The Pioneer plaque.Image via Wikipedia

John Bittleston

succeed@mediacorp.com.sg

IF WE want to prevent the imminent end of the human species as we know it, we need all the creative thought we can muster.

We have less than 20 years to manage technology and keep our ability to decide our future. The alternative is a controlled species of semi-sentient automatons responding to a central decision-making organisation run, perhaps, by bankers.

Several unsuccessful attempts have been made to measure how happy we are. The basic ingredient of happiness - selflessness - is hard to grasp because it has to do with motive as well as action. We do not understand our own motives and are usually wrong about other people's, because everything we do is done for a mixture of selfless and selfish reasons.

That is what the human race has at stake. Our world is interesting and challenging because of its imperfections, not in spite of them. Eradicating them is seen as the road to Valhalla. The journey provides opportunity for character-building, for fun and as a test of our capabilities. The material destination is within sight. The emotional destination has yet to be identified. Now is the time to do that by concerted creative thought and effort.

What do we need to know? What must we do?

Understanding our personalities, what makes us aspire to create "beyond the single need" and how we work should now be top of the agenda, ahead of technological development, more important than health, wealth, longevity and material comfort.

The mind has been neglected in our researches. If 10 per cent of the effort to understand, explain and promote the soul had been devoted to fathoming the mind, we would have been an infinitely more balanced world than we are. If the amount spent on missile shields was matched by that on expanding the mind, the need for missile shields would disappear.

Even setting up the plan for such research requires creative thought beyond what we have achieved so far. We need to put thinking back on the pedestal it occupied in ancient Greece. Many have tried to do this over the centuries. Some have had modest success, but the conclusion has almost always ended up as a reckoning to be reached beyond death rather than one to be achieved on earth.

When we become immortal - very soon - we shall need to address "heavens below" as well as "heavens above".

Brain and mind research must merge so that we discover how developing the one can be matched with expansion of the other. Unleashing the abilities of the mind, which even today are barely understood, will allow man to put technology and material matters in perspective and give us control of our destinies in ways that we have not yet begun to achieve. Singapore is in a unique position to spearhead this.

The arts let us glimpse the potential of our thoughts and feelings, yet we neglect them in favour of war weapons. The emotional intelligence (EI) of the young is more precious to humanity than is the trick of programming stock market transactions, yet there is no EI programme in Business Administration or Economics.

Desire to communicate with and influence millions of people is less important than the yearning to attend to a fellow creature and, in return, receive the same attention from that person.

An uncontrolled race for wealth and technology deprives people of their right to freedom of choice, to self-understanding and to the balanced lifestyle of which we hear so much and for which so little is being done.

Can we pause to put thought before action, mind before matter and understanding before it is too late?

John Bittleston mentors people in business, career and their personal lives at www.TerrificMentors.com

From TODAY, Business – Monday, 28-Sep-2009

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Shashi TharoorImage via Wikipedia

Some lines just can't be crossed… if you do, you'll pay the price…

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MINISTER 'S GAFFE

India's Minister of State for External Affairs, Mr Shashi Tharoor. AFP

NEW DELHI - A row about Twitter went to the top of India's ruling party yesterday, when an Internet-savvy junior minister who made a joke about "holy cow" politicians was called to explain himself.

The Minister of State for External Affairs, Mr Shashi Tharoor (picture), a former United Nations communications chief believed to be the only Twittering minister, held a meeting with Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi about the controversy.

Some news reports suggested he might even lose his job, though television station IBN-CNN said that Mrs Gandhi had "pulled him up" over the issue.

Mr Tharoor has been caught up in a row about austerity measures in the government that saw ministers taking economy-class air travel.

Asked on Twitter if he was travelling economy on a trip to the southern state of Kerala, he replied: "Absolutely, in cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows!"

Cows are considered sacred in Hindu-majority India and Mr Tharoor faced resignation calls from the opposition and the Congress chief minister of the large state of Rajasthan.

Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was asked to comment on the row, called the remark a "joke" on Monday.

Mr Tharoor made no comment to reporters as he left the meeting with Mrs Gandhi, but the lesson appears to have been learnt in a country where social media such as Twitter are taking off - albeit slowly - in the political class.

On Sept 17 he tweeted: "I now realise I should not assume people will appreciate humour and you shouldn't give those who would wilfully distort your words an opportunity to do so (sic)." AFP

From TODAY, World – Wednesday, 23-Sep-2009


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CHINA'S ECONOMIC GROWTH

China will have to rethink its growth strategy if is to be able to sustain economic growth.
AP

STUNG by the global economic crisis, China is searching for a more stable growth model. Vice-president and portfolio manager Jing Ning is responsible for covering Chinese equities and building BlackRock's Chinese equity products and research capability. She offers some thoughts as to the future investment opportunities in China.

China's economy has enjoyed explosive growth over the past two decades. Its stock markets have rallied along with this growth, delivering huge returns to foreign and domestic investors alike, with the MSCI China growing over 420 per cent since January 2003.

The foundations of this growth lay in the confluence of several crucial factors; an enormous pool of cheap labour, an inexpensive currency, a massive Western appetite for consumption and the availability of easy credit. At this point, when China's cost advantages are dissipating, its currency is under pressure to appreciate, Westerners have rediscovered the value of thrift and the credit binge has so spectacularly collapsed, a discerning investor may well ask if China's economic boom, and the opportunities it offered, have come to an end.

China at a cross-roads

The events of the past year have illustrated that China needs a more stable growth model. Its export market has been badly hit and only an unprecedented injection of 4 trillion yuan ($828 billion) has sustained its economic growth. China's pockets, although deep, are not infinite. A new driving force is needed if the economy is to grow.

The good news is that the next catalyst for growth may already be emerging. Two forces - domestic consumption and higher productivity - combined have the ability to be every bit as powerful as the export-driven model before it.

The rise of the middle class

China's workers are aspiring to middle-class comforts and increasingly have the means to gain them. Over the next 15 years, it is estimated that the proportion of the Chinese population with incomes over US$3,000 ($4,238) pa will rise from less than 20 to almost 80 per cent. This dollar figure is crucial - evidence suggests that above US$3,500 pa spending on the discretionary comforts of middle-class life - a washing machine, an air conditioner, a small car - really takes off. Significantly, this rate of growth is predicted to be faster than that of Brazil, Russia or India, its "Bric" peers.

Moving up the value chain

Research and development budgets in China have doubled between 1996 and 2005. The establishment of high quality medical research centres in China in recent years shows increasing sophistication. China's government has recognised that an emerging market can easily replicate a low-cost export model. It has the ability to build some intellectual capital and move into more sophisticated areas. This is harder to replicate and ultimately leads to more stable growth.

As always, reward is accompanied by risk and China's move to continued growth with more stability must be careful and controlled.

A delicate balancing act

In the short-term, the government is attempting a delicate balancing act. It aims to achieve annual economic growth near 8 per cent to absorb 20 million new workers each year and maintain social stability. It has only maintained this rate in the past three quarters via a flood of cheap credit.

However, much of this credit is funding speculation in stocks and property, raising the possibility of short-term assets bubbles. Economic overheating is also a concern as inflationary pressures build. The government is wary of both and has begun to "talk down" the market in recent weeks with some signs of success.

The demographic sweet spot ends

China needs to contend with an ageing population and the burden it places on those working. The government's major challenge is to establish adequate social security systems over the next 30 years to ensure that an aging population is cared for without stymieing growth.

The next Big Thing

The government's commitment to this new growth path can been seen in the 4 trillion yuan stimulus package that pulled China through the global recession. While the spending on rail, housing, roads and other hard infrastructure was well publicised, the soft elements attracted fewer headlines. These elements, such as investment in medical, education, ecology, technical innovation and regulation yield less now, but are arguably more important to sustainable growth in the long-run. The inclusion of these in the package demonstrates that, even as China's government was scrambling to avert a short-term crisis, it still had one eye fixed on the new path for China's growth.

We believe that the combination of consumption and productivity can be every bit as powerful as the export-led boom of the past three decades. Domestic consumption only contributed 35 per cent to GDP last year - the potential for expansion is huge. Where the investment opportunities in the past few decades were in exporting manufacturers, going forward it could be the high-end clothing, the domestic automobile and the private education sectors which deliver huge gains. The technology and healthcare sectors are still in the early stages of infancy - the gains in these sectors still lie in the future.

From TODAY, Business – Thursday, 17-Sep-2009


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Two construction workers at work.Image via Wikipedia

Ong Dai Lin

dailin@mediacorp.com.sg

FOR a skilled worker, how much weight does the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) place on his educational qualifications when approving his permanent resident application?

This was the question raised by Judge of Appeal V K Rajah during an appeal hearing involving China national Lin Shuliang. The latter is appealing against his two weeks' jail sentence after he pleaded guilty to lying to the ICA.

Lin, 38, submitted a permanent residency application form to ICA in July last year, claiming that he had graduated from the Fuqing San Shan Middle School in Fujian province and also attached a school-leaving certificate with his application.

ICA found the information to be false. Lin had only completed half of his studies in the school and did not graduate from it.

Lin came to Singapore in 1993 and was employed as a construction worker. He later rose to become the boss of two building firms.

During yesterday's hearing, Justice Rajah said in Lin's case, it is "quite clear that the basis for any approval of his status will be based on his skills more than the educational qualifications".

Justice Rajah said that for him to assess the severity of Lin's offence, he needs to know how much weight the ICA places on education qualifications when assessing a person's permanent resident application.

"The more material it is, the bigger is the sin."

Justice Rajah has instructed the prosecution to get more information from ICA on the criteria it uses to approve a person's permanent resident status.

The case will be heard again in the Court of Appeal on Friday.

From TODAY, News – Wednesday, 16-Sep-2009


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Have you ever thought of excelling in your job to the point that you know more than what you are supposed to? To the good side, I mean…

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Lynette Koh

lynettek@mediacorp.com.sg

Knowledge is power - and this is particularly true when a salesperson is attempting to convince me to part with hundreds of hard-earned dollars.

More than once, I found myself buying a certain product because a salesperson was able to detail and demonstrate the innumerable ways in which it would improve my life.

This was how I recently ended up carting home a top-of-the-line garment steamer from an electronics store, even though my original intention had been to stand around looking bored while waiting for the boyfriend to buy yet another Wii game.

It started when a salesman called out to me as I strolled past a collection of clothes steamers.

I had long harboured a secret fascination for these appliances, but had never seriously considered buying one. But well, I thought, why not learn more about them while my companion was busy emptying the video game shelves?

Heartened by my show of interest, the salesman embarked on his spiel. Using his ready collection of shirts, ties and assorted swaths of fabrics, he demonstrated how easy it was to use a steamer to smoothen out wrinkles, which he created beforehand with vigorous scrunching.

He had an answer for each of my questions: Could I use it for all kinds of materials? (Yes, he said, demonstrating his point using a ruffled silk shirt.) How long could I leave the water in the tank? (One week.) What were the differences between the different models? (There were several, which he proceeded to list.)

At this point, we had been joined by my boyfriend - as well as an inquisitive family of tourists - who joined us in interrogating the salesman. As I watched him steam a shirt collar into smooth submission, I decided that a steamer was exactly what I needed.

Later, as the boyfriend puffed along beside me, carrying my new purchase, I mused about how important it is for salespeople to know their stuff.

Having a firm grasp of what one is selling applies not only to the retail industry, but the service industry as well.

Recently, I accompanied my friend to a mobile phone retail and service outlet. My perennially broke pal was toying with the idea of changing her service plan because she felt that her phone bill was too high.

If I had been manning the service counter, I told her, my proposed solution would have been: "Talk less."

Thankfully for my friend, the sales representative was able to offer much more constructive advice.

Retrieving her records from their database, he broke down the specifics of her monthly phone usage, noting that the bulk of her expenses came from making calls to the Netherlands.

He explained that her calls to the United States were charged at a much lower rate, as the country was covered under the company's International Direct Dialling (IDD) scheme.

Mulling over this, my friend asked if she would be able to reduce the size of her phone bill if she downgraded her service plan.

Smiling, the salesperson whipped out a calculator, tapping out various figures. After a couple of minutes, he explained why it made sense for my friend to stay on the same service plan, considering her current phone usage.

If she downgraded her service plan - which would mean substantially less free talk time and SMSes - she would simply ended up paying the same, or more, each month.

While he was able to answer all her service - related questions with confidence and a smile, he was slightly stumped when she asked about new mobile phone models.

This was understandable, however, because the outlet had different team members specialising in specific customer concerns.

Nonetheless, we were pleased that the salesperson made it a point to go to his colleague to get a few answers for my friend - rather than telling us to join another service queue.

Eventually, my friend decided to keep her plan, and to get a new phone from the store when her contract ended in two months.

Sure, she would still be paying quite a bit for her phone bills - but at least she would now know why.

From TODAY, Voices - Monday, 14-Sep-2009


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October 10, 2009

Speaking The Truth

ODB RADIO: Listen Now Download
READ: 2 Chron. 24:15-22

He sent prophets to them, . . . but they would not listen. —2 Chronicles 24:19

In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is a respected small-town lawyer in the segregated South during the 1930s. When he takes on a case that pits an innocent black man against two dishonest white people, Atticus knows he will face terrible prejudice from the jury. But his conscience compels him to speak the truth boldly in the face of opposition.

The Old Testament prophets were often sent to preach the truth to a stubborn people. “[God] sent prophets to them, to bring them back to the Lord; and they testified against them, but they would not listen” (2 Chron. 24:19). Their message often resulted in persecution and sometimes even death (Heb. 11:32-38).

During Christ’s ministry on earth, His message also resulted in angry opposition (Luke 4:21-30). Yet, in the sovereignty of God, the terrible miscarriage of justice that sentenced Jesus to death on the cross purchased our redemption. Now, as representatives of the risen Christ in this world, we are to promote reconciliation, justice, and integrity (Mic. 6:8; 2 Cor. 5:18-21). And in so doing, this may mean speaking the truth in the face of opposition. This is the charge to every believer until that day when Christ sets all things right (Rev. 20:11-15). — Dennis Fisher

The life that counts must toil and fight,
Must hate the wrong and love the right;
Must stand for truth, by day, by night—
This is the life that counts. —Anon.

It’s better to declare the truth and be rejected than to withhold the truth just to be accepted.



For similar resources, search these topics:

Basics Of Faith > God > Authority
Basics Of Faith > God > Sovereignty
Christian Life > Character > Christlikeness
Christian Life > Character > Integrity

Bible in One Year: Isaiah 34-36; Colossians 2
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TAKING CHARGE

John Bittleston

succeed@mediacorp.com.sg

WOULD mankind have done better if our forecasting had been more accurate? Would we have taken steps to avoid climate disruption by imposing criteria on technological change that would have slowed it?

Would our handling of capitalism have been smarter if we had predicted the forces we were releasing, even if our control of it had made us poorer?

What is certain is that the forecasters would have been (in some cases, were) burnt at the stake. We dislike people telling us the truth, preferring to be lulled into a false sense of security rather than face the dragon.

In the past, the consequences of our behaviour, even when clearly seen by a few, materialised slowly. We now know that survival of the human species is threatened in its present form within a single lifetime.

That should concentrate the collective mind. The moral nature of human beings is unlikely to change significantly.

The good and bad, the yin and yang will probably be there as long as we have free will to decide between selfish and collective options.

When that freedom is lost, our behaviour will be controlled by whoever is in charge of the apparatus running our brains. As we know, that apparatus - the wholly artificial brain - will be with us within 10 years.

Many are already worried by the consequences of the advanced computer and its contribution to the recent failure of the world's financial system. Computer-programmed stock market and money market trading were partly responsible for what happened. How is the computer going to deal with the after-effects of money-printing - the apparent, if facile, solution to finance gone mad?

A sentient, or at least semi-sentient, robot will follow within 10 years of the wholly artificial brain, allowing us, if we wish, to become physically and brain-sustainably immortal.

Since immortals never die, there will be increasing demand for the limited resources of the planet, depending, of course, on robot maintenance needs. It is even possible there will be reduced demand for the planet's fruits since robots will probably not need to eat or reproduce and their entertainment may exist wholly and cheaply in a virtual world.

Most people either refute these forecasts or declare, unhelpfully, they would rather die. Experience suggests they are wrong about both these attitudes.

The exponential rate of technological development is staggering.

Almost within my lifetime, we have gone from Charles Lindbergh's first flight across the Atlantic to Neil Armstrong's landing on the moon.

And there is repeated evidence that when it comes to the crunch, we would prefer to survive in the world we know, however changed, than head into an unknown existence, however deeply believed in. That would be even truer if pain, disease and ignorance were abolished.

What do we need to do to ensure that the species succeeding us, and which will have many of our characteristics, is more fulfilled and happier than we are collectively today?

Fulfilment and happiness are the two basic criteria for a satisfactory life. But exhortation to behave better has a poor record of success since one rotten apple still contaminates the whole barrel.

The brilliance that led to the Industrial Revolution, then to Slave Liberation and more recently to the Communications Revolution must now lead to the Creative Revolution. That is the next intellectual step in man's existence. The human ability to think is still, for all its successes, hugely undeveloped.

Thought that has been channelled to enhancing and prolonging life must now be devoted to understanding what makes life worthwhile. In my next article, I shall explore how this might happen and what will be its effect on business.

John Bittleston mentors people in business, career and their personal lives at www.TerrificMentors.com.

From TODAY, Business – Monday, 07-Sep-2009


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Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase

How businesses are evolving due to the social networking functionalities…

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ALTERNATIVE ADVERTISING


CHICAGO - People around the world interact with Ms Alecia Dantico all day. Usually, though, they don't know whether she's young or old, male or female.

What her followers on Facebook and Twitter know is that's she's a friendly, sometimes sassy, blue and gold tin of Garrett Popcorn. That's the icon of the popular Chicago-based snack food that has tourists and locals lining up around the block at locations here and in New York City.

And when Ms Dantico sends out a "virtual tin" of popcorn to a fan over Twitter, she's breaking new ground in the way companies market themselves, joining a growing number of social media experts hired to man Twitter, Facebook and similar sites.

"My day starts on Twitter and it doesn't end," Ms Dantico says. She keeps her BlackBerry on at all hours to respond to followers in different time zones.

She mentions popcorn in her Tweets, and has helped customers secure tins, but never implores followers to buy some. Successful selling through social media is much more subtle.

"Some days we talk about the weather. Some days we talk about the 'Chicken Dance.' Some days we talk about recipes and parties and shipping Garretts to Cabo for a wedding."

Multinational corporations, such as Ford Motor and Coca-Cola, are using social media to increase positive sentiment, build customer rapport and correct misinformation, says Mr Adam Brown, Coca-Cola's Atlanta-based director of social media.

The lightning-fast pace of social media, and Twitter in particular, has forced businesses to react in a whole new way.

"If you don't respond within three or four hours, you might as well not respond at all," says Mr Brown. For example, a man on Twitter recently expressed annoyance at his difficulty in claiming an all-expenses paid trip he'd won through the My Coke Rewards programme. He Tweeted: "Coca-Cola, bring down your drawbridge," recalls Mr Brown.

Within about a half-an-hour, Mr Brown had engaged the customer on Twitter, got on the phone with him and resolved the problem. Not long after, the man changed his Twitter avatar to a can of Coke Zero.

Like Mr Brown, digital and multimedia communications manager Scott Monty is creating a social-media strategy for his company, Ford Motor.

"The beautiful thing about Twitter and Facebook is that it's a one-to-one conversation," Mr Monty says.

However, whether your business is large or small, Mr Monty says it is better to stand back and listen before diving in. AP

From TODAY, Business – Monday, 07-Sep-2009


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Am I seeing this as a decline in the human intelligence and dispensation of intellect, or is this some kind of a breakthrough on humanity's really "free living" style?

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WAR ON DRUGS

Mexico, Argentina move toward decriminalisation

CARACAS - Argentina and Mexico have taken significant steps towards decriminalising drugs amid a growing Latin American backlash against the United States-sponsored "war on drugs".

Argentina's Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional to punish people for using marijuana for personal consumption, an eagerly-awaited judgment that gave the government the green light to push for further liberalisation.

It followed Mexico's decision to stop prosecuting people for possession of relatively small quantities of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other drugs. Instead, they will be referred to clinics and treated as patients, not criminals.

Brazil and Ecuador are also considering partial decriminalisation as part of a regional swing away from a decades-old policy of crackdowns still favoured by Washington.

"The tide is clearly turning. The 'war on drugs' strategy has failed," Mr Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a former Brazilian President, told The Guardian. Earlier this year, he and two former Presidents of Colombia and Mexico published a landmark report calling for a new departure.

Reform campaigners have long argued that criminalisation enriched drug cartels, fuelled savage turf wars, corrupted state institutions and filled prisons with addicts who presented no real threat to society.

The US used its considerable influence to keep Latin America and the United Nations wedded to hardline policies which kept the focus on interdictions and jail sentences for consumers as well as dealers.

The economic and social cost has emboldened some Latin American states to try new approaches.

Argentina's Supreme Court, presented with a case about youth arrested with a few joints, ruled last week that such behaviour did not violate the Constitution. "Each adult is free to make lifestyle decisions without the intervention of the state," it said.
The previous week, the government of Mexico, which has endured horrific drug-related violence, made it no longer an offence to possess 0.5g of cocaine, 5g of marijuana, 50mg of heroin and 40mg of methamphetamine.

Three years ago, Mexico backtracked on similar legislation after the initiative triggered howls of outrage in the US.

Now, however, the authorities quietly say they need to free up resources and jail space for a military-led war on the drug cartels, even while publicly justifying that offensive to the Mexican public with the slogan "to stop the drugs reaching your children".

Washington did not protest against the announcement. "I predict that when the US sees its nightmare has not come true and that there is no narco-tourist boom it will come under more pressure to legalise or decriminalise," said Mr Walter McKay, of the Mexico City-based Institute for Security and Democracy.

Argentina and Mexico's moves may encourage other governments to follow suit. A new law has been mooted in Ecuador, where President Rafael Correa last year pardoned 1,500 "mules" who had been sentenced to jail.

Brazil's Supreme Court is in favour of decriminalising possession of small quantities of drugs, said former judge Maria Lucia Karam, who has joined the advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

She said repression remained a cornerstone of drug policy. "The 'war on drugs' mentality is still the dominant policy approach in Latin America. The only way to reduce violence ... is to legalise the production, supply and consumption of all drugs." THE GUARDIAN

From TODAY, World – Wednesday, 02-Sep-2009


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Will this be the answer, or will it have its own set of problems, compounding the situation…?

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RIO DE JANEIRO - Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on Monday vowed to pump billions of petrodollars into the war on poverty in the wake of one of the world's biggest oil discoveries this decade.

Mr Lula said on radio: "Monday, Aug 31, represents a new independence day for Brazil.

"We are talking about a discovery of oil that is almost 6,000m (under the sea), huge reserves that place Brazil among the biggest oil producers in the world."

He claimed that the planned legislation would allow profits to be used to "take care of" education and poverty once and for all.

State-controlled energy company Petrobras discovered the Tupi oilfield, estimated to contain about 8 billion barrels of oil, off the country's south-east coast in November 2007.

The discovery led Brazil to suspend the auctioning of all offshore oil blocks pending new legislation, intended to give the government a larger slice of profits. Mr Lula is expected to create a "social fund" to channel oil profits into poverty-reduction initiatives.

The opposition has heavily criticised the changes. THE GUARDIAN

From TODAY, World – Wednesday, 02-Sep-2009

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WASHINGTON - Women with more of the hormone testosterone tend to behave more like men when taking financial risks, according to a new study.

"Women with higher levels of testosterone turn out to be less risk averse, more willing to take risks," said Mr Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago.

Known as the male sex hormone, testosterone occurs in both men and women, but at higher levels in men. It has long been associated with competitiveness and dominance, reduction of fear, and with risky behaviours like gambling and alcohol use. Previous research in England showed that higher levels of testosterone seem able to boost short term success at finance.

Researchers there tested male traders morning and evening, and found that those with higher levels of testosterone in the morning were more likely to make an unusually big profit that day.

The study found that married men and women had lower levels of testosterone than single individuals. AP

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From TODAY, World – Wednesday, 26-Aug-2009

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Cropped version of a photo from WhiteHouse.gov...Image via Wikipedia

A late post, but this is something to be remembered… where are we headed in Singapore?

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NEWS COMMENT

Nazry Bahrawi


ONE thing is likely to stick in the minds of many for some time to come about the Prime Minister's National Day Rally speech: His reference to Singapore being in a "Garden of Eden state".

But the biblical imagery came with a warning - that race and religion remain "the most visceral and dangerous fault line" in this little red dot of a nation.

And one way to prevent the line being crossed is to keep politics and religion separate, Mr Lee Hsien Loong said.

But is it really possible to view politics and religion as mutually exclusive, even though that may be the most viable option for a multi-religious nation like Singapore?

In fact, several scholars have suggested that the nature of religious movements is inherently political.

Professor Linda Woodhead from Lancaster University's religious studies department posits that the Roman Emperor Constantine embraces Christianity because he believes that a church-state alliance could help unite the people of his diverse empire under the ambit of Christianity. Most noticeably, Constantine was known for propagating the Edict of Milan which preached tolerance of other faiths in his empire.

Meanwhile, scholars like James Piscatori suggests that Islam has been a political movement since its birth. He points to Prophet Muhammad's creation of the Medinan society, complete with its own constitution which outlined conditions on how Jewish and Muslim tribes should live together. Before the Prophet came to Medina, he preached the Islamic faith in Mecca where Muslims were persecuted.

As such, I don't think we can address the issue of growing religiosity in Singapore without acknowledging its political link - and finding ways to harness that link in a way that will not be inimical to national interests.

One way to ensure that religion and politics do not end up as a combustible mixture is to listen to all religious groups which want a say on political issues so that their voices are acknowledged. Such a move would also ensure that no one voice becomes dominant.

One could argue that divergent voices are exactly what a Singapore that aspires to be a Renaissance City needs. Views and counter-views contribute towards the making of better policies - and help to keep Singapore in tune with the times.

A failure to engage individuals and groups with divergent views may send them "underground" only to re-emerge as a force that could threaten social cohesion - the very thing that the Government wants to avoid by separating politics and religion in the first place.

The Aware saga serves as a good warning of how a religious grouping, feeling its views challenged, decides to organise itself to take over a secular organisation. Acting on good intentions, their move ended up dividing Singapore society.


Brain drain in 'Garden of Eden'

Race and religion apart, one suspects that Mr Lee's reference to the "Garden of Eden state" is also more than just about maintaining Singapore's religious and racial harmony. It could also be read as an effort to arrest the acute problem of the nation's brain drain.

Only two months ago, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, speaking at the 70th anniversary dinner of Chung Cheng High School, revealed that more than one in five of Singapore's top A-level graduates from the 1996-1999 batches are working overseas today. This group would be between 28 and 32 years old. In other words, they are talent in the prime of their lives - and careers.

This group could very well figure among the 1,200 overseas users who had caught the live streaming of Sunday's rally on Channel NewsAsia's microsite, or read about it later at the online portals of local newspapers.

In this light, Mr Lee's remarks that "if you leave the Garden of Eden, you cannot get back in again" could be aimed at reminding this group what they stand to lose if they decide to leave Singapore for good.

If one considers recent developments in Europe, Mr Lee's statement could not have come at a more appropriate time.

The European Union parliamentary elections in June suggested a shift towards the rhetoric of far-right politics as voters elected a slew of politicians from anti-immigration parties in the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Slovakia and Hungary. In the United Kingdom, the highly conservative British National Party, which opposes mass immigration, even clinched two seats for the first time.

And with European economies unlikely to experience boom time anytime soon, anti-immigration sentiments could be expected to rise and rise. If this comes to pass, then those Singaporeans who have left may decide that the grass is actually greener in this "Garden of Eden state".


The writer is pursuing a postgraduate degree at the University of Edinburgh under the British Chevening scholarship.

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Taken from TODAY, Comment – Tuesday, 25-Aug-2009


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El Saharara oil field, in Libya, operated by R...Image via Wikipedia

Up and down, up and down, due to Euro, due to US dollar, due to whatever…

Having reached US$76/barrel, oil price now slides down… to where who knows?

Read the latest story on oil price here.

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Detail from Government. Mural by Elihu Vedder....Image via Wikipedia

How would you want to be in the generations to come? On a national level, what programs is your government creating to make sure that survival and competitiveness is ensured for the nation as a whole?

For Singapore, read that news story here.

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Former president of the Philippines at the 200...Image via Wikipedia

Corazon Aquino, after a long battle with cancer, dies.

Philippine leaders, including Gloria Arroyo, pays respect.

Read that story here.

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Philippine President Corazon C. Aquino greets ...

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When your earthly tenure has ended, and you are departed from the land of the living, what can be said of you, by those who know you, by those whom you love, by those who dislike you, and by those who esteem you with high regard?

Singapore govt describes late Corazon Aquino as remarkable woman

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President Aquino was named by Time Magazine as...

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After all the many prayers and masses held for the healing of President Cory Aquino, she transpired, finally, after her battle with cancer, which already spread to her internal organs.

She has already expressed readiness to depart, and that has readied her family and relatives on her imminent demise.

Ex-Philippine president Corazon Aquino dies

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mind your language

Communication major dimensions schemeImage via Wikipedia

John Bittleston, succeed@mediacorp.com.sg

AN EXCELLENT way to destroy a society or an organisation is to drown it in jargon.

Over the past decade, there has been serious murder of the language.

As our technical ability to communicate quickly and efficiently has increased - exponentially in the last few years - so abuse by incompetently and unnecessarily invented language has grown to match it, in all languages. Pick up any official document, any terms and conditions, any contract between two organisations or people and you will see dozens of examples.

Many organisations want to confuse the customer. Did you read the small print on the last insurance or banking contract you signed? I doubt it. Even if you could see the 6-point font in which it was produced, it is unlikely you would have understood more than a fifth of the words. You were probably being urged to sign it quickly while the "special offer" lasted. This is theft, but don't try prosecuting.

You have already signed away your rights to honest dealing, competence, promptness and redress. You have been changed from victim into perpetrator.

Then there is self-aggrandisement. Spouting a lot of words or mnemonics that others don't understand makes some people imagine they are successful and important. They are merely making themselves appear ridiculous and insecure.

A more complex slaughter of the language is caused by the widening gap between the sound-bite and the so-called research paper.

The fact that the world is becoming a more complex place is surely a signal for simpler, clearer communications.

We cannot avoid soundbites, and relevant ones have been with mankind since the dawn of civilisation. The warning grunt of Neanderthal Man alerting others to the arrival of hostile creatures and the sigh of the lovelorn for knowledge they are denied are both useful and expressive soundbites. But a soundbite is to communication what a peanut is to dinner: Titillating but unsatisfying.

At the other extreme is the Research Paper. Deep studies of our world are vital and welcome. They have been the basis of our longevity, our increasingly fulfilled and pain-free lives and our material well-being. Without them, progress would be slow, sporadic and uncertain.

However, truly good papers are well-researched, intelligible, devoid of unnecessary complexity and brief. World War II was won by the Allies because they insisted that all paper submissions be restricted to one page. Long, tortuous documents allowing the author to cover his posterior were forbidden.

It is widely agreed the world is becoming a more complex place. It has certainly been so in my lifetime. This should surely be seen as the signal for simpler, clearer communications, not for increasingly confusing ones. I wish it were practical to impose a word tax; alas, it is not.

Easy and cheap access to communication of every sort offers the possibility of more widespread appreciation of the arts and a deeper understanding of man's true spirituality - the beauty he creates himself with the tools he was given at birth.

Do any of the communications degrees so ardently studied today provide this kind of appreciation? Have these courses contributed to the real quality of life?

But this is what communication is about. Increased years of life are wasted if, at the end, we cannot say that we have had, within the limits imposed by our genes and the environment in which we were raised, a fulfilled life. Any education that does not contribute to all aspects of fulfilment is not education but training. Any communication that fails to enhance the quality of the precious gift we are given at birth is not informing but selling.

A good education and true communication together make life wonderfully fulfilled.

John Bittleston mentors people in business, career and their personal lives at www.TerrificMentors.com.

From TODAY, Business – Monday, 27-Jul-2009

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