Thursday, June 30, 2005


There will probably be no updates for (in?) the foreseeable future. Will be gone from the 2nd to the 13th on tournament in Brisbane.

Update to update (the author's sad sad attempt at humour...he thinks it's funny):
Standard stuff applies, contactable at the usual emails and number (will be on autoroam), replies dependant on the time of the day as well as immediate access to cheap internet

Ciao and Peace!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

*Spoof letter*

Dear Sir,

I write in with immense concern about the possibility of an endemic of cancer if the government does not step in to regulate a well-known carcinogen (cancer causing agent).

What is worse is that it has been appearing in many seemingly innocucous places up to and including fastfood restaurants, bakeries and even healthfood places unwittingly promugating this dangerous menace.

The carcinogen of which I speak of is Aspartame, a natural sweetener that is nothing more than a honey pot leading to a slow painful death. The FDA itself admits in an email in 1999 that "aspartame ingestion results in the production of methanol, formaldehyde and formate. These claims are factual." What is even more disturbing is that they go on to admit that the levels that we consume in citrus fruits and juices and even in tomatoes and such sauces contain even higher levels and amounts.

THIS MUST STOP!!! How long more are we going to allow good Singaporean citizens to slowly poison themselves on orange juice and lemonade? How long more must we allow big evil corporations and comglomerates like Pizza Hut to reap profits by dealing with their pizzas laced with death? How long more must we dice with death every single time we decide to go to a bakery because they MIGHT use aspartame and aspartame degrades at a mere temperature of 85 degrees?

Yours faithfully,
Concerned Citizen using pseudo-science

I wonder if I could get it published in the ST or Today =P

*On Water Safety and Chemicals in general*

This is somewhat related to Her post on the flourination of water and in particular the matter in which the anti-flourination camp has overblown the entire issue based upon some very fundamental misunderstandings on the nature of causality and in particular, the pharmaco creedo:"The dosage makes the medicine and the poison"

What happened is that in last month's issue of Lifestyle, a guy by the name of Richard Seah posted a pretty scaremongering piece on article on the dangers of Singapore's "world class water" due to the chemicals within it. Anyway, Lifestyle printed a retraction story in this month's article apologising for unthinkingly scaring their readers. Presumably, someone at PUB read the article and printed a firm rebutal letter. It's just a little sad that the editors actually let it get published without actually sending it for factchecking or even running it past real experts.

What is interesting is that I ran a google search on his name and I came across two articles which seem to be mildly contradictory in nature. One article about how MSG and aspartame might be tasty but bad for health which is pretty standard in its lists of criticisms. Here's the FDA's position. The seaweed he offers as a substitute is legitimate BUT what it does is to creates a false dicotomy between 'natural' and 'unnatural' chemicals/compounds (see below for elaboration).

The other talking about how the media wrongly took a study on the effects of Stevia (a sweetener) on mice and simply applied it to humans, something which he calls a case of newspaper misreporting. Why this article is significant is because it appears that he understands that studies on animals does not cross translate into humans (often you need toxicity test on 2 different species, if it's toxic to both, there's a good chance it's bad for us).

And I seriously doubt it's three different people.

Anyway, this month's Lifestyle article does a very competent job in debunking the prior article so I really won't dwell too much on it (it would have rated higher if it were longer and took pains to explain certain aspects which I mention below). But I would really like to emphasize the idea set forward above i.e. the dosage makes the poison. The American Council on Health and Science has a terrific publication titled "Good Stories, Bad Science: A Guide for Journalists to the Health Claims of "Consumer Activist" Groups" which does a fantastic job in answering basic questions on the basic premise on which these people work and why these assumptions are wrong. Do read the full PDF file, very enlightening.

Anyway our chemical fears are fuelled by a great number of scientific and factual errors that have allowed pseudo-science and such single issue pressure groups to gain too much credence.

1. 'Natural' is better than 'unnatural'. Chemicals are chemicals, that's how our body recognises and processes them. Sorry, but our liver does not differentiate between 'natural' and 'man-made' ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). More than that, ricin is one of the most toxic substances in the word and it's natural. So is poison ivy and nightshade. Plants do contain 90% natural pesticides by weight it being a natural defence mechanism and all, so synthetic pesticides are often a minor issue (given current safety levels). And we can parlay this into another rebutal to a innuendo commonly used i.e. that such chemicals don't exist in nature and is therefore dangerous. I mean it's entirely irrelevant as long as tests show that they are safe and besides they make up a small fraction of our contact with them.

2. There is no treshold or safe levels of 'toxic' substances. Seriously now, anything at high enough levels can be toxic, even Vitamin C (even if it's water soluble), at high enough doses and concentrations you can cause an overloading of the locality and hence cancer. Any drug at high enough doses can kill you, panadol included (although at MUCH MUCH higher levels than commonly expected. 10 tablets are not likely to even cause you any harm actually).

But the problem is that very often these groups extrapolate backwards and claim that even at low levels these things will kill you. Just for a though experiment, let's take very toxic substances. Is there a 'safe' level for lead or mercury or even arsenic? The answer is yes. What happens is this, your regulatory bodies (like WHO, FDA and their European equivalent) set limit values which achieve an "adequate margin of safety to reduce to a minimum any hazard to health in all groups of consumers" (UN speak).

1. So test are first done on groups of animals (so animal rights groups be damned) to set a limit called No Observed Adverse Effect Level (NOAEL)

2. Which is then further reduced to set one for humans called the ADI (Acceptable Daily Intake).

3. And then this is further reduced to make allowances for possible differences in animal and human biology

4. And then again further reduced to allow for differences in population (children and the elderly).

In the end, the ADI is anything from 100 to 10,000 times lower than the NOAEL. And the margin is actually greater because we are bigger than animals (which is why the nerve agents in insecticides don't affect us) and also because there likely is a level whereby there's absolutely no harm to us at all (or possible not granted).

At the end of the day, if you're worried about your health, work out more, eat everything in moderation and really stop worrying about such chemicals and 'poisons'. The stress is more likely to do you more harm than they will.


Tuesday, June 28, 2005

TODAYonline- I say: To to obey

Summary of article: For a successful marriage, the wife should submit to her husband.

*Ahem* will engage in a full critical analysis of this article when I return from dinner. But my first reactions were:

a) This is not new
b) Why the gender bias
c) If not for the gender bias, this would actually make a good article
d) Where the hell if this lady getting her assumptions from.
e) I actually agree with her...if not for the gender bias.

1 thing to note before we continue with the remainder of this article is that as Uncle Ben of Spiderman fame once said, with great power comes great responsibility. This presumably being derived from the idea that the conferring of rights is premised upon attendent responsibilities. Even the Bible and Confucian values emphasised the obligations that the husband had to his wife BECAUSE he was in a position of power over her.

I Say: To love ... is to obey
by Frances Ong Hock Lin

Seventeen years ago, my unhappy father walked me down the aisle in a Katong church. He was about to hand over his daughter to a man who eagerly grabbed her arms, as if to make sure the bride would be given away.

My father left midway through the ceremony — to drown his sorrows at the famous Marine Parade Satay Stall.

> Is it me or is this a very disturbing personal annecdote. Now I'm wondering what the father knew that we don't.

But it was my grandfather who had the greatest impact on our marriage.
He told me that people used to marry to fall in love, but that people now fall in love to get married. He saw marriages going up in smoke after the initial passions burned out. He believed that a wedding is only a day, but a marriage is a lifetime.

> Spurious argumentation. After all, in his time with arranged marriages and all, one could only hope to fall in love once the couple had married. Anything else was simply setting oneself up for a heartbreak. Another spurious argument is the whole marriages supposedly breaking down once the initials passion had faded. While this argument might have credence if one accepts that all marriages are about passion (dubious even in the best of times), nevertheless it's a highly fallacious argument because it is premised on a assertion and multiple assumptions that might be untentable.
> Has the rates of divorce increase? Even if it has, why has it increased? Maybe because the economic function of marriage has drastically changed? That the laws with regards to divorce has relaxed with reforms to protect the interest of the women? That women are gaining a measure of economic indepedence thereby not making them bound to the marriage? That women will no longer accept double standards the stupidity of men who fool around or are general wastrels? Lots and lots of questions.

He was match-made to my grandmother, a great cook, and he surmised that she would support him in whatever he did. I have never seen them quarrel.

> I think the operative word is SEEN. Anyway, I've know of couples who have fallen in love and stayed that way and couples in arranged marriages who are desperately unhappy with the man taking to a second wife or fooling around outside. Isolated examples don't make the argument. The supposed substantiation from above has already been shown to be fallacious.

From her, I learned how to make a husband happy. She saved the best meat for him, and would eat only when he was at the dinner table. Even after slaving the whole day over a hot stove, she would be bathed and powdered when he returned from work. And his slippers and a glass of water were always there to welcome him.

> What about her happiness? Unless the wife becomes an extension of the husband, this system can be unsustainable. One can only pray that her husband appreciated her.

My grandfather, who knew I was an outspoken and stubborn child, worried that having a university education might make it difficult for me to submit to my husband.

> Another indicment of her grandfather's time, a time which would force women into subservience just so that they could stay alive. Well, things have fortunately changed for the better.

Growing up in the 1970s, with women fighting for equal rights, I was at first shocked by what he advocated. I fought a good fight at university, debating with my male tutorial mates.

> That's precisely the point. It's because of these women (Liberal Feminist fighting for equal terms with men) that she even can make the choice that she has made. Don't see what debate has anything to do with it though.

At work, I do not believe in the glass ceiling for women, and do not see myself as weaker then men.

> Why the difference between home and the workplace? The personal is the political. What happens in the house translates and transcends into society.

But it was in the home context that I realised my grandfather's foresight and wisdom.
A marriage is not an equal partnership, where a couple are looking constantly to ensure that everything is divided 50-50. That makes us calculative and mean, and reduces the marriage to a conditional clause: As long as he lives up to his end of the bargain, so will I.

> Strawman arguement. Successful relationships are based on compromise. Seldom are there relationship that can trive on such tensions and competitive behavior (though there are such people).

Instead of looking for the right person to be our spouse, we have to be the right person for them. We have to give 110 per cent without any conditions or strings attached to the marriage contract — which, hopefully, we enter into with our eyes open.

> Something that I agree with actually. But it's still way too submissive for my taste. Alternative is to accept that which cannot be changed in your partner and try to work with it.

The marriage vow basically says that even if a husband turns out to be a scumbag or a couch potato who cares more for Man U than for his mother-in-law, we still have to accept him.

> It's a bad vow then. Where's the attendent obligation on his part? And you would be lucky if that's the extent of his bad behavior. By extension of her highly dubious logic, I wonder if physical and sexual abuse would be grounds for a divorce. I think acceptance is not the same as condoning and there must be a limit to what can be condoned. On the guys part, I guess that means grinning and bearing the inevitable excusions to the shopping centre and various boring family gatherings.

My husband and I have demanding careers, but when we come home, I give him a sponge bath even if I am tired. I prepare supper, and yes, I do peel prawns for him. I do so without asking for anything in return.

> ?!!! *Sigh* well I do peel prawns for Her. I seriously hope that her husband appreciates all these.

He is the head of the household. When it comes to any major decision, his vote counts for 60 per cent, and mine for 40 per cent. My grandfather was right. This is difficult. I find it challenging to submit to my husband.

> Gender bias aside, it's not a bad principle. There must be someone who actively decides and if necessary act as a tiebreaker.

But I discovered that once I learned to obey him, it gave him a greater sense of responsibility, of wanting to take care of the family even more. In addition, when my children see that I obey him, they learn to obey him and respect him as a father.

> Eh? So by her logic, her children don't learn to obey and respect her? Maybe as a 'mother' i.e. submissive woman. ACK!!!! Talk about giving housewives a bad name.

Being the heart of the family, my role is to complement, and not to compete with, his. I never challenge his views in front of others, which would make him feel small, insignificant and disrespected. We try not to fight or quarrel in front of the children.

> If he's being stupidly foolish it might be a good idea. However, the premise is sound, what's in the family stays in the family. But there's no need to link this to this whole obey nonsense.

Yes, we have thought of walking out of this marriage many times, but then we remembered that we started out with the belief that divorce was not an option.

> Good for her. But that option is not available to everyone.

We will continue to fight, and our marriage will be a rollercoaster ride. Given a chance, would I walk down the aisle again to the same man? Yes, I would, but this time I would obey him the minute he married me.

> La di dah.


Monday, June 27, 2005

What is a man? - World -

(Warning: Stream of consciousness post)

A.K.A. when sociology hits advertising.

One thing about advertising that I believe in is its utter honestly in the manner in which it attempts to seel us a particular product. It does not generally hesistate to use whatever appeals to us. In its own amoral manner, it truely is more a reflection of society than a shaper in its own right.

Hence if beer advertisments suddenly stop using images of sex in their advertising, it's a more ready answer to say that our attitutes towards drinking, beer drinking and the demographics of beer drinkers than to try to make claims that advertisers suddenly have a change of heart. What they have had a change of is more likely than not motivated by profits than puritanic/moral reason(ing).

As such, this article raises a very interesting junction for advertising agencies as they seek to appeal to (and failing which, might attempt to create) the definative version of what a man is. According to the article, "The Leo Burnett advertising agency, which created the iconic macho cowboy, said a new study it conducted found that half the men in most parts of the world don't know what is expected of them in society and three-quarters of them think images of men in advertising are out of touch with reality."

What is more interesting is the manner in which it claims that ads have created/appeal to two sterotypes of men the 'metrosexuals' and the 'retrosexuals'. As we all know, sterotypes are mostly crude generalisations but nevertheless exist simply because of the truth behind them as well as sheer societal need. Regardless of how progressive we think we are, we still sterotype people according to whatever constructs we choose to use. Race, religion, gender, profession (all those lawyer jokes come to mind), and even nationality. Furthermore, sterotypes need not necessarily be negative so one could conceivably choose to focus on the positive aspects on which societal construct we choose to put people in.

Anyway, back to the issue of the social construct we know as gender, what is meant by male and female is indeed breaking down. I think in a manner of speaking it has been worse for us males then it has for females. After all, when one talks of gender studies or the general intellectualising and intellectual thrust of what gender is, it has seemingly been the purview of the female and much more 'work' has been done on what it means to be female than what it means to be male. The 3 waves of Feminism (1st: Women as as good as men and deserve equal rights, 2nd: Women are different from men is certain areas, suffer discrimination as a result and ought to be protect e.g. maternality laws and anti-discrimination based on those laws, 3rd wave: Girl power - reclaiming sexuality and women as anything and everything they want to be) have given women the knowledge and capacity to be whatever they want to be with heavy intellectual support. So feminity is not exclusive from being a feminist.

But the difficulty for males is that there has been a noticable lack of intellectual thought and public persuasion with regards to them. Instead it seems that what males are is defined in opposition to or in defence to the feminist movements. As a result, it's becoming increasing difficult to say what being a male is. But unlike females, this nebulousness is not a matter of choice and thought but the sheer absence of them. So to put it very crudely as a thought experiment, you could legitimately have something called 'slut/bitch power' but not 'jerk power'.

So spare a thought for your poor advertisers today. They don't know how to advertise to us.


Sunday, June 26, 2005

RVCF Bible Study > Dating vs. Courtship

I'm bored and really too unbothered to think too much after today's debate so let's have some fun instead. The following below is taken from RVCF Bible Study and it engages in something that I like to call (is called) a) Strawman argumentation and b) Polarisation of Issues.

a) Strawman arguments are fantastically weak arguments (and often misrepresentations) and positions ascribed to the OPPOSING camp for the sole purpose of tearing down and 'looking good'. It doesn't, anyone with half a brain and who can think can see through it and realise that you are the actual stupid one. However, this has been used to good effect in debates before, particularly the misrepresentation bit.

b) Polarisation of issues occur when the person attempts to portray the debate in simple black and white i.e. extreme positions without realising that there actually is a range of options.

So fun exercise for the day, see how many times the article's author engages in the above 2 methods to 'persuade' his audience.

Remember neither of these is condusive to good debating or argumentation and makes you look shallow. Note: This does not only happen to religious fundamentalist 'arguments' but is present pretty much amongst all forms of lousy argumentation. The only reason why this site and in particular this component was chosen is because despite the moralising and preaching (and the awful argumentation) it's still worth a glance at.

Carrying It Out: A Summary of the Differences between Dating and Courtship

The table below summarizes some of the concepts and issues that arise during the course of building a relationship between a man and a woman. It shows the deficiencies inherent in the dating process, and suggests ways in which Courtship can address these issues.

All personal comments prefixed with a >

Secular Dating (S) Christian Courtship (C)
S1. One-on-one, male/female relationships are primarily entertainment. They are widely seen apart from the prospect of marriage.
C1. God designed one-on-one, male/female relationships with a view toward marriage.

> Same goes for friendship unless the author doesn't think that friendships are a form of relationship or that it is inappropriate for a person to have relationships with the opposite gender that does not lead to thoughts of marriage. Gee.... My (and Her) mom thinks that I (and her) should have dated other people and more often before settling down. Neither of our parents are bleeding heart liberals nor particularly religious so maybe the author has a 'point' =P

S2. The man or the woman can take the lead in initiating the relationship.
C2. The man takes the initiative in beginning the relationship by first seeking the Lord's will and the counsel of his parents (or Christian mentors).

> *Giggle giggle snort snort*. I actually gave it to him on the first point (because I in a sense do agree that 'dating' ought to be in a sense a test of competibility) but this just made me snort metaphorical chocolate milk up my literal nose. And if you think about it, it's a little like arranged marriage which has very secular roots (Greeks: Ignore the girl's wishes, go straight to her father and made an economic transaction)

S3. Usually begins in the early teen years without concern for marriage.
C3. Begins at an age when the person is ready to get married.

> It's not mutually exclusive. And an assertion besides. Oh and hey, divorce rates seem to be equally distributed amongst various religions.

S4. The man is usually unable or has given little thought to meeting the criteria for being a husband or a father.
C4. Courtship can begin when a man is able to maintain a home, manage finances, and be a provider, protector, and leader of a family.

> Sound plan really. But what is so Christian about this? But maybe it's because I'm Singaporean. Marriage and kids are expensive. So those who want to do their 'national service' for the nation (remember 2.5 kids), should start planning now.

S5. Women usually enter the relationship unprepared for married life.
C5. The woman prepares to be a helper to her husband, a mother, and a household manager.

> Subservience to husband. Gee.

S6. Takes place mostly away from the home and family environment.
C6. Takes place mostly in the home, at church, and at family activities.

>Hey, if debate is a religious activity, I would qualify under C6! And yeah, I do agree we aren't at each other houses...we tend to be at Borders and Kinokuniya. We are such bad bad people. *sob sob*

S7. If they are lucky, the parents might get to meet the date. They find out about their child's engagement after it occurs.
C7. The man's father gives counsel and final approval to whom his son is about to court. The woman's father screens and works with would-be suitors.

>Assertions, assertions, more assertions. Hey, doesn't the mother get to make a decision as well?

S8. Dating quickly leads to emotional and physical involvement without developing a deep, lasting friendship.
C8. Courtship involves progressive levels of friendship: acquaintance, casual friendship, close friendship, and intimate friendship.

> this with C1. So any relationship with the opposite gender must include thoughts of marriage as the friendship progresses? Or is that like a first criteria. *Ponders: Hey that girl might make a good wife, okay now we can be friends*

S9. A parent (or authority) to oversee emotional and physical progression of the relationship is avoided. Much of the relationship is conducted in secret.
C9. A parent or mentor to oversee the spiritual, emotional and physical development of the relationship is encouraged and desired.

>Yet more assertions.

S10. Physical involvement before marriage is allowed, expected, and encouraged.
C10. Physical involvement before marriage is prohibited.

> Well, if physical involvement before marriage is a good thing then this entire line is wrong. But since physical involvement before marriage is wrong bit seems to be an act of faith this can be more than safely ignored. Besides, why is it "prohibited"? Maybe it implies than Christians can't be trusted with physical involvement before marriage!!! *GASP*

S11. Complete privacy is permitted, encouraged and eagerly sought.
C11. Complete privacy is not encouraged.

> You don't have the right to privacy. I wonder what the US Supreme Court will say to that. The word complete is a misnomer, there are no complete rights, only competing ones. Since he hasn't demonstrated any competing rights, the right to privacy is complete in this instance. =)

S12. Engagement is viewed as a stop-gap measure for a couple that has made a mistake.
C12. Engagement is a logical progression toward marriage.

> Huh? Then wouldn't couples just break up? Or is he saying that 'secular dating' is doomed to failure? Weird considering the divorce rate patterns.

Oh well, that was cute. Peace!

Saturday, June 25, 2005 - Victor wants 'modern Islamic' Iran - Jun 25, 2005

Good read if only to get a rough feel of what the new President feels and thinks about certain things. The following is entirely taken from the CNN article.

1. U.S. relations

"Relations with the United States are not a cure for our ills."

"The Islamic Republic of Iran has no fear about restoring ties but ... how to carry it out must be studied so that the independence, pride and self-esteem of the Iranian nation will not be harmed."

2. Nuclear program

"Acquiring peaceful nuclear technology is the demand of the whole Iranian nation, and the rulers as representatives of the people must put all their efforts into realising this demand."

"Those who are in negotiations are frightened and do not know the people ... A popular and fundamentalist government will quickly change the country's stance in favour of the nation."

Social and political freedoms
"We did not have a revolution in order to have a democracy."

"People think a return to revolutionary values is only a matter of wearing the headscarf."

"The country's true problem is employment and housing, not what to wear."

3. Economy

"Currently, the private banks have no positive or constructive role in the economy, rather a destructive one."

"I will cut the hands off the mafias of powers and factions who have a grasp on our oil, I stake my life on this ... People must see their share of oil money in their daily lives."

"The increase in petrol prices has led to an increase in all other prices. The solution is to use public transport."

4. Internet
Is it a concern? "No ... we cannot shut the doors to the country."

"My own phone bill is so high because my children use the Internet so much."

5. World Trade Organization

"Iran needs at least more than three years before joining the WTO. We need time and need to defend our industry."

It might be worth noting that the CNA report has him saying that freedom is Iran is at an unacceptable level, so maybe CNN is downplaying his Conservatism or CNA is playing it up. Whatever.

At the very least, when he says something now, it's not likely to suddenly be contradicted by the Council of Guardians.


Friday, June 24, 2005

BBC NEWS | Africa | Africa rejects action on Zimbabwe

I am very sure that I am missing some massive causal link here or maybe I'm simply stupid.

1. How does the ostensible reason behind a policy i.e. a crusade to cleanse urban areas overrunned with criminals by demolishing illegal and 'illegal' housing act as a legitimate excuse not to act for fear of violating the soveriegnity of a nation's internal decision.

Especially when the ostensible reason does not correlate with the realities on the ground i.e. a massive violation of human rights and an arbitary exercise of the state's power against its opponents (urban dwellers who refuse to vote Mugabe's way).

AU spokesman Desmond Orjiako told the BBC's Network Africa programme that "If the government that they elected say they are restoring order by their actions, I don't think it would be proper for us to go interfering in their internal legislation."

Well now, isn't it really funny how NO ONE with the exception of the AU (and specifically South Africa) actually believes that a) Mugabe has actually legitimately voted in. b) Even if he were 'legitimately' voted by the majority, it was nevertheless a void vote because of the level of violence, intimidation, vote buying and deliberate starvation of areas who would not vote for him.

2. The fact that there are problems in other parts of Africa i.e. Congo that the G8/West have ignored somehow makes it right not to intervene in Zimbabwe?

Taken from the BBC article, "South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki has questioned why the West is so concerned by Zimbabwe but makes relatively little noise about other African countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, where some three million people died in a civil war, and where armed bands kill, rape and loot with impunity in some areas."

Hey, I didn't see them intervening in Sudan, Bush brokered the original North-South Peace Deal. Or yes, Congo, where various African nations fought other African nations in a bid to either control natural resources of to prevent others from controlling them (Rwanda was attempting to eradicate the people who instigated the genocide in their nation the first time). Ethopia and Eritria? I think it was pretty much a West brokered peace as well.

Alright, snideness aside, is there method to the seeming madness of the AU. One explaination is that the AU (especially after their experiences in Congo and well most of their history) have decided that it's not worth attempting to interfer in each others politics for fear of rousing ancient divisions. And admittedly, the dark continent has (hopefully finally) lost their appetite for war. After all, it may not be as simple a matter as it is commonly perceived for South Africa to crook its finger and Mugabe crumbling over. In which case, it would simply lead to intransigence and further isolation leading to a scenario where no one has any capabilities short of actual physical force to transform the system.

Except that it might actually be that simply. The AU's policy of active engagement has not reaped any dividents. Mugabe seems to just get worse, the situation on the grounds just seems to get poorer by the day. People are starving in greater numbers because he declared that the food emergency/famine was over and didn't need any more food aid (despite massive protestations from food aid agencies). And hey I'm pretty sure it was just a coincidence that it was a way of bolstering his support and killing the opposition by controlling all remaining food. Children are dying in the street because his latest policy has destroyed their homes or worse, were themselves crushed in those houses during demolition.

Maybe all the Mugabe fears is losing power and being at the mercy of his opponents. In which case, South Africa could quietly persuade him to step down (and their contribution of 50% of Zimbabwe's energy supply is a huge bargaining chip) in return for asylum.

Well at least the UN is finally doing something by sending a special envoy to investigate. Maybe the Security Council will do their part to help.


Thursday, June 23, 2005

BBC NEWS | UK | BBC delay on sensitive live news

It should be more than evident by now that I'm a firm believer in the Freedom of Information and Speech and that whatever restrictions that are to be placed must be to prevent a DEMONSTRATABLE harm (physical and psychological, morality/societal mores takes a queue number) e.g. shouting fire in a crowded theatre, or inflamatory speech when the people are armed and ready to use them.

As such, I believe that it is justifiable not to broadcast Osama bin Laden speeches just as it is right not to publish pictures of terrorist activities (particularly bombings and beheadings) on the basis that these are the fuel for further acts of terror and help to propergate a culture of fear and terror within your populace. By all means, educate and them them knowledgably wary but don't terrify them. I think the distinction to be drawn is a matter of impact, reading about a beheading or a bombing is nowhere as intense as actually seeing footage or viewing a gory picture. On print, bin Landen's words become diminished (not least because not all of his supporters can read or get access to papers).

Having said which, does this extend to what the BBC is proposing i.e. during 'live' telecast of event, there will be a time delay between filming and broadcasting it over the air. Granting that even with the miracles of modern technology, there always will nevertheless be a timelag (most memorably during World Cup session), nevertheless, this will be a deliberate human created lag for the purposes to determining whether what is to be shown is appropriate i.e. not too 'graphic' for viewers.

We don't watch live telecast of anything expecting a massacre or something horrid to occur but I think that if you watch a situation where violence could break out, surely one cannot be so naive as to pretend to be horrified when it actually does. Besides, there's always the option of hitting the power button or switching to another channel.

Now, I can sympathise with the graphic part, even considering that I have a pretty decent stomach for gore. Beslan, to put it mildly, went to hell in a handcart when and where Russian security and military forces seemed to lack a due and proper consideration for something called collateral damage (innocent civilian lives) started 'rescuing' the hostages (and killing the terrorist in the process). This is not the first time, it seems to be a policy in the rebel provinces, it happened a scant year prior to the Beslan incident during the theatre massacre (which despite voraious opposition and testimony by the rescued became strangely silent).

Hence in this (particular) fashion, live television (uncensored and unedited) acts as a bulwark to what might have been even more heavy handedness. People need to know what is being done in their names. A policy that would artificially sanitise what is happened would distort the reality on the ground. Well intentioned it may be, the possibility and openness for abuse is nothing short of staggering. Likelihood is that a majority of people won't care and won't be aware of such a situation. With such a scenario, we do them a disservice by abusing their trust in a system and organisation they should trust. On the other hand, you're not going to win the skeptics and cynics over and might just push more people over the edge in distrusting an industry that has sunk into a quagmire of conflicting interests and a credibility gap.

So either way, you can't really win.

Theoratically, terrorist could prepetrate their attrocities in the knowledge that a major event would be covered 'live' and broadcasted all around the world via the major news networks in it's unmitigated horror. And in which case IF major news networks were to persue a policy that would censor most of this horror, then it diminish their capacity to spread their form of terror. I personally have my doubts because it seems to grant a rationality to most terrorist that might be absent at times. More accurately, these attrocities will be perpetuated anyway whether or not you broadcast or censor them.

But furthermore, it's worth noting a particular quote from the BBC which states that the new policy would reflect a change which emphasises 'accuracy over speed'. The really is begging of the question of how filming and showing something live over the air is not accurate. I think the problem has more to do with the personal idiosyncracies and prejudices of the reporter and cameraperson who might choose to focus on one aspect over another (say a pro-Saddam v pro-US 'live' telecast when the US troops rolled into Bagdad).

In which case, wouldn't the better policy be to address the root cause of the issue (journalistic professionalism) rather than attempt to lord over them and impose central control of what is permissible or not. After all, it takes away the personal responsibility and autonomy of the individuals on the ground (who have the best feel of what's happening) with editors sitting elsewhere who might not have the entire picture (or they possibly might and be more neutral) and who might be suceptible to political expidency and pressure (always a dangerous possibility).

At the end of the day, this really is a very very debatable policy that would ultimately rest, not on emphiracal fact but principle.


Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Honey, we can't afford the kids - Opinion -

Cute. Anyone know where the Singaporean equivalent is? I'm pretty certain one of the ministries did it as part of the whole more pro-family policies a.k.a have more babies policy put forth by the government.

Anyway for anyone who claims that having a kid is not simply about the money should still have a look at his article. It's mostly culled fron the actual report but it makes for a quick insight into what are the added monetary cost of raising a family.

Just one small point to add here which I think is relatively pertinent to our situation in Singapore. The cost of living in Singapore is high (despite what the papers say, just because shopping is relative cheap in town doesn't mean living is). The Economist puts Singapore as the 11th most expensive town to live in, just after New York.

As a crude manner of measure, assume that MacDonald's normally pays minimum wage (something relatively consistent across the world) and then calculate how many hours it would take to purchase an extra-value meal working there. It take 1 and 3/4 of a hour to do so here. But a mere 3/4 of an hour in the US (Orange County, which is a tourist area so not a cheap place to live either). On a most optimistic calculation of a meal at a food court, it works out to about 1 to 1 1/4 of a hour still. But it is a very crude measure given that meals make up a pretty low percentage of our income expenditure now. The real figures are probably worse given that what we deem to be a bare subsistance level is alot higher than it used to be (television and telephones etc. on top of a place to sleep and clothes to wear).

Anyway, after all that's been said and done. Assuming that a couple is your normal average Singaporean i.e. generally materialistic and kiasu (afraid to lose out) which makes for keeping up with the Jones (or the Tans in Singapore) a very interesting experience, then unless a spouse is making a ton of money, it is likely (if not an economic certainty) that both persons will be working. If so, having a child could be an even bigger financial burden (even accounting for the tax breaks) in that either a parent has to stay at home or additional payments to be made to a foster parent.

The economic imperative is made worse to the extent to which our work ethic/environment places a premium on working longish hours which is a killer for a family which would like to place a premium on family life instead. Quality time unfortunately seems to be a whole lot of bunk. At the end of the day quantity beats out quality it seems. And besides, how much quality time can you squeeze into a Sunday after spending the past 6 days working 14-16 hour per day?

I suppose that it is one answer that a child is not about the money or the cost of rearing up one. But that's waht they always say about the Olympics and invariably the cities are stuck with the bill for about a decade.


*Mr Fluffy requests that readers ignore the last post (see below). Any attempt otherwise i.e. to reconcile these two posts would lead to bewilderment, puzzlement and a rip in the fabric of space-time. Or at least what one of Mr Fluffy's flunky scientists told him. But the scientist may have been reading way too much comics and too little astrophysics.*

*Down with a bout of flu*

Um...yeah, down and slightly out of it. Updates will resume shortly once I summon up enough energy to do so.

Monday, June 20, 2005

BBC NEWS | UK | UK Politics | G8 'harming Africa', charity says

Note: Links available through the above BBC article.

I think it would have been more accurate to say 'harming' Africa rather than 'harming Africa' on the sole basis that what they are advocating seems more to be soundbites than sound economic principle. In sum, the theory goes like this. 1st World countries want free trade. Free trade is good for them. They 'force' 3rd World countries into signing free trade agreements or make similar concessions. Hence free trade is bad for the 3rd World.

Stated in this fashion, one can see immediately where the flaw in their 'logic' is. It doesn't matter that you say that liberalisation was ahead of time or that it was not in a nation's developmental interest. How could it not be? Like growth, trade is good. After all we're not talking about liberalisation of capital flows but that of the flow of goods and services. Cheaper goods and services.

I'm not to going to write about the real problem of Africa today (societal, governmental and structural) but simply want to focus on the economic arguments. But here's a parting though. Africa does not lack capital. Every living African has recieved US$6500. There are over 100,000 millionaires on the continent. Debt repayment (and debt) isn't a problem either. the net flows are inward, i.e. more money flows in through aid than out through debt repayment. On average, a nation sees $2 in aid and grant and soft loans inwards for every dollar outward. Mozambique gets $14 for every dollar of debt repayment.

The sway of fair trade (as opposed to free trade) is very strong. In a previous post, I asked what the hell fair trade was and came to the conclusion that it had more to do with feel goodism than any reality based trade. My parting argument was that there really was no difference between aid and trade, if we're willing to give them money, why won't we buy their goods?

But more pertinently, a recent survey conducted in conjunction with the Live 8 concerts and poverty reduction drive asked the same question. The result was that the overwhelming majority of Britons had no idea either. As a result, this catch-all phrase has a remarkable power as its very vagueness allows it to capture the imagination of the public and set itself up as the 'alternative' to free trade.

However, anyone who has taken Econs 101 (or at A levels and its equivalent) and understand what Ricado's example was about, know that free trade is really no different from getting a job, and using the pay that you get to exchange it for goods and services that you otherwise might have to make or get yourself; a terribly inefficient and ineffective means of your time. Similarly, when a country specialises in the short run (note: this is not contrary to diversification which is more of a long term kind of thing), with the same amount of effort (time, labour and capital), it gets mroe because it can exchange the goods on the international market for goods and services at a lower cost.

So a capital intensive country's comparative advantage is in capital intensive goods and vice versa for labour intensive nations. As a result, if they specialise in their comparative advantages, they are producing those goods at a lower opportunity cost. If both (or more) nations do so, the production of goods will be at its most efficient i.e. the highest productive level thereby increasing global wealth. Where trade comes in is the ability of those nations to trade those goods instead of having to produce them themselves at a less productive level. Hence free trade i.e. the free movement of trade in goods in services is important because it does not artificially distort the market through subsidies, quotas and barriers.

But because of the fuzziness of fair trade, there really is no way to pin down what exactly is the alternative policy these groups are advocating. HOWEVER, if one wanted to be charitable, here's how their policy could benefit the world BUT only if they are committed to free trade and stop confusing it with unfree trade (something Christian Aid does with the EU's horrid CAP). Here's how the argument goes.

1. Tied aid is bad.

ActionAid gives a nice theoratical account of why tied aid is bad and untied aid is good. With the exception that they probably give more credibility to the capabilities and capacities of those nations and their governments and institutions, it's still a pretty decent account. I don't think tied aid is bad per se, I think that the real point is what those conditions are. If the conditions are about transparency and accountability, I think by all means go ahead. But if it's only meant to lock in the aidee nation into buying the aidor nation's goods and services, then it's not necessary bad aid but definately unfree trade.

2. The conditions imposed with regards to trade tends to be one way, this is achieved through tied aid which the poorest nations and the most vulnerable have to accept.

You're not going to find any credible economist who says that the trade system as it exists is good. BUT very often the calls for reforms are for MORE free trade ESPECIALLY in agriculture because that is the area which is mostly likely to benefit these nations if trade is free and hurt if its not (as the situation goes).

It's a bit of a simplification to say that most 3rd World nations are simply agricultural economies (not that there's anything wrong with it e.g. NZ) but it is generally true that the poorest developing nations fit this mold. As a result, subsidies and barriers to agriculture in the first world hurt these nations as they artificially deflate the prices they can get as well as create a barrier for them to actually sell something that they have.

So arguably, if liberalisation of trade is one way then the 3rd World nations don't benefit as much as they ought to. The idea is that 1st World nations get to sell their goods more cheaply than the other way round. And what happens is that it locks in the two nations. What makes this particular bad is something called 'declining terms of trade'. Basically the price of primary products persistently and have continually fallen in real terms in contrast to capital goods (machinary, computers etc.) So as a result you need more and more tons of wheat just to get one computer. As time goes on, the 3rd world nations simply gets poorer comparatively.

Just one wrinkle. It doens't happen this way. Firstly, (free) trade really goes both ways. The problem with this original line of argument in part is that these nations actually do benefit in the sense that very often they were the ones with the highest tariffs and quotas. And as a reuslt of the nation reducing them, their citizens end up benefiting from cheaper goods, they get to export more. So it's not for nothing that every statistic correlating growth, economic prosperity and openness to trade has always seen a very strong positive correlation (if not a causal link).

But secondly, while declining terms of trade is a theoratically sound concept, it's a remarkable static version of reality. Nations do realise what's happening. The World Bank and African Bank exists for the very purpose of advocating development and growth. Furthermore, trade is often the very basis for the money and technology needed to achieve 'capital takeoff'.

And if unfair terms in agriculture really is the problem then the solution is more not less free trade!

Furthermore, lest we forget, Africa and Asia were similarly poor in the 1970s but the difference today is staggering. The difference is that we were committed to free trade (importing and exporting) while the African nations were committed to ISI (Import substitution industries) i.e. protect these industries behind a wall of tariffs and instead of importing, let these industries produce instead. Bad idea even in theory. Very often you create inefficient national champions incapable of competing on the global front dependant upon and demanding ever more public support and money.

These two facts: the history of the failure of protectionism and that very often the poorest nations have the highest level of protectionism are the final nail in the ideological coffin that is the carcass of 'managed trade'.

Not to mention that the EU and US does give a lot of preferential treatment to these nations. So much so that many nations grumble that the MFN (most favoured nation) status is now massively undervalued to the unfree (but presumably 'fair') trade terms that these nations have. And this hasn't helped them break out of their poverty cycle yet has it?

So if trade were really so bad, why not suggest to China that they should demand fair trade...=P A point nicely made in this rebutal article.


Sunday, June 19, 2005

Renewed calls for freedom as Suu Kyi turns 60 - World -

The only nobel laurate still behind bars. For most part, winning the Nobel Peace Price has been a massive incentive for a nation to undergo political change and reform e.g. Nelson Mandela and apartheid South Africa.

Living in this part of the world and particular in South East Asia (S.E.A.) I think this is one of the few rare human right issues that actually strikes a chord (not a huge one admittedly) amongst most other members of ASEAN who have always shown a remarkable distaste in inferring in the domestic political scene of their fellow members. If I'm not wrong, part of this policy evolved in tendem with the tendancy of nations to attempt to work through consensus rather than say a popular vote, which explains the slow progress of ASEAN on almost every front, particular economic (considering that this was the ostensible reason for its creation in the first place).

At any rate, so slow was the progress of its economic liberalisation *cough* proton *cough* that Singapore and Thailand actually advocated a 2+X policy whereby any two nations that wanted to go ahead with such liberalisation could do so without the consensus of the remaining members who would (as the idea goes) join them once there were ready.

Anyway, back to Myanmar. For those of us who have no idea what the history of The Lady is, back in 1991, the Generals of the ruling military junta of Burma decided to hold elections confident in their ability to win the popular vote. As it turned out, they were soundly whipped by the Aung San Suu Kyi led pro-democracy National League of Democracy (NLD) who won around 90% of the vote. Unfortunately the junta vid the election and threw her into jail. Hence beginning a decade and a half cycle of international pressure forcing them to release her and then the junta throwing her back into house arrest or worse jail when they felt that their political survival was threatened by her and the pro-democracy movement. So it has been a history of promises and broken promises.

ASEAN comes in back in 1994 when they decided that since they were an economic organisation devoted to staying out of each others affairs, that they would allow Myanmar to be a member. Of course they was quite a huge uproar internationally but this was the era of the ascendancy of Asia and Asian Values and Democracy. If one wanted to be charitable, it was also true that the policy of embargo and sanctions imposed by the US and EU were not doing any much good in terms to instigating political reform and change. So one argument goes that constructive engagement by ASEAN would do the trick. Well, a decade later and nothing has changed for the better.

One thing that has taken a massive turn for the worse is the growing problems of HIV/AIDS in Myanmar. It's all the standard problems (ignorance, governmental inactivity and tardiness, lack of education, drugs, poverty and the sexual transmission of AIDS, rebel minorities as well as simple infrastructural incapacity) but has been recently made worse because of the dismissal of the ex- No. 3 of the junta, a relatively internationalist and nice guy by most accounts and it seems the only one with a sense of urgency of this particular problem.

So back to the problem of Aung San Suu Kyi, seeing that it is a cyclical problem and that the generals will never leave her in peace as long as she is a threat, I really don't see any happy resolution to this instant problem. Unless the core generals (the top 5) are suddenly willing to cooperate for the greater good of the nation and can face down their underlings who would not want to see their power base challenged, then neither this problem or that of the pandemic is going to be solved. Recognition of the regime by the internation community is not likely to be forthcoming either and even if it does occur, I fear the people of Myanmar will feel a terrible sense of betrayal. But seeing that lives are at stake it might be necessary to do what might seem to be the unthinkable and legitimise the regime in order to get their cooperation to solve the terrible problems plaguing the people.

But this does not mean that they should be allowed the rotating chair of ASEAN.


Saturday, June 18, 2005 - FDA panel OKs drug aimed at blacks - Jun 17, 2005

Short update today, debate training is really draining...*ack*. I suppose there is a reason why UBC (University of British Columbia) classifies it as a sport.

Background: In a 9-0 vote, the FDA voted to approve a new drug called BiDil which in clinical trials seems to work exceedingly well in the control of heart failure amongst Black Americans. In medical parlace (for any medics who actually read this blog), yes, we're talking about Congestive Heart/Chest Failure (CCF/CHF). Basically, because of the heart's (or more accurately it's ventricles) inability to pump out blood fully, you get a buildup of blood and fluids backwards from where the failure begins. So from the right ventricle to the right atrium to the left ventricle to the left atrium back into the pulmonary artery to the lungs resulting in persistent shortness of breath and an overall bloating.

At any rate, the drug was not entirely successful during initial clinical trials which attempted to work across the entire cross-section of society. But held the promise of working particularly well for Blacks. So it's not just simply that it actually does so but also that it was eminently so successful that the trials were cut short. What is nice also is that there is now a form of drugs that works in a populace that is twice as likely to get heart failures than Whites and for whom the current batch of medication i.e ACE inhibitors don't work as well for them.

Anyway, we're looking at the future of medicine. Because of the peculiarities of our individual genetic makeup, very often medication only works in about half the patient populace. And efficacy of a particular drug can vary immensely from one country (racial populace) to another. For example, clinical trials for a particular biological marker ended up demonstrate a massive varience from between 25% to 90% efficacy between various nationals. So now we know that genetics do play a huge role in the manner in which we metabolise and respond to drug treatments.

Ultimately of course, the aim is to be able to create custom medication for the individual which would work at full efficacy instead of the current diagnose and guess what medications would actually work. As a result, doctors do normally hedge their bets and either prescribe a number of medications or ask to come back and see them if it doesn't work. Either way adding to the overall cost of medical services in a nation.


Friday, June 17, 2005

Compromise on detention policy reached - National -


A political compromise that goes someway forward towards mitigating the problems of Australia's extrodinarily harsh policy of detention but nevertheless still has someways to go. The same would really apply for any nation which uses a mandatory policy of detention as a manner of response to illegal immigration.

The background to this issue can be found me in my earlier post. This particular compromise is good in three particular areas:
1. Families will be released from detention. So no more children born and growing up in one of those detention centres. Children will de detained only as a last resort.

2. Greater power and flexibility given to the Immigration Minister who will now have the ability to grant visas and change the status of such detainees.

3. There will be a time limit of 3 months for which a primary decision must be made on a person's detention.

However, problems still remain, not least which is the mandatory detention scheme. In my earlier post, it was pointed out that Australia, as a signatory (and ratifier) of the Refugee Convention amongst other treaties had bound itself to acknowledge the right of every person to seek asylum and to protect such persons while an application is made. These laws were support to prohibit the use of such a blanket policy but obviously to no avail. The principle behind this is that such immigrants might be subject to various abuses in their country of origin which makes it impossible for them to seek legal avenues to get to their host nation.

But beyond this, there is also the entire matter of accountability and check and balances (judicial or otherwise) which has yet to be implemented. So for example, even though there is a time limit of 3 months for a primary decision, there really is no bite if the time limit is breached, "other than the requirement that regular reports be tabled in parliament detailing cases that haven't met those time limits" to quote Mr. Howard. And furthermore, it is only when detention is more than 2 years beyond there is a trigger whereby the Immigration Department must report it to the ombudsman who would then make recommendations back to the Department. Note, RECOMMENDATIONS, they are not binding, again to quote Mr. Howard. So really, it does feel like a soft policy without teeth.

However, to be fair to Mr. Howard, if we can take him at his word that there is fundamentally a very strong parliamentary and societal support for the original policy, then his submission to what a MP has called 'political terrorism' and aceeding to what might in turn be seen as a softening of a successful policy which prevents illegal immigrants, would be a blow to his political fortunes. In which case, assuming that he is being honourable in his intentions, this 'soft' policy would nevertheless work assuming that (and this is a big IF) the people in parliament raise a sufficient ruccuss everytime the Refugee Review Tribunal gives its report.

And it is entirely possible that there would not be such a need in the first place. But I seriously have have my doubts seeing that the purpose of this mandatory detention scheme is to scare people away and keep them from entering society (or to deport them).

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Defence Force justice system under fire - National -

The bipartisan Senate report recommends stripping the Defence Force justice system of most of its powers to investigate and prosecute its own personnel by reason of abuse and systemic flaws. The report is a 385 page PDF file so yes...I'm still ploughing through it.

To quote the SMH (in turn quoting the report), "Among the sweeping changes recommended by the Senate's Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade references committee:

1. All criminal activity within the Defence Force be investigated and prosecuted by civilian authorities, rather than by the military, as happens now.

2. The establishment of a new, statutorily independent director of military prosecutions.

3. The establishment of an independent and permanent military court.

4. The creation of a statutorily independent grievance and complaint review body, which takes administrative investigations away from the chain of command."

I don't think I'm going to comment about it seeing as it does have implications on the system we have in place in the SAF so...yes...go ahead and read for general edificaition.

Drug companies refuse lower pricing on four medicines - National -

Well intentioned governmental plan gone wrong. The idea was that the Federal Government would cut the prices it pays to drug companies of a particular proprietary drug once the patent had expired i.e. once generic varients of the drug enter the market. To give an example, Panadol is proprietary but Paracetamol (in whatever name and varient) is the generic one. The move was expected to generate savings of up to AUS $800 million per year for the government as well as the patients.

However, following a 'revolt' by the drug companies, patients now have to pay a 'special patient contribution' over and on top of current co-payments (the government pays a part, you pay the rest). The original plan was not to have affected consumers ironically. These four drugs are Alimta, a treatment for types of lung cancer, Topamax prescribed for epilepsy, Keppra for migraine headaches and Lexapro for depression.

Personally, I do think that this governmental scheme is justifiable in the sense that patents (a monopoly given to the inventor with a time limit of 20 years) are given in the expectation that the inventor would recoup his losses (and more) in this particular period. So once the patent expires, the economic and moral justification of paying full price for the drug vastly if not totally diminishes. After all, the federal government is not going to suddenly only pay cost price (which is seriously dirt cheap), but 12.5% lower than the price they are already paying. I hope that it is not retail price because the price the drug companies sell to GPs and Hospitals and pharmacies is A LOT cheaper than the retail price we buy.

At any rate, it seems that the opposition is fuelled by the argument that generics are not perfect substitutes (despite being chemically similar) to proprietary drugs. I can personally attest to that fact though I might argue it is simply because of poor quality control. I once did a experiment back in secondary school where we tested asprin tablets to see if they contained the advertised level of active ingridient. Sadly, you pay for what you get. very often the cheaper brands do not maintian quality control such that some tablets had mroe than the advertised dosage and some quite a bit less. The 'name brands' had the exact amount regardless in every tablet.

Another problem is the manner of classification of drugs into generic groups. Just because something is a painkiller does not mean all painkillers act in a similar fashion OR would work as effectively for current patients made to switch.

I think there is a way out of this problem. The government could simply shift to buying only generics and effectively force the drug companies to lower their prices in a bid to keep the Federal government as customers. Unfortunately it would seem like they (the drug companies) are not biting and I think patients currently on these drugs would not take kindly (emotionally or physically or even healthily) to a change in their medication. BUT a policy would be progressive i.e. to be used only for future patients. It would not generate as much savings as was originally considered but with this price increase, current patients might well consider switching.


PM pushes to avert split on detention - National -

Reading the Sydney Morning Herald in preparation for the upcoming debate tournament (Austral-Asians) in Brisbane, Queensland. So this blog might be featuring quite a bit more of Australian news than you might actually want to read...=P But look at it this way, we rarely get news about what's happening on that continent after all and it is probably the closest 'Western' country to our shores.

Background on Australia's immigration policy: One of the harshest in the world and has come under fire especially post Pauline Hanson and in particular the manner in which John Howard pushed a very hardline anti-immigration (more accurately illegal immigration and refugee) stance in the election before this. This was partly in reaction to the 9/11 incident as it was also a reaction to Pauline Hanson's One Party electoral success, reflecting the relatively broad societal support

Three particular aspect of Australia's policy massively differentiates it from the rest of the Western nations (and possibly violates international laws and treaties).
1. Mandatory detention system for immigrants/refugees without a valid visa permit
2. There is no judicial review of the detention
3. Detention is indefinate

International law and treaties e.g. Refugee Convention (of which Australia is a party to) states that every individual has a right to seek asylum. But it also acknowledges the right of every country to control its immigration. However, these same countries are also bound to provide protection and consider all asylum claims. What is important is that these self same laws prohibit the use of detention as a BLANKET policy of dealing with illegal immigration. It also requires that these detention be reviewable by the court (which the Australian system currently does not allow for, allowing it to indefinately drag its foot without recourse). The principle behind this is an acknowledgement that many of these refugees might be subject to abuses (mostly political or even social and economic) which makes it impossible for them to avail themselves to legal recourse to legally enter the country. Hence the state really should not penalise illegal immigrants when considering them for asylum. Mandatory detention precisely does this exact thing.

According to Dr Jane McAdam, law lecturer at the University of Sydney, despite the EU receiving a 100 times more asylum applications, no nation within the EU actually uses detention as a form of accomodation pending asylum application. Even so, detainees haev the right (and the expection) of speedly processing as well as recourse of the judiciary. Detention is use both at the beginning (verification of identity) and at the end (processing of documentation) as well as when the person might pose a threat to public safety.

Even on the issue of time, there are very strict time limits placed on detention subsequent to which the person must be release or the detaining subject to governmental (Canada, senior immigation officer) or judicial review (elsewhere). In Spain, France and Ireland, the period is about 4 days. Austria, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, maximum is between 2-3 months. Canada comes in between at about 8 days.

So what's been happening is that there have been four rebel MPs from Howard's Liberal Party who are breaking ranks with the party and initiating their own private member's bill would would mitigate the harshness of the regime (note, merely mitigate and not abolish, putting it someways behind best internation and legal practices above). This has however openned them up to accusations of political terrorism and balckmail as well as ignoring the wishes of the party and the people (seemingly a lack of support). After all, the system has been credited with reducing the number of illegal immigration to Australia (although forcing ships away from Australia on grounds of suspecion might have a lot to do with it...or a reluctance to help drowning refugees as well)

In particular, the two bills seek to address different issues.
1. Migration Amendment (Act of Compassion) Bill 2005 serves the needs of those already in detention centres. Subject to judicial assessment on an individual basis by a serving or retired judge, upon determination that they are not likely to pose a public safety threat or to abscond, families (those with children) and those who have already been in the detention centres for more than a year will be released.

This bill seems to have greater and broader support than the second bill.

2. Migration Amendment (Mandatory Detention) Bill 2005 modifies (but again does not abolish) the mandatory detention regime for future asylum seekers.

Noteworthy features include:

1. A time limit of 90 days for detention and only to cases where verification of identity, assessment of asylum application, protection of public safety, conducting health checks and ensuring the continued presence of the asylum seeker (for removal if necessary) is needed. Children will only be incarcerated as a last resort (the New Paper did a pretty good series of reports on a 3 year old boy whose entire life had been in such a detention centre.) This puts it at the maximum period of EU nations.

2. Application for release by detainees to the Federal Court on the basis of a lack of reasonable grounds for detention. While this is a good policy, the fact that the bill does not attempt to abolish mandatory detention probably means a lot more work for the courts.

3. Should the government (Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs) believe that detention for more than 90 days is necessary, it must make an application to the Federal Court for such an order.

The fear of supporting the second is the logical one which states that it would encouraged renewed people smuggling, always a dangerous endeavour. While the current policy is obviously a stop gap measure and would never address the root cause of refugees and people smuggling, one must acknowledge it is an entirely rational fear. After all, even if enforcement were top notch and all illegal immigrants could be caught, the cost of repartriating all of them (assuming asylum application fails) would be very high. But even so, I think in this instance, considering that life and human dignity is at stake, cost should not be an issue. But more than that, Australia is facing a severe shortage of labour so loosening their immigration policy would not hurt (Howard habing taken the first step of issuing temporary visas to workers).

At any rate, according to the above report, the negotiations by Howard and the rebel MPs have not gone entirely well (or anywhere for that matter). To quote the article: "Mr Howard offered concessions including setting time limits on processing of refugee applications and agreeing to allow fathers to live with mothers and children in low-security residential accommodation. But he would not agree to fully releasing families into the community, ending indefinite detention, giving those on temporary protection visas permanent residency and allowing an independent arbitrator."

Personally, I do think that the concessions don't go far enough. I think at the very least there ought to be some form of independent arbitrator or judicial review of the system. The fact that Howard refused to budge on this SEEMS indicative of a knowledge that the system is seriously fundamentally wrong and that such a policy (if pushed ahead) would have made that entirely clear to the rest of the populace. And even assuming that the majority of the population (and more importantly the electorate) supports him, I think his international reputation would take a hit particular in our region (SEA) which probably make the bulk of the detainees in the Refugee Centres.


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

BBC NEWS | UK | UK Politics | Blair rejects rebate freeze plan

Background: I think we all know what a rebate is i.e. money paid back to defray the cost of a particular good (in this case, contribution to the EU). The UK won its rebate after Margaret Thatcher, then prime minister fought tooth and nail for during the negotiations back in 1984. One reason (and the major one at that) was that the UK was contributing disproportionately to the EU despite its relatively weak economy at that point in time (hence making it even more disproportionate). However, today the UK is one of the largest economies in the the EU and while being the 2nd largest net contributor to the EU at 2.8 billion (Germany first at 7.7 billion), nevertheless, by a per capita contribution, lags behind quite a few nations (5 I think, making it the sixth largest contributor).

It's worth noting that there is nearly no support whether domestically or politically amongst all the three major political parties to give ground on this issue. Not to mention, the famous Euroskepticism of your average Brit, making this perhaps the toughest sale that Tony Blair would ever have to make.

So Mr Blair's suggested compromise is really a stroke of political genuis. By linking talks on the rebate (and freezing the rebate of 3 billion over 2007-13) contingent on a wider discourse on the EU budget as a whole, and in particular, on the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) he has effectively shifted the burden back to Mr Chirac to prove that he is not being an obstructionist.

Recall that France recently dealt a stunning blow to the referendum on the EU constitution by voting Non, this being France the Founder-State and one of the most gung ho over the 'ever closer union' of the EU. As such, Blair has some ground on which to accuse Jacque Chirac of attempting to create a diversion over the issue of the Constitution.

But what is nice about this proposed compromise is the manner in which it would seriously make the entire situation more equitable. While it is fair to accuse the UK of not paying its proper dues (this not being the 1980s anymore after all), nevertheless, any further reform of the CAP would go a long way towards the necessary slimming down of this mammoth.

To quote the EUROPA: "The aim of the common agricultural policy is to provide farmers with a reasonable standard of living and consumers with quality food at fair prices. The way these aims are met has changed over the years. Food safety, preservation of the rural environment and value for money are now all key concepts." To that ends, a major series of reforms was instituted in mid 2003 which attempted to reduce tarriffs and subsidies given by CAP which had the unfortunate effect of distorting trade. This is a very euphamistic manner in which to say the EU had screwed over the 3rd World country's and agriculture sectors by artificially deflating prices of products, keeping 3rd World agricultural products from entering the EU and by destroying 3rd World agricultural sectors when these 'cheap' products were exported elsewhere and 3rd World products simply could not compete on price.

But even so, the beast is still going strong, taking up a near 46% of the EU's budget. Admittedly, the inequitabilities of this situation is not as bad as had previously been the case prior to enlargement. As this 49 billion includes rural aid for development, we ought to seeing more money flow to the new EU states which much more deserve the money than do nations like France and Germany (particularly France). These two countries are seemingly hellbent on keeping the CAP as it is and Chirac has signalled that he would refuse to entertain any discussion about the budget of CAP.

Well, one can hope for a happy outcome to this scenario if both Chirac and Blair give in.


*Mr Fluffy makes a rare appearance due to the nature of his busy schedule. Mr Fluffy is still struggling with his Despotic *ahem* he means Corronation Address and has yet to decide how he wants the tone of the speech to be. In particular, he got into a fight with the chef on what to serve at his first Imperial Party. Although Mr FLuffy, being a stuffed bunny doesn't eat, he nevertheless feels a kindred tie and spirit with the other animals. As such, he had violently opposed the decision of the chef to serve various roasts and sushi at the party. A fight between the AK 47 totting Mr Fluffy and the pan wielding sous chef and knife wielding sushi chef was onyl avoided by the timely intervention of the egg timer signalling the readiness of the souffle. With sugar in their bellies they decided to compromise on faux protein (although the roast chef is still sulking at the decision).*

Monday, June 13, 2005

BBC NEWS | Europe | Italian fertility vote collapses


I fear that this might be a little disjointed considering that I had a marathon debate session from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. first at HC then at SMU.

Anyway, it seems that the referendum could not hit the magic 50% of electoral turnout for the referendum to be deemed valid. Seems like it was due to a mixture of voter apathy and Church led boycott.

Real pity, especially since I've been reading a series of articles on stem-cell research and cloning (both reproductive and research) and I'm more so than ever persuaded that the benefits do outweigh the risks (including the moral and philosophical points on the dignity of life). If I were to be snide though, I can't help but be 'thankful' for all these nations that are so against this issue that it allows for a brain drain of their top scientist and researchers to our shores, thereby benefiting us.

The sad part about it is that, if and when concrete medical advances are made with regards to stem-cell theraputic cures, nations like the US (and various EU nations that have declared that no embryos are to be used for research purposes) will not be able to reap the benefit of those cures because of their opposition to them and in particular legislation that prohibit import of material that are the results of such use of embryos. While I don't think those self same legislatures will make criminals of their citizens for attempted to get those cures (though one never knows), it would again cause them to essentially export these people to neighbouring countries who would allow such advances to be used.

Science and the 'Culture of Life' aside, I think the unfortunate political aspect of this has been the manner in which apathy and a deliberate rejection of a citizen's duty of voting has jepodised the health and life of infertile couples, condemning them to methods that are only 55% as effective (since only three eggs can be extracted to be fertilised and all must be implement i.e. none can be stored in the event of failure) and forcing them into either running for help in another country or to face repeated invasive and painful extractions.

Referendums are good in so far as they can represent the direct wishes of the people. This is bacause, the alternative to this would be for a party to actually campaign on such an issue (and assuming that they keep that promise). The difficulty with this approach is that no election boils down to a single issue really and very often when one votes for a party, one is doing so on a package of issues, not all of which you might actually agree on, but an insufficient number of which you disagree on of insufficient importance such that you would not actually switch alliegance. An example would be that while I disagree with the ruling parties approach to politics and in particular the manner in which the electoral system is governed and manipulated, the fact that the opposition cannot form a viable government or even if it did could not be trusted with the goverance of the nation makes it less likely for me to vote for them and to vote PAP instead. And of course, the fact that I generally agree with all the other policies of the PAP. If I were a US citizen, I would still probably vote for Kerry despite his opposition to outsourcing (and free trade) on the basis that Bush was worse in other areas I care more about (and this would be despite my support for the Iraq war).

So anyway all that whole convulated example goes to show is that single issues are not likely to be electoral issues or at least sufficient to be a electoral issue that the election hinges on (unlike say Clinton's "It's the economy, Stupid" attack on Bush Sr). As a result, elections may not be valid indicators of the level of support for various measures that the winning candidate and party trumpets.

At the same time, I think it's safe to also say that referendums ought to be used judiciously. Switzerland's notion of participatory democracy and constant referendums have lead to a situation of fatique and 'rational ignorance' whereby people cannot be bothered to vote (apathy) or vote on gut instinct or lowest common demoninator (and not actively read up on the issue for example).

But on this particular referendum, I'm not entirely certain the question ought to have been asked so starkly. The question basically revolved asking whether Italy's laws on assisted pregnancies ought to be amended (implied more liberally of course). But it might be conceivable that someone who does feel so nevertheless feels that there might be limits that need to be placed such that embryos that are not used should not be used for research purposes (um...admittedly this scenario is far fetched because Italy has foresworn off embryo creation for research). So to be fair to all parties involved in this issue, the best method might be to remove the voter turnout requirement but to add another one or two options to the voting slip i.e. to demonstrate that they are undecided or that the bill should be sent back to either tighten or loosen the requirements of Italy's laws on assisted pregnancies. That way, it would more fully represent the views of the people and ensure a better decision rather than the stark options offered to them now of either Yes or No.


Sunday, June 12, 2005

BBC NEWS | Europe | Italy politicians defy Church

Vote on fertility law tears at Italians - Europe - International Herald Tribune

The BBC one is much much shorter and probably easier to digest but the IHT one delves deeper into the issue I think.

In brief: Italy had one of the most liberal laws with regards to assisted fertility, with a doctor aiding a 60 year old woman to conceive. As a result, the legislation was amended to make it a lot more restrictive. In particular, a ban on donor sperm and eggs; a ban on scientific research on embryos; a ban on embryo screening for couples with hereditary diseases; the rule that only three embryos per treatment can be created, all of which have to be implanted at the same time.

As a result, this has forced many infertile couples to skip national lines to go to neighbouring countries to get pregnant. It seems that the current methods was mandated and practiced by Italy was only about 55% as effective as the newer methods practiced elsewhere.

A referendum is to be held to amend these laws but the cinch is that there needs to be at least a 50% turnout which was result in the RelSocCon (Religious-Social Conservatives) to call for a boycott of the vote in hopes that this would invalidate it regardless of the result.

Italy is fundamentally a Catholic Country and considering that the Vactican is located within its territory, the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, one would think is pretty strong. Unlike France, which is a very extreme Secular Humanist state i.e. one whereby the state actively interfers in Religion to protect the State from it, I do not think Italy is quite in the same category.

The two reason I hesitate to overstate the influence of the Church is:

1. The nature of religiousity in the EU. Unlike the USA, the pattern in most developed nations is a lessening of religious feelings, aligeance, intensity and in particular the general inability of parties of Faith Based Organisations to manipulate that at a political level. A pertinent example would be that of abortion, the existence and the right of women to have a safe abortion is hardly an issue in the EU and most of the world except for the US where Supreme Court nominations seems to revolve around that of Roe v. Wade, the seminal case striking down blanket bans of abortions in the first two trimesters as Unconstitutional.

2. Spain. We saw what a determined government could do even in the face of religious opposition when PM Jose amended the laws and legalised gay marriages. Arguably, Spain is remarkably similar to Italy such that it is not inconceivable that such an approach could be adopted and made to work. The only difference I can think of is that there might seem to be more popular support for the issue in Spain then it seems for Italy. Four hours after polls opened, only 4.6% of the electorate had cast their votes. This despite the seeming polarisation of society that has occured because of this issue. Or maybe, it's a reflection of abstaining from the referendum as a manner of defeating the vote.

My feelings on the extent to which religion should play a part in politics is pretty clear. While I do not deny the right of RelSocCon to make their voices heard, at the end of the day it is simply not a good way to make public policy. At best it's the first step of determining where your feelings lie. Ideally, logic and rationality should come in after that but heck, who am I kidding?

But what I do find slightly disturbing is the manner in which they are attempting to defeat the vote by suppressing voter turnout. After all, it is the duty of a citizen to make his opinions known especially when it comes to a single issue referendum. There exist as a result possibility of the majority choosing to amend the laws could nevertheless be dismissed simply because people were either too lazy to vote or did not do so as part of electoral politics. I think in this manner, the Church is doing a disservice to the Democratic institutions as well as the electoral system by not in turn campaigning instead for a no vote and using that to demonstrate the strength of popular opposition.

But really though, at the end of the day what would defeating the referendum really do? Considering that society seems to be split down the middle, one cannot claim that the government is sending a strong message against say the use of embryos in science. And let's not even pretend it's going to prevent infertile couples from seeking treatments. Instead you either force them to go overseas (just like how Ireland exports its abortions) or turn to the substandard fertility treatments instead. Worse still, by reducing the chances of 'catching' the first time, you might actually end up destroying more embryos that they claim they want to save.

While I can appreciate the desire for some people to want to 'save' an mass of unfertilised cells (which would hence never develop into 'life') from being used as biological material. Nevertheless, it seems odd considering that there really is no dicotomy between that and fertility treatments or even if there were (some treatments apparently cause multiple pregnancies which the woman must decide which to abort to save the rest), it's not inconceivable that legislation could be made to address those particular problems instead of the current driftnet ones.

And really, what's with the prohibition of doners bit? Should women over the age of 40 be allowed to be mothers? Doner eggs are really the only chance of success these women have. And better still, it means that there is less chances of getting genetic diseases or down syndrome babies. Now I want to make clear that I have absolutely nothing against such people or parents who decided to go ahead anyway. BUT not everyone wants to do so and I think as long as abortions are still legal, the parents ought to be able to decide whether they want to have the child or not (especially those born with congentital defects and terminal genetic illnesses). Furthermore, this goes beyond the parents' capacity to care (emotionally, physically and financially) and definately beyond the state's ability to do so in place of the parent.

It's one thing to force a woman to carry an unwanted baby and then claim that she can always give it up for adoption. I think it's morally unjustified and infringes on a person's individual freedom to choose and determine what's in their best interest (the fetus has no rights till viability sets in and even then it might be displaced by other factors). But more than that, I think it's also cruel and inhumane. And let's face it, not many people who wish to adopt want to care for a baby which has a host of problems. While I salute those who do, it's an unfortunate fact that most end up languishing unwanted.

Well, fortunately, living in Singapore means that somethings are protected, in particular a women's right to choose and fertility rights of couples.


Friday, June 10, 2005

*Back from Thailand*

Still in a holiday induced daze, and much too lazy to do any hardcore thinking and penetration into the depths of depravity that is the usual stuff I comment about i.e. international politics, economics and law (I leave the intellectual philosophy to smarter people than I am).

In case you're wondering about all the pornographical and sexual references and puns I made above, don't worry, it's simply an experiment to see who would come to my blog using *ahem* 'interesting' search terms.

Anyway, updates will resume shortly.

Mr Fluffy says Peace and fires his AK-47 into the air.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

*Ta ta! Off to Thailand*

Will be gone for the next 6 days. Author and his team of slave writers and researchers need a break for a while. If there is for any improbable reason that you need to contact me, please do so by email or if seriously urgent, contact Chew Lin (ratana under links), she has my number.

Fun and Peace! - Lawsuit claims exploding toilet burned man - Jun 3, 2005

*Life imitating Art*

There was a similar episode of this on The Practice. Clear demonstration of how smoking can be highly hazardous to your health.

Anyway, if anyone is interesting in the manner in which courts decide whether your claim succeeds, here is a simplified version.

1. Duty of Care.

Basically as the title suggests, whether there is a relationship between the plaintiff (person suing) and the defendant (person being sued) such that there was a necessity for the defendant to take care of the plaintiff. In most cases it really isn't an issue but there are certain cases where it would appear complicated whether the defendant ought to have taken reasonable care of the plaintiff.

For example, does a social host have a duty to ensure that his drunk visitor is competent to drive. Does it extend to getting him a cab. Basically, is he liable if the visitor gets into a car and gets into an accident? Or what about bars, do they need to limit how much a person SHOULD drink? Originally the answer was no but I THINK that there have been some recent cases that have changed this relationship.

To figure out whether there is a duty of care, there are some factors that need to be considered.
a) What is the relationship between the parties (and does it fall into the traditional categories which the court has imposed a duty of care)?
b) Is it sufficiently 'proximate'?
c) And is it 'fair, just and reasonable' to impose a duty? If all these look vague, that's because they are. A common criticism is that it allows for manipulation of whether a duty exists i.e. an ex-post facto situation. Decide whether you think a duty exist before suitable wording your opinion with the above criteria to substantiate your case.

In fairness, the types of cases that have come up have been very interesting to say the least and that is really where the contentions lie. So for example, is a lifeguard liable to someone who deliberately swims outside of a demarkated safe zone? Yes in Australia but probably logically no elsewhere.

Sometimes it really boils down to public policy whether such a duty should be upheld. The clearest example would be cases where parents were wrongfully stripped of the custody of their child because of false accusations or wrong investigations, or sometimes even slipshod work by employees. But when they tried to sue the Children Service, the House of Lords (highest appellate court in U.K.) decided not to impose a duty of care for they feared that this would hamper the ability of the department to work effectively (for fear of legal liability), that in the course of their aims to protect children, it was better to err on the side of children.

2. Breach of standard of care

Basically, once a duty of care has been established, the question to ask is if the defendant's actions had breached the standard of (reasonable) care imposed on it. The court does not require a perfect standard, but simply a reasonable one, one that everyone is entitled to expect from their fellow beings (and corporations).

And the test they have used on most occasion (and often the first one used) is that of the reasonable person. Transposed to a local context, the care that a person on the Yishun MRT, takes. It should be immediately obvious that this is a terribly fuzzy notion and the reason is that the reasonable person is really nothing more than a legal creation, a useful shorthand for what is the standard expected. And there have been articles lampooning and satirizing this legal standard for it is a really high one. The reasonable man is at times is seemingly perfectly conscientious and never makes mistakes of any sort. (Will find the full quote, it's hillarious)

But sometimes when the defendant is not a person but say a bus company, then the question of what a reasonable bus company is, becomes a real enigma. In such a situation, the court have devised a rule of thumb based upon economic principles of cost-benefit analysis. So crudely put the standard is one where the probability of harm mulitiplied by the cost of this probable harm DOES NOT EXCEED the cost of preventing the harm (with a possible multiplier for social utility). What this equation does is an enunciation of a principle that advocates the prevention of economically wasteful preventive behavior. So if a fall by a supermarket shopper (where the probability X harm = $300) can be prevented by hiring a cleaner ($200), the court would be inclined to find that the standard has been breached, but if it could only have been prevented with multiple cameras and 24h guards monitoring them ($3000) then the court would probably rule the other way.

Note, this is a very crude rule of thumb and there has been more sophisticated economic models used based on things like least-cost avoider etc. Read Posner for more.

3. Causation

Did the defendants actions cause the harm to the plaintiff i.e. 'but-for' the defendant's action would the harm be caused? Mostly straightforward except when more than one person was involved in causing the harm or when it is caused over a period of time by various groups and it is impossible to compartmentalise the harm. So if a further harm was caused that was in a manner related to the original harm caused. So for example, I break a person's leg. Later the person because of his broken leg trips and falls down the stairs breaking his arm. Am I liable? (Yes unless the person has doing something no sensible person should have done)

4. Remoteness

Were the injuries/harm caused by the defendant's action unforeseeable or too remote a possibility. Original case, ship worker dropped a steel beam down a hatch. There was a gas leak and the gas accumulated in the hatch, it ignited and the whole ship sank in the resulting fire. So, it would have been reasonable if there had been a dent but sinking the whole ship was a totally unforeseeable possibility. Anyway, House of Lords found defendant liable for the sinking but this was later changed to reflect the current rules which limited losses.

Note however, it seems that this does not generally apply to personal injuries.

*In other news, Mr Fluffy is busy writing his corronation speech and inviting various head of states to his Ceremony For The Accession To The Imperial Throne*