Friday, July 20, 2007

How many foreign students enrolled in MIT?

When questions about foreign students in local universities are raised, Education Ministry officials and journalists from the nation building press like to quote MIT. The latest attempt was made by Pearl Forss:

Top universities in the world, such as MIT, have more than 40 percent foreign students

I don't know where she got her numbers from, but according to wikipedia, only 9.2% of the undergraduate student population are foreigners. The figure rises to 39.3% for graduate studies. It is clearly UNDER 40% no matter how you count. She is talking about Massachusetts Institute of Technology right, not some other MIT?

If you think wikipedia is unreliable, go do your own calculation using statistics straight from MIT:

1. Go to this one for the size of the undergraduate and graduate population: MIT Facts 2007: Enrollments 2006-2007

2. This one for the foreign students: MIT Facts 2007: International Students and Scholars

And MIT has one of the highest proportion of foreign students of all US universities, and is clearly the highest among the top US universities. Furthermore, the biggest group of these international students are Canadians, for a university just a few hours drive from the Canadian border.

Instead of justifying local universities having 20% foreigners at undergraduate level and 50% at graduate level, the MIT experience shows that we are way ahead of international norms.

Foreign undergrads: Is 20% a target or a cap?

When asked about the numbers of foreigners in local universities, officials from the Education Ministry like to point out that the number of foreign undergrads are capped at 20% of the total student population. But is it really a cap?

In 1998, then Minister of Education Teo Chee Hean delivered a speech at the Fulbright Association entitled "SINGAPORE AS A HUB FOR HIGHER EDUCATION". In the speech, the Minister makes it clear that it was the Ministry that pushed the universities to reach the 20% TARGET. Left to their own devices, the proportion of foreigners would languish at 10%. And how do the universities meet this quota given to them? Well, at the taxpayer's expense, they have to send teams all over Chinese and Indian cities, scouring the high schools for suitable candidates. What if their command of English is not up to scratch? Nevermind, backdoor admissions, no need to attempt the GP. What if they cannot afford? No problem, all expenses from air ticket to lodging to lifestyle expenses will be covered by the Singaporean taxpayer. Just fly to Singapore so they can fill their quota. What they do afterwards is none of the universities' business. Which is why they do not stay. About 40% of all foreign undergrad scholarship holders leave Singapore without working for a single day. Which is how Singapore is building up a reputation in China as a nation of foolish suckers with too much money.

Now that the numbers are met and they no longer need to increase the number of foreign students dramatically, the officials now turn around and say it is a cap. A cap they don't take too seriously, it seems, at least for this year's admissions.

A quote from the speech:

  1. NUS, NTU and their predecessor institutions have been receiving a natural inflow of foreign students from the region. However, with the establishment of more universities throughout the region and the urgent need to expand higher education opportunities in Singapore, the attraction of foreign talent was not seen as top priority for NUS and NTU. The inflow of foreign students stagnated at around 10% of the undergraduate intake.
  2. But a world-class university cannot be built upon the natural talents and abilities of a small country with only 3 million people. Top universities go in search of the best talent in the world, especially at the postgraduate level. For example, in MIT, up to one-third of the postgraduate students in the engineering school are international students.
  3. NUS and NTU have to do likewise. They have set a target of filling 20% of their undergraduate places with foreigners. Fortunately for us, NUS and NTU can do this while expanding intake so that no qualified locals will be displaced. At the same time, to make it more attractive for foreign students to study in Singapore, tuition fees have been reduced. In 1996, the fees for foreign students were 1.5 to 2 times those for Singaporeans. From this year, foreign students pay only 10% more than locals.
  4. This target of 20% gives a push to the two universities to get out of Singapore and find the best foreign students they can. This is a useful discipline, as a constant reminder to the universities that Singapore thrives on being open to the rest of the world.
  5. The presence of foreign students adds some "fizz" to the student body in Singapore universities. The students draw upon different experiences and look at problems from different perspectives. There is no better way to promote critical and creative thinking among our young than to be confronted with different view-points and ideas.
  6. I am pleased to note that NUS and NTU have marketed themselves aggressively in the past years and are on track to reach their target of 20% foreign intake. For the academic year 1998/99, preliminary figures (up to 20 Jul 98) indicate that NUS and NTU have recruited more than 1,500 foreign students which make up 16.5% of their undergraduate intake. 70% of these foreign students are taking up courses in Engineering, Computers and Science. It is particularly important for Singapore to build up centres of excellence in these areas in order to catalyse the growth of high technology industries and ensure an adequate supply of qualified persons.

MOE clarifies foreign undergrad admission numbers: numbers still seem wrong

When MOS of Education Gan Kim Yong reported in parliament that only 987 foreign students got into local universities this year, I knew immediately it had to be some mistake or some massive policy U-turn, but I did not comment on it because I did not have anything useful to add to what Lucky Tan, Ned Stark and Leong Sze Hian had eloquently written, and I was hoping that with a new PM, MOE may have actually reduce the number of foreign students to cater for Singaporeans.

But alas, MOE uncharacteristically decided it was necessary to do some OT and work pass 5pm to issue a press release as late as 9pm to clarify that the numbers were wrong. (This is after all, a country that has a blood bank that does not even want to talk to people who was misled into thinking a loved one will bleed to death if they fail to make good the blood bank's losses, 5 minutes before the start of official working hours)

And guess what, the numbers are still wrong. MOE now claims the actually number of foreigners admitted is 4,218. The MOS of Education Gan Kim Yong had earlier claimed that there was a total of 14,685 places in the three universities. They also claim there is 20% "cap" for foreigners, and not admitting every single one of the 19,000 full-fee paying foreigners, irregardless of their academic ability, is "costing" the nation $480 million dollars in missed revenues.

Guess what:

4218 / 14685 = 28.7%

Surely there is yet another mistake that needs to be clarified.
Let's say the 14,685 were all for locals only (locals is yet another government attempt to fudge the PR numbers with the citizens)

4218 / (14685+4218) = 22.3%

So, either the 20% cap is really a flexible round down, or there are many more caveats that a simple peasant like me can never comprehend.

This is not a foreign student problem any more. I do not know if the MOS of Education Gan Kim Yong was trying to play with semantics or received faulty information / typo error etc. I hope it is the former, because for someone in his position, he should have instantly recognised that 987 is a ridiculous number. If he does not even have a good gut feel for the numbers, sigh...


"Close to 20% of foreign students who apply for local universities get in
By Pearl Forss, Channel NewsAsia | Posted: 19 July 2007 2149 hrs

SINGAPORE: Close to 20 percent of foreign students who applied to local universities were accepted this year.

The Ministry of Education had said in Parliament on Tuesday that the figure was only 4.3 percent, and only 987 foreign students got into local universities this year.

In fact, out of the 23,000 foreign students who applied for local universities, the actual number admitted was 4,218.

The Ministry explained that the 987 figure only referred to foreign students who had obtained GCE 'A' level or polytechnic qualifications in Singapore.

It has capped the number of government-subsidised foreign students in Singapore at 20 percent because it does not want schools to expand too quickly.

However, this cap makes it difficult for universities to take in more full fee-paying foreign students.

Full fees for foreign students enrolled in non-lab courses in local universities are about S$26,000 a year.

This year, nearly 19,000 foreign students applied for local universities and did not get in, which translates to over S$480 million in lost revenue annually."

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Dan Dennett on dangerous memes, on TED.com

Here's one of those talks that can change your view of the world forever. Starting with the deceptively simple story of an ant, Dan Dennett unleashes a dazzling sequence of ideas, making a powerful case for the existence of "memes" -- a term coined by Richard Dawkins for mental concepts that are literally alive and capable of spreading from brain to brain.

Everything we know about AIDS in Africa is wrong: Emily Oster on TED.com

Emily Oster, a University of Chicago economist, looks at the stats on AIDS in Africa -- and comes up with a stunning conclusion: Everything we know about AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is wrong. We look for root causes such as poverty and poor health care -- but we also need to factor in, say, the price of coffee, and the routes of long-haul truckers. In short, she says, there is a lot we don't know; and our assumptions about what we do know may keep us from finding the best way to stop the disease. (Recorded March 2007 in Monterey, CA. Duration: 15:45.)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Blade Runner: Final Cut in theatres this fall!

Based on a novel written by Phillip K Dick, directed by Ridley Scott, this third theatrical release of the cult classic features new scenes and new special effects.



via The Big Picture

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Spin



Using the 1992 presidential election as his springboard, documentary filmmaker Brian Springer captures the behind-the-scenes maneuverings of politicians and newscasters in the early 1990s. Pat Robertson banters about "homos," Al Gore learns how to avoid abortion questions, George Bush talks to Larry King about halcyon -- all presuming they're off camera. Composed of 100% unauthorized satellite footage, Spin is a surreal expose of media-constructed reality.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A third US carrier, the nuclear-powered USS Enterprise Strike Group is speeding towards the Persian Gulf

"The USS Enterprise CVN 65-Big E Strike Group will join the USS Stennis and the USS Nimitz carriers, building up the largest sea, air, marine concentration the United States has ever deployed opposite Iran.
...

The “Big E” leads a strike group consisting of the guided-missile destroyers USS Arleigh Burke DDG 51, USS Stout DDG 55, Forrest Sherman DDG 98 and USS James E. Williams DDG 95, as well as the guided missile cruiser USS Gettysburg CG 64, the SS Philadelphia SSN 690 nuclear submarine and the USNS Supply T-AOE 6"


via DEBKAfile

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Bob Dylan Wrote Every Pop Hit of the Past 35 Years

I must have been falling behind on pop music, since I don't seem to catch some of the songs, but for that one song I did catch, it was incredibly funny.



via Big Picture, which is really supposed to be a site focussed on finance and investments

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Human Behavior Experiments - CBC Documentary



"Why would four young men watch their friend die, when they could have intervened to save him? Why would a woman obey phone commands from a stranger to strip-search an innocent employee? What makes ordinary people perpetrate extraordinary abuses, like the events at Abu Ghraib?

Documentarian Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) revisits these three famous behavioral studies to explore some perennial questions about why human beings commit unethical acts under particular social conditions. After seeing this film, you may never say “bad apples” again."

Friday, May 18, 2007

Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement Speech 2005

This is a great speech by Steve Jobs in 2005. I have read the transcript, but this is the first time I come across the video. If you have no idea what this speech is about, please do spend the 15 minutes listening to it.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Some Old News

Singapore Military Juggles Ties with Taiwan, China
Fayen Wong
Reuters
Aug 25, 2006

KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan—A dark-green army truck zips through the hilly countryside in southern Taiwan before disappearing behind the high walls of an unmarked military base—the largest of Singapore's three army camps in Taiwan.

For nearly 30 years, the island state of Singapore, which lacks the space for large-scale military manoeuvres, has trained its troops in Taiwan under the code name Operation Starlight.

But Singapore has begun scaling back its military presence in Taiwan in recent years as it sought to warm relations with China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province.

"In recent years, Singapore's close military links with Taiwan have occasionally been an irritant in the city-state's relationship with China," Tim Huxley, a defence expert who has written books on Singapore's military, told Reuters.

The city-state has over the past decade quietly built defence links with other countries to train its troops overseas such as in Australia, New Zealand, Brunei and Thailand.

It also sends air force contingents to the U.S. and France following arms purchases and hopes to soon formalise an agreement with India to train its troops there as well.

Singapore began Operation Starlight in 1975 when Taiwan, eager to cultivate ties abroad after it lost its United Nations seat to China, offered Singapore military training bases.

It was a welcome offer. Singapore faced communist threats from Malaysia and Indonesia and was keen to build up its fledgling army. But it lacked the space in an island so small a fighter jet can fly over it in less than two minutes.

Analysts estimate that by the mid-eighties, at the peak of the operation, Singapore sent about 15,000 conscripts a year to Taiwan for large-scale war games.

But the training camps in Taiwan became a sensitive issue over the past decade as Singapore, which is 75 percent ethnic Chinese, sought to forge warm ties with China where Singaporean government companies are investing billions of dollars.

Despite its military cooperation with Taiwan, Singapore staunchly supports the "one-China" policy, opposes Taiwanese independence and does not have diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

China Offers Training Bases

It's a diplomatic juggling act that could result in Singapore finding itself in an uncomfortable position if cross-strait relations flare up and it is forced to take sides.

"Singapore is aligned with the U.S. and it also has strong ties with China. But if there was a war between China and Taiwan, Singapore could be unwillingly dragged in," Huxley said.

In terms of trade, Taiwan is Singapore's eighth-largest partner, while China comes in third after the U.S. and Malaysia.

The Singapore Ministry of Defence declined all comment on issues related to Taiwan, despite repeated requests.

While China has in the past turned a blind eye to Singapore's close economic and military ties with Taiwan, it has been less tolerant of any dealings with Taipei since the self-ruled island's leaders started a pro-independence movement.

In 2004, China angrily cancelled the visit of the Chinese central bank governor when Lee Hsien Loong visited Taiwan shortly before becoming Singapore's prime minister,

London-based Jane's Defence Weekly reported in 2001 that Beijing had offered Singapore the use of Hainan island as an alternative training site to Taiwan.

The offer was the first by China to a foreign country and appeared to be an attempt to discourage Singapore's military ties with Taiwan.

"We have never discussed this," Singapore Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean said in June after being asked about the offer.

Huxley that said while Singapore has tried to cut back its dependence on Taiwan, the government had done so carefully, citing reduced training needs rather than any desire to pacify China. At the same time it has tried to avoid offending Beijing.

"As we build new military relationships with countries like India, it will get more difficult for us to not look like we're snubbing China," said Bernard Loo, defence analyst at Singapore's Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies.

Clandestine Operation

Singapore's operations in Taiwan remain shrouded in secrecy.

In his book about Singapore's military, Huxley wrote that during their time in Taiwan, Singaporean troops wear Taiwanese army uniforms distinguishable only by a separate insignia. Several former Singapore soldiers have confirmed this practice.

"Singapore keeps an extremely low profile about its military ties with Taiwan because it does not want this issue to jeopardise its relationship with China," National University of Singapore analyst Khoo How San told Reuters.

Defence analysts estimate the number of troops sent to Taiwan for training has been slashed by half to about 7,000 annually.

The bulk of Singapore's army now goes to Australia, where up to 6,600 soldiers train at Shoalwater Bay in Queensland every year and about 400 vehicles for a light armoured battalion are stored, according to Singapore's defence ministry Web site.

Back in Hengchun where Singapore's largest army base in Taiwan is located, that shift has hurt local business.

"The town used to be teeming with Singaporean soldiers about twenty years ago. Business was brisk at many of these eateries and karaoke bars," Xu Xiu-feng, 42, a restaurant owner said.

"But now this is just a sleepy town," she added.

Taiwan is cutting their military service

This is not news. It has been going on for years, since the year 2000 to be exact, but you can bet such news will be reported quietly, if at all in the local press. The Taiwanese are cutting their compulsory military service. The military service length for Taiwanese males used to be 2 years. From what I gathered, the cut started in 2003, with a cut to 22 months. 20 months in 2004, 18 months in 2005, 16 months in 2006, 14 months in 2007, and subject to volunteer enlistment meeting recruitment targets, it will be reduced to 12 months in 2008. Volunteer enlistment had been exceeding their targets in recent years due to vastly improved benefits, so they will most probably be able to do the cut in 2008. The target is to cut the service by 2 months every year, until, eventually, the military is all volunteer professionals.

Contrary to what I wrote in an earlier comment, Taiwanese reservists do have reservist training, but the liability currently is no more than 40 days in a 6 year period. In contrast, Singaporean reservists can potentially be called up 40 days a year for 10 years.

I know Singapore is not Taiwan. A US defence expert, Dr Bernard Cole, questioned the use of such short training cycles. (link provided below)

But that does not mean we cannot draw some useful conclusions.

1) If we pay our soldiers with the same mindset as we pay our ministers, I think we can easily have a larger professional army, funded by cutting the length of NSF and NSmen training. Remember, we may pay our NSFs peanuts, but tens of thousands of peanuts add up to a handsome sum. Furthermore, only MINDEF knows what astronomical sum is spent on Make-Up Pay for calling up reservists this frequently.

2) Taiwan faces an opponent bigger and powerful than the whole South-East Asia ex Singapore, combined, and was a site of continual conquests by foreign powers over the past few hundred years. They can learn to breathe easy. Can we?

"Just because you are not paranoid, does not mean that they are not out to get you."


Sources:

Taiwan's Security: History and Prospects by Dr. Bernard Cole, Professor of International History, National War College

Conscription in the Republic of China, Wikipedia

Ministry of National Defence: Military Service to cut to 1 year in 2008 if volunteer enlistment targets met, MND press release (in Traditional Chinese)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Swiss military service

In 1984, former PM Goh Chok Tong said he targeted to bring the Swiss standard of living , of that year, 1984, to Singapore by 1999. He claimed to have achieved that goal in the year 2000, delayed by the Asian Financial Crisis. Apparently, he was just talking about GDP growth. But some time after 1984, HDB flats brought a Swiss feature to us too: bomb shelters. Even today, the Swiss still braced for nuclear war.

There are a few other things Singapore and Switzerland shares. Like Singapore, Switzerland has four official langauges: German, French, Italian and Romansch. Also like Singapore, Switzerland has compulsory full time military service for the men, followed by many years of reserve training.

At about age 20, every Swiss male goes through 118 consecutive days of recruit training in the Rekrutenschule.

Even before required training begins, young men and women may take optional courses with the Swiss army's M57 assault rifle. They keep that gun at home for three months and receive six half-day training sessions.

From age 21 to 32, a Swiss man serves as a "frontline" troop in the Auszug, and devotes three weeks a year (in eight of the 12 years) to continued training. From age 33 to 42, he serves in the Landwehr; every few years, he reports for two-week training periods. Finally, from ages 43, to 50, he serves in the Landsturm; in this period, he only spends 13 days total in "home guard courses".

Over a soldier's career he also spends scattered days on mandatory equipment inspections and required target practice. Thus, in a 30-year mandatory military career, a Swiss man only spends about one year in direct military service. Following discharge from the regular army, men serve on reserve status until age 50 (55 for officers).

Members of the armed forces keep their rifles and uniforms in their homes for immediate mobilisation, as well as 50 rounds of ammunition in a sealed tin, to be used for self defence while traveling to the mobilisation points. Additional ammunition is kept at military bases where the militia are supposed to report. Swiss military doctrines are arranged in ways that make this organisation very effective and rapid. Switzerland claims to be able to mobilise the entire population for warfare within 12 hours.

During World War I, both France and Germany considered invading Switzerland to attack each other's flank. In World War II, Hitler wanted the Swiss gold reserves and needed free communications and transit through Switzerland to supply Axis forces in the Mediterranean. But when military planners looked at Switzerland's well-armed citizenry, mountainous terrain, and civil defence fortifications, Switzerland lost its appeal as an invasion target. While two World Wars raged, Switzerland enjoyed a secure peace.

Can a Singaporean dare to dream that one day, the Singapore's national service can catch up with the Swiss?

Sources:

1. The Swiss and their Guns By David B. Kopel and Stephen D'Andrilli

2. Wikipedia

Monday, May 14, 2007

Finally, ST publishes one letter against the Iraq occupation

After five letters written by men who bury their heads in the sand and chant Bush lies from four years ago endlessly, ST finally publishes a letter written by someone who is actually following the news from Iraq.

America defending the 'free world'? Think again

I REFER to the recent letters on the illegal occupation of Iraq by American and British troops.

Readers have referred to the Sept 11, 2001, tragedy as justification for the war, and congratulated America for protecting the rest of the world from 'terrorist-infested nations'.

But al-Qaeda had little or no presence in Iraq prior to the occupation, while now they flourish there checked only by violence by other factions.

The Bush administration fabricated links between religious extremists al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's fiercely secular regime when no less than bin Laden described Saddam as a 'bad Muslim'.

What about claims of intervention on humanitarian grounds?

With 600,000 civilians dead and counting, the destruction of the infrastructure of much of the country and the widespread flight of medical personnel, this adventure was not a great success.

The consequent suffering and the horror of Abu Ghraib have recruited more terrorists to the cause than any extremist propanda video ever could.

And this does not result from unexpected events after the fact - the Bush administration must have known, unless colossaly incompetent, that Iraq would be unmanageable without substantially more planning and spending than it undertook.

Former president George H.W. Bush wrote as recently as 1998: 'To occupy Iraq would instantly shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day hero... assigning young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched dictator and condemning them to fight in what would be an un-winnable urban guerilla war. It could only plunge that part of the world into even greater instability.'

The Bush administration hinged its case for war on the existence of weapons of mass destruction. This was false, as UN inspectors closer to the situation in Iraq repeatedly warned.

Since, the Lincoln Group has been paid by the American military to circulate US-friendly news stories in ostensibly independent Iraqi newspapers.

America tortures Guantanamo Bay detainees with stress positions and prolonged isolation, driving many to mental illness and several to suicide.

The American media invents fantasies about heroics by US soliders that those soliders, such as Jessica Lynch, themselves repudiate.

Having orchestrated this circus, the US government readies itself to leave Iraq only after passing Bills requiring the opening of the country's oil fields to foreign exploitation.

In the face of this transparently dishonest grab for wealth, it beggars belief that anyone can write of America defending the 'free world'.

Jolene Tan Siyu (Ms)

London, United Kingdom

Something lighter: Canon is everywhere in pop music

Side splitting funny for a music illiterate like me. Probably funnier if you know classical music.



found via reddit.com

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Time to end military training in Taiwan and Thailand

My condolences to the family of the national servicemen who were killed or injured in Taiwan. I think it is about time we should ask ourselves: Why are our troops in Taiwan?

I do not fear an imminent military Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Both governments, are too concerned with chasing money to cross swords. What is going on now instead, is a war of words, and a war of language. China does not like to see any official language for Taipei that suggests their sovereignty, but that is precisely what the Taiwanese wants, and is pushing towards that incrementally. Already, Singapore was played like a pawn during Lee Hsien Loong's visit shortly before he became the PM. And even though the PM may be the most eloquent politician in the world, as shown by his world number one salary, he managed to offend both sides of Taiwan Straits, by first seemingly supportive of Taiwan, and then seemingly berating Taiwan, leading to the "peesai/lampa" comment.

When the British troops announced their intention to leave the then newly independent Singapore, nobody was willingly to help Singapore with our national defence. Nobody except equally pariah states like Israel, and later Taiwan. This is something we ought to remember. But just as Israel does not expect Singapore to send troops to defend them, neither does Taiwan need Singaporean troops. To continue our military presence in Taiwan makes our relationship with China, difficult. In times of war, will the Singaporean troops help the Taiwanese? It is a rhetorical question, and if we were pressed for an answer, we will offend someone. Let's end this diplomatic timebomb sooner, rather than later.

If we cut out the Taiwanese training, I believe we can cut back NS by at least 3 months. Will this compromise our operational readiness? Not at all! Who in the world needs two full years to train footsoldiers? Are Singaporean footsoldiers especially slow learners? The Swiss only train their conscripts for as little as 6 months. Anybody who claims that a shorter NS will compromise the training of our soldiers are really saying Singaporeans are a bunch of world class retards.

The same can be said about Thailand. Singapore going to war with Taiwan is a laughable prospect. Singapore going to war with Thailand is not that far fetched. It is not hard to imagine the discomfort felt by the Thai generals over Singaporeans getting too familiar with their terrain. And given our relationship is totally soured, keeping a military presence is like playing with fire while doused in kerosene. Shut the base down. End the troop training. Cut back on the length of NS. Cut both Taiwan and Thailand, and we can shorten NS to just 1.5 years. The men can start university just one year later than the women and foreigners!

Then, MINDEF may have some extra pocket change out of that 10.6 Billion budget to support the lives destroyed by NS.

More neocons in the ST Forum

Amazingly, the ST Forum editor knows no shame, and publishes another two letters supporting American presence in Iraq. I suppose the moneymen are just thinking about the increase in circulation they can get by stoking the controversy.

One of the writers, Tan Yip Meng wrote "Singapore is not alone in supporting the US. Countries like Japan, South Korea and Denmark know what the stakes are."

If he did some factchecking, he will realise the Japanese had left Iraq for quite a while already, the South Koreans should be all gone by now, and the Danish will leave by August 2007. The remaining non-anglo (US, British and Australian) troops are from almost all former communist countries eager to please the USA out of fear of their old Soviet master, with the exception of El Salvador. The complete list can be found here. More Canadians had died in Afghanistan than these nations put together, suggesting that they are kept far far away from any serious action and their presence is just to create the facade that this is not just a Coalition of Anglos.

Tan Yip Meng also thinks that Darfur is a larger humanitarian crisis compared to Iraq, which is wrong. I believe the estimated death toll in Darfur and Iraq are roughly the same.

But that is besides the point. The Iraqis may be oppressed under Saddam, but it was still a largely peaceful place, as long as you do not cross Saddam. One scandal of the abuse of Oil for Food funds was that, instead of food, the Iraqis used the money to order a liposuction machine. Can a nation this concerned with appearance be remotely interested with a doomsday assault on the West? Bush had NO CAUSE, even unjust ones to invade Iraq. Had Iraqi oil been successfully plundered, we wouldnt have to pay over 60 bucks a barrel. Even as a villian, Bush sucks.

Four years of being stuck in the Iraqi quagmire meant that the Anti-american elements of the world undergone rapid evolution of ideas on how to deal with American weaponry. You can see some of this knowhow deployed in Afghanistan already. Furthermore, the Americans are clearly losing. Not only is the death toll for American soldiers rising month by month, their ability to control even a tiny piece of Baghdad called the Green Zone is getting shakier everyday, which is why they need a "surge" in troops - not to extend their control, but to slow down the deterioration. Already, the Brits are forced to evacuate from their consulate in Basra. It is only a matter of time the US Embassy in Baghdad is forced to evacuate. The Americans can walk away, or be kicked out. It's only a matter of time. Worse yet, the whole world now knows that advanced American weaponry is nothing to be feared.

The other letter, written Christopher Gordon is even more stupid. He calls for Singapore to send more troops to Iraq, right when everybody else is cutting and running. Yah right.

Friday, May 11, 2007

More Colbert! Jane Fonda fondles a nervous Stephen Colbert



via reddit

Sad, pathetic neocons in the ST forum

I had a glance at today's ST Forum and no less than 3 letters were published supporting the US invasion of Iraq as a just response to 9/11, even though NO Iraqi, including Saddam, was ever remotely implicated in the plot after all these years. No WMD. Most Americans are not even buying the whole idea of "taking the fight to the terrorists in Iraq instead of letting them attack us in our backyard" mambo jambo, and yet there is at least three morons who still think so. Four years ago, I be angry. Now, I am just laughing at their silly need to be consistent with the pro-war stance they took four years ago. It's okay to admit you were misled, oh poor Prem Singh, Vincent Heng Meng Chye and Edmund Khoo Kim Hock. This video is for you three sad pathetic souls, and the stupid ST Editor who published your letters.



Found the video via essays and effluvia

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A third US aircraft carrier battle group will be in the Persian Gulf

The USS Nimitz battle group will soon be joining the USS John C Stennis and the USS Dwight D Eisenhower in the Persian Gulf. The latter is supposed to be replaced by the USS Nimitz, but the main battle operations of the Iraqi invasion only needed two aircraft carriers, and there had been two battle groups in the Persian Gulf for months. What does it mean if three aircraft carriers hang around in the Persian Gulf? A show of force? I rather not speculate.

Link

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Short movie review: Spiderman 3

***WARNING: SPOILERS ALERT!***

The current installment of Spiderman, I can quite safely say, is the worst movie of current Spiderman movie series directed by Sam Raimi. That says very little about the movie given the spectacularly high standards set by the previous two movies. Spiderman 3, while entertaining and not a bad way to spend two and a half hours, is bound to disappoint those who feel a coherent plot is important to a movie.

I get a feeling that the script was changed drastically midway through the filming, with the usual suspects being the meddling studio executives whose sole motivation is to ruin the movie by ensuring the movie appeal to as wide an audience as possible. There is an unnecessarily long segment of the movie that was redundant, and can be best described as a tribute to John Travolta's character in Saturday Night Fever. It is clearly a shameless attempt to pander to the Baby Boomers who grew up in the 70s.

But I also get the feeling that the director is deeply perturbed by the chain of events in America that was started by 9/11, and wanted to weave a message into the movie belatedly, and hence the contrived plot. You can tell from the movie posters this movie will be about Spidey fighting his "Dark Side" a la Star Wars. And like Superman 3, Spidey meets his match, his evil nemesis twin. But unlike the other two movies, one can still trust Sam Raimi to go beyond the skin deep and deliver a message about how indulging in anger and hatred may make one feel powerful, but we cannot harm our enemies without harming our loved ones, and worst of all, consumes and ultimately destroys, our soul. The enemies we choose to hate, may not be culpable for the hurt we thought they caused, or at least not in the way we imagined.

The director must have felt that delivering the message was very important and changed the plot. It is a shame the plot became rather unconvincing, if not downright illogical.

There is a scene where the reference to the colours of the "Star spangled banner" was very strongly felt, when Spidey re-emerges in his blue and red garb to save the world. As though fearing the audience will miss the moment, Spidey lands right in front of huge glowing flag of the USA, destroying all subtlety. The message is clear: blue and red is good, black is bad.

9/11 caused profound pain to people worldwide, but nobody feels it more deeply than the American people. It is not just the body count; like Spiderman, the USA has superpowers, and yet was so humiliatingly helpless in preventing this heinous crime, and may in fact, had enabled the "bad guys" by not doing what was right. It must be tempting to swing to the other extreme and "right" all wrongs by any means. From Guantanamo Bay to the wiretapping scandals, the angry America may be intimidatingly powerful, but it shatters the most cherished possession of the Americans: the American brand of freedom. America faces a terrible fight to exorcise the 9/11 demons. If America fails, who is going to fill the void of saving the world vacated by the superhero draped in blue and red?

A bit of trivia I confirmed from IMDB: apparently Kirsten Dunst is a natural blonde who had to dye her hair red to play the role of Mary Jane Watson, whilst Bryce Dallas Howard, who rocked as the blind girl in "The Village", has to dye her natural red hair blonde for her role. Guess the studio executives are afraid the audience having trouble telling the girls apart.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Global Labour Shortage?

I had expected a global labour shortage to happen some time in the future, where given the declining birthrate in the developed world, and China's "Stop at one" policy and the equivalent birth control policies in India will eventually bite back. I foresee a future where the young person, especially young ladies (due to sexist parents aborting female foetuses), will be in great demand. This trend will accelerate since we will depend on an ever declining pool of young ladies to bear the next generation, even as the options in life for young people expand spectacularly as the baby boomer generation starts to retire and die.

I foresee this to happen in about ten to twenty years. This article suggest that it could be much sooner, like now.

At first, it was just a trickle. Indian call center workers become serial job hoppers, boosting their salaries 20% with every new position. Factory workers in Vietnam leave for the holidays and don't return. Computer programmers in Bulgaria don't bother to answer the want ads of a Los Angeles movie studio. But today, anecdotes of a global labor crunch have turned into a flood. Last week, staffing agency Manpower Inc. released the results of a survey of nearly 37,000 employers in 27 countries. It turns out that more than four out of 10 employers around the world are having trouble hiring the right kind of staff for the right kind of money. And the problem is getting worse.


It is no surprise that sooner or later, the direction of flow due to globalisation may slow, or even reverse. But it seems to be happening sooner than anybody is expecting it. All we need is the US dollar to depreciate a little bit more against the yuan and the rupee, and the cycle is complete.

What this means is that, if you are very young today, a very bright future may await you. But there is a dark side to it: the voting population of the future will be predominantly old people, and populist democracies may yield to the demands of the older electorates and enforce some nasty government policies on young people, like say, a "youth tax", which is paid only by people between 20 and 40.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

A minister's job as compared to a CEO: Part 1

The Minister's job is a lot like that of a CEO, the public face of the company. If anybody knows the name of just one employee of any given company he or she doesnt know personally, chances are, that person is the CEO. Besides an outstanding track record to bring credibility, the two most requirements of a good CEO ought to be

1) excellent communicator

The CEO being the public face of the company must project the right image. Mr Tan Kin Lian, former CEO of NTUC Income, may not look like the usual CEO, but yet his earnest image is likely to boost the image of the company for the everyman buying life insurance. OTOH, most people think Oracle's Larry Ellison is a corporate shark, but that is okay, because the people who can afford buy Oracle products wants to be corporate sharks themselves.

Beyond a two dimensional image, the CEO must connect with the customers. The CEO has a powerful PR budget to brainwash the customers with his lofty visions, but even then, sometimes, the customers may not bite. The CEO must connect to the masses to sense a change in tide. Just as Bill Gates sensed risk in not risking everything in 1995 to refocus on the internet, the CEO must know what is going on at the grassroots.

2) excellent talent manager

If the CEO can identify and convince the right talents to the appropriate jobs, then the only thing left for him to do is to get out of their way. In order to keep talents motivated, the CEO must articulate lofty visions.

As to actual capability in the day to day running, it is really not that essential, although it can be useful. Does anybody think Arnold Schwarzenegger could acquire the capability to manage the 1.6 trillion USD Californian economy overnight after a life time of pumping iron and taking roles in movies that involves little more than spouting one-liners like "I'll be back" in movies? But he seems to be doing fine nevertheless because he is an excellent communicator and has the right advisers. In fact, compared to GWB who had a spotty track record even as Texas governor, The fact that Arnie ought to be the classic all brawns and no brain beefcake, and yet nobody associates him with the word "dumb" compared to Bush shows how well he managed his image.

All that said, CEO pay is going all wacko these days. Carly Fiorina may be just a scapegoat for all the HP woes, but few would think she did a super outstanding job, and yet her severance package can be as high 42 million USD, probably because she is now unemployable in the same capacity. Off hand, I can name three people who earned a billion USD just be being an employee: Sandy Weill, former CEO of Citigroup, Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft and Dr Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google.

If one can be paid millions for failing, how can we begrudge our ministers 2 million?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

When will Singapore have bike lanes?

Until the million dollar ministers find the talents to build bike lanes in Singapore, a feature so common in so many benchmark big cities, I can only believe that the only good in paying them millions is to appease their greed.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Polytechnic issues: Part 1

I wanted to write something regarding the local polytechnic education for a while, and a letter published in the ST Forum today provided an opportunity. In her letter, Ms K. Mathiyazhaki was concerned that the poly route is shut for an average student who scored 20 aggregate points. My sympathies to her daughter. It must be a horrible heartbreak to be rejected by all nine courses she applied for. But the following points must be made:

1) The cutoff points for the respective courses are not state secrets. If you drop in at the polytechnics today, you will see a list of cutoff points put up somewhere. I am not working in a polytechnic now, so I do not have the numbers handy, but I suspect the cutoff points for the more popular courses in any year are around 18 to 19 points. Especially since the figures are not published in some booklet or form, she should put in that extra effort to find out from the existing students and lecturers in her preferred courses during, say, the open house. If she does not know even the basics such as cutoff points, it is questionable if she knows how well the courses would suit her. I know it is a hard decision for 16 year olds, but way too many polytechnic students adhere to herd instinct when applying for courses, stampeding to the flavour of the day, which brought them nothing but three years of painful misery, if they can endure that long.

2) With 20 points, Ms Mathiyazhaki's daughter is just below average and should have included a few less popular course in her choices. She simply lacks the bargaining power with the more popular courses. I am sure she qualifies for plenty of other unpopular and unglamorous courses, like say, engineering. But to say that the poly route is shut for average student is simply untrue. The lecturer's ultimate nightmare are the 30-pointers - ie those who average a C6 in all five of their 'O' level subjects, and somehow still managed to qualify for a polytechnic place.

3) If she cannot qualify for her preferred course, and do not want to compromise by taking up a course she has no interest in, then perhaps the best course of action is to retake her 'O' levels. Polytechnics do not discriminate against older students. In fact, I find it questionable sometimes that post-ITE post-NS students in their 20s are mingling with 16 year olds, but I shall not stray into that.

4) 11 pointers are barely JC material. JC application require SIX subjects, not the five for polytechnics, which could bloat an 11 pointers aggregate to, say 17 points if the sixth best subject is only a C6, which is absolutely bottom scraping these days. Why be the bottom of the pile of a JC with virtually no hope of qualifying for NUS/NTU/SMU when you can be king in a polytechnic? Despite many underdog stories, most of the time, polytechnic scores are strongly correlated to the 'O' level scores, just as they are in the JCs.

Post Secondary education used to be straightforward - the best 20% or so goes to 'A' levels, while the next 20% goes to polytechnics, and the remainder will go to the ITEs. 'A' level candidates are protected from competition from poly grads in the admission to local universities because the 'A' level education is meant to be an academic extension to their secondary education, while poly grads are considered to have received a fully subsidised tertiary education and thus is considered a waste to taxpayer funds for them to receive another round of subsidised tertiary education.

And in the "good old days", the government was not the least interested in catering for the preferences of the poly students; polytechnics are first and foremost, a place to train less academically inclined students who do not mind getting their hands dirty for frontline factory work. Even today, the mainstay of all polytechnics are still the engineering courses, even though Singapore is no longer the manufacturing hub with an insatiable appetite for diploma level engineers and technicians.

Couple that with the increased aspirations of Singaporeans, the polytechnics find that nearly 50% of their school leavers end up taking a degree course immediately upon graduation, mostly overseas. The polytechnics have no choice but to adapt, and change from a hands on technician perspective to a pseudo overseas university prep school. The courses today are more influenced by the popular Australian universities via their grant of advanced standing (which allows one to skip certain courses and thus shorten the time to a degree), than by the demands of the local job market.

To put it simply, local polytechnics have lost their sense of purpose and are desperately grasping for a new identity.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

SGX trading system seem to have crashed

No, I dont mean, the prices. That already crashed. I meant all stock trading appear suspended, like it is just after 5pm. Guess there was so much selling the systems crashed. So much for tomorrow's market, today.

Update: So trades were being matched, well at least those that made it through, and maybe there will be confirmation of the trade, well, maybe. The shortists who hope to cover after 4pm would be caught with naked shorts, setting the stage for a big up day T+4.

-DJ UPDATE: Singapore Exchange Confirms Disruption To Trading
(Recasts lead, adds statement from Singapore Exchange.)

SINGAPORE (Dow Jones)--Trading on the Singapore stock market, which fell 3.7% Wednesday amid a slide in global equities, was disrupted by the high volume of orders, and the problem hasn't yet been fixed, the exchange said.

Technical staff are working to resolve congestion in the trading system but the exchange can't yet say that trading will be normal on Thursday, a Singapore Exchange Ltd. (S68.SG) spokeswoman said.

Brokers said the exchange's trading system was overwhelmed Wednesday.

There were "major problems getting orders through and trade confirmation," said a broker at a local bank.

Internet-based trading systems were also affected, the broker said.

The volume of orders caused "congestion" in the retrieval and display of order information on the majority of trading terminals, the Singapore Exchange said in a statement.

Buy and sell orders were still able to be matched, it said.

Some 3.2 billion shares changed hands Wednesday, according to Singapore Exchange data, about the same as Tuesday's session.

The Straits Times Index closed down 3.7% at 3,111.94 points following an overnight fall of 3.3% on the Dow Jones Industrial Average on fears of a U.S. recession and a steep fall Tuesday in Chinese shares.

-By Stephen Wright, Dow Jones Newswires; 65 6415 4151; stephen.wright@dowjones.com
-Edited by Costas Paris
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 28, 2007 07:14 ET (12:14 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Taking vitamin supplements may increase risk of death, says study

Linus Pauling, a recipient of two Nobel Prizes, once postulated that, if small doses of vitamins is so essential for staying alive, taking big doses will make you stronger, more immune to diseases. His ideas helped germinate a whole generation of pill popping hypochondriacs, even though there is little scientific basis to his ideas, the aura of his two Nobel Prizes convinced many that he is too smart to be wrong.

But increasing studies have shown that overdose of water insoluble vitamins, like Vitamin A, can cause severe health problems. The current study seems to suggest that even at previously considered safe levels, vitamin supplements could increase the likelihood of death. In other words, it is worse than an ineffective placebo; it is downright detrimental to spend money on vitamin supplements. All the vitamins you need, can be obtained from a balanced diet. Any further attempts to "trump" nature by taking supplements may not help, or worse still, kill you.

Which makes me think about our "foreign talent" policies. Like vitamins, if we try to bar all foreigners from Singapore, Singapore will die. But do we need to supplement our "natural intake" with more generous scholarships? Does it even help? I do not think it is unreasonable to say that, if ever Singapore has an overdose of "foreign talent", both Singaporeans and foreigners will suffer.

Chaos at Chingay: Is this the Singaporean way?

So we had a little Chinese New Year parade called the Chingay, with floats and hip-hop dancing Members of Parliament. Huge crowds gathered to watch. Singaporeans are always unusually game for some free entertainment. Unruly behaviour happened, happy mood soiled. Yet another story about Ugly Singaporeans. Or is it? From the article:

"things went awry when the volunteers were not present. Two passers-by succeeded in sneaking in. A man tried to follow suit minutes later, was stopped by volunteers, but refused to retreat. A police officer tried to intervene, but was greeted with a rude hand gesture and a chase followed.

Then all hell broke loose. More people sneaked in and stood around, obstructing the ticket holders' view. By the time the police and volunteers arrived on the scene, it was too late for them to take action against the dozens of "infiltrators". What further infuriated me was when some of them tried to occupy my seat when I stood up to catch a better view of the show. An elderly couple next to me suffered the same fate."

Does it sound like a Singaporean would try to trespass barriers, even though they are more symbolic than practical? Singapore is a place where people reserve seats in hawker centres with packets of tissue paper, and queues can form spontaneously whenever such are needed. I doubt Singaporeans will go so far to make "hand gestures" at policemen. Not that I am terribly proud of it, but Singaporeans behave like sheep in a herd. Our men in uniform are like the shepherd dogs whose barks are sufficient to keep the herd in line. Given that one in four warm bodies in Singapore are foreigners, it will not surprise me that such "out of line" behaviour was committed by foreigners. In fact such anti-social behaviour is very common when I have the misfortune of bumping into tour groups from PRC at tourist sights overseas.

So Singapore wants to have 6.5 million. Given our birthrate, the growth will certainly be fueled entirely by foreigners, the majority of which will be from PRC, because the government clearly wants to maintain the racial ratio. What happens when we have to compete with people who do not respect our rules and our way of doing things? We can either choose to let them walk all over us, or we can beat them by being more rude, more anti-social, more nasty. Indeed, those unruly people could very well be Singaporeans fed up with being the nice guy coming in last.

Is that the Singapore you want your children to grow up in? One of the letter writers also pointed out the dangers the mismanaged crowd posed to small children.

I have serious doubts about the competency of the government to manage Singapore at our crowding level of 4.5 million. When we hit 6.5 million, Singapore will probably be unlivable for families.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Alex Au(Yawning Bread) has lost the plot

Alex Au of Yawning Bread fame, has never made it a secret that he supports the Singapore government's "foreign talent" policies, but of late, he has turned downright into a cheerleader for more "foreign talent".

In his latest piece on Yawning Bread, 6.5 million will make a different Singapore, he is blatantly accusing Singaporeans of being "economically illiterate" for not embracing the "foreign talents" with open arms. You can see how lopsided his argument is, with his example of importing 2 million foreigners into an uninhabited island with no natural resources, and a thriving economy will exist just by having the foreigners there, and somehow, the same will apply to Singapore when we import over 2 million foreigners MORE to meet the 6.5 million target.

How lame is his example?

First of all, Singapore is not an uninhabited island. Can he be sure that the original inhabitants will be better off after the island population nearly doubles? Can he even be sure the proportion that benefits from the population not be meaninglessly small?

But Singapore is not Malaysia. We embrace globalisation and we do not protect our "Children of the Earth". Which begs the the next question: 2 million more foreigners do not congregate in an island with no natural resources automatically. There has to be some incentive to attract them here. There has to be more incentives to keep them here, because I dont think most people can get off just by rubbing shoulders with strangers in an incredibly crowded island. Who foots the bill to attract all these foreigners? Who pays the price to keep the foreigners here? For such massive number of immigrants to stay, it is inevitable that we put the foreigners on a pedestal, and relegate Singaporeans to a second class status.

As an avid traveller, I am keenly aware that some of the most wonderful tourist sights are often omitted by popular tour guidebooks, not out of ignorance, but because the writers feel they have a moral obligation not to destroy the pristine settings with endless hordes of package tourists who has no personal interest in the sights other than snapping photos to prove they were there. If Singapore cannot keep up the incentives to keep our millions of foreigners here, and after all the foreigners leave, what will Singapore be left with? Would the most talented and mobile Singaporeans who were forced out by the crowding want to return?

None of these are important to Alex Au, of course. He thinks all the problems with overcrowding will be solved by the government's excellent planning skills. Yes, the same government that threatened the people "Stop at two" in the 70s with punitive measures, now blame the people for three decades of low birthrate, using it as the convenient excuse for the indiscriminate import of foreigner, is going to plan all the problems away with their unrivalled foresight.

That, and avoiding "over-regulation" and conservative risk averse "habits of mind" is all we need. By that, I suppose he means legalising gay sex, and everybody will live in harmony ever after.

Yes, it is obvious Alex Au supports the import of foreigners because it will make the strengthen his gay rights movement. He sees Singaporean minds calcified with homophobia and is incapable of moving forward without a kick in the butt by foreigners. The tipping point was probably Workers' Party recent declaration of their reluctance to champion gay rights. He probably feels betrayed by the Worker's Party, after he framed and made famous the greatest victory of the Workers' Party in recent memory. Since opposition politics is not going to help his primary cause: gay rights, then I guess he is better off currying the favour of the ruling party. Come to think about it, the ruling party's strategy to fix the internet may not be that anonymous at all.

I used to be a big fan of Yawning Bread, and it had a great impact on me regarding gay rights. But the more I read, the more I see, Alex Au is just another foreigner worshiping, Singaporean loathing Singaporean. Take a look at "What a clean and cultured place we have" to see what he really thinks about Singapore and Singaporeans.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Military strike on Iran and/or Syria imminent?

This morning, there was news of a US nuclear powered submarine colliding with a Japanese oiltanker in the Straits of Hormuz. It suggests that the narrow waterway right next to Iran is getting incredibly crowded.

Bush had recently replaced the two most senior generals overseeing the Iraq war, and according to this article from The Nation, it is an ominous sign, and I quote

"The choice of Fallon to replace Abizaid was highly unusual ...

Fallon is a Navy man, with experience in carrier operations, while most of Centcom's day-to-day work is on the ground, in the struggle against insurgents and warlords in Iraq and Afghanistan...

Fallon began his combat career as a Navy combat flyer in Vietnam, and he served with carrier-based forces for twenty-four years after that. He commanded a carrier battle wing during the first Gulf War in 1991 and led the naval group supporting NATO operations during the Bosnia conflict four years later.

...he is primed to oversee an air, missile and naval attack on Iran, should the President give the green light for such an assault--and the fact that Fallon has been moved from Pacom to Centcom means that such a move is very much on Bush's mind."

Ominous signs.

Monday, January 08, 2007

That green flash across the sky on Sunday evening...

By sheer freakish luck, I happened to have seen it. For a while, my heart sank as my ears braced for an explosion. Fortunately, by now, we can safely conclude that it wasnt an aircrash. Whatever it was, it travelled quite slowly, slow enough for my wife to catch a glimpse in the anticipated direction of travel when the object re-emerged after being blocked by some flats. It definitely travelled slower than a meteor. The best way I can describe it is that, it looked like an unusually large ball of fireworks stuff, constantly disintegrating as it moves southwards. No photograph though. Just chipping in my 2 cents worth, desperately hoping to hear the truth about this "UFO".

Update: After reading this account by squareCircleZ, I like to reaffirm that I was in the Bedok Central area, and the object appeared on the east side of where I was heading south. There are some accounts suggesting an alternative direction of travel, which I firmly believe, is wrong. The time was around 7.40pm, as widely reported, just a minute or two in the twilight before the sky turned totally dark. The object was obscured by clouds from time to time, and illuminated the clouds as it streaked past, suggesting that it is pretty higher up than typical fireworks altitude. Given the height, it was pretty fast, but since there was no sonic boom, it cannot be supersonic. Either that, or it was really far away, which could mean that it was a very very large object.