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Fun (and totally not last minute) things to do this Mother’s Day

Fun (and totally not last minute) things to do this Mother’s Day

In case you've been living under a rock with your iPhone and free wifi, this Sunday we celebrate Mother's Day in Singapore. 

And while she might be happy with flowers and a mushy hand-drawn card, there are plenty of ways to say thank you for a mother's love. And one of the best ways is to spend some quality time with her. Here are some fun, non-cheesy, not-too-expensive thing you can do with her on Mother's Day. 

1. Take her out for a fancy, yet homely, meal

Be it brunch, afternoon tea, or dinner, Mum deserves to feel like a queen for that day. God forbid, she ends up cooking for the family on Mother's Day! 

For the spice loving home-style mama, Violet Oon's is having a authentically Peranakan Mother’s Day buffet brunch! Expect a lip-smacking spread of home-cooked Nyonya fusion delicacies like the classic Nyonya spicy chicken stew and buah keluak nuts, sambal fish, and Violet Oon’s very own signature shepherd’s pie.

Considering that Violet herself is a mother of two and proud grandmother of three, this meal at the cozy Bukit Timah cafe is sure to leave you all with family feels.

Time: 11 May, 1130am-1pm, 130-3pm
Place: Violet Oon, 881 Bukit Timah Rd, S279893
Price: Around $65 per adult, $35 per child (6 to 12 years old, children under 6 dines free)

2. Go on a road trip up to our neighbour's

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One of the best things about living in Singapore is that it can be faster to drive out of the country than to travel to Changi Airport. If you're not looking to bare costly airfare for the entire family over the weekend, consider going on a road trip to Malaysia instead.

You can travel all the way up to Penang if you're up for a long-distance journey, or just hop over to Desaru, Malacca, or KL if you're not looking to drive too much. The whole point is to spend some quality time with your Mum, and nothing like being put together in a vehicle to achieve that.

Those who don't own a car can easily rent one in Malaysia at 1/3 the rental rate. Just be sure you know what to do should you get into a road accident while you're there.

Accommodation can also be relatively cheap when you're holidaying in Malaysia, not to mention the sheer joy your Mum might have dining and shopping too knowing that not too much money is being spent, with the currency exchange rate at an all-time high now.

3. Treat her (and your dad!) to a hotel staycation...

This one will likely work if you have lots of siblings to share the cost with. For the tireless mum who deserves the five-star treatment, treat her to a staycation right here in Singapore.

Staycays don't necessarily mean booking an expensive luxury hotel, a quick browse through Agoda on their mobile app might land you some last minute deals at a boutique hotel that's half the price but also with stellar service, top-notch amenities, and free toiletries she can bring home.

There are also some pretty fancy penthouses and apartments available for booking on Airbnb that's worth checking out. If you're lucky, you can end up booking a house at Sentosa Cove!

4.  ...or Glamping works too

Glamping, a play on the words, “Glamour” and “Camping”, is an activity that combines the adventure of traditional outdoor camping, with the glamour of fancy hotel-style accommodation. Perfect for those who want to experience the outdoors but not sacrifice modern comforts - like a comfy bed with fluffy pillows.

Treat your mum to something uniquely different so she have bragging rights when all her friends got flowers for Mother's Day, but she got this:

glamping-lydia.jpg

This beauty is put together by a local Airbnb host called Lydia, who will handle all the setting up and beautifying of the place so you don't have to. 

You can also request for a picnic basket and/or a bottle of champagne to complete the experience for your adventurous mama this special day. 

Vesak Day: How do you celebrate Buddha's birthday?

Vesak Day: How do you celebrate Buddha's birthday?

Ever wondered what the significance of Vesak Day is other than just another public holiday? For most Singaporeans, our knowledge of Vesak Day is possibly limited to a Buddhist festival. Since we pride ourselves in being multi-racial and multi-cultural, let's dig a little deeper to understand more about this day's symbolism.

What is Vesak Day?

Vesak Day, also known as "Buddha Day", is considered one of the most important days in the Buddhist calendar where Buddhists all over the world commemorate the birth, enlightenment and death of Siddhartha Gautama Shakyamuni, also known as Buddha.

The life story of Buddha begins around 2,600 years ago in a place called Lumbini, near the border of Nepal and India. Siddharta Gautama was born a prince, but as he grew up, he realized that all of his experiences did not provide him lasting happiness or protection from suffering. After a long spiritual search he went into deep meditation, where he intended to achieve the state of enlightenment - a state of mind which is free from emotions and expresses itself through fearlessness, joy and active compassion.

To achieve enlightenment, the 29-year-old Prince vowed to sit under a fig tree and meditate until he transcended suffering. He then endured a 7 days mental battle with Mara, the god of desire, who tried to use all his wily tricks to lure the Prince away from his meditation. The Prince prevailed, becoming awakened and from then on known as Buddha. 

For the rest of his life, Buddha taught anyone who asked how they could achieve the same state. Therefore, Vesak Day is a day where Buddhists celebrate with immense joy, seek peace and reflect on their deeds. Around 33% of Singaporeans practice Buddhism, which makes this day one of the biggest festivals celebrated by this culturally rich red dot.

How does one observe Vesak Day?

Each country has its own traditions for celebrating Vesak. For instance, in Sri Lanka, numerous colourful lanterns are lit, whereas in Taiwan, fragrant water is poured over statues of Buddha.

In Singapore, Buddhists will usually visit their temples for ceremonies which will include prayers and offerings of candles and flowers. Most Buddhists believe that performing good deeds on Vesak Day will multiply their good deeds merit many times over. They also make an effort to bring happiness to the unfortunate, including the aged, the handicapped and the sick – either by donating money and gifts, or by visiting with them and cleaning their homes. 

Some interesting tidbits about Vesak Day 

One of the more interesting traditions practices by devotees during this day is also the Three-Step, One-Bow procession, where devotees take steps on both knees, bowing at every third step. As they do this, they pray for personal blessings, world peace and repentance. This procession usually begins 24 hours before and can be quite exhausting, lasting for up to two hours or more. 

Vesak Day hasn’t always been a national public holiday in Singapore. The Singapore Buddhist Association petitioned for this public holiday after the end of World War II, and it was finally awarded its due place on the calendar in 1955. 

Traditionally, as part of the Vesak Day celebrations, caged birds and animals are released as a symbol of liberation and peace in Singapore. Over time, however, The National Parks Board and the Buddhist Fellowship have advised against the practice as tame animals released into the wild are unlikely to survive. Even if they do survive, this practice of introducing all sorts of wildlife could also do irreversible damage to Singapore's natural ecosystem. 

The Battle of the Food Delivery Service

The Battle of the Food Delivery Service

Nothing beats a home-cooked meal. But when you're living in a university dorm away from mummy's cooking, coming back after a long day of lectures and CCAs, the last thing you really want to do is to cook instant noodles and feel sad for yourself.  

But thanks to the wonders of technology, and the proliferation of food delivery services in Singapore nowadays, there's no lack of food options just a few button taps away to be delivered right to your doorstep. 

With Deliveroo, Foodpanda, and newcomer UberEATS, which of these serve up the best meals at the best prices and with the best service? We take a look.

Foodpanda

Foodpanda was launched in 2012, making this the "pioneer" and longest-running among the three major players. Proving just how much Singaporeans were longing for more than just MacDonald's and Domino's home deliveries, Foodpanda reportedly saw a 400% increase in revenue from 2015-2016 for their independent food delivery service.

With a wide selection of food choices, not just fast food, but affordable Japanese restaurants and Indonesian cuisine, Foodpanda was offering Singaporeans accessible meals that's delivered right to their tables. As of today, Foodpanda has a whopping 450+ restaurant partners under their fold.

Average delivery time: Within 30 minutes

Average delivery fee: $3-$12

Deliveroo

Even though their riders are infamous for ignoring road safety rules, since launching in 2015, Deliveroo has been on a growing spree and expanding its operations dramatically. In just four months, their fleet of delivery riders ballooned from 5 to 550. 

Deliveroo’s roster of restaurant partners are carefully curated - from burger chains to top Italian trattoria, their market segment are more expatriates and working professionals. They do not offer “low-quality takeaway restaurants” (as claimed on their website).

Part of their skyrocketing growth can be attributed to their willingness to partner with other expanding startups like Grab to widen their reach in the shortest possible time in the easily saturated Singapore market. 

Average delivery time: Within 32 minutes

Average delivery fee: Flat fee of $3 each order

UberEATS

A relative newcomer with a big name attached to it - UberEATS harnesses the wide reach of its Uber drivers to fulfil delivery orders. This is on top of their additional fleet of dedicated delivery motorcycles. Launched in May last year, they have close to 110 restaurants partnering with them, most of which are at the more expensive end of the market. 

From Michelin-starred restaurants, to gin gardens, to ramen joints, the UberEATS model seem to be clinching the higher end eateries, before focusing on the more accessible fare in time, so as to avoid competition with the other two players.

This is the service to look for if you are planning a special date night in, or pretending to "cook" a birthday brunch. Top quality food delivered right to your doorstep. 

Average delivery time: Within 35 minutes

Average delivery fee: Flat fee of $3 with no minimum order 

 

Singapore's school mergers

Singapore's school mergers

Singapore’s education landscape will be vastly different come 2019. 7 pairs of primary schools and 3 pairs of secondary schools will be merged. That is no surprise. But what is shocking is that for the first time, 4 pairs of junior colleges will be merged, leaving 19 JCs instead of the current 23 JCs.

You can understand how upset many parents and alumni are – no more alma mater to go back to? Not to mention confused – If my child wants to enter Anderson JC in 2019, how many points will she need? But most of all, many people asked why? Why this need to merge JCs?

MOE responded that the JC mergers are necessary in the face of falling birth rates. Between 1993 and 2002, the number of live births fell 20% from about 49,000 to 39,000. Consequently, JC intake is expected to drop by a fifth, from 16,000 in 2010 to 12,800 by 2019. In the case of the few JCs slated for merger, the intake could fall to as low as 200 or 300 students over the next few years, not enough to achieve the “critical mass” to run a wide range of CCAs and programs.

Details

The 4 pairs of school to be merged are: Jurong- Pioneer, Innova- Yishun, Serangoon- Anderson, Tampines- Meridian.

The schools are chosen based primarily on location and falling intake.

Looking at this list, 7 out of the 8 schools slated for merger are schools with a cut-off point of more than 10, and cut-off point, like price in a market economy, is an indication of the demand for a certain school. Except where a low demand in a market economy is reflected by a low price, here a low demand for a school translates to a high cut-off point.  The only exception on this list, Anderson, is most likely implicated by its proximity to Serangoon JC.

To minimise the impact of the merger, the 4 JCs to be folded into another JC will pause student intake for one year in 2018 – so that students will not have to transit from an old school to a new school— and only resume student intake at the combined school in 2019. That means the 2017 JC1 students will be the last batch of students at Jurong, Innova, Tampines and Serangoon. Come 2018, their schools will be half-empty, which on the bright side, is more conducive for studying.

However, although the number of JCs taking in students will decrease next year, there will still be enough space for every student who qualifies for JC. This is made possible by expanding the intake at the 19 remaining schools. For instance, Anderson JC may take in 800-850 students, instead of the current 750. With bigger intakes, it will become easier to enter the more competitive schools.

Additionally, MOE promised that no teachers will lose their jobs. The teachers affected by the merger will move to the new joint schools with their bigger cohort of pupils, or be redeployed to MOE headquarters, to work on curriculum design etc.

Controversy

Some people are baffled by the fact that on one hand, 4 pairs of JCs have to merge; on the other hand, Eunoia JC just opened this year, offering Integrated Program to students from Catholic High, Saint Nicolas and Singapore Chinese Girls’ School. Why not simply offer the integrated program in one of the existing Junior Colleges?

An MOE spokesperson answered that, “starting an Integrated Programme school from scratch would be less challenging than integrating the programme into an existing JC.” Right.

While MOE insists that every school is a good school all the time, the fact is that a better school will  get priority over a good school—except when it is time to go. We see this happening in this merger exercise. Perhaps that is one reason why despite MOE’s insistence that every school is a good school, RI and Hwa Chong remain at the top of everyone’s joint admission exercise list.

How May Day became a holiday for working people

How May Day became a holiday for working people

Most people know little about May Day, or International Labour Day. Or we know is that there's an extra day of holiday in a year, and this year we're doubly lucky that it's a long weekend. 

It'a not all maypoles and dancing

Celebrations in May have long had two meanings. Both of them very different from each other. On one hand, May Day is known for celebrating the coming of spring. With roots in pagan Anglo-Saxo customs, people dance around maypoles, braid flowers in their hair and welcome the beginning of springtime fertility in some parts of the world (mostly in the UK).

Villages will hold festivals and other fun activities and the dancing symbolizes saying farewell to the harsh winter and ushering in a time of things coming back to life. 

On the other hand, it's a day of commemorating worker solidarity and protesting unfair working conditions. So, how did that happen?

Like so many incidents in history, it happened by complete accident. We go back to May in 1886, when some 200,000 workers in the U.S. engaged in a nationwide strike which changed history for the working people.

The History of May Day

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In the 18th century, working conditions in the US were extremely tough and it was the norm to work 10-16 hours a day. This was made worse as labour was done in unsafe conditions where injury and death were also commonplace. It wasn't until the early 19th century that the working class fought to shorten the workday without a cut in their pay, and by organising together, they were able to garner enough strength (and noise) to demand for an 8 hour workday.

This was spurred on as workers during that time were inspired by the idea of socialism. Workers had seen first-hand that capitalism benefited only their bosses, who lined their pockets while the workers slaved away tirelessly. In some areas in America, thousands of men, women and children were dying needlessly every year in the workplace, with life expectancy as low as their early twenties. They wanted change.

A worker's rights

On May 1, 1886, some 200,000 workers went on a three days strike in downtown Chicago. They were demonstrating to rebuff their bosses, and to demand for an 8 hour day and a worker-controlled industry. Armed police harassed and beat up striking workers as they demonstrated outside their workplaces (mostly steel factories at that time). Beatings with police clubs soon escalated into rock throwing by the strikers which the police responded to with gunfire. At least two strikers were killed and an unknown number were wounded.

Full of rage, a public meeting was called by some of the working the following day in Haymarket Square to discuss the police brutality. Due to bad weather and short notice, only about 3,000 of the tens of thousands of people showed up. This public meeting included families with young children.

As the speech wound down, the police suddenly rushed in, citing reports that the speaker was using inflammatory language and they were responding to the unrest. (The mayor of the city later on testified that throughout the entire time, the crowd was calm and orderly.) As the police began to disperse the already thinning crowd, a bomb was thrown into the crowd. No one knows who threw the bomb, but speculations varied from blaming any one of the demonstrating workers, to a spy working for the police.

Enraged, the police fired into the crowd. The exact number of civilians killed or wounded was never determined, but an estimated seven or eight civilians died, and up to forty were wounded. One officer died immediately and another seven died in the following weeks.   

This violence resulted in the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (which later became the American Federation of Labor), proclaiming that "eight hours shall constitute a legal day's labor from and after May 1, 1886.

Today, we see May 1 being commemorated as a holiday for labor all across the world. 

The 3 parts that make up a dumb hoax

The 3 parts that make up a dumb hoax

You may have seen this photo floating around Facebook, or even better, you may have received personally on Whatsapp:

The caption accompanying the photo warns about a girl ringing on your doorbell to collect signatures for insecurity. We have no idea what insecurity is, but apparently it can result in you getting robbed in your own house by said girl and three men that are hiding behind her. 

I have so many questions.

Firstly, the thought of three grown men crouching behind a girl in plain sight is pretty ridiculous. Since the whole idea is to hide yourself until the opportune time is given to rush into the targeted victim's home, why would they want to draw attention to themselves by performing such an absurd action.

Secondly, if this was happening in "a lot of neighbourhoods", especially Singapore ones, you can be sure it won't only be circulating around the net. It will be plastered all over the front pages of our local newspapers.

Thirdly, for a widely circulated hoax, not a lot of thought and effort went into it. Remember the "bacteria from eating sashimi" hoax earlier this year?

So much details and story-telling went into that one. If this was the Star Wars of local Whatsapp hoaxes, then the recent "collecting signatures for the insecurity" one is the crappy sequel with Jar Jar Binks in it.

You just can't wrap your mind around how your auntie could have fallen for that hoax and then spread it around in the family group chat. 

So why do people fall for these dumb hoaxes? Let's look at the 3 parts that make up a dumb hoax and why they work.

1. Tap into existing fears

Ever since the first chain letter was copied and mailed out, or the first chain email was forwarded, that decision to take action is almost always done out of fear. People share stuff when it triggers their fear of bad things befalling them. 

Let's look at the bacteria in sashimi hoax again. What made it work so well was tapping into the age old fear of losing loved ones so suddenly without warning. The son dies, and the wife goes mad. No one wants that to happen to them. 

2. Make it personal

A hoax thrives on the illusion of it being shared due to a personal experience. No matter how exaggerated or mind-boggling, a personal experience will be viewed by some as being more credible than what's reported in the news. 

Take bacteria in sashimi hoax, note how it opened immediately by stating this is a message from "my sister". Oh my. A sibling! Of course the sibling is not going to lie! IT'S FAMILY.

Personal names like 'Ann' and 'Wan Kam' in the message also adds a layer of believability to the hoax. If the earlier fear hasn't caused your auntie to share the message to your family chat yet, this sort of personal touch to add a layer of credibility just might. 

3. Add a random photo to accompany the story

"A picture says a thousand words". Too bad we have no idea whether lies are included in those thousand words. 

Add an accompanying photo to any story and it does add a sheen of credibility to it. It doesn't matter if it's taken out of context. This is why I suspect that the reason many of the older generation get fooled by these hoaxes is due to the fact that they did not grow up learning photoshop or being exposed to CGI. 

We may find it easy to identify when something is doctored, but your auntie may not. So if the bacteria in sashimi hoax was accompanied by a random plate of maguro sashimi, it will only add to the "truth" of the story, not distract from it.  

 NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

We live in the age of fake news. Where a deluge of information at the tap of a button (or a push notification) has rendered many people either unable or unwilling to check how accurate a piece of news is. Especially those that gets passed around Whatsapp group chats. The irony is that verifying a piece of news through a quick Google Search is equally as easy as tapping to spread it around.

Lost in a globalized world

Lost in a globalized world

“You wouldn’t care about books if you couldn’t read them, so why would you care about plant and animal species if you couldn’t understand them?”
— Dr. Dan Janzen

Although the above quote by biologist Dr. Janzen was focused on biology, he raises an interesting thought: How can we care about or understand something that we know very little about? 

If we apply this question to geography, then not having geo-literacy would mean that we are not able to fully care about or understand this world that we live in. How can we comprehend what is in it, how things are connected, or our place in it.

By not having geo-literacy, we cannot understand why a drought in Thailand will affect rice prices in Singapore, what the war in the Middle East has to do with oil prices in the US, or why China and Japan are constantly squabbling over a group of tiny islands. 

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What is geo-literacy?

The National Geographic Society defines geographic literacy as the basic understanding of how our world works that all members of modern society require. More specifically, it means being equipped to better understand the interconnectedness of this world and how our decisions on a daily basis can affect others. It doesn't only mean the decisions of prime ministers and presidents, but our decisions - like what food to eat and the things we buy. 

So, why do we need geo-literacy?

The purpose of geo-literacy is to empower people to make informed decisions in their everyday lives. This means being fully aware of what decisions we are making and what the effects of our decisions will be. As Singaporeans living in a first-world country, we make decisions daily that are more far-reaching than we realise. We are affecting more people than we know.

Our individual decision may appear small and insignificant, but if you multiply this by a few million people, the impact can be enormous. For example, you decide to buy a top from Forever 21 at a super great price of $9. But did you ever think about how they are able to make and sell their clothes so cheaply? Forever 21 sources its cotton from Uzbekistan factories, where millions of children are removed from schools by the government of Uzbekistan and forced to pick cotton during the harvest season. 

By choosing to boycott Forever 21 by shopping at H&M and Bershka instead, your individual decision may not seem like much, but multiply it by thousands of other students like yourself and it can make a huge impact.

This also means learning about geography.

Simply put, we have an obligation to be well-informed about our shrinking planet earth. Thanks to modern advances in technology, as well as rapid economic development, the world is becoming smaller and more interconnected - a phenomenon known as globalization.

This makes geo-literacy more important now than ever, and by understanding geography, we unlock the key to understanding interconnectedness in this world. All around the world, countries are beginning to understand the importance of geo-literacy and of having proper geography curriculum in their education system. We are lucky to have sound geographic education being taught in all Singapore schools. 

But ultimately, I guess it's up to us to take some initiative to get out there and explore. We live in an age where limitless knowledge is at our fingertips: we can walk virtually on the moon with Google Moon, watch documentaries on YouTube, and Google any question we have to have it answered in microseconds. Once we make the effort, the unknown can then become known.

And the known can therefore become real. 

Why online shopping in Singapore is the future

Why online shopping in Singapore is the future

November 11 — 11/11, or Singles’ Day — is also known as China's biggest online shopping day. Last year, Alibaba — China's largest and most popular online shopping site — announced that the total value of stuff bought across all their online stores is worth $17.8 billion dollars, breaking their own record and setting a new global online shopping record for sales in one day.

To put this in perspective, the online sales in just one day in China is worth more than Brazil's total online sales for the entire year of 2016! 

Brick-and-mortar retail stores in Orchard Road should have cause for concern, as online shopping in Singapore is not only growing faster than ever, but is going to be the future of how we shop. Here are some reasons why:

1. Singaporean shopping habits are shifting 

Paypal's recent consumer study revealed that 73% of Singaporean adults shopped online in 2016, spending around $3 billion last year. The study also found that 38% of the adults surveyed said that they will be spending even more money online in 2017.

The top reason why? Due to convenience - with 78% of Singaporeans citing that as a key reason. The second highest reason is to save more money. It does make sense that retailers would offer more online promotions as compared to in-store. 

2. Shopping on-the-go will be the way to go

On average, 31% of online shopping is made through a mobile device. And it doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Mobile online shopping is expected to grow by 42% this year - amounting to more than $1.2 billion in online transactions. 

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This means that more and more online retailers will be ensuring their websites are mobile-friendly to make online shopping a more seamless experience. You will probably see more retailers launch their own mobile apps too like beauty product giant Sephora and fashion conglomerate H&M.

At least now we know why people stare at their phones all the time on the MRT.

3. Singaporeans are the most confident cross-border online shoppers in the whole Asia Pacific

Singaporeans don't seem to have much paranoia when it comes to trusting online stores from other countries. Judging from the long queues that form whenever the ezbuy truck appears in neighbouring HDBs, we're not surprised that Singapore is ranked the country with the most confident cross-border shoppers within the region. 

Following closely behind is India, and thereafter China. Considering these are the countries with very secure (and convenient) payment technologies like MasterCard and AliPay which clamps down strongly on unauthorised or fraudulent transactions, it has worked in promoting online shopping confidence.

This confidence indirectly means that Singaporean shoppers are all too ready to brick-and-mortar retail stores for their internet counterparts.

4. Cheaper overheads for online retailers is indirect savings for shoppers

Physical retail stores often find it hard to compete with online retailers as their overhead costs are much higher. Especially in land scarce Singapore, where rental costs are crazy high, not only do they lose out in terms of offering better prices for shoppers, but they also have to compete with online retailers’ extensive product ranges.

Think about Amazon's huge range of products. One can get lost for hours browsing endlessly through their products. It's also perfect for impulse shopping as a shopper is bound to find something to buy. Not to mention virtual storage and display space is endless compared to a brick-and-mortar store's limited storage room and display racks.  

5. The increasing population in Singapore is going to drive more shoppers to go online

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With the population in Singapore expecting to rise every year, the weekend crowds at Orchard Road and shopping malls are going to grow more and more in numbers. Singaporeans are also now more likely to first search for an item they have in mind online than to waste hours squeezing with the crowds.

With almost every major online retailer offering free shipping nowadays, it's going to be a tough fight to draw a shopper out of the comfort of their homes into the shopping malls. Physical retail stores who insist on only having an offline presence will need to rethink their business models in order to survive the future of shopping. 

The Pangolin: Critically Endangered

The Pangolin: Critically Endangered

Pangolins.

If you have seen one of these little scaly creatures on the bustling streets of Singapore, then know that first, you are incredibly lucky. These little critters are almost as rare as legendary Pokémons in the real world – definitely not like their in-game doppelganger Sandshrew. And second, you are still incredibly lucky. You just got the chance to appear in the headlines—if you call Acres, the Straits Times and stay for whatever lucky-passer-by-who-happened-to-chance-on-news-worthy-material do next.

Here are 7 interesting facts about pangolins (so that you don’t appear totally clueless about the animal that you just rescued when you appear on national TV).

1. Pangolins are the only mammals in the world with scales

Pangolins’ scales are made of keratin, the same material that our nails, rhino horns and bird talons are made of. The scales are very tough and can protect pangolins from predators—even lions are unable to bite through this armour of theirs.

2. Pangolins have poor eyesight

7 out of 8 species of pangolins are nocturnal and they have very small eyes relative to their body size. Their eyesight is so poor that pangolins simply locate ant hills and termite mounds with their sensitive sense of smell and hearing.

3. A pangolin’s tongue is really long and useful

The pangolin’s tongue is so long that it is anchored to the pelvic bone.

Pangolins use their tongue to collect insects – up to 70 million crawlies a year—which are then mashed up in their stomachs by stones, because pangolins do not have teeth.

4. Do not mess with a pangolin’s claws

Pangolins are able to dig through even concrete with their large, curved claws, and sometimes dig holes so big that even humans can stand in them.

4. Dating is tough

Pangolins are mostly solitary animals, have no defined mating season, and are so rare that if 2 pangolins of opposite sex meet each other, it must be divine appointment. And it doesn’t help that all that the male pangolin does is pee on its territory and hope that a female will one day find him. Has anyone ever told him that sitting around ain’t gonna get him his girl?

5. Pangolins are related to some of the fiercest predators you know

Scientists have changed their minds about the taxonomy of pangolins. It was previously believed that pangolins belong to the Xenarthra family, which makes them related to armadillos, sloths and anteaters. However, pangolins are now classified under the Carnivora family, which includes bears, wolves and hyenas.

6. Pangolins’ name has a Southeast Asian origin

Pangolins get their name from ‘penggulung,’ the Malay word for rolling up—the action a pangolin takes in self-defence. However, this escapist approach is apparently not working very well, seeing that Pangolins are one of the most vulnerable animals in the world.

7. Pangolins are in danger

That’s right, out of the 8 species of pangolins, 2 of them are critically endangered, which makes them even more endangered than giant pandas.

Pangolins are one of the most trafficked animals on the planet. Their scales are believed to have medicinal properties in traditional medicine, supposedly helping to reduce bleeding and helping lactating women to produce more milk, and their meat is considered a delicacy. On the black market, pangolin scales can fetch as high a price as $3,000 a kilogram.

Thankfully, commercial trade in Pangolin – even for traditional medicine—has been banned in many countries starting September 2016, unless proper permits are obtained.

To end off, here are some cute illustrations about pangolins. The original Chinese version can be found here.

The Top 5 environmental issues that are killing the world now

The Top 5 environmental issues that are killing the world now

Ever since the first tree-hugging hippie shone the spotlight on mankind needing to be more environmentally-conscious back in the 1970s, we have since made great progress on reducing pollution, living more sustainably, and protecting our endangered species. 

Much work is still to be done, however, and we don't have much time left. Experts agree that at the current rate of global pollution, the earth can be uninhabitable within the next 100 years. Below are the top 5 environmental issues we are currently facing. 

1. Chemical pollution

Mankind as a species have become so dependent on synthetic products, like drinking bottled water and eating from styrofoam boxes. All of which usually go into the trash bin and not into the recycling bin. As the factories churn out more of these products, a large number of synthetic chemicals also enter our air, soil and waters. The worst culprits are the factories that produce household chemical products like pesticides. 

No one really knows whether we are breathing in these chemicals as the air particles are carried by the wind all across the globe, and it's practically impossible to detect. Steps are already being taken to study and trace back the source of endocrine disruptors - which are air particles that cause harm to the endocrine system. The endocrine system helps to regulates hormones in humans and animals, and if affected, can cause a wide array of reproductive and developmental issues.

2. Energy extraction

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With lax in environmental regulations and increase in energy prices, comes significant energy development at the expense of the environment. We experience this close to home almost every year when the haze season in Singapore occurs. Haze is a result of forest fires in Indonesia, and the fires are said to be caused by corporations as well as small-scale farmers who use this method to clear vegetation for palm oil, pulp and paper plantations.

The development of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, technology has also created a boom in natural gas extraction in the US and the UK. Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mix is blasted at the rock to release the gas inside. However, this also makes the land unstable and can result in earthquakes. There is also fear of potential harmful gases that may escape and contaminate the groundwater around the fracking site. 

3. Invasive biodiversity

When governments do not implement strict custom rules to restrict import and export, exotic plant and animal species from a foreign land may be smuggled into another land and wreck havoc. Plant or animal species that are introduced to a new area are considered invasive, as they can rapidly colonize the area by over-populating and killing off the native species.

Recently, sightings of a destructive exotic bird called the Red-Billed Quelea have caused concern as the bird species may damage crops and affect native bird species of Singapore. The bird is believed to have been brought into the country through the cage-bird trade. If we are not prudent enough or careful, invasive species can cause a lot of damage to native species and cause unrepairable damage to the environment on the whole. 

4. Inappropriate Land Use

When then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew introduced the “garden city” vision on 11 May 1967, it has since transformed Singapore into a city with abundant lush greenery and a clean environment that makes life a whole lot more pleasant for all of us living in it. All around the world, green spaces provide habitat for wildlife, space for forests to produce oxygen, and wetlands to clean our freshwater.

Green spaces are also a rare resource nowadays as we keep using land inefficiently, turning them into gas fields, roads, factories and even private property. All these can fragment the natural landscape, force out wildlife and even cause natural disasters. 

5. Global warming

Research has shown that if the earth heats up by another 2 degrees Celsius, humans will become extinct. No matter where you live in the world, global warming affects us all. We're pretty sure everyone is feeling it one way or another, be it icebergs breaking away in Antarctica or ridiculously hot afternoons in Singapore.

Some places are already facing damage that are irreversible, like the coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and the squeezing out of polar bears in the Arctic. These changes will only continue to get stronger, negatively affecting the ecosystems that we and the rest of the wildlife rely on, unless we start playing our small parts in creating change.

 

Do you like what you see in the mirror?

Do you like what you see in the mirror?

From the diet pills craze in the 1960's to the Atkin's Diet restricting carbs in the 1970's to the extreme endurance events of the 2000's. People have long inspired to change their body size throughout history. We are always looking for a way to slim down and tone up. 

When you look into the mirror, do you like what you see? 

Body image in the age of social media 

Now more than ever with Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook, we have newer and more critical ways to compare ourselves with others. More specifically, to compare our bodies with other people's bodies. 

Thanks to an array of free photo editing apps, we also have the power to alter our looks. We can now cover up pimples, make our eyes bigger, our complexion glowly, all with a swipe of a finger. All these tools can be a lot of fun, but they can become deceptive as well. Everyone on social media has become hotter, thinner and completely unlike their real self. The danger happens when some people become obsessed for hours over the "perfect" selfie to post on Instagram, or when filtered Instagram feeds become reality to them. 

A toxic mirror

Psychologists have found evidence linking social media usage to unhealthy body image issues such as a drive for thinness, narcissism, and self-objectification in teenagers. This doesn't mean that being on social media will cause these problems, but there is proof of a strong co-relation between them.

Don't you think you want a certain amount of likes on the photos that you post? I've been guilty of deleting a photo which didn't get the number of likes that I wanted. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are giving young people the tools to earn approval for their looks, as well as to compare themselves to others nowadays, and it will be good to catch yourself and pull yourself back when you feel that you are treading on dangerous grounds. 

Ultimately, these are virtual approvals which should never mean anything to us. The only approval that matters are those of your own, as well as those of your loved ones. 

A clear line between a 'like' and your self-worth

Insecurity always stems from comparison. I try to avoid comparing myself, my work, and my image with others. It's hard sometimes when all I see when my Instagram feed is flooded with toned bodies in bikinis frolicking in exotic locations. But one thing that always boosts my confidence when I need it is to stay positive and true to myself.

One thing you can do with close friends is to write everyone's names down on individual pieces of paper. The paper is then passed around and everyone take turns writing down what they genuinely like or appreciate about that person. But all anonymously, so no one knows who wrote what. 

For example, if Jason's paper comes my way, I will write down how I like that he love animals and spends his holidays at the SPCA with the strays. I also think he is tall and plays basketball well. When Sue Lynn's paper comes my way, I can write down that I think she looks pretty without makeup on and I love her sense of style. She is not fat so I hope she stops thinking of herself that way. 

When you produce positivity, positivity tends to come back to you. Another step that we can take towards creating a more positive body image for ourselves is to unfollow the Instagram/Snapchat accounts that create an unrealistic expectation for our lives and our looks. We can't all be Kardashians, can we. And start following more body-positivity accounts. Some accounts to start with can be @nadiaaboulhosn, @aerie and @Proud2BMe

With more and more body-positivity accounts and movements gaining momentum, I think it's only a matter of time until our universal definition of beauty is replaced with a broader idea of beauty. Not one that is dictated by the media. 

Now more than ever, a good old-fashioned "I love you just the way you are" as you look into the mirror may just be what we all need.

Should we be concerned about the Selfie Culture?

Should we be concerned about the Selfie Culture?

I literally had to sit my boyfriend down and explain to him why it was important for me to Snapchat the new and interesting things we experienced when travelling overseas.

He was growing annoyed with the way he always had to wait until I had snapped a photo of the food we're about the partake, before getting to taste it. Or the way he would turn around to excitedly talk to me about something beautiful that was unfolding before our eyes, only to see that I was looking at it through my iPhone's camera lens instead of savouring the moment for what it was.

 Me. All the damn time. 

Me. All the damn time. 

I understood where he was coming from. But could he also see my point of view? Snapchat-ing has become a way for me to compile travel diaries of the places we went to, as well as to share them with close friends. I showed him a compilation of snaps that made up an entire week of our trip to Osaka, and I could see him appreciating the memories re-unfolding before him again.

We had managed to reach a tentative compromise.

The selfie culture

The phenomenon of constant photo-taking or video-taking with a phone is something that occured only within the last decade. While it’s debatable when holding out your phone to take a photo of yourself became a ‘thing’, in 2013, ‘selfie’ was named word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries.

It's defined as  “A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website." With over 200 million users on Snapchat, and over 600 million on Instagram, more and more young people are using selfies to communicate with each other.

And it’s not just to communicate, but every moment, mundane or not, seems to need to be captured, just in case. Sometimes I find myself thinking in squares when I'm taking a photo because I want to use it as an Instagram post later. I know of certain friends who carefully edit and curate their selfies, posting them at certain times of day – and making sure it is not too frequently or infrequently - in order to get the right number of likes.

I also know of certain friends who will delete a photo they have posted just because it doesn’t get likes quickly enough. Is all of this really necessary? Should we be concerned about the long-term effects?

What are the dangers of the selfie culture?

Branding yourself is not a new concept. However, branding yourself with a certain image that you want the world (or your followers) to see is the new form of personal branding.

Someone might only post photos with white backgrounds, or of a certain filter, or perhaps within a certain pantone colour theme. Selfies often are captioned with poems or song lyrics. Sometimes, the more elusive and random, the better. I guess there's nothing wrong with all of these. I would argue that it only becomes dangerous when a lot more of our time is spent capturing moments rather than living life and enjoying moments.

The danger of this selfie culture is the constant comparison game. Even though the majority of millennials are doing it, most still fall victim to comparing themselves to the picture-perfect-fantasy-life that others are portraying. Or worse, that the media is flooding us with. The power of these social connections, can give you a high when you receive positive reinforcement, and a low when you seemingly don’t. Comparing the number of likes can then become a slippery slope leading to potential issues such as depression and self-harm, low self esteem and narcissism.

So what is the solution?

Change your mindset from Dependence to Independence. Instead of trying to get a rush of connection, power, and self-worth from how many people like your photos, find a different way that puts you in control.

Find your experience of connection by forming deep, real bonds with people who genuinely care about you, and that you care about too.

Find your experience of power by pushing through your fears and challenging yourself by not posting anything on social media for 24 hours. I started this as a kind of dare to myself, but slowly found that I was relishing the offline moments and now have managed to wean myself off constantly checking Facebook and Instagram every few hours. 

It's not about never taking another selfie ever again, or shutting down your social platforms. It’s about filling those desires in other ways (in real ways) so you no longer need anything from selfies. And their importance diminishes.

Something's changing very rapidly in the Arctic...

Something's changing very rapidly in the Arctic...

When we hear the word 'Arctic', we often conjure images of a stark white, windswept place where it is forever winter. But the truth is, winter is thawing sooner than expected as the Arctic regions have been experiencing global warming more drastically than almost anywhere else on Earth.

Thawing Ice

As the majority of the Arctic is comprised of sea water from the Arctic Ocean, rising temperatures means sea ice all over the area have been melting dramatically. This causes water levels to increase faster than expected, and decreasing the total land mass of the Arctic.

 "Welp. No more home."

"Welp. No more home."

2016 is lining up to win the dubious award of lowest recorded winter ice ever. If the trend continues, in a couple of decades summer heat will melt all of the Arctic sea ice. To make matters worse, something is currently at play called Arctic Amplification.

Arctic Amplification occurs when ice reflects about 90% of the sunlight it receives. But when that ice is absent as it has already melted away, the darker waters reflect only 10% of sunlight. As a result, the absorbed sunlight warms up water faster, melting yet more ice, and causing a vicious cycle. 

Thawing Land, too

The physical consequences of global warming in the Arctic are not only limited to ice. Thawing land can result in severe erosion, as the ground is not able to stay frozen and ends up shifting. Villages and roads are all routinely damaged by erosion, making it dangerous for trucks carrying fuel and food to travel across the land to make deliveries. 

Millions of dollars have already been spent, and many millions more will be needed in order to build protective reinforcements for natives Alaskan communities. For some of them, uprooting the entire village and relocating is the only option. 

Animals of the Arctic

However, one of the most damaging threats of global warming is the loss of habitat for the wildlife of the Arctic.

Polar bears rely on sea ice to travel and hunt seal, their main prey. Shrinking of ice have made it more difficult for the bears to survive and many die of starvation or even drowning. Other marine mammals, like the walrus and leopard seals need the ice as a resting platform used between bouts of feeding. Many of the younger mammals end up drowning due to having no place to rest while out in the ocean.

The Arctic fox lives in the coastal areas along the Arctic Ocean. It is threatened by the changing ice patterns, as well as having fewer carnivores, like the polar bears, to scavenge half-eaten prey from.

What Can We Do?

It's tempting to bury your face in your hands and just hope that somehow everything will work out in the end. But it won't if we don't step up and fight back however we can. The best action we can take to slow down the pace of global warming is to recycle all the paper, plastic, glass and aluminium you use.

Have a separate bin at home to throw these items in, and once a week, bring them down to the recycling bin. There's no excuse as every HDB blocks has a recycling bin since 2014. You can check the ones nearest to your home here.  

By recycling, you are helping to lowers pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, which leads to improving air and water quality, as well as to preserve landfill space. Remember, change begins with you.

Changes to the Secondary One Posting: 2 Things to Know

Changes to the Secondary One Posting: 2 Things to Know

Along with the new PSLE scoring system to be implemented in 2021, the MOE also announced some changes to the Secondary One school admissions. Here are 2 main points you should take note of: 

1. Order of school choices to matter more

The Secondary One Posting will continue to be based on a student's PSLE scores, but choice order of schools will now matter more. Every Primary 6 student will submit a list of 6 schools, and will have to rank these choices in order of their preference.

If two students with the same PSLE score have chosen the same school and there is only one available admission slot left, the following tie-breakers will be used:

a) Priority given to Singapore Citizens, followed by Singapore Permanent Residents, then International Students

b) Priority given to the student who has indicated the school as a higher choice in their order of preference

c) Computerised balloting

2. There may be more balloting under the new system

Under the current PSLE system, the T-score differentiates students finely and only a small number of students undergo tie-breaking. Under the new system which uses wider scoring bands, there will be more students with the same PSLE Score and this may result in more tie-breaking; especially if these students choose the same schools.

Students will first be tie-broken based on citizenship, followed by the new choice order of schools. A computerised ballot will be used as a tie-breaker if there are two pupils with the same PSLE score and citizenship status, vying for a place in a school which they have both listed in the same choice order.

Balloting is computerised and conducted centrally by MOE HQ, similar to the balloting process during the JAE for admission to Junior Colleges/Centralised Institute, Polytechnics and ITE.

Changes to the PSLE scoring system: 3 Things to Know

Changes to the PSLE scoring system: 3 Things to Know

The PSLE has been a huge thing in every Singaporean’s life since forever. Ask anybody born in the 1950s and later what their PSLE aggregate was, and they’ll be able to tell you with laser-like accuracy exactly how much they scored. 

So, with the new changes to the PSLE scoring system that will take effect in 2021, what do parents of current students in Primary 2 that will take the PSLE in 2021 have to take note of? We've narrowed them down to 3 main points: 

1. The current T-score will be replaced by wider scoring bands

How the PSLE aggregate has been calculated since its inception was to add up the total scores of all four subjects a student takes, resulting in over 200 different T-scores.

From 2021 onwards, a student's marks in each subject will be converted according to the new, wider scoring bands that range from Achievement Level (AL) 1-8, with AL1 being the best score and AL8 being the lowest score. 

The student’s total PSLE Score will be the sum of the four subject scores, which will range from 4 (best) to 32.  So a student scoring the best score of AL1 for all four subjects will have the total PSLE score of 4. 

 This is the breakdown of the AL grading system. To get the best possible PSLE score, students need to score above 90 marks in all four subjects.

This is the breakdown of the AL grading system. To get the best possible PSLE score, students need to score above 90 marks in all four subjects.

2. The new scoring system is meant to reflect a student's own performance

Currently, The PSLE T-scores indicate how well the student has performed compared to his peers. With the new ALs, it aims to reflect the student’s level of achievement in the subject (individual performance) instead of benchmarking them against their peers. (performance compared to peers)

Once a student shows a level of achievement that meets the learning objectives expected at a certain AL, he will receive the AL regardless of how his peers perform. This shifts the focus towards how well the student has learnt and retained knowledge, instead to on trying to outdo others.

3. Streaming will continue

Regardless of the new scoring system, students will continue to be assigned to Express, Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical).

To get into the Express stream, students will need to get a PSLE score of 22 or less, instead of a PSLE aggregate score of around 188 currently. For the Normal (Academic) stream, a score of 25 or less is needed, and for the Normal (Technical) stream, a score of 30 or less.

If a student scores AL8 for English and/or Maths, he will have to retake the PSLE. 

Staying Vigilant

Staying Vigilant

Singaporeans are fortunate. We live in a place where the system is for the most part well-designed, the crime rate is comparatively low, the political system is relatively clean and the people are generally prosperous. But there is a downside to being so sheltered. Let’s face it, when you use your bag to reserve seats at the hawker centre, the thought of it being stolen probably did not even cross your mind.

This lack of awareness may be subtle but it permeates every area of our lives.

For instance, not too long ago, I was sitting in my air conditioned class when I saw the left side of the classroom fidget. My professor asked them what they were doing.

“Prof, there is this funny smell.”

“I think it smells like smoke.”

“It might be the haze. But it smells too strong to be that strong.”

To that the professor answered, “I smell it too. I have been trying to figure out where this burning smell is coming from. But you know, the fire alarm didn’t go off so we can’t evacuate. Too bad, class has to go on.

 “But if you want, you can evacuate from the left side of the classroom to the right,” my professor added jokingly.

Everyone giggled. And of course, no one moved.

I chuckled too. It was only afterwards that I realised that we have so much faith in one little bell that we are chucking aside our better judgement unquestioningly. What if there really was a fire but the alarm had been disabled? Will it be a scenario where we sit in the classroom thinking, “there is no fire because the fire alarm didn’t say so” while we are surrounded by flames on all sides?

Danger usually happens in the most familiar places. You are so used to a place or a routine that you lower your guard. That is when misfortune creeps up on you and strikes. Ask the frog, he knows.

Frog: Oh regrets, much regrets.

Angel: What is it, frog?

Frog: Oh! To have your life cut short, what regret!

Angel: Didn’t you commit suicide? I was watching from above when you died, by boiling no less. You had this look of absolute peace on your face, and you died without a struggle.

Frog: “Ah! Accursed. The farmer caught me and put me inside a pot. The water inside was cool and it reminded me of my pond. So I swam around in contentment. Had I known what would happen to me after that, I would have jumped out immediately! But anyway, back to my story. Slowly the cold water got warmer and my muscles relaxed. I found a comfortable spot and sat down, finally cognisant of why humans use warm water to bathe. Having a warm water bath is utter bliss! After a while, my eyelids started drooping and my limbs felt heavy. I started nodding off and it became difficult to stay awake. Half conscious, I could sense the water getting hot but by that time, all I wanted to do was sleep. And I did.

“When I woke up, I am here – in afterlife! A place where there are no flies for me to munch on and no larvae for me to suck on. Oh, how I regret!”

Do you want to regret? If not, don’t be like the frog. Be alert to your surroundings. Especially now that ISIS is ravaging the globe, a vigilant citizen can make all the difference between life and death.

Being vigilant is also an attitude that will help you in your studies. Are your careless mistakes costing you precious marks? Make it a point today to read the question carefully, to place your decimal point at the correct place, and to punch the numbers on your calculator quickly but accurately. 

An alert mind can make all the difference between pass and fail.

Expectations

Expectations

SA2 is around the corner. And the morale was dampened by the recent suicidal case that involved a hapless P5 boy. Hence, I have decided that it was all too important to talk about this issue with my kids.
Me: Last week, a P5 boy had decided to end his life because it was the first time he had failed in an exam. Why do you think he chose the tragic path?
P4 boy: I have read that the parents had high expectations on him. He would get one stroke for every mark short of 70! 
Me: Do you think he had high expectations on himself? 
P4 boy: Not sure. Maybe he has had high expectations on himself!
Then, I have decided to push the boundary by challenging the notion that parents' expectations should take precedence over everything.
Me: Whose expectations are more important? Your parents or your own? 
P4 class (unanimously): Of course our parents'.
Me: Why wouldn't your expectations on yourself matter?
P4 class: (The sad truth) we study for our parents'. 
Me: Not for yourself? Why not? 
There was pin drop silence in the room; I was delving into a question that the kids have never thought about. Then, someone saved the day by posing an important question.
P4 girl: Teacher, if you say our expectations for ourselves matter too, then how much is enough? 
P4 boy: My mother told me if by P4, you are only getting 60, you'd definitely fail your P5.
P4 boy: 70!
P4 girl: 80!
The students caucused an arbitrary mark that would suffice.
P4 boy: so how much is enough? 
Me: Your best is enough; because nobody asks for the best, but your best. (Thank you Jennifer for the inspiration) So kids, before you aim for the best, try aiming for YOUR best; I believe all parents want their children to strive for their best, but not all managed to convey it with such clarity, and trust (that the child would do their best).
Then, the kids collectively let out a gasp of enlightenment.

Democracy

Democracy

We know that your GP exams will be coming soon so at Basecamp, we have specially prepared a series of articles addressing different topics. 

Democracy refers to a regime whereby political power is widely spread and rests with citizens regardless of their perceived competence or merit. In even illiberal democracies such as Singapore, Russia and Malaysia, there is no basic educational requirement for suffrage. In fact, ballot boxes are often printed with symbols of candidates to ensure that even the illiterate will be able to vote.

Merits of democracy

1. Basic rights are enshrined in a democracy

liberty

Democracy entitles its citizens to freedom of speech, religion and assembly, and rights to life and property. Citizens also get to decide who to put in power through voting. As such, in democratic nations, citizens are guaranteed a minimal standard of living and human rights abuse rarely go unpunished. 

2. Democracies provide avenues for people to express dissent

In democracies, people are entitled to freedom of speech. This means that people need not resort to radical methods to voice their disapproval.

swiss

For instance, any Switzerland citizen can challenge any act by the parliament if he/she can gather enough votes in support of his challenge within 100 days. On the other hand, a Chinese man named Ji Zhongxing resorted to bombing the Beijing capital international airport after spending 8 years petitioning the Chinese government for justice, to no avail.

3. Checks and balances prevent leaders of democratic nations from abusing their power

To ensure that no one gets too much power or abuses his/her power, a system of checks and balances is put in place. This ensures that questionable practices get ratted out. 

For instance, when Turkey’s president Erdogan banned Twitter and YouTube after allegations of bribery and abuse of power surfaced online, Turkey’s highest courts ruled against the Twitter and Youtube ban. 

Another example that demonstrates the strength of a democracy is the controversial US presidential election in the year 2000. The results of the election was bitterly disputed for several weeks between the Al Gore and George Bush camps. Yet there was no danger of a civil war or a resort to violence because the American people had faith in their institutions.     

4. Undemocratic nations have a track record of poor governance because absolute power corrupts

Dictatorial regimes tend to be self-serving and self-glorifying. 

Under the brutal reign of Pol Pot, an estimated 1.5 million Cambodians out of a total population of approximately 7 million died of hunger, state execution, disease or overwork. Similarly, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his citizens to retain political power.

Downsides of a democracy

1. Inefficient

Bipartisanship, a common phenomenon in democracies, hinders swift, decisive action. Opposition parties often oppose the ruling party just to make the latter seem inefficient. 

The US government took more than one month to approve the proposed bailout package, while banks and businesses collapsed in the meantime, which then triggered the 2008 global recession. 

Conversely, in just two years, China has extended pension coverage to an extra 240 million rural dwellers—far more than the total number of people covered by America’s pension system.

2. Tyranny of the majority

Those in power often pander to the needs of the majority that voted them into office, and the needs of the minority groups may not be met at times. 

Turkey has long suppressed the Kurds’ culture, leading to the formation of the terrorist group PKK. In Malaysia, Bumi-putra policies give Malays an unfair advantage over the other ethnic groups.  

Additionally, populist policies may be detrimental to the long term growth of a nation. 

grains

India’s government passed the National Food Security Act (NFSA) guaranteeing access to subsidised food grains to nearly 70% of its 1.2 billion population. The scheme will set the government back by $18.4 billion a year, which compromises growth. A more recent example is Brexit—Britain’s exit from the European Union is already starting to affect the economy.

3. Tyranny of the minority

It is possible for a minority group to be disproportionately powerful.

Even though the vast majority of Americans want greater gun control, the Republican Party still champions the right to gun ownership. This is because the National Rifle Association funds expensive election campaigns. 

However, despite all the shortcomings of democracies, they are on average richer than non-democracies, are less likely to go to war and have a better record of fighting corruption. 

SWOT Analysis

SWOT Analysis

SWOT is an acronym for Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat. It is often used as a method to evaluate a project or business venture

Ever tasked by your teacher or professor on a topic and have no idea where to start? Ever been scratching your head thinking of what to write to fill in the number of words required in an essay? Let me introduce you to something that may help you in these aspects and at the same time, boost the quality of your project or essay- SWOT analysis.

SWOT is an acronym for Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat. It is often used as a method to evaluate a project or business venture. A SWOT analysis can be carried out on a company, place, person, industry or place (for the sake of this article, these will be referred to as ‘organization’. It identifies the internal and external factors that are favourable or unfavourable to achieve that particular objective.  

Who introduced SWOT

consulting

The origins of the SWOT technique can be accredited to Albert Humphrey, an American business and management consultant, who led a research project in Stamford University, Using data from many top companies in the 1960s and 1970s, the project’s goal was to find out why corporate planning failed. 

 

How to use SWOT

The overview of the SWOT matrix is as such:

swot matrix

These are some of the questions that one can ponder upon in filling up the matrix above:

1.     Strength

  • What does the organization do better than others?
  • What is the organization’s unique selling point?
  • What advantages does the organization have?
  • What are the strengths that the people in the market see?

2.     Weakness

  • What can the organization improve on?
  • What do people in the market see the organization’s weaknesses as?
  • Due to what factors is sales lost?

3.     Opportunity

  • What are some interesting trends?
  • What are some good opportunities that you can spot?
  • Is there some new technology that the organization can adopt to help it?
  • What are the opportunities opened up as a result of the organization’s strengths?

4.     Threats

  • What are the organization’s competitors doing?
  • Is changing technology threatening the organization’s position?
  • What obstacles do the organization face?

More about SWOT

versatile

The one great advantage of using the SWOT analysis is that it is extremely versatile. This is because it can organize information, provide insights into barriers that may be present during a change and identify key strengths that the organization may have to counteract these barriers.

The SWOT analysis can help the organization to ascertain if achieving a particular goal is obtainable, allowing organizations to set achievable goals. It helps organizations produce practical and efficient outcomes. Of course, there are also some limitations that the SWOT analysis can produce. One of the biggest limitations seems to be the oversimplification of the issue at hand, as it does not seem to weave the complexities of a problem into the matrix.

bird's eye

In conclusion, the SWOT tool is extremely beneficial to the initial analysis of a problem as it provides a bird’s eye view to it. It is also a great way to communicate a problem to someone who is not exposed to it. However, deeper analysis of the problem needs to be done before implementing a solution to ensure its appropriateness in addressing the problem.

 

 

Current affairs & You

Current affairs & You

As a student, you are probably most concerned about your grades. You would be happy to hear that keeping abreast with such news can have a positive impact on you in this regard

So what if there is a war raging in the Middle East? So what if Donald Trump becomes the next United States President? What has all these current affairs got to do with you, a person living on a tiny red dot? The seemingly distant news may hit closer to home than you think.

What is current affairs?

Current affairs are events of social and political interest and of significant importance that is happening around the world at present time. 

Some current affairs now (as of time of writing) include:

1.    The Syrian War

Hordes of people residing in Syria have been forced to flee their homes due to the civil war that is happening within their own country. The highly complicated intricacies of the events leading up to the civil war can be found here:

Weighing their costs and benefits, many chose the highly exhausting and obstacle-laden path towards Europe, hoping to seek asylum there. 

2.    Donald Trump as President

Donald Trump is an American businessman, television personality and most recently, politician. Known for his highly insensitive and radical comments, Donald Trump is now the republican nominee who is in the running for the next presidential election in the United States that is happening on 8 November this year (2016). Probably best known for his anti-foreigner policies on immigrants and Muslims, Donald Trump may very well become the next United States President, if he wins the election, up against the democrat nominee, Hilary Clinton. 

Benefits

Knowing such news can benefit you in many ways.

Money 

It is almost definite that these current affairs can affect you monetarily. The seemingly distant affairs can have ripple effects on not only your job, but also on your investment opportunities. Such news can affect the economy on such an impactful scale, with the first stage on the money market. This can in turn affect the availability of jobs in the market. Keeping in the know of the current affairs can also help you to identify pockets of opportunities for investment, eventually earning you more money. 

Grades

As a student, you are probably most concerned about your grades. You would be happy to hear that keeping abreast with such news can have a positive impact on you in this regard. The one subject where current affairs can play the most part in is English Language or General Paper. That is arguably the most important subject out of all. Reading up on current affairs can help you in terms of vocabulary and understanding of sentence formation. This is on top of keeping abreast of news around the world, something that is extremely important in your General Paper in terms of finding examples to substantiate your points. The analytical skills you can gain from reading these news can also help you in your Economics. The many news articles that you will read will provide you with many aspects of a certain situation and how it affects the world economy as a whole.  

Where to start

The easiest way to start is of course, newspapers. Readily available, newspapers like ‘The Straits Times’, provide plenty of easy to read and understand articles. The best thing about newspapers is that it is affordable and that you can share it with your parents, siblings and friends- talk about being economical! If you are perhaps tight on your wallet, you can head to your school library and browse the newspapers in the comfort of air conditioning.  If you are an adult, you can also look towards online sources like BBC or Aljazeera. Just spend a few minutes of your commute to work to keep abreast of these news, and you may just have something to add on your next kopi talk with your lunch kakis! :D