Walking the Talk (show)

Here’s an interesting example of how comedy and celebrity can provoke real positive change in society through hard-hitting investigative yet engaging discussions.

This article affectionately calls it the John Oliver Effect. I personally find his videos riveting and intriguing. Unsettling analogies aside, his creative and well-paced attempts to unpack and analyze issues for the viewer is laudable.

The Distorted Face of Terrorism

A colleague once told me that arguments were based on beliefs, and beliefs were based on facts. The problem is that what is ‘fact’ can so often be wholly inaccurate, especially in our media-saturated environment where facts could simply be what is more commonly reported.

So therein lies a likely root cause for flawed arguments: inaccurate facts. 

Case in point: the argument that stamping out terrorism lies in targeted measures concerning Muslims, which is based on a belief that Islam as a religion somehow promotes violence as a justifiable means to an end, which is based on the ‘fact’ that most terrorist attack are committed by Muslims.

Well, as this article points out, most terrorist attack aren’t actually committed by Muslims. A Europol report states that less than 2% of terror attacks in 2013 were committed by Muslims while an FBI study looking at terrorism committed in the U.S. between 1980 and 2005 found that only about 6% of attacks were committed by Muslims.

It just seems like most terrorist attacks are committed by Muslims because such attacks receive disproportionately more attention from the media, reigniting narratives on the clash between the West and Middle East again.

So, the next time we offer arguments, let’s critically consider whether the beliefs and facts they rest on are sound.

Journalist’s Resource

Researching for a topic / issue can be daunting matter, especially if you are trying to make sense of the myriad views and opinions surfaced.

Journalist’s Resource is a good place to start. It provides journalists relevant, scholarly research surrounding a topic. A good example would be the updated recent entry on Islam, terrorism and immigration in France following the Charlie Hebdo killings.

World Cup of Indicators

Wall Street Journal has an interesting interactive graphic showing various world cup tournament scenarios based on broad national indicators (mostly percentages).

Nigeria apparently the cup home for most agricultural land and fastest population growth, Japan claims the trophy for most seafood consumed and lowest murder rate, while Ghana comes out tops for highest education spending, percentage of protestants and hottest weather. Not suggesting any correlations here of course.

Global development: it’s a beautiful game.


Co-censorship: Old wine in new wine skin?

Corrie Tan from The Straits Times comments on the MDA’s co-regulatory classification guidelines which have been rejected by 45 arts groups who basically argue that this framework conflicts with artistic integrity and amounts to self-censorship:

Despite its good intentions, the scheme falls back into the same template of censorship, of allowing the authorities to be the arbiter of what is in the “public interest”, rather than trusting the artist to be responsible, and trusting the audience to be able to judge a work critically. As a result, on May 30, 45 arts groups registered strong objections to the scheme in a position paper addressed to the MDA.


Artists are often viewed here as a vocal minority of rabble-rousers separate from the man in the street. But these are not merely the grouses of a few. The 45 groups represent a large swathe of the arts community, including commercial heavyweights like the Singapore Repertory Theatre and Wild Rice, and traditional arts groups such as the Chinese Theatre Circle. It is also likely that their regular audiences will be supportive of their decision.


As the position paper puts it: “Artists and arts practitioners… are also citizens, parents, members of religious groups, live in the ‘heartlands’, and we pay our taxes – like everyone else. It is misguided to presume that artists’ interests are at odds with community’s interests.”


What is your take on this response? Is this new approach a collaborative step forward with MDA trying to partner with arts groups to ensure art is responsibly and sensibly produced and showcased, or is it a step back with MDA simply veiling its often criticized censorship approach under the guise of self-classification?





Scientific concepts can help us understanding the world

Predictive coding. Rational unconsciousness. Uncalculated risk. Constraint satisfaction

Scientific concepts: what good are they outside of science?

The endeavour of science is not an abstract exercise to increase absolute knowledge in a vacuum, but it seeks to understand the world. The complex thing is that in doing so, scientific concepts have to employed to help give observers a means to describe or explain phenomena, however imperfect they may be. These concepts however, are not constrained esoteric terms that only scientists or students of science can utilize, but they provide any interested observer with the tools to explain the world around them, to explain human behaviour and condition.

Here are 35 quick examples you can start to think about today. They might even give you a means to explain your observations or arguments in an essay. For example, determining whether the world is necessarily a  ‘better place’ because of technology would often lie with people’s perception of a supposedly better life entails, and predictive coding would help us be aware of how expectations often determine what we perceive as good or bad quality. Uncalculated risk may sensitize us to irrational moral panics and fears that arise from events like vandalism or air plane crashes when in fact larger issues are overlooked. Constraint satisfaction alerts us to the fact that more choice is not necessarily a good thing, and sometimes even an imperfect but deliberate narrowing down of options is more productive to solution finding. Policy makers for instance, cannot simply consider options and ideas from ALL sectors of society with equal weight, lest they become crippled and inefficient as a result.

Geo Marketing: Convenience or Concern?

Imagine walking into your favourite mall one day and you’re greeted by billboards and store fronts start calling out your name, telling you about your shopping history and suggesting new products for you.

Seems like that reality may not be too far off. Like the scene above from Minority Report, retailers and malls here are in talks with digital technology firms to install tracking systems to detect shopper movement, face and even gender to ‘better cater’ to our needs.

Is this convenience? Or does it warrant concern about privacy?

Authentic Travel Experience a Myth

Do we sometimes go on a travel experience already with stereotypes of people and cultures in our minds, and we were just looking to visually confirm them? I could honestly say my visits to South Korea and Thailand in the past weren’t exactly postcard experiences of Gangnam Styles or Lady Boys.

Gary Andt from The Atlantic writes:

The world is what it is, and you have to explore it on its terms, not yours. No matter what you expect to see when you visit a new place, the reality you will find will be different. You are traveling in the 21st century, not the 19th. Do not expect people to be caricatures or stereotypes of something you have in mind. View the people you meet as neither cultural superiors nor objects of pity. Moreover, whatever you think is authentic was developed without your having experienced it.”

Here are 7 reasons he observes why travelers, especially those visiting a less developed ‘ethnic’ destination, often have a misplaced sense of realities and cultural diversity.


Culture Blaming

The recent sea disaster involving the Sewol Ferry in South Korea sparked speculation surrounding the causes of the disaster, with some journalists attributing it to the nation’s “culture of obedience”.

Kai Ma from TIME bemoans this journalistic trend, and writes:

Should aspects of Korean society be scrutinized? Of course. Poor communication, disorganization, and complacency – compounded with fumbling bureaucracies and the lack of protocol and proper training – resulted in a botched rescue mission that has South Korea reeling. But to theorize that the high death toll is linked to a perceived cultural flaw or deficiency is a lazy journalistic shortcut. It fits a stereotype.

Maryam Mokhtar from The Straits Times also adds a local perspective to it: 

Like South Korea, Singapore’s education system is often perceived as instilling a culture of obedience in the young, who are subjected to rote-learning.

I am a product of this system. But my peers and I have little problem expressing our views – politely – during discussions with our supervisors at work or our parents at home.

So what does this mean for the GP student? Yes, we can surely consider wider cultural factors and norms when speculating on why certain events occur or issues persist. But, we must caution against lazily doing so in the absence of more rigorous investigation. Perhaps blaming culture is mentally not as taboo as blaming race or gender, but it still feeds an unhealthy stereotype that does more to limit our view of the world, rather than help make sense of it.