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Friday, February 26, 2010


A nonsensical and inhumane call...


ROME - Politicians and Internet activists in Italy have denounced a page on the social networking site Facebook that calls for children with Down's syndrome to be used for target practice.

The police were trying to track down who set up the page, which features a photo of a Down's syndrome baby with the word "idiot" superimposed on it, and by late on Sunday had attracted nearly 1,700 members.

The page proposed what it said was "an easy and amusing solution" to get rid of "these foul creatures": Use them as targets at shooting centres.

Equality Minister Mara Carfagna, promising legal action against those responsible for the page, denounced it as "unacceptable and dangerous".

A number of rival groups - one with more than 17,000 members - have been set up on Facebook to denounce the original page.

"People's ignorance has no limits," Ms Manuela Colombo, the president of a support group for families with Down Syndrome children told Ansa news agency.

Police action to get the site shut down might take some time according to experts, because Facebook is based in California and the procedure might involve a lengthy legal process. AFP

From TODAY, Tuesday, 23-Feb-2010

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"Tharman Shanmugaratnam"Image via Wikipedia


SINGAPORE - Missing are the direct cash transfers in the form of shares or credits seen in past budgets.

But the Government will still be setting aside $1.4 billion of this year's Budget for households to benefit mainly lower- and middle-income families with elderly dependants.

A slew of enhanced tax reliefs was announced during Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam's 2010 Budget statement, noteworthy of which was a gender-equal spouse relief.

Soon, wives who are taxpayers and breadwinners can claim a spouse relief of $2,000, similar to the current tax relief for husbands. This will help families where the wife is the main source of income, especially in instances where the husband has retired, Mr Shanmugaratnam said in Parliament yesterday.

Accordingly, the wife relief will be renamed "spouse relief".

The Government will also increase the income threshold for dependant-related reliefs from $2,000 to $4,000.

This increase recognises taxpayers' efforts in supporting family members who are genuinely dependent while giving these members the flexibility to do some incidental work, Mr Shanmugaratnam said.

The Government will also remove the income threshold for handicapped dependant-related relief.

The $1.4 billion also includes a one-off top up to the Medisave account of Singaporeans aged 50 and above, as well as to the Post-Secondary Education Account Scheme; 650,000 young Singaporeans will get additional top-ups of between $100 and $500.

It also includes transfers to households that have been announced in previous budgets, such as the Senior Citizens' Bonus.

Sales manager Khalid Ismail, who has several dependants including a handicapped mother living with him in his four-room HDB flat, said: "I feel better because the Government recognises that taking care of my family is important." The 37-year old is the sole breadwinner.

Ms Dana Lam, president of the Association for Woman's Action and Research, applauded the decision to grant tax breaks to working wives and those with elderly dependants.

But she hopes greater attention will be paid to singles who have devoted most of their lives to care for dependant family members, but end up with little CPF funds and other financial resources to support themselves.

Many in this category tend to be single women, she said.

From TODAY, Tuesday, 23-Feb-2010

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

More Frequent, Less Strong Storms...

From his vantage point high above the earth in...Image via Wikipedia


PARIS - Tropical cyclones may become less frequent this century but pack a stronger punch as a result of global warming, a paper published yesterday said.

The study is an overview of work into one of the scariest yet also one of the least understood aspects of climate change.

Known in eastern Asia as typhoons, tropical storms are driven by the raw fuel of warm seas, which raises the question about what may happen when temperatures rise as a result of greenhouse gases.

Mr Tom Knutson and colleagues from the United Nations' World Meteorological Organisation looked at peer-reviewed investigations that have appeared over the past four years, when the issue began to hit the headlines.

Their benchmark for warming is the "A1B" scenario, a middle-of-the-road computer simulation which predicts a global average surface temperature rise of 2.8C over the 21st century.

"It is likely that the global frequency of tropical cyclones will either decrease or remain essentially unchanged," says the paper.

But storms could have more powerful winds - an increase of between 2 and 11 per cent - and dump more water, it warns. Rainfall could increase by 20 per cent within 100 kilometres of the eye of the storm.

In addition, some storm basins will "more likely than not" see a big increase in the frequency of high-impact storms. AFP

From TODAY, Monday, 22-Feb-2010

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Lesser Occurrences, but is support to victims also less-er?

SINGAPORE - This much is clear: The number of child sex abuse cases reported in last year - particularly where a child is abused at home by a family member - is on the decline.

The Ministry of Community Youth and Sports (MCYS) said 32 such cases were reported last year, down from the 45 in 2008.

The figures from MCYS, made available to MediaCorp, did not indicate the number of boys and girls involved in the cases cited last year. They also pertained only to cases where the child was abused by a family member at home, said the ministry.

But a recent Singapore Children's Society report, quoting figures provided by Ministry of Home Affairs, reported that an average of 240 cases of child sexual abuse were uncovered between 1999 and 2002. These included "intra-familial abuse cases" that are followed up by MCYS.

Could this mean that official figures are only the tip of the iceberg?

Ang Mo Kio Family Service Centre social worker Yun Xin Ting thinks so.

"One thing that concerns me is that even though the numbers are low, are we really giving these victims enough treatment to deal with their trauma?" she said.

What's worrying about these victims is that without proper counselling, they may begin to act up.

Take the case of 13-year-old Janet (not her real name): Molested by her stepfather at night in her room, the secondary school student tried to seek help when she lodged a report with the police. But her mother accused her of lying to get attention.

Upset and betrayed, the girl ran away and fell into bad company. She eventually returned home after her stepfather was arrested for the abuse, a social worker told MediaCorp.

While she is now on the road to recovery, the journey was tough. Janet told social workers that in order to deal with the pain, she began having sex with boys.

She gave in many times to their advances but was said to be numb to the experience, according to the social worker.

Like Janet, most victims in intra-familial sexual abuses cases face shame and stigma and choose to deal with the problem in their own ways, said Dr Carol Balhetchet, director of youth services at Singapore Children's Society.

Being sexually active could be a coping mechanism, she added.

Previous studies have shown that it is not uncommon for some victims to become highly sexualised.

According to a recent survey done by the DSC Clinic, the National Healthcare Group, the National University of Singapore and the Singapore General Hospital, 22.5 per cent of sexual active teenage girls had a history of sexual abuse, compared to the 3 per cent of non-sexually active girls.

"Some children do not reveal these problems and they end up getting in and out of relationships or become sexually active as a way to cope," said a social worker, who declined to be named. "Such an attitude may make it easy for people to take advantage of them".

Furthermore, not all victims have the comfort of a family to turn to for support after their therapy sessions, and end up in homes for troubled youths.

Ms Yun said there are also initiatives to ensure that at-risk children are not neglected. For instance, MCYS launched a grant last year to help find quality childcare staff.

The grant, available to some non-profit childcare operators, is expected to reach about $30 million a year in its fifth year and is part of the Government's effort to enhance the quality, accessibility and affordability of centre-based childcare.

The funding has also helped agencies work with schools to provide for at-risk students, said Ms Yun.

Still, Janet's ordeal highlighted something which social workers find worrying: Victims face "re-victimisation" - being forced to re-live the ordeal through questioning by the authorities - when they decide to confront their abuser.

Dr Balhetchet suggests an age-old approach to solving this problem.

"Education is important ... law enforcers need to be sensitive to such reports made and various layers of support to the child are critical. I fear that unless this is done, more will be afraid to come forward because they will think no one will believe them," she said.

From TODAY, Monday, 22-Feb-2010

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An M18 Movie Rating's reasons behind...

MDA logoImage via Wikipedia


IN WHAT is believed to be the first move of its kind, the Media Development Authority (MDA) has released its films classification guidelines to the public, ending speculation over the years about how film content is evaluated.

The move has been welcomed by industry players - even as they say such openness was "long overdue".

The guidelines published on MDA's website earlier this month, outline the Board of Film Censors (BFC) general principles and major content concerns.

More significantly, details have also been released as to how much nudity or coarse language is allowed under a certain classification of a film.

For example, a film for general viewing is not allowed to show any sexual activity or sexual reference, and treatment of horror should be non-threatening.

An M18 film is allowed to have full frontal nudity with moderate details if justified by context, and prolonged and/or intense sequences invoking fear is also allowed.

However the MDA cautioned that the document "is not intended to limit in any way the Board's exercise of functions under the Films Act". The BFC also reserved the right to "classify any film in such manner as it deems fit".

The document reveals six general principles the BFC considers in its work. They include the "evaluation of (a film's) impact", "national interest" and "generally accepted social mores".

increased transparency

Industry players have given the thumbs-up to the increased transparency into the BFC's work.

"Film-makers and producers can tailor their scripts to fit the ratings they desire," said film-maker Martyn See.

"Seasoned local film-makers would not be too surprised at the published guidelines. We've known it all along. But for the first time it is spelt out in black and white."

However, he wondered if international investors would reconsider investing in "productions that may run afoul of these guidelines" and if local filmmakers "self-censor themselves even more" since some guidelines were "broadly framed".

Documentary film-maker Ho Choon Hiong felt the guidelines may spur him to "be more hardworking" to ensure the terms he uses do not affect, say, cultural sensitivities. But if he is "passionate" about a story, he will likely "make a film on what I think I want the characters to say" and only decide what to cut out after his film has gone to the BFC.

Playwright Tan Tarn How, who has been involved in the arts community's engagement with the Censorship Review Committee (CRC), said releasing the guidelines made "eminent sense" if regulation is "aimed at informing people so they make better choices" and this could encourage dialogue on societal standards.

Film-maker Tan Pin Pin also called for the trend of transparency to continue. For instance, "explicit reasons" should be given as to why certain films are banned, and reasons for each cut the BFC asks for, she said.

Ms Tan, who feels the ban on dialects should be lifted, pointed to some "inconsistencies" in the guidelines. She questioned why is dialect content allowed in some films, but not others.

Meanwhile, two databases have also been put online, allowing interested parties to search the rating of an arts performance or film. However, Mr Tan felt more information is needed in the databases - for instance on how the decision for a rating is reached.

The release of the film classification guidelines come ahead of the CRC report which is expected to be completed by mid-2010.

From TODAY, Monday, 22-Feb-2010

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

A new "legal" drug to be wary of?

Cannabis is another commonly used recreational...Image via Wikipedia


JEFFERSON CITY (Missouri) - There may be nothing like the real thing, but some industrious marijuana users have seized on an obscure but easily accessible substance that mimics the drug's effects on the brain - creating a popular trade in legal dope that has stymied police in the United States.

The users are buying a product known as K2 that is commonly sold as incense.

Produced in China and Korea, the mixture of herbs and spices is sprayed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Users roll it up in joints or inhale it from pipes, just like the real thing.

Though banned in most of Europe, K2's key ingredients are not regulated in the US - a gap that has prompted lawmakers in Missouri and Kansas to consider new legislation.

Authorities in Kansas discovered ex-convicts on probation smoking K2, and said it is spreading to high school students.

K2 costs between US$20 ($28) and US$50 for three grams - similar to the street price of marijuana - but with the key advantages of being legal and undetectable in drug tests. The key ingredients are believed to be the unintended result of scientific research on marijuana's effects.

Dr John Huffman, an organic chemistry professor, was researching the effects of cannabinoids on the brain when his work resulted in a 1995 paper that contained the method and ingredients used to make the compound. That recipe found its way to marijuana users. "People who use it are idiots," said Dr Huffman, referring to K2 smokers.

A proposed Bill in Missouri would make possession a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison, identical to punishments given to users of real marijuana. There is no data on the drug's toxicity. AP

From TODAY, Friday, 19-Feb-2010

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What do we hear afterwards? Will we learn something new?

Tiger Woods stand in front of the Joint Armed ...Image via Wikipedia


MARANA (Arizona) - Tiger Woods will speak publicly today for the first time since his car accident last November, and tales of sex scandals sent him into hiding.

"While Tiger feels what happened is fundamentally a matter between he and his wife, he also recognises he has hurt and let down a lot of other people who were close to him," agent Mark Steinberg said.

"He also let down his fans. He wants to begin the process of making amends and that's what he's going to discuss."

However, Mr Steinberg said it was not a press conference and Woods will not take any questions.

Since Nov 27, when he crashed his vehicle outside his Florida home, Woods' comments have been made through his website.

The golfer is to speak at 11am EST (midnight Singapore time) from the clubhouse at the TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, home of the PGA Tour.

Mr Steinberg described the gathering as a "small group of friends, colleagues and close associates", witnessing Woods' apology and his plans on what to do next.

Wire services The Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg have been invited, and the Golf Writers Association of America has been asked to recommend pool reporters. Only one camera will be in the room to provide live coverage via satellite.

"Over time, there will be questions. At the moment, the best thing is a more controlled environment," said Woods' fellow player Padraig Harrington at the Match Play Championship in Arizona.

But the timing is peculiar.

The appearance will take place during the third round of the Arizona tournament, sure to steal attention away from the first big event of the year.

The tournament is sponsored by Accenture, the first sponsor to drop Woods when he became embroiled in the sex scandal.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said he did not think Woods' appearance was going to undermine the World Golf Championship event. Not everyone agreed.

"It's selfish," former US Open and British Open champion Ernie Els told Golfweek magazine.

"I feel sorry for the sponsor. Mondays are a good day to make statements, not Friday. This takes a lot away from the golf tournament." AP

From TODAY, Friday, 19-Feb-2010


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The woes of studying? How about the woes of NOT studying?

Ngee Ann PolytechnicImage via Wikipedia


SINGAPORE - Tuition fees for polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) will go up in the new academic year - with a sharper distinction to be made between what Singaporean students and permanent residents/foreigners pay.

Where the polytechnics are concerned, their tuition fees for diploma courses will increase by $50 for Singapore citizens to $2,150 per year.

Singapore Polytechnic, Ngee Ann Polytechnic and Nanyang Polytechnic will also increase the fees for their existing Polytechnic-Foreign Specialised Institution (Poly-FSI) degree courses by 3 per cent in Academic Year 2010.

Singaporean citizens pursuing Poly-FSI degree courses will pay fees ranging between $4,830 and $8,040 per year.

The new fees will apply to new and existing students.

Fees for new PR students will increase by between $480 and $800, while those for new International Students will increase by between $480 and $1,070.

Existing PRs and international students admitted prior to this academic year will also pay higher fees, but computed using the existing fee framework.

For the ITEs, tuition fees for Nitec and Higher Nitec courses will go up by $10 for Singapore citizens from April.

ITE will also increase the tuition fees for its Technical Engineer Diploma courses by $50 per year, to $2,150.

The new fees will be applied to new and existing ITE students who are Singapore citizens.

Fees for new PR students will increase by between $600 and $1,130 per year. Those for new international students will increase by between $1,450 and $3,180 per year.

The revised fee differentiation will also apply to PRs and international students pursuing new modules under the subsidised part-time ITE courses from April onwards.

Existing PRs and international students admitted prior to the upcoming academic year will also pay higher fees, but computed based on the existing fee framework.

There is no word yet, though, on whether the three local universities - National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technical University and Singapore Management University - will increase their fees. They say changes in fees, if any, will be announced in due course.

From TODAY, Friday, 19-Feb-2010


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Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Control tower of Singapore Changi AirportImage via Wikipedia

Are we seeing the... tip of the iceberg?




SINGAPORE - An Indonesian man who lost about $1,000 - all the money he had with him - at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) has become the first to resort to crime after a blowout at the casino.

The unemployed Indonesian tried to steal a Samsung Omnia handphone from an undergraduate at Changi Airport, in a last-ditch attempt to return home with some money.

Paulus Djohar, 49, had planned to sell the $500 handphone.

Instead, the court jailed him yesterday for four weeks after he pleaded guilty to theft.

His crime caps a number of casino-related offences committed in the first three days since the casino's opening.

MediaCorp was the first to report, for example, how two Mongolians, aged 45 and 18, were arrested on the second day for cheating by impersonation.

The younger Mongolian had tried to use an older person's passport to enter the casino, which has a minimum age requirement of 21.

In the latest case, however, the target of the crime was not the casino, but a member of the public.

Police investigations revealed that Djohar arrived in Singapore from Malaysia last week with the intention of patronising the casino that was about to open.

After he lost all his money gambling on Monday - the second day of the casino's opening - he decided to steal from passengers at Changi Airport, according to the summary of facts given to court by the Airport Police Division.

Djohar went to the airport on Tuesday at about 7am.

He then approached Ms Lim Tse Min at Terminal 1, who was with a group sending off a friend who was leaving for studies in Australia.

A member of the group saw Djohar brushing his hands across Ms Lim's backpack before walking away quickly.

The witness alerted Ms Lim, who then discovered that her handphone was missing from the side pocket of her backpack.

The duo confronted Djohar and filed a police report.

The other cases reported so far were of five locals who were caught for not paying the entry levy. The Casino Regulatory Authority and RWS are now investigating these cases.

The maximum penalty for this offence is a fine of up to $1,000. Offenders shall also be liable for the $100 levy amount.

From TODAY, Thursday, 18-Feb-2010


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Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Photo of the Merlion in Merlion Park Singapore...Image via Wikipedia

I have been seeing some old folks and some house helps pushing these trolleys along the road - definitely already out of the supermarket's allowed usage vicinity... and I was thinking, what on earth? Perhaps a lax policy on misuse, or simply an inconsideration on the perpetrators' part? Are they even aware of it?

Sheer laziness and inconvenience. A survey by supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice found these were the two reasons why customers do not return shopping trolleys after using them. The result: Some 200 trolleys go missing each month, with 2,403 lost last year.

This has led to a needless $150,000 bill in replacement and repair costs for FairPrice each year - not to mention the more-than-10 retail assistants deployed each day just to collect trolleys dumped by inconsiderate shoppers.

FairPrice is now working with the Singapore Kindness Movement to educate shoppers to reverse this trend. EVELYN CHOO

From TODAY, Thursday, 11-Feb-2010
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Friday, February 5, 2010

The Truth Shall Set You Free

Golgotha Crucifix, designed by Paul Nagel, Chu...Image via Wikipedia

Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on Him, If ye continue in my word, [then] are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
-- John 8:31-32

Since last year, I was already eyeing many of the dSLR cameras on display, and I would sometimes pass by the electrical shop on my way home to spend a couple of minutes getting a close look, asking a question or two, a hands-on, a familiarization of the units, a hold, a touch, a feel - something that would help me make the pick.

When I'm in the office and I happen to sneak in some free time, I would browse the web to see specs, ads, brochures, and reviews. A month or two, and I arrived at a conclusion. So I bought my unit. And since I don't have that instant money, being an ordinary man that I am, I was glad that my request to a gracious bank to have my credit limit reviewed and increased was approved. That gave me the financial support to make the purchase on a 0% interest-free installment plan.

The manual was thick. And even when I was able to read through from cover to cover, that didn't make me an expert on my camera immediately. The thing is, while I was doing my online surfing for any information to help me and assist me, I was also picking up some books from the library, and buying also some books on sale - all about photography and dSLRs.

But then again, even after amassing (sounds like it's a ton already, not yet) a handful of useful information, that still didn't make me an expert photographer, not the least the skilful use of my camera.

What is the point of all that I am saying?

The truth shall set you free.

Well, knowing the truth is one thing. Living out and practicing the truth is another. In fact, it is the latter that is of more importance, more weight. We usually know something by reading about it, or by hearing about it. But to live out something from a very young age without even knowing what it is called, is a very different contrast of the same light.

Those who live by the law, though they don't have the Law that is the meaning of it. We may be practicing codes and precepts without necessarily calling these codes and precepts, and we pass them on to our descendants, as our ascendants passed them down to us. Thus, we assure the continuity of the practice of these "codes and precepts", even if we don't teach them as such.

Back to the camera, and to the truth.

All of the authors insisted on one thing, one very important thing: start shooting, start taking photographs. That is the only way that you will become a photographer instead of simply taking pictures. Then and only then will your photographs be a distinct, remarkable work of photographic art.

How does it relate altogether now?

The camera manual tells of the many buttons and dials and switches, and the many responses and activities that happen with each twitch and turn. As the photographer, you will learn the skills and acquire the knowledge as time passes, and the time will come that you will have already attained the necessary skill and techniques to be able to immediately decide what setting to use - and why.

That simply tells that to become a good photographer, you will have to move from reading the manual, knowing the manual, but knowing the camera itself, so that you will be able to make full use of the camera's potential. This will make way to your becoming the best photographer that you can be.

As with people, our manual is the Bible, and it tells of the many buttons and dials and switches that makes us humans, and how best we can live our lives. Therefore, our Maker did not intend for the Bible to be simple read, but to be lived out. How else would you be a skilful craftsman, but to be practicing and excelling in your trade? In the same way, how would God make us become the best man or woman of faith? By turning our knobs of attention to make us focus on others. To switch our internal interests to the interests of others. To decrease or exposure to worldly things. To open up our aperture to let in more of His light. To adjust our shutter speed as he deem fit, and lowering down our ISO sensitivity when we have to remain open to His many workings, capturing them in our mental picture on one single block. These are some, and just to name a few.

Just like me, a starting photographer, I will have to start tinkling with the many settings that can be achieved with the dials, buttons and switches, that I may know when to use them best.

As for God, He has to start making us "practice" our many characteristics and traits, and the Christlike character that He gave us when we became part of His family, that we may be 'free' to them, to the best, when the opportune time comes.

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