Sunday, 25 March 2012

Today's Print - Web

Roger Smith 2012
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The last spiders of summer have vacated their home and the broom is covered with the gossamer capsules that once sustained life. Autumn is upon us.

Friday, 23 March 2012

A Junket Junkie

As a child I remember junket for what it was; a less than salubrious, congealed substance that masqueraded as dessert. A poor man's custard if you will.

If you have ever eaten a raw oyster then the sensation of it sliding down the throat was somewhat similar, with a markedly different taste and a lot less effect on the libido..

'Junket' in casino terms means something entirely different. A Junket is a organised group of gamblers, which is typically organised by the casino to attract players and this usually mean an increase in high rollers.

So it is not surprising that shares in Genting Singapore have surged 8.6 percent . This past Friday Singapore decided to license two Malaysian junket operators which will see high rollers coming across the Causeway - come to think of it they will probably fly in by private jet.

According to a report in TodayOnline, the licensing authority "does not intend to let junkets dominate the gaming business here and vowed to take a "cautious approach" to ensure criminal activities, which junket operators have been linked with, do not creep into the Republic's casinos."

Mind you, the government has had its hand forced a bit as it would appear illegal junket operations have been in place for a while. A Japanese businessman who is being sued by Marina Bay Sands over a $2 million gambling debt claims that he gained access to their VIP gaming rooms through a Nevada-licensed junket operator. It is not uncommon for illegal operators to get kick-backs from a casino so it is appropriate that Singapore's' Casino Controlling Authority takes a really dim view of such activity.

Now that they have two licensed operators there will be a modicum of control, but I doubt if it will remove the problem of illegal operators entirely.

And lets face it, without the profits from the two casinos (masquerading as 'resorts') the local economy in the global downturn could 'turn to custard'.
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Today's Print - Mushrooms

Soft Mushrooms
Roger Smith 2012
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Friday, 16 March 2012

No Money For Bunny

Til the deceased rabbit - Photo Uwe Meinhold/dapd/Associated Press
Is is common place form museum, zoos and other non profits to think up events and activities that will replenish their beleaguered coffers.

In this zoos have a distinct advantage; the opportunity to parade warm and cuddly live animals to an adoring public.  'Panda-monium' may be an extreme example but it shows what can be achieved on a global scale when there is a clear strategy to raise funds by using the collection in novel ways.

So it is no surprise to learn that an East German zoo planned to do something similar with a mutant rabbit.  This furry creature was born without ears making it even more 'adorable' according to the media releases.  A big media event was planned to introduce the bunny to an adoring public.

Alas things went terribly awry. Til, for that was the rabbit's name, meant an unfortunate end giving new meaning to the old saying "Til death does us part".

Those of us who have worked with the media know just how fraught the relationship can be.  For many years I worked in a museum and my first appointment was that of Exhibitions Officer, at the Robert McDougall Art Gallery in Christchurch.  One of my duties was to keep an eye on camera crews from the various media organisations sent in to cover major exhibitions and events.

It was a never ending battle of equipment and cables in close proximity to to precious art works.  It is simply amazing the amount of 'stuff' and hangers-on that are needed to produce a 30 second clip that will appear on your television news every night.

No doubt the filming of the German zoo event faced similar challenges and the adage 'never take a backward step' should also have applied.  The cameraman who was setting up to do some advance filming did so, killing the star of the show instantly.

A new media release was hurriedly issued claiming that the rabbit did not suffer unduly as a result of  this mishap.

"He was immediately dead; he didn't suffer. It was a direct hit. No one could have foreseen this. Everyone here is upset. The cameraman was distraught."

I am sure he was.  What had been planned as a major crowd puller for the zoo turned out to be a requiem for all downtrodden rabbits.
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Thursday, 15 March 2012

Chikungunya Choo Choo

As I write there are up to six hour delays once again with the MRT system.  This time the fault is an electrical one in an Outram Park tunnel so if you were planning to travel from Dhoby Ghaut to Harbourfront (as we often did) then you are out of luck.

Singapore's MRT system is one of the most efficient in the world and certainly one of the cleanest but in recent months it has been plagued with faults, much to the consternation of the local population.

It and the associated transport network play a key part in keeping Singapore competitive and the 'Little Red Dot' as it is affectionately known, has scored highly once again in the most recent Global City Competitiveness Index conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

New York and London took first and second places respectively and Singapore came in a highly creditable third, and by far the most competitive within the Asia region.

The report also states that size alone does not determine a city’s growth potential. While some megacities, such as New York and Tokyo, are immensely influential, there are smaller ones, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, which have established themselves as globally competitive centres in recent years.

The top 32 Asian cities are all forecast to grow by at least 5% annually between now and 2016 and twelve of them will grow by at least 10%.

Singapore ranks particularly well in terms of its physical capital (ranked joint first overall), financial maturity (joint first), institutional effectiveness (6th), environment and natural hazards (joint 8th) and global appeal (4th). For locals, none of this will be surprising, given the city’s efficient transport, lean bureaucracy, safe and clean environment, and its increasingly highly regarded reputation

Another determining factor of competitiveness is the health of a county's citizens.  Singapore's quality of healthcare is first class, albeit the fact that for most, one has to pay for the cost of this privately.  But being situated in the tropics also means the prevalence of tropical diseases and it is a constant battle to stop mosquito-born and other diseases.

Chikungunya is a particularly unpleasant malady with no clinically-approved vaccine or treatment yet available.  It affects the joints, muscles and brings on a sudden fever when first contracted.  Most people recover in a week, but it has been known to linger on in some patients and even to kill others.

The good news of the day is that a team of A*STAR scientists have achieved a chikungunya breakthrough. They have "found a specific biomarker which serves as an early and accurate prognosis of patients who have a higher risk of the more severe form of chikungunya fever".

Such scientific breakthroughs are repaying the investment made by the Singapore government in research and technology.

So congratulations to my favourite country for these two auspicious achievements - science and competitiveness. Now if only those MRT faults could be cured.........
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Friday, 9 March 2012

The Gloves Are Off And So Are The Maids

With the Formula One season fast approaching the call has gone out for volunteers in Singapore. Although the race itself is some off, in late September, these hardy souls are expected to undertake at least 32 hours of training if they hope to qualify as marshals on the big day. For newbies there is an additional 10 hours of theory.

No doubt this will appeal to 'petrol heads'; those who cannot afford their own Ferrari or Lamborghini. It has to be said that there quite a few owners of vehicles such as these and it sure beats travelling in a battered Comfort diesel cab around town.

Part of the training is learning to decipher the various track and flag signals. No excuses for stepping on to the track at the wrong time.

Formula One has been a mixed blessing for Singaporeans but is part of a broader strategy of using key events to attract tourists and sports fans to the country. As the Wall Street Journal puts it, Singapore's desire to be the hub of everything is greeted as "a source of amusement to many residents of the tiny city-state".

The latest 'hub' to be promoted is Boxing, a very popular sport in many parts of South East Asia. A Championship Boxing Event Night is to be held at Marina Bay Sands with regional fighters. According to the Australian promoter his ambition is to "combine Singapore’s world-class hospitality facilities with the region’s world-class fighters, and wait for the rest of the boxing world to respond."

Of course one the most famous pugilists to emerge from these parts is the Philippine's boxer, Manny Pacquiao. Fortunately for him, and any other boxer from that country, they will now be guaranteed a good deal of local crowd support as the Singaporean Maids have at last been granted a statutory day off in the week.

There are some 200,000 maids working in the Republic although not all of them are Filipinos.  The move to provide the maid with a a day off was of concern for some employees who fear that "their domestic workers will socialize or use their time off to develop relationships and become pregnant, and have to be sent home".

Such an event can have quite major consequences for Singaporean families who frequently have both partners working to make ends meet and rely on their maids for care-taking, cleaning and cooking, amongst other duties.

With the prospect of boxing looming on the horizon it will be interesting to see what effect this has on the pregnancy rate of domestic servants (if you follow the misguided belief that all domestics have loose morals); if you are busy cheering on your champion in the ring, you can't be doing the same in the bedroom!
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Friday, 2 March 2012

Rain Bombs and Baby Austins

As I  listened to the rain beating a pattern on the roof I ponder the meaning of "welcome to Sunny Hawke's Bay" for this is where we are and on the first evening it is anything but.

However the next day dawns fine with a very strong Southerly bending the boughs of a  large Moreton Bay fig tree in our motel grounds.

It also transpires that the cruise ship Oriana has berthed in the Port of Napier and disgorged its passengers into the small coastal city that prides itself as being the "art deco capital of the world".

The central mall with its green plastic-looking lighting stands sees an array of intrepid travelers; those with sufficient "moola' to still be able to enjoy the pleasure of cruising.  Most are of portly build but this is hardly surprising given the generous diet of calorie-rich buffet.

Roger Smith 3/2012

The local Art Deco society is making hay while the sun shines, literally, ferrying people around ion vintage car and dressing up in period costume.  I narrowly avoided being mowed down by a Baby Austin called "Whatho".

The town has a sleepy feel to it with many shops vacant and others suffering the from the effects of the lingering recession.

The only bright spot is that it is apple season and the local supermarket is offering the royal gala variety at sixty eight cents a kilo.  Needless to say we buy a kilo or two (although I still remember when  apples were measured by the bushel) and put them in the car boot to take back to Auckland.

Mall Scene - Napier
Roger Smith 3/2012
Today we also made a quick visit to Havelock North and Hastings to catch up with an old friend and colleague and also to have a look at the Hawkes Bay Art Gallery, or as I used to know it, the Hawkes Bay Exhibition Centre.

I am delighted to see people visiting the exhibition on view as some 15 years ago I was the Executive Director of the Hawkes Bay Cultural Trust, responsible for the running of the region's main museums, galleries and an embryonic Science Centre.  We renovated the Hastings Exhibition Centre to bring it up to contemporary gallery display standards and staged a number of successful exhibitions there such as the Royal Doulton touring exhibit.

So we have had two good days of summer, albeit a belated one and far from our home city.  Tomorrow the forecasters are promising a "weather bomb" which is a fast developing system of low pressure, guaranteed to bring severe winds and rain.  It looks very much as if our last day in Hawkes Bay will be an indoor one.

Chessmen after the Storm - Kennedy Park
Roger Smith 3/2012