Saturday, April 30, 2005

TODAYonline - Oasis of Peace at NUS

*Rolls eyes*...nearly as bad as that particular Ridge article. I mean talk about one-sided with very spurious argumentation and causal linkages. He doesn't go anyway near to doing justice to what is a very complex problem/issue. IT'S NOT AS SIMPLE AS THE CREATION OF A PALESTINIAN STATE AND THE RECOGNITION OF JERUSALEM AS AN INTERNATIONAL CITY.

If it were, the Oslo and Dayton Peace Accords would have worked and he wouldn't have to write this article. There already is a Palestinian state (we'll talk about its viability later). Jerusalem was meant to have been split. So where are the fault lines?

1. Territory: Basically how far should Israel pull back from the territory it has annexed. In particular how much of the West Bank and Gaza Strip should be relinquished back to the Palestinians. While arguably Sharon has taken the unprecedented step of a unilateral pull-out from the Gaza Strip, there is quite a bit of truth that in return he will strengthen the grip on the remaining territories.

Regardless, Israel has shown a willingness to give up land for peace, see peace treaties with Egypt and Syria (Golan Heights). So, I would say that territory is really a big issue except in the sense of Israel domestic politics.

2. Right of Return: NOW this is the clincher. Israel cannot allow unlimited right of return of Palestinian refugees (who are mostly concentrated on the borders of Syria and Lebanon). Doing so will drastically alter the nature of the ethnic balance in Israel. The argument is that Israel will be swamped with refugees, the Jews become a minority and Israel ceases to exist. This is a real problem that cannot be brushed aside, sort of like Singapore's previous merger and exit from Malaysia.

So the real compromise would be a limited right of return that would be under Israeli terms but would be fair to the Palestinians. Perhaps even compensation for land annexed. This was the gist of the Saudi-backed plan as well as the 'peace accord' trashed out by non-governmental (and some opposition members) officials in Geneva about a year back.

Okay now to deal with the rest of his 'article'.
1. Ariel Sharon's unilateral pull-back from the Gaza Strip. He's right that this was in response to the Intifada but only in a very very broad sense like consumers money causes manufactured products...there are alot of intermediate linkages that need to be drawn damn it!

Now, there might be a political side to this pull-out as stated above (consolidating control over the rest of the controlled territories). But more than that why did Sharon stare down the very powerful Jewish Settlers Lobby and nearly split his party into two, nearly losing his majority and actually approached Peres to form a coalition government? Not to mention turning from a defence hawk into a peace liberal? He could have continued with his (generally unsuccessful) policy of repression and it would probably have been popular.

Maybe, something that Mr Clement hasn't realised is how the Palestinians are utterly void of anything that approached political and national unity?!! Or maybe Sharon finally realised that expecting the PA to actually be able to enforce a truce on HAMAS was to expect a burning bush to reappear in the middle of both Israel and Palestine and demand an end to the fighting.

This puts the Abbas and the PA on the other foot, such that they actually have to do something now and can no longer sit on their hands and claim it's all Israel's fault. To be fair to them, they are merely inheriting the problems from Yassar Arafat, who unfortunately squandered all his political capital and goodwill, indulging in a good dose of nepotism and cronyism and not doing anything to actually help with the peace process like stepping down when he began to show signs of senility and actually handing power over to his chosen successor.

2. Israel's repression/defence and the Palestinian Intifada. Both precusors and responses. Chicken and egg problem, each side is so locked into the violence that neither side can really back out and each side blaming each other for the respective violence. Mr Clement makes too simplistic a generalisation by claiming it's all the Israeli's fault.

I think it's fair to say that Sharon was only able to get away with what he did (provocation and repression) simply because the peaceniks could not show anything for their efforts. The PA needs to share some of the blame. Not to mention HAMAS, you think they only want the West Bank? First the West Bank then the rest of Israel. Hello?!!!! They still deny the right of Israel to exist! Wow, how DO you negotiate with someone who wants to eradicate you?

Both sides are essentially working under a siege mentality now. So just as the Palestinians are suffering so are the Israelis. Why else is the Wall so popular? It actually stops suicide bombers (from an average of 43 to around 11 per month). Yes it's not sustainable. Yes, it's killing the Palestinians by inches and yes it probably will create more people wanting to kill them. BUT what's the alternative? The pull-back is one. Giving back the Palestinians the ability for economic survival in another. But just as Sharon has stayed the hand of the military so must the PA stay that of HAMAS for there to be the basis of a negotiation for a lasting peace.

Friday, April 29, 2005

*Letter published in Today*

Well, yeah cheer cheer goody yeah and all that but the title they (Today) used is rather odd really.
TITLE: Slamming irrational views chokes freedom of speech
SUBTITLE: Furore over Chua's remarks is more than about evil of racism

Dear Sir,

Mr Chua was my classmate and friend of whom I have known him since 2000. Over the course of the past 5 years, I have never heard him make any overt racist remarks or display any form of racist insensitivity beyond those normal of off-the-cuff remarks and a lot milder than anything you could conceivably hear even in very polite company.

But unfortunately he did a foolish thing. It seems that he posted some of these remarks on a private blog trusting that his close friends would understand he meant no malice because that was not in his nature. Furthermore, he trusted that as a private blog (his homepage was password protected), these comments were personal and not meant to incite any form of violence or racism.

Therein lies the crux of this issue, should not a person be allowed to speak, think or write, as he feels as a private individual in a private capacity in a private space and not attract sanction? As a firm believer in the freedom of speech, I hold with what Voltaire said, "I may disagree with you, but I will fight for your right to say it." So unless such comments are made in a public space with the intent to rouse hatred and violence, I believe that a person should be allowed to make those comments but in turn the public should be encouraged to debate them.

Similarly, I do disagree with racism on the basis that it is irrational. Nevertheless, that should merely form the basis for an attack on that irrationality and creating a solid debate meant to show the error of those views. Instead what I see are a lot of ad hominem attacks, that while cathartic, do not go towards persuading others of more virulent extremist views that those views are wrong.

But more fundamentally, if we are to go down the line of sanctioning views, even those made in private, on the basis that they are irrational or unpopular, we end up reaffirming and strengthening the already chilling effect that self-censorship has on speech in Singapore. The result will either be an extreme form of political correctness or conversely an extreme form of conservatism, neither of which would be conducive to debate or public policy locally.

At the end of the day, the issue is not simply whether racism is bad, it is much more than that.

Thursday, April 28, 2005 - Bloggers deserve the 'journalist's privilege' - Apr 27, 2005

One of the difficulties of commenting on American law is a little something called the Federal System. What this means is that the states have tremendous powers in deciding what laws shall govern the affairs of its own state. As a result, what is the law under one state may not be similar in another. Hence the hillarity that ensues when American lawyers refer to 'foreign law', they actually generally mean out-of-state law. And also, the shamefulness of what Bush did in the Terri Shiavo affair by attempting to circumvent the authority of the prior 17 court decisions and attempting to force a blank slate on the federal court to force Terri Shiavo to 'live' against her will in a Persistent Vegitative State (PVS).

Aside: Another painful letter from a medical doctor today who seems to have been reading about the Shiavo case from some fundamentalist news source if he even read it at all. Why are doctors basically having an absoute monopoly on the debate on living and dying in Singapore? After all, have we not moved after from medical paternalism and the erronous belief that doctors know best? Should the role of the doctor not be that of serving the patient's best interests? Note serving as opposed to determining.

Anyway, back to the article. It seems that in California, bloggers are subjected to the same legal liabilities as publishers are (note: search engines contrary to popular belief are not publishers and hence are not liable for the content of the sites they archive). So, bloggers can be sued for defamation and dissemination of information like trade secrets amongst other tortable offences. So that is the gist of one of the arguments made, that if bloggers are subject to the same threats, why not grant them equivalant protection under the Constitution for journalist?

Locally, the MDA has said that they would 'request' bloggers to register their site if they delve too much into the arena of politics. Thus far, the authorities have not made any heavy handed attempts to control online speech (barring Sintercom), possibily because of the proliferation of blogs and sites dedicated to too many people writing what they think and feel. So just like a mirco-version of the internet, it's a little too big to comfortably monitor. Now admittedly, I could be wrong and people from MHA or other ministries could be reading our blogs (not mine, unless they have been spoofing their IPs, but um just for the record, I'm willing to be co-opted).

One of the problems of course, is that our notion of fair comment is a lot stricter (a massive understatement) than that of the USA. It's alot closer to the U.K. version but even then, they have much more freedom on what they are allowed to publish without getting hit with a defamation suit. Article 14 of our Constitution gives us the right to the freedom of speech. but note sub-articles a) and b) which are your basic massive qualifiers. So if push comes to shove and a letter comes your way, I honestly doubt if any blogger would be willing to risk legal action rather than delete the offending messages or to take down the blog or simply to register it.

But until that day, keep blogging. Peace.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005 - Bush urges more refineries, nuclear plants - Apr 27, 2005

Oddly enough, the BBC article is more flattering towards the president. But more so than ever, Bush is actually looking 'green'. Not as green as Al Gore perhaps but then again, considering that Al Gore comes from the eco-doom tradition of the 'Greens' in europe, that's not saying anything really.

So can US ever ween itself off foreign oil? Nary a chance without some fundamental changes to their consumption and production patterns. Being in Singapore, I think it's easy to not realise what size means. And for all the talk of the US as a trading power, we tend to forget that only 5% of their GDP is involved in trade. At the same time, the US for all its high technology industrial might, nevertheless, has its own manufacturing bases in the mid-west and south. Generally speaking, that's where the oil guzzling comes in, in contrast to say a wafer fabrication company.

At the same time, oil (patrol) is seriously, inconceivably cheap there. Even cheaper than in Malaysia. Add that to what is essentially an affluent country with a materialist consumerism culture and you create gaz guzzlers called SUVs and Humvees amongst other things.

So while increasing supply is an important aspect to deal with burgeoning demand, so is reining in that demand. Opening up the Alaskan Wildlife Reserve for drilling is not going to do much good is that total oil capacity amounts to two days of domestic oil consumption, even ignoring the irrepairable (and repairable) harm caused to the environment. So in a manner of speaking, high oil prices are good, that's a tremendous market force used to push consumers and producers into more effecient oil usage as did happen in the 80s. Hopefully and eventually we make a shift away from the use of such fossil fuels for environmental and various geo-political reasons *cough OPEC cough*.

But specific policies of Bush are looking very appealing currently. Following the success of the US Sulphur Dioxide emission trading market, the US is implementing one for carbon dioxide as well. The last I read in the Economist, they were pricing it at around $2.50 to $3 per ton which is in a range which has been bandied about in Climate Control circles. At the same time, putting in US$2.5 billion for the encouragement of fuel cells is a definitely promising development especially seeing the effeciency (and all round coolness) of some of the market models in Europe (check out Euromaxx on CNA).


The Work Place: The Vatican as a friend of labor

As some of you may no doubt be aware, I'm a practicing Buddhist having converted from Protestantism about 6 years back. But despite the difficulties I have with certain arch-conservative doctrines (condom, abortions and the role of women) of the Catholic Church, I have nothing but admiration for their use of rigourous logic (well as rigourous without questioning the underlying assumptions of Christianity) as well as the huge amount of fascinating intellectual works done by the Church Fathers on philosophy (legal or otherwise).

Anyway, interesting read above where it describes the Catholic Church's position on labour and capitalism, striking a fascinating balance of being leftist while condemning pure socialism and 'rigid capitalism' (I believe that most CSR is a waste of resources). Admittedly though, their dedication to Globalisation seems rather narrowly focused upon the right of workers to migrate to a better life rather than free trade in general. On the other hand, they do support of debt relief, which is generally not a bad thing in and of itself. Furthermore, Jubilee 2000 took a remarkably nuanced stance of saying that debt relief was no panecea but it was a good first step to reducing poverty and associated ills in 3rd World nations.

In addition, what Bono (Front-singer of U2 and Frontman of Jubilee 2000) mentioned that was more important, was the end of beggar-thy-neighbour protectionist policies of the 1st World particular with regards to agriculture. If the EU abolished CAP, it would help generate US$4 billion in terms of agriculture trade for the 3rd world which is of a magnitude much greater than available aid at the moment. Admittedly, most 3rd World nations are equally guilty of such protectionist policies, which are particularly destructive because they are aimed at each other.

Ah well, back to Contracts...bah humbug.


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

BBC NEWS | Africa | South Africa's broken HIV promises

After Thabo Mbeki finally made a policy u-turn and accepted that Anti-Retroviral Drugs (ARD) are effective in lengthening the lives of HIV and AIDS victims, we now have the menace of 'well-meaning' foundations pushing the effectiveness of vitamin regimes and highlighting the side-effects of the ARD.

All this is in light of the overall debate that goes on in South Africa over the very nature of these drugs. The problem then is that while debate is good, wilfull blindness is not. And it basically allows other organisations to come in and feed on the unarticulated fear of these ARD.

To quote the BBC, "Over recent months a company that sells vitamin supplements based in Holland, called the Matthias Rath Foundation, has taken out adverts in South African newspapers and put posters up near HIV treatment centres stressing what it says are the dangerous side effects of ARVs."

Now, if these regimes were really as effective as ARD, then I suppose no one would really quibble over what they are doing per se. But the problem is that they are not! At best, they help the body's immune system but unlike the ARD they cannot retard the spread of HIV into full-blown AIDS. Of course taking them together is not likely to hurt, but what is hurting are people scared off the ARD because of these side effects.

All drugs have side effects of one form or other unfortunately. While it is one thing to be aware of them (something I'm entirely for in the name of consumer/patient awareness), the problem is that all too many people simply reject the drugs and not consider whether the 'harm' of the side effects outweigh the 'harm' of not taking the drugs. In the aftermath of Vioxx and Cox-2 inhibitors in general, the fear has gotten worse. In that specific case, while I generally agree that the majority of pain sufferers have viable alternatives, these alternatives are not sufficient to deal with those who have serious pain issues.

However in this case, the Matthias Rath Foundation seems to disturbingly be pushing its own products at the health and expense of their patients. 'Dangerous' side effects or not, considering the ineffectiveness of vitamin regimes, the patient is essentially forfeiting a good many years in return for what? Unlike chemotherapy with truely horrible side effects (admittedly varying from person to person) and where the prognosis can make a rejection of treatment logical, not taking ARD is nowhere similar to that scale.

ARDs work. Peace.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Child charity work, fundraising & volunteering UK with Save the Children

BBC NEWS | UK | World armed groups 'abduct girls'

A truely horrific and disturbing remindering of the nature of war. The BBC article (2nd link) refers to the report which can be found at Save the Children (1st link)

Please do take the time and opportunity to read the report which is one of the better ones that I have come across. The guilt-trip is there but there make very sensible recommendations that does not descend into platitutes of stopping war in general.

Instead the focus of their recommendations is on the reintergration of these girl soldiers back into their community once the war is over. As it eventually will be...even the Ethopia-Eritrean war was eventually over in 30 years. Intra-state wars are fortunately shorter but more destructive because the International Community is generally more wary of getting involved in a struggle where it's all too evident that the morality and moral culpability of the groups are in shades of grey. Often the problem isn't the war in and of itself but what happens afterwards. Stopping the war is one thing but rebuilding the nation and praying something does not flare up again is quite another. no sooner was the noth-south divide in Sudan settled by Bush when the East-West one occured.

The problems that these girls face are 'special' and on top of the general ones that child soldiers face. Alienation, stigmatisation and an absolute lack of a future due to deverstation and a lack of education. In addition to those, most families blame these girls for being kidnapped and worse still, most are used as sex slaves, further 'disgracing' the girls, especially if they come back pregnant.

In particular, see page 25 (32 of 38) of the report for their assesment of the need for community support no simply to reintegrate the girls but also with regards to disarmament and demobilisation of the soldiers in addition to breaking the conflict trap by reducing poverty. The focus ought not to be simply on the girls but also their community, a sort of virtuous cycle will then be created.

Also, their castigation of the International Community and their efforts is not simply that there is insufficient help and money but also that their formal procedures hinder such efforts because not all girls sign up formally. And also that they haven't funnelled their money in the appropriate direction of BOTH the girls and their community.

At any rate, it's a very good read and a quick way to gain an understanding of the situation. Peace.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

BBC NEWS | Programmes | From Our Own Correspondent | China suffers memory lapses too

It used to be pretty simple. China was a political and military heavyweight but a relative economic pygmy. On the other hand, Japan while economically powerful, was nevertheless constrained by both its pacifist constitution as well as its alliance/dependence/stranglehold with and on the US.

Hence the balance of power was maintain and the status quo stayed well quo. But with breakneck speed and insane growth rates, China looks less and less like a sleeping dragon, heck not even sleepy or drowsy anymore. It's up and limbering its various limbs. And on the other hand, Japan wants a political position and influence more commensurate with its position as the 2nd largest economy in the world and the largest contributor of aid in absolute terms (and pretty high up in relative terms as well).

Along the way, a number of highly questionable decisions were made, decisions that in hindsight were bad, disasterous or even murderous. Whether they were similarly necessary will be an issue to debate over the next few centuries. As the German Chancellor Bismarck was once said to have quipped when asked about the effects of the French Revolution, "It's still too early to tell"

Alright, geo-political history aside. What does it mean for our region? Locally, I will admit to being utterly intimidated by CITIES like Shanghai and Beijing, and lest we forget that 'little' Special Administrative Region (SAR) Hong Kong. What we can do China can probably do better in time. So things like social stability and accountability and rule of law, which we are spades ahead at the moment would diminish. Because they, I would argue, are historical inevitabilities. Every nation with a GDP of above USD 15,000 is a democracy (all liberal ones except for our sunny island which should change). So it's a huge matter of trying to keep ahead and leverage ourselves into niche spots, which fortunately as a small country is the logical thing to do.

But before we worry ourselves into a tizzy, a rising tide does raise all the boats so I think looking at the scenario now and into the middle term, China (and India to follow) drawing of attention and FDI will be generally beneficial to us. We don't yet compete in quite the same areas (with the exception of Hong Kong) and the competiton is not necessary bad if as a result, we start drawing a larger market here. So even if we have to split the pie, in absolute terms we end up with more.

What about ASEAN? As far as I can tell, we are hedging our bets by pulling yet more nations in. So East Asia is in (Korea and Japan), China and North America via APEC, and now NZ and Australia. The way things are developing, ASEAN is a very diverse organisation with pretty diverse nations that can leverage on different strengths. Even where competition appears to be direct, say manufacturing, the nations are focusing on different ends of the value chain. Admittedly though, our (high end) manufacturing sector is having to compete really hard with the Taiwanese.

So if China can stop thinking of its most immediate selfish interests for a while (territorial sovereignity and being the all round bad ass in the region), I think they will 'dicover' that a strong Japan is in their interests. After all, 30 billion in aid over the past 28 years is nothing to sneeze at. Neither is alienating your second largest trading partner after the US (applies to both nation). Once this mutual antagonism is somewhat resolved, then maybe the CCP will be able to control the use of nationalism again. Right now, it's a double-edged sword that they are trying to use. To the extent it works, it works well. But the time it took for them to control the demonstrations this time is indicative that other forces are working against their political survival as well. Reflex nationalism is generally too dangerous a card to play in international politics much less domestic ones, the CCP might well want to heed that


Saturday, April 23, 2005

You're a Slytherclaw!: By nature you are rational
and a realist. Some people may call you cynical
and elitist but this doesn't matter to you. You
don't depend on other people's opinions to
determine how you live your life. You are
generally cautious and prefer to weigh the
consequences before you act. In conflicts you
prefer to remain neutral and aloof. You value
intelligence and you are a natural diplomat,
you can convince people to do what you want
them to do. Your weakness is that you sometimes
think more with your head than with your heart
and it leads to isolation. With the
intelligence of a Ravenclaw and the subtlety of
a Slytherin you will be sure to achieve all
your goals!

Which Mix of the Hogwarts Houses are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Cool! Identical personality type to Her!

*On the Freedom of Speech*

Short post today, too brain dead from criminal law and increasingly odd (and not in a good way) hours kept for this exam period.

I'm a liberal, more Tony Blair/Clintonian Third Way than traditional Lefist beliefs. I a firm believer in free trade and the market. I'm an environmentalist who doesn't buy much into the traditional literature. I abhore capital punishment but probably support it for mass murderers and terrorist (ala Kerry). I generally believe that the government can be a force for good though I think the less interference the better. I believe in the private/public divide but no if it perpetuates inequitable power structures i.e. husbands over wives and parents over children. My opinion on the freedom of speech and hate crime legislation is very ACLU.

As any good liberal will tell you, the basis of liberalism or liberal theories of anything is derived from Mill's Harm Principle: Individual freedom but only to the extent it does not harm a thrid party. Or more eloquently: "The right to move my fist ends at your nose". Similarly, as paraphrased by the great judge and jurist Justice Holmes, "My rights end where your nose begins."

But more pertinently he said that while the freedom of speech was nigh absolute (recall: the Bill of Rights states that Congress Shall Pass No Law abridging the freedom of speech), nevertheless, it was not absolute and can be aborogated when there is clear and present danger in the use of that speech e.g. shouting fire in a crowded theatre.

Two lines that we can draw from this.
1. The freedom of speech can be curtailed
2. BUT only when there is clear and present danger and it seems in a public forum.

What's has happened unfortunately is that Isobel a.k.a. Izzy see links at right) has decided to abandon her current blog at Xanga to a private blog. She will only give her new address on request and has similarly requested that anyone with her new address not to give it out without her express permission and not to link to it.

Of course this is a reaction to the entire Cheng Zhan incident where the sanctity of privacy has been trashed, debate is a foregone thing and what we can think and say is increasing governed by a group of moralist. By moralist, I don't simply mean the extremist social/religious conservatives but also the far-left who if given their way will curtail anything that smacks of racism, sexism or any form of discriminatory speech, even in private. The following ought to be in caps and itallics but it will spoil the format *ahem*, such curtailment is bad no matter which side of the spectrum you are on.

Lest it be said that the chilling effects on free speech is not observable, other blogger friends of my are practicing increasing self censorship on top of that we already practice by virtue of living in Singapore (See James Gomez's thesis in Self-Censorship in Singapore). So whatever freedom of speech that we do have (a lot I might add) is further being curtailed.

Let people make whatever comments they will, irrational as it may be, unless it promotes, advocated or creates violence towards others (so yes, Focus on the Family would fall under this heading). In turn, we will crush their arguments with rational debate and not simply make ad hominen attacks for what good does it really do?

Irrationality cannot exist long under public scrutiny, and in fact mainstreaming extremist parties is the best way of handling them. For example, the Greens in Europe, Far-Right Parties (Haider, Le Pan, Pauline Hanson) either jetison their xenophobe or racist leaders or tune them down such that a debate can exist. Better to engage and know what we are up against then simply marginalise and create a martyr/persecution complex.

I stand by what I say and there's is sufficent information on this site that makes contacting me relatively easy. I believe that we need to stop practicing self-censorship and in general stop trying to shut people up unless there is valid cause (again Focus on the Family and that Queensway Church who says that Homosexuals can change would be notable exceptions).


Thursday, April 21, 2005

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Japanese PM apologises over war

*Prediction: China will say this is insufficient*

Somehow I don't think this cuts it. In the past 2 decades, Japan (through its Prime Ministers and even the Emperor) has 'apologised' to China for its wartime aggresions a total of 16 times. This would make the 17th.

However, what China wants I think is an unconditional apology and expressing 'deep remorse' would not entirely be sufficient. On the other hand there is a slight difference in that Mr Koizumi said: "In the past Japan through its colonial rule and aggression caused tremendous damage and suffering for the people of many countries, particularly those of Asian nations." Furthermore, "Japan through its colonial rule and aggression caused tremendous damage" and that "Japan squarely faces these facts of history in a spirit of humility."

This comes in the light of the Japan Court refusing to award damages to the so-called 'comfort women' that sued the Japanese government. On a side note, this is not a simple issue. There were women who volunteered to serve as comfort women in service to their nation. Unfortunately along the way, women from conquered nations were gang-pressed into the service as well.

I think that this is quite a brilliant political tactical move on the part of PM Koizumi. What they have essentially done is to trump the Chinese and to force the ball into their court. Recall that China said that no nation which could not and did not face their history squarely, would be eligible to be on the UN Security Council (UNSC) as a Permament Member.

This essential concession by China will leave them scrambling for a reply that does not make them appear churlish or uncooperative when the decision to expend the UNSC as part of the package of reforms come round. China now has to decide how it wants to take the Sino-Japan Relationship. More importantly, this will be a test of how China deals with its immediate neighbours, especially when they are competitors and threats.

I personally don't trust China much and I think they will put their self-interest before global ones. That in and of itself would not be a problem if it were not for the fact that China's self interest do not seem to be in alignment with global ones. Their obsession seems to be with territorial sovereignity, even at the expense of region stability and peace.

Beyond this, China will have one less argument to lever against Japan's increasing remilitarisation. One can definately seem sympathy with Beijing's position. On the one hand, Japan's remilitarisation means that the US plays a diminishing role militarily and hence has a decrease in influence in terms of both hard and soft power (with repecussions in Taiwan). But on the other hand, there is now a more direct threat to them, nevermind that Japan is ever going to want to return to its Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere past. So poor China faces a Hobbson's Choice.

But more than that, I think that since the UN reform package comes in a take it or leave it deal, it prevents Japan from being a scapegoat should the deal fail. This puts even more pressure on the nations who do not want the deal to go through, amongst which would naturally be China. The veto is powerful and translates into political influence in the General Assembly, diluting it would dimish China's power.

So here marks a possibly new but definately interesting chapter in East Asia and the region. Stay Tuned! =P


Wednesday, April 20, 2005 - Documents give details of 9-year-old's death - Apr 20, 2005

As a result of the documents, in an unanimous 118-0 vote, the Florida House passed legislation that would require longer prison sentences, lifetime probation and electronic monitoring for sex offenders convicted of crimes against children.

The Jessica Lunsford Act would punish the molestation of children under 12 with a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life, "followed by probation or community control for the remainder of the person's natural life and subject to a system of active electronic monitoring.

The death and violation of a child, especially sexual seems to rouse within us a near unthinking hatred and desire to wreck vengeance on the perpetrators and I must admit I'm not immune to them. And I must commend the Legislation for not opening the law further than it really needs to be and is probably more effective than the current situation.

Megan's Law is one such law that requires registration of all convicted sex offenders (even 'minor' ones) and puts that database online for nearly all and sundry to view and I've got to admit it was an eye-opening. But the civil libertarian in my nevertheless feels very uneasy about such driftnet laws and particularly this perception that the crime continues and follows you even after you have served your time to society (incarceration). And after reading about the unruly middle class mob that attacked a Welsh pediatrician house thinking she was a Pedophile was nothing short of disturbing and worrying.

But beyond that, it is questionable how helpful the current system is for dealing with such people, in essence, we are asking for enforced celibacy or at least to transform their sexual desire into something more socially acceptable (at least in modern societies) and considering the rate of recidivism, one has to question its effectiveness.

One option bandied about in debates is the possibility of life imprisonment, which admittedly has the benefits of protecting society of them and them from society. But it's a huge waste of tax-payers' money and resources. Plus we lose what could be a valuable contributing member of society.

Which is why, I'm beginning to be persuaded of the use of chemical castration e.g. depo-provera (also a birth control drug =P). One thing I like about it is that it can be implanted for a cycle of up to four years which cuts down on the hassle and danger of a weekly dose. But more than that by effectively killing the libido, it creates an opportunity, the time and space for these offenders to really absorb the kind of remedial counseling that could hopefully change their psyche.

Which also means that a lighter jail sentence could be imposed (also for their own safety, sex offenders are on the low totem pole in jail) and the person could go back and be a contributing member of society.

At the same time, I think people would feel safer. Knowing where these people are is one thing. But knowing that they cannot and are not inclined to commit those offences would be a huge load of most peoples' minds. Which should mean less lynch mobs.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005 - High court agrees to review hallucinogenic tea case - Apr 19, 2005

In a previous entry dated 04/07/2005, "Manila's battle with the Church", I made mention about a Church in New Mexico getting into trouble for using tea laced/made with a hallucinogen i.e. hoasca tea.

Anyway, this is simply an update and goes towards showing two things.

1. The USA's current drugs policy is very ethno-centric. I made prior mention on how the Rastafarians believe that alcohol and tobacco were the White Man's drugs sent to destroy them while marijuana (Ganja) brought them into closer union with the divine spirit(s). There is some element of truth in this particularly when one views the highly destructive effects of alcohol on the Aboriginal Community in Australia (the massive welfare hurts but only by propagating the use of alcohol and the lack of incentive to work, more than anything else...guilt has its price). But at any rate, it would seem that the current permissible use of (harmful) drugs all of which have their roots in the Old World (mostly Europe).

2. The policy is seriously irrational. It seems that the only manner in which one could reconcile their drug policy is a) accept the ethno-centricity of the policy and b) the desire to draw a bright red line in a misguided attempt to 'solve' the drug problem.

It is evident that harm is not an issue here. In comparison to alcohol (4% of annual deaths) and tobacco (4.1% of annual deaths), this tea used solely for religious purposes and which the lawyers claim has no ill effects is not just mild but harmless. Even marijuana, while more dangerous per 'toke' (because smokers hold in the smoke for a longer period) is in absolute terms much much less harmful than cigarettes. A heavy user of marijuana takes about 4-5 'tokes' a day (average users apparently smoke less than 1 per day) while heavy smokers of cigarettes can go through 2-3 packs a day.

HOWEVER, on the particular facts, I think the majority opinion (6-3) may be right. I think it would set too dangerous a precedent if a religious community could use their status as a religion to bypass state laws, see the Mormon's ex-polygamy laws. So while I think in general, the drug laws ought to be changed to something similar to say the more liberal and tolerant version advocated by the Netherlands, there should not be exceptions carved out for religious groups.


BBC NEWS | Europe | 'Dirty war' officer found guilty

In my first two lessons of Introduction to Legal Theory, we got the chance to watch "The Nuremburg Trials", in particular, this movie focus solely on the prosecution of judges who upheld the Nazi-era laws (presumably amongst others).

What the show was meant to portray was the tension between on the one hand, Positivism and on the other Natural Law as well as other camps like Realist and Critical Legal Scholars.

The main issue was perhaps simply: Should judges charged with the duty of upholding the laws of their nation (properly and rightfully enacted ones at that) be in turn charged with the upholding of those laws?

What Positivism holds is that what the law IS does not equate to what the law OUGHT to be i.e. the Separation Thesis (One should not confuse Law and Morality, note the capital M, I'm refering to it in the general abstract form). By that standard, one cannot begrudge these judges from doing their job and IF one wishes to charge them, Hart suggests being honest and using retroactive laws instead of fuzzily skating over ice like the Natural Lawyers do.

What Natural Lawyers argue is that there is a necessary nexus between law and Morality. As such Lex Injusta no est Lex (an unjust law is not law), of course this being subject to disobedience not causing greater outrage and anarchy than following mildly unjust laws. As such, the Nuremburg Laws are an affront to Natural Law, evil and henious and hence by upholding them, the judges condemn themselves.

Aside: A particular scene stuck in my mind, that was where the prosecutor was talking about the forced sterilisation of the mentally incompetant and the defence lawyer came back quoting from Justice Holmes who supported the idea.

So no doubt by now, you should be able to see where accusations of Victors' Trials enter the scene. Especially when one considers the fact that a holocaust, albeit on a smaller scale, was done by Stalin.

This begs two questions:
1. Could the judges resign? Who knows, this was the era of cloak and shadows, where people disappear at night never to be seen again.
2. If so should they? Assuming that you were a moral judge, would it not be better to remain in your seat and attempt to mitigate the injustice rather than resign and allow some 'party hack' to take over?

Anyway, transpose it to today and particular the question of Chain of Command and the fact that 'I followed Orders' is no longer a defence. What are you, when faced with an appalling order supposed to do? To reject it would mean a summary court martial and an execution. To reject it would also mean you are not being a soldier (I think one thing that being in NS taught me was the importance of the chain of command). But to accept the orders would be to jepodise your soul (or whatever equilavant) as well as opening yourself up to a trial should your side lose.

So what is a good soldier suppose to do?

*To my faithful readers*

Statcounter says that there are 5-19 of you per day...=P

Anyway, exams over the next three weeks ending on the 3rd May. Hence updates will be intermittent for sometime. *Pause*...I don't even think that last sentence was grammatically right.


Sunday, April 17, 2005

BBC NEWS | Europe | Girls 'missing out on schooling'

I think that it can be taken as a given that prima facie education is a natural good. It's good not simply in and of itself but also economically, politically and socially.

While the problems of a lack of access to education (in general as opposed to simply for girls) are complex (see the Copenhagen Consensus and the book Global Problems, Global Solutions for an exhaustive treatment), I would simply like to mention that the BBC article points out that the places were the gender disparity is at its worst at at places where conflict rages e.g. Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I strongly doubt that it is a root cause for the simple reason that such gender disparity are unfortunately rife in Western and Central Africa, which leads to the conclusion that war severely execerbates the underlying societal (and economic) problems that prevent girls (and generally children) from going to school.

At any rate, I think this goes towards showing that the costs of war is even higher than expected (the Taliban being an extreme example of kicking women back to pre-Islamic times). Well here's to hoping that the UN does something more about Sudan soon



It seems that Cheng Zhan's page wasn't 'hacked' after all. It was 'simply' a matter of his root directory being protected but not his other directories. So it is somewhat akin to locking your doors but not your windows when you go out.

So what this this all really mean? Well simply this, it means that the posters who got the material are probably not in contravention of the Computer Misuse Act. But seriously my concern with not with them per se but the manner in which Cheng Zhan is seemingly going to get lynched.

All this hacking/non-hacking merely clouds the real issue. That he made what were insensitive and hurtful comments but in a private capacity in a private blog. Yes, I do believe that the fact the home-page was protected indicates very strongly that this was meant to be kept private.

The manner in which some bloggers and commentors are persistently harping on the fact that he is a PSC Scholar serves more to demonstrate some form of anger towards the general Establishment Institutions and that Cheng Zhan is unfortunately being dragged along by it.

At any rate, I say once again, if you are truely angry and want to change the situation, go find a better outlet for it.

*In Defence of Cheng Zhan*

Mr Chua was my classmate for 2 years in Hwa Chong Humanz and I have known him since 2000. Over the course of the past 5 years, I have never heard him make any overt racist remarks or display any form of racist insensitivity beyond those normal to off the cuff remarks and no worse than anything you could conceivably hear (and I've heard worse in NS) unless you're in the midst of a bunch of humourless Politically Correct people.

But unfortunately he did a foolish thing. It seems that he posted some of these remarks on a PRIVATE BLOG trusting that his close friends would understand he meant no malice because that was not in his nature. Furthermore, he trusted that as a private blog, these comments were personal and not meant to incite any form of violence or racism. But it seems that there are people who would deliberate break into his blog and attempt to hack his account and steal his data with the intent of PROSECUTING HIM FOR THOUGHT CRIMES.

As far as I'm aware, he has not committed any crime beyond that of carelessness. As far as I'm aware the Penal Code does not prosecute for thought crimes (even that odd bit about thinking ill about the President would probably require some form of action). However, the people behind this attack are guilty under the Computer Misuse Act. Perhaps that is why the lady who sent the information is now unwilling to speak up.

Whoever you are, if you are 'brave' enough to do it, please be brave enough to suffer the consequence.

Even if he has done wrong, allow me to point out a few people and organisations that have done much much worse. The ST Forum has published the letters of a number of homophobic people and organisations with the intent of spreading hatred towards these homosexuals. I would strongly urge that if a witchhunt is going to be launched, do not apply any double standards and go after them as well.

Particularly Focus on the Family and their homophobic supporters.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Chirac's EU push sways few voters

The Economist made a joke that requiring school children to read and memorise (if it is even possible) the EU Charter would mean it would contravene itself i.e. the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

I confess, I have not read all 13,000 pages of it and I doubt I ever will. If I thought that Australian High Court Judgements were long, this takes the absolute cake. It's long, tedious and written in admirable Common Law legalese (very very very detailed) even though nearly all of these countries are based on Civil Law traditions.

Anyway, in all seriousness the EU charter is mainly good for 1 thing, a comprehensive consolidation of the reforms after having reviewed current practice. And at long last, this constitution will make clear and delineate the lines of control and power between the EU Parliament in Brussels and the national government. Amongst one of the more notable reform is finally rebalancing the number of votes such that it no longer gives such an obvious advantage to the smaller nations who have in the past held necessary reform hostage, particularly when it comes to renegotiation of aid transfers.

And to be fair to the Yes camp, the No camp's arguments might seem a little spurious or if grounded in fact, is nothing more than naked politiking.

Transpose it to our region, however, and my gut reaction is to oppose an union of ASEAN along the lines of the EU (which is oddly enough the gist of the proposal by Malaysia). The creation of a common currency necessitates the creation of a common Central Bank to ensure that there is some harmonisation amongst member states such that it does not destabilise the economy. Other than opposing it on economic grounds i.e. the nations' economic positions/economy are simply too disparate and while granting the recent absorption of Eastern Europe by the EU, nevertheless feel that we don't exactly have a central nucleus that has done this for a sufficiently long period of time that would allow for the kind of support, guidance and stabilit required.

But assuming that all the (other) nations of ASEAN do hit the levels of middle income nations (as they should baring another financial disaster which would set it back by another couple of years) is it advisable to form 'an ever closer union'? If Europe which is bound by landmass, wars, politics, history, religion and common ones at that nevertheless have problems, what more ASEAN the talkshop where members are still wary of interfering in each other countries (an absolute necessity in a Union, just think of it as a bigger country that's all) adn which has a lot of historical baggage unresolved and a touchy issues to boot?

To be honest, why not just stick with a free trade area? I honestly doubt I'll feel comfortable if policy is runned by an outside agency that we cannot control. And I think in the end, that's what lurks in the minds of the No Vote Camp.


Friday, April 15, 2005

BBC NEWS | Americas | US and UK blamed for oil scandal

Mr. Annan claims that because of the kickbacks occured on the US and UK watch, they are partially responsible for the oil scandal.

I suppose that is true but I think in a much more limited way then he suggests.

In an earlier blog, I argued that the sanctions were ineffective and simply too indiscrimate in the manner in which a lot of equipment were to be imported into Iraq. The crux of this issue was what was called 'dual use' equipment i.e. items of a nature that could be used for both legitimate civilian use BUT ALSO for military use. What happened in 1994 was what the US had feared most, Iraq had relaunched their WMD programme (mostly missles which were of a range prohibited by the treaty after the first Iraq war. Defectors also claimed he was restarting his nuclear programme).

The fact that most of these were smuggled rather than imported directly either suggests that the sanctions were working well and hence Saddam was forced to smuggle them in. Or simply that the sanctions failed because Saddam still managed to get them and all the sanctions did were to kill a lot of civilians. The truth is probably somewhere between: The sanctions probably delayed and hindered these programmes and honestly, it would have been hard to believe that Saddam would not have diverted these imports for his own political survival.

After all, the fact that he subverted (with the aid of the nations around him as well as certain members of the Security Council whose companies had oil interest in Iraq i.e. Russia and France) the Oil-For-Food programme which mitigated the ban of exports of Iraqi oil in order to buy necessities for his citizens.

The painful truth is that this could have been a textbook example of successful regime of sanctions. Iraq was landlocked, and surrounded by nations who had no cause to love him, whether from historical emnity (Iran) or the first Iraq War (Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia etc.) so it's very sad to see confirmed for the first time what were persistent rumours, that too many nations thinking Saddam was done and out sought their own short term economic interests at the expense of having Saddam survive and remain a threat to them for so long.

So yes, US and UK were probably to blame somewhat but this was largely symptomatic of the larger sanction problems that were going on at that time. Could they have done more? Well Clinton never had the stomach and too much brains to want to invade and kick out Saddam and then try to run Iraq, and his policy of containment probably was more useful than we give him credit for (the '94 bombings seem to have done a remarkable job)


Thursday, April 14, 2005

BBC NEWS | Technology | UN video game makes hunger point: ""

It's 227mb...*gah*

6 missions: Ranging from dropping food parcels from the air to a sim-city like simulation of rebuilding a city through food aid. Complete with help from your trusty experts from the Word Food Program (WFP) and a nice little wrap-up to show the kids how the big uncles actually do it (or muck it up).

But from what I have seen and read of it, it generally looks positive and besides with success of games like Sim-City, Sim-Farm, Sim-Island (which is a freaking brillaint ecology game) and the Tycoon Series (Cruise Tycoon anyone?), it really should not be too difficult to create a game that adults should fine interesting and educational (children on the other hand have an instinctual negative reaction against such gimicky and hocky kind of idea....or maybe it's just us Singaporean kids fed a bad diet of education programmes.)

But on a more serious note, the premise behind it is not unsound. I think it is possible to portray the difficulties and good that food aid can do in an "exciting and dynamic form". After all, any game that actually forces you to deliver foodaid through a rebel blockade has it's heart in the right place. No sugar-coating the problem for these little kiddies.

It's a pretty tough topic with issues in geo-politics (food aid as a method in the cold war of garnering allies/saterlites), to the environment (Ethopia or Sudan rejecting food aid because they were 'dangerous' GM food), to domestic politics (See Mugabe's Zimbabwe below), to economics (more accurately logistics. There is sufficient food but getting it to the needy is tough.)

The last issue, economics/logistics merits some discussion. The basic question always has been, if the EU has a food mountain (courtesy of the inefficient wasteful CAP) and Africa has a food deficit, surely it would be a simple matter of transfering food from one area to another without destroying the wheat? Well, the equivocal answer would be the standard yes but....

Technologically, I think we are capable. As are we logistically i.e. through the WFP. But there are political and economic concerns here. Political because food in these area equates to power. North Korea needed famine on a massive scale before they 'allowed' direct food aid in. Which brings us to the next point that often these nations (baring one off droughts or crop failures) don't exactly have the institutional capacity to deliver the food and I don't necessarily mean to remote areas. So the only way the aid will be effective would be for the NGOs to directly take over the distribution themselves but this effectively hollows out the government's state capacity and prevents the necessaruy impetus for change and reform (for a longer and more extensive handling of this issue, see Fukuyama's State Building)

Economically, food aid would destory the agarian industry of the receipant nation. Why bother to plant or to buy food if it will be given free? There's no incentive to plant anyone and farmers stay poor because no one buys their crops. This in turn has ripple effects on the rest of the economy i.e. downwards spiral. Note: this is only true for long term aid and not your one off kind of things.

On a last note, I would have loved to see a scenario where you have to persuade Mugabe that using food aid as a method of encouraging his starving people to vote for him is an unethical one (complete with an option to beat him with a very large stick if he refuses)


*The Insidious effects of sleep deprivation on humour*

There was a boy once, let's call him Joe Blue-Eyes, your normal average boy, living in your normal average suburbia with the dreams of your average boy (*not the type you're thinking about you naughty person you*)

Till one day he heard the Faith and the call, and he knew it was good. The stories of Faith beyond Reason pushing and allowing Man to make remarkable achievements (while Joe Blue-Eyes was not sexist, he nevertheless unthinking adopted the social stereotypes of his culture. Hence the masculine pronouns was also to be used as a gender neutral term).

"We live to deliver" was now his creed and as he watched his heroes putting life and limb at risk to deliver the parcels, he knew that he wanted to be a DHL man. Jumping from a 40-story building with nothing but a fire-reel to prevent a gruesome death, running against the stampede of the bulls to retrieve a dropped packet and skateboarding through the mean backstreets of Bangkok was merely part of a day's work for these men and women of Faith! And Joe began to model his life after these incredible men and women.

Whenever he was faced with problem, he would ask himself, "what would the DHL man do in this situation?" And with the faith in his heart the days passed till he became one of his heroes.

Life was good for our young protangonist in the early days. His faith was strong, his body willing. He became known as the legendary figure who had snowboarded down the icy Alps to retrieve a box which had fallen from the plane. He had taken on the shadowy triads of Hong Kong when a letter had been sent to them by mistake. He had infiltrated a top-secret nuclear facility because the parcel had to be hand delivered but the guards did not understand the burning faith which governed our young hero's life and refused to let him in.

But slowly age and doubt crept in. Did he really LIVE to deliver or was it simply a job he was good at and wanted nothing more than to feel important? Was his faith sufficient to keep at bay the nightmares of the missions that sometimes went wrong? And who was that mysterious little girl with the long hair and cackling voice he sometimes saw?

It was little things at first, a slight hesistation to charge into a melee to get to the other side of the road. A detour to get round the burning debies and sniper-full roads. Till one day, when he could not jump over the Niagra Falls, harness only by a packet of tooth-floss to grab the letter that had fallen over the ledge. As he watched the letter slowly float down the mistly depths only to be churned into so much white froth by the thundering casade of water. That was when he fell to his knees and cried like a baby.

He had lost his faith and was no longer a DHL man.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

IHT: Chinese leader opposes Council seat for Japan

First things first: A plague on both their houses. Same goes for the entire Palestinian-Israeli fiasco.

I like PM Wen's statement, I think it very funny (see the front page of the Straits Times). Repeat with me people, Tiananmen Square, they still haven't faced up to that yet. But fine, it's only been 16 years as opposed to the Japanese atrocities back during the 1930s (Manchuria) and going all the way to WW2. The CCP did admit that excesses were present during the Cultural Revolution and did denounce the Gang of Four (after they were safely neutralised of course).

So two issues.

1. Sino-Japanese Ties: Yes, Japan is still blind to their historical faults and as a firm believer in the truth in history, they'll need to face up to this sooner or later. But seriously, let's put this in the context of wider ties. This is an old old old issue which comes up once every few years, so a diplomatic censure would be entirely appropriate, heck, even what PM Wen says makes sense i.e. tie this in to Japan's bid for the seat. But allowing the anger to spill over to actual demonstrations that the State-Police appear to have difficulties controlling speaks of a number of things.

a) That nationalism trumps the CCP. And the party will rue the day they allow this to happen. If the CCP is not in line with the views of the people on this, what else would the anger spill over into? Street protest rarely stick to one issue, sooner or later, this will forment another tiananmen in one form or another.
b) That this was a diversionary tactic gone wrong. Again see above. But considering that they handled the death of a reformist minister remarkably well might discredit this notion somewhat. So this either means that the CCP underestimated the anger of the Chinese people, or that they lost control over the situation. Either way, this discredits them whether before the international community or their own citizens.

20 years of cordial relations, lots of FDI and aid coming from Japan to China yearly. This ought to have been handled diplomatically or at least with reasonable street demonstrations ala the South Koreans. By not doing so, the Chinese have lost a fantastic opportunity to take the moral high ground and earn the goodwill of the international community.

2. UN Reforms. Will do a more extensive blog on this somewhat later. For a quick primer, I've got an earlier blog in my archive, either the 1st or 2nd week. But basically, Kofi Annan is saying that this very sensible set of reforms is on a take it or leave it basis i.e. there is no picking and choosing of what reforms certain nations *cough security council* would want.

So yes...another day, another threat to reforms... C'est la vie


Tuesday, April 12, 2005

*48 hour Legal Theory Take Home examination*

Regular updates will resume on Thursday.

Will post the questions once exams over. Might post my essay up if anyone is interested in reading it.

Word limit is insane....1250 words with footnotes or 1000 words without footnotes (but with a maximum of 1500). *Gah*, how many philosophy essays have such a restrictive word count

*bah humbug*

Sunday, April 10, 2005

IBM opens lid on its treasure chest

Another year and IBM takes yet again the largest number of patents and copyrights.

The general thrust behind intellectual property rights is that what is worth copying is worth protecting. In so doing, it attempts to balance the rights of the innovator on the one hand, with the idea that society has a right to the free access of such ideas. Ideas don't exist in a vacuum unless you're Plato. So whatever it is that you invented or thought of, generally comes on the back of some other idea or invention. Or as Newton once 'modestly' puts it (he might have been insulting his shorter rivals), by standing on the shoulder of giants, he sees further than those giants did.

This article is good for a brief overview of what's been happening and what's going to happen. In particular, it mentions the changes in a company's attitute towards proprietry information and that in particular it does not always serve the best interests of the company to keep it all closed. The trend that they identified pushing this idea is the increasing necessity via globalisation for greater access and sharing of information amongst companies.

So, for IBM, who has always championed open-source and whose business is no longer in the hardware side of things, information is everything; collection, storage, retrieval and use. As such, they are uniquely poised to take advantage of collaborative efforts than would a company like Microsoft, which fundamentally seeks to push its own brand of software.

But on the flip side, it is premised on the idea that elephants can dance. Big Blue (IBM) must be able to move up the economic food chain as it releases its data to its nimbler rivals. Or it would run the risk of being another AT&T (which has since been bought over by one of its spin-offs) and unravelling all the effort that they made in the 90s to reposition themselves successfully after losing ground back in the 80s.

In other news, exams are pretty soon i.e. tomorrow. So I'll probably not be updating for some time.


Saturday, April 09, 2005

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | China's break-dancing grandmother

*Checks date*

It's not april fools day....what the?

The New York Times > Magazine > It's a Flat World, After All

*Classic Thomas Friedman*

For anyone who has read The Lexus and The Olive Tree, you would find this article to be an extension of his book, tone, style and all. Chock full of examples and anedoctal evidence, once again he comes up with a broad daring thesis: The World is Flat i.e. the playing field has been levered by Globalisation. And of course, out-sourcing comes into play here. What is good about the 'analysis' (and I fear this is using it a bit loosely) is that he identifies the 10 trends that basically allowed this to happen as well as the particular situation/scenario that allowed this covergence (the rise fo China and India, I'm not entirely sure about Russia)

What is truely gusty of this piece is his argument that America should stop whinging and put its mental powers into maintaining its lead in innovation. =P

I would strongly recommend that anyone and everyone should read it because it's emminently readable and not only simply to economist or pseudo-economists (*ahem* students who go in other fields when they know they want to do econs). Just a cautionary note: as I mentioned on my tag board, Milton Friedman is considered to be the most extremist and rabid of pro-globalist. And he underestimates the power of local politics and politics in general and its capacity to hamper globalisation.

In particular, countries are still and can still do their darnest to stiffle globalisation in particular the free movement of goods (Free trade) and of people (Immigration). I think an essay on protectionism at this point is not going to be of much relevance. So here's some examples you might want to think about:

1. Trade. CAP (Common Agricultural Policy), Steel Tariffs, apparal war between China and US and anti-dumping laws are some contemporary area of clash.

2. Immigration: I've done a blog on this with regards to human smuggling. Just note the rise of the far-right anti-immigration parties in Europe and consider the current policies of Bush and Howard somewhat to the opposite and the political fight they are facing. See in particular, the politics of out-sourcing and Kerry's reply to Bush.

Similar, I've done a blog on the Golden Straitsjacket and the Washington Consensus previously and nothing much has changed since then. Just go search my blog. If you can't find it, leave me a note and I'll blog it.


Friday, April 08, 2005

BBC NEWS | Technology | PSP embraced by DIY technicians

*I luv the PSP*

It's jaw dropping gorgeous, the design is award worthy, the graphics are even better the the current x-box and PS2, its functionality is insane varied. Only pity is the price-tag.

Seriously though, the focus on this article is about people 'hacking' the system and providing unauthorised software (for now) that extends the functionality of the machine. The same thing happened with the i-pod where there are some software on the internet that enable it to work as a portable harddisk as well.

The most famous example for such modification is of course counter-strike (CS) based on the Valve's Half-Life engine and still the most popoular LAN game still. It's now thoroughly commercialised with its latest incarnation as CS: Condition Zero. But it goes to show the single inventor (or maybe improver) is not dead.

There's nothing fundamentally illegal about it but it does raise two issues.

1. Liability of the company. Well obviously some of these functions were specifically limited for fear of legal liability. For example, the reason why the i-pod cannot function as a portable harddisk is to prevent users from sharing MP3 files. The PSP with its memory stick and UDC (mini cd but with near DVD capacity) capabilities would of course function similarly when one considers its capacity to play DVD quality movies on the handset.

2. Profits. The othe reason is of course, profits. If the i-pod were to readily allow the sharing of files then this in turn would affect the earnings of i-tunes. In a similar vein, sony would want to encourage people to buy more copies of their games hence the need for the hack to play the mulit-player mode of games with A SINGLE copy.

So the situation as it stands is the deliberate crippling of their hardware is couple with a general disclaimer clause that evades liability to users who use such hacks. This of course keeps the movie and music people happy. BUT, do recall that Sony owns MGM amongst other studios and data content providers, so arguably this has less to do with legal liability than deliberate profit making through false scarsity (Monopoly theory anyone?)

So while I can understand the reasons for deliberately crippling their hardware, I think it's fundamentally to consumers. I mean we want such natural components and we don't think its fair to forsk out more than $700 locally to half a crippled machine!

Power to consumers! Consumers of the world unite! *couhg cough*


Thursday, April 07, 2005

Opening eyes to hackers

Pretty wide ranging issues for a short article. But here are the main strands of thought.

1. Data Protection. As anyone with a decent knowledge of technology can tell you, your computer is normally a huge repositary of data unless certain measures are taken. When you delete an item, the data is not destroyed totally. With easily available data recovery software (visit, alot of old files that you might not want others to view can be recovered and the use of data very damaging. The only way really is to format the entire hard drive if you want to ensure that the data is beyond recovery. But as this would wipe out all your data on your harddisk, this is best reserved for massive infestations of viruses, spyware and worms or if you simply don't need it anymore. For most part, there are softwares that would emulate this function and are generally good enough to prevent recovery.

This is particular pertinent for companies where various studies and experiments (US and Britain) have lead to the recovery of sensitive corporate materials like research data and client files from used harddisks and laptops. In fact this has become a favourite source of material for many a corporate spy. So the next time you toss out a harddisk and it isn't due to hardware failure, do format it if you have any data you wish to protect.

2. Identity theft. One of the problems is that with the right data, it can be very damaging to your credit rating if not your personal life. It would surprise many to know that the auto-complete function and many a 'cookies' contain data about your passwords and credit card numbers if you do online shopping. The danger of identity theft in Singapore has generally been restricted to lost ICs being used to borrow huge sums from loansharks which are then not returned. The innocent party is then harassed to no end unless they can persuade the loansharks that this was indeed a mistake of identity. But there have been recent news of identity spoofing and credit fraud being committed as well.

What is nerve wrecking however, is the thought that hackers could potentially gain access to your personal data. As long as the database is connected to the Internet, it is theoretically possible to hack into it and obtain information, see the LexisNexis fiasco one of the examples in the article.

BUT that is a pretty low probability situation. HOWEVER the real threat is that of spyware, adware and trojans. Some very nasty pieces of software have the capacity to steal your personal data (like passwords and credit card numbers) either by fooling you into entering them (phishing) or simply gaining access to your computer's data (trojans are a popular way) or by recording everything you type (key loggers) or by simply monitoring all your online activity (many cookies). So it isn't simply a matter of lower output or a general computer slowdown, it can be much more than that.

3. Identity cards and numbers. It might surprise local readers than the use of such numbers and cards are not a norm. In fact, everytime this issue is raised in Britian, the Home Minister is heckled. The last time they tried, it got eventually struck down. Even in the US with its social security number, the data is not kept very personal and not divulged the way our NRIC is in the papers. In fact, in nations like Germany and Hungary, the concept of an NRIC is unconstitutional. This idea, based upon the concept of privacy, that the government should have no business knowing all the information on your IC (your address?!!!). This concept is however pretty alien to Singaporeans. In fact, the whole debate is pretty much incomprehensible to us.

End of the day, have an anti-virus software and make sure it has anti-spyware capabilities. Include a firewall so that no one can come snooping into your computer. And clean out your computer regularly! My personal favourites are Ad-Aware SE Personal, Spybot - Search and Destroy, Zone Alarm and Avast! Anti-Virus. All absolutely free and all available at

So please do your part and help prevent the spread of such malicious software via the net.


Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Manila?s battle with the church

I think it's easy to forget that the US is not the only nation to have to deal with religious opposition to what many would consider sensible public policy.

In a previous post, I've made my stance clear that religion should be allowed to have a voice when policy is being made but not the sole voice or an important voice but a voice pushing a narrow interests. Same for any other group. In a pluralistic and diverse society, they ought not to be allowed any kind of special privilleges simply because they claim to speak for a recognised religion.

After all if someone from the Rastafarian faith (it's an actual religion) tried to push his drug policy anywhere in the world, he would probably continue the rest of his campaign in a straightsjacket in a rubber room. They believe that alcohol and tobacco are the white men's drug to weaken them and that Ganja (marijuanna) is holy because it brings them closer in communion with the gods. Before you think that's crazy, alot of the older religions use hallucinogens to induce such trances in their religious ceremonys. A Church in New Mexico got into trouble because of such particular tea.

Okay, Philippines, lovely country with some really kick-ass (scary) debaters, predominantly Roman Catholic, socio-economic inequalities with wealth particularly concentrated in the Chinois (Landed Filipina Chinese) of whom count President Arroyo as one of them.

The Church is seriously powerful. Cardinal Sin has been known to be called a king (or queen) maker. When he speaks, people listen and will go out to the streets. He has already disposed of two presidents directly through people's power and it's not inconceivable that he could indirectly influence the ballot box during election time.

Anyway, traditional circular problem of poor country with burgeoning birth rate but low death rate generally due to better medical attention and facilities particularly in the cities. Or as a World Bank official once memoriably put it: "The world got larger not because people started breeding like bunnies but stopped dropping like flies".

Please note, the following is heavily simplified and I fear over simplified at times. For much greater detail on issues like hunger and education and policies to deal with those please refer to my policy debate 'sutra' Global Problems, Global Solutions edited by Bjorn Lomborg (he of skeptical environmentalist fame) which came out of the Copenhagen Consensus.

So traditional literature says that the economy is put under strain from the additional populace it has to support (5000 per day) simply because there's really only so much you can water the soup and scramble the eggs. But this problem is execerbated by the simple fact that most of the populace is poor and generally poorly educate with little economic future. They in turn are the ones that generally have more children (often an issue of being unable to get access to contraceptives or early marriage). These children in turn tend to be born pre-maturely and grow up malnourished which in turn affects their educational and economic future.

Often, population control has been an effective measure. In the bad old days, it was war. Now we use contraceptives and abortions. The reason behind this is not simply greater resources. Yes, better health facilties and care, educational opportunities and jobs feed into a virtuous cycle that economic students might recognise as 'economic take-off'.

However, that could similarly be achieved by a greater amount of aid but it often goes with population control. One argument is that it provides the ability of women to determine their reproductive health and often that comes hand in hand with a greater ability to make more of their lives. Early marriages and particularly birth takes alot out of a young mother and keeps her stuck in the rut. The need to take care of the child greatly diminishes her capacity to improve her educational or job status. This is even more so when the lack of contraceptions and the highly inaccurate rythem method contribute to regular births. It aggravates an already bad situation. And when you add AIDS into the stew, you have a molotov cocktail ready to blow.

This is the pattern we see certain nations break out of. This is the pattern that exists in certain Latin American countries now. But the difference is that the Church does wield the same extent of power and influence that we see in Philippines (a legacy of the dictatorial era). And also it would appear that they are not as doctrinally strict or rigid (Catholicism in Latin America is kinda like what Chinese Religion is to Buddhism in Singapore).

So while I personally don't have great hope, maybe things will change with the new pope


Tuesday, April 05, 2005 - Fish farmers see future in oil platforms - Apr 4, 2005

I'm an environmentalist. A skeptical environmentalist (Fantastic book and a good dose of reality against those eco-doom people) but an environmentalist nevertheless. So I do my part to conserve the environment, try to persuade people not to drive unsafe (there are not only more prone to overturning but when it does, it actually kills a higher proportion than other vehicles, something like 4% of turn-overs but 30% of deaths) fuel inefficient (and I don't simply mean in comparison to compact models) SUV.

So when you see me railing against global warming hysteria or the Kyoto Protocol that's because I think the treaty and mechanisms are flawed and that economics make a better arbiter and regulator than most people give it credit for. Remember, airs get cleaner because people get richer and have the time, energy and resources to do something about it. The impact of governmental legislation is remarkable limited according to a study done by the LSE regarding particulate pollution in London.

Pretty comprehensive article. Nicely protrays the economic pressures for fishing as well as setting it off against the environmental impact of farming (The Ocean Conservation likening it to hog farming).

Background issues:

1. Over-fishing: Classic "Tragedy of the Commons". Beyond certain nautical miles from a nations shore, territorial waters become free for all. As such, there's no impetus by any nation to actual conserve the biological resources i.e fishes. In fact the opposite is true, everyone will try to extract the maximum scarce resources from these common areas because if they stay their impulses, someone else would go ahead anyway. This was the scenario with the 'commons' in England back then. Basically overgrazing of common pasture land to the detriment of all.

Reform? Well, one way would be to allocate property rights to the person most that would make most economic use of it. That's the theory behind Coarsen Bargains (named after Robert Coarse, nobel prize winner) where land will, through economic allocation and the price mechanism, fall to those who would make best economic use of it. Along the way, (negative) externalities will be subsumed and prized according by the market. But there's no global authority that would be capable of parcelling out the land without various nations squabling over the outcome. Not to mention enforcement will be a nightmare. So pray that we come to our environmental senses before we destroy the ocean.

2. The economics of farming. It's very very viable. so viable in fact that catfish farmers in USA are screaming for protection from Vietnam. Granted that that isn't deep ocean farming but the economics are pretty sound. We like fish, people eat fish. More people eat more fish every year (apparently). So yes, there's big business to be made in mass produced fish.

3. Environment. Well on the good side, there's recycling of oil rigs instead of letting them rot where they stand (which does wonders for coral formation by the way as well as precious metal mining, the more reactive precious metals basically replacing the less reactive ones at the rig....or is it the other way round?). Environmental groups of course scream unless there are torn down and shipped away (see Shell in Nigeria and the South Sea) but it's expensive and this is definately more economic efficient. On the bad side, pollution (see above). But considering that the fish stock is supposed to be depleting, then these extra fish shouldn't be straining the OCEAN's eco-system especially as was mentioned in the article. Strong currents mean dilution of the 'pollution' which is really acceptable because that's what fishes would have been doing anyway

4. Tourism. Honestly, the aesthetics suck. But we gas guzzlers should not and cannot complain (yes all you SUV drivers...grr...) But would people pay to go visit one of these farms? Um...well you decide and leave comments.

5. Taste. I'm hardly an epicurian of ANY rank, but I like my food and I know what I like. Yes, farmed fish does taste different from caught fish. But personally I think the quality is improving and honestly, without farmed salmon, I doubt I could eat my lovely grilled salmon or Unagi (eel) as often. So I'm not going to stick my nose in the air and dismiss these fishes as beyond hope in terms of fillets.

*Moots over with a sigh of relief*

Hope that explains the lack of updates over the past two days. Yes, it's finally over. Ended to mixed reviews. Two of the three judges thought that because of my debate background and mannerism, I was irritating... Oh well, at least their complaints were on stylistic points rather than substantial matter.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

BBC NEWS | Europe | Analysis: Turkish penal reform woes

Even assuming that the penal code as it stands goes through in the near future i.e. after the two month delay, it will nevertheless still be more progressive than the penal codes in our Austral-Asian Region, including in certain respects, our local one.

All references are to the Penal Code (Cap. 224, 1985 Sing. Rev. Ed.) unless stated. Check out for a public domain copy.

In particular:

1. Marital Rape exemption (s. 375, the exemption reads: Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 13 years of age, is not rape) Still in Singapore despite AWARE's valiant attempt (albeit a little misguided) to remove this exemption. The focus should be on reforming rape laws not removal of this exemption per se.

2. Honour killings specifically removed as a defence to murder (s. 300) under provocation (special exception 1: Culpable homicide is not murder if the offender whilst deprived of the power of self-control by grave and sudden provocation, causes the death of the person who gave the provocation, or causes the death of any other person by mistake or accident.)

Australia still allows for it unfortunately (case of immigrant Turkish father killing daughter for 'dishonouring' family). If it happens in Singapore, it would not be too difficult to get around the statute I suppose because of the Common Law test of the Reasonable Person.

To quote the BBC, the Penal Code will generally be less sexist and less discriminatory against women. In Singapore, the code discriminates against men particularly in terms of sexual offences. Note: I don't wish to discuss at this point whether this discrimination has the effect of getting more convictions or if it encourages women, whose modesty has been outraged or whom have been raped, to come forward. I simply want to comment on the law as IT IS.

So what is the situation as it stands locally?

Rape is a male thing: As the Penal Code defines it, it constitutes a man inserting his penis into a woman's vagina (the literal stautory meaning of sexual intercourse) without her consent. So it effective denies that a male can get raped by a female (Australian courts have recognised this possibility). This sexist mindset also has the undesired effect of making women perpetual sexual victims in need of the law's aid.

Furthermore things that we would ordinarily consider as rape i.e. forced non-consensual insertions (penetration) of foreign objects into another's orifice DOES NOT constitute rape. Instead it comes under Outrage of Modesty (s. 354), Insult to Modesty (s. 509 only applicable to women mind you), Unnatural Offences (s. 377) or voluntarily causing hurt (s. 321 and note: NOT grievous hurt, which requries very specific serious types of injuries).

All these are highly unsatisfactory because their maximum sentence is generally that of a year or two so unless the prosecutor can make twenty charges stick you'll never hit the maximum sentence for rape. So, there are a number of nasty cases floating around which the criminal never got his just deserts e.g. forcing the victim to suck on a dog's penis. Or forced fellacio, or sticking implements up the victim's vagina and/or anus.

So if we adopt the more refined definition of hurt as most jurisdictions have done, then we will not encounter this problem anymore. In addition, we'll get various fringe benefits like making the law more gender neutral.

Peace -- Main Page

*This is brilliant*

Check out their counter on the Kyoto Protocol. It exaggerates the numbers a little but the idea is there. THEORATICALLY, the Kyoto Protocol will lower global mean temperatures (gods know what that means...surface? stratosphere?) by about 0.5 degree calcius by 2050. But the Europeans are finally discovering they can't meet the unrealistic targets they set for themselves.


Saturday, April 02, 2005 - Illinois governor: No delays in birth control prescriptions - Apr 1, 2005

Background: There's a movement in America (where else but the land of the free and unfree, tolernant and intolerant, separation of church and state but with religious fundamentalism) which lobbies for something called Conscience Laws, which basically allows for people NOT to have to do something that is against their conscience. The fact that it is fundamentally a religious motivated act nevertheless shouldn't count against it (for the secular humanist amongst us) nor does it automatically give a moral stamp on it (for the more religiously inclined). HOWEVER, it has most often be used in conjunction with refusals to provide abortions or even to sell contraception.

So given that most laws are morally neutral (except for the criminal ones), what's the issue with this particular set of laws? Well, women have been hassled and lectured when they attempt to fill their contraception prescription. It is fundamentally discriminatpry and it's awful to have to find anothe place that would serve you.

As such, this law by the Illinois Governor is a very sensible one. It's an emergency rule that requires pharmacies to fill birth control prescriptions quickly. So no hassle, no lectures, the onus is on the store to provide another pharmacist to fill the prescription if the first one refuses to do so on grounds on conscience.

I think it is a nice balance. While I cannot personally see the fuss behind contraceptions I will not attempt to impose my views on others (that's what Liberalism is about generally) even though this bunch would want to impose theirs on me. So fine, if it is really as morally outrageous to them then no point losing qualified and trained pharmacist. BUT at the same time, I think it's only fair to ensure that these women get what they came for as well. It would be absurd and ludicrous if we did not attempt to counter the side effects of the law.


Friday, April 01, 2005 - Why Congress didn't help Terri Schiavo's parents - Mar 31, 2005

For Year 1 NUS Law Students: This is very helpful for Legal Theory, see in particular why the author thinks that politics played a huge role for the federal judge in deciding the way he did.

Peace - Study finds dandruff in?air pollutants - Mar 31, 2005

It seems that biological cellular material once thought to be insignificant in terms of air pollutents i.e. aerosols now make up a significant minority 40% thereabouts.

*Snigger* I suppose this would entitle Proctor & Gamble to claim in their next Head and Shoulder's Anti-Dandruff shampoo to be environmentally friendly and helpful with the climate change problem.

New Orleans' first black DA in his early days of office fires 53 white workers and hires only black workers to replace them.

Well...discrimination is discrimation, positive or otherwise. As such it would be useful to look at the outcome desired. Now, he wanted to make his workplace more diverse and reflective of the city's racial makeup. UNFORTUNATELY (or fortunately), the law forbids mass firings to achieve that end.

*Rolls eyes* why didn't he simply hire more blacks. More importantly, what about the other races?!!