "They said they were not going to be my customers. They said something like, 'I'm going to spend more time with my loved ones because I realised that I neglected them a lot. I'm now going to speak to them a lot more.'"

Mr Teo continued: "My tears rolled down after I read these — not because I'm sad that I'm not getting business. I think I have done some good to educate people out there."


There was this Australian who said he wanted me to pass a letter to his neighbour when he dies. He wanted to tell his neighbour to be nicer to the next guy who moves in, and make sure his dog doesn't bark so loudly.

Mr H Y Teo,


Never mind the moral lessons, the business concept certainly has moneymaking potential. Mr Teo has already received a handful of propositions from major technology corporations, which were sounding him out for a joint venture. One even said it might consider acquiring his business.

"I won't sell my business for whatever amount they can offer... at least not in the near future. I want to see it grow," Mr Teo insisted.

And yes, those letters he had written in 1998 are still with him — lovingly preserved in air-tight plastic bags and locked away in a safe. "My wife and children know what to do with them should anything happen to me," he added.


From TODAY, World – Weekend, 25/56-April-2009

Notable Successful Failures

"For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again."
Proverbs 24:16


You have probably read how "Einstein was four years old before he could speak and seven before he could read. Isaac Newton did poorly in grade school. Beethoven's music teacher once said of him, 'As a composer he is hopeless.' When a boy, Thomas Edison's teachers told him he was too stupid to learn anything. F.W. Woolworth got a job in a dry goods store when he was 21, but his employers wouldn't let him wait on a customer because he 'didn't have enough sense.' A newspaper editor fired Walt Disney because he had 'no good ideas.' Enrico Caruso's music teacher told him, 'You can't sing. You have no voice at all.' And the director of the Imperial Opera in Vienna told Madame Schumann-Heink that she would never be a singer and advised her to buy a sewing machine.

Leo Tolstoy flunked out of college. Werner von Braun flunked ninth-grade algebra. Admiral Richard E. Byrd had been retired from the Navy as 'unfit for service' until he flew over both Poles. Louis Pasteur was rated as 'mediocre' in chemistry when he attended the Royal College. Abraham Lincoln entered the Black Hawk War as a captain and came out as a private. Louisa May Alcott was told by an editor that she could never write anything that had popular appeal. Fred Waring was once rejected for high school chorus. Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade." Dr. Milton E, Larson, "Humbling Cases for Career Counselors," Phi Delta Kappa, February 1983. Volume LIV, No. 6; 374.

Speaking personally, my father wouldn't allow me to go to high school. I was only 13 when he made me go to work to earn my own way. But through faith in God and sensing his purpose for my life, hard work, and determination I not only graduated from college but also from graduate school. True, I started late, but I made it. You can too.

My advice to one and all is this: Don't allow your past to determine your future. Discover God's purpose for your life and, with his help, give it all you've got.

Remember, failure is an event—not a person. When you stumble and fall (and you will from time to time), don't stay down. Get up, learn from your mistakes, and go on! Every day for the rest of your life commit and trust your life and way to God and he will be with you every step of the way.

Suggested prayer:
"Dear God, help me to know what your plan and purpose for my life is. And give me the faith and insight to learn from my failures and the strength and courage to never give up until I become all that you envisioned for me to be, and to do all that you planned for me to do. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."


Received in the e-mail from a good friend…

True Greatness

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:3 (NKJV)


Shortly after Booker T. Washington, the renowned black educator, took over the presidency of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, he was walking in an exclusive section of town, when he was stopped by a wealthy white woman.

Not knowing the famous Mr. Washington by sight, she asked if he would like to earn a few dollars by chopping wood for her. Because he had no pressing business at the moment, Professor Washington smiled, rolled up his sleeves, and proceeded to do the humble chore she had requested.

When he was finished, he carried the logs into the house and stacked them by the fireplace. A little girl recognized him and later revealed his identity to the lady. The next morning the embarrassed woman went to see Mr. Washington in his office at the Institute and apologized profusely. "It's perfectly all right, Madam," he replied. "Occasionally I enjoy a little manual labor. Besides, it's always a delight to do something for a friend."

Suggested prayer:
"Dear God, please help to remember that I, too, am a fellow struggler and should always be ready to lend a helping hand to that person in need whom you bring across my path. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."


Received in the e-mail from a good friend…

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Swine Flu and You

Swine Influenza and You

What is swine flu?
Swine Influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza viruses that causes regular outbreaks in pigs. People do not normally get swine flu, but human infections can and do happen. Swine flu viruses have been reported to spread from person-to-person, but in the past, this transmission was limited and not sustained beyond three people.

Are there human infections with swine flu in the U.S.?
In late March and early April 2009, cases of human infection with swine influenza A (H1N1) viruses were first reported in Southern California and near San Antonio, Texas. Other U.S. states have reported cases of swine flu infection in humans and cases have been reported internationally as well. An updated case count of confirmed swine flu infections in the United States is kept at CDC and local and state health agencies are working together to investigate this situation.

Is this swine flu virus contagious?
CDC has determined that this swine influenza A (H1N1) virus is contagious and is spreading from human to human. However, at this time, it is not known how easily the virus spreads between people.

What are the signs and symptoms of swine flu in people?
The symptoms of swine flu in people are similar to the symptoms of regular human flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting associated with swine flu. In the past, severe illness (pneumonia and respiratory failure) and deaths have been reported with swine flu infection in people. Like seasonal flu, swine flu may cause a worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions.

How does swine flu spread?
Spread of this swine influenza A (H1N1) virus is thought to be happening in the same way that seasonal flu spreads. Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing of people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.

How can someone with the flu infect someone else?
Infected people may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 7 or more days after becoming sick. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.

What should I do to keep from getting the flu?
First and most important: wash your hands. Try to stay in good general health. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food. Try not touch surfaces that may be contaminated with the flu virus. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

Are there medicines to treat swine flu?
Yes. CDC recommends the use of oseltamivir or zanamivir for the treatment and/or prevention of infection with these swine influenza viruses. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaler) that fight against the flu by keeping flu viruses from reproducing in your body. If you get sick, antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious flu complications. For treatment, antiviral drugs work best if started soon after getting sick (within 2 days of symptoms).

How long can an infected person spread swine flu to others?
People with swine influenza virus infection should be considered potentially contagious as long as they are symptomatic and possible for up to 7 days following illness onset. Children, especially younger children, might potentially be contagious for longer periods.

What surfaces are most likely to be sources of contamination?
Germs can be spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth. Droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person move through the air. Germs can be spread when a person touches respiratory droplets from another person on a surface like a desk and then touches their own eyes, mouth or nose before washing their hands.

How long can viruses live outside the body?
We know that some viruses and bacteria can live 2 hours or longer on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, and desks. Frequent handwashing will help you reduce the chance of getting contamination from these common surfaces.

What can I do to protect myself from getting sick?
There is no vaccine available right now to protect against swine flu. There are everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza. Take these everyday steps to protect your health:
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you get sick with influenza, CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
What is the best way to keep from spreading the virus through coughing or sneezing?
If you are sick, limit your contact with other people as much as possible. Do not go to work or school if ill. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick. Put your used tissue in the waste basket. Cover your cough or sneeze if you do not have a tissue. Then, clean your hands, and do so every time you cough or sneeze.

What is the best way to keep from spreading the virus through coughing or sneezing?
If you are sick, limit your contact with other people as much as possible. Do not go to work or school if ill. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick. Put your used tissue in the waste basket. Cover your cough or sneeze if you do not have a tissue. Then, clean your hands, and do so every time you cough or sneeze.

What is the best technique for washing my hands to avoid getting the flu?
Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. Wash with soap and water. or clean with alcohol-based hand cleaner. we recommend that when you wash your hands -- with soap and warm water -- that you wash for 15 to 20 seconds. When soap and water are not available, alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers may be used. You can find them in most supermarkets and drugstores. If using gel, rub your hands until the gel is dry. The gel doesn't need water to work; the alcohol in it kills the germs on your hands.

What should I do if I get sick?
If you live in areas where swine influenza cases have been identified and become ill with influenza-like symptoms, including fever, body aches, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, or vomiting or diarrhea, you may want to contact their health care provider, particularly if you are worried about your symptoms. Your health care provider will determine whether influenza testing or treatment is needed.
If you are sick, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people as much as possible to keep from spreading your illness to others.
If you become ill and experience any of the following warning signs, seek emergency medical care.
In children emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:
  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash
In adults, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
How serious is swine flu infection?
Like seasonal flu, swine flu in humans can vary in severity from mild to severe. Between 2005 until January 2009, 12 human cases of swine flu were detected in the U.S. with no deaths occurring. However, swine flu infection can be serious. In September 1988, a previously healthy 32-year-old pregnant woman in Wisconsin was hospitalized for pneumonia after being infected with swine flu and died 8 days later. A swine flu outbreak in Fort Dix, New Jersey occurred in 1976 that caused more than 200 cases with serious illness in several people and one death.

Can I get swine influenza from eating or preparing pork?
No. Swine influenza viruses are not spread by food. You cannot get swine influenza from eating pork or pork products. Eating properly handled and cooked pork products is safe.

Taken from CDCP site; the original article is here.

Stolen Paintings Returned

090422-StolenArtWork The United States returned on Tuesday a rare early 17th century portrait of a musician holding bagpipes that was seized by Nazis from a German-Jewish art dealer Max Stern in 1937, to his estate.

The work was turned over at a ceremony in New York commemorating the Holocaust to representatives of three schools in Montreal and Jerusalem that were Max Stern’s beneficiaries: Concordia, McGill and Hebrew universities. Stern sought asylum in Canada after fleeing the Nazis before the start of World War II .

But before his departure, he was forced by the Germans in November 1937 to liquidate his art collection of 228 pieces at rock bottom prices. AFP

From TODAY, World – Thursday, 23-April-2009

No meer animal


WHAT'S small and furry but isn't a cat?

A meerkat. Yup, like Timon from the duo of Pumbaa and Timon. A collaboration between BBC Films and the BBC Natural History Unit, this movie is about a whole family of the little rodents that stand up on their hind legs and look quizzical.

The Meerkats, narrated by the late Paul Newman, is skilfully shot and, like any good animal movie, shamelessly anthropomorphic.

A documentary-cum-bedtime story, the film tells the sentimental tale of Kolo, a gung-ho meerkat pup who overcomes the obstacles of youth, inexperience and predators to take his place as a useful member of his meerkat family.

While not nearly as interesting or poetic as March of the Penguins, The Meerkats does feature some awe-inspiring scenes of the Kalahari and includes studies of other interesting animals within the meerkat's environment, like the eagle, the cobra and the lion. It's an engaging and educational experience — for the children, especially. 2.5/5 May Seah

From TODAY, Plus – Wednesday, 22-April-2009

Giving new life to old wood


Tan Hui Leng

WHEN Ms Anita Sam (picture) started importing eco-friendly furniture five years ago, customers snapped up pieces based on their design and craftsmanship. Today, consumers consider the environmental sustainability of the furniture's raw materials first, and design second.

"I think Singaporeans have reached a level of maturity where they love good design and quality, but they also want to be socially responsible," said the Singapore Permanent Resident and furniture industry veteran.

"It's the 'feel-good' factor… not only does the furniture look good, it is also good for the environment."

Last Friday's official opening of the flagship d-Bodhi concept store, which Ms Sam said saw "very substantial sales", is testimony to her passion for environmental sustainability. In fact, sales at the eco-friendly furniture business have grown almost 10-fold from 2004 when it would ship out two containers a month to the 18 to 20 containers monthly now. The company aims to expand its monthly exports to some 30 containers this year and 50 next year.

d-Bodhi is one of a few reclaimed wood industry players in Singapore. The furniture range was started in 2002 by Dutch national Raymond Davids, a partner of the company. It recently set up a 3,200-square-foot flagship store at Alexandra Industrial Estate here and hopes to have 200 d-Bodhi shops worldwide by 2015.

d-Bodhi uses reclaimed teak from Indonesia, with pieces salvaged from buildings and railway sleepers and can be up to 100 years old.

"Reclaimed wood poses other challenges, such as the tedious collection of wood," said d-Bodhi's co-owner and director Ms Sam. A team of 700 in Indonesia is involved in the business — from sussing out buildings for sale to collection of wood.

Unlike buying new wood by volume, reclaimed wood comes in all shapes and sizes. It has to be processed more arduously, as items like nails, nuts and bolts and screws have to be removed before they can be stripped down. The planks then have to be sorted according to the type of furniture they are more suited to be in their next lifetime.

However, such teak has a special quality which Ms Sam and other aficionados love for the character its grain, natural finish and age lend.

The d-Bodhi line is marketed as a premium brand, with prices starting at $300 for chairs and over $3,000 for bedroom sets. d-Bodhi also distributes to 13 countries globally and aims to sell in 25 countries by next year.

It has been successful in getting the United States-based Forest Stewardship Council to start a new certification category, that is, "100 per cent recycled wood" for such furniture, different from new wood sourced from sustainable plantations.

"For many of our customers, it's a conscious decision to buy from us rather than from other shops," said Ms Sam.

"Some of them also tell me frankly that they entertain friends and business associates who are environmentally friendly."

That d-Bodhi's furniture come with an international "green" certification is the icing on the cake. The company has extended the eco-friendly aspect of the business to reuse sawdust generated during the furniture making process as they are pressed with a resin to be made into home accessories like tealight holders, coasters and table lamps.

Looking ahead, d-Bodhi is open to using other types of reclaimed wood. It is also looking into working with more Singapore designers through Spring Singapore.

From TODAY, Enterprise – Wednesday, 22-April-2009

Singapore beyond Lee Kuan Yew

Ho Kwon Ping

IT IS perhaps Mr Lee Kuan Yew's fate, as one of very few successful nation-founders who retired on their own accord, to have periodic questions asked about his legacy. After all, the overwhelming majority of revolutionary leaders or nation-founders had more courage than wisdom, and few retired willingly.

The considerable earlier achievements of Mr Mao Zedong, Mr Fidel Castro, or even Mr Robert Mugabe, were severely diminished by their clinging to power long past their peak. In modern history, perhaps only China's Mr Deng Xiaoping and Mr Lee Kuan Yew knew not only when to retire, but how to guide their countries to a sustainable, stable future.

Mr Deng has long passed from China's scene, but the country remains firmly focused on Mr Deng's vision of a peaceful and prosperous country, attaining its rightful place in the world. In Singapore, Mr Lee remains a vibrant mentor, though slower of gait and mellower in temperament.

So the question is: When he is no longer around, how will Singapore fare? Will it, as the political scientist Professor Samuel Huntington, once predicted, that the system created by Mr Lee "will follow him to his grave"?

This was the broad thrust of a recent forum entitled "Singapore Beyond Lee Kuan Yew". As one of the speakers, I raised two questions. First, whether political renewal within the People's Action Party (PAP) can produce leaders of sufficient calibre that people will continue to support the unique one-party-dominant system characteristic of the Singapore system of governance. Because if they do not, we will be sailing in uncharted waters.

And second, should the waters ever turn choppy, can tomorrow's generation find their way through the storm, with or without the PAP? In other words, how will Singapore society and its people fare and fend for themselves beyond Mr Lee?

Let's take the first issue of political renewal within the PAP. For Singapore's sake, the ruling PAP had better be sustainably competent, because there is no dependable, tested opposition party as fallback for the country. The price to Singapore of the PAP's extraordinarily successful half-century of governance is that the system is now particularly vulnerable to the internal self-renewal of the PAP.

Will the Singapore system of self-renewal work beyond Mr Lee and after the present generation of leaders depart the scene? The only possible answer, since we have not yet crossed that bridge, is that we do not know. But future leaders will certainly not enjoy the huge political legitimacy arising from approval by Mr Lee.

The risk to successful self-renewal in Singapore beyond Mr Lee is not only the paucity of talent and the difficulty of identifying, recruiting and grooming leaders.

Another risk, over time, is the spectre of internal schisms within the PAP. The party's extraordinary cohesion over 50 years is due not only to the PAP's compelling vision and its centrist positioning, but owes much to the forceful personality of Mr Lee. Whether factionalism can be kept in check after this present generation of leaders including its mentor, have left the scene, is an imponderable. But given its past record, the chances are reasonably good.

The second question I raised was this: If the PAP, for whatever reason, fails to lead Singapore, will Mr Lee's legacy then unravel? Or can the people of Singapore muddle their way through even if the leadership renewal of the PAP fails to deliver what it has done for the past 50 years?

To borrow from United States President Barack Obama, I think the answer is "yes, we can". Mr Lee's greatest legacy, I believe, is that the Singapore which he so passionately shaped will outlive not only him, but even his own party should that ever come to pass.

Perhaps because he is the quintessential realist with no illusions about the difficulty of creating a genuine nation out of different ethnic groups with their own traditions, and still recognises that the fault lines of race and religion continue to lurk in the background, Mr Lee has made nation-building one of the single most critical political imperatives of his leadership. And he has largely succeeded.

No Singaporean or foreigner questions today that we have a shared identity, common values and aspirations. This is no small achievement.

And so, 44 years after nationhood, the acute sense of vulnerability which suffused the Lee Kuan Yew era with an urgent dynamism, is inevitably giving way to a more relaxed and confident nation.

Will that translate into a complacent and cocky generation, ultimately descending into the hubris which will destroy Mr Lee's legacy? Or will a sense of "concerned gungho-ness", shaped by the collective memory of vulnerability but inspired by the promise that theirs is a destiny they will continue to shape on their own, define my children's generation?

Contrary to popular stereotype, young people today are not apathetic. They may be disinterested in electoral politics, but they are increasingly involved in civil society and community issues. They seek expression not in Speakers Corner but in alternative digital media and social networking sites. Singaporeans studying overseas remain engaged about Singapore issues and many are returning home, no doubt partly because of dire job prospects in the West, but also because their sense of belonging is strong.

Visitors to Singapore marvel at how we have managed fundamental diversities of race and religion so well. But now that we are a single, cohesive nation, there is a need to encourage a different kind of diversity — not in race or religion — but in outlook and analysis.

Thankfully, the once-rigid Singapore system is beginning to cultivate and celebrate diversity in our schools and universities, in social and cultural life.

The definition and measure of success and achievement is also broadening. In my interaction with my children and their friends, or with Singapore Management University students, I sense that young Singaporeans are responding positively to these trends. I do not believe that their sense of ownership over their country is any less than the youth of other countries.

In short, the Singapore of Lee Kuan Yew is changing — as it should and as he would have wished it to. By responding to tomorrow's generation, today's leadership is ensuring Singapore's survival.

This is an edited extract of a speech delivered at a forum entitled "Singapore Beyond Lee Kuan Yew: Institutionalising the Singapore Way". It was organised by the Asia Journalism Fellowship programme, an initiative of Temasek Foundation and the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.

From TODAY, Voices – Wednesday, 22-April-2009

Monday, April 27, 2009

Lessons from Trees


"Whoever comes to Me [Jesus], and hears My sayings and does them… is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock. But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great." Luke 6:47-49 (NKJV)

Ravi Zacharias tells how when he and his family lived in "England some years ago a terrible windstorm hit much of the country. Amazingly, thousands of trees were felled in one night. Some days later we were walking outside Buckingham Palace and my wife noticed something very significant. While the trees themselves were huge and very tall, their roots were unbelievably shallow. We marveled at this seemingly inexplicable disproportion." The reason was that the water level was close to the surface and the roots didn't have to go deep to get their nourishment.

I have seen a similar thing happen in Southern California where many Australian gum or eucalyptus trees are grown. As this area is converted desert, all or many of these trees are watered by a drip or sprinkler system. Because the water is close to the surface, many of these trees don't have a deep root system either and I have seen many of them fall in a wild windstorm after the ground was waterlogged.

Very different to gum trees growing up in the dry parts of Australia where they are forced to drive their roots down deep in order to survive. Their branches get broken in storms but rarely do any of the trees fall.

Furthermore, when I lived in South Australia at the top of the Adelaide hills where the winds blow furiously, I was advised to plant my trees while they were still small and not to stake them too tightly. They needed the freedom to bend and sway with the wind as this helped them develop a deep root system from their beginning in order to strengthen them when they had fully grown.

Or take the mighty redwood trees—magnificent trees that grow in Northern California and reach their leafy arms toward heaven—some of which were growing when Jesus walked on earth! Normally they receive good rains and have a sufficient water supply. These giants of the forest also have a very shallow root system but as they grow in groves, all their roots are intertwined so when the wild winds blow and the storms rage, they hang on to each other and hold each other up.

The same is true of us. In order to survive the storms of life we need to develop a deep root system that is anchored solidly in our faith in God—the one in whom we trust implicitly. And like the mighty redwoods, if we want to grow strong and healthy, we need the support of one another, for none of us can make it alone and weren't created to do so. As God's word also says, "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together." Hebrews 10:25 (NKJV)

Suggested prayer: "Dear God, thank You for Your Word and its instructions for life. Help me to live by these principles so that I will have deep roots built on a solid foundation and can say with the hymn writer, 'On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.' Thank You for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Flies in foodstall: Action taken by NEA

Letter from S Satish Appoo

Director, Environmental Health Department, National Environment Agency (NEA)

We refer to the letter “Flies make home in our eateries” (April 10).

Our investigations confirmed the presence of flies in the refreshment area of the foodshop at Sembawang Drive. The foodshop management has mobilised its pest control operator to locate and eradicate the fly-breeding sources. Our field officers have also extended their checks to the surrounding areas. The foodshop operator will face enforcement action should breeding be found in his premises.

During our inspection, food for sale was found to be properly covered. We have reminded the operator of his responsibility to ensure that crockery and cutlery are properly covered, and refuse properly bagged and disposed of.

We thank your reader for the feedback.

From WEEKEND TODAY, Voices – 18, 19-April-2009

‘We will be more vigilant’


Letter from Andrew Tan

Chief Executive Officer, National Environment Agency

I THANK all letter-writers and journalists of Today who have commented on the importance of maintaining high standards of public hygiene in our hawker centres following the severe incident of food poisoning traced to a stall at the Geylang Serai Temporary Market.

We at NEA are deeply saddened by this episode that is linked to more than 150 people falling ill, many acutely, with two losing their lives. Our hearts are with the affected people and the grieving families to whom we have extended our deepest condolences. The outpouring of concern rightfully shows the widespread sympathy we share for them as well as the high standards expected of our markets and food centres.

Maintaining Hygiene Standards

NEA has the overall responsibility for ensuring high standards of public health and hygiene in Singapore. We would like to assure the public that NEA will strive to uphold these high standards.

The current system for upholding public hygiene comprising legislation, surveillance, enforcement and public education has served us well. The number of food poisoning cases in Singapore is very low. Over the last three years, there has been an average of only four food poisoning incidents a year, even though we have 5,600 hawker stalls across 106 hawker centres.

Grading of Stalls

The grading scheme, introduced in 1997, was intended to motivate licensees to improve on their personal and food hygiene and upkeep of their premises. All stalls that are graded and allowed to operate meet the basic hygiene requirements. The grading scheme sought to differentiate and recognise those who made greater efforts to improve and sustain the cleanliness and hygiene of their operations. By making the grades public, it was hoped that consumers’ choice could also lend pressure to encourage hawkers to strive for higher standards.

NEA, on its part, also actively worked with stallholders to encourage them to improve, by paying more attention to those with lower grades. NEA facilitates upgrading courses so that food handlers gain the knowledge to raise standards.

Food stalls in hawker centres that are graded A and B are inspected every eight weeks, while stalls graded C and D are inspected more frequently — every six weeks. NEA uses a point demerit system to penalise foodhandlers for any lapses in maintaining good personal and food hygiene. When a food handler accumulates 12 demerit points in a year, his licence will be suspended for two weeks. This is how NEA keeps unhygienic stalls from operating.

This regime has led to a significant improvement in food hygiene levels in Singapore. Over the years, the proportion of Grade A and B stalls has increased from 46 per cent in 2002 to 86 per cent last year. The remaining 14 per cent of stalls are graded C and they meet hygiene requirements.

The grading and point demerit system, together with a regime of regular inspections, have helped to keep food poisoning incidence low. Notwithstanding, food poisoning incidents can occur in any food establishment, regardless of its grading, if there are lapses in personal hygiene.

Overall hygiene standards at hawker centres have also improved through the Hawker Centres Upgrading Programme. Since 2001, a total of 72 centres have been upgraded with better facilities and toilets, among other improvements. The remaining 30 or so centres will be upgraded by 2012.

Cleanliness of Geylang Serai Temporary Market

When markets and hawker centres are being upgraded, grassroot organisations and their advisers can choose to have a temporary market which is not provided for under the government’s Hawker Centre Upgrading Programme (HUP). If so, they also carry the responsibility of keeping the temporary market clean to meet NEA standards. However, NEA will intervene if it assesses the need to do so in the interest of public health.

In the case of Geylang Serai Market, the Kampong Ubi CCC decided to build and manage the temporary market. Despite the best of efforts put in by the Temporary Market Management Committee in implementing its cleaning regime and in tackling the rat infestation problem, the problem persisted. NEA should have moved in firmly earlier to address this problem. Sustained efforts with NEA’s assistance and enforcement have now led to a marked improvement. NEA will continue to require the Management Committee to sustain ongoing cleaning and pest control efforts.

Greater Vigilance

Going forward, NEA will step up its vigilance and enforce higher standards of public hygiene on all food outlets. NEA will also conduct more refresher training on food and personal hygiene for stallholders and food handlers. We will further tighten up our own procedures to ensure the timely issuing and display of up-to-date grading labels.

To impress on the need for good hygiene practices by all and enhance understanding of the overall system, NEA will step up engagement of market managements and operators of food establishments, Public awareness efforts so as to also involve consumers in maintaining high levels of public hygiene at all times are also being looked into.

NEA will further improve on the current system, taking into account the useful feedback and suggestions thus far. We thank everyone for the valuable feedback and suggestions. We continue to welcome views at and 1800-CALL-NEA (1800-2255 632).

From WEEKEND TODAY, Voices – 18, 19-April-2009

No Hour of Power


Turn off your lights every day of the year to make a difference

Richard Hartung,

090418-PowerSave EARTH Hour in Singapore last month energised thousands of people to take action and do their part to reduce the perils of global warming. But despite the mass participation, focusing on turning off the lights for just one hour may actually have been counterproductive. If Earth Hour made it seem like only a single hour of change is all that’s needed, it may also have sent a message that the other 8,759 hours of the year aren’t really so important.

The publicity for Earth Hour certainly did encourage action. Television commercials, signs at bus stops, advertisements, postcards and newspaper reports pushed people to do their part. The “60” logo — symbolising 60 minutes of darkness — seemed ubiquitous. Broadcasters picked up on the buzz, so listeners constantly heard about the need to turn off their lights. Many conversations the week before Earth Hour touched on “what will you be doing for Earth Hour?”

Hundreds of corporations and thousands of individuals chose to turn off the power for that one hour. Some schools and companies even turned off their lights for the entire weekend. At 8.30pm on March 28, lights were switched off in buildings around town, and thousands turned up for a celebration at Esplanade Park.

The actual impact, though, turned out to be limited. Power usage during the period dropped by less than 0.1 per cent, according to some estimates, though that figure could be higher if one counts the electricity not consumed for the entire weekend. While a walk around the CBD showed the lights were off in some buildings, lights remained on in so many restaurants, flats and offices it was a little hard to tell it was Earth Hour.

After all the hoopla, at 9.31pm, it was all over. And it’s when the lights came back on that the ideal behind Earth Hour started to show its cracks.

It was time to turn the lights back on for the rest of the next year. Unless participants understood that they need to do what they did during Earth Hour all year long, they could well feel they’ve already done their part for the entire year. And scheduling the hour conveniently on a weekend may have sent out the signal that all we need to do is lay off the lights once a year at a convenient time.

Earth Hour risks becoming a short-term annual fad rather than the first step of a longer-term solution to reduce global warming.

Not a fun run

It’s sort of like your doctor telling you to start exercising by signing up for a 10km charity fun run, then neglecting to say that you need to practice beforehand and continue afterwards. Running just once a year isn’t enough. Only by starting to exercise before the event and continuing to exercise afterwards are you likely to stay healthy. Similarly, only with continued efforts to reduce energy usage is the earth likely to become healthy again.

As conservation advocates like Nobel Laureate Al Gore have said, saving the planet requires changes to your daily routine. Every day!

More than 2,500 scientists gathered in Copenhagen in early March called for “sustained and effective mitigation” to avoid “dangerous climate change”. Saving the world is about reducing power usage and sustained action all year long.

Earth Hour organisers might contend, of course, that the event was a small but important step. As Carine Seror of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said in response to one inquiry: “The larger objective of the Earth Hour campaign just might help us make a start” on saving the earth, and the event highlighted “a growing momentum all over the world to make change a reality”.

More than focusing on just the one hour, however, the clear message needs to be that continual action throughout the year is critical for reducing climate change. One solution could be to promote Earth Hour as a start and then show what to do every day — even after Earth Hour is over — to make a difference. Another could be publicising lessons like the Nature Conservancy’s “What You Can Do”, which shows what we can do every day — not for just one hour, but all year long — to make a real difference.

While money and resources to promote change are understandably scarce, re-examining the premise behind Earth Hour and using the event to promote long-term change could make sure that the actual message gets across.

Just like a 10km run, Earth Hour has the benefit of prompting some people to do something. To make a real difference, though, the message that change needs to happen throughout the year needs to sink in. While the intent of Earth Hour is good, it’s only a start, and the message should be that we all need to take action every hour of every day to save our planet.


From WEEKEND TODAY, Voices – 18, 19-April-2009

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Eating out is out for me

I’ve learnt my lesson: Home is where the safe food is

HONG Kong starlet Ella Koon was recently nicknamed “hell’s chef” after the dishes she whipped up in celebrity food show Beautiful Cooking caused the guest judges to throw up. Later, when challenged to defend her lack of culinary success, she retorted: “Living in Hong Kong, eating out is never a problem, is it?”

Yes, living in Hong Kong — or for that matter, most parts of Asia — eating out is never a problem. Walk onto a street and you’ll be sure to see a hawker stall around one corner or a restaurant around another.

There’s no call to have to cook at all. Why should you when there are others who can conjure up something far tastier than any of your humble efforts for just a dollar or two more than the cost of the ingredients themselves?

That’s probably why Hong Kong kitchens are so tiny. Mine has just enough space for a sink, fridge and two-burner cooker. The toaster has to be stacked on top of the microwave oven and my Kenwood mixer has been banished to the dining room.

Recently, after I posted some food photos on Facebook, my friends from Europe remarked: “You guys seem to eat out a lot, huh?” What was perfectly normal to me was strange to them.

For them, “outside food” (whether dining out or getting a Chinese takeaway) is so expensive that every meal not cooked at home is an occasion. They thought we are extremely wealthy to be able to do that every day.

When I was working in Singapore, we’d eat out or pack food home every weekday. After all, the coffeeshop was just around the corner and by the time I reached home at 7.30pm, I was just too tired to chop, slice, fry and clean up afterwards.

But now I am thinking of heading back to the kitchen again. The catalyst has been my back-to-back bouts of stomach flu — most likely triggered, according to my doctor, by bacteria in some food I’d eaten.

I’m not talking days. My two episodes lasted two weeks each with a gap of only a week between. One was caused by undercooked chicken rice and the other by some dodgy curry rice.

I had them for dinner at different “dai pai dongs” (coffeeshops) in different areas but the result was the same: Diarrhoea, a stomach ache and vomiting so bad that I had to live on plain porridge, crackers and Pocari Sweat for days on end.

“This would never have happened to me in Singapore, where the food is so clean,” I remember telling my husband.

Famous last words, of course, seeing as a few days later, the Indian rojak food poisoning broke out, killing two people and causing one woman to suffer a miscarriage. It was almost unheard of. Yes, you knew that bad food could cause you great discomfort but for it to kill...

And then, just this weekend, another dozen people or so came down with food poisoning from eating steamboat. What is going on? You hear of such things happening elsewhere, but not in Singapore.

That’s why I think our mothers were right. Home-cooked food is the best. You know where it has come from and has been prepared.

It’s a pity really that a lot of us have become like Ella Koon. We have become so used to others cooking for us that we don’t even know how to boil an egg.

I know of many working women who wear their lack of culinary skills almost as a badge of pride. They seem to think that they’re so important they’re above such housewifely pursuits.

Why be proud of a lack of ability? I can’t assemble an Ikea bookcase or pilot a plane but you don’t see me crowing about that.

Maybe it’s time we brought back cooking as a skill to be proud of. Maybe we should make home economics compulsory for all — for boys too, because why should they expect others to do for them what they can do themselves?

Then we can stop being so reliant on outside food. And for those who love to boast: “I can’t cook to save my life”, maybe it’s time you learnt. Because one day, it just might save your life.

Tabitha Wang is on the lookout for a good recipe for homemade Indian rojak. Can anyone help?

From TODAY, Voices – Friday, 17-April-2009

What if it had been rush hour?

Letter from Raymund Koh Joo Guan

I REFER to the report about the serious accident between a tour bus and an SBS Transit double-decker bus along Selegie Road on Tuesday at around 10am (“Bus-ted”, April 15).

The entire front left portion of the tour bus was mangled beyond recognition, showing the amount of damage an accident causes at speeds of around just 60kmh.

Every day, during peak hours, public buses are packed to the point where passengers are standing on the buses’ front steps. The safety of commuters, especially those squashed at the front, is at stake. With the added weight of an overcrowded bus, the distance needed to break would definitely be more.

Should an accident similar to the Selegie Road one have involved a public bus packed to the brim, hitting another vehicle from behind, the passengers on the steps and around the left wheel arch area would likely be killed or badly injured. Those standing anywhere on the bus would likely be affected by whiplash.

Can the Land Transport Authority or the Public Transport Council address this issue? Why should bus commuters be put in jeopardy daily? Isn’t there a limit as to how many standing passengers a bus can safely carry? Can’t the public bus operators put more buses on the road to prevent overcrowding?

As a First World nation, to ensure the safety of all commuters, everyone should be seated and no one forced to stand. Why does our first-class public transport system allow for a bus crammed full of passengers?

From TODAY, Voices – Friday, 17-April-2009

Loan sharks beware

Illegal moneylending
Police to use mobile CCTVs to curb syndicates' harassment

Teo Xuanwei

SOON, police will have eyes round-the-clock at "hotspots" for this "public menace": Illegal moneylenders who splash, paint or scrawl O$P$ (owe money, pay money) on walls.

Against the backdrop of a doubling in the number of illegal moneylending harassment cases in the first quarter compared to the same period last year, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng said mobile closed-circuit televisions will be installed at "harassment-prone sites".

The police said they had bought more than 300 mobile CCTV cameras, which will aid their investigations and serve as deterrence to harassers. Although overall crime figures dipped by 3 per cent between January and last month, loan-sharking cases rose from last year's 2,066 to 3,993.

The Home Affairs Ministry will also consider making borrowing from loan sharks an offence, so as to hold borrowers accountable "if their reckless borrowing or gambling habits endanger the safety and security of the community", Mr Wong said at the annual police workplan seminar yesterday.

Many debtors have been known to become runners for loan-shark syndicates to pay off their debts, he said, making it necessary to "stem the problem decisively in the bud".

Innocent victims of such harassments say they welcome the move despite having to sacrifice some privacy. "If I don't have to spend a single cent, it's definitely a good move," said a MediaCorp Hotline caller who only wanted to be known as Madam Tan. The 34-year-old customer relations officer's home has been splashed with paint six times although her family never borrowed from loan sharks.

Whether this will arrest the problem depends on how soon and for how long the CCTVs are deployed, engineer Alex Lau, 39, told Today. To help frontline officers manage their workload, Mr Wong also announced that manpower at the existing 32 neighbourhood police centres (NPCs) would be beefed up with 220 new officers.

The opening of an integrated resort at the end of the year might bring fresh challenges, noted Mr Wong, as "undesirable elements" enter Singapore and heighten the risk of crimes such as money-laundering, cheating and forgery. But he stressed that the police will "reinvent and reposition" themselves.

From TODAY, News – Friday, 17-April-2009

Beacons of hope

090417-EAB1Photos Wee Teck Hian

WHEN the red button is hit, an SMS alert is sent to all community leaders in the area who will then rush to the scene to ascertain if anyone needs help.

As part of its efforts to get the community involved in fighting crime, the police are holding trials on a new neighbourhood emergencies alert beacon (pictures) that will be placed in parks.

090417-EAB2Two such beacons, standing waist-high and in striking red, have been placed in Alexandra Park. The police also plan to install them at the Ulu Pandan Park Connector and Clementi Woods Park soon.

Another initiative launched recently to reach out to younger and Net-savvy Singaporeans: A Singapore Police Force Facebook page containing crime prevention videos and messages; and appeals for information on unsolved cases.

The page on the popular social networking website now boasts of more than 3,800 fans since its launch in January.

The police’s Youtube channel, which was launched last year and now has 33 videos, has been viewed more than 66,000 times.

Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng said the police must “continue to adapt and evolve, especially in tapping on new technologies and channels to reach out to the community.” TEO XUANWEI

From TODAY, News – Friday, 17-April-2009

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Residents did not make complaints

Zul Othman,

090416-BrokenRailings WHEN news of a seven-year-old girl’s four-storey fall through a broken railing first made headlines, many wondered why complaints from residents months earlier had gone unaddressed by the town council.

However, it has now transpired that neighbours other media had quoted as calling up the town council didn’t in fact make the calls. This is according to the independent committee appointed by the Tanjong Pagar Town Council to look into the incident.

The panel has completed interviewing all the parties involved, chairman Johnny Tan told Today, and the only party that maintains it had called up the authorities about the broken railing is the family of victim Siti Nur Aini.

But the family is not certain when they placed the call, so tracing the records has not been possible.

Added Mr Tan, principal partner of LT&T Architects and an accredited adjudicator: “At the moment, without any final conclusion, we have not done any assessment as to the accuracy of what the witnesses have said.”

The committee — appointed by Town Council chairman Koo Tsai Kee last month — includes Mr K Anparasan, a lawyer and deputy managing partner at law firm KhattarWong, and Mr Teh Hee Seang, an engineer and senior adviser at T Y LIN International.

“We have interviewed all the people involved, investigated the inspection regime of the town council and are now in the process of analysing the information,” said Mr Tan. The report will be released to the town council by the end of next month.

The Blangah Rise Primary School student’s grandfather, retiree Johari Mohd Siamu, told Today Siti was discharged from hospital on April 6 and is now “quite active”. She had suffered multiple fractures and bleeding in her abdomen from the fall on March 8. The medical bills were paid by the town council.

“She will be going for check-ups, but it looks like she will be going back to school on April 20,” said the 69-year-old.

From TODAY, News – Thursday, 16-April-2009

Not business as usual


AT MEAL times on a typical day, diners would swoop in on just-vacated seats at Geylang Serai Temporary Market. But it has hardly been business-as-usual, since the mass food poisoning almost two weeks ago.

Business has dropped by over 50 per cent, and yesterday afternoon, about half the food stalls were not even open. Because of bad business, Mr Nur Muhammad said the hawkers might have felt it was “better don’t sell than to sell”. The 27-year-old helps out at his mother’s cooked food and his aunt’s dessert stalls, which were open.

The hawker responsible, Mr Sheikh Allaudin Mohideen, has had his licence suspended and will be taken to court by the authorities. Two people died after eating his rojak and 154 were sickened.

At his Eunos Road 5 flat yesterday, Mr Allaudin, 70, said he could not comment on the charges until he is officially notified. He opened the door to Today with a young boy by his side and only spoke on condition that no photos were taken.

His fellow hawkers have voiced sympathy for him. Some felt that pressing charges against him is too harsh. Others said he should be held responsible for improper handling of food, but not for the deaths.

“I don’t think he intended for all this to happen. It could have happened to any one of us,” said drinks stall assistant Abdul Jaffar, 33.

Sundry goods seller Ong Tiong Gheu, 48, said the confiscation of his hawker’s licence is punishment enough.

But the hawkers are more worried about their own dismal takings. Mr Nur said that his aunt’s chendol stall made slightly more than $200 last weekend, much less than previous takings.

Many are also unhappy with the “C” grade hygiene rating they received last Saturday.

“We cleaned and did housekeeping before the National Environment Agency officers’ checks, but still got a ‘C’. More customers will surely be put off,” said chicken rice stall owner Mr Nor, 45.

From TODAY, News – Thursday, 16-April-2009

US looks for ways to not let the bed bugs bite

WASHINGTON — The federal government is waking up to what has become a growing nightmare in many parts of the country — a bed bug outbreak.

The tiny reddish-brown insects, last seen in great numbers prior to World War II, are on the rebound, feeding on human blood in college dormitories, hospital wings, homeless shelters and swanky hotels from New York City to Washington.

Faced with rising numbers of complaints to city information lines and increasingly frustrated landlords, hotel chains and housing authorities, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hosted its first-ever bed bug summit yesterday.

One of the problems is that there are few chemicals on the market approved for use on mattresses that are effective at reducing bed bugs.

Increasing international travel has also increased the chances for the bugs to hitchhike from developing countries which never eradicated them completely.

“I can’t tell you how many people have spent the night in their bath tubs because they are so freaked out by bed bugs,” said entomologist Dini Miller at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. “I get these people over the phone that have lost their marbles.”

Bed bugs are not known to transmit any diseases. But people have had an allergic reaction to their bites. The insects release an anticoagulant to get blood flowing, and they also excrete a numbing agent so their bites do not often stir a victim’s slumber.

The pesticide industry will be pushing at the summit for federal funding for research into alternative solutions, such as heating, freezing or steaming the bugs out of bedrooms. AP

From TODAY, World – Wednesday, 15-April-2009

The age of might is on the wane

090415-USAgeOfMightOnWane NEWS COMMENT

Western societies no longer have an appetite for sacrifice.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft


FOR the family of Mr Richard Phillips, the captain of the Maersk Alabama, his rescue by special forces was the best possible Easter present. For Americans, it was an exhilarating display of American power and for President Barack Obama, it was a gratifying demonstration that he is not the wimpy pacifist the Republicans called him.

But to a detached observer, this gung-ho adventure in the Indian Ocean is the rule-proving exception. What we have recently seen far more often is what a New York Times headline on the piracy story said last Thursday: “US power has limit”. We are dealing, that is to say, with one of the most important discoveries of our time: The impotence of great might.

Today there is only one hyperpower. The US is, on the face of it, mightier than any other imperial power in history. And imperial is the word: It has been more than 50 years since Reinhold Niebuhr, the great American moral philosopher wrote about the new age of American empire, “however frantically we deny it”.

American military spending is very much greater than 10 countries combined, friend or foe. Even now, 20 years after the Soviet Union began to crumble, the US air force and navy hold an immense number of nuclear warheads, armed and ready to launch — but where? With all that might, the military operations in western Asia have turned out to be far more difficult than Washington originally envisaged. By autumn, it will be eight years since US forces entered Afghanistan, and it has been six since the invasion of Iraq. Even six years is longer than the combined length of American participation in the first and second world wars.

Although the Afghan campaign was originally more justifiable than Iraq , it now looks less winnable. Even in Iraq, the vaunted success of the “surge” may prove deceptive if it persuades the Americans that they can win a permanent military victory there.

This is not as new as we might think. Go back to the heyday of the Cold War. The US and the Soviet Union each held a nuclear arsenal that could annihilate the other, or for that matter the whole world. They seemed mightier by far than any other military and imperial powers in history, surely capable of defeating any enemy. But what happened? The Americans were humiliated in Vietnam by a peasant army, and the Russians were humiliated in Afghanistan by another. Two ferocious lions might be ready to fight each other to the death, but could not deal with swarms of gnats.

There are few more startling illustrations of this impotence of might than the pirates, or the country they come from. A hundred years ago, any one of half a dozen imperial powers could have conquered Somalia in a matter of weeks with a couple of gunboats and a few battalions.

Today Somalia has been a collapsed state for nearly 20 years, in lawless confusion that no outside power can or will subdue. It harbours bands of men in light craft armed with rifles who can seize 50,000-tonne tankers flying the flags of western states. And there is almost nothing anyone can do, despite Sunday’s escapade.

Since 1993 and the bloody “Black Hawk down” fiasco in Mogadishu, the Americans have steered well clear of Somalia. They could nuke it flat, but that does not quite meet the case. And that episode is instructive. The Americans were horrified by the loss of 18 of their men, but at least 1,000 Somalis were killed at the same time. Likewise, the Americans have been perturbed by the loss of more than 4,000 of their forces in Iraq, as they were dismayed by nearly 60,000 US dead in Vietnam.

Nothing is more frightening to us than suicide bombing. It is indeed repugnant, but it also proves what the Roman philosopher Seneca said long ago: “The man who is not afraid to die will always be your master.” That applies, above all, to prosperous, modern western societies, which no longer have any appetite for sacrifice and suffering. Is it any wonder we are mighty but weak at once?


From TODAY, World– Wednesday, 15-April-2009

Exams aren’t everything


Govt accepts recommendations to gradually introduce other forms of assessment

Lin Yanqin,



Education Minister Ng Eng Hen observing a class at Greenridge Primary. Ernest Chua


IT HAS been a proposal some parents have welcomed, and others worried about.

Having alternative modes of assessments in Primary 1 and 2 to the traditional twice-a-year examinations were among recommended changes to primary school education the Government accepted yesterday.

But it will not be a dramatic change overnight, said Education Minister Ng Eng Hen.

As the work of the committee reviewing primary education now enters into the implementation stage, Dr Ng signalled that it would be a long-term work in progress.

The timeframe, he told reporters during a visit to Greenridge Primary, is more of a “10-year plan”, as the Ministry of Education (MOE) starts to build more schools and train more teachers, while schools prepare to introduce bite-sized forms of holistic assessment. “As in most educational ventures, you have to train thousands of teachers, you have to make sure parents understand, you have to teach down to the very last child in the primary schools,” said Dr Ng.

He revealed that the ministry will spend about $4.8 billion to implement the recommendations, which include schools going single session by 2016 and introducing a Programme for Active Learning in areas such as sports and the arts.

The MOE also aims to lower the pupil-teacher ratio from the current 21:1 to 16:1 by 2015, build 18 new schools and upgrade 80 existing schools.

In the case of Greenridge Primary, although it introduced topical assessments — which test individual components such as reading skills — four years ago, these form only part of the pupils’ grades, as the school has continued with traditional exams.

This year, it will do away with mid-year exams, but may retain the year-end one.

“Parents still want some form of assessment to know that their child is ready for Primary 2,” said vice-principal Liza Rahmat. “We have to do this gradually.”

But the new system has notably taken the stress off pupils, she noted, as each assessment focuses on one area rather than the entire syllabus.

“Also, assessments are done in a classroom environment, such as through Show and Tell, so it’s not stressful like a traditional sit-down test or exam,” said Ms Liza.

That is not the only drawback of relying on exams at such a young age.

Dr Ng said: “If you give a mark, say 60. What does that mean? It doesn’t give feedback. The proper feedback to the pupil or to the parent is to say what (the pupil) was weak in and what (the pupil) was strong in.”

Parents at Greenridge yesterday were happy with the results so far.

Mdm Wendy Low, 32, said that compared with her older child who went through the previous exam-oriented system from the start, her younger child was better able to absorb what he was taught.

“He’s more confident because everything is broken into small components and he understands each topic better,” said Mdm Low.

From TODAY, News – Wednesday, 15-April-2009

GREEN PEAS: Small wonder

Study shows pea protein could prevent onset of kidney damage


THE humble pea may soon play a significant role in combating chronic kidney disease (CKD) and high blood pressure.

A recent study, presented at the American Chemical Society’s conference, found that proteins in peas can naturally relieve symptoms of CKD and combat hypertension.

“In people with high blood pressure, protein could potentially delay or prevent the onset of kidney damage. For those who already have kidney disease, it may help them maintain normal blood pressure levels so they can live longer,” said study author Dr Rotimi Aluko, a food chemist at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, of his findings.

Dr Aluko, one of the researchers, fed small daily doses of concentrated pea protein to laboratory rats with kidney disease for eight weeks. At the end of the study, the protein-fed rats showed a 20-per-cent decrease in blood pressure when compared to diseased rats on a normal diet.

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for CKD. End-stage CKD is irreversible, and the patient usually requires kidney dialysis or a transplant.

Cardiovascular complications associated with kidney failure can be fatal.

Singapore has one of the highest incidence of kidney failure in the world, with about 750 people diagnosed yearly, according to National Kidney Foundation statistics. About one in five Singaporeans suffer from high blood pressure.

Peas — typically consumed fresh, frozen or canned — have long been recognised as a nutritious super-vegetable. Mrs Victoria Hally, a dietitian at The Food Clinic, told Today that they are low in fat, and packed with protein, vitamins, minerals and soluble fibre.

According to the UK-registered dietitian, the soluble fibre found in peas is also important in reducing blood glucose and blood cholesterol levels.

Regular peas contain about 4.3g of protein per serving (100g) while split peas, which are used in soups and dhal and are a good source of protein for vegetarians, contain significantly higher protein content at 16g per serving. An average Singaporean adult requires about 58 to 68g of protein each day.

But go easy on canned peas, advised Mrs Hally. “They are often preserved in high levels of salt which contribute to high blood pressure. Fresh, frozen or dried peas are healthier choices,” she said.

Mrs Hally also added that in spite of the promising study results, it is important to note that there is currently no evidence that the pea protein works on humans with pre-existing chronic kidney disease.

“It is important to note that CKD is a complex disease. Often, patients with the chronic condition will require medication to control high blood pressure. Pea protein alone may not be sufficient,” she said.

From TODAY, Health – Tuesday, 14-April-2009

Friday, April 17, 2009

That extra cash would sure come in handy...


We need to cover cost of living

Letter from Melvin Lim Soon Hin

DESPITE the extra incentive from the Jobs Credit scheme, several companies have resorted to reducing the salary offered for entry-level positions. A glance through job ads would show that a sales coordinator who would have been paid $2,000 a month last year would have to settle for only $1,500 now, while the wage for an admin position is down to $1,000.

We are among the most expensive cities in the world to live in; such a salary hardly covers the cost of living here. What is there left after our 20 per cent CPF employees’ contribution? Can we really survive on $1,000 or $1,200?

The Government should consider allowing low-income earners — say below $2,000 — to choose to pay a reduced (say, 10 per cent?) CPF contribution to make up for the loss in income. Alternatively, their employee contribution could be reduced and their companies could top up the remainder, since they are already getting funds via the Jobs Credit scheme.

It’ll lessen blow of pay cuts

Letter from Geeta d/o Gopala Krishnan

INSTEAD of deducting the full 20 per cent CPF contribution for both employers and employees, perhaps the quantum could be temporarily lowered during these hard times. For instance, if I have to take a pay cut of 5 per cent, lowering my CPF contribution from 20 to, say, 15 or 10 per cent would definitely help cashflow, and I would not feel the impact of the pay cut.

My employer would also need to fork out less as a contribution to my CPF — it’s a win-win situation for both employer and employee.

From TODAY, Voices- Tuesday, 14-April-2009

Cacophony at the symphony

Letter from Joseph Au

I WAS surprised to see a full house for a recent Singapore Symphony Orchestra concert at the Esplanade Concert Hall. However, I noticed that the balcony seats were mostly filled by youngsters whose tickets may have been sponsored by the concert organisers or schools.

I was initially glad students had the chance to attend such an event.

But halfway through, trouble started. Coughs rose from all over the balcony and continued without pause. The annoying, distracting coughs went on non-stop for the remaining 80 minutes of the concert.

If it was a deliberate attempt to cough as having fun at a “boring” concert, then I would suggest teachers should teach the students the proper etiquette at concerts. I also hope the students were not forced to attend such concerts just to gain extra-curricular credits.

From TODAY, Voices- Tuesday, 14-April-2009

A question of where to draw the line

Neo Chai Chin

SHOULD yellow safety lines be drawn further away from the edge of MRT station platforms, especially given that it will be 2012 by the time all above-ground stations have platform screen doors installed?

MP for Sembawang GRC Lim Wee Kiak yesterday revived the suggestion, following two recent track deaths.

Last month, a 71-year-old woman who was believed to have fainted, died after a train hit her at Clementi Station. In February, another elderly commuter died at the Bukit Batok station after he was said to have fallen and been hit by a train.

Dr Lim also asked if public transport operators are liable when commuters sustain injuries using their facilities, and if close-circuit televisions (CCTVs) were operating during the recent mishaps.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Teo Ser Luck said the Land Transport Authority would review the impact of moving the yellow lines further in — for example, if this would affect "traffic flow" on the platforms.

On speeding up the installation of screen doors, Mr Teo said this is difficult, as work can only be done between 1.30am and 4am daily. Haste would "endanger more lives".

As for the CCTVs, these were in operation during the recent mishaps, but they were not always manned. Instead, Mr Teo said, the operators have staff patrol the platforms and play recorded safety messages to raise awareness among commuters.

From TODAY, News - Tuesday, 14-April-2009

A freeze on rent will be unfair: Fu

THE Housing and Development Board will not freeze industrial and commercial rental increases made before the recession took root, but tenants who have renewed their leases since January have had their rent reduced by 5 per cent.

This approach, Senior Minister of State (National Development) Grace Fu said, ensures HDB rents are not “disconnected” from market realities.

In both instances, rents were adjusted to the market conditions at the time. Freezing earlier rental increases, as suggested by MP Lee Bee Wah (Ang Mo Kio), would then result in unfair outcomes for tenants, whose rents are fixed and reviewed every three years, said Ms Fu. “A freeze on rent increases is not equitable as it will result in different rental subsidies for different tenants who may have renewed their tenancies over different periods of time.”

Instead, the 15-per-cent rental rebate announced during the Budget was a better way of helping industrial and commercial tenants, she added. “For the small number of tenants who face substantial rental increases in spite of these measures, HDB will stagger the rent increases over the tenancy term.”

But HDB, which conducts regular reviews of market rents, will monitor the situation closely.

Meanwhile, the Government will also not step in to guarantee loans to property developers, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said in reply to another question by Ms Lee. Total loans to the building and construction sector, mostly to developers, grew by 22 per cent in the 12 months to February, and while loan growth to the sector has tapered recently, it is still at the relatively high level of $50 billion, said Mr Mah.

“Besides bank loans, a number of developers have also managed to raise capital through other means, such as rights issues or private placements,” he said.


From TODAY, News - Tuesday, 14-April-2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

All pumped up for clean energy

Some things that should have been done so many years ago, and yet are deployed just now. Well, we’ll catch up, and get there.



Union Energy to roll out 2,000 new CNG taxis over the next couple of years




090410-CNGStation IT’S said to be the world’s largest compressed natural gas (CNG) refuelling station and it will open its doors to Singapore motorists in August.

Located along Old Toh Tuck Road off Bukit Timah, the 7,000-square-metre development will stay open round the clock and will be able to refuel up to 46 vehicles at any one time. The station, to be named C-Nergy, is Union Energy’s first foray into CNG, and the gas supplier is pumping $11 million to grow the compressed natural gas market here.

Speaking to Channel News Asia at the station’s groundbreaking ceremony yesterday, Union Energy general manager Ellen Teo said: “We have another related company dealing with taxis. So, this is good synergy between the two businesses.”

Its related company, TransCab, operates some 2,600 taxis — 500 of which run on CNG. And the new station will help service TransCab’s increasing fleet of CNG taxis, as the company plans to roll out another 2,000 new taxis over the next one to two years.

The station will be Singapore’s fifth — three are in operation with a fourth expected to open in Serangoon North this month.

Industry watchers said that the Republic needs more such stations to support the running of CNG cars on Singapore’s roads. They estimate that about 10 stations would be needed to refuel some 30,000 CNG cars in the future.

Said Mr Alexander Melchers, chairman, CNG Committee at the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore: “We need more stations in the east of Singapore. The natural gas pipeline network mainly covers the west and people living in the east are still deprived of efficient access to gas stations.”

Currently, there are more than 3,000 CNG vehicles plying the Republic’s roads.

- Channel News Asia


From TODAY, News – Friday, 10-April-2009