Friday, March 31, 2006

evolgen: Activism for Activism's Sake

*On "biopiracy"*

I fear I don't have the time at this point to do a proper post on this but I merely want to bring this to the attention of whoever reads this because this was an issue covered by the Business Time two days back condemning what they saw as biopiracy i.e. US patent law not recognising traditional knowledge as prior act thereby allowing greedy pharmaco firms to come in and (I presume by patenting bismarti rice, they were patenting the genomic sequence?)...and because of that it hurts...people...somewhere, somehow.

I felt that the BT article was full of sound and fury but ultimately signifying nothing because it doesn't set out what the problem really is. Insinuating theft is one thing, but whether it is really theft quite another.

But that's that for now.



Thursday, March 30, 2006

Pharyngula: Godless Bloggers v Pensacola Christian College
Chronical of Higher Education: A College that is strictly different
The Student Voice: Pensacola Christian College Rules

*First I laughed, then I grew sad*

And then came the alarm. That there are people so incredibly brainwashed that they have absorbed Orwellian and maintained notions of doublethink and oxymoronic ideas like slavery is freedom and such like.

This is the college that condemns Bob Jones University (another fundy University) as too liberal for allowing students to use translations of the Bible other than KJV ("the only divinely inspired English version"). Personally I think the whole "debate" is a load of crock and an absolute waste of time, ranking up there with how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. But that's faith and theology for you.

Follow the links, the first has the pertinent and disturbing extracts found in the full text in the second one. That however requires your NUS userid and password. The last one refers to the now-defunct "underground" newspaper in the college that tried to agitate for a christian way of course =P

Read it and weep.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

*Cheap short post*

Just because it's only 136 more unique page views before I finally hit 10000, I'm calling upon all my loyal readers (now back in the high single digits) to visit as often as possible in an attempt to hit the "magic" 5 digit figure by next week.

In return, I'' try to pose something readable and amusing soon.


Monday, March 27, 2006

*Burr, it's just cold*

Don't read too much into the title, I'm just cold. I was planning to make some stupid word pun with the word Burr(ows) but I wasn't doing anything on trust and equity. So once again I trall TodayOnline in hopes of something to comment about. And I found an interesting letter that allows me to dwell not a good number of issues all at one time.

AIDS/HIV Carriers must Act Responsibly

Letter from Justin Kan Rui Liang

I-S Magazine recently published an article about an HIV-positive man who did not tell his sexual partners about his status as he thought that there was no need to since he took protective measures.

I was shocked because I know that it wrong to lie about one's HIV status, and also that wearing protective devices does not guarantee a person to be a 100-per-cent safe from HIV/Aids.

1. It is actually against the law not to inform your sexual partner that you have AIDS. The following is taken from the Infectious Disease Act (Cap. 137)

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

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

(b) has voluntarily agreed to accept that risk.

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

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

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

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

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

(b) cunnilingus.

Take note of sub-section 4 which lays out the statutory definition of when a carrier knows he/she has AIDS because as it stands there might be a possibility of tweaking it so as to make the law more effective without violating any person's rights through compulsory testing.

2. Yes, condoms are not 100% effective in preventing AIDS and STDs not due to the inefficacy of the condoms themselves (if you don't believe me, survivalist manuals will tell you that condoms work well as waterbags. And water molecules are much smaller than viruses) but due to human error. Which might mean that it may not be a bad idea to teach people the proper way of putting one on.

Many people do not use condoms while performing oral sex. Even if they do use condoms, its usage cannot guarantee full protection.

Ulcers and cuts are potential avenues for a person to get HIV/Aids.

Precisely! I'm glad that this particular message is getting out. The purdishness of abstinence only policies have led to the rise of "everything but (actual vaginal intercourse)" behavior in teens and could be tied to subsequent rises in STDs.

Many people, especially the young, are simply not educated enough when it comes to matters of sex. But while sex education should remain a priority, it is the mentality of the HIV/Aids carriers that we should be truly concerned with.

Err... True it's not mutually exclusive as he points out but the problem is that this letter does not dwelve sufficiently into the reasons why some of these carriers (assuming that they know they are carriers) have such a "devil-may-care attitude" that "allows HIV/Aids to continue spreading". However, one has to wonder the prevelence of these people leading to the increase in AIDS. There are the thrill seekers and the crazy, and there are the irresponsible like husbands passing it on to their wives.

How can the Government address this issue? One possibility is to organise a nationwide blood screening exercise to sieve the carriers and have them tagged.

But that would lead to cries of discrimination, which is something no one wants to bring about.

Tagging them? *Shudder* Having said which, I suppose that it MIGHT be possible to create a system that would allow potential partners to find out whether their sex partner has AIDS e.g. allocating a particular (secret) number to every person that would allow potential partners to find out through say a hotline or a secure site whether that person has AIDS. Confidentiality of that information would then allow the information to remain secret ala current law of confidence.

Interestingly enough, a compulsory testing scheme in Singapore would actually work because of our highly centralised system, medical care and NS in general.

The other way and the one that I proposed to the HC team when they did this motion was to advocate tweaking s. 25(4) such that a person is deemed to know that he has AIDS if he/she engages in risky sexual activity and does not take adequate precautions and go for regular testing. This prevents moral hazard in the sense that it would encourage and not deter anyone from finding out that they have HIV/AIDS as might be the case under status quo.

But will the HIV/Aids carriers be able to act responsibly and help stop the spread of the disease? Or will they continue to be irresponsible with their callous acts?

Gay or straight, everyone should play a part in the fight against HIV/Aids.

I don't know, is it me, or is this a tad alarmist? Oh well, decent letter I suppose.


Thursday, March 23, 2006

Heartfelt but simplistic letter

TODAYonline: Do S'pore teens know they have it much better?

Before I go on, the biggest difficulty that I have with this letter is that it could have been much much more. By simply focusing on economic needs being met and the subsequent tsk-tsk over ungrateful youths, the author fails to make the much larger point that this is then the time and perfect opportunity for self-actualisation to occur according to Maslov's hierarchy of needs.

The answer to his question is not just going to be met with a "so what?". Yes, we should be thankful perhaps, but this is simply a naif and insipid approach.

Letter from Harry Chia

Mr Nick Danziger's selection of the photos, "So, who stole their smiles?" is a poignant reminder of the harsh and stark realities of life.

As I read the narratives of each photo, I wonder how our teenagers, who, hopefully, would have picked up a copy of Today, felt.

Their lives here are a paradise, compared with those in the photos.
Sure, but by comparison, we live in relative poverty compared to the Swiss.
The teens here have everything cut out for them — they are able to go to school regardless of their parents' socio-economic status and given every opportunity to excel. Our environment is clean and most of us have a roof over our heads.
Yes, granted that this is good, it's uber simplistic. Let's take each of the claims and examine them to observe if we should be doing better (and that's what the letter should be advocating instead of some argument from gratefulness)
1. Right to education, article 16. It's great, as long as you don't mind giving up your right to expression (including dress) and freedom of speech within the context of having an education. Same price to pay it may seem, but dangerous in the long run
2. Opportunity to excel. Not a constitutional right perhaps but the notion of meritocracy is highly valued. But for meritocracy not to become a self-perpetuating elitist cycle, there must be equality of opportunity and socio-economic background must not be an advantage nor a disadvantage. Early streaming and the misallocation of resources towards the 'smart' starts the cycle early and entrenches it.
3. Our environment is clean. Very true.
4. Most of us have a roof over our heads. *Cough* No right to property people. There are very sound economic reasons for it. And the legal intricacies of Eminent Domain would make most law students cry even more during Public Law and Property Law anyway.
The kids here are relatively safe from abduction and child prostitution.
I'm not sure why this is here but I presume it is in contrast to the rest of SEA.

The fact is, it's got to do with economic poverty. Children don't choose to become prostitutes but are often forced to do so due to economic destitution or organised crime rings which can only flourish in such destitution. I'm all for fighting to end the prostitution but just make sure there are jobs waiting for them ya?
Life in Singapore is more than good.
So let's make it better. Now that we have achieved a great measure of economic prosperity, it's time to consider society and self-actualisation. Poverty in the midst of plenty is a blight upon the conscience of society and welfare is simply the recognition of the basis of Humanity (and equality of dignity of all persons. There are economic arguments to be made but it would be kinda crass here).

It's also about putting all those educated people to use and spur the notion of civil and civic society, rights and freedoms and the ultimate notion that the person herself is a person and that no other person or organisation should be able to strip that away from her.


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

BBC NEWS | Europe | Eta 'calls permanent ceasefire'

A start of something new?


Monday, March 20, 2006

BBC NEWS | Americas | Canada's growing marijuana problem

*It's Opposite Day*

I'm stealing this idea from some bloggers I read once in a while and the concept is rather simple. Argue for something you would normally argue against, or argue against something you would normally argue for.

And speaking as a debater, it really isn't all that hard. The only thing you need to remember is this. Can you lie convincing/persuasively for the 7-8 minutes that you need to speak for?

If you aren't that comfortable with that approach (and sometimes that approach is just suicide e.g. demonising homosexuality in a debate is a near sure-fire way of losing against any decent team) what you could do is to rephrase the issue such that it suits you. So the classic example would be you support gay rights etc. but you oppose their right to marry or adopt a child. That's where a policy with a sunset clause comes in very useful....

So why should we continue to criminalise marijuanna despite the abject failure of the general war on drugs?

1. You don't take a defeatist attitude much less an irrational one whereby as long as you cannot totally eradicate it, you do not bother to combat it. It's analogous to the argument that because you cannot prevent crime, you should just legalise everything.

2. The need for a bright red line. Alochol and tobacco are already harmful enough, you don't want also deadly/harmful narcotic thrown into the mix. The impossibility of abolishing either of the two products is not good enough grounds for then turning around and arguing for legalising marijuanne

3. The need for a paternalistic attitude. The notion of individualism, individual rights and autonomy are predicated on a person having full mental and rational capacity. Often the largest groups using marijuanna tends to be teenagers who by law aren't considered to have full capacity.

Even amongst adults who do have full capacity, the fact that people still continue drinking and smoking despite the huge public education and often obvious deadly effects is testamentary to the fact that people simply need to be protected from themselves in these circumstances, especially when it comes to narcotics.

4. Cost-efficiency. In a liberal welfare state, the tax payers are the ones who are paying for the medical bills and cost of these smokers and drinkers and the associated harms inflicted upon themselves and on others.

In a manner of speaking, we are in effect already subsidising fool-hardy and irrational choices. Throwing in another legal narcotic will simply make matters worse, especially seeing as how marijuanna is smoked and causes the exact same types of harms that cigerette smoke creates.

5. Reality. It's one thing if the entire world decides to decriminalise or to legalise marijuanna but quite another if only a few states decide to do so. This raises hell for other countries who may not have extra-territorial laws to combat drug usage overseas. Not to mention the posssibility of drug cartels now using such legal fronts as the basis for running other illegal and dangerous narcotics.

And that's about all that I can think of without having to lie about the facts. =P



Saturday, March 18, 2006

Or is it all a matter of closed religiousity?

(ed: Reposting blog post because of spelling and formatting errors)

ST Article: "Is it all a question of openness?"
by Asst/P Tan Seow Hon

Reading the article, one cannot help but feel that this is a question still in search for an answer. Despite all that she wrote, nevertheless we are not left with an alternative with what it might boil down to.

Unless one reads between the lines of course. The only plausible alternative is that pre-martial sex is not good (I'm not even entirely sure she could even make the point that it was bad) because well "Someone" (nudge nudge wink wink) says so.

But let us focus on the substance of the article and in particular the claims made by the good Assistant Professor.

1. That a new orthodoxy about pre-martial sex seems to be emerging amongst the youths.

I'm not entirely certain about this assertion given that she extrapolates it from a single example (now 3 I hear, probably loads more) of a couple phonecaming themselves having sex.

Mind you, just less than a century ago, they would already have had kids and would be out working in the factories or managing the manor but nevermind that. The more important point is whether one can extrapolate a new <i>orthodoxy</i>, note the word, from a single example. The plural of anecdote is not data. But even if we concede that such a thing is possible, given the furor over premarital sex since the injunctions about virginity in most religious texts centuries past and present, are we necessarily seeing a new orthodoxy or more of the same old same old?

Aside: Maybe the new orthodoxy is exhibitionism. That should be personally interesting.

2. Some youths view those who believe pre-marital sex as a no no to be immature, prejudiced and judgmental.

Why Yes! Wow, brilliant observation, arguably with the intention of prejudicing the reader. But I don't give a flying fox about that. The real issue is which holder of views is more likely to be correct in their views.

I'm still waiting for a reason why pre-marital sex is INTRINSICALLY bad without recourse to either a) societal viewpoint (which as we know as the greaters arbiter of all that is good and pure racial lines =P) or b) some text asserting so.

Still waiting really.

3. That this is due to us no longer having a language of right and wrong. BUT that we poor poor liberals and post-modernists are just confused because we believe in individualism and autonomy but those notions still resides within the language of right or wrong.

What post-modernists more accurately say is that every viewpoint is a social construct and thus is subjectively valid. So the real question becomes, how do we arbitrate between them? I'm all for the use of an objective standard of Harm, the mainstay of Liberalism or even Utilitarianism as a consequentialist form of morality. Either way, by no stretch of the imagination or the facts (without outright lying or destroying the notion of Science) is pre-marital sex intrinsically bad.

This could be the start of a very long essay about the basis upon which we order society and how one determines Good but let's leave that for another day. Although if you search around on this blog, I've probably made some mention about that.

BTW, I very strongly recommend reading Bertrand Russell, he's at the very least funny and incisive.

4. We do not live by our instincts and that's what separates us from animals.

According to vegans (and this cute little article stuck to the drinks machine along the walkway to the Central Library), by the same argument, just because we need to eat and are omnivourous does not justify eating animal protein and the general exploitation of animals. Good enough argument? You decide.

And anyway how do we determine what is Natural (issues of self-evidentness abound)? Furthermore, my reason tells me that there's nothing intrinsically wrong with pre-marital sex, nor nothing particularly prized about virginity. Whereas my instinct (reason more likely) tells me that admonishments about pre-marital sex and keeping of virginity is the hallmark of a patriachical society premised upon the subjugation of women and based upon an erroneous mode of superstition.

5. No connection between marital and pre-marital sex.
6. The use of the word marital in order to "confer some of the same moral connotation upon a non-martial relationship that would otherwise be questionable".

Why do and should we hold in esteem something that is nothing more than an error of history and language?

Other than for its ironic and fallacious value of course.

7. Sex in a relationship with marriage in view makes marriage conditional.

So what? The same goes for the whole idea of dating, meeting his family, registering at ROM and a whole host of other things when it comes to marriage as a <i>choice</i>. When marriage isn't a choice than the list of things the marriage is contingent on becomes longer.

Family astrologer meet other family astrologer.

8. Marriage as more than a mere ceremony.

And therefore? Then the argument needs to be that somehow sex and marriage are inextricably linked and not simply by social convention. And even if it were, it would be logically fallacious to argue that Not A therefore B. No, that would only be true if A and B were mutually exclusive and in this instance they are not.

Adding insult to injury was a rather fallacious use of the hypothetical and caricaturedd post-modernist. And even if one accepts her basic assertion that post-modernist (all?) view it as a monumental affair, a life changing experience if you will, again the question is raised, so what? The more important question then becomes what is marriage and why does it 'sanctify sex'.

Any reductionist argument on the side of the marital sex bunch tends to cluster around arguments based upon sex as a means and not an end in and of itself. While I agree that this might be a notionally valid veiwpoint, nevertheless, its weakness lies in its mistaken assessment of its a priori assumptions necessarily being true much less still valid even today.

People have sex for pleasure. Get over it already.

9. Tries to sweep away notion of changing nature of marriage by simply saying that the increase frequency of divorce does not change the nature of the MOMENT of marriage.

So what happens after the moment of marriage? If one logically extends her last line about how one would not like to have sex in a 'partial and conditional love', the implication must be then that marriage is about 'total and unconditional love'.

I pause to savour the absurdity of that statement.

Moving along and on a substantive ground let us examine the nature of marriage. In some countries the groom purchases the bride, in others the bride purchases the groom. In ancient Greece, the negotiations were handled entirely by the groom and the bride's father (who would give mead which was made from honey for an entire moon, hence the origins of the word honeymoon). Arranged marriages have persisted all the way till now and it beggers the belief that this is about total and unconditional love unless one buys into some Orwellian notion of doublethink like slavery is freedom and lack of choice is love.

So where does this notion of a love marriage come in? Even in Chaucer's time, the notion of romantic love was that of romantic courtship where the female held the 'reins' of power in the relationship. The notion, like the stories, were entirely fictitious and were created as a partial salve against the reality that women were often nothing more than chattel. In Singapore, the MCYS census were rather interesting revealing that many felt pressured into marriage either by their family/friends or by society. Companionship? About 30%.

I leave this last point to the sociologists to dissect, but for now ta!


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Thursday, March 16, 2006

*Changes to Blog: Part Duex*

Remember this essay? That's the reason for why the description of my blog has changed. In case you aren't aware of what the previous description was, here it is in full:

This is generally not a personal blog. This is a blog where the author hopes to find fame, fortune, riches, and hopefully a trip to St. Gallen on the strength of his writing and his sometimes acerbic wit. Corporate sponsors please apply, I'm willing to sell out. Peace.
Yes Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm going to the St. Gallen Symposium!
*Mr Fluffy sends his robotic minions of twilight to make all the happy noises and expressions that the Al-Gore like author is incapable of expressing*

At this point, I'm still attempting to discover who the rest of the Singapore contingent is because I figure on travelling round Europe for a couple of days after the symposium and company would be fantastic.

I promise not to talk debate.



Wednesday, March 15, 2006

*Changes to blog: Part One*

For the very very observant, she would see that the title of my blog has changed once again. The reason is very simple. I made a misspelling that I was loath to change because most of the other blogs that link to mine have the misspelling. And in case you still haven't figured it out, it was meant to be ERGO not EGRO.

What the title of the blog refers to is actually a logical fallacy. "After it, therefore because of it". It refers to the mistaken notion that just because B occurred after A, therefore A caused B. Coincidence and happenstance occurs and one should not be too quick to draw a purported causal link on the simple basis of linear time.

What is does is to remind me that rarely are cause and effect obvious or inevitable. But more than that there are very particular things that debate and logic has taught me to watch out for. But be wary of the fallacy fallacy. Just because an argument is based on a fallacy DOES NOT mean the argument is necessarily wrong though it often is. But here are the some examples:
1. Reverse causality. So instead of A causing B, it actual is B causing A. So one of the most commonly cited statistics is that most liberal democratic nations are the richest in the world and therefore democracy creates wealth. However, without further elaborate, one could well also argue that wealth creates democracy. I personally think it's a mixture of the two but for a 'deeper' analysis of this issue, just search for democracy or Asian democracy with the google search tool above.

2. Correlation not causality. The most obvious and ridiculous example I could think of is how since the majority of hardcore criminals eat rice, therefore rice causes violent crime. Another example is the whole pornography causes crime bit. Considering how mainstream porn is in most society, that's just a whole load of bunk. By the way, you CANNOT prove a negative, so the fact that most studies are inconclusive or do not show a positive effect by pornography on crime is a good indication of the converse.

3. Confounding factors. This is the real pain in the arse when you try to extract the effects individual factors have on a particular effect. It CAN be done, it's just an insane pain and very very difficult methodologically. So we know lots of things cause an increase crime rate but which is the most important? This is of massive import because sometimes governments and politicians take the easy way out and the most politically populist and expedient without actually solving the root cause.

So for example, it is the act of talking on your handphone that is the major factor in car crashes not just the fact that one of your hands is off the wheel. So yes, forcing hands-free kit will mitigate the problem but not to the extent of eradicating it. Interestingly enough, it seems that older drivers (and not just experienced ones) suffer less from this problem. *Shrugg*

And in the forthcoming posts, I hope to demonstrate them. I've decided to parcel them out in the event I don't have the time to blog.



Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Science Gets Sacked

*Because it involves sex, education and because such things can happen here*

It's an old article (2003) and it's worth noting that things have deteriorated and degenerated in the meantime. Not to mention it demonstrates the basic law of this universe, every action has an effect.

To argue that Science is nothing more than the social perception and 'reality' of Scientist is not just to miss the point, stick your head in the sand and divert attention from the rule to the exception but it has very real effects as well.

Gary Trudeau of Doonesbury fame has encapsulated the Right's use of the post-modernist critique of science to push their conservative agenda in the following strip. "Situational science" is about "respecting both sides of a scientific 'argument' and not just the one supported by the facts." This is exactly the canard proponents are doing by pushing the stance of "teaching the controversy". It's as fallacious as teaching the controversy over the link between HIV/AIDS, the existence of the Holocaust, whether germs cause disease, whether the world is flat, whether Earth is centre of the Universe etc. Sometimes there simply is a wrong position to take.

The thing about post-modernism (before it went crazy) is that if one just limits it to social positions/morality/ethics/ethos, then it is perfectly rational to say they all have normative validity. HOWEVER, this is not to say that all such positions should be respected equally e.g. Kali Cults v Hinduism. One manner in which we can differentiate it is on an objective benchmark of say harm to 3rd parties or rule-utilitarianism.

This does not go for Science which is ultimately about rigourous repeated testing, falsifiable theories and a restriction to methodological naturalism. As a self-contained system, one can objectively say what is Science and what is Not Science. And the best example of that has to be how every single attack on the inefficacy of condoms, comprehensive sexual education, 'macro'-evolution (pray tell the definative genetic marker that prevents 'micro'-evolution from becoming 'macro'), global warming (increasingly) has at its heart an theocratic/theistic ideological basis and ONLY that.

This is not Science affirming a particular position but misusing Science to 'prove' a position. And regardless of one's intention, this is wilful ignorance at best and lying at worst.

And it has began hitting home.

It's not just about religious groups pushing their notion of a 'secular' sexual education by misusing Science but that they can get away with it. It's about theocracy by stealth and there will be a backlash.

This is not religion at its best but religion moving back to the middle ages. By preaching not sense, ration and the abilility of humanity but instead preach about the baser instincts of man, fear and hate. But worse still, the only way their programs and policies work is in a dystopia where every person is susceptiable to such fear or can't think. Or alternatively, in a utopia where every person will necessary listen to reason and ration (and we know how that is going).

And the end result is this, don't ever get sick of a sexual disease even if it's not your fault. When you have kids effectively ignoring ans sidelining those already having AIDS on the basis of abstinence only, you better hope they learn better.



Monday, March 13, 2006

Rethinking UN reform - Editorials & Commentary - International Herald Tribune

*Critique of UN HRC reform*

In the interest of full disclosure and debate, there is an earlier article related to this and sets out why the reforms, despite it being a dilution of the originals aims nevertheless is a good thing.

I do not doubt it is. By any measure, not much else could be worse than the current Human Rights Commission sort of it being entirely composed of the most egregious human rights abusers.

Oh wait, it nearly is.

But to be fair, a great effort is probably being made and it could be debated whether the current proposals really are as bad as they seems.

1. Enforceable standards for membership.

Here, Mr. Newt Gingrich (former Speaker of the House) and Mr. George Mitchell (former US Senate Majority Leader) recognise that the very nature of the UN, which is premised on statehood/soveriegnity and not Human Rights, and the general limits of America to enforce/impose its value and will on the institutions and mechanisms to more closely reflects its own.

Nevertheless they argue that the very nature of the Council i.e. to promote and protect Human Rights MUST deny any states currently under sanction and/or are unwilling to accept some form of monitoring mission. There is great force in this argument I think, even while acknowledging the good that can come from embracing and engaging rather than isolating such regimes. Furthermore, even if one conceeds the properganda material that can be used when such states are denied a seat, nevertheless, the previous Human Rights Commission showed how much of a mockery this becomes if there are no minimum standards imposed or even to enforce.

This is not to say that accusations of double standards will not abound and this is where I get a lot more uneasy over the policy. Take on the first level, a nation like China, whose power as a permenent member of the Security Council and an economic giant and military aggressor to boot, makes it impossible to keep off the council (if it so chooses). A realist argument is that a nation like China simply cannot be contained and it's better to engage seeing as it has paid off quite a lot more dividents than any other policy. Conversely, most other egregious abusers can be overawed by the collective power of the UN if not nations like the US and EU and arguably, a hardline stance will reap much faster reform and change.

Another similar charge would be that I fear of Israel. My sympathies are generally with Israel I think on the basis that they have shown more restraint than other would have been in a converse position. But more than that, it seems likely that they will accept monitoring. However, whether that would come to any fruition is another matter for another post.

2. Regional Groupings per "equitable geographical representation"

I think the fear mentioned here is real. Not only does it shift the balance of power away from nations for whom human rights are a real concern (even including the current US regime), but the basis of rotation on which this seems premised on would almost ensure that some abusers will get onto the Council, seeing that there are no membership criteria.

I suppose it is not impossible to "persuade" these nations not to take their place on the council ala Myanmar, however, the amount of diplomatic dancing and the I-can't-even-imagine-how-much-backroom-dealings it took makes this an exercise of self-flagetion and futility. Much better to set this off on a firm footing than to allow a piecemeal patchwork Council to stagger its way into the future like a Romario Zombie.

3. Voting requirements

Simple majority by a secret vote. The Americans want Sec-Gen Kofi Annan's original proposal of 2/3 majority. Each policy has its weakness and I would of course favour a 2/3 majority by secret vote.

But realistically speaking, the simple majority by secret vote MIGHT be a better mechanism than the open 2/3 majority insofar as it would allow nations from being pressured by a open vote into voting along regional bloc lines. But I conceed I really have no idea how this would translate in reality.

4. Removal from Council requires 2/3 majority

The critique by the Americans here have quite a bit of force when they call this "backward". I personally agree that the bar should be set high for admission but low for removal.

However, like anything else, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander and one need not look to far into history to realise that this was what happened to the Americans in the old HRC.

Personally speaking, I don't think any criteria by themselves are necessarily bad. But as negotiations has taught me, it's about the package. Some are simply worse than others. Some clauses in one package are perfectly fine while others make them a deal breaker. So far, I'm still not entirely in favour of the new Council but I'm realistic as to the possibility of a 'better deal'.



Saturday, March 11, 2006

(mr. fluffy, beleaguered kittens and technology)

Just because Mr. Fluffy has a troop of minions of twilight to run Fluffytopia doesn't mean the life of a FUBAR is all icy drinks and paper umbrellas (they're passe anyway--the latest thing is to rim glasses with coloured sugars or salts. Mr. Fluffy likes his with pink salt hand harvested from his private lagoon). In order to stay in touch with his people Mr. Fluffy often goes to mingle with them--in disguise, of course.

One day, Mr. Fluffy wanders into an Internet cafe. Yes, Fluffytopia has access to the Internet, not an intranet. This is Fluffytopia, a fluffy paradise, not a workers' paradise. In any case, given that no one actually does any work, it can't be a workers' paradise, can it? So. Back to the Internet cafe. As Mr. Fluffy settles to check his email from his adoring subjects, he hears a soft mewing sound--a kitty cat in distress!

Fearing a dastardly attempt on his life by preying upon his good nature, Mr. Fluffy sends a minion of twilight to investigate. After all, what if it really is a cute furry pet in danger? The mewing stops, and the minion of twilight returns empty handed. No kitty cat. Perhaps it managed to find its way out of the Internet cafe?

While sending out copies of his autographed pictures (with digital watermarks to guard against forgeries, of course), Mr. Fluffy hears the plaintive cries of the cat again. Cute furry pets should not have to be in distress or else this would not be Fluffytopia! Mr. Fluffy decides to investigate, flanked by his minions of twilight.

The mewing stops. The party stops.

The mewing starts again, this time more plaintive than ever, and this time, the mewing does not stop. Sensing an urgency (what if we arrive too late!) Mr. Fluffy and his part transverses the crowded Internet cafe (see, the people of Fluffytopia love to gain knowledge!) in search of the kitten. No cute fluffy creature, not even an un-cute fluffy creature (but how can that be, Mr. Fluffy asks) to be found, yet the mewing continues.


*Breathing a sigh of relief a.k.a. More fillers*

I'm not entirely certain I appreciate the seeming drift of this blog towards my personal life but I figure that until I recuperate sufficiently to start commenting on Middle Eastern Politics again (see the lastest Ridge for an interesting article that argues that we should not identify terrorists as it would mean that we label all of them as terrorist and are therefore all brought down to the level of badness...).

Well, that's that. After months of non-stop work dating back to the Luner New Year, where I spent a holiday in Bangkok basically cooped up in the hotel room desperately attempting to finish a public law seminar and the essay for St Gallen, I think I've reach a sort of break point.

Oh wait there's the monday seminar on protection of life and liberty and preventive detention. Dang.

At any rate, I've spent last Saturday and this at the Dorothy Chong Invitationals which is the largest debating tournament in Singapore, compromising a majority of the tertiary institutions and most of the junior colleges. It was a blast insofar as we actually won our debates, broke into the quarter-finals, won that, reached the semis before getting knocked out by the eventual winners of the tournament. And oh, we bested the other finalist in our first preliminary round. Small consolation perhaps but that's all there is when you don't even get a certificate for being a semi-finalist. =P

If you want to read something, post a comment. I'm too tired to actually search out for annoying articles to shred.



Friday, March 10, 2006

*Welcome to Shaun's Repository of Useless Facts* a.k.a. Feeling useless at ArtsQuiz Finals

First the good news. Vox Populi (the general knowledge quiz one, not the debate one) composing of David, CL and Me have actually won the inaugral Art's Club ArtsQuiz in an incredibly nail biting finals (we effective won at the last two questions of round one after trailing by 500 points to the next team and 800 to the leading team).

In the process, we have made for ourselves a nice profit of $80 (in total cash prizes) and various sundry stuff. Anyone who wants to buy a 1 month free pass to California Fitness let me know.

This makes a nice runup to the big money of the Chancellor's Challenge Shield and a vindication of sorts when we lost the narrowest of margins to RJC in the last GK tournament.

The author is just upset that he was next to utterly useless at the finals where he could not answer even one question for the team. This was in marked contrast to the preliminary round where he could count on his knowledge of philosophy (thank goodness for Jurisprudence and Public Law), economics and Shakespearean plays to pull his considerable weight for the team. =P

In a manner of speaking, I'm pretty used to coasting to wins in these things. Back in HCJC, I was with Eunice for the Inter-CT GK quiz and we won by a pretty massive margin. During the Vice Chancellor Shield, if it had not been the absolute disaster that was the National Education category that was during the second round, we could have sat out the last round and still won.

So it was a rather peculiar feeling looking at questions in the finals and having absolutely no idea at an answer. Not even an educated guess. It felt as if we were suddenly transported to Mastermind.

Anyway, this is just a filler post until I get back to proper blogging which would be hopefully soon.



Tuesday, March 07, 2006

*Hectic Times*

I do realise that the level of inactivity on the blog is almost akin to that when I was back in NS. I really do wish I could blog a little more but as the title suggests...well states outright, things have been just a little hectic.

However, once this Saturday is over, my schedule should clear up somewhat and hopefully free up sufficient time to start blogging again.

But in the meantime, go bug Chew Lin. She has like all these draft posts which she hasn't published yet.



Thursday, March 02, 2006

IHT: Human Rights - A needed UN Reform

(Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, is president of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative.)

During my time as UN high commissioner for human rights, I saw first-hand the weaknesses of the United Nations main human rights body, the Commission on Human Rights, which governments now plan to replace with a Human Rights Council.

The commission has a proud history. Under its first chairperson, Eleanor Roosevelt, it gave the world the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and went on to develop the body of international human rights law we have today. It was therefore deeply frustrating to see its work increasingly undermined by block voting and procedural maneuvers that prevented some of the world's worst human rights violators from being held to account for their abuses.

Why not just come right out and say it? That the world allowed countries with massive human rights violations like Syria, Lybia and Sudan, not just to be members but to actually preside over the council just so they could snub the US. The individual representives cannot help but be tainted by the blood that stains their hands. I mean this is truely rank hypocracy.
I agreed with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan when he proposed a body that would ensure higher standards of membership and accountability, and I shared his disappointment - and that of human rights organizations around the world - when, last September, governments did not take forward an initial proposal for creating the new council. The failure of that first initiative was due in part to demands for sweeping changes to the text that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton put forward at the last minute.

More than five months later, a new proposal has been negotiated - weaker than the original one, but with significant improvements on the current commission - and yet again the opportunity to implement it is hanging in the balance.

I think it is an inevitable fact that Bolton has got to rank as one of the worst diplomats to the UN possible considering his previous hammering criticisms of the UN. But putting that aside for a while, let's look at the next few paragraphs.
Some suggest that a stronger, new institution could be created by further negotiation, and that nongovernmental organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as the secretary general himself, have acted feebly by declaring their support for the proposal as it stands. It is far more likely, however, that Annan and General Assembly President Jan Eliasson are simply being realistic and that this is why most diplomatic observers agree that the proposal should be approved now as it stands. More talk will almost certainly produce a weaker council.

I personally think it is a non-sequitor simply because a firm line has been drawn and the nations have demonstrated their bottom line. But the broader question has to be asked, is a weaker council better than a) the existing one and b) the possibility of a stronger one, which brings us to...
While the new proposal is not all that human rights advocates hoped for, it is a clear improvement on the commission and has many positive aspects that can be welcomed. For example, members would be elected directly and individually by secret ballot - irrespective of regional slates. To be elected, candidates must win an absolute majority - that is at least 96 positive votes in the General Assembly - and abstentions would count as negative votes. In practice this could be a higher standard than the two-thirds majority test initially proposed.

Those elected would be expected to respect the council's rules and their performance would be reviewed during their term of service. No state would sit for more than two three-year terms without a break, and members found guilty of poor human rights performance could be suspended. Moreover, the council would meet more often and for more weeks in the year, and would be able to call additional meetings in order to address human rights crises. The special role accorded by the commission to nongovernmental organizations and experts has also been retained, preserving some of the checks and balances that help hold states properly accountable for their human rights conduct.

Sounds good right? But notice the caveats. Where's the teeth in the enforcement mechanism? Acceptance of this council means that unless we have similar or worse violations, or more egregious violations of human rights, we're not going to get a chance to reform this council again.

I think that it bears some mentioning that this reform might only be possible in consideration of the confluence of events that have occured in the past three years, ranging from the liberation/invasion of iraq, to the sudden playing nice of states like Syria, to a renew focus on human rights to a general reform being advocated in the UN today. I'm honestly not certain when another such chance might occur again. I personally think we have to sieze the chance and do the absolute best we can. This isn't the floor, this is like the coffee mug, on the coaster, on the book, on the table on the rug on the floor.
It is essential to understand that voting to create the new council is just the beginning. UN officials, diplomats and human rights NGOs realize that the first year of the new body would be vital. During this time, the council would determine its agenda and working practices, review the mandates of thematic and country experts and establish arrangements for a new periodic review mechanism that would be introduced. Drafting rules is only half the story: We should also be asking what governments would do after the vote to make the council effective.

This sounds like we're trying to persuade ourselves here...
It is more than an unfortunate coincidence that many of the countries that were able to secure membership on the commission in an effort to shield themselves from scrutiny would favor the detailed review of the council proposal that Bolton now seeks. Equally troubling, the United States can no longer claim to be the standard bearer on human rights. Its authority on such matters is much weaker due to post- 9/11 Bush administration policies.

More than an unfortunate coincidence is putting it way more mildly. And while freely granting the valid criticism of the US, where was the rest of the world whe Sudan helmed the council?
If the United States presses for further negotiation, the U.S. media and Americans should ask themselves what sort of Human Rights Council they want and whether they prefer to stand beside the U.S. administration and countries like Cuba and Sudan as they search for it, or with human rights organizations and the majority of UN member states, including those in Europe, calling for the current resolution to be adopted without delay.

The EU as the arbiter of Human Rights..... I think more than half of the member states lost that right when they allowed 11 years of abuse and sanction evasion in Iraq. I think they lost that right when they refused to call genocide as genocide in Sudan. And I definately think this stinks of surrendering to the closest and nearest compromise.

More can and must be done. If the EU chooses to abdicate their responsibility in this area, then we can kiss the notion of the universal protection of fundamental liberties goodbye. If you don't live in the state that has it, the council isn't looking out for you.

Peace please.