[Resource] – The Application Question (AQ)

Since I left Junior College, the General Paper gained one new portion in the Comprehension paper. The AQ challenges students to validate or repudiate the arguments of the writer(s) found in the passage. (Effectively, an essay). Rather often, it would ask how applicable are the ideas to one’s society. If that society/country is Singapore, you could discover evidence, examples and information from the National Library Board’s Singapore Infopedia.


Do pass this on to those who need it.

All the best!


[Review] Content – The Man who quit money

I had been leisurely re-reading parts of the book. Some of it is related to ideas to my prior post.

It has been a crack at my worldview in the last month or so. Perhaps this began in my secondary school years when I walked through the aftermath of a crime scene at my housing estate. The dried blood of a failed robbery spanning a few flights of stairs. The target: an elderly man with some physical possessions; in the middle of the night. (One neighbour and the victim’s son came to his rescue). The perpetrator was verbally unrepentant.

I benefited in a way – seeing the violence (in a country like Singapore) and writing a Chinese journal article that received an ‘A’ (I think). But that is not the most important. The imperative was I asked a question: What is money worth?

It seemed worth killing over.


Back to the book. To Suelo, money ‘felt like a ball and chain.’ (p. 22) By analogy, having fame can also be a great burden. You become so scared of losing it, that you stop being yourself. To return once more, I continue to experience it myself, be it in money or in assets (get a house! At least you have a roof over over head!) There is pressure to conform.

To buy into (yes, pun intended!) the system means paying various levels of interests. Apparently, it was limited in America to 10% by the US Congress but only until 1980. (p. 195)

However, as the last pages of the book suggests, freedom is possible (at least to a significant degree). Consider the examples of John the Baptist who ate locusts and wild honey in the desert; Suelo (even though he might be heading back into the system so that he can take care of his aging parents); even an Irishman named Mark Boyle.

On a side note, Ron Paul, the American politician who wrote ‘End the Fed’ (Fed referring to the US central bank), is also mentioned. [Concurrently, I am plowing through another book that also refers to Paul.]

I hope I have the courage to move in the right direction.

[Review] Gnarr! How I became the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland and Changed the World

I came across this book in the Orchard Library (one of the libraries without computer stations for individual use – good move in some senses).

It is an honest book about Jón Gnarr by the man himself. No, it is neither a hagiography nor is it a biography in the conventional sense like something about John Major or Margaret Thatcher. It is instead a refreshing take on what it is like to be a politician and to be human. I echo Björk’s (international entertainer) comment on the back cover that Gnarr injected into the ‘…mayor profession a new human earnesty…’ and  has challenged the political apathy and malaise endemic in much of Europe if not the US. (A considerable number do not even bother to vote).

I cannot say I agree with him on every count. But he does have some very interesting ideas including utilising Lao Zi’s (ancient Chinese philosopher) Dao De Jing in political meetings. Money would one day lose its value and become ‘decoration’ or a ‘toy’. (pg. 7) He reserves one hour to himself everyday. (I think this is one way to stay sane). And he has similar views on ideology – they would all be corrupted by human failings. (He also quotes Leo Tolstoy!) Wisely, he does not present himself as infallible and tries to propose that we stop coercing every politician into becoming the Superman or Superwoman. He represents a positive response to the financial fallout that hit Iceland in 2008. [For more see Ásgeir Jónsson. (2009). Why Iceland. New York: McGraw-Hill.]

Yes indeed, being a constructive voice is very tiring; yet can we live with ourselves if we stood idly by?

Other references:

Emma Brockes. (15 Sep 2014). The joker: Jón Gnarr, the comedian who became mayor. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/15/jon-gnarr-comedian-mayor-iceland. The Guardian.

Haukur S. Magnússon. (17 June 2014). Jón Gnarr Is No Longer Mayor Of Reykjavík: “SO LONG, AND THANKS FOR ALL THE FISH”. http://grapevine.is/news/2014/06/17/jon-gnarr-is-no-longer-mayor-of-reykjavik/. The Reykjavík Grapevine.


[Random] The New York Times International Weekly – 6 June 2015

Well, will tapping in some information/reflection for future use.

Education – In school, but Not learning: News analysis (Eduardo Porter)

Education is seen as a great social equaliser. In theory, people go in and come out with the papers (certifications) to get a good job. This would pull them out of the poverty cycle. (Unfortunately though, one has to admit that lifetime employment in the same company is no longer the norm…)

Yet in OECD (The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) PISA assessments (2012), more than half (54%) of Mexican students did not achieve competence required ‘for participating productively in modern economies.’ Mexico is not alone, with 24% of American students having similar results.  In fact, through a spot check, 27% of teachers were missing from school (public schools – total sample unknown).

Basically, the Porter highlights the trend of quantity over quality.

Investment/Finance – Religions Push to Align Investments with Faith (Vinod Sreeharsha)

A short one that lists some Socially Responsible Investing avenues (Oblate International Pastoral Investment Trust excludes investing in handgun manufacturers for instance). These include:

First (investment firm)

Dow Jones Islamic Market Indexes

Ascension Investment Management


Read on!

Related Reference [Interesting to compare between domestic and international versions]:

Vinod Sreeharsha. (21 May 2015). Catholic Trust Looks to Brazilian Fund for Social Returns. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/22/business/dealbook/catholic-trust-looks-to-brazilian-fund-for-social-returns.html?_r=0. The New York Times.


Statistics – chapter from The Universal Journalist

I thought it would be criminal not to have written anything from this book.

Do note before I begin, I have not done background research on the writer, David Randall. The book though it seems has gone through 4 editions from Pluto Press (London) – the latest in 2011.

A great majority of us go through statistics. It is all the more pertinent that policymakers and decision makers use these figures and their interpretations wisely. Of course the average citizen is far from being excluded in this exercise of judgment.

The initial segment corresponds with what most the History, Social Studies, Geography and Economics syllabus are doing: source and data/statistical analysis.

Randall recommends that we ask who created the statistic; the reason behind it; and the timing of its revelation.  One example (provided later on) was how an employer could claim they suffered  7 million pounds of losses  from strikes each month. That huge sum could possibly garner sympathy or encourage government action against the workers. The amount could have included anything from heightened insurance fees (plausibly for breaches of contract in production) to additional money clients pay to get a substitute product!

One aspect raised was the issue of context.  A company was reported in 1997 that 29% of its ex-employees were killed by cancer. Yet in the greater scheme of things, 35% of those between age 44-65  die from cancer which actually is 6 percent higher!

The terms or definition used also ‘create’ statistics. Sinusitis as it was included under the definition of ‘chronic diseases’ increased those with ‘chronic diseases’ by 32 million (in the United States)!

Percentages are often attention grabbing but can be rather deceptive.  People may declare that they raised profits by 18%. What they failed to tell you was that this was in comparison to 20 years ago (and this is exclusive of inflation mind you).  Withal, the denominator for arriving at these percentages are conveniently left out at times.

The average or mean is another concept that needs to be interpreted.  Say the total weight of eight persons in the elevator is  560kg. The average is 70kg. But in reality some may contribute 60kg while another 80kg. Thence, the range of values is not  clear when using average.

When comparing,  raw results are insufficient. There should be a ‘rate per unit’ cross examination.  It may be accurate to state that more expired in air travel during 1998 as opposed to 1952.  But after one takes into account the total number of miles travelled as well as the travel volumes, one gets a different (and more assuring picture).

On a related note, there needs to be apple to apple comparison. (Reminds me of my days doing benchmarking). Comparing death rates of fit young soldiers in peace time; with elderly, impoverished residents in a small village will hardly generate useful indications.

Next we look at survey or search samples. Sample sizes have to be significant.  If you ask one student out of 40 how well the teacher taught, your picture is gravely limited.  An interesting example is seen when a survey gives a sample size of 2000 businesses but having only 160 respondents. 80% felt the interest rates were too heavy. But the headline was packaged using those 160 companies and not the 1840 others who did not answer…

Even when the size is adequate, one should note the margin of error. Since the studies are only ‘guides’, the margin allows for a group ‘hit’.  For instance, the result may show that 44% prefer the ‘ABC Party’. Yet, with a 5 percent margin of error, in the worst case, the reality is 39%. Of course the converse of 49% may be true. In environmental studies, certain geographical areas may likewise be favoured over other areas. Those that challenge the ‘desired’ results may be excluded altogether. The same principle applies, the data collected must be representative and comprehensive.

Further, we need to check who is consulted. It is less useful asking political theorists whether climate change was a reality. ‘Leading questions’ or poorly constructed ones can also skew the outcomes. From other sources, if you asked “How important is it to getting a good first job?”, in some ways we are preloading the idea that it is important. And if you queried: ‘Do you pick your fart/pass gas frequently?’, how often do you think you would receive the truth? Similar issues affect statistics for injuries since some may exaggerate in order to win insurance claims. (Death statistics as Randall mentioned are usually more reliable).

Moving on, causation and association are concepts that get conflated and confused. Back in my Cross Faculty Module (CFM), my Statistics professor introduced the idea of spurious correlation. The illustration he gave was more highways ‘led to’ more hurricanes. It was probably more roads that allowed one to see the hurricanes and probably also enhanced technology that enabled the efficient discovery of existing hurricanes! Surrounding factors and background have to be considered indeed.

The author ends off by reiterating the importance of statistics. And I agree with him. I would rather have the truth. Amazingly, the truth is stranger than fiction. In countries experiencing harsh winters, there are in fact more accidents during sunny days than ones with heavy snowing. Why? Because more people drive! Thus a heading could be as Randall writes: ‘Snowfall saves lives’.

He recounts how Mao Zedong, during the Great Leap Forward,  ordered the elimination of sparrows which apparently reduced grain production.  However, by removing sparrows, which had insects as its preferred food and grain as the minor second choice, locusts multiplied. Famine occurred with its correspondent fatalities ranging from 16-30 million.  The accomplices in this tragedy were bureaucrats of ‘ignorance’ and the ‘supine media’ who did not check the facts nor raise alarms bells at the impending folly.

No doubt the last lines of the chapter are fairly self seeking; establishing the necessity of the Fourth Estate.  Nonetheless,  the strength of the argument is not easily erased. The book along with its thought provoking quotations in various chapters is definitely worth a read.


[Review] The man who quit money – The English

Mark Sundeen. (2012). The man who quit money. New York. Riverhead Books. (I finished the entire book; quite readable. The beginning and concluding chapters form critiques of the US monetary system and modern life to some degree. Sandwiched in between is a back and forth chronicling Daniel Suelo’s life – the man who lived without cash or credit. Sudeen knows Suelo personally).

There are only 3 copies of this book owned by the National Library Board, Singapore. (To digress, Happy 20th Birthday NLB!) Since I saw it at Jurong East, it did not leave my mind.  The copy on my computer table now is from Woodlands (another Regional Library).

However, for this post, allow me to simply focus on the prose from Sundeen (and editor I believe). Again, some of the paragraphing and style makes me thump my fists in joy!

If you turn to page 22, you have the paragraph beginning with ‘Near the trailhead, he hides his bike…’  It proceeds to describe how Suelo recycles formerly utilised tyres and ensures a workable bicycle with  help from a volunteer led bicycle outfit; and the punch comes with:

‘He doesn’t own a lock.’

Such a final sentence was like an left hook in the boxing ring.


Should you want to find out more, do see/read:

Mark Sundeen. (6 Sep 2012). Meet the man who quit money (Book excerpt). http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/meet-the-man-who-quit-money/article552609/. Toronto. The Globe and Mail.

BBC. (19 Apr 2012). The American who quit money to live in a cave. (with video). http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-17762033.

Suelo’s blog: http://zerocurrency.blogspot.sg/.


“Even-handed Justice” – (Re)Sentencing a dangerous cyclist

The appeal of the case Public Prosecutor v Lim Choon Teck [2015] SGMC 30 (decision date 16 Sep 2015) has caught my eye.

The Public Prosecutor (Attorney-General’s Chambers) appeal successfully in favour of the accused; who had been given 8 weeks by District Judge (DJ) Lee-Khoo Poh Choo (henceforth, Lee-Khoo). Justice Chan Seng Oon consequently cut the duration to 3 weeks in a landmark decision. Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Prem Raj Prabakaran (henceforth, Prem) argued that the jail term was overtly excessive in relation to the crime. Further, he differed with DJ Lee-Khoo’s view of a ‘total absence of mitigating factors’ for the accused. He brought up the fact that the accused did not delay his admission of guilt; and the paucity of antecedents. The antecedent used during the earlier sentencing was actually a case in 12 June 2012 concerning the harassment of borrowers/residents under the Moneylenders Act. This is not an apple to apple comparison unfortunately.

It is my opinion that justice has been served based on the above reasoning. It seems that the deterrent effect desired by DJ Lee-Khoo would be conveyed by the media but also by word of mouth plausibly at coffeeshops. Should others fail to take heed then the next offender should be given a longer prison term. Meanwhile, the best thing is prevention, reminding and educating the public that the bicycle probably has 50% the killing ability of any car.


LawNet. (16 Sep 2015). Latest Singapore Judgments – State Court Judgments of the last 3 months: Public Prosecutor v Lim Choon Teck [2015] SGMC 30. http://www.lawnet.sg/lawnet/web/lawnet/free-resources?p_p_id=freeresources_WAR_lawnet3baseportlet&p_p_lifecycle=1&p_p_state=normal&p_p_mode=view&p_p_col_id=column-1&p_p_col_pos=2&p_p_col_count=3&_freeresources_WAR_lawnet3baseportlet_action=openContentPage&_freeresources_WAR_lawnet3baseportlet_docId=/Judgment/17912-SSP.xml.  [Please note after the 3 months, if you still wish to look at the entire submission then you would need to subscribe to LawNet.]

Vanessa Paige Chelvan. (18 Sep 2015). Prosecution successfully appeals for lower sentence in landmark case. http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/prosecution-successfully/2135372.html. Channel NewsAsia.

Straits Times. (30 Sep 2015). Justice seen to be even-handed. http://www.singaporelawwatch.com/slw/index.php/headlines/70623-justice-seen-to-be-even-handed#sthash.u8ctENdO.dpbs. Singapore Law Watch.