Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Highlights of speech by Obama

Prime News

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Jan 27, 2011

Highlights of the speech

  • Innovating America

    'None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be, or where the new jobs will come from... What we can do - what America does better than anyone - is spark the creativity and imagination of our people.

    'We are the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn't just change our lives. It's how we make a living.'

  • Educating America

    'When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance. But too many schools don't meet this test.

    'That's why instead of just pouring money into a system that's not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top. To all 50 states, we said, 'If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we'll show you the money.''

  • Rebuilding America

    'We will put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges. We will make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based on what's best for the economy, not politicians. Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 per cent of Americans access to high-speed rail... For some trips, it will be faster than flying - without the pat-down.'

  • Investing in tomorrow's energy

    'I'm asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies.

    'I don't know if you've noticed, but they're doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidising yesterday's energy, let's invest in tomorrow's.'

  • More exports, more jobs

    'To help businesses sell more products abroad, we set a goal of doubling our exports by 2014...

    'Already, our exports are up. Recently, we signed agreements with India and China that will support more than 250,000 jobs in the United States. And last month, we finalised a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs.

    'This agreement has unprecedented support from business and labour, Democrats and Republicans, and I ask this Congress to pass it as soon as possible.'

  • Tuesday, January 25, 2011

    Call to tweak sexuality education


    Home > Singapore > Story

    Jan 26, 2011

    Call to tweak sexuality education

    Some Catholic schools seek modifications so that MOE programme better fits Church beliefs

    Archbishop Nicholas Chia, in a letter to Catholic school leaders on Jan 10, said he would find it unacceptable if students in Catholic schools 'were given a compromised message on premarital sex'. -- ST PHOTO: SAMUEL HE

    SOME Catholic school principals have met Ministry of Education (MOE) officials to discuss how the ministry's sexuality education programme can be tweaked.

    Among other things, they had asked for a segment on the use of condoms to be modified so that it better matches Catholic beliefs. The segment includes a video on the use of condoms.

    Asked about this, the ministry said yesterday that it has received feedback on the Breaking Down Barriers programme, which features the condom segment.

    A spokesman said the ministry conducts periodic reviews of its sexuality education programme, and consults parties such as parents, teachers, students, health professionals and religious leaders.

    As part of this review process, it will work with the Health Promotion Board (HPB) to 'refresh' the Breaking Down Barriers programme.

    'While the presentation of information could be refined, the core messages of the HPB remain relevant and will be retained,' the spokesman said.

    She added: 'MOE recognises that issues of sexuality involve value judgments and that parents are ultimately responsible for the health and moral values of their children.' Thus, parents have the prerogative to opt their children out of the whole programme if they are uncomfortable with what is being taught.

    Sexuality education programmes have made the news on and off over the years.

    In 2009, MOE said the programme in some schools run by the Association of Women for Action and Research was inappropriate as it conveyed messages which could promote homosexuality or suggest approval of premarital sex.

    Sexuality education is taught in both the formal curriculum and co-curricular programmes. In the former, values which mainstream society adheres to, such as encouraging heterosexual married couples to have healthy relationships, feature strongly in lessons.

    The main co-curricular programme, Growing Years, is taught in upper primary to post-secondary levels. It promotes abstinence as the best option for teens and teaches teenagers how to say no to sexual advances.

    Another programme, Breaking Down Barriers, is taught to Secondary 3 and first-year junior college and centralised institute students. Among other things, it gives students accurate information on the risks of contracting sexually transmitted infections and how to protect themselves from them.

    Parents can opt their children out of both these programmes.

    The issue of how sexuality should be taught in Catholic schools was also the subject of a letter which Archbishop Nicholas Chia wrote to Catholic school leaders on Jan 10. There are more than 30 Catholic schools here. He acknowledged that Singapore was 'a secular society where no specific religious group has the right to impose its beliefs on others'.

    He went on to say that 'within the context of our Catholic schools, however, I would find it unacceptable if students were given a compromised message on premarital sex. This applies to all students in the school'.

    He also said that the Church was very concerned with the increasing incidence of sexually transmitted infections among students caused by young people indulging in sexual activity with multiple partners, and would like to collaborate with the HPB to tackle this.

    On the use of condoms, he cited Church literature and teachings.

    He said that the Church's teaching 'concerns marital acts, since marital acts are the only ethical sexual acts in the eyes of the Church'.

    He added: 'If we present to our young people how to use the condom outside marriage, just in case you need it, it would be as though the Church is teaching us how to sin less grievously which makes no sense.'

    Elaborating on his note, Ms Wendy Louis, executive director of the Archdiocesan Commission for Catholic Schools, said teaching students how to use condoms was an instance of a 'compromised message'.

    Catholic school principals said parents could opt out of the co-curricular programmes.

    CHIJ Secondary (Toa Payoh) principal Regina Lee said about nine of her 360 Secondary 3 students opted out last year.

    St Patrick's School last year told parents that it had tried unsuccessfully to get approval to remove the video on the use of condoms and to adapt Breaking Down Barriers to the school's needs.

    The school urged parents to 'choose wisely' when given the option of opting out of the programme.


    'What is at stake is not the method used or whether this method is natural or artificial. What is at stake is the moral act of contraception.'

    Archbishop Nicholas Chia

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    She wins big despite bitter custody battle


    Home > Singapore > Story

    Jan 11, 2011

    She wins big despite bitter custody battle

    Crescent Girls student at centre of parents' cross-border battle scores nine A1s

    Alexandria, one of 11 students from Crescent Girls' School who scored nine A1s, is grateful for the support from her father, Mr Joseph Ramanathan. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

    SHUTTLED between Singapore and Europe as her parents waged a bitter custody battle, Alexandria Shamini Joseph could have been forgiven for not concentrating 100 per cent on her studies.

    But the conscientious student threw herself into her schoolwork.

    Yesterday, her hard work was rewarded when she received a score of nine A1s in the O levels.

    Despite her outstanding grades, Alexandria, 16, was not in the Education Ministry's list of top scorers because her race is listed under 'Others'.

    She was born in Singapore to a Vietnamese-Swiss mother and a Ceylonese-Singaporean father.

    They divorced in 1998 and her mother, Madam Anh Tho Andres, 55, took Alexandria, whose second language is French, to Switzerland.

    The following year, her father, Mr Joseph Ramanathan, 48, brought her back to Singapore without her mother's permission.

    When he returned, he was charged with kidnap. The legal tussle continued for the next few years. Although legally in the custody of her mother, Alexandria lived and travelled with her businessman father. He moved several times, at one point even taking her to Canada.

    Her father homeschooled her until she was seven, when she started attending primary schools in Europe.

    When her mother agreed to let her return to Singapore with him in 2004, she enrolled in Primary 4 in CHIJ Our Lady of Good Counsel. Two years later, she emerged as its top Primary 6 pupil and valedictorian.

    Alexandria was one of the 11 students from Crescent Girls' School who scored nine A1s yesterday.

    The dedicated student said she would study in church before exams to avoid distractions such as the television and the computer.

    She was also grateful for the support from her father. 'My father would take me to and from school so I don't have to waste time travelling by public transport. During my exams, he would take me there and wait until my exams are over and then take me home.'

    She said she keeps in touch with her mother via e-mail and visits her once a year.


    In two years, their English grades leapt from F9 to A1


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    Jan 11, 2011

    In two years, their English grades leapt from F9 to A1

    It was all hard work, say Crescent Girls from China

    Seven of Crescent Girls' School's top 11 students with 9A1s are from China. (Back row, from left): Zhuo Ran, Zhu Yichen and Zhu Duoduo; (front row, from left): Ying Jiani, Wei Qi, Wei Lu and Zhang Yumeng. All are 17 years old. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

    A GROUP of China-born students at Crescent Girls' School powered themselves from F9s to A1s for English in just two years.

    Asked for their secret, the girls, who failed English when they started out in Secondary 3 here in January 2009, said sheer hard work and determination made this possible.

    And they did not work on just their English in those two years. All seven scored nine A1s in the O levels they sat last year.

    Then again, they are obviously bright: They all found mathematics here a breeze because they were getting far tougher questions back home; science also presented little difficulty because they had covered Singapore's O-level science syllabus by the time they finished the equivalent of Secondary 3 in China.

    They also found Higher Chinese easy, and most of them chose to take Chinese literature as their humanities subject.

    But English was their Mount Everest. It was one of the reasons they were placed in Secondary 3 here - to give them a year to work at the language - though by age, they should have been in Secondary 4.

    They made the most of their catch-up year: They worked on comprehension passages daily, memorised essays and invested more than half their total revision time on English.

    In fact, one of them, 17-year-old Hangzhou native Ying Jiani, pushed herself by taking English literature, too.

    She is the only daughter of an engineer father and architect mother, and started weekly English lessons at age five.

    Despite her headstart, she got an F9 for her first English test in Secondary 3.

    Unfazed, she set herself to work, with her teachers' help and endless patience being instrumental in her mastering the language, she said.

    Her first literature assignment required her to analyse a passage. She managed only eight out of 25 marks - what she called 'sympathy marks'.

    'I thought I understood the passage, but somehow I couldn't put it into words,' she said.

    To be sure she would never be at a loss for words again, she made herself write at least one essay and work through a comprehension passage every day.

    In the run-up to her Secondary 4 preliminary exams and O levels the following year, she stepped this up to two essays and two comprehension passages a day.

    To bolster her command of the language, she joined Crescent's English Literary, Drama and Debates Society.

    'I like English. It's a beautiful language. I also like American movies and music,' said the student, who is now eyeing a place in Raffles Institution.

    Cedar Girls' Secondary's top scholarship holders from China, Wu Fangling, 18, and Han Rui, 17, also said it was pure hard work that netted them their sterling results.

    Fangling, who got nine A1s, said she put in seven hours of study time daily after school because she needed extra time to adjust to the curriculum and to brush up on her English.

    'I was used to the system in China. I knew how to study and do well, but I had to adjust to a new system here. I also knew that I had to improve my English, since all subjects are tested in English.'

    From the start of last year, Fangling and Han Rui, who also scored nine A1s, started writing two essays a week on their own accord for their teachers to mark. On top of that, they read widely and jotted down difficult words.

    Fangling, who managed only a C5 in English in her Secondary 3 mid-year exams, puts down her lightning progress to her willingness to use new words she had learnt from her reading and in conversations with schoolmates.

    'My classmates would tell me nicely that that is not the way to use a word. I didn't mind. You won't learn without trying,' she said.

    Crescent Girls' principal Eugenia Lim said this drive is something she looks for when she interviews candidates for scholarships given out by the school.

    'I look at whether the student can succeed academically and adapt to life here,' said the school head, who takes in more than 20 students from China each year. She believes they add to the school's cultural diversity and inspire local students to believe that top-notch scores are achievable targets.

    Some principals point out that being a year older than the rest of their classmates may be a reason the China students do well, but others say the steely drive they have is not always seen in Singapore students, regardless of age.

    Tanjong Katong Girls' vice-principal Marilyn Chia said: 'They tend to be a year or two older, so they are more mature,but I think the larger reason is they are committed to doing well here.'

    Her school has two students from China aged 17, who each scored nine A1s.

    Cedar Secondary vice-principal Dawn Lee added: 'They were taking a chance by coming to Singapore, since they were already doing so well in China. They want to make the risk that they took worthwhile and are determined to succeed.'

    Catholic High principal Lee Hak Boon noted that when these students are being interviewed for school places here, they often parrot memorised speeches along the lines of 'I want to come to Singapore. It is a beautiful country and it is economically strong'.

    But in two years, their command of the language becomes fluent because 'they put in so much effort on their own. Some even read English dictionaries'.

    Singaporean students who were interviewed said they are impressed by the grit of their foreign schoolmates, and some regard them as role models.

    Cedar Girls' student Kashmira Jirafe, 16, who scored nine A1s and is among the top Indian students, said: 'I feel guilty sometimes, seeing how hard they work. But they remind me that I have to work hard too.'

    She added: 'Some of my classmates and I ask the foreign students for help in maths and physics, and we help them in English.'

    Tuesday, January 4, 2011

    Plight of the bumblebee


    Home > World > Story

    Jan 5, 2011

    Plight of the bumblebee

    Study highlights impact of species wipe-out from inbreeding and disease

    WASHINGTON: Weakened by inbreeding and disease, bumblebees have died off at an astonishing rate over the past 20 years, with some US species diving by more than 90 per cent, says a study.

    The findings are of concern because bees play a crucial role in pollinating crops such as tomatoes, peppers and berries, according to a three-year study published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Similar declines have also been seen in Europe and Asia, said Ms Sydney Cameron, the main author of the study.

    It linked the bumblebee decline in the United States to a lack of genetic diversity which might make them vulnerable to a disease-causing pathogen called the Nosema bombi, which has also afflicted European bumblebees.

    Ms Cameron, of the Department of Entomology and the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois, said the decline is 'huge and recent', having taken place in the last two decades.

    But she said the study could not definitely conclude that Nosema bombi was responsible for killing off bumblebees.

    'It's just an association. There may be other causes,' she said.

    Researchers examined eight species of North American bumblebees and found the relative abundance of four species had dropped by more than 90 per cent.

    Their cousins, the honey bees, have also experienced catastrophic die-offs since 2006 in a phenomenon known as 'colony collapse disorder', though the causes have yet to be fully determined. Scientists from the US Department of Agriculture said the pathogens to blame are a fungus and a family of viruses, according to BBC News.

    Bumblebees also make honey, but it is used to feed the colony, not farmed for human consumption.

    They are, however, raised in Europe to pollinate greenhouse vegetables in a multibillion-dollar industry that has more recently taken off in Japan and Israel and is being developed in Mexico and China, Ms Cameron said.

    'We need to start to develop other bees for pollination besides honey bees because they are suffering enormously,' she added.

    There are around 250 species of bumblebees, including 50 in the US alone.

    Last September, a study carried out by Scottish scientists suggested that some of Britain's rarest bumblebees were at risk of becoming extinct as a result of inbreeding and increased susceptibility to parasitic infection, according to BBC News.


    China needs 300 years to reclaim deserts


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    Jan 5, 2011

    China needs 300 years to reclaim deserts

    Progress made, but long way to go to recover salvageable land: Official

    Labourers going for a break after planting grass on the fringe of a desert in Minqin county, in north-west Gansu province, in an attempt to reduce desertification last month. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

    BEIJING: China has made some progress in slowing the loss of land to deserts, but forestry officials said yesterday that it could take hundreds of years to reclaim areas already swallowed by sand.

    From 2005 to 2009, the country reduced the area claimed by deserts by 1,717 sq km, two and a half times the size of Singapore, on average each year.

    But at that rate, China has a long way to go to recover areas that could still be salvaged, said an official.

    'Assuming that we treat 1,717 sq km a year, I've calculated that we'd need about 300 years,' said Mr Liu Tuo, who heads the forestry authority's bureau that fights desertification.

    By the end of 2009, China had desertified 2.62 million sq km, or 27.3 per cent, of the land area found largely in its north-west.

    'The trends of desertification have not been fundamentally reversed,' said Mr Zhu Lieke, deputy administrator of the forestry body, when releasing the results of a survey on the degradation of dryland, the fourth such study. 'Our country has the largest affected areas worldwide.'

    In places such as south-western Sichuan province and the lower reaches of the Tarim River in southern Xinjiang, desert land has expanded because of overgrazing, a lack of rain, the haphazard clearing of land for farming and the poor use of water resources, he noted.

    In Tibet, as well as in neighbouring Qinghai province, the situation has improved slightly, but remains a challenge, said Mr Liu.

    Climate change would also aggravate the problem, he said, noting that studies suggest a direct link between a rise in temperature and increased desertification.

    Thus, China has launched several projects, including a plan to restore 40 million ha of affected land by 2030 through reforestation.

    But more money and greater efforts by the local governments are needed in order to realise the goal, said Mr Liu.

    On a rosier note, forestry officials have claimed some progress in taming soil loss from wind erosion.

    This has been reduced significantly in key areas including Beijing and Tianjin, the forestry body said, citing figures from its five-year survey.

    Compared with 2001, soil loss from wind erosion has been reduced by 44 per cent, or 520 million tonnes, it said, adding that the effect of sandstorms has been mitigated.

    But sandstorms are still relatively common in the Chinese capital Beijing: early last year, China's northern areas were hit 15 times by storms, compared with 14 times in 2009.

    These storms have not just hit mainland China, but also Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea.

    Sandstorms are natural occurrences and could never be eliminated, said Mr Liu.

    'Currently we can't control air currents or strong winds,' he said. 'But what we can control is the source of the sand.'

    Fake wine, tofu... and now eggs

    Prime News

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    Jan 5, 2011

    Fake wine, tofu... and now eggs

    Chinese consumers outraged as one stomach-churning food scandal follows another

    BEIJING: China looks set to start the new year struggling with a food safety problem that it just cannot seem to overcome.

    From fake wine and bleached mushrooms to chemicals in hot pots and counterfeit tofu, the country has been dogged by multiple food scandals in recent weeks, all coming after melamine-tainted milk killed six babies and made 300,000 ill in 2008.

    In one of the latest stings, state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) uncovered the process behind the making of fake eggs - a persistent practice that is dangerous because of the chemicals used.

    Local media followed up with reports of rampant Do-It-Yourself DVDs being sold online that provide 'lessons' on how to make fake eggs. The disks are sold for 500 yuan (S$100) each.

    The fake eggs, which are sold as the real thing for anything from 0.5 yuan each, cost only 0.05 yuan to produce, several times cheaper than real ones.

    The series of scandals has angered experts and consumers.

    Professor He Bin from the China University of Political Science and Law, who found widespread use of a fluorescent whitening agent in mushrooms after conducting tests, is planning to file a lawsuit against the capital's food supervisory authorities.

    'There are no safeguards at all for the food safety of Beijing's 20 million-plus residents,' he wrote on his blog.

    A worried Madam Zhang Rui, 36, a technical manager in an IT company, said: 'What can you eat in China any more? We are eating things which even ants avoid.'

    One of the most shocking food safety violations in the past month involved steamboats, which are popular in China during winter. According to reports by CCTV and China National Radio, 80 per cent of the country's hotpots use chemical flavour-enhancing additives that contain harmful materials.

    A Nanjing paper added that so many chemicals are used that the coastal city's supervision bureau could not tell which are dangerous.

    This was followed by revelations last week of fake wine being sold in northern Hebei province, made up largely of water, chemicals and colouring agents and flavourings.

    The chemicals can cause 'headaches and irregularities in the rhythm of the heart as well as cancer', wine expert Huang Weidong from the China Alcoholic Drinks Industry Association told state media.

    And last Wednesday, fake tofu was discovered in central Wuhan city. Its packaging even carried sophisticated anti-counterfeit laser film labels.

    'It's frightening,' said Madam Zhang. 'I avoid hotpots, drink less wine, don't eat mushrooms and don't drink milk. But I fear there is just no running away.'

    But some believe that China's problems of tainted food have been exaggerated by its media and netizens.

    'The food safety problem in China is actually improving,' said Professor Luo Yunbo from the College of Food Science and Nutritional Engineering. 'Our people are living longer and they are healthier... we are paying more attention to the issue because it is often played up by the new media, sensationalising the problems.'

    But, he acknowledged, Chinese consumers must also play their part. 'We talk about food safety, but are we willing to pay for it?' he said. 'Consumers in China want things cheap, so producers meet the demand by cutting corners.'

    Additional reporting by Carol Feng

    Making a fake egg as easy as 1-2-3

    ACCORDING to reports in the Chinese media, this is how to make a fake egg:

    1. Start with the yolk

    Put sodium alga acid in a beaker full of water and stir. Add some calcium chloride powder. The mixture will become as yellow as an egg yolk. Pour the mixture into a half-sized table tennis ball and shake. It soon takes on a spherical shape resembling a yolk.

    2. Add the white

    Drop the fake yolk into a basin of colourless sodium alga acid and shake. Within minutes, a fake egg appears. It looks like a peeled preserved egg.

    3. Finish off with the shell

    A shell is made from calcium oxide, stearic acid and edible paraffins. After it is constructed, the fake egg is left alone and untouched to prevent cracking.