Thursday, April 17, 2014

New lease of life

Blogging again albeit under much different circumstances.

So check out which deals with arbitration cases, issues and news in Singapore and the UK (as well as the region).

However, I am going to retool this blog to deal with very brief quick thoughts on recent and interesting cases. These will not be full blown summaries or legal analysis, but will (hopefully)  form the basis for more in-depth posts on the work blog. The key aim is to get something out more frequently and to deal with issues that do not warrant being put up on the work blog.


Tuesday, September 07, 2010

It has become fairly evident that this particular blog has faded away.

The reason is unfortunately quite simple. It is 11 pm and I am still in the office with no particular end in sight. My life revolves entirely of the business of law and the only things that would motivate me sufficiently to write about are legal issues that I am involved in.

That, however, is a big no no.

Since I am massively skeptical that anyone is about to want to read about my personal life, I fear this will have to serve as my final post.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mucking about with Epistemology

I really should be focusing on my revisions but this letter caught my eye for engaging in one of the most sleight of hand use of equivocation I've seen in some time. And for having drawn the wrong conclusions but I'm sure she would say the same about me.

Sex education: Letter writer was not neutral
by Yeo Su' An (Ms)
Oh wow, that's utterly shocking. But more problematically, she's redefining the meaning of neutral as we understand it. And ironically, she uses the sort of moral relativism that she accuses the letter writer of engaging in when in reality there's a real difference between descriptive moral relativism and prescriptive moral relativism.

I REFER Mr Ho Chi Sam's letter, 'Polycentric approach to sex education'. He argues that 'various institutions and organisations should not teach sex education and pass their brand of education as universal, but be upfront about their subjectivity'. He seems to be implicitly adopting a relativistic framework which posits that all viewpoints are subjective, and to make a claim to correctness and objectivity is undemocratic and unacceptable in a diverse society. However, this framework is arguably unsustainable as, if all viewpoints are inherently subjective, this necessarily includes the very perspective on sex education which he is putting forth. The very fact that he is arguing for polycentric sex education demonstrates that he believes that encouraging youth to have safe sex is normatively better than encouraging abstinence. It thus follows that he himself is not neutral, but instead is taking a position along the moral framework.

In one sense, the moral relativist viewpoint is self-defeating as the writer rightly points out BUT the problem is that descriptive moral relativism is inherently true i.e. all norms are subjectively valid to the adherents of that particular ethos. Making a claim for universalism is actually hard when people don't buy into your subjective norms. There's a reason for the diversity of opinion and political views after all, no one thinks that their views are wrong for that reason.

The problem comes after that part about descriptive moral relativism i.e. what next? One could go from there to prescriptive moral relativism i.e. their ways are not ours, we may not agree with what they believe but there are no more wrong than we are right hence we do nothing. The other way would be to say, fine, but if we're all going to live together, what system do we use to get along with one another. In other words, how do we best "respect" (or at least tolerate) differing worldviews while permitting each their subjectively normative worldview?

The problem with the writer's critique is that it ascribes neutrality (a position) with affirmation which is frankly a little disingenuous because she's trying to draw more of a normative value from the original writer's support of polycentric sex-education than is actually warranted. To claim that "[t]he very fact that he is arguing for polycentric sex education demonstrates that he believes that encouraging youth to have safe sex is normatively better than encouraging abstinence" is accordingly fallacious because a) abstinence is part of a comprehensive sex education policy and b) his "belief" that it is normatively better may have more to do with a normative belief that one should be exposed to as many viewpoints as it may be that abstinence only policies don't actually work.

This point is critical as it is not merely theoretical but has real practical implications. By hiding behind the veil of plurality and neutrality, Mr Ho conveniently sidesteps the controversial nature of the polycentric sex education he advocates. Such 'diversity' sex education, as conducted in schools in Britain and the United States begins even at the primary school level, covering topics such as the use of contraceptives and how to engage in safe sex, diverse types of sex including heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual, and alternative family structures such as cohabitation and same-sex partnerships. The controversial nature of such polycentric sex education is underscored by the heated nature of the recent debates in California, about the approach to be adopted with regard to the content of sex education concerning homosexual family structures. Strong opinions on both sides of the debate demonstrate that it is illusory to speak as if a consensus exists and polycentric sex education is a settled, widely accepted issue.

Oh gee...where have I heard that before? Just click on the tag below to see the same arguments brought up (and dealt with) before.

But separately, maybe it might be the editing but this whole paragraph simply does not make sense even from the internal logic of the writer? One could easily make the argument that it is precisely because it is controversial that one should adopt a comprehensive sex education policy. It's a fact that such family structures exist and it's a fact that some of these structures are no worse (if not actually better) than your so-called traditional family structure.

To understand how this paragraph is a fallacious appeal to emotions, just change the terms to mixed-race couples and you could have a paragraph emerging from the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.

Furthermore, let's be clear about the issue here. We COULD simply be taking about a comprehensive sex education policy focusing not on family structures but on safer sex including the risks involved in other sexual activities not limited to vaginal intercourse.

Lastly, the "debate" is not settled in the US because of the influence of the conservative religious right whose opposition is based on their notion of morality. They are entitled to their moral views, unfortunately, their moral views lead to real harm. The experts i.e. the medical people actually working in the field and doing research have consistently maintained that abstinence-only policies do not work.

Finally, Mr Ho argues that 'our youth should be exposed to this range of sex education, so they can make an informed decision and follow which material they deem to best suit themselves'. With respect, this argument rests on the flawed assumption that children and youth are rational, wise and ever judicious in their decision-making. As philosopher Herbert Hart pointed out in his critique of John Stuart Mill, this assumption cannot stand when viewed in the light of factual reality: Children and youth do not possess relatively stable wants and desires, and are impressionable and open to experimentation. Contrary to Mr Ho's assertion, making children aware of the health risks of promiscuous sex is no mere 'scare fest' to be peremptorily dismissed: It is an objective fact that teenagers who engage in promiscuous sex are at a much higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases than teenagers who abstain from sex until marriage. It follows that it would harm, not help, children to hide such scientific realities from them.

Wasn't it Dawkin's who said religious labeling (and possibility education) was akin to child abuse? That's the danger of making this argument, because it gives carte blanc to the people in charge that they are entitled to indocrinate those who simply do not know better. Secondly, gross overgeneralisation much? It's one thing to expose children to objectively erroneous facts (Intelligent Design/Creationism as a scientific theory), another to expose them to different value systems. Recall descriptive moral relativism, unless you can demonstrate that an abstinence-only education is objectively better (by whatever criteria you may choose), then it becomes another viewpoint but now we're pushing it as the numero uno supremo value for problematic reasons.

I think it is precisely for this reason that the writer tries of course to talk about "scientific realities" and the fact she mentions is not wrong, ceteris peribus. The more important point is whether a) abstinence-only education actually reduces sexual promiscuity and b) whether it reduces STDs and unwanted pregnancies. And the answer is simply no, and no, no, no.


Monday, September 08, 2008

Academic Mentions

With my penchant for word play on ambiguous meanings (blame it on law school), here's a quick update for the one person who might still be reading this blog.

1. This blog has been mentioned in the following academic paper, "Is the Singapore Socio-Political Blogosphere a Hambermasian Public Sphere?". But unfortunately (or fortunately), because I did not comment on the particular issue that author was concerned about, all I got was a mention on the list of 51 blogs he used.

2. I'm in the midst of my Practical Legal Course (PLC) right now, which is one of the two requirements before I get called to the bar. Or as I am more fond of putting it, get inducted into the world of soulsuckers. The other part involves pupilage i.e. pupiling with a pupil-master. So I currently occupy the position of lackey. Come next May, I will get promoted to minion. And with time, I will rise to the august position of Minion of Darkness. To preempt any questions, I'm doing my pupilage at "a small sole proprietor". For those who are aware of where I'm pupiling, yes I am aware that it is highly misleading, but that's how I describe it right now.

3. My Boss has very graciously allowed me to be co-author for a paper I was assisting him on. So I now have a publication to "my" name. (I'm well aware that I'm riding on his coat-tails but I did quite some work on the paper. And technically I have published some years back but that was honestly shite. I blame it on my youth.).

I'm not entirely certain how long I'll keep up blogging. I can honestly say that this is the first time I have been free since graduation/starting work. And the stupidity in the press seems to have died down somewhat so there's not much material to get riled up about and fisk.

I might be retooling this blog to focus on legal journalism instead. I have personally found that the quality of legal reporting in the local press has ranged from excellent (BT and ST's coverage of the legal issues in en-bloc sales are pretty good) to abysmal (totally messing up the Jonathan Lock case reporting. I mean if a whole bunch of lawyers and law students cannot understand your article despite specialist knowledge, something is seriously wrong. And they also messed up reporting of the Philippines Marcos bank account case. Admittedly that was really complicated).

It's not apparent to the public but our Court of Appeal has made some rather big shifts in the law but it has been piecemeal. I appreciate that we're not as politicised as the US Supreme Court BUT that's not to say that the tenor of the decisions has remained still since Chan CJ took over and Phang JA got allevated to the Court of Appeal. It's a very frighteningly intellectual and brilliant bench (and maybe somewhat academic but.......yeah....) now, and it shows in their decisions.

But it's really all in the pipelines right now. There's a lull in the course which will not last. And work always beckons round the corner.


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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Law ruins your life

Another day, another newspaper headline that automatically kicks in a legal response rather than anything else.

So our beloved tabloid (layout) The New Paper has as their headlines something about how a mother had changed (presumably unilaterally) her daughter's, age 9, surname to her own from her husband. The upset father is now suing all and sundry including the school and MOE. Now mind you, I have not read this report so the following analysis might be entirely wrong but I figure it shouldn't be too difficult to cover most conceivable (and probable) bases so it should be fairly accurate. In fact, the set of facts that shall be covered in the case below is so much more clearcut than the one listed in TNP that if that hadn't, there is nearly no possibility of there being a different outcome this time round.

As an aside, the reason law ruins your life is not only do you view this as a legal issue but specifically through the prism of family law (there are some rather fascinating constitutional issues about surnames but that tends to be in Japan and South Korea for various cultural reasons) as opposed to simply being a human-interest story.

The case that we are primarily interested in is a decade old case of L v. L, [1997] 1 SLR 222 (don't worry about the citation it's for the lawyers who can actually be bothered and have the access to look up the case). The proposition/legal rule that can be derived from this case is that a parent cannot unilaterally change the surname of the child i.e. without the consent of the other parent. This is because for various reasons, the change of a surname is held to be a "serious matter", as serious and important as taking the child out of Singapore for more than a month without the consent of the other parent (parental kidnapping). Anyway, the facts of the case were that the parents were divorced, the mother had sole custody and decided to change the surname of her daughter to the man she was about to marry. The father claimed that this act was unlawful and wanted a reversal of the change to be mandated by the court. Without g0ing into the decision of the Family Court and the High Court, the important part is that the Court of Appeal agreed, held that this was actually actionable and that a remedy would be granted.

Two thing of significance: 1. the mother actually had sole custody, which technically means she has sole authority (this has been strongly militated by judicial decisions) and there was absolutely no statutory prohibition against sole guardian changing name of the charge/ward. 2. the court found that the father was a caring father who was interested and concerned as to his child's well-being.

The second point is of relevance because of this later case of Khor Bee Imm v. Wong Tee Kee, [2002] 1 SLR 101 which also involved mother unilaterally changing surname of child, except that in this case, there was no court order for the reversal of the change. The reason simply was that it was not in the best interest of the child in this case to change his surname back. The father in this case was not as intimately involved nor as concerned with the well-being of the child. Furthermore, the child was not a young girl but a young man of 17 who had been with the changed surname for a good number of years, was known as such, had no desire to change it back, and comfortable with it. Furthermore he told he judge that he had no relationship with the biological father seeking the reversal.

So to iterate, you need the other parent's consent or you need a fairly exceptional set of facts and time to create some form of quasi-estoppel i.e. you are prevented from essentially going back on your "consent" to the surname change. It is quasi because legal estoppel can actually be enforced i.e. whereas this is merely a consideration that the judge will probably take into account.

And Now You Know (go google it). Peace

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

So Long and Thanks for all the fish

It is with quite some regret that I have decided this will be my last post in the foreseeable future if not forever. The reason simply is that time moved on and things happened and for various reasons, I neither have the inclination nor the reasons to blog.

I don't regret the stuff that I have written and in today's world, what I have written cannot be deleted and can always be retrieved. I at best regretted my early support for the 2nd Iraq War and that I never really made a retraction. And my early stupidity on climate change, having adopted a "skeptical" view towards anthropic warming.

But anyway, peace ja?

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

ST Letter Rejected (Thankfully?)

Well, to be fair I didn't expect the letter to be accepted and it (the spoof) probably wouldn't have made sense if one did not actually bother to go dig out the letter to which it was responding to.

Further, while I appreciate the poor journalist/editor has to plough through all of the letters that he/she receives daily and that a standard-form response is the most efficient way of doing so, nonetheless, the following brought an ironic smile to my face.

If your letter relates to a matter under the purview of a government department, you may want to visit for a list of officials to contact.
After all my letter was meant to be extreme and over-the-top and the thought that it be submitted to a public official and possibly taken seriously sends chills down my spine. After all I really don't see the sentiments expressed being too far removed from what the original letter writer was expressing.

Anyway for anyone wanting a more exhaustive debunking of Mr Nelson Quah's letter, go check this out. It's yummy civil libertarianism without all the annoying legal technicalities and jargon that would have bogged my analysis down!

Oh and it's a good blog too.