09 August 2010

How many people outside Singapore has heard of the Youth Olympic Games?

This is the result of a quick and utterly unscientific poll of the people around me, both from my hall and my lab group, here in Canberra. Certainly, it does not represent "people outside Singapore". In fact, it is hardly a fair picture of the awareness of the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) amongst the people living in Canberra since I'm sampling a mix of academically-inclined, highly-educated community with a good mix of international students. Nonetheless it should still give a hazy sketch on how many people outside Singapore knows about the YOG.

The reason why I did this poll comes from the general sentiments I've been reading about the YOG, especially on the enthusiasm (or lack thereof) of Singaporeans for the event.

The fact that Singaporeans are disinterested does not mean that the event will be a failure. What also matters is the enthusiasm of sporting fans and the international community. That, together with the apparent failure to excite Singaporeans, will be a fair measure of the success of the YOG.

So far I have not heard of the opinions of people outside Singapore on the YOG itself. I have come across no polls about their awareness of the event, and news reports about it are scant to begin with. Hence, I did this poll to throw a bit of light on this question.

More on the results: I've polled a total of 17 people. 11 (red) of them have never heard of the YOG. 2 (yellow) of them heard about it, but do not know that it is coming up or that it is held in Singapore. 4 (green) of them could answer where and when, though it must be pointed out that, of these four, one is a Singaporean and the other have been staying in Singapore for the past two years.

And of the six who know about YOG, only one of them is an Australian (the other five are Asians of varying nationalities). The reason why he knows about it is because he is a sporting enthusiast and is acquainted with news about the Australian Youth Olympic Festival, which I believe is what the YOG is based on.

I am more than aware that the sample size is way too small. However, I am not going out of the way to find out about the opinions of more people. Maybe some other people can do the same thing amongst their friends and we will have a better survey.

It is kinda hard to comment on whether the results are good or bad. We need an equivalent to compare, and I do not know enough about sporting games to do that. Perhaps 35% of awareness is okay for this type of international youth games. But my guess is that it ought to be higher.

Oh, by the way, happy 45th birthday, Singapore!

30 March 2010

The Secrecy of an Overseas Vote

Today in my mail was an air-mailed letter from the Elections Department, informing me that my application to be an overseas voter was approved. Why they had to send me a physical letter when they could've saved some money and use email instead is puzzling to me.

But anyway, this reminds me of a conversation I had yesterday with a couple of Singaporeans here in Canberra. Somehow, the elections came into the discussion, and we arrived at the issue of the secrecy of our votes.

I am fairly confident -- not that I give a damn -- that the individual vote is secret. But it is widely known that, because vote counting is done independently for each polling district, the election officials (and the witnesses from each party) know the distribution of the votes for that district.

Of course, this does not present too much of a problem in Singapore, since there are probably thousands of voters in each district. But as an overseas voter, my vote goes to the district I'm registered in (through my home address). And the counting of overseas votes is done separately when the votes are flown back to Singapore (assuming the procedure is the same as in 2006; see PDF link).

So unless there are a million overseas voter flooding down to Singapore High Commission in Canberra when the election comes, chances are that I am the only one -- or at most, one of the few -- from my district amongst all the overseas votes coming from Canberra. In fact, in the 2006 general elections, there were only 137 voters in Canberra (see PDF link). How secret is my vote then?

Even if overseas votes are counted on the constituency level and not separated down to districts, the size is still small enough to make some people worry.

On the other hand, the oveaseas votes will only matter if the vote difference between the contesting parties is less than the total number of registered overseas voters for that constituency. Since it is unlikely that the vote discrepency can get that small, chances are that the overseas vote makes no difference. I'm not sure if they'll still be counted nonetheless though, but I doubt so since I cannot find any information on the overseas votes results.

28 March 2010

Earth Hour: A Confession

No, this is not a soppy apology by an environmentalist for not obeying this symbolic event. Quite on the contrary, I cycled to Chiefley Meadows on campus yesterday -- a 15 min journey through poorly-lit paths -- to join in the countdown at ANU.

But that's not the point. The confession is on the fact that I realised I have been rather harsh on the organisers and supporters of Earth Hour. Previously, despite being an environmentalist, I have hardly been a huge supporter of Earth Hour, seeing it as a useless symbolic gesture that achieved little practical results. In my eyes, I saw it as a feel-good initiative for people to pretend that they had done their part for the environment.

In fact, I have once written elsewhere that,

I just think that this Earth Hour will not change people’s habit. First, with regards to the point of increase awareness, I do seriously think that the time for awareness is over.


The challenge for environmentalists now is to get people to be more environmentally friendly in their actions, either by persuasion or by coercion (e.g. through laws).

And my point was that Earth Hour does not achieve that, because it is at best an hour of fun and games for most people, and after that they will resume their normal energy consumption. And therefore, whenever someone calls Earth Hour an environmental action, I feel insulted because it kinda trivialises the changes I've made on my lifestyle.

But on further reflection, I realise that my reaction is unjustified. Specifically, if I feel insulted, it is because I held an elitist view of the label "environmentalist" as well as the environmental movement. I treated it as some exclusive club where entry is earned by making significant changes to its members' lives.

True, most people will not change their lives because of Earth Hour, but it may serve as a rallying call for people to join in. It may remind them to turn off the lights when they leave the room. It may persuade them to choose a more environmentally friendly alternative (e.g. CFL instead of incandescent bulbs). It may even convince a few to live a lifestyle that is gentler to the Earth.

However slight each of their contributions are, they will add up and make a difference.

And that, I now think, is a good reason to support Earth Hour. I should drop my severely stuck-up view of environmentalism and support action that helps the environment. After all, environmentalism is more than climate change -- which is under siege by scientifically-unfounded skepticism; there are many pressing environmental issues such as light pollution and vanishing biodiversity that Earth Hour will have an effect as well.

And thus, the title of this post, Earth Hour: A Confession.

06 January 2010

Unacceptable to have Dolphins in Captivity at IR

Resorts World Sentosa originally planned to import whale sharks for their oceanarium as part of their Integrated Resort attraction, but have backed off due to pressure from various organisation and members of the public. Whale sharks are not meant to be in captivity, and definitely not in an enclosure the size which the IR can afford.

However, in its place RWS is importing bottlenose dolphins, which is just as bad, even though dolphins tend to strike an impression that they can get happy in captivity. This impression is not quite correct. Unfortunately, with the Dolphin Lagoon already in operation at the Underwater World, it will be all but impossible to make RWS reverse this decision.

I'm reminded of this unhappy incident after reading this article that suggests dolphins ought to be treated like a person. That was a suggestion by a professor of ethics at Loyola Marymount University who have studied and published about this issue.

From the article,

The researchers argue that their work shows it is morally unacceptable to keep such intelligent animals in amusement parks or to kill them for food or by accident when fishing. Some 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die in this way each year.

Indeed, if dolphins have such intelligence, how is it different, if we continue this practice of putting dolphins in captivity, from putting people in cages and ogle at them? Remember the story of Ota Benga and the existence of human zoos?

But like I said, the chances of preventing the dolphins from coming to the IR is pretty slim, especially with public acceptance of dolphin shows. Still, I suppose we can do our part by first being aware of the issue, and second, spreading the word. Personally, I doubt I will visit the IR.