Thursday, July 27, 2006

TODAYonline: Insecurities of the Local Bully

I've been working on my laptop for sometime and I've only been able to access my main computer since. Anyway, this has been on the backburner for sometime and I want to quickly finish it so I can move on to other things....

I'm beginning to despair if it is even possible to be objective while reporting on the entire Middle East, especially the perennial conflict/wars between Israel and its neighbours. But this article takes the cake (although not as bad as the Ridge article that I once read about the Palestinian Problem. The letter I was planning to write turned into a 3 page response) in terms of not even trying to be remotely objective.

Now, I don't deny that op-eds are by nature suppose to be subjective insofar as it reflects the columnist's opinions, BUT there is subjectivity and there is subjectivity i.e. if you don't even bother to acknowledge the arguments of the other side, then your essay/column effectively becomes polemics and unpersuasive (at least to me). This is something I've heard coined the "Bermuda Triangle Defence" i.e. when talking about some mysterious disappearance on such a day and simply ignoring (and not mentioning) the bloody hurricane in the area is simply asking to be dismissed as a conspiracy nutcase.

Anyway, here we go....

Insecurities of the local bully
It's hubris on part of Israel to think that security is a one-way street Â? its neighbours must also feel secure

And it's madness for Syria and Hizbullah and HAMAS to still believe in the destruction of the Israeli State and in their refusal to recognise the state of Israel.
AS Israel bombs Lebanon with calculated ferocity, we are reminded yet again of the wide gap between military force and security. One can be the bully on the block, and still feel insecure.

*Roll eyes* talk about ad hominen and poisoning the well. Now, I haven't read anything else by this particular writer, but I hope he turns his own view on Pakistan and Kashmir.
And yet security is what Israel has craved for since it came into existence nearly 60 years ago. The Jewish state was a haven for a traumatised community, survivors of the worst genocide in history. The founders of the state vowed that never again would they be weak and vulnerable.

At least he acknowledges the Holocaust. When one listens to PresidentAhmadinejade, one very easily sees the link between his Holocaust denial and his desire to eradicate Israel. One, naturally, hopes that it is simply polemics and that it's only a small core of people within the "Arab Street" that believe it, but when anti-semitic cartoons and sentiments are part and parcel of mainstream newspapers, one wonders to what extent is Israel the solitary party keeping the ideological conflict going on.

The difference arguably between Holocaust Denial and say the denial of the divine nature of a particular religious figure is that while both may be offensive, the first tends to lead to sentiments and arguments of genocide much more readily than the second.

To this end, they set about building a fearsome war machine that has come to be the dominant force in the region. In the process, however, they developed a siege mentality that has prevented them from engaging productively with their neighbours.

Um....has he forgotten about the massive disparity in military strength much less the Yom Kippur War which if not for a successful counterattack would have seen the joint Syrian-Egyptian army (probably the Syrian one first) within Israel (tentatively defined as pre-1967 borders) proper?

In their elusive search for security, Israeli generals and politicians sought to talk to their Arab neighbours from a position of strength. For this, they needed to obtain western military and diplomatic backing.

Um, well, that's fair enough, after all, it's madness for a small nation to bargain on it's own survival from a position of weakness. Let's not forget the geopolitics of the region. Israel is surrounded by other Arab nations, some much more unfriendly than others.

If one argues that it ought to be negotiate from a position of humility, then the instinctual response would be whether there will be recipocral action from the other warring parties.

The precedence on this matter is mixed and arguably notconducivee for this argument. The PLO was pressed into exile and on the verge of extinction before Yassar Arafat made his fateful demand/promise/plea before the UN ("Don't let this olive branch fall from my hands", great line honestly). But in the cases of land for peace i.e. with Egypt and Syria, it was only in the aftermath of a rather disastrous defeat (with some face-facing by Egypt) that this offer was even accepted.

The recentconflagrationn, on the other hand, emerged from areas where Israel had unilaterally pulled out in the hope of if not securing peace, at least some calm. That has backfired and arguably boosted the credibility of the defence hawks who argued that giving up land without any peace agreement was simply madness and handed victory to the extremist elements.
Thus, when Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal in 1956, Israel colluded enthusiastically with France and Britain in attacking Egypt. The Suez war was perceived across the Muslim world as a perfidious ganging up of western powers, and confirmed the view that Israel was, and always had been, a colonial enterprise.

Well, it is called the "tripartite aggression" for quite a fair bit of reason. But I think this short paragraph blithely glides over a fair bit of history and I should mention in passing the following:
1) The US was opposed to the entire endeavour and effectively forced the entire operation to grind to a halt
2) The French and the British were actually tilting towards the Arab nations until Nasser pulled this stunt (his speech had codewords embedded in it for the listening army to launch a surprise nationalisation).
3) In a manner of speaking, it was nationalisation only insofar as the Suez canal was located within the Egyptian borders. In some ways, it could be seen as an attack onsovereignn soil.
In a sense, the Israeli and Arab narratives have glided past each other Â? each side too intent with its own viewpoint to be receptive to the other.

This was never truer than now, as Hezbollah rockets rain down on Israeli towns, and Israeli planes range over Lebanon, raining down death and destruction.

As the tempo of violence quickens and the tide of hatred rises, it might be useful to step back and try and assess what each side really wants.

The Palestinian position is clearer than the Israeli one: While Palestinians would prefer a life without Israel, most have come to terms with their Jewish neighbour and realise they have to live with it. So the bargaining position of the mainstream is pretty straightforward: A return of Israel to its pre-1967 borders, but without all the qualifications Tel Aviv has attempted to impose.

Ah right. While we're at it, let's ignore the Camp David and Dayton Accords and the agreement between Rabin and Arafat. Let's also ignore the fact that any agreement is doomed to failure not because of the territorial line but because of the issue of the right of Palestinian refugees to return i.e. whether it should be an unlimited right (in which case, Israel will be swamped with refugees and effectively become an Arab nation) or limited (see for example the Saudi sponsored peace plan).
Israel, on the other hand, is deliberately ambiguous in spelling out what it wants, although its actions have clarified any doubts people might have harboured. Apart from all of Jerusalem, it wants to retain the major settlements it has built since 1967, and continues to expand today. And it wants to ensure that the Palestinian state that ultimately emerges would never be viable, by fragmenting it with roads connecting various settlements with each other and with Israel.

Are the policies as deliberate as this author makes it out to be? Or is it a situation where events have overtaken politics.

But quick fact, Israel deliberate faced down the settler lobby and evicted a whole group of them from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and SoutherLebanonon. Again, back to land-for-peace. No point having settlements if you can't protect then.
Clearly, such a one-sided solution would be unacceptable to any Palestinian leadership. Of course, Hamas has made Israel's task of dragging its feet easier by refusing to recognise its right to exist.

This "one-sided solution" exists only in the mind of the writer.....
For years now, Israel has used the mantra of "no partner to negotiate with" in order to avoid meaningful negotiations. The point is that you negotiate differences with adversaries, not with friends. And you do not choose your foes. So, clearly, every act of violent resistance to the occupation has been used by Tel Aviv to fend off western pressure to sit down with the Palestinians to negotiate a final border.

*Sigh*, without going into history, the PA and particularly Arafat did not show a willingness or a capability to clean up its act and try to actually govern. Neither did it make much of an effort (if it even could granted) to stop HAMAS activities. In that situation (and in light of the failed breakdown in talks), Israel together with the US engaged in a policy of isolating Arafat in the hope that someone else within the ranks could take over and prove to be a more amenable negotiating partner.

It worked, to a point. Abbas came in, but the groundswell also brought in HAMAS.

And again, the problem isn't just about the border because Israel has already shown a historical willingness to trade land for peace. Hell, they were willing to do it for a modicum of calm.

It's a security issue! Go back to history and you see that between the 6 Day War and the Yom Kippur war, Israel was under constant low-intensity attack that made it more convinced that the '67 lands needed to be held to provide a security buffer. This situation exists even today and arguably has gotten worse in light of the fail unilateral pullout.
Apart from this gross mismatch in expectations from an agreement, there is a view that somehow, Israeli security takes precedence over its neighbours. Thus, the smallest provocation has to be answered with disproportionate use of force.

Not true. You can't generally argue that an act of war constitutes "the smallest provocation" which was the case during the 6 Day War and the Yom Kippur war. Yes, I do think that in those situations, it was disproportionatete use of force, but I wouldn't argue that the provocation was slight.
There is a widespread feeling in the West, and even in some Arab countries, that the current escalation is due to Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers. In reality, when the Israelis retreated from occupied Southern Lebanon in 2000, an agreement had been worked out according to which Israel and Hezbollah would not attack civilians along the border.

Classic bait-and-switch tactics. How does an agreement not to attack civilians constitute an agreement that military target is fair game?
Military targets were not covered by the accord, and over the last six years, civilians were not deliberately targeted. But when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed several others in a daring cross-border raid, Israel retaliated against civilian targets, including the destruction of entire villages. This in turn drew return fire at Israeli civilians in the form of Hezbollah rockets.

Note three important facts.
1. As the writer admits, Hizbullah entered Israel, launching a military attack ("daring cross-border raid"?!! WTF?) on a convoy and killing some of the soldiers and capturing 2. When Israel sent two jeeps after than in a rescue bid, they were all killed.

I would think that an attack on a military target constituted an act of war, something that seems to slip the writer's mind.

2. Oddly enough, this wasn't the first time it happened and in fact there were several occasions since 2000 and the odd thing was that despite being under hawks such as Barak, Israel did not retaliate.

3. Hizbullah has never been shy to hide theiweaponryry amongst civilians. The rockets are particularlirksomeme because it allows Hizbullah to effectively become a state-within-a-state (and the only military force in that region). And they haven't been shy in boasting that it prevents Israel from attacking them everything they launch one of those "daring cross-border raids". They are a legitimate security threat and by analogy, one simply needs to mention Kashmir and India/Pakistani missiles to get an equivalent".

Or maybe it might be more accurate to talk of the Tamil Tigers?

This has been the form of past spirals of violence in the Middle East: One act triggers another, and so on. On each occasion, Israel has quickly raised the stakes, as it has done this time. But far too often, Israeli military actions have produced the opposite effect from the one their authors sought.

Selective memory and bias wot?
The one thing Israeli leaders forget in their hubris is that security is not a one-way street: Their country cannot enjoy peace unless its neighbours also feel secure. Israel has sought to build a wall to keep Palestinians out of sight, and therefore out of mind. But by tunnelling under it, Hamas showed that even a 20-foot high wall is not impregnable.

Conflation of issues no? How is Hizbullah threatened by Israel? Especially when Israel has already pulled out of SoutherLebanonon?

But with regards to the Palestinian problem, it's a good point. The security wall works to a point but only at the cost of economic deverstation to the Palestinian economy. The only problem is whether HAMAS is actually willing to work for peace and not crow about "victory" when Israel relaxes the restrictions.
Clearly, no long-term peace is possible without a political settlement. And a settlement will not be reached at gunpoint. Both in strategic and moral terms, Israelis have to come to terms with the fact that as long as they continue to occupy Palestinian land, they will have no peace.

To find true peace, Israelis have to move past the dark memories of the Holocaust, and accept the fact that they can hang on to illegally occupied land, or they can have security. They cannot simultaneously have both.

Bah, pithy platitudes are horrible and this is almost as bad as that Ridge article.

What exactly is the author asking for? There is no doubt that Israel will return to the pre '67 border if there is a willingness on the part of the other parties. Return to the Dayton accords and it's pretty clear how much was on the table (sharing oJerusalemem, final borders, right of return etc.). Arafat wanted a better deal that Rabin could not give and when the next round of negotiations came round, he faced Barak who was in no mood for compromise.

This is not a problem that can be solved handwaving much less sanctimonious pseudo-advice.

Here's to Peace.

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

*Yet another brief hiatus*

The most major source of my blogging is indignation, annonyance, all round general stupidity and absence of logic.

Tiredness takes away much of this. And of course it helps that I don't have access to the ST anymore.

So if you enjoy what I have blogged on so far, send me an article so that I don't have to go hunting for stuff to shoot down metaphorically.



Monday, July 17, 2006

(sunday discussion: continued)

while some might assume that debaters' debating personalities are their actual personalities, i can assure you that for many of us that is not the case. however, for many of us, switching off the debating personality can be, to say the least, difficult. in all fairness, it can be a very good defense against bores and curious relatives. try it some time--it's less arduous than having to join the tax department.

anyway, dinner was a combination of good food, great company and an enthusiastic jam session (augmented by an adorable 14mth old shrieking with joy). unfortunately for those only vaguely associated with debates, a good part of dinner conversation (ie, before the food and the drink mellowed us out) consisted of:

a) rehashing old debates
b) rehashing past injustices--of course it was unjust, only the most biased can fail to recognize our brilliance!
c) perhaps to no suprise, the Middle East. and no mention of Taiwan all night, which probably merits a post in itself. hmm.


Sunday, July 16, 2006

*Do your research first*

Eh heh heh...*sigh*, talk about an amatuerish mistake I made.

I stumbled onto a fairly interesting exchange on YoungRepublic after somewhat of an extended hiatus similar to the blogging one that you might have experienced in recent months.

But basically, here's the context, it was originally about a JW teacher being fired for not singing the national anthem and saying the pledge on grounds that it violated his religious beliefs (go google or wikipedia it, I can't find the energy to explain it honestly, most theology I feel fit into this mould). But it became a discussion about whether a student could be compelled to attend religious service in school.

To be honest I was quite willing to watch from the sidelines but a comment spurred me to respond. Basically in response to a comment that there already existed an opt-out system, the writer J said that, "That really is a privilege, not a right" which annoyed me because I dislike this particular argument as it is predicated on a rather incidious form of fallacious logic a.k.a that that which is the status quo is necessarily good. The real point being that often rights and privileges are simply used as labels more than any examination of the real principles behind them.

But anyway the following was my response:
I'm not certain that saying it's a privilege as opposed to a right is a response insofar as it is begging the question. The assumption behind that argument is that it is necessarily the sole perogative of the school, even a private one, to determine your attendence at chapel.

However, one could well argue that being forced to attend a religious service against your will is a violation of your freedom of religion, Article 15 (case law to the contrary for now admittedly) and the freedom of movement, Article 14. And if so, then the question (as C has previously asked) becomes why the school should not be providing an opt-in rather than an opt-out system (more so when it requires parental consent to get out of it). In fact, given that an opt-out system operates in ACS(I) as a matter of right (as long as you follow the administrative procedure), I don't see how it still operates as a "privilege" rather than a "right".

Or to put it more simply: what the law is does not indicate what the law ought
to be.

J responded with the following:
But this is no different anywhere else, and applies for religious schools all over the world, even in the United States with its Bill of Rights. The clear difference here is a private institution: the right to freedom of religion and freedom of movement is usually granted under language "Congress shall pass no law infringing [on right in question]".

Firstly, as brought up on slashdot, generally a school assumes guardianship of its students upon school hours until relieved by a parent or until they end. Thus, as guardians or parents have a right to determine their children or ward's movements or attendance, so does a school. That's one aspect. (Law will probably not recognise a parent's right to determine his or her child's religion, but will probably recognise orders such as "you have to go to church with the rest of us", until emancipation.)

Otherwise does a school infringe on freedom of movement every time it requires students to go on an excursion, attend holiday celebrations, or force Primary Five students to attend NDP rehearsals? I do not see why private institutions should be forced to provide an opt-in system for their chapel services, as long as it treats everyone like a blanket group.

And in the midst of my response, I decided to cull some quotes from the Constitution available at Statutes Online particularly with regard to Article 13 and 15, when I decided to look through Article 16, Right to Education as well. And there it was, the "answer" that would have solved in one sense the question of whether it was a right or a privilege. The reason I had totally forgotten about this was that I only remember art. 16(4) and forgot it referred to art. 16(3). Don't understand what's going on? Don't worry, here's the full response:
This is rather embarrassing considering that I have been the person constantly pushing the Statutes Online website. But here's the most relevant of articles, Art. 16. Please note clause (3) and (4)

Rights in respect of education
16. —(1) Without prejudice to the generality of Article 12, there shall be no discrimination against any citizen of Singapore on the grounds only of religion, race, descent or place of birth —

(a) in the administration of any educational institution maintained by a public authority, and, in particular, the admission of pupils or students or the payment of fees; or

(b) in providing out of the funds of a public authority financial aid for the maintenance or education of pupils or students in any educational institution (whether or not maintained by a public authority and whether within or outside Singapore).

(2) Every religious group has the right to establish and maintain institutions for the education of children and provide therein instruction in its own religion, and there shall be no discrimination on the ground only of religion in any law relating to such institutions or in the administration of any such law.

(3) No person shall be required to receive instruction in or to take part in any ceremony or act of worship of a religion other than his own.

(4) For the purposes of clause (3), the religion of a person under the age of 18
years shall be decided by his parent or guardian.

But nevertheless, all that establishes is the Constitutionality of the discussion at hand BUT NOT the actual validity etc. Therefore the following is my proper response.

J, I don't disagree with your assessment of things as it stands, but the same critique still applies. What you have provided is an argument that goes along the lines of the status quo is good, but the more pertinent question is whether it really is and whether change is needed. Thus, saying that "this is no different anywhere else" is really besides the point i.e. where (and when) women sufferage is still an issue, I don't think it is valid to simply argue that it is similarly the case elsewhere.

Same regarding the private institution bit, we don't simply say you can contract away your rights e.g. those silly personal disclaimer forms are totally and utterly void in law, you simply cannot disclaim away negligence for bodily harm (heck, sometimes your so-called disclaimer clauses for simple damages is ineffectual).

So the issue still remains as I have previously expressed, "is it necessarily the sole perogative of a school, even a private one, to determine your attendence at a religious ceremony". Other than the Constitutional right not to be (more on parental determination of religion in another post perhaps) what makes this issue particularly vexing is the seeming right of any student to "opt-out" as long as administrative procedures are followed.

And again, this is linked to an earlier argument of why should it not be converted to an opt-in system instead of an opt-out system in this particular regards.

I'm not entirely clear as to the point about the language used. Could you edify
me on that please?

Anyway, I reproduce the other relevent articles and clauses here for discussion

Prohibition of banishment and freedom of movement
13. —(2) Subject to any law relating to the security of Singapore or any part thereof, public order, public health or the punishment of offenders, every citizen of Singapore has the right to move freely throughout Singapore and to reside in any part thereof.

Freedom of religion
15. —(1) Every person has the right to profess and practise his religion and to propagate it.

(4) This Article does not authorise any act contrary to any general law relating to public order, public health or morality.

But back to the discussion at hand.

1. In loco parentis. It is of course true that schools exercise in loco parentis and yes of course they can determine your movement. BUT, and this is a huge qualifier, it has to be reasonable. The tort of false imprisonment still exists and I personally think that (even without art 16), a good case could be made out on the plain reading of art. 13 especially when it has been very clearly enumerated what the exact restrictions are that can be placed on this right and therefore no other grounds of restriction applies. There's some latin term for this particular mode of statutory interpretation but I have honestly forgot.

In fact, without parental consent, I don't think the schools will bring those students along or are much less able to compell them to go on these so-called extra-cirricular outings. However, if they are on school time, I think a very strong case would be made out re compelling students to go or be subject to disciplinary action. But it should be fairly clear that given that exemptions are given on religious grounds, that religious services are not viewed as part of "school time" per se and therefore there is no grounds for compelling students or subjecting them to disciplinary action otherwise.

As an aside, I don't want to get into a theological debate as to the nature of atheism at this point so what I'll say to C is this, I think that you could get exempted on the ground of being a "freethinker" since that is recognised as a "religion"

2. I make no comment as to whether the two are as apparently different and distinguishable as they seem as that was not part of my original response and I want to think through my position regarding the government's role in anti-discrimination and the determination of religion.

So there you have it. This issue could have been much more readily resolved if I had simply checked the Constitution first. Of course it did not make any difference to my eventual response and analysis but it would still have put the debate in its proper context and perspective.

Perhaps one interesting point can be taken from this episode. It seems that we are so taken by the private-public divide as well as the autonomy of schools when exercising in loco parentis that everyone involved simply assumed it to be true that the school could compell students to attend a religious ceremony/practice without considering the rights of the individual.

Oh well.


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*Provoking discussion on the M.E.*

It seems that I do have regular readers and I am currently soliciting comments and feedback on the following issue(s):

1. Is there a moderate element of HAMAS that currently exists?
2. If so, can we strengthen it at the expense of the more extremist factions?
3. If not, can we create it or moderate the current extremist factions or both?

The reason for this post was a rather depressing comment made by our Kiwi comrade who felt the dispair some debaters have felt at moments when discussing the Middle East.

How the f*** can it be saved from itself?

M's analysis was that there was nothing to moderate and definately no moderate group to strengthen at the expense of the extreme factions when anything (short of outright destruction of HAMAS, a near impossibility) could and would be claimed either as victory or a propaganda victory by HAMAS.

1. Unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza strip by Israel? Check
2. Security Wall leading to a fall in suicide bombers? Check by providing a perfect propaganda piece of the economic destruction of Palestine.
3. "Democratic" victory by HAMAS (at the expense of the corrupt and ineffectual Al Fatah, partly because of the HAMAS private army?) Check
4. Refusal of the EU and US to fund a terrorist organisation? Check
5. Stonewalling by Al Fatah? Check
6. Suicide bombings? Check
7. Prevention of suicide bombings? Check
8. Kidnapping of Israeli soldier?
9. Retaliation by the Israelis? Check
10. Counter retaliation? Check


Here's hoping (in vain probably) for peace.

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

*Sunday exchange*

Day of rest and all that kind of jazz, so here's another of those intermitent dramatisation.

S (on phone with CL): Hello!

CL: Did you know that A has a dishwasher though he claims its less inefficient than handwashing but he still uses it anyway?

S: (silence)

CL: Hello?

S: Um...what does does this fit into the general scheme of things?

CL: Thought it would make a nice segue into the dinner tonight. Oh guess, how many people are coming?

S: Just us?

CL: Nope, around 20-25

S: Oh geez. (beat) Am I expected to be sociable tonight?

CL: Not really, with that many people we can just form into our little debatety clique

S: Oh that's nice. Could I just make one request though?

CL: What's that?

S: Could we not talk about the Middle East tonight? It's giving me a headache

CL: *Snigger* we've got to be one of the few people who could seriously make the request, "could we not talk about the Middle East tonight?"

S: But it really gives me a headache

CL: Don't I know it, I've stopped reading it and just glance through the headlines

S: But it's fascinating! (wonders what's going through CL's mind at this point)

(Some time later)

CL: Oh guess what I watched on a Taiwanese programme?

S: Which one?

CL: Oh not the news. Although I had a head-desk moment when my sister asked why they wanted Chen Shui Bian to resign

S: Haven't they been trying to do that for months now?

CL: That's right, but I had to explain how they were trying to get him on the fact that his wife gain certain positions because she was his wife

S: (Severely)'s a small nation and talents are few and far between and just because they happen to be on government linked organisations does not mean anything

CL: (beat) I wonder where I heard that before.

S: Anyway, could we talk about Taiwan tonight?

CL: Sure...

(Conversation drifts off into inconsequential things like the feng-shui programme)



TODAYonline: Stalemate in the Gaza

Still in a holiday mood so I'm not going to comment on the article per se. But what really caught my eye was the little timeline on bottom right of the page (see link above) entitled "Timeline of the Mideast Conflict" and something really struck me when I was reading it.

Go ahead and see if you can figure out what it was.

*Twiddle thumb*

Hint: Something happened between the Six Day War in 1967 and the invasion of Southern Lebanon in 1978.

Another hint: It occured in 1973.

Last hint: It occured on a Jewish holy day.

Yup, there's no mention of the Yom Kippur War, or what preceeded its outbreak and the constant security threats Israel was facing in that intervening time.

The only reason I picked it up was because I was Assistant Director to the Historical Security Council of the Model United Nations that NTU organised this year. The introductory paper that I wrote (mostly cribbed from Wikipedia) can be found here

But the relevance of the Yom Kippur War is that it effectively destroyed any lingering notion of getting rid of Israel as a state. As can be read above, a surprise and unprovoked attack on that day nearly destroyed the state with Syria getting very close to the pre-1967 borders of Israel. Well how unprovoked it is, considering it is the Middle East with very long histories and memories, is up to you to decide, but I should mention that the 6 Day War was preceeding by Egypt closing the Suez Canal which Israel had already stated would constitute an act of war.

The massively successful counter attack brought Israel more land in which it used to barter for peace, something it arguably should not have to do since it was recognised as a state by the UN. At the same time, the orginal success of the Egyptian and Syrian forces gave it sufficient political capital to take up the land-for-peace offer and was at the same time acceptable to their people. Well, more so for Egypt than Syria which continued to launch terrorist attacks on Israel through Lebannon (effectively a Syrian proxy till this year). This had in fact long before the 6 Day War, continued after it despite Resolution 242 and was in fact one of the reasons why Israel refused to give up any of its post 1967 land to them.

The refusal to recognise Israel and to continue to deny their existance by seeking an end to it almost meant that giving up those lands would have been suicidal for it would have given Syria control over the majority of the Israeli water supply and the Golam Heights would have provided an incredible launching pad for any future attacks (take a look at the picturs and its relation to how close it is to Israel proper)

I personally find the timeline very scanty and simplistic, which perhaps can be explained by the limited space due to its very nature, but to be honest I didn't find it very objective. In the sense that it cherrypicks events and does not reflect on continuing events like acts of terrorism against Israeli citizens (and vice versa, I find that the country has a very disturbing notion of collateral damage). Or how this is a reflection of the general siege mentality created by attacks as far back as the 1920s. Or what feeds the intifada or what are the major sticking points in all attempted peace processes since (including the Saudi backed peace process) or what happened to Palestine under the rule of the PA dominated by Fatah.

Thus in conclusion, I don't think this timeline can be saved even by specific reference to the nations involved as it simutaneously manages to say both too little and too much.


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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Reason: Mr. Green Genes: An old anti-biotech activist tries to engineer some confusion

I do like Reason magazine although I do concur with our beloved Kiwi comrade that some of its articles (the one on anti-immigration i.e. coming out in favour of amnesty for illegal immigrants) was too soft on argumentation and too much on annecdotal evidence.

Anyway, more grist for the mill for those of us who do not share the sentiments of the anti-GM people.


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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

*Shooting fish in the barrel*

As promised...albeit very late.

It's frankly not very difficult to take down Mr. de Souza's arguments even when a person is half asleep and still exhausted from his recent return from the Austral-Asians debating tournament (chaired an octo-finals room and adjed the ESL semis if anyone is interested). But nevertheless, it makes it a convenient transition to blogging again and it's on a topic that I have consistently riffed about these past few years.

The only problem is this i.e. in my personal experience training and debating weak debaters/teams, one finds them much harder to take down then good teams because they so often make insane assertions, arguments, logical fallacies and conflation of issues that it's all too easy to get to get bewildered and confused as to how to take all of it down in 7-8 minutes. Fortunately, this is where the internet and lots of patience comes to the rescue.

I refer to the report, 'Divided views over police checks on blogger'
(The Sunday Times, June 18).

Personally, I have developed a great distaste and distrust of bloggers who post anonymously or use pseudonyms to disguise their identities.

I can understand that sometimes anonymous postings are unavoidable. However, when postings on the Internet are seditious or have a tendency to deliberately wound the religious feelings of any person, the perpetrator of the posting should have the full weight of the law brought to bear on him or her.

Can I first just say that personally, I have developed a great distaste and distrust of forum letter writters who do not use their logical faculties?

But here are some of the issues plaguing this first paragraph.
1. Begging the question

Why should the religious feelings of a person NECESSARILY be protected over and above any other forms of feelings, including that of non-religious or anti-religious feelings?

2. Assertion that the law or status quo or both is necessarily good

This is linked to the above. It is a historical contingency and happenstance that anti-religious or extreme pro-religious (see the Maintanance of Religious Harmony Act for an attempt to separate religion and politics and prevent excessive proselytisation) and racist sentiments are considered illegal (and only if it is expressed), this need not necessarily be the case.

One can consider a view to be abhorent without necessarily seeking to limit its expression in a public forum unless it creates harm (tangible harm or deliberately provoking as opposed to merely inciting i.e. shouting fire in a crowded theatre "fighting words"), this is what Freedom of Expression or Speech means.

But yes, I am very aware of how our constitutional liberty in this regard is phrased.

3. Conflating legal with normal meanings.

Sedition has a vernacular meaning. But the legal meaning under the Sedition Act is very broadly defined as to include 'tendencies to incite feelings of ill-will and hatred" and it should be immediately apparant how low the threshold is at this point, as no doubt a very respected Canadian debater would know after the police approached him for something he said at the NTU Worlds.

It appears to be the norm for bloggers to hide under the cloak of anonymity or use pseudonyms to blame, insult and rant out against the Government or individuals believing that their postings can better the political process or current events concerning Singapore. Netizens have no legal or constitutional right to condemn the whistle blower who brought blogger Char's blasphemous posting of pictures of Jesus Christ on the Internet to the attention of the police. The conduct of netizens is similar to that of cyber terrorists since netizens have unashamedly condoned the seditious posting of Char, which could have sparked off strong reaction as did the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published in a Danish newspaper in February this year. Fortunately, Char's blasphemous and seditious posting happened in
Singapore, a country of tolerance. I am certain that if this letter is published in The Straits Times, netizens and other cyber-terrorists will have a field day posting all kinds of nasty or defamatory remarks against me. They will do so anonymously or using pseudonyms. To these cyber-terrorists I say, 'Be brave and don't hide under the cloak of anonymity or use pseudonyms'. about a stream of consciousness rant. But let's deal with the five issues that he brings up in his own fashion.

1. Annonymity. I'm not sure where he gets off on the idea that "[i]t appears to be the norm for bloggers to hide under the cloak of anonymity or use pseudonyms to blame, insult and rant out against the Government or individuals believing that their postings can better the political process or current events concerning Singapore." And I'm seriously not sure how that sentence scans much less retains coherency without irony meters blowing up last Tuesday.

Firstly, is it even true that bloggers are annonymous in this respect? Very often the political bloggers I read tend to use pseudonyms or "handles", and it's pretty easy to find out how they are with a quick google search given that they have given various interviews to the press and have allow their "true identities" to be published. Mr Wang and Mr Brown come very readily to mind.

But okay, maybe that's just restricted to the more famous bloggers and the more bit time bloggers do hide under this clock of annoymity. But given enough time and a bit of investigative skill, it's way too easy to find out who these people are, especially given how careless certain annoymous bloggers have been with regards to their personal details.

But hey, while we're at it, I suppose we should just disregard bloggers like me and Gabriel who make no truck as to how we are and our personal background are pretty much freely available on our respective blogs. Hell, how do you think Char got hit with a police investigation in the first place? It sure wasn't due to extensive tracking of IP addresses.

Arguably though, it's people like me who are the most insidious form of bloggers. While the Evil Annoymous Bloggers must persuade people on the strength of their writing and argumentation. But me, little old me, who makes it known that I'm a law student and the captain of the NUS debate team, might be engaging in argument by authority (similar to appeal to wrongful authority) and people accept what I say without a peep.

Secondly, why shouldn't bloggers who publish annonymously or under psuedonyms not be able to affect political change? The example that leaps to mind would be the Federalist Papers written by Thomas Jefferson (and some other "Dead White Male") under those self-same conditions.

But the most fundamental problem is that he is begging the question by presuming that annonymity is somehow intrinsically bad in this regard without explaining much less demonstrating how and why in this regard.

2. Legal and constitutional right

*Rubs temples* this doesn't even make sense at all and I wonder if it was simply thrown in to make it sound "cheem" (hokkein term for complicated and high faluting). Obviously we have the right to express our opinion on this issue and/or to condemn the "whistle blower" (by the way, note the term used to couch and frame the person making the report with the semblence of rightness associated with the term) and/or the law that was used in this regard.

Article 14 of our Constitution may be restrictive but goodness gracious, it merely dictates what you can't say as opposed to what you can say.

3. Tolerance

For Tolerance to be coherent and internally consistent and to make general common sense, one simply cannot tolerate views you find agreeable for even the Intolerant can and will do that. As Noam Chomsky once expressed (and gods do I feel unclean for invoking him), for the freedom of speech to mean anything, it has to be extended to things we disagree with or even find repugnant. And again, recall the restrictions placed upon this general premise above, I accept that the this particular freedom is not absolute as no rights are.

But there is a distinction to be drawn between inciting violence and provoking it. The later presupposed deliberate intent to cause harm e.g. calling for a "final solution" to some random "others", the first recognises that there are extremists out there who would sieze upon any slightest infraction to create harm and that we should not pander to them. Allowing foreign extremists to dictate the boundaries of your freedoms is no better than domestic autocratism or authoritarianism which these freedoms and rights are suppose to prevent.

And on that distinction (and a better understanding of rights) I can support the right of people like him to sprout whatever nonsense he wishes to inflict on the general populace without CONDONING (chalk this canard up to the Fundie Word Redefinition Project) his ravings.

4. Blasphemy

Alright, enough is enough, IT IS NOT BLASPHEMY IF YOU'RE NOT IN THAT PARTICULAR RELIGION. Just because Hindus are of the belief that cows are sacred creatures which should not be killed much less eaten does NOT mean that I am blaspheming when I eat a cheeseburger (which goes for Judaism's notion of Kosher as well). In case another couldn't see the link, a little hint, I'm not of those religions.

But here's the major question once again, why should religious views be placed on a pedestral?

5. Legal rights a.k.a Slander and Libel

Mr de Souza is very fortunately in the regard that slander and libel can only be done by a person who is affected by the words/publication and can show harm. And it's a huge pity that as such, a member of a group cannot sue on such a basis because it would be massively defamatory to call specific bloggers "cyber-terrorist" because last I heard, no blogger has engaged in anything remotely similar to what real terrorist have done and it's incredibly churlish of his to do so and he really ought to be ashamed of himself.

Or so one can hope.

They should have the conviction to stand behind any statements they make. If they do not have the confidence and passion to put their names beside their statements, I am sure that all right-thinking people cannot take them seriously. It appears to be the current trend for bloggers to hide under the cloak of anonymity to act irresponsibly by ranting and musing about current events. If their ratings and
musings do not cross the line of fair comment, they are free to do as they please. However, for bloggers who choose to post seditious and inflammatory comments that could cause anarchy by damaging the fabric of religious and racial harmony; they should be dealt with vigorously under the law. Cases of this nature should not be dealt with by the Community Court where the punishment meted out could be probation and performing a number of hours doing community service. They deserve a more deterrent punishment. I hope that I do not sound 'sub-judice', but I hope that blogger Char receives his just deserts for his blasphemous and seditious posting.

An argument stands alone on its own merit and should not be affected by the person saying it (unless it is on a technical matter by an acknowledged expert and we simply want to rely on that person's testimony), as an aside I wish, in fact, that more adjudicators would remember that. So annoymous or not, it is irrelevant unless that person is expecting us to take his testimony at face value. But this is not what argumentation and logic is about. And in fact, assume that this person has consistently posted credible writings, I'll well and truly take their word over that of some ostensible journalist or private investigator (unless it is on some pertinent technical subject matter).

And seriously, enough with the assertions already, it doesn't make it more true or much less even true. You may firmly believe in its truth but that's pretty much logically irrelevant. Who are these bloggers that he's ranting about? If they are so prevelant, surely it would be a simple matter to give an example or two (which by the way does not demonstrate a trend, go for quantitative analysis for that)

Let me post a hypothetical here. Assume that we bloggers now go on a rampage in anger over his unfounded accusations and assume that for some reason the laws against disturbance of public peace, assualt and battery and destruction of property were not used against us (as there should well be against ANY MOB like the cartoongate ones) and further assume that we were appeased and Mr de Souza is thrown to the metaphorical wolves. Does that make our views and actions right and does that make Mr de Souza a criminal in this regard? Because that is essentially what he is arguing for by begging the question and asserting that the status quo is necessarily good and right.

For it is all well and good to throw out the phrase fair comment without considering that it is predicated on judicial interpretation in the absence of legislative command and with a conservative judiciary or better still where the legisation encroaches into what ought to be fair comment. Sedition and blasphemy do not exist in a vaccuum and I'm fairly surprised he did not rail at the Da Vinci Code or The Templar's Legacy or The Blood and the Holy Grail while he was at it. Consistency no?

Similarly, I would submit that the more a government operates on the basis that civil liberties can be subjugated on the basis of national security even where the threat is a potential one, the closer one gets to the slippery slope of Guantanamo Bay, Abu Grahib, Battlefield Interogation Site, NSA Wiretapping, SWIFT co-option, extraordinary rendition and torture. The reason why Constitutionalism exists was to prevent the sort of arbitrary capricious (ab)use of power that we saw in the paranoid power hungry world of absolute monarchs.

Those who fail to heed history are doomed to repeat it.


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