Monday, October 27, 2008

Welcome to ice-free Chez SP

It was interesting to read Waste watchers: Save cash and the environment .

If there is one up-side to the 'credit crunch', recession, whatever you choose to call it, a wave of belt-tightening seems to be having a positive impact on the environment.

Our bills, like other households, have been going up and up. But there is nothing we could cut from our shopping. We buy roughly the same every week.

It reminds me of the 'epiphany' I had years ago. I made an undergraduate mission trip to Thailand. I was there for a month and packed everything into one bag.

Then I went to an undergraduate conference which lasted about five days. I still needed that same bag to carry the things I needed.

I chided myself for a few minutes for having packed too much for the conference. Then it dawned on me: Did I carry too much for my five-day conference, or was I travelling really light for the month that I was in Thailand?

The 'muchness' really came out the 'very little' in my Thailand trip.

So it was that we had to admit that it was not possible for us to 'cut back' any more because we have not been spending money on sweets, crisps, cakes, snacks, etc.

However, we are learning to be more creative with leftovers. Come Friday I 'run a little restaurant'. On the menu are ... and we have fun 'ordering' the leftovers from earlier in the week and pretending that we are eating out.

(My son has to have an early dinner before disappearing to Cubs, so this is great.)

Last week we had a most 'cathartic' experience. We defrosted the freezer.

It has been eleven years since the freezer was first switched on and it has never been defrosted.

Periodically a tiny gap of air (usually from flimsy plastic packaging) causes a build-up of ice. So the last two weeks had been re-discovering what we had been storing in there.

Leftovers we thought we would eat up, but had forgotten, bargains we thought we could make use of, but forgotten, bags of peas and sweetcorn bought by visitors for cooking their own meals which got left behind, and forgotten, one ice-cube of Dolmio sauce in a plastic bag (I used to freeze leftover sauce in an ice cube tray for when son needs a tiny portion of pasta, but now he eats a massive portion of pasta!).

It felt really good that we were getting rid of this 'stuff' that could remain for another eleven years. We put a bowl of steaming water in the freezer and shut the lid. Soon the ice sheets were falling away to whoops of joy from my husband.

Now we are starting afresh, with a freezer that is nearly empty. In fact it is so bare that we wonder if we really do need it.

We used to think buying in bulk and freezing the surplus is good budgeting. Part of me says I am not sure about this any more when we realize the energy that is being chewed up by the freezer and the current prices we are paying. Is it a false economy?

Perhaps when we can find a suitable fridge freezer it would be time to find a new home for the freezer (and the fridge). But then we worry about those rare occasions when we do not have enough room in the fridge for chilled foods when we have lots of guests and fear losing fridge space when we go fridge-freezer.

Hmm, how do we get around that?

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Charity and a culture of dependency

This is an edited version of my letter published in the Straits Times in Singapore:

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Oct 22, 2008
Charity and a culture of dependency

IN READING what Mr Willie Cheng had to say about the non-profit sector, ('Good Principles', Oct 12), I was struck by the following point he made: 'Charities should seek extinction rather than growth. The mantra of business is growth.

'The opposite applies to non-profits. Non-profits are created to achieve societal change. Ultimate success occurs when the non-profit's mission is achieved and its existence is no longer needed.'

What a timely reminder amid the current context of big banks (formerly 'cooperative building societies') becoming 'super-banks', the dependence on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in disaster zones, and nearer home, the 'mega-churches'. I realised that NGOs, mothers (and fathers), teachers and missionaries have one aim in common: to work ourselves out of a job.

Last week, our eight-year-old (already responsible for keeping his own space tidy) offered to clean the dining area. Hurrah! I have one role less to play.

The first violin teacher of famed Israeli violinist Maxim Vengerov said that there was nothing else she could teach him after two years, and she sent him away to find another teacher. If teachers do not encourage their pupils to move beyond what they are able to teach, we stunt the pupils' growth.

Mega-churches? What's the point?

If a church has non-profit status, that is, it pays no taxes, then it too should heed what Mr Cheng has to say. They must achieve societal (or spiritual) change, and move on. If the church leaders are doing their job well, that is, working themselves out of a job, then there should be new cohorts of church members willing and raring to pioneer churches where the needs are greatest.

If they choose instead to run themselves as a business by using tithes to seek growth and profits, then they must cease to call themselves a church or a charity.

Be that as it may, all these groups would do well to 'seek extinction'. There is a term for the phenomenon of institutions which start ostensibly as 'helping hands' to those with specific needs, but then develop mechanisms that make the needy even deeper in need. It's called a 'culture of dependency'.

Dr Lee Siew Peng

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The original link will be available for a few more days.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Climate change: yay or nay? (Part II)

OK, just inserting a link in a post does not constitute much of a blog. The truth is I need to think, cogitate, over this one.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Friday, October 10, 2008

Chinese DVD sellers/Illegal migration

We see them often in shopping areas, Chinese illegals hawking illegal DVDs. Here is a spine-chilling story of one of these who did not get away.

I am very disappointed that humanity could produce specimens that know only to exploit other human beings. When the scientists tell us that the natural world is always evolving to be better, I have my doubts.

Though we have made many advances in technology and medicine, our morality seems to be in constant decline.

From the Independent: This murder illuminates a darker truth

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A gracious Singaporean? (JBJ dies.)

Yesterday was a sad day for me. The leading opposition politician in Singapore Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam died suddenly from a heart attack. He was 82. I didn't think I would, but I did, shed tears.

My only significant encounter with JBJ was at Gleneagles Hospital when his late wife and my late mother were both patients there at the same time. He looked very tired but still acknowledged us when we realized who he was and kind of waved. (His wife died in 1980.)

I was an impressionable and impoverished undergraduate in 1981 when he won the by-election at Anson. That was indeed a politicial milestone.

There are several obituaries here:

Singapore opposition icon J.B. Jeyaretnam dies fighting (AFP)

Singapore opposition head Jeyaretnam dies (IHT)

Death of Singaporean maverick (FT)

And then there is the 'letter of condolence' written by the prime minister of Singapore to his grieving sons:

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CONDOLENCE LETTER FROM PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG ON DEMISE OF JB JEYARETNAM

30 September 2008

Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam
Mr Philip Jeyaretnam

Dear Kenneth and Philip Jeyaretnam

I was sad to learn that your father, Mr Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, has passed away.

Mr JB Jeyaretnam was a Member of Parliament for Anson constituency from 1981 till 1986, and a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament from 1997 till 2001. He used to engage in heated debates in the House. Perhaps it was because he and the PAP never saw eye to eye on any major political issue and he sought by all means to demolish the PAP and our system of government. Unfortunately, this helped neither to build up a constructive opposition nor our Parliamentary tradition. Nevertheless, one had to respect Mr JB Jeyaretnam's dogged tenacity to be active in politics at his age.

However, our differences were not personal. In 1993, one of you (Kenneth) wrote to Mr Goh Chok Tong, who was then Prime Minister, to say that you found employers in Singapore reluctant to offer you a job, and your only explanation was that the employers felt the authorities would not welcome your employment because of your name. Mr Goh replied with a letter which could be shown to prospective employers, to say that the government did not hold anything against you, and that employers should evaluate you fairly on your own merits, like any other candidate, because Singapore needed every talented person that it could find. Mr Goh had previously made the same point to your brother Philip, whom he had invited to lunch. I am therefore happy that both of you have established yourselves in Singapore.

Please accept my deepest condolences.

Yours sincerely

Lee Hsien Loong

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Us Singaporeans have often lamented this lack of graciousness amongst our compatriots. Well, if our leader cannot be gracious even in death and bereavement, then what hope is there for the rest of us?

To be fair to PM Lee, he does not get much practice in writing such letters to opposition politicians.

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