Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Respectful Insolence: David Irving Reverts to Form

One of my favourite medical bloggers, the good doctor does remarkable take downs of extreme 'alternative' medicine proponents a.k.a. "alties" in remarkable easy to read prose despite the ton of jargon that accompany alot of these stuff.

Anyway, we share similar views about free speech and anti-holocaust denier laws so please do read through his blog so I don't have to.

But one of the things that didn't seem to make it into popular consciousness is the notion that David Irving might have been jailed because of his rather obvious perjury when he suddenly said he renounced his prior crank beliefs back in 1998 despite lauching a libel suit on this very matter in 2001.

Guess we now know where he really stands. Sad really. Not unlike creationists, IDers and HIV-AIDS denialists, their ideas are destructive too.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

*On Political Forum and Lax Values"

Dang, I wasn't identified by name or even by faculty. Instead I was one of the 2 students who were dismayed at the administration's handling of the fee hike issue.

Actually, that wasn't even my point or my questions.

Here's what (sorta) happened. A PS student (he was identified in the report) asked why the WP wanted to abolish the EP because hey the opposition could go after the position yada yada. I don't think he read the Republic of Singapore Constitution because um, you need to disassociate yourself with any political party as per article 19(2). Yes, it is at the date of his nomination and yes, you can't escape from the fact that the qualifications also require you to have some ties with the ruling party. But that's more a matter of implementation and reform than for the abolishing of the EP.

So that was actually my second question i.e. given the weakness of the ballot box as an external political check (what about the inter election years), the weakness of the westminster system (fused executive/legislature) and the EP fulfilling a number of functions (anti-corruption, protector of our fundamental liberties, ensuring the integrity of the civil service), why not simply reform the system.? If you were wondering, I didn't get much of an answer out of Mr. Gomez who argues that there are other channels (very PAP answer if you ask me)

BUt back to the first question I posed. It wasn't simply about the mishandling of the fee hike issue by the administration. It was in response to the exhortations of the panelist for greater participation in politics etc. So the question I posed was more along the lines of why the heck are we then ignoring what is essentially a democratically elected student representative body? Even granting that they are suppose to represent the student clubs, the fact remains that individual faculties have faculty clubs and people do vote for their NUSSU representatives. I should know because I ran and lost. =P

So putting that aside, let's turn instead to an issue that's dear to my heart, sex education, values and morality. So here's a rather amusing letter from Ms. Lynn Chong Fui Lan, "Sex video: what's wrong with youths?" I was lucky that I wasn't drinking anything at that time anyway. I was going to give the usual snarky response when I figured that with a little work there was a deeper argument to be made.

Other than the obvious non-sequitors and religious chuvanism, here's the one single issue that bears more commentary.

My five-year old son is able to argue with me issues I find difficult. He said exactly the same things: "I have done nothing wrong. Everyone does it."

I tell him that even if the whole rude, he does not have to be. As a Christian, I refer to the Ten Commandments and prick the conscience, mine and his, and explore what is right and wrong.

Outwitted by a 5 year old? Heh. But seriously, reasoning with a very young kids is next to impossible and if ever I had a child, I fear I might end up doing the same thing although I hope not to.

So why not we put this into a proper context and ask the real issue: are societal practices moral?

I think both the letter writer and I agree that society is no final arbiter of morality (though they could make things very dicey for you if their notion of morality is law). This is what is commonly termed positive moralty or ethos, the ethics of a particular society. So the question then becomes, how do we decide whether a particular practice is good or bad. And that's really where 'critical morality' comes in, the Morality we use to criticise and evaluate positive morality.

In Ms. Lynn Chong's case, she refers to the Bible. Although I have to wonder where in the Bible does it say the Abrahamic God forbids pre-martital sex or the taping of it. Especially in the 10 Commandments mind you. The difficulty of this approach is that it relies on the existance of the particular god and the bible as being divinely inspired by that god. So in effect it says it is wrong because my god said so. Which effectively means that if I don't subscribe to your religion, it means nothing to me. Especially if my religion says otherwise.

This is where I should dovetail into a discussion of utilitarianism and consequentialist morality and the difference between act-utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism but I still have an assignment due. So I'm just going to point you here, an earlier essay I wrote. Have fun reading =P


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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Download.com: Best Firefox Extensions Vol II

I cannot believe that I have taken so long to switch to Mozilla Firefox, much less done without all the really really sweet addons and extensions that are provided free.

So people like Her (and me), the one best reason I would suggest switching to Mozilla Firefox is a little addon called gSpace. What it does is to allow your browser and Gmail to act as an FTP server. So I've uploaded some of my files straight to gmail and I can use this addon to call them through the programme anytime I want. The FTP server interface makes it incredibly easy and intuitive. Sure the speed is dependent on your ISP connection, but this creates the best virtual drive I've seen so far.

For internet safety paranoid freaks like me, it gives me access to Adblock plus and No Script, both programmes arguably better, more powerful and more customisation friendly than the google toolbar and anti-virus programme I have on my laptop and PC.

And of course, there's the whimsy little addon called Forecast Fox which gives me cute little pictoral representations for Seattle. Hmmm...looking at the next few day forecast is actually kinda depressing. Rainy city indeed.

This is the tip of the ice-berg and there are easily 3000 plus addons fulfilling all your weird and wonderful desires.

So it gets me thinking. Why did I take so long to switch to Firefox. The thing is, I was a long time user of Netscape (I remember using 1.0 and their predecessors. And I may have been one of the first thousand, if not hundred users of the World Wide Web when the first internet cafe opened in Singapore). I eventually switched to IE because I found that it loaded faster and was more stable. But eventually I found myself using Avant! Broswer which I felt gave my the speed and stability that IE was found wanting after a while. But I have to say, Firefox beats them hands down. Mostly because of these extensions.

I think this lends some credence to an argument I once used with regards to why the EU Anti-trust should force Microsoft to unbundle their software (which effectively means that they have to include rival software on their Windows OS). The argument I made was about technology inertia that afflicts most users of the PC/Mac of Internet. And it's based on the old axiom, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

It makes perfect sense because there is an opportunity cost that is incurred when you make the changeover i.e. time wasted downloading the programme, installing it and then figuring out how to use it. And I think it's powerful enough that it rather surprised me when I learnt that a number of my rather techie friends have not made the transition to OpenOffice.

Now, it's true that I discouraged one of them from doing so when it was still OO 1.0 primarily because it took forever to start up (and I was and am still using Office 97 which has a remarkably fast startup time on even relatively ancient computers). This got better with OO 1.1 and then with OO 2.0. Unfortunately, I use it less often than I expected primarily because of the cross-programme formatting problem. For it makes opening and saving Microsoft office documents a little scary because your formatting can get messed up. So I primarily use it now to open documents that Office 97 has problems openning.

But, baring that (and it's not as big a problem as you think really), it's an incredible piece of software. It's basically an Office Suite that's is similar to Microsoft Office but way more user friendly for free! And since it's so rarely used, it gives you an additional amount of protection in terms of readibility.

So let's talk about opportunity cost. It took me a couple of minutes (less than 10) to download and install Mozilla. Upon opening it, the homepage was very helpful and pointed the way to these nifty addons. Downloading and installing them was a breeze because they were all so small in size and installation automatic (although I had to restart the browser).

Open Office took a little longer because it was pretty big at 50 mb (but a mite compared to Microsoft Office). But installation and use was not a problem nor was it terribly time consuming. But it's size and versitiliy makes it an incredibly attractive option in creating what is effectively a portable harddisk in an USB flash disk. You can get 1GB ones now for slightly over a hundred dollars and that is much much more than sufficient space to load a mini-Linux and Open Office together with all the files you work on and need (which would presumably include some games).

Portable computer indeed, simply plug into any computer or laptop and boot it up from the flash disk.

Anyway, I think these few programmes show the power of Open Source. I'm not a raving anti-IP radical but they offer a different view of software.


*Goodbye nuance, Hello word limit*

The following is an "accurate"* rendition of what happened today:

0745: Alarm goes off. Wakes groggily and sees time. Vaguely recollects that I have to go to school to get work done on my public law assignment and to scan some documents. See time. Put head back on pillow.

0815: Mom tells me she's off to work. Author vaguely recalls responding but may have dreamt that

1034: Wakes up once again. Still incapable of finding the energy or inclination to get up despite deadline looming.

1145: See above

1255: See above.

1330: More fully awake, mentally curses self for not having sufficient will power to get up

1330-1500: Various grooming thingees and travel and lunch

1500-1800: In work, some work done. Get correct citation methods. Click on word count and mentally cursing as way over word limit by around 800 words. Read through essay. Mental weeping and beating of chest as author finds himself incapable of even knowing where to start cutting. Makes one or two half-hearted attempts to cut down essay length. Does successfully eliminate 35 words from essay. Hears that people have already handed in their paper. Gives up and goes for dinner.

2015: Work resumes.

2100: Reorg! now down to 495 words

2110: 444 words

2130: 403 words left. Expresses frustration to Her.

2145: Trying not to whimper as start cutting out entire sentences and paragraphs. 254 words!

2200: Gives up on nuance and possible entire line of argument. 148 words *sob*

2225: Getting picky and trying to switch on grammer padent. 61 more words!

2226: Gets sidetracked on exchange on "Big Sticks" (I meant FDR's foreign policy obviously)

2228: 27 more words

2229: 3 more words

2230: Finally done!

I have to wonder whether it's a particular affliction of mine to have to constantly struggle with word limits. According to my entirely unscientific poll, it seems that I'm not the only one. But the problem with my poll is that the people I'm closer to (at least on a conversational level) would have similar afflictions.

Oh well, one down, another one to go by Monday.


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

CNN.com - Scientists enlist clergy in evolution battle - Feb 20, 2006

*Busy Busy Busy*

Don't expect any updates for the near future as I confront an epic battle first with my public law assignment due on Friday and then on Monday, my Trust & Equity Assignment.

Anyway,the above post is kind of old news (1 day at least) but I figure it's worth a mention. But what I would like to point out is a number of inaccurate things in the report.

American scientists fighting back against creationism, intelligent design and other theories that seek to deny or downgrade the importance of evolution have recruited unlikely allies -- the clergy.

Actually, it's not true that the clergy are 'unlikely allies' of Evolution/Science. Science has always been seen by the more progressive elements as being a way to discover God's creation. Sure, some of the stuff may contradict what's in the Bible, but surely nothing is beyond God. I think it's an unfalsifiable proposition but I admire sincere people of faith.

If one looks back to the 70s and the battle against Creation-Science, there were a number of organisations with ties to organised religion that were not only against it but willing to stand on the side of Science. For example, there was Americans United for the Separation of Church and State as well as the American Jewish Committee that was willing to stand agains these laws.

There are of course good reasons why this should be so. ID is at its heart a nudge-nudge-wink-wink advocacy of Biblical Creationism. It was very clear from the subpeonaed text for ID that the way ID was introduced into the text was by way of the ctrl-F i.e. find and replace button. Paragraphs after paragraphs with exact the same words except for Intelligent Design replacing Creationism. And all happening when the Supreme Court decided that teaching Creationism violated the Establishment Clause.

And the way their argumentation goes, it's primarily an argument from ignorance and increduity. And the more Science and these kids know, the more they are in fact likely to doubt this Intelligent Designer, not something that the clergy would want.

So I leave you with this parting comment:
"The intelligent design movement belittles God. It makes God a designer, an engineer," said Vatican Observatory Director George Coyne, an astrophysicist who is also ordained. "The God of religious faith is a god of love. He did not design me."


Sunday, February 19, 2006

Alan Sokal Articles on the "Social Text" Affair

I generally consider myself well-read, but it wasn't till relatively recently i.e. a couple of months back that I came across the 'Sokal Affair'/'Social Text' Affair. This comes as a bit of a surprise considering the sheer hillarity of the incident, but also more importantly, has a massive bearing on the current Intelligent Design fiasco and this increasingly absurd situation of the Right coopting the Left's arguments based on post-modernism.

Very briefly, Alan Sokal, a Professor of Physics at NYU, submitted a parody of a work based upon the post-modernist's attacks/perceptions of Science to a leading North American journal of cultural studies. Entitled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity", it was published in the Spring/Summer 1996 issue of Social Text.

But what it basically was a a mishmash of quotations drawn from and flattering certain post-modernist scholars, attacking his field of science and generally playing to their ideology.

I recommend reading "A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies" which was basically his follow-up work exposing his hoax, summarising the absurdity of what he wrote. And it has to be read to be believed.

I will be the first to acknowledge that my Liberal bent is very much the result of post-modernism and its critiques of general/universal metanarratives (yes, it's a real word =P) particular in the form of universalising morality and religion. As such, given the inherent subjective valid normativity of each worldview, the discourse then becomes (for me at least), "which is best" not "which is true" (because everything is 'true'). And I think that generally explains my predisposition to tolerance (even towards fundamentalism), liberal democracy, secularism and human rights even as I can admit their inherent subjectivity.

But back to the one of the first points made, if one looks at the critiques made by IDers against Evolution i.e. Science as a religion, just another worldview, just a theory yada yada, you'll find a lot of the same premises and arguments used by the post modernists' attacks on Science as one goes through the Sokal Affair.

So just keep that in mind the next time you hear about fundamentalists' calls for 'teaching the controversy'.


*Technical Problems with Blogger*

Blogger has been undergoing some problems and seems to have eaten up two of my posts. So no, it's not an act of censorship or hacking (I think).

But if you happen to have a copy of those two posts, I would be very appreciative. One's on the anti-semitic cartoon contest organised by a Israeli graphics designer to thumb their nose at Iran. The other is on working (or not) with the Hamas government.


badscience.net: How I stalked my girlfriend

Without descending into paranoia, here's why a good dose of skepticism and reluctance to give up privacy is a very good thing. But the battle has pretty much been lost here.

To put this story into perspective, Dr Ben Goldacre, is the columnist for the Guardian on Bad Science. I find this column absolutely fantastic and a good antidote to the huge amount of woo-woo that's going on in our media. The latest being the magnetic bed ads on radio.

Sorry, for the distraction there. Anyway, if you click the link right at the top, you will get a story about how anyone would be able to track you through your handphone as long as it is on. It's not a new technology, but this particular episode demonstrates very clearly how easy it was for a 3rd party (someone with absolutely no connection to you) who nevertheless has access to your handphone to keep tabs on you.

In a slightly different manner, this capability is already present on your ez-link card, which tracks the last 5 destinations you made on the MRT system. Thought I have not confirmed this, I think it should also be possible to trace you even on the bus system with the GPS tracker they embedded into the fee transponder for automatic upgrades.

Of course, this is not to say that such aa programme does not have its uses. It would be useful for parents who want to keep tabs on their children (huge questions on a child's right to privacy but that's a separate post), or even to reduce the risk of a successful kidnapping (useful in certain parts of SEA and Latin America). And of course, we've seen the usefulness of it militarily (think unmanned arial vehicle with guided missile in desert) as well as to capture the responsible agents involved in the whole extrodinary rendition fiasco.

But is the price worth paying? I personnally don't think it would be too far a stretch of the imagination that one day our IC might have similar technology embedded into it. Hopefully by then we would have a strong enough data protection and privacy laws to prevent abuse.



Friday, February 17, 2006

Thought Experiment: Why I believe in Secularism and Liberal Democracy

Taken from an earlier post, some amendments made, particularly with regards to my mistaken interpretation of the Treaty of Westphalia.

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

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

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

So eventually after a lot of debate, fighting, wars, deaths and atrocities and the Council of Trent, the Treaty of Westphalia in 1638 was the result. But even then, it wasn't till the original colonist 'founded' the United States of America that we truely had freedom of religion i.e the state shall not establish a religion and impose its religion on you. I think it's always worth noting that the people who are opposed to secularism tend to come from the religious group that is powerful enough to gain power. A weak religious group will never be against secularism because it would be in most senses suicidal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had hoped that I would have had more time to flesh out my comments on the following few issues as mentioned in Public Law class today but due to rather severe time constrains, it's going to be short. But I hope that my views shall be seen as natural extensions of my personal beliefs and principles above.

The Tudung issue

As I make mention elsewhere, there is a Christian basis for secularism when one consider's that it is said to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's.

But leaving aside the point of whether this is a religious or cultural issue, I personally like the Individualised Self Determination approach adopted by the British as justification for allowing a schoolgirl to wear whatever restrictive dress that she so wishes. And like the ACLU in USA, I personally think that the right to education should not be dependent on restrictions on your personal right to expression or religion in terms of dressing. And contrary to popular belief, the ACLU fights for the rights of Christian students to profess their faith on campus. What they oppose is the state or the school doing so and imposing it on everyone. I personally think it's more than a little hard to draw a line between 'supporting' particular relgious beliefs and in effect imposing a religion on everyone (and offending everyone else of a different religion). A good example of this is school prayer. By all means, do so privately or in a group that wishes to do so. But making everyone do it when not all pray to your notion of a god or even the notion of A god (or its existance) is flouting the establishment clause.

Unfortunately, even apart from the political issue that lay at the heart of the Singapore 'debate' on this issue, I feel that this battle had honestly been long lost once you accept or permit the notion of school uniforms and the uniformity that is imposed by both state and the school. While one could carve out an exception for religious beliefs (as is done in Physical Education), I think it places religion on an unjustified padestral. But then again, that's the way history has worked and the way our language and social constructs have been built. If one checks a dictionary, the connoctation of being a religious person as opposed to an irreligious person or worse an atheist is startling. There is a huge moral assumption that is not borne out on any empirical evidence at all.

But at least the French approach has the element of being consistent is banning all forms of ostentatious religious symbols. I personally think that the Nike comment, while cute, isn't terribly relevant to the debate because no one associates it with the Greek mythology anyway (much less worshipped as part of a religion). But even so, I disagree with the state determining what is considered orthodoxy and what is not. While I do not dispute that the state has the power to do so (on the simple basis that they hold power), nevertheless, I dispute it on the notion that it is inappropriate, detrimental and counter-productive. As I've expressed elsewhere, it's all well and good if you're in the club and part of the protected class. But outside of it e.g. homosexuals, you are left to fend for yourself.

Proper and improper prolytisation a.k.a. enforcement of a non-aggression pact

Apparently this was one of the reasons why the Maintanance of Religious Harmony Act was passed. I personally find being proselytised to rather annonying (especially when you come knocking on my door when I'm watching cartoons in the morning) but I'm not going to stop you from trying. Although I might well counter-proselytise.

But the personal observation that I have is this, while entering a place of religious worship and being antagonist and denouncing people of that faith is a fairly obvious form of improper proselytisation, what about a group that quietly prays outside another religion's shop (assuming that they stay under the whole demonstration treshhold?

And oh, you can be as antagonistic towards atheists/agnostics as you want =P


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Thursday, February 16, 2006

*A Sociological Exercise on Homosexuality*

If you were in NUS today and were wondering of the sudden proliferation of homosexual public displays of affection (PDA), the 'reason' is because of a sociological class on Human Relations, which decided to do an experiment today to see its effect on the student populace.

The following was related to me by Chew Lin.

It takes a lot more intimacy and explicitness to elicit a response to a female-female couple than a male-male couple.

For a male-male couple, simply holding hands was more than sufficient to get people to look. Some went as far as to stop and stare or to stop and gossip (apparently this was a phenonmena exclusive to female groups).

However, for a female-female couple, holding hands was thought to be insufficient and they decided to hold each other round the waist instead. No big deal it seems.

Feeding each other ice cream? Again no big deal (contrast to a guy pair doing this in the canteen).

Commenting that the other person's hair smelt nice? Again no response.

Finally Chew Lin pulled out the stops and decided to be really explicit in the co-op in the following 2 scenarios.
a) Standing in front of the condom selection with her 'lover' and commenting that the close fit condoms were designed for small penises, but that they (referring to her 'lover' and her) didn't have that problem did they? THAT got a big response from the people round them.

b) Standing in front of a table loaded with aromatheraphy stuff (which included chocolate, tea and other assorted things like massage oils) and talking about licking it off her 'lover's' toes or something to that effect. Again a similar response to the guys feeding each other or holding hands was elicited.

Yes, apparently she was the only one who could say all of that with a straight face.

Now, observant readers would realise that there was a potential flaw in the methodology used. There is no control couple. Therefore, one could very legitimately ask whether to what extent the shock or curiosity or both was due to the rather explicit nature of what she said or because they were a 'homosexual' couple.

So we decided to carry out a similar experiment using ourselves as 'bait'. With two friends who will remain anonymous, they followed us to observe reactions.

The condom reenactment was a bust because there were insufficient people around to hear us. One of the supposed observers struck up a conversation with a friend in the queue, the only person mind you, such that there were literary no members of the public.

So off to the aromatherapy section. One female lady, who looked to be your average NUS female undergraduate. All observations from here on are mine and solely mine and not the observeres.

So we started chatting with each other casually before ratcheting up the explicitness. First was the use of chocolate body sauce instead of melting chocolate because it took too much time. A glance to the side at us.

Then came the dangers of flamable stuff in the bedroom. And my further suggestion of the use of whipped cream. Slight pause and looking up (though not at us). From here on, it's quite apparent she's listening in without trying to appear too obvious.

Complaining about how chocolate hardens too soon to be of any use. Looks at us.

Chew Lin suggests the use of cream in the chocolate to slow down the hardening process. Again, side glance at us.

So there we have it. Assuming that she could be considered representative of the populace, it's not just the homosexuality bit but the idea that a couple is taking about events in the bedroom that would get similar reaction for according to Chew Lin that was about the level of attention she got in her earlier experiment.

Now I had thought the lady was a little non-pulsed and perhaps shocked. But according to the two observers, she was actually interested in listening to our conversation. So there's something to be said about 'confirmation bias' and perception being screened through our prejudices.


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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Govt holds Temasek liable for good returns - Feb 14, 2006

*Further contributions to Public Law*

Govt holds Temasek liable for good returns

IN HIS letter 'Watch out for fallout from Temasek's move' (ST, Feb 10), Mr Quek Soo Beng said political risks should be considered and asked about the Government's role in the 'approval process' for Temasek Holdings investments.

I wish to assure Mr Quek that Temasek has a comprehensive risk management framework to help guide its investments. This framework addresses all major categories of investment risk including market, credit, regulatory, operational and political risk. Temasek does consider political risk in deciding whether to take up investment opportunities.

As shareholder, the Government's role is to ensure that Temasek has in place a competent board of directors to guide its investments and a clear set of processes to ensure accountability and rigour in its investment decisions. The Government does not approve individual investments by Temasek, nor does it second guess Temasek's risk assessments. These are business decisions for Temasek to take. The Government holds Temasek accountable for delivering a good rate of return on the overall investment portfolio.

Damien Tan
Governance and Investment
Ministry of Finance

One of the original reasons for the creation of the Elected President scheme was to safeguard our financial reserves from an fiscally irresponsible populist government (what happened to all the Jun Zi then?). Along the way, certain constitutional amendments (art. 151, art 22H and the transfer of reserves amendment in 22B and 22D) and clarifications (art 144) have made inroads into this area.

Of course there was also the non-cooperative attitute on the part of the Civil Service complained of on the part of ex-President Ong and his inability to get his hands on accurate figures of the reserves so as to be able to properly execute his function.

I think what this letter shows very clearly is the level of autonomy these GICs actually have. This is very evident in the last paragraph of the letter, as long as Temasak delivers good returns, no questions are asked.

I would be a lot happier if I knew what the risk matrix Temasak was using but I have to admit that this is not possible because it would give an insight into their investment strategy.

However, I think it is worth pointing out that while the above is generally in line with most hedge funds (I am not insinuating that Temasak does anything of that sort, but that their level of opagueness rivals that of those hedge funds), the people who choose to engage in such risky activity do so willingly and with their own money (or if it is done through a unit trust, they know they are buying into hedge funds). Furthermore, the government is not the only shareholder in this area because the basis of the funds that Temasak uses come from the taxpayers. In any other normal investment corporation, shareholders actually have the right to see the relevant documents, in this instance however, much is not shown.

So I guess, once again, it has to be a matter of trusting them (it's entirely on the onus of the board to state whether their budget or transfer will draw down the reserves and merely requires a resolution to be passed by the board) and the government instead of relying on institutional measures and checks and balances. At least now we know more about how the situation works.


Addendum: I think it's also worth mentioning that the Singtel-Optus move faced similar problems to the Shin Corp takeover both political (Buy Australia anyone?) and economic (overvalued) in nature.

It took a few years before the investment paid off (although for the poor consumer like me I wasn't sure how it benefitted to be a Singtel subscriber when I used the Optus network in Australia). The wise investor would have pull out and bought when the shares price sank. For the rest of the populace who originally bought the Singtel shares because of its blue-chip nature would have suffered losses for quite sometime before recouping it. An opportunity cost in other words.


Sex education in schools will remain secular - Feb 14, 2006

MOE: Guidance Branch - Sexuality Education

Shianux(Han) does a thorough fisking of an ST letter. It's so deverstating that I don't really think I can add anything to it. But the writer of the letter comes out looking either like a very sloppy research or a very incredulous one.

The top two links and their contents seems alright on a first reading, sort of like an all things to all person's kind of policy one would run when trying to find a compromise between the very real health issues that a comprehensive sex education is meant to address and on the other hand "to understand and respect the attitudes, values and beliefs regarding sexuality propagated by other communities."

Whatever that means.

I haven't had the opportunity to review the new curriculum and I don't think I had any sexual education back when I was in secondary school (beyond the very clinical one in my biology textbook) and warnings not to get distracted by members of the opposite sex (it seems that our seniors were tying up with their opposite counterpart from RGS).

The same went for junior college, this despite being what could be one of the most liberal and 'western' programme that one could be in JC. So it's very fortunate (and probably amazing) that none of my classmates got involved in the very real problems that comes with sex in whatever form.

Here's the interesting thing...
Complementing the curricular programme is the co-curricular package called the Growing Years series. It is developmental in nature, spanning the upper primary, lower secondary, upper secondary to post-secondary levels. Feedback from key stakeholders were gathered and incorporated in the development of the materials at every stage. The stakeholders, who represent the different religious and racial groups, include parents, community representatives, medical practitioners, social workers, youth workers, psychologists, legal professionals, students and teachers.

The Growing Years series addresses the subject of human sexuality from a holistic perspective, involving the intellectual, emotional, social, physical and ethical aspects of sexuality. These are covered under four main themes: Human Development, Interpersonal Relationships, Sexual Health and Behaviour, and, Society and Culture. Topics covered include the understanding gender identity, building rewarding and responsible relationships, consequences of teenage sexual activity and pregnancies (including abortion), masturbation, pornography, homosexuality, dating and going steady, cohabitation and marriage, and influence of the media. Abstinence is presented and promoted as it provides teenagers with the highest level of protection, being 100% safe against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. As the Growing Years series is value-based, parents are given the choice to opt their children out of the programme if they so desire. The opt-out rate by parents has been very low, at less than 1%.

One wonders whose values are being presented here. A quick glance at the list of stakeholders indicates that there is likely to be some form of conflict as to which of the policies are best likely to work.

Furthermore, it looks to me that some stakeholders are more equal than others if I read this paragraph right. The notion of value-based I think must be taken in contrast to the Framework for Sexuality Education which presumably focuses more on the basic science(?) in "provid(ing) accurate knowledge about human sexuality and the consequences of sexual activity so that pupils would be able to make carefully considered and informed decisions on sexuality matters". In which case, I think the narrow moralistic stance are more likely to win out in a simple situation of the most conservative denominator winning. I cannot see these groups willing to accept the notion that homosexuality may not be unnatural or a choice or that masturbation is a good alternative to sex.

The other worrying thing is that of the rise of "everything but" we see in America in response to pro-abstinence/abstinence only policies in schools. Since the focus is on vaginal intercourse, students end up staying within the letter but not the spirit of the law as they engage in other sexual activity that carries with it a similar if not higher risk of STDs (if not pregnancy). So while it may be technically accurate to say that abstinence is 100% effective, one needs to ask abstinent from what?

My posts on this topic may seem repetitious but what is worth mentioning is worth repeating.


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Monday, February 13, 2006

*Love, War and Debate*

I wanted to do a Valentine's Day post seeing that it is well Valentine's Day and I hope that a fluffy post would be conducive to my state of mind after attacking my Public Law assignment for the past few hours.

So this poor humble blogger will attempt a post that attempts to draw similarities between the concept/notion of love on the one hand, and the practice/act of debate on another.

Outside of the small incestuous company of fellow debaters (and the poor relations who are dragged into debating), the closest incestuous community would probably have to them that of the intelligence community. Often outsiders will have misconceptions about debate, either ascribing aspects to it that are not present, or not ascribing aspects to it that would make their understanding of debate flawed.

The premise on which this post will first begin will be to establish or at least assert the following maxim, "All's fair in love and war". The implication of this maxim is that there is a concept of love, a corresponding action that can be ascribed to love and an end point to love. Just like war and debate.

1. Like love and war, debate is not about the truth.

Love is about perception while war is about might not right.

And unlike certain other maligned professions like lawyers and statisticians, debate has probably far less to do with the truth than people think. Or perhaps as much to do with the truth as people tend to ascribe to politicians.

This is because debate is about argumentation, which side better presents the facts, stats and assertions in a logical, cohesive and coherent manner. As an adjudicator, we cannot enter into the debate with our own specialised knowledge. All that you are suppose to know is what the reasonable person knows.

I submit that the reasonable varsity level debater knows as much as any reasonably intelligent person who reads three online papers, one print, a magazine and a journal regularly knows. But that is not what a reasonable person knows.

In fact, unless the other side points out the untruth in the opposing side's statement, the most you can do is to dock as many marks as you should decide BUT NOT TO THE EXTENT that the debate is lost.

So if your adjudicator is stupid, you can get away with the most incredible assertions and argumentation. I've actually lost a debate because the adjudicator confessed that she did not know what the WTO was or did thereby totally undermining my argument on why the government's policy for the WTO to regulate the environment through trade was pure nonsense.

2. Like love and war, debate is about winning

Sorry, unless you're in a BP style debate (where you have 4 teams), being second just means you lost.

And considering the very format of debate where you are essentially attacking the validity of the arguments the other side, the debates themselves are rarely cogenial. It's fast, furious and aggressive. Even when we sound nice and polite.

However, the difference is that what happens in the debate itself very rarely if ever carries over post-debates. Everyone understands the groundrules and everyone knows that we are merely attacking the views and not the person. Unfortunately, this view isn't always shared by wider society and that's pretty much why you get flame wars.

3. Like love and war (and sports which is essentially civilised warfare), debate incites the highest passions.

It's not just a debate, any more than soccer or basketball is just a game. The competitive sports people understand this. It means much much more. Debate is a sport and a bloodsport at that. It is as easy to love as it is to hate with a passion, sometimes concurrently.

And there's also the additional point of why debaters are attached to their viewpoints and actually get bored (and or irritated) with argumentation in general life.

After a period of about two years, say with twice weekly training and 6 tournaments a year (assuming you make it for all) you would have easily done over 150 debates on various issues which often overlap. Assuming that you've done your research and debated the issue a couple of times over, it becomes pretty clear to you what your views are on a whole host of issues. And because you know the arguments of the opposing side, this isn't merely obstinacy or ignorance, it is a careful rational and thought out position.

And I've been debating for over 5 years now.

But at the same time, it can be truly frustrating being a debater in real life. Most debaters I think tend to be moderates simply because they know both sides of the issue. So for example, my feelings towards the Israeli-Palestinian problem can be summed up from the following line from Shakespearean Romeo & Juliet, "A plague on both their houses". It's made particularly worse after being on a Model United Nations Historic Security Council on the Yom Kippur War.

As such, extremist pundits seriously annoy me because you know the blatant flaws of their arguments and omissions. The people I'm referring to are people like Ann Coulter (for the right) and Michael Moore (for the left). This is not to say we don't hold extreme viewpoints e.g. my position on free speech but we tend to be moderates for good reason. Same goes for bad argumentation e.g. some of comments made by those pro-abstinence/abstinence-only people or some of the really awful comments in the Sunday Times on capital punishment.

But at the same time, argumentation in real life can be just tiring and boring because you know most of the arguments, rebuttals and counter-arguments and you're just waiting for the 4th argument so things get interesting. But it doesn't normally get that far.

4. Like love and war, it can be both easy and hard

I think conceptually we know what we want from love, war and debate. And like any activity the basics are I suppose easy to pick up but hard to master.

So people approaching debate really come in two forms. Some think it's easier than it is and many others think it's way harder than it is.

Debate is pretty simple to describe, to win, you must beat the other team by being more persuasive and showing by argumentation why their position doesn't stand. We do argue often to try to persuade one another so in a manner of speaking we have some inkling of what to do.

But the thing is, it's like expecting someone who can run with the ball to be good at soccer. To a certain extent it is true, but to the extent that this is a team sport and has rules, it is not.

So it's about team dynamics and sounding coherent as a team and not shafting your teamline and teammates (metaphorically speaking of course). It's about defining the problem and sticking to the issue. It's about knowing what arguments are valid and what are not.

Admittedly it's the nuances of varsity debate that makes things much harder with a steeper learning curve. At your secondary school and JC level, you've got time to prepare on a pre-set motion. Even where you have an impromptu debate, you've got 5 members and about an hour to prepare on a general debate.

Oh and there's no such thing as contextualisation i.e. debating the motion in a particular country or region.

In varsity level debating, the best case scenario is a three person team, 25 minutes to prepare on a general motion (AUDC). The worst case scenario is a two person team, 15 minutes to prepare on a policy debate i.e. presenting a policy to solve the problem that you identified from the motion (Worlds).

But even so as long as you can think and generally sound, you can train to be a debater if you put in the time.



Saturday, February 11, 2006

Tommorow.sg - Can a person stay in Parliament for 18 years without an Election>
Sg Elections '06: Coattail watch

*Public Law update*

There are basically two reasons why I'm highlighting the above blogs.
1. Because it allows me to reuse previous posts
2. Because the information is (in)directly relevant for the Public Law assignment

It's definately worth a read in terms of deciding the effects of the GRC on the notion of parliamentary democracy. Does each and every sinble MP really have popular support and representation when doing so in a team? What about those who do so in a walkover.

Or here's another factoid. If a member of a GRC is no longer able to execute/perform his duties as an MP, there is actually no need for a byelection as happened in 1999. The reason then given by (then) PM Goh was that we needed to concentrate on our economic recovery.

Thus I refer you to these earlier posts I did.

This first post was an commentary on the two following posts by my friends:
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.

This was a further post in response to Ted's Comments...

Ted was kind enough to leave comments on my general commentary based upon observations by two of my friends. I agree with much of what he says and it does address some issues that I unwittingly left out in my prior post.

Hmm just commenting on some points you made. I would have thought that being able to cast a vote would be an exercise in Civil liberties/rights, i.e. no matter who you vote for, just the act of casting a vote is an exercise in a (arguably) fundamental right.

Yes and no. While I do agree with this sentiment, the truth is, the right to vote is actually not in our constitution (unlike other fundamental rights in Part IV). It's actually derived from an Act of Parliament so theoretically it could just as easily be revoked by a simple majority of MPs. I do wonder whether that would push Singaporeans to protest, or whether the reasoning given will be sufficient for them to acquiese to this mitigation of our 'right'.

The AG in turn argues that there is an implied right to vote based upon the fact that our political system (if you read the parlimentary debates, it turn into a mess of ideas like 'duty' and 'privilege' etc.). So I suppose the courts will generally agree with that and our democracy is safe for now.

Smaller political parties being small, have really nothing to lose by advocating populist policies, at the very least I do not see them as appealing to a section of voters (fundamentalists of whatever denomination) or else we would see the appearance of Family First Parties like in Australia. I also think there is a limit to how centrist or pragmatic any political party can be since at the end of the day no one policies looks different from the other. So it would just boil down to like you said who do you like better or as the PAP would say, the proven track record.

Our particular system doesn't work for, or perhaps to put it more bluntly, discriminates against small parties of any sort. Other than the fact that campaigning time is short (which means that you need a large party aparatus to get your name out or already have huge name recognition), our system does not reward small parties unlike a system with proportional representation. Worse still, with the GRC system now so huge and the pitiful number of single member wards, small parties would fund it even harder to even contest an elections.

With regards to centralist policies and pragmatism, it's actually a very real trend that we see in mature democracies. With the exception of the extreme right shift in the Republicans in the US. Most biparty systems, or even multi-party systems see a growing convergence in terms of the policies of the 'left' and the 'right'. So if one looks at the policies advocated by Labour and the Conservatives (even in New Zealand or the Scandinavian countries), the differences are really miniscular.

I always think it was interesting that most people say they never think the opposition parties are good, simply because the cards are so stacked against them, ever seen a PAP member protrayed in a bad media light before like scratching his backsides on TV, I highly doubt so. Yes I know you also mentioned it,

No comment. The Andrew Kuan incident was disturbing in that he wasn't even a candidate for Presidency before he was savaged by and in the Press.

Raising pertinent and relevant policies questions or issues is also highly subjective to many circumstances. Mr Chiam had raised many concerns over education issues for many years and when the PAP government finally changed their minds, do the parents in the street at the end of the day think that it's due to the efforts of Mr Chiam or the opposition? I wonder.

I don't disagree. Hopefully with such information becoming more accessible and readily transmitted, we will learn more.

On your point on what are the signals broadcasted when opposition members voted into parliament, is it that important to ponder on what the voters intentions are or what are the effects of their votes? Does it really matter that they want to have their cake and eat it"

My commentary has to be read in the light of my friends' posts. Voter's intentions and signals matter insofar as it tells us what their aspirations and desires are. The problem when there isn't the possibility of an alternative government is that one then has to strain to figure what the hell the electoral will is. After all, being in a parliamentary democracy, parliament is suppose to represent the will of the people (the 'mandate' theory of representing constituents notwithstanding), one has to be able to figure out what they mean when they cast the votes to serve them. In theory anyway =P



Friday, February 10, 2006

*How Time Flies*

Come next month in March, CL and I will have spent 5 years together. Important milestones in these past 5 years have included the A Levels, National Service, first semester in Law School, first semester's result's (absymal), first debate speaking on opposing teams, first debate speaking together, first tournament where I screwed up our chance of breaking in the last round because I hadn't had enough coffee, And way way too many dates which involved debate, debating and debate prep.

But also I hadn't realised that it has been 3 days since I updated the blog. However, I promise my loyal readers (now actually numbering in the 2 digits =P) a post on how we spent our V-Day celebrations.

It's going to include a review on Crazy Horse in comparison with various cabarets and shows I've watched in the past 2 years. And yes, it's not just going to be about the 'boobies' and will include post-modern and deconstructionist comments. Have fun predicting what the last two terms mean in the context of my general posts.



Wednesday, February 08, 2006

NASA Chief Backs Agency Openness - New York Times

In an interesting continuation of the saga, it seems that the political appointment who managed to muzzle the top NASA scientist on climate change did not graduate from university despite claiming so on his resume.

Anyway, I am not naive enough to think that science can be divorced from politics or that the administration will not interfere at all. However, I would like to argue that there should be no necessary link and the government should take a light handed approach when it comes to scientific consensus.

There is not question as to who has ultimate control over public funds, that would of course be the public from which the funds came from. What the government/administration does with tax revenue is arguably spending it on the basis of a trustee-beneficiary relationship where it is expected that they would spend it in good faith and not to simply enrich themselves.

But at the same time, we know that there are tremendous divergent opinions on various issues in society, some more sincerely and validly held than others but nevertheless having the same normative subjective validity. So an issue that might possibly arise is to whether such public funds should be applied to controversial matters like funding/subsidising abortion clinics, stem-cell research, faith-based organisations, the ministry of education (not education mind you) or the military.

I think it is fairly evident then, that the only possible way to determine such action must be to determine if it creates more societal utility than harm. There really is not other objective method to determine this issue.

But even if we were to reject the above i.e by proponents of the minimalist state, it can be safely said that the government should at the very least provide public goods i.e. goods that the free market will not provide or will be consumed at a sub-optimal level. So defence, lighthouses, education and scientific research will probably still exist.

But to touch on the last bit on scientific research, the issue is who should determine what is researched? If we go by the logic of the state being the provider of public goods then what tends to happen is that the private sector produces the R&D that produces material goods (generally at least), while the government does the 'Blue sky research' of discovery. The problem is that these tend not to have extrinsic value i.e. some form of immediate application e.g. the supercollider or may offend some part of the populace e.g. controversial sexual research (see Aug 2004 issue of Discover).

The problem is that these research have tremendous scientific value and is recognised as such by the scientific community. This is because to get a grant to study these things, you have to endure a very rigourous peer-review process, sort of like jumping through hoops on fire backwards while blindfolded. And very often research has been done where the practical application of the discovery was only much much later e.g. transistors, lasers and x-rays.

Similarly, the controversial research has very practical applications in understanding the spread of diseases and how best to curb them. The simplistic notion of the pro-abstinence (abstinence-only) camp fails miserably when trying to deal with sexual epidemics simply because they do not understand the much more complex social interactions that propergate the spread of such diseases.

On a last tangential point, I also think it is worth pointing out that though the scientific consensus has been wrong, it has always been science and the scientific community that provided the new theorem and paradigm.



*Danish Cartoon Controvesy*

I hadn't really realised it but I've actually came across this issue and made some comment on this before in IHT: Cartoons ignite cultural combat in Denmark, where I had the following to say:
"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?" (addendum: This is a group that is banned in most of the Muslim world as well as Russia and Germany. But it is allowed to operate in Denmark and Britain).

I think that by now, my views on this matter should be pretty well established so I'm not going to go into it. But what I do want to do is to figure out what is so wrong with the cartoons that provokes the response, and whether it was justified.

1. It is insensitive and makes a mockery of others and is thus offensive and bad.

Fair enough. No one likes to be mocked or ridiculed and it doesn't help to change anyone's mind or perception anyway. But so what when weighed up against the right to free expression and speach? The general good must be outweighed by the hurt feelings of some. The right to offend must be at the cornerstone of the freedom of speech and expression for the attacking of any view is bound to 'offend' the holder of that view.

The alternative to this would be to allow the state to determine what is or is not allowed speach. This is all well and good if you're part of the club that is afforded protection, but not if you are outside the purview of the law. As a result, it leads to a horrid situation whereby it's perfectly alright to call a homosexual an abomination and unnatural in the press. Or the oddity where a female could verbally abuse you but the moment you speak a vulgarity against her or flash her a vulgar sign, it constitutes an insult to modesty. This law is still applied today although it tends to be tagged on as a secondary offence. Colin Chan v PP, the Jehova's Witness case anyone?

And I think this is particularly true of political/editorial cartoons which generally do satire, which is a form of mockery and by nature is offensive to the target audience (unforunately it seems that people wrongly identified themselves as the targets). They by nature tend to be sarcastic, snarky and offensive. If you flip through the ST and look at the cartoons of that editorial cartoonist, he's very free to associate Bush with all manners of horror (and arguably untrue associations). And yet we would think it very odd if the US were to demand an apology much less, protest and destroy property or to send CIA agents at the dead of the night to 'talk' to the cartoonist.

Now, one could legitimately say that he 'deserved' it because of his foreign policy (hmmmm, has everyone forgotten we were part of the coalition of the willing?) but what about the cartoons targetting the USA instead of Bush simply?

2. It is insensitive and offensive towards religion.

The sacred trumps the secular. And religion is immune from all forms of criticisms, particularly provocative ones. It just IS. Don't think about it.

But what exactly are the cartoons that were published that caused so much offence? Oddly enough, the most offensive cartoons were not the ones published by the paper but were additions by certain Dutch Imans who seemed to want to provoke such a reaction. See today's (080206) Reuter report in the ST.

The original three cartoons actually specifically touched on this issue i.e. the massive overreaction by the radical, extremist, fundamentalist fringe. The author was giving voice to the fact that he was unable to find illustrators who would portray the Prophet for fear of reprisals by said extremist. And they proved him right.

If one looks at the other cartoons, can we say it is so wrong to lampoon the notion of suicide bombers getting their 72 virgins in heaven?

The upset feelings were over the fact that the likeness (well the cartoon is kinda fuzzily drawn) Prophet was portrayed on paper and therefore it was blasphemous. Well, it isn't a universal prohibition. But even if it were, should religion get a free pass simply because it is religion? Most other religious figures have been caricitured or worse in the course of history, but most of the time it resulted in sound of fury rather than actual destructiveness. This overreaction and the subsequent reaction is at the heart of this issue.

At this juncture I suppose I should mention that the Arab press prints way more virulent anti-semitic stuff than was portrayed in those cartoons accusing them of much worse stuff. And we don't see Jewish populations rising up anywhere in the world to invade the embassies of these nations (most of whom are tacitly involved in this campaign to undermine Israel in the popular consciousness).

So it would seems like this is a clear case of what's sauce for the goose not being sauce for the gander. I don't really like this argument because two wrongs don't necessarily make a right BUT it is indicative of the knee-jerk mentality of violence and irrationality portrayed by the fundamentalist here. Which leads me to my final point...

3. It's bad because it causes more good than harm

True enough and being a subscriber to a consequentialist form of morality, there is much force in this argument. I previously argued that it was foolish or sloppy or both for Newsweek to print the debasement of the Koran by US troops in interment camps without the ability to withstand pressure form the Executive to maintain their stance because they know or should have known of the violent uproar that would occur.

Furthermore, it would appear that it even alienated the moderate elements of the Muslim populace that is vital to the fight against radicalisation and extremism.

But conversely, 'reckless' though the actions of the newspaper may be, should not we be worried that this is indeed happening? No one is denying them the right to protest peacefully as is being done in New Zealand and Indonesia, but where's the corresponding condemnation of the violence that broke out elsewhere?

Furthermore, a distinction could be made between hate speech and provocative speech. One has the deliberate purpose of creating resentment towards a particular group with the expectation of violence. The other has a desire to elicit a response but not a murderous nor destructive one. I agree that the line is fine but it is one that has to be drawn.

For my biggest problem with this consequentialist argument is that it legitimises violence as a tool and an effective one at that at censorship. In which case, for any debate to be settled or any view to be quashed, one simply needs to have more force and the ability to use it.

It is one thing to pander to sensitivities of whatever sort. But I must emphasize that demonstrations and marches are not necessarily bad, they just demonstrate deeply held beliefs (whether valid or erroneous) and sometimes have good effects like toppling dictatorships. It is, however, quite another to pander to violence and to allow them to censor those who do not hold similar beliefs. That is the problem.



Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Global Voices Online - Blog Archive - Singapore: Debater Talks Debate

Singaporean student debater Shaun Lee posts some observations on his blog Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc on how the dissolution of Asian confidence after the economic and political crises of the late 1990s has led to opportunities for new thought: “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.

Well, that's true I suppose but I fear people looking reading that actual post may be rather disappointed by the rather different nature of that content of that post because it is primarily reviewing a 1993 article on Asian Democracy read in the light of history.


Sexuality workshop an eye-opener for teens - Feb 7, 2006

*Once more unto the Breach!*
Just a quick response today because the majority of the letter is anecdotal.

IN THE article 'Students cry foul over sexuality workshop that pushed these messages' (Sunday Times, Jan 29), reporter Jeremy Au Yong said a four-hour workshop of the Family Life Society irked some students.

It was held under the Education Ministry's guidelines to provide sexuality education for upper secondary and tertiary students. He said the teachings were 'too strong' because it discouraged contraception, abortion, in-vitro fertilization and human embryonic stem cell research and allegedly infringed on other freedoms of thought.

As a parent of two adult sons, a practising doctor, and a volunteer helper in orphanages locally and overseas, I am grateful to see that the Family Life Society is bringing traditional values on sexuality to the sexually active young here.

As a young medical student, I learned about infectious diseases such as gonorrhoea and syphilis. We saw men and women in venereal disease clinics with fear in their eyes as they passed pus from their genitalia in pain. We also saw the tears of women who had repeated strictures of the fallopian tubes because of venereal-transmitted disease. These women remained sterile.

Later, I would be one of the first to see the early cases of HIV and Aids in the United States. There was fear in the partner, knowing that to contact Aids was a death sentence and ostracism from their sexual partners.

At an orphanage overseas, we find that without the exceptional love of the care-givers, these orphaned children would be dead.

Some children were dumped on the streets by the single mums. If they were lucky and got picked up, they were saved. In other instances, abandoned babies could be eaten by hungry dogs.

Locally, in one of the new homes for 'battered children, and teenaged mums in crises', we try to provide them a shelter until the mum can complete her studies and learn her trade. I wondered. Was this a price of the freedom of sexual expression?

Yada yada yada. Nice anecdote but ultimately irrelevant and ending with a non-sequitur. The freedom of sexual expression may be mutually exclusive with a pro-abstinence approach, but it is not mutually exclusive with an abstinence plus or a comprehensive sexual education approach.

Therefore the real issue should not simply be whether the freedom of sexual expression is bad, for it's pretty much a moot question, but rather which policy advocated best prevents all these horrible things from happening. Pro-abstinence policies do NOT work. And definitely do not work as well as comprehensive sexual education. For links, statistics, citations, please refer to the previous post.

In fact, one has to wonder how much sexual education those 'battered women' (what the hell does this got to do with freedom of sexual expression anyway?) and teenage mothers got. Are you thinking what I'm thinking B1? Yes I think I am B2...

When my teenaged sons were growing up, my wife and I would reflect on the question 'what if both of us died suddenly, who would look after them? What if they picked up bad moral values and would not listen to our counseling?' My experiences in a public school helped me to guide my sons but like in my time, masturbation and homosexual behavior were not rare in the schools, though dating with the opposite sex was not frequent. We were free and unrestrained in what we wanted to do as long as we did not breach school discipline.

A little incoherent this. I really don't understand what his point his. Is he trying to associate freedom of sexual expression with bad values and morals?

Family Life Society has its opponents. While it champions responsible parenthood, the sanctity of marriage, the sexual act within marriage, and the precious value of all human life (regardless of how weak that life is), it also actively discourages euthanasia in all forms, such as contraception (where sperms are killed), abortion (where life is intentionally terminated), and embryonic stem cell research (where the hapless human life is destroyed).

If he's a medical doctor as is claimed above, then he's being disingenuous with regards to the human life bit. The scientific definition of human life is anything with human DNA, thus hair is human life and does not answer the broader issue of abortion and its morality. As for contraception, I think it's reflective that he only looks at male type contraception and besides nocturnal emissions kill sperm as well.

My sons are now responsible professionals. While we disagree from time to time, my wife and I still keep our traditional values.

The teenage sexually active school children here have been given an eye opener. It is now their choice.

Tradition good? *Shrugg* it all depends. I would seriously like to know what choice these school children were given, being lied to does not allow for an informed rational choice to be made. Not having access to the opposing viewpoint does not allow for any possible choice. At best it is a choice made out of ignorance, at worst, duress.


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Monday, February 06, 2006

Social issues are not the government's responsibility alone. Other bodies have a role too - Feb 6, 2006

Sounds good right? And I must agree that his first part generally stands. But then he commits a non sequitor or maybe a faux pas.

Firstly we have,
It is a shared responsibility and we need the active participation of our government, the private sector and the people. In this light, these organisations and individuals like Mr Neo and myself have a role to play.

But right after that we have this,
On Mr Neo's argument whether the methods used by these organisations are the best approaches, and his concern regarding any attempts to 'moralise and demonise', it is not as 'worrying' as Mr Neo makes it out to be.

Now, he misses the issue entirely. We had a JC, AJC in fact, which got a sexuality talk from a Catholic group, which raises very important constitutional questions about the very secular nature of the government and in particular, the secular school system (we aren't talking about ACJC after all...although I doubt they would bring in a Catholic group).

This is particular odd when one looks at the second and third last paragraphs of his letter (the last and second last blockquote in this post). That is where he talks about parents like him and Mr. Neo having a responsibility and duty to check on these groups.

For a fuller account on what happen as well as links to the student who was actually at ground zero, click here

But back to the letter.

I am perplexed by two of Mr Neo's sweeping statements that 'complex social issues are summarily declared as 'evil' and 'undesirable' without any room for discussion and deeper reflexivity', and 'blatant falsehoods are passed off as facts'. When Mr Neo wrote to this forum, he has in fact brought the issues into discussion and also triggered others like myself to reflect on what he has written.

But where are the 'evil' and 'undesirable' in the issues raised by him? All I can see is an individual who is concerned and wants to make a difference. To me, this is good and highly desirable.

To me, it seems perhaps very clear that the writer of this letter did not do his due diligence and find out what was indeed said at the forum. Because if he did he would understand the nature on which Mr Neo's statement was made. For example, sex with contraception is nothing more than mutual masturbation and by the way, masturbation is wrong because it's just lust and does not lead to precreation. Or what about the simplistic assertion that "Any sex outside of marriage demeans the true value of love & sexuality". Upon exploration (click link above), it turns out that for it to be meaningful, a huge number of caveats and qualifiers had to be used. Or what about the asserting that (thereputic) cloning and IVF is totally bad. Or what about that very very old canard about the inefficacy of condoms?

If Mr Nathan does not see why these statements should be considered to be 'complex social issues [which] are summarily declared as 'evil' and 'undesirable' without any room for discussion and deeper reflexivity', and 'blatant falsehoods are passed off as facts' then we have a much bigger problem here.

The use of condoms has its many limitations and there are potential risks which the manufacturers would not want to highlight to their potential customers for obvious reasons.

*Raised eyebrow* Can anyone say litigation? Can anyone say tort of negligence? Duty of care, breach of standard of care anyone? No dear sir, it is in the UPMOST interest of these manufacturers to give as full a disclosure as they can.

And also, can we say he who asserts must prove? Here's a metalink on my blog which deals with some of the falsehoods pushed by these organisations. I will call them falsehoods because of the availability of information (both old and new) which very clearly contradicts what they say. This must at the very least be a situation of wilful denial and not mere ignorance.

Social organisations like Family Life Society has a role to play, and in such instances, they will have to bring to light these limitations and their risks.

By lying? Bravo, once the 'kids' find out as they eventually will, you're going to turn them against you.

As a father of two teenage girls, I would want my children to know and learn about such limitations and their risks as well as the options available and the recommendations. This will allow them to make a more informed decision.

A commendable sentiment. So why would you want your kids to be lied to?

As a father, I too have a role and responsibility to critically review such teachings and check what the government, schools and private organisations are teaching my children.

And again, that is true. So I'm sorry Sir, you've got the wrong target here.



St. Gallen Symposium

Yes, this actually refers to the St Gallen in my description of the blog above. The following was my essay contribution for the symposium. I plead with my readers to understand that due to an Aristotlean confluance of events, I wrote this under rather severe time constrains. Not to mention a word limit of 2,100.

Europe: Example for Post-Modern Hegemony

Europe and the European Union (EU) are not the problem but the solution. The inherent tensions and conflicts between the various state and non-state actors provide a navigational map for those who would brave as bold a political experiment as the EU. And ultimately, these problems will form the basis for consensus and reform. And the promise of reform seems imminent.

The author submits that the individual “post-modern states” that make up the EU have, through the interactions of its state and non-state actors, set up the basis of a new paradigm, that of the post-modern hegemony. That this hegemony must been seen in the light of past ‘great empires’ and the (peaceable) ‘neo-imperialism’ of the United States of America (USA), where it borrows positive aspects of these systems while avoiding much of their pitfalls. Furthermore, that this form of hegemony promises to be a much better and viable alternative to the rise of other possible hegemons.

The actors in the EU are numerous but can be generally divided into state actors and non-state actors. Under state actors, we have supra-national agencies, individual states, independent organisations and various contesting political parties. Non state actors include Inter-Governmental Organisations (IGOs), Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and the ever-growing Multi National Corporations (MNCs).

Given these disparate actors with their attendant often conflicting and contradictory interest have generally given a tremendous dynamism to the system. Their conflict and resolution (whether through compromise or overwhelming power of whatever form) have created a fascinating equilibrium that is marked by flexibility within order. The relative inertia of the past 4 years must be put in its proper context and in the light of the EU's unique and historical achievements. For given the acrimonious history that is Europe, where places still bear the scars of two World Wars, it is nothing short of incredible to see the tremendous progress that the Union has made in resolving the conflict between historic enemies. Where bitter rivals once stared at each other across the borders, they now sit at the same table. Where conflicts were once resolved by force, there is now the common determination to work things by consensus and diplomacy.

But more than that, we enter a tipping point for Europe. We see a system that is not inert but is in transition. It nevertheless is an ordered one that promises to revitalize Europe and harkens back to the optimism and energy of the European Spirit at the turn of the century.

The state actors might seem stuck in a political quagmire coming on the heels of failed referendums in two of its founding and heavily pro-European members. And this may seem particularly so given that the ‘No’ vote encapsulated diametrically opposed viewpoints e.g. being too economically liberal or socialist. However, arguably, all this really means is a greater need to sell the message.

Even if we do not accept this argument, the fact has to be accepted that it generated debate and that the discourse enunciated the fears, ideals and desires of the people of Europe. And this debate at the very least provides a roadmap to how the EU should develop. The legitimacy of the Union must necessarily ultimately derive from the people. And this desire for greater communication and accountability can only be good in the long run and this has to be the path the EU must take.

But the reality on the ground points to a much happier and less dire situation that may have been presented above. There is a new spirit of cooperation in the air. So where one might have expected the recent budgetary talks to start and end in tears, acrimony and recrimination; British PM Blair and French President Jacque Chirac were able to end their impasse with the aid of new German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And this is despite her torrid electoral situation in Germany.

This cooperation is not just confined to economics but includes the political as well. The Union may have been strained by their divergent positions in the most recent Iraqi war. But while that arguably had as much to do with domestic political opportunism as principled ideals, nevertheless, the EU-3 (U.K., Germany and France) recent ongoing cooperation with regards to the Iranian nuclear problem marks such resurgence.

However, this notion of 'an ever closer union' has had its hiccups recently. Firstly, new member nations are subject to migration restrictions, and secondly, the referendum failed in part due to fears of being swamped by new poorer members. These point to a disturbing possibility (or even probability) of either a freeze in expansion (thereby going against the promises made to the prospective entrants, or alternatively, forcing more stringent and onerous restrictions on new members. Europe has to be more than that. It was and should be better than that.

Even if we were to disregard the role of the state-actors, the non-state actors have made tremendous strides perhaps even in spite of the actions of the state-actors. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the so-called European model is the reinvention of the private-public partnership. While the common perspective is that of the moribund German Business-Labour partnership, the fact is that it has already developed a separate, more fulfilling tangential path. We have seen the rise of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to the mutual cooption and cooperation by Civil Society and Corporations e.g. research and funding of orphan drugs. As such one can say that the Lisbon Declaration of 2000 has indeed been sustained and improved upon these six years.

We too see the synergy from the interaction between the state and non-state actors. The debate between the so-called Anglo-Saxon model versus the European one will result in the creation of a new and better social contract, one which has the dynamism and freedom of capitalism while being socialised by the influence of civil society. So just as Europe recognises the need to compete, they would not abandon the needy to their fate, nor allow inequity to exist due to lack of opportunity. In other words, if capitalism with a human face were to succeed anywhere in the world, it would have to be within the EU.

In short, the EU while under performing, nevertheless has the capacity to not only step into the US's shoes but to actually be a greater force for good than the US could ever be. By Paul Kennedy's thesis in "The Rise and Fall of Great Empires", it is inevitable that the hegemon of every age will be supplanted as its position in the world is eroded in relative terms. As things stand, the USA's hegemonic position is diminishing vis a vis the rise of China and India. However, unless there is fundamental change in the domestic and foreign policies of both nations, it would be actually be a deterioration of status quo. China because of its political system placing the supremacy of territorial integrity to the extent it would go to war. India because of Pakistan and Kashmir.

As things stand, the Euro could fulfill the financial position that the Dollar provides. London and Brussels are already competitors to New York. Even with the German-French economic engines being somewhat out of commission, it still ranks as one of the top economies of the world.

Where the EU has a distinct advantage over the USA is most evident in the areas of what Joseph S. Nye termed 'soft power', getting people to want the same things you do, so changes you desire occur without the need for hard power and the acrimony that often entails. The EU does not face the same anti-USA sentiment that the USA faces. It is not instinctually associated and 'tarred' with the ills of globalisation. Ironically, it has even less historical baggage than the US has in many places around the world despite its colonial past.

But what the EU possesses now in particular that the USA has seemingly lost is that abstract notion of moral authority. The EU has moved past the Iraqi war and it has not had the scandals that plague the USA through the abuses in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Grahib, or those of 'extraordinary rendition'.

Furthermore, the EU’s experience would be invaluable in demonstrating how it is possible to run an organization made up of disparate actors and interests. This also has the benefit of granting it a special sensitivity when dealing with and within such organisations. The problems of the 21st Century are going to be transnational and even global in nature. One can no longer really go at it alone or even with a small coalition for the willing. For it has a greater tendency to be simply fire fighting.

Even its ostensible lack of the capacity to project a military force or presence is not as severe a problem as it may seem. Firstly, the EU has a military force more than suitable for the problem it is likely to face in the near future. Secondly, NATO buttresses their military capacity. Thirdly, it easily has the capacity to step up their military spending. Fourthly and most fundamentally, an EU led world would be less likely to require a military solution.

And historically, one can see the important role that the EU has played in maintaining the stability of the regions it neighbours i.e. Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the dissolution of USSR in 1991, there was a very tangible fear that the individual states, thrown literally into the wild, would end up as failed states not unlike the Balkans. The role that the EU played in ensuring that this did not occur cannot be understated. What it did was to act as a stabilising influence in two ways. Firstly, just by being there, it acted as a bulwark against a descent into Balkanisation. Secondly but more importantly it was willing to admit them into the EU. This incentive proved more than sufficient for them to implement the institutional and political reforms required by the Copenhagen Criteria that firmly establishes democracy in those regions.

A similar situation is playing out with regards to the perennial Israeli-Palestinian problem. With Hamas winning an electoral majority in the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the associated problem this poses, the EU is in a tremendously and remarkably influential position to navigate this treacherous political grounds. Not only is it one of the largest funders of the PA, but it’s relatively neutral stand in the Middle East wins it more friends and less hostility than the USA (‘too’ pro-Israel), China (no real historical ties only commercial and energy ones) or Russia (‘too’ pro-Arab) could. And being in their immediate vicinity, there is huge self-interest for the EU to intervene and mediate.

At the same time, their influence also extends to being trendsetters in furthering Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. By establishing the EU Declaration of Civil and Political Liberties in all its member states, pushing for and creating the International Criminal Court and being a tireless advocate for such rights, the European Union in a manner of speaking has become more than a geographical expression. It has established itself as a beacon and bastion of Democracy, cooperation and amity.

What we also see perhaps is the birth of a new identity, the European that transcends the narrow petty concerns of race, religion, creed, language, geography and sexuality. Instead it envelops them and channels them towards a higher united force and promises a solution to the problem of social integration in the long run.

But what really makes the EU a true experiment in Freedom is the following. It establishes a new social contract not just between the people and the government but between governments, such that sovereign nations have actually given up some of their powers in order that their citizens can enjoy more rights. Most telling is the freedom of movement and its associated rights, where we have members of the Union traveling freely between member nations and enjoying not just the right to work but also the right to vote where they reside.

Closer to home, that this ‘ever closer union’ sprang forth from humble economic cooperative beginnings to the notion of gives great hope that the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Constitution can work and that one day we will be more than simply the sum of our parts.