Saturday, August 29, 2009

SAUDI ARABIA: First attack on royalty

RIYADH: A suicide bomber lightly wounded a senior prince largely credited for Saudi Arabia's anti-terrorism campaign, when he blew up a bomb he was carrying near a gathering of well-wishers for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the state news agency said yesterday.

It was the first known assassination attempt against a member of the royal family since Saudi Arabia began its crackdown on Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants eight years ago, following the Sept 11 terror attacks in the United States.

Prince Mohammed Nayef, the Assistant Interior Minister in charge of security, was receiving guests in Jeddah at the end of the day's Ramadan fast, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.

The royal court said the bomber was a wanted terrorist who had approached the Prince under the pretext of giving himself up.

It is customary for senior members of the royal family to hold regular open gatherings at which citizens can air grievances, seek settlement of financial or other disputes, or offer congratulations.

The bomber detonated explosives packed inside a mobile phone while he was undergoing security checks, SPA said.

Upon hearing of the attack, King Abdullah swiftly headed to the hospital to which the prince had been taken, according to the agency. It said the prince was later discharged from hospital and that the bomber was the only casualty.

Saudi TV showed images of the prince after the attack. SPA also posted a photo of him receiving King Abdullah at the hospital.

The anti-terror chief did not seem affected by his ordeal and the only sign of injury was a bandage on the middle finger of his left hand.

'This will only increase our determination to eradicate this (militancy),' said Prince Mohammed. He is the son of Interior Minister Nayef Abdel Aziz, who is third in line to the Saudi throne.

The Saudi wing of Al-Qaeda was swift to claim responsibility.

In a statement posted on an Islamic website late on Thursday, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said it was behind the attack, according to the US-based monitoring group, SITE Intelligence.

The Interior Ministry has spearheaded the kingdom's aggressive campaign against terrorism, one that has intensified since militants first struck in the kingdom in May 2003.

Prince Mohammed has been largely credited with the government's recent success in crushing the violence.

The country is the birthplace of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and was home to 15 of the 19 Sept 11 hijackers.

On Aug 19, the authorities announced the arrests of 44 suspected militants with Al-Qaeda links in a year-long sweep that also uncovered dozens of machine guns and electronic circuits for bombs.

Last month, Saudi officials said a Saudi criminal court had convicted and sentenced 330 Al-Qaeda militants to jail terms, fines and travel bans in the country's first known trials for suspected members of the terror group.

The 330 were among 991 suspected militants who the Interior Minister said have been charged with participating in terrorist attacks over the past five years.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

WH3.3.9 War in the Pacific

  • Double period: Chapter outline, slides and worksheets can be downloaded under War in the Pacific.
  • Triple Period: Video - Hiroshima.
  • CA2 scripts and review. You can check your marks under SCORES. You need to apply viewer permit with your google account. It's the same account you use for RESOURCES, DISCUSSION and this BLOG (when it's locked).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A case of enhanced reliability?

'Normally, when we stop suspected smugglers or carry out routine checks, people panic or show some signs of nervousness if they are hiding something.

'But this man was so calm and composed that I became suspicious. He even smiled and calmly said he had nothing to declare when I asked him if he had any items to declare.'

'Too cool' traveller caught with $200k worth of Ice at airport
By Wendy Hui

Nearly 1kg of the drug methamphetamine or Ice was allegedly found in a secret compartment of the man's bag. -- PHOTO: ICA

THE man's serene demeanour as he walked towards the Customs green channel at the arrival hall of Changi Airport Terminal 2 on Thursday night aroused the suspicion of the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officer on duty.

The 31-year-old Malaysian was stopped, and his luggage screened.

The officer's hunch was right: Close to 1kg of a crystallised substance - allegedly methamphetamine, also known as Ice, with a minimum street value of $200,000 - was found in a transparent plastic bag in a secret compartment of the passenger's trolley bag.

The ICA officer described the man - who was wearing a formal business suit and on a social visit pass - as being 'too calm'.

'Normally, when we stop suspected smugglers or carry out routine checks, people panic or show some signs of nervousness if they are hiding something.

'But this man was so calm and composed that I became suspicious. He even smiled and calmly said he had nothing to declare when I asked him if he had any items to declare.'

The man's trolley luggage had allegedly been modified with a concealed compartment near the handle mechanism. In an X-ray scan of the trolley luggage, ICA officers found the compartment secured with 10 screws.

They alerted the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB). Officers from the ICA and the CNB unscrewed the concealed compartment and found the alleged drugs.

Methamphetamine abusers formed 16 per cent of all drug abusers arrested from January to June this year, second only to heroin abusers, who made up 57 per cent of all those arrested.

According to a report released by the CNB earlier this month, 1.47kg of methamphetamine was seized in the first half of this year, 50 per cent more than in the same period last year. ST22/8/09

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Health-care debate: Myths and realities

Invented immediately after World War II, Britain's National Health Service (NHS) served as an inspiration for many countries which wanted to create a universal, state-funded health-care system.

Yet, to the amazement of politicians in London, their cherished institution has now been dragged into a vicious political debate in the United States.

Opponents of President Barack Obama's health-care reform proposals have accused the White House of seeking to copy the British model, complete with its alleged 'Orwellian bureaucracy', its 'rationing' of health care and its supposed willingness to let older people die in order to save money.

The criticisms have elicited a fierce bipartisan response from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and opposition leader David Cameron. They both have interrupted their summer holidays in order to defend their country's reputation.

As is often the case in such debates, facts are not allowed to interfere with prejudices. Yet facts do matter, for they paint a nuanced picture. Simply put, Britain's health-care system is nowhere near as bad as some Americans believe, and it is hardly anywhere near as perfect as British politicians claim.

The NHS is a bureaucratic monster. It is the biggest single employer in Europe and the third largest employer in the world - after China's People's Liberation Army and US retailer Wal-Mart. It is also heavily centralised.

Nor is it 'free', as ordinary Britons often say. The institution is funded through a tax levy which, on average, removes 10 per cent of a worker's salary. There is no way of opting out. Even those who have health insurance and wish to be treated in private hospitals still have to pay the levy.

The NHS devours 17.5 per cent of Britain's annual fiscal budget, almost as much as defence and education combined.

Is it worth it? The World Health Organisation (WHO) places Britain's health-care system in the 18th place in a global league of health-care systems. The US system is ranked 37th. Average life expectancy is one year longer in Britain, compared with the US. And all of this is achieved while spending far less than the US on a per capita basis.

To be sure, the US leads the world in high-tech surgery, and particularly in some cancer treatments, where the British record remains appalling.

To take just one example: At the moment, there are three pioneering ways of treating prostate cancer in the US. Two of these are unavailable in Britain, and the third is very hard to get.

However, the explanation for this discrepancy is obvious: As prostate cancer affects middle-aged men who pay most of the insurance premiums, US health companies have every reason to invest heavily in tackling it.

Nevertheless, when it comes to chronic illnesses such as diabetes, which require lengthy treatment, the British model would appear to be better, precisely because it is not driven by profit.

The biggest and most emotive dispute just now is over the concept of rationing, the allegation that Britain's NHS would either refuse to keep alive those who are too old or simply not treat those who need very expensive medication.

There is no such policy. Yet, in reality, a rationing system does exist.

For example, Britain operates a National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence - or Nice, as it calls itself, with an eye to good publicity.

Theoretically, Nice is supposed to just evaluate new drugs and surgical methods in order to determine whether these are safe and efficient. But it does more than that: It refuses to authorise any drug that will cost more than S$65,000 per life year gained.

Of course, the figure is arbitrary and, for those whose life is terminated as a result, a tragedy.

Nevertheless, as Nice chairman Michael Rawlings recently pointed out: 'All health-care systems have implicitly, if not explicitly, adopted some form of cost control.'

In the US, rationing also exists, albeit differently. Insurance companies routinely exclude certain illnesses from the coverage of their patients, or simply refuse to insure those who are too risky or too old.

The real question which Americans should ask themselves is what kind of rationing is worse - that of Britain, which may deprive its people of some of the latest technological innovations, or that of the US, where roughly 45 million citizens have no proper coverage at all?

Ordinary Americans would also do well to ponder why their country spends twice as much on health care as the rest of the industrialised world, but enjoys no better overall results.

Mr David Hannan, a British MP, had the courage to argue earlier this week that the US should blend the NHS model with that of Singapore - sixth on the WHO ranking - 'where people can opt out of a state-run system and into health savings accounts, giving them more choice'.

Yet Mr Hannan's intervention was dismissed by the entire British political elite as either unpatriotic or just eccentric.

So both sides of the Atlantic still agree on at least one point: Myths about the alleged superiority of their existing health-care systems remain more important than reality. By Jonathan Eyal, Straits Times Europe Bureau. ST20/8/09

Saturday, August 15, 2009

WH3.3.8 War in the Pacific

  • Double period: Chapter outline, slides and worksheets can be downloaded under War in the Pacific.
  • Triple Period: Video - Japan's War in Colour.
  • For your CA2 preparation, you can check out Sri Lanka/Northern Ireland SEQ compilation.
  • Bring note books for checking. History: notes completed up till War in Europe. Social Studies: notes completed up till Bonding Singapore. Those without will sit out video session.


Double Period

  • Social Studies Mock Exam (Elderly-Healthcare-Venice) Suggested Answers can be downloaded here.
  • Review of SS SBQ (Housing Quota)
  • SBQ Practise on WWII Europe/Nazi Germany (Bring SBQ worksheet on Hitler: Road to War)

Ceylon Citizenship Act

A brief timeline of the Sri Lankan plantation sector from PACT on Vimeo.

For your CA2 revision, check out compilation of Sri Lanka & Northern Ireland SEQs here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Context! Context! Context!

If the balloons popped, the sound would not be able to carry since everything would be too far away from the correct floor. A closed window would also prevent the sound from carrying since most buildings tend to be well insulated. Since the whole operation depends on a steady flow of electricity, a break in the middle of the wire would also cause problems. Of course the fellow could shout, but the human voice is not loud enough to carry that far. An additional problem is that a string could break on the instrument. Then there could be no accompaniment to the message. It is clear that the best situation would involve less distance. Then there would be fewer potential problems. With face to face contact, the least number of things could go wrong.

What is the context? Post in comments.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What is Context? (Again)

Rocky slowly got up from the mat, planning his escape. He hesitated a moment and thought. Things were not going well. What bothered him most was being helpless, especially since the charge against him had been weak. He considered his present situation. The lock that held him was strong but he thought he could break it. He knew however that his timing would have to be perfect. Rocky was aware that it was because of his early roughness that he had been penalised so severely, much too severely from his point of view. The situation was becoming frustrating; the pressure had been grinding on him for too long. He was being ridden unmercifully. Rocky was getting angry now. He felt he was ready to make his move. He knew that his success or failure would depend on what he did in the next few seconds.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What is Context?

Every Saturday night, four good friends get together. When Jerry, Mike and Pat arrived, Karen was sitting in here living room writing some notes. She quickly gathered the cards and stood up to greet her friends at the door. They followed her into the living room but as usual, they could not agree on exactly what to play. Jerry eventually took a stand and set things up. Finally, they began to play. Karen's recorder filled the room with soft pleasant music. Early in the evening, Mike noticed Pat's hand and the many diamonds. As the night progressed the tempo of play increased. Finally, a lull in the activities occured. Taking advantage of this, Jerry pondered the arrangement in front of him. Mike interruppted Jerry's reverie and said, 'Let's hear the score.' They listened carefully and commented on their performance. When the comments where all heard, exhausted but happy, Karen's friends went home.
What is the context? What IS context?

136 killed at Berlin Wall

BERLIN - AT LEAST 136 people were killed at the Berlin Wall between 1961 and 1989, researchers leading the first detailed study into victims' deaths said on Tuesday.

It was important for younger generations to remember the brutality of the past, especially this year in which Germans celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, a key event in the collapse of communist rule in eastern Europe.

The findings are the result of a four-year project between the Berlin Wall Memorial and the Centre of Historical Research in Potsdam.

'It's very important to explain what it was really like and to highlight the inhumane consequences,' Culture Minister Bernd Neumann told reporters. 'The project restores the victims' dignity,' he said, adding that a recent tendency to trivialise the crimes of the former Communist regime in East Germany made such projects essential.

There is no official figure for the number of people killed outside Berlin on the long border that divided Germany, but German media have estimated that toll at 1,347.

The Berlin Wall was erected almost exactly 48 years ago and divided the former and present German capital - and Europe - for nearly four decades during the Cold War.

The East German government did not make public details of people killed trying to escape. 'Our aim was to give the victims a face and link that face with a story,' said Maria Nooke from the Berlin Wall memorial.

Of the 136 victims whose biographies are published in the new compendium 'The victims at the Wall 1961 - 1989', most were young men aged between 16 and 30.

Nine children and eight women died, and the figure also includes several West Berliners and eight East German border guards. A further 251 people died during regular border crossings, mainly from heart attacks, the researchers said.

Alongside the compendium, new interactive terminals at the memorial centre enable visitors to see archive material including photos, maps of escape routes and audio clips of the victims' family members. -- REUTERS

Monday, August 10, 2009

SS3.3.7 Bonding Singapore

Read the letter "What it means to be Singaporean". What are the challenges Singapore face; how can these challenges be managed? What are the outcomes of of being able/unable to manage these challenges?
  • What kinds of SEQs can be asked from this chapter?
  • What SBQs have been set on this chapter?

Revision (WWII Europe & Bonding)

Double Period
  • Review of SS Mock Exam (Elderly)
  • Review of SS SBQ (Housing Quota)
Triple Period
  • SBQ Practise on WWII Europe

Friday, August 07, 2009

India, China resume border talks

NEW DELHI: India and China will resume border talks tomorrow after a year's gap as the Asian giants look for ways to maintain their relationship amid a hardening of claims over their disputed border.

China's State Councillor Dai Bingguo and India's National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan will meet over two days to discuss their respective claims.

Twelve rounds of talks have been held before, alternating between venues in the two nations, and progress has been slow.

Beijing, sensitive to restiveness in Tibet, claims all of the eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and is particularly inflexible over the state's Buddhist enclave of Tawang.

The area was the birthplace of one of the earlier Dalai Lamas and is the site of an important Buddhist monastery.

India says it holds China to an earlier agreement that settled populations cannot be disturbed in any eventual border settlement. Beijing says that formulation does not apply to Tawang.

'The first priority should be to try and exchange maps showing the lines of ac-tual control without prejudice to the eventual claim lines,' says retired brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal of New Delhi's Centre for Land Warfare Studies.

'We have done that with China in the least contentious areas, but need to do that over Arunachal in the east and La-dakh in the west to prevent any border incident leading to a larger accident. There cannot be anything more substantial for the moment.'

The decision to resume talks underscores Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's desire to explore lasting settlement of outstanding issues with India's most important neighbours, China and Pakistan.

Dr Singh has shown significant flexibility towards Pakistan lately, attracting much domestic criticism in the process.

While public opinion in India probably will not tolerate similar accommodation of China, at whose hands India suffered a military defeat in 1962, the Indian leader has shown he is open to fresh thinking.

Among his recent gestures to China was a decision to appoint the well-regarded Dr S. Jaishankar as his envoy to Beijing.

Though not a China expert, Dr Jaishankar, now High Commissioner to Singapore, was a key architect of last year's landmark civilian nuclear agreement with the US. That deal was supervised directly by the Prime Minister's office.

'There are two schools of thought on China,' says an Indian official with knowledge of the preparations for the talks. 'One says the relationship is developing in so many fields, so bury the border issue for later. The other says deal with it now before China becomes more powerful and turns its focus to India after fully settling Taiwan.'

Still, Mr Dai and Mr Narayanan are meeting amid rising unease in the relationship.

Beijing has been wary of the strategic overtones of the nuclear deal that former president George W. Bush inked with India, as well as New Delhi's growing economic and military ties with Tokyo.

Last year, it was markedly unenthusiastic when the US pushed through a special waiver for India in the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

More recently, it unsuccessfully tried to block a US$2.9 billion (S$4.2 billion) loan from the Asian Development Bank for development projects in Arunachal Pradesh. In addition, Chinese patrolling of the Arunachal border has been more assertive lately, according to Indian officials.

In response, India has embarked on a US$3 billion plan to modernise its border roads. It briefly stationed its front-line Sukhoi strike aircraft close to the China border earlier this year and is upgrading several border airfields. Arunachal governor J.J. Singh, a former army chief, has said New Delhi would raise two divisions of troops to defend the area.

Chinese comments on these developments have been acidic. An editorial in the Global Times, controlled by the People's Daily, has warned that the escalation of troop presence was a dangerous thing. It asked India to consider whether or not it can afford the consequences of a potential confrontation with China.

'Despite all this, political leaders on both sides have shown great wisdom in not allowing the border dispute to affect bilateral relations in other fields,' says strategic affairs expert B. Raman.

'Bilateral trade continues to gallop. Chinese companies are winning an increasing number of construction contracts in India, and more and more Chinese students are coming to India to improve their English while Indian students go over to study medicine.' ST6/8/09

Asian giants...

# IN CONTENTION: India says China illegally occupies 38,000 sq km of its territory in Jammu and Kashmir state. China claims 90,000 sq km in the east, covering almost all of India's Arunachal Pradesh state.

There are also conflicting claims over parts of the border along the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

# IN CONVERGENCE: India and China are set to discuss common positions on climate change this month and cooperate in monitoring melting Himalayan glaciers.

China is now India's No. 2 trade partner after the European Union, edging out the US. Chinese firms are increasingly clinching contracts for construction in India, while Indian IT firms such as NIIT and TCS are welcome in China.

Military ties are growing too: There have been two anti-terrorism joint exercises, and naval ships have exchanged port visits.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Public trust in China at a new low

BEIJING: Sex workers are more trustworthy than government officials. And state-published data is 'largely falsified'. These views from a just-published survey confirm the trend of declining public trust in China in recent years, observers said.

The poll of 3,376 people showed that trust in Chinese society had sunk to a new low in the past decade compared to years past, said the state-run Xiaokang magazine which conducted the online survey in June and July this year.

Nine in 10 attributed this to the ultra-competitive - 'quick success and instant benefits' - society that China has become.

The state of public trust in China is so deplorable that, as one netizen on the magazine's online forum quipped, 'when Chinese people talk about integrity, God laughs'.

While China's economy has grown phenomenally in the 30 years since it unshackled itself from a command system, social inequalities have mounted - and the country's legal system and governance have not kept pace.

A sign of bubbling discontent: a rising tide of mass protests in recent years.

Last year, the government dealt with more than 100,000 mass incidents of civil unrest. Data for this year has not been released, but news reports on clashes between people and local government officials abound.

In the survey in the latest issue of the monthly magazine published by the Chinese Communist Party, participants were asked to rank 49 occupations in terms of trustworthiness.

Their top five picks: farmers, religious workers, sex workers, soldiers and students.

Scientists, teachers and government officials ranked far lower.

At the bottom of the list: real estate bosses, secretaries, brokers, show business celebrities and movie directors.

In a separate poll, some 40 per cent of urban Chinese said they feared that an apartment building in their cities might collapse, after a 13-storey block fell over in Shanghai in June.

At one level, the Xiaokang survey reflects 'public sympathy for the underdog in an unjust society', said Mr Li Fan, a

Beijing-based expert on grassroots democracy, in a phone interview.

In a sign that society has lost its moral compass, teachers and officials who were once figures of justice and authority now have little credibility, noted Dr Zhao Litao, a sociologist at the National University of Singapore's East Asian Institute.

The crux of the problem, said scholars, was the erosion of the government's own cachet.

Of those polled, 49 per cent said they were 'extremely worried' about the credibility of the government and of the corporate world.

More than 90 per cent said they believed that data published by the state was 'largely falsified' or 'definitely falsified and cannot be trusted'. In a similar survey in 2007, less than 80 per cent of those polled were as cynical.

Dr Zhao said: 'Trust in the government underpins all trust in any society. In China, people often find they cannot get justice from officials or the courts.'

The blame lies primarily with local officials, said Mr Li, who heads a non-governmental research institute dedicated to mutual understanding between China and the world.

While ordinary Chinese usually hold the central authorities in high regard, local officials' repeated bungling has sparked social unrest and eroded trust at the grassroots, he said.

'Local officials should act as a neutral party working for the benefit of ordinary people, but they are instead often fighting with regular folk for land, fees or other sorts of interest,' he said.

If Beijing's aura of credibility is worn down as well, said Mr Li, 'there will be even more social unrest because the Chinese don't have a tradition of sitting down to solve problems'.

The slide in public trust needs to be arrested, argued an editorial in the state-owned China Daily yesterday.

It said: ' The first to put an end to public servants being alienated from public interest.'

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Bombing Hiroshima 'was right'

WASHINGTON - NEARLY two-thirds of Americans think the United States was right to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 64 years ago, ending World War II, a poll showed on Tuesday.

Only 22 per cent of those polled said then-US president Harry Truman was wrong to order the devastating bombings of the two Japanese cities in August 1945, according to the survey by Quinnipiac University.

An atomic bomb dropped from a B-29 Superfortress plane exploded over Hiroshima on the morning of August 6, 1945, killing more than 140,000 people either instantly or in the days and weeks that followed as radiation or horrific burns took their toll.

Three days later, with Japan still reeling from the devastation wrought on Hiroshima, the United States dropped a second nuclear bomb on Nagasaki.

Another 70,000 people died in that attack, and Japan surrendered less than a week later, ending World War II.

The Quinnipiac poll showed that support for the bombings rises significantly with age, with nearly three-quarters of poll respondents aged 55 and older supporting the devastating bombings, compared with just half of 18-34 year-olds and six in 10 Americans aged 35-54.

'Voters who remember the horrors of World War II overwhelmingly support Truman's decision,' said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

'Support drops with age, from the generation that grew up with the nuclear fear of the Cold War to the youngest voters, who know less about World War II or the Cold War,' Brown said.

Quinnipiac University surveyed 2,409 registered voters across the United States between July 27 and Aug 3 for the poll. The margin of error was plus or minus two per cent. -- AFP

Sunday, August 02, 2009

WH4.4.6 Revision (Stalin)

Period I
  • SEQ Practise on Stalin: Bring your history textbook(s).
  • Compilation of SEQ on Stalin can be downloaded here.
  • You can check your SS Mock SBQ results under Scores. The rest have to wait.
Period II
  • SEQ Practise on Social Studies: Bring your Social Studies textbooks 3 & 4.

SS3.3.6 Bonding Singapore

  • Slides and Worksheet can be download here.
  • Chapter outline can be found here.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Le Kua Simi?

...but so should Canadians

I REFER to yesterday's letter by Mr Eric J. Brooks, 'Be grateful, Singapore', and wish to remind him he should be more grateful to his own country, Canada. While I agree Singapore has achieved considerable improvements in living conditions, he should treasure the better social benefits provided by Canada.

I understand the two countries operate under different social systems. It is difficult to judge which is better. But has Mr Brooks forgotten the following important basic social benefits provided by his home country?

The Canadian government provides and funds compulsory education for Ontario residents from primary to secondary level, up to the age of 18. It spends 7 per cent of its gross domestic product on education. Canadians enjoy these benefits, while we do not.

Ontario has two social assistance programmes for people in financial need: Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Programme. Under Ontario Works, a distressed family of four with children under 17 years old receives a basic needs allowance of up to C$446 (S$590) and a shelter allowance of C$660, making a total of C$1,106 a month. A distressed family in Singapore gets less than a quarter of this.

Under the Canadian National Health Insurance programme Medicare, citizens are fully covered with medical expenses prepaid, while Singaporeans must pay according to individual affordability with up to 80 per cent subsidy for the needy.

Perhaps Mr Brooks has been away too long. Would he trade these social benefits - free education, free medical care and good financial assistance schemes for sheltered walkways, regular rubbish collection and lifts that stop at every floor?

Paul Chan