Tuesday, May 31, 2005

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Indonesia starts anti-polio blitz

For more informations surrounding the vaccine controvesy, click here for a wekipedia entry.

The sad thing is that the World Health Organisation was so very close to eradicating it, especially in Africa. Unfortunately, certain misconceptions came up on whether the oral polio vaccine was in fact haram or halal (permitted), the result of which saw a dip in the vaccination of children allowing a resurrence it seems of the disease.

Now, there's only two thing I want to add/elaborate on to the Wekipedia article above.

1. The thing about vaccinations is that it works not simply on the basis of the individual but that of the herd i.e. the so called 'herd immunity'. As such, it's not actually irrational for a person or a parent to not want vaccination IF the population has about 80% (although some argue this needs to be much higher and 80% is actually close to breaking point) of its members immune from the disease. It effectively prevents any possible outbreak from happening. The problem is that where you're talking about isolated populations like that in certain African nations and rural Indonesia then, it really doesn't matter that the whole of Jakarta is vaccinated when your immediate neighbours are not.

2. There is fundamentally a distinction that needs to be drawn between the developed and developing world. And that is that the developed world essentially has the luxury to choose whether they need vaccination. In the developing world, particular those without access to sanitation and clean water, it really is a bo-brainer choice.

Anyway, one could very easily wonder what the whole fuss is about. After all most of us are vaccinated and it wouldn't pose any particular threat to us. But I think it would be awfully tragic if we did not attempt to prevent what is a very horrible disease that affects children and essentially robs them of their future. After all, we're not talking about the richer developed or developing world here. We're talking generally about the rural poor who really don't need additional problems heaped on them.

The only silver lining that I can see from this entire mess is that there might be something good coming from it, particular that of political will. The Indonesian government I feel has shown remarkable speed and will in launching a very ambitious programme. And it is especially heartening in the aftermath of Nigeria where it took a massive rise in the number of cases in polio before political and religious leaders (issuing of fatwas that said that oral polio was halal) actually did something to halt the epidemic.

More importantly, I think this was awoken the WHO and the rest of the world to the importance not simply of vaccines but more importantly the necessity of implementation and its adjunct problems i.e. getting your message across. So hopefully, the next time there's a scare about vaccinations governmental agencies would be much better able to respond to it.

After all, we've had some problems here at home where certain parents have responded (or overreacted) to certain fears regarding vaccines. In particular the link between Autism and the MMR (Mumps, Measles and Rubella) vaccine as well as the mercury in vaccine bit. Now, the fear is particularly unwarrented and the link (especially for the autism one) has been questioned ever since that particular report was published. As for the mercury, considering the minute portions worry more about the next char kway teow (or burger) you eat than the vaccine. But seen in the light of herd immunity and the perception that such things could never happen here makes their decision to withdraw their child from the vaccination seem almost rational.

So any plan to combat this fear must necesarily consist of the following three things.

1. Good science. Alot of these fears are pretty much due to junk science if you're feeling uncharitable or 'the desk-drawer syndrome' if you are. Basically, science journals aren't interested in publishing an article that finds NO links between A and B or C or D and these get thrown into the desk drawer. So very likely there could have been 30 other papers finding no links but all you need is ONE paper to make it into public consciousness and you've got a problem.

2. Balancing of risk. Yes those side effects are really pesky, but we are talking about an immunity from a much nastier outcome after all.

We cannot keep assuming that we will be safe. The globalisation of the world and in particular jet travel means that very likely a pandemic (cross border as opposed to a localised one a.k.a epidemic) is a matter of when not if. Case in point, Avian Flu.

3. Civic duty. I know this sounds a little corny but think of it as a duty for the betterment of the world. If sufficient people don't do it for the wrong reasons then you effectively put everyone else and not just you or your kid at risk.

*Mr Fluffy has stopped bothering the author when he blogs nowadays. Mr Fluffy is busy with his corronation as well as the invitations he's sending to the world leaders to attend his ascension to the throne. He's betting on the fact that by playing the terrorism card and acting as a stabilising influence in the region (and deposing a nasty dictator while he was at it), he should be able to garner the support of the major nations. That and the various natural resources falling within his economic zones...=P*


Monday, May 30, 2005

Hong Kong Reporter Being Held By China

*Breaking News?*

This Hong Kong journalist also happens to be the ST's chief China Correspondent. Seems that was on the way to meet his source to pick up some political sensitive secret interviews about the 1998 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Wife and ST told to keep quiet about it, but wife got tired of waiting for weeks without any news and has gone public. Story broken by Reuters and I think CNA picked it up. Curious to see what ST says next...


Seems that CNA did pick it up. But since I caught the tail end of the report from their correspondent in Hong Kong, I have absolutely no idea what else it was about. Something about this incident that puzzles me greatly is that if the Washington Post described this journalist accurately, then why would China want to imprison one of their biggest supporters and proponents.

The nasty conclusion that one could draw from this is that the secret interviews with Zhao Zhiyang regarding the Tiananmen Massacre/Incident was REALLY that politically sensitive. Best guess? Probably something explosive that could be used on a top official of the CCP. As it is, an article in The Economist lends this theory SOME credence albeit in a highly obligue fashion when it talks about fevour in ideology being necessary to rise to the top of the party. Considering the nature of the Tiananmen Square Massacre and the nature by which the oppression took, one cannot help but wonder what really happen. I haven't read the Tiananmen Square Papers and now I'm looking forward to reading some of those papers.

Another big question. I know that this guy is a journalist and the professionalism of journalism is the truth. But even so, considering his bias for the past 15 years, why approach him in the first place and second, why even bother to find out? Maybe I'm entirely too cynical about the profession but unless this source was threatening to go to someone else, why bother really?

*On Mercs and PMCs*

Too lazy to do a post on the French rejection of the EU Constituion in their referendum, so I'm cribbing a reply I made to a post on the Young Republic.

Mercenary groups have been around for quite some time, the most famous and feared of which were probably the Swiss Mercs who were barred by the Vactican (I think) from selling their services outside of Switzerland. The entire history of warfare (particular on continental Europe) was one of mercenary warfare. See in particular their use by the Holy Roman Empire. At any rate, whichever position you wish to take, there's probably going to be sufficient examples from this period.

Fast forward to today, what exactly do we mean by Mercenaries?

a. We have Private Military Contractors (PMCs) who provide a whole host of services, from Sandline International who will provide actual ex-SAS/Special Ops personnel to hunt down fugitives or to fight on an actual front (well...actually Sierre Leone is one of those 'modern' wars which blur the lines between war zones and insurgent hit peace-keeping zones).

b. And then you have those who provide personnel training and consultation and mostly bodyguard stuff (Executive Outcomes, since disbanded, fought in SL and Angola but provided mostly combat support roles in Iraq).

c. And then there are also groups like Halliburton (and particularly its subsidiary Kellog, Brown & Root) who don't carry weapons but does almost everything else which the media lumps together with PMCs. For a description, see their own website here

For an extensive treatment of PMCs in Iraq, see here.

Considering the fact that most nations find them politically expident to carry out policies that might otherwise be troublesome if linked to them (say one of your MNCs are operating in a territory which you have otherwised deemed an enemy and hence if a civil war breaks out you really can't send in the military), I think it would be safe to assume that they are sufficient reliable. If so, I think it is not entirely inconceivable that for an army that wishes to conserve its resources in terms of armed personnel services, it could outsource things like training or translators or even sentry personnel duties in a war zone but away from the frontline, e.g. protection of oil pipelines and infrastructure in Kuwait or even in Iraq as the armed forces push on.

So while I can conceed the theoretical point that perhaps money and a contract can't beat (when it is genuine) things like Loyalty and Duty, nevertheless it is worth noting that there seems to be a deafening silence for substantiation on this point. My personal feel is that history has developed a pretty robust code of conduct for these people. Furthermore, these mercs are no longer 2nd sons with no inheiritance or people with criminal records but honourably discharged ex-military personnel (some poached even when in service which breeds it own problems for the military that trained them in the beginning). As such, considering how competitive this industry is, their reputation and continual survival is on the line with every contract they make and every mission they undertake.

However, it is also true that they are shrewd operators. After all, put yourself in their shoes, do you really want to be forced to fight against overwhelming odds to the last person? So within their contracts are clauses that allow them to scoot when certain criterias are met. Of course in the mess that is war, anything could happen after all.

So yes, while there probably is nothing stopping them from running with military secrets once the war is over (but why entrust to them anyway?) but like almost every double agent, the very success of their operations made them immediate suspect by their new political masters. Furthermore, as far as I can tell, most of them PMC have links to particular countries or group of countries so I think this makes such a danger more remote.

The real problem is really with the nebulousness of their legal status. After all, they aren't really soldiers as we understand them. Although it could be argued that they do fulfill the criterias under the Geneva Convention and hence ought to be entitled to POW status is capture. I pretty much think that this is a very academic problem. After all they do have a very long history and most armies have ways of dealing with them. Besides since they aren't realy affiliated with anyone, they tend to get ransomed back to their companies more than anything else. However, in today's war where employees of private firms can get killed and executed because they are perceived to be aiding the enemy, that convention might get turned on its head.

*Mr Fluffy ignores this entire post magnificantly. He has opted to built his entire army of Minions of Twilight rather than do the crass thing of hiring mercs. As a result he has swiftly crushed the opposition in his quest to annex the tropical island. As of now, he has begun remodeling his Imperial Palace in his image. Mr Fluffy is also soliciting ideas for names to rename his Imperial Conquest Annexed Territory*


Sunday, May 29, 2005

CNN.com - Lebanon begins Syria-free vote - May 29, 2005

Read article for history.

Before I begin, here's what might seem a heretical new strand of thought from the author. Yes, the 'bleeding-heart liberal' (I'm actually apparently a Goldwater Conservative, although I believe that the government could do more good that he did) that the author is is now going to declare that there is no such thing as Democracy.

*Mr Fluffy of course believes that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun, a Swiss bank account and being irresistably cute. Mr Fluffy should be Most Absolute Emperor of his tropical island soon...at least once his robotic minions of twlight have finish hunting down the renements of the opposition force.*

Over the course of the past week, having debated way way too many times that should be humanely allowed over the short span of 5 days and because of sheer expidency I have come to the conclusion that democracy is a verb not a noun.

Here's the 'history' for this 'new' train of thought. Last round of the AUDC, the motion read: "This house would offer debt relief in exchange for democratisation' and I was already mind wiped from a couple of bad debates and weird results from the earlier three rounds in the day. Besides it was ready 10 p.m. and all I had to look forward to was a round of democratic and developmental theory to look forward to.

Now my teammates (CL and Damit) had debated this motion before in the australs and they had cruelly mocked the proposition for even believing that the offer of debt relief was going to persuade dictators to step down. So since I could think of a country in Sub-Saharan/North Africa to invade to 'encourage' them to step down, in a moment of epithany, I decided that Democracy was a process not a destination.

Now, to be honest, it's both but since it was a debate, I felt morally justified in running the case we did, i.e. we would exclude dictatorships and focus on nascent democracies in Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC). After all, it seems that weak democracies are sometimes worse than no democracy in poor countries. (see last week's The Economist, in particular its economics column for a more much more extensive emphirical treatment) The 'only' benefit that being a democracy brings is that you won't suffer from a famine.

Well anyway, as any good Democrat/Liberal can tell you, there really isn't a monolith called Democracy. After all, in it's unmitigated fashion, all it means is majority rule. Hence the problem of the tyranny of the masses that is checked and balanced by things like transparency and accountability and social institutions and civil society and separation of power. Heck, you don't even need civil (say Freedom of Speech) and political (say multi-party politics) or even economic (say the right to strike or a fair minimum wage) liberty, see e.g. Asian Democracies. Even in Western Democracies, it would be instructive to look within the EU for the various styles of democracy that are available to voters (British: 3rd Way, German: Consensus Nanny State, Scandinavian: Consensus Social Welfare Liberalism, France: Extreme Secular Humanist Elitist Democracy).

But from the short list of required attributes listed above for the sustaining of a decent democracy, an economically poor country is bound to have a lot of problems sustaining those requirements. Worse still, the word Democracy is imbuned with a mystical power that seems to quite a few people to be a panacea to all ills. Well unfortunately, not quite so. As such, nascent democracies are perpetually under threat not just from the opposition but also the expectations of the people.

As such, I think this has had me less adverse to the idea of Asian Democracy. But as far as I can see, the concept of Asian Democracy is self defeating. Simply put, the suppression or withdrawal of civil rights in return for economic prosperity in the social contract formed between the electorate and government will ultimately mean the doom of the idea if successful. Historical forces ensure that democracy (which I think Marx correctly identified as the government by which the middle class takes control of power in the nation) will ultimately reign. Every nation with a GDP per capital above $15,000 is a democracy. But more than that, this figure is steadily dropping, a democracy is the only form of government can can claim the legitimacy of the people (of course, it is also true about things like state-capture by public interests groups), people are demanding it earlier and earlier.

Furthermore, the chances of an Asian Democracy succeeding is actually quite narrow. You literally need a group of people determined to hold on and wield the power FOR THE ECONOMIC GOOD of the people and not enrich themselves. Case in point, Africa. So perhaps a better alternative to the definition of an Asian democracy would include qualifiers such as strong institutions, accountability of officials and transparency of government and some effective checks and balances.


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

BBC NEWS | Americas | Christians purge video game demons

I'm not going to comment on the effects of violence in video games because that has seriously been done to death. And rather than attempt to fight a rearguard action on this issue, parents and schools should be doing their job better. Heck, how about gun control eh?

*Mr Fluffy denounces all attempts to purge video games of violence, gore and sex. He claims that since parents and schools and government don't seem to want to teach children the proper moral values, this thankless task has fallen to poor games developers. *

*Mr Fluffy also wants to know which games will provide the youth with the necessary reflexes, military, strategic and killing skills that will be consumingly important once the brain-sucking mind flayers from the Planet Nebula X comes to invade our home planet! Mr Fluffy proclaims that when that day comes, the horde of teenage playing CS and Halo 2 will come to our rescue.*

Seriously though I feel sorry for the game developers who simply want to provide games that appeal to a certain demographic that ought to be able to think for themselves and don't need any more mothering and nannying from anyone else i.e. the 15 and above age group. Anything younger and you need to wonder why parents are letting them play these games in the first place. *Mr Fluffy thinks maybe they are the only ones whose heart won't give out while playing games like Silent Hill 4 and Fatal Frame 2 even in the brightest day with all the lights on in the midst of a group of people i.e. the most non-scary scenario possible.* I confess that I dislike those games mostly because I don't have the necessary reflexes i.e. I suck at them. I much prefer Role Playing Games or puzzle games.

But more than that though, it's going to be a huge mistake attempting to create games like Catechumen i.e. 'Doom without the gore' and I fear the venture capitalist supporting them will regret it. Because in the history of 'Christian Games' none have been successful for one very simple reason. THEY ARE NOT FUN!!!! Which is the very reason why these firms are mostly niche firms providing games to Churches etc.

Even in the wholly unlikely event that they are keep their moralising and properganda out of the game, you're still going to appeal to a small small sub section of society. I'm willing to wager that no kid is going to want to buy it and the only portion of the populace that will are those religious right type who will buy it for their kids simply because it has the word Christian on it. But these are the same types who would buy anything with that word on it. In which case, the logical business plan would be to produce any sort of game and market it aggressively as a Christian Game produced by Christian Game Developers.

And this is an important consideration because these developers are not simply removing violence from games. If a non-violent game is what you want, may I suggest sports, puzzles, simulations or even RPGs (oops it has magic in it so these parents are not likely to buy them)


Monday, May 23, 2005

A dangerous mix of politics and trade

Very short, sweet and succient article on why multilateralism is good and (by implication) unilateral and bilateral trade deals are not so good. And how, furthermore, China's retaliation unilaterally and the US and EU refusal to put their new tariffs under WTO rules is going to backfire on all of them.

The only real argument I can add to this is simple math. Assume that you want to create trade deals between three countries using only bilateral deals. You would require a total of 3 bilateral deals to create 1 multilateral web. Bump it up to four nations and it becomes a web of 6 separate deals. With five nations, it becomes a web of 10. With six it becomes 15.

Now, considering that we lived through one long torturous long procedure to get one Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with America (and mind you being Singapore, we don't threaten any big lobbies like agriculture or steel or cars...or even bras come to think of it) i.e. all the way from Clinton's 2nd term, that's a lot of man hours lost! Not to mention the wastage when ONE multilateral deal can be cut at the WTO, or more accurate if nations would simply operate with WTO rules and arbitration mechanisms.

The irony of the WTO is that maybe the reason why no one likes it is because it is TOO 'democratic'. Or more accurately, since EVERY nation has a veto, it's one huge large unwieldy oligarchy. And considering that the entire Doha round seems to be dead in the water, the big trading powers are not going to waste their time going around attempting to appease the Developing World led by Brazil. The painful truth is that both sides have their points. Brazil led nations are right in demanding for an end to unfair tariffs and subsidies (particularly in argiculture) being levied and used by 1st World nations. Bush has his corn, the EU has CAP (massively wasteful, read the White Paper for a laugh)

However, they still remains within this group a terrible suspicion of free trade and in particular skepticism about the liberalising investment (note: this does not refer to hot money which 'caused' the AEC but more long term ones). This so-called Singapore Issues were shot out of the water even before it came to anything. I suspect that this has more to do with politics than it does with economics (I hope). The traditional presumption is that tariffs and protection are good either in and of themselves or as a bargaining chip. So if the G20 give up on Investment then they have no leverage over agriculture.

But the problem is, similar to that of the EU and US. By effectively bypasting and undermining the WTO they really is no system left and everyone 'loses' (whether direct losses or indirect forgone gains).

*The author is still hoping for his environment/economics debate*


Sunday, May 22, 2005

CNN.com - Student journalists sue school district - May 20, 2005

As mentioned previously, it would really be nice to have an organisation like the ACLU who will stump up the expertise and skills necessary to fight a suit (whether filing or defending against one) with regards to civil liberties).

And it's very nice to see students who are willing to fight the chilling effects of censorship. While taking a good hard look at myself, I hesitate to say I would do similarly. In fact, I'll probably freely admit to be more than willing to be co-opted (others might say sell-out). But I like to think that there are lines I won't cross, but if faced with the prospect of a lawsuit, I again would hesitate to claim that I would fight it to thr death. And I doubt I'm the only person who feels this way, hence my prior suggestion not to use the nuclear option when dealing with defamation.

At any rate, while granting that the Supreme Court has previously ruled on the existence of the Freedom of Speech in school (and by extension school papers) which sets a legal precedent for those school journalist to follow, and further granting that the Freedom of Speech probably means a lot to them there (Article 1 of the US Constitution: Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech). Nevertheless, why do we see an absolute dearth of material in our local context.

First off, I think the accusation has been levered before, that Singaporean (and students) are basically apolitical, whether through natural inclination or societal conditioning. As such it is no wonder we don't see the sort of hard hitting and provocative articles that some of us have demanding from time to time. Cherian George argues that Singapore is an 'air-conditioned nation', so comfortable that we effectively become depolitised and apolitical.

Secondly, I don't think we can deny the fact that we self-censor sometimes unthinkingly or sometimes even consciously due to a culture of fear (whether justified or not). This was James Gomez's thesis which I have quite a lot of sympathy for. But fear is not easily overcomed and any reversal in policy has have a massive reversal effect.

And even should the journalist decide not to self-censor, the editors might. A curious manner in which our society works is that sometimes it is not the writer or the poet who gets into trouble by the higher-up who allowed it or allowed it to happen (yes this is an oblique reference...go find out if you can =P). This does extend beyond the editor to the owners or even organisations that control the paper.

And even more fundamentally, this even assumes that school papers are meant to be intellectually heavy and thoughtful as opposed to being a properganda and simple fact recitation for the school (see in particular school magazines from secondary and JC level)

I think that this scenario does not generate so much of anger as it does sadness, that what these people and organisations are doing, they are doing (I hopes) from the best of intentions. But the result is the converse. Free debate and discussion is important. You can't make a point with simply one line of argumentation, you need a non-parallel line of argumentation to decide an issue by one-self. After all, why are in we school; to get an education and not simply to be topped up with facts or be trained. Passive learning is bad and not simply because of lower fact retention. By not actively engaging in what is being taught, one does not question what one is being taught and might simply be perpetuating an error that has gone on unchallanged because no one is thinking.

*Mr Fluffy snorts and thinks that the author talks and writes too much and actually does too little to act on his inclinations. But the author thinks that the big difference is that Mr Fluffy is effectively immortal as long as someone who changes his stuffing on a semi-regular basis. Besides Mr Fluffy has his minions of twilight and sufficient virtual weaponary to talk over a medium sized nation. In fact, look out for a forthcoming series on the adventures of Mr Fluffy as he takes over an island and reshapes it in his image.*


*Vox Populi Vox Dei*

The voice of the people is the voice of god. But because we think that the entire phrase is too long and Vox Dei is not simply arrogant but presumptious to the nth degree, we're calling ourselves Vox Populi.

No, this is not an oblique reference to the Singaporean Blogosphere but what the team I'm on is calling ourselves for the SMU Hammers Open.

So going to be away for the whole of the this week at various debating tournaments. Will not be updating for sometime. But I'll be back...=P

*Mr Fluffy is chuckling and thinking evil and malicious thoughts now that the author will not be able to maintain his monopoly over the computer. So the author makes a disclaimer now, if you see any weird post after this date, blame Mr Fluffy*


Friday, May 20, 2005

*Too tired to blog*

Am going to affect the style of Wayne's World slash angsty cynical Creative Arts Programme writer. Mr Fluffy will as usual comment. And I'm going to do this with the help of our very own main English daily the ST! Whee!

1. Human to human bird flu risk grows.

Like wow man, like we're all going to, you know, die a horrible death. And like, this is like all the fault of us humankind for violating and destroying Mother Earth. And like, you know, evil science, all that travelling around so that we can spread the virus. It's like divine vengence man, the big man in the sky wants to start over. And like you know, remake the world with happy peace and animal loving people.

*Mr Fluffy is all for happy peace loving and animal loving people. Mr Fluffy is also quite willing to teach any mere human who does not believe it a lesson in tough love and corrective reeducation, preferably with needles and nail-guns*

2. Want to win that golf game? Wear red

No no that's not good man. Like golf, it's a bad game because capitialist i.e. rich old white man play it. And like, it's bad for the environment and like how much precious resources is wasted, like land in Singapore and like water, you know, that stuff you drink to survive *Mr Fluffy drinks blood so he wouldn't know, although he says that hot chocolate will do in a pinch...hint hint...*

And Saudi Arabia, yeah, big desert but they got golf courses man and they drain all those precious fluids from Mother Nature so rich man can hit a small white ball with a big stick. Yeah, I think it's compensation dude.

3. Buddhism's draw is no longer as a folk religion.

Like YEAH MAN! You see the light, come come me brothers and sisters as we sit round the campfire and sing songs of love and peace and goodness! But like, this ain't a new thing and has been a trend like for the past decade. In the land Down Under, it's the fastest growing religion and the 2nd largest now.

And like this ain't you know news? Just because the paper publishes it don't mean that they spotted it first.

*Mr Fluffy's religion is Shock and Awe and carrying a very very big gun*

4. Bo and Carrie in Idol finale

ROCK AND ROLL!!! Yeah! Pop culture gets a huge kick up its butt! No longer will the air ways be dominated by that trash they call pop and new hip hop. Rock and roll man! Fueling the passion of the counter-culture of the 70s. Return to free love and peace and brother and sisterhood. Rock on Bo!

*Mr Fluffy in a period of giddiness starts jamming on his electric guitar to the envy of the entirely ungifted author*

5. Plain truth is, porn dehumanises.

Ouch that painful man. The Senior Writer strikes again and like yeah, the irony is like delicious man. Past article he lashes out against feminism (and betrays his lack of knowledge of the various types of feminism) and yeah, he says that like more women watch porn and like there is female-friendly porn. And now, he quotes the 'feminist' (like note man, just the extreme feminist, the liberal feminist are like 'sex-positive') argument so what gives man?

Well The Man says "First, the fact that people use internet porn surreptiously, and in private, shows that the public display, sale or use of porn is offensive to many". This is like an assertion? Like maybe bacause the PUBLIC display/sale/hire and distribution of pornography is illegal? Like when they see those uncensored VCDs, people don't bat an eyelid. What is The Man talking about?

And yeah, like give a definition of pornography man, like what the hell are you talking about? You know, James Joyce, Irish guy, great writer? Like his book, Ulysses, top book of the century, was like considered porn before? And also Tropic of Cancer and Moll Flanders? Classic literature called porn once upon a time.

And yeah, he like accepts the liberal argument of harm but says that harm occurs anyway. And "like rape, pornography has nothing to do with love". And I'm like so what man if it has nothing to do with love, and like what's the link with rape? (Author's note: The link, according to Extreme Feminist like Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon is that sex is rape and hence pornography is rape)

And like furthermore, he says like porn is a substitute for intimacy? Like maybe that's true dude, but when it comes to the real thing, people ain't going to think it's like pornography, it's like you said man, a substitute, it's not a replacement.

And like holding women to high standards? Like maybe you should just look at your female magazines? And your actress and models? Like read Catherine MacKinnon's work yourself man (Author's note he lamblasts them in his previous article about feminist so go figure)

And The Man says it degrades females. And like the first response I had was like this flashback to Legal Theory clash when we were discussing MacKinnon and like this smart dude (Mahesh) makes like the DUH point, like what about female-friendly or couple-friendly porn or like porn produced by women or like homosexual pornography (how could lesbian porn for example be degrading to females) and I'm like, maybe he changed his mind or his bias is working again like that's just not good man.

Yeah and like he makes the life-story of Lovelace (of Deep Throat fame) like the definative story of pornography. And like that's about as useful as talking about the robber barons when discussing capitalism today. Like go read Annabel Chong's stuff or Jeena Jameson. And like Jane Doe of Roe v Wade, yeah she became anti-choice in the end but it don't like prove anything?

And like really man, you wanna prove something, you like need to substantiate it and 'adduce' some evidence. I don't see none mon. So like demonstrate how us males degrade women. I mean it ain't like you use the Extreme Feminist argument about harm (the unfalsifiable theory that goes because the liberal definition of harm is too narrow, and the harm that we measure is an aspect of society that cannot be measure, we cannot show you the harm but we know it exists). So like The Man, prove your case.

I mean, like yeah, if you defined pornography as those showing hardcore sexual violence against women like I can feel you man. But if that's the case you should ban pronography that degrades the subject man (so like those ladies who like dominatrix stuff must like get it illegally) not some fuzzy blanket stuff daw'g.

I mean, like the ST 70% of Singaporeans watch porn and like the internet's been around for like quite some years and like where's the bad attitude against women. And like you can use certain facts like general perception or violence against women or sexual harassment as 'proxy indicators'.

Man...like what a pain. Peace!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

BBC NEWS | Americas | US rejects ban on women in combat

Urgh...wanted to do a fluffy human interest post today. *Mr Fluffy takes the opportunity to repeatly stomp on the author's head for taking fluffyness in vain*

But I figured that it's not inconceivable that the manner in which my luck is going, I'm going to get a debate on this motion. This effectively combines two of my most hated topics, the Military and Gender Issues.

Background: Women are already banned from frontline duty anyway. but the problem is that in areas like Iraq (particularly Iraq and possibly places like Afghanistan), what the military is facing, is not the frontline but an 'insurgency'. Hence women are not barred from serving in such insurgent hit areas.

Not doubt, the better informed reader (which should be most of my regular readers =P) would be aware that the US lost less lives in the actual war than the hot peace that followed. So it might seem logical that if the original aim was not to put women in the line of danger, then they ought not have to serve as combat service support.

Now I think that's a whole lot of bunk. If you signed up to serve the nation (actually, for anyone who watched A Few Good Men, nation in the Marines comes after God and Corp), and are willing to voluntarily risk your life, why should you then be hampered by a flat ban on where you can and cannot serve.

Now, it would be foolish of me to deny that the fact they do not need to serve in the frontline is a valid consideration in the minds of the ladies who originally sign on. However, there are a number of very insidious effects that occur if women are not allow to serve in frontline duties (or insurgent duties as it may).

1. It is a form of discrimination. To both genders really. Given that you have voluntarily assumed the risk of death and danger, why ought women be 'privileged' in such a fashion. If men have to risk their lives, why not the women? Danger pay only goes for far in compensating people for the risk that is assumed. I seriously doubt it compensates them for their lack of choice in this matter as well.

2. Note the quotation marks on the word privilege because keeping them from frontline duties is a very effective way of discriminating and hindering the progress of women in the armed forces. Let's face it, without a frontline presence or being bloodied in some form of war, your chances of progressing and being promoted diminishes. Lest we forget, the ancient saying does go, "Here's to bloody wars and plagues". Don't knock field commissions, it's a very effective way of getting promoted. Besides, a Silver Heart or a Purple Heart is going to look very very good on your resume when your docket comes up for review. So without frontline duties or even hot zones, your chances take an automatic knock as it is.

Further perpetuating this inequitability is that fact that the likelihood of women being pushed into combat support roles or instructional roles goes up. Following the logic above, this diminishes them. But at the same time, it's a terribly inefficient system of allocating manpower. Because your first consideration will not be ability but gender. Considering that the army has once again missed it's recruitment levels, this discrepency will take on a more serious tone as the years go by.

On the flip side however, there is a huge question of whether women at the frontline at more of a help than a hindrence. Military research has shown that a soldier is a number of times more ready to stop and aid a wounded comrade of the opposite gender. While this is all well and good in a training scenario, in war, breaking up the charge is a bad bad thing to do.

Similarly, the problem of female P.O.Ws are an extra worry on top of the usual ones facing P.O.Ws. So as not to offend the more delicate sensibilities of my readers, we shall not go into the exact details of what could happen.

And even granting that this has become more of a technologically driven and push button warfare than in the history of humankind, it nevertheless is true that the drift of war towards that of asymetrical warfare (where one side is stronger than the other hence necesitating the use of guerilla tactics). What this means, particular in certain frontlines and cleanup operations is that you mean people on the ground to go into hostile terriroty to hunt down the oppostion. In mountainous regions and in built-up areas, alot of technological advantages that one may have had in a more conventional war ceases to exist. So unless you want to utterly wreck the city and kill indiscriminately, you really can't simply demolish a building. Signals break up, disrupting communication and GPS capabilities (of course these are being actively overcomed as we speak).

What this means is that biological difference do play a role. And it is a FACT that the average male is fitter, stronger, faster and has more stamina than the average women (just look at ANY sport that is played by both genders). Admittedly, women do have increased tenacity and a pain tolerance that is 7 times higher than males. But regardless, the fact that carrying 20kg packs with weapons and operating in hostile regions is probably on balance more suitable for males.

Of course, conversely, the presence of women can be a VERY calming effect in a peacekeeping region. After all, it's hard for a guy to tell a Muslim woman to unveil herself or take her burkha off.

*Mr Fluffy also adds that whoever doubts the capabilities of women in combat only has to say that to an Israeli female who would be more than capable of handing your ass to you on a platter. Mr Fluffy thinks that a cheaper alternative would be to repeated run your head into the wall. Mr Fluffy also assures the readers that watching a whole bunch of women charge at you with Sten Machine-guns is a terrifying sight, readily rivaling the umpteenth repeat of horrid local dramas.*


Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Dan Gillmor on Grassroots Journalism, Etc.: Journalistic Ethics, Codes of

Links to examples of codes of Journalist Ethics. Good stuff, am now wondering whether there is more to being a 'professional journalist' than adherence to the code. I presume there would be, maybe on the technical aspect. Which still does not answer the question why bloggers ought to be put on a lower runk than journalist. *Mr Fluffy takes a big nerf bat and smacks the author around till he promises to get on with the rest of his blog*

TODAYonline: Don't Flush Away Bush's sins in wake of Koran debacle

Catchy title huh? To be fair to Mr Lobe, the title is at odds with what he wrote. And maybe because of editorial constrains and word limits he was unable to more fully substantiate and balance his piece. And I'm certain he was not attempting to deflect attention away from the Newsweek Fiasco *Mr Fluffy senses...sarcasm and snarkiness. Gets the other stuffed toys to wail on the author till he promises to be good*

Anyway, I've already done a post on the Newsweek retraction where I argued that even if the allegations were true, Newsweek was sloppy in the sense that it did not have sufficient substantiation to shield it from Executive pressure which would have only been logical in the aftermath of a very foreseeable riot. So Mr Jim Lobe's first half of his article which talks about the lengths to which Newsweek 'verified' its article can be dealt with (good summary though).

Anyway, the second half of his article which aims to shed light on an already thoroughly raked piece of 'news' that is on the legal justification of the war and whether Bush (and Blair) were unduely using governmental pressure on the Intelligence Services to 'prove' that Saddam has WMDs.

It's not a bad line of reporting but has to be tempered in light of a few other facts which were not mentioned.

1. The issue was not about whether Saddam had WMDs but how to deal with them. Note, even the Germans and French were convinced that Saddam has such weapons. But they prefered to bid their time and negotiate with the regime in an attempt to defuse the situation. In other words, do the same thing that had been done since 1991 and in contravention of 11 UN Security Council Resolutions.

And of course, I'm sure the fact that French and German companies that had contracts with the Saddam's regime regarding oil concessions and extraction had nothing to do with it.

2. Resolution 1441. I'm surprised that a self styled expert at the rise of the Neo-Cons did not raise this seeing that it is at the heart of the entire liberation/invasion of Iraq. It gave Saddam the 12th chance to play nice. He didn't. It paved the way for the invasion in accordance with International Law.

3. Intelligence Failures. Who knows what goes on in the murky depths of the various intelligence services. They didn't know about Saddam's attempt to rebuild his WMD programmes post 1st Iraq War till the defectors came along and in 1994 they had to go out there and bomb the factories. They were totally blindsided by the Parkistani and Indian Nuclear Bombs. It was conventional wisdom (which turned out to be wrong) that Saddam has WMDs. Really now.

4. British political support. Mr Gordon Brown, Blair's nemisis totally backs Mr Blair's actions during the war. He stated unrevokably that he would have done the exact same thing. The Tories went along for the ride. And the only major British political party that didn't were the Lib Dems, and they have an anti-war bias anyway. Besides which, Blair had been vindicated in an earlier report, we'll just have to wait and see how those revealed minutes play out.

There is an interesting parallel in the manner in which the Bush Administration handling of the Iraq War and the Newsweek printing of the Koran accusation.

1. Bush was willing to believe the worst of Saddam in light of the a decade of deception and prior attempts at restarting his WMD programmes. Newsweek was willing to believe the worst of the administration and army post Guantanamo Bay and Abu Grahib and oh, their unnamed source "a senior US Governmental Official". Bush had those defectors I suppose and the Iraqi opposition parties in exile.

2. Verfication. Bush had Resolution 1441. Newsweek had the 2 Pentagon Officials. As an aside, sometimes a no comment is just a no comment. A spade is just a spade and a cigar just a cigar.

3. Good intentions gone awry. Self explanatory.

*And finally: Beware what you ask for*

Op-ed by Tan Sai Siong, former columnist for ST and formal editor of The Business Times. I do wonder what his background his though. Might shed some light on the stuff he writes.

Still mildly miffed that even though I subscribe to the print version, I have only get a 50% discount on the online version. Bah...The Economist gives it to me free and has an archive plus some exclusive columns. *Mr Fluffy listlessly hits the author with the nerf bat, he's getting bored too*

The first assertion he makes gives you a terrible inkling of what's to follow. He asserts that there is a 'vocal, well-connected minority with fashionably liberal ideas that keeps harping' on civil liberties nevermind the economic prosperity. Seriously though, labelling liberty fashionable in the degoratory sense of the word does a massive disservice to the age old idea that we know what's best of ourselves and we ought to be the sole determinant of our happiness as long as it is not at the expense of others.

This has been the basis of Revolutions whether secular (French, American, Lebannon) or religious (the entire Reformation/Counter Reformation leading to the treaty of Westphalia and the allowance of private worship i.e. your lord or mistress will not determine your religion for you). So simply dismissing it as a vocal minority is unfair to the extent that the majority of us desire it one form or another.

Anyway, since the writer conflates the three issues into one (the other two being that Singapore is unfun nevermind that things actually work and Singaporeans being unhappy regardless of what the government does), and I fear carpal tunnel syndrome if I attempt to dissect the purported causal link between then, we take it as a given and move on. *Mr Fluffy nods approvingly, he wants his tea*

Anyway, the columnist thinks that there is a 'magic stone' in which one can cure all three ills. I would prefer to use the word magic bullet but Mr Fluffy thinks that is too violent. Or maybe the latin word panacea but Mr Fluffy thinks that's only because I'm some pompous elitist vocal liberal minority. The proposal that the writer proposes is unfortunately a 'straw-man argument' i.e. an deliberately weak argument set up simply for the sake of tearing down.

So it's the same old song again, strikes and demonstrations bad because people are immature and they will cause problems blah blah. And then he 'supports' for all sorts of reasons just so his article has a semblence of humour etc.

It's sad because they really isn't any substance or substantiation to his article, 'for giggles' it may be.
1. There is a huge difference between strikes and demonstrations.

2. They need not necessarily be violent. Ye gods, the South Koreans have them and they don't seem to have too many problems

3. Things, times, nations and people change. The situation as existed 40 years ago are not similar to the situation today. If we toss our hands in the air and persist in believing that we haven't got more rational or politically aware then we are seriously in dire straits. It would mean that the decades or National Education and education in general have been for naught.

Yes, we do haev a first class economy, so why shouhld not our political system ought o move in tandem. Case in point, every nation with a GDP per capita of $15,000 is a liberal democracy (except for well...um....). Furthermore, a political party exists to carry out what the people want (within certain limits) and grateful as I am to the existing one, if any party goes on a downward spiral why should what they have done in the past make us utterly beholden to them. This is why even the PAP is in the process of reinventing itself.

4. Let's talk about the fundamental principles. Even if strikes and demonstrations can get abused (as anything could including electric toothbrushes =P), we need to ask on balance whether it is better to be with them or without. The right to demonstrate is a poltical right governed by politic liberties in an acknowledgment that the ballot may not always be enough. And it's also a good way to spend your holidays at times. As it is, it may not be the demonstration itself that is important but the right to do so because it acknowledges that right and the intrinsic acknowledgment of the worth of its citizens.

*Mr Fluffy loses his patience and starts waving the tranquiliser dart around. The author gets the hint.*


Tuesday, May 17, 2005

New Links Up

From a Singapore Angle: Quite self-explanatory but he does a fantastic job in linking to bloggers who comment on a particular issue. Good one stop site. Incredible considering that his wife just gave birth.

Tomorrow.sg: Mentioned in the Press. 'Nuff said, check them out.

In other news....

Talking down about journalistic standards

Bloggers being dissed again. Held up to the hallowed standards of the professional journalist, we don't quite match up. *Mr Fluffy sobs*

Honestly though, I don't begrudge them their training and their hard work etc. I'm pretty sure I would be upset if someone assumes that having taken one semester's worth of law that somehow he is as eminently qualified to comment about law as a Senior Counsel (SC).

But the truth is, should I be? I don't blindly worship SCs, and I recognise that even with all their experience, it is entirely conceivable that a law clerk (who are mostly 1st class honours law graduates from NUS :P) knows more about criminal law than an SC who has spent the last 30 years focusing on maritime law.

And this is even more true when the issue is not about law. After all, journalism doesn't automatically make you a doyen of every topic known to human kind. And considering that the ST still talks about manslaughter even though that particular crime does not exist in our Penal Code. Culpable Homicide Not Amounting to Murder does however. So really, elementary fact checking is now no longer an aspect of journalism?

But I think it goes beyond that. Check out Wannabe Lawyer's post for a detailed critique. As well as Pea's response.

My personal quibble with Pea is three-fold.

1. That her response did not adequately answer Han's. After all, what does the fact that the traditional press has different considerations got to do with how journalist are somehow automatically on a higher platform than us poor little bloggers. *Mr Fluffy sniffs again*

Note, the considerations that she lists are:

no editorial constraints
small number of people editing 1 piece
no word limits
no need for advertisers
limited audience (this is the database logic of the Internet - info only goes to pp who search for it)
self-satisfaction and to inform their readers

editorial constraints
word limits/ time contraints for broadcast
mass audience
nation-building tool

2. More importantly, the fact that they have different considerations should not have any impact on the manner in which we judge a piece or the content of the piece. After all why should a lawyer specialising in a particular field not be able to comment on a particular legal issue in that specialist field as adequately as a professional journalist?

In fact, unless the journalist were a lawyer as well, I would probably put more weight on the blogger's analysis than I would the journalist's.

But more pertinently, those very self same considerations could end up stiffling or killing perfectly legitimate stories. Certain magazines have gotten into trouble in our region before and have pulled articles that the powers-that-be have deemed unacceptable. ABC quashed a story about poor working conditions (as well as allegations of child abuse) at Walt Disney World because guess who the parent company was?

And let's not forget the reason why media competition is not seen to be a good thing in Singapore. The common line of argument goes that even where a diversity of views are created, the stories end up sensationalised.

So MAYBE just maybe, the fact that I am not beholdened to an editor or advertisers gives me a vested interest in writing what I think rather than what they tell me to? Or better still, I don't have a 500 word limit in which I have to cram my arguments into a letter to the forum on why Freedom of Speech or Democracy or the Casino is important to Singapore (and still have Today chop it up).

3. Truth and quality. Implicit within the criticisms made is that bloggers are more irresponsible than journalist are. Um....click the links above to see for yourself how true that is.

After all, so what if we are not objective and biased? The point is, we are forthright about it and furthermore since when were op-eds purely objective? The point of op-eds is that they are not. Fact is, I have a credibility to maintain, so I'm hardly going to put out lies consciously. And the blogosphere is probably more self-regulating than traditional media (can you say media consolidation?). I've made mistakes in my post before (see my claim about CZ's blog being hacked), I have been corrected (see comments), I have recanted (see post-script the next day).

Edit: Mr Fluffy takes this opportunity to remind the author that he is technically not a journalist. The author agrees. He has never taken the course in journalism or mass communication. He's more miffed by the fact that it is being insinuated that we don't hold what we write to the 'professional journalist standard' of quality and accuracy. Or simply that because we blog therefore we're on a lower runk.


Pea objects in the comments below to my placing words in her mouth, in particular that I think that she thinks that bloggers are on a lower runk than journalist (though that comment was in my latest post on Journalists' ethical codes and not ascribed to her per se).

Anyway, Mea culpa! That was not my intention *Mr Fluffy promises to chastise the author appropriately* Regardless the point made still stands, that A/P Ang's comment that we don't match up to the standards of the professional journalist implies that our work is more shoddy than a journalist and not simply that we do not have the professional qualifications. I do apologise for reading more into Pea's comment that "What Prof Ang Peng Hwa said was true: bloggers are not pro journalists..." than what she intended to say.


CNN.com - Newsweek retracts Quran story - May 16, 2005

Mr Fluffy has decided that since as a stuffed toy he doesn't get any, that the sex articles are going to be on hold for a while. The author is personally sad because he had wanted to comment on BBC NEWS | Americas | US chastity ring funding attacked instead. However, Mr Fluffy's dexterious wielding of the taser and threat of death by a thousand stuff toys has 'persuaded' the author to get back to mroe boring stuff.

Anyway, something's rotten in the state of Denmark. we have two rather unpalatable choices here.

1. That traditional media and the 'standards of professional journalism' have taken a beating...again. OR

2. The Bush adminstration is attempting a cover-up and is not being terribly subtle about it. That at least is the perception of the little headline I saw in the scrolly sidebar(?) in CNA.

It's the classic case of one person's word against another. In this instance, it is made even more murky by the problem that a draft of the report was shown to 2 pentagon officials. One declined to comment (which could mean anything), the other challenged a different aspect of the report. In addition to this, Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker claims that it was separately verified by a long time reliable source in the government i.e. 'a senior U.S. governmental official'.

Now assuming that this source is realiable and that it can be verified, then the retraction becomes damning not so much on the ineptitude of Newsweek but on the pressure exerted on them by the Bush Administration. Maybe, just maybe, no one expected the madness to desend on Eastern Afghanistan post publication, so Newsweek has taken the politically expident route of retracting the statement in the hope that things will quieten down.

Because if Newsweek had retracted the statement not because of political pressure but sheer slopiness of fact checking (see Rathergate), then they take a huge snock to the nose. This would be made worse by the fact that they would be a huge cause (or worse, the sole cause) of the riots that have left 15 killed and dozens injured. Given the possibility that this was a reasonable probable situational outcome, then it would equally be an damning indictment of the fact that they lack sufficient proof that would shield them from Executive pressure.

So what are we left with? In the absence of some form of pictorial proof ala Abu-Grahib, or a confession that can be verified by one of the main prepetrators, we are left with a situation that leaves everyone looking bad and the situation looking worse. No manner which way you turn Newsweek looks bad. The Bush Administration is going to have to pull some massive spin to control the situation. But given that it's credibility is at an all time low in the region (actually, considering the success of the Georgia trip, Bush might not be all that unpopular), even if Newsweek completely retracts it story, prints a full issue of apologies and the editor commits hara-kiri, it's hardly going to sway the extremist who are going to believe that Bush is out to get them anyway.

Talk about dragging the surrounding ships down together with you.

*Mr Fluffy sighs sadly and says peace*

Monday, May 16, 2005

BBC NEWS | Health | Why puberty now begins at seven

Since the ST Online is a paid subscription service (then why the heck am I paying for my newspaper subscription for?), I can no longer link to the articles that I wished to make 'fair comment' on...=P

Anyway, another sex article on my blog, inspired by the letters to the forum today in response to the Insight article last week about how humping like bunnies was now the new drug for teens.

*Mr Fluffy makes an appearence at this point and tasers the author into submission for taking bunny's name in vain. After a half hour session of grovelling, Mr Fluffy has relented and allowed the author to continue. Mr Fluffy has however not switched off the taser and is reminding the author of its effects by zapping innocent bugs flying about*

Right, *ahem*, anyway. Two letters, one by an 'abstinence activist' calling for earlier sex education, the other by AWARE calling for 'comprehensive sex education'.

Let's take the first letter and examine what abstinence activist are calling for. There are basically two types of abstinence sex education.

1. Abstinence only. This is the one that I rail against because it is willing to commit intellectual and scientific perjury and dishonesty in the name of its ideology. In the process, it ends up commiting more harm than good. By harm in this instance, I mean it completely fails in its objective of preventing teens from having sexual intercourse. More damagingly, it actually creates more problems in terms of unwanted pregnancy and STDs.

The reason for this is quite simply that it utterly and completely fails to provide teens with any information for preventing pregnancy and STDs with the exception of abstinence. Guess what, teens being teens, they sometimes don't listen to you *Mr Fluffy gasps*, even if you invoke the name of deities of high *Mr Fluffy does a double gasp and swoons*.

2. Abstinence plus. This I have some sympathy for. It basically teaches abstinence (Guys having lots of sex = Stud, Girls having lots of sex = Slut). But it recognises the failings of humans....or the power of hormones and an orgasm. As such, it also teaches protection and STD prevention. Summed up it becomes A(bstinence)B(e faithful)C(ondoms).

But the biggest failing is the manner in which it treats teenagers and pre-martital sex. Even if we accept the premise that most teenagers should never have sex (okay, no penetrative sex, but what about the rest?) on the basis that it's the hormones talking and they are not rational enough to make such a massive decision, does the same apply to pre-marital sex.

Consider the following. Puberty strikes earlier. People marry later. That's the alot of time in between when you can't get nookie. Is that a rational thing? Strip out the possiblity of unwanted pregnancies and STDs and mental immaturity, are they ANY other good reasons to deny two loving people who want to fall into bed with each other? Heck, even if they weren't loving but just wanted some fun, is it really that much different from any other physical activity? The only reason one might say so is because of the taboo surrounding it. But is it a rational taboo in this day and age?

Which brings me to another pet gripe. The New Paper ran a similar article which attempted to demonstrate that Singaporean teens were actually conservative after all. There was only one problem. All the people interviewed were FEMALE! This was a clear cut example of the double standards that we apply to virginity in Singapore. Somehow, it was only a female's virginity that was important. WTF?!! How much more sexist and patriachical could you conceivably get? *Mr Fluffy suggests mandating chastity belts that cannot be removed till marriage*

So with that Mr Fluffy has a public service announcement, "Go visit Scarlet Teen"


Sunday, May 15, 2005

*Blogging and Fair Comment: Doom, Demise or just a long lonely slide down the merry path?*

We need an ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) or someone/organisation willing to take on lawsuits on behalf of beleagued bloggers. With the threat of one single lawsuit (two actually, one abortive after tea), we are on a long slippery slope on the way to a silenced civil society. So much for Freedom of Speech being present and the trouble is that we are simply too afraid to speak up.

Bah Humbug.

A close textual perusal of today's article and letter in the ST today reveals a disturbingly simplistic and awful trend of thinking that goes along the following lines: Blog Responsibily - If you make a comment, be prepared to back it up.

Before we go on, it might be worth noting that while there is no way one could conceivably put blogs into neat classification and categories, it can be said that there are basically two forms.

1. Those that tend towards the personal: You know them, you seen them, you cringe at them at times. It's all about the blogger's life, comments and attacks tend to focus people that they know.

These people are safe. After all, most normal people are not going to go crying to a lawyer that they are being defamed on a blog.

2. Those that make political commentary of some form or other: These are the ones that are directly in the line of fire. After all, it's the organisations that we comment on that might find it in their interest (justifiably or not) and have the capacity to launch a suit. But the flip-side of this is that it chills fair comment. It's one thing to accuse a minister and the organisation of fraud, but quite another (in my opinion) to point out the counter-productiveness of a particular policy.

However, to some naive writters and commentors out there, this might give the impression that we are all a bunch of gunslinging gung ho writers who mouth off at issues that we have no right to talk about (Who does then? Journalists?). But in an Alice in Wonderland logical fashion, fair comment to some people means casting aspirsions on the organisation itself.

So while I totally and utterly support that stance of responsible blogging, there's a huge difference in backing up your comment in a reasoned article and being forced to back it up in a court of law. Fact: The threat of legal action is more than sufficient to have a massive chilling effect on speech. Fact: The entire legal process is long, drawn out, painful and expensive. So even if you could conceivably win the case, why bother? It's not as if you could counter-claim and get damages.

Rationally, why waste your life, time and money to fight against a monolith organisation that has the spare capacity and the lack of gumption of respond in a measure fashion rather using the nuclear option? Better to take down your site and apologise than go up against the legal department which is doing their job. You waste you life, they simply are marking the hours till they get home.

Hence, after that extremely longwinded and circular few paragraphs we come back to my orginal suggestion. We need an organisation that is willing to fight on the behalf of this abstract notion called Freedom of Speech (Article 14, Singapore Constitution). We need a organisation that will provide the expertise and expert legal opinion for bloggers who find themselves in the line of fire simply because someone doesn't like their fair criticism and wants to eradicate rather than debate it.

Mr Fluffy thinks that the title and contents of this blog is entirely too melodramatic and blames it on the author's lack of sleep. Mr Fluffy hence thinks it is entirely justified in using extreme prejudice in executing an operation to get the author to sleep. Mr Fluffy has also calculated and determined that spiking the author's milo and sending subliminal messages would be the most effacious method of sending him to dreamland.


Saturday, May 14, 2005

CNN.com - Sex: whoa! Violence: who cares? - May 13, 2005

Brilliantly put! It's terribly odd that we cringe at a breast being stroked but not a chest slashed open or a decapitation (Demolishion Man: Rated PG). And not to put too fine a point to it, says something terribly disturbing about the manner in which we view sex *gasp! eww! peek...oooh...cough...klenex* and violence *did you see my l33t character frag them 14m3r? I ru1ez with my l33t mad skillz* and the very very odd dicotomy between them.

It's also like saying we revel in the destruction of life, limb and property (see video games) but wince at the position creation of life (sex) or pleasure (sex again)

But before I get to the explicit sex part *don't go aww on me now*, going to make a quick comment on censorship. In particular that one of the oddities of censorship and age restriction is the capacity to increase choice. So, with the new NC16 and M18 categories, I get to rent more types of movies. Unfortunate the last one I watched was Blade Trinity which had absolutely no redeeming properties except for the various fight scenes, I mean if it made me lose my dinner, at least I might have lost some weight *Public Service Announcement* if you think you or someone is suffering from a psychological weight disorder, there is no shame in seeking help.

Anyway, I think the Scandinavian Countries have got the right attitude. Cartoons like Tom & Jerry are banned on TV for their depiction of comic violence. In some ways comic violence is worse than realistic portrayals of violence. If violence isn't realistic, I think it is easier for us to adopt a dissociation with the effects of violence. Realistic violence on the other hand remind us of the real and awful effects of violence and at the same time provide a form of catharsis than most stressed out teenagers need.

Another reason why Scandinavian Countries get it right is that sex education starts early, like around the age of 12. More importantly, pornography is available from age 15 up. Seriously people, what's with this nudity taboo thing? We didn't come into this world clothed. Modesty is detrimental especially when all we see are pictures of scantily clad models who have bodies that the other 99.99999999% of the rest of us will never attain. If more of us went around naked, I think insecurity could be a thing of the past.

So here are some suggestions for sexual education in our sunny island

1. Junk those abstinence only policies. Say no to the simplistic notion of unthinking no sex before marriage. Some teenagers are mature enough to get into a sexual relation without screwing their lives. And some of them could seriously do with some pleasure in their lives. Sex = No more lousy angsty CAP. stuff. Besides sex improves your grades (AMJ study), and we want to maintain Singapore's rankings don't we? =)

2. Teach safer sex in class. Hands up those of you who know that STDs can be transmitted through unprotected oral sex. And guys? It's not just the gals at risk.

3. REALLY teach safer sex in class. Condoms work, it's just the human element that screws up. Contrary to what Focus on the Family thinks, condoms work. In fact, even with the amazing ineptitute you see in everyday life, regular usage of condoms create a preganancy risk of about 1-2%, and lower for STDs.

The problem is with the human side of things, so not putting a condom on properly or accidental tears and breaks are the real reason why things go to heel in a handcart. So maybe it's time to stop blushing and stay getting some of those kids to experiment first hand how to put on a condom on a realistic model penis. After all, you really want to put everything on hold an read the instructions on how to put on a condom? Or worse, the embarrassment of not knowing how to put one on causes the person to have sex unprotected.

4. Real sexual intercourse education. Instinct? *Snort snort hee hee giggle*, it's not like Mills and Boons or those awful Harry Potter fanfiction.

5. What is Sex? It's not simply about insertion and penetration. They are many ways to get off without having sex. In fact this was the real suggestion by Clinton's Health Tzar (and not the ones attributed to her by the Conservatives). Better mutual masturbation than sexual intercourse.

*Mr. Fluffy appears and shoots the author with a toxic blowdart, hogties him and drags him from the room before he continues ranting*

Mr Fluffy says, "Peace!"

Friday, May 13, 2005

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Australian police 'may quit PNG'

*Touchy touchy situation*

Some background: Living in Singapore, we no doubt are in a very interesting position vis a vis our neighbours. Most particularly, because of our small size and absolute lack of anything looking like natural resources with the exception of our human capital, it makes very very good sense for us to trade not just within the region but also around the World.

We don't pose a threat to any heavy lobby group (manufacturing and agriculture) and cheap imports help us not just in terms of keeping prices down but also forcing us to move up the value chain.

The significance of this situation is that coupled with our history of immigration and our colonial links in the past, Singapore has become what some expats call Asia 101, and to others, a mini L.A. (we have much nicer environment though, our name as the Garden City is well earned I feel). We are in essense a bridge country, linking West to East, North to South, 1st World and 3rd World (which should sum the major geopolitical divides).

Australia occupies a similarly interesting position, under its previous PM Paul Keating, it attempted to position itself with Asia. This suffered a major reversal under current PM Howard and Australia found itself in alignment with the US. The point came when Howard declared that Australia was the US 'Deputy Sheriff' in the region. This was of course not received well in Asia, and especially not when Australia took on the task of providing most of the forces for the East Timor Leste transitional peace keeping force under the UN.

However, this has changed particularly with the Bali Bombing where there was unprecedented cooperation between the Australians and Indonesians, who found to their mutual surprise a mutual affiability and ability to work together. Things further improved when Australia was one of the first nation to send massive waves of aid both direct and indirect in the immediate aftermath of the tragic Tsunami. Taiwan likes them because of their treaty with the US in which Australia promises to back them in the event of an invasion, and that is perhaps the major reason why Australia is wary of signing the non-amenity pact. It means it cannot go up against China should the need arise i.e. the US calling on it for help. This is further complicated by the rather fantastic relation Australia has with both the US and China and is poised to become the first developed nation to have Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with both powers.

Now all these may seem hunky dory and the immediate question would what does this article got to do with anything. The answer comes from the phrase 'arc of instability'. First termed in 2001 by either the Economist or Foreign Policy, what it refers to are the arc of neighbouring nations (Pacific Islands) of Australia which have the potential to explode or impode into economic depression or worse (become drug and terror havens), dragging them down together with them. As such, perhaps Australia might be wise to look closer to home and settling them before venturing abroad (it's actually a false dicotomy, one really ought to be doing both). As is happening, Australia has reversed its prior policy of non-intervention to one of intervention and has sent aid and help to the various nations.

Hence, direct aid from Australia to Papua New Guinea comes in the form of policepersons to keep the peace and restore stability. PNG is particularly important as it is the biggest and most unstable Pacific Island. Furthermore, it neighbours on the very same island, Papua, controlled by the Indonesians after a separatist war. Should the situation deteriorate, Indonesia might find itself in the uneviable position of having to DO something. Should that happen and the UN is called in, the only compromise that would be workable would be a joint Indonesian-Australian Peacekeeping force.

A pure Indonesian force might be questioned not simply on its capabilities but also the mistrust of the armed forces in general ever since the various wars in the 70s. And it is unlikely that the various separatist movements in that region is going to take kindly to what they mgiht end up viewing as a preemptive strike on them in the midst of a ceasefire.

On the other hand, a pure Australian force might get grumbles of East Timor and also questions of their effectiveness and effeciency. Indonesia would not look kindly on them on what is close to their soveriegn soil even with their new found chumminess.

But even a joint force is not ideal, there is still some suspicions between the forces and furthermore the difficultly will arise from attempted to combine two forces who have yet to work together on any major exercise or mission as this peacekeeping mission will be.

So hopefully, before that situation arises, things will improve.


Thursday, May 12, 2005

CNN.com - Students filibuster against Frist at his alma mater - May 10, 2005


Some background: A filibuster is anything a member of the parliament (or in America's case, Senate or House of Representatives) uses in an attempt to delay or to block a bill. So reading long long long speeches is a method to delay in the voting of a bill (record held is in double digit number of hours back in the 19th century, it has not been replicated since), or attaching various supid 'riders' to the bill in the hope that people will voted against it and pray that the bill dies a natural death. This, I speculate, is the reason behind those stupid laws you see in one of those humour books like no talking an alligator on a walk with a leash.

Anyway, the Republicans are now whining that the Democrats are delaying Bushes' judicial nomination to the various courts and Bill Frist is threatening the 'nuclear option' of demolishing the filibuster option once and for all by getting a majority vote to outlaw it. He has the votes and could if he so chooses to do so.

I would have a lot more sympathy with the Republicans if it were not for the simple fact that the Democrat's delay was in no way worse or longer than what they did to Bill Clinton's judicial nominees. The Republicans play a dangerous game. Whatever happens to their opposition could happen to them when the house and presidency reverts back to the Democrats.

But beyond such 'trite' political considerations, they might be a case for removal of such filibusters once and for all. Other than the fact that they could waste a lot of valuable political time (is that an oxymoron?), judicial nomination is not a matter to be taken lightly.

The United States comes from a Common Law tradition. What this means is that judges make the law in the sense that what a higher court decides in a case with a particular set of facts must be applied by a lower court with similar facts. Like cases should be decided alike. That is the basis of precedence. Hence the judge is a very powerful figure and this is even more so in the United States with a strong tradition of judicial activism/interference and a system designed by the founding fathers to protect the Constitution and curb the power of the Legislature and Executive. One of the outcome is that the government cannot simply legislate away decisions they do not like by the Judiciary which would be the case in Britain which has a system of Parliamentary Supremacy.

Hence, the stakes are very high. At the lower levels, the huge amount of cases that the American society creates everyday is simply piling into a huge backlog for whichever candidate makes it through. This does a disservice not simply to the litigants and society at large but also to the future judge.

At the level of the Federal Supreme Court, a "Conservative" bench could conceivably overturn Roe v Wade and thus allow states IF THEY CHOOSE TO DO SO to criminalise abortions except in certain legislated exceptions. Similarly for Affirmative Action (I wouldn't lose too much sleep over it. Asians don't get the protection of the law and yet do very well without it). Or the right to privacy. Or the constitutionality of the Patriot Act.

However, it might serve to note a few points. A Conservative bench may not be a bad thing especially if the person was a conservative in the politically traditional vein i.e. individual liberty and state rights against an overweaning Federal Government. So you could conceivably have a conservative judge ruling against Affirmative Action and gay marriages and at the same time strike down the Defence of Marriage Act signed by Clinton which states that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. And besides, supposed Conservative judges have turned out to be the complete opposite when on the bench, seeing in particular Justice Holmes.

So maybe Bill Frist may be doing the right thing after all.


Wednesday, May 11, 2005

*On Capital Punishment, Death Penalty and Judicial Discretion*

s. 302 of the Penal Code states very clearly that that punishment for murder is death. The Arms Offences Act, act of killing (and not murder mind you) during a Gang Robbery (must be a group of five), drug trafficking under the Misuse of Drugs Act are offences which the state has mandated the Death Penalty for. Note, mandated i.e. there is no option for the judge who thinks that despite the person being technically legally guilty of the crime that the death penalty ought to be avoided. This can (and say it softly...has) lead to a situation where judges will end up charging the person under a less severe crime and doing weird things to the law in the process.

A hypothetical example will be of course charging a person for culpable homocide not amounting to murder (CHNAM) despite a finding of fact that there was no intent to kill in the first place. So to prevent a 'larger' miscarriage of justice in an aquittal for murder, and not wanting to charge the person under say, house-breaking...*poof*, CHNAM.

Now, entire books have been written about this issue and I would not dare to presume even with the natural arrogance of a debater (hehe...I'm so going to get kicked for that comment) that I would be able to do justice to what is essentially a complex topic.

However, having said that Mr. Fluffy thinks I should try anyway. He also says that anyone who mocks my attempt would suffer death by a thousand stuffed toys.

So here's a quick checklist to this entire debate. Note the author is very confused about this issue. Like John Kerry, he doesn't support the death penalty except for terrorist and unrepentant mass murderers.

1.On what basis are you basing your theory of the general part of the criminal system on i.e. a theory of punishment and responsibility? Is it retributivist or utilitarian?

a) if retributivist: The only justification for the punishment of a criminal is that he has done wrong. If society benefits, it's a surplus not not a primary consideration. Then the punishment must fit the crime (note: this is not a simple eye for an eye theory). What this basically means we end in the realm of political, philosophical and religious theory. Whether anyone has the right to mandate death and what the role of government is.

b) if utilitarian: Then punishment is an ill that is to be avoided unless there is more good generated from the punishment than harm. Hence inflicting the punishment of death must serve a greater good.

2. On what basis are you basing your theory of the special part of the criminal system on i.e. what acts ought to be criminalised? The importance of this question is with regards to the criminalisation of immorality or irreligiousity. As things stand, people are no longer killed because they are heretics or refuse to recant.

BUT having said that, I have argued in a separate post that in many nations, the manner in which drug policy is made is irrational and counter-productive. To put the issue closer to home should someone really be hanged for trafficking more than 500 grammes of cannabis? Does this in any way hurt the drug lord in the Golden Triangle or Columbia? All it does is to raise the risk premium, so you get paid more to smuggle or traffic drugs into Singapore. A rise in price hurts the druggie who might in turn hurt society to get his next fix. Not that serious an issue in Singapore (more to do with enforcement than punishment in my opinion), but major in other nations.

At its heart, you don't need to be a ultra-proponent of the legalisation of all kinds of drugs to feel that something is seriously wrong if we are hanging people for a substance less harmful than tobacco or alcohol

3. What's the basis for a state's right to kill? Does that right extend beyond the right of self defence into criminal law? If so, why or why not? Linked to the retributivist point in point 1.

It is worth noting that regardless of background or inclination, the same person (or two persons of the same background) could conceivably hold differing opinions. Hence the death penalty being supported and opposed on religious grounds is an example.

4. Even assuming that it is justifiable (I believe in using it for convicted terrorist for example), does it do more harm than good? Here demonstrate empirically your stance whether for or against the notion of capital punishment.

And really, I think you would be seriously hard-pressed to demonstrate that capital punishment has a special deterent effect i.e. prevent an individual from committing that particular crime. Maybe for drug trafficking, but not so for murder.

Talking about general deterence i.e. preventing the rest of society from committing that particular crime is generally even more spurious. There are way too many factors in accounting for violent crime, demographics and gun control for example so a quick time-space comparison would demonstrate that the effect of capital punishment is limited if not useless.

5. Even assuming that it is good and justifiable for say murder and terrorism, does the same logic (philosophical or empirical) apply to crimes that do not directly take lives, say drug trafficing and corruption (admitted only countries like China and Vietnam are doing it)?

Innately tied into this question is the idea of proportionality and maybe the idea of an eye for an eye. After all, if the death penalty is really so effective at preventing and reducing crime why not apply it to all other crimes? What makes drug trafficking and corruption or rape so very much different from other forms of crimes. The heniousness of the crime is only relevant if we believe in proportionality of punishment.

6. And even assuming points 3, 4 and 5, what about the possibility of executing an innocent person? The judicial system is not perfect and as a law student, I'll be the first to admit it. Furthermore I doubt it CAN ever be perfect, mistakes and errors do occur. And even if, such human errors do not exist, the law as it stands in Singapore for drug trafficing is very harsh and via the Misuse of Drugs Act, reverses the legal burden and forces the druf trafficker to prove he did not intend to traffic the drugs. So an option perhaps is to keep the punishment but make it more difficult for the prosecutor to prove his case. The reason why this presumption was installed in the first place was because they were finding it to hard to prove trafficking (as opposed to say personal consumption)

Anyway, I hope this has been useful for anyone with a middling interest in this area of law.


Monday, May 09, 2005

*In Grief and Sorrow*

The author of this blog will be away on a hiatus till his life returns to normal.


Sunday, May 08, 2005

Third world gets help to help itself

*Zees thing call fair-twade. Vat iz it?*

If you shop or actually go to something we like to quaintly call a shopping centre (I know not what these things are, they were related to me by my special invisible friend Mr. Fluffy), there's a shop called the BodyShop where you can shop for products which they have shopped all around the world for to give their suppliers better value than you the shoppers.

Unfair? Not really, welcome to the world of fair-trade and ethical shopping. The idea I THINK is that the suppliers are not getting a fair deal. They never really explain how the amount paid to the suppliers is not fair and we will analyse possible reasons for it further on in this article. But because they are not getting a fair deal, they pay these suppliers more than market value and pass on the cost to us consumers.

Now before any Conservative readers of mine (of which I seriously doubt would read my blog) get into a tizzy and whose head starts spinning like Linda Blair in the Exorcist, these suppliers are normally poor women in the 3rd World and the consumers rich affluent in the 1st World who want to make the world a better place. That was sarcasm by the way.

However, before you anti-globalist nuts go wild at the prospect of doing good this way, consider the following.

1. Is the market value unfair? This is the biggest assumption that worries me. Fundamentally, the market prices goods via the mysterious market forces of something Economist like to call Demand, Supply and Marginal Utility. So people pay for a good what they think is a good value to them individually. Aggregated, they give a very very good indication of what the fair price is. Hence as a result, why are we essentially being forced to pay a premium for the goods?

Now, the major wrinkle in the sanctity of the market is the following. Every good free-marketer also knows that the market is not always perfect, often businesses and governments with their good (or nefarious) intentions muck it up. Or as William Blake puts it, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

So market failures do occur which could artificially depress the prices that the suppliers might otherwise get. The best example would of course be protectionims, ranging from embargos to import restrictions to import taxes. By artificially reducing the total demand, the price that one might otherwise get, falls. Also, even if it were not a total embargo but merely restrictive, the price is then artifically raised via import taxes (these suppliers do not have the ability to force the importers to absorb the price and simply push the import taxes straight to us, instead the suppliers have to absorb the cost) and this depresses the amount they would otherwise make.

Another market failure that would conceivably screw them might be market volitility. Every reasonable person would agree that prices espeically in primary products are particular volitile (not as bad as semi-conductors but bad enough). The problem is that these suppliers e.g. shea butter sellers in Nigeria are strictly small time and do not have the capability to dictate the prices to the market (or to hedge against it) and are at the mercy of the international markets.

2. But even if the market hits a snag, is it all that bad? I think that while theoratically the above arguments are logical, they don't quite appear to be so dire if dire at all they are in the real world.

Protectionism sucks we all agree, they hurt everyone except the industry they coddle. But at the same time, the kind of goods that we see fair trading in (coffee, shea butter, various primary goods) are on a scale so small that even where protectionism exists (and for many of these goods they don't), the market is still large enough to absorb them without forcing down the prices that the suppliers could otherwise get. The world is huge and the 1st World affluent. I think we need to find another reason for fair trade.

On market volitility, fair trading as you should have inferred by now is a very selective and small scale. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, we'll simply attribute them to initially teething problems (as opposed to we randomly like some 3rd world industries over others or this is simply a marketing ploy). But even so, it is very questionable whether market volitility is the reason why these suppliers are supposedly being screwed over. After all, many of these small time primary producers are getting into cooperatives (the huge ones can take care of themselves as it is), furthermore many countries attempt to protect their small scale producers.

So even if the US or the EU is acting bad, the US or the EU does take sides to protect their favoured trading partners against the other super power (see the Banana trading wars between the US-Carribbean v EU-Africa). Furthermore, technological advances on the buyer's side (market liquidity and risk allocation) as well as on the supplier's side (simple handphones to call ahead to the market or radios to get information) are smoothing out this volitility.

3. Does Fair-Trade help the suppliers? Remember, fair-trade (as if free trade weren't fair already) means paying a premium for which we as the consumer foot the bill. Increased cost means that this must be somethign we would pay a premium for. Guess what? Consumers aren't really biting. Yes we may be socially conscious (whatever the hell that means) but it doesn't mean we're stupid. Consumers may say one thing in a survey but do another when their dollar is at stake. The rise of Walmart is testimony of our desire to get massive discounts on basic goods! But fortunately for them, it seems that if packaged right i.e. as a luxury, we might be willing to pay more for them.

But seriously, why bother? Trade isn't a bad thing. If we're all so willing to give aid to Africa, why do we block their goods or artificially inflate their prices? It's exactly the same thing! The more we buy the better off those people will be. So stop using these fuzzy math and voodoo economics and start acting rationally. We'll all be better off for it.


BBC NEWS | Programmes | Click Online | 64-bit launch showcases Longhorn

*Doing my little bit to reduce the Wintel Monopoly*

Hmmmm....where have I seen the much touted Longhorn features before? *Scratches head*....oh right! 3 years ago with the introduction of OS X by Apple. And now Apple has gone further ahead with the OS Tiger.

Enough Said.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

TODAYonline: To Speak Up or not to Speak Up

Hmmm...the paper's formatting has seem to have gone a little haywired but the letter you see in the link above is actually two letters. The first is by Mr. Mark Lim Choon Lye "Confused over where the boundaries lie" and ends at "Frankly I don't know and it is the government's task to convince me otherwise. The other letter is by Mr. Lim Boon Hee's letter "If you lash out, expect the bachlash". Disturbing smug letter with loads of ad hominem attacks.

Anyway, the following was my reply.

Dear Sir,

I write with some regret having read Mr. Lim Boon Hee's letter "If you lash out, expect the bachlash" because as a strong advocate of free speech, I think the manner in which one ought to respond to a criticism is by a strong refutation rather than simply legal recourse.

Apparently Mr. Chen still has no idea as to what Mr. Philip Yeo or A*Star felt was defamatory amongst the 400 odd postings he made on the blog. Coupled with the legal threat in the midst of his exams, he decided to take the 'easy way out' with an unreserved apology (which A*Star has refused to accept) and to shut down his blog. As a result, our society is the poorer for his lack of contribution.

While accepting that Today will be unable to publish the actual comments due to the possibility of being in turn sued for defamation, the truth in one manner or other needs to come out. If anything Mr. Chen said was untrue, a strong statement in refutation and establishing that truth would serve the greater public interest and establish A*Star's moral highground. For anything less would make it seem that the organisation is unable to respond effectively to real criticisms but seeks merely to shut them up with the threat of legal action. And such an unfortunate impression would surely not be in the interest of one of the premier institutions in Singapore.

I urge the relevant organisation to please stay their legal rights if it has indeed been infringed on to allay the fears of citizens like Mr. Mark Lim Choon Lye ("Confused over where the boundaries lie"). As it is, the Freedom of Speech is serverly curtailed in this Democracy of ours not because of any nefarious repression on the part of the relevant authories but simply because of the fear of such legal action or worse (conspriracy theories abound of lost opportunities) by ordinary people like us.

We write and comment because we care about our nation and have a stake in it. If fair comment is stiffled as a result, then politics and debate in Singapore will be the poorer as a result.