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?

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Hackers: Heroes or Headache?

This PBS documentary tries to highlight the positive social change effected by hacker communities in high profile issues like the Middle East uprisings, military trials and even disasters like Hurricane Sandy.

Do you agree? Is ‘hactivism’ really a force for good in the digital age? Can we trust these anonymous faceless groups to mete out justice in a manner we’re willing to accept? 

Children and Morality

I’ve come across several videos lately that try to get us to brutally reflect on our adult actions by invoking these scenarios with children instead. The common line of argument is: If we, as mature adults of supposedly higher morality, tell our children to take care of their health, to be nice and polite, to be confident etc. then why do we apply double standards on ourselves as adults? 

This first video shows us a scenario of road rage amongst kids.

This second one conducts a social experiment with a child asking for a smoke.

And lastly, here’s a sweet one of children ‘in love’.

So, what makes these public service announcements powerful? How can such reflection help you in thinking up moral or value arguments in your GP essays? 

Ethical Consumerism Overrated?

An interesting column that appeared on last Sunday’s papers. Read on and see if you buy her logic and constant qualifiers. 

YOU’RE WHAT YOU EAT

I’ve never regarded shark’s fin soup as a delicacy because I was force-fed it as a child.

My father, you see, didn’t believe in half-measures. When he was interested in something, he’d go the whole hog.

For a while in the 1960s, his dream was to create the most beautiful black orchid in Singapore, so for years he and my mother mixed tiny seeds in bottles of agar-agar culture to come up with new orchid hybrids.

He then got into cultivating bonsai, which he turned into a business.

Another time, he was seized with the idea that there was a market for old typewriters, and so imported dozens from Sri Lanka. He had to sell them for a song when this business idea came to naught.

Shark’s fin soup was another of his life-long obsessions.

He loved it and wanted to eat it every day, so he got my mother to learn to cook the dish, which is usually served on special occasions in restaurants and is expensive.

He would set off before dawn to the then-Kangkar wholesale fish market in Upper Serangoon where he got our supply of fish and, when the craze hit him, shark’s fin.

Making the soup was painstaking work.

If the fins hadn’t come already cleaned, my mother would have to do this, and carefully, for you didn’t want any of those precious slithery strands to slip down the sink.

She’d then line a bamboo basket with raw pig’s skin and place the fins in the middle. Chinese wine and lots of coriander were added and the pig’s skin folded over to form a sort of giant samosa.

On top of that bundle she’d arrange fresh pig’s trotters and chunks of chicken. All this was put into a steamer and slowly cooked for hours.

The shark’s fin – softened and rid of the fishy smell – was then set aside while the rest of the by-now gelatinous ingredients were mixed with Chinese ham, crab meat and soya sauce to form a tasty broth.

Growing up, I had shark’s fin soup coming out of my ears. At any one time, we’d have pots of it in the fridge where it would have turned into jelly and had to be heated up.

My father believed shark’s fin was nutritious and would make us strong, and so he forced us to eat it.

While I didn’t dislike the dish – the fins are tasteless but the soup is flavourful – I developed something of a phobia for it.

Those days, no one batted an eyelid about eating shark’s fin soup. The Chinese have for centuries revered shark’s fin as a delicacy and it was served as a treat – a symbol of respect, honour and prosperity.

Today, no one can escape the bad press surrounding it.

Anti-shark’s fin soup advocates cite two main reasons the dish should be banned.

One is cruelty. Fishermen, they say, perform ‘finning’ where the coveted fins of the sharks are hacked off and the rest of the fish, sometimes still alive, thrown back into the sea to sink and die.

The other is the environment. They say the killing of sharks for their fins is depleting the world’s shark population with some species almost extinct, and this has dire effects on the ocean’s eco-system.

I would never order a bowl of shark’s fin soup for myself.

But this is not so much because of the anti-shark’s fin lobby, although I am sympathetic to its argument about protecting the environment. It is because I’m still tired of it, given how much I’d consumed when I was young.

But if I am served a bowl of shark’s fin – like at my recent Chinese New Year’s Eve reunion dinner – I will take it.

I’ll take it because it is there.

I’ll take it because the soup is tasty.

I’ll take it because it will be a sheer waste of money to leave it untouched to be then thrown away.

Mostly, though, I’ll take it because it will be rude to my host if I don’t.

If someone had honoured me by serving the treasured dish, I don’t believe I should be so ungracious as to reject it, and in front of other people too. Why make him lose face?

A friend said he so dislikes people who give others a hard time at wedding dinners that serve shark’s fin soup that he’ll deliberately eat extra portions.

‘If they’re really all that compassionate, they should stop eating meat too. Killing cows and chickens is also cruel,’ he said.

Indeed, where does one draw the line as an ‘ethical consumer’?

At shark’s fin? But what about shark meat? It’s been used in the West for fish and chips and such.

Is it okay for sharks to be killed for their meat but not their fins? Isn’t any form of ‘killing’ traumatic to the animal? Why limit it to finning?

How about foie gras? It must be horrible to be a goose and force-fed just so that your liver becomes enlarged and deliciously fatty and buttery when eaten.

Feedlot cattle? Can’t be nice to be packed in a pen with thousands of others, fattened up with an unnatural diet, then killed for food.

Factory-farmed chicken that have been debeaked? Same thing.

Bluefin tuna? They’re becoming endangered because of over-fishing.

My sister tries to eat only ‘humanely raised’ and ‘humanely killed’ animals. She feels less bad if they had been killed in as least a painful method as possible.

But she admits it’s not all altruistic. She believes animals that are highly stressed have stress hormones and their meat isn’t healthy to the human body.

But isn’t ‘humanely killed’ a contradiction?

In my world view, animals – unless they have been domesticated – were created to be killed by humans for food.

And if you’ve watched documentaries, you’ll know animals in the wild are vicious. They rip apart and kill each other all the time, whether for food or to protect themselves or their young.

It’s all part of nature and the cycle of life, so why are some people so hung up about what animals might be ‘feeling’?

A friend, who reviews food, describes herself as an ‘equal opportunity eater’. She eats almost anything as it is her job to do so, and because she doesn’t think one species deserves more sympathy than another.

She recently had dinner and was served a roast piglet. She showed me an iPhone photo of it and, my goodness, we both agreed, it was the cutest little piggy ever.

It had been roasted to a rosy hue, had a round little head and its eyes were closed, as if it were sleeping. Totally angelic.

She ate it.

It’s a pig.

It’s meant to be eaten.

There are some things I would never eat – dog meat, snake, frog, turtle, pigeon, oysters, chicken feet, insects and gooey stuff such as sea cucumber.

But this has more to do with how they make my stomach turn than with ethical reasons.

To each his own, I always say.

We are ultimately what we eat, or don’t eat, and we live with our conscience.

What gets my goat is when ethical consumers adopt a holier-than-thou attitude and hector anyone who is not like them.

And so, at the risk of receiving their vitriol, I’ll admit it again: If served shark’s fin soup, I’ll eat it.

Maybe, as a friend pointed out, I also represent a generational divide.

I straddle my father’s generation that regarded shark’s fin as a cultural and culinary treasure, and today’s young that thinks the dish is barbaric.

I have good memories of it and want to remain loyal to it, yet I also don’t want to be flamed for not hating it. It is an uncomfortable position.

But if I have to choose between ranting about cruelty to sharks and hurting the feelings of someone who had served me the dish because he wanted only the best for me, I will keep quiet and eat up my shark’s fin soup, anytime.

Sumiko Tan, The Strait’s Times

Should Scientific Research Ever Be Limited?

A key concern of allowing unlimited scientific research – however well-intentioned – is that the negative consequences might outweigh the good of their findings. The recent self-imposed moratorium by H5N1 influenza scientists reflect the crux of that concern.

No end to complications

IN DECEMBER boffins around the world were taken aback by an odd request. The American government called on the world’s two leading scientific publications to censor research. As we reported at the time, Nature (a British journal) and Science (an American one) were about to publish studies by two separate teams which had been tinkering with H5N1 influenza, better known as bird flu, to produce a strain that might be able to pass through the air between humans. The authorities fretted that were the precise methods and detailed genetic data to fall into the wrong hands, the consequences would be too awful to contemplate. They therefore suggested that only the broad conclusions be made public; the specifics could be sent to vetted scientists alone.

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Big Food and Marketing

Can Big Food Regulate Itself? Fat Chance

By MARK BITTMAN of the New York Times (original link here) 

Life would be so much easier if we could only set our own guidelines. You could define the average weight as 10 pounds higher than your own and, voilà, no more obesity! You could raise the speed limit to 90 miles per hour and never worry about a ticket. You could call a cholesterol level of 250 “normal” and celebrate with a bag of fried pork rinds. (You could even claim that cutting government spending would increase employment, but that might be going too far.) You could certainly turn junk food into something “healthy.”

That’s what the food industry is doing.

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