Monday, February 28, 2005

Remarks at NBER Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce

Here it it.. Larry Summer's supposedly sexist speech. Read it and decide for yourself whether it warrants the hysteria (and the female biologist gasping that she has never been so offended in her life)

Tensions drive out Dutch

This has a very disturbing analogy to ghettosation, where the middle class leave a neighbourhood once they get the impression it is going south with undesirable elements. This is, of course, a self fulfilling prophecy where the trickle eventually becomes a flood and you have the creation of a new ghetto with the immigrants (generally) taking over the place.

This is not necessarily a bad thing theoratically if one takes a longer term view because it eventually corrects itself (see gentrification, Soho being a particular good example) but there are very distinct problems with such a scenario. Most obviously, alot of the ills you hear about ghettos do come through just because. Most of them are looked down upon and under privilleged (hence the middle class disappearance) and this becomes a vicious spiral when the neighbourhood goes 'bad'.

It's a chicken and egg thing. You do get an insular society/culture that doesn't mix much and this in turn makes the others less trusting or willing to mix with them and so on and so forth. The area does get poorer and depressed simply because the people who move there tend to be poor and underskilled. And unless the government steps in to do something about it it is unlikely things will change, see Britian and France. But at the same time, helping the 'immigrants' is a politically suicidal move, feeding fears that these immigrants are useless and feed from the 'real' taxpayers (both assertions not true in the US and generally so in Europe)

But what's truely disturbing about this is that it's affecting a nation and not a particular region. The problem doesn't seem very bad right now but the impression that people get could fuel the rise of right wing anti-immigrant extremist parties (remember that Pim guy?).

But at the end of the day, this is a case study of tolerance growing into intolerance and is something we ought to be mindful of. I will readily admit, that it lends great credence that somethings should be heavily censored i.e. religion and race so we don't see a return to the racial tensions of the 1960s. But I think we need to be careful before we draw such a broad proposition. Nations like France and Germany and even Britian face such similar pressures despite their varying attitutes towards discussions or race and religion (including hate speech and crime). And the US is a fine example of how rabid speeches on race and religion does not necessarily cause riots in the street (see how far L.A. has come since the Rodney King incident).

On a last parting note. In the finals of the NUS Challenge Shield, 10 young but very bright and mature JC debaters had to debate on race. You could tell they had never given it any thought. Good thing or bad will be up for history to decide.


Sunday, February 27, 2005

BBC NEWS | Health | Global tobacco treaty takes force

*Expletive* did I manage not to hear or read anything about this till now?!!

BBC calls it Kyoto with teeth but I personally have my doubts. Considering the measures that Singapore has already taken (which makes up most of the treaty's proposals), we haven't seen the kind of drastic reduction in smoking as most proponents has hoped.

In at least one respect, upping the prices may have had a substantive negative effect. If you were in NS about the same time as me, you might remember the price hike somewhere near the end of 2003 (and the accompanying curses of the smokers in camp). What happened was that many of them switched to cheaper cigarettes which as far as I'm aware, a higher tar/poison content. What was worse was some of them started rolling their own cigarettes and simply buying their own tobacco. The lack of filters would substantially increase the amount of tobacco smoke (and hence Carbon Dioxide, Monoxide and Smoke Particles amongst other nasty things) in the smoker's lungs.

Well here's to a smoke free society and hopefully a corresponding lowering of tobacco related deaths (4.1% of annual deaths)


Friday, February 25, 2005

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Japan women's singular contentment


After the concept of marriage for love being the convention, might we actually see a return to the previous concept as marriage as an economic convenience?

Thursday, February 24, 2005

BBC NEWS | Americas | US military's gay policy 'costly'

*Contrast and compare this to our 302 policy*

Not certain if our policy is all that much better really. I personally have had homosexual friends who refused to out themselves for entirely pragmatic reasons.

They were the ones who did not want to jepodise their scholarship and work options/futures (*sorry pun not intended*) or who wanted to serve their nation in another capacity than a "despised gay clerk*

But to be entirely honest, I'm not certain whether we as a society (or hell, army unit) would be matured and tolerant enough to accept a homosexual in our midst. A policy that outs them but still places them in a normal military unit MIGHT be putting them at risk of some of the freaking homophobes that we have had as bunkmates.

But my policy has always been let them try and we'll put the smackdown on them!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Be Fruitful & Multiply

*Insane laughter and rolling about on the floor*

Check out his math! You can fit four people into a square yard. Since the earth is so huge, you could fit 6.4 billion people into houston! *more insane laughter*

I'm so going to get flamed for this but I think it'll be worth it...Can you imagine a debate between this guy and your radical green extremist. "There's enough space with my fuzzy math logic" met with a reply of "no there isn't wiht my equally fuzzy math logic" ad infinitum ad nuseam

*Religion and Public Policy*

Dear Sir,

Religion and the expounding of religious views have always been seen as being a touchy if not a taboo subject in Singapore. The existence of a pluralistic and multi-racial and religious society means that we have to take extra precautions where and when religious views is to be seen as legitimate and to be heeded. Indeed, the Straits Times Editorial has previously come down strongly on the side of the absence of religion in the making of public policy and that is very commendable.

Whether religious views should be sought after and listened to and whether policies ought to be implemented on that basis are two separate questions and issues. The first issue acknowledges that all views have an intrinsic right to be heard. Society is made all the richer and progress is achieved through the free exchange of diverse ideas. However, it has to be stressed that religious views are merely one of the moral or principled views that one can adopt. After all, a person without any religious allegiances can still be a moral person holding valid principled views. So as such, any calls on the basis of religiosity has no greater claim than another does on the basis of principles or rights. The second issue questions whether there should be an automatic link between the canvassing of views and its acceptance as a basis for sound policy making. It is a realisation that religious or moral views can only go so far as grounds for public policy considering the society and nation that we are in.

Given that there are a plurality and plethora of (valid) views (moral, social or religious), it would be naïve if not hubris for any group to claim a monopoly of what the truth were. Or similarly to even be able to claim to speak for the other groups, much less the impossibility of claiming to speak for all members of its own congregation. Even if and where society and religions do form a consensus on what is right and wrong, again as the adage goes, the devil is in the details: the same ‘moral’ principle can lead to two opposing results. A bald proclamation that killing (murder) is wrong, nevertheless, creates conflicting opinions with regards to issues of capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia and stem cell research. Each side will proclaim it has values or morality on its side. So how does one choose between them?

Principles are by nature subjective and the choice between them entirely a matter of personal preference. A policy based entirely upon such subjectivity will automatically make it unpalatable to those opposing it on another (valid) moral principle. But since policies needs still be made, the only sensible and legitimate approach would be to take the widest view possible and accommodate the greatest good for the greatest numbers. Hence a casino policy cannot simply stand on whether my personal values claim it good (freedom of choice) or bad (social repercussions), but will have to be calculated according to its benefits and detriments or even what does less harm. Beyond that, it becomes a mere assertion of faith for either side.

At the end of the day, religious views should be sought when making public policy. But that does not mean those views make good public policy.

Saturday, February 19, 2005


Googgly eyed... Woke up with an acute feeling of lack of sleep and a general sense that life was about to throw me a number of screwballs on this day.

Didn't take too long for me to find out what they were. So your friendly Tournament Head of Logistics, who thinks that the most strenous aspect of his day was to clear up the Moot Court suddenly finds himself adjudicating not one, or two but three f'reaking semi finals and BOTH finals...


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

BBC NEWS | Europe | EU leads Kyoto 'carbon revolution'


If the BBC were a little more honest about it, they would have included the fact that it was the EU who first opposed any form of carbon trading which was one of the many reasons the US had for not signing on.

It wasn't when it actually looked like it had a chance of being passed when the EU business went...hang on now, if we actually try to comply with the cuts in carbon dioxide emission, we'll soon go out of business. That was when finally the governments realised that hey maybe market based mechanisms can be used to solve environmental problems.


But anyway, before anyone rest on their laurels, Kyoto by it self won't work! Even if there were absolute compliance, it's projected to cut something like 0.1 degree calcius off anything round a 2.0 degree rise in global temperature. But before you throw yourself off the highest floor of the Dunton, America is already thinking of implementing a CO2 version of their SpO2 emission trading scheme. Plus, let's face it, wealth has and will always be the best way of ensuring environmental health. People can actually think past their bellies and have the resources to do something about it.


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

ATLA Press Room: McDonald's Scalding Coffee Case

The McDonald's scalding coffee case has always been heralded as an example of the over litigous society that America is. BUT click on the link above to discover why the Big M was held liable.

1) The coffee wasn't simply hot but a good 35 - 40 degree farenhite above normal (hot) house coffee. So hot that it is sufficient (was sufficient) to cause 3rd degree burns. Basically burns so bad that it actually destroys your nerve tissue

2) MacDonald's was aware of this problem and had been so aware for quite sometime (Over 700 claims settled between 1982-1992), the people who were aware of it included their quality assurance manager who told them that the temperature was unfit for human consumption because it was too hot.

3) MacDonald's "warning" was simply a reminder and plainly insufficient in the ordinary course of nature

4) They knew the extra hazardous effects of their coffee because most ppl bought it not to drink in their restaurants but in their cars.


Saturday, February 12, 2005

BBC NEWS | South Asia | Commonwealth raps Pakistan leader

*Snort* fat lot of help that will do. At least ASEAN is being honest when it says it sticks to its policy of non-interfence in one another's domestic issues.

Although, surprisingly, Malaysia and Thailand have expressed the greatest displeasure at Myanmar's lack of democratic progress. Which is a very good sign, I think...if it weren't for their domestic developments, particular Thaksin's Thailand.

Okay, rambling...focus, back to ASEAN and Myanmar. I think it's really very sad when a decade plus ago, ASEAN admitted Myanmar on the premise that constructive engagement (as opposed to EU's ecomomic boycott and diplomatic isolation) would be best in opening up Myanmar. Fast forward to today and Aung San Suu Kyi is still (back) in prison, the most reformist member of the Military Junta, the ex No. 4 guy has been oustered and gee....the Democratic Forum recently organised was about as useful as a KKK meeting on equality of races...

Friday, February 04, 2005

*A New Look*

Self explainatory really. Figured it was time to put away the old monochromatic blue scheme.

Anyway, maybe I can fool some of those 5s and they're gone blog eyeballers to stick around...I mean, talk about premature evaluation...=P

BBC NEWS | Americas | US teens 'reject' key freedoms

An interesting discrepency in terms of the generation gap. Assuming that students (high school) and teachers are representative of their generations, then the difference in terms of support for the publication of unpopular views is pretty stark, 83% v 97%.

My preferred theory right now is that the protrayal of civil rights in larger society have been rather different. Without living through whether actively or vicariously, the civil rights movement or the Rodney King era, and having in your life time simply the menace of 9/11, might put a pall on civil liberties in the context of national security.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Letter to ST

*On the Morality of Legalisation and Casinos*

Dear Sir,

I read with some concern the letter by Jiang Ke-Yue, “Casino critics have reason to be cynical” and particularly the manner in which he has simply polarised the debate into one that splits the pro-casino into the camp of ‘money’ and the anti-casino ostensibly into the camp of ‘values’.

Harm reduction has always been at the heart of any legalisation debate. Denial of that is simply willful. Legalisation allows for regulation, licensing and taxation, the opposite of which is simply the abuses prevalent in the black market. The reason why prostitution is legal in Singapore is because we understand the dangers and repercussions of making it illegal and driving it underground. Amongst which is the ability to ensure the health and safety of the sex workers and their customers, while at the same time, depriving the Criminal Syndicates a source of revenue to further their nefarious ends. It is the same story with alcohol as the lessons of Prohibition have shown.

Mr. Jiang misses the point about censorship liberalisation in that despite the entire cry about how it would lead to moral degenerate behavior and the eventual downfall of Singapore society, time has proven them wrong. Our society is more mature and resilient than many of these naysayers would have us believe. Their arguments have been at best repetitive and at worst, simply patronising.

More fundamentally, the reasons for which they have claimed the moral high ground are not just disturbing but wrong. Time and again, they have negated the fundamental right of a person to choose, as he would in the pursuit of his own happiness. Instead they would presume that for us. It presumes that the average Singaporean is incapable of making a rational choice. It presumes that he is incapable of exercising reasonable self-control. But for the vulnerable amongst us, their policy, by fixating upon the harms of the proposed casino has again conveniently neglected that their problem is merely the tip of the gambling iceberg that we already have. Furthermore, they would presume that in the event that the casino is instituted nothing more would be done and our society would simply neglect those with such problems. How then, when their policy will hurt more people and families can they claim it to be moral?

More needs to be done, whether with a separate department to treat gambling addiction or a general education program. But with its benefits, a casino can be part of the solution. It’s really time to move on beyond the “Casino is Bad” assumption and focus on how best we can manage the situation instead

Yours faithfully,
Shaun Lee Wei Han

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

*New Link Up*

Check out Uncle Song's blog: Ramblings of a Hokkein Beng/Debating Champ...=P

BBC NEWS | Africa | Sudan atrocities strain US relations

*Go figure*

US says what's happening in Sudan is genocide (which theoratically obliges them to intervene to stop the massacre) and is calling for another ad-hoc tribunal to deal with the crimes.

The UN on the other hand says there's sufficient evidence of crimes against humanity but stop short of calling it genocide, instead they figure to use the ICC to prosecute individuals instead (although how they figure ever to get them into the court without some form of intervention is beyond me)