There are so might sites online about studying and publishing/distributing notes that ERPZ.net seem to be getting pretty redundant. We've so far been operating on a one-man show kind of way despite having multiple authors (who are mostly non-contributing to be honest). Scott seem to do the same as me when it comes to blogging except I guess he does it better and categorizes stuff in better ways than me. He publishes eBooks (some of them free) as well! And that is quite an inspiration given that I'm hoping to write a PW Guide soon - check out our Facebook page where I challenged myself to finish the book before we reach 1000 likes. Not such a tall order since there isn't that many likes yet but it does put pressure on me especially when I'm studying for exams this period.
Then there is Notes Academy, which was featured on Straits Times going the 'open source' style where they mostly curate and moderate while waiting around for kind people to contribute notes. That's not so different from me as well since I've been asking for contributions for some time and we've gather some stuff from kind souls here and there. But then they are a radical departure from the way we moderate content so strongly that contributions are slapped with our site logo before being uploaded though we've made exceptions now and then. I guess the fact that Notes Academy is a little more O Levels oriented means that I'm not exactly in direct competition with them anyways. The fact they've got a team to do all that work is admirable though.
Of course, who can forget Open Lectures who have just revamped their site. They're a pretty geeky bunch with quality content (clearly carefully produced and curated), which is on the other side of the spectrum compared to Notes Academy. I don't really know where ERPZ.net sit at anymore. In any case, a potential criticism that can be levered on them (and also relevant for me) is their content is skewed towards Economics probably because they've more of their team dabbling with that area. They definitely need to gather more MOE scholars who're not planning to break bond (ie. not doing 'practical' subjects like Economics or Engineering but dealing more with Literature, hard Sciences).
For those who thinks publicly available stuff are crap (or that there are no goodies in freebies), there is Darryl, who is taking the more exclusive 'coaching' path for studies. He offers quite a fair bit of coaching content and has worked a bit of money into building and putting together his entire suite of 'formula'. The thing is I believe it's suitable for people who actually looks up these stuff and have a more or less keen desire to excel - not someone who believes in shortcuts, simply one who believes in doing things smart.
Having said all that, the future of ERPZ.net is wondrously uncertain. All my notes might end up somewhere like Notes Academy and I'll continue blogging random ramblings while perhaps doing some eBook writing. Or maybe the site will become something all together different. There are ideas to crowd-source for ideas on what to do but I'll have to come up with proposals first. But for now, my exams comes first...
BBC has a pretty interesting take on the Eurozone crisis and it explains how past information is often irrelevant in the market's considerations of matters; and of course, the short-sightedness of the market.
By Wei Seng
Since my return from Canada, I have been trying, but failing, to catch up on my last issues of The Economist before my subscription expires.
I was reading the special report published in the April 23rd issue on Democracy in California, and amongst all the generally very good articles about politics and democracy in California and America, this article caught my eye: how voters decide based on their limited amount of knowledge, which they think is sufficient to make a decision but think that their fellow voters are not as well-informed to make the same decision as they. I attempt to summarise the findings here, but you should read the original article for the full statistics and studies.
A survey of voters done in California apparently indicates that "fewer than half of respondents" have "confidence in their fellow voters to make public-policy decisions at the ballot box", which would naturally mean that they probably have more confidence in their own decision-making, that the decision they make is a well-informed one.
We learn in Economics that perfect information / knowledge can never take place because there will never fail to be gaps and loopholes in our knowledge (through breakdown / misunderstandings in communication for instance), which would then inhibit how we make decisions. So certainly there's no expectation for a voter to be omniscient. But how much information is sufficient for one to make a wise decision when voting?
A follow-up poll done indicates that many claim to have "'some' or 'a lot of' knowledge about how state and local governments spend and raise money". But when they were then assessed about their knowledge, i.e. asked to answer questions pertaining to various aspects of the state spending and budget, the percentage of voters who got it right (i.e. really know their stuff), suffice to say, are much, much lower than the percentage of voters who think they got it right (i.e. think they know their stuff but actually they dont).
But what's disturbing, according to the survey, is that apparently the older, more educated, wealthy and attentive voters are actually more prone to being misinformed or not have accurate understanding of the issues at hand. It is suggested that this is because of "self-interest" and maybe "a potential blindness to issues outside of one's own experience". Which probably means that someone who has the experience with the issue is more likely to fall back on what he observes in his experiences rather than what is truly the situation, which he might not have exposure to or knowledge of.
The article alludes to another reason for people not knowing their stuff - misinformation. Which is quite a valid concern in California, given that in the previous and subsequent articles there is a lot of talk about how interest groups with the most money flood the airwaves and broadband with their "misinformation". Which, when combined with ignorance or with the tendency to sympathise with your own beliefs, is a deadly combination for the polls. Plus it doesnt help that their official documents are dripping with "legalese" and obscurities.
Link back to Singapore. In the election that just passed, I have seen people who are either staunchly pro-PAP (People's Action Party, for our foreign readers) or staunchly pro-opposition. And when I ask them why, many of them quote from their own experiences to formulate their own stance and hence their own vote. So while in an ideal election people vote based on what is best for them and for everyone, on the basis that they are as well-informed as possible about the benefits, disadvantages and trade-offs of the various parties, it will never come to be an election that truly operates in this way, because we are all shaped by our experiences, thinking that we really know it all when in fact we just "know".
Which can apply to me as well. Do I really think I am well-informed when I write about this article questioning people's knowledge?
By Wei Seng
In an article published in Today on March 22, produced from an article in The Telegraph, the writer Ambrose Evans-Pritchard asserts that safe nuclear does exist, in the form of thorium, and this comes from nowhere other than China, the country which supposedly is not very unenvironmentally friendly and has lax safety standards.
The article exhalts the benefits of thorium-based nuclear reactors in a backdrop of the escalation of global demand for power, especially in rising developing countries India and China. I was initially a bit skeptical about reading this article because of my reservations about China and how it sometimes may have the tendency to exaggerate its scientific discoveries. But assuming that the writer in The Telegraph did his factchecking correctly, thorium does have a multitide of benefits over uranium from its abundance all the way to the reactions in the power generation process.
If thorium really rises to the challenge as promised, perhaps the world will heave a sigh of relief, that nuclear disasters such as Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and the recent Fukushima incident would really be a thing of the past.
For those who are interested, this article explains in more scientific detail how thorium is better than uranium, a good read if you wish to know a bit more about the nuclear industry.
Doing a Google on thorium seems to yield quite a lot of promising articles. So is the hype really justified? Perhaps we have to adopt a wait-and-see attitude.
By Wei Seng
I apologise (which I often do whenever I write here these days) for not coming here often enough to write. Ironically, focusing on my job, which requires me to read up on current affairs, together with other demands such as learning driving have meant that other obligations such as housework and writing for ERPZ.net has been relegated to the back seat.
This article that I wish to highlight today, written by Thomas Friedman for New York Times, has been with me since 2 weeks ago, but I only got to really reviewing it today. In summary it talks about the Arab revolutions and the awakening of the Arab populace after decades of repression, stagnation and ignorance. The content is still relevant, even though coverage of the Arab revolutions have dipped as Libya is mired in a drawn-out civil war-like situation while other breaking news emerge (such as the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear blowout triple tragedy that is affecting Japan).
Friedman starts by telling America to end its "addiction to oil", and it is precisely because of this addiction to oil that the Arabian dictators and kings have managed to cling to power, in a formula that he recants: "keep your pumps open, your oil prices low, dont bother the Israelis too much and... you can do whatever you want". This puts America at the wrong side of history: how can the champion of democracy and freedom be silently condoning the prejudice of freedom of the Arab people?
He makes it clear that the revolutions are "not going to be a joyride" because this is taking place in a region with "frail institutions, scant civil society and virtually no democratic traditions or culture of innovation". Hopefully we're not looking at a transition from one pro-American dictator to another Islamist one, or a military junta. It would be too much to expect the emergence of an India, but it would be good if it could go in the direction of Turkey or Indonesia, two Muslim-majority countries that are also vibrant democracies, albeit with their own issues and hiccups with their experience with democracy.
Friedman concludes by saying that America should "root for" the democracy movement "without being in the middle of it". This seems to confuse me a little bit, but I suspect his meaning here is to support democracy but to give them free rein in deciding for themselves how they want to be governed rather than have America impose top-down a democratic framework. The Arab people have woken up, spoken and it is up to the West to give them tacit support.
By Wei Seng
Thomas Friedman, one of my favourite writers, in a visit to Singapore at the end of last month, proudly proclaims that there are lessons to learn from Singapore for American politics.
Politics? One might question. Singapore is supposed to be well-known for or often perceived in the West as a more authoritarian, repressive country. But here the learning pointers are precisely from the way politics is conducted: "Taking governance seriously, relentlessly asking: What world are we living in and how do we adapt to thrive?"
"Taking governance seriously" is vague and sounds as if the American government does not take governance seriously, but sometimes the things they do and the things they argue about, you really wonder if these people are in a government by the people, for the people, to serve the people or to serve their own interests. Even if the people in government were really concerned about the state of the nation, their stubborness and refusal to compromise or cooperate is paralyzing proper governance.
Singapore's brand of politics might be said to be of the pragmatic kind, which is pretty much the nature of Singaporeans in general: doing things not just for the sake of doing things, but because there are benefits, or because they work. No point harping so much on theory or idealism, whatever works is whatever shall be done. In a world where globalisation continually integrates parts of the world together, the line between democracy and other forms of governance or ideology start to blur, and perhaps it is wiser to adapt and subscribe to whatever works?
Not that I am an ardent or blind supporter of the way Singapore's democracy works, but I do feel that it is better to have a working government, albeit one that prescribes and reproaches like a strict parent, rather than a dysfunctional government that struggles to do anything at all for its people.
Read the whole article to get a good idea of what he thinks is good in Singapore. But ultimately, as Friedman concludes, what America should learn from Singapore is the correct "attitude" to adopt in governance.
Anyone disagrees with Friedman?
By Wei Seng
A belated Happy Lunar New Year to all readers of ERPZ.net!
I have been sitting on this newspiece for more than a month, rereading and mulling over its contents. What the writer proposes seems like an act of brinksmanship. Is it really "an idea whose time has come"?
In The Guardian last month, Simon Tisdall proposes that a sovereign Palestinian state be declared, one recognised by the US and the United Nations. Sounds like a silly idea without basis for support, even though he argues that because of current circumstances the status quo is untenable. Indeed, the Palestianian Authority's Fatah government has been undermined, and the only way for it to regain the trust of its citizens and its recognition of legitimacy by Hamas and the world would be to declare independence, regardless of whether talks with Israel are successful or not. But it is naive to believe that the US would support such a move even if it is unhappy with Israel over its continued refusal to listen to the US.
Supposedly many states (mostly smaller nations) recognise in theory an independent Palestine. But without the backing of major powers, it would not be worthwhile to mount a declaration of independence without starting another Israel-Palestine war.
The happenings in Tunisia and then Egypt between the time this article was published and today changes the whole picture again, which makes this article I feature all the more relevant. It might really be time for Israel to start thinking about Palestine, because should Mubarak's government collapse and give way to a Muslim Brotherhood regime, it would mean the isolation of Israel in the Middle East with the departure of its closest ally and neighbour.
Is it really time for an independent, sovereign Palestine state?
By Wei Seng
I have been so busy with work and other things that I have not had much time to write here. I have found some interesting articles that I wish to write about, but for now I'll offer a TED video on the "economic injustice of plastic".
It's an interesting perspective about how plastic affects the poor people disproportionately. His introduction, about how it might have been better that the oil spill in the Gulf happened rather than have the oil be used to contribute to global warming, creating plastic and so on, is quite controversial though. Honestly, both options are actually non-options, but if that makes you sit up and continue listening to the talk then I guess such an introduction works.
The video does not provide that much details or elaboration but at least it enlightens you and makes you aware of more perils of plastic besides the environment and wildlife.
By Wei Seng
It strikes me as amazing that a Conservative government (albeit a coalition one with the Liberal Democrats) in the UK is actually introducing vouchers to encourage people to eat healthily and exercise. The report in The Independent claims that it is all part of a "government-backed healthy living" initiative called Change4Life, by launching a "Great Swapathon" that allows people to redeem £50 worth of vouchers for healthier food and activities by taking part in a survey on the Great Swapathon website.
It looks to me like a subsidy on healthier food, and I am surprised that the Tory government would actually consider such seemingly market-distorting policies considering their pro-market stance. But such a scheme is actually more pro-market than an actual subsidy on the price of healthier food and activities as this scheme involves the food industry and retailers and allows them quite a bit of influence in the campaign. Which then leads to people complaining that actually allowing firms in the food industry the ability to influence public helath campaigns is not quite a good idea because the firms would be more concerned with profits and their bottom line rather than what is truly good for the consumer or populace.
Either way, it is a good step forward for a country that is facing an "obesity time bomb". As the Health Secretary says, "the healthier option isnt always the cheaper option", so the poor should at least be allowed some access to more wholesome though more expensive foods rather than cheap junk food.