How to make sense of “crazy” Donald Trump? Try comedy

Ever since Donald Trump was elected in 2016, his bizarre antics have been a constant source of confusion and bewilderment around the world. In fact early in his presidency, a book by 27 psychologists and psychiatrists was published to make the case that Mr Trump’s mental state presents a clear and present danger to America and to individual well-being. This book made the New York Times bestseller list.

Unsurprisingly, the world has become pretty, well, crazy since he took over and the stock market, which I am an active investor in, has been tossed around furiously like clothes in the washing machine. It has been so difficult to make sense of what is happening that most of the time, I just found myself scratching my head.

Thank God, then, for US talk shows! These comedic programmes are able to openly explore the absurdity of the President’s behaviour and at the same time, provide us much needed therapy through laughs. The first two videos above are fine examples of such talk shows. The last two are more serious news programmes which also provide much insight into the issues surrounding Mr Trump and his administration.

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Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from the National University of Singapore, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as a GP and English tutor in 2016. He continues to blog on issues of concern to General Paper and student life.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here

GP model essays here

How to write a good intro to your GP essay

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Climate change as national security issue: How Singapore’s response reflects outstanding leadership

How South Beach, Miami, could look if temperatures rise by 2C. Photograph: Nickolay Lamm of Climate Central

At his recent National Day Rally speech, Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong framed climate change in the gravest terms, as a national security issue and “existential” threat that must be treated with the same “utmost seriousness” as the Singapore Armed Forces. He added that the 50-100 year problem would require a 50-100 year plan that could cost S$100 b or more.

Below are the thoughts of my learned friend Vincent Tan on the Singapore government’s plan, shared with his permission. Thank you for so generously sharing your knowledge and insights as always, Vincent.

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This is something that makes me brim with pride when I watched the speech, much better than any Merdeka Package goodies giveaways can effect in our small nation state. What impresses me most are the following:

1) Our policymakers are in touch with and cognizant of the the latest science on climate change and the incontrovertible evidence backing the research which although not conclusive in accuracy (data is still being collected) is conclusive about the directional damage and irreversibility, if not embraced and addressed by global state actors. Where even the US denies and the European governments acknowledge but still vacillate about collective action, SG has embraced science, acted assertively and thoughtfully in leading to confront climate change in a constructive manner, that will signal to the bigger states that there are options that they can follow.

2) The plan is long term and given the highest priority of “national security”, much unlike (US President Donald) Trump’s abuse of his executive powers under the same moniker. Given the grave implications to future generations and Singapore’s future as an aspiring global megacity, putting resources and money where our future is is is an act of courage that only the brave and the tenacious dare, never mind the climate change deniers’ lame excuse of the impending catastrophe as an “Act of God”

3) The manner and the way the nation was mobilised to confront the challenge shows that we can be responsible for our own destinies. We didn’t lament the fact that others are not acting or haven’t acted. We simply acted out of necessity, undaunted by the challenges with a plan articulated in a rational and practical way.

This is leadership that is best in its essence. Kudos that we are living in one. Hoping that the Singapore leadership will adopt such deep, capable and insightful foresight in all its dealings with our citizenry.

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Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from the National University of Singapore, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as an English and GP tutor in 2016. He continues to blog on issues of concern to General Paper and student life.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here.

GP model essays here.

Exams are coming. Here’s a great revision technique.

Associate Professor Koh Tieh Yong’s commentary, Climate Change in Singapore and What the Future Brings

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The Death of the American Dream?


Mourners at a memorial for the victims of the recent shooting in El Paso.
Credit: Calla Kessler/The New York Times

I was deeply moved by a quote from this New York Times commentary.

Referring to the recent mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, Dario Aguirre, a Mexican-American lawyer, said, “At least for Latinos, in some way, it’s the death of the American dream.”

The shooting in El Paso (Aug 3, 2019), which killed 22 people, was one of the two mass shootings in less than 24 hours in the United States – the other being in Dayton, Ohio (Aug 4). As of Aug 5, there had been more than one mass shooting per day in the US in 2019. Why there is so much gun violence in the US is a subject for another day, but for now I want to address the highly racial motivations behind the El Paso attack and their implications.

For my entire life (I am in my 40s), I have believed that the US was such a special place, that it epitomised and had successfully realised the ideal of bringing together people from anywhere and everywhere, of every race, creed and culture to live together in shared acceptance and a celebration of our shared humanity. Together they would pursue the American Dream that anyone could make it in the US if they worked hard, and uphold the American principle, as enshrined in the Constitution, that every human being had the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

My visit to the US in 2013 only served to reinforce this belief. Exploring the states of Vermont and New York, I felt very welcomed and very well accepted. I barely got a whiff of being singled out or disrespected because of the colour of my skin. Nor did I see anyone else being subjected to such discrimination, despite the mind-boggling diversity I saw around me (I met a Somali chambermaid in my New York hotel, then passed an Argentinian restaurant down the road, and bought Middle Eastern food from an Egyptian at a food truck). It seemed like the perfect melting pot.

Back in the 1990s when I was in university, I read projections that sometime in the 21st century, whites would become a minority in America due to the higher fertility and immigration rates for other groups. That should be no problem, I naively thought, America will simply continue to integrate all the different groups and unite them under her inspiring ideals.

But the El Paso shooting – together with numerous incidents of racial hostilities in recent years, as well as the election of Donald Trump to the presidency and his many racist statements against minorities – have made me realise that underneath the national stripes, we human beings are all the same. We have the same human nature: when our position is threatened, we have an impulse to become nasty, aggressive, even vicious. The rise of the Latino or Hispanic share of the US population, according to the NYT article, has almost tripled from 6.5 percent in 1980 to 18 percent in 2018. Along with this rise and that of other minority groups has been a rise in white nationalism.

While I was feeling depressed about this, it occurred to me though that perhaps this brutish tendency might perhaps be more accurately called animal nature than human. It is that bestial, baser (lower-level) part of human nature that we can perhaps keep in check by developing the higher, nobler parts. For instance Americans could conceive and carry out programmes to facilitate friendships among different ethnic groups in society such as school camps that involved different schools with different ethnic mixes. Dialogues on ethnicity and culture to build understanding and reduce tensions and misapprehensions in a civilized manner.

Another approach would be the kind of social engineering which Singapore is famous for, such as the ethnic integration policy in public housing estates which imposes quotas on each ethnic group in each block and estate, thereby forcing the different groups to live in close proximity and preventing the formation of racial enclaves. Singapore’s immigration policy, too, has been said by academics such as G.W. Jones, to aim to maintain a stable ethnic mix in the country. But such policies would be, in all probability, politically untenable in a country with such strong liberal democratic impulses as the US. Americans are deeply suspicious of government control of people’s daily lives and life choices. That’s why the word “socialist” is such a dirty word in US politics.

In any case I’m not convinced that social engineering is as desirable a solution as some make it out to be. When I lived in public housing in Singapore, I could see neighbours of other races every day, but that didn’t mean that we would really mingle and develop any kind of a meaningful relationship. With such a top-down emphasis on social harmony, the impetus for any ground-up effort is stifled. Ordinary people in Singapre, I feel, have little motivation to work to build these bridges as they feel the government is exerting so much control in the area of race relations.

With the phenomenal creativity and ingenuity in the American DNA, I’m sure they can come up with other social innovations that can powerfully advance social harmony, even if a perfect society will always remain just an ideal.

I must admit that I, too, harboured an American Dream, as a Singaporean. In some ways I thought of myself as American as I identify so closely with their classic literature, their popular culture and some of their sports. Perhaps I still have the American Dream in my heart, that I might one day go and make a home there.

I hope and pray that the American Dream is not dead for the Latinos and other ethnic groups that do live in the US. I hope and pray that the better angels of human nature will triumph in the hearts of the American people – that American society will be able to navigate the stern social challenges ahead in a civilized manner and pull together with a focus on beautiful commonalities rather than differences.

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Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from the National University of Singapore, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as a GP and English tutor in 2016. He continues to blog on issues of concern to General Paper and student life.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here

GP model essays here

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Lee Kuan Yew’s Shadow

Picture credit: Norbert Eder

One of the most provocative commentaries on Singapore I’ve ever read. For sure it will be a tough one for a Singaporean to contemplate – we Singaporeans are conditioned to think of our little country as exceptional, best in everything – but I believe it is a mark of intellectual maturity and a growth mindset to listen openly to even the most scathing criticism. As Robert Frost once said, “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” If there is even one grain of truth in a criticism of me, I want to learn from it.

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By Shaun Tan
Founder, Editor-in-Chief, and Staff Writer
The Rabbit Hole

6 August 2019

In the annals of modern Asia, Lee Kuan Yew looms like a colossus. The father of Singapore, the man who turned that tiny island into the financial hub of Southeast Asia, into a gleaming city of the future. Respected in both East and West, a model to the leaders of an emerging China, to Paul Kagame in Rwanda, and numerous other rulers who want prosperity and efficiency whilst retaining absolute power. A man both great and terrible; the singular, indomitable Lee Kuan Yew.

Yet there are aspects of his legacy that are less laudable. Partly by design, Singapore’s political culture and civil society are woefully underdeveloped. The other politicians in the party Lee founded are largely a parade of mediocrities. Singapore’s media scene is one of the most pitiful I’ve ever encountered, and its people one of the most vapid. Lee Kuan Yew was an intellectual giant. He left behind a nation of pygmies.

Read more at The Rabbit Hole

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Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from the National University of Singapore, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as a GP and English tutor in 2016. He continues to blog on issues of concern to General Paper and student life.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here

GP model essays here

GP is the journey of understanding life

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Hong Kong needn’t fear the PLA, even if it is a US-China battleground

This is no Tiananmen – despite delusional radicals on both left and right itching for a military intervention, Beijing is likely to wait these protests out. But another type of battle may already be underway – one for political influence

By Wang Xiangwei
South China Morning Post

Published: 9:30am, 3 Aug, 2019

Ever since Hong Kong’s protests against the now-defunct extradition bill turned violent on June 12, fears have been mounting that Beijing would deploy military forces to tackle the city’s worst political crisis in decades if law and order spiral out of control.

Those fears gnawing at the back of many minds have come to the fore as the violence escalated over the past month, and grew particularly strong on July 21, when protesters defaced the national emblem at the front of the Central Government’s Liaison Office – an act seen as the most blatant provocation of Beijing’s authority.

Three days later, Wu Qian, China’s defence ministry spokesman, dropped an obvious hint that Chinese military forces could be legally deployed to Hong Kong to maintain social order at the request of the city’s government.

Read more at SCMP

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Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from NUS, retired from a 14-year career as a GP and English tutor in 2016. He continues to blog on issues of concern to General Paper and student life.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here.

GP model essays by Steven

How to write a good essay intro

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In an age of rapid technological advancement, is a single career for life realistic? (A-level GP exam 2018)

Picture: The University of New Orleans

By Steven W.S. Ooi
Former GP tutor

Even as United States president Donald Trump blames illegal immigrants and unfair trade deals for causing Americans to lose their jobs, a new presidential candidate, Andrew Yang, has offered a very different narrative. It is robots and artificial intelligence (AI), he argues, that have robbed Americans of their jobs, and will continue to do so in the future. Mr Yang is not alone in his view. In 2013, an influential report by Oxford University claimed that 47 percent of US jobs are at risk from AI and automation over the next 15 or 20 years. While predicting the future is a notoriously tricky enterprise, it is safe to say that a substantial amount of human capabilities will be made redundant by the exponential rate of advancement in technology in the Fourth Industrial Revolution now taking place before our eyes. We need to be prepared to learn new skills constantly throughout our working lives and, for many of us, to lose our jobs and reinvent ourselves several times. For the purposes of this essay, a career shall be defined as an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress. It is this writer’s position that a single career for life remains a reasonable possibility in some professions and circumstances, provided an individual is willing and able to learn continuously and adapt to changes brought by technology.

Technological innovations will make some human skills less relevant, and others more relevant, by 2030. In the first category, many jobs will be taken over totally or partially by technology. A study by McKinsey has projected that physical and manual skills will see a fall in hours worked in the US and Europe from 203 billion hours in 2016 to 174 billion by 2030. Lower-order cognitive skills such as basic data input or basic data processing, too, will see a decline in employability. On the other hand, the demand for social and emotional skills, together with technological skills and higher cognitive skills, will grow. Hours worked in the US and Europe using technological skills will burgeon from 73 billion to 113 billion, also by 2030. This data suggests that numerous workers will need to cast aside their old job descriptions to perform very different tasks, in many cases taking on a totally different role. For instance, an administrative clerk performing rostering for airline pilots may find his work taken over by AI, necessitating a shift into the work of operating the AI program, thinking of ways to make it work better and applying insights derived from the data collected by the AI – in other words, acquiring higher-order cognitive skills such as creativity, problem solving and complex information processing. Jobs that revolve around skills that are easily automated will be readily destroyed by AI. If workers insist on a career for life in these professions, they have an excellent chance of finding themselves in the unemployment line.

Be that as it may, those skills that are difficult to automate will likely remain in demand for the foreseeable future and jobs that revolve around such skills will in all probability remain intact or even grow in demand. AI may exhibit superhuman performance at tasks relating to a specific problem or application such as playing Go or poker or recognising images after being trained on a specific, diverse, massive dataset. However, it is very weak at interpreting data that differs from its dataset. For instance, Google Translate works on neural networks that are trained on billions of lines of parallel texts in different languages, translated by humans. When one keys in text that corresponds to those prelearned lines, it performs extremely well. But if you try feeding it something other than that, for instance a creative turn of phrase, it produces hilarious results. AI is also not noted for its higher-order cognitive skills such as inventing something new or empathizing with people; invention is likely to remain beyond the ability of a machine that can only perform based on processing what it is told, while human experience is so complex and diverse, with so many variables interacting with one another, that it would require an almost infinite amount of data to teach a computer to reliably produce accurate empathic responses. Hence higher order cognitive skills are, and will probably remain difficult for technology to replicate. Professions that are centred on such skills will be resilient and it is quite realistic to have a career for life in such fields, for instance counsellors, teachers, nurses and interpreters.

Granted that technological adoption may add to the requirements and demands of such jobs, and many of those who hold them will need to acquire these technological skills to remain employable. For instance nurses may need to master various computer programs and medical machinery installed by their hospital. If, however, these practitioners can stay abreast of technological applications in their field of work, they should be able to remain in their careers for life. A solid grounding in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) will be essential for most working people in the era of Industry 4.0 – especially if they hope to achieve longevity and upward mobility in their chosen careers.

It also needs to be acknowledged that a powerful trend catalysed by technology – outsourcing – is profoundly altering many industrial corporate structures in such a way that have destroyed or decimated traditional career paths. Many established industrial companies such as those in steel, automotive, energy, IT and manufacturing have outsourced many of their business processes and large parts of their value chain. An example in manufacturing would be Philips – which engages contract manufacturers in places like Mexico and China to produce many of their products – and one in IT would be IBM, which outsources tech support, research and development (R & D), and more to India. Gone are the days when these firms would offer a 30-year “lifelong career” to fresh university graduates. In fact, Deloitte has found that only 19 percent of companies still offer traditional, multi-decade functional career models. Many, such as AT&T and IBM, are devoting themselves instead to helping employees continuously reskill and move horizontally within the organisation. New kinds of hybrid jobs are constantly emerging, such as data scientist and user experience designer, as technical skills become commoditised and easily outsourced.

However, if the only constant is greater rapidity of change, then those who excel in keeping up with, driving or managing change will always be relevant. Top-notch R & D engineers will always be valued by an organisation. Outstanding managers who understand how to motivate people and strategize for a team in a dynamic environment will always be crucial to a company. And as corporate structures are adjusted, dismantled and reassembled in the Age of Acceleration, management consultants will only be increasingly needed to help companies to make optimal changes and make transitions successfully with guidance from research into the experience of other organisations. In an age of change, a career for life is still very much viable for those whose forte is change itself.

All said, I maintain my view that in the era of jet-heeled technological development, a single career for one’s entire working life, while elusive for many, remains a realistic aspiration for a good number of people in professions that are difficult to automate or which specialise in the process of technology-driven change itself. Amidst the constant hype about transformational technology replacing humans, I still believe that the human being is the greatest machine. Yes, a robot can beat us in some single, narrowly focused tasks like chess but it cannot yet handle a multifaceted job like doing all the housework, raising a child, running a government, managing a team, writing a screenplay – or for that matter, scoring an A for a General Paper exam. The complexity of programming for it to handle any of these things is mind-boggling and the evidence after many years of IT and AI research does little to suggest that man-made technology will ever be able to catch up to man in these multidimensional capabilities.

©Steven W.S. Ooi 2019. All rights reserved. No part of this publication is to be reproduced in any form without the prior written consent of the author.

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Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from NUS, retired from a 14-year career as a GP and English tutor in 2016. He continues to blog on issues of concern to General Paper and student life.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here.

More GP model essays here.

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Human Contact Is Now a Luxury Good


Credit
Marta Monteiro/ New York Times

Screens used to be for the elite. Now avoiding them is a status symbol.

By Nellie Bowles

Ms. Bowles is a technology reporter for The New York Times.

March 23, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO — Bill Langlois has a new best friend. She is a cat named Sox. She lives on a tablet, and she makes him so happy that when he talks about her arrival in his life, he begins to cry.

All day long, Sox and Mr. Langlois, who is 68 and lives in a low-income senior housing complex in Lowell, Mass., chat. Mr. Langlois worked in machine operations, but now he is retired. With his wife out of the house most of the time, he has grown lonely.

Sox talks to him about his favorite team, the Red Sox, after which she is named. She plays his favorite songs and shows him pictures from his wedding. And because she has a video feed of him in his recliner, she chastises him when she catches him drinking soda instead of water.

Read more at the New York Times


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Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from the National University of Singapore, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as a GP and English tutor in 2016. He continues to blog on issues of concern to General Paper and student life.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here.

GP model essays here.

All JC students in Singapore need to read this.

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