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Lunch with the FT Henry Kissinger
Henry Kissinger: ‘We are in a very, very grave period’

The grand consigliere of American diplomacy talks about Putin, the new world order — and the meaning of Trump

Edward Luce July 20, 2018

It was not hard to entice Henry Kissinger to meet for lunch. Though he is 95, and moves very slowly, the grand consigliere of American diplomacy is keen to talk. He hops on and off planes to see the likes of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping with as much zeal as when he played the global chess game as Richard Nixon’s diplomatic maestro. He loves to be in the thick of things. Persuading him to say what he actually thinks is another matter. Kissinger is to geopolitical clarity what Alan Greenspan was to monetary communication — an oracle whose insight is matched only by his indecipherability. It is my mission to push him out of his comfort zone. I want to know what he really thinks of Donald Trump.

The timing is perfect. We are having lunch the day after Trump met Putin in Helsinki — a summit that America’s foreign-policy establishment believes will go down as a low point in US diplomacy. Trump had done the unthinkable by endorsing Putin’s protestations of innocence of electoral sabotage over the word of America’s intelligence agencies. Later today Trump will unconvincingly try to undo what he said in Helsinki by insisting he meant “wouldn’t” instead of “would”. But it is too late for that. The New York Daily News has the screaming headline: “Open Treason” next to a cartoon of Trump shooting Uncle Sam in the head while holding Putin’s hand. There could be no better moment to jolt Kissinger off his Delphic perch.

I arrive with a minute or two to spare. Kissinger is already seated. He cuts a gnomish figure at a corner table in a half-empty dining room. A large walking cane is propped against the side wall. (He tore a ligament a few years ago.) “Forgive me if I don’t get up,” says Kissinger in his gravelly German accent. We are at the Jubilee, a cosy French restaurant just around the corner from Kissinger’s Midtown Manhattan apartment. It is only a few blocks from Kissinger Associates, the geopolitical consultancy that charges clients princely sums to hear what I assume are his unvarnished thoughts. My only inducement is a nice lunch. When we order, Kissinger checks whether he is my guest.

“Ah yes,” he says, chortling after I insist he is. “Otherwise that would be corruption.” He eats here often. “I had dinner here just last night with my daughter,” he says. On two or three occasions, someone comes over to shake his hand.

“I am the Ukrainian ambassador to the UN,” says one.

“Who?” says Kissinger. “Ukraine,” the diplomat replies. “We think very highly of you.” Kissinger’s face lights up.

“Ah Ukraine,” he says. “I am a strong supporter.”

Geopolitics weighs heavily on Kissinger. As the co-architect of the cold war rapprochement with China and détente with the Soviet Union, Kissinger now surveys a world in which China and Russia are both challenging the US world order, often in concert with each other.

But the doyen of cold war diplomacy is as interested in the future as he is in the past. This year Kissinger wrote a terrifying piece on artificial intelligence for The Atlantic Monthly, in which he compared humanity today to the Incas before the arrival of smallpox and the Spanish. He urged the creation of a presidential commission on AI. “If we do not start this effort soon, before long we shall discover that we started too late,” he concluded.

This summer Kissinger is working from home on a book about great statesmen and women (there is a chapter on Margaret Thatcher). He has just finished a section on Nixon, the president whom he served — uniquely — both as secretary of state and national security adviser. It is 25,000 words long and Kissinger is toying whether to publish it separately as a short book. He worries it will backfire. “It might bring all the contestants out of their foxholes again,” he says. Do you mean that it could provoke comparisons between Watergate and Trump’s Russia investigation, I ask. “That is my fear,” he replies. Before I have a chance to follow up, Kissinger switches to Thatcher. “She was a magnificent partner,” he says. “I am a believer in the special relationship because I think America needs a psychological balance and this is a natural one based on history — not just on contributions.”

Our starters arrive. Kissinger has a plate of chicken liver pâté, which he consumes with gusto. He has tucked his napkin bib-style into his upper shirt. I want to talk about Trump. Kissinger is keen to stay on Britain. I ask him about Lord Carrington, the former British foreign secretary, who resigned in 1982 to carry responsibility for failing to stop Argentina’s invasion of the Falkland Islands, and who died, aged 99, this month. On the day of Carrington’s death, Boris Johnson, the most recent British foreign secretary, quit with very different motives. You could say the first resigned with honour and the second with dishonour.

“I loved Lord Carrington,” says Kissinger with feeling. “I never went to England without seeing him.” In all their years of friendship, Carrington did not once complain about having to resign, says Kissinger. “He said to me: ‘What is the point of assuming responsibility if you then whisper to your friends that you are not really responsible?’ I don’t think we have that quality any more because for that you need a tradition that you take for granted and we no longer can.” Johnson certainly doesn’t embody it, I suggest. “I don’t think Carrington thought much of Johnson,” Kissinger replies.

What did Kissinger make of the Helsinki summit? His answer is halting.

“It was a meeting that had to take place. I have advocated it for several years. It has been submerged by American domestic issues. It is certainly a missed opportunity. But I think one has to come back to something. Look at Syria and Ukraine. It’s a unique characteristic of Russia that upheaval in almost any part of the world affects it, gives it an opportunity and is also perceived by it as a threat. Those upheavals will continue. I fear they will accelerate.”

Kissinger embarks on a disquisition about Russia’s “almost mystical” tolerance for suffering. His key point is that the west wrongly assumed in the years before Putin annexed Crimea that Russia would adopt the west’s rules-based order. Nato misread Russia’s deep-seated craving for respect. “The mistake Nato has made is to think that there is a sort of historic evolution that will march across Eurasia and not to understand that somewhere on that march it will encounter something very different to a Westphalian [western idea of a state] entity. And for Russia this is a challenge to its identity.” Do you mean that we provoked Putin, I ask.

“I do not think Putin is a character like Hitler,” Kissinger replies. “He comes out of Dostoyevsky.”

Our main courses arrive. Kissinger has ordered branzino on a bed of green vegetables. He barely touches the dish. “No, but it was very good,” he says later when the waitress offers to pack it into a box. By contrast, I eat most of my Dover sole and Brussels sprouts. We are both drinking Badoit sparkling water, which Kissinger has specifically requested. I sense I am losing my battle to get him on to Trump — or failing to detect his hidden message. Is he saying we are underestimating Trump — that, in fact, Trump may be doing us the unacknowledged service of calming the Russian bear? Again, there is a pause before Kissinger answers.

“I don’t want to talk too much about Trump because at some point I should do it in a more coherent way than this,” Kissinger replies. But you are being coherent, I protest. Please don’t stop. There is another pregnant silence. “I think Trump may be one of those figures in history who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretences. It doesn’t necessarily mean that he knows this, or that he is considering any great alternative. It could just be an accident.”

By now Kissinger has abandoned his halfhearted stabs at the fish. I know he has briefed Trump. He has also met Putin on 17 occasions. He reports the contents of those meetings to Washington, he tells me. I try a different tack. To whom does Trump compare in history, I ask. This also fails to do the trick. Kissinger goes off on a tour d’horizon of the health of European diplomacy. He can find no leader who excites him, with the possible exception of France’s Emmanuel Macron. “I can’t yet say he’s effective because he’s just started but I like his style,” says Kissinger. “Among other European statesmen, Angela Merkel is very local. I like her personally and I respect her but she’s not a transcendent figure.”

Which diplomatic brain would he compare in today’s US establishment to himself, say, or the late Zbigniew Brzezinski — his former sparring partner, who also served as national security adviser? The mention of Brzezinski triggers something. “When Zbig died, which was a great surprise, I wrote to his wife that no death has moved me quite as much as his,” Kissinger says, again with evident feeling. “Zbig was almost unique in my generation. We both considered ideas about the world order to be the key problem of our time. How could we create it? We had somewhat different ideas. But for both of us, we were above all concerned to raise diplomacy to that level of influence.” Who is asking those questions today, I ask. “There is no debate today,” Kissinger replies. “It is something we need to have.”

I cannot shake the feeling that Kissinger is trying to tell me something but that I am too literal to interpret it. Like a blindfolded darts player, I try a number of different throws. What would Germany become if Trump pulled America out of Nato? Kissinger likes that question but declines to give odds as to its likelihood. “In the 1940s, the European leaders had a clear sense of direction,” he says. “Right now they mostly just want to avoid trouble.” They are not doing a very good job of it, I interrupt. “That’s true,” says Kissinger with a cryptic smile. “One eminent German recently told me that he always used to translate tension with America as a way to move away from America but now he finds himself more afraid of a world without America.” So could Trump be shocking the rest of the west to stand on its own feet, I ask. “It would be ironic if that emerged out of the Trump era,” Kissinger replies. “But it is not impossible.”

The alternative, Kissinger adds, is not appealing. A divided Atlantic would turn Europe into “an appendage of Eurasia”, which would be at the mercy of a China that wants to restore its historic role as the Middle Kingdom and be “the principal adviser to all humanity”. It sounds as though Kissinger believes China is on track to achieve its goal. America, meanwhile, would become a geopolitical island, flanked by two giant oceans and without a rules-based order to uphold. Such an America would have to imitate Victorian Britain but without the habit of mind to keep the rest of the world divided — as Britain did with the European continent.

Kissinger is more circumspect on AI — a subject, he concedes, with which he is still grappling. But he is troubled by the unknown consequences of autonomous warfare — a world in which machines are required to take ethical decisions. “All I can do in the few years left of me is to raise these issues,” he says. “I don’t pretend to have the answers.”

I have little idea how Kissinger will take my next question. Is power an aphrodisiac? “What was the word?” Kissinger asks. “Aphrodisiac,” I repeat. I am quoting the famous Kissinger line that he made in the heyday of his career when he was still a single man. In the late 1960s and early 1970s he was as much known for his racy dating calendar as for affairs of state. “I would certainly say that being able to make decisions has a dimension that you don’t have in ordinary life,” Kissinger replies with the hint of a smile. That was a subtle answer, I tell him. “I did say that,” he replies. “But when I say these things they’re more intended to establish your cleverness than your life’s purpose. And it’s true to some extent. It is based on observation.”

By now we are on to the coffee. Mine is a double espresso. Kissinger has mint tea. I decide to take a final stab at the bullseye. We have been talking for almost two hours. If there is one recurring criticism of Kissinger, I tell him, it is that he goes to great lengths to preserve access to people in power at the expense of not speaking plainly in public. Isn’t now — of all moments — the right one to burn a bridge or two? Kissinger looks crestfallen.

“I take that seriously and a lot of people, good friends of mine, have been urging this on me,” he says eventually. “It could happen at some point in time.” There is no time like the present, I say with a nervous laugh.

“It is clear the direction I am going in,” he replies. “Is it clear to you?” Sort of, I reply. You are worried about the future. However, you believe there is a non-trivial chance that Trump could accidentally scare us into reinventing the rules-based order that we used to take for granted. Is that a fair summary?

“I think we are in a very, very grave period for the world,” Kissinger replies. “I have conducted innumerable summit meetings, so they didn’t learn this one [Helsinki] from me.”

It is clear he will not elaborate further. I ask him which period he would liken to today. Kissinger talks about his experience as a freshly minted citizen in US uniform serving in the second world war. He also reminisces about what brought the young German refugee to these shores in the first place. After Germany marched into Austria in 1938, Jews in Kissinger’s home town were told to stay indoors. His parents left for America when they could. “There was a curfew and German soldiers everywhere,” he says. “It was a traumatic experience that has never left me.” His reminiscence is carefully chosen.

Something like a biblical storm has descended since we sat down. One umbrella literally flew past the window. I help Kissinger through the soaking whiplash to his car. The driver takes his other arm. He is unsteady. I realise that I have been ungraciously interrogating a man almost twice my age. “Dr Kissinger has been looking forward to this lunch for days,” says the server after I return to borrow an umbrella. That is nice, I think — though I fear my Trump questions may have depressed his appetite.

Edward Luce is the FT’s US national editor and author of ‘The Retreat of Western Liberalism’

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How the Enlightenment Ends

Philosophically, intellectually—in every way—human society is unprepared for the rise of artificial intelligence.
Henry A. Kissinger

Three years ago, at a conference on transatlantic issues, the subject of artificial intelligence appeared on the agenda. I was on the verge of skipping that session—it lay outside my usual concerns—but the beginning of the presentation held me in my seat.

The speaker described the workings of a computer program that would soon challenge international champions in the game Go. I was amazed that a computer could master Go, which is more complex than chess. In it, each player deploys 180 or 181 pieces (depending on which color he or she chooses), placed alternately on an initially empty board; victory goes to the side that, by making better strategic decisions, immobilizes his or her opponent by more effectively controlling territory.

The speaker insisted that this ability could not be preprogrammed. His machine, he said, learned to master Go by training itself through practice. Given Go’s basic rules, the computer played innumerable games against itself, learning from its mistakes and refining its algorithms accordingly. In the process, it exceeded the skills of its human mentors. And indeed, in the months following the speech, an AI program named AlphaGo would decisively defeat the world’s greatest Go players.

As I listened to the speaker celebrate this technical progress, my experience as a historian and occasional practicing statesman gave me pause. What would be the impact on history of self-learning machines—machines that acquired knowledge by processes particular to themselves, and applied that knowledge to ends for which there may be no category of human understanding? Would these machines learn to communicate with one another? How would choices be made among emerging options? Was it possible that human history might go the way of the Incas, faced with a Spanish culture incomprehensible and even awe-inspiring to them? Were we at the edge of a new phase of human history?

Aware of my lack of technical competence in this field, I organized a number of informal dialogues on the subject, with the advice and cooperation of acquaintances in technology and the humanities. These discussions have caused my concerns to grow.

Heretofore, the technological advance that most altered the course of modern history was the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, which allowed the search for empirical knowledge to supplant liturgical doctrine, and the Age of Reason to gradually supersede the Age of Religion. Individual insight and scientific knowledge replaced faith as the principal criterion of human consciousness. Information was stored and systematized in expanding libraries. The Age of Reason originated the thoughts and actions that shaped the contemporary world order.

But that order is now in upheaval amid a new, even more sweeping technological revolution whose consequences we have failed to fully reckon with, and whose culmination may be a world relying on machines powered by data and algorithms and ungoverned by ethical or philosophical norms.

The internet age in which we already live prefigures some of the questions and issues that AI will only make more acute. The Enlightenment sought to submit traditional verities to a liberated, analytic human reason. The internet’s purpose is to ratify knowledge through the accumulation and manipulation of ever expanding data. Human cognition loses its personal character. Individuals turn into data, and data become regnant.

Users of the internet emphasize retrieving and manipulating information over contextualizing or conceptualizing its meaning. They rarely interrogate history or philosophy; as a rule, they demand information relevant to their immediate practical needs. In the process, search-engine algorithms acquire the capacity to predict the preferences of individual clients, enabling the algorithms to personalize results and make them available to other parties for political or commercial purposes. Truth becomes relative. Information threatens to overwhelm wisdom.

Inundated via social media with the opinions of multitudes, users are diverted from introspection; in truth many technophiles use the internet to avoid the solitude they dread. All of these pressures weaken the fortitude required to develop and sustain convictions that can be implemented only by traveling a lonely road, which is the essence of creativity.

The impact of internet technology on politics is particularly pronounced. The ability to target micro-groups has broken up the previous consensus on priorities by permitting a focus on specialized purposes or grievances. Political leaders, overwhelmed by niche pressures, are deprived of time to think or reflect on context, contracting the space available for them to develop vision.

The digital world’s emphasis on speed inhibits reflection; its incentive empowers the radical over the thoughtful; its values are shaped by subgroup consensus, not by introspection. For all its achievements, it runs the risk of turning on itself as its impositions overwhelm its conveniences.

As the internet and increased computing power have facilitated the accumulation and analysis of vast data, unprecedented vistas for human understanding have emerged. Perhaps most significant is the project of producing artificial intelligence—a technology capable of inventing and solving complex, seemingly abstract problems by processes that seem to replicate those of the human mind.

This goes far beyond automation as we have known it. Automation deals with means; it achieves prescribed objectives by rationalizing or mechanizing instruments for reaching them. AI, by contrast, deals with ends; it establishes its own objectives. To the extent that its achievements are in part shaped by itself, AI is inherently unstable. AI systems, through their very operations, are in constant flux as they acquire and instantly analyze new data, then seek to improve themselves on the basis of that analysis. Through this process, artificial intelligence develops an ability previously thought to be reserved for human beings. It makes strategic judgments about the future, some based on data received as code (for example, the rules of a game), and some based on data it gathers itself (for example, by playing 1 million iterations of a game).

The driverless car illustrates the difference between the actions of traditional human-controlled, software-powered computers and the universe AI seeks to navigate. Driving a car requires judgments in multiple situations impossible to anticipate and hence to program in advance. What would happen, to use a well-known hypothetical example, if such a car were obliged by circumstance to choose between killing a grandparent and killing a child? Whom would it choose? Why? Which factors among its options would it attempt to optimize? And could it explain its rationale? Challenged, its truthful answer would likely be, were it able to communicate: “I don’t know (because I am following mathematical, not human, principles),” or “You would not understand (because I have been trained to act in a certain way but not to explain it).” Yet driverless cars are likely to be prevalent on roads within a decade.

Heretofore confined to specific fields of activity, AI research now seeks to bring about a “generally intelligent” AI capable of executing tasks in multiple fields. A growing percentage of human activity will, within a measurable time period, be driven by AI algorithms. But these algorithms, being mathematical interpretations of observed data, do not explain the underlying reality that produces them. Paradoxically, as the world becomes more transparent, it will also become increasingly mysterious. What will distinguish that new world from the one we have known? How will we live in it? How will we manage AI, improve it, or at the very least prevent it from doing harm, culminating in the most ominous concern: that AI, by mastering certain competencies more rapidly and definitively than humans, could over time diminish human competence and the human condition itself as it turns it into data.

Artificial intelligence will in time bring extraordinary benefits to medical science, clean-energy provision, environmental issues, and many other areas. But precisely because AI makes judgments regarding an evolving, as-yet-undetermined future, uncertainty and ambiguity are inherent in its results. There are three areas of special concern:

First, that AI may achieve unintended results. Science fiction has imagined scenarios of AI turning on its creators. More likely is the danger that AI will misinterpret human instructions due to its inherent lack of context. A famous recent example was the AI chatbot called Tay, designed to generate friendly conversation in the language patterns of a 19-year-old girl. But the machine proved unable to define the imperatives of “friendly” and “reasonable” language installed by its instructors and instead became racist, sexist, and otherwise inflammatory in its responses. Some in the technology world claim that the experiment was ill-conceived and poorly executed, but it illustrates an underlying ambiguity: To what extent is it possible to enable AI to comprehend the context that informs its instructions? What medium could have helped Tay define for itself offensive, a word upon whose meaning humans do not universally agree? Can we, at an early stage, detect and correct an AI program that is acting outside our framework of expectation? Or will AI, left to its own devices, inevitably develop slight deviations that could, over time, cascade into catastrophic departures?

Second, that in achieving intended goals, AI may change human thought processes and human values. AlphaGo defeated the world Go champions by making strategically unprecedented moves—moves that humans had not conceived and have not yet successfully learned to overcome. Are these moves beyond the capacity of the human brain? Or could humans learn them now that they have been demonstrated by a new master?

Before AI began to play Go, the game had varied, layered purposes: A player sought not only to win, but also to learn new strategies potentially applicable to other of life’s dimensions. For its part, by contrast, AI knows only one purpose: to win. It “learns” not conceptually but mathematically, by marginal adjustments to its algorithms. So in learning to win Go by playing it differently than humans do, AI has changed both the game’s nature and its impact. Does this single-minded insistence on prevailing characterize all AI?

Other AI projects work on modifying human thought by developing devices capable of generating a range of answers to human queries. Beyond factual questions (“What is the temperature outside?”), questions about the nature of reality or the meaning of life raise deeper issues. Do we want children to learn values through discourse with untethered algorithms? Should we protect privacy by restricting AI’s learning about its questioners? If so, how do we accomplish these goals?

If AI learns exponentially faster than humans, we must expect it to accelerate, also exponentially, the trial-and-error process by which human decisions are generally made: to make mistakes faster and of greater magnitude than humans do. It may be impossible to temper those mistakes, as researchers in AI often suggest, by including in a program caveats requiring “ethical” or “reasonable” outcomes. Entire academic disciplines have arisen out of humanity’s inability to agree upon how to define these terms. Should AI therefore become their arbiter?

Third, that AI may reach intended goals, but be unable to explain the rationale for its conclusions. In certain fields—pattern recognition, big-data analysis, gaming—AI’s capacities already may exceed those of humans. If its computational power continues to compound rapidly, AI may soon be able to optimize situations in ways that are at least marginally different, and probably significantly different, from how humans would optimize them. But at that point, will AI be able to explain, in a way that humans can understand, why its actions are optimal? Or will AI’s decision making surpass the explanatory powers of human language and reason? Through all human history, civilizations have created ways to explain the world around them—in the Middle Ages, religion; in the Enlightenment, reason; in the 19th century, history; in the 20th century, ideology. The most difficult yet important question about the world into which we are headed is this: What will become of human consciousness if its own explanatory power is surpassed by AI, and societies are no longer able to interpret the world they inhabit in terms that are meaningful to them?

How is consciousness to be defined in a world of machines that reduce human experience to mathematical data, interpreted by their own memories? Who is responsible for the actions of AI? How should liability be determined for their mistakes? Can a legal system designed by humans keep pace with activities produced by an AI capable of outthinking and potentially outmaneuvering them?

Ultimately, the term artificial intelligence may be a misnomer. To be sure, these machines can solve complex, seemingly abstract problems that had previously yielded only to human cognition. But what they do uniquely is not thinking as heretofore conceived and experienced. Rather, it is unprecedented memorization and computation. Because of its inherent superiority in these fields, AI is likely to win any game assigned to it. But for our purposes as humans, the games are not only about winning; they are about thinking. By treating a mathematical process as if it were a thought process, and either trying to mimic that process ourselves or merely accepting the results, we are in danger of losing the capacity that has been the essence of human cognition.

The implications of this evolution are shown by a recently designed program, AlphaZero, which plays chess at a level superior to chess masters and in a style not previously seen in chess history. On its own, in just a few hours of self-play, it achieved a level of skill that took human beings 1,500 years to attain. Only the basic rules of the game were provided to AlphaZero. Neither human beings nor human-generated data were part of its process of self-learning. If AlphaZero was able to achieve this mastery so rapidly, where will AI be in five years? What will be the impact on human cognition generally? What is the role of ethics in this process, which consists in essence of the acceleration of choices?

Typically, these questions are left to technologists and to the intelligentsia of related scientific fields. Philosophers and others in the field of the humanities who helped shape previous concepts of world order tend to be disadvantaged, lacking knowledge of AI’s mechanisms or being overawed by its capacities. In contrast, the scientific world is impelled to explore the technical possibilities of its achievements, and the technological world is preoccupied with commercial vistas of fabulous scale. The incentive of both these worlds is to push the limits of discoveries rather than to comprehend them. And governance, insofar as it deals with the subject, is more likely to investigate AI’s applications for security and intelligence than to explore the transformation of the human condition that it has begun to produce.

The Enlightenment started with essentially philosophical insights spread by a new technology. Our period is moving in the opposite direction. It has generated a potentially dominating technology in search of a guiding philosophy. Other countries have made AI a major national project. The United States has not yet, as a nation, systematically explored its full scope, studied its implications, or begun the process of ultimate learning. This should be given a high national priority, above all, from the point of view of relating AI to humanistic traditions.

AI developers, as inexperienced in politics and philosophy as I am in technology, should ask themselves some of the questions I have raised here in order to build answers into their engineering efforts. The U.S. government should consider a presidential commission of eminent thinkers to help develop a national vision. This much is certain: If we do not start this effort soon, before long we shall discover that we started too late.

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23 July 2018

SingHealth cyber attack: Bite the bullet and reboot Smart Nation
Irene Tham
Senior Tech Correspondent

The level of cyber hygiene must rise to better thwart increasingly sophisticated hackers.

The challenges are primarily on two fronts: the lack of technology maturity and standardisation, and people’s reluctance to change old, risky habits.

A lot would be at stake if Singapore had rushed to roll out hundreds of thousands of energy, lighting or environment sensors, or Web-connected cameras on smart lamp posts islandwide without the sophisticated safeguards to fend off state-sponsored hackers – many of whom are repeatedly probing Singapore’s critical systems to exfiltrate sensitive data for political or economic gains.

“The stock taking is important because at the heart of Smart Nation projects are Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices such as sensors or Web cameras, many of which do not even have a password protection mechanism for access control,” said Mr Aloysius Cheang, Asia-Pacific executive vice-president of the Centre for Strategic Cyberspace + Security Science, a London-based think-tank.

The fact that IoT devices are always connected to the Web has also multiplied the risks of data exposure.

In the light of heightened risks and in the aftermath of the SingHealth breach, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Singapore authorities rewrite technology specifications for some projects.

Cumbersome processes should also be rewritten to get people to change old habits that introduce cyber risks. For instance, it is a common practice to get employees to change their passwords every three months. But this approach provides a false sense of security as employees are known to write down their passwords on sticky notes to remember them. People also use easy-to-guess passwords such as their birth dates, or use the same password for all their online accounts.

Two-factor authentication involving the use of one-time passwords randomly generated by hardware tokens or sent via SMS provides extra security. However, on a national scale, the elderly and less savvy people would struggle with it.

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By Sivananthi Thanenthiran | 6th July 2018

OVER the last week, the story of a 41-year old man who married an 11-year old girl as his third wife has hogged the headlines in Malaysia. The incident put the spotlight on the incidence of child marriage in Malaysia.

Child marriage is defined by the United Nations as a formal marriage or informal union before age 18, and is a practice widespread in developing and lower-income countries. Child marriage affects both boys and girls, though girls are disproportionately the most affected.

Child marriage, more often than not, leads to a lifetime of disadvantage and deprivation. The Convention of the Rights of the Child defines any person below the age of 18 as a child, and by Malaysian law, the age of majority is attained also at 18.

Global advocates often highlight that the term early marriage is a better term because, in many societies that do practise child marriage, once a girl attains puberty, she is no longer considered a ‘child’ per se, but rather a ‘woman’ despite her age.

The most common drivers of early marriage are poverty and a lack of access to education and employment opportunities. However, in a country like Malaysia, where access to education is heavily subsidised, we also need to consider other drivers as key.

Without doubt, in the widely-publicised case, poverty is a key driver. However, the additional vulnerabilities and marginalisation that this family faces must also be taken into consideration.

That they are migrant workers from a neighbouring country, in which access to health and education which is subsidised is usually denied to them.

They work as rubber tappers in a farm, or a plantation, which is a hard-to-reach, even isolating community with its own rigid hierarchies and limitations.

The family’s income is derived from selling their rubber to this man in particular, and as such he does hold some form of power over them. Hence they fall below the poverty standards, as migrant workers are paid less especially in the plantation sector.

There is no possibility of social mobility for this family, due to this lack of access to education and other forms of employment.

Child marriage occurs due not only to poverty, but is also caused by the low status of girls within our society.

One proverb goes – ‘Raising a daughter is like watering your neighbour’s garden’ and girls once married, cease contributing to their parents and their birth families.

Poor families then tend to spend less educating their daughters, as compared to their sons, because of social expectations of girls contributing or belonging to the families they marry into.

This social norm is also replicated in inheritance laws across many Asian societies which favour sons over daughters, as well as ownership of family businesses and professions.

Within families and households, gender roles also predominate. Girls are brought up to do care work within the household – cooking, fetching water and firewood, caring for younger siblings, cleaning, washing and doing the laundry.

Regardless of educational attainment, girls and women, are still expected to perform most if not all of the care work and the reproductive labour in the household: “If you study, you have to make roti, if you don’t study, you have to make roti.” Educational attainment alone cannot bring the necessary transformation for more equal gender roles in the family and household.

In situations of poverty, educating girls and allowing girls to be free from care work comes with an economic cost that poor families cannot afford.

Hence not only do poor families have to be given additional subsidies to enable them to send their daughters to school, but they also have to be taught to think about and view their girl children differently.

A study in Bangladesh notes that when girls were able to have some form of gainful, monetary employment, families deferred marrying them off young.

Besides poverty and the low status of girls in our society, the third key driver, in my opinion is the tight control of girls’ sexuality exerted by family and community. Adolescence, which is the period between 10-19 years of age marked by puberty, is often the period of sexual awakening. Both boys and girls experience crushes and different feelings of love, form relationships, and experiment with their bodies and with sex. This is part and parcel of the biological process.

However, boys and girls experience adolescence differently. Boys usually get more freedom and autonomy to explore and define their sexual identity, whereas girls usually experience curbs and limitations on experiencing and exploring their sexuality.

In many traditional societies, the onset of menstruation, signals availability for marriage, and the period of adolescence is for girls far shorter, and sometimes coincides with marriage. Hence many who profess a conservative viewpoint will point to menstruation as readiness for marriage, rather than to perceive a girl as an adolescent who is just discovering herself and her identity.

For girls then – biology is destiny. The end goal – socially and culturally is – for any girl is to be a wife and mother. Since that’s where girls are headed (and should be headed), there is nothing wrong in getting them to reach that destination earlier.

The sexuality of girls is meant to be expressed only within the framework of marriage, and the emphasis on virginity, (and a protection of that virginity), is an onus on families. Again those who are in vulnerable social positions who feel they cannot adequately safeguard the ‘honour’ of their daughters, find it easier to marry them off young.

The Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women’s (Arrow) research shows that families living in areas affected by climate change, which increases economic and social vulnerability, also fall back to marrying off their girls young.

Since the sexuality of girls needs to be tightly controlled and curtailed, families also resort to marrying girls off before 18, to ‘protect’ girls from sexual promiscuity – since these girls may have been dating, socialising, having a boyfriend, having had sex or are pregnant.

The general thinking is that since girls are having sex, let’s get them married because that’s where they can and should legally be having sex. Hence, marriage and sex are perceived as one package for girls, which is not necessarily true for boys.

In common lingo – this is ‘halalkan yang haram’ which means making permissible that which is forbidden. Girls’ needs for sexual expression and discovery is not at all recognised as part of self-development, which it should rightfully be.

There is a flawed assumption that marriage and family for women and girls are sites of protection and care. However, research denotes that girls who are married off young suffer from higher rates of maternal mortality, domestic violence, HIV transmission, divorce, and have higher birth rates. Hence marriage and family is often, especially for vulnerable girls, the site of further discrimination, violence, and oppression. We are not doing better by our girls by marrying them off at an early age.

Ensuring that the law unequivocally states that the age of marriage stands at 18 years of age, without exception, will do much to protect and elevate the status of girls in our society. It sends a signal that social norms need to be modernised. That girls have a right to continue their education, to be gainfully employed and economically empowered, to have choices and options beyond marriage and motherhood in our society. That girls are autonomous beings in their own right, and are not mere chattels to be kept and traded between men and families.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent

Read more at https://asiancorrespondent.com/2018/07/what-is-driving-child-marriages-in-malaysia/#BmPuv7LwmOO3drZ3.99

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Plagiarized Content

26 June 2018

  1. Water

To cut a long story short, Singapore buys water from Malaysia for a low price. Some of this is sold back to Malaysia, at a higher price. This was put into contracts, to end in 2061.

It sounds like a silly tiff, but it isn’t.

If you are one of those who think that the Singapore government is operating too “legalistically”, you are falling into the very trap that Malaysia has set up for Singapore from day one.

It is not a matter of how much Singapore pays, or how much Singapore sells. It has to do with the manner that Malaysia wants the prices changed: and they want to do it as and when they wish.

And we’re not talking about just any product. We’re not talking about cars, or tin, or durians. We are talking about water. The one commodity that could plunge Singapore into emergency if it was in shortage. We cannot allow them to raise or lower prices at their whim and fancy. Singapore’s not your bitch.

When Singapore separated from Malaysia, it was a complete and through severance and water was not going to be a leash that kept us tethered to them.

  1. Pedra Branca

Do we think that Pedra Branca has come to a close? Maybe, maybe not. The manner in which Mahatir “ended” it leaves much to imagination. But that’s the way their administration works. One minister says something, another one says something else. Undisciplined civil servants then make their own announcements.

A policy is raised, changed, raised, changed, repealed, revised, revoked and then revisited, again and again and again.

  1. Petrol restriction 

Another example of indecisive policy making is with petrol. Between the years of 2000 to, well even today… the Malaysian government had went from banning Singapore vehicles from consuming Malaysian petrol, to restricting Singaporean vehicles to more expensive fuel types. There was even an occasion when they barred our vehicles from purchasing within a certain range of the causeway.

I’m not even sure what the policy is anymore, and I suspect neither do the petrol companies.

  1. Toll charge wars

Although not exactly a Mahatir idea (but who knows eh?) let us not forget that just last year, there were the toll charge wars. Malaysia would increase the price it cost for Singapore cars to enter. However, Brunei (which borders West Malaysia) was not subject to these charges and Thailand pays a significantly lower rate.

After much to-ing and fro-ing, with having Malaysian vehicles being hit with charges that hurt them more than us, they finally relented.

(This was not an isolated action by the way, whilst the vehicle charge wars were waged, Indonesia banned and/or restricted SIA flights to Jarkata, citing airport upgrade as a reason. Strangely, other airlines have an ability to land but not SIA planes.)

  1. Replacing causeway with a bridge

This was Mahatir’s pet project. He wanted to replace the causeway with a bridge. According to him, it would allow stagnant water to flow and improve the marine environment…as well as allow ships to sail across the Johor Straits.

Let’s see – everything for Singapore to lose and nothing for us to gain. Little wonder why we never proceeded.

In a huff of egotistical retaliation, Malaysia actually proceeded to build the bridge that they wanted, on their side. Construction started, and then suddenly… -poof- they changed their mind. They then shifted their efforts to build the new checkpoint, to replace the old one.

  1. Land reclamation

In 2002, Malaysia lodged a protest against Singapore’s reclamation works around Pulaus Tekong and Ubin. They claimed that the works caused transboundary environmental harm and pursued us all the way to international arbitration. The matter was amicably resolved at The Hague under new Malaysian leadership, but it is important to note the words of academics at the time: that they were not certain that the land reclamation case would have been settled amicably if Dr. Mahathir was still the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Oh by the way, do you remember when the words “transboundary environmental harm” was used? That’s right – the regular haze that visits our region from Indonesia. Do you see Malaysia taking the Indons to arbitration? Nope.

  1. Hostility

Let us not forget the flippant threats of violence. In 2003, then PM Mahatir, in a New Year’s Day Message warned that they would not hesitate to give a “bloody nose” to any country that violated its soverginity.

This came after by Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid said that Singapore had only two choices in the Pedra Branca dispute – compromise or go to war.

  1. Military airspace restriction

Under the Mahatir leadership, Malaysia has closed off its military airspace to Singapore. But instead of becoming bitter, we became better. Check out this excerpt from an RSAF pilot on how the unique training we have to undertake:

Whenever Tan Kah Han, a lieutenant colonel in the Singapore Air Force, takes off to the north for training in his F-16C jet fighter, he faces an immediate problem: Climbing at 540 kilometers per hour, he has barely 45 seconds to avoid crossing the border with Malaysia, less than three kilometers away.

Taking off to the south from their base at Tengah is not much easier for Colonel Tan and other pilots of F-16s, Singapore’s most advanced combat aircraft. In no more than two minutes, they must turn into a narrow corridor that takes them to one of only two relatively extensive training areas available to Southeast Asia’s largest and most potent air force.”

Because of our “friendly neighbours”, we have become better pilots in a crowded local airspace.

Have a read at this article about how our pilots have to take off. It is risky, physically demanding and very dangerous. At speeds of 2400km/h they have to negotiate sharp turns, avoiding buildings and commercial aircraft.

  1. Pukul Habis

In 1991, Malaysia and Indonesia staged a parachute drop just 20km from Woodlands. It was a joint military exercise codenamed “Pukul Habis” and in case you don’t speak Malay, it means “total wipeout”.

Go on, have a think about what the countries of Malaysia and Indonesia can totally wipeout.

Leaving nothing to imagination, they held the exercise on the day of Singapore’s 26th National Day celebrations and when Lee Kuan Yew just handed the leadership over to Goh Chok Tong.

Singapore responded by triggering a massive open mobilisation and recalled thousands of troops. NSmen were called back, live ammo and weapons were distributed. Armour and artillery assets were deployed.

Some were mobilised to sit along the edges of the Malaysian railway in Tanjong Pagar with live ammo. Soldiers were also deployed to plant live mines around Singapore.

  1. Skin Cat

“We can skin a cat in many ways. To skin Singapore, there is not just one method”, said the nice Prime Minister. Over his previous leadership, he had certainly demonstrated this in the many ways listed above.

Under his new leadership, it looks as if he is heading this way again. These childish jibes take effort to respond to. Sometimes these exchanges have real repercussions, like the toll-charge wars, both sides bleed. Sometimes muscle flexing can become dangerous, such as how the Pukul Habis exercise triggered a military response.

For us Singaporeans, let us not be distracted.

We have tolerated these antics for decades and we will continue to do so through diplomacy and the rule of law. We have had a track record of defending our ground each time a new threat against our sovereignty arises.

We need not be cowered into a corner just because these are big nations. Remember the China-Terrex incident? Some online commentators thought we should kowtow and let the Chinese have their way, a good thing we didn’t do that. We held our ground and today China is friendlier to us.

Abiding strictly by the rule of law has paid off for us time and again.

Had we given way to the Malaysians, the Chinese and the Indonesians, what are we telling the world? That we’re a football that they can kick around whenever they please? If we allow them even just once to do this, we’ll end up having a diplomatic crisis like that of Qatar.

What we can do now, is take a leaf from the RSAF pilots. No need to be bitter, let’s become better.

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By Irving Wladawsky-Berger

May 2, 2014 11:46 am ET

Data Science is emerging as one of the hottest new professions and academic disciplines in these early years of the 21st century. A number of articles have noted that the demand for data scientists is racing ahead of supply.  People with the necessary skills are scarce, primarily because the discipline is so new. But, the situation is rapidly changing, as universities around the world have started to offer different kinds of graduate programs in data science. This year, for example, New York University is offering two new degrees–a general Master in Data Science, and a more domain-specific Master in Applied Urban Science and Informatics.

It’s very exciting to contemplate the emergence of a major new discipline. It reminds me of the advent of computer science in the 1960s and 1970s. Like data science, computer science had its roots in a number of related areas, including math, engineering and management. In its early years, the field attracted people from a variety of other disciplines who started out using computers in their work or studies, and eventually switched to computer science from their original field.

This was the case with me. I used computers extensively while a student at the University of Chicago, where I worked closely with Prof. Clemens Roothaan, one of the pioneers in the use of computers in physics and chemistry. As an undergraduate, I worked part-time at the university’s supercomputing center which he founded. Later he was my thesis advisor as a graduate student in physics. When the time came to look for a job, I realized that I enjoyed the computing side of my work more than the physics. I decided to switch fields and in 1970 joined the computer science department at IBM’s Watson Research Center.

Not unlike data science today, computing had to overcome the initial resistance of some prominent academics.  I still remember a meeting in 1965 with a very eminent physicist from whom I was taking a graduate course. He asked me what I planned to do research on for my degree, and I told him that I was already working with Prof. Roothaan on atomic and molecular calculations. He just said that good theoretical physics should require no more than pencil and paper, rather than these elaborate new computers. In his mind, this wasn’t real physics. A number of the physics faculty felt the same way. Change does not come easy, even for brilliant physicists.

Computer science has since become a well respected academic discipline. It has grown extensively since its early days and expanded in many new directions. It’s quite possible that being around in the early days of computer science and computing in general is part of the reason I’m so interested in the evolution of data science today. So, what is data science all about? One of the best papers on the subject is Data Science and Prediction by Vasant Dhar, professor in NYU’s Stern School of Business and Director of NYU’s Center for Business Analytics. The paper was published in the Communications of the ACM in December 2013. “Use of the term data science is increasingly common, as is big data,” Mr. Dhar writes in the opening paragraph. “But what does it mean? Is there something unique about it? What skills do data scientists need to be productive in a world deluged by data? What are the implications for scientific inquiry?”

He defines data science as being essentially the systematic study of the extraction of knowledge from data.  But analyzing data is something people have been doing with statistics and related methods for a while. “Why then do we need a new term like data science when we have had statistics for centuries? The fact that we now have huge amounts of data should not in and of itself justify the need for a new term.”

In short, it’s all about the difference between explaining and predicting. Data analysis has been generally used as a way of explaining some phenomenon by extracting interesting patterns from individual data sets with well-formulated queries. Data science, on the other hand, aims to discover and extract actionable knowledge from the data, that is, knowledge that can be used to make decisions and predictions, not just to explain what’s going on.

The raw materials of data science are not independent data sets, no matter how large they are, but heterogeneous, unstructured data set of all kinds – text, images, video. The data scientist will not simply analyze the data, but will look at it from many angles, with the hope of discovering new insights.

One of the problems with conducting such an in-depth, exploratory analysis is that the multiple data sets that are typically required to do so are often found within organizational silos; be they different lines of business in a company, different companies in an industry or different institutions across society at large. Data science platforms and tools aim to address this problem by working with, linking together and analyzing data sets previously locked away in disparate silos.

“Unlike database querying, which asks What data satisfies this pattern (query)? discovery asks What patterns satisfy this data?,” notes Mr. Dhar. “Specifically, our concern is finding interesting and robust patterns that satisfy the data, where interesting is usually something unexpected and actionable and robust is a pattern expected to occur in the future.”

The article discusses the key skills data scientists should have, starting with machine learning, a complex concept which Mr. Dhar explains in a particularly simple way.

“Most of us are trained to believe theory must originate in the human mind based on prior theory, with data then gathered to demonstrate the validity of the theory.  Machine learning turns this process around. Given a large trove of data, the computer taunts us by saying, If only you knew what question to ask me, I would give you some very interesting answers based on the data. Such a capability is powerful since we often do not know what question to ask. . .”

“Suitably designed machine learning algorithms help find such patterns for us.  To be useful both practically and scientifically, the patterns must be predictive. The  emphasis on predictability typically favors Occam’s razor, or succinctness, since simpler models are more likely to hold up on future observations than more complex ones, all else being equal. . .”

Data scientists should also have good computer science skills–including data structures, algorithms, systems and scripting languages–as well as a good understanding of correlation, causation and related concepts which are central to modeling exercises involving data.

“The final skill set is the least standardized and somewhat elusive and to some extent a craft but also a key differentiator to be an effective data scientist – the ability to formulate problems in a way that results in effective solutions. . . formulation expertise involves the ability to see commonalities across very different problems . . .”

Like computing, one of the most exciting part of data science is that it can be applied to many domains of knowledge. But doing so effectively requires domain expertise to identify the important problems to solve in a given area, the kinds of questions we should be asking and the kinds of answers we should be looking for, as well as how to best present whatever insights are discovered so they can be understood by domain practitioners in their own terms. Garbage-in, garbage-out, a phrase I often heard in the early days of computing, is just as applicable to data science today.

Physics, chemistry, biology and other natural science disciplines have long been practicing their own version of data science. In physics, for example, “a theory is expected to be complete in the sense a relationship among certain variables is intended to explain the phenomenon completely, with no exceptions. . . In such domains, the explanatory and predictive models are synonymous.”

But given our newfound ability to gather valuable data on almost any topic, prediction can now apply to softer disciplines like the health and social sciences. Mr. Dhar points out that while these fields generally lack solid theories, “large amounts of data can result in accurate predictive models, even though no causal insights are immediately apparent. As long as their prediction errors are small, they could still point us in the right direction for theory development.”

Finally, beyond access to the appropriate skills, are there cultural and management implications in embracing data science in the business world?

“Besides recognizing and nurturing the appropriate skill sets, it requires a shift in managers’ mind-sets toward data-driven decision making to replace or augment intuition and past practices. A famous quote by 20th-century American statistician W. Edwards Demming – In God we trust, everyone else please bring data – has come to characterize the new orientation, from intuition-based decision making to fact-based decision making. . . It is suddenly possible to test many of their established intuitions, experiment cheaply and accurately, and base decisions on data. This opportunity requires a fundamental shift in organizational culture, one seen in organizations that have embraced the emerging world of data for decision making.”

Irving Wladawsky-Berger is a former vice-president of technical strategy and innovation at IBM. He is a strategic advisor to Citigroup and is a regular contributor to CIO Journal.

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28 October 1998

WASHINGTON, DC – According to a Bureau Of Labor Statistics report released Tuesday, the number of fairy princesses in the U.S. now stands at an all-time low.

“Just two generations ago, nearly every girl in America aspired to be a fairy princess when she grew up,” BLS director Katharine Abraham said. “Today, a majority of little girls will tell you they dream of entering the professional ranks and becoming doctors, lawyers, scientists and architects. The effect this has had on the field of fairy princessing has been nothing short of devastating.”

The BLS study found that there are fewer than 8,500 registered fairy princesses in the U.S., down from 350,000 in 1955.

The report has sparked deep concern among members of the fairy-princess community, who fear that future generations will not carry on their trade.

“Today’s little girls want to perform icky surgery or go to court and argue before mean old Mr. Judge,” said Princess Merrie Flowershower, butterfly-winged ruler of the Kingdom of Pussywillow. “In 10 years, who will there be to pick talking daisies in the enchanted meadow or ride in the clouds on the magic flying pony Runnymede?”

“I am too dainty and pretty to represent clients in protracted civil suits in federal court,” said Princess Zephyr, who lives in the Kingdom of Fluffy Clouds. “Why would any girl want to do that when she could live in Cumulus Castle and enjoy a sunbeam bath from her best friend Mr. Sun?”

In an attempt to generate interest in fairy princessing among young girls, the American Association of Fairy Princesses is launching an aggressive $55 million promotional campaign. The publicity blitz will include billboards, posters, and TV and radio spots, as well as recruitment tables at job fairs across the U.S.

“We realize that this is not the sort of problem we can wave a magic wand at and make disappear,” Princess Polly Rainbow Sprinkle said. “Believe me, we’ve tried. The fact is, we’ve been fighting some deeply rooted misconceptions. For example, a lot of little girls think that all fairy princesses wear pink daisy petals for clothes. The reality is, many of us wear little gowns of gossamer, with tiaras made of beads of dew.”

“The fairy-princess field is an extremely varied and rewarding one,” AAFP director Princess Moondancer said. “As a fairy princess, you’ll have the opportunity to do everything from sprinkling pixie dust on an enchanted apricot glade to undoing the spell of an evil queen and turning a toad back into a handsome prince. What other job can offer those kinds of satisfying challenges on a daily basis? Being a magical fairy princess is a great way for girls to really let their full potential shine through.”

But despite such arguments, little girls show little interest in the once-thriving fairy-princess field.

“When I grow up, I want to be a U.N. interpreter,” said 7-year-old Ashley Pfeiffer of Lodi, NJ. “Fairy princesses are stupid.”

“I got a Princess Prettypetals make-up kit for my birthday, and I hate it,” said Caitlin Muller, 9, of Columbus, GA. “Everything was pink, and it smelled like stinky perfume. I’d rather play with my Invisible Woman anatomy doll. You can actually see her entire digestive tract and circulatory system.”

Fairy princessing is not the only field to fall on hard times in recent years. According to the BLS report, occupations such as swan queen, enchanted ballerina, good witch and beauty-pageant winner have all experienced sharp declines in popularity, as well.

“One thing is for certain,” Princess Moondancer said. “If America’s girls continue to ignore the fairy-princess profession, very few of us will be living happily ever after.”

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Eldon Schmidt

For eight years I have been the leading supplier of hybrid seed corn in Winneshiek County, and the reason is clear: My seed is pure!

I have come to assume my dominant position in this farm community due to the high quality and timely delivery of my seed. Come to Schmidt Feed & Farm Supply, conveniently located in Kendallville just over the bridge, and you will leave smiling and satisfied in every way, if not utterly amazed at the performance. You must have my seed!

Use my select seed, and your crop will show resistance to blight and drought and be less susceptible to strain stalk diseases. If you do not believe me, I will take you to my farm and show you the potency of my seed. Strong, turgid, fattening plants shoot up through the ground in the torrid Iowa sun.

Grab the thick base of the stalk in your hand and feel that it is alive and growing larger by the minute. Sweat will shine on your face as you ride my massive tractor around the grounds of my expansive farm.

I will smile down at you as you kneel and gently run your hands through the moist patch of dense growth at my most precious, secret spot—the plot of land where I personally test each and every variety of seed corn that I sell.

Ask me for my seed, and the day you have longed for, the day you have dreamed about, will soon arrive: When the corn is large and ripe for the taking, you can place your lips around the heavy cob, savoring the texture, the smell and, finally, the taste as you bite gently and your mouth is filled with sweet juice.

You will then thank me, thank me passionately. For I will have provided you with top-quality farm supplies at a reasonable price! We’re just a block from Hill’s Veterinary Clinic and the Kendallville Credit Union, so enjoy the convenience of just one trip to town!

For eight years, people have traveled miles for my potent seed, fighting for a place in line. I invite women and men alike to share in my superior seed, but in this day and age, I must be careful. If there is someone who is not fit to carry my seed and bring it to term, whether it be because of a broken wagon or a dry well, I will not waste my seed on them. My seed is select!

Come to Schmidt’s Feed & Farm Supply and experience it for yourself.

My oldest children rush about the store to fulfill my orders while I take customers to the back storeroom one by one. There I show them my burlap sacks, heavy and bulging with premium seed renowned for its fertility.

Even if you’ve heard the stories, you’ll still be astounded when I pour my seed out into your hands. My seed corn is guaranteed to be free of insects and rodents and is carefully tested for bacteria, fungus and spore growth.

Bill Edwards of Cloverleaf Hy-Bred Seed often comes to scout out my store. He walks by silently, with his hands in his overall pockets, sucking on a stalk of wheat. I lock eyes with him, and the hair under his John Deere cap bristles, but I do not even flinch.

I have marked my territory—it is all of Winneshiek County—and I will continue to bury my robust seed deep in the land until I am no longer physically able.

Hear me well, good people—mine is the superior seed!

Schmidt Feed & Farm Supply is located two blocks west of the Rhineholdt Dairy on Schoepke Road, just five minutes from the Highway 11 exit.

We’re open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

We also carry heavy equipment, livestock, medicinal supplies and much, much more, so come on down and check out the store! You’ll be glad you did.

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Outside a shopping mall in Taiyuan, north China’s Shanxi province, a giant sculpture of a chicken that looks like US president-elect Donald Trump has been erected.

With its tiny wings parroting Mr Trump’s distinctive hand gestures, replicas of the bird are also available on the Chinese shopping site Taobao, priced at around 12,000 yuan (S$2,504) for a 10-metre version.

Mr Trump has captured the Chinese imagination, and riled its authorities, with his threats to talk turkey about massive tariffs on Chinese exports.

With his crowing tweets on Twitter, including attacks on China’s foreign and economic policy, it is no surprise that China wants to flip the strutting American leader the bird.

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President Barack Obama says he could have been re-elected for a third term and that the nation still largely embraces his political vision despite last month’s election of Donald Trump to succeed him.

The US leader’s remarks were made in an interview posted on the podcast The Axe Files, produced by CNN and the University of Chicago.

Obama, who winds up his second and final term in office in just over three weeks, said he believes the American public still supports his progressive vision, despite having voted for Trump – his political opposite.

He was proud of the way the progress made in the two terms of his presidency, thanks to the “spirit of America,” especially evident in the younger generation.

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