$1b plant made using living cells?

Plant made of living cells?

I bought the papers this morning and saw on the front page that some pharmaceutical company was going to build a $1b “plant in Tuas using living cells”, and I thought, oh wow, and opened the paper in a hurry to read about the amazing biotechnological-construction-breakthrough thingie that would finally allow us to thumb our Singaporean noses at sand and granite bans.

So apparently the building’s not going to be made from or with the help of living cells. Dang. Would’ve been really something if it were. And it would’ve been almost as good as that headline in WW2: British push bottles up German rear“.

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The good oil on bad fats

I said, ‘get me a pic to do with “Trans Fat”, not “Fat Trans”‘
Photo by FredArmitage

I now think that people who are easily confused (like myself) are less likely to eat healthily given the amount of information now available to us about saturated, unsaturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated fats and four-room HDB flats.

Naomi and I try sporadically to eat healthily, and because we are such ingterneck-savvy people, we’ve taken to reading up about what we’re eating in the hope of knowing what to eat and what we shouldn’t. This is what we know so far:

Don’t eat so much fatty food, but some fats are good;

Diary products contain unsaturated fats, so we shouldn’t eat so much, but we need the calcium;

Fish contain good fats, but also apparently contain mercury, which, if you don’t intend being a human thermometer, isn’t all that good for you. (Next time you think you’re running a temperature, stuff a mackerel in your mouth, and it’ll tell you if you need a panadol and a cold bath).

The FDA says, Scientific evidence shows that consumption of saturated fat, trans fat, and dietary cholesterol raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad cholesterol,” levels, which increases the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, more than 12.5 million Americans have CHD, and more than 500,000 die each year. That makes CHD one of the leading causes of death in the United States.”;

and that, “Trans fat, like saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, raises the LDL cholesterol that increases your risk for CHD. Americans consume on average 4 to 5 times as much saturated fat as trans fat in their diets. Although saturated fat is the main dietary culprit that raises LDL, trans fat and dietary cholesterol also contribute significantly.”

Harvard (meaning it’s gotta be good and authoritative) nutritionists say that, By our most conservative estimate, replacement of partially hydrogenated fat in the U.S. diet with natural unhydrogenated vegetable oils would prevent approximately 30,000 premature coronary deaths per year, and epidemiologic evidence suggests this number is closer to 100,000 premature deaths annually.”

In Singapore, the HPB says, Yes. Trans fat raises LDL-cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) and reduces HDL-cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) in the body. As a result, trans fat increases the risk of developing heart disease. There is no conclusive evidence to date for the effect of trans fat on other health risks such as diabetes or cancer. Currently there is also no evidence to show that consumption of trans fat found naturally in food will increase the risk of heart disease, so there is no reason to avoid beef, lamb, mutton or dairy products because they contain trans fat. “.

I don’t know, but our local health board advisory seems to sound a bit… what’s the word for it? Contradictorated? Polycontradictorated? Monocontradictorated… or at least partially contradictorated?

So, what can you do to figure out what’s good to eat and what isn’t?

The FDA made it compulsory from 2006 for manufacturers to state trans fat levels on food labels, so that you can figure out, say, whether to eat a slab of butter or a spoonful of margarine:

1 tablespoon of butter contains zero trans fat;

1 tablespoon of margarine contains 3 grams of trans fat;

But the same amount of butter contains 30 milligrams of cholesterol while margarine doesn’t. Arrgh! so which do I put on my toast before it gets cold?

OK, so you may be able to work out some sort of balance as to how much is considered “in moderation” for either. But here’s the rub:

U.S. labelling rules state that: “if the serving contains less than 0.5 gram [of trans fat], the content, when declared, shall be expressed as zero.”

To that, the good folk at bantransfat.com say: “Suppose a product contains 0.4 grams per serving and you eat four servings (which is not uncommon). You have just consumed 1.6 grams of trans fat, despite the fact that the package claims that the product contains zero grams of trans fat per serving.”

Nabeh, kenah bluff. Which is serious stuff considering the WHO recommends that total daily intake of trans fat should be below 2g.

Bantransfat.com also tells us that “Fully hydrogenated oils do not contain trans fat. However, if the word “hydrogenated” is used without the word “partially,” that product may contain partially hydrogenated oil. Not all labeling is accurate and the word “partially” may have been wrongfully omitted on some products.”

So, can kenah bluff again in instances where it’s not compulsory to list trans fat content (like here). Sure we’ve got promotional material at hawker centres and food stalls telling us that they don’t use lard in their cooking and use ‘vegetable oil’ instead. But you should know when they say “vegetable oil”, it really is usually palm oil or peanut oil if they don’t say otherwise, which is usually partially hydrogenated, which means it contains trans fat.

Our friendly local health board says they’ve been “working with ingredient suppliers to develop reduced trans fat shortenings used in baked products. To date, at least one major local biscuit manufacturer has switched to using trans fat free shortening, and several other pastry retailers will also be switching over to this shortening soon.”

In the meantime, ask yourselves, if your bread talks, and your Chang Kee is Old, is it because they contain partially hydrogenated oils?

It is a serious matter, especially is you look at the numbers of estimated premature deaths in the US, but no worry, because “This year, HPB will focus on fat as part of its nutrition education efforts. We have recently conducted a public forum on fats – look out for more events coming your way!”

Yay, events!

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The middle sexes

So, there’s this debate that went on in Parliament where the outcome was never going to be surprising, even if it took even the Prime Minister’s take on the matter to settle the issue and put us all on the straight and narrow.

Most unfortunately though, some of my closest friends will remain law-breakers and very concerned citizens.

For those of you who’ve had a little debate of your own on this blog, there’s this really interesting documentary on HBO (the U.S. HBO, not the pissy Starhub Cable Vision version we get here) about homophobes’ reaction to gay porn. And I do mean ‘reaction':

Thanks David, for the link!

Harmonious balance

“Matilda’s Acupuncture Session” – Photo by Mark Hillary

I learned a few things over the past few days, which by the way, have been great.

For those of you who’ve been asking after Naomi, she’s doing very, very well at home, but more about that later.

One of Naomi’s cousins who she doesn’t get to see very often, flew in from Taiwan on what I thought was some hocus pocus traditional Chinese medicine seminar thing. And although both Naomi and myself are slightly more enlightened about Chinese medicine, I’m still not sure what the cousin is here for because of our limited grasp of Mandarin.

This is probably one of the few times I’m glad I have some grasp of Mandarin, because the cousin took pains to explain to us heathens that Chinese medicine wasn’t all the hocus pocus things we were brought up to think it was. I think he felt he had to, because Naomi’s mum had told him that us “western educated” people were disdainful of anything that wasn’t explained in English, and that wasn’t found in English and American medical journals, or something to that effect because I’m not sure what she said because I have a limited grasp of Mandarin.

To cut a short story shorter, we knew Chinese medicine in Singapore’s was called “Traditional Chinese Medicine“, (or “TCM”, because we like to acronymize everything), and also because we thought it was a direct translation of the Chinese word for it, “Zhong Yi” (中医).

But! It apparently is not! The cousin explained that there was the common misconception that the “Zhong” in “Zhong Yi” referred to “Zhong Guo” or the Middle Kingdom, aka China. The truth is, according to the cousin, that the “Zhong” simply means “Zhong”, or “middle”, alluding to balance and harmony, and that the whole aim of “Zhong Yi” is to help one’s body attain a harmonious balance.

So, that’s it. TCM for me will remain the abbreviation for Teo Chew Muay and nothing else. Except maybe “Turner Classic Movies“, but that shouldn’t be counted because I don’t really watch the channel.

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It’s all good news if you yodel it

It is really, really good to be home.

But there were some things we did at the hospital that we wouldn’t normally do at home – watch a lot of Channel 5.

Not having watched Channel 5 or any other local channel for a while now, we were amazed to discover that the nightly news now is now yodeled, for the benefit of people who can only understand the news when the newsreader is dressed as a milkmaid / goatherd / cosplay anime fantasy sex slave:

High on a hill lived a lonely goatnewsreader

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Repeal s377A

I’d think of something funny to write about anything, but this isn’t one of the times that warrants any nonsense. I cut and paste for you an open letter to the Prime Minister which I hope you will read, then click on the link to the repeal377a.com site, and then add your name to the list. I also hope you put your real name, occupation and constituency, just to give it a bit more weight.

Why repeal s377A? I reckon, at least, for the same reasons the other provisions of s377 were repealed – such as the provision for ‘marital immunity‘, for when a husband rapes a wife. Repugnant, no?

I urge you, go to the site, sign the letter. Else we risk being citizens of the most irrelevant backwater, and a really small one at that.

Thank you.

The Prime Minister
Mr. Lee Hsien Loong
Prime Minister’s Office
Orchard Road
Singapore 238823

Subject: Abolition OF Section 377A, Penal Code

Dear Prime Minister,

As a citizen of Singapore, I write to appeal to your sense of fairness and equality, to take the lead to move Parliament and your party on issues related to s377A, Penal Code. I strongly believe that it should be repealed, not just for the benefit of the gay community, but also for the good of all Singaporeans. I also firmly believe that the time to repeal s377A, Penal Code is now, not later.

The reasons why this repeal is so important are manifold.

1. Singapore’s Founding Principles.
2. Constitutional and Legal Rights.
3. International Social Mores and Trends.
4. Domestic Social Mores and Trends.
5. Damage to the Gay Community.
6. Pragmatism, Leadership and the Future.

1. Singapore’s Founding Principles
Singapore was founded on the basis of justice and equality. This is reflected in our pledge. From the start, Singapore as a nation has staunchly upheld multiculturalism, with diverse groups living together in harmony by respecting each other’s differences. This has been the cornerstone of our country’s success. Since then, these principles have been further strengthened. For example:

– In 1966, a Constitutional Commission was formed to study how the rights of minorities can be safeguarded.
– The implementation of the GRC in our electoral system ensures that racial minorities are adequately represented.
– The Women’s Charter was amended to safeguard women’s rights.

Legislating that certain sexual acts are legal for heterosexuals but illegal for gay men is tantamount to our country taking an active step (for the first time) to discriminate against a minority group. That goes against everything we, as Singaporeans, have been taught to believe in and hold dear.

2. Constitutional and Legal Rights
Section 377A contravenes Singapore’s Constitution which grants equal rights to treatment and protection for everyone. This law is unequivocally discriminatory. We believe a gay man should have exactly the same rights as a straight man or woman.

We understand that there are elements of our society that do not see being gay in a positive light. They are entitled to their opinion. But their opinion should not infringe upon the rights of this – or any – group of Singaporeans. This holds true even if those who disapprove of gay people outnumber those who support them. In fact, it is the responsibility of any democratically elected government to protect minorities from the “tyranny of the majority”.

Section 377A violates an individuals’s right to privacy. Especially since what we are talking about is a choice between consenting adults and hurts no one.

Furthermore, the government’s self-avowed compromise of having s377A on the books but not enforcing it will bring Singapore’s justice system into disrepute. The Council of the Law Society states in its report to the Ministry Of Home Affairs dated March 30, 2007, that the law as it stands “cannot be justified”. The Council goes further to argue that the proper function of criminal law “is to protect others from harm by punishing harmful conduct. Private consensual homosexual conduct between adults does not cause harm recognisable by the criminal law. Thus, regardless of one’s personal view of the morality or otherwise of such conduct, it should not be made a criminal offence”.

Singapore has always taken pride in being a country where the rule of law is transparent, fair and clear cut. This reputation has served us well and contributed in no small way to our country’s success and should not be eroded by this aberration.

3. International Trends
The courts of many major countries have held the equivalent of s377A to be discriminatory, an invasion of privacy and unconstitutional. This is not only in Europe and America. It includes the UN Human Rights Committee, S, Africa and most recently Hong Kong. The legislatures in UK, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and even China have also passed laws decriminalising such acts.

Singapore will be woefully out-of-step with the rest of the world should it move to retain this Victorian legislation only weeks after Newsweek magazine’s cover story proclaimed that “the battle for gay rights is gaining ground across the globe” and hailed the repeal of laws similar to s377A across the globe as “a global civil-rights revolution”.

4. Domestic Trends
The attitude of Singaporeans have become much more accepting of alternative sexuality. Between 2000 and 2005, the level of acceptance has changed from 10% to more than 30%. The latest figure is taken from Mark Cenite and B. Detenber’s article in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research. Furthermore, the Straits Times online census in July 2007 indicated a tolerance level of 55%.

Admittedly, different public polls can often illustrate contrasting views and the sum of all these statistics makes it difficult to get a clear view of popular sentiment. However we believe that the law of our land does not exist to be popular, but to be fair and just for all people. This is a belief we know is shared by many.

5. Damage to the Gay Community

If the current amendment bill succeeds, the resulting law will become a bitter symbol to many gay Singaporean men, young and old. It will hinder greater understanding and integration of these people, who are often responsible, invaluable and highly respected contributing members of society. The only thing that makes these people different from the majority of Singaporeans is that they are biologically-pre-disposed to love differently. It will be a slap in the face to their significant contributions and encourage many more to leave our shores for more open-minded societies. Singapore’s most valuable resource is its citizens. We cannot afford to lose them.

S377A will also affect the status and moral citizenship of gay men in society. The government has openly welcomed gays and lesbians into the civil service. But this law will only discourage equal-treatment for gay employees everywhere and diminish the moral standing these men and have rightfully earned. We fear it will be a seed for further acts of discrimination.

Criminalising gay sex also impedes effective safer-sex messages being disseminated effectively to gay men and other men at risk of contracting HIV. There are numerous studies which have concluded that HIV prevention programs in environments where gay sex is criminalised are resoundingly ineffective. The fight against HIV/AIDS is an important issue which affects all Singaporeans. There should be no impediment to getting this life saving information out.

Branding gays as outlaws will be destructive to the self-worth of those individuals and could lead to an increased incidence of self-harm. Thought should also be given to gay youth who struggle deeply with this issue. This law would only add more trauma to what is already a very difficult period in their lives.

6. Pragmatism, Leadership and the Future
You and our government have always shown a willingness to make tough pragmatic decisions for the best interests of our country. Decisions made with conviction, despite opposition from various interest groups, religious organisations and minorities.

In a recent address at NUS, you talked about this issue and said that “we will not reach consensus however much we discuss it. The views are passionately held on both sides. The more you discuss it, the angrier they become. The subject will not go away.” Having admitted that we are at an impasse, it seems only logical that the way to move forward is for the government to take a lead with the same conviction and leadership it has always shown.

We keep hearing that Singapore society is ‘too conservative’ for this law to be repealed. This is not a strong enough reason to deny a group of Singaporeans equal rights. Far more conservative countries have done away with laws like these and are none the worse for it. We are a modern, democratic and secular state. While there will always be a place for conservative mores, we also need to protect and nurture space for tolerance and open-mindedness to flourish.

You have often said that your goal is to create a tolerant and progressive society for all Singaporeans. We urge you to now demonstrate your commitment to achieve this goal. Repealing this biased law will be a symbolic milestone to signal to fellow Singaporeans and the world that this is the vision of Singapore that we all share.

Yours faithfully,

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The difference between nice and polite

It is difficult to like hospitals, and government general hospitals are even more unlikable because of their labyrinthine nature. You could walk for hours and end up in the same place and then ask someone in uniform where a particular ward is when it just so happens you’re standing right next to the ward you want to go to.

Today, during a particularly busy hour, I found myself jammed at the back of the lift going down to the third floor lobby. The passengers who got in with me on the top floor had just come from visiting patients at the maternity ward, and were naturally smiling and chatty. The lift then stopped at the floor with the oncology wards, and two passengers get on board, and it takes a couple of seconds before anyone notices that they’re sniffling, stifling sobs, and dabbing their eyes with tissue paper.

Later, the car valet at the National University Hospital’s Kent Ridge Wing car park says, “eh, boss how are you? Your wife ok already?”, because he’d seen Naomi and I go back and forth the specialists’ clinics at the hospital before our extended stay at the wards this past month.

The auntie who works behind the Delifrance kiosk at the Main Building’s semi-al-fresco food court knows me as “double espresso takeaway”, and the Prima Taste stall waffle auntie calls me “two peanut butter”. She also sees through my “my wife, who’s warded upstairs, really likes the peanut butter waffle, so could you make mine first please because she’s in great pain from spinal surgery?” ruse, and said to me yesterday afternoon, “don’t bluff lah, ownself want to eat don’t say you buy for wife lah”.

Then there’s the flower and gift shop auntie who asks me repeatedly if I want to wait for the dolphin, after I’ve just selected a dolphin balloon to cheer Naomi up, and because I keep answering repeatedly, “No, I want my dolphin balloon now”:

“You want weight for dolphin balloon?”

“No, I want dolphin now”

“No, you want weight for the dolphin balloon?”

“No, I want dolphin balloon now! Why I want to wait for the dolphin balloon?”

“No, WEIGHT for dolphin balloon. WEIGHT, WEIGHT, WEIGHT!”

Dowan! I want now!” What for wait?”

“No, I scared you don’t have WEIGHT for the balloon, later you go outside it will fly away. Many children lost their balloon like that!”

“Oh. Ooooh. Weight…. No need. I tie to my pants”


Then there are the staff nurses at the maternity ward which Naomi was lodged at for two weeks because there weren’t beds left in the orthopeadic wards. Don’t give them medals because medals won’t do them justice. Don’t give them food because they won’t stuff their faces with snackies because they’re too busy really, really caring for people. These are nurses who, when they merely overhear me talking to a doctor agitatedly, take it upon themselves to go to Naomi’s room and offer a listening ear and a consoling voice.

Ward 96 staff, you’re champions. If there’s anything that takes the edge off the pain of illness and hospital cock-ups, it’s your fantastic attitude and care. You are genuinely nice. And we thank you for that.