13 November 2011 – Save the date for the inaugural Project Happy Feet Slipper Race 2011. More details coming your way!
To know more about Project Happy Feet, please click http://www.projecthappyfeet.org/
13 November 2011 – Save the date for the inaugural Project Happy Feet Slipper Race 2011. More details coming your way!
To know more about Project Happy Feet, please click http://www.projecthappyfeet.org/
My feeble effort in helping to spread the word for Project Happy Feet via this blog.
Excerpt: Giving help is easy, but giving the right kind of help – just like finding a pair of slippers that fit at that point in time of a growing child’s life – requires a lot more.
“I think size 8,” Deborah calls out, and Grace quickly unwraps a smaller pair of slippers. The other pairs on the floor are sizes 8, or 8 and a half, or 9 – too big for this little girl standing before them with her toes wriggling gingerly in anticipation. She’s been watching the other kids get their pair and awaiting her turn.
Deborah fits the pair of slippers on, and though this is not your regular Cinderella fairy tale, it feels equally magical to see her little eyes light up. A perfect fit!
“Aw-kung,” the little girl shyly whispers the Khmer word for ‘thanks’ with her palms together, and with a quick bow of her head, runs back to her seat…
Project Happy Feet had returned to Siem Reap, Cambodia in June 2011. Like previous trips to Siem Reap and Hanoi, the team brought money raised through its fund-raising efforts to support education-related programmes run by local NGOs. And of course, to buy slippers for school-going children without footwear.
So prior to visiting Sambour Primary School in the Angkhor Thom district supported by Shinta Mani, the team made a trip to Psar Ler (‘All-Market’) with a list of feet sizes and a matching quantity to buy 130 pairs of slippers with all the money collected by staff members of Robinsons in Singapore.
The next morning, in no more than an hour, the 130 pairs of slippers were given out to all the students of the school who came from within 5km – all of them barefooted.
Indeed, giving slippers has become an easy way for us to communicate what Project Happy Feet does (and what a great way to start the whole conversation about giving aid to the underprivileged in developing countries). Afterall, that is how Project Happy Feet started in the first place – with an inspiration to have every little pair of school-going feet covered and protected on their way to getting an education, which hopefully helps them get out of the poverty cycle. And truth be told, slippers – along with other school supplies like uniforms, stationery, scholarships, nutritious meals and bicycles – are still very much appreciated and needed. And they go a long way in giving relief.
But we all know that slippers and other gifts are really just short-term relief.
To alleviate the problems of poverty, we know the community needs to carry out sustainable programmes that empower themselves through capacity-building. They need to find a way to work together amongst themselves and with their government towards being self-reliant and independent of foreign aid.
And that’s why apart from giving out slippers, we’re really all about supporting organisations that have sustainable programmes that make real impact. We want to know what the community really need, and find a way to help them, not just give for the sake of giving.
On this trip, we’re glad to have met with several organisations that seem to fit what we are looking for, many of which have great programmes that are sustainable and create real impact.
For instance, This Life Cambodia has clear 3-year plans to help the community take ownership of their own problems, and supports them by teaching them how to lobby and press the government for accountability. It even has an exit strategy so that the organisation can diminish its own presence within the community over time.
MaD Cambodia drills the ground for families to have clean water and grows Moringa plants for transplanting onto village soil so families can have access to nutritious meals by growing them in their own backyard.
Trailblazer Foundation conducts various research and development programmes into agriculture and water filtration to help families increase the success of their crops and have access to drinking water (removing up to 98% of bacteria).
Still there are others like The Little Angels Orphanage and Leather Carving Workshop (run by a former orphan) and Prolung Khmer Pottery and Weaving Training Centre in Bakong Village teach traditional Khmer handicraft skills which not just give the underprivileged youths a means to make a living, but also preserves their heritage.
With so much to do and can be done for the underprivileged in Cambodia, and with limited resources and sometimes limited information, we need to work very hard to decide which organisation and programme(s) to support. But which one should we choose? Which one meets our stringent selection criteria of having strong foundation, strong track record, strong corporate governance, and more? Which is more needed by the community? Why this one and not the other – which seems equally crucial? Which one should we support? Which is the right fit? Deciding on an organisation and a programme to support is certainly no walk in the park.
Giving help is easy, but giving the right kind of help – just like finding a pair of slippers that fit at that point in time of a growing child’s life – requires a lot more.
May 25th 2011, 11:34 by G.F. | SEATTLE
A FRIEND has been toying with Twitter, and wonders how best to get her feet wet. Whom should she follow? What should she read? Here are some thoughts.
Viewed as a loudspeaker for others—celebrities, creative types, or just acquaintances, pronouncing on what are all too often fatuous banalities—Twitter does indeed resemble the empty medium derided by those outside its embrace; like sitting around an abandoned and empty pool in a solitary chaise longue, with TVs blaring nearby—an experience that is neither convivial nor informative.
Sticking to the bathing analogy, an alternative (though by no means the only one) would be to attend a crowded ocean beach, with swimmers constantly throwing themselves in and out of the water, some more expertly than others. The beach is likely to be lined with reclining observers listening to the water-borne banter, but they are not the ones having the most fun.
Twitter rewards engagement in a way that few other media do (the sea is such a medium, albeit only in a physical sense). The relationship between users is nearly always asymmetrical: following someone does not entail being followed by them. That leads to enormous mismatches: the glitziest twitterati amass hundreds of thousands, even millions of followers, and yet themselves follow just a few dozen people.
Babbage's friend had thrown her lot in some months ago, following a small number of people, and issuing a few tentative tweets. She was not impressed by the response. Her view of Twitter was of an unplugged toaster where the bread neither browns nor pops out.
Suffer as he does from logorrhoea, this Babbage blathers through the day. He also, like his departed mother, knows no shame in striking up conversations with complete strangers—she, in public; he, on Twitter—that he finds interesting. As a child, he complained of her habit. Now, the grudging inheritor of it, he finds easy sociability indispensable in the digital world.
Enter what is perhaps Twitter's greatest, and inadvertent, innovation: the goad in the form of an at-sign (@) followed by a Twitter handle, known as a mention. Twitter did not invent this referral, which was picked up from older chat-system conventions. But the firm adopted it and uses it to create threaded conversations. The mention is distinct from a direct message (DM), which Twitter created intentionally, and which allows a private bit of text to pass between two parties, so long as the recipient follows the sender. The DM is reserved for those who have established a relationship; the mention, meanwhile, works for anyone.
Mentions may easily be ignored—@stephenfry, say, with 2,647,917 followers as this sentence is being written (likely to rise by the time Babbage is done with the post), would be physically incapable of responding to all. To make life a little bit more manageable, most Twitter software, whether from the company itself or innumerable third parties, can be set either to list all mentions in a main chronological stream mixed in with tweets by those the user follows, or only to include the mentions by the latter.
Your correspondent, with 4,000 or so followers, is small fry, as it were, and has the time to engage with nearly everyone who mentions him. ( @EconSciTech, Babbage's official feed, currently nudges 10,000 and engages a little less fully.) He has made many acquaintances, and even some new friends. Over time, he has ditched nearly all those who, whether with ten followers or 10m, never reply to anyone, or reply to just a small coterie. Such tweeters are listening to the sound of their own typing.
Twitter users who are not household names tend to start by following loved ones, colleagues, favourite writers, etc. Replying to those you do not know personally is no faux pas, whether or not they are extremely well known. And if a popular tweeter retweets you—ie, redistributes the tweet to his followers—that can do wonders to your tally.
What should Babbage's friend make of all this? She is a writer, filmmaker and former television presenter, yet Twitter makes her strangely shy. Your correspondent's advice: the only way to go is to take the plunge and start talking, loudly and often. Well, not too often.
Dec 16th 2010 | from PRINT EDITION
ASK people how they feel about getting older, and they will probably reply in the same vein as Maurice Chevalier: “Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.” Stiffening joints, weakening muscles, fading eyesight and the clouding of memory, coupled with the modern world’s careless contempt for the old, seem a fearful prospect—better than death, perhaps, but not much. Yet mankind is wrong to dread ageing. Life is not a long slow decline from sunlit uplands towards the valley of death. It is, rather, a U-bend.
When people start out on adult life, they are, on average, pretty cheerful. Things go downhill from youth to middle age until they reach a nadir commonly known as the mid-life crisis. So far, so familiar. The surprising part happens after that. Although as people move towards old age they lose things they treasure—vitality, mental sharpness and looks—they also gain what people spend their lives pursuing: happiness.
This curious finding has emerged from a new branch of economics that seeks a more satisfactory measure than money of human well-being. Conventional economics uses money as a proxy for utility—the dismal way in which the discipline talks about happiness. But some economists, unconvinced that there is a direct relationship between money and well-being, have decided to go to the nub of the matter and measure happiness itself.
These ideas have penetrated the policy arena, starting in Bhutan, where the concept of Gross National Happiness shapes the planning process. All new policies have to have a GNH assessment, similar to the environmental-impact assessment common in other countries. In 2008 France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, asked two Nobel-prize-winning economists, Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz, to come up with a broader measure of national contentedness than GDP. Then last month, in a touchy-feely gesture not typical of Britain, David Cameron announced that the British government would start collecting figures on well-being.
There are already a lot of data on the subject collected by, for instance, America’s General Social Survey, Eurobarometer and Gallup. Surveys ask two main sorts of question. One concerns people’s assessment of their lives, and the other how they feel at any particular time. The first goes along the lines of: thinking about your life as a whole, how do you feel? The second is something like: yesterday, did you feel happy/contented/angry/anxious? The first sort of question is said to measure global well-being, and the second hedonic or emotional well-being. They do not always elicit the same response: having children, for instance, tends to make people feel better about their life as a whole, but also increases the chance that they felt angry or anxious yesterday.
Statisticians trawl through the vast quantities of data these surveys produce rather as miners panning for gold. They are trying to find the answer to the perennial question: what makes people happy?
Four main factors, it seems: gender, personality, external circumstances and age. Women, by and large, are slightly happier than men. But they are also more susceptible to depression: a fifth to a quarter of women experience depression at some point in their lives, compared with around a tenth of men. Which suggests either that women are more likely to experience more extreme emotions, or that a few women are more miserable than men, while most are more cheerful.
Two personality traits shine through the complexity of economists’ regression analyses: neuroticism and extroversion. Neurotic people—those who are prone to guilt, anger and anxiety—tend to be unhappy. This is more than a tautological observation about people’s mood when asked about their feelings by pollsters or economists. Studies following people over many years have shown that neuroticism is a stable personality trait and a good predictor of levels of happiness. Neurotic people are not just prone to negative feelings: they also tend to have low emotional intelligence, which makes them bad at forming or managing relationships, and that in turn makes them unhappy.
Whereas neuroticism tends to make for gloomy types, extroversion does the opposite. Those who like working in teams and who relish parties tend to be happier than those who shut their office doors in the daytime and hole up at home in the evenings. This personality trait may help explain some cross-cultural differences: a study comparing similar groups of British, Chinese and Japanese people found that the British were, on average, both more extrovert and happier than the Chinese and Japanese.
Then there is the role of circumstance. All sorts of things in people’s lives, such as relationships, education, income and health, shape the way they feel. Being married gives people a considerable uplift, but not as big as the gloom that springs from being unemployed. In America, being black used to be associated with lower levels of happiness—though the most recent figures suggest that being black or Hispanic is nowadays associated with greater happiness. People with children in the house are less happy than those without. More educated people are happier, but that effect disappears once income is controlled for. Education, in other words, seems to make people happy because it makes them richer. And richer people are happier than poor ones—though just how much is a source of argument (see article).
Lastly, there is age. Ask a bunch of 30-year-olds and another of 70-year-olds (as Peter Ubel, of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, did with two colleagues, Heather Lacey and Dylan Smith, in 2006) which group they think is likely to be happier, and both lots point to the 30-year-olds. Ask them to rate their own well-being, and the 70-year-olds are the happier bunch. The academics quoted lyrics written by Pete Townshend of The Who when he was 20: “Things they do look awful cold / Hope I die before I get old”. They pointed out that Mr Townshend, having passed his 60th birthday, was writing a blog that glowed with good humour.
Mr Townshend may have thought of himself as a youthful radical, but this view is ancient and conventional. The “seven ages of man”—the dominant image of the life-course in the 16th and 17th centuries—was almost invariably conceived as a rise in stature and contentedness to middle age, followed by a sharp decline towards the grave. Inverting the rise and fall is a recent idea. “A few of us noticed the U-bend in the early 1990s,” says Andrew Oswald, professor of economics at Warwick Business School. “We ran a conference about it, but nobody came.”
Since then, interest in the U-bend has been growing. Its effect on happiness is significant—about half as much, from the nadir of middle age to the elderly peak, as that of unemployment. It appears all over the world. David Blanchflower, professor of economics at Dartmouth College, and Mr Oswald looked at the figures for 72 countries. The nadir varies among countries—Ukrainians, at the top of the range, are at their most miserable at 62, and Swiss, at the bottom, at 35—but in the great majority of countries people are at their unhappiest in their 40s and early 50s. The global average is 46.
The U-bend shows up in studies not just of global well-being but also of hedonic or emotional well-being. One paper, published this year by Arthur Stone, Joseph Schwartz and Joan Broderick of Stony Brook University, and Angus Deaton of Princeton, breaks well-being down into positive and negative feelings and looks at how the experience of those emotions varies through life. Enjoyment and happiness dip in middle age, then pick up; stress rises during the early 20s, then falls sharply; worry peaks in middle age, and falls sharply thereafter; anger declines throughout life; sadness rises slightly in middle age, and falls thereafter.
Turn the question upside down, and the pattern still appears. When the British Labour Force Survey asks people whether they are depressed, the U-bend becomes an arc, peaking at 46.
There is always a possibility that variations are the result not of changes during the life-course, but of differences between cohorts. A 70-year-old European may feel different to a 30-year-old not because he is older, but because he grew up during the second world war and was thus formed by different experiences. But the accumulation of data undermines the idea of a cohort effect. Americans and Zimbabweans have not been formed by similar experiences, yet the U-bend appears in both their countries. And if a cohort effect were responsible, the U-bend would not show up consistently in 40 years’ worth of data.
Another possible explanation is that unhappy people die early. It is hard to establish whether that is true or not; but, given that death in middle age is fairly rare, it would explain only a little of the phenomenon. Perhaps the U-bend is merely an expression of the effect of external circumstances. After all, common factors affect people at different stages of the life-cycle. People in their 40s, for instance, often have teenage children. Could the misery of the middle-aged be the consequence of sharing space with angry adolescents? And older people tend to be richer. Could their relative contentment be the result of their piles of cash?
The answer, it turns out, is no: control for cash, employment status and children, and the U-bend is still there. So the growing happiness that follows middle-aged misery must be the result not of external circumstances but of internal changes.
People, studies show, behave differently at different ages. Older people have fewer rows and come up with better solutions to conflict. They are better at controlling their emotions, better at accepting misfortune and less prone to anger. In one study, for instance, subjects were asked to listen to recordings of people supposedly saying disparaging things about them. Older and younger people were similarly saddened, but older people less angry and less inclined to pass judgment, taking the view, as one put it, that “you can’t please all the people all the time.”
There are various theories as to why this might be so. Laura Carstensen, professor of psychology at Stanford University, talks of “the uniquely human ability to recognise our own mortality and monitor our own time horizons”. Because the old know they are closer to death, she argues, they grow better at living for the present. They come to focus on things that matter now—such as feelings—and less on long-term goals. “When young people look at older people, they think how terrifying it must be to be nearing the end of your life. But older people know what matters most.” For instance, she says, “young people will go to cocktail parties because they might meet somebody who will be useful to them in the future, even though nobody I know actually likes going to cocktail parties.”
There are other possible explanations. Maybe the sight of contemporaries keeling over infuses survivors with a determination to make the most of their remaining years. Maybe people come to accept their strengths and weaknesses, give up hoping to become chief executive or have a picture shown in the Royal Academy, and learn to be satisfied as assistant branch manager, with their watercolour on display at the church fete. “Being an old maid”, says one of the characters in a story by Edna Ferber, an (unmarried) American novelist, was “like death by drowning—a really delightful sensation when you ceased struggling.” Perhaps acceptance of ageing itself is a source of relief. “How pleasant is the day”, observed William James, an American philosopher, “when we give up striving to be young—or slender.”
Whatever the causes of the U-bend, it has consequences beyond the emotional. Happiness doesn’t just make people happy—it also makes them healthier. John Weinman, professor of psychiatry at King’s College London, monitored the stress levels of a group of volunteers and then inflicted small wounds on them. The wounds of the least stressed healed twice as fast as those of the most stressed. At Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Sheldon Cohen infected people with cold and flu viruses. He found that happier types were less likely to catch the virus, and showed fewer symptoms of illness when they did. So although old people tend to be less healthy than younger ones, their cheerfulness may help counteract their crumbliness.
Happier people are more productive, too. Mr Oswald and two colleagues, Eugenio Proto and Daniel Sgroi, cheered up a bunch of volunteers by showing them a funny film, then set them mental tests and compared their performance to groups that had seen a neutral film, or no film at all. The ones who had seen the funny film performed 12% better. This leads to two conclusions. First, if you are going to volunteer for a study, choose the economists’ experiment rather than the psychologists’ or psychiatrists’. Second, the cheerfulness of the old should help counteract their loss of productivity through declining cognitive skills—a point worth remembering as the world works out how to deal with an ageing workforce.
The ageing of the rich world is normally seen as a burden on the economy and a problem to be solved. The U-bend argues for a more positive view of the matter. The greyer the world gets, the brighter it becomes—a prospect which should be especially encouraging to Economist readers (average age 47).
from PRINT EDITION | Christmas Specials
Nicholas Yong and Huang Huifen
Civil servant Mohamed Rafi, 28, attended a wedding last month with a twist - the bridegroom was updating Facebook throughout the whole-day affair.
'I check my Facebook quite often, so I saw his status updates. It was a blow-by-blow account of the wedding, things like when he was making his costume change and how he was feeling throughout,' says Mr Rafi.
Further from home, Manchester United and England footballer Wayne Rooney, 24, told his wife Coleen that details of his affair with a call girl would be surfacing in the press - via a text message.
Welcome to the strange new world of social networking, smart phones, instant messaging and the blurring of the boundaries between the real and the virtual, the social and the professional.
Others are simply calling it the new world of bad manners.
With the rise of the tech-savvy generation, old-fashioned notions of privacy and even shame appear to have been outstripped by the demands of online and real-time communication.
Ironically, as much as Generation Y is technologically savvy, it is not necessarily astute when it comes to business etiquette, says Mr Mark Sparrow, managing director of recruiters Kelly Services Singapore.
Shortened and abbreviated communication forms have become prevalent even in office e-mails, he adds. 'They view using 'SMS speak' as commonplace and as such, there have been instances where in e-mail correspondences, they write as they would a text message'. Some examples include 'ppl' for people, and 'cfm' for confirm. This lack of etiquette extends into the social realm as well, with everything from holiday snaps to lovers' quarrels available to all online.
PR executive Li Jiayi, 29, says: 'I know a friend who will log on to Facebook the minute he wakes up and posts, 'Good morning, Facebookers!' and a minute or so after that, 'I'm having my breakfast now'. I mean, who cares?'
Assistant Professor Michael Netzley of Singapore Management University says much of this behaviour is due to 'increased transparency and narcissism'.
'Everything we do could be on display and the web experience thus increasingly becomes more about 'me',' he says.
And while social networking websites are designed to share photos and updates, the barrier to exit is 'extremely low'.
'If I don't like the online experience I am having, I click the mouse button and immediately go to something else in the endless stream of content,' he adds. Ms Li had a similar solution for her over-informative friend - she deleted him from her friends list.
Assistant Professor Mark Cenite of Nanyang Technological University says: 'Research shows that when we are communicating with others online, where the cues we have in face-to-face interactions are absent, we tend to express ourselves in more highly charged, less restrained ways. We are often more emotional and less polite.'
Prof Netzley adds: 'This constant input from social media changes expectations.
People expect us to interact with them online in the same we interact offline. And just like in the real world, people sometimes take offence when we do not meet their expectations.'
So what are the rules governing the use of social media? For example, what is acceptable to post online and what is not? How much time should you be spending on your mobile phone or Twitter?
Prof Netzley says: 'These channels are new and people are still learning to use them in a balanced and reasonable way. It is a social learning process and takes time. We are unlikely to find hard and fast rules here.'
Writer Anton Javier, 26, admits that using his Blackberry has cost him valuable face-to-face interaction.
He says: 'Sometimes, when I am having a meal with my family, a message comes in Blackberry Messenger and I concentrate on my phone. Then my brother will go, 'hey, can you do that later, just enjoy your food first, talk to us'.'
But Prof Cenite is hopeful. 'Every new technology creates panic about a breakdown in traditional values, but we tend to adapt and develop new norms,' he says.
Do you think that people do not mind their manners as much nowadays because of social media? Write to [email protected]
'...when we are communicating with others online, we tend to express ourselves in more highly charged, less restrained ways. We are often more emotional and less polite.'
MR MARK CENITE, assistant professor, Nanyang Technological University
Can I send an SMS just before meeting someone to say I am late?
Producer Erwin Nah, 25, waited two hours for a friend who was held up at a meeting and who kept sending him texts updating him on the progress, or lack of it.He says: 'I don't like it when we set a time and my friend decides to change it at the last minute. I am usually very punctual, so I have to hang around and wait. People don't realise it is an issue.'
Ms Yvonne Anjelina, etiquette coach at The Etiquette School Singapore, says: 'Sending an SMS to a friend you are supposed to meet to tell him of a delay or change of venue at the last minute does not count. When you are late, you are late. As long as one inconveniences another, etiquette has been thrown out the window.'
Should Facebook or Twitter be a place to:
a) Start an argument
Student Chloe Kay, 16, drew flak for her tweet criticising a celebrity's looks. An acquaintance responded curtly: 'What did she do to offend you?'
Subsequently, the acquaintance and her friends posted nasty comments about Chloe on their Twitter feeds, calling her names. 'I was hurt by their comments asking me to take a good look at the mirror before commenting on others,' she says.
Ms Agnes Koh, director of Etiquette & Image International, says: 'Everyone has a right to say what's on his mind and post anything he wants on his Facebook wall. If there is any content you do not agree with, say it in a respectful manner. Don't fight it outright.'
b) Declare your love
Project analyst Krystal Lee, 23, has no qualms about posting messages such as 'I love you' or 'I miss you' on her boyfriend's Facebook wall.
Her Facebook friends even 'like' her posts or comment on how sweet and loving they are.
She says: 'There is nothing to hide. If people don't like it, they can just not view our profile pages or hide our feeds.'
The Etiquette School's Ms Anjelina says: 'Mushy expressions of love and feelings should be kept private and not be posted on your partner's wall. The mushy declarations may cause a certain level of discomfort to those reading the post as well as your partner if he is the conservative type.
'However, simple messages of affection are acceptable and should not cause too much discomfort to anyone.'
Can I update my Facebook or Twitter or reply to an SMS or e-mail, when I am out with friends?
Software designer Muhd Khairul Hafidz, 25, used to be a Facebook addict and would log on whenever he had the chance. His girlfriend complained that he was more interested in it than her.
He deleted his account shortly after. Ms Guinevere Ho, principal consultant at Image Mastery International, says: 'When you are out with one or two friends, pay attention to them rather than update your Facebook or Twitter feed. While it is less of a guilty charge in a group of 10 people, we still advise that you pay attention.
'The reason for social media is to connect with friends, so why not make use of the chance in reality to spend time with them? It is akin to talking on your mobile phone and ignoring your friends.'
Can I break up with my partner over MSN, SMS, e-mail, Facebook or Twitter?
Writer Will Chin, 24, was ditched on MSN messenger a few years ago. He says: 'The cracks were building up and I saw it coming, but I was very shocked as it seemed out of character for her to do that. It was very cold and impersonal.'
He feels it is because people hide behind the new media as a form of defence against a violent reaction. When he bumps into his ex-girlfriend now, she still does not talk about it.
'But breaking up is such a heavy thing, you don't just text someone casually,' he says.
Ms Cecellia Telkes, associate consultant of Imageworks Asia, says: 'It is rude and shows a lack of consideration, manners and cowardice. You are better off without a person who breaks up with you over social media.'
Make a point to meet and have the guts to talk it through with the person. In the case of a long-distance relationship, use the telephone or Skype.
But Ms Koh of Etiquette & Image International says: 'If the relationship is tricky and you have evidence that your partner is two-timing you, waste no time. An SMS is enough.'
Is it appropriate to use emoticons and abbreviations in official e-mail?
Ms Yvonne Anjelina, etiquette coach at The Etiquette School Singapore, says emoticons and abbreviations should be avoided in formal situations, as they tend to have an informal and friendly feel to them.
Senior corporate communications executive Victor Yen, 30, uses emoticons in internal e-mail to set up meetings within a close circle of colleagues.
His boss also uses emoticons in e-mail on areas of improvement, which he appreciates.
'The written word can come across as harsh. Emoticons add an extra bit of cordiality to the conversation,' he says.
'I feel my boss is friendlier and encourages a response in a more positive way. It doesn't seem like we are being looked down upon.'
Is it acceptable for the boss to send you a text message late at night?
'Unless it is in your job description, leave it until the morning,' says Ms Cecellia Telkes, associate consultant of Imageworks Asia. She says the only exception is when you have been notified regarding an urgent matter beforehand and told to expect it.
A give-and-take attitude should be adopted by both parties, she adds. For example, employees should not be sending e-mail or an SMS to the boss after midnight either.
What should you do when your boss wants to befriend you on Facebook?
'My first reaction was 'is it really him?'' says civil servant K. Teong, 33, who received a friend request from his boss more than a year ago.
Realising that his boss was on a 'friend-adding spree' among his co-workers, he saw no harm in accepting the request.
Ms Anjelina says a friend request from the boss indicates a relatively amicable relationship and nonacceptance may cause unnecessary tension at work.
But she warns: 'You may be treading into dangerous waters as you would then not be able to voice your opinions and criticisms of your workplace, colleagues and especially your boss on your wall posts.'
While Mr Teong saw his boss as approachable, he was more careful with his wall postings. His wariness grew after his boss posted a strong reaction to an article that his colleague shared.
Eventually, he removed all his co-workers from his friends list. The relationship with his boss did not change as he was unaware that he had been deleted.
'We 'see' enough of each other at work every day so let's keep that little private space we have,' he adds.
Should employees be using their mobile phones during a meeting?
The answer is a firm 'no', says director of Etiquette & Image International Agnes Koh. Using mobile phones and laptops is a message that you give priority to these devices, she adds.
'You are not showing respect. If you are expecting an urgent call, you should let the person know and take the call out of sight. Keep the conversation short and resume the meeting immediately.'
By Marek Kohn
Published: August 21 2010 00:27 | Last updated: August 21 2010 00:27
Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science, by Sissela Bok, Yale University Press RRP£18.99, 208 pages
|Barack Obama serves up lunch at a soup kitchen in Washington in January this year|
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” At first glance, the nursery song appears to stipulate a redundant condition. Happiness is a feeling: isn’t being happy the same as knowing you’re happy?
But since classical times at least, a deep undercurrent in thinking about happiness has insisted that it is more than a feeling. Sissela Bok’s shrewd essay on the understanding of happiness prompts the thought that a song for little children may contain a fundamental philosophical proposition, namely that happiness involves knowledge as well as sensation.
One sense in which this can be understood is that happiness arises from the ability to put together our perceptions about different dimensions of our lives. It would be reasonable to infer that a cat purring on a cushion is experiencing pleasure, and could be described as contented. The child sitting next to it is capable not only of enjoying the sensation of comfort, but also of experiencing it in the context of what she knows about the deeper structure of her life: that feeling comfortable is normal rather than exceptional; that she feels her parents’ love; that she expects these conditions to persist, and so on. The cat is contented; the child is happy. Animals can experience pleasure, but happiness is characteristically human.
As the child gets older, the range of the knowledge she brings to bear on her happiness will grow. She will be able to see her life in the light of what she knows about other people’s lives, of what she is taught at school or sees in advertisements, of models she makes of her future in her imagination. Her cognitive capacity for happiness – or unhappiness – will grow.
This enlarged capacity brings responsibilities with it. A happy life is one lived well, and that implies being good. It implies that people cannot know they are happy without knowing the difference between right and wrong. Bok, a moral philosopher, highlights the intimate connection that thinkers have generally felt between happiness and virtue. Plato maintained that a person must be virtuous to be happy. Others have inclined to the view that bad people can be happy but shouldn’t. Many now argue that doing good actually makes people happy, as distinct from merely sparing them troubled consciences. Acts of kindness, volunteering or joining in community activities promise to enhance your own happiness as well as the general good.
This is where Bok’s essay is timely. Happiness has been in the political air for a while now. As an adviser to the previous UK government, Richard Layard became known as the “happiness tsar”. And even before David Cameron came to head the current government, he had spoken of the need to focus not just on GDP but also on GWB – general well-being.
Epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett note that beyond a certain level, increasing wealth does not lead to corresponding increases in happiness, and adduce this to their argument that equality is good for society. This September, Lord Layard, together with Anthony Seldon and Geoff Mulgan, will launch a Movement for Happiness, calling for “a more cooperative society where people expect more satisfaction from what they give than from what they get”. In contemporary political debate, virtue and happiness are as tightly entwined as ever.
The quality and the tone of the discussions have changed, though. Nowadays philosophers, poets and introspection are overshadowed by psychologists, social scientists and statistics. Against Thoreau’s poetically vivid assertion that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”, statistics indicate that actually people tend to be surprisingly happy with their lives. But such findings lack nuance as well as vibrancy. They cannot capture the complexities and ambiguities of happiness. Bok affirms the value of the personal approach, listening to what individuals have said about happiness, and following them as they try to resolve its contradictions.
This is certainly the theme she most warms to, weaving gracefully through a canon of thinkers from Aristotle and Seneca to Freud and Bertrand Russell. But she also affirms the newer school, which regards itself as a science and whose reach extends to techniques such as brain imaging. The most challenging question it poses is that of heredity. How much can positive thinking or wise living take people beyond the levels their temperaments find for them? Bok is upbeat, reading the science as saying that although inherited temperament sets the tone, there’s still plenty to play for in the pursuit of happiness.
By now it should no longer need remarking upon, but since the divide between the humanities and the sciences still runs so deep, Exploring Happiness is notable for the way it treats the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences as genuinely equal and complementary. Amid the plethora of books about happiness, from self-improvement manuals to commentaries about improving society, it plays a distinctive and valuable role as a model of how to engage with different kinds of knowledge on the subject, and to get them to engage with each other. It demonstrates the principle that when it comes to happiness, the humanities and the sciences should be intertwined.
That, however, is largely because happiness is hardly an outstanding candidate for scientific investigation. Thinkers have defined it in a variety of ways, which Bok welcomes as a source of material to reflect upon – but this poses a major problem for scientific methods.
People who answer survey questions will also understand happiness in different ways. In the past, under more exacting moral codes, they might have said they were happy if they were married and employed, even if they didn’t actually enjoy the experience of either. Nowadays they may measure their happiness against the glamour they see in advertising, even though acquiring the products being advertised wouldn’t really make them much happier. Looking back, they might say they had been happy after all, if only they’d known it. Perhaps exploring happiness requires paying as much attention to what ordinary people have meant by happiness in different places and times as to the eloquence of great minds.
Marek Kohn is the author of ‘Turned Out Nice’ (Faber)
When it comes to finding a partner, there is no such thing as the right time, only the right one.
I don't want to settle for 'just good enough'.
I don't want to fall for just anyone or make exceptions simply to get hitched.
But it seems that that is exactly what young adults of my generation are being encouraged to do, at least according to the latest Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) campaign to try to get young singles to date.
Although the campaign is still in its planning stages, the tender for a communications agency to design the campaign made the suggestion that young adults 'moderate' their expectations of a partner.
But I don't want to fall for anyone less than ideal.
When I was growing up, my girlfriends and I had a checklist of what we wanted our perfect man to be. We'd measure and evaluate each boyfriend against that list to see how they matched up.
We wanted our guy to be cute, tall and who participated in a cool co-curricular activity. Coming from a good school wouldn't hurt, either.
Of course, none of us managed to get that guy as it was probably an unrealistic, and, in retrospect, frivolous set of criteria.
The guys we dated all fell short of at least one or two standards. But we still went out with them anyway, because we could forgive bad dress sense as long as the guy had a cute smile and a voice that made us swoon.
Now that we are a bit older - and perhaps a bit wiser - we have adjusted our set of requirements to more practical ones. These include being committed, being able to hold a good conversation, being financially stable and sharing similar values.
This set of criteria is no less difficult to fulfil than my teenage one. But this time, it is non-bargainable.
Sure, if people 'moderate' - which is really to lower - their expectations of their partners, MCYS' plan to get more couples dating, and eventually, to marry, would work.
But perhaps doing so would make the relationships poorer for it.
At first, it might seem easy to compromise or overlook certain things. But in the long run, lowered expectations will come back to pose problems and create resentment.
When one or both parties settle for less, it is not really an acceptance of the perceived flaws of the other. It is merely a temporary compromise. One or both parties may still harbour hopes to fulfil that particular want and this creates a perfect set-up for discontentment.
With time, when they realise that nothing is going to change, the parties get disgruntled and are more likely to bolt.
If the MCYS campaign succeeds, marriage rates may well increase, but I'm less optimistic that couples will stay together. This leads to other social problems such as broken families, insecure children and a cynical approach to love.
Arguably, couples who see in each other their perfect Mr or Ms Right are also up against such threats. Yet, I feel they are better equipped to weather such storms, because there is no residual resentment from having to compromise or bury certain hopes.
Seeing some of my friends who, like me, are in their early 20s, go through their relationships has made me realise the importance of sticking to my ideals.
A good friend recently pulled out from a long, loving and committed relationship. It was a difficult decision for her - but one I presume was a long time in the making. She left him because he could not quit smoking, despite repeated promises and vows to try.
Right from the outset, she knew it was a habit she could not live with. But she had thought she would be able to change him.
She did not succeed. Four years and many promises later, it was goodbye.
One does not have to be bratty and unrealistic - learning to compromise is a good thing - but not when it comes to the really important things. The make-or-break criteria, in other words.
Often, when people settle for less, they think to themselves, this is as good as I can get, and shudder at the thought of losing hold of what they see as a safety net.
But when a relationship becomes that - a safety net - it does not serve its full purpose to be enriching or one that helps both parties grow.
Singles should not be afraid of holding out or waiting for the right one to come along. Good partners aren't in short supply, if we only bother to look around.
My friends who once feared that they would not find a better guy than the one they had previously, are now in stronger and more fulfilling relationships. This, after they dared to stick to their ideals in their search for a partner.
It might take a while, but I believe it is worth the wait.
When it comes to finding a partner, there is no such thing as the right time, only the right one.
So this is modern love in modern Singapore.
D, a Singaporean friend of mine, has been dating A for almost a year now. A is Taiwanese but lives and works in Seoul, Korea.
They met over the Internet years ago when D was going out with someone else. When that relationship ended messily, A moved in quickly for the kill.
It did not matter that A was almost 4,800km away. They webcammed on MSN Messenger first and, later, when the relationship blossomed, talked for hours every night on Skype.
A tries to visit D in Singapore as often as he can but his company only pays for flights home to Taiwan.
So every journey to see D is a long one - with a stopover in Taipei. At least, he gets to see his family more, he says - an unexpected bonus that came with falling in love.
Another couple I know is K, a British expat here who has been in an 11-year relationship with a Singaporean friend also named K.
The British K, who is a teacher, flies home every summer and winter to visit his family during the long school vacations.
The Singaporean K sometimes accompanies him on these trips home but these are rare occasions when work schedules permit.
Time together is precious, especially since the Singaporean K happens to work in an American company that requires him to be in Kuala Lumpur on most weekdays.
C and D are a recently married couple who spent much of their six-year courtship living on different continents. C was working in Singapore and D was overseas.
They decided that if they ever got hitched, one of them should quit and join the other.
It turns out that it was D who decided to come back to Singapore. He found work, but not in an area that he is totally comfortable with.
Unhappy, he is now considering quitting without a job. C is stressed out by this, and now wonders if she should have been the one to join him all those months ago.
If you look around, you'll find many stories like these.
Another friend of mine is dating someone partly because he is willing to drive down from Malacca to Singapore every weekend to be with his other half.
One of my colleagues agreed that her husband should take a great job in Hong Kong about a year ago, even though it could mean that their steady marriage could be entering a cold and difficult phase.
Long-distance relationships used to be so rare that the mere possibility of someone having one would spark weeks and months of intense debate among his or her friends.
That's because whoever was involved had to contemplate some pretty big changes in their lives.
I grew up in the 1980s, a time when the instantaneousness of the Internet did not exist. Communication with a loved one overseas meant writing a letter that took as long as a week to be delivered.
If you did not want to be limited by words on a page, you might have sent a cassette recording of your voice. Maybe even a video tape, if you had the money to buy a video camera.
Actually, if you loved the person enough, you would logically have spared no expense, and even paid for all those flights out there to see them.
Except all that distance between you tended to put a real dampener on love. When it's hard to see a clear path ahead, you ask if a long-distance relationship is really worth the investment.
It was no wonder then that relationships like that were extremely rare among my parents' friends and colleagues.
If you fell in love with someone overseas or your husband was posted to some far-off land, you simply dropped everything to join him and somehow dealt with the consequences.
Yet such a move was also unacceptably high-risk.
Can someone really abandon his or her career, family and friends for a new life in an unfamiliar land?
Did they know enough about this person they loved to overcome culture shock, homesickness and sheer boredom that was sure to set in once they got there?
One never wants to be the proverbial prodigal son or daughter returning to Singapore, who shows up on his or her parents' doorstep, crying and lugging suitcases.
But it was a very distinct possibility.
Today, of course, the odds of a long-distance relationship surviving are much healthier. Budget air travel means that spending time with a partner overseas has become easier and cheaper.
The Internet allows couples to see and talk to each other at any time of the day, at virtually zero cost. Some couples I know who are in long-distance relationships know so much more about each other than the average couple, right down to what they ate for lunch and dinner.
In fact, you could even argue that the distance works to their advantage.
Because they are so far away from each other, they feel more of a need to commit to daily face-time together, free from the other distractions of life.
In fact, these couples really get back to basics, often just opening up to each other about what they did or felt that day.
Just half an hour of this translates to more quality communication than many normal couples here can get on an average busy workday.
Long-distance relationships have also become something of an emerging social phenomenon as Singapore becomes more of a global city.
It is common now for international talent to ask for a stint in Singapore and in the two or three years that ensue, it is quite possible they will meet someone nice here and fall in love.
For every existing posting that ends, a new long-distance relationship potentially springs up.
At the same time, Singapore companies are spreading their wings globally. It's quite normal now for Singapore talent to be posted overseas and many see this as an essential part of career progression.
So for every new posting that begins, another new long-distance relationship also potentially springs up.
In a Singapore littered with newly blossoming or fragile long-distance relationships, more needs to be done to anticipate problems and help keep them alive.
I'd like to see company bosses become more flexible with work arrangements so that their employees can take long weekends off to be with their loved ones in Taipei or Hong Kong.
It is no different from the understanding they exhibit when parents need to attend to a child's illness or school matters.
How about allowing staff to take time off during the workday to Skype their loved ones located in awkward time zones?
And should the Government be more open, say, with granting employment passes to significant others in non-marital relationships?
If we agree that love in the Lion City is precious and increasingly knows no bounds, then let's do the best we can to kindle it in this borderless world.
Most of us have heard the story of Debrahlee Lorenzana, the 33-year-old Queens, N.Y., woman who sued Citibank last month, claiming that, in pencil skirts, turtlenecks, and peep-toe stilettos, she was fired from her desk job for being “too hot.” We’ve also watched Lorenzana’s credibility come into question, as vintage clips of her appearance on a reality-TV show about plastic surgery portray a rambling, attention-obsessed twit, stuffed to the brim with implants and collagen. (“I love plastic surgery,” she coos. “I think it’s the best thing that ever happened.”) Creepy, yes. But for all the talk about this woman’s motives—and whether or not she was indeed fired for her looks—there’s one question nobody seems to want to ask: isn’t it possible Lorenzana’s looks got her the job in the first place?
Not all employers are that shallow—but it’s no secret we are a culture consumed by image. Economists have long recognized what’s been dubbed the “beauty premium”—the idea that pretty people, whatever their aspirations, tend to do better in, well, almost everything. Handsome men earn, on average, 5 percent more than their less-attractive counterparts (good-looking women earn 4 percent more); pretty people get more attention from teachers, bosses, and mentors; even babies stare longer at good-looking faces (and we stare longer at good-looking babies). A couple of decades ago, when the economy was thriving—and it was a makeup-less Kate Moss, not a plastic-surgery-plumped Paris Hilton, who was considered the beauty ideal—we might have brushed off those statistics as superficial. But in 2010, when Heidi Montag’s bloated lips plaster every magazine in town, when little girls lust after an airbrushed, unattainable body ideal, there’s a growing bundle of research to show that our bias against the unattractive—our “beauty bias,” as a new book calls it—is more pervasive than ever. And when it comes to the workplace, it’s looks, not merit, that all too often rule.
Consider the following: over his career, a good-looking man will make some $250,000 more than his least-attractive counterpart, according to economist Daniel Hamermesh; 13 percent of women, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (and 10 percent of men, according to a new NEWSWEEK survey), say they’d consider cosmetic surgery if it made them more competitive at work. Both points are disturbing, certainly. But in the current economy, when employers have more hiring options than ever, looks, it seems, aren’t just important; they’re critical. NEWSWEEK surveyed 202 corporate hiring managers, from human-resources staff to senior-level vice presidents, as well as 964 members of the public, only to confirm what no qualified (or unqualified) employee wants to admit: from hiring to office politics to promotions, even, looking good is no longer something we can dismiss as frivolous or vain.
Fifty-seven percent of hiring managers told NEWSWEEK that qualified but unattractive candidates are likely to have a harder time landing a job, while more than half advised spending as much time and money on “making sure they look attractive” as on perfecting a résumé. When it comes to women, apparently, flaunting our assets works: 61 percent of managers (the majority of them men) said it would be an advantage for a woman to wear clothing showing off her figure at work. (Ouch.) Asked to rank employee attributes in order of importance, meanwhile, managers placed looks above education: of nine character traits, it came in third, below experience (No. 1) and confidence (No. 2) but above “where a candidate went to school” (No. 4). Does that mean you should drop out of Harvard and invest in a nose job? Probably not. But a state school might be just as marketable. “This is the new reality of the job market,” says one New York recruiter, who asked to have her name withheld because she advises job candidates for a living. “It’s better to be average and good- looking than brilliant and unattractive.”
Remember the story about the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate? It goes to show our beauty bias is nothing novel. At the time, radio listeners thought Nixon had won, but those watching Kennedy’s tanned, chiseled face on TV, next to a worn-down, 5 o’clock-shadowed Nixon, were sure it was the junior senator. There are various explanations for some of this. Plato wrote of the “golden proportions,” which dubbed the width of an ideal face an exact two thirds its length, a nose no longer than the distance between the eyes. Biologically speaking, humans are attracted to symmetrical faces and curvy women for a reason: it’s those shapes that are believed to produce the healthiest offspring. As the thinking goes, symmetrical faces are then deemed beautiful; beauty is linked to confidence; and it’s a combination of looks and confidence that we often equate with smarts. Perhaps there’s some evidence to that: if handsome kids get more attention from teachers, then, sure, maybe they do better in school and, ultimately, at work. But the more likely scenario is what scientists dub the “halo effect”—that, like a pack of untrained puppies, we are mesmerized by beauty, blindly ascribing intelligent traits to go along with it.
There are various forces to blame for much of this, from an economy that allows pickiness to a plastic-surgery industry that encourages superficial notions of beauty. In reality, it’s a confluence of cultural forces that has left us clutching, desperately, to an ever-evolving beauty ideal. Today’s young workers were reared on the kind of reality TV and pop culture that screams, again and again, that everything is a candidate for upgrade. We’ve watched bodies transformed on Extreme Makeover, faces taken apart and pieced back together on I Want a Famous Face. We compare ourselves with the airbrushed images in advertisements and magazines, and read surveys—like this one—that confirm our worst fears. We are a culture more sexualized than ever (Mad Men notwithstanding), with technology that’s made it easier than ever to “better” ourselves, warping our standards for what’s normal. Plastic surgery used to be for the rich and famous; today we’ve leveled the playing field with cheap boob jobs, tummy tucks, and outpatient procedures you can get on your lunch break. Where that leads us is running to stand still: taught that good looks are no longer a gift but a ceaseless pursuit.
Deborah Rhode, a Stanford law professor and author of The Beauty Bias, is herself an interesting case study. During her term as chair of the American Bar Association’s commission on working women, she was struck by how often the nation’s most powerful females were stranded in cab lines and late for meetings because, in heels, walking any distance was out of the question. These were working, powerful, leading women, she writes. Why did they insist on wearing heels? Sure, some women just like heels (and still others probably know their bosses like them). But there is also the reality that however hard men have it—and, from an economic perspective, their “beauty premium” is higher, say economists—women will always face a double bind, expected to conform to the beauty standards of the day, yet simultaneously condemned for doing so. Recruiters may think women like Lorenzana can get ahead for showing off their looks, but 47 percent also believe it’s possible for a woman to be penalized for being “too good-looking.” Whether or not any of it pays off, there’s something terribly wrong when 6-year-olds are using makeup, while their mothers spend the equivalent of a college education just keeping their faces intact. “All of this is happening against a backdrop of more women in the workplace, in all kinds of jobs, striving toward wage equality,” says Harvard psychologist Nancy Etcoff. “So we’re surprised—but we shouldn’t be—how this [beauty curse] continues to haunt us.”
Forty years ago, when feminists threw their bras into the “Freedom Trash Can” outside the 1968 Miss America pageant (no, they didn’t really burn them!), it was to protest the idea that women had become “enslaved by ludicrous beauty standards,” as the organizers put it. At the time, women still made up just a fraction of the workforce, and yet they were rejecting the notion that, in work or play, they had to be confined to the role of busty secretary—a mere office toy. A decade later, as women entered the workforce in droves, it was boxy suits, not bustiers, that defined their dress. But today’s working women have achieved “equality” (or so we’re led to believe): they dominate the workforce, they are household breadwinners, and so they balk at having to subvert their sexuality, whether in the boardroom or on the beach. Yet while the outside-work milieu might accept the empowered yet feminine ideal, the workplace surely doesn’t. Studies show that unattractive women remain at a disadvantage in low-level positions like secretary, while in upper-level fields that are historically male-dominated, good-looking women can suffer a so-called bimbo effect. They are viewed as too feminine, less intelligent, and, ultimately, less competent—not only by men but also by their female peers.
To add an extra layer of complexity, there’s the conundrum of aging in a culture where younger workers are more tech-savvy, cheaper, and, well, nicer on the eyes. Eighty-four percent of managers told NEWSWEEK they believe a qualified but visibly older candidate would make some employers hesitate, and while ageism affects men, too, it’s particularly tough for women. As Rhode puts it, silver hair and furrowed brows may make aging men look “distinguished,” but aging women risk marginalization or ridicule for their efforts to pass as young. “This double standard,” Rhode writes, “leaves women not only perpetually worried about their appearance—but also worried about worrying.”
The quest for beauty may be a centuries-old obsession, but in the present day the reality is ugly. Beauty has more influence than ever—not just over who we work with, but whether we work at all.
Jessica Bennett is a senior writer covering society and cultural affairs. Find her on Twitter.
SINCE Resorts World Sentosa opened as Singapore's first casino early this year, there have been cases of people committing fraud or running up large gambling losses.
In anticipation of this, several initiatives such as exclusion orders were introduced. Exclusion orders allow individuals to apply to be barred from entering casinos here because of their gambling addiction.
Families of problem gamblers can also seek these orders. Singapore is only the second country in the world after Australia to have such a social safeguard.
The number of calls in February and last month to the National Council on Problem Gambling's helpline has more than doubled.
The nature of the calls has also changed. Callers used to seek information about gambling addiction. Now, they seek advice on how to deal with gambling addiction. The number of self-exclusion orders has also risen.
To identify and treat their addiction more effectively, we need to know what motivates problem gamblers.
Some are driven to gamble because it is a form of self-medication: They use it to escape from negative emotional states, such as depression and stress.
Others become addicted to gambling because they gain pleasure from it.
Thus, there are two types of gambling addicts: self-medicating gamblers and pleasure-seekers.
While the motivation of problem gamblers may vary, we found that there are demographic and behavioural characteristics associated with each of the two types of gambling addicts.
Self-medicating gambling addicts, more than pure pleasure-seeking gamblers, are more likely to have other substance dependencies or addictions besides gambling. And the risk of the self-medicating group to have other substance dependencies becomes greater as their gambling problem escalates.
By contrast, as the pleasure-seekers' problems with gambling worsen, their likelihood of other substance dependencies decreases.
It has also been shown that gambling addicts with a parent who gambled are more likely to have other substance dependencies. And men in this group face a higher risk of having other substance dependencies than women.
Further, our research showed that self-medicating problem gamblers are less likely to commit illegal acts to facilitate their gambling compared with the other group.
We also found that there are some factors that will predict a tendency to break the law to support a gambling habit:
Higher-income gamblers are less likely to commit illegal acts than their lower-income counterparts. And the longer a problem gambler has been gambling, the more likely he is to commit criminal acts. Male gamblers pose a greater risk in these respects than female gamblers.
Finally, older, higher-income individuals with gambling parents are more likely to be self-medicating gamblers.
These findings suggest that different treatments are needed, depending on what motivates the addicts. Self-medicating problem gamblers are likely to be hooked on more than gambling.
Those seeking to help them need to tackle the root causes of their dependency. Otherwise, addicts weaned off gambling may simply turn to other forms of dependency, such as alcohol or drug abuse.
In this context, it should be noted that families of self-medicating problem gamblers who apply to bar them from entering the casinos may inadvertently encourage the addicts to substitute gambling with other dependencies.
Apart from restricting their access to the casinos, perhaps the National Council on Problem Gambling can help to identify such gamblers and direct them to the proper treatment.
The writer is an assistant professor at NUS Business School. This commentary is based on research done in collaboration with Lu Qiang and Rohan Miller, both of the University of Sydney. The research findings were presented to the Association of Consumer Research.
By Lucy Kellaway
Published: March 21 2010 22:16 | Last updated: March 21 2010 22:16
Last Wednesday at breakfast, my generation discovered that our time is up. I got wind of the news on Tuesday by reading it online but, like most people my age, I never entirely believe something until I see it printed on a large sheet of paper, anachronistically delivered to my door by the paper boy. So for me, the penny did not drop until Wednesday morning that the world now belongs to the generation below mine.
At the bottom of the front page of the Financial Times it said that Facebook has become bigger than Google. In the US, more people now visit the social networking site to write on each other’s walls and swap pictures of drunken japes at parties than turn to Google to get travel directions, check the spelling of “definitely” or search for internet porn.
Social networking, it seems to me, is the biggest separator of the young from the not-so-young. In most other respects there is not much to choose between people of 50 and of 15, apart from a bit of experience and a great many wrinkles. Everyone wears jeans. More or less everyone (quite) likes Florence and the Machine. But 15-year-olds live on Facebook, while 50-year-olds don’t understand it at all.
This isn’t a small thing: it’s a ginormous non-meeting of minds between two generations over what is not just a different way of communicating, but a different way of living.
Google is natural for old people because we were taught how to look things up at primary school. It is like a library only a lot better: you don’t have to get on a bus, and the thing you want is never out on loan to someone else. E-mail is natural for us, too. We might still grapple with the right stylistic flourishes for this flat medium, but we understand the principle perfectly. One person communicates with another, only it happens faster than a postman takes to drop a letter through a door.
My generation can even do Twitter, at a pinch. Twitter is just a sort of showing off, and we are just as good at that as anyone born a decade or two after us.
But Facebook remains deeply alien. For us, the point about communicating is that it is a consensual activity between two people. I like to talk to one friend at a time, which allows you to vary the tone and content to suit the person to whom you are talking. When we deal with more than one or two friends at a time, we get in a flap. Think of the kerfuffle that goes into deciding who to invite with whom to a dinner party.
By contrast, the idea that communication becomes a random broadcast to 500 “friends” about what you were up to last night is perfectly incomprehensible. As is the thought that you park yourself for hours on end in front of a screen gawping at the random communications of your unmanageably large group of friends and commenting on them.
This gap between the Facebook/non-Facebook generation is wider than the gap between my generation and our parents. My dad liked Verdi, I liked the Rolling Stones. He thought mine was noise, I thought his was weird. But it was the same 12-inch circle of vinyl going round on the turntable, and listening to it involved sitting on the same sofa. My mother would not throw any food away, and while I did not admire the half a roast potato sitting in the fridge, I understood that she had lived through rationing and was therefore constitutionally incapable of chucking it out.
I have asked my children to explain Facebook to me, but I’m none the wiser. They can’t explain it because they don’t understand what I’m asking. The scale of my puzzlement makes no sense to them.
Whether or not we see the point of it, my generation is going to have to sign up in time. A friend of my daughter’s recently complained that because her grandfather wasn’t on Facebook, she couldn’t wish him a happy birthday. The thought of picking up the phone, let alone buying a card, had not occurred to her. Last week’s news makes it clear. If in the future we want to get birthday cards (or communicate with anyone under 40) we are going to have to join Facebook whether we understand it or not.
There is only one risk to the site, as far as I can see. Last week I read that 36m US mothers had signed up to keep an eye on their children. Having your mother as your Facebook “friend” would surely put as much of a damper on the whole jag as being chaperoned at the disco by your father.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010.
New York - Planet Teenager, where I unfortunately live, is a busy and surprising place.
On this planet, kids come and go at all hours, but nobody ever rings a bell or knocks on a door. Nobody calls to warn: 'I'm on my way.' Nobody beeps a horn to say: 'Your ride is here.'
Instead, teenagers suddenly appear in my living room (often around dinnertime), only to vanish again without so much as a 'Sorry for barging in' or 'So long, it's been good to know ya!'
How do they manage to infiltrate my house without my knowing it? Simple: They text on arrival - TOA - and another teenager lets them in.
To tell you the truth, it used to freak me out. Suddenly my 17-year-old would bolt from the table and open the door without a word, and to my utter astonishment, another teenager would be standing on the threshold.
'But... but... how did you know he was here?' I was foolish enough to sputter the first time I witnessed this practice some months ago.
The answer, of course, was that texts had been silently exchanged, rendering obsolete the ridiculously old-fashioned routine of ringing a bell, knocking or even phoning to say that one's arrival was imminent.
Now my only hope for anticipating the appearance of guests is the dog. Dear old Buddy, whose extraordinary hearing and Doggie ESP can detect the lightest footstep, still twitches an ear and sometimes even pads over to the door if someone is about to enter. Since I am never the one receiving the 'I'm here' texts (or more likely 'Yo'), Buddy is my beacon, my four-legged head's up.
I'm not saying TOA is a bad thing. I'm just saying, for a mum who lived most of her life in the 20th century, it takes a little getting used to.
As my niece who is in college pointed out to me, teenagers are not the only ones who TOA. But based on my observations, the practice has not yet caught on among grown-ups - uh, I mean, old people. (Actually I mean middle-aged people, but I'm sure to a college student, middle-aged people are old people.)
Yes, I still ring the bell when I go to someone's house, fuddy-duddy that I am, and my friends (not that anyone under the legal drinking age believes I actually have friends) still ring the bell when they come to visit me.
But I have to admit, TOA has its advantages, especially for city-dwellers. How many times have I rung the bell to get into an apartment building, only to realise that the bell was not working.
In the old days, you either had to slip into the building behind someone else who had a key or find a pay phone on the corner to call your friend. Nowadays, of course, you could call your friend on your cell, or you could just TOA.
Another advantage to TOA: Nobody has to sit in the car in front of a house beeping the horn to show that Cinderella's coach has arrived. (Or if they did, you'd be well within your rights to open the window and scream: 'Lay off the horn, will ya! Can't you just send a text that you're here?')
Still, the way teens appear and vanish thanks to TOA reminds me of the old TV show, Bewitched, where the witchy housewife Samantha's supernatural relatives were always conjuring themselves up in her living room without using normal means of access like the door. Naturally this annoyed her mortal husband no end.
But now that TOA is the new normal, I predict the day will soon come when children watching a classic movie or old sitcom will be unable to understand the cliched line 'Don't you ever knock?' - usually said in an angry tone of voice when neighbours, roommates or nosy relatives barge in at awkward moments.
In fact, in sitcoms of the future, when someone barges in unannounced, instead of asking 'Don't you ever knock?', I wouldn't be surprised if the characters instead say: 'Don't you ever text?'Associated Press
FEBRUARY 11, 2010, 10:14 P.M. ET
By DAVID LAPP
When my very smart and relatively young girlfriend (she was then 20) first told her father she was thinking of marrying me, he refused to even hear of it. "How much college debt does he have?" he demanded. "What's the rush? Why not wait until your career and finances are established? How do you know he's the one?"
She sobbed, he came around, and in May 2009 Amber and I became husband and wife, when I was 22 and she was 21.
Granted, Amber's dad had an understandably healthy dose of "father-of-the-bride" syndrome. But he also had plenty of cultural ammunition to back up his initial barrage of questions and qualms. As college-educated, professionally aspiring young adults in New York, my wife and I were bucking the prevailing social script by marrying in our early 20s. Some Penn State sociologists summarized the zeitgeist this way: "In industrial countries, young people age 18 to 25 are expected to explore their identity, work and love by delaying marriage and parenthood. . . . Those individuals who fail to postpone these family transitions miss out on better career opportunities, make poor choices on partners, and may experience problems."
Social scientists frequently note that "early marriage" is the No. 1 predictor of divorce. Additionally, the average student graduating today has about $23,000 in debt, and money problems don't exactly help a marriage. It's not surprising, then, that many young couples hook up and shack up instead of tying the knot. The median age at marriage today is 28 for men and 26 for women.
So what's a young couple, in love and committed, to do? Was our decision to marry in our early 20s shortsighted and irresponsible?
First, let's take a closer look at that term "early marriage." While it's true that teenage marriages are a significant predictor of divorce, it turns out that marriages of people in their early to mid-20s are not nearly as much at risk. According to a 2002 report from the Centers for Disease Control, 48% of people who enter marriage when under age 18, and 40% of 18- and 19-year-olds, will eventually divorce. But only 29% of those who get married at age 20 to 24 will eventually divorce—very similar to the 24% of the 25-and-older cohort. In fact, Hispanics who marry between the ages of 20 and 24 actually have a greater likelihood of marital success (31% chance of divorce) than those who first marry at age 25 and older (36% chance of divorce).
Further, a recent study by family scholars at the University of Texas finds that people who wed between the ages of 22 and 25, and remained married to those spouses, went on to experience the happiest marriages. While the authors caution against suggesting that 22 to 25 is the optimal marrying age for everyone, their finding does suggest that "little or nothing is likely to be gained by deliberately delaying marriage beyond the mid twenties."
What about the money? Social scientists use the term "marriage premium" to describe how, over time, married couples save and build more wealth than otherwise-similar singles or cohabiting couples. Part of the reason is simply that married couples have two incomes to pool and draw from. But as a group of leading family scholars notes in "Why Marriage Matters," a report published by the Institute for American Values, marriage itself appears to encourage thrifty behavior. It makes sense: Knowing that my spending and savings habits affect not just me but also my wife and future family, I'm more likely to set a budget, pack a lunch, and put some money in savings instead of buying that new iPhone. The upshot is that my wife and I are able to pay off our college debt more quickly than we could by ourselves.
Of course, it's not just adults who are skeptical about early-to-mid-20s marriages. As psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett notes in his influential book "Emerging Adulthood," many young people today delay marriage because they are afraid it will deny them the leisure of "identity exploration" and "self-focused development." And as Mr. Arnett explains, "Many of the identity explorations of the emerging adult years are simply for fun, a kind of play, part of gaining a broad range of life experiences before 'settling down' and taking on the responsibilities of adult life." Young people sense that marriage marks the end of adventure and the beginning of monotony. Implicit is the dichotomy between individual fulfillment now and commitment later.
It's a false dichotomy. Instead of trekking to Africa or exploring Rome alone, why not marry the person of your dreams and take him or her along? What about discovering, as the characters Carl and Ellie in Disney Pixar's "Up" do, the good of marital friendship? While they never fulfill their dream of traveling together to South America (their jug of nickels and dimes labeled "Paradise Falls" is shattered with every flat tire and emergency-room visit), they do experience the joy of life together: renovating their home as newlyweds, picnicking and cloud-gazing on lazy summer afternoons, dancing in their candlelit living room after 50 years of marriage.
As focused as we young adults are on self-development, what if the path to that development is actually learning to live with and love another person? We may be startled to find that the greatest adventure lies not in knowing oneself as much as in knowing and committing to another person. Sure, freedom is great—but as John Paul II reminded us, "Freedom exists for the sake of love."
If couples in their early to mid-20s do get married, they'll need plenty of support—especially from their families and houses of worship. The leaders of National Marriage Week USA (Feb. 7 to 14)—an effort to focus national attention on marriage—are encouraging houses of worship to provide premarital counseling to every couple they marry. Parents play an important part as well: whether it's providing startup financial assistance or reminding their children—as a growing body of scholarship demonstrates—that people with a bedrock commitment to the institution of marriage are more likely to invest themselves in their marriages and to experience happier unions.
Did I get married too young? I may not have the freedom to globetrot at my own leisure or to carouse at a bar late into the night. But when I step into our 500-square-foot one-bedroom apartment, warmly lighted and smelling of fresh flowers and baked bread, I do have the freedom to kiss my beautiful wife and best friend—the woman I pledged to always love and cherish, and to raise a family with. I have no regrets.
Mr. Lapp is a research associate at the Institute for American Values in New York.
Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved
By Amy Kazmin
Published: January 8 2010 23:19 | Last updated: January 8 2010 23:19
Delhi’s Inter-State Bus Terminal is dizzyingly chaotic, full of buses spewing diesel fumes, vendors flogging newspapers and cold drinks, weather-worn porters and hordes of weary travellers, their belongings stuffed into plastic shopping bags or hard-shell suitcases. Amid this mêlée, in June 2007, an ambitious 23-year-old named Gaurav Saini first laid eyes on Monika Dagar, a 19-year-old university student with whom his life would soon become devastatingly entwined. “When I first saw her, I felt that there was something in my eyes like tears,” Gaurav recalls. “In my whole life, I had never seen such an innocent face.”
The two had first made contact six months earlier in one of the many internet chatrooms that allow young Indians to overcome geographical barriers, parental restrictions or their own shyness to search for kindred spirits.
Gaurav came from a lower middle-class Delhi family keen to give its children a secure foothold in India’s booming knowledge economy. His father, who had a small business making Hindu idols, and his mother, a tailor, sent him to a private English-language school run by a prominent educational trust. In 2002, having completed his schooling, Gaurav helped his older sister set up a small tutoring business while also studying computer networking at private technical institutes. With his English and computer skills, he secured a part-time job as a troubleshooter at a training centre run by Hindustan Computers, one of India’s biggest IT companies. His prospects looked bright.
Monika, meanwhile, had grown up on the outskirts of Delhi, in a farming village that had prospered as the metropolis, with its rapacious appetite for land, crept ever closer. Her father, a primary school teacher, died when she was young, leaving Monika, her mother and her older brother dependent on an uncle. She excelled academically, and by the time she met Gaurav she was studying computers at a women’s residential college in Haryana, a state that neighbours Delhi. With a passion for languages – she spoke English, Russian and Hindi – she had dreams far bigger than her village could accommodate, such as working in radio or even joining the powerful Indian Administrative Service.
After their initial internet chats, Gaurav and Monika began talking by mobile phone. And several months later, Monika took a bus to Delhi so that they could finally meet. Gaurav, whose boyish face had always made him popular among girls, had already e-mailed his picture to Monika. But she had refused to reciprocate, saying only that she was short, dark and ugly, leaving him unprepared for her quiet beauty.
That first day they spent together was painfully awkward. They wandered aimlessly around Ansal Plaza, a Delhi shopping mall packed with western brands such as Levi’s and McDonald’s. Monika refused to eat, saying she was fasting. “We were so nervous, we were not able to look into each other’s eyes,” Gaurav recalls. “We were just shy and shivering, trying to face each other.” After he drove her back to her college hostel – a two-and-a-half hour journey – they returned to the comfortable intimacy of the phone. Both felt they had found “the right person”, Gaurav says. “I told her, I am the person who will always be with you. I will face everything for you until my last breath.”
Over the next two years of a largely secret courtship, Gaurav and Monika imagined building a life together and exploring all the possibilities that the new India offers to two bright, ambitious young people. They talked daily and met every few months. “We started to love each other very passionately,” Gaurav says. “We knew we wanted to be together our whole lives, so we were just concentrating on our goals.” What they had not reckoned with was how completely they could be destroyed by old India, with its caste prejudices, its callous police and its patriarchal attitudes towards women.
. . .
Just 40km from Delhi’s powerful heart, Monika’s home village, Nistoli, is at the front line of India’s fierce tussles between ancient rural traditions and urban modernity. A few decades ago, most villagers were farmers, their lush fields surrounding brick houses with large central courtyards, where members of the extended family would mingle. But as the capital expanded, many families sold their land to developers, reaping profits that they ploughed into new homes, powerful motorbikes, cars and private education for their children.
Social attitudes, however, remain deeply conservative, reflecting the strict code of their Jat caste, known for its aggressive masculinity and strong – often violent – defence of caste purity. A large and politically powerful community of landed peasant farmers spread across the northern states of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and the western parts of Uttar Pradesh, Jats consider themselves part of the high-status warrior caste, an image reinforced by their colonial-era recruitment into the military by the British, who viewed them as one of India’s so-called “martial races”.
In this macho world, women’s lives have long been constrained. “Controlling women became a part of the Jat identity,” says Nonica Datta, a Delhi University historian and author of a social history of Jats. “They want to show that they are a ‘superior caste’ [with] a culture protective of women … [a Jat woman] can’t just can’t go and marry a lower-caste man.”
|Monika’s family home in Nistoli, just outside Delhi|
Women may be permitted to work outside the home, but within well-defined limits. “Only a government job, with fixed timings, can give girls respectability,” explains Joginder Singh, Monika’s paternal uncle (who lives next door to her family). “In a private company, girls are coming and going at all hours. Why should we accept this? There is no need of money.” After college, girls are expected to marry a Jat boy chosen by their parents in accordance with strict rules of caste, clan and community. A traditional Hindi saying has it that “the daughter of a Jat must go to a Jat”.
Breaking these rigid rules can carry a high price. Powerful assemblies of Khap Panchayats (male elders) can order punishments – including death. Transgressions of the rules of intimate relations are considered public matters, and Jat men who refuse to enforce the edicts on their female family members can themselves be expelled from the community. “Women are the repository of honour in their bodies – the honour of the family, the honour of the clan, the caste, and the community,” says sociologist Prem Chowdhry, author of a book on honour killings in north India. “The man is the regulator of that honour. He stands to lose if he cannot regulate it in the woman. Essential to the upkeep of those norms is violence.”
Jat politicians defend the traditional assemblies (and have even sought to give them legal status) while many police officers are steeped in the same ethos. “The police don’t act – except to be on the side of the family,” says Chowdhry. “The young individuals don’t seem to count at all.”
Indian authorities do not record honour killings separate from other murders so there are no reliable statistics on their frequency. But Chowdhry believes they are increasing, as more young people, influenced by education, job opportunities, and urban values, rebel against caste strictures. In a high-profile 2008 case, Jat villagers in Haryana murdered a pregnant 22-year-old and her boyfriend who had broken an intimacy taboo. Subsequently, one of the dead woman’s cousins boasted to journalists that the killers had “the honour of doing the village proud”. Another villager described it as “a murder of morality”.
Last summer, a Jat man and two Jat couples were killed in Haryana in three similar but unrelated cases – all for violating their caste’s strictures on who may love whom. “People who have inflicted the violence are not looked down upon,” says Chowdhry, “but hailed as heroes”.
Monika was well aware of her community’s conservative attitudes and that her family would not easily accept Gaurav, whose caste of “market gardeners” would have been regarded as beneath them. Still, Gaurav says, Monika made a few indirect attempts to see if her mother might support their relationship. The response was overwhelmingly negative, and Monika began asking to live and work in Delhi after she graduated.
“She was trying to persuade the family to let her go and work, but we were reluctant,” her uncle recalls. Her mother, Yashoda Devi, said, “I resisted. She should be here in the village. She can go back and forth daily to Delhi if she has to.” Little wonder that as Monika’s May 2009 graduation date grew closer – and with it her expected return to the tightly controlled life of her village – the young couple grew more anxious about the future.
. . .
The bride wore a pink T-shirt and jeans; the groom wore a plaid short-sleeved shirt. On July 6, Monika and Gaurav, accompanied by a few friends, sat in the small, white, marble hall of an Arya Samaj temple in an affluent part of south Delhi, as A.K. Shastri, the priest, performed a secret but legal marriage ceremony. The weeks before their marriage were tumultuous. After finishing her exams on May 31, Monika (who had lied to her family about when the exams ended) travelled to Delhi to spend a few days with Gaurav. The couple talked at length about how Monika, then just four months shy of her 22nd birthday, could escape her family’s constraints. Gaurav thought she should simply remain with him, but Monika was anxious to try one more time to win the right to live her own life without severing all her family ties.
|Monika and Gaurav were married in south Delhi on July 6 2009|
On June 6, she returned to Nistoli, hoping to persuade her family to let her work in Delhi and live in one of the city’s hostels for single, working women. It quickly became apparent that they would not agree. On July 2, Monika slipped out secretly and caught a bus to Delhi. “She was so scared,” Gaurav says. “She was sitting with her head down in the seat, saying, ‘what will happen when my brother hears I have gone?’.”
By then, Gaurav felt they should marry quickly for protection against her family’s wrath. “I wanted some name for this relationship,” he explained. “If her family members take action against her, how will I stop them? Will I just stand and say, ‘she is my friend’? I love this girl and it was very necessary to marry. After that, we will get some protection from the government. That was my thinking. Our relationship will be recognised.”
The Arya Samaj is a 134-year-old Hindu reform movement that rejects idol-worship, the caste system and untouchability. Its priests will marry inter-caste couples, even if their parents are opposed. An Arya Samaj priest for 15 years, Shastri says that when he started, he would perform two or three inter-caste marriages a month that were boycotted by the parents. That number has now risen tenfold. He attributes this to economic changes that have brought greater social mobility and mixing of young people from differing castes: “People are studying in the same colleges, or working in the same company and they find their likes and dislikes are the same.”
Despite her family’s opposition, Monika affirmed her desire to marry Gaurav, says Shastri, and the two had the paperwork needed to prove they were eligible to marry under Indian law. After the 90-minute ceremony, Gaurav says, Monika was “very relieved”, yet the atmosphere was bittersweet. “It was our occasion of happiness, but a lot of things were missing.”
. . .
The days after their wedding were hectic. Gaurav had kept his relationship with Monika secret from his own family, but now he finally told them, and after the initial shock, his parents welcomed their new daughter-in-law into their home. The newlyweds began looking for jobs for Monika, and she made plans to study mass communication.
But Monika’s family had not been idle. Krishan Pal Singh, Nistoli’s village chief and a first cousin of Monika’s late father, said that after the girl disappeared, her family obtained her mobile phone records and discovered her calls to Gaurav. Monika’s brother filed a criminal complaint with the police in Uttar Pradesh (the state in which Nistoli is located), accusing Gaurav of abducting a minor – which Monika was not – and of rape.
One night, a week after the wedding, the Saini family home was invaded at around 10pm by a dozen or so men, including Monika’s brother and her uncle Joginder Singh. They were accompanied by police from both Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. “They started shouting, saying ‘what have you done – we will take revenge’,” Gaurav alleges. “We were begging the police, ‘we are legally married’. We showed age proof, photographs, a Xerox of the marriage certificate. But they shredded them. My mother was saying, ‘please forgive them – they are children’. Monika was crying, saying ‘I don’t want to go home. They will kill me.’ But they didn’t want to hear anything.”
Joginder Singh denies there was any resistance to their efforts to take his niece back to Nistoli, or that there was any talk of a marriage – only that Gaurav was trying to help her find a job. “We said ‘let’s go’, and she willingly agreed,” he insists. “She never declared she was married.”
The couple were taken first to a Delhi police station. Lawyers acting for Delhi police have since admitted in court that officers made no effort to determine whether or not Monika had been abducted – as her family claimed – or wanted to go back to them. Gaurav claims he was taken to a separate room, where Monika’s relatives shouted at him to give her up, sever all contact and give them Rs50,000 to avoid further trouble. The police officers, he said, stood by silently “as if they were watching a film”.
Eventually, Gaurav was led out, past Monika, who he says was weeping and demanding to be given to her husband. He says he asked her: “Will they kill the two of us?’” and that she replied, “maybe. It can happen.” He asked her: “Are you ready to die?” and she said she was. Finally, he asked: “Shall I go with you? Shall we both go together?” and she answered, “yes”. It was the last time they ever spoke.
Gaurav says that he was driven to a police station across the state border in Uttar Pradesh, about an hour away, not by police but by Monika’s relatives, who, he claims, insulted him, warned him to forget Monika and their marriage and threatened him with violence. At the police station, he says he was beaten by police and that the inspector handling the case, Neeraj Gautam, echoed the family’s demand that he renounce his marriage, which he refused to do. Monika was returned to her family.
Two days after the raid, Monika testified before a judge and, according to a terse court summary, said she had been neither abducted nor raped by Gaurav but had gone voluntarily to Delhi to meet him. Despite her testimony, the judge twice denied bail to Gaurav, who spent a month in prison, before an appeals court finally freed him. During that time, he claims, Monika’s relatives repeatedly called his parents, demanding the marriage certificate in exchange for their dropping the charges against Gaurav.
On August 14 Gaurav walked out of Dasna Jail in Ghaziabad, 10kg lighter and emotionally devastated. “My family and friends were happy that I was out of jail,” he recalls. “But I [was] just thinking that Monika is in prison in the hands of her family members.”
. . .
Indian parents often turn to the police and courts to press rebellious offspring to adhere to traditional social customs, even those at odds with Indian law. On a recent morning, Judges Sanjay Kaul and Ajit Bharihoke, of the Delhi High Court, were asked to order a defiant daughter-in-law to join her husband in Dubai. The judges summoned the young woman into their chambers and when she re-emerged, they rejected the petition. She was an adult; she did not wish to be with her husband; they could not compel her.
|Gaurav alone with his troubles|
After that, Gaurav pestered Delhi police every day, asking them to go to Nistoli, retrieve Monika and put her in protective custody. He had heard she was locked in her house, depressed and not eating; with the issuing of the court order, he feared she might be forced to marry someone else (common practice in rural areas to thwart love marriages). After two weeks, two Delhi police officers finally went to Nistoli, accompanied by Amod Shastri, a Sanskrit scholar turned legal crusader who had been helping Gaurav.
They returned with shocking news. Nistoli’s village chief told police that Monika had died a day after the court order was issued. Her mother and uncles said Monika had suffered from pneumonia. She had been treated at an expensive private hospital in early September, but after her discharge had suddenly died at home one evening. Gaurav was devastated. Shastri recalls how “he was weeping, for six or seven hours continuously – in the police station and in the park.”
Soon, though, Gaurav began to doubt the family’s story. No doctor was called to examine Monika’s body after she died. Nor was there a post-mortem before the cremation, despite the large sums her family claimed to have spent having her treated. The death certificate was signed only by the village headman, a close relative. Gaurav became convinced Monika was still alive, being held somewhere, and that her family’s claim that she had died was an elaborate ruse to get rid of him. “I am 100 per cent sure she is alive, and they are hiding her,” he says.
The other alternatives are too much for him to contemplate. But Judge Kaul has considered them, repeatedly lambasting Uttar Pradesh and Delhi police for their handling of the case, including their imprisonment of Gaurav and their sluggish investigation of what happened to Monika. “It has to be investigated,” he declared in one hearing. “You can’t cover up this matter like this.”
Monika’s family would like to. Since her death, the family’s lawyer, Adish Aggarwal, has sought to have the legal proceedings quashed, declaring them “too trivial” for the court or police officials. He has also denied that Gaurav was married to Monika, and therefore has no legal standing to pursue the case. Lawyers for the Uttar Pradesh police have said “there is nothing to investigate”.
. . .
Judge Kaul takes a different view. “A girl is cremated without post-mortem and without medical assistance,” he says incredulously, “and there’s nothing to investigate?” After the Delhi High Court’s threat to call in the Central Bureau of Investigation – India’s top investigative agency – Uttar Pradesh police have begun treating the case as a suspected murder, and have promised to complete the investigation by the end of this month. Neeraj Gautam, the police officer who led the raid during which Monika was removed from the Sainis’ home, has also been suspended.
|Gaurav with his lawyers|
A senior Delhi police officer who has tracked the case says the circumstances suggest an honour killing, but he adds that, given the lack of physical evidence and co-operative witnesses, it’s a “million-dollar question” whether justice will be done. Even a lawyer for Monika’s family privately admits that “only God knows” what really happened to her.
Gaurav, meanwhile, has been left unable to accept the loss of the woman he loved, even as he battles with his doubts about whether she will ever return. “I don’t know where to go and which path I have to follow,” he says. “I am just living on the hope that some time she will be back.”
Monika’s relatives are bitter at the prospect of a long investigation into what they still insist was a death from natural causes. Monika’s mother Yashoda, her tired eyes brimming with tears, still maintains her daughter never married, noting that the girl did not wear any of the traditional markers of a married woman, such as toe-rings or vermilion powder in the parting of her hair. Nistoli headman Krishan Pal Singh also scoffs at the notion that the village would feel the need to concoct an elaborate cover-up if Monika has indeed been killed. “This is UP,” he says. “Anybody can kill anybody and throw the body in a sack. And nobody is bothered.”
Amy Kazmin is the FT’s South Asia correspondent. Her last story for the FT Weekend Magazine was about sprawling, multi-million-dollar monuments commissioned at the taxpayers’ expense by Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister. Read it at www.ft.com/mayawati
Honour killings: the British approach
In 2007, the UK passed the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act which extended protection to potential victims of “honour” violence. We spoke to Steve Allan, national policy head for the Association of Chief Police Officers, about British law enforcement’s approach to honour crime, writes Sonia Van Gilder Cooke.
How do you differentiate honour-based violence from a regular crime?
In an honour-related killing there will always be a criminal conspiracy. So, before the killing is carried out, there will be a meeting of the family – and possibly others from the community – who will decide when the killing’s going to be carried out: how, where, when and by whom. We need to recognise that this occurs so we can investigate and prosecute the conspirators, too.
How do you prosecute this type of violence?
Honour violence, honour killings, forced marriage, although they’re not criminal offences with their own name, they are assault, murder, forced imprisonment, rape … and we would enforce them in the same way we would any other criminal offence.
And so you go forward as you would in any, say, domestic violence case?
There are some differences. Our officers need to be very aware of risk to others in the family. Because the family may very well say, “okay, it’s happened to one, we’re not going to let it happen to the others. Let’s get them abroad and get them married.” The international dimension is different; these crimes often transcend national borders. The other thing is the lengths to which families will go to track down a son or daughter. They’ll often use bounty hunters or whatever social and community networks they can.
What prompted the new police action to address honour violence?
My guess is that in the UK people who were aware of these things 10 or 15 years ago thought – not irrationally – that this was a first-generation immigrant issue which would disappear. It’s now clear that’s not the case.
Are you ever accused of being culturally insensitive?
Whatever you can think of, I get accused of it. My view is that these are abuses of human rights and they’re crimes, and we’ll go after them. We’re not going to set out to insult people but we have a duty to protect life and to prosecute offenders.
Last Friday, cities and towns throughout the world celebrated Park(ing) Day, an event created to bring awareness to the importance of using and enjoying public space. Witnessing all those swaths of pavement transformed into plant-filled community gathering spaces (Streetfilms.org has a short film of San Francisco’s Park(ing) Day) got me thinking about — given the tangential way my brain works — the process of land-banking.
Land banking — the strategic acquisition of land in advance of expanding urban development, and the holding on to it as long as possible to maximize profits — is especially pronounced in once-booming, now-busted city centers like Las Vegas, Baltimore and Phoenix, which by the way now has more vacant land than any other major city in the United States. With the economic downturn things have changed somewhat, but there remain huge amounts of empty lots being “banked” in downtowns nationwide, all waiting for a real estate recovery.
Of course, if an entity bought property for future development, it is understandable that they’d want to wait until it began to recoup its value before building on it. But cities across the country are now left to grapple with the grim reality of abandoned lots and buildings that leave gaping holes in our urban fabric.
The downside of this isn’t hard to discern: the streetscape is rendered not only uninteresting and unsightly but unsafe. Pedestrians stay away, and the streets become even less safe owing to a lack of what the urbanist Jane Jacobs famously referred to as “eyes on the street.” With no foot traffic, existing businesses suffer and new ones hesitate to come in. A similar condition emerges in a very different kind of urban setting, where traffic flow exceeds neighborhood capacity, pulling pedestrians off streets because of noise, fears about safety and general unpleasantness.
An innovative and practical concept for new urban parks most directly addresses the latter condition, but I can see it working in the former as well. San Francisco’s “Pavement to Parks” program creates spaces for people by reclaiming excess roadway, through the use of simple and low-cost design interventions. What’s innovative about these parks isn’t so much the design as the implementation. As Andres Power, urban designer at the San Francisco Planning Department explains, because there is no structure in place to do something like this “it fundamentally changes the old impasse of years of planning and just lets the space evolve over time.”
Pavement to Parks was given particular impetus by the success of similar projects in New York City, especially the recent transformation of Broadway from 47th to 42nd Streets, and 35th to 33rd Streets, where plazas and seating areas have been created in excess roadway simply by painting or treating the asphalt, placing protective barriers along the periphery and installing movable tables and chairs.
Similarly, PTP begins with the goal of “transforming a sea of asphalt,” says Power. A pro bono designer (one hopes a budget will emerge to pay designers for their efforts) works on each park (there are 12 scheduled to be finished through 2010; three have just been completed) with the mandate of using materials the city already has to maximize greenery and, says Power, “transform a sea of asphalt.”
This approach diverts resources that would have gone to landfill and keeps the budget of these interventions low. Composted soil comes from city landscaping and plants are either donated or purchased at cost. Volunteers, typically community residents, are mobilized to plant, motivated by the desire to beautify their streetscape and meet their neighbors. And as part of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s initiative to provide edible landscapes throughout the city, fruit trees will be planted at each location. The plantings also add storm water management capacity to streets.
One of the first three pilot parks was created to transform a dangerous and poorly conceived intersection (below) at 28th and San Jose Streets on the outskirts of San Francisco’s Mission District.
In 1947 San Francisco planned to build a new freeway here, and in preparation for doing so the city tore down or moved close to 200 homes in this neighborhood. The homes you see above on the right-hand side of San Jose Avenue were lifted and moved back onto their backyards to make room for the project. A protest stopped the freeway from happening, but little could be done in the way of reparations for these displaced families. Half a century later, some of those families are getting their yards back — though now they’re out front.
Landscape architect Jane Martin , who designed the San Jose/Guerrero park, had no problem finding treasure in the city’s trash: her park plan uses trees felled in a storm and old air ducting made from stainless steel as giant planters for a broad array of plantings ranging from agave to apple trees. Similarly, REBAR’s design for the park — REBAR is, not incidentally, the creator of Park(ing) Day — at lower Potrero’s Showplace Triangle transforms dumpsters into planters for its South African palette of plants, and uses old surplus granite countertops for bench seating. The first of the three projects involved the least intervention: Public Architecture at 17th and Castro transformed an unsafe and confusing intersection into a sidewalk café by simply blocking the area off with planters.
Though two pedestrian islands were depaved for the Castro project, the Pavement to Parks model is designed to be reversible, and pavement is typically undisturbed. The effort reflects a “renewed interest in what our streets might look like,” says Power, as well as “a pent-up desire to create public space.”
These plantings and plaza aren’t just about aesthetics: the expanding array of planting projects along with other traffic calming measures, dedicated pedestrian enforcement stings and new traffic signals, the collision rate for the 11 blocks on Guerrero between Cesar Chavez and Randall Street, where the San Jose/Guerrero park is located, has been reduced by 53 percent since 2004.
Of the two major public space projects in New York City this year, certainly the High Line has received the most press — and its near-universal praise is well-deserved. But it is the Green Light Manhattan project and Pavement to Parks that I think will have the greatest legacy. The High Line took 10 years and $152 million dollars to complete — that’s not a criticism of the project, but of the systems in place nationwide that force these sorts of projects, and really just about any project, to proceed at a snail’s pace and at astronomical cost.
Today, people and the cities they live in are short on cash but long on ingenuity (and on boneyards full of discarded materials waiting for inventive reuse). Programs like Pavement to Parks and Green Light Manhattan have an irresistible immediacy to them, and while they may not rival Olmsted or Field Operations (who designed the High Line) in their aesthetic, they make up for it in spirit and sustainability. And remember, these are being done for next to no money.
But back to that land-bank tangent. I know what you’re thinking: “Why give over valuable real estate for a picnic table and a couple of planters?”
You don’t have to give it up; let people borrow it. The barely discernible footprint (and next-to-nothing budgets) of these parks allows for temporality. Just look at the deal brokered for the recently inaugurated LentSpace on Canal, Varick, Grand and Sullivan Streets in Soho. It’s a model for citywide land use in New York and, indeed, any city or town cursed with empty lots; the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council has created an “in the meantime” activity for a vacant site awaiting future development. In the case of LentSpace, the developer, Trinity Real Estate, is providing a three-year lease — and receives a write-off in return. (One hopes Trinity will eventually give in to LentSpace’s request to remove the chain-link fence that still surrounds the space.)
|Sep 20, 2009|
Rajaratnam, keeper of the faith
The Pledge is the enduring legacy of the late minister, to whom Singapore was worth fighting and dying for
By Irene Ng
Mr Rajaratnam understood the power of language and of ideas. And the idea he loved most was: A Singaporean Singapore where its citizens transcend their boundaries of race, religion and language, and unite to become one people. -- ST FILE PHOTO
As any writer knows, first drafts are subject to revision. Good writers hone, sculpt and polish their drafts to make sure that their final versions sparkle. Mr S. Rajaratnam, who drafted Singapore's national Pledge, was a very good writer. Before he joined politics in 1959, he had distinguished himself as an influential newspaper columnist and a short-story writer.
He understood the power of language and of ideas. And the idea he loved most was: A Singaporean Singapore where its citizens transcend their boundaries of race, religion and language, and unite to become one people.
The Pledge and its origins have been much discussed recently. The subject is of particular interest to me as I am writing Mr Rajaratnam's biography for the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. In the course of my research over the last five years, I have gained a deeper appreciation of how the Pledge came about and why it stands as Mr Rajaratnam's enduring legacy to Singapore.
Before the then Foreign Minister put his mind to the wording of the Pledge in 1966, the initial idea, as envisaged by the then Education Minister Ong Pang Boon, was that the Pledge would be recited by students in classrooms and during flag-raising ceremonies.
The original idea arose, in fact, as a sort of administrative compromise, given the constraints of schools. It can be traced back to October 1965, shortly after Singapore's separation from Malaysia. The Education Ministry wanted to inculcate national consciousness and patriotism among students in schools by assembling them for a flag-raising ceremony to the strains of the National Anthem. However, the mass singing of the anthem, to be accompanied by a brass band, required a large field or assembly hall. Many schools lacked such facilities. Even those with the facilities could not carry out the flag-raising ceremony daily because of the tight curriculum.
In a letter dated Oct 20, 1965, Mr Willie Cheng, the Ministry of Education's principal assistant secretary (administration), proposed that the flag-raising ceremonies be carried out in the classroom instead, where students would salute the flag. In a response dated Oct 22, 1965, Mr Kwan Sai Kheong, acting permanent secretary and director of education, wrote that Mr Ong had suggested, as a compromise, a pledge of two to three lines to be recited in the classroom, in place of singing the national anthem.
On that basis, two earlier versions of the Pledge were produced.
The first, dated Dec 17, 1965, was by Mr Philip Liau, adviser on textbooks and syllabuses. He used the American Students' Pledge as a reference: 'I pledge (reaffirm) my allegiance (loyalty) to the Flag of Singapore, and to the country for which it stands; one sovereign nation of many freedom-loving people of one heart, one mind and one spirit, dedicated to a just and equal society.'
The second version, dated Dec 30, 1965, by Mr George Thomson, director of the Political Study Centre, read: 'I proudly and wholeheartedly pledge my loyalty to our flag of Singapore and to the honour and independence of our Republic whose banner it is. We come from different races, religions and cultures, but we are now united in mind and heart as one nation, and one people, dedicated to build by democratic means a more just and equal society.'
Both versions were submitted to Mr Ong on Jan 26, 1966. His senior staff preferred the first version, considering it shorter and less abstract.
It was no surprise that Mr Ong then turned to Mr Rajaratnam, a master stylist known for his strong convictions on building a common national identity. In a letter to Mr Rajaratnam dated Feb 2, 1966, Mr Ong asked him for comments on the two versions and for 'whatever amendments you wish to suggest'.
By the time Mr Rajaratnam reverted with his earliest draft dated Feb 18, 1966, the Pledge was completely transformed. While the first two versions were all about pledging loyalty to the flag and country, Mr Rajaratnam's was about pledging to shared ideals, to a vision of Singapore that was, to his mind, worth fighting and dying for.
And while the first two versions used the personal pronoun 'I', Mr Rajaratnam opted for the collective 'We, as citizens of Singapore'. Defying the evidence before his eyes, he imagined a nation pulsating as one people. Only he would have the boldness to envision a people giving voice to such ideals in unison, declaring their identity as 'citizens of Singapore', as opposed to 'the Malays', 'the Chinese', 'the Indians' and so on.
More profoundly, he changed the entire premise for the Pledge as originally conceived by the Education Ministry. It was not just a few lines to be recited to the flag. It was a promise made to oneself, to each other and to future generations.
Mr Rajaratnam's earliest draft which we have on record went: 'We, as citizens of Singapore, pledge to forget differences of race, language and religion and become one united people; to build a democratic society where justice and equality will prevail, and where we will seek happiness and progress by helping one another.'
When he wrote 'to forget differences of race, language and religion', it was not a call for collective amnesia. He was not enjoining the people to deny their differences. He was calling on them to disregard these differences in their quest for a Singaporean Singapore. As his speeches during that period show, he was not blind to the fact that these differences were deeply rooted. On the contrary, he was all too conscious of their potency after the trauma of the racial riots in 1964 and the Separation in 1965.
He was subjected to repeated reminders of the emotive power of appeals to these differences. During the years of merger, he was the strongest advocate for a Malaysian Malaysia, as opposed to a Malay Malaysia. Indeed, it was he who coined the slogan 'Malaysian Malaysia'.
What he did not foresee was that Singapore would be expelled. The Separation in 1965 was, as he put it, 'the crushing of my dreams'. 'I believed in one nation, regardless of race and religion. My dreams were shattered,' he said. In the wake of that agonising moment came another test.
Shortly after the Separation, a group of Chinese chauvinists, aware that their community now constituted 75 per cent, wanted Chinese language and culture to be the dominant consideration in government policy. Mr Rajaratnam recounted: 'They charged the PAP government with betraying Chinese language and culture. They believed that, in a predominantly Chinese Singapore, where the Chinese had overwhelming strength, the Government could be panicked into opting for Chinese chauvinism.'
The minorities, particularly the Malays, were fearful of what Singapore would be like.
When Mr Rajaratnam wrote his first draft of the Pledge, asking people to 'forget their differences', it was in the context of such anxious times. Disregard these differences of race, language and religion; do not let them stand in the way of becoming a united people, to the dream of creating a Singaporean Singapore, where justice and equality will prevail. Help one another to seek happiness and progress. Do this regardless of race, language or religion, we are implicitly urged.
This ideal permeates many of his speeches on the topic at the time. Indeed, he was the first minister to use the phrase 'unity in diversity' in the 1960s, enjoining people to come together while celebrating the diversity among them.
From available records, we can ascertain that the Pledge - as is used today - was finalised in July 1966. There is unfortunately a gap in the historical records on the revisions between Mr Rajaratnam's first draft, dated Feb 18, 1966, and the final one. But knowing how he worked and liked to work, in his days as a journalist as well as a politician, he would have refined it along the way, taking into account various views. As part of this process, he consulted the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
According to Mr Lee's recollection, as related in an interview with me, he had pointed out to Mr Rajaratnam that some words sounded too idealistic. Mr Lee also tightened the draft.
Unlike the Singapore flag which was discussed in the Cabinet in 1959, there is no record of any discussion in Cabinet on the Pledge. A search of the Cabinet minutes of meetings and papers in 1965 and 1966 revealed nothing on it. From this and available records, one can conclude that the final version was firmed up between individual ministers with input from Ministry of Education officials.
There is no doubt in my mind, however, that the final words, spirit and sentiments of the Pledge owed much to Mr Rajaratnam. Mr Lee rightly described him as 'a great idealist'. He was also a great visionary. Without such qualities, the Pledge would not have been the imaginative leap that it was. He had great faith in the power of the human will to overcome the differences of race, language, and religion, and to transform the separate communities into a nation.
After Mr Rajaratnam left the Cabinet in 1988, he became concerned with policies which appeared to encourage Singaporeans to assert their communal identities. In 1990, he spoke up against what he perceived as a dangerous form of Chinese self-assertion in the Speak Mandarin campaign.
While making clear that he supported the campaign just as he would for others encouraging people to speak 'Malay, Tamil, French, Japanese, or even better English', he took issue with the campaign's slogan 'if you are Chinese, make a statement - in Mandarin'.
This, for the nervous minorities, would carry the subliminal message that the Chinese are different, he warned. Had he been asked, he would have suggested this slogan instead: 'Make a Singaporean statement in Mandarin.'
Such episodes underscored the importance of Mr Rajaratnam's role as the keeper of the faith, a role which few others could play with equal conviction. He became an institution as a protector of the vision in the national Pledge - his enduring legacy to Singapore.
The writer is a Member of Parliament and writer-in-residence at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas). The first volume of Mr S. Rajaratnam's two-part biography will be published by Iseas by early next year.
|Copyright © 2007 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved. Privacy Statement & Condition of Access|
By Kevin Brown in Singapore
Published: September 16 2009 16:35 | Last updated: September 16 2009 16:35
Singapore is to impose curbs on immigration amid fears of social friction between citizens and hundreds of thousands of foreign workers who have poured into the country over the past decade.
Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister, said Singapore had taken in more than 100,000 foreign workers a year for several years as high economic growth burnished the lure of south-east Asia’s richest country.
“We will not continue to admit people at this pace,” Mr Lee said. “We know we cannot take in unlimited numbers of foreign workers.”
The announcement follows moves to restrict immigration in several other countries, including the US, Australia and the UK, which have sought to target migrants with in- demand skills.
However, the prime minister’s comments, made to a group of students on Tuesday night, appeared designed to soothe public concern at the surge in migrants rather than signal a clampdown.
Mr Lee gave no details of how immigration would be reduced, which groups of potential migrants might be targeted, or how big the cut in numbers might be. Officials said there were no plans beyond an intention to “moderate” the flow.
The prime minister said the government understood public concerns about the level of immigration, and promised to shore up the attractions of citizenship in response to claims it confers few useful benefits that are not available to permanent residents.
However, Mr Lee also said that a “sustained, calibrated inflow” of immigrants was the only way for Singapore to maintain its international competitiveness, adding “Singapore will need new immigrants for the indefinite future”.
The economic downturn has inevitably hit migrant workers hard. Here, reporters from the FT’s foreign bureaux investigate the plight of migrants from Poland and the US to Brazil and China, to see which groups are returning home and which are finding innovative ways to survive the downturn abroad.
About 3.2m of Singapore’s 4.8m people are citizens, according to the government statistical service’s 2008 estimates, with a further 478,000 living in the island state as permanent residents. About 1.2m foreign workers without permanent residency make up 25 per cent of the population.
This compares with just 312,000 foreign workers without permanent status in 1990, who then accounted for 10 per cent of a total population of just over 3m.
Permanent residents cannot vote, are not eligible for some benefits and tax concessions available to citizens, and cannot purchase subsidised government-built housing. However, they are not required to do two years’ national service, although their male children are.
Concern about the influx of foreigners – many of whom are relatively unskilled migrants from Indonesia and mainland China – has mounted as the economy has slowed in the face of the global financial crisis. The government is forecasting that the economy will contract by 4 to 6 per cent this year.
Contributors to one popular blogging site listed a range of complaints on Wednesday, including claims that foreigners had pushed up residential property prices. However, some also defended immigration as a means of accessing essential skills.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009.
The show, Coping With Vulnerability: The First 50 Years. Posters From Our Past, will be a merry trip down memory lane for many, but in its own graphic way charts five decades of self-governance and the changes in society along the way.
COPING WITH VULNERABILITY: THE FIRST 50 YEARS. POSTERS FROM OUR PAST
Where: Basement 1, National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street
When: Till Oct 15, 10am to 9pm daily (closed on public holidays)
Sep 12, 2009
The nation's growth through 50 years of public education posters is on show at the National Library
|By deepika shetty|
If you Stopped At Two, or actually did cut your long hair, or still think of a camel when you save water, it is due to the influence of public education posters over the years.
Now, these posters with their quaint pictures and earnest messages are, for the first time, the subject of a free exhibition that opened last week at the National Library Building.
The show, Coping With Vulnerability: The First 50 Years. Posters From Our Past, will be a merry trip down memory lane for many, but in its own graphic way charts five decades of self-governance and the changes in society along the way.
About 300 posters produced by the Government and its agencies make up the show, organised by the National Resilience Division of the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts and the National Archives of Singapore.
A 'poster boy' for the impact the posters had on society is musician Jatt Ali, 53. The Long Hair poster with the tag line: Males With Long Hair Will Be Attended To Last, has some hair-raising memories for him.
The authorities at that time associated people with long hair with hippies and drug addicts.
Jatt tells Life!: 'This is from the 1970s. I had long hair and each time I went to the post office, I was served last. People took these posters seriously.
'Once I was even picked up during a police ambush in the Peninsula Plaza area and ended up missing the show I was meant to perform at. Together with 20 other long-haired boys my age, I was locked up for 12 hours. My parents made a lot of noise after that and kept asking me to cut my hair, but I never did it.'
Arts impresario Robert Liew, 60, too, recalls the poster. He says: 'We equated long hair with individualism. The Government equated it with undesirable Western influence, primarily drug consumption.
'There was a fair amount of consternation, but before things came to head, no pun intended, it was all over, the drug threat abated and the length of one's hair returned to the domain of fashion.'
Sociologist Paulin Tay Straughan, 46, points out that beyond the obvious and in-your-face messages, these posters tell an important story.
'My mother was a nurse in the Family Planning Department and I pretty much grew up with the Stop At Two message. Things were so much simpler then. The fact that we have to use fancy effects, new media and phrase our messages cleverly now shows how far we have advanced as a nation.'
She adds: 'I know some of these posters seem like a real blast from the past and are extremely amusing. But they also show how Singaporeans did not question as much in the early days. Having survived the war, all people wanted was stability. They had full faith in their lawmakers and there was no cynicism.'
The trials and tribulations of the early days Dr Straughan refers to is something the exhibition organisers want viewers to reflect on.
Supplementing the posters are news clippings, archival photographs and illustrations.
The exhibition is divided into four sections with an introduction showcasing how different countries and governments employ posters as a simple and effective means of communication.
From there, its three sections touch on issues of Water, Public Health and Internal/ External Threats.
Collectively, these posters explore the many challenges Singapore has faced over the years, from communism to communalism, the lack of water resources, exposure to infectious diseases and transnational terrorism post 9/11.
Dr K. Unnikrishna Menon, 59, director of the ministry's National Resilience Division, calls the exhibition a 'logical progression'.
Two years ago, the ministry organised an exhibition on Infectious Diseases, Past, Present And Future to educate Singaporeans on the threat of pandemics such as Sars and avian flu.
Before that was another exhibition, The Changing Faces Of Terrorism.
Dr Menon says of the latest show: 'The idea is to get people to pause and reflect and ponder on the eventful journey of 50 years, and the amazing advances we have made. So many Singaporeans take these for granted.
'The posters serve as visual records of our culture and evolution.'
Artist and curator Alan Oei, 33, who is working on a project based on posters in the 1970s, says the show reflects a significant part of Singapore's history.
He says: 'Sometimes you wonder why Singaporeans expect the Government to do everything for them, and here you have the answer - because we have always been told what to do and what values to aspire to.
'I grew up with lots of posters, which were more campaigns than simple messages. There are still plenty of campaigns, but the messages have become a lot more sophisticated and subtle. The in-your-face kind of approach is gone.'
MALES WITH LONG HAIR WILL BE ATTENDED TO LAST
Iconic. It bluntly spells out the official stand on long hair. Men with long hair would be served last. You can laugh about it now, but things were dead serious then. Apart from being served last, male artists with long hair were not allowed to appear on television.
TWO IS ENOUGH
In 1966, the National Family Planning Campaign was launched and the Government embarked on a Stop-At-Two policy with the slogan: Girl Or Boy - Two Is Enough. The Government feared that unchecked population growth could strain the country's limited resources. At the same time, Singaporeans preferred boys. This Two-Girl poster, as it was called, was meant to highlight that two children, of either sex, were enough.
SAVE WATER (undated)
A camel grins and bears the message of water conservation. It is simple, it is sweet and it drives the point home.
CHILD IN A PAIL POSTER (1980s)
Things become a little more subtle. A child in a pail raises issues about water conservation.
PROTECTING SINGAPORE DAY AND NIGHT (1983)
OUR ARMED FORCES. BECAUSE A GENERATION'S EFFORTS CAN BE WIPED OUT IN DAYS (1983)
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. These posters produced by the Singapore Armed Forces and the Ministry of Home Affairs drive home the point.
WHAT WILL YOU DEFEND? (2009)
Slick look and a clever question. Produced by NEXUS (Mindef) as part of the Total Defence Campaign, this latest in the line shows how posters and their underlying messages have evolved over the last 50 years.
STOP THE HORROR WITH SOAP AND WATER (2009)
Produced by the Health Promotion Board, there were complaints when these hard-hitting posters were put up at some bus shelters near primary schools. The board removed the posters and explained that its research had shown that people did not cite handwashing as a way to protect themselves from flu. This poster aimed to show how germs can be present on hands and that handwashing with soap and water would reduce their number - and the likelihood of serious infections.
Copyright © 2007 Singapore Press Holdings. |
All rights reserved. Privacy Statement & Condition of Access
By Richard Lapper
Published: September 6 2009 18:47 | Last updated: September 6 2009 18:47
There is a Rolls-Royce, a Maserati, an Aston Martin and a couple of Porsches, but it is the Bugatti Veyron that occupies pride of place in the collection of fast cars owned by Sizwe Nxasana, the chief executive of FirstRand, the South African financial services group.
But the vehicles are models that line a shelf in the Johannesburg office of the first black South African to head one of the country’s big four commercial banking groups. And the 52-year-old Mr Nxasana is a very different kind of businessman to the politically well-connected black entrepreneurs well known for their lifestyles and powerful motors.
While state-sponsored black empowerment and asset transfer policies have created an elite of “black tycoons”, Mr Nxasana came through the apartheid system as one of the country’s first black chartered accountants and has prospered in the largely white corporate world. His management record – at Telkom, the partly state-owned telecommunications concern, and since 2006, as head of FirstRand’s banking business – has won him plaudits.
Although his ascent owes little to affirmative action, he is a firm believer in black empowerment policies – under which some R500bn ($65bn, €46bn, £40bn) of corporate assets have been transferred to black owners since 1994. He believes the real significance of his appointment is “a demonstration that the country is making progress in the area of transformation. [It is important] that my appointment acts as a catalyst for other corporates to do the same or even for other black people to have confidence in themselves that it is possible you can be appointed to a position like this”.
Leader with ambitious vision and an impressive record
Mr Nxasana’s vision might seem ambitious but he can point to an impressive record at Telkom, the state-controlled telecoms company, where he worked hard to make the operation more efficient as it adjusted to the realities of part privatisation.
The restructuring was “conflictive ... [but] to be honest we just had a few strikes and demonstrations. We negotiated redundancies – it was all approached in a very humane fashion,” he says. “We outsourced a lot of functions and protected people in their jobs.”
But Mr Nxasana also believes that the shake-up was necessary to empower new black managers in a company that was mostly dominated by whites when he took over.
Telkom, in fact, had 24 separate layers of management and no fewer than 63,000 staff when he was appointed. By the time he left, more than 33,000 workers had been laid off and 16 levels of administration removed.
“When you have so many layers it is so difficult to empower because you have to go through so many levels. It had major implications as to the way people saw their status,” he explains. “It slows down the process and creates frustrations.”
Telkom has stumbled into more difficult times recently, but few analysts lay the blame at Mr Nxasana’s door.
“He is in a league of his own,” says one observer who worked with him on the company’s stock market listing in 2003. “He is measured and not remotely arrogant.”
Speaking over a hastily assembled working lunch of grilled fish, fruit and cheese, Mr Nxasana is courteous and charming, as comfortable talking about his own humble background as he is about his plans for FirstRand.
His story might seem to exemplify the importance of individual drive and the possibility of social mobility. But this is not a perspective that Mr Nxasana shares. Indeed, his plans for FirstRand are influenced by a commitment to social change. Although improvement in operating performance and returns is a priority, it is one that sits alongside a belief in the necessity of black empowerment. For Mr Nxasana, the two objectives are intertwined. “The goal of transformation is complementary to the goal of growing the business,” he says.
All the more so in the light of a decision announced in June to refocus the bank’s activities on Africa and the region’s growing trade and investment links with India and China. The bank’s domestic commercial clients are increasingly attracted to these growth markets and Mr Nxasana believes there is also considerable potential to exploit Africa’s own emerging markets, either alone or alongside strategic partners such as the China Construction Bank Group, with whom an alliance was formed in July.
At home in South Africa there are emerging markets, too. Mr Nxasana sees the rise of a black middle class as crucial for the group’s prospects. “Just anecdotally, if you look at WesBank [an asset-based financing business] in the early 2000s, only about 5-8 per cent of new business came from the black population in terms of financing motor vehicles,” he says. “Today, that number is close to 40 or 45 per cent. Therefore, there’s been a significant growth over the last couple of years of the contribution that comes from the black population into the economy. And the same applies to home loans or other parts of our business.”
Moreover, Mr Nxasana intends to build on FirstRand’s reputation for providing finance for black empowerment deals. “It is important that black people get an opportunity to create wealth for themselves,” he says.
Although none of this is new, Mr Nxasana has already indicated that the focus will be pursued more single-mindedly. In the past, heads of the group’s subsidiaries enjoyed considerable leeway in deciding their priorities, a looseness that allowed the bank to make loss-making investments in areas such as Japanese and German property.
Mr Nxasana now says that strategic priorities will be determined at the centre. “It is a much tighter definition and a lot more co-ordinated across the business units,” he says.
Part of this strategy includes bringing in more black and Asian managers so that the group will better reflect and understand the markets in which it is operating. Although this will take time, Mr Nxasana says that efforts – such as the provision of grants to black students studying chartered accountancy and other financial disciplines – has picked up speed and been given more focus since his arrival. And despite dipping profits, the amounts contributed to social responsibility programmes have increased.
More generally, Mr Nxasana is insistent about the need to increase the skills and knowledge of black students, whose under-performance in areas such as maths and science is a source of acute concern to the government. And he believes that vernacular languages such as Xhosa and Zulu, which millions of South Africans speak at home, and poor teaching are a big part of the problem. “[These] languages are not that good at handling the abstract concepts of trigonometry or algebra,” says Mr Nxasana.
Few business leaders are in a better position to make that judgment. In the 1960s and 1970s, when he was growing up in KwaZulu-Natal, Mr Nxasana says he was able to surmount these obstacles because his father was a science teacher. The answer today though could lie in the development of more dual-language teaching materials, an option that a charity – which Mr Nxasana chairs – is exploring. “We really [need to] sort out the schooling system so that we can, as a country, produce a lot more skills in engineering, in accountancy, in marketing, and in medicine and so on,” he says. “Language is the biggest impediment by far.”
These changes will not happen overnight but Mr Nxasana’s experience has taught him the virtue of patience. His time at Fort Hare University coincided with an upsurge of violent protests among black youth, and teaching was frequently interrupted. “There were running battles with the police and tear gas everywhere,” he says. “At the end of the first year we ended up in prison.”
In spite of recent unrest, South Africa is today much more stable politically, a context that can help advance the kind of economic and social changes that have accompanied Mr Nxasana’s own ascent.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009.
Skipping Spouse to Spouse Isn’t Just a Man’s Game
In the United States and much of the Western world, when a couple divorces, the average income of the woman and her dependent children often plunges by 20 percent or more, while that of her now unfettered ex, who had been the family’s primary breadwinner but who rarely ends up paying in child support what he had contributed to the household till, climbs accordingly. The born-again bachelor is therefore perfectly positioned to attract a new, younger wife and begin building another family.
Small wonder that many Darwinian-minded observers of human mating customs have long contended that serial monogamy is really just a socially sanctioned version of harem-building. By this conventional evolutionary psychology script, the man who skips from one nubile spouse to another over time is, like the sultan who hoards the local maidenry in a single convenient location, simply seeking to “maximize his reproductive fitness,” to sire as many children as possible with as many wives as possible. It is the preferred male strategy, especially for powerful men, right? Sequentially or synchronously, he-men consort polygynously.
Women, by contrast, are not thought to be natural serializers. Sure, a gal might date around when young, but once she starts a family, she is assumed to crave stability. After all, she can bear only so many children in her lifetime, and divorce raises her risk of poverty. Unless forced to because some bounder has abandoned her, why would any sane woman choose another trot down the aisle — for another Rachael Ray spatula set? Spare me extra candlesticks, I’m a one-trick monogamist.
Yet in a report published in the summer issue of the journal Human Nature, Monique Borgerhoff Mulder of the University of California, Davis, presents compelling evidence that at least in some non-Western cultures where conditions are harsh and mothers must fight to keep their children alive, serial monogamy is by no means a man’s game, finessed by him and foisted on her. To the contrary, Dr. Borgerhoff Mulder said, among the Pimbwe people of Tanzania, whose lives and loves she has been following for about 15 years, serial monogamy looks less like polygyny than like a strategic beast that some evolutionary psychologists dismiss as quasi-fantastical: polyandry, one woman making the most of multiple mates.
In her analysis, Dr. Borgerhoff Mulder found that although Pimbwe men were somewhat more likely than their female counterparts to marry multiple times, women held their own and even outshone men in the upper Zsa Zsa Gabor end of the scale, of five consecutive spouses and counting. And when Dr. Borgerhoff Mulder looked at who extracted the greatest reproductive payoff from serial monogamy, as measured by who had the most children survive past the first five hazardous years of life, she found a small but significant advantage female. Women who worked their way through more than two husbands had, on average, higher reproductive success, a greater number of surviving children, than either the more sedately mating women, or than men regardless of wifetime total.
Provocatively, the character sketches of the male versus female serialists proved to be inversely related. Among the women, those with the greatest number of spouses were themselves considered high-quality mates, the hardest working, the most reliable, with scant taste for the strong maize beer the Pimbwe famously brew. Among the men, by contrast, the higher the nuptial count, the lower the customer ranking, and the likelier the men were to be layabout drunks.
“We’re so wedded to the model that men will benefit from multiple marriages and women won’t, that women are victims of the game,” Dr. Borgerhoff Mulder said. “But what my data suggest is that Pimbwe women are strategically choosing men, abandoning men and remarrying men as their economic situation goes up and down.”
The new analysis, though preliminary, is derived from one of the more comprehensive and painstaking data sets yet gathered of marriage and reproduction patterns in a non-Western culture. The results underscore the importance of avoiding the breezy generalities of what might be called Evolution Lite, an enterprise too often devoted to proclaiming universal truths about deep human nature based on how college students respond to their professors’ questionnaires. Throughout history and cross-culturally, Dr. Borgerhoff Mulder said, “there has been fantastic variability in women’s reproductive strategies.”
Geoffrey F. Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico, agreed. “Evolutionary psychology and anthropology really need to take women’s perspective seriously in all its dimensions,” Dr. Miller said. “You can construe sequential relationships as being driven by male choice, in which case you’d call it polygyny, or by female choice, in which case you’d call it polyandry, but the capacity of women across cultures to dissolve relationships that aren’t working has been much underestimated.”
Pimbwe culture has been too disrupted over the years by colonialism and government interference to serve as a quaint museum piece of how our ancestors lived, but the challenges the people face are more survival-based than how to get your child into an elite preschool program. The Pimbwe live in small villages, have few possessions and eke out a subsistence living farming, fishing, hunting and gathering. Virtually all Pimbwe get married at least once, Dr. Borgerhoff Mulder said, and they do it without the blessing of judge, priest or Las Vegas. “Marriage is not formalized with any specific set of rituals,” she said, “and marriages break up by one or another partner leaving.”
Nor is there much formal sexual division of labor. “In terms of farming, men and women do pretty much the same tasks,” Dr. Borgerhoff Mulder said. “The men will cook, do a lot with the kids.”
Unlike in the West, where men control a far greater share of resources than women do, or in traditional pastoral societies like those found in the Middle East and Africa, where a woman is entirely dependent on the wealth of her husband and in divorce is not entitled to so much as a gimpy goat, Pimbwe women are independent operators and resourceful co-equals with men.
This does not mean that mothers can go it alone, however. Again in contrast to the contemporary West, childhood mortality remains a serious threat, and it takes the efforts of more than one adult to keep a baby alive. A good, hardworking husband can be a great asset — and so, too, may his relations. The evolutionary theorist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy proposes that one reason the offspring of much-marrying Pimbwe women do comparatively well is that the children end up with a widened circle of caretakers. “The women are lining up more protection, more investment, more social relationships for their children to exploit,” she said. “A lot of what some people would call promiscuous I would call being assiduously maternal.”
The goose, like the gander, may find it tempting to wander if it means that her goslings will fly.