Monday, 21 August 2017

ESM Goh Chok Tong calls for 'stronger, more inclusive' leadership team

With Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stating that he will step down by 70, the new generation of leaders will have to quickly establish themselves as a cohesive team, the Emeritus Senior Minister says.
Channel NewsAsia, 19 Aug 2017

Singapore's new generation of leaders will have to build a "stronger and more inclusive millennial generation team", said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Saturday (Aug 19).

Speaking at a National Day Dinner for his constituency, Marine Parade, Mr Goh said the robustness of the country's leadership pipeline is one of the determinants of how a "small boat like Singapore" will fare in a turbulent climate of internal and external challenges. Other factors, he said, include the resilience of its politics as well as the cohesiveness of its multi-racialism and social equity.

Mr Goh noted that 65-year-old Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said he will step down by the age of 70.

"The fourth generation (4G) leaders will have to quickly establish themselves as a cohesive team and identify the captain amongst them," he said in the speech.

"They must try their utmost to bring in potential office-holders from outside the Singapore Armed Forces and public sector to avoid group-think. Highly competent Singaporeans outside the Government must also be prepared to step up and serve," he said.

Beyond technical competence, Mr Goh also said Singaporeans will want to know what "the leaders stand for, what kind of Singapore they want to build and what they will pass on to the fifth generation later".

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Jokes about politics: The good, the bad and the ugly

Humour can reduce stress and build bonds, as well as spread lies and breed cynicism
By David Chan, Published The Straits Times, 19 Aug 2017

This essay is about the psychology of sociopolitical humour. First, let me assure you that writing or reading about humour does not kill the fun, although you may not laugh out loud. By humour, I mean a joke or a funny communication with a social purpose clear to the audience - to provoke laughter and provide amusement.

Humour can be communicated in written, oral or visual formats. Sociopolitical humour often combines the various formats, as is the case in a cartoon, a video clip or an Internet meme. A popular Internet meme is a photograph with the original image deliberately altered to inject humour.

In Facebook posts and chats on mobile applications like WhatsApp, friends freely share jokes that are sociopolitical in nature, often not knowing who created the humorous item or initiated its transmission in cyberspace. Marketing professionals examine how humour can influence consumer behaviour. In advertising, humour is a serious business. In contrast, politicians, political analysts and social scientists have not given humour the attention it deserves, especially with regard to the sharing of sociopolitical humour in social media.

Sociopolitical jokes can influence us in ways beyond having a good laugh.


Political figures are often the butt of jokes in sociopolitical humour, with such humour most common in times of elections and political scandals or sagas.

Sociopolitical jokes circulated on social media are frequently irreverent and sometimes reflect ignorance. But those that centre on issues that are emotive, unpleasant or confusing are often wildly popular. That is because the humour provides comic relief that temporarily defuses the tense feeling evoked by these issues, be it angst, anxiety or ambivalence.

Research has shown that humour is sometimes associated with subsequent decrease in stress, and this occurs through two pathways.

The first pathway is neuro-physiological. When we laugh and enjoy humour, our nervous system relaxes and our brain releases hormones known as endorphins. This biochemical mechanism helps to regulate emotions and relieve pain, increasing physical and emotional well-being.

The other pathway is socio-psychological. Joking brings people closer together, forges better relationships and increases social support from each other. It also helps us reappraise a stressful situation by seeing things from new perspectives.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Para paddler Jason Chee fights on despite losing right eye

He suffers fresh setback after 2012 accident, but is back training for ASEAN Para Games
By May Chen, The Straits Times, 18 Aug 2017

For the second time in his life, the world as Mr Jason Chee saw it darkened around him this April.

This time, as far as his right eye is concerned, it is a darkness that is forever. He has lost the eye that helped him win multiple medals for table tennis at the ASEAN Para Games (APG).

A naval ship accident in 2012 that robbed him of both his legs, his left arm and three fingers on his right hand, did not manage to stop him.

Now he is practising again for next month's APG, intoning a simple mantra. "Once a fighter, always a fighter. I'm a fighter," he said. "I still have one eye. I can be happy day by day."

The latest storm broke when the navy serviceman felt a sudden partial "blackout" in his vision one morning when he reported for work at Changi Naval Base almost four months ago.

The 34-year-old was diagnosed with choroidal melanoma (a cancer of the eye) after a tumour 1.5cm in circumference was found in his right eye. Given that the disease had not spread, doctors advised that removing his eye would be the best way to arrest the cancer.

Within a fortnight, he found himself wheeled into the operating theatre once again, about to lose yet another vital and irreplaceable part of his body.

Despite being a self-proclaimed optimist, Mr Chee said he, too, questioned the latest hand he had been dealt. He told The Straits Times yesterday: "I tried to find treatment to save my eye, but there was no way. I was quite down, and wondered why this would happen to me."

It was even harder for his elderly father, a 75-year-old retiree and a former vegetable seller, to accept the latest misfortune to befall his only child.

Yet Mr Chee has the toughness of one who has been in the navy for 13 years, and the resilience of an athlete who became a successful national para-table tennis player following his accident.

He also had a mother who spent her lifetime teaching him to face adversity head-on, before she died in 2011 of kidney failure at age 65.

A day before he checked himself into the hospital for surgery - coincidentally it was Vesak Day - the Buddhist did what his mother would have done: He went to the temple and prayed.

Mr Chee, who won a team gold at the 2015 edition of APG on home soil, said: "I can't prevent this from happening to me but I can control how I respond to it."

Will the fortunes of Malays change in Singapore? President is only symbolic

Singapore's envoy to Malaysia rebuts Utusan on elected presidency
By Shannon Teoh, Malaysia Bureau Chief In Kuala Lumpur, The Straits Times, 18 Aug 2017

Singapore's High Commissioner to Malaysia has issued a rebuttal to Utusan Malaysia newspaper over false allegations on Singapore's upcoming presidential election which is reserved for Malay candidates, and on its Malay community.

Mr Vanu Gopala Menon wrote to the Malay-language newspaper yesterday in reply to its Aug 14 article "Berubahkah nasib kaum Melayu di Singapura? Presiden sekadar simbolik" (Will the fortunes of Malays change in Singapore? President is only symbolic).

"Contrary to the false assertions in the commentary, the Singapore President, who is elected with a popular mandate, plays key roles in nation-building and in ensuring good governance," he wrote.

Mr Menon said these roles include being the symbol and unifier of a multiracial Singapore, the custodian of the country's reserves, and the protector of the integrity of its public service.

"Surely, Utusan Malaysia would agree that these are important tenets which every country should safeguard."

The Aug 14 Utusan article by Ms Marzita Abdullah said: "The post of President of Singapore sounds great but it is only symbolic without any political power."

She wrote: "Maybe because non-Malays in Singapore are given priority and advantages in all aspects, (previous) presidents did not have to struggle to consider the fate of their own race. Therefore, when a Malay holds the post of president, the direction that Malays are headed will surely be given attention as that race constantly feels sidelined in its own country."

In his letter, Mr Menon stressed that "Singapore's Malay community has achieved significant social and economic progress within Singapore's rules-based and meritocratic society".

He said: "We are, as a nation, proud of these accomplishments, and we will achieve further progress together. It is incorrect to say that non-Malays in Singapore have been given 'priority and advantages'. We certainly do not have a race-based system of benefits and patronage."

He added: "Singapore will not tolerate the use of race or religion to promote ill will between different segments of Singapore society, or to undermine our institutions."

He had earlier replied to Utusan's May 28 editorial on the election to counter inaccuracies that meritocracy was used as an excuse to discriminate against the community.

"The Editor did not publish my letter for reasons I could not understand other than not providing a true picture to the readers. Instead, the Editor published a second commentary, with similar inaccuracies and misrepresentations," he said.

Utusan's largest shareholder is Umno, which dominates Malaysia's ruling coalition and owns 49.77 per cent of the 78-year-old newspaper.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Singapore Student Learning Space: New online platform will let students learn at own pace

Move helps level playing field as it gives all students same access to quality resources
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 17 Aug 2017

Schools are taking e-learning to the next level with the launch of a resource-rich online platform on which students can learn at their own pace anywhere, any time.

The Singapore Student Learning Space (SLS), first announced by then Education Minister Heng Swee Keat in 2013, will be progressively rolled out to primary and secondary schools as well as junior colleges and Millennia Institute from next year.

The portal will also let teachers share best practices and work together on materials with their colleagues across schools.

Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said the "rewards for students will be tremendous", adding that the SLS "will open up many opportunities for their learning". Speaking during a visit yesterday to Admiralty Secondary, one of 62 schools piloting the platform, he described how students who want to review a lesson will be able to do it on their own time, even at home.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) stressed that the platform will help level the playing field as it gives all students, regardless of school, the same access to quality learning resources. The move builds on ongoing efforts by the ministry to leverage IT to aid learning.

"By spurring our students to take greater ownership of their learning and work collaboratively with their peers, the SLS aims to support them towards being responsible future-ready learners," MOE said.

The platform, which will feature videos, simulations, games, animations and quizzes, will reinforce learning of subjects, including English and the mother tongue languages, mathematics, history and even physical education.

Interactive timelines on World War II, for instance, can help students visualise how history unfolded through the years.

Many of the resources have been developed with industry and external partners to offer real-world context to concepts taught in class, said the ministry.

Taxi uncle turns Grab driver

While the pioneer leaders were the original architects of Singapore, everyday heroes helped build society here. This is another story about such people in the series, The Lives They Live.
By Adrian Lim, Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Aug 2017

When he started driving a taxi in 1981, Mr Lim Chwee Choon, then 36, often had to ask his passengers for directions and, at times, decline to take them if they were unsure of the route.

While such behaviour is unheard of today because of technologies such as Global Positioning System, Mr Lim said they had little choice back then. Vocational training was very basic and cabbies were taught only the routes to a few destinations, such as major hotels and the airport.

There were street directories but trying to page through one while driving was not a good idea, he said. Map apps did not exist then, he quipped.

Mr Lim, now 72, said it took him about three years of plying the streets and memorising routes before he could get around on his own.

"It was not easy but passengers were also more understanding," he recalled in Mandarin.

"Nowadays, if you take a route which they don't like, they will be unhappy. Passengers are always telling me, 'Uncle, my time is precious.'"

With more than three decades of driving under his belt, this "taxi uncle" has seen the changes in one of Singapore's most iconic professions, which began in the 1930s, and is facing its greatest disruption now with competition from ride-hailing apps.

Mr Lim himself has jumped "ship".

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Tanjong Pagar Terminal cleared ahead of schedule, port lease expires in 2027

PSA transfers all 500 staff to Pasir Panjang; move could impact property, shipping sectors
By Jacqueline Woo, The Straits Times, 14 Aug 2017

Singapore's great port migration - which has major implications for both the shipping and real estate sectors - has crossed a key milestone well ahead of schedule.

Port operator PSA Singapore has moved all its 500 staff from Tanjong Pagar Terminal to the newer Pasir Panjang Terminal and is dismantling the cranes, as part of plans for the even bigger move to the future mega-port at Tuas. The relocation - well ahead of the city port's lease expiry in 2027 - means PSA might be ready to hand the 80ha site back to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) far earlier than expected.

PSA did not comment on whether it is looking at doing so, but a URA spokesman told The Straits Times: "We are in discussions with PSA on this matter, and are not able to comment further at the moment."

This, in turn, has raised the possibility that plans for the Greater Southern Waterfront project - a sprawling 1,000ha development three times the size of Marina Bay - could kick off faster than expected.

The huge project is to be built on land freed up when the ports in the city, including Tanjong Pagar, and Pasir Panjang are relocated to Tuas.

The Government could set aside some land for release earlier than expected, depending on market conditions and demand, said Ms Alice Tan of property consultancy Knight Frank Singapore.

"With real estate needs changing rapidly along with consumer and business trends, it could make sense for land use planning to evolve more flexibly ahead of changing needs," said Ms Tan, the firm's director and head of consultancy and research.

Mr Desmond Sim, head of CBRE Research for Singapore and South-east Asia, on the other hand, believes it is still much too early to tell if the Greater Southern Waterfront project could start earlier.

"It is a huge project, and there is still a lot of elasticity in land supply today, especially at Marina Bay. So, there is no need to rush and trigger plans for the waterfront area."

That said, Mr Sim noted that both PSA and the state planners would stand to gain if the land is vacated before the lease runs out.

"This would give PSA more buffer time to sort out any teething problems and ensure the handover goes smoothly. For the state planners, getting control of the land earlier... allows them to have more flexibility with planning."

Monday, 14 August 2017

Should I help my patients die?

An American doctor grapples with the ethics and practicalities of being asked to help a patient die
By Jessica Nutik Zitter, Published The Sunday Times, 13 Aug 2017

I was leafing through a patient's chart last year when a colleague tapped me on the shoulder. "I have a patient who is asking about the End of Life Option Act," he said in a low voice. "Can we even do that here?"

I practise both critical and palliative care medicine at a public hospital in Oakland, California. In June last year, our state became the fourth in the nation to allow medical aid in dying for patients suffering from terminal illness. Oregon was the pioneer 20 years ago. Washington and Vermont followed suit more recently. (Colorado voters passed a similar law in November.)

Now, five months after the law took effect here in California, I was facing my first request for assistance to shorten the life of a patient.

That week, I was the attending physician on the palliative care service. Since palliative care medicine focuses on the treatment of all forms of suffering in serious illness, my colleague assumed that I would know what to do with this request. I didn't.

I could see my own discomfort mirrored in his face. "Can you help us with it?" he asked me. "Of course," I said. Then I felt my stomach lurch.

California's law permits physicians to prescribe a lethal cocktail to patients who request it and meet certain criteria: They must be adults expected to die within six months who are able to self-administer the drug and retain the mental capacity to make a decision like this.