Syria gas attack: Writing your GP essay with feeling

Youssef

Mr Youssef cradles his twins Ahmad and Aya before they are buried in Idlib (picture: The Telegraph)

When GP students think of science and technology, they often think of the iPhone and the Playstation VR. Well, don’t forget sarin gas, or the almost 10,000 kg, 30-foot long explosive known as the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb (nicknamed “Mother of All Bombs”) used by the US military against ISIS in Afghanistan. Even the seemingly simple assault rifle with its receiver, charging handle and firing pin can cause so much human agony, anguish and loss. Contemplate the suffering of Mr Youssef (in this Telegraph article) and write your GP essay with human feeling. Of course it is important to be logical, but being logical doesn’t mean expressing yourself in an emotionless manner or writing like a cold aluminium robot. A GP essay is an English essay, not a physics or economics essay – it is meant to be a work of art. You are trying to persuade human readers on subjective issues in a kind of written conversation, and it is very difficult to do this if you write in an unfeeling way and make no emotional impact. Therefore speak from the heart and soul as well as your head, without sacrificing logic.

This ability to influence people both in the mind and heart is part of the magic of GP. Imagine the value of this skill in your life, now and in the future. In an ever more competitive world, soft skills such as communication will provide more and more of an edge. This is why I often tell my students that General Paper could be the most important subject they’ll ever take.

Let me attempt to illustrate this with an argument in response to the essay question “Which is more important for the well-being of today’s world – the arts or the sciences?”. I will try to create emotional impact while remaining factual and logical (the parts with emotional power are in italics).

Look at the men and women, boys and girls [a more visual expression than just ‘people’] around us using their electronic devices slavishly, allowing it to take over their lives [greater impact than “becoming obsessed”]; warmongers [more impact than ‘aggressive leaders’] recklessly using high-tech weaponry and causing the death of thousands of innocents [more emotional effect than “many people”]; and human beings causing the release of carbon emissions selfishly through the excessive use of cars and electrical applicances, destroying the earth for their own personal comfort [this sounds a bit judgemental, but it delivers a punch hopefully without being too offensive to the people it’s describing]. This serves in my view as ample evidence that the advance of science has outrun [a more visual expression than just ‘overtaken’ – it creates the image and feeling of someone running] humanity’s wisdom, its capacity to deal with science with moral, emotional and philosophical maturity. If this continues unchecked, there will be even more devastating [a much more emotive word than ‘severe’ or ‘destructive’ – yet it is perfectly objective and justified, no exaggeration] impact on the well-being of today’s world. Thus I am convinced that the arts, which have tremendous power to awaken the conscience [more emotive than ‘raise moral awareness’] and deepen the thinking of humankind, are more integral [high class word!] than the sciences to the welfare and health of today’s world.

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Author and website owner Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from NUS, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as an English and GP tutor at the age of 42.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here.

GP or English tutors keen to be listed on this website (consistently ranked  top 5-10 on Google for GP tutors/ tuition) as a Recommended Tutor, please email stevenooi18 @ yahoo.com (remove the spaces). Those interested in having links to their website are also welcome to contact him.

Read GP model essays here.

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The 89th Academy Awards offered drama of its own

Oscars

Prospero
The Economist

Feb 27th 2017

by N.B.

IT IS a pity that the 89th Academy Awards will be forever remembered for that last-minute bungle. Presenting the Oscar for best picture, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were given the wrong envelope, with Ms Dunaway announcing that “La La Land” was the winner. It was only after the producers of the hit musical had launched into their acceptance speeches that they heard that there had been an unprecedented, scarcely believable mix-up, and that the best-picture recipient was actually “Moonlight”. Oscar history was made. But it is important to remember that history would have been made, anyway, even without that excruciatingly embarrassing blunder.

Read more in The Economist.

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Author and website owner Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from NUS, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as an English and GP tutor at the age of 42.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here.

GP or English tutors keen to be listed on this website (consistently ranked  top 10 on Google for GP tutors/ tuition) as a Recommended Tutor, please email stevenooi18 @ yahoo.com (remove the spaces). Those interested in having links to their website are also welcome to contact him.

Read GP model essays here.

 

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Gene editing, clones and the science of making babies

angel

From The Economist

Ways of reproducing without sexual intercourse are multiplying. History suggests that they should be embraced

IT USED to be so simple. Girl met boy. Gametes were transferred through plumbing optimised by millions of years of evolution. Then, nine months later, part of that plumbing presented the finished product to the world. Now things are becoming a lot more complicated. A report published on February 14th by America’s National Academy of Sciences gives qualified support to research into gene-editing techniques so precise that genetic diseases like haemophilia and sickle-cell anaemia can be fixed before an embryo even starts to develop. The idea of human cloning triggered a furore when, 20 years ago this week, Dolly the sheep was revealed to the world; much fuss about nothing, some would say, looking back. But other technological advances are making cloning humans steadily more feasible.

Some are horrified at the prospect of people “playing God” with reproduction. Others, whose lives are blighted by childlessness or genetic disease, argue passionately for the right to alleviate suffering. Either way, the science is coming and society will have to work out what it thinks.

Read more in The Economist.

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Author and website owner Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from NUS, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as an English and GP tutor at the age of 42.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here.

English or GP tutors keen to be listed on this website (consistently ranked  top 5 on Google for GP tutors) as a Recommended Tutor, please email stevenooi18 @ yahoo.com (remove the spaces). Those interested in having links to their website are also welcome to contact him.

Read GP model essays here.

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Eternal Youth Is the Next Big Bet for Singapore Venture Capitalist

finian1

Photo: Bloomberg

Baidu Inc. is often referred to as China’s Google with a market value of more than US$60 billion. But in 2000, it was an upstart struggling to get any attention from investors—except from a guy named Finian Tan.

Tan, then head of Asia at DFJ Eplanet Ventures, began investing in the search engine, betting that 1.3 billion Chinese would eventually embrace the internet. When it went public five years later, Tan’s firm emerged as the bigger beneficiary with a stake larger than the 22 percent held by Baidu co-founder, and now billionaire, Robin Li. He’s making a similar bet on San Diego-based regenerative medicine company Samumed LLC, which is valued at $12 billion.

What attracted Tan was Samumed’s approach to treating arthritic knees, hair loss, scarring of the lungs and degenerative disc diseases. The company is pursuing novel therapies for those conditions and cancer with drugs that target a cell-signaling pathway that offers promise in reversing the biological processes of aging.

Read more on Bloomberg.

alvin-au-01

CHECK OUT this lively Math website by full-time graduate tutor and First Class Engineering graduate Alvin Au (pictured above)

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Author and website owner Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from NUS, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as an English and GP tutor at the age of 42.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here.

English or GP tutors keen to be listed on this website (consistently ranked  top 10 on Google for GP tutors) as a Recommended Tutor, please email stevenooi18 @ yahoo.com (remove the spaces). Those interested in having links to their website can also contact him.

Read GP model essays here.

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‘Human actions should be based on scientific fact, not religious faith.’ A model essay

Note from author: This essay is over 1,800 words in length. Please do not feel that you need to write so much to score an A in GP. Indeed, a compact 750-word essay can do very well if it is of high quality. I decided to express my thoughts at greater length because I wanted to share more with you. This also happens to be one of the topics I am most passionate about.

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‘Human actions should be based on scientific fact, not religious faith.’ How far do you agree with this statement? (A-level General Paper exam, 2015)

By Steven Ooi, website owner and retired GP tutor
B.A. (First Class Honours), NUS

science-vs-religion

The relentless rise of science over the centuries, from the days of the great ancient Greek philosopher-scientists such as Democritus and Aristotle to the present day’s biological experiments with implanting human glial cells into the brains of rodents, has not only captured the imagination of the human race but also gradually planted and nurtured the seed of doubt in the human consciousness about our traditional religious beliefs. Today it has become fashionable to express extreme scepticism about the claims of time-honoured scripture or even decry religious belief as being the domain of irrational, ignorant fools. Fixated on the purported ‘objectivity’, ‘reliability’ and ‘rationality’ of science, the modern man often gravitates towards putting his ultimate faith in science; relying on it as the ultimate basis of Truth to the exclusion of all else; and letting it be, to an overwhelming extent, the basis of his actions. While I acknowledge the immense value of science in bringing greater objectivity to our understanding of the world and our lives, I believe that human actions should be founded mainly on scientific fact rather than religious faith only in areas where science is well-equipped to provide more definite answers and reliable solutions than religion.

There is no denying that science often provides more objective evidence on many matters – based as it is on observable, measurable evidence – and therefore serves as a more rational basis for our actions in numerous life situations. This is particularly true on matters of physical reality such as the causes of disease or the operation of an aeroplane. In pre-scientific times, man believed that disease had purely supernatural causes – one fell ill because one had offended the gods. The remedy, therefore, was to repent and undertake penance. Thanks to science, we know today that diseases have identifiable natural causes such as viruses, and we can treat our maladies much more reliably with medicine formulated based on scientific evidence and find relief (whether or not the gods were involved in the development of the disease). Thus human action on such matters should be guided more by scientific fact than religious faith as the former is proven to be more reliable and effective in these aspects of life.

Be that as it may, there is equally no denying that all the glorious discoveries and inventions of science provide extremely limited guidance on one of the most important facets of our lives: morality. Regardless of language, culture or religion, the human being has a deep need to feel that she is living a good life in moral terms – suggesting that this is a fundamental human need. But science, being rooted in physical reality, has little to no capacity to provide answers to such abstract questions. It can help us build a smartphone, but not teach us whether to use it to communicate with sincerity and devotion. It can enable us to build a gun, but not give us clarity on whether we should pull the trigger. It can enable us to conduct bizarre genetic experiments, but not answer the question of whether we should. Religion offers us answers to these questions not through empirical investigation, but through dictate. One could of course argue that religious teachings are morally problematic, and that some principles once regarded as sacred are now often seen as oppressive, such as the Christian prohibition on homosexuality. However, the vast majority of religious moral teachings such as the Christian commandment to be honest, and the Buddhist precept of kindness to all sentient beings, are almost universally accepted as positive, even by free thinkers. Of course this begs the question of why one would need religion if one could accept these moral ideas to be true even without a faith. I contend that religion provides an authoritative basis for acting in the right way for those who choose to adhere to it. In the absence of religion, it can be difficult to provide any other strong basis on why one should be honest – one could proffer a logical or scientific argument on why one should be so, but it would be equally easy to construct another argument on why one should not. On such matters, science does not provide many conclusive answers and thus, human action should use religion rather than science as its compass.

Beyond morality, there are other questions that stubbornly occupy the minds of a very substantial proportion of our species – notably the origins of our existence, and its meaning. Where did we come from, and why are we here? Contentious as it is, I put forth the assertion that science fails to give any answer that is truly satisfying on either an intellectual or emotional level. On the matter of origins of humanity and of existence, its answers are incomplete and in particular, lacking in some of the most critical areas. The Theory of Evolution and subsequent research provide an impressive body of evidence that we evolved from ape-like creatures, and ultimately from a single-cell organism (possibly Darwin’s “universal common ancestor”). However, it begs the question, where did the first organisms in this process come from? How did such supposedly simple organisms have the amazing functionality of not only being able to reproduce, but also to steadily become millions of times more complex? In other words, even the simplest single-cell organism is a more complex and intricate machine than any device man has ever created. Could such intricate functionality and powerful purposefulness arise by chance? Even though science has raised many doubts about the idea of a divine creator, it has never been able to disprove it comprehensively, nor replace the idea with a truly factual alternative. Even if one were to believe that the universe came into being through a Big Bang, and living creatures came into existence by chance and then evolved, science provides little or no conclusive answer to what the meaning of our lives is. Religion, on the other hand, offers the conceptually straightforward idea of a relationship with a divine being or the pursuit of a divine quest through an act of faith as the basis for a good life – which is one that brings immense fulfilment to millions around the world. I do not deny that religion is a highly problematic thing that contributes to strife and conflict, and that many religious believers are delusional or irrational. But the fact is that not all are so. There are highly logical individuals who have found great meaning in religious faith, such as former US president Barack Obama, Nobel prize-winning physicist Max Planck, and the Dalai Lama. There are millions who testify to this effect of religion, whereas one would be hard put to find more than a few who say that science has brought similarly deep emotional fulfilment as a basis for how they live their life. Hence in regard to the search for meaning in our lives, I hold that religion forms a better foundation for our actions than science.

Finally, while it is a pervasive argument that science is provably factual and religion is less objectively so, we should ponder this question: is so-called scientific ‘fact’ really fact at all? This may come as a shock to 21st-century sensibilities, but a fundamental basis of scientific assertions is their falsifiability. All scientific claims are made with the readiness to be retracted in the presence of contradictory evidence in the future. One thinks of how Isaac Newton’s idea of absolute space – once considered to be fact – was debunked later by Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, which turned the foundations of physics on their head. Can anyone guarantee that Einstein’s theory will not, in the decades to come, be shown to be myth? The so-called ‘facts’ of science are really beliefs rooted in the shifting sands of constant theoretical challenge and empirical inquiry. Indeed scientists, if true to the spirit of science, do not advance any of their claims as absolute fact; religion, however, does. Absolute fact forms firmer grounds for deciding what one should do in life.

The atheist would no doubt argue that the falsifiable claims of science are still more reliable than the baseless claims of religion. Well-known intellectuals like Carl Sagan deride religious adherents as following a belief without a shred of evidence. We should, however, not be overly narrow in our definition of evidence. The scientific paradigm – repeatable experiments, observation and measurement under pre-defined parameters – need not be the only paradigm through which we can derive truth. Speak to one or two hundred believers of different faiths, and you will hear many striking accounts of events in their lives that they believe were influenced by metaphysical forces such as God or karma – events that substantiate the claims of their scripture and cannot be explained by science or mathematics. For instance, a believer narrates that she prayed to God to reveal himself to her and guide her on which religion to follow. While asleep in a taxi, she is woken by an unexplained feeling of a tug on her arm. She awakes to see a place of worship outside the taxi with a banner that beckons her to come in and experience God. She then asks God for confirmation. That week a friend meets her for lunch, testifies to how God changed her life, and invites her to the very place of worship that she passed in the taxi. Testimonies like this abound among the religious. Science and mathematics cannot explain how this happened – indeed the probability of such an event happening by chance is minuscule. While there is no way to provide proof in as observable a way as science, in a laboratory, such events serve as quite objective evidence to religious believers in a way that often only each individual believer has access. We should not be too quick to dismiss religious beliefs as groundless or religious testimonies as delusional – indeed, we often have no proof of that.

Thus, it is my position that human action should be based primarily on scientific fact in areas where science provides relatively greater certainty than religion does – such as the treatment of physical illness – but in other domains of action where science does not possess this advantage, our path in life should be guided more by religion. Indeed, even in realms such as physical health, there is sometimes a case for choosing a spiritual rather than medical course of action. There are many testimonies to how prayer created what appears like a miracle when many medical therapies had failed. Even if the supposed ‘miracle’ does not materialise and the believer dies, he may do so happy in the belief that he is about to go on to a better place. Whether we are atheist or religious follower, we should keep our minds open to anything that has not been comprehensively falsified.

Copyright 2017 Steven Ooi. All rights reserved. No part of this work is to be reproduced without the written consent of the author.

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Author and website owner Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from NUS, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as an English and GP tutor at the age of 42.

To view tutors recommended by him, please click on ‘Recommended Tutors/Testimonials’ above.

English or GP tutors keen to be listed on this website (consistently ranked  top 10 on Google for GP tutors) as a Recommended Tutor, please email stevenooi18 @ yahoo.com (remove the spaces).

For more GP model essays, click here.

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Asean, Singapore and the challenge of a protectionist America

protectionist-america-01

Illustration: The Straits Times

A very good analysis by Grace Leong of the Straits Times on the likely impact of Donald Trump’s avowed protectionism on Asia, and Singapore in particular. I doubt he will be able to live up to his anti-free trade bluster. If the US closes its doors to Asia, big Asian economies will close ranks and China  which is more than willing to open up its economy and establish new trade links in order to expand its global market space  will dominate the whole region. Asian countries and even those in other continents will pivot towards China if the US closes its doors to imports.

The China-backed Regional Cooperative Economic Partnership (RCEP) as well as China’s mammoth One Belt, One Road vision speak volumes of the regional and global ambitions of the rising superpower. China understands that in today’s world, a country’s power is derived at least as much through economic influence as military might. If the US retains any desire to remain a superpower, it cannot afford to isolate itself economically. – Steven Ooi, webmaster

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By Grace Leong, The Straits Times

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is stalled, but all is not lost as the US could renegotiate or Asia could proceed with an alternative trade deal backed by China.

Mr Donald Trump’s inauguration as the next US president is less than three weeks away. Judging by his appointment of ardent China hawk Peter Navarro to head a newly formed White House National Trade Council, hard-nosed trade negotiations with US trade partners are in store during his term.

On trade, Mr Trump has promised to withdraw the US’ pledge to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade pact that has not been ratified by US lawmakers. And he has called for the US to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

Does this spell the end of the TPP? In name and form perhaps. But the US is also unlikely to walk away from a trade pact that accounts for more than 40 per cent of the world’s GDP, and leave the door open for the China-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a trade deal pioneered by Asean and its free trade agreement (FTA) partners.

“Much of China’s economic diplomacy is beneficial, but the hidden cost is that, at this stage, China is not committed to the open trading system that the US had sought to build, and will not likely promote open trade in services or reduction of non-tariff barriers such as subsidies,” says Mr Philip Jeyaretnam, senior counsel and regional chief executive at Dentons Rodyk. In short, a regional trade pact that does not involve the US is not desirable.

Read more here.
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Webmaster Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from NUS, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as an English and GP tutor at the age of 42.

To view tutors recommended by Steven Ooi, please click on ‘Recommended Tutors/Testimonials’ above.

English or GP tutors keen to be listed on this website (consistently ranked  top 10 on Google for GP tutors) as a Recommended Tutor, please email Steven Ooi at stevenooi18 @ yahoo.com (remove the spaces).

For GP model essays, click here.

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How Purple, Uber and Airbnb Are Disrupting and Redefining Old Industries

taxi

Image credit: Pexels

Larry Alton
Contributor
Freelance Writer & Former Entrepreneur

When you look at traditional industries in the U.S., it’s clear that many are outdated and boring. However, customers continue to do business with the companies within these industries, because there are no practical alternatives. But when a new company that’s sleek, modern and clean comes along, something changes.

The word “disruption” is largely misused in entrepreneurial circles. Over the years, entrepreneurs have confused innovation with disruption. And, while disruption certainly involves a lot of innovation, they are not one and the same.

Whereas disruption turns an industry on its head by offering customers something that previously didn’t exist, innovation merely makes an existing value offering better, cheaper or faster. Do you see the difference?

Read more at entrepreneur.com

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The blogger, a First Class Honours grad from NUS, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as an English and GP tutor at the age of 42.

To view tutors recommended by the blogger, please click on ‘Recommended Tutors/Testimonials’ above.

If you are an English or GP tutor keen to be listed on this website (consistently ranked  top 10 on Google for GP tutors) as a Recommended Tutor, please email Steven Ooi at stevenooi18 @ yahoo.com (remove the spaces).

For GP model essays, click here.

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