Friday, September 30, 2005

*Debate Resume*

Current Position (2006): North American Representative, NUS Debate Team a.k.a. former captain now on hiatus and is just making it up as he goes along.

JC (2000-2001)
1. SIA JC Debates: Champions
2. NUS VC Shield: Champions
3. NTU Invitational: Speaker
4. Invited to and adjudicated for the Julia Gabriel Inter Secondary School Debating Tournament
5. Co-coached the HC team that won the ACJC Inter-Collegiates and finalist of the MOE Inter-JC Debating Tournament (formerly known as the SIA JC Debates).

2003 (National Service Period)
5. SMU Hammers: Spoke for NUS C
6. Invited to and adjudicated through to the finals of Hwa Chong Invitational

2004 (National Service Period/NUS)
7. SMU Hammers: ranked in top 1/3
8. Adjudicated in preliminary round of NUS VC Shield
9. Co-coached the Hwa Chong Debating Team that were champions for the AC Inter-Collegiate
10. Coached the Dunman High GEP teams for the Mock Parliamentary Debates
11. NTU Pre-Worlds IVs: Part of the swing team that broke to the quarter finals
12. MMU Worlds: ranked in the top 1/3 of (600 plus) speakers in the world.

2005 (NUS)
13. Executive Tournament Director for Logistics for NUS Challenge Shield 2005
14. Adjudicated every round (6) including both finals of the NUS Chancellor Shield.
15. AUDC: Speaker for NUS A
16. AustralAsians: Speaker for NUS A. Ranked 5th ESL team.
17. Hwa Chong Invitationals: adjudicated semi-finals and finals
18. NTU IVs: Broke to semi-finals. Ranked 7th of 32 teams. Ranked in the top 10 (7th) of 64 speakers.
19. Invited to adjudicate finals of the NTU Inter-School BP Debating Tournament

2006 (NUS)

20. Captain, NUS Debate Team
21. As NUS A, broke to quarter-finals and made it to the semi-finals of the Dorothy Chong Invitationals.
22. Chaired the octo-finals of the AustralAsian Debating Tournament at University of Victoria and panalist on the semi-finals of the ESL championship.

I come with my own notes and can do workshops.



Thursday, September 29, 2005

*And so it comes to past*

And I'm finally free from debates. So goodbye and thanks for all the fish. I probably won't be seeing you guys around anymore.



Tuesday, September 27, 2005 'Intelligent design' debate back in court

*The scientific trial of the 21st Century*

This isn't hyperbole. Just to give you a quick sense of what is at stake.
1) The nature and methodology of the scientific method
2) The separation of Church and State
3) Determination of what ought to be legally allowed to be taught in schools
4) Science itself: By the scientific method or goddunit!

In case you have absolutely no idea what ID is or what it is about or why there are people who still refuse to believe in Evolution, check out my previous posts here and here. In particular, do check out all the attendent links to get a feeling of how scientifically vacuous it is. It makes for great pseudo-science as well as for some whose faith requires them to reconcile it with science. I mean it's faith after all and science by it's very nature and methodology i.e. focusing on the material world and using naturalist explainations (non-supernatural) cannot answer the 'bigger questions' of life.

I think this will spell the end of ID as a 'science' and will finally force it to reveal its very narrow fundamentalistic religiousity at its heart. The scientist pushing this 'science' will finally have to put up or shut up ion a court of law. It's one thing to try to obsfucate and evade in the court of the public opinion and before the scientific community, but the judge won't allow that.

I'm looking forward to see what the creationist come up with next after this failure.


Thursday, September 22, 2005 Barbie pushed aside in Mideast cultural shift

It's a good read and explains a number of eternal truths. Advertising can be made to sell anything and parents will tend to buy the lesser of two evils. So apparently there's this doll that has the same specifications as barbie (which was in turn modelled on a german adult toy doll *cough* which explains the unrealistic proportions that barbie has). The only difference and the reason why this doll is flying off the shelves is because of its modest dress, 'Islamic values' (which is pretty hard to define considering that there are at least 4 schools of Sharia each of equal viability) and presumably because it's not barbie.

Anyway, certain women rights groups are upset because they see it as homogenisation and conservatism by stealth. Such that even though more and more people put on the hijab by choice, the result is societal pressure to conform. It's a little hard to guage how accurate or pervasive this trend is considering that we don't seem to see much surveys done on this issue. But I suppose there would always been some element of truth in the situation. It's hard to go against the crowd, especially so when one is young (and wearing hijabs is becoming fashionable).

And I suppose it would be a little nitpicky to point out that some groups would say that even the doll is not modest enough seeing as she face is unveiled and I think it looks like she is adorned with make-up. But it does bring me to the point that this issue of modesty in Islam has no real set standard. If I'm not wrong, the sura talks about drawing a veil across one's bosom (which makes sense because of the prevelent practice of going topless then in certain arabic/african areas, and even today that's still true). So a huge question mark could be drawn over this need to wearing a headscarf or a burkha or well anything except something to cover one's breasts. But hey, the ulamas call the shots.

But on the other extreme end, we have good muslim women who honestly and reasonably believe that no one should look at them except their brothers, husbands and brother-in-laws. And can we honestly say that they are being oppressed as such?

Here, we really have the classic problem of what exactly constitutes oppresive behavior and when such behavior is reasonable, acceptable and a real choice. And I suppose, arguably, there really isn't a real choice in so far as you have roving morality militias who would beat up women they consider indecently dressed and have prevented girls from escaping from a buring building because they were inappropriately dressed. They burned to death by the way.

This is a question is no real answers and I suppose that with growing automony and power by women, what constitutes a real choice and not should become clearly.


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Fighting malaria with DDT in South Africa

*Well duh*

Taken directly from the first two paragraphs, "In Dzumeri in Limpopo in Northern province, men in blue overalls are readying themselves for the malaria season." And, "Armed for battle against one of Africa's deadly diseases, they brandish canisters filled with the deadly insecticide DDT."

Well, um, yes it's meant to be deadly. Why bother with an insecticide that's not deadly? It's meant to kill bugs, pests and vectors after all. What is an insecticide but a highly highly dilute nerve agent? It's simply meant to kill things a lot smaller than us that's all. But it's also worth noting that the incidences of malaria shot up particularly in the 3rd World after DDT was banned.

Now, it is true that there culd be a great number of reasons why this was the case, not least the possibility that there was no real causal link not least because of the fallacy of Post Hoc, Egro Propter Hoc. Just because B happened after A doesn't mean that A caused B. It might very well be that DDT was so effectively that all it did was to jumpstart the resistance of mozzies to such a chemical and the reprieve from the use of DDT was all that was needed to imbune the mozzies with resistance when less effective insecticides were used. But that doesn't quite explain why it's still so effective today.

But more to the point. Where's all the dire warnings of environmental disaster was to befall us despite the fact we stopped using DDT. Now that I think about it, so what if DDT accumulated in our fatty tissue (granted, it wasn't just us but along the food chain), alot of chemicals do so without any particular harmful effect. More to the point, the cost-benefit analysis seemed to have gone to pot because of the eco-doom arguments that were raging at that point in time. Where environmental damage is limited and can be limited, use of such chemicals or processes has to be considered. BUT where there are more effecacious alternatives, then those need to be considered. HOWEVER, lest we forget, cost is and always will be an issue, and sometimes being in a affluent society, we tend to forget the limitations that poverty brings along with it.

Maybe, our dengue problems will be over soon as well.

Peace. Challenged by Creationist, Museums Answer Back

*As they well should*

One of the basic premises of being a good tolerant Liberal who believes in free speech is that one must also seek as far as possible to correct ideas and put forward opposing viewpoints in order for the 'free-market of ideas' to work. To put it in mathematical terms for those so inclined amongst my readers, you need two intersecting lines to make a point.

So it's nice to see that museums are 'fighting back' in the sense that they are training their staff to respond to answers from Creationist, not quite unlike (now that I think about it), all those apologetic and evangelitical courses that one sees in certain religious groups.

At any rate, I think it's also time to start correcting misconceptions and facts about much conventional wisdom, starting with but not limited to, things like homosexuality and the appalling ignorance (wilfull or reckless) that many homophobes display when it comes to such discussions, not least with the hell load of psuedo-science that is sprouted.

Thus the following appeal I make, it's time to take a stand for truth and good rational discourse. The next time certain fundamentalist groups raised the sceptre of intolerance, we should go forth and meet it headon. This is a duty I feel that everyone, of whatever creed owes to themselves and to those who cannot speak for themselves.


Monday, September 19, 2005 N.Korea agrees to give up its nuclear programme

*Finally, the breakthrough arrives*

One day, I'll wake up and find that the headlines reads, "Peaceful Aliens arrive, we're not alone in the universe, world peace breaks out." But in the meantime, I'll gladly take news of this sort.

An update from yestersday's post about Iran, it looks like the other holdout has finally 'given in' and thus North Korea has accepted to give up its nuclear program in return for aid, energy assistance and the gods know what else was promised by the other five nations.

So it looks like the pundits were right after all. North Korea was holding out for the best deal it could get and we can all happily get on with our lives again. But just one tiny little problem; we had a similar situation in 1994 where Clinton apparently negotiated a deal of a similar sort i.e. in return for a renouncement of nuclear weapons, they would provide energy and help build civilian light water nuclear plants (which cannot be used for weapon purposes). And they effectively renanged on the deal which led us to this current situation in the first place.

Are we not simply telling North Korea that we can be blackmailed at any time? Perhaps not. Unlike the '94 deal, this was done on a 6 party basis. If North Korea backs out of this one, he would not simply be slapping USA across its face but also China, Japan, Russia and South Korea and might actually lead to a very effective sanction and blockade regime (or so one hopes). This was one of the reasons why Bush did not want a bilateral agreement as was the original hope of North Korea. Pressure by China and Russia is vital not just to the formulation of this agreement but its enforcement mechanism as well.

Well, at least that's one such problem solved, though ensuring that the deal is maintained and the deal is kept is still on the burner. But for the now, let's enjoy the deal and we'll worry about problems should they actually arise.



Sunday, September 18, 2005 Straw attacks Iran's Nuclear Stance

This never ceases to amaze me. To argue that Iran has a legitimate right to produce nuclear energy is accurate in so far as it is for peaceful civilian purposes. And even then, one could go as far as to argue that no other nation should have the right to produce nuclear energy unless there are very stringent checks that the nation is willing to submit to under the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).

On the first issue, I think it should be relatively obvious why a nation has no direct legitimate right to persue nuclear power for military purposes. For one, most nations have signed the Nuclear non-proliferation treaty, a binding document that signatory nations have ratified to demonstrate their intent not to persue nukes. This is not to say that such nations could not do so by simply giving 6 months notice to the IAEA before actually developing those weapons but it is a signal of internation consensus that nukes are very bad things and we shouldn't allow anymore of them on this planet. Secondly, it would be massively counter-productive. While the World has grudingly and tacitly accepted that the nuclear status quo will be here to stay, any new nuclear powers would arguably be very destabilising, not just to the region but conceivably and probably to global peace.

The example of India and Parkistan is an enlightening example that could really be used to argue both sides of the coin. One side argues that possession of nuclear weapons is good because it could create a 'peace' brokered upon a nuclear arms race with an understanding of MAD (Mutally Assured Destruction). Thus whether in the Middle East or over Kashmire, the concept of war would be unthinkable because the outcome should the other side go nuclear would be unthinkable.

But is that necessarily the case? Two options present themselves here, either the prospect of going nuclear is so unthinkable, all that would happen is a long protracted conventional war. After all, one of the problems facing Europe during the Cold War was when they would use nuclear weapons, especially in the face of Soviet salami tactics i.e. by slicing off little bits of land, the trigger for a nuclear attack would never happen, and slowly town by town, city by city, Europe would fall unless it started a conventional war it could not win. So as a trump card then, nuclear weapons were not the pancea of peace that some International Relations Realist proclaimed it was.

The awful alternative is that knowing that the above could happen, the other side becomes more gittery and willing to go nuclear at the drop of the pin. This is not a remote possibility because of the sheer lack of nuclear C&C (Command and Control) India and Parkistan have. There isn't dual control structures, failsafe bypass, direct connection to the other side (to make sure this was not simply a mistake) or even a proper nuclear strategy plan. These were the things that made a nuclear apocolypse less likely when they were instituted between the two big nuclear states during the Cold War.

On the second issue, the right of a nation's sovereignity is servely curtailed not simply by international norms and consensus but also by pure common sense. As it is, people don't trust Iran, being obstinate and mule-headed about it is not the way to go about making friends (or at least allies) and getting what you desire. A country does not have full freedom of action even within their own nations. Yes, you have the right to position your troops anyway in your territory but it can and will be seen as threatening and an illegitimate use of force ala gunboat diplomacy during the colonial era and China's use of military exercises anytime Taiwan tests new military hardware or holds a free elections that looks like the pro-independence movement will win.

One can only hope that this is simply a game of brinksmanship and cooler heads will prevail.



Saturday, September 17, 2005 UN reforms received mixed response

It's a good article and I don't really want to get into the details here except sufice to say, it's hardly nuclear physics and brain surgery to figure that not everyone will be happy with it. I've had personal experience in trying to form and bridge a consensus between 12 people. 198 nations? Pigs would probably fly before any consensus on a substantive matter (UN Security Council Reform, Nuclear Non-proliferation, Aid budget of rich nations etc.) will be achieved. The reason I'm willing to bet any amount of money is really quite simple, considering the clash of conflicts and the fact that the WTO has not seen any agreement since Seattle in 1999, that's how I know.

On any issue of substance, there simply is not any global consensus on the best way forward for every nation on Earth. That is because, given the differing historical, political, economic and social climate of each nation, these differences translate into very real divergant stances on everything mentioned above.

Even on a matter as 'simple' as trade, though we know that free trade is good simply because of the comparative advantages of each nation (not unlike how we work to get money to buy stuff that we would otherwise have to make ourselves i.e. a terribly inefficient use of our resources), there is nevertheless no agreement amongst nations on how these should be achieved. 1st world nations have protectionism to protect failing industries either on a basis of national security, pride, or simply too strong a lobby group. 3rd world nations do so on a misguided attempt to protect their infant industries in the hope that they would grow up strong and become national champions, unfortunately all these does is to create weak, emanciated national parasites that prey upon the citizens with expensive, lousy groups. Anyone born in India in the 60s would understand what I mean.

Thus, on a more complicated geo-political issue like nuclear non-proliferation, you have even more divisive stances taken up by nations like Iran (who argue that they have a soveriegn right to peaceful civil nuclear programmes) and North Korea (who argue that they have a need to protect themselves against an American invasion) to France (who feel the need to test their weapon stockpile) to Russia (who have problems keeping their stockpile safe) to America (who want to test mini/tactical nukes because the large ones are effective useless for military purposes.) Given not just a range of views and opposite dicotomies, is it any real wonder that a) nothing is done, b) a compromise is created that's hated by all parties or c) empty platitutes that mean nothing.

Underlying all of these is the real problem of a lack of a world government in the sense that in a domestic functioning judiciary, all are equal before the law because the government says so and has the sanctioning ability to do so. On an international level, there's really no such power to sanction by any international organisation because they essentially derive their power from the members themselves and the disparity between the powers (political, economic and military) are so great and vast that any belief that the US cannot do whatever it wants (within limits) or that they are unnecessary tend to be obtusely naive.

Ladies and gentlemen, Madam Speaker and members of the house, why are we even surprised?



Friday, September 16, 2005

*Animals welfare v Animal Rights*

This was a rejected letter to the press, and I'm just a little too lazy to come up with new content today. Especially since my Property Law assignment just came out. Anyway, this letter was prompted by a full page spread on animal abuse (which as it turned out spiralled into an issue of racism and the use of a law which has not been used since its inception during the Malayan Communist conflict).

It was worded as a clarification of the two different doctrines above, animal rights is a evry broad concept that encapsulates animal welfare but also some more radical elements as to the intrinsic right of animals to live.

Dear Sir,

While it is not right for us as humans to abuse creatures more vulnerable than us, I think that, nevertheless, an important distinction must be drawn between animal welfare and rights. A conflation of the two has had a disturbing tendency to translate into violence on behalf of animals as best seen by the continuing systemic harassment and death threats against Huntington Life Sciences in the United Kingdom and exemplified by the fact that their suppliers are slowly dwindling to nothing.

Their 'crime'? The use of animals in medical research and testing. This despite the fact that the animals there are treated much better and more humanely than any ordinary pet would. Never mind the fact that the system of regulations, checks and balances are so stringent as to make any form of abuse impossible. And despite the fact that they are the beneficiaries of the life saving drugs that are produced or that there are no viable alternatives or that animals that have to imported overseas do not have the same level of care and attention than they would otherwise have in the U.K.

Animals do not have rights. An animal can no more have rights than any inanimate thing or object, for they cannot reciprocate the obligations that come along with it. Animals have rights only vis a vis us humans who ensure that they do. Which is why it is a misnomer really to speak of rights which by simply logic and definition simply cannot exist. Similarly, that is also why the philosophy that places animals on par with humans is simply naïve and wrong headed good intentioned though it may be.

And thus that is why, while I'm a firm believer in preventing unnecessary cruelty towards animals and a strong proponent of harsher penalties for those who abuse them, I still do eat meat, wear leather and support animal medical testing. Because I believe in animal welfare, not animal rights.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

*Update and Addendums*

Had a very vigourous discussion/debate with a number of friends of mine today with regards to the entire incident behind the use of the Sedition Act (Cap. 290, Sing. Rev. Ed. 1985) of whom one thoroughly disagrees with the position that I have taken on the following basis:

1. Singapore society is fragile and has certain rifts along the lines of race and religion

2. Being insensitive to the feelings of some religions is a bad thing.

3. Like race, religion makes up a big part of the psyche of a person and insults towards those should dealt with

4. Such insults have a greater propensity than not to create harm to the fabric of society.

5. Such harm as well as the desire to deter others from commiting such an offence as well as the desire to send a strong message out that we would not condone such a form of action should be sent out.

I respect that point of view though I think it's terribly hard to prove quite a bit of it. I've made my opinions and arguments pretty clear here and here. But in addition to that, I worry about the ability to make (legitimate) criticisms about what I see are weaknesses in theism or certain aspects of Sharia (Islamic Law) e.g. evidenciary requirement of 4 male witnesses to a rape etc. Or even more basically, the fact that religion, unlike race is a choice and should not be subjected to the prima facie protection of hate speech. For a choice requires thought and the capacity to defend.

Anyway, putting that all aside, assuming that we are indeed concerned about hate speech and that we wish to avert possible har,, why should we not extend the Sedition Act to issues of sexuality? Even if one considers it a choice (and the consensus is building around it being innate), it ought to be viewed in the same manner as religion. The stuff that is written in many a right-wing fundamentalist groups (Focus on the Family anyone?) and those homophobes who write into the ST calling them abominations. Why shouldn't they be subjected to the law as well?

I don't agree with the law per se, because I think Singaporeans have moved pass the 1960s and the bugbear of racial riots should finally be put to rest. But if it need be used, I would that it be used judiciously and equitably. Let's stop with the double standards. Or are we simply waiting for some homosexual to be badly hurt before society's conscience is moved?



Monday, September 12, 2005 Bloggers charged under Sedition Act for Racist Remarks

*Brrr! it might be getting more chilly*

Here are the relevant bits of the Sedition Act, (Cap. 290, Sing. Rev. Ed. 1985), from Statutes Online

2. In this Act —

"publication" includes all written or printed matter and everything whether of a nature similar to written or printed matter or not containing any visible representation or by its form, shape or in any other manner capable of suggesting words or ideas, and every copy and reproduction or substantial reproduction of any publication;

"seditious" when applied to or used in respect of any act, speech, words, publication or other thing qualifies such act, speech, words, publication or other thing as one having a seditious tendency;

"words" includes any phrase, sentence or other consecutive number or combination of words, oral or written.

Seditious tendency.
3. —(1) A seditious tendency is a tendency —

(a) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the Government;

(b) to excite the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore to attempt to procure in Singapore, the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any matter as by law established;

(c) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the administration of justice in Singapore;

(d) to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore;

(e) to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore.

(2) Notwithstanding subsection (1), any act, speech, words, publication or other thing shall not be deemed to be seditious by reason only that it has a tendency —

(a) to show that the Government has been misled or mistaken in any of its measures;

(b) to point out errors or defects in the Government or the Constitution as by law established or in legislation or in the administration of justice with a view to the remedying of such errors or defects;

(c) to persuade the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore to attempt to procure by lawful means the alteration of any matter in Singapore; or

(d) to point out, with a view to their removal, any matters producing or having a tendency to produce feelings of ill-will and enmity between different races or classes of the population of Singapore,

if such act, speech, words, publication or other thing has not otherwise in fact a seditious tendency.

(3) For the purpose of proving the commission of any offence under this Act, the intention of the person charged at the time he did or attempted to do or made any preparation to do or conspired with any person to do any act or uttered any seditious words or printed, published, sold, offered for sale, distributed, reproduced or imported any publication or did any other thing shall be deemed to be irrelevant if in fact such act had, or would, if done, have had, or such words, publication or thing had a seditious tendency.

The only real question I have is this, what were the comments they made, did they actually encourage violence against members of another race?

It should be blatently obvious by now that I'm a great believer in free speech and like Voltaire, I might hate what you say but I will defend your right to say it. Repugnant as hate speech might be (and I seriously doubt it got that far), to combat it using the full force of the criminal law is an overkill and legitimises what is often nothing more than stupidity and irrationality.

Combat irrational speech with rational speech, fight ideas with ideas. Charging them with this act is not likely to get them to change their minds, but to shut them up and make them more resentful. Those who share similar sentiments are not likely to be persuaded and are only going to see it as the government protecting the other races.

But more to the specifics of the case, there was a huge online discussion regarding this incident. Surely the message that any reasonable person would take away is that Singaporeans as a whole are NOT racist. And I think that, more than anything else, assures me that we have move on and past our racially charged past. I am not saying that things are perfect, BUT it should be evident that we are not likely going to see the racial riots that occur back in the 1960s again. The government urging us to be harmonious and tolerant is one thing, but this is proof of the pudding.

I seriously hope the judges realise how chilling the effects on free discussion, expression and speech it would be if the decision is not crafted properly. We still generally don't throw people into jail for being stupid and irresponsible unless they actually kill, hurt someone or are in a state highly conducive towards hurting someone e.g. criminal negligence, drunk driving etc. Let's hope they keep it that way.



Sunday, September 11, 2005

*Hi Ho Hi Ho it's off to work we go*

Self-explainatory. Updates might be a little slow on the uptake this coming week with debate and work taking up a huge proportion of the available hours.



Saturday, September 10, 2005

*Longish day at debates*

Since the Inter-vasity chinese debates are on the telly right now, it wouldn't hurt to make a few personal comments. Right off the bat, I have never watched an entire debate in full, mostly because my 'literacy' is aural mandarin isn't particular good. What I do know of Chinese debates is related by Her, who actually watches and understands these things.

But no matter how I try to view it, I simply can't get excited about it. As a friend explained to me, the manner in which the motions are phrased and structured has at its basis an emphasis on language and culture. So the latest one on tv was about a Chinese phrase which basically says move on and don't return to your old haunts (sort of). In that vein, debates tend to be about the abstract (the internet is a virtual force etc.) and the historical and I'm utterly and totally 'ho-hum' about it. Mostly because the questions that enters my mind are too frequently is 'so-what' and 'who cares'.

Now, to maintain some semblance of objectivity, I cannot deny that those accusations have been levered at English Varisty Debates as well but mostly because while the issues debated about are huge, they often seem remote to the affairs of our lives. Of course, the truth is that once you debate you come to realise all too painfully how our lives are connected and how an event in another part of the world can affect us. Asian Economic Crisis anyone? As such knowing what happens and who's likely to be at fault equips one with the information on which to do something. The fact that it focuses on relevent and current issues at leasts makes it worth debating about.

But how about something a little closer to home. Say the legalisation of gambling and the building of casinos. And the reason why that period prompted much head banging on debate was the truely absymal level of debate that one watched in the media. That guy from FACTs was simply way out of his league and if he had come up against a debater in a bad mood, he would have looked a lot stupider than he did. As it was I felt that professor let him off the hook because of the traditional academic approach of seeing and acknowledging all sides. Or better still, homosexual rights? Most of the homophobic letters are all too easily ripped to shreds if one ignores the lies and thinks through the 'logic' they promulgate.

Hence, if nothing else, debating should be made a compulsory course in schools because it teaches you how to make an argument and more importantly, spot logical fallacies in arguments. Things like mistaking correlation with causation (90% of criminals eat bread but that doesn't mean we should ban bread), reverse causality and causal linkages. At the very least, it would improve some of the letters in the forum.

And if you still need a practical reason, here's the cincher, Her sister said she learnt more in one session of debate than she did in a number of GP classes. Enough said.



Friday, September 09, 2005

Daily Vitamins: A Ubiquitous Article of Faith

There's something about the word natural and vitamins that somehow gives the consumers/public this almost instinctual response that it connocts goodness. Thus while natural food companies seem to be allied with the forces of light, pharmacos are seen at best, agents of twilight and at worst denizens of darkness. All this, despite of, or simply perhaps because of the simple fact that they work.

We know what a little sugar pill can do and often times, it has cured those with real ailments and diseases. Thus placebo effect is very useful in pharmacology because it sets a benchmark by which we can actually measure the efficacy of a particular drug. Only if clinical trials demonstrate statistical significance of cures over that of the little white pill does it enter the market.

It has been mentioned before that one of the greatest misconceptions we imbibe in is the concept of natural versus unnatural and the manner in which our body deals with it. And the other big misconception is that we don't realise sometimes that it really is the dosage that makes the poison, or the cure. So as such, while pharmacos should be soundly chastised for the very nasty side effects that some of their drugs have caused, it's hard not to wonder if the reason we don't see such scandles in the 'natural food' segment is because they don't really work in the first place. In the case of homoeopathy, it's really a case of impossibility to overdose or get side-effects from because there simply isn't ANY active ingredient in the formula!

Honestly, maybe Naomi Klein should stop looking at Nike and Coca-Cola and at these natural foods purveyors instead, if she wants to talk about branding and selling people things they do not need or on the basis of misleading premises.


Thursday, September 08, 2005 Rapid Rise of a Judge

*A.K.A. questions the senate should ask Justice Roberts*

You got to feel sorry for the guy, granting of course that he is possibly going to rise to the highest post in the US Judiciary, but nevertheless, to be in a US Supreme Court nominee in an era of massive divisiveness and politicisation of culture and the judiciary. I'm pretty sure he expected it, but for a post on the US Supreme Court bench and not the Chief Justice, especially coming on the heels of CJ Renquist.

The editorial is pretty well written and sums up much of what's at stake and in particular, the questions Roberts needs to answer to a certain extent. But I think a point of clarification is in order. When Justice Roberts wrote his memo on Roe v Wade, it was done so as part of his job as White House Counsel. So it's entirely conceivable he does not share such views but simply that his job requires him to act in the best interest of his client. In this situation, they wanted a memo arguing against Roe v. Wade and that's presumably what they got.

The editorial basically listed 3 areas in which they believed that the senate should grill him on, but I really only want to focus on one because this right does not officially exist in our jurisdiction and is a remarkably important one that few realise the implication of, not least me. It was only after watching an episode of the West Wing that I figured out what the hell the Right of Privacy meant.

I think very simply put, this right reverses the onus and gives freedom to the citizens to do as they will and the state would not intervene and legislate against unless they could demonstrate a compelling interest. So the idea is that the state can't suddenly ban people from using dairy creamers in their coffee unless they can demonstrate there's some good reason for them to do so. So chewing gums would probably still be legal unless there were really so destructive that they posed a threat to our tax revenue or national security.

What Singapore does have is a limited right of privacy, the right not to bothered for example. We were the ones that created the tort of harassment (and saved parliament from having to draft a bill), so you can actually sue the guy/gal who is persistantly persuing you. But it is not a fundamental right. In a manner of speaking you really have as much rights as the Constitution gives you, which really may not be enough because as the editorial suggests, there are very basic fundamental issues that are not covered except under this particular right. So theoretically, without it, any US state would be free to ban abortions of any sort (Roe v Wade) and to make the selling of contraceptives illegal (Griswold v Connecticut). As an aside, I've read that if Roe v Wade were overturned, only 32 abortion clinics out of 1080 would be shut down, as the places that would reinstate anti-abortion laws already have very few clinics. And as usual, this loss would fall disproportionately hard on your young teenage mothers who don't have the resources to travel out of state to get one. And considering the insanity of the abstinence only policies right now, how could the situation not get worse?

And this boils down to the huge debate with regards to the US Constituion and the two major judicial camps. One believes that the Consitution is a 'living document' and that it encapsulates ideas that go beyond what is expressly stated in the written text. The other camp are the 'literalist' who believe that the founding fathers (thought considering the influence women had on the text, it might not be entirely accurate) stated that in the Bill of Rights and the judiciary is oversteping its bounds and being activist and legislative power should remain with Congress. Of course, apparently the senator from the newly created state of Georgia opposed a written bill of rights for this very reason. He feared essentially the literalist camp who would believe that all that could be said and that the total and entire intention could be set down on paper. On the othe hand, judicial activism is a problem, especially as it is the conservatives who are being activist now.

Anyway, back to our local context, I'm not entirely sure the government COULD NOT ban certain people from wearing bikinis. After all, wearing them isn't a right of expression or speech which would make it exempt from the Constitution. Of course, Parliament could always amend it (the Constitution) given its overwhelming majority but still the idea stands. So, it is not simply about having the right to go naked in your home, it's much much broader than that.

Thus, while I'm sure some of my friends would cheer given the entirely inappropriate dress code some of the people have been using around school, but I think that some visual trauma is a small price to pay for a bigger freedom no?


Monday, September 05, 2005

No Woman wants to share

Going to attempt to comment on two broad themes today, first on this issue of polygamy which has been going strong in Today for quite some time now and then a little bit about Sharia (Islamic Law).

The issue of polygamy is somewhat of a touchy topic, especially since the early proponents to the forum of Today were using very horrid arguments based upon the nature of Males being unable to control themselves and as such, polygamy would be a better alternative than presumably having affairs or visiting prostitutes.

But the issue really is broader than the above proposition i.e. marriage is not simply about sex and neither is being human (although the more sex, the happier the populace, the less hang-ups, the less conflicts).

But back to the topic, I think the question should be, whether a group of people who love each other sufficiently and want to share each other in a formally recognised and sanctioned form of union should be allowed to do so. Being the good liberal that I am, I think framed in this manner, my answer would be yes. But then comes the automatic follow-up, would this be a stable form of 'family'? And the use of quotation marks is very important because of historical factors and in fact, simply history. The notion of a nuclear family is a relatively recent concept dating back to the 1950s, of course this is simply referring to the concept of inter-generation families rather than polygamy per se.

But, the notion still stands for two reasons. One, what are we talking about when we refer to the words marriage and family. Secondly. polyandry and polygamy have a very very long history and monogony seems limited to those of a Judeo-Christian background (as opposed to Abrahamic religions).

On the first issue, it seems terribly odd simply to think of the relationship in a polygamous/polyandrous family as simply different binary sets coexisting at the same time. Why are we fixated merely upon the attention the husband/wife can give to each wife/husband and totally neglect the fact that the two ladies/husbands should have their own relationship and must get along as well. It's inconceivable that in today's era, when huge strides have been made with regards to the economic independence of both genders that a relationship cannot be worked out to the mutual benefit of all parties. In a manner of speaking, monogamy is an odd concept which does presume that one can only love one person and that somehow, those two persons will have all the capabilities to raise a family.

If the contrary seems odd, we've probably been cultured into thinking in this fashion the great likelihood is that should we like another person while in a relationship, we would attempt to turn it into a platonic one for obvious reasons (assuming that you don't simply dissolve the one that you're in or simply have an affair). We probably wouldn't have such notions if we were brought up on a society which encouraged such relationships.

Similarly, a stable family is not a nuclear family which has been forced by economic necessity to foster their children out. There is a reason why it takes a village to raise a child and arguably a polygamous family can demonstrate not just simply the merits of cooperation and how to resolve personal conflicts but also by having more people around in a loving relationship.

On the second issue, polyandry is possibly the oldest form of relationship and predates even polygamy. Which makes sense when one thinks about it. A culture based upon matrilineal inheritance is more sensible because it's much easier to tell who is the mom of the kid rather than his paternal heritage. If so, polyandry would be a natural consequence of such a particular arrangement, much like polygamy only exists in a patriatical society.

However it must be said the reason such relationships existed was one of pure economic need. When the manfolk were sent off to die, someone had to take care of the widows. Note that this was after all, a period before the notion of a state and welfare. Women didn't quite have any other choice.

But nevertheless, we still end up with the original issue framed above, whether a group of people should be allowed such a particular freedom in the first place.

Which brings me to Sharia and in particular some interpretations of that bit about the Koran on polygamy. There have been some interpretations that attempt to argue that what it really means is that given the impossibility of equality amongst the man's relationship to EACH of his wives, that it should actually be read as an injunction against polygamy. Of course the fact that the Prophet was involved in such a relationship does tend to throw a spanner into that argument somewhat. But what can be taken from this episode was that it was done so as an act of charity and perhaps should not be read as a marriage per se.

But the biggest difficulty when one approaches the Koran with regards to law as we understand it (a set of rules back by sanctions) is really its complexity and its very different fundamental nature. For one, Sharia does not make a distinction between law and morality and like Talmudic law, governs almost every aspect of a Muslim's life. But at the same time, it's a very sophisticated 'law' in that not everything is forbidden (haram). Sharia is actually divided into 5 class: Encouraged, Permitted, Neutral, Discouraged, Forbidden, of which only the two extremes are enforced. The rest is really a matter of societal disapproval or approval and a matter between the individual and his conscience/god. *cough* Not to mention the fact that the Sharia that we know of in Singapore is a pale, whittered version of what is really meant by Sharia *cough*.

Anyway, I don't see this going anywhere for the time-being.



Sunday, September 04, 2005 HIV case presents conflicting goals

Useful if you ever need to run a case on compelling HIV/AIDS sufferers to tell their sexual partners of their condition. It's a very good article that sets out the nature of criminal law and its implications on such cases, in addition to the status of the law as it stands.

The Singapore position is set out in our statute Infectious Diseases Act, (Sing Rev. Ed. 2003, Cap. 137) which is as follows.

Sexual intercourse by person with AIDS or HIV Infection
23. —(1) A person who knows that he has AIDS or HIV Infection shall not have sexual intercourse with another person unless, before the sexual intercourse takes place, the other person —

(a) has been informed of the risk of contracting AIDS or HIV Infection from him; and

(b) has voluntarily agreed to accept that risk.

(2) Any person who contravenes subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or to both.

(3) For the purposes of this section, a person shall not, only by reason of age, be presumed incapable of having sexual intercourse.

(4) For the purposes of this section and section 24, a person shall be deemed to know that he has AIDS or HIV Infection if a serological test or any other prescribed test for the purpose of ascertaining the presence of HIV Infection carried out on him has given a positive result and the result was communicated to him.

(5) In this section, “sexual intercourse” means —

(a) sexual connection occasioned by the introduction into the vagina, anus or mouth of any person of any part of the penis of another person; or

(b) cunnilingus.

As should be readily obvious, it is a criminal act which goes quite some way in remedying some of the problems of the Common Law i.e. suing the guy. This is because, unless sexual intercourse was obtained either by a mistake of identity (you thought he was a particular person but he's actually someone else) or a mistake of act (you didn't know he was performing sexual intercourse on you...don't laugh, it happens particular with the devotees of some mediums who believe that he's curing them), you really don't have a cause of action against him/her. Not even fraud amazingly enough. It seems that claiming that you would not otherwise have sex with the other person if you had known of his/her condition is insufficient.

If I'm not mistaken, there was a recent amendment to the act which sought to broaden what is meant by 'knowledge of condition' i.e. you don't need to be tested and have the positive result given to you in order for criminal liability to accrue. Instead, all that is needed is knowledge that you have a high propensity of having such a disease for the law to clamp down on you. While this is theoratically admirable, the practical implications, especially with regards to burden and standard of proof would be a nightmare for the prosecutor to establish. I mean, what makes a highrisk group? What if you had multiple sex partners but were very cautious?

The upside to this is perhaps to allow for victims of such situations to sue the other person, thereby bypassing the limitations of the Common Law as stated above.

I think the law is fine only insofar as it is complementary to other forms of education. At the end of the day, you need to be concerned and look after your own body and sexual health. It is fultile and stupid really to attempt to make that part of the other person's duty of care. Lest we forget, there are a lot of very nasty STDs out there, not all of which can be cured and while not fatal could be very detrimental to your health. And the law isn't going to protect you from them.

I think I've gone on long enough about sexuality and sexual education but the message needs to get through. Till now, I'm not entirely convinced that the national sexual education cirriculum (much less those pushed by abstinence only organisations like Focus on the Family) really gives a good overview of STDs, not least because of their focus on one form and only one form of sex. As long as we pretend that teenagers don't have sex or continue to be arrogant enough to ignore what the consensus of science is saying (teens will or will not have sex whether or not you teach absitinence, it doesn't even seem to have a marginal effect) we're going to have problems.

All I have to say is this, peddle your fiction (or whatever sort) elsewhere, we have reality to tackle here.


Saturday, September 03, 2005

*The 'Kids' beat us*

Kudos to the team from RJC who pipped us to the Chancellor's Challenge Shield i.e. the general knowledge and current affairs quiz we were suppose to win so that this poor law student could pay for his transportations this month.

They were good, no doubt about it and gave us a run for our money that's for sure. But in all fairness, we killed ourselves too. In particular, we screwed up the section on National Education so badly that it was funny, nay, hillarious even.

This was in the second round of the tournament and the format was similar, if not identical to the Singapore's Brainiest format i.e. categories we could pick and answer. Here's the three categories we picked. Sports, Politics and Political Science, and last and definately least, National Education.

Now, in sports, we score a total of 10 questions right out of a possible 15 of which we only managed to answer 13 before running out of time. In politics, we managed a total of 13 correct answers out of 14. There was some excitement in that round because I was standing up and shouting out the answers, mostly because the screen was fuzzy and the microphone was way out of position for me to answer into. Oh and my ability to speed read long questions and differentiate between Liberalism and Libertarianism.

Now we come to the category of National Education. Consider the team we had. There was David, Singapore's Second Brainiest Scholar and the depth of his knowledge intimidates me. He actually challenged the answer of one of the questions and was eventually showm to be right, forcing a tie-break and then demonstrating his knowledge of 16th century history by knowing exactly about the various outcomes of the battles Attina the Hun fought. Then there's Her, your average reasonable debater who reads 3 online papers, 2 prints, The Economist and a couple of journals. Admittedly the questions weren't to her particular strengths today. And well there's me.

And with the grand total of a number of decades of education and reading we only managed FOUR (4) correct answers. Hell, we could have answered ANY OTHER CATEGORY better.

So has National Education failed? Going by what happened today, I think that's an unfortunate yes. Heh, oh well, there's always the next one.



Thursday, September 01, 2005

*On the Power of Corporations*

I have to make a confession. Today was probably the first time I've managed to stay awake during the Company Law lectures with my particular schedule that's today. It's definately not that the lecturers are boring but simply that the confluences of factors that make up Thursday is very uncondusive to me staying awake during that particular time-slot. What with, 1) Wednesdays being my free day which means I tend to sleep in and not be able to sleep till like 3 a.m. the next day, 2) 9 a.m. tutorials on property law *urgh*, I simply cannot find myself getting excited about land law, 3) Company Law lectures straight after.

So it came as a very pleasant surprise that I managed to keep awake during lectures today and found myself rather enjoying it. Well, possibly because I dozed off half-way through tutorials. It was a very interesting lecture on the powers of directors (nigh unlimited) and the attempts of the law and statutes to curb them.

The relevancy of this topic should really surprise no one, especially when one considers the number of corporate scandals that have JUST involved abuses of power by directors. The awful ones would have involved them destroying the company e.g. Enron, Parmalat, WorldCom. But there are also others which are not entirely clearcut e.g. the use of poison pills and share dilutions to fight off hostile takeovers.

As it is, these are very fascinating issues, not least because of the manner in which "justice" is being enforced in the US, most famously associated with New York's State Attoney-General suing these companies for breach of duty. The latest scalp he collected is KPMG, one of the big four auditing firms which settled out of court for USD 455 million. To be honest, I don't really think KPMG was doing anything wrong, it was helping their clients make use of tax loopholes to minimise their taxation, whether this be dodge or evasion you decide. But he practically single-handedly killed off one of the original Big Five i.e. Arthur Andersen, of Enron infamity, simply by launching a criminal suit against it. It was eventually acquited by the US Supreme Court but it's now a very pale translucent ghost of its former self.

But leaving this aside for the time being, what really disturbed me was a throw away comment the lecturer made with regards to the power of corporations which he compared to as being as powerful as entire nations. And I think this is a major fallacy that needs to be put to rest because it very severely overstates the power of a company while underestimating just how powerful the nation-state still IS even in this era of Globalisation.

The most famous advocate of this proponent has to be that of Naomi Klein as put forth in her now bestselling book, "No Logo" where she castigates corporations for making us their slaves through the use of brands to stupify us into being compliant consumers. And one of the statistics very commonly used is that which first appeared back in December 2000 by the Institute of Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. which argued that 51 of the world's 100 largest economies were companies. That is a scary thought...only if it were indeed true.

The biggest fallacy in that statistic is that it compares the sales of the companies to a nations gross domestic product (GDP). And this is a gross mistake to make because it essentially compares two incomparable claims, inflating the 'wealth' of businesses while deflating that of a nations. Simply put, a countries' GDP is 'value added' i.e. economist do not simply add up the wholesale prices as it goes through the supply chain as it would overstate the true value of the products. Hence, as it passses through each supply stage, the extra value each stage produces is added on rather than the total figure which would be double counting.

So instead of simply looking at how much General Motors sold, one should instead look at how much of that was truely adding value to the business cost. So yes, you need to subtract the raw materials they used because they are in the business of selling cars not those raw materials. Which gives us the following result. On total sales of USD 185 billion, it's real added value ('equivalent' to a country's GDP) falls to a much lwoer figure of USD 42. Royal Dutch/Shell's total sales were a staggering USD 149 trillion but it's real value addedness was a mere USD 36 BILLION.

So eventually a study by UNCTAD concluded that as of 2000, of the world's 100 largest economies, 29 were corporations, and only 2 were in the top 50.

Of course, some might still say that, hey, that's still pretty mind boggling, even though the numbers are lower, it's still pretty scary and who's to say there won't be a time when it becomes true.

And really Members of this House, there's a really simple reply to this. Just over a century ago, there was a multi-national corporation which had its own armies and navies and effectively conquered an entire continent and an entire region, setting themselves up as the effective rulers of India and South East Asia. Really, the time of the East India Company is over.

Any state has coersive powers beyond what any corporation today can dream of. A state can force its citizens to pay taxes or even to kill and starve them. But much as Naomi Klein would love to be continually deluded, companies cannot force us to buy their products. Brands exists, not as a symbol of strength but a representation of their real fragility. Remember Nike and sweatshops (Nike by the way, despite the vitirol heaped unto it by Klein ranked a mere 229th in the survey) ? It's amazing what how badly they could be hurt by negative publicity. Hell, Burkina Faso could confiscate all their property, and unless their state of origin decides to interfere, what can these corporations do?

What has happened to the Goldwater Republican? Economically and socially liberal? It is just simply scary how people would swallow what appears to be conventional wisdom without really analysising it for themselves. Hopefully, this little article has been useful.

Personally wondering whether to post this on the Company Law forum...