Saturday, December 31, 2005

Cartoons ignite cultural combat in Denmark - Europe - International Herald Tribune

*The true meaning of irony*

Read the article, it's really good and provides an objective view of the highly complex situation that is brewing here.

What else would you call a situation whereby the self same laws that allow for the publication of a (technically) blasphemous cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad, also allows for the operation of Hizb ut-Tahrir, or the Party of Liberation, which preaches its ideology of the creation of an Islamic caliphate and the unification of all muslim countries under one leader who would then implement the Sharia?

I personally find this the biggest problem facing modern secular liberal democracies today i.e. the issue of tolerance creating the very form of intolerance that would wish to tear it down. How does one, deal with such intolerance without instituting another form of intolerance.

Now our very own sunny island has seen the used of the Sedition Act used against certain bloggers expounding racist (or was that religiousist? Did we conflate the two?) sentiments. And I suppose that that is one manner in which pluralism can be maintained, which is to crack down on intolerance, albeit only published ones. But coupled with a strong dose of edification through education, it may be that this represents a sensible hollistic policy.

But the self-same example also demonstrates the inherent weakness of this policy. Intolerance towards intolerance is only unto certain strains of intolerance i.e. the intolerance that the state deems intolerable. So religious bashing is not alright, but homosexual bashing is perfectly fine because they are not deemed to have protection under this particular law.

It also creates a particular insidious form of discrimination in that it protects those with beliefs but not those without. So it would seem perfectly fine to go around calling atheists as godless and immoral but not perhaps religion as irrational beliefs which should be consigned to historical ignorance and superstitions. Or at the very least it will have such a chilling effect. Not unlike perhaps post A*Star incident.

I personally believe that no belief system should be entitled to protection insofar as it represents a personal choice. One may not legitimately choose his race but one may definately decide to determine his form of faith or lack thereof. I think that any attack on something that is predetermined is inevitable irrational and perhaps ought not to be granted protection.

But where a choice can be made as to identity, then offensiveness I think is not sufficient because of the fundamental right of expression which would mean defending a particular viewpoint of opinion and by extension must necessary mean the attacking of another. This of course, does not mean carte blanc to go about inciting others, but unless the propensity (as opposed to mere potential) for violence is not met, then mere insult is not sufficient (not unlike defamation laws perhaps as there must be injury to reputation).

Of course, as close friends would know, I have oft times described myself in the apparent oxymoronic terms of being an extremist moderate. But what this of course means is that I would be glad (when in those moods) to shut off all forms of intolerance and only allow moderates. Think about it.


Friday, December 30, 2005

Guardian Unlimited Film | Features | The minds boggle

*Scientists' personal reviews of a 'Scientific' firm*

Some scientific theories are complex but we tend to think that we have a grip on it. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't (obviously). Part of the reason is that we can intuitively understand that we interact with. Thus, most of us have no problems grasping the fundamentals of classical physics or anatomy because of our personal experience interacting with them.

However, certain theories are by nature counter intuitive, particularly so because these theorems involve an aspect of the material world that we simply cannot observe with unaided senses. What I have in mind in particular is that of quantum mechanics, which deal with sub-atomic particles. In this land of the very very small, the rules that apply in classical physics (the laws of the large) simply do not apply. Hence we have the 'spooky' entanglement or the Uncertainty Principle, things that are illogical in our natural frame of the very large.

Popularisers of scientific theories have a tremendous place for laypersons in their 'quest' to understand more about particularly complex and esoteric theories. Obviously, some are better than others. And some just end up looking, sounding and acting like cranks despite, in one case, a Nobel Prize. And the reason is due to some fundamental misunderstanding about the particular applicability of a particular scientific theory.

One in particular is that quantum physics has no place (or more accurately a negligible effect) on our normal referential frame i.e. the world of the large that we live in. It's not possible to transpose certain emphirical facts from quantum physics to that of the world we live in. Hence, entanglement may seem like telepathy or telekenesis but it just does not apply in our real world.

Now obviously, all this means is that this particular scientific theory cannot 'explain' 'supernatural' powers like the above but in no way logically proves impossible the existence of these powers. Well true, but in which case, nothing is impossible. Once you accept the supernatural (the suspension of natural laws), you accept anything.


Thursday, December 29, 2005

*A system of trust or a system of checks and balances?*

I was going to do something on quantum mechanics and 'entanglement' i.e. the situation where a particle may be occupying two diametrically opposing states, in this case, spinning clockwise and counter-clockwise until the quatum collapses into a single state. This was Einstein's so-called 'spooky' science, which he demonstrated through mathematical formalism in a bid to discredit the theory. Well, we now know that while the law of big things (i.e. the standard physical laws of nature we observe) is, um, non-spooky, at the level of the very small, it is indeed, spooky.

Anyway, I was browsing Todayonline when I came across this letter which was interesting to say the least. In less polite terms, what the hell is he saying? But the $1 million dollar question is, does it even address the supposed issue he raises? The most ironic point to be made is that TI ranks us at number 5 in the world.

See through transparency
Quality of leadership more important than following openness trend for governance

Letter from Chong Lee Ming

How might the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) episode impact Singaporeans' perspective on public governance?
The Singapore Government upholds the principle that the key to good public governance is to have leaders who are beyond reproach ? honest, trustworthy, incorruptible. Most Singaporeans support this.

> Well, I suppose if it could be considered that the people who actually get to vote in elections are representative of the rest of the electorate, then this assertion does stand. But then again, who DOESN'T support this? No one wants to vote in corrupt governments who go around abusing them, unless you are in Zimbabwe and Mugabe says vote for him or he will plunge the country into civil war. Oh and the fact that he uses hunger as a politicking tool by withholding food aid to opposition wards in a famine stricken country .

Some foreigners, on the other hand, like to point out that Singapore falls short in certain areas they deem essential for good public governance, such as unconditional freedom of media and transparency of information.
> It's a strawman argument here. No one calls for 'unconditional' freedom of media, the media will always be subject to some form of regulatory control, mostly through the form of libel laws premised upon the more fundamental notion that even so-called fundamental rights can be abrogated when a compelling interest can be demonstrated.
> But on a more basic level, the freedom of media is part of a fundamental right to the freedom of speech and expression. Together with transparancy of information, they make up what is known as institutional checks and balances. Something that we'll come back to later in this letter.

So will the NKF saga cause a major shift in emphasis from the quality of leaders to the principle of transparency?
> Is there a dicotomy here at all? A false one maybe.

It has been pointed out in this newspaper that the NKF episode underlined the importance of "openness at the highest level". But I would be concerned if Singaporeans were prepared to compromise on the quality of leaders for the sake of transparency.
> This is a classic non-sequitor. How does it follow that just because we introduce more transparency, we will suddenly compromise on the quality of our leaders? If nothing else, it ensures the quality of our leaders instead of trusting them to remain non-corrupt in the face of power. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, a system based on trust tends to fail because of this all to real axiom. Hence, institutional checks and balances are much more likely to generate good goverance than relying on the emergence of a class of philosopher-kings or Jun-zi (Gentlemen).

In particular, I am worried they may support opportunists who ride on this "openness" fad.
> It's a fad? Wow, this just beggers belief. In a manner of speaking, it really is no different from demanding an audit and that the reports and company documents be available for inspection by members of the public. It's not a fad, it's reality. In fact, what might be tolerable in one or two companies is definately not the case if it infects your entire political system.

A case in point is Taiwan, where the relentless pursuit of democracy and freedom of the media have thrown up leaders of less desirable moral character.
> Eh? Non-sequitor here. Hell, maybe even a case of post hoc propter egro hoc. Just because one thing occurs after another, doesn't mean the first thing caused the second.
> And I find it terribly hard to believe that the current democratically elected members and president are less desirable morally compared to the corrupt dictatorial regime that predated them. KMT under Chiang Kai Shek and military rule anyone?
> This is thrown into greater relief in South Korea, they threw an ex-president (non democratically elected) and his son into jail on charges of corruption. Something unthinkable and much more so impossible without something called accountability through gee, democracy, freedom of the media and transparency.

Some may argue that the checks and balances arising from a transparent system would be sufficient to assure the quality of leaders. I am not sure real-world experience, both in the developed and developing countries, supports this.
> *Snigger*. Is it a wonder that autocratic and dictatorial regimes which do not have a system of checks and balances are the most corrupt and least transparent in the world? Not to mention some of the most repressive and oppresive in the world e.g. Zimbabwe, North Korea, Syria, Myanmar. Either that, or they are failed states.
> GEEEEEE!!!!! Urgh, how do people get away with asserting the most inane things wihtout substantiating it?

An obsession with transparency will lead to greater demands on the Government to explain its actions. People might expect the Government to investigate thoroughly every single allegation even frivolous ones.
> Should not the government have to explain its actions to the electorate, the people who voted them in and from whom they get their powers? Frivolity of issue is a very minor annoyance compared to the very real gains that one gets. It is a small price to pay for checks and balances and knowing what is going on in your name.

A "fault finding" culture could develop. This will drain public resources and affect the effectiveness of the government.
> And the converse? Without it, you most likely get corruption and autocracy and the people suffer. Which is more probable now?

Another consequence of erosion of public confidence in leaders is that it will become more difficult for leaders to introduce tough and unpopular policies. The difficulties faced by the French and German governments in addressing the high unemployment rates in their countries is such an example.
> Transparency and the lack of accountability will erode public confidence much faster. Not to mention, the onus is on the government to persuade people that change is necessary. Freedom of information insofar as people trust the information can in fact be the catalyst of that change.
> Such policies are difficult to push through maybe because they cause suffering and are therefore unpopular perhaps? But the problem in France was that the political leaders did have the stomach to carry through the change. In Germany, the existing political system makes it harder to carry out change. But nevertheless there has been change as people realise that short term suffering is necessary for the long term future.
> Anyway, with the exception of Singapore, most Authoratiarian governments have had and still have a piss poor economic performance.

The NKF episode has pointed out certain weaknesses in our system, but how we address them should be handled cautiously and maturely.
> How about we stop blindly trusting people to do good just because they are in power? This entire episode has been a fantastic case study of the lack of corporate governance due in part to the lack of transparency and we are fortunately in the sense that this emerged now rather than later. Like most institutions, the people that make up the institutions i.e. the agents forget about the purpose of the institution and set out to either enrich themselves or the institution itself.
> And I think schools should teach logic.

So with that little jaunt through a letter that doesn't seem logically coherent, I bid one and all a good day.



Wednesday, December 28, 2005

*War on Christmas? Redux*

Interesting article in Today (281205) under the headline of "Let Christmas be - Neutralising the Christian aspect of the holiday is counterproductive", which left me more confused than anything else, given that I'm not sure the issue that the author mentions is the one corresponding in reality and more disturbingly, an internally logically inconsistent piece.

But what was most disturbing was the attached photo of "Pastors speaking in a yard being the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC. They are against the growing hostility towards religious expression, especially during the Christmas season". This is a misleading tag because it treats/insinuates as fact a purported actual hostility when it is mroe in the minds of the fundies.

Anyway, it's always nice to be able to recycle a post at this time of the night rather than have to think up a new piece so, as usual, comments will be prefixed with a >

Let Christmas be
Neutralising the Christian aspect of the holiday is counter-productive

by Liang Dingzi

DID you have a good Christmas, oops, I mean, holiday?

The Americans, who have influenced the world in their preference for words such as "chairperson" and "disadvantaged" (as opposed to "handicapped") for political correctness, have a propensity to neutralise any diversity that may suggest a bias or contempt for any one social group.
> Is it me or does anyone else think it rather incongruous to put the words diversity and bias/contempt in the same line? The notion of diversity is a recognition of differences NOT a deliberate discrimination of whatever form whether positive or negative. Maybe we'll just put this down to sloppy writing.

There are pluses, in the name of non-discrimination. It's amazing how the unwieldy "Ms" as the equivalent of "Mr" has satisfied feminist groups fighting for equal rights of the sexes.
> Ooohhh, snarky but rather meaningless in the context of this article. I have to say I find the term Ms as 'cumbersome' as the term Mr because I think it does help to be able to identify if the person is married. But because of this 'limitation' it makes life so much easier when needing to address a female.

The Americans are at it again. In the run-up to the Christmas just past, politicians and TV presenters right down to the common folk chose to change the traditional greeting of "merry Christmas" to "happy holidays".
> This comment may be jumping the gun a little but given that they are 'choosing' to change the greetings, does that not make it at odds with the assertion that there's some form of enforcement going on?

That seems appropriate. America being a country largely of immigrants, there are people who may not celebrate the festivity as Christians ? just like the Cambodians, who re-introduced the universal day-off with merry-making this year, after years of snubbing religious fervour, never mind the origin of the festival.
Living and working in Singapore, which is similarly multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious, I have adopted this neutral form of greeting for many years. But I use it with discretion.
To my Christian friends, it is "merry Christmas", and to my other friends, it is "happy holiday".
> And this to me seems entirely and perfectly logical and reasonable. It marks sensitivity and the knowledge that people DON'T always celebrate Christmas or celebrate it in a Christian fashion. But then it gets entirely confusing.

This time, however, the Americans have stretched the neutralisation a little too far, when everything Christmas becomes "holiday" for everybody, Christian and non-Christian alike. It becomes absurd when Christmas trees are re-labelled "holiday trees".
> I think the author has seemingly ignored the private-public, friend-stranger divide here. It is one thing to greet people whose religiousity and background you know with a Merry Christmas. BUT it is quite another when you are greeting a stranger with that, willy nilly. But on a separate point, um, there are no 'Christmas' trees in the religious sense and like candy canes, it is simply one of the trappings of the holiday we recognise as Christmas, so I'm not certain what the hoo-ha is over this 'relabelling' of trees. (Apparently, a tree was put up by a local council or higher, which could raise the issue of the Establishment Clause but that simply strengthens the argument that there should have relabelled the tree)

Enforced, as opposed to natural, neutralisation is apt to breed dissent and suspicion among the different social groups. It does not promote cohesion as it heightens differences. While it expresses a political agenda for commonality, it ignores the cultural and religious sensitivities of being different.
> This is one of the paragraphs that disturb me because I'm not entirely sure if the author of this piece is simply naive, been shoddy with his research or more worryingly, being disingenuous with his writings. There is no ENFORCED neutralisation as far as I am aware or at least not on an enforced scale i.e. federal mandate. As such, the entire line of argument falls in this particular context (as opposed to being an argument against being too PC).

That is why even the Jewish community in America feels insulted by the neutralisation of a religious festival that it does not celebrate. It deems such a move demeaning and does not respect people's discernment of a celebration that is not Jewish.
> He who asserts must substantiate. I'm very highly skeptical of the veracity of this assertion though I stand ready to be corrected.

Traditional Christian groups, on the other hand, feel a different kind of discrimination, one marked by disrespect for their beliefs.
> Substitute traditional with Fundamentalist and it would be much more accurate. But then, it's always persecution with them.

The world has long left behind the dark ages of ruling by enforced, often brutal, assimilation through suppression. Peaceful co-existence lies in recognising and respecting differences.
> Well, other than the fact that it has not been established by the writer that there's suddenly some enforcement whereby we cannot greet people with Merry Christmas or are trying to strip Christmas of its Christian associations (the pagan origins are pretty much forgotten), it simply doesn't make sense because it is a non sequitor. But furthermore remember this paragraph because the logic of peaceful co-existance lying in the recognition and repsect for differences, will come to haunt a related line of argument further down. But briefly put, when amongst strangers, the more appropriate response would be with a greeting that is inclusive and not exclusive if we seek peaceful coexistance (or better still, why not celebrate ALL the official religions in Singapore with their respective holidays? Why put Christmas over Hanukka?).

Ignoring these differences and, worse, pretending that they do not exist and seeking to neutralise them, only serves to polarise the community.
> Non sequitor here because it could very well serve to create a homogenous and stable society or conversely, not doing so simply creates and execerbates the tensions prevelant in the European countries (French v Dutch). But on a related note, are differences being ignored? No. Are we pretending that they do not exist? Laughably not, Christmas is ingrained in society to an extent not visible in ANY other religious holiday. Are we seeking to neutralise them? Impossibly so. So how does this necessarily polarise the community?

Christmas, more than any other festival, has become a celebration of sorts all over the world. Without any political intervention, it has become increasingly neutral resembling any event that provides a reason for feasting and merry-making.
Blame it on commercialisation retailers are the most happy during these times of celebration.
> Why does EVERYONE blame it on commercialisation? Actually the whole genteel gift giving thing started in the mid 1800s but took about half a century to become entrenched in society. It wasn't a time of commercialisation then.
> But also precisely! Christmas is not just about the supposed birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary at this time of the year anymore. In a sense it's about peace, goodwill, friendship and giving. Frankly, I personally think it's much nicer than the notion that only through the 'sacrifice' of the Messiah will 'Original sin' be 'washed away'.

In Singapore, different social groups have their cultural and religious festivals. I hope we do not take the route of the Americans. The politics of inclusion ? to make Christmas a neutral holiday for everyone for example ? ironically works to exclude concerned groups from the citizenry.
> Another non-sequitor. But more importantly, where is this plot to enforce a non-mention of Christmas coming from anyway? But additionally, there are other festivals being celebrated in this season so I could well argue more convincingly that the flagent use of Merry Christmas instead of the more inclusive Happy Holidays "works to exclude" MORE "concerned groups from the citizenry". There's the Pagan festival of the Winter Soltice, the Jewish festival of Hanukka (or Chanukka), the African-American holiday of Kwanzaa and of course, the New Year.
> The bald and untrue assertion put forth by the writer that, "different social groups have their cultural and religious festivals" simply raises the question I posed earlier, why Christmas and not Hanukka? Where is the holiday for the Zorastrians or the Sihks? Or any of the multitude of global trotters we have residing here? *Looks askew at the piece*

Next year, I want to continue wishing my Christian friends "merry Christmas" and my other friends, a happy holiday. And there's no reason why non-Christians cannot wish their Christian friends a meaningful "merry Christmas" instead of the neutral "happy holiday".
> Nothing is stopping you. I am rather disturbed now.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

*Another take on Narnia*

For an alternative and arguably more coherent and rational view of Narnia, here's Gabriel's take on it.


*War on Christmas? Or Persecution Complex?*

Easing back into the swing of blogging and this is a relatively easy piece to comment about given the amount of space devoted to it by the pundits (mostly on the religious right and subsequent responses by pretty much everyone else).

What makes this issue interesting is the perspective that I personally have given
a) I live in Singapore,
b) Singapore has this whole multi-cultural/religious, pluralist society thing going on,
c) I'm primarily a Buddhist by conversion,
d) we don't celebrate Chirstmas and
e) we don't have the same nut-case fundies rousing issues where there are none here (though I fear tis but a matter of time).

Anyway, this fiasco started after certain members of the religious right started wailing about how the secular liberalist conspiracy was going to remove all traces of Christianity from America and their lastest slavo was the decision by certain companies to say 'Season's greetings' or 'Happy Holidays' instead of "Merry Christmas" and horrors of horrors, the Bush White House sends out 1.4 million cards which DO NOT say Merry Christmas but Happy Holidays instead. Of course, certain other columnist like that of the Financial Times pounced on it and dismissed it as a frivilous piece of PC (politically correct) action and said that non-Christians should toughen up if they couldn't stand being greeted with Merry Christmas.

That misses the entire point.

Let's first take it from the perspective of the US. Yes, it is a predominantly Christian society (76%) but also one that celebrates many other festivities at this time of the year e.g. Hanukka (Jewish), Kwanzaa (African-American) Winter Soltice (a Pagan festival that probably inspired the date of Christmas), the New Year and these people DO NOT celebrate Christmas (and arguably would be rather insulting to believe that they do, it would be akin to a Christian celebrating Hanukka). As such, Happy Holidays is a perfect greeting that is inclusive rather than exclusive. And remarkably, I feel that the White House (i.e. Government, also see Separation of Church and State) did the right thing by using that greeting instead of their more usual assetion of Christian mascularity. Furthermore, I personally think that it is a better greeting especially in a society like Singapore where Christianity is actually a minority religion (about 30%).

Secondly, I don't think it is necessarily simply a matter of being PC, primarily because of the reason enunciated above. I agree that sometimes the PC police takes things way too far, but seeing that there are other festivals being celebrated, and some of which are MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE to the celebration of Christmas, I feel that this is more of a nice gesture and goes a long ways towards the recognition of a secular pluralist society.

Thirdly, I still don't see how this is all an atheist liberalist plot to destroy Christmas much less Christianity. I mean, other than the fact that Christianity is the predominant religion, the one with the more political lobbying power, has its own cable stations, it simply beggers belief that they could honestly believe that this is a 'War on Christmas'. Which lends credence to my own personal viewpoint that this is a huge persecution complex we're seeing. Somehow, I feel as if they like being portrayed as the victims of some big evil conspiracy. But, um, sorry, ever since they stopped being persecuted and started becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire, I really can't accept this whole notion of religious persecution (except in china).

Personally, I do really care how I'm greeted seeing that it's the thought that counts. Although I am getting rather tired of people assuming that I'm Christian for reasons beyond my comprehension. I figure it's because I speak English fluently and the stereotype is still that of Buddhism being a predominant 'Chinese' religion. *Shrugg*


Sunday, December 25, 2005

*I have returned*

Updates will be sparse for a little while as I seek to maximise my utility from the remainder of the holidays.

But in other news, the plaintiffs from the Dover trial have won and the judge (Justice Jones) in his 139 page decision sets out very nicely why ID is not science, is primarily religious, sets out a false artificial dualist dicotomy and exposes the fundies who don't adhere to their own commandments of not bearing false witness. Enjoy!



Sunday, December 18, 2005


Hip hip tally-ho, I'm off to the Land of the Rising Sun. Back on Boxing Day.



*I'll Be Missing You*

Yeah... this right here (tell me why)
Goes out, to everyone, that has lost someone
That they truly loved (c'mon, check it out)

Seems like yesterday we used to rock the show
I laced the track, you locked the flow
So far from hangin on the block for dough
Notorious, they got to know that
Life ain't always what it seem to be
Words can't express what you mean to me
Even though you're gone, we still a team
Through your family, i'll fulfill your dream (that's right)
In the future, can't wait to see
If you open up the gates for me
Reminisce some time, the night they took my friend (uh-huh)
Try to black it out, but it plays again
When it's real, feelings hard to conceal
Can't imagine all the pain i feel
Give anything to hear half your breath (half your breath)
I know you still living your life, after death

Every step i take, every move i make
Every single day, every time i pray
I'll be missing you
Thinkin of the day, when you went away
What a life to take, what a bond to break
I'll be missing you

(i miss you big)

It's kinda hard with you not around (yeah)
Know you in heaven smilin down
Watchin us while we pray for you
Every day we pray for you
Til the day we meet again
In my heart is where i'll keep you friend
Memories give me the strength i need to proceed
Strength i need to believe
My thoughts big i just can't define (can't define)
Wish i could turn back the hands of time
Us in the 6, shop for new clothes and kicks
You and me taking flicks
Makin hits, stages they receive you on
I still can't believe you're gone (can't believe you're gone)
Give anything to hear half your breath (half your breath)
I know you still living you're life, after death


somebody tell me why

On that morning
When this life is over
I know
I'll see your face

Every night i pray, every step i take
Every move i make, every single day
Every night i pray, every step i take
[puff] every day that passes
Every move i make, every single day
[puff] is a day that i get closer
[puff] to seeing you again
Every night i pray, every step i take
[puff] we miss you big... and we won't stop
Every move i make, every single day
[puff] cause we can't stop... that's right
Every night i pray, every step i take
Every move i make, every single day
[puff] we miss you big

Peace Bro.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Secret Conspiracy World Government

The Truth...Is Not There.


Last day at Norton Rose today. It's been an invaluable experience and I look forward to being able to stay up late and sleep in.

Having said which, I will be away to Japan on Monday and will only be back on boxing day. So obviously, because I'm a poor student who doesn't have a blackberry and the money to pay for the connection, I will not be able to reply till I get back.



Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Iranian President dismisses the Holocaust as a 'myth'

Holocaust deniers. Go read up on them. Like those 'historians' who deny the massacre of Nanjing never happened, they conveniently ignore the wealth of evidence and collaboration from various sources and choose to pick on various 'facts' and then trumpet it as why it never happened.

Come to think of it, that's exactly like the beliefs of most cranks.

Anyway to say that the history and geopolitics of this area is complex is akin to saying the surface of the sun is hot. Now I don't propose to go all the way back to the Suez Canal crisis to explain how it happened the way it did. In fact, one might have to go even further back to get a proper sense of how the situation degenerated into the mess it is. Possibly as far back as Philip II of Spain and the Ottoman empire.

But here's something I did for the Model United Nations (MUN), historical Security Council. It's set immediately after Egpyt and Syria attacked on Yom Kippur. And yes, this will be debated in next year's NTU MUN.

Historical Security Council: 1973 - Outbreak of the Yom Kippur War


The year is 1973 and it has been slightly less than two decades since this particular organ of the United Nations was established in 1945. Since then it has successfully (or otherwise) brokered cease-fires between warring nations. In 1949, it mediated a cease-fire between India and Pakistan over Kashmir after 2 years of fighting. In 1950, it called upon member nations to help South Korea repel an invasion by North Korea. It called for an arms embargo against South Africa in 1963 (only made mandatory in 1972). But pursuant to the issue today, in 1972, it adopted Resolution 242 and mediated a settlement of the Six-Day Arab-Israeli War.

Why? Because the Security Council has been charged with the solemn duty of enforcing the Charter of the United Nations. Because it can and while other organs can make recommendations as to the relative merits of the economics of anti-dumping or infant industry protection, the Security Council is the only organ capable of taking decisions that are binding on members under the Charter to carry out.

The Security Council

The Security Council has 15 members. 5 permanent members and 10 other non-permanent members elected by the General Assembly on a rotation 2-year basis. Often these 10 members would be representational of the regions of the world. These 5 permanent members were given their seats and the resultant power through a quirk of historical contingency. It reflects the hard realities and geopolitics of the world post World War 2.

Procedurally, decisions can only be passed if 9 of the 15 members ascend to them. If so, the proposal becomes a Resolution with the full weight, power and authority of the Security Council and the United Nations behind it. However, this is contingent on none of the permanent members using their veto power, which would result in the automatic rejection of the proposal.

However, for the purposes of this historic UN Security Council, the Permanent 5 will not exercise their veto power.

Statement of the Problem

The tenuous peace on the ground has broken down and the Middle East is once again at war. As we speak, both Egypt and Syria have just concurrently attacked Israel on 6th October 1973. This holy day, also known as Yom Kippur, also marks the day where Israel is at its military weakest as the country comes to a near complete standstill as the Jews fast and abstain from much of life's modern conveniences e.g. electricity. It is also the day when many soldiers leave the military bases to celebrate the holiday with their families. With most of its armed forces demobilized, this is Israel at its most vulnerable.

The localized political fear is as follows, depending on the success of the Egypt-Syrian Army the very survival of the Israeli State could be at stake. However, it is unlikely that the Israelis having been caught unawares will sit idly by. And having established its military dominance over its neighbours during the Six-Day War, a successful counter attack by the Israeli Army might see them push the disputed boundaries of the cease-fire even further deeper into the territories of these two states. This would further undermine and threaten the sovereignty and stability of both nation-state and political regime.

On a macro-political level, the fear is that of a larger conflagration which could develop between the two superpowers in a vicious spiral of escalating violence, where a war between these nations could rapidly turn into a proxy war and eventually into nuclear Armageddon.

On the economic front, given the importance of the Middle East to the functioning of the modern manufacturing economy through the provision of oil, it is not inconceivable that a lengthy war could disrupt supplies to the developing and developed nations and hurt their economies. Alternatively, we could see oil sanctions being used as a military weapon and bargaining chip should OPEC decide to back the Arab armies against Israel and their Western allies.

In short, the problem that still remains after Resolution 242 will become worse. The inherent uncertainties of the situation and the fear of an even more adverse outcome have prompted the Security Council to convene to deliberate upon the problem in an effort to generate a lasting solution.

History of the Problem

The modern Middle East was the creation of the Western world. Its boundaries determined by the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the aftermath of World War 2. The General Assembly created the State of Israel. The Six-Day War and Resolution 242 recognised their right to security. And by now, what is now termed the Cold War is well and truly underway and no part of planet and no nation can deny the influence, politics and power-play the world's two Superpowers, the USA and USSR are wielding.

Generally speaking, the geopolitical divisions in the region can be said to be the USA and its Western Allies on the side on Israel, while the USSR backs the Arab nations in opposition. The establishment of Israel is deeply unpopular within the region and not an single state has yet recognised the state of Israel with some going even further to deny its very right to exist.

Things came to a head during the Six-Day Arab-Israeli War in 1967, which was fought between Israel and its Arab neighbors of Egypt , Jordan and Syria. It began when Israel launched what it considered a pre-emptive attack against Egypt. This was in response to Egypt's closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and the deployment of troops in the Sinai bordering Israel. After months of increasingly tense border incidents and diplomatic crises, it came to a head with the war. When the dust settled, Israel controlled the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsular (clear to the Suez Canal), the West Bank and the Golan Heights (half of which still remained under Syrian control). The aftermath of the War maintained the geopolitical instability that lead to the current crisis.

Resolution 242 was passed by the Security Council, which called for the withdrawal of forced from occupied territory and recognized the right of all states in the area to security. Israel, however, refused to withdraw its troops form the territories it occupied, viewing them as a necessary military buffer and somewhat complacent in their belief that they could hold the land. This was despite new Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (who replaced Gamel Abdel Nassar who died in 1970), who declared that Egypt would be ready to enter into a peace agreement with Israel. This would be if Israel would withdraw from their 1967 lines i.e. the territory they occupied as a result of the Six-Day War. Israel refused.

Between the end of Six-Day War and the start of this crisis, Israel spent a huge amount to erect lines of fortification in Sinai and the Golan Heights. The fact that they emerged unscathed from the 3 year War of Attrition with Egypt led the military leadership to grow somewhat complacent.

President Sadat was of the opinion that even a limited military defeat inflicted on Israel would be able to budge the status quo and as early as 1972, he began to publicly state his intention to attack Israel. And to that ends, they aggressive pursued a policy of arms upgrading and buildup as well as an overhaul of the command structure (replacing political generals responsible for the defeat in the 6 Day War with competent ones) and military strategy and tactics.

Syria in turn was purely concerned with a military venture to reclaim the Golan Heights. President Assad saw this as part of a larger plan to make Syria into the dominant military force in the region. He believed that with Egypt's help, he could inflict a convincing military victory over Israel and regain the Golan Heights. He also believed that once it was reclaimed, Israel would be more willing to make concessions as to the rest of the occupied territory. As such, he too launched a massive military buildup. This was in conjunction with the constant guerilla raids, assaults and harassment he inflicted on Israel through terrorist and paramilitary forces operating not just out of Syria but also Lebanon.

The roles of the two great superpowers were to prove instrumental in the lead up and occurrence of this current crisis. While Israel was provided the latest and most advance weaponry by the USA and their allies, the Soviets did not similarly equip their Egyptian ally. What they provided was primarily defensive weapons and then only with great reluctance. What modern weaponry the Egyptian have utilized in this crisis (SAM battery wall) was only obtained after a personal visit by President Sadat to the Kremlin to plead his. And it was only after his threat to upset the balance of power in the region by handing his post over to someone who would negotiate with the Americans that the Russians acceded to his request.

The Russians were also not amenable to the rather hostile Israeli policy that President Sadat was implementing following the 1967 War. It was felt that Egypt chances in a war were not at all good and any attempt to cross the Suez Canal would result in very heavy losses. And the Soviets did not want to get dragged losing battle and into a wider conflict involving the USA. This reality was confirmed in the Oslo Accords between the two superpowers. Feeling betrayed and later actually betrayed when his plans for the preparation to cross the Suez Canal was leaked, President Sadat expelled nearly all the Soviet military observers in his country in July 1972. Following this event, he began to reorient his foreign policy towards the Americans instead.

Even without (or perhaps because of the absence of) the Soviets, secret plans began formulating in the highest echelons of the Egyptian high command for the invasion of Israel. This would later include the Syrians, which has resulted in this current crisis to face the Security Council.

Current Situation

In the Sinai, the Egyptian armies have advanced past their cease-fire line into Israel and in fact have captured the Suez Canal in record time, confounding the expectations of most military observers and analyst. In the process, their forces have advanced kilometers into the Sinai. Where it was expected that the sand berms that the Israelis created as a defensive position on the east bank of the Sinai would act as a security barrier and buy them time, Egyptian ingenuity have rendered them useless. Military engineers have used huge water cannons to undermine their foundations and have thus exposed the Israeli defensive positions. As this paper is written, Egyptian forces are rapidly overrunning the Bar-Lev forts on the basis of overwhelming forces and numbers.

The Israeli airforce which was to prove so dominant in the Six-Day war have been mostly neutralized by the battery of surface to air missiles (SAMs) on the Sinai line. This, however, limits the extent to which the Egyptians would feel safe expending further into the Sinai.

In the Golam Heights, the Syrian army has attacked the much smaller Israeli forces. Against the Israeli defense of two brigades and eleven artillery batteries, the Syrians have engaged with five divisions and 188 batteries. To the 180 Israeli tanks, the Syrians amassed 1, 400 tanks. Despite the overwhelming numbers, the Israelis have generally held their own and this can be attributed to a number of factors.

One, the Golam Heights is of much greater priority to the Israeli High Command given that it is much closer to Israel itself and a capture of the Golam Heights by Syrian forces would allow them straight into Israel itself.

Two, a miscalculation of the part of the Syrian High Command which assumed that it would take at least 24 hours for Israeli Reservist Forces to arrive to supplement the current Golam Height defences. Instead, the first forces arrived after about 15 hours from the inception of the war.

Three, the Syrian advance is thus far limited in part by their dependence on the protection of the SAM batteries as well as the flatter terrain, which diminishes the impact of their soviet-anti-tank weapons (unlike the more uneven terrain in Sinai).

Other Arab states while not providing troops have nevertheless aided the Egyptian and Syrain forces with weaponry and finance. In addition to this support, the USSR has also aided through the provision of armaments as well as military advice and expertise. In fact much of the armament on the part of the Arabs were Soviet manufactured. In contrast, Israeli stands alone in the midst of a hostile region. Their allies are primarily in the form of the USA and their Western allies. This, too, is reflected in the kind of armaments used.

Proposed Solutions

Due to the urgency of the matter, the immediate concern of the Security Council is to broker a cease-fire and stop the further incursion of the invading nations into Syria. In the absence of such a prospect, a decision will need to be made whether to call upon member nations to come to Israel's defence, repel the invasion and protect her territorial integrity.

Even should a cease-fire be broker, a legitimate issue that could be raised is to where the line of this new cease-fire should be. One of the major factors that led to the outbreak of this war was the dissatisfaction of the status quo by Egypt and Syria. Thus, a cease-fire and a stop to the hostilities are only the necessary first step towards the establishment of a longer-term peace plan. The situation as it stood prior to this crisis was unstable and a mere precursor to the war facing this council currently.

To avoid a repetition of a similar occurrence, there needs to be a resolution passed that would be amenable to all the parties concerned in this situation and generate a lasting solution. Thus, the policy must satisfy not just the Syrians and Egyptians and by extension the Arab world, but must also take into account the concerns and willingness of the Israelis to this proposal. Just as importantly, considerations must also be taken of the interests and concerns of the Americans and the Soviets in the region.

Hence, some form of concession must be made on the part of the Israelis to a stricter adherence to Resolution 242, which would include giving up land in Sinai and the Golam Heights. However, the Egypt and Syria must understand that the Israelis would not lightly give up a security buffer without some concession as to the recognition of their state or even more fundamentally their right to exist i.e. a land for peace proposal.

Countries are reminded not to forget that the Israeli-Palestine problem still exists and that it is a sticking point with the other Arab nations for various reasons. A proposal that can solve this together with the rest at one fell swoop is an option. Alternatively, a proposal can be a lot more modest and focuses exclusively at the tension fault-lines of the hostile nations before another can of worms is opened.

So while the general framework is there, it is not set in stone. In particular the exact terms of this compromise has not been determined. Thus, even before such a consideration can take place, there are a number of methods and venues whereby this could achieved. For example, this could be a UN led directive from start to finish. Alternatively, the superpowers can facilitate individual agreements between the hostile nations.

Bloc Positions

This is not the height of the Cold War and in fact, relations between the two superpowers have vastly improved form the relative depths of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Since then the two superpowers have been very cautious in their dealings for fear of being dragged into a wider conflict i.e. to keep the Cold War a cold one and not nuclear Armageddon. The USA's sphere of influence within the Middle East is generally limited to and by its unstinting support of Israel. And as such, it can be counted upon to provide (military) aid and supplies in Israel's defence. Furthermore, in the past year or so, Egypt under President Sadat has begun making overtures and being friendlier to the USA and they could in turn leverage on this new found friendliness to rapidly establish restrain.

Conversely, the Egypt has begun to drift away from the Soviet's influence and it remains to be seen if it survives this conflict. While possibly grateful for the weaponry, the Soviet betrayal and the subsequent expulsion of the Soviet military observers limits the influence that the USSR can wield on them. As relations remain cool, the Soviets if desirous to expend their influence in the Middle East could take this opportunity to correct their position and reverse their losses.

Egypt and Syria both desire a return of the land they lost as a result of the 1967 Six-Day War. However, they viewed the war differently. While President Sadat saw it merely as inflicting a limited military victory as a precursor to negotiations, President Assad saw it as a purely military exercise to reclaim the Golam Heights. And only when the Golam Heights were reclaimed would concessions come from Israel.

In addition, Egypt has a strong domestic reason to invade. President Sadat knew that Egypt was in shambles and needed deep unpopular reform. Such reform could only be implemented without a threat to his position if he could gain a military victory and boost his popularity. Furthermore, in the past three years in power, he had been beset by huge protests over his inactivity in not invading Israel and reclaiming the lands.

There is no Arab State, which recognises the State of Israel. But while certain states have demonstrated a minimal level of restrain and not actively confronted Israel e.g. Jordan, Lebanon and the United Arab Republic, certain other states have denied that Israel has a right to exist e.g. Syria which has been sponsoring a war against Israel since the 1960s. However, there is no monolithic position despite the Arab League's support of the war. The various states have various positions on the war not least because of the historical enmity that has existed between these states since time immemorial or even more recently. For example, King Hussein of Jordan was extremely reluctant to get involved in the war. He had lost a lot of territory during the 1967 war and feared losing more. Furthermore, an alliance struck between President Sadat and Yasser Arafat saw Sadat promising the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) land in the West Bank and Gaza in the event of the victory. King Hussein, however, saw the West Bank as still belonging to Jordan and was extremely displeased with this bargain. King Hussein also has a huge population of Palestinian refugees on his territory bordering Israel who fully expect to go back soon and have made no intention to integrate into Jordan.

Furthermore, relations between President Assad and King Hussein have been very strained since the Black September Incident of 1970 where a conflict between Jordan and the PLO saw the Syrians aiding and abetting the PLO. In addition, Palestian and Syrian attacks on Israel were often conducted from Jordan.

Leading up to the war, President Sadat went on a diplomatic and charms offensive in a bid to win support for it. As a result he can claim to have the backing of over a hundred nations. Amongst the more notable organisations and countries are the Arab League, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organisation for African Unity. He also has had some notable success in Europe, which saw Britain and France actually voting against Israel in the Security Council for the first time recently. In fact, in the lead up to the war, West Germany became one of Egypt's largest suppliers of material.

However, it is to be expected than there will be variance in their actual support for the current war in the Middle East. This variance would also translate into different visions of what the Middle East should and ought to look like post-conflict and in particular variance of opinions of the Israeli state, Resolution 242, the Palestinian problem and where the new boundaries should be set.

Questions a Resolution must answer

If the invading parties refuse to accept a cease-fire, should the Security Council call upon the member nations to defend Israel?

Should the invading parties be condemned for their invasion or should it be seen as the result of Israel's obstinacy and its breach of Resolution 242?

If the cease-fire is to be recommended, should there be a timeline as to when and how the cease-fire should proceed? And if so, what would be the required and mandate actions to be performed on the part of the parties involved?

Should a cease-fire be brokered where are the new lines of cease-fire to be drawn?

How should Resolution 242 be interpreted in light of this crisis?

What should be done about the unsatisfactory state of affairs, especially with reference to the Israeli occupation of occupied territory?

Similarly what ought to be done about the non-recognition of Israel as a proper state by the Arab nations and their generally hostile attitude?

Should the United Nations broker the deal between all the warring parties or should it be handled by the individual states separately or even with the facilitation of the superpowers?

Should there be a time-line set out as to the creation of lasting solution through a peace deal? If so, what would some of the benchmark actions be and how would they be enforced if it were decided that it should be enforced?

What about the Palestinian Problem? Is it to be address concurrently or separately from this issue?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

India is seeking to codify the rules on outsourcing

*Do I sense a possible compromise here?*

Well either that or even more protectionism.

One of the theories behind the need for protections is a converse notion of UNILATERAL liberalisation. Some people have seen tarrifs as a form of commodity that one could use to 'trade' with another country in a bid to cause both countries to lower their protectionistic barriers towards each other. So if I give up my tarrifs against your cars, you give it up against my cotton etc. And in a similar vein, Europe and the US could theoretically persuade India to stop leading with Brazil, the G20 in oppostion with them and viola, it leads to a massive liberalisation of capital and services.

But other than the fact that that is like throwing rocks into your habour just because other's are doing so, it faces a bigger problem. Like batter trade, it has to be something both sides want, a mutual meeting of interest. And the reason why 'money' took off was because it lowered transactional cost in terms of scouting around and attempting to find someone who wanted your goods while having goods that you wanted.

Furthermore, this is the WTO, which means that what is decided is binding on all its members (ostensibly, see the Banana war for how the rules can nevertheless be distorted). And it's better than the alternative of bilateral deals on pure mathematics. One single multilateral deal is much preferable to a whole series of bilateral deals to get the same effect. Between 5 nations, you effective need 10 bilateral deals between all of them to replicate the same effect. And smaller countries do lose out in terms of bargaining power.

Thus the bigger danger is that in return for India backing down on its calls for outsourcing, Europe gets to keep its farm tariffs. Which would be tragic for almost everyone including India and Europe. In case anyone has forgotten what happened at the Doha round. The round was to talk about the 'Singapore Issues' which mainly had to do with further liberalisation of capital (and a codification of the rules). This was held up by a number of grievances, some more legitimate than others. The legitimate one involved the really horrid CAP in Europe which not only screws over more efficient and cheaper manufacturers of food e.g. Brazil but force consumers in the EU to pay anything up to 6 times higher than prevailing market prices on basic commodities e.g. sugar (the rest tends to hover about 2-3 times more). teh illegitimate one involved the G20 screaming that increased financial liberalisation was a form of neo-imperialism. Except that in every case, a persistent unsustainable budget deficit, miserable transparency and accountability at the financial infrastructure level and a whole load of bad loans precipitated the financial crisis, not free capital flows.

So anyway, if a protectionist deal is made, no one benefits BUT there will be no political cost either (after all, who ever listens to the 'ivory-tower' academics until something goes wrong anyway). The problem with liberalisation of trade, services, goods, people and capital is that the cost is obvious i.e. people lose their jobs etc. but the gains are not significantly apparent e.g. cheaper everything, peace, stability and mroe jobs. But looking at it from a politicians point of view, those people who benefit from liberalisation aren't going to be aware it's because of globalisation but the people who suffer are going to know it and vote you out.

So economic reality meets political rationality, who do you think tends to win out?


Saturday, December 10, 2005

*It's the simple things in life*

One of the things about being a university student, is that with a bit of luck and a little planning, there will be days where you will be able to sleep in. Something that I'm used to as well as desperately need since 7 hours of sleep seem insufficient for me.

Unfortunately then, with my internship, it means having to wake at 7 a.m. everyday while generally not being able to get to sleep before midnight. So waking up groggy everyday simply brings back bad memories of NS.

So it was with greatest pleasure that I ended up waking up at 1 p.m. today. Granted I missed Sunday morning cartoons but it was a trade-off worth making (not that there was any chance of me waking up early enough today anyways).

Anyway, for those upset by the lack of substantive blogging and for those who aren't simply interested in biology and theology, I'm afraid that you're just going to have to wait a little longer.

But for those actually seeking substance of matter on a Sunday morning, I point you to Skeptic's Circle. Note in particular the section on the ongoing saga of the HIV/AIDS denailist and the rebuttals put up. In particular, for those uninterested in the medical aspects (having been sufficiently persuaded by the wealth of evidence documenting the link between HIV and AIDS), consider the legal question of what liabilities (including and particularly with reference to criminal ones) should accrue to a mother, a spokeswoman for such denialist, who caused the death of her child because she refused to take the drugs that would prevent the transmission of the virus to her baby and then breastfed her thereby causing the virus to be transmitted to the child.

The child, Eliza Jane subsequently died from complications due to AIDS by way of a ear infection. Belief systems can kill sometimes, especially if they are false ones.


Thursday, December 08, 2005

*I'm not dead, just busy*

If you need to contact me for whatever reason, email me using my work email. You can find out the address from Her.

You will be assured for a reply. This will likely not be the case if you call or sms me.


Sunday, December 04, 2005

*Teach the 'Controvesy'*

Alive and Well: AIDS Alternative contends the following:

"Did You Know....
Many experts contend that AIDS is not a fatal, incurable condition caused by HIV? That most of the AIDS information we receive is based on unsubstantiated assumptions, unfounded estimates and improbable predictions? That the symptoms associated with AIDS are treatable using non-toxic, immune enhancing therapies that have restored the health of people diagnosed with AIDS and that have enabled those truly at risk to remain well?"

Now, doesn't this sound familiar to you?

Better still, here are the some of the 'alternatives' he proffers as an alternative to the HIV-AIDS link. Me thinks it involves a mistake of confusing correlation with causality and above all reverse causality.

Here's something from Quackwatch, a site I really like in relation to medical quackary, "The Evidence that HIV Causes AIDS".

And for more things "weird and wonderful" on the net, check out Crank.Net. It's an incredible eyeopener as to what people will believe.


Friday, December 02, 2005

*Creationism Tridux*

I'm not sure what comes after Redux. But the good physician gives a reply to my replies here. Have fun ploughing through it.

My stance is that I see no need to make any additional replies to Dr Loke as I am confident that my readers are rational beings, capable of differentiating between science and theology. It may just be very well that my "anti-supernatural bias" and the good physician's anti-natural bias mean that our debate will always be at cross purposes. Except that Science limits itself by methodology to the natural and material because it is testable and it works. Unless the supernatural becomes testable, it has no place in Science.

I will make no personal comment about his appendix on the cosmological argument for god except to direct readers to TalkReason and in particular the section on Counter-Apologetics and this article.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

*Not Tonight, I've got a headache*

No updates. Off to bed. If anyone wants to sell a copy of Advance War 2 for the GBA please drop me a mail or comment. Thanks!