March 30, 2017

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earth by Kevin Gill

by The Middle Ground

MAR 8 marked International Women’s Day, a day to commemorate the women’s rights movement. The campaign theme for this year is #BeBoldForChange: Call on the masses or call on yourself to help forge a better working world – a more gender inclusive world.

While there were many activities to celebrate women around the world, it is without a doubt that women still face sexism and discrimination in their daily lives. Here are five different events that happened in the past week that will explain why it is imperative to continue fighting for equal rights.

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1. Luxembourg City, Luxembourg – “Women must earn less than men”

Image by Leonardo1982, from Pixabay 

On Mar 3, the European Parliament decided to launch a hate speech investigation on Polish member of European Parliament (MEP) Janusz Korwin-Mikke, for making misogynistic remarks in his capacity as MEP.

Mr Korwin-Mikke, founder of Polish far-right party Coalition for the Renewal of the Republic — Freedom and Hope, incited outrage when he argued that “women must earn less than men because they are weaker, they are smaller, they are less intelligent” during a European Parliament debate on the gender pay gap.

Mr Korwin-Mikke’s views were immediately rebutted by fellow MEP, Spaniard Iratxe Garcia Perez. In a speech bristling with indignation, Ms Perez stated “I know it hurts and worries you that today women can sit in this house and represent European citizens with the same rights as you. I am here to defend all European women from men like you.”

Rule 11 of the European Parliament’s Rules of Procedure states that “members’ conduct shall be (characterised) by mutual respect” and “members shall not resort to defamatory, racist or xenophobic language or (behaviour) in parliamentary debates.” If found in contravention of this rule, Mr Korwin-Mikke may be subject to a fine and/or temporarily suspended from Parliament.
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2. California, United States – Former Uber employee speaks up about toxic work culture
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Someone using the Uber app while a taxi passes by
Image from TMG File 
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Susan Fowler, a former site reliability engineer for Uber, revealed the culture of sexual harassment and misogyny that pervaded her former company in a blog post dated Feb 19. She documented her problems with the company – one experience involved reporting a manager who was propositioning her to HR, who refused to fire the guilty manager because he was a “high performer”, and instead advised her to transfer out of her team.
When I joined Uber, the (department) I was part of was over 25% women. By the time I was trying to transfer to another (engineering department), this number had dropped down to less than 6%. Women were transferring out of the organisation, and those who couldn’t transfer were quitting or preparing to quit. There were two major reasons for this: there was the organisational chaos, and there was also the sexism within the organisation.
Uber is facing increasing corporate and employee backlash over its “hustle-oriented” and unpleasant workplace culture. After Fowler’s viral blog post, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick sent a company-wide memo asserting that the company would be investigating the claims made, with Holder and Tammy Albarran of law firm Covington & Burling leading the investigation.
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3. Britain – Emma Watson can’t be a feminist? 
Screenshot from Twitter user JuliaHB1
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Emma Watson’s photo in a white ropy top that exposed most of her breasts got a British radio presenter and commentator questioning Emma’s feminist beliefs. The commentator, Julia Hartley-Brewer tweeted a photo of Watson’s vanity photoshoot picture on Mar 1.
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This tweet quickly received backlash and eventually got to Emma’s attention. She was “stunned by the vitriol she’s received”. In an interview with Reuters, the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador said, “They were saying that I couldn’t be a feminist and have boobs.” Julia continued to defend her tweet by saying that Watson “complains that women are sexualised and then sexualises herself in her own work. Hypocrisy.” Another celebrity, Gloria Steinem, when asked for comments, told TMZ that “Feminists can wear anything they f****** want.”
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Emma was shocked that people are still unclear what feminism mean and said that “Feminism is about giving women choice…it’s about equality. It’s not — I really don’t know what my t*ts have to do with it.”
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4. Manhattan, New York City, USA – New resident opposite famous Wall Street bull 
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Image from Facebook page All Women Are Beautiful
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On the eve of International Women’s Day (March 7), a 50-inch bronze statue of a little girl was installed opposite Wall Street’s famous charging bull. This statue was sculpted by artiste Kristen Visbal of Delaware and installed by State Street Global Advisors.
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Fortune reported that the newly added statue was a representation of State Street Global Advisors’ new commitment to gender parity in corporate boardrooms. The firm also announced that it would pressure 3,500 companies worth $30 trillion in market cap to aim for gender parity on their boards.

However, this much-received attention and praised statue, according to Huffington Post’s Emily Peck “is just a super-sophisticated bit of feminist marketing.” In her article titled: Why the ‘Fearless Girl’ Statue Is Kinda Bull, she goes on to explain about the firm’s failure to mention that the company does not have many women employees and that only three women are on the Board of Directors. “If the goal is gender equality, State Street’s women stats are terrible. They reveal the sculpture and the call to action as a mostly empty seduction.”
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5. Washington D.C, U. S. A – How the GOP “celebrated” IWD

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images, from Pixabay

On IWD, some members of the Republican Party of the United States, nicknamed the Grand Old Party (GOP), pushed for legislation that wanted to defund Planned Parenthood; America’s most trusted health care provider of reproductive health care which provides high quality and affordable medical care.

A press conference was held in D.C to address changes that the Republicans were proposing to the Affordable Care Act. House Speaker, Paul Ryan said that defunding Planned Parenthood “… is what we’ve been dreaming about doing.” The new bill will end funding to Planned Parenthood and “sends money to community centers,” he said. This new bill will affect poor and low-income Americans the most.

This happened on the same day that Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau announced a a $650 million initiative to fund sex education and reproductive health services worldwide.

Featured image Earth by Flickr user Kevin GillCC BY-SA 2.0

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skillsfuture_300x250

by Daniel Yap

MY BIGGEST disappointment with the 2017 budget is not just how “same old” it is, it’s how nothing is being done to overhaul the Baby Bonus Scheme. A same old budget would be fine if things were all working out, but that’s not what Singapore is looking at in the next 10 years.

Taking a page from the “same old” Committee for the Future Economy report is not going to cut it with yet-unsolved issues still staring us in the face. Healthcare costs are rising and will continue to rise. Labour supply is tight.

All talk about a budget for Singapore’s long-term future is rubbish without a clear action plan for Singapore’s dismal total fertility rate, which fell to a pathetic 1.20 in 2016 from an equally low 1.24 in 2015. All this while, we have been rah-rah-ing about a spike in births (although not the birth rate) during the SG50 jubilee year.

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A low birth rate has negative repercussions on a host of national issues: labour supply, immigration, national identity, the ageing population, healthcare, and economic growth, to name a few. Why then is Budget 2017 providing no new ideas for this? Why aren’t we focused on changing up the Marriage and Parenthood Package and Baby Bonus Scheme since it clearly isn’t having the effect we need it to have?

PM Lee has talked about ruthlessly discarding ideas that aren’t working, and after 16 years, haven’t we realised that this is not going the way we want it to?

Has Singapore simply given up? Are we not spending more to highlight the importance of a healthy birth rate?

Or has the G made some quiet internal calculation and realised that it is cheaper to naturalise citizens from abroad, making other nations pay for child-raising, and then Singapore picks the best and reaps the benefits of their productive adult years, leaving only their silver years for the state to pay for?

It is a shrewd but cold way of thinking about it, and a fantastic way to balance the budget – don’t spend on trying to fix what you’re already horrible at. Just work on the economy and on what attracts new citizens, like security and HDB grants. Cover up Singapore’s weak spots by leveraging on its strong points (attractive to migrants). Never mind if the end result is a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster, right?

Suggestions, anyone?

But what’s the point of a get-by city where the future belongs to someone else’s children? Let’s not treat the situation lightly. Falling birth rates reflect entrenched attitudes that will take Herculean efforts to move. Where are the Herculean ideas?

Here’s one idea: give each Singaporean child a living wage (sometimes called a child benefit or allowance). Say, $500 a month from birth to 18 years (then the boys can start living off their NS allowance). And 20 per cent goes into CPF (because we’re Singaporean like that). Inflation-pegged increases kick in every two years. Two kids could buy you a 2-room HDB flat. At age 18, they would have $27,000 in CPF to pay for university or a house.

It’s a Singaporean version of what some other states are doing – countries like Sweden and Finland have a state child allowance (about S$170 for Sweden, plus a bonus for larger families; Finland pays a child allowance of S$140-250 depending on birth order; Ireland has a child benefit of just over S$200 per child, with a multiplier applied for multiple births). Total fertility rates there hover around 1.8 and 2.0; a healthy situation once you factor in some immigration.

Such a plan will cost us $5.4 billion a year if we have 50,000 babies (right now with 30,000 babies it will cost about $3.3 billion). We’re already spending $2 billion a year on the marriage and parenthood package. The extra billions spent will have a better long-run payoff than GIC’s impressive track record (GIC contributed $15 billion to the 2016 budget).

Want to tweak it further? Consider this – those who want children will want children, and those who don’t will not be convinced. So structure benefits so that parents will plan to have three or more children (i.e. the biggest bonuses kick in at child number three).

The current Baby Bonus is trying most of all to incentivise people to have children in general, and the incremental bonus for the third child and above is small. Make it such that the first two children receive an allowance of $250 each, but the third child receives $1,000. It’s not stingy, but it will definitely tip the balance towards already-parents making the decision to have yet another kid.

What about reforming education, a major reason for people to not have kids, within the next 10 years so that we no longer feel like it’s a pressure-cooker arms-race winner-takes-all mugger-fest that then feeds into our working life?

Instead, all we are talking about now in the kopitiams is a 30 per cent water rate hike, while the G is trying to convince us that this is a budget to “secure our future”. I don’t care much for either narrative.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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skillsfuture_300x250

by Daniel Yap

IT’S a comprehensive, well-researched proposal on a big topic. The Workers’ Party’s redundancy insurance proposal sets all the numbers out for us like a 10-year series answer sheet, but doesn’t shed so much light on what lines we are being asked to cross with this plan, and how we will deal with the risks.

It’s not the first time we’ve heard of the opposition party raising this issue, also known as unemployment insurance. Workers’ Party Chairman, Ms Sylvia Lim, first called for an insurance scheme for workers made redundant on April 4, during the Budget debates. But it’s the first proposal put together in such a comprehensive way. There’s certainly no lack of numbers to support their push for it.

While the numbers look promising on the face of it, variables remain. We are talking about a departure from the status quo, and a measure that has been offered before in a different form, but with little success.

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The question that we expect from the G, as always is: Why do we need it?

The G’s position has always been that we don’t need redundancy insurance because we have something better. Incentives to work, rather than for loss of work, light a fire under people’s bums. Skills upgrading helps them get employed. Insurance makes for moral hazard.

Early in May, during his NTUC May Day rally speech, PM Lee said: “we have something even better than unemployment insurance… The scheme is not paid by the workers or the employers. It is paid by the government and the scheme is not to help you stay unemployed but to help you get employed.” – responding to MPs calling for stronger safety nets for retrenched workers.

Labour Chief Chan Chun Sing has also gone on record saying: “The best way for us to take care of our people is to make sure they have a good job and they can take care of themselves.” He emphasised that union leaders must mobilise workers to make use of resources available such as the S$1 billion worth of SkillsFuture credit to upgrade themselves, to ensure that they stay employable in the long run.

Redundancy insurance is a different way of protecting workers. It’s untested, but there’s only one way to know if it works. Do it.

Redundancy insurance is a different way of protecting workers. It is as yet untested in Singapore but after all the theoretical debate is done, there’s only one way to find out if it works as intended. It is what the G did for the Progressive Wage Model – design it as well as you can, put it into action and then fix, fix, fix.

But is the leap worth it? Do we need more protection? There is such a thing as over-insurance. Singapore has always eschewed socialisation when it comes to worker risks. Every man must be responsible for his own upkeep. Yes, with socialised risk, we help one another, but shouldn’t that be something that happens organically, rather than a mandatory scheme that WP is proposing?

Most of all, we enter uncharted territory. WP’s proposal needs to be mitigated at the very least, and risks need to be pared down.

 

Prior work requirement

To reduce the risk of people exploiting the system by engaging in falsified employment and falsified redundancy, a three-month period of CPF-contributing work in the last 12 months should be mandated for a worker to qualify for the benefits, which are pegged to CPF contributions.

This also gives the self-employed more impetus to contribute to their CPF. The current norm of the self-employed not contributing to CPF (as a result of having little concept of retirement planning) is antiquated and needs to be further discouraged.

 

Pay it back

To reduce the over-socialisation of the risk, the scheme can have a mechanism that has beneficiaries of the insurance pay back to the funds after they have found re-employment.

For a period equal to the benefits they received (ie, up to six months), re-employed workers will have 1 per cent of their wage (20 times their normal premium), paid back to the scheme from their CPF Ordinary Account (so as to preserve their already-tight cashflow). Employers pay the usual 0.05 per cent.

 

Mitigating worker complacency

One theory says that worker psychology will change and damage our productivity. Another theory says that a safety net will enhance our risk appetite and spur productivity and innovation. There is no real way to find out which will happen without implementing the proposal.

Two tweaks can be made to the proposal to reduce this risk factor. One, stage the introduction of the redundancy insurance and monitor its effect on worker psyche. In the first year, payouts can be capped at 20 per cent. Up it to 30 per cent in the second year and 40 per cent in the third year. If at any time there seems to be a detrimental effect on worker psychology, Parliament can move to delay the next increment or reduce the payout levels.

Two, a waiting period can be introduced before payouts kick in. Retrenched workers receive no benefits for one month after their job loss and the payouts kick in the month after. If all goes well, this waiting period can be reduced to two weeks or less.

 

Not enough time

Singapore is on the cusp of a recession, and possibly a prolonged one. If redundancies keep climbing (see our summary of the Q3 2015 labour market report here), then the scheme will have no chance of becoming self-sustaining without injections from the G.

WP’s proposal is not ignorant of this, and urges implementation while the economic going is still good. But is it good enough today?
screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-11-10-21-pmHere’s an extension of WP’s math for today’s situation. Conservative estimates skirt the break-even point.

It will be worse by end 2016. Redundancies have been about 35 per cent higher in the first three quarters of 2016 than in the same period in 2015. If Singapore wants to implement this without a G top-up, it will probably have to wait until the next growth cycle.

 

Resignations as retrenchments

You can always expect some deviant to try to game the system. The simplest way to betray the social compact here is for workers and employers to collude, declaring resignations as retrenchments. Employers may even get kickbacks from departing workers.

Granted, the incentive for this to be rampant is small – even if an employee resigns, how many really want to be living on 40 per cent of their wage? This will be most appealing to the currently unemployed, who may flit in and out of employment just to get the 40 per cent benefit. Such behaviour is not easy to weed out.

This has already been mentioned as a risk in the proposal. The plan to counter it, is to incentivise companies that don’t declare retrenchments with financial rebates. It is a fair suggestion, but it does not mean that it will work. Already, current schemes such as Wage Credits and Productivity and Innovation Credits have experienced abuse through exaggerated claims or filings, some of which are hard to detect.

 

A question of culture

A system like this, once in place, is like a foot in the door. It is easier to tweak rates and percentages than to pass new legislation. The question Singaporeans must ask ourselves is whether we are willing to pool risk in this manner.

What does it come down to? First, how communal are we? Do we expect everyone to play fair, or at the very least, do we expect that cheaters will get caught? Do we feel a burden for those affected by redundancy to the point that we are willing to bear a cost (of a kopi a month) to fund relief schemes? Think about your current contributions to CDAC/Mendaki/Sinda/Eurasian Association: how do you feel about that?

Second, given our existing framework for dealing with redundancies (training, placement, and financial aid only to the most vocal desperate), are we to see this very conservative scheme as a cash component supplement to the existing system (and we have such payouts currently in the limited form of Workfare) or will this trigger “welfare state” alarm bells among our most conservative?

 

Parliament

Is there a chance that this could be passed in Parliament? No. Not in its current configuration anyway. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has already made public the G’s stand (and we assume the ruling party’s as well) that the system we currently have is “better than unemployment insurance”.

Yet there are other MPs who have been vocal about exploring redundancy insurance, even unemployment insurance. NTUC’s Patrick Tay called for further study on the concept in a CNA interview earlier this year, even though fellow unionist Zainal Sapari’s comments to TODAY seemed to pour cold water on the WP proposal.

No doubt WP will try to take this proposal as far as they can in Parliament. But if it comes down to a vote, will NTUC Secretary General Chan Chun Sing, also the PAP party whip, allow PAP MPs to vote with their conscience?

 

Read our other article on WP’s proposal: Everything that’s right about The Workers’ Party’s redundancy proposal

 

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Ryan Ong

NOW that America has severed its final connections to reality, we’re ready to re-live the Cold War years. It’s back to conflicts via proxy militia groups, stand-offs against China and Russia, and chest thumping apes elected to office.

The only difference is this time, it’s due to too much oil instead of too little.  Here’s a round-up of some financial issues from this year, that you’ll be hearing about next year.

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THERE’S the big news which has been dominating headlines like the impending demise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and what US President-elect Donald Trump is up to. But Mother nature, as well as human nature, deserves its fair share of space as well. This time, we’ll take you to little known places where the news hit the locals in a big way.

 

1. Fukushima, Japan – 6.9 magnitude earthquake strikes the same area

fukushima earthquake 2016

Image from the U.S. Geological Survey website

A 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck south east of Namie, Fukushima, close to the epicentre of the devastating 2011 earthquake on the morning of Nov 22. The Japan Meteorological Agency said the latest tremor was an aftershock of the 2011 quake. Strong tremors could also be felt as far away as Tokyo, where buildings shook for at least 30 seconds.

The earthquake caused the cooling system at Fukushima Daini nuclear plant to stop briefly while three injuries were reported and more than 1,900 homes experienced a short loss of power.

A tsunami warning for waves up to three metres was issued for the same stretch of coast that was destroyed by waves up to 12 meters five years ago. Tens of thousands of people heeded evacuation warnings and headed for higher ground. The highest wave reported, however, was only 1.4 meters near the city of Sendai. Eight aftershocks of at least magnitude 5.4 were recorded within five hours of the initial quake.

 

2. Kolkata, India – Infants trafficked in biscuit containers

kolkata

Image a screenshot from Google Maps.

The Indian police have arrested 11 people since Nov 23 for their alleged involvement in infant trafficking after the police raided a private nursing home and found two babies in cardboard boxes, locked in a medical storeroom. The owner and staff of the nursing home, as well as court clerks are suspected of making fake documentation for the smuggled infants, and the head of the charity which ran the adoption centre, where the infants were sold to childless couples, were among those arrested.

Initial investigations revealed that the babies were stolen from women who delivered at the nursing home, where they were told by staff that their children were stillborn. Unmarried girls and women who came to the clinic for an abortion were also persuaded to give birth and sell their babies.

The babies were transported to the adoption centre in cartons that were used to store biscuits. The police say that more people are likely to be arrested in the coming days as investigations continue.

 

3. Nicaragua and Costa Rica – Central America hit by record storm

Image a screenshot from Google Maps.

A category two storm, Otto, hit the southeastern coast of Nicaragua on Thursday, Nov 24. Nicaragua and Costa Rica were battered with hurricane-force winds and torrential rain before if it moved out to sea again on Friday. It is the southernmost hurricane on record to hit Central America and since records began in 1851, Costa Rica has not been directly hit by a hurricane.

Storm Otto has caused nine deaths in Costa Rica and some areas recorded more than month’s worth of rain in just a few hours. In Nicaragua, there were no reports of casualties and damage was said to be limited.

Both Costa Rican and Nicarguan officials had evacuated areas most at risk, closed schools and mobilised emergency crews. Up to 5,500 Costa Ricans were evacuated and President Luis Guillermo Solis has declared three days of mourning for the casualties suffered.

 

4. Guerrero, Mexico – Dozens of bodies found in secret graves

mexico

Image a screenshot from Google Maps.

Investigators have found 32 bodies and nine heads from secret graves in the municipality of Zitlala on Nov 24 after responding to a tip received two days before. It was reported that they initially rescued a kidnap victim and discovered 12 bodies and human remains in coolers. Further excavations revealed 20 pits, 17 of which contained human remains.

The state of Guerrero has been plagued by violent turf wars among drug cartels. Criminal gangs often bury their victims in secret graves. Just last weekend, the bodies of nine men, including five that were dismembered, were found on a roadside in Guerrero.

 

5. Fengcheng, China – 74 dead in power plant accident

China Power plant accident 2016

Photo by REUTERS/Stringer

The collapse of scaffolding at the Fengcheng power plant that took place on the morning of Nov 24 has killed 74 people.

The official China Daily newspaper said the accident was due to the collapse of a tower crane which triggered the collapse of the entire construction platform as the construction workers were changing shifts.

The construction work is part of a 7.67 billion yuan expansion project to add two 1,000-megawatt coal-fired power units by early 2018. The accident happened amidst the company’s 100-day campaign to speed up construction of the plant and take advantage of days with “fine weather”. The police have taken 13 people into custody.

 

 

Compiled by Vanessa Wu

Featured image Earth by Flickr user Kevin GillCC BY-SA 2.0

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by Li Shan Teo 

FARM-TO-TABLE dining isn’t new here, but what about farm-in-diner?

While a number of local restaurants and F&B establishments have long started their own edible gardens, or have commissioned farms to produce edibles for them – Fairmont Singapore has had its own private edible garden since 2008 – the presence of vegetables or herbs indoors, or very close to an eatery’s premises, is fast becoming popular.

Just last year, Open Farm Community, a restaurant in the Dempsey area with an urban farm on its premises, was launched. And recently in June this year, Open Door Policy at Tiong Bahru underwent a facelift to include – inside its dining area – an edible garden running the length of the restaurant.

“Diners seem to like knowing – and seeing with their own eyes – where their food comes from and how it is grown,” said Ms Natalia Tan, a spokesman for urban gardening specialists Edible Garden City. Having an edible garden nearby also “marks out a chef or restaurant as having a stronger commitment to the bigger picture of food”, she added.

Mr Calvin Soh, 49, of One Kind House, a cafe, agreed that “people want to be connected to nature”. And with edible gardens nearby, “it’s a marketing angle for them (the restaurants)”.

If you want to feel closer to nature while you dine, here are some places to check out:

 

One Kind House

Dubbed as a “21st century kampung” by Mr Soh, One Kind House is an eclectic mix of a cafe, art hub, garden, kitchen and restaurant. The elements combine into a friendly kampung-like environment, where people chat over cups of coffee or tea.

While the place is still a house for some members of the Soh family, anyone can walk in for coffee or tea, as One Kind House has a section reserved for a barista. 

If you’re lucky, you’ll get to taste some of “Mommy Soh’s” home-cooked lunches and dinners that are made with ingredients from the garden. The 74-year-old is the matriarch of the house and enjoys gardening and cooking. Invites for home-cooked meals are usually posted on Facebook and seats are limited (around 10 people usually), so remember to check the cafe’s page.

One Kind House doesn’t have a fixed price for their food and events – you tip to pay. But there are recommended tipping prices for you to consider.

It also offers classes on gardening and cooking.

one-kind-house

Image by Calvin Soh. 

 

Location: 136B Lorong J Telok Kurau, Singapore 425966 (opposite the Telok Kurau Park)

Opening hours:

Tues – Sun: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm

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Open Door Policy (ODP) 

Just recently renovated, ODP offers customers a the experience of dining in the company of fresh produce as an edible garden is placed along the length of the restaurant. Some of the produce grown in the restaurant include arugula, Russian kale and local lettuce.

odp-edible-garden

Image from ODP’s Facebook page.

The restaurant also boasts a rustic feel with its use of a brick and wood combination for its interior design. And its menu, which was created by head chef Daniele Sperindio who took over from chef Ryan Clift in 2014, is a nod to a diverse group of cultural influences – from Latin America, Europe, and Australia.

Some of the dishes include guacamole risotto ($20), kangaroo fillet ($34), braised beef cheek ($32) and pan seared sea bass with artichoke, potatoes and rocket salad ($27), which uses the produce from the edible garden.

odp

Image from ODP’s Facebook page

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Location: 19 Yong Siak Street, Singapore 168650

Tel: +65 6221 9307

Opening hours:
Mon, Wed – Friday: 12pm – 3pm, 6pm – 11pm

Sat: 11am – 4pm, 6pm – 11pm

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Open Farm Community (OFC)

The restaurant has an urban farm on its premises, boasting a “first-of-its-kind” dining concept in Singapore. The farm at OFC has a mix of herbs, vegetables and fruit trees, including greens such as basil and okra. The produce is used in the kitchen and the menu is seasonal, changing every four months.

As the farm is so close to the restaurant, customers can see the produce as they dine and walk among the different herbs and vegetables during their visit to OFC.

Some of the dishes on the menu right now include the watercress soup with soft poached hen’s egg, crispy kale, and olive oil caviar ($19), as well as braised lamb shank with homemade couscous, olives, capers and green peas ($45). You can check out the menu here.

OFC organises an Open Farmers’ Market on selected weekends, where people get to showcase and sell their fresh produce. The place also has farming workshops and activities such as a pasta masterclass to encourage an understanding of food and its origins.

ofc

Image from Open Farm Community’s website. 

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Location: 130E Minden Road, Singapore 248819

Tel: +65 6471 0306

Opening hours (restaurant):
Mon – Fri: 12pm – 4pm, 6pm – 10pm
Weekends and public holidays: 11am – 4pm, 6pm – 10pm
Opening hours (cafe): 8am – 9pm

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Artichoke

Farm-to-table eateries aren’t always found at ulu locations. Artichoke sits on the edge of Bugis street, making the cafe an accessible place to dine at. A few stacks of crates full of herbs and greens are found at the courtyard of the cafe, providing easy access for chefs to get some of their vegetables and herbs. Examples of the produce grown there include red peppers and tomatoes.

The cafe specialises in Moorish-Middle Eastern cuisine with a focus on using locally farmed ingredients as much as possible. Some of its dishes include feta burrata ($24), lamb shakshouka ($26) and cauliflower sabbich ($23).

artichoke

Image from Artichoke’s website. 

Location: 161 Middle Road, Singapore 188978

Tel: +65 6336 6949

Opening hours:
Tues – Sat: 6.30pm – 10.30pm
Sat: 11.30am – 3.30pm

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Featured image 20110610 garden by Flickr user Lake Lou (CC BY 2.0)

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NUS UTown

by Shantelle Sim

ONE word cropped up when National University of Singapore (NUS) undergraduates were asked about why they conducted orientation programmes: fun.

Professor Tan Tai Yong, who chaired a committee to review orientation programmes in NUS, was taken aback by their motivation. “People have lost sight of the true meaning of orientation,” he said.

Little was said about other objectives, such as “orienting’’ the students to the curriculum or even locations on campus or imbuing a cultural identity.

Undergraduate leaders seem intent on competing with one another for camp participants, with about 4,000 programmes – in NUS alone – held every year and 10,000 undergraduates taking part, not counting the 7,500 or so freshmen.

“It was time to push the re-set button on orientation,’’ Prof Tan told The Middle Ground in an exclusive interview.

Prof Tan used to be the Vice-Provost of Student Life in NUS until he moved to Yale-NUS in 2015 to run its academic affairs. He thought he was done with such concerns, but NUS Provost Tan Eng Chye thought that, on the contrary, he would be the best person to undertake the review given his experience. His report was released earlier this afternoon to NUS students and staff advisers through an email circular by the Provost.

NUS orientation woes

NUS found itself mired in controversy after The New Paper reported in July that its camps were becoming “increasingly sexualised”. The paper was tipped off by a reader who said there were incidents of “sexual harassment” during camps and quoted two female freshmen, one of whom witnessed a forfeit that re-enacted a rape scene.

Orientation programmes were suspended after a video showing four students grabbing the limbs of another student and dunking her into a body of water was posted online.

NUS conducted a disciplinary inquiry, resulting in punishments for 30 students that included suspensions for a semester, behavioural rehabilitation, official reprimands on the student’s permanent record, and fines of up to $2,000.

NUS’s Statute 6 on discipline states that the Board of Discipline can impose a fine of up to $10,000 on any student who violates a clause that gives rise to disciplinary proceedings. The Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) statutes on discipline cites the same figure for maximum disciplinary fines.

The last time an NUS student was fined was in 2012. Sun Xu, a Chinese scholar who called Singaporeans “dogs” on his microblog was fined $3,000 and required to perform three months of community service. His scholarship benefits were revoked, and he was further required to pay NUS $8,200 – the amount subsidised from his school fees previously as a scholar.

Reviewing orientation activities

Prof Tan said the NUS Office of Student Affairs had detailed briefing notes on what orientation groups should look out for when conducting the programmes, but they were more to ensure the safety of participants. Halls of residence, residential colleges and established faculty clubs have a better handle on what they would like to achieve with the freshmen, but this was not so with smaller or newer groups.

Night-cycling and clubbing, for instance, were part of orientation activities. Prof Tan couldn’t fathom how such activities could contribute to orientation objectives, not that there were any beyond “fun’’. Asked for the rationale, groups cited “tradition’’ even though they had been in existence for only a couple of years.

Nor could he fathom the popularity of forfeits, especially sexualised forfeits like doing push-ups on top of a female freshmen.

His 13-member committee, which included four undergraduates, had less than two months to come up with recommendations. It held six meetings with 160 students from the student community, grouping together representatives from the halls of residence, faculties, and student associations and clubs.

Prof Tan said the committee did not want a prescriptive approach. He preferred that a framework be set up so that orientation leaders are clear about the objectives of the programme, abide by a code of conduct on behaviour and be self-policing. But he was also keen to have staff and faculty members involved and a recourse for freshmen who do not want to take part in activities they are not comfortable with.

The students’ union, he said, proposed a hotline that it would be manned during this period. The committee also proposed that each camp have a “safety officer’’ who is a student within the camp leadership, who can ensure activities follow camp protocol and put a stop to inappropriate behaviour.

Future for camp committees

Some of the committee’s recommendations however might not go down well with a student body which had been left very much alone in organising the activities, save for obtaining approval from a faculty member for the programme. Now, each camp will commence with a welcome speech from a staff adviser to reinforce the University’s orientation objectives.

Groups that were dependent on recruiting volunteers to run the orientation programmes will now have to make sure that organisers go through an interview process, and are trained to respect diversity and read signs of distress. Staff advisers of these camps will also experience similar training.

The report drew mixed responses from former participants and organisers of orientation camps.

Mr Thenappa Shanmuham, 21, who took part in two orientation camps and will be part of the mechanical engineering camp organising committee next year said: “I think it is a long overdue makeover of the orientation camps in NUS after so many complaints of lewd behaviour during camps for many years.” However, he added that freshmen are “all adults” and should “suck it up”.

Mr Louis Teo, 23, who was a camp organiser in 2015, said: “I think future camps may find it harder to find orientation leaders because students will think the camps are too controlled.”

Miss Rachael Ng, 19, a freshmen orientation camp participant in 2016, said: “The framework would help to ensure everyone can have fun without feeling pressured to do anything they don’t want to do, but this lack of freedom may cause students to turn away from participating or organising in these camps.”

There are also students who are sceptical of the guidelines’ effectiveness.

Miss Jermaine Boh, 21, an orientation group leader in 2015, said: “These may be cosmetic guidelines because students may not follow them when they are not monitored, and it’s a bit uncalled for because camps are supposed to be easy and fun and guidelines restrict a lot of stuff.”

Miss Kimberly Tay, 22, an orientation group leader in 2014, said: “It shows that at least NUS is taking formative steps. But I am not very sure whether they are targeting the root of the problem. For the workshops, well, there were already existing talks for leaders but you can’t really determine how the leaders will behave in camp until the camp itself.”

The portrayal of orientation camps in Singapore as having lewd and obscene acts has been a constant source of news for many years. But the increased use of social media meant even more exposure was given to activities that could be misconstrued as mischievous or lewd – even if they were innocently organised.

Prof Tan is under no illusions that there will always be mischief makers who want to vilify aspects of orientation through social media. Likewise, there would be the few miscreants who abuse their authority as orientation leaders or seniors to take advantage of female students.

For some reason, the media is prompt to pounce on stories about university orientation camps every July.

“It sells newspapers for some reason,” he said.

 

The writer is a third-year student in the NUS Communications and New Media Department.

 

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earth by Kevin Gill

IT SEEMS that October is a month for awareness of things that can creep up on you. There was World Mental Health Day last Monday (Oct 10) and we’re now in the midst of a month-long campaign of Breast Cancer Awareness.

About 36 people are told that they are diagnosed with cancer each day. Latest figures from National Registry of Diseases Office reported an increase in cancer cases by 17 per cent since 2010. The numbers jumped from 11,431 in 2010 to 13,416 in 2014. Breast cancer, the most common cancer among women, marked one of the highest increases in cancer cases. Globally, a total of 1.7 million breast cancer cases were reported.

All around the world, campaigns are being organised in support  of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In Singapore, groups have organised the annual Pink Ribbon Walk, cancer survivors strutting on a runway in outfits sewn by themselves and MRTs are going pink with the decals. It isn’t just to raise the women’s antenna to this disease but also to tell others that survivors can  lead a normal life even after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

One Swedish group, however, had its campaign disrupted when Facebook removed its video on breast cancer awareness. The social media platform has since apologised for it. Use the map to check out the video and what else people are doing to raise awareness. Then look over our selection of quotes from newsmakers the world over.

 

 

 

 

Syria’s First Lady rejected offer of asylum

“I’ve been here since the beginning and I never thought of being anywhere else at all.”

— Mrs Asma al-Assad, Syria’s First Lady

Mrs Asma al-Assad has revealed that she rejected a deal to offer her safe passage out of war-torn Syria so that she could stay by her husband’s side. Mrs Assad believed that those who offered her safe passage were trying to undermine her husband’s presidency. Mr Bashar al-Assad has been President since 2000, after taking over his late father, Hafez al-Assad. Mrs Assad has refused to reveal who had made the offer in an interview with Russian state-backed television. She also praised Russia for its “noble efforts” supporting the regime. It was estimated earlier this year that as many as 400,000 people have died in the ensuing violence.

 

Trump might not accept election results 

“I will keep you in suspense, OK?”

— Mr Donald Trump, United States presidential nominee

Mr Donald Trump has declared that he would keep the Americans in suspense over whether he would accept the election results. His refusal to endorse the results are unheard of in modern American history. Mr Trump’s comments directly contradict those of his running mate, Mike Pence, who just a few days ago, said that he’d “absolutely accept the result of the election”. Mr Trump has also contradicted himself. In the first presidential debate, when he said: “The answer is: if she wins, I will absolutely support her.” Hillary Clinton has described her rival’s refusal to accept the outcome of the election as “horrifying”.

 

France TV breast kiss puts sex harassment under spotlight 

“I’m a human being, not just an object.”

 — Soraya, 21-year-old dancer

While Mr Donald Trump bragged about making unwanted sexual advances on women, a French commentator has gone a step further and actually kissed a woman on the breast on live TV. Mr Jean-Michel Maire found his attempt to kiss a young woman, Soraya, during an re-enactment of the Kim Kardashian robbery in Paris rebuffed. And instead of respecting her wishes, Mr Maire went for her chest. It is reported that he re-watched the episode and “laughed about it”. His actions prompted a backlash against “seduction a la francaise” – a traditional tolerance for male sexual opportunism, particularly by those in positions of power. More than 250 outraged viewers, including women’s rights minister Laurence Rossignol, have complained to the media regulator and called for Mr Maire to be prosecuted.

 

Philippines anti-US protestors rammed by police van

“Even as the president avowed an independent foreign policy, Philippines police forces still act as running dogs of the US.”  

— Mr Renato Reyes, member of left-wing activist group Bayan

A protest in Manila to demand the end of the US military presence in the Philippines erupted in violence as a police van rammed into the crowd several times, injuring a number of people. The police had arrested at least 23 people, who threw red paint at them and a member of the US forces at the embassy. The van had at one point knocked over a woman and dragged her body along the road. It remains unclear as to how many protesters were injured by the police van and how serious their injuries are.

 

Iraqi PM upbeat on Mosul offensive 

“The forces are pushing towards the town more quickly than we thought and more quickly than we had programmed in our campaign plan.”

— Haider al-Abadi, Iraqi Prime Minister

The operation to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from Islamic State (IS) militants is moving faster than planned, the Iraqi PM said. He added that the move showed the unity of purpose between Iraqi and Kurdish forces. His comments came as Kurdish and Iraqi forces move into Mosul from the east, north and south of the city. The operation to retake the city began on Monday (Oct 17) – Mosul has been in the hands of IS since 2014. Up to 1.5 million civilians are thought to still be inside the city.

 

Disgraceful for Opposition to walk out on Budget: Najib

“the opposition MPs walked out of Najib’s speech because we can’t stand the hypocrisy of a scandal-ridden kleptocrat”

— Chua Tian Chang, Opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Vice-President

Opposition lawmakers in Malaysia walked out in protest of a budget speech presented by Prime Minister (PM) Najib Razak. A majority of the opposition lawmakers were later reported to have been holding placards reading “who is MO1 (Malaysian Official 1)”. This in reference to a civil lawsuit filed by the United States Department of Justice to recover more than US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) in assets embezzled from state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad. Mr Najib has lashed out saying that the opposition’s conduct was unprofessional and disrespected the parliament.

 

Compiled by Iffah Nadhirah Osman and Li Shan Teo. 

Featured image Earth by Flickr user Kevin GillCC BY-SA 2.0

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Green clock showing 8.30.

LOCAL singer Nathan Hartono is back home, landing at 10:40pm last night (Oct 9) after bagging second place at the Sing! China, but he’s not the only brand to represent the nation internationally this week. Bak kwa maker Bee Cheng Hiang has finally opened its store in Japan, one of the hardest markets to crack.

It is a store that Bee Chang Hiang says is 20 years in the making after having to satisfy strict regulations and inspections and going down the route of foll ownership rather than franchising. The company opened in China in 2002, where it now has over 200 stores, and in South Korea in 2010, where it has 17 stores. Will the Japanese bite?

What Singaporeans might want to get a bit of is some BTO flats that will have shorter waiting times: Two or three years instead of the usual three or four. How will HDB achieve this? Start building first before putting them up for sale. It’s nothing phenomenal, but it just means that the developer will lose some flexibility and lead-time when trying to react to changing market conditions.

Oh dear, Nathan Hartono only got about 20 supporters to welcome him at the airport. Not as many as our other national hero Joseph Schooling. Was it because there was no Milo truck? And ST ran a photo of Changi Airport’s under construction Terminal 4 on the front page while Hartono’s photo got buried. Did T4 win a singing competition?

No, it’s just under construction. Sure, it’s going to feature more automated services than other terminals, but what? A half-ready terminal (it will be ready by end of this year) steals Hartono’s limelight?

Business with China is not as smooth as Hartono’s voice. Even though theorists are tittering about how the singer was a victim of nationalism amidst a row between Singapore and China’s Global Times (the votes don’t add up!) Today reported that some local businesses are getting prodded by their Chinese counterparts over the Global Times reports (we say bullying) as voices get shrill over the South China Sea (Sing! China judges would not approve of shrillness).

Best in show (which is what we think Nathan Hartono is): The judges at August’s World Robot Games in Indonesia were impressed by the Paya Lebar Methodist Girls’ School team and gave them 15 awards across 34 categories, making them the top team at the meet. The team was laughed at for being the only girls in a field of some 300 boys from across Asia. Tsk tsk. Guess who got the last laugh?

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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MENTAL illness is an issue which tends to be over-looked by society.

In 2014, a study done by the Institute of Mental Health reported that around 12 per cent of Singapore’s population, ages 18 and above suffered from depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and alcohol abuse. On a wider scale, an estimate of 350 million people suffered from depression, 60 million suffered from bipolar affective disorder, 21 million people are affected by schizophrenia and other psychoses, and 47.5 million people have been diagnosed with dementia.

Over the years, more advocates and organisations have come together to help the mentally ill, by conducting walks to raise the awareness of mental illness and providing a hub for these people to find jobs, among other things.

In conjunction with World Mental Health Day (Oct 10), use the map below to see what countries are doing to raise awareness and help those suffering from mental illnesses. Then, check out our selection of quotes pertaining to other world news.

Russia deploys missile system to Syria 

“Let me remind you that the S-300 is a purely defensive system and poses no threat to anyone.”  

— Igor Konashenkov, Russian defence ministry spokesman

Russia has sent an S-300 air defence missile system to its naval base in Syria’s port of Tartus. Mr Igor Konashenkov, Russia’s defence ministry spokesman, said that the purpose of the missile system was to guarantee the security of the base from the air. The move comes amid deepening tension between Russia with the West.  Just on Monday,  the US halted talks with Russia on coordinating air strikes against jihadists. Konashenkov thought that it’s “unclear why the deployment of the S-300 caused such alarm among our Western partners,” as the system is similar to the one deployed at sea on the cruiser Moskva.

 

Poland’s abortion ban collapses

“Warsaw was swarming with women in black. It was amazing to feel the energy and the anger, the emotional intensity was incredible.”

— Agnieszka Graff, a commentator and activist

A controversial proposal to establish a total ban on abortion appeared to have collapsed after senior leaders from the ruling party – Law and Justice party (PiS) – decided to step away from it. The decision was made after a mass protest on the streets of Warsaw – about 30,000 people boycotted work and class on Monday (Oct 3). The Liberal MP and former prime minister Ewa Kopacz told reporters that the PiS made a u-turn on the proposal because “it was scared by all the women who hit the streets in protest”. The protest has been reported to not only stop the passing of the bill, but have increased support for the liberalisation of existing laws.

 

UN Peacekeepers in South Sudan refused to help 

“The UN peacekeeping mission faced a challenging environment during the July violence in Juba, but it underperformed in protecting civilians inside and outside its bases.”  

— Federico Borello, executive director of Washington-based Center for Civilians in Conflict (Civic)

Chinese UN peacekeepers in Juda, the capital of South Sudan, have “abandoned their posts entirely” at one civilian protection site, where thousands have sought safety from the outbreak of fighting, a report by Civic said. According to the report, on July 11, around 80 to 100 government soldiers of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) attacked a compound in Juba where they raped and gang-raped at least five international aid workers, and physically or sexually assaulted at least a dozen others. The failing is nothing new – Civic previously investigated an incident in February, when peacekeepers stood by as government soldiers attacked another Protection of Civilian site in the northern town of Malakal.

 

Hurricane Matthew rips through Haiti

“We have nothing left to survive on, all the crops have gone, all fruit trees are down, I don’t have a clue how this is going to be fixed.”

— Marc Soniel Noel, the deputy mayor of Chantal

A Reuters tally of deaths reported by civil protection officials at a local level showed the storm killed at least 339 people. Many victims were killed by falling trees, flying debris and flooded rivers when hurricane Matthew hit on Tuesday (Oct 4), with winds as fast as 230km per hour. Most of the worst-hit areas were in towns and fishing villages along Haiti’s southwest. A presidential election scheduled for Sunday has been postponed as a result of the devastation.

 

Honour killings are now punishable in Pakistan

“The original Bill was more stringent, but nonetheless, the new law will deter honour killings in the future because perpetrators will not be able to avoid convictions.”

— Sughra Imam, the former senator who first introduced the bill

Pakistani parliament has finally passed a Bill that guarantees mandatory prison sentences of 25 years for anyone found guilty of executing honour killings. The new law was passed to deter honour killings – although relatives will be allowed to pardon the killer if he is sentenced to death, the culprit will not be able to avoid a mandatory prison sentence. Pakistan has experienced an epidemic of honour killings, with 1,096 cases reported in 2015. Parliament has also passed a tough new anti-rape law intended to speed up trials and mandating DNA testing. This has troubled some religious conservatives who say Sharia law says rape can only be proved by testimony of multiple eyewitnesses.

 

Iranian writer jailed for story about stoning

“Instead of imprisoning a young woman for peacefully exercising her human rights by expressing her opposition to stoning, the Iranian authorities should focus on abolishing this punishment, which amounts to torture.”

—Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Director of Research and Advocacy for the Middle East and North Africa

A writer and a human rights activist, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, has been sentenced to six years in jail for penning a story about stoning. She faces years of imprisonment despite her story not being published. Her story describes the reaction of a young woman who watches the film ‘The Stoning of Soraya M’ and gets so enraged she burns a copy of the Quran. The Iranian authorities had found the piece on Sept 6 last year (2015), when the writer and her husband Arash Sadeghi, also an activist, were arrested by men believed to be members of the Revolutionary Guard. Iran continues to justify stoning in the name of morality.

 

Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Columbian President 

“The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2016 to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for his resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year-long civil war to an end.”

— Kaci Kullmann Five, chairwoman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. The committee praised his efforts for the peace agreement signed last month with Farc rebels, after four years of negotiations. The conflict has killed over 260,000 people, and internally displaced six million. However, Columbians narrowly rejected the deal in a vote last week. Mr Santos was selected from a list of 376 candidates.

 

Compiled by Iffah Nadhirah Osman and Li Shan Teo. 

Featured image Earth by Flickr user Kevin GillCC BY-SA 2.0

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.