25 December 2006

Science of Santa

North Carolina State University has published a news release that argues the scientific viability of Santa Claus, backed by the university's professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

From the article, Santa and his elves have

advanced knowledge of electromagnetic waves, the space/time continuum, nanotechnology, genetic engineering and computer science easily trumps the know-how of contemporary scientists

and how they used scientifically fantastic innovations to carry out his duties.

Naturally, this post is written somewhat in a casual manner, ignoring the technological viability of some of methods used. It is pretty interesting to see imagination and science explain what appears to be impossible phenomena.

However, impressive explanations like

a sophisticated signal processing system filters the data, giving Santa clues on who wants what, where children live, and even who’s been bad or good

sounds pretty Nineteen Eighty-Four to me...

21 December 2006

Singapore's Stand on Antipersonnel Landmines

In the Nobel Exhibition, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), an organisation that won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, was featured extensively. Two sets of displays in the artefacts section as well as a short film in the Creative Milieus theatre are related to them, making them one of the most highlighted organisation in the entire exhibition.

Founded in 1992, their primary objective is to completely ban the use of antipersonnel mines in the world. Their success was phenomenal. From a coalition of a handful of NGOs, it has grown into a network of more than a thousand groups. One of the major successes was their win of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997, but the greatest achievement of their work was the Ottawa Treaty.

However, many of the powerful countries in the world refused to sign the treaty. They include the United States, China and Russia. Many have their own reasons for not doing so (such as the US, who needs landmines to protect South Korea from North Korea). That was what I found and prepared for my duty as an exhibition guide. However, curiosity nudged me to find out more, especially with regards to Singapore's status.

It turns out that, expectedly, Singapore has not signed the Ottawa Treaty. More than that, Singapore is a producer of landmines (see this ICBL newsletter, third paragraph). This is kept a low profile in Singapore, which is not surprising since this is something not to be proud of. Even Indonesia has recently signed and ratified the treaty. As a matter of fact, most guys who have been through the army would be able to attest that there is at least basic landmine deployment training.

This led me further to ponder on the question: would Singapore ever deploy landmines? My personal opinion is no. The Singapore Army's main purpose is to defend Singapore, and its greatest strength lies in deterrence. Even if we take into consideration the unlikely possibility of Singapore entering a conflict, it is unlikely that we are on the offensive. I doubt Singapore will start planting landmines along Woodlands. However, there is the possibility of pre-emptive strikes, which Singapore occupies a foreign land to act as a buffer against foreign attacks. Would landmines be a possibility then? Probably, but then the chances of this happening is very low.

In that case, why doesn't Singapore sign and ratify the treaty, since we're probably not going to use landmines anyway? My guess is that there are two reasons. First, remember that the army's strength lie in deterrence. And the knowledge that we possess and may deploy landmines contributes to this deterrence. For all we know, we may not even use landmines in times of conflict. The situation is similar to the serial numbers on polling cards.

My second guess is that, it does not benefit Singapore to sign the treaty. Let's face it: Singapore is a pragmatic country. Our government is pragmatic. A larger part of the population is pragmatic. What would signing the treaty give Singapore? Putting it another way, what harm will it cause Singapore if it doesn't sign the treaty? In addition, with countries like the US and China not signing it, Singapore is safe from international ridicule.

Personally, I support ICBL's goals and agrees with their principles. I would be most delighted if Singapore signs and ratifies the Ottawa Treaty. But frankly, I don't expect that to happen soon. That's life. Life sucks. Get used to it.