Monday, October 31, 2005

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

*All human rights for all*

It's a great document that I think generally withstands the test of time since its inception in 1948. And I urge every single person to click on the above link and to read through the short document to find out what rights a person is (theoretically) entitled to. And I would challenge anyone to find something objectionable in it (I disagree with the marriage and family thing but that's just me).

Human Rights are not meant to be used as some form of Western Imperialism and even if Human Rights were to be imposed, it is not necessarily bad because it does not restrict but give every individual the capacity to maximise her happiness and her functions. That is what Human Rights is about, the acknowledgement of the individual and the power to set him free.

Which leads me to point out the last two Articles in this Declarations, 29 and 30:

Article 29.
(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

(3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30.
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

This is what in debate we term aborogation and derogation of rights articles. The idea is that no single right allows you to infringe upon the rights of any other person or group. So as J.S. Mills puts it, "The right to move my fist, ends at your nose". On the freedom of speech, Justice Holmes stated that there was no right to shout fire in a crowded theatre.

For those who know me or who read my blog on a semi-regular basis, I think rights should only be aborogated when there is actual physical violence threaten. Others disagree and argue that the propensity for harm is sufficient. And that's a perfectly reasonably stance to take, especially when one considers the triple 7 bombings in Britain. My only concern is that the decision or the law should be drafted as narrowly as possibly so Nelson Mandela would not have been caught by it.

Because if you consider the whole concept of the separation of powers, it is premised on the idea that because power corrupts, you SHOULD NOT trust the government and the branches of the government SHOULD NOT trust each other. Institutional checks and balances, no need to depend on the goodness of your leaders. It would not have been difficult for the American Founding Fathers to draft a constitution that worked on the basis of trust. When our leaders drafted our constitution, they could have done so similarly, heck, consider that the UK till recently never even had a constitution (they had history though which taught them the need to check absolutism).

Similarly the notion of civil disobedience has gotten a tremendously bad reputation in this region and in my opinion, that has to do more with a desire to stay in power leading to a deliberate misintepretation of what it means. On one extreme end, you've got a situation like Mugabe's Zimbabwe where oppression and the rule of Mugabe IS the law. Where starvation is used as a political tool to force districts to vote for him. Where widespread intimidation and violence is used against political opponents and opposition supporters. Given an absolute incapicity to change the law in a legitimate structural and procedural fashion (because the Man controls everything), it cannot be wrong to disobey the law in order to get your voices heard and move towards change.

Even in a less extreme situation, consider Rosa Parks. The laws as it stood in the USA during the 50's was that of 'Separate but Equal' (a laughable concept if only it did not cause so much real hurt). You had Jim Crow laws and segregation and a US Supreme Court that still at that time upheld the constitutionality of those laws. Now, you had a perfectly working democracy (except that the blacks were not quite allowed to vote), and you had the rule of law. But you were still treated as a second-class citizen. Rosa Parks refused to obey the law and move to the back of the bus to sit in the blacks-only section, she refused to abide by the humiliation of these laws. Yes, she technically broke the law, but very very few of us today would consider her actions 'criminal' in the sense of it being 'Immoral' (note the capitalisation, I'm refering to critical morality in this instance).

Civil disobedience does not mean violence or non-peaceful methods. In fact, nearly all violent methods and organisations have failed. Ghandi succeeded, Malcolm X failed while Martin Luther King Jr succeeded. The ANC only succeded when they renounced terrorism, as did the PLO. So it does not mean the creation of anarchy. And it is something the Natural Lawyers and Positivists understand. The natural lawyers will say Lex Injusta non est lex (an Unjust law is not Law) and that it should be resisted except when resistance creates greater societal discord. The positivists always held that there was no necessarily connection between law and morality and that the law can be immoral (Hitler's Germany etc.).

There can be and has been legitimate debate on the extent of Human Rights, e.g. provision of welfare, the role of capital punishment, the right of a nation to a pre-emptive strike, sexual rights, the right to end one's life. But I feel that the rights as enunciate in this Universal Declaration are not and should not be contraversial.


Labels: ,

*Updates are here again*

Yes, one module down. The mock trial didn't go as smoothly as I hoped it would have but it's over and done with. The only alternative is to beat on myself for the next few hours while weeping and gnashing my teeth in the little corner of my room. But you, my readers, come first. And instead of the self-motification, I will instead give you something to read.

So... gives USD 258.3 million to malaria research worldwide

I've always admired Bill Gates the person (I don't quite like Microsoft the company but that's a separate story for a separate post on how the current IP regime hurts consumers and companies). The reason why is that he donates his OWN personal wealth towards making the world a better place. No fuzzy soft headed CSR for him unlike other companies where the shareholders' effectively pay for a better corporate image (without necessarily seeing an improvement in the bottomline).

Anyway, I think this new gift is remarkable seeing as he hadn't too long ago donated nearly half a billion dollars to crack the top ten problems of medicine and medical research. Particularly problems confined to the 3rd World where the lack of refrigeration and bad transportation infrastructure means that most common vaccines (which require refrigeration due to their liquid nature) don't even survive the trip to where they are needed. Worst still, because they are in liquid form, this requires injections which poses another can of worms when it comes to cost, health and safety issues (you simply can't share needles and disposals aren't cheap).

So the grant of money will work towards solving such problems e.g. vaccines that don't require refrigeration or injections. Apparently there is some work going on which can keep them in spore form to be absorbed through the nasal passages. Brilliant stuff - no need for refrigeration, easy to transport, no need for needles and easy to administer.

But what I am also very impressed by is how Gates has shifted his money away from solving the so-called digital divide. Originally the Gates and Melinda Foundation was created to solve the something known as the digital divide, that is there was a growing technological gao between the 1st and 3rd world when it came to things like computer literacy and access to the internet. But eventually, he came to realise that the digitial divide was nothing if you could not even live long enough to be affected by it.

No, I don't want to give the impression that I don't think the digital divide is a problem. BUT my personal take on this is that given limited recourses and the natural restrains that occur due to this constrain, a decision must be made so to how to best allocate these resources. I like Economics because it deals exclusively with this problem of scarsity and the way they encapsulate this is through something they call Opportunity Cost. So the 'cost' of focusing on the digital divide is the money that would otherwise have gone towards research on how to save lives in the 3rd world.

And furthermore, it's just that I do wonder if the focus on the digital divide has gone wrong. When you have problems with access to education, food, health, and are in the midst of a civil war, access to computers and the internet seem hardly the most important things to worry about. And even in rural communities, what seems to be most beneficial to these communities are low-cost handphones, radios and generators in order to get timely information on when to sell their produce.

As a parting point, the age of great capitalism (robber barons) was also the age of great philantrophy. I don't think this justifies the excess of such rampant capitalism but it's worth considering that even today, the top earners in the US donate more of their personal wealth to charity than anywhere else in the world.


Sunday, October 30, 2005

*The author's alive*

But barely. I'll be having my mock trial tomorrow, so don't expect an update prior to midnight tomorrow.



Saturday, October 29, 2005

*How to non-disclaim your past if you have to*

This post is in a manner of speaking, an indirect comment on paper trials and the past coming to haunt you. You see it in the Supreme Court Nominations where your judgements will determine who likes you and who would love to consign you to eternal damnation. The converse also works, like in the case of Miers where the lack of the paper trial meant that the conservatives refused to trust Bush and back her. But you feel that you have something to say and you think your opinion is worth sharing with others and you're passionate about it. Does that automatically doom you to political oblivion in a local context?

Well basically, I had my eyes set on working in the civil service via way of a scholarship before I entered law school. I was pretty keen on working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or alternatively MAS or EDB. Unfortunately, I was never even called up for an interview. I speculate that it was because of my C5 for GP or possibly the lack of Community Service Hours (my JC refused to accept that the time off we took to adjudicate debates for the secondary school constituted community service, a decision I feel is seriously flawed but anyway). I like to believe that was the case because the alternatives are too disturbing to consider.

So anyway, I have no problems working under the ruling party or in fact implementing most of their policies. I have in fact no quibbles with the policies and actions of the PAP on almost all foreign policy matters. And even on domestic issues, I only object to certain political policies, the exception of which I fully support the policies. So I have no intention of joining the opposition party something that many acquitances have mistaken where my sympathies (well I sympathise with the opposition actually but it's sympathy for them rather than their policies per se) lie. As such, I'm more than willing to 'sell out' as some of my other acquitances have 'accused' me of doing. And oh, the same goes for corporations. I hated The Corporation, much of the book was soft headed, failed socialist swill. The rest, we can discuss another day.

Anyway, the following 'disclaimer' sequence was inspired in part by a conversation I had with CL.

(Scene begins)
Cameras flash in the room which is filled with cameras. Microphones with Network signs dominate the table at which two man are sitting. The first man seems to be wrapping up his speech

Man 1: And with that I would like to conclude by inviting the new Ambassador to say a few words.

Man 2: *Cough* Can everyone hear me? The last time I asked that question, somewhat at the back said, "yes unfortunately".

(Laughter in the room)

Man 2: I would simply like to keep this to a few words before opening it up to the floor for questions. Of course, I am very grateful for the opportunity and thankful for the trust repost in me by the government in appointing me to this position and I hold to be able to repay that trust. With that, are there any questions? Yes (points to a lady in the first role)

Lady: Sir, considering that you were a member of the opposition and perhaps the foremost vocal critic of the government, do you see this a ploy to send you away where your criticisms will do less harm?

Man 2: Not at all. As I said, I am grateful and thankful for the trust and opportunity that the government has bestowed upon me and I will endeavor to make the most of them. More than that, I have always strongly supported the current administrations foreign policy goals in Parliament, even at the expense of my own party whip. Yes (points to a guy sitting in the role behind)

Guy: Sir, the latest and biggest diplomatic crisis between our nation and the one you are going to seems be centred around our continual usage of the death penalty and the fact that we seek the extradition of one of our citizens back for trial when he could potentially face the death penalty. The question I have is this, you have constantly been an outspoken critic of the death penalty, will you be able to defend this administration's view in the strongest possible terms once you're over there?

Man 2: Absolutely. What we must understand is that my personal views are simply that, personal views and do not reflect the administration's view. I will be the administration's representative to their nation and the views that I will represent will be that of the administration. On such a matter, I believe that my personal convictions should remain just that and should not taint my official correspondance over there.

Well I hope you had fun with that, it's past midnight and I think my brain is shutting down.



Friday, October 28, 2005

RP: *On Capital Punishment, Death Penalty and Judicial Discretion*

Feeling too lazy to come up with a new post today and I like this post anyway. So I like to think of this as a general checklist of whether and when capital punishment should be imposed. Since I'm generally a vindictive person, I think I'll like to see it used on terrorist and any fundamentalist extremist who causes death due to rank stupidity. This might probably include those HIV/AIDS deniers who have gotten people killed. Wait, I don't want them killed, I want them behind bars for life and tortured. Oh well, guess you should never put me (or the victims' relations) in charge of determining punishment. We want to see it done in cruel and unusual methods but that's just not right.

This issue only has relevance because of the recent exceution of the Australian smuggler. I don't think that Capital Punishment can be justified on a moral, philosophical or practical basis. I think that life imprisonment is generally sufficiently enough. I do, however, think it IS an issue of sovereignity but I'm terribly uneasy as to whether this is sufficient grounds for state-sanction killing except in times of war.

And it is also worth considering that just recently another Supreme Court judge has condemned the system. And of course the ever popular Justice Buckland quote: "I no longer tinker with the machinary of death".

But onto the original post. Some new material has been added. Mostly about Texas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. What about rehabilitation? The death penalty is a very final measure. You can't bring a person back to life (the last times some people did, they had religions named after them). Do we simply say that the crime they have committed precludes them from reintegrating them back into society?

Now, in your usual cases, I would definately say no. But I have do have personal difficults with regards to people who simply cannot be rehabilated e.g. psychopaths and some terrorists (can you imagine Osama bin Laden seeking forgiveness for what he has done?) But the idea of consecutive life sentences without parol exists and the person can be locked away behind bars for the rest of his natural life to ensure that he will never be a menace to society.

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

And really, I think you would be seriously hard-pressed to demonstrate that capital punishment has a special deterent effect i.e. prevent an individual from committing that particular crime.

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

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

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

Texas accounts for on average a third of all capital punishments in the US and has continuous led the US in terms of capital punishments. And yet a quick look at the crime rate as compared to the statistics on its death-row populace and executions does not show any correlation much less causation.

7. And even assuming points 3, 4 and 5, what about the possibility of executing an innocent person? The judicial system is not perfect and as a law student, I'll be the first to admit it. As of Oct 29, 2005 Innocence Project has clear the names of 163 prisoners and their focus is solely evidentiary (DNA testing). Furthermore I doubt that the legal system CAN ever be perfect for mistakes and errors do occur. And even if, such human errors do not exist, the law as it stands in Singapore for drug trafficing is very harsh and via the Misuse of Drugs Act, reverses the legal burden and forces the druf trafficker to prove he did not intend to traffic the drugs. So an option perhaps is to keep the punishment but make it more difficult for the prosecutor to prove his case. The reason why this presumption was installed in the first place was because they were finding it to hard to prove trafficking (as opposed to say personal consumption)

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


Labels: ," Iran Leader defend Israel Remark

*At an utter loss for words*

I'm now more firmly convinced than ever that there will never be peace in the Middle East until the equivalent of the Second Coming or Nuclear Amaggedon wiping out nearly every single state in that region. But that's only going to recast the Balkans and Kashmir and the Taiwanese Straits as the next big hotspot.

I mean considering where Iran is now, in the grip of a conservative fundamentalist and about to be summoned before the Security Council of non-cooperation with the IAEA (I still can't believe they got the Nobel Prize, next thing you know they'll give it to Kim Jong IL...wait, they gave it to David Trimble and Arafat so nothing's impossible). Now making a remark that strikes at the very core of Israel's existance, I fear that Israel will no longer feel bound or restrained in its attempts to get nuclear weapons.

But even if we consider this to be some form of crazy brinksmanship politics at play here, designed to force Israel into some form of negotiations, Israel has always tended to respond to carrots more than sticks and always from a position of relative strength. Land for Peace with Egypt and Syria, negotiations with PLO when they gave up terrorism etc. Like Palestine, being born under a siege mentality does not make you terribly open to concessions under the threat of force.

And Iran comes with neither concessions or force. Unless Iran wants to normalise relations with Israel (which it has pretty much had prior to the current Iranian President), it has nothing to offer them except perhaps access to their nuclear facilities. Worse still, Iran does not seem to be in a terribly strong position. Firstly, they haven't got a tremendous amount of support from the other Arab States. Egypt and Palestine denounced it. Saudi Arabia recently won kudos last year for proposing a workable peace plan i.e. something with a limited right of return for Palestinian refugee. It's not just up against the US (Israel's unstinting supporter in the UN) but also the transatlantic alliance in the form of Britain and France.

But conversely and interestingly enough, Iran now has a President elected with a huge majority that has seemingly united with the Mullahs and Council of Guardians. This coupled with an Iraq that no longer quite hates it with the intensity of Saddam and arguably weaker than it was under Saddam. So perhaps it is not as weak as it appears to be, but the strength here seems to be primarily domestic which might be serving as a bulwark against the foreign isolation.

However, how many internation crisis does the international community want to deal with at any one point in time? The US is preoccupied not just with Iraq and Afghanistan but also at home. Iran still hasn't come up in front of the security council and besides, with China and Russia at the table, it's hard to see any particularly strong resolution. There's still that entire mess with Syria brewing (see pervious post). With all these on its platter, I really don't see the UN pushing Iran hard on this.

So it's not to much of a stretch to predict that within the next month, we're going to see some major changes in the balance of power in the Middle East. Assuming that some vast deal can be struck between Iran, Israel and the Western powers, we might see a diffusion of tension but one where Iran rises to the top of the Arab world. Possibly with a tacitly acknowledged right to civilian nuclear power, say by inviting back the IAEA but setting stringent conditions on inspectors.

We live in interesting times indeed like that old Chinese saying.

Peace (I hope).


Thursday, October 27, 2005

*Lack of updates*

The author was suffering from and is still recovering from a nasty bout of food poisoning. Updates might be a little sparse in the meantime.



Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Russia opposes UN action on Syria

The UN Report has to be read. Nothing beats the 9/11 Commission Report in terms of readability (it really reads like a tragic thriller) but nevertheless the UN Report reads well and I am persuaded that a prima facie case has been sufficiently established (not withstanding that most of the evidence is circumstantial, note, it is NOT fatal to the case in terms of a criminal prosecution contrary to popular belief) that the Syrians (High Command) really should answer the charges laid against them and cooperate with the UN. Failing which, targetted sanctions ought to be levered against them.

Just a quick point of procedure and the different system/tradition of Law that Syria operates in before we move onto the 'case' and report proper. Syria operates under a Civil Law tradition and one of the major hallmarks of that tradition (which is basically everyone except the commonwealth countries excepting those who decided to take up a Civilian jurisdiction after independence from Britian) is that the judges fulfill a huge investigative function. As can be seen from the report and chronology of events, within the hour, the Investigative Judge was appointment and at the scene 'directing investigations'. The quotation marks was because despite his orders to the preserve the crime scene to the fullest extent possible while rendering humanitarian aid. It looks like certain agencies and personnel acting on the behalf of the Syrians tempered with evidence. So flawed was the crime scene preservation that the both the General, Chief of Judicial Police and General, Chief of Beruit Police were suggested for dismissal as noted by the Rifi Report (page 26 of the PDF Document). Point (d) of the Rifi report at the same page is particularly damning in that it states very clearly that major evidence was removed from the crime scene and this despite the fact that the humantarian aspect was not even well carried out (point a to c).

This stands in direct contrast to the original reports which claims that the evidence was preserved to the fullest capacity given the scenario. In particular, the convoy of cars following the assasinated PM was removed to a 'safe barrack' at Helou ostensibly for reason of preserving them. But as the report notes, "what was left of the cars did not justify their preservation except for their value as criminal evidence because they were the target of the explosion." It goes on to list the other aspects of evidence tempering including the removal of a BMW at the scene with a bulldozer introduced into the area immediately after. Not to mention filling in the explosion crater so that the road would be available for use by 10 a.m. the next day.

The best paragraph that sums up this state of affairs is para. 65 of the UN Report which reads, "The decision to fill the crater at the crime scene, to remove the motorcade vehicles and to re-open the street on the day after the blast, is confusing, assuming that there was a collective will to perform a professional crime scene examination in order to track down the perpetrators and bring them to justice. The confusion, reflected in the variety of statements from the officials most closely involved, speaks for itself."

At any rate, the BBC article basically summerizes the key UN Report Findings, but they did leave out one important aspect which was that they fatally undermined the theory being pushed by the Syrians, which is that of a suicide bombing. Do read the UN report from Part V onwards (pdf page 32) which details the report and substantiates those key findings. In particular the planning of the assasination makes for a chilling read. In particular for a sense of the pervasiveness of the Syrian and Lebanese Intelligence on everyday life, read paragraph 95 and the attached conversational extract. The next paragraph onwards details the testimony of a witness who worked for Syrian Intelligence and assuming that it remains unrebutted, lays the entire assasination at the Syrian's feet and how the purported 'suicide bomber' was simply nothing more than a decoy forced to make the video before being killed (para. 100). Also worth noting is the section titled ,"Other elements to be considered" at page 38 which details the surveillance measures by the ISF on Mr. Hariri.

And it ends with this rather affirmative conclusion, "There is probable cause to believe that the decision to assassinate former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, could not have been taken without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security official and could not have been further organized without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security services."

The remaining sections talks about how the assassination was carried out and at nearly each instance (with the exception of some excavation work carried out near the site) states very clearly that it could not have been done without at the very least the knowledge of the Syrians.

So all that remains is to talk a little about the main actors regarding the investigation. The UN Commission that wrote this report was led by a German. The crime scene was investigated by the Dutch, German, British, Japanese as well as Northern Irish and French experts on the Dutch team. And the conclusion I think speaks for itself. "The explosion that killed Mr. Hariri and 22 others took place above ground. For this purpose, an amount of no less than 1000 kilgrams of military explosives was used." The Australians were also involved upon the request of the Lebanese Authories through Interpol with regards to their pet theory of a suicide bombing by an existing terrorist group. Investigations which followed dismissed the allegations agains the six suspects that the Lebanese fingered. This the UN Report also accepts.

So as it stands, on the UN Security Council, the US, British and French are JOINTLY introducing a resolution to force Syria to answer the charges. From the looks of it, the whole of Europe is behind them as well, so it's a pretty strong transatlantic alliance that we have here in stark contrast to the Iraqi situation.

In conclusion, it is a pretty thorough report and well worth the read (in fact with a little work, it could become a political thriller). Also worth a read through is Mr Jonathan Eyal's article in the ST today which talks about the political liability that the new President Assad of Syria is. He's not his father to sum up the prevailing sentiment and it looks like the Arab world might be quietly turning their backs on him. But with Russia as an ally, it looks that this situation might turn out to be a lot more protracted than hope.



Tuesday, October 25, 2005

*mutter mutter*

Short posts today and most likely a single update. Lousy property law assignment grade. Terribly miffed about it with no one except myself to blame. So yes, textbooks and cases. Rich World 'failing' on quake aid

*In other news*

Just to be clear on where the money comes from. When a country donates money and aid to another country, the money comes from the taxpayers. These taxpayers are forced to pay their taxes on the pain of criminal sanction and the threat of being a bankrupt. Of course, there are many many good reasons one should pay taxes e.g. "taxes are the price one pays for a civilised society". Taxes support government and the provisions of services that the private market would not provide (though I'm begining to question whether the free-rider effect is such a huge detriment that shipping companies would not pay to build a lighthouse). Taxes can also be used to subsidise activities that are consumed at sub-societal optimal level e.g. primary and secondary school.

So while I am perfectly fine with the whole moral imperative point and the neighbour house on fire, you do not dicker on the terms of the loan of the firehose and water, nevertheless there are very real issues that charities sometimes dismiss all too readily. There's a couple of episodes in The West Wing that deal with intervention, whether militarily or materially, one on the Tequilla Crisis and another on intervention on genocide (apparantly the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide distinguishes between acts of genocide and genocide. Go figure. But latest case law suggests that even killing 10 people can constitute genocide).

On the Tequilla Crisis (Mexican stockmarket shed 30% of its value in a single day due to worried about its forex sustainability, the discussion was where to guarantee its loans), a point was given as to the hypothetical hardworking and overworked taxpayer seeing his tax revenue going overseas to a crisis that's the fault of someone else. And all the while, he's in a district where the schools and health services and welfare is heavily underfunded and the question was, where's the justice in that? The intervention episode had this terrific line where the mayor of Brooklyn said, "My constituents are dying in the streets and I'm still waiting for intervention here." So I guess my question to Oxfam is, what would be the 'fair' share for these nations they fingered to donate? Why should they donate when there are people living below the poverty line, most of whom are children? This is a natural disaster, an 'Act of God', not something you can lay at their feet and ask for compensation.

But the thing is, I believe in helping others and making this world a better place (despite not believing in divine carrot and stick system) and there's a much much better argument to be made on why they should donate more rather than they can therefore they should. It is in their interest after all. I supported the Iraqi liberation but the gods know how much it hurt their image overseas, espcially in nations with predominantly Muslim populations (something I never quite figured since the Ba'ath party was for pan-Arab secularist nationalism. They hated the Islamists). The response after the Tsunami and the help that they are rendering in the quake zone does wonders to patch over these differences and demonstrate that they are a force of good. You don't want the most effective aid givers to be extremist fundamentalist of whatever stripe coming in and giving a dose of hatred with every blanket. You want a stable prosperous economy and country because they tend to be liberal democracies and they tend to have less extremists.

So in conclusion, I guess what I wanted to say is lay off the guilt trip once in a while and appeal to the logical sensibilities. If you can sell it as doing good while pushing your own self-interest, you've won the battle.


Labels: - Yahoo in China: Rising tide of anger

I had great fun doing this motion because it's one of those debates that span over a huge range of topics. Off hand, there's fundamental human rights. Then there's the law bit, expecially that of operation in another jurisdiction. And finally this big umbrella of the reponsibility of a corporation i.e. how far does it responsibility lie? Does it extend to civil disobedience?

Let's start with the broad principle of Human Rights first. It is generally accepted that free speech/expression is a fundamental human right i.e. one that is automatically accorded and shall not be derogated except when the state can show compelling interest. Generally this would be taken to mean some form of harm to persons or another fundamental right itself.

The freedom of expression/speech is considered fundamental because without it, other freedoms like the freedom of though is rendered impotent. When you silence speech, you silence dissent, you stiffle thought, you stiffle opinions, you deny the individual his individuality. This was what the colonist and imperialist did also everywhere they went (if they did not coopt the locals of course).

So given it's importance, is China justified in imposing restrictions on the freedom of speech? In short, apologists for China are likely to argue that given the social instability that China is currently facing, a clampdown on speech and dissent is the only viable method of ensuring social peace. I have some sympathy with this argument. However I believe that such speech acts as a vent and prevents the more violent outbreaks of public disturbances and riots when people think they are heard and that something will be done about it.

Assuming that it is indeed bad, then what? Now the natural lawyers will argue that there's a higher law and that given the maxim, Lex Injusta non est Lex (an Unjust law is not Law), go ahead and disobey it unless the disobedience creates a greater social disturbance. Positivists will argue that the law is the law. BUT at the same time that does not mean that it a morally justified law.

Which brings us neatly to the issue about foreign legal jurisdiction. The problem is, whilst you can permit ('enforce') free speech within your own jurisdiction and you can break your own laws if you don't like them, these companies are foreign ones operating in a local jurisdiction. To take a local example, the call for academic freedom by Warrick as a precondition to setting up shop here was called as a call for extra-territorial rights in the class. Which is techinically true I suppose but my opinion is that it is 'extra-territorial rights' insofar as NUS is not subject to the ban on screening uncensored videos and movies and then student taking modules can watch what might otherwise be illegal for them to watch. Besides, they were asking for nothing more than what most other universities already have. And the fact that it is not permitted to set up a GLT advocacy group on campus speaks loudly about what constitutes tolerance over here. To take a foreign example, Yahoo backed down and gave in to the French authorities and prevented French citizens from entering auctions with Nazi memorabilia. And this was despite it being legal from where Yahoo was stationed i.e. America. Now I absolutely grant that there's a fundamental distinction between the restrain of speech and trade in France in contrast to the China example, but a company IS subject to the laws of the nation they operate in.

But what makes this issue more difficult is that not everyone agrees that Human Rights are universal. So while we can all generally agree that we would castigate a company for gross violations of Human Rights i.e. helping to kill an ethnic minority, I think short of actual loss of life, not everyone would similarly agree that the loss of a right to speech or simply the inability to read about the Democracy and the Falungong is 'bad' enough that Yahoo and the other companies must back off. And well, we do do business with Myanmar on the basis of constructive engagement so it's hard not to look a little hypocritical.

Further complicating matters is the extent of the 'cooperation' of these companies and the repecussions of their actions. For example, the company doing the most to aid China with its censorships is probably Cisco. The routers they use can block up to 200,000 individual I.P. addresses and are sophisticated enough to block individual pages and sub-pages of a root directory. So you can go to say the Stanford University Page but you can't access the Falungong page there. Microsoft, like Yahoo, simply blocks the use of certain words like democracy on their blog space. But what Yahoo recently did was to basically give up the identity of one of email users leading to his arrest. So while I think China has its own agency to track users, I'm not entire certain the level of aiding and abetting these MNCs do for them. And while I certainty sympathise with the arrested person, one can't help but think about why the hell he didn't simply use an anonymiser or an anonymous email address.

So finally we come to the roles, responsibilities and duties of a corporation operating on foreign ground. I'm generally of the opinion that the only duty a company has is that of profitability. Since so many things affect the profitability of a major company nowadays, I'm confident that a company that focuses on profitability will turn out a good corporate citizen. After all, profits are just about the short-term. Building a good long term relationship is important, not just with your suppliers, but your customers, your clients and your employees. Which company can sustain growth with a high personel turnover? Brands and the rise of NGOs will also ensure that they behave themselves. And heck, even the government is now piling in to legislate the duties of a company. And if not obeying the law means your share price suffers, I'm not certain that we are protecting Free Speech is going to fly during the Annual General Meeting.

And I'm really not comfortable with the concept of a corporation being a promoter of Human Rights. Should that not be left up to the grassroots and NGOs, and various heads of state and IGOs to handle? Yes, Corporate Social Responsibility means giving back to the society that feeds you and not harming the environment etc. But I don't believe that they necessarily extents to protecting human rights. Especially when you are more than likely to get screwed over by the country you're in. And we're talking about China here.

Which brings us to this whole notion of unintended consequences. Does China need these companies more than they need China? China does have its own software industry. They can always get more from other countries who don't share the same belief in Human Rights. And lest we forget, this was the country that made Microsoft back down and made it give up some of its access to its precious source code on the simple threat of ignoring it and going for its competitors. That's how powerful China in this sense of having a huge market is. I don't see how individual companies will be able to stand up to it. Deny China what it wants and they'll just switch to another source. Unless of course, there's some super consortium of MNCs that can speak with one voice, but in which case, we'll have people like Naomi Klein jumping up and down screaming about the new government of the world.

And there's also the possibility that by engaging and acceeding to China, one stays their iron fist on the pro-democracy movement and dissidents. But it's an argument that's purely speculative and besides, there's no reason why the iron fist can't co-exist with the cooperation.

Anyway, do read the article, it's full of punchy quotes and the bias is for the other side. Read it for balance if you know what I mean.


p.s. I was going to write more but I'm about to run late for a meeting.


*Watching the rain*

Literally. I sit facing the windows in the computer/study room. And alas I cannot keep up with the incesant blogging after the all time high of 4 posts yesterday.

Maybe I'll post something once I read the ST.


Monday, October 24, 2005

*Unpublished Article for the Ridge*

This was meant to be a clarion call to arms and an inducement to the supposedly best and brightest of our nation (those who haven't gone overseas on scholarships) to talk more at any rate. To be honest, I'm still a little frustrated that there wasn't a broader and more energetic discussion last week of what is the biggest problem to face modern societies today i.e. how does a tolerant society deal with intolerance? But no matter, the dumber or more silent the populace, the easier my plan to take over the world! *Evil laughter*

Students: Be seen AND heard

It’s not easy to be outspoken sometimes (pardon the bad pun), and at other times, downright inconvenient. It really is no wonder considering that we still live under a culture of (misplaced) fear of speaking out,

As for theories as to why this situation exists as such, there are pretty much a dime a dozen, the two most applicable being Cherian George’s Air-conditioned nation i.e. we are so comfortable that we have effectively been depoliticised and James Gomez’s critique that we basically self-censor ourselves.

Now, this is of course not to say that certain events have not had a chilling effect on speech, in particular, the exercising of legal rights on potentially defamatory speech has seen much an self-censoring and a massive premium placed on anonymity online. But I like to believe it is all in our minds, or as a lecturer once memorably put it, “Do you honestly think that the government can be bothered to monitor you?”

At any rate, one might legitimately ask, what does speaking up have anything to do with us students? But not oddly enough, perhaps everything.

Welcome to the National University of Singapore (to all the Freshies out there), a centre of learning, research, the free exchange of ideas and one of the top 20 universities in the world.

The basis of knowledge has always been facts built upon facts. The idea behind science is a concept of competing theories. In the humanities, competing viewpoints. Research does not simply seek to validate but also challenge what we ‘know'.

As such, the impetus behind education is to enable students to think and not simply be trained. Our opinions do count, and are sometimes integral to the entire lesson (and I do not simply mean for your class participation grades). Essentially an education requires more than one viewpoint. The necessity for more than one non-parallel line of argumentation is at the very heart of making up your mind about an issue i.e. you need two lines to make a point.

So it’s always a little disheartening to enter a lesson or a seminar where the professor asks for an opinion only to be greeted with dead chilly silence. No one gains from it ladies and gentlemen, time is wasted, and we are deprived of someone’s thoughtful and incisive remark (not always but often enough). More than that there are considerations and implications of not speaking out. On a most basic level, you miss the chance of correcting an error or to make your voice heard.

But the bigger problem is that you have effectively made yourself into a passive spectator instead of an active participant, thereby giving up control over your own education. So instead of charting your own course, you become at best directed, and at worst an extension of your ‘education(al system)’.

On a wider societal level, it is symptomatic of a broader situation of disassociation with matters that do and should concern us. The vitality of discourse is intrinsic to the continual survival of any institution. By not speaking up and out, we are abdicating responsibility for what happens. More importantly, we fail in what is perhaps the most important responsibility as a citizen - to care about our country.

It would be naïve of me to believe that any structural changes will happen overnight but individuals can start somewhere and make a difference. So if you have not started, please do so. To the incoming batch of fresh(wo)men, you can really make a difference, the next time a question is asked, do respond. You might be pleasantly surprised at the result.

*My Copyright and Linking policy*

I'm putting this on a post because I freely admit to not being terribly competent with HTML. Thus the link to this post is going onto my sidebar.

Anyway, only some rights are reserved to the content on this blog. Consent can be assumed to be given BUT ATTRIBUTION MUST BE MADE AT THE VERY MINIMUM. And yes, notification would be nice as well. This goes similrly for selection and excerpts of posts which will be freely allowed under fair usage (including critique, parody etc.) and as long as it does not convey a misleading message or tone.



Sunday, October 23, 2005

*Mea Culpa and Updates*

I made an error in overstating the effect of the Treaty of Westphalia with regards to Secularism. Please read Huichieh Loy's (of SingaporeAngle) comment in the prior post.

For more information on this very important piece of document click here. As Mr. Miles my history teacher in HC Humanz once put it, it created the modern notion of the nation-state and transformed the raison d'ete of the state from an overarching tenor of religion to the more narrow political self-interest that marked and still marks most of the 19th and 20th century geopolitics. As aways, I will recommand Paul Kennedy's Rise and Fall of Great Empires for its remarkable broad sweep of history since Philip II of Spain and the Habsburg Empire.

Oh, I've got the book so if anyone wants to swap, just drop me a line.


*Thought experiments a.k.a. Why I believe in Secularism and Liberal Democracies*

It's a pity when many otherwise reasonably intelligent and rational persons turn towards strawman argumentation and sophistry in a attempt to justify/impose a conservative/religious or an intolerant viewpoint on others. The sadder part is that because of the misrepresentations, someone who comes into contact with such argument with an open mind is liable to be persuaded, not by the strength of the argumentation but because of its misleading nature.

So here's the first thought experiment. Assume two religious fundamentalist groups (Christian and Islamic or Hindu Fundamentalist) each of whom does not believe in secularism. What next? Can violence and conflict be avoided when the stakes are so high? For whichever group gains the reins of power will be able to impose their viewpoint on the Other, to the Others' detriment. I wonder whether the Christian right would be so quick to trumpet this concept if it were likely than another religious group antithetical to its beliefs that were likely to win.

So think instead to a group that does believe in secularism regardless of its religious inclinations. Does it 'impose' its beliefs (in this case secularism) on others? Yes, it does but not in the same fashion or with the same results as a religious group who does not subscribe to the same belief in secularism. For a group that believes in secularism will 'impose' a state of affairs where the state will not promulgate one religion over another. The state does not take sides. All are free to practice their religion as they will. Something we like to call the Freedom of Personal Worship or Religion.

What many do not realise is how secularism (as it is most commonly understood) came about. Back in the 1500s, Roman Catholicism was not simply a religion. It had political power and force. The Pope was not simply a spiritual leader but the head of state of the Vatican. The Holy Roman Empire could call upon the great Mercenary General Wallenstein and his huge army to impose its will upon its subjects. So along came a group of Christians called Protestants because they were protesting Roman Catholicism as it was then. There were substantial doctrinal differences that till today are not resolved. For example, if one looks at the Vatican 2 documents, Protestants are said to have an imperfect communion with God because they don't believe that the communion wafer and wine represents the literal body and blood of Christ. Anyway, the problem was that one could not worship freely, instead, one ostensibly had to adopt the type of Christianity that the Ruler of the land believed in. So if you were Protestant in a Catholic land, tough luck. Similarly, if your were Catholic in a Protestant land, watch out.

So eventually after a lot of debate, fighting, wars, deaths and atrocities and the Council of Trent, the Treaty of Westphalia in 1638 was the result. From there was born the freedom of personal worship and secularism as we know it. The state shall not impose its religion on you. I think it's always worth noting that the people who are opposed to secularism tend to come from the religious group that is powerful enough to gain power. A weak religious group will never be against secularism because it would be in most senses suicidal.

So what does this mean for religious opinion in a secular land? With the exception of the extreme secular humanism of France (kind of like a reverse theocracy but nicer), no secular state denies the right of religious organisations to make their opinions known on issues of public. I have addressed this issue at greater length here, so I won't belabor the point. Except that just because a viewpoint is a religious one does not grant it some automatic moral stamp of authority. And though such views should be solicited, it does not necessarily make good public policy.

So instead, lets take thought experiment number 2. How do we prevent theocracy by stealth? Something that is a legitimate fear within America today with the rise of the Religious Right and its influence on the President and the Republican party. Obviously then, other than a belief in secularism, you need institutional checks and balances to keep Church and State separate. This is where the modern functioning democracy comes in. Because contrary to how its opponents would love to portray it, it is only in a Democracy where we have the rule of the ruled that it becomes more likely than not that such concepts as a separation of power and institutional checks and balances are more likely to flourish than not.

{Editor's note: The bane of being a liberal and a debater means also being able to see both sides and as such most arguments are couched with caveats and on the basis of probability as opposed to outright 'certainty'}

Because while it is all well and good to proclaim that China's example proves a threat to the notion of democracy being vital to the rule of law, the fact remains that as long as it is in the Constitution (Basic Law) that the CCP will be the sole ruling party, you will never see the transcendence of rule BY law to rule OF law. Yes, you will see senior officials of the CCP punished once in a while, but either it's because they have fallen out of favour or such a state of rule of law will be utterly dependant upon a small ruling clique determining that this is how it should be. The question then becomes what becomes of this sense of rule of law when these people should pass on and there's no guarantee that the next batch will act in the same manner?

So we come to thought experiment number 3. Fine, we do have secularism and we do have institutional checks and balances to ensure that this state of affairs is kept. How then, do we ensure that minority views AND practices are not at the mercy of the majority's sense of 'morality'. This is positive morality (morality) i.e. a society's concept of what is good and right as opposed to critical morality (Morality) i.e. the morality that we use to critique even positive morality. That's where liberalism comes in and with the extension of tolerance that’s how the entire web of secular liberal democracy is woven.

Too often the accusation comes that liberalism is merely another world viewpoint no better or worse than any other. Or that it is also a form of imposition to argue for liberalism. Or liberalism is empty because it's derived from post-modernism which believes that all values are subjective and "I cannot accept the subjectivity of all religions" or "I think this is simply moral relativism".

Let's start with the basics. What does post-modernism say and what does it not say. Yes, it does say that no values are objective and that all viewpoints are necessarily subjective because we are approaching them from a background of cultural and moral conditioning. Like law, much of what we term morality is actually positive morality, the ethos i.e. the 'ethics' of a particular society. And very often this is the result of a historic contingency (if Islamic globalisation had taken root, there probably would be Intellectual Property rights). So an anthropological study of positive morality by Mead turned up only 1 'rule' that could be found across 'all' cultures (she studied), and that turned out to be a prohibition against incest. And we know that at one point in time, even that wasn't a 'sin' in the eyes of the Judeo-Christian God. And also, we know that in some sexually permissive cultures, this is not a taboo at all. Having children from such a relationship yes, but not the act of sexual congress itself. Alternatively, we could say killing is wrong but that does not answer the point of whether capital punishment is wrong, or abortion, or euthanasia or even embryonic stem-cells. It's a good starting point for those of us who subscribe to such a belief but that's about it really.

But what post-modernism DOES NOT SAY is that all forms of action are necessarily right. Again, all views may be subjective but it does not mean that we cannot condemn Osama bin Laden. What it does suggest instead is that given this whole spectrum of valid views, what is the best way of accommodating all of them when one cannot on a normative level judge them to be better or worse than the other.

Which really turns out to be a question of tolerance and which brings us neatly to Utilitarianism and J.S. Mill's harm principle. The only true objective standard as it turns out seems to be harm. Does a particular action cause harm? More accurately, does it cause harm to a 3rd party? Because intrinsic to liberalism is the notion that the individual knows what is best for himself and what would give him the most happiness. And generally this is true. What this extends to is that if a person persists in a course of action that harms himself, we should entreat him but not use political power or criminal sanction to stop him. After all, once upon a time, you could get killed for engaging in atheism or pre-marital or one of the hundred things society previously frowned on. So this notion of 3rd party harm also protects the individual from the tyranny of the majority and a mistaken notion that a groups necessarily knows what's best for an individual. Or put another way, it prevents giving carte blanc to societal accepted discrimination e.g. frowning upon on inter-racial couples or for the some of you old enough, having long hair as a male in the 1970s.

Very often at this point, questions would be raised as to whether harm is necessarily objective and what constitutes harm (does offensiveness constitute harm). These are valid objections but the this really is a concession that we all speak the language of harm now. But even if we did not, the Harm Principle and say Objective Universal Morality are not mutually exclusive or exhaustive. What this means is that poking holes at the Utilitarianism or Liberalism does not automatically establish that OUM is automatically right. And even if one could tear down Liberalism or Utilitarianism, all it could mean is that OUM is one of the possible alternative theories.

Very often we forget that the freedoms that we take for granted today were fought for and that people have been tortured, killed or destroyed in the process. And more importantly, that we need to protect these freedoms from those who would take it away from us whether on the basis of they thinking they know better or simply out of malicious greed for power.

So thought experiment number 4. what is the effect of a conservative imposing his viewpoint and a liberal imposing his? Very simply, the liberal's 'imposition' is more accommodating.

This answers the first two questions that emerged from Thought Experiment 3. Is Liberalism simply not another equally valid viewpoint and is it not simply another form of imposition?

Because if I as a Liberal 'impose' my viewpoint on you as a Conservative, you do not lose anything for you are still free to practice your conservative stance and lifestyle etc (though I might personally detest it). But if I as a conservative were to impose my conservative viewpoint on you as a liberal, then you would lose the ability to practice privately what is not to my taste. And if I dislike a particular minority group then here comes state sanctioned discrimination. Homosexuals as unnatural? The fact that you could fire someone for being homosexual and he/she would have no legal recourse? Therein lies the crux of the issue. Under a conservative regime, you lose a lot more personal freedom than you do under a liberal one.

So am I being intolerant when I deny your intolerant viewpoint and seek to prevent you from imposing it? Yes, but only in the linguistic syntax point of view. If we just look back at the prior paragraph, we see what the substantial core of the issue is. Sorry but the earlier proposition is simply a whole load of sophistry bunk.



Saturday, October 22, 2005

*Now this is cross-examination*

Very impressive. The trap was sprung out of nowhere! The following is an exchange between Mr. Rothschild, lawyer for the plaintiff's in the Dover ID case and Professor Behe, author of Darwin's Black Box and possibly now former poster child for the ID movement since his credibility been shreded over the course of the cross examination.

But anyway...

Q. But they (certain biochemist who were sent Prof Behe's book for review) were reluctant or disagreed about
intelligent design, correct?
A. Several were, yes, uh-huh.

Q. You also explained that, why you don't expect
intelligent design at scientific conferences, correct?
A. Yes, that's because I consider it to be a poor
forum for communicating such ideas.

Because no scientist considers it to be valuable? I mean even if it were science, then what? It's a sterile theory. It proposes no experimentation nor mechanism by which this Intelligent Designer is suppose to have brought forth this irreducibly complex 'thing'. Once you accept his premise then what's the point of further research? we don't know how it occured so the ID did it.

Q. That's because typically you would present in the
sort of poster sessions?
A. That's correct, yes.

Q. That doesn't really provide the opportunity to
discuss it in detail to the audience?
A. That's correct, yes.

Q. It's difficult to impart understanding to your
fellow scientists in that abbreviated form?
A. Yes. And not many come by. A few people wander
by, yes.

Q. It's not really an amenable way to present it?
A. That's right. It's usually brief conversations.

Q. You need to really present it in more detail for
scientists to understand it?
A. That's why I discuss it in seminars and so on
before scientific audiences, yes.

(AND BLAM! The trap is sprung!)
Q. Fair to say that, that rule probably makes even
more sense with high school students, Professor Behe?
A. I'm sorry, what rule is that?

Q. The rule that you can't just present intelligent
design in an abbreviated fashion?
A. Well, you certainly will not get a full
understanding of intelligent design in a brief session.
However, I think, if we're talking about high school
students, such as you mentioned, it certainly might be a
good thing to mention topics to them that they might
consider pursuing in-depth outside the classroom.

Q. But an abbreviated statement is not going to give
them a good understanding anymore than it would your
fellow scientists, is that right?
A. A brief statement of any complex subject
certainly will not give a person a complete
understanding of it.

Read the rest of it here. He sorts of appears to conceed the point before springing another trap where he shows that ID isn't really interesting in pointing out its OWN gaps and this would mislead student.

But anyway there we have it, ID is nothing more than a process on which to throw doubt at Evolution when itself isn't scientific in any sense of the word. And oh by the way, Prof. Behe has redefined a scientific theory to essentially mean nothing but a hypothesis and he aslo agrees that astrology counts as a 'theory' under his definition.


*Doctors and Public Policy*

Right from the outset allow me to establish that I have nothing against doctors determining public policy. However, the criteria on which I judge the policy is going to be very much dependant upon the soundness of that policy. And that must necessarily include the fact that there are not experts in every area of politics, that they are medical doctors and not necessarily research scientists and that for every cause there must be an effect, even unintended ones.

So I'm glad that Minister of State for Health, Dr. Balaji took time to address the call by some doctors (including I think the head of the National Cancer Centre) as to a COMPLETE ban on tobacco related products and smoking in Singapore. And he made a number of good points, amongst which was that you would create a culture of criminality not unlike what happened during the prohibition i.e. illegal smuggling, black market, criminal elements controling the purchase and sale of tobacco related products etc. and make criminals of people who were simply unfortunate enough to pick up smoking and not be able to quit in time. This is especially so when they are currently and perfectly within their legal rights to do so. The other point he made was with reference to the tourism industry, and the likely massive downturn in it.

Unless we start touting ourselves as a smoke free nation. Which is something I have tremendous sympathy with because I hate the smell of smoke and there'll always be some inconsiderate smoker.

I'll admit I have no idea what the doctors' policy is going to be like. But if I had to implement such a policy, I would probably make it a staggered event and implement it gradually. I would probably also institute a nationwide kick the habit programme which would treat all smokers as addicts and addiction as a medical problem and probably start aggressively handing out nicotine gum and patches as well as sending them to rehabilitation centres. I'm not sure if we're going to allow them to smoke overseas though.

But I wonder if anyone is going to draw parallels with the legalisation of drugs and start to think through the issue a little more than simply have a visceral instinct that says no on the basis that drugs are bad. I will honestly have to admit that it is well beyond my capabilities to argue that currently illegal drugs should be legalised in Singapore. The best I can go will probably be for drugs that are less addictive and damaging to health than cigarettes and other tobacco related products. Off-hand, the only 'recreational' drug that fits this bill I can think of is marijuanna but I would be willing to hazard a guess there might be more.

But there is a point I would strongly like to emphasise that was not mentioned explicitly in Dr Balaji's speech and that is that the 'gateway effect' of soft drugs is likely to be much higher when they are illegal than when they are legal. The gateway effect basically postulates that after a while you want to get a more intense high and therefore you move to harder drugs. I think this confuses drug tolerance for usage of harder drugs. It is more likely that a person would simply take more of the drug than suddenly want to shift to a harder drug. And the reason behind why this gateway effect seems to exist is that soft drugs are not the money spinners for drug pushers. As a result, if you need to get soft drugs you must get them from people who want you to move to harder drugs. There is quite some proof for that when you examine the number of hard drug users under 20 in the Netherlands where access to soft drugs is legal and contrast that to the US where it is not (and prosecuted much much heavier). In the US, the figure is about 20% whereas in the Netherlands, it is a mere 1.2% and I think there's much to be said where if you want a kick you don't have to associate yourself with the underworld.

Extrapolating from the above, if you ban tobacco related products, you're going to drive these smokers into the welcoming arms of there drug dealers and that is seriously going to cause more harm that the smoking related deaths currently.

Please don't get me wrong, I think smoking is insanely dangerous and should be curbed and I applaud the government's efforts to reduce the number of new smokers to zero and to encourage existing ones to quit. And instead of a seriously draconian measure, they are a number of other ways we could achieve the same result like for example giving smokers more limited access to heart and lung transplants for example or hiking the taxes again.

In a similar vein, I think a question needs to be raised as to what exactly or how exactly we should approach the authority due to medical doctors as personnel trained in the art of medicine and surgery when it comes to issue of a patient's decision to end his or her life at the terminal stage of cancer. Because when one phrases it in the above fashion, a doctor doesn't have any intrinsic authority to impose his or her decision on what is essentially a personal and private one on the part of the patient.

A doctor is meant to consider what is in the patient's best interests and it is worth noting that the hippocratic oath was merely one of the several floating around when well he came up with it. As such, if all we are concerned about it that the doctor has to grant the patient's wish through say an overdose of morphine then we could well and simply delegate it to someone else. Not unlike how the state does not use doctors as executioners during capital sentencing.

In conclusion, though I respect doctors for what they are, I do not think they have any more moral authority when it comes to an area perhaps not quite within their expertise as authorities and also when they make policy simply on the basis of medicine. Beware the law of unintended consequences. There always will be one.



Friday, October 21, 2005

*News @ Home*

I couldn't think of a catchier title. But two pieces of relevant news on the same page in today's edition of ST's Home.

1. Copyright Act still shield Web hosts from lawsuits.

It seems that after a recent suit won by a modelling agency against the operation of popular picpost site Sggirls, a member of the law firm representing the agency came out to say that "content hosting companies could no longer claim to have no control over what is posted on the website. As a result...they were not immune from copyright infringements or libel committed by users of their sites."

This prompted the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore to issue a statement to clarify the law. Simply put they are protected. They have a defence that they "do not have to actively monitor their services or affirmatively seek facts indicating infringement activity". More importantly, unless they themselves commit or faciliate the infringement (peer to peer networks anyone?) they are not liable. Similarly, if they have notification and they take down the offending material in a reasonable amount of time, they too will not be liable.

So yes, this is good news for them and I think strikes a sensible balance between the duties of such web hosts and the impetus of the copyright holder to actually protect their copyright. After all, before the Berne Convention, published works were not presumed to be copyrighted unless you put that little (c) mark.

So the question now is as follows, what about us blogs?

2. Ratings mean better choice for gamers

Following on the heels of the movie ratings system for well movies and the sale of VCDs/DVDs come a proposed similar system for gamers. To be honest, I am estatic over this piece of news. It's one of those all things to all persons kind of law and the sort of compromise that oddly enough pleases most of the interest groups.

As of now, it is a either allowed or totally banned sort of situation. But what makes this system particularly bad is that there is a rating but it is based upon the voluntary system of the US which means that it is not enforced in Singapore. So a game recommanded for 15 and above means in effect nothing legally. It's simply a warning to the person (and his guardians) on what to expect. Of course, given that there is a dispairity between the sort of moral standards between these two nations, one could very easily argue that these standards are not well translated and we ought to have our own domestic standards which is enforced. And before you think the US has the more liberal standards, think again. We have no problems with a level of violence that most Americans would be disturbed with. More importantly, the arcade guns that are used and can be bought by home users are considered too disturbingly realistic (in terms of looks, heft and recoil) for more US States. We have no problems.

Anyway, considering that the repertoir of excellent available movies that can be watched uncut and uncensored because of the new movie rating system, I eagerly anticipate this new standards as well.

Unfortunately, I think it will increase costs. I hope it's not passed unto us consumers again.

And oh one more thing. The article mentions that there is a MA 15+ rating which makes it a crime to sell such material to those under 15. I think it's very worth pointing out that Playboy is Restricted(15) which means that it is simply not recommanded for sale to those under 15. But more to the point, it's very worth looking at their attitudes towards sex and violence which seem to be the direct converse of ours.


Thursday, October 20, 2005

*Verily I say Unto Thee*

And verily, I say unto thee, take not the pasta in vain for we are made in its image. Forsooth, that which elevates us above and beyond the plane of animal instinct into the realm of thought, reasona and consciousness is in its image. Our brain is in its image.

I pray unto thee, as you sup of the noble pasta that ye thinketh of his noodly apendage that touches us.

Yea, I sayeth unto thee brothers and sisters, I have opened my mind, the greatest of organs seen in his image and I have converted to the Church of the Flying Spagetti Monster. And may all my eating habits bring glory unto his noodly greatness.


Anyway, got pretty bored during class today and I have now officially changed my desktop page to reflect His glory. Speak with me to understand the greatness of this church. Flimsy moral standards and a beer volcano up in heaven. What more could one ask for? He trials us not with trials and leads us not into temptation and he is wise for he created us with such desires and hungers.


Wednesday, October 19, 2005 Saddam's Defence: Main Players and Case

*The 'joys' of International Law*

I actually wanted to write a little about the Home Minister's outright refusal to allow an accused's IMMEDIATE right to a counsel on the basis that it would impede police investigations but I'm trying to dig up an older copy of Juris (a law school publication with student's commentary on pressing legal issue) which deals specifically with this problem.

But suffice to say, this is entirely in line with the government's policy to balance the rights of the accused with that of the public interest (not the victim mind you, the modern legal system doesn't care about the victim except in so much as it creates a case for the state). The balance, in my opinion is tilted rather heavily away from the accused, not least because the state will not provide you with legal counsel in a criminal case unless it involves capital punishment. Of course the Law Society of Singapore provides criminal legal aid if you're poor enough under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS) but given its inherent limitations of budget and personnel, there are figures floating around that 80% of accused are not represented in court. Contrast this with the Legal Aid Bureau which is funded by the state to aid you in civil litigation, with a budget in the millions, a much larger staff, this had led some wags to say that it is easier to get a divorce than to avoid spending years in jail.

Having said that, however, it is not that the system does not have any checks and balances. Very often, the deputy public prosecutors are very aware of this problem and in effect pull double duty to ensure that they are not about to wrongfully convict someone. More than that, they have tremendous discretion to decide whether they want to file charges and what sort of charges they want to file. Whether this situation leads to the very common hazard of plea bargaining will not be discussed in this post without greater information.

At any rate, what prompted some MPs to raise the issue of right to counsel was the fact that it 'Took' a month before he managed to see his lawyer. And while it's all well and good that we need to allow police to carry out their investigations, one wonders what the heck due process and legal rights are for it one is unaware of and incapable of asserting them due to a lack of knowledge.

Now, it is granted that such a state of affairs is not unknown elsewhere. Most Common Law jurisdiction i.e. the commonwealth states do restrict access to counsel the first couple of days. But having said which, we are talking about days with a maximum of 3 days only if a judge permits it. Even Britian's version of the ISA only permits detention without trial for a maximum of about 2 weeks with access to a lawyer midway through (as does ours actually if not for the 'temporary' provisions passed). The situation in Civil Law jurisdictions is a little more nebulous. While it is true that the accused never had an automatic immediate right to counsel, and very often they would only get first access after the 1st week, the situation is changing. More than ever, even countries like France are giving earlier and earlier access to counsel.

But there is a major difference between the two legal traditions which make access to counsel perhaps not as problematic in a civil law jurisdiction. This is because they don't have an adverserial process per se where it is the prosecutor against the defence counsel and each trying her best to win. Instead the judge effectively takes over the investigation (they have a number of judges on the case and the 'trial') right from the get go and it is the judge who will determine the path the investigation takes, what tests need to be done and in fact the judge who will question the witnesses, victim and accused. It is a very fascinating process that is very alien to our concept of criminal justice where the trial is all. Over there, the decision is really effectively made even before the trial starts so thorough is their investigation (which means that there is a very high conviction rate). Thus given a judge's impartiality to the situation and his desire to find out what happened, you don't have the problem that occurs within the common law system where the interest of the two opposing sides is to protect public interest yes, but more fundamentally is their own personal interest in winning the case for the client.

Anyway, back to the original issue *cough*. International law has always been an oddity in so far as it does not have a system for enforcing those laws per se. To take a very Positivist point of view, laws are what the soveriegn says there are, the sovereign being someone common obeyed and not used to obeying others and those rules being backed by force. If one translate this to international law, the lack of any world government capable of enforcing this law becomes very apparently. For without enforcement, it might be 'law' in the widest sense of the world but hardly law in that it actually works. Thus, were the sanctions against Iraq laws? Yes but because her neighbouring countries' refused to enforce them, they were not even a slap on wrist.

This situation is even more complicated by the issue of soveriegn immunity. A head of state generally is immune from all forms of prosecution while serving as the head of state (which gives Jacque Chirac a huge incentive to stay in power as president of france because he's going to face some very tough questions about corruption during his stint as mayor of Paris onces he steps down). And while granting that Saddam was brought down, this was only so because the Americans went in (11 years late but oh well). So if one looks at the defence's case play, it is relatively obvious that they are going to challenge the legality of the trial rather than try to defend Saddam's actions...for good reason.

Finally, to all my Singaporean readers, former PM of Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir is on the defence team. Thought that was worth mentioning out of interest's sake.


Monday, October 17, 2005


Looks like I was mistaken after all. The feature is not today after all. And I was all prepared for torches and pitchforks and placades.


*400th post and a chance of shameless self-promotion*

As the title indicates, this blog will be featured in tomorrow's ST Digital Life for Blog of the Week. It's about my exasperated comments on why we should extend the Sedition Act to protect homosexuals and against homophobes. Since I don't seem to find people who agree with my views on Free Specch, I figure this is a battle worth fighting. For who amongst the 80% will stand for the 20%?



*ST Article: Spike in number of teens with sex infections....but is there and so what?*

Hmmm, the title is not as punchy as I somewhat hoped it might have been. Here's a partial fisk for your edification. Personal comments are prefaced by a >.

Para 1.
There has been a dramatic increase in the number of young people hit by sexually-transmitted infections

> Okay, catchy paragraph, let's see if it's properly substantiated with a longitudinal study preferably over a period of 5-10 years.

Para 2 - 3
Figures from the government-run DSC Clinic show that those aged 10 to 19 now form 6 per cent of all sexually transmitted infections (STIs) - double the 3 percent in 2002.

They accounted for only 206 cases in 2002, 490 in 2003 and about 600 cases last year.

> It's only 3 years but alright, that could still constitute a trend. I just wonder a number of things. 1. What's the repeat infection rate? 2. What sort of counselling if any does the clinic do? Is it only abstinence? In which case it's going to be less effective than the alternative of teaching safer sex.

If we're talking about a majority of people who repeatedly return for treatment, then the number of new patients admitted every year works out to be about 200 i.e. constant and given the birth rate of Singapore working out to be around 1.6-1.7, it means that the rate of new infections is actually dropping. Of course such a figure would mean that there were no infections in 2001, so a more reasonable figure would be what? 100-150? Anyway, the data wasn't on the DSC Clinic website, so anyone who has data would be greatly appreciated if you could send it over.

But fine, let's say there's this alarming trend in the number of teens having STI, then what's the cause behind it and we come to...

Paragraph 8 and 9
Counsellors at the clinic attribute this disturbing spike in sex diseases among the young to a cavalier attitude towards sex.

"Their more immediate concern is unplanned pregnancy and, ironically, they try to prevent this by the unrealiable withdrawal method," said Ms Theresa Soon, DSC's senior executive.

> URGH!!!! Nope they're not so much cavaliar as willfully and awfully misinformed. Sorry but when you have pro-abstinence groups peddling junk science like condoms don't work and can't prevent STIs and you should be all good boys and girls and not have sex before marriage (where you will suddenly and miraculously have all the knowledge you need to have sex and prevent unwanted STIs and pregnancy), what the hell do we expect?

1. Preaching and I use the word preaching, abstinence doesn't work. It's terribly alienating and people will tend to want to have sex regardless of what you say and not equiping them with the knowledge and skill to know what they're going is gross negligence. Even if you manage to convert all the people on the margins to believe in abstinence, there's still going to be a core who will have sex regardless of what you say and they are the ones you need to reach out to.

2. An abstinence only policy (as opposed to the Abstinence plus policy that I adovcate) is mutually exclusive to teaching about safer sex and this has severe repecussions on STIs. It's not simply, as Ms Theresa Soon knows and implies through her statement, about preventing unwanted pregnancies. It is also about preventing STIs. Hands up all those of you who know that STIs can be transmitted through unprotected oral sex. In fact any form of penetrative sex can lead to the transmission of STIs.

More than that though, condoms if properly used work, tremendously well. Not as well as ABSOLUTE abstinence perhaps (see oral sex comment above and an impossible pipe dream) but way better than what Focus on the Family claims. Click here for a meta-study on condom effectiveness by NZ MOH or hell, just use a google search on "effectiveness of condoms in preventing STIs". The organisations that promulgate the who ineffectiveness of condoms bit tend to be right wing christian fundamentalist groups.

3. The link in the above two. Given that condoms are made out to be about as effective as the withdrawal method or condoms, guess which one a young teenage male will prefer. Gee. We have a duty to our young female citizens as well, and perhaps it's time to get over some outmoded moral quesiness and perhaps think about allowing teenage girls to obtain oral contraceptives. IT'S THEIR BODY WE'RE TALKING ABOUT HERE. Why the hell we regulate some parts of it while not allow them to take control of their own bodies? But more importantly, expecting females to be able to control their sexual partners to such an extent that they can effectively make them wear condoms is a little too much to expect. Why haven't we started bringing in female condoms yet?

Which brings me very nicely to paragraph 10 and the incident from the 16 year old Normal Stream student who has had sex with 4 partners and was forced to have sex with her first boyfriend but began to enjoy it 6 months later when she dated a 28 yo man.

> Before I begin with the serious discussion bit, let me indulge in a little juvenile humour. I don't get the bit about the 28 yo man except that it probably proves the point that good sex requires experience and practice. So in the absence of actual practicals, theory might help. Perhaps we should provide 'fornication manuals' in schools then. If we believe that reading stuff makes them more knowledgable or better people (moral and civics education for example) then I don't see the real problem with erotica being made available at a younger age. Before you start lighting torches and picketing my place, please note the following: to purchase a Playboy in Australia requires you to be 15. In the Scandenavian countries, it's 14.

But the more serious issue is this. This paragraph is utterly irrelevant in the sense that having sex does not NECESSARILY equate to a higher risk of STIs. She was forced to have sex so I really don't see the bearing on any part of the earlier paragraphs. But more importantly it fails again to distinguish between the 'morality' of pre-martital sex and the necessity of equiping teens to know how to have safer sex.

Which allows me to end with the final quote Madam Halimah Yacob who says, "We need to strengthen the value system of our young, so that they understand the virtues of keeping chaste and shun pre-marital sex and promiscuity." Let's just hope that their husbands and wifes don't fool around then. And that after years of keeping them in ignorance, they will suddenly know everything.


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Sunday, October 16, 2005

*Never cross 2 debaters with a weird sense of humour*

This late update was brought to you by the fact that I was out the entire day with Her yesterday and a birthday party I just returned from and oh, the little side issue that I woke up at 3 p.m. this afternoon.

So here was what had happened. S and CL, strolling in the area outside the fountain after a really full lunch and on the way to get cookies at this marvelous little place at the basement near the pets store. They are making inconsequential conversation on the state of religion and evangelism in schools and other public places when they hear two young female voices behind them.

YFV 1: So, do you want pizza for lunch?

YFV 2: Nope, I try to limit how much pizza I have because they cause cancer in the long run.

At this point, a very incredulous CL and S miss a step and look at each other.

CL (in a relatively loud voice): Everything will kill you in the long run

S (similarly loud): Wait, isn't tomato sauce supposed to be anti-cancer? (It's anti-carcinogenic and lowers the rate of prostate cancer actually)

CL: The whole pizza fiasco is actually a misreading by the Hong Kong government.

By which time the voices behind them fall deadly silent. S and CL try to muffle their laughter.

And that ladies, gentlemen and assorted pets, is the state of knowledge of science amongst certain of our populace today. Sometimes the following words come to haunt me: "The best argument against democracy is 5 minutes with the average voter." But I take solace in the fact that democracy is indeed the worst form of government but the rest that we've tried are all worse.



Thursday, October 13, 2005

Princeton group promotes chastity


I'm going to try to see if they have a full website and then do a full level, DefCon 5 fisking. In the meantime, I'll just content myself with snarky comments. But let's just do a little a thought experiment and bring it over to Singapore.

Consider the following. The average age for a Singaporean male in University is about 21 years of age. At that age, he has a casting vote and is capable of putting it in a ballot box where it will be counted. He has a say (somewhat) is the running of the country and can in fact stand for parliament and become a Member of Parliament where he will have the locus standi to introduce bills that become the laws of the state. He would have finished 2 1/2 years of National Service where he would have at the very least learnt how to use a weapon. In my case, quite a number of weapons. As a Medic Specialist (NCO to all my foreign readers), I have men under my command and I am responsible for their lives and wellbeing. As a Senior Medic or even a company medic I am responsible for the lives and health of men not even under my direct command. By this time, I can be sent to the gallows if I commit a capital crime, and will be treated as an adult under the law for the purposes of sentencing and determination of criminal liability. The law states that at the age of majority I am presumed to have the capability to enter to contracts and sign over my work and body for the purpose of employment (actually you can do that at 14).

And after all that, I can't make a decision as to when I should have sex? And you mean to tell me that Princeton undergraduates are idiots who can't think?!


p.s. this is a work in progress and there is more to come.

Addendum: Ahhh, forget it. They already lampoom themselves.

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*On the value of cultural diversity*

It can be generally agreed that cultural diversity is a good thing, but as usual the devil is in the details. A few implications of such an affirmation is as follows, what constitutes cultural diversity, do we need to encourage it, how do we do so and what the heck is the role of the government in all of this?

There are a number of ways an issue like this might arise. For example, what is the obligation of the state to preserve a dying culture or language? I am personally of the opinion that a culture or society has no intrinsic right to exist and the easy answer would be of course to point to Hitler's Germany or Pol Pot's Cambodia. But there's a huge problem when it is an aboriginal (using it in the technical sense here and not specifically in reference to any ethnic group) culture that's dying and there's some indication that it is in the face of mainstream culture. Of course, this being a next to impossible issue to quantify, what's a poor government to do? If people from that culture simply don't wish to live like their ancestors and do slash and burn subsistance agriculture, can we and should we force them to do so? Because closely tied to this argument is the concept of the 'noble savage' which unfortunately is just that - a myth. But on the other hand, there is an intrinsic value in a culture in and of itself which a state might well seek to preserve and while perhaps the state perhaps should not force those who do not wish to remain with such a culture, there are a number of things that could be done ranging from the limited to the ambitious.

A limited approach perhaps could be something as simple as preserving the language. And as long as there are a core of speakers and it is passed on, in this fashion the culture is somewhat preserved. Of course, language while inextricably tied to culture does not nevertheless encapsulate the culture. So on the other extreme would be to create a cultural village and make a dedicated effort to preserving everything including the way of life. I honestly can't think of any successful examples of this except oddly enough for some reason Welsh villages. Of course there are the Amish but it's a community with pretty deep roots and was not some form of cultural preservation project of the state.

On the social aspect of cultural diversity, we of course run headlog into the very very touchy issue of immigration and its associated problems. That of irrational fears (mostly over jobs and welfare) and more rational ones of ghettoisation (and violence from racists and extremist). Suffice to say, a nationwide plan to give lessons to them to help assimilate e.g. through language and cultural lessons is very tempting but runs into problems not just of practicality and feasibility but also a broader question of whether we're trying to turn out a particular version of a citizen. Not that states do not try it through civics lessons and national history and *cough* education but I feel that this goes much further because we're now forcing people into having a form of cultural reeducation but more than that though, it kills of the concept of in loco parentis and in particular a parent's right to decide what their child should learn and study. But considering the problem Europe faces with the extremist and lack of cultural assimilation, I really wouldn't be surprised if a government turns to such a solution. However, does this solve the root problem of a vicious cycle of poverty and ghettoisation (more than half of UK Jews are in Southern London and no one worries about them for good reason i.e. they aren't poor)? Or will it finally solve the problem of multi-culturalism and tolerance being its own worst enemy?

And finally we have the very very serious problem of the Culture Defence. The premise of cultural diversity is that we should respect if not tolerate each other's cultures because having many cultures is a good. But as it happens cultural values clash and sometimes murder is the result. One of the defences to murder is provocation and it reduces it to culpable homicide not amounting to murder. This is a very big deal because you go from facing the death penalty to 'merely' facing life imprisonment or even a max of 10 years.

But the problem that faces the court are these cases of immigrants using it and claiming stuff like honour killings. And while you would like to respect their culture and customs, how does one in a civilised society accept that simply going out with a male you disapprove of allows you to kill your female relations? Or worse still, assume that we do accept it, in Singapore, will we not perpetuate a sterotype of foreign workers being violent and unable to control their killing tempers?

To borrow a line from Aaron Sorkin's West Wing: "There are days of absolute morality, but those days always involves body counts." And in all things else, we struggle to find the good and distinguish it from the bad.