Friday, January 27, 2006

Pro-Create: a reply to catherine lim
me, myself and I: A response to a response to Catherine Lim

Both are good posts and touch on some rather importants points, including the nature of political discourse in Singapore and what choices are and have been made.

I'm going to attempt to make some comments on what are pretty cogent ones made above. And this will be by way of personal opinion, so I'm not going to pretend to speak for anyone else. This must be understood in the context that I doubt that I speak for the average man on the street and I think most people would laugh if I attempt to portray myself as a heartlander.

1. On the nature of political discourse in Singapore.

This lies at the heart of both posts. On the one hand, the first argues that Singaporeans have indeed made the choice of choicing economic growth and prosperity over that of individual rights and civil liberties and that as a party the PAP has fulfilled that need.

The second argues that it is premised on a fallacious argument that claims political democracy (or political pluralism if you will) is not mutually exclusive with economic growth (to be fair, no form of government is mutually exclusive with economic growth). That there really is no choice that one could speak of given the automatic formation of government and lastly questions whether if there had been a choice, whether it was an informed one.

I think they are actually both right.

The first one is persuasive insofar as it does explain the social contract that the PAP formed with society i.e. political power (and the corresponding loss of political dissent) in return for economic prosperity. This is something that the PAP has achieved in spades and it's track record is undeniably something that prompts a certain proportion of people to vote for it.
Similarly, that it has continued to deliver the goods probably prompts another segment of society to vote for it.

The second is persuasive in that it does show up some of the holes in the first's theory. And it does explain why the government probably feels the need to resort to what might be termed jerrymandering and to repeated trump the proportion of actual voters who got to vote that did vote for them.

I suppose here's where I come in. The way political discourse is shaped in Singapore and the manner in which electoral campaigning is done is that it does create the dicotomy that the first post mentions. The PAP will stress that this is an election about a tried and tested government against an inexperienced oppostion. But interestingly, even before elections begin, it will have already created an article of faith that says political democracy as incompetible with efficiency and economic growth. As a result, while it must be true to a certain extent that Singaporeans when voting in PAP candidates have this in mind, nevertheless, how important is the second factor compared to the first when it's not the most important electoral issue?

And as the second post points out, this must be further qualified by the fact that given that the government has already been formed and that a good 2/3 of the electorate did not vote, what kind of choice was it really? As a result, the credibility of the choice is in question.

But what must also be added is this. The fact that people actually vote in opposition members must say something. But what does it say? One argument would go that it is like trying to have your cake and eat it. That because the government has been formed and good times are likely to roll and all they want is a dissenting voice in parliament. As a result, all it merely says is that people put economic growth first and then civil libeties.

However, given the very particular factual matrix of Singapore, where during elections, the PAP has acted AS the state and said like in the Cheng San GRC situation to delay upgrading if they voted in the opposition, then I think that an argument could be made that where in the face of this implied threat that nevertheless the opposition came close to winning, or in fact have won despite knowing that there will be a problem because of the PAP controlled grassroots (and rejecting upgrading etc.), that this is not a situation where 'civil liberties' come without personal cost.

But let's take this on a more fundamental level. Given the walkovers, can the 33% of electorate who actually voted be considered representative of the entire populace and their desires and aspirations? Without having more information, it is probably impossible to say.

To further complicate matters, what is really being said when an opposition member is actually voted in? Can it be said that they are voting for the opposition party's manifesto? I think that generally cannot be true simply because not being able to form the government means that they will not be able to implement their manifesto.

But even where it could be said that people voted for this opposition member on the basis of the manifesto, can it really be said to be a vote for civil liberties? Because as far as I'm aware, quite a few of these opposition parties are actually rather populist in nature and advocate crowd pleasers like welfare (which I personally agree with on moral and some economic grounds). So arguably then, a vote for the opposition is not a vote for civil liberties (although the rallies do mention this of course).

So maybe, what it really is, is politics of personality rather than politics of policy. The grassroot ties that Mr. Low and Mr. Chiam has created and strengthened over the years were more than sufficient to weather whatever slings and arrows shot in their direction.

2. Personal Experience

I'm very much a supporter of a liberal secular democratic regime but also one that supports the PAP in almost everything except domestic electoral politics. But this is also shaped by the fact that I don't think the opposition is really good enough. Which is not a surprise given the usual electoral tactics, the generally apolitical electorate and the PAP's policy of coopting not only the best (who would not have join any party on their own) but also the so-called dissidents e.g. Dr. Vivian.

As a result, I cannot say for certain that I will vote in an opposition member unless I think he's capable of raising pertinent and relevant issues in parliamentary debate. If not, I would much rather go help put in an NMP who I think can cut it instead.

By way of illustration here's what happened a couple of months ago. As a member of the YoungRepublic (a non-partisan internet mailing group which discusses various issues), there came to be a certain WP member who basically told us the party's strategy. Note, this was way before the manifesto was published or announced and he said that because the WP could not form a government, therefore it would not try to even propose policies but would simply act as an opposition in an All Asians Debate format i.e. just rebutt.

What was interesting was that it was the most 'liberal' members of the mailing list who took him to task and basically said that if that were the case, there would be no point voting on the basis of a party but solely on the basis of the candidate (which might hurt the WP in a three way fight).

After the fifth mail, he disappeared from the discussion. But hey there's the manifesto now which we hope we played some small part in creating I suppose.


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*Ta-ta: Off to Bangkok*

Alrighty then. The author is off to Bangkok to take advantage of the favourable exchange rate, cost of living and the joys of cheap legal DVDs through parallel imports.

He will still generally be contactable by email. Shopping requests subject to availability and luggage capacity.


Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Daily: Designing the Future

Alright, some of you readers, including the regular ones might be wondering why I am reading, much less referencing a Student's Newspaper. Well, apart from the fact that I'm very impressed they put it out daily (in contrast to the monthly magazine format adopted by the Universities here), it's also the University I'll be attending on exchange a couple of months down the road.

Anyway, this appears to be the second in a series written by the same lady whose article I commented on yesterday. Unfortunately, today's isn't much better. Now I am not just wondering whether she even read Judge Jones' decision, but also why she doesn't approach the BIOLOGY faculty and get the information from a real expert. Yes people, every time we cite a source or reference, it IS an appeal to (rightful) authority.

Personal comments in regular script, actual article in blockquotes.

This past fall, intelligent design stormed the media with a controversial court case in Dover, Penn.

Eleven parents of students in Dover sued the Dover-area school district over its proposal to change the ninth-grade biology curriculum to teach an alternative intelligent design theory in conjunction with Charles Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection.

I can't stress it enough how the word theory has a very different meaning in our regular usage (guess or hypothesis) as opposed to the scientific one (something that explains a set of disparate facts, hypotheses and which has strong explanatory and predictive powers). So the question then becomes, is ID a theory in the scientific sense of the word? And there really is nothing better than to quote what the Dr. Behe, proponent of ID had to say on the stands. When pressed in cross-examination he conceded he rejected the scientific definition and that under his definition of theory (and for ID to fit under it), astrology would be considered a 'theory' as well.

Intelligent design is a theory that states the universe is so complex an "intelligent designer" must have created it.

The plaintiffs successfully argued that intelligent design is a form of creationism, and the judge ruled intelligent design as unconstitutional -- baring it from public school science classrooms.

This case is important to the intelligent design world, most prominently because the judge deemed intelligent design as an academic study in a public classroom a violation of the separation between church and state.

Now it is technically true that the judge did and could have made his ruling on this very narrow ground i.e. whether ID violated the separation of Church and State via way of the "Lemon" Test.

But he did go further to examine if ID was even science. And just a quick glance over at his judgment would reveal a very resounding no.

While proponents of intelligent design want to tag the theory as 'Christian,' they are having a difficult time proving to the mass population what they believe as true: That intelligent design is a form of science, not religion.

Believe? By definition, ID is not scientific. The difficulty in persuading the 'masses' has more to do with how much more publicity (rather than research) the IDers are pumping out (something like 100 times as much PR as they are research per day).


The biggest criticism to the intelligent design theory may be the lack of substantial evidence and proof. Senior Tara Smiley, a biology and earth and space sciences major, says she can't consider intelligent design a scientific theory because it can't be tested using scientific method -- or any other.

"There's just no experiment that's relevant to determining if God exists or if a designer exists -- there's just no way to prove it, it's not scientific by scientific standards," Smiley says.

Intelligent design has been tagged a veiled version of creationism- -- the belief in the literal interpretation of the account of the creation of the universe and of all living things related in the Bible.

If the shoe fits. There are a couple of posts over at Panda's Thumb that detail every single line ever uttered by the major proponents about how ID must necessarily mean 'God'. Oddly enough, they only say this in front of Christian crowds and promptly talk about 'naturalistic explanations' like aliens and time travellers in a less biased public forum. Draw your own conclusions.

Still, many scientists involved with intelligent design hold that the debate is about two distinct scientific theories: Darwinism and intelligent design. Mark Bergin, an intelligent design beat writer for World Magazine, a weekly news magazine written from a Christian perspective, explains he doesn't think it's likely we've mutated into the complex organisms we are today. Take the human eyeball for instance. Intelligent design proponents would say the eye is so complex to have been created by thousands of random mutations. There had to be someone behind it.

"There are a thousand things that have to happen for the human eyeball to see," says Bergin. "If you take one of those things away, the human eyeball is completely worthless. So for those thousand mutations that happened over time, there's no way an eyeball would have survived unless all thousand things happened instantaneously."

*Wince* okay to be fair, I don't think the IDers (Dembski and Co) ever used the eye as a form of IC. That's a creationist canard and um was even addressed by Charles Darwin in his original book (and that was before he knew of genetic inheritance). Anyway, we have a very good idea of how the eye developed because it has independently evolved 40 times over in various organisms. So no, not really a problem for Evolution.

Bergin points out that evolution has holes as a theory. But its supporters say that evolution has the most scientific evidence to support it -- even with its holes.

"Yes, there are still holes in the evolution theory," agrees Smiley. "But ... despite these holes [which] lot of intelligent design people use as evidence for intelligent design ... they don't have any positive evidence for their theory."

Let's do a quick thought experiment here. We all know what gravity is. We all have observed it. But what causes the attraction between masses? What is the current scientific theorem and how old is it? Yes people, there are holes in the theory of gravity.

Bergin says researchers are currently looking at complex systems in life and trying to reduce them one mutation at a time, but trying to find proof that organisms are not mutated together one part at a time, but instead created simultaneously.

"[Researchers are studying the question of] if we take out one mutation can the cell function and live, or will it just die?" Bergin says. "What they're finding is -- you can't even take one thing away. Every single part has to be there for it to live. That leads them to believe all these things had to happen at once."

Now, I still like to believe in the goodness of People so I'm going to put this down to ignorance or editing.

Firstly, he who asserts must prove. Provide an example of this happening.

Secondly, we know of 'complex systems' which can survive without one or even 40 'mutations'. Let's take two standard examples of ID. One, the blood clotting mechanism; we know that Dolphins lack Factor 12 and yet still is capable of having a system that works and confers upon it evolutionary advantages. Two, the bacteria flagellum, when 40 proteins are removed, it becomes a Type II Secretor i.e. a form of bacterial syringe.

Or better still, we had the opportunity to see how nylon-'eating' and TNT-'eating' bacteria have evolved. The amazing thing is that the nylon one uses junk (repetitive) DNA to form the necessary enzyme while the TNT one evolved through a 7 stage mechanism.

And we know these because Scientist are doing research. And the more we know, the less gaps there will be in our knowledge and ID becomes ever more hollow.


Perhaps the hottest issue surrounding intelligent design right now is about what is appropriate to teach in public science classrooms.

"The debate in public schools [is centered on people who are committed to Darwinism evolution and want to lump intelligent design and creationism together," Bergin says.

Because it is? Again, until they come up with a new textbook, the one that is pushed by the DI is called Of Pandas and Men. What is very significant about the book is that it has undergone numerous revisions and editions. So if one plots a graph of year versus mention of ID or Creationism you see that for the first few years, creationism dominates the book with a few mentions of ID.

But something happened in 1988 when SUDDENLY, the word creationism disappear and in their place the word Intelligent Design appeared. It's was a simple use of the ctrl-F and replace function. The reason for this abrupt change is because of the US Supreme Court ruling the teaching of Creationism unconstitutional.

Even though proponents of intelligent design insist on it being a scientific theory, it is still widely being seen as a violation of church and state by courtrooms. Bergin says at least evolution should be presented in science classrooms as an incomplete theory -- not indisputable fact. Bergin says once theories are discussed as fact, they are established into some sort of religion.

"Can't we at least teach the problems in the theory? And if we can't teach the problems we're not teaching a theory anymore," says Bergin. "We're teaching a dogma."

Sure, one could teach the problems in the theory. But the thing is they want to teach the problems OF the theory on the basis of their religious inclinations. The controversy about Evolution is primarily a political and PR one NOT a scientific one.

How is it dogma? That's akin to saying that gravity is dogma because we don't teach the problems with the theory. It's like saying fine, things 'fall' down but you know gravity doesn't explain how big masses revolve around one another. It can't be gravity because there's no 'down'. Anyway, again, the problems with the theory have more to do with the exact mechanisms rather than the theory itself.

Many opponents of intelligent design do not want it being taught in science classrooms because of the lack of scientific evidence.

"I have no problems with it being taught in theology or in any other realm, but it's not science," says Smiley. "It really frustrates me that people want this to be included in a scientific curriculum at the high school level without first convincing the scientific community of its truthfulness."

That's right! I mean, consider EVERY SINGLE theory that overthrew the consensus. It was by dint of research and persuasion. Not going to court and fighting it out in the realm of public opinion. That isn't Science!

For the most part, people who support intelligent design are not looking to stop evolution from being taught in schools, but they do want alternative theories being offered to students.

"So much of the [teaching in schools] is just spoon feeding kids information as opposed to teaching them to critically think for themselves," says Blythe McLoughlin, a senior majoring in microbiology. "I'm scared of spoon feeding people information that [they might] take as truth."

Fair enough, then teach them ALL the controversies. Teach them that germs don't cause diseases but diseases cause germs. Teach them that the link between HIV and AIDS is not true. What about anti-vaccination? Anti-fluoride? Not to mention the flat earth society still exists. Why simply single out Evolution?

What you are telling them is that ONLY Evolution is 'worthy' of being critically evaluated and not all of science. But even so, one still has to draw a distinction between science and pseudo-science.

Junior microbiology major Leah Hampson says she is frustrated that she has not gotten a more balanced view at the UW. Evolution is still a theory she says, yet in her biology classes it was taught as gospel.

"Even if I would have believed in evolution more, I still would have wanted a balanced perspective on intelligent design," says Hampson, adding she's read entire books about evolution in her UW classes--and she's only been assigned a paragraph about intelligent design.

As I said before balance DOES NOT EQUAL objective. It's like calling for a balanced view on Holocaust Denialist (which is rather fascinating I must say)

"I don't think as students, we were given a fair perspective at all," she says.

I think, giving them a balanced approach would be giving WAY TOO MUCH WEIGHT to ID. Read the freaking case already!


The future of the intelligent design movement lies largely within a building in Seattle's own backyard.

Located inside the non-profit Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank, the Center for Science and Culture helps to fund research, polls, advertising and education for and about intelligent design. It also acts as a consulting group for school boards nationwide interested in trying to challenge the dogma of evolution. Bergin says while the Discovery Institute is the intellectual force behind intelligent design, its destiny as a teachable theory lies in popular opinion.

"I do think that intelligent design will make it in public schools because one, we live in a democracy and two, a vast majority of people in this country want intelligent design to be taught alongside evolution in the schools," Bergin says.

This argument has never made sense to me. You don't teach lies/untruths in school simply because people believe it to be true. If anyone wants a reminder of how terrible that can be, see the Soviet Union or apartheid South Africa.

Just because a larger majority of people holds it to be true does not make it true. The entire history of civil rights is a story of minority oppression by majority opinion.

Science is different. It is not based on rhetoric, opinion or guess. It is empirical and objective (or at least a lot more objective than other studies). Until we get prove positive of the supernatural, Evolution is here to stay.


The Daily of the University of Washington

*Special feature on ID*
A supposed closer look at ID

One of the biggest problems with journalism arguably is that there is a confusion that results in a conflation of the notion of 'objective' with that of 'balanced'. The problem is, where some ideas are obviously wrong, then a balanced approach gives a very false impression i.e. the creation of a controversy where there is none. Not unlike I would submit, anti-vaccination and HIV/AIDS link denialist.

What is even more puzzling is given the very extensive 139 page report by Judge Jones in the recent Dover, PA trial, how is it then that an article of this sort could still be written. One should keep an open mind but not to the point where your brain falls out.

Anyway, actual article in blockquotes, personal comments in normal script.

No one can say for sure where the world came from. Everyone has a different speculation for how the world began and how human beings got here.

I think this paragraph should be heavily qualified to distinguish between on the one hand, scientific explanations and on the other metaphysical ones. Science has a pretty good idea of both i.e. how the world began and how we got here. But where science has deliberately limited itself to naturalistic explanation, it is actually not incompatible to hold a scientific viewpoint while concurrently subscribing to a metaphysical one. Thus I think that in principle, science cannot discount the divine simply because by definition the divine resides outside of nature. Alternatively, the divine can make it such that it appears entirely natural.

Now, I think it's an eminently reasonable position to hold that until there is actual tangible evidence of the supernatural, I'm simply going to accept that The World Is, that nature and the material is all, no more no less.

Senior Tara Smiley thinks humans are related to monkeys, trees and all other organisms on the earth. In that case, humans have evolved to slightly more complex (and arguably attractive) beings than our ancestors, but that doesn't mean it's always been this way. Smiley, who said she grew up in the "Bible belt" of the United States, came to the UW from South Carolina. But she isn't like many of the people she grew up with who are fiercely religious and therefore defenders of creationism and the idea Earth was created by God. She's a double major in biology and earth and space sciences -- and believes in evolution.

Believes? I think it's more fair to say she accepts it on the basis of overwhelming evidence.

Ed Dunnington, campus minister for Reformed University Fellowship at the UW, has a different take. He finds Darwinism as a very depressing theory. He doesn't believe in it for many reasons, but particularly because it alludes to life being meaningless. And who wants to live a meaningless life?

Well at least he's honest I suppose. Not terribly imaginative but honest. In a manner of speaking, he would limit the abrahamic deity construct in what it can or cannot do. Odd really if one believes in an omnipotent being.

Anyway, to find the truth depressing is one thing, but to want to construct a lie and force yourself to believe in it to avoid the truth is another. I find oxidation terribly depressing (because oxidation causes the death of cells and the end of life) but I'm not about to pull an Alex Chiu and believe that putting magnetic rings on my toes will give me immortality (I kid you not, just do a quick google search on him).

"If I have morphed from the primordial slime and have evolved into this [human form], and when I die that's the end, then my question is what meaning or significance is there to life?" Dunnington asked rhetorically. "The implication [of evolution] is that life's kind of pointless."

Assume that the non-existence of 'god' is an independent reality i.e. regardless of whether you believe/accept it, it would still occur (not unlike theories like gravity) then the only question is this, would the good minister still think his life was meaningless? If so, then he might well be living a lie. If not, then it is indeed possible to lead a 'meaningful' (whatever that means) life regardless of beliefs.

I think it's rather infantile to find that Life only has meaning because there is a 'god'. I think we make what we will of life. We construct our own meaning of life.

The age old debate of Darwinism versus creationism has recently grown in complexity with the addition of the theory of intelligent design to the mix. Intelligent design has been storming the media and classrooms across the nation----including at the UW--where a class within the biology department will be taught in the spring focusing on intelligent design as a theory. While some say it is a scientific study valid for the classroom, others argue it's merely creationism dressed in sheep's clothing -- and has no place in a classroom.

ID isn't new. It's the age old philosophical argument from design. Nothing has changed, whatever gaps in our knowledge that exist is used as proof of design.

And oh someone didn't do a fact check before publication. Here's what the biology course is about. ID will not be taught as a theory. Instead the courses are to help students distinguish between science and non-science. I think it's also worth pointing out that there's no scientific debate.

"Maybe there is somebody behind it"

In the 1990s, intelligent design emerged as a national movement that lies somewhere between creationism and evolution -- and has been making a splash in politics, religion and classrooms ever since.

Intelligent design is defined as a claim that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent designer rather than natural selection. The proponents of intelligent design argue that the theory stands on equal footing with, or is superior to, other scientific theories regarding the origin of life.

"Because of the irreducible complexity [of the universe], there had to be an intelligent designer of all things," Dunnington said. "You're at least saying: Maybe there is somebody behind it."

So now it's a maybe? Well I could believe in an intelligent designer insofar as it is one who set the universe in motion at the beginning and does not interfere in our lives, much less created us. Nature as Deity to put it in shorthand. No the personal god that Dunnington believes in.

Anyway what is irreducibly complex? Blood cascade? Nope. Bacteria flagellum? Nope. But wait, how does one define IC again without it being a negative argument? It's a false ditochomy really. Complexity is not incompatible with evolution. Neither is 'god' incompatible with Evolution.

Intelligent design as an idea has been around for thousands of years, but the movement that brought more visibility -- and contention -- to the topic was initiated by Phillip Johnson, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in the mid 1990s. Johnson evaluated the evidence and arguments for Darwinism and became convinced that the case for evolution was less tangible than scientific evidence could prove.

Today, scientists are continuing scientific research on the theory, which is becoming a strong presence in the nation's political and media forces.

What scientists? What research? What peer-reviewed publications? What citations of those apparent research have appeared? Have they actually spurred further research? All no.

"Intelligent design says the universe is far too complex to be explained by random chance -- this amount of complexity resuscitates that there was a designer," said 2003 UW graduate Mark Bergin, who works as a sports reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and an intelligent design beat writer for World Magazine, a weekly news magazine written from a Christian perspective. "We just intuitively know that when we see something, it didn't happen randomly -- it happened by design."

We just intuitively know.... Great scientific explanation. It's primarily an argument from incredulity. I wonder what he thinks that Behe accepts the entire oxy-hemoglobin exchange system as being NOT IC. Paley's 18th Century Theory was taken down even by other theologians and logicians. The neo-'theory' simply cloaks itself with semblance of science without much else.

There's also the problem of us having evolved and trained to look for and recognise patterns which we unfortunately tend to ascribe design to. Snowflakes anyone?

A religious theory?

Intelligent design as a theory is often contrasted with Darwinism, the theory of biological evolution by natural selection which states that all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual's ability to compete, survive, and reproduce.

"Darwinism". Right. It's really a creationist term. So are we going to start calling gravity "Newtonism" or Special Relativity "Einsteinism"? Oh and it doesn't have to increase the individual's ability to compete, survive and reproduce. It simply has to be benign. And the nice think about these benign mutations is that they sometimes end up being terribly useful down the road. Like for example, the evolution of nylon or TNT 'eating' bacteria.

"Evolution has withstood the test of the scientific community over time," Smiley said.

150 years and loads of lawsuits.

Darwinism is commonly tagged as the theory believed by atheists, while people who say they believe in a God tend to believe in creationism as the answer to how the world began. Bergin says, however, that although many Christians, Jews, Muslims and other theistic faiths tend to support the intelligent-design theory, it shouldn't be used synonymously with creationism.

And let's not forget the Theistic Evolutionist who have no difficulties reconciling an omnipotent, omniscience god with evolution (it can be reconciled with anything really).

And I suppose to tag ID with creationism is unfair to creationism. I mean at least they have testable falsifiable grounds and they actually make claims.

"Christians being drawn to intelligent design doesn't make it a Christian theory," Bergin said. "A very key distinction is that a religious view or argument must say who God is. Intelligent design doesn't do that -- it doesn't even say that there is a God necessarily."

Being more than slightly disingenuous here. Haven't people heard of the Wedge Document, what Jonathan Well's mission is and what the Discovery Institute plans to do? Babarra Forrest calls ID the Trojan horse of creationism and that was accepted by Judge Jones for a reason.

It's also highly disingenuous in that the doyens of ID have repeated said in public (often to Christian crowds) that the Intelligent Designer is the Christian God. While I suppose it is true that it does not in principle require 'god', it would ultimately require the supernatural. Or we could just accept Behe who said it could be time travellers.

Despite the fact that intelligent design supporters are hesitant to affiliate their theory with religion, opponents of intelligent design say if you're a believer in the theory, it's likely you also believe in God.

"I don't see any other way [to verify it]," Smiley said. "Intelligent design is creationism trying to hide that it's creationism - it's creationism dressed up in a fancy suit so that it can be more widely accepted."

Not just more widely accepted. But also to get pass the Supreme Court rulings that creationism is not science.

However, some are comforted finding their answers to their religions and scientific questions in the same place -- their faith in God.

"I think it's hard to believe in evolution if you are a Christian, because if you are a Christian, you're saying first that there is a God and second that he created the world," said Leah Hampson, a junior majoring in microbiology.

So we're back to God now. And God couldn't have used naturalistic mechanisms to create the world? So it's not omniscient? I have many Christian friends who accept Evolution. What makes his religious viewpoint and lack of scientific knowledge masqurading as informed opinion better than said friends?

"Everybody has a world view"

It isn't only a belief in a God that creates a chasm in the intelligent design versus Darwinism dispute. Dunnington believes that a strong reason that this topic is heavily debated is because it encompasses a person's entire world view -- a very personal realm in which one interprets and understands the world around them.

If that were the case, everyone who accepted science or lived in the world would not believe in the supernatural.

Anyway, why not read what Prof Ken Miller had to say in "Finding Darwin's God" or his testimony in the Dover Trial.

While Dunnington equates evolution to a lacking or meaningless life, Smiley views her life -- and evolution -- a little differently.

"I don't find it depressing at all that life can be so random yet work so perfectly together," said Smiley. "I don't like that mentality of there's no point through evolution. I guess that [intelligent-design proponents] would be saying that God makes them a good person -- that they wouldn't inherently be a good person without God. I find that depressing."


Smiley holds the view that evolution is most consistent with reality. However others believe in a different truth, depending on what their personal definition of "reality" is, proving "world views" differ dramatically depending on who you talk to.

Kick a stone and tell me you refute reality. Heh, the post-modern critique being used by the Right. For some fun, check out the Sokal Debacle. Very very funny.

"The way I look at it is what is most consistent with the world around us -- what is most consistent with the way in which we live. Intelligent design is most consistent, I believe," Hampson said. "It's difficult for me to honestly believe that things happen by chance. Things that happen by chance never happen that perfectly. Even if I were to reach my hand in my drawer and pull out two socks, very rarely would I pull out two matching socks."

Getting the feeling it's like, "I don't want to believe, lah lah lah, I can't hear you?"

And obviously not understanding how chemistry and biology and physics work. It's one thing to say that 1000 monkeys banging on 1000 keyboards will take X number of years to type out a Shakespearean Manuscript. But what if inbuilt in those typewriters is a refusal to acknowledge when a wrong letter is typed? That is how Evolution works. Of course, having billions of years doesn't hurt it chances.

I think Dover is highly significant because ID had its chance to portray its best case in a primarily Republican place in front of a Lutheran Conservative Republican (and Republican appointed) Judge. At the end and 139 pages later, it's very clear it is not Science.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

*More fun with Public Law readings*
- Wherein meritocracy in a multi-racial society

This time, something that Constitutional Law expert Kevin Tan wrote Kevin Tan & Lam Peng Er, Managing Political Change in Singapore: The Elected Presidency (Routledge, 1997) 52 at 68-69 caught my eye. He said (firstly):

"The office of the head of state has often been seen in the past as a unifying component in the Westminster constitutional set-up. The role of the ceremonial head of state, no matter how trivial and formal, is an important one. Loyalty is owed to the state as epitomized by the President, and it is he who provides the rallying point for all nationalist sentiment. This function is particularly so in multi-racial, multi-religious Singapore"

I personally think that this may be too sweeping an assertion and a generalisation to be accurate. I think that one of the legacies of the colonial era and the subsequent independent fight is that the state is embodied in a ideal, it's presence as an entity is felt. I do not think it is embodied in the Presidency as the head of state. The chasm between the state as an entity and the president as its head is too wide to be bridged. No person or mortal can hope to embody the state and I think there is this residue ditochomy still inherent in our makeup. All this notwithstanding that we pledged alliegence to the President and to defend the Constitution when serving National Service.

If so, then one need not have the President as head of state to rally around. One already has Singapore to channel our nationalist fevours towards. I think that Mr Tan may be right when in theory when he conflated the Head of State with the State (because that is technically what he/she is) but in reality, I think the Presidency is a much much more prosaic position. By way of negative argumentation, the fact the Mr Wee was 'identified' as a 'People's President' goes someway in showing how remote he is from our lives and identity.

Anyway, Mr Tan in his next paragraph goes on to describe the multi-racial makeup of our various Presidents, despite Singapore being a predominant ethnic Chinese country. And then he says, "Under the new scheme, the key function of the president is obliterated. No longer will the currency of race be exploited to unite the nation. The symbol of multi-racial Singapore is not lost. (footnote omitted in readings here). Neither will the president be seen as the benevolent, elder statesman or father figure who soothes the nation over in difficult times and patches up family quarrels, bring diverse factions together for the common good."

When I first read this, I have to confess that I wondered for a while if there was a printing error and some idealistic poetry text got accidentally inserted into the article. My other though does not bear reprinting here. I honestly have great difficulties swallowing this, it's all too mawkish and unrealistic.

Firstly, if the Presidency is indeed elected, then it is just as arguable the people just like when they elect the government are investing their personal desires and aspirations in the person, which in turn would actually strengthen their link to him.

Secondly, casting my mind back to the SilkAir crash, it seemed to me that the most prominent figure at the televised funeral was not the President but the then SM. Not to mention it might be worth watching the old National Day Parades to see who gets the most cheers.

But all this fluff aside, there is a deeper question of how one reconciles Kevin Tan's version of multi-racialism with the governmental practice of meritocracy. Because the manner in which he sets it out seems to be the most fundamental clash of equality of opportunity (meritocracy, I'm simplifying it here) with equality of result (multi-racialism in terms of every race getting a turn at the Presidency). I would think that quite a number would have the sentiment that the minorities Presidents were effective a sop thrown to the minority groups. I think Mr Nathan is credible because he was qualified enough to be a candidate and was elected into power. It is harder I would think on a theoretical level to think him having gotten there as a result of his race which Kevin Tan's approach of a merry-go-round would advocate.

However, I think it is more than possible to argue that equality of results may have its role to play see e.g. the GRC electoral system. It can act as a virtuous cycle to encourage minorities of whatever form to enter parliament and it can ensure that certain such voices will be heard.

My personal bias is that of equality of opportunity. I believe that people should have the inherent right to excel and I just as firmly believe that such excelling should be the result of inherent ability as opposed to pure luck (like being born to a richer household) which is why I advocate money being channelled into the vicinity of education, training and health because these more than anything other public service/welfare sector help to engender a level playing field.


p.s. Look out for ChewLin's piece coming soon

Monday, January 23, 2006

Brainwashing Sexuality Talk: Celebrate Life!
A celebration of Life!? Or simple repression

The above link is about the travails of an AJC student who had the misfortune of having to sit through an abstinence-only 'sexuality' workshop and having the brains to see why its wrong. I feel his pain.

To give you a taste of what he had to sit through, here's a sample assertion made, "Any sex outside of marriage demeans the true value of love & sexuality"

Now before I start asking all the akward questions that I so love to ask on these issues, here's something that NUS students should access through their eLibrary, it's an abstract from the January's Journal of Adolescent Health, entitled, "Abstinence and abstinence-only education: A review of U.S. policies and programs". According to ChewLin, the entire month's journal is good so go read it.

The following is the abstract:
Abstinence from sexual intercourse is an important behavioral strategy for preventing human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and pregnancy among adolescents. Many adolescents, including most younger adolescents, have not initiated sexual intercourse and many sexually experienced adolescents and young adults are abstinent for varying periods of time. There is broad support for abstinence as a necessary and appropriate part of sexuality education. Controversy arises when abstinence is provided to adolescents as a sole choice and where health information on other choices is restricted or misrepresented. Although abstinence is theoretically fully effective, in actual practice abstinence often fails to protect against pregnancy and STIs. Few Americans remain abstinent until marriage; many do not or cannot marry, and most initiate sexual intercourse and other sexual behaviors as adolescents. Although abstinence is a healthy behavioral option for teens, abstinence as a sole option for adolescents is scientifically and ethically problematic. A recent emphasis on abstinence-only programs and policies appears to be undermining more comprehensive sexuality education and other government-sponsored programs. We believe that abstinence-only education programs, as defined by federal funding requirements, are morally problematic, by withholding information and promoting questionable and inaccurate opinions. Abstinence-only programs threaten fundamental human rights to health, information, and life.

Now that's what I would call a damning indictment.

But back to the statement above, what exactly might/is wrong with it? Well, here are some questions.
1. Please define sex and what's wrong with any of its forms? If all we're talking about is vaginal intercourse then you run the very real risk that teenagers not knowing any better end up thinking it is justified to engage in activities like fallatio, cunninglingus and anal sex.

Now while anal sex will not result in pregnancy, the risk of contracting an STD goes up because of the likelihood of a tear in the rectum which would allow for the transmission of various STDs.

On the other hand, given that the risk of STDs from unprotected oral sex exists, you simply are not providing them with the knowledge and information that would protect them. And while granting that it is probably lower than vaginal or anal sex, nevertheless, if you're constantly going to bleat about minute possibilities of harm and consequences, then you have to accept this very real problem as well.

What about mutual masturbation? The risk of STDs of pregnancy are minute or next to none, so where's the harm? If I adopt a consequentialist notion of morality (say the Harm Principle or Utilitarianism) then where's the 'wrong' in this?

But say I don't adopt such a consequentialist stance, then what exactly is wrong with pre-marital sex? Which leads us on to the next question...

2. Why is sex immoral before marriage but not after?

Why marriage? What is marriage anyway? Whether it be today or in ancient Greece, one could well easily argue that marriage is simply an economic contract.

And if I choose to stay single? Does that mean I have to lead a life of celibacy? Especially when I'm not allowed to masturbate (see above link for yet another hillarious non-sequitor)?

The only way their argument works is if sex is PURELY for procreation. Sorry, no go hose. I definately do not subscribe to this notion. And if so, how is my normative belief any less valid than yours? And the plus side of my policy is that I at least come out better on the consequence side of things.

But even if we ignore that and say teenage sex is bad for whatever reason. Does this necessarily extend to adults? Even if I do not use the sexual age of consent as a guide, by the time I'm 16, I have the mental capacity to enter into a legal and binding employment contract i.e. selling my body and my skills for wages. By 18, I can smoke, drink, drive and in numerous ways kill myself in a slow and indirect way. I'll also be starting to serve my nation and can on my superior's orders kill someone overseas or even locally in times of war. By this time, I'll be long considered an adult with an adult's capacity when being sentenced. By 18, I can hang. By 21, I can vote and determine the nation's path, I can become an MP.

And I can't decide when to have sex?!

3. "demeans the true value of love and seuxality"

Wow, the post-modernist will have a field day with this. Given all of the above, how does it 'demean' the true value of love and sexuality? Especially when they define it in such an odious form (sex with contraceptives or homosexuality no better than masturbation?)

It's bad enough they try to define what love and sexuality is, but it's way way worse when they ill-define it.

For those who have not read "The Republican War on Science" by Chris Mooney, pick it up and read the chapter on pro-abstinence/abstinence-only sex education. That's a true misuse of science. Not unlike Intelligent Design (ID).



Sunday, January 22, 2006

*Addendum: White Elephant Saga*

In today's Straits Times, the Home Minister apparently admitted (according to the ST) that the balance between security and liberty was not properly struck in this incident. He said that the police "may have overreacted" in cautioning against the students' wearing the t-shirt. In fact he thought the police caution was "overly cautious and unnecesary".

While I certainly applaud this sentiment, it nevertheless is rather disturbing because of the implicit admission that the police were effectively telling them not to wear the t-shirt. I hope that this was not the intention of the police and a bare reading of what they did say does not necessary have to bear this intention (although it is not the likely interpretation I feel)

What brought more cheer was the following comment. Thought not in the actual article, the following comment was attributed to him in a side photo, "My thoughts were: What is the harm? I feel that this episode need not have happened and I am sorry to see that it happened."

And I think that this is probably the right approach. The government should not legislate or interfere if it doesn't have to.


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Friday, January 20, 2006

Teens' white elephant T-shirt venture gets police attention: TODAY

Do read the article, it's pretty well written and I think covers the major issues surrounding this controversy.

The facts are all in the article, so I'm not going to waste space by reiterating them. What I want to focus on is what the Police Spokeperson said because upon closer reading, it's a remarkably revealing statement.

"In view of the nature of the event, we had advised the organisers that they should be aware that the wearing of T-shirts en masse may be misconstrued by some as an offence under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public & Order & Nuisance) (Assemblies & Processions) Rules. Should Police receive any report or complaints, we would have to look into the matter. This is consistent with all reports made to the Police."

[Ed: For those who want to read the relevant act, go to and simply type in 184 in the box provided. Note, this is not the rules themselves so it really is of limited use]

On a bare reading of the statement itself, it's a factually and technically correct statement. Again, "In view of the nature of the event, we had advised the organisers that they should be aware that the wearing of T-shirts en masse may be misconstrued by some as an offence under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public & Order & Nuisance) (Assemblies & Processions) Rules". It's true that SOME people might indeed consider this to be an offence and hence report it. And yes, I suppose it would be true that the police would be bound to look into the matter.

The comment that I loved in this article was this, "Commenting on the latest police advisory, a grassroots leader remarked: "There's no reason for them to protest, because the station is going to be opened!"" In the context of the article, I'm taking it to mean that the ladies' actions COULD NOT be misconstrued as a form of protest because of the very fact that they were being worn at the opening ceremony of the station. This of course, would be an entirely different matter if this had been worn to a session to determine whether to open the station.

But even so, I suppose the question I would have to ask then is this. So what? Just because the police is obliged to look into it is really irrelevant to whether these students are allowed by law to wear the shirt. And if they were not, whether this had infringed upon their constitutional right to the freedom of speech, assembly and association as per Art 14 of the Constitution.

Freedom of speech, assembly and association
14. Â?(1) Subject to clauses (2) and (3) Â?

(a) every citizen of Singapore has the right to freedom of speech and expression;

(b) all citizens of Singapore have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms; and

(c) all citizens of Singapore have the right to form associations.

(2) Parliament may by law impose Â?

(a) on the rights conferred by clause (1) (a), such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof, friendly relations with other countries, public order or morality and restrictions designed to protect the privileges of Parliament or to provide against contempt of court, defamation or incitement to any offence;

(b) on the right conferred by clause (1) (b), such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof or public order; and

(c) on the right conferred by clause (1) (c), such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof, public order or morality.

(3) Restrictions on the right to form associations conferred by clause (1) (c) may also be imposed by any law relating to labour or education.

Obviously, I'm of the opinion that the freedom of speech, expression and assembly is paramount and it's worth noting that the constitution puts this under Part IV i.e. FUNDAMENTAL LIBERTIES. And without going into the caselaw interpreting these articles, I would just like to point that that an extensive interpretation of the freedom of speech as is the case in the USA, is not necessariincompatibleble with the Constitutional article that we have. I am of course aware that the Bill or Rights words this rather different but nevertheless, it is possible to reconcile the resulting law with our Constitution.

Anyway, despite the manner in which the statement was worded, it might still seem that it is a warning against the girls' rights to frspeechach and assembly. Now, putting aside the problem of locus standi i.e. standing, the right to file a suit on the basis of harm to that individual or organisation and the merits of the case for a while, it should be possible to go to court to seek a court order on whether their rights have been infringed and if so, maybe get an injunction against any possible action by the police.

The difficulty then is actually going to court to seek that remedy for the protection of your rights. And I think it's entirely safe to say that the court will hear your suit...if it reaches them. And I think that is the crux of the problem. It's not an inconsiderable process to launch such a suit and if I were them I probably would have done the very same thing. I submit that it would be the entirely rational thing to do.

Which is why perhaps we need an organisation like the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) which often represents individuals who find that their civil liberties have been infringed. Such an organisation would of course have the ability and organisational clout and impetus to actually fight these cases than would otherwise be the case if it were individuals facing these situations.

I think they put it well, "If the rights of society's most vulnerable are denied, everybody's rights are impaired". And the current NSA wire-tapping situation in light of how the FBI tapped major civil rights movement leaders including Martin Luther King Junior is a very good example of how a ltargetinging the vulnerable may well end up hurting the rest of society.

Remember Hoover's FBI.


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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

*Personal Notes to Self*

Look out for the following essays hopefully appearing within the next month.

1. The RGS White Elephant T-Shirt sale fiasco and why the need for an ACLU like organisation.

2. State Duty and/v Rights.

3. Constitution/Constitutionalism and Morality: Self Evident?

4. The basis of a nation and state.

5. Relativism v Universalism

6. Why my readers should buy me a PSP.



Tuesday, January 17, 2006

*On Legal Positivism and Natural Law - Does it really matter?*

(This is modified somewhat from the essay I handed in for my Intro to Legal Theory. The footnotes have been omitted.)

The issues are stated thus. Firstly, does separating law and morality (and the confusion that ensues) serve as a bulwark against unjust laws, hold? Secondly, if not, then would a theory of law that insists that there is a nexus between law and morality ensure that unjust laws are not promulgated?

It is suggested that there needs to be a distinction between Morality on the one hand i.e. ethics and morality as exists within a certain society i.e. ethos, what that society perceives to be good.

The necessary link or lack thereof between Law and Morality is what separates the Natural Lawyers from the Legal Positivists. The Separation Thesis is stated thus: There is no necessary connection between Law and Morality, that what Law is and what it ought to be are two separate issues though they might link. Or as Hart puts it, "It is in no sense a necessary truth that laws reproduce or satisfy certain demands of morality, though in fact they have often done so."

Logically then the law can be bad. Austin states clearly that, "The existence of law is one thing: its merit or demerit is another. Whether it be or not be is one enquiry; whether it be or be not conformable to an assumed standard is a different enquiry." Historical examples abound including slavery in USA, apartheid in South Africa and the Nuremberg Laws of Nazi Germany.

Natural Lawyers will claim on the other hand that because of the nexus between law and morality: Lex Injusta non est Lex, an unjust law is not law because it has no moral force and ought not be obeyed. However, the caveat as stated by Aquinas is this, that there might be an obligation to obey an unjust law, if by opposing it would create 'scandal and greater harm' and thereby creating a greater injustice. If everyone felt at liberty to disobey the law, it undermines the legal system and social order, paving the way to anarchy. So essentially then, both sides do agree that law can serve both good and evil ends and still be valid.

However, Legal Positivist would then assert that, if one does not confuse Law with Morality, it prevents an automatic blind acceptance that the Law is Good and hence would cause citizens to subject laws to greater scrutiny and thereby providing a bulwark against Unjust Laws. Its critique comes in two forms; one questions its underlying assumptions, the other claiming that it allows for such an occurrence in the first place.

The first critique questions whether the behavioral patterns of citizens would change simply because they now learn that the Separation Thesis exists. Raz makes the point that a conscientious person (Ghandi) would continue in his previous vein and subject all laws to critical analysis whether or not he learns of the Separation Thesis. On the other hand, an unconscientious person (Eichmmer) would similarly act the way he always has and obey the law regardless. But Raz himself grants that most people fall within these two extremes. Hence the question is, are those on the margins more likely than not to critically evaluate the law if they learn that it does not carry an automatic moral stamp and the Legal Positivist position then does seem logically tentable.

The second critique comes via the way of Natural Law. They would argue that Legal Positivism disarms the populace (and judges) by denying them a conceptual weapon (the law must be moral to be law and hence creating an obligation to obey) in which to wield against unjust laws. Fuller further asserts that Natural Law would engender a respect for law's Morality and thus provide a mechanism to resist unjust laws where applicable. Similarly, Dworkin's theory of adjudication claims to prevent a blind application of laws (rules) through the use of legal principles, and also ensures 'integrity' in law by constraining, through the requirement of 'fit', unfair legislation and the extent to which their own values can make law.

The counter-arguments come on two levels, the meta argument about the broader implications on morality in and of society and the examination on the role and ability of judges.

Just because something has societal acceptance (moral) does not automatically make it Moral. Sharia Law claims to be Morality but many would disagree with its morality seeing as it advocates the stoning of adulterers and its evidentiary requirements regarding 4 male witnesses to a rape. Furthermore, given the plethora of valid moral viewpoints premised on religion or natural rights, it results in an inherent subjectivity. So even where there is a general consensus on what is 'right' or even a minimum content of morality, it nevertheless does not satisfactory establish what is or is not Moral. The general prohibition against killing (murder) does not establish its scope and generates opposing viewpoints on stem-cell research, abortion, euthanasia and capital punishment.

Moreover, a viewpoint that then uses objective criteria to solidify its claim to universality does not escape choice (personal bias) in moral values. Fuller's attempt to create an objective secular Morality via his seven basic human goods automatically runs into the above charge. And neither does 'practical reasonableness' resolve tenacious moral issues. Finnis' 'inner morality' of law seems to confuse procedural efficiency with Morality, allowing Hart with his example of the 'Inner Morality of Poisoning' to point out that efficiency is no bar to injustice. In fact as Public Law students are no doubt painfully aware now, this so-called 'thin' Rule of Law must be coupled with a substantive notion of fairness/fundamental liberties/Morality if one wants to prevent law that is procedurally fair but produces substantive injustice.

Secondly, as a result, when one starts to argue as Dworkin does, that judges when adjudicating are guided by morality, it nevertheless still does not necessarily make those laws Moral. As such, regardless of whether one insists on whether there is a necessary connection between law and morality, the separation thesis still holds. Furthermore, it is questionable whether judges can resist the Legislature intent upon stifling their ability to determine law by morality or to determine it at all e.g. Zimbabwe. Without a robust view of Constitutional Supremacy, judicial independence, real judicial review or the use of administrative law in the alternative, one must pray that the government does not abuse its powers, or hope that the people take to the streets in revolution if they do.

In conclusion, all laws ought to be critically evaluated for its morality and citizens ought not to be beholden to whatever the theory in vogue to determine that for them. For as long as distinctions exists between morality and Morality (as they must), critical evaluation is a necessity.


*New Contributor*

Please give a warm welcome to CL as the new contributor to this blog. For now she will be providing commentary and commentary to my commentary. Do also check out her other blog here.



*Updates, oh where art thou?*

3 modules this sem, one of which has not started. And I can barely keep up with the readings and the work as it is. With debates now thrice a week, forget about updates for sometime to come.



Sunday, January 15, 2006

*As promised: Links to posts on Public Law and Constitutional Issues on this blog*

This is just a quick and dirty search using the google function, it will get a whole load of hits but obviously some will be less relevant than others. Blog Search: law

So, from the as Google as sorted by relevance,
1. Fun with Public Law readings. Reflections after reading attached seminar articles on "Asian Values" and Asian Democracy, especially with the events of the past decade.

2. IHT: There are also battered men. Commentary on IHT article on partner violence where the victims are male. Not directly relevant to public law except insofar as it poses the question of what does equal protection under the law and due process mean in cases where differences exist and having to face a somewhat hostile cultural/societal mindset.

3. Universal Declaration of Human Rights: All human rights for all Personal opinions on why Human Rights as reflected in the Declaration are indeed Universal. More importantly, it focuses on and explains the last 2 articles which express the notion of balancing of rights. No rights are absolute. Sometimes they (fundamental rights) do conflict.

4. IHT: Yahoo in China - Rising Tide of Anger. Somewhat balanced look at the issues surrounding the situation of foreign companies helping the Chinese authorities to censor and crackdown on dissent. Human Rights meets Jurisprudence meets CSR.

5. Thought Experiments: Why I believe in a Liberal Secular Democracy Self-explanatory. Read the comments for some errors that I made with regards to historical events

6. Entr'acte: Next lone US Dissent: Cultural Diversity Short commentary post that touches on form versus substance and the law of unintended consequences i.e. when cultural diversity doesn't really mean what it says.

7. On Capital Punishment, Death Penalty and Judicial Discretion. Self-explanatory. It's a very empirical and consequence based approach. Not much constitutional issues touched upon here I'm afraid.

8. Supreme Court hears hallucinogenic tea case. Should an activity that is otherwise illegal get an exemption from the law on the basis that it is a religious activity? Tough call.

9. IHT: Cartoons ignite cultural combat in Denmark. "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?" Personal thoughts about the danger of an official stance of intolerance towards intolerance.

10. A System of Trust or a System of Checks and Balances? Reply to letter that decries the 'fad' called 'openness'.

11. Andy Ho defends the Singapore Model. Or does he? If nothing else, just click on this to get to the link for Dr Tai Heng Cheng's article, "The Central Case Approach to Human Rights: Its universal application and the Singapore example." Read this really good article on form versus substance in Rule of Law and whether Human Rights are really being protected or violated. Seriously, read the article.

12. Addendum to Andy Ho's article See above. Stuff from other bloggers. Including links to Prof Michael Hor's article, "Singapore's Innovation to Due Process"

And that's about it so far. There are probably a few more articles but I'm too lazy to search for them. Odds are, I'll be commenting a lot more on Public Law this sem, hopefully the exercise will be as beneficial to you as readers as it is to me as a writer.


Saturday, January 14, 2006

*Updates on Updates*

Tis only the first week of school and I feel as if I have hit the ground running.

So updates are going to be very slow for a while.


Thursday, January 12, 2006

Balderdash: George Soros & A Global Open Society - A Dialogue with a New Generation

*Simply because he was there*

Gabriel attended the talk and has very helpfully provided a narrative of what happened. In particular, it's worth noting his comment about diminishing returns from attending these things simply because the same stuff tends to be repeated.

Anyway, I'm not going to comment today until I have time to:
1) Consolidate all my posts on Constitutionalism and Rule of Law on my blog for easy reference

2) Finish hammering out a first draft on the Rule of Law and a discussion sparked off by a good friend who questioned whether Asian Values/Democracy is really truely at odds with Constitutionalism. I think it differs in substance, he thinks it differs in degrees. Can this two views be reconciled? Stay tuned loyal readers!

And on that cheesy note.


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

There are also battered men - Editorials & Commentary - International Herald Tribune

This is one of those debates where I probably should establish my prior biases and convictions before I even start commenting on the issue. I will say that I am a Male right activist insofar as it is consistent with me being a Liberal Feminist. Liberal Feminist argue that Females are no different from Males and the only bar to their success is rules (law in the very narrow sense of the words) that discriminate against them. Thus the removal of such rules is an end in and of itself. From then on, it would be up to individual effort, skill and luck to make your mark on the world. The collolary to that is that such as women should not discriminated against, they should not be discrimated towards either. The basis of this, I think, is an empahsis on equal opportunity not equal achievement, something that I am very willing to support.

Of course time has shown that this might be somewhat naive and that difference between males and females, as well as institutional discrimination means that the Law (Legislation) must have cognition of the differences in order to craft laws that take into account such differences in order to create a true level playing field.

But nevertheless, I think on balance the Liberal Feminist viewpoint is one that I'm not only politically biased towards but also one which I feel on balance is more reasonable. Because by any other measure, the problem of identifying such differences and then attempting to craft legislation is not simply doomed to failure but also tends to be counter-productive.

Sometimes, it actually entrenches discrimination against males especially in areas of family law and at the same time entrenches the notion of women as victims. For example, to take a local context, we have the Women's Charter (not the person's charter mind you) which entrenches protection for women but not men on the presumption that women are the only vulnerable group and inevitably are always the victims and never the aggressors. Now, I think on balance women tend to suffer more than men in the household but that is not an adequate reason for seemingly ignoring the very real problem of battered men. Other problem areas include custody of the children, payment of alimony, rape (which can only be perpertrated by males on female) and nonsense laws such as insult to modesty, which only applies to women as well.

Back to the article. The author, Cathy Young, cites a 1996 National Violence against Women Survey, cosponsored by the Centres for Disease Control and the National Institute of Justice, found that 38% of the 2.3 million Americans who experience partner violence every year are men.

She also points put that men are often at a disadvantage at being taken seriously because of the mentality that they ought to be able to take care of themselves being on average bigger and stronger. Even worse is the mentality levered at men that they must have done something to deserve or provoke it, something that we would automatically find abhorent if levered against a female.

Locally, the statistics in terms of hospital cases seem to suggest that 10% of those experiencing partner violence are men. Depending on the variable, this number could either overestimate or underestimate the level of violence against men. I'm betting on underestimation partly because what constitutes violence is not confined to sufficient injury to warrant a hospital visit. Furthermore, considering our 'Asian culture', I find it likely than men are more likely to suffer in silence than women are now because of the prevailing attitutes.

The reason why I generally don't identify more strongly with Male Rights group is this very strong streak of misogyny that is found. CL suggests that there are very like the early feminist groups which tended to be anti-male but eventually became mainstream. One can only hope.

Anyway, to sum it up in a nutshell, I think society as a whole is better served by being inclusive rather than exclusive. Thus I feel that the earlier campaign against Violence in the Home should not be confined to simply women and children. There is a real problem of battered men and ignoring it is not going to let make it disappear.



Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Students' Sketchpad: The Story of Meritocratic Jesus

Brilliant and hilarious political satire. To understand why its actually NOT anti-Christian, please read the following Harper's article entitled, The Christian Paradox, which explores, dissects and explains the dichotomy between on the one hand, what Jesus said and what he was meant to represent. And on the other, the positions currently taken by the Christian Religious Right as well as the sentiments held by the nominally Christian USA.

Taken from a related post, I had the following to say,

Thought I do not share such a faith, I have tremendous respect for persons of such a faith when they are not Fundamentalist, for how does believing in the literal word of God (or divinely inspired, The Bible) lead one to the conclusions they have? Secularism: Render unto Caesar what is Caesar and unto God what is God. Equality of Man. Love, Peace and Tolerance: New Testament, the new covenant with God. Death Penalty: even in the Old Testament, the Jews believed that Vengeance is Mine saith the Lord and they did not feel it was the duty much less the right of Man to kill another. They hedged the death penalty is so many exceptions and requirements that I doubt any one was killed. In the New Testament, there was "Jesus' explicit refutation in the New Testament: "You have heard that it was said, 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also."

If self-professed faith was all that was needed to make the world the better place, America should lead the world. But yet it is the seemingly 'Godless' Scandinavian countries doing the things like giving aid not just to their poor and needy and to other nations' as well.

Some of the comments on the blog gave me hope that the religious left was aware of the problems fundamentalism was posing to their religion. One can only hope it is not too late.



Cambodian Information Center >> Cambodia News

*This takes the cake*

Um, in the 3 years I have been blogging, this has got to be one of the most interesting referal site links I've ever had to my blog. If you scroll down, you'll see the title of this blog Post Hoc, Egro Propter Hoc, which references the stuff I wrote on public law yesterday.

The other odd referal link I had was the one that invited me to submit my blog to a metalink site under mysticism. That I had to regretfully turn down because despite my choice of religion and the moniker I go under (both of which are Buddhist and Buddhist concepts), nevertheless this blog has very little to do with mysticism as regular readers are all too well aware. Sometimes, painfully so.

But the oddest referal links I've had were search terms all linked to sex, sexual intercourse, fetishes or pornography, all of which I've had commented in one form or another.

Oh well, as long as people read and take something away from it, I'm happy enough as it is. As happy as *insert famous gamer* playing *favourite game*. Sorry geek joke from PVPonline.



*On debate formats*

The forthcoming SLR-MDC debates adopts a style that is similar (though definately not identical) to the parliamentary style as found in North America. This style which is essentially two speakers each on opposing sides is to be differentiated from the British Parliamentary Style which was two teams of two EACH on two opposing sides i.e. 4 teams of two in total. Yes, it's a complicated system, I hate it, but it has its charms.

Anyway, this year the organisers of the committee have embarked on a truely revolutionary format (for this region at least). What they have done is to make this an impromtu debate with an hour's prep time. This is in and of itself not unique because it's really not different from the impromtu debates at the secondary school and college level. Of course, it gets a lot more restrictive at the varisty level, the longest time you will have is 30 minutes, the shortest a mere 15. All of which do not include walking times on truely large overseas campuses.

But what makes this format so unique is that there is absolutely NO restrictions on the type of material and equipment that one can bring for prep. Which means yes to laptops on top of fact files. Coupled with wireless internet access on campus, this should prove very exciting. If for no other reason, to see its impact on debaters and debates where teams know next to nothing about the issue.

Of course, it does mean that an advantage that our team had is pretty much wiped out i.e. as ex-debaters we are used to constrains on such unfettered access to information and we have developed fact files and a memory retention that can be quite scary after a while.

On the other hand, we're not the only full debating team on the law circuit. As of now, I am aware that Alex Lee with pairing with Mahesh, Tris is debating as are Maureen and Shou Min. And of course, there's always Nabil, Yong Wei and Alex Yeo fresh from the Worlds.

Anyway, I look forward as ever to a good debate and hopefully break this semester (we got close at last year's event)


Monday, January 09, 2006

*Fun with Public Law readings a.k.a how much difference a decade can make*

I became politically aware, if not politically active around the time the generation long economic boom in Asia/ASEAN coupled 'Asian Values' and 'Asian Democracy' were riding the crest of its ascendency and offering what to many was a better alternative to the 'West', which was viewed as decadent, crime-ridden, immoral and about to be elipsed economically by Asia.

This sense of triumphanism was palpable and not exclusive to Asia but also the internal critics of the 'West'. Locally, we saw the crowing when we exceeded the GDP of our former colonial masters. We started showing a form of assertiveness that bordered on the beligerent. It was predicted that this century would be Asia's. It was a small step from "The Japan that can say No" to "The Asia that can say No".

As a result, there was the Catherine Lim incident, there was the self-orientalisation i.e. Us (Asia) v Them (the West), there was the 'debate' about Liberal Democracy, where the dialogue was exclusively drawn in opposition to Asian Democracy i.e. what was good about Asian Democracy was exclusive to it and 'by definition' the West did not have. Similarly, what was 'bad' about Liberal Democracy was exclusive to the West and was not found in Asian Democracy.

Framed in this light, it might (and probably does) explain a lot of the strawman arguments and misconception that Singaporean writers to the ST have about what Liberalism, Democracy, Constitutionalism, Rights and Institutional Checks and Balances mean. Which is why, you tend to hear the old canard about how 'individualism' (which is equated with selfishness) is bad. Or how, liberalising the media would lead to sensationalisation. Or allowing protests or freedom of expression would lead to the degeneration of social stability. Or equally, how Liberal Democracies were less 'efficient' than Asian Democracies as if efficiency were a good in and of itself. Although, the last bit can probably be attributed to efficiency as good in economic terms (which it is).

So anyway, amongst the distributed materials in our first seminar's readings is something by James Walsh, "Asia's Different Drum," Time 14 June 1993 16-19. This, I submit, should be read as a historical document in that it frames the sentiments and the debate as it was. But what I would like to draw to your attention is the second part of the article which enunciates some rather precient things.

1. Even at that time, certain Asian nations had made the move to democracy and the resulting political and literal freedom stood in stark contrast to the then highly repressive China. Now, there's Taiwan, the march for Democracy in Hong Kong. And MALAYSIA is the most agitated about the lack of democratic reform in Myanmar.

But on the flip side, Thailand seems to have backslided quite a bit (especially in the aftermath of the Asian Economic Crisis with the turn towards Taksin), with Cambodia being the worst possibly, particular if Hun Sen manages to consolidate his power. However, the fact that Thailand hasn't managed to silence all dissent in official voices, it marks a promising continuation of their liberal democracy.

2. Where the legitimacy of the regime is premised upon success, what happens when the success comes to an end? How will the regime survive a changeover when none has been experience peacefully before?

A few scant years later there was the Asian Economic Crisis and we know what happened in ASEAN. There was a peaceful democratic change in Thailand and Philippines, a revolution in Indonesia deposing Suharto and arguably the beginning of democratic reform in Malaysia.

Singapore poses an odd case in that the PAP's credentials emerged stronger because of their successful navigation of the crisis. And while giving kudos where kudos ought to be granted, the reasons that were enunciated as the reason why we managed to weather the storm do not seem exclusive to Asian Values or Asian Democracy one would argue. According to (then) SM Lee, the reason why both HK and SG survived the 1997 Asian Economic Crisis better than most was because "both Confucianianist societies...had British systems of law, business methods that were transparent, accounting practices of international standard, open tenders and binding contracts, negotiated on level playing fields and bank loans made at arms length" i.e. because of the Rule of Law. If so, then the question really ought to have been, what system of government is more likely to generate the sort of institutional checks and balances and civil society that would allow for the rule of law?

3. Do Asians put pragmatism before principles? Well by definition they might be mutually exclusive, but that is arguably a mistake in the manner in which this debate is framed. Unless one believes that rights and liberalism is the antithesis of economic growth and social stability, there really is not dicotomy between that and liberal democracy.

Or maybe perhaps people had enough of autocratism and have come to the realisation that their leaders may not know what's best for them or have the capability to implement that.

In conclusion, the triumphantism of Asian Democracy and Asian Values were contingent on the good times rolling and a perception of the West in decline. The rejuvination of the West, the relative decline of the East, the failure of Asian Democracy to weather the storm has led to what we have today, the beginnings of real debate.


Friday, January 06, 2006

*Snooze snooze and SLR-MDC Debates*

The Author had a very long day filled with meetings and talk, lots of talk, some of it bordering on a lecture, in fact, possibly a matter dump. As such and because he also has to start his Trust and Equity readings, there is likely not to be any substantive posts today.

In other news, I'm pleased to announced that Tania had graciously agreed to reprise our team for the 2nd SLR-MDC debate. We look forward to it and to the debate with our opponents *heh heh heh*

And finally, here's Mr Fluffy back from its vacation in its benevolent despotic regime of Fluffytopia (now an even more idyllic Pacific Island) to entertain you. *Mr Fluffy hammers out a riff on his electric guitar and does a stand-up comedy*


Thursday, January 05, 2006

Anti-Soccer Fatwas Led Saudi Soccer Players to Join the Jihad in Iraq: Free Muslims Coalition

Very briefly, a fatwa (a religious/legal pronouncement where Islamic jurisprudence is unclear and theoretically has binding force) was issued against soccer. More accurately, it restricted the play of soccer to limited circumstances and only for the purpose of training for jihad. And I'm pretty sure from the tone of the fatwa, this is not the non-violent form of jihad that we're talking about. The result was that 3 professional soccer players quit their teams and one of them became a suicide bomber.

The following is a translation of the substance of the fatwa (footnotes omitted):

Fatwa from 2003: Soccer is Forbidden Except When Played as Training for Jihad

One of the anti-soccer fatwas was published in full in Al-Watan on August 25, 2005. According to other sources it had been issued by Sheikh 'Abdallah Al-Najdi.

The fatwa declared that it is only permissible to play soccer when its rules are different than the accepted international rules. This was based on a hadith [Prophetic tradition] which forbids Muslims to imitate Christians and Jews. [ed: the thing about hadith is that what the Prophet did not forbid is also considered permitted and in all his travels, he came across a lot of customs indeed] The fatwa read:

"1. Don't play soccer with four lines [surrounding the field], since this is the way of the non-believers, and the international soccer rules require drawing [these lines] before playing.

"2. One should not use the terminology established by the non-believers and the polytheists, like: 'foul,' 'penalty kick,' 'corner kick,' 'goal,' and 'out of bounds.' Whoever pronounces these terms should be punished, reprimanded, kicked out of the game, and should even be told in public: 'You have come to resemble the non-believers and the polytheists, and this has been forbidden.'

"3. If one of you falls during the game and breaks his hand or his foot, or if the ball hits his hand, he shall not say 'foul' and shall not stop playing because of his injury. The one who caused his injury shall not receive a yellow or a red card, but rather the case shall be judged according to Muslim law in the case of a broken bone or an injury. The injured player shall exercise his rights according to the shari'a, as [is stated] in the Koran, and you must testify together with him that so-and-so tripped him up intentionally.

"4. Do not set the number [of players] according to the number of players used by the non-believers, the Jews, the Christians, and especially the vile America. In other words, 11 players shall not play together. Make it a larger or a smaller number.

"5. Play in your normal clothing, or in pajamas, or something like that, but not in colorful pants and numbered jerseys. Pants and jerseys are not appropriate clothing for Muslims. They are the clothing of the non-believers and of the West, and therefore you must be careful not to wear them.

"6. Once you have fulfilled [these] conditions and rules, you must play the entire game with the intention of improving your physical fitness for the purpose of fighting Jihad for Allah's sake and preparing for the time when jihad is needed. One should not waste time in celebrating a false victory.

"7. Do not play for 45 minutes, as is the practice among the Jews, the Christians, and in all of the countries of non-belief and atheism. This is also the length of time that is accepted in the soccer clubs of those who have strayed from the righteous path. You must be different than the non-believers, depart from their path, and not imitate them in anything.

"8. Do not play in two parts [i.e., halves], but rather in one part or in three parts, so as to be different than the sinful and rebellious, the non-believers and the polytheists.

"9. If neither side has defeated the other and neither side has inserted the ball between the posts, do not waste further time [in an extension] or in 'penalty kicks' until someone has won, but rather leave [the field] immediately, since this kind of victory is precisely an imitation of the non-believers and [adoption] of the international soccer rules.

"10. Do not appoint someone who follows the players around and is called 'a referee', since, after canceling the international rules such as 'foul,' 'penalty kick,' 'corner kick' and so on, there is no need for his presence. Moreover, his presence is an imitation of non-believers, Jews and Christians, and constitutes adoption of the international [soccer] rules.

"11. In the course of the game it is forbidden for groups of youth to gather and watch, since if you are gathering for the sake of sports activity and physical fitness, as you claim, why should they be looking at you? You must make them participate [in order to improve] their physical fitness and prepare for jihad; or else say to them, 'Go propagate Islam and seek out moral corruption in the marketplaces and in the press [in order to correct it], and leave us to improve our physical fitness.'

"12. When you finish playing, be careful not to talk about the game, and not to say 'we play better than the opponent,' or 'so-and-so is a good player,' etc. Moreover, you should speak about your body, its strength and its muscles, and about the fact that you are playing as [a means of] training to run, attack, and retreat in preparation for [waging] jihad for Allah's sake.

"13. If one of you inserts the ball between the posts and then starts to run so that his companions will run after him and hug him, like the players in America and France do, you should spit in his face, punish him, and reprimand him, for what do joy, hugging, and kissing have to do with sports?

"14. You must take the three posts or iron rods which you use to construct [the goal], and into which the ball is kicked, and replace them with just two instead of three. In other words, take out the cross-post or rod so that [the goal] will not be similar to what is customary among the non-believers, and in order to violate the despotic international soccer rules.

"15. Do not do what is known as 'substitution', that is, putting in a player in place of a player who has been disqualified, since this the custom of the non-believers in America and elsewhere."

What was heartening was the response from the senior Saudi muftis who rejected the fatwa with some even calling for the prosecution of those who issed such anti-soccer fatwas. Similarly, certain Saudi columnist criticised the fatwa (and their ilk) on the basis that it led youths to extremism.

Now, I'm personally of the opinion that religious text and religion in general lend themselves to interpretations because a literal interpretation would be in contradiction to what we actually know through Science. Not to mention the fact that the premise/assumption of infaliability and inerrancy means that any contradiction is apparent and can be reconciled. The problem with interpretating in this fashion is of course is that when one can 'explain' everything, one explains nothing.

The benefit of this approach is that change can be reconcilled in 'tradition' (like how the Bible was used to overturn previous support for societal practices such as slavery and the role of women). But that is dependent on there being such activists within the ranks. If not, then tradition becomes a byword for oppression and repression and regression.

The voices of moderation, liberalism and progress must be heard to combat the reactionary.



Wednesday, January 04, 2006

*On the abolition of estate taxes*

Interesting enough, this is the first time I've ever had someone who was interested in hearing what I had to say on a topic in my blog i.e. Ted in comments in previous post.

In a nutshell, my position is that given a)the various taxes that are currently present in society, b) my belief in progressive taxes i.e. that the rich should probably cross-subsidise the poor and c) in consideration of who are actually taxed, on balance, I would not advocate the abolishing of so-called death taxes.

There are very strong arguments for the abolishing of the estate duty in Singapore. Most notably, taxes have already been paid on the estate (it's a legal term referring not just to land but personal property as well), so in effect, estate taxes are a form of double taxation and are unfair. Similarly, there have been arguments made that a progressive tax is unfair and contrary to the notion of meritocracy because there seems to be no logical or moral reason and is in fact arbitrary to tax a person more because he earns or has more.

But first, keeping those arguments in mind, what does the IRAS have to say about taxes in general. Why do we pay taxes and where do they do to? Well, the IRAS has the following to say about the collection of taxes here. And very worth a read too. But to summarise, "Taxes are the price we pay for a civilised society." Economic theory demonstrates why certain goods are unlikely to be produced by a free market (due to the free-rider problem) e.g. lighthouses and military defense. Or consumed at sub-optimum societal level e.g. education. Hence taxes are spent either to produce these goods or to subsidise them (thereby making it cheaper) so that more people consume them.

So why should the 'rich' pay more? Well the flippant answer would be, "because they can". But underlying this notion is that $1 is worth less to someone who has a million than someone who has $2. As a result, the marginal cost on a progressive tax rate is still equivalent in a utility sense.

But at the same time, there is also John Rawl's argument of the "veil of ignorance". Before we are born we do not know what we would be. With that (lack of) knowledge, design a tax system. If so, then the arguments above would tend to substantiate a progressive tax system. Connected to this is the argument that one does not get rich outside of society. In that, generally one gets rich because of the society (and the attendant infrastructure) and not in spite of it (if that were so then I would guess that the tax collecting capabilities of the state are at best marginal).

An alternative argument is that it is in the interest of the rich to foot a higher burden of the tax bill in order to maintain social equality and stability. It's been statistically proven that the higher the Gini coefficient, (a measurement of income inequity within a country where 0 reflects perfect equality and 1 reflects perfect inequity i.e. one person owns all the wealth), the more economically regressive the state is likely to be with attendant social resentment to boot. Progressive tax policies are premised upon a form income redistribution so therefore, a progressive tax policy is more likely than not to reduce income inequity. This is NOT a guarantee but a tendancy.

Now, I do not believe in socking it to the rich and there have been eras where the marginal tax rate have been so high, that to earn that extra dollar, you pay $1.20 in taxes. That I think is ridiculous perhaps. But at the current tax rates, I think the tax brackets are sensible. (Anyone doing a statistical analysis of marginal tax rates please feel free to correct me).

So we come to perhaps the crux of the issue, how immoral is the estate duty? Well, the first question to ask is, who gets taxed. Here, let's turn to IRAS for the exemption amount.
1. Dwelling houses worth less than $9 million
2. All other assets (including CPF balance) less than $600,000
3. If the CPF balance exceeds $600,000, what is exempted is the excess of $600,000.
And also, for deaths occurring on or after 25 February 2000, dwelling houses used partly for the following activities also qualify for exemption:
a)Small business activities allowed by URA or HDB under their respective guidelines.
b)Home Office approved by HDB or URA (This scheme has replaced the EDB Technopreneur Home Office (THO) Scheme)

So with that, we can safely say that it's not just the rich but the very rich that get taxed. As to whether it is 'fair', we have talked a little about progressive taxes.

But lest we forget, who pays the estate tax? Well the estate pays for its own tax and the people who get it are the inheritors of the estate. As such, an argument could be made that if we believe in the concept of a meritocratic society, then estate taxes are a must if we do not wish to perpertuate a system of the rich having an advantage from birth. Something akin perhaps to the notion of an aristocracy.

Which is why there are a number of prominent wealthy who are willing away the majority of their estate not to their heirs but to charities because they do not believe that their children should get such a massive advantage. Bill Gates comes to mind and perhaps it is because he built himself to that particular position that he believe his children should do so as well.

What then about double payment? Well the truth is, tax loopholes are created by the rich who can afford the lobbying power to either create them, or to purchase the knowledge that exploits them. Sadly, this is not really a caricature for anyone who has followed the travails of the US Tax Reform and the recent smackdown of one of the Big 4 Accounting Firms for selling tax evasion funds.

But even with all that in mind, the question that cinches it for me is this. Why abolish the estate tax when I could abolish other taxes that generate greater social equity or even wealth? I feel that the letter in the ST was argued in a vacuum. While those arguments might make sense if one was deciding whether to implement as estate tax, it doesn't work when one is contemplating whether to abolish them in a modern tax system. So the argument should be whether given the ranges of taxes, estate tax should be abolished. Now, I do not know how much estate taxes bring in (after accounting for administrative cost) but those monies could be better used to fund other frivolous things such as education and healthcare or to provide subsidies for them. Of course, conversely, if the administration of the estate tax costs more than it brings in then that's a good argument to reform it perhaps but not to abolish it.