Aquarium art brings climate debate to NY Times Square

NEW YORK: Performance art in a giant water tank is bringing climate science to New York’s Times Square as Donald Trump has the world guessing on whether the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

The transparent aquarium, in which performers somersault, dive and react as the tank rapidly fills, empties and re-fills with water, cost upwards of US$750,000 and is the brain child of an artist wanting to raise awareness about climate change.

Performance artist Annie Saunders performs in Times Square in Holoscenes, a tank that rapidly fills with water and engulfs the performer, as part of the World Science Festival in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

The 12-tonne glass unit will periodically flood and drain from Thursday to Saturday as part of the World Science Festival, as a rotating cast of performers respond creatively to the changing levels of water.

The “Holoscenes” installation has already exhibited in London, Miami, Sarasota and Toronto, but its creator said Times Square – “the most famous public space in the world” – was the perfect setting.

“I wanted to actually move 3,500 gallons of water very fast with a human body in the midst of it, because I think that makes people feel something in their gut,” said Lars Jan, artistic director of the Early Morning Opera performance and art lab.

With nearly 450,000 people a day estimated to pass through Times Square, the beating heart of Manhattan crammed with advertising boards next to New York’s famed theatre district, the organisers are hoping for a big response.

People watch as performance artist Annie Saunders performs in Times Square in Holoscenes, as part of the World Science Festival in New York City. (AFP/SPENCER PLATT)

“Climate is the focus of our footprint here this year,” said Brian Greene, co-founder of the World Science Festival, celebrating its 10th anniversary and designed to change public perception of science.

US media reports saying that Trump intends to pull the United States out of the Paris Accord are “very disturbing,” Greene said.

“Science is something that should unite the world,” he said. “And for people to not feel connected to these vital ideas, that is disastrous for the future,” he added.

Jan said he was inspired by images of flooding from around the world and paid tribute to hydraulic engineers, performers, designers, artists and scientists who had collaborated for years on the project.

“I think it’s short-sighted to think too much about the Trump administration,” he told reporters.

“On whatever side of the political aisle you happen to be on, we need to think about changing fundamentally our habits in order to adapt to the realities of climate science. So I hope this is a small part in that conversation,” he said.

The festival also features an interactive dance floor in Times Square that translates human movement into electrical power, lighting up a monitor depending on how much energy the dancers put into their performance.

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Be safe and gracious: The cycling lessons being taught in some schools

The Singapore Cycling Federation is partnering some schools to offer lessons in how to ride bikes safely and courteously.

The primary school children posing with their bicycles. (Photo: Natasha Razak) 

SINGAPORE: Some schools are introducing cycling lessons into their curriculum to give pupils the necessary skills and awarenesss to be able to use their bikes safely while sharing roads, pavements and park connectors with other users.

Holy Innocents Primary School is the fourth school to partner with the Singapore Cycling Federation (SCF) to organise the two-day Singapore Cycle Safe Learn-To-Cycle programme.

“We want to provide opportunities for our pupils to develop cycling as an important core life skill. This is in line with NurtureSG to continue fostering healthy habits in our pupils and equip them with the life skill that they need so that they can embrace healthy living,” said Madam Joyce Lee, the head of physical education, on Wednesday (May 31).

The children learning how to control their bicycles. (Photo: Natasha Razak)

Modelled after a national swimming programme, Swimsafer, Cycle Safe aims to equip all students with safe cycling awareness, safe cycling skills and practical ways to demonstrate acts of graciousness while cycling along shared spaces.

At Holy Innocents, trainers began the programme by demonstrating the right way of putting on helmets. After that, the students were taught the right technique to grip handlebars to reduce any injuries in case of a fall. They were also taught how to control their bicycles by walking in circles alongside their bikes before learning how to balance on them. 

In a statement made in May 2014, the then Parliamentary Secretary for Transport, Mr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, said: “The trend is that more and more people are cycling, and that’s a good form of transport and it’s good for health. But we want to make sure they are trained and know about cycling so that they can cycle safely and also have regard to other road users.”

With its four level progressive programme, Cycle Safe is customised towards Singapore’s network of park connectors and roads. Since 2016, 1000 participants have participated and the SCF said that it is working towards certifying 2000 students this year.

According to the SCF, Cycle Safe is the “fundamental starting point for someone keen on the sport of cycling and it complements the Singapore Government’s efforts and investment on a car-lite society.”

“We must prepare our young with safe cycle skills to be able to cycling safely and displaying graciousness,” said SCF’s President Jeffrey Goh Leng Soo.

Trainers guiding the children as they pedal their bicycles slowly. (Photo: Natasha Razak)

And the children seemed to enjoy learning such skills.

“I feel excited because this is my first time riding a 2-wheel bicycle. It’s a life skill where after I learn it I can never lose it. After learning it I can have a great pleasure with my family going out to cycle the 2-wheel bicycle and share a healthy and active lifestyle,” Joel Sham, 10, told Channel NewsAsia.

The Primary 4 student added: “I usually ride the scooter while my grandfather rides the bicycle. I hope to be able to ride the bicycle with him one day after I’ve learnt the skills from this programme.” 

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Former Trump adviser Flynn to turn over some documents subpoenaed by Senate panel – source

Former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has told the Senate Intelligence Committee he will begin turning over some documents subpoenaed by the panel, according to a government source familiar with the matter.

FILE PHOTO: Then White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn walks down the White House colonnade on the way to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump’s joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg/Files

WASHINGTON: Former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has told the Senate Intelligence Committee he will begin turning over some documents subpoenaed by the panel, according to a government source familiar with the matter.

Flynn’s representatives told the committee in an email on Tuesday that they would start turning over some subpoenaed documents in time to meet a deadline set by the panel, and that more documents will be turned over later.

The committee, which is investigating alleged Russian interference in last year’s U.S. presidential election, issued subpoenas to two of Flynn’s businesses after Flynn had declined to comply with a subpoena issued to him personally.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Tim Ahmann)

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Commentary: Smoking is lowering your productivity and killing the economy

SINGAPORE: Tomorrow marks World No Tobacco Day, a day on which we remember the health risks of tobacco use and think about how we can reduce smoking in particular.

It bears repeating that smoking remains one of the unhealthiest addictions prevalent in today’s society: Smokers suffer and die from lung and related cancers, heart diseases, chronic bronchitis, stroke and more.

But what is not said is the cost to society – which can be measured in dollars and cents. A study a few of us at NUS did back in 2002 found that a conservative estimate of medical costs for smoking-related diseases in 1997 alone stands at more than S$70 million.

The high medical costs aside, it was also reported that Singapore’s total social cost of smoking in the same year amounted to a much larger sum – of about S$700 million. This is because smoking not only incurs direct medical costs, but also indirect costs in terms of productivity losses.

File photo of a consumer looking at tobacco products.


Workplace absenteeism is generally more common among smokers. In one study conducted in Sweden in 2006, Swedish smokers on average take 7.7 more days of sick leave annually relative to their non-smoking colleagues.

It seems that time spent treating smoking-related illnesses translates into lost working hours, and consequently lost production for the employer and the economy.

In a less apparent form, “presenteeism” is expected to be more pervasive among smokers as well. Presumably, there is a higher chance that smokers are present at the workplace despite being ill, since smokers are more likely to be ill to begin with. We have all, at some point, experienced dragging ourselves to work with a sinus, headache or a throat irritation.

Yet, more often than not, it is difficult to focus and function in such a state. Again, productivity suffers.

Smoke breaks also constitute working hours not spent working. If a smoker were to spend 10 minutes every hour travelling to designated smoking areas and puffing away, he or she would be working 17 per cent less than his or her non-smoking colleagues, which could be deemed as unfair.

This is of course an exaggerated illustration since everyone takes breaks, although it can also be argued that smokers set the precedence for breaks for non-smokers. Smoke breaks, which are driven by addiction, tend to be more indispensable.

A dilemma arises – removing smoke breaks is not an option either, now that smokers are used to taking smoke breaks, and since doing so could decrease their productivity even more in the short run.

A man taking a cigarette break. (Photo: AFP/TED ALJIBE)

Smokers may claim that the allure of lighting up provides motivation to work more efficiently, that nicotine as both a stimulant and relaxant boosts work performance, that smoking provides time for reflection, or that gatherings in smoking rooms generate not only gossip but also intellectual and productive discussions.

Perhaps they are not wrong. Nevertheless, there are plenty of other healthier alternatives.


The ugly truth is that the above-mentioned productivity losses are in fact largely incurred by employers. A 2013 study by Ohio State University estimates that the excess annual cost of a smoking employee in the US stands at US$5,816 (S$8,050), including medical fees which companies have to bear.

In addition, negative health externalities imposed on passive smokers can also lead to further productivity losses. This may explain why numerous companies all over the world refuse to hire smokers, aside from negative health and public image considerations.

Taking a broader perspective, smoking depreciates human capital in the long term, and has even greater implications for the macro-economy, especially in countries highly dependent on human capital such as Singapore. Smokers have more years lost due to ill health, disability and younger mortality, decreasing the effective labour force a country possesses.

If smokers don’t die prematurely from smoking-related diseases, they would still be productive and be able to contribute to national output. Smokers’ forgone future production stream is extrapolated to cost Singapore close to a billion in current dollars annually.

Ohio State University estimated that the excess annual cost of a smoking employee in the US was US$5,816 including medical fees which companies have to bear. (Photo: AFP)

As cold as this may sound, we can go on forever identifying each and every economic impact of smoking because the effects of smoking are far reaching: Lower-income workers who spend a large portion of their income on cigarettes will naturally spend less on better alternatives such as a healthier diet or their children’s education.

Smokers have lower fertility rates, physiologically or through diminished marketability in the marriage market.

Time and resources also have to be devoted by family members to care for their loved ones suffering from serious smoking-related diseases.


To examine the overall mid- to long-term macroeconomic impact of smoking, a 2005 study conducted by one of the authors investigated the correlation between 14 OECD countries’ economic growth and their respective per capita cigarette consumption.

Results again show that the costs of cigarette smoking in the form of productivity losses is considerably large, going up to US$4 to US$6 per worker per hour in some countries.

Therefore, we might want to rethink tobacco to be a cause of preventable productivity loss, in addition to being the world’s largest cause of preventable death. The gains of curbing tobacco abuse might be larger than preconceived.

Smokers often claim that as long as they are not smoking in the presence of others, their choice to smoke is not harming others. This is factually erroneous, since the immediate loss of productivity, and the long-term burden on society in the form of morbidity and premature mortality are significant.

Over the years, Singapore has invested significantly to ameliorate the problem of smoking, and has achieved considerable success through legislation, for instance, restricting the use of public space for smoking, raising the minimum legal age for purchase, and implementing a ban on point-of-sale display, as well as public education, among other measures.

More can be done to stamp out smoking, for instance limiting the places where cigarettes can be bought and increasing the tax on tobacco.

A study of 14 OECD counties show the costs of cigarette smoking in the form of productivity losses is considerably large, going up to US$4 to 6 per worker per hour in some countries. (Photo: AFP)

But it will be prudent to return to our focus on productivity.


For smokers, quitting will take time, attention, effort and concentration from work, especially when withdrawal symptoms are severe. Nevertheless, evidence have surfaced that productivity gains after quitting could outweigh the costs even in the short run.

Currently, most programmes helping smokers kick the habit in Singapore are initiated by the Government and interest groups. We reiterate that employers should have the same, if not larger, incentive in advocating a smoke-free working environment. This also suggests that policy measures, such as services or education to help smokers kick the habit, could be targeted at and customised for specific industries and employees.

Employers could provide incentives to employees to ditch the habit. They could publicly acknowledge employees who have achieved success in giving up smoking, and set aside a special fund for employees to join clinics or undergo treatment and medication to overcome their smoking addiction and withdrawal challenges.

Employers could also organise workshops conducted by experts to learn how to quit smoking and other health matters, as well as enforce a non-smoking environment on company premises.

In all, companies could mount a strong campaign against smoking, emphasising the harmful effects of smoking, by themselves or in partnership with the Government.

This is especially so for industries with a high proportion of smokers, such as the construction industry, or for industries in which the costs of smoking may be higher, such as food services where having employees who smoke could have health implications for patrons.

Discriminating against smokers when hiring may be a harsh intervention. Government, employers and society at large need to unite against smoking, not smokers.

It is a delicate balance of creating a health-conscious society that frowns upon smokers on the one hand, and on the other, offers smokers a gentle nudge and encouragement to quit, that our society should strive towards.

Moreover, we need to reflect on the increasing and sustained harm brought about by cigarettes, and recognise the health, economic and social costs. We also need to take stock and evaluate the effectiveness of existing and suggested interventions.

It is about time that we as a society put an end to the lucrative tobacco industry and the scourge of smoking.

Euston Quah is Professor and Head of Economics at Nanyang Technological University. He is also the President of the Economic Society of Singapore. Tan Tsiat Siong is a researcher at the same university.

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North Korea leader Kim supervises missile test of new guidance system – KCNA

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised the test of a ballistic missile controlled by a precision guidance system and ordered the development of more powerful strategic weapons, the North’s official KCNA news agency reported on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the defence detachment on Jangjae Islet and the Hero Defence Detachment on Mu Islet

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised the test of a ballistic missile controlled by a precision guidance system and ordered the development of more powerful strategic weapons, the North’s official KCNA news agency reported on Tuesday.

He expressed conviction that the country “would make a greater leap forward in this spirit to send bigger ‘gift package’ to the Yankees,” in retaliation for American military provocation, KCNA said.

Pyongyang on Monday launched a Scud-class missile into the sea and the North’s official media routinely report on such missile launches on the following day.

(Reporting by Jack Kim and Ju-min Park; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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