Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Philip Bowring: Malaysia's racial politics - Editorials & Commentary - International Herald Tribune

It's a good article and I do generally agree with what it says. I think it says alot about the politics when there is a racial government party and a racial opposition party e.g. a Chinese-aligned party in UMNO and a Chinese aligned party in opposition.

But what (to me anyway) is interesting about the article is the legal stuff and the legal part is what is truely fascinatiing. Here's the paragraph in question:
Currently attention in Malaysia is focused on a high-profile case, now before the Appeals Court, as to whether a person has the right to cease to be a Muslim and (in this case) become a Christian and hence no longer subject to the Shariah courts. At the most obvious level it is a clash between a secular Constitution that guarantees freedom of religion and the notion of apostasy - that a Muslim must remain Muslim - in a country where Islam has a privileged position.

If anyone actually cares about it, I will point you to the constitutional article in question. Recall that our Constitution is effectively taken lock, stock and barrel from Malaysian Constitution EXCEPT for the parts we changed and this is one of them.

But anyway, since Islam has a privileged position (very privileged actually, another thing that we changed in our Constitution), calling it a secular Constitution is kinda pushing it but I suppose if one considers the alternative to be a theocretic one then secular is fine for the purpose of the article.

Back to the freedom of religion clause in the Malaysian Constitution, this issue is not new and in fact such a case has come up before the Malaysian Supreme Court before. The decision then was that freedom of religion, or more accurately, the freedom to propergate and practice a religion DID NOT include the right to leave that religion.

The reason I mention this is because of the recent fiasco that occured in Malaysia recently when a inter-faith organisation tried to bring up dialogue on this issue. Of course, some called them rabble-rousers and claimed that the manner in which they went about doing it was inciting violence. Tensions apparently got so bad that the PM Abdullah Badawi effectively just shut the entire thing down.

This, in fact, was one of the reasons why I am ever so concerned when speech is silence because it incites violence as opposed to merely provoking violence. The distinguishing feature is that one calls of violence, the other because the other side is unable to deal with it without violence.

Another sad thingw as how people actually considered what that group was proposing as "an attack on Islam" which commits what is called the fallacy of false equivocation. It's the exact same way as a creationist who uses the argument against me that "I have faith in Science" in the same way that I deny their "faith in Religion". The difference is that my "faith" is borned out of the system of open inquiry, checks and balances and the peer-review system and a desire for truth. In that regard, I "accept" Science is more accurate.

Similarly, this is an "attack" on Islam only insofar as it restricts their right and privilege as a religion (yeah, it's kinda vague but acceptable for the purpose of this argument), it is not an attack by preventing adherents from preaching or practicing the core tenents of their faith. Thus the fallacy equivalancy.

If one wants to consider this an "attack" just because adherents should be allowed to get out of the religion, then one must similarly accept that it is an attack on all the other religions that preach evangelism because you are restricting their ability to gain new adherents.

But that's how the world works and the dismaying about about the Fundie Word Redefinition Project. But anyway, now that I know of this case, I'll try to follow up on it closely and see what comes out of it.


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TODAYonline: Talking Sex with Mom and Dad
by Frances Ong Hock Lin

This should be fun....heh heh. But evil malicious thoughts aside, I'm going to use this as a launching pad to discuss one of the oddities of some discussions I've had with social and religious conservatives and the somewhat contradictory stance taken with regards to the Naturalist argument a.k.a. the Naturalist fallacy i.e. if it is natural it must be right.

An example would be a discussion on homosexual rights where I exercised my right to free speach and basically ripped into a truly horrid post arguing against homosexuals having rights (on the basis that their act was unnatural and therefore their act should not be condoned etc.). But in another post on the same thread, I (amongst) some others) was challenged to provide a defence to rape on the argument that since it is natural i.e. baboons amongst other primates and some other species use rape as a form of assertion of dominance, keeping control of the pack and ensuring their genes can passed on.

Well the obvious answer is that some animals mate for life. A better argument is that it causes harm to 3rd parties and hence flouts the Harm Principle or some varient of the Golden Rule can be used here.

But more intrinsically, the argument is quite a bit of bunk because just as something happens that way, does not necessarily mean it ought to happen that way. Dawkin, author of the Selfish Gene, called by others a militant atheist and a believer in determinism and reductionism, nevertheless argues that as humans and bestowed (or at least having the appearance) of rationality and logic can and should transcend such naturalist tendancies. And I think that is right.

Anyway, I make no apologies for ripping into such posts. I simply get annoyed when our Sedition Act protects the supposed vulnerability of our fragile social, cultural and religious peace while denying equivalent protection to a much more vulnerable class i.e. sexual minorities. But that's a post for another time.

And now, back to the post....

The other day, my seven-year-old son told me he can only have "baby sex" when he is married, while it is perfectly okay to have "talking sex" all the time. I was caught off-guard and wondered what he meant.

But I soon recalled that in one of our many talks with our children, we had made a distinction between social intercourse (talking sex) and sexual intercourse (baby sex). We just hope that when our son announces to the whole world that he is having "sex" with his parents, we will not be arrested!

I don't see anything particularly wrong with pre-marital sex, not considering the day and age in which we live in, mostly the ready availability of multiple forms of contraception. The other stuff can be handled by education.

We have this long-standing tradition that when our children reach the age of eight, we would answer any question they have about sex — a mere three-letter word, yet much misunderstood

In Singapore, there is an interesting dichotomy. Teenagers and young unmarried adults are actively having sex and going for abortions, while married Singaporeans are too tired to even reproduce enough to replace themselves.

Um...why is this even a dichotomy? It's basically a false one for a number of reasons.
1. Pareto's Law. For most issues, it tends to be a disproportionately small number that account of a disproportionately large number of that incidences. Which is why, the old stat that one in three marriages in America end is divorce is very misleading. Similarly, five programmes make up 80% of the US Budget, which has led Paul Krugman to describe it as a huge pension fund (Social Security is the second largest programme) with an army.

2. Who has and get abortions? Her argument only works if it is indeed true that "teenagers and young unmarried adults are actively having sex and going for abortions" WHEREAS "married Singaporeans are too tired to even reproduce enough to replace themselves". And in fact, for this comment to be even not misleading, the first category has got to be more or even substantially more than the second.

Why are we parents so afraid to admit that we enjoy the art of making babies? Like many, at first I felt shy letting my children know we have an active sex life. It was also difficult to see my children as potentially active sexual beings; like my parents before me, it is more comforting to think of one's children as asexual.

Sex is not merely for procreation. And the sooner we can around to admitting that, the sooner we can have proper comprehensive sexual education, one in particular that does not simply involve the sort that believes that sex equals tab A inserting into slot b.

At this point, I'm honestly wondering whether she really "talks sex" with her kids or whether her notion of sex equals simply vaginal intercourse. That's a very dangerous stance to take. We pretty much know of the dangers of the transmission of STDs through unprotected vaginal intercourse, but the risk is still there with unprotected oral sex.

Studying in a convent in the 1970s, our only sources of information about sex were our friends, magazines and, for some of us, our boyfriends.

Fortunately, the convent had a good sex education programme. The irony of it was that it was the nun and priest — having taken vows of celibacy — who were the most open adults we knew on this issue.

I'll take her word on this but yes, that's truly truly ironic. I've also always wondered about RC priest giving marriage advice given that they are not allowed to marry either.

From them, we learnt to understand our own sexuality, that being masculine or feminine was not a crime, and being interested in the opposite sex was part of growing up. When my husband and I were courting, we were sorely tempted like any hot-blooded teenagers. However, we choose not to engage in pre-marital sex because we were not sure that we would be marrying each other.

The first sentence must be understood in a very particular context. Google her name and look at some of her previous articles. When she says feminine, she means the subservient sort (submissive wife anyone?). I'm not sure what she means by masculinity but I fear for the worst.

And I think it's rather cute that pre-marital sex is alright if you know you're going to marry your partner. Kinda sweet actually. But still, fully misguided. In fact, I'm still waiting for a moral argument against pre-marital sex that does not involve either an appeal to some religious authority or text or based upon some truly fallacious logic like the "meaning" of marriage.

Now we are married, we are glad we had waited. We need not live with the fact that we had a shotgun marriage or that we were pressured to get married because we'd had sex.

Hmmmm...ho hum. See above.

Sex education is more than the process of acquiring information. The education system is doing its part in systematically providing our students with relevant information.

Oh really now. *Snort* If sending in a Catholic group to give a lecture on sexual education is actually providing people with relevant information, I'll eat my socks. Unless one considers lying to students a good thing to scare them away from a misconception of sex. Click here for my take on what happened at AJC.

But, sex education should also be about developing attitudes and beliefs about sex, sexual identity, relationships and intimacy. It is equipping our children with a set of skills so that they can make educated choices about their sexual behaviour. Moreover, they have to feel confident about acting on these choices, and not be tricked or pressed into doing something they might regret later.

I absolutely agree. But see the next paragraph on how we diverge.

That's why sex education must begin at home. Sex between two happily married people is so seldom portrayed on TV shows or other mass media; instead, teenage or pre-marital sex is glorified.

And the problem with that is? The problem is that the premise on which she makes this assertion is never substantiated. I would love to see a post on why pre-marital sex is necessarily bad. Heck even Asst Prof Tan Seow Hon couldn't do that in her last article in the ST.

As parents, the best gift we can give our children is to help them understand that sex is best enjoyed within a marriage. Hopefully, this will plant in them a value system that does not include sex as a tool to gain approval or acceptance.

Bah humbug, more unsubstantiated assertions.

At the age of five or six, we teach our children to respect their bodies and that no one should be allowed to touch them. We introduce the subject so that they do not find it difficult, shameful or mysterious. When they reach their eighth birthday, they are allowed to ask us any questions about sex, and we answer them as best we can — factually, truthfully and sincerely.

This information is better coming from us than from friends or strangers.

With our three teenagers, we acknowledge that if they want to engage in pre-marital sex, we won't be there to stop them. This in no way implies that we encourage them to have sex. But if they choose not to heed our advice against it, we want them to protect themselves against Aids and sexually transmitted diseases.

We hope that having cultivated the value that sex is the deepest form of communication between two people in love, our children will not be seduced by the heat of the moment and regret for the rest of their life the choice they make.

Okay, getting repetitive now. So let me end here.


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Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Due to incessant spamming on the TagBoard, I have finally decided to take it down. It was not only annoying but the damn spam bots were either a) not funny or b) stroking my ego enough.

As such, I would ask that comments be made preferably on the Bloggers one because I get an email notification. The Enetation one does not tell me and unless I manually check all my previous posts (something I rarely if ever do) there is no way for me to discover if someone has posted a comment.


Sunday, August 27, 2006

War-Torn Middle East Seeks Solace In Religion | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

This is an incredible piece, the Onion, a satirical paper has literally transcended satire to a plane I like to call "I-just-wanna-break-down-and-cry-because-it's-all-too-true"

Let's a few choice paragraphs:
JERUSALEM—As an uneasy truce between Israel and Hezbollah continues, millions of average men and women in the Holy Land are turning to the one simple comfort that has always seen them through the darkest days of their troubled history: the steadfast guidance of their religious faith.

This is the interpretation I like to take of that old canard, "There are no Atheist in foxholds."

"I take solace in knowing that my faith is a sanctuary, an escape from the bloodshed and turmoil," said Haifa resident Yigal Taheri, who last week lost his wife and newborn daughter when a Fajr-3 long-range rocket launched by Lebanese militants struck the synagogue where his family was attending services. "YHWH, Elohim, whatever you wish to not call Him—His love comforts all those who are willing to open their hearts to Him. Praise be to G–d."

Just like Rwanda, Somalia, the Holocaust (read Night, it's incredible), Bosnia and almost every single conflict raging right now across the world.

Palestinian Omar Abdel-Malik, a resident of the Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis, credits his Islamic beliefs for preserving his sanity.

"The Israelis have fired missile upon missile on my neighborhood, but it has only made my trust in Allah that much stronger," Abdel-Malik said. "I cringe to think where the people of the Middle East would be right now if it weren't for our steadfast belief in one true, merciful, and loving Supreme Being."

I've seen such sentiments before

"It's always frightening to be reminded of your own mortality, as we all were this past Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday," Hezbollah commander Mahdi al-Zaidi said. "But rather than react irrationally, I looked deep within my faith, consulted the Quran, and by the mercy of Allah, I gained the resolve to oversee a massive airstrike against the enemy."

"We will get through this, so long as we have God on our side," he added

And these as well.

What does it say that the best newspapers and sources of information are pieces like the Onion and Jon Steward and the Colbert Report?



Thursday, August 24, 2006

Online Story: Not enough babies? Change the liberal abortion law to solve problem
by Mark Chen Chih-chuan

*Wince*...not again. Alright, time to bring on some logic enforcement.

I listened to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech and understood the needs of our nation.

Among the repeated calls to have sufficient and competent talent and a self-replacing labour force, I find the call to have more babies most reasonable.

Um....yeah...okay. Babies good! More babies better! Especially for the economy in terms of labour?

I believe that the notion of nationality and statehood have weaved such a stranglehold that when it comes to various factors of production, while we accept the free movement of trade, goods and service, we refuse to similarly do so for people.

I don't see any necessary reason for why of all the factors listed, having more babies is necessarily the most "reasonable". I mean, how about explaining and providing a definition of reasonable.

In debate (or for that matter in law), we would by now be either screaming for a yardstick or criteria by which we could measure this "soft term". Well that, or gleefully rubbing our palms at the thought of our ability to impose our own definition on it. And then to bill our clients good money for it.

The need is very real and it can be met by all Singaporeans. There is a need to review the Termination of Pregnancy Act. There are three reasons: Demographics, eugenics, and ethics.

Brief answer: No, ewww no and no.

The 1974 Termination of Pregnancy Act states that a registered doctor can perform an abortion on receiving written consent from a pregnant woman.

Those above 14 and below 21 years can have an abortion without the consent of a parent/guardian. In fact, it is the only procedure in Singapore that does not require such a consent.

And I say thank goodness for that. Teenage pregnancies are already horrible enough without having to drag the parents in. Especially if they are not understanding and supportive. It stands to reason as, if they were indeed as such, requirement of consent would be superfluous as they would be notified and consulted. It is in those cases where they are not that the lack of parental consent is important.

Of course there's also the argument based upon the distasteful notion that the parents had something to do with the teen being pregnant in the first place.

On 23 May 2005, Channel NewsAsia (CNA) quoted a study conducted by Singapore National University Hospital which showed that about 14,000 pregnancies are terminated every year, accounting for one-fourth of the total.

According to Mr Lee, there were 36,000 births last year - 14,000 shy of the needed 50,000. This is simple demographics and economics - no supply = no product = no self-replacing labour force.

That's what a) immigration, b) a shift to a knowledge based economy so that c) people can work to an older age are for.

The CNA report quoted the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Society as saying that over 1,000 tertiary-educated married women went for abortions in 2004, tripling the number of 300 in 1988, while those who were not as educated tended to use contraceptives.

If we have more than trippled the number of tertiary educated married women since 1988, then the rate has actually fallen.

In fact, thanks to the internet here's something all too relevant and destructive of his entire chain of argument. From Today we learn that they checked with the Department of Statistics and discovered that the number of university-educated women has increased from 17,300 in 1990 to 68,900 in 2000.

So this was close to a 4 (3.98 to 2 s.f.) fold increase (and by now would be much higher) and thus we can conclude that the rate of tertiary educated married women using birth control as a form of abortion has fallen.

But furthermore, our letter writter conceeds the existance of something that's prevents more births than abortion at any rate - contraception. I note that he doesn't advocate their ban.

A 2001 MCDS survey on social attitudes of Singaporeans entitled 'Attitudes on Family' found that the "pattern of educational differences in attitudes towards having children [was] similar to the national population statistics (Census 2000) that showed a strong negative correlation between family size and the educational level of females, with university graduates having the fewest children on average."

Well, we could prevent women from getting too smart and wanting fewer children (which presumes causation even though that's not a necessity). But let's give Mark the benefit of the doubt and elevate this argument to that of abortion being the least worse policy alternative.

The problem with the argument is that it would in fact conceed that it is probably the least efficacious of all possible policies, given that the low birth rate is multi-causal.

This may be one of the reasons why policies of longer maternity leave and infant care subsidies are not sufficient incentives, in particular, on abortion.

This seriously doesn't make any sense whatsoever. He's effectively trying to tie two correlations (note, the above numbers are not necessarily causal i.e. women who do not want children may be more likely to get a teritiary degree for example) and then pull a massive non-sequitor.

Unless you can establish that tertiary educated women are in fact more likely now than ever (and presumably getting worse) to resort to abortion as a form of birth control (which we learn is plain wrong) AND that they would not simply switch to using contraception when abortions are banned (or simply pop across the causeway for an abortion) makes this an exercise in fruitity anyway.

The implication of this, no matter how distasteful, is clear and it echoes a similar fear in the past that led to eugenic policies.

Argh!!!! HOW HOW HOW?!!!! Show the effing link!

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said in his memoirs "Our brightest women were not marrying and would not be represented in the next generation. The implications were grave."

Definately not one of his best statements ever. I take quite a bit of offence at this because my parents were blue collared workers (who became white collar ones by dint of effort and constant learning) and who nevertheless managed to bring whatever intellectual genetic potential to fruit.

Assuming the truth of and accepting the eugenics argument, there would be a lack of sufficient and competent talent with a liberal abortion policy. In a Straits Times report on 12 November 2005, Ministry of Health figures showed that in five years, an average of over 1,500 teenagers had abortions annually, about 10% of the national figure.

*Sigh* no there won't be.

According to a 31 July 2006 Straits Times report, Minister Yaacob Ibrahim cited 2004 figures showing that 434 Malay girls had abortions, forming about one-third of all teen abortions.

This caused the Muslim community to act to curb teenage sex. There was an ethical consideration.

Or perhaps we could adopt a comprehensive sex education policy instead (demonstrated to be more effective anyway) of pussy footing around on the basis of religion and "morality".

In his third National Day Rally speech, Mr Lee called on Singaporeans to "hold firm to our cultural and moral values." None of the ethnic groups, based on their traditional, cultural and ethical values, nor religious groups, have ever permitted an abortion policy as liberal as that of the 1974 Termination of Pregnancy Act.

I sense bull here. The Jews for example don't hold that the fetus is a person until it's born and Islam believes that ensoulment occurs in the 3rd trimester.

It would be incongruent to hold firmly to ethical mores without the moral courage to stand upon the cultural and moral foundations of the people.

Handwaving here. Piety is not substitute for reality and sound policy.

Although the Act may not be done away with, it is not inconceivable that it be reviewed seriously. There has been a lot of hype about the future economy, foreign ability, basic courtesy, overseas family, new-fangled technology, and political civility. But a solution staring the nation in its face is to preserve local fertility.

Note: all of the reasons above actually makes local fertility a moot issue.

Review the Termination of Pregnancy Act.

Review your entire argument please!


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SSRN-Porn Up, Rape Down by Anthony D'Amato

Disclaimer: I haven't read it yet.

Oh this is simply delicious! If nothing else, it at least destroys the assumption that pornography leads to (causatively or correlatively) an increase in rape.

The abstract reads:
The incidence of rape in the United States has declined 85% in the past 25 years while access to pornography has become freely available to teenagers and adults. The Nixon and Reagan Commissions tried to show that exposure to pornographic materials produced social violence. The reverse may be true: that pornography has reduced social violence.

Anyway, offhand I can think of a few ways to poke theoretical holes in it e.g. whether the measurements include other lesser forms of sex crimes and whether various forms of pornography have a mutually cancelling effect. So I'm going to read it before any further comments.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Online Story: Education works better than moralising to prevent spread of Aids

Well, my letter was published albeit online but it's been edited to such an extent that the bite and sting of my original letter is dimished quite drastically.

Take a look for yourself to decide. The letter is blockquotes is the one published. The one after that in plain text was what I sent.

I read the letter "Don't fan flames of lust. There's a link between Aids and 'Crazy Horse' show" by Ho Ting Fei with dismay at his assertions (ST Online Forum, Aug 22).

Despite acknowledging that it is nothing more than a "bad coincidence", how does it follow that lowering the age limit to allow adults to watch a cabaret show leads to an increase in Aids? The lack of substantiation in the "link" between Aids and the 'Crazy Horse' show is telling.

There are many reasons for the rise in the number of Aids infection and its detection: an increase in the population, globalisation, travel, access to doctors and healthcare, better diagnostic equipment.

Can we really attribute the increase in Aids cases to the "decline in moral standards"?

I am glad I live in a country which takes a pragmatic stance and does not deny the HIV-Aids link. I hope that science will be the basis of our approach to public policy.

Educate our youths on this basis without restricting the right of adults to entertain themselves. Education is always better than moralising.

In short, be less prudish with less moralising, and more education. That's the key to keeping HIV Aids in check.

And this was what I originally sent in...

I read the letter, "Don't fan flames of lust. There's a link between AIDS and 'Crazy Horse' show" by Ho Ting Fei (Dr) with quite some dismay at the assertions made to demonstrate a non-sequitor, all this despite acknowledging that it is nothing more than a "bad coincidence". For how does it necessarily follow that lowering the age limit to allow legal adults to watch a cabaret show lead to an increase in AIDS?

The lack of substantiation is particularly telling when all we have seen to demonstrate a "link" between AIDS and "Crazy Horse" is the sentence, "If we are honest and truthful to ourselves, we cannot fail to see why AIDS and the "Crazy Horse" show are not so distant and unconnected" i.e. an assertion and a fallacious appeal to emotions couched as a rhetorical question.

The rise in the number of infections is due to a lot of reasons. Strip away things like an increase in the population, globalisation and easy travel making sure the virus spreads, more ready access to doctors and healthcare, better diagnostic equipment and thus more and earlier diagnosis. And can we really be certain that there is any statistically signicant increase left to deal with, much less attribute to this nebulous "decline in moral standards"?

I am glad I live in a country which takes a pragmatic stance and does not deny the HIV-AIDS link much less the efficacy of Antiretroviral drugs. And I hope that science will be the basis of our approach to public policy.

And hopefully, on that basis educate our youth and at the same time extend the scope of permissible action that legally recognised adults can carry out. Education is invariably always better than moralising and piety.

In short, less prudishness, less moralising, more reality and more education. That's the key to keeping HIV in check.

So what can we conclude? Well just possibly, they hate latin terms and logic enforcement. Heh.


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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Online Story: Don't fan flames of lust. There's a link between AIDS and 'Crazy Horse' show
by Ho Ting Fei (Dr)

And I thought medical doctors were supposed to be better educated and trained than this? I mean, even granting the constrains of an ST letter, surely this could have been better argued?

In The Straits Times' reports on August 17, there were simultaneous reports of "sex infections on the rise among teenagers" and "R18 rating for cabarets".

This is a bad coincidence but a good opportunity for us to examine the reasons behind why HIV AIDS is on the increase in Singapore.

*Snort* first he acknowledges it is a bad coincidence and then he uses that purported link to demonstrate a non-sequitor. See below.
More disturbingly, it is on the rise in young people. There are various reasons for this phenomenon and some are obvious. The public has, at various times, expressed its opinion and cautioned about the decline of moral standards in society.

There are indeed various reasons for this, but what is this nebulous "decline of moral standards" that he claims and more importantly, how is it necessarily true that it (whatever it is) can be shown to be the major causal link for a rise in AIDS. Especially when there are much better arguments and fingers to point at.

The rise in the number of infections is due to a lot of reasons. Strip away things like an increase in the population, globalisation and easy travel making sure the virus spreads, more ready access to doctors and healthcare, better diagnostic equipment and thus more and earlier diagnosis. And can we really be certain that there is any statistically signicant increase left to deal with, much less attribute to a "decline in moral standards"?

Minister Dr Balaji Sadasivan has revealed the statistics and voiced his concerns about HIV infection in Singapore.

I am sure he and other healthcare personnel realise that if HIV infection is allowed to break through the barriers to affect the people, it will be out of control one day.

Which is why I'm so glad I don't live in a country like South Africa where the the President denies the HIV-AIDS link and the Minister for Health thinks prefers traditional and natural cures (that do nothing by the way) to the "poisons" of Antiretroviral drugs (that by the way really do work wonders i.e. from bedridden to climbing mountains).

The race to develop medical treatment may not catch up with the wild spread of HIV. Even if there is a cure for AIDS, prevention will generally remain a more efficient and cost-effective means of controlling the disease.

HIV AIDS is a social problem as much as it is a medical problem. If we are honest and truthful to ourselves, we cannot fail to see why AIDS and the "Crazy Horse" show are not so distant and unconnected, and why by giving more Singaporeans, especially youths, the chance to see the "Crazy Horse" revue is not as innocuous as it seems to be.

This is a terribly disappointing line of argumentation. It's full of insinuation and massively light on substantiation. An appeal to common sense tends to fail because common sense often isn't. Sometimes a counter-intuitive approach is necessary. And besides, it's been demonstrated that abstinence and pro-abstinence education policies don't work even if and especially if one looks at cross-State data in the USA with regards to STD and unwanted pregnancy rates.

Anyway. Hello?! Age of consent is 16 and prostitution is legal in Singapore! And you've picked Crazy Horse?! Only if you have a preexisting mindset that tries to deny reality and believes that the way to prevention is abstinence (much easier to believe in peace in the Middle East)

To me the introduction of the new R18 (Cabaret) rating is not just an act of bad taste but more a case of irresponsibility towards the youths and our population in general.

Let us not fan the flames of lust and temptation, particularly in our youths, and yet watch in desperation and despair at the raging fires of HIV infection.

Then teach them to handle it?! Education is always better than moralising and piety. Mind you, you're an adult at 18 and can be sentenced to death as an adult for a capital crime. You serve NS and can kill on orders, get killed on orders. You can smoke, drink, drive and skydive and do a lot of other things that could get you horribly killed or injured.

This last two paragraphs show exactly where the prudish, moralising doctor stands. I simply say this. Less prudishness, less moralising, more reality and more education. That's the key to keeping HIV in check.


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Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Electric New Paper, Singapore - The Electric New Paper News: We must make kids realise the value of life

I now blame CL for telling me about the post, it's worst than I thought. Full of emotion rhetoric and general BS. Here's why I think her arguments are bad.

I'm taking my information from Religious Tolerance

DO you know how babies are killed inside their mothers' wombs? Well, let me tell you.

No you don't, you simply give an emotional and grotesque description that vastly oversimplifies the issues and ignores something I like to call...oh, reality and facts?

The fact you call them "babies" show very clearly what you do not know. I challenge you to hold up a blastocyst and call it the equivalent of a real baby. In fact I challenge you to say that you will save a petri-dish of 15 blastocysts over a one-day old baby from a burning building.
Once a baby is three months old, he can feel a pin prick. He likes to dance. He swims and kicks in the tiny pool his mother made for him.

I call bullshit. There simply isn't enough synapse connections to do all these things you ascribe to the fetus. It's a fetus and not a child for that very simple reason and thus there isn't the sort of higher level thinking that enables all these stupid emotive and charge verbs you ascribe to it. Dance? Bollocks. Feel a pin prick? Only in the same way a touch-me-not closes up when you touch it. Swim? Bull. Sorry, science doesn't help you here lady, only your personal attribution based on your religious belief.

Human life, as we should recall, it defined as anything with human dna with it, that includes your hair and your nails and your epidermis. So you kill "human life" every single time you wash your hands.

What we're taking about is a human person and that's where the mess comes in. When does personhood occur? And you know she's on shaky grounds when you refuses to answer the question. No go jose, then your entire piece becomes yet another just so story.

Because if a fetus is not a person, then you simply cannot put a false equivallency of abortion with murder. And it becomes like any othe action that ends human life.

His death is by dismemberment - his warm cave is prised open, his head scrapped off. Then everything - the tiny torso, hands too small for nails, and legs which will never tread on anything other than water - is sucked out.

Yet more emotional rhetoric. A clear sign of argumentative weakness if I ever saw one.

Here's something to keep in mind. Half of pregnancies don't even come to term because of spontaneous abortions. Even where abortions are volitional, the vast majority come prior to week 9 where abortions are often induced chemically through pills. So yes, go on and push your reality of how things work in lieu of actual arguments.
His mother never felt him kick. She can almost believe her son never existed.

Another foetus makes it to 24 weeks - or six months old. She pats her tummy, scratches her cheek and rubs her nose. She can almost open her eyes.

Surely she is too old to be killed. Or is she? In Singapore, she could still be aborted. Did you know this?

Many of you would have averted your eyes, shuddered at the graphic details.

But don't. Don't look away because you need to know.

Now I'm mad, this is smug sanctinomy at its best and it's a damning indictment of her character. This ain't about love or what not, this ain't about trying to prevent abortion, this is about a holier-than-thou attitude.

And yeah, I say that abortions up till 6 months are perfectly legitimate because the fetus isn't viable yet (granted that science is pushing the limits), but unless you want to surgically remove the very pre-mature "baby" and artificially incubate it and risk its health and future, I say the choice is ultimately the mother's.

The state could come in but beware the slippery slope there. Once the coersive power of the state comes in, there is no guarantee where it's going to stop. Perhaps it starts with a ban on smoking and drinking, then maybe it creeps into a total prohibition on mothers' travelling by car, and hey while we're at it, let's just keep them in birthing centres so they can't eat fast food or risk the fetus' life.

Abortion is not about sucking out a mass of cells and then flushing it down the loo. It is not about regaining your freedom to pursue your own life.

It is about ending the life of a baby. I have known this since I was a teenager.

More than 20 years ago, I remember a group of us CHIJ Toa Payoh girls huddled in a dark room, looking in horror at the tubs of little bloody babies - dead, eyes shut and arms twisted. The tubs stood as high as a man, and there was no dignity, no grief from the multiple tiny deaths.

We were watching a video on how abortions were carried out. Then and there, we were confronted with the consequences of wrong choices.

Yet more handwaving.....
Today, teenage sex is real. A survey last year showed that 8 per cent of local women had unplanned pregnancies before they were 16.

So what?

I'm currently writing an article and one of its core premises is that an examination of principles is vital if you want to derive an "ought" from an "is" or in other words, a normative statement froma positive one.

She doesn't have one beyond a "pious" "life is precious" assertion.
Aborting their baby is one way of escaping their responsibilities. Abandoning their newborn is another.

And your sanctimonious article makes things worse.
The latter, of course, is a far more horrific course of action. Death is slow but certain - and completely unnecessary, since there are groups willing to take in unwanted newborns.

How many babies abandoned died in that fashion? Or is another one of your just-so stories?

How do we address the problem?

And here we go into the depths of non-logic.

First, most immediately, we have to make mothers aware that someone will care for their unwanted babies. Just give birth safely, make a phone call, and someone will come and get the baby.

*Roll eyes*, let's engage in reality here. And in the process they have to destroy their lives by a) gettting kicked out of the family or b) forced to marry a man she does not want, c) suffers complications from pregnancy (because something the anti-choice side doesn't like to take about is the 5% severe complication risk that threaten fatal repecussion for both baby and mother), d) forced to give up school etc. etc.

Or hey, there's always the back alley abortion clinic which could kill her.

"Destroying" one "life" apparently is very bad. In which case I say two is worse.

Second, a more long-term issue, parents must teach their children the value of life.

I do, which is why I support a mother's right to choice.
Conception is one possible consequence of sex, even protected sex. If you insist on having sex before you are married, then you have to be prepared to be a parent.

Getting into an accident is one of the possible consequences of driving a car or riding a bike, and yes people died or suffer various injuries. Now, I doubt anyone would legitimately argue that we should let those people suffer and refuse treatment to them for whatever reason, even if it were pure stupid negligence.
Getting an abortion is too easy now. Teenagers do not have to tell their parents. They walk into a hospital or a clinic, get counselled and then two days later, go in for the procedure.

Ease of access does not equate to ease of abortion. Note how easily she glides over the fact that a) there's a counselling session and b) a waiting period.
Many people support abortion because they think it is about the rights of the mother versus the rights of the baby. Or esoteric arguments about when an egg and a sperm, surely lifeless things, become a life.

But abortion is not about whether a woman - a girl sometimes - has the right to choose what she wants to do. It is about whether she takes responsibility for what she has already done.

Translation: I don't have a principle to stand on.

Shall we also force the guy to marry her? Or maybe let's take a leave from the old testament and get the rapist to marry her if necessary (and oh yes, making payment to the father at the same time).

There are many ways to take responsibility, one of which is to learn from the mistake rather than committing it again. Or worse, to force the person to live with the mistake and destroy her life.


There are three things that should be changed to help her do that.

First, anyone who wants an abortion must be made to watch a video about the procedure. Second, parental consent should be compulsory. This is already the case in 28 states in America.

Why? Another assertion and worse still, one that would hurt the most vulnerable section of women seeking abortions i.e. the young.

Also, the percentage of abortion seekers under the age of 18 is less than 10%, so can we say unfair discrimination?

Now, I could make an argument on why it is constitutionally not prohibited or one based on in loco parentis (although given that the parent is not obliged to maintain the child and the child's child, I'm not certain why this necessarily applies) but that's to confuse the status quo for the necessarily good.
In Singapore, which has a more conservative stance on so many things, a pregnant teenager who wants an abortion doesn't even need to alert her parents.

For good reason. It's a vulnerable class of persons that the law should help protect. Stop destroying more young lives already!
Third, we ought to encourage religious groups to share their stance on abortions and family life. In temples, mosques and churches, religious leaders should teach what their holy books say about sex and babies.

*Bwah ha ha ha* Bloody fundies and their code words. But seriously go ahead, but I don't think you'll like the answer. Muslims believe that ensoulment occurs just before the 3rd trimester, so it sure as hell ain't murder. Jews believe personhood occurs at childbirth.

I personally think if I were an omnibenevolent deity who cares, I wouldn't make the rate of spontaneous abortions as high as 50%.
In all schools, students - boys as well as girls - should be shown tapes of what abortion is like. What it does to a baby, as well as to the girl's body.

Sure, but that's only one half of the solution.

If you expect a pro-abstinence policy to work (which seems to be the implication from the first statement), then you naivity is just plain stupid. Put in a comprehensive sex-education policy, make contraceptives even more widely available and promote their usage and then we'll come and talk.
At home, parents should show their children pictures of themselves fresh out of the womb.

'This is you as a baby. We love you, because you were made from our flesh and blood,' parents should say.

The most important lesson of all?

If you love babies, you will not kill them, no matter how 'inconvenient' they appear to be at the time.

*Roll eyes*....I'm so going to puke. Yeah, abortions are taken very very lightly, and yes here I go to get pregnant so I can get an abortion and plan a post-abortion party.

Fuck it.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Iran displays Holocaust cartoons

From the Beep:
More than 200 Holocaust cartoons from around the world are on display at a museum in the Iranian capital, Tehran.

Organisers of the exhibition say they are testing the West's commitment to freedom of speech.

Okay.....this doesn't make any sense whatsoever.

But here's not a very difficult bet to make. I bet that there will be some official condemnation and strongly worded letters BUT there will be no violent riots or destruction of the Iranian embassy or mosque or attacks on Iranians.

If nothing else, I think that's very telling.


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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

TODAYonline: Consider banning smoking outright

Consider banning smoking outright
Have laws against possession Set up addicts' centres

Letter from Goh Kian Huat
Letter from Robert W Straughan

I refer to the report, "Its promise distorted, Subutex fades on a low" (Aug 11).

Instead of curing heroin addiction, users are addicted to Subutex itself. So, Subutex has now been listed as a Class A Controlled Drug, with its distribution, consumption and possession (unless authorised) prohibited.

First- and second-time abusers arrested for Subutex consumption will undergo compulsory rehabilitation treatment, while recalcitrant abusers could face up to 13 years' imprisonment and 12 strokes of the cane. Traffickers face even stiffer penalties.

Wince...I feel sorry for the letter writers. I had a letter similarly conflated and truncated and it was deeply unsatisfying.

But back to the report on hand, anyone who has ever done any bit of debating for a fair amount of time would have come across at some point in time the arguments for the criminalisation of a particular action/vice/sin/social ill etc. And they basically boil down to the Harm Principle, the Black Market and why regulation is better than an outright ban.

But I want to take it from a separate perspective which I don't think is examined often enough in these types of debate.
Now consider this: Smoking is the single most avoidable cause of death. According to the Health Promotion Board, every cigarette contains over 4,000 types of chemicals, 400 of which are poisonous and about 40 are cancer-causing — for example, nicotine, carbon monoxide, tar, hydrogen cyanide. The nicotine is just as addictive as heroin or cocaine.

On a global scale, the World Health Organization estimates that tobacco kills one person every 10 seconds. Smoking is also a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, stroke and chronic obstructive lung disease, which together accounted for close to two-thirds of deaths here in 2000. Smoking harms those around the smoker also.

Yet, while cigarettes are as harmful as other commonly abused drugs such as heroin, cannabis, Ecstasy, ice and amphetamines, the Government has taken a softer approach by introducing laws to prohibit tobacco ads, restricting smoking in public places and imposing stiffer tobacco duties.

I think the numbers are about right, except I think that cannabis ought not to be in that category alongside the other drugs, the harm level associated with it is that much lower than the rest.

And the following logic is fairly impeccable...
It appears there is no neater plan to eradicate this problem than by banning smoking in Singapore. Since cigarettes are as harmful as Subutex and other abused drugs, I suggest the authorities consider laws to prohibit the possession and consumption of tobacco. Existing nicotine addicts may be given a grace period to seek help to quit.

It is good that the Government has taken steps to ban smoking in public places but, on the whole, its actions and intentions confuse me.

We all know underaged smoking (below 18), is illegal. The fact that the young may not be mature enough to make sound decisions regarding a damaging and activity underlies the ban. But smoking is just as damaging no matter what age the smoker.

No matter how harshly the Government discourages smoking, addicts will not be able to stop unless a full ban is implemented.

I suggest permitting smoking only at special centres, where rehabilitators help to cure smokers' addictions. There, smokers would be encouraged to stop but not forced.

Only then will we slowly be able to cure the disease of smoking in Singapore.

Or is it?

Well, the logic only works if you accept its premise i.e. that the government ought to intervene when the individual harms him or herself regardless of whether their actions hurt 3rd party i.e. the paternalistic approach that is the converse of the Harm Principle.

Because if one does not accept that premise, that the logic equally follows that since society is more than able to function with the "evils" of smoking, that drugs with similar levels of harm as enumerated above, should be legalised in the same fashion as smoking.

My personal opposition to smoking is in the harm it causes others in a direct fashion i.e. passive smoking and the fact that it's bloody annonying although if there was no direct harm, I might well change my mind on the current restrictions on smoking in public.

But let's go back to self-determination and bodily autonomy, and the question that we have to ask is on what basis does the government have to prevent self-abuse even till the point of death? One argument is that such actions do cause societal harm in that almost any form of drug abuse will lead to instances of higher medical care that is borne by society.

Two responses to that. One would be to make these people pay more which we already do through sin taxes so that they are not being subsidised by the other tax payers. The other is to question whether this is actually so. Apparently there is a study which has crunched the numbers and it comes to the startling conclusion that the state benefits from smokers dying young and not draining medical resources that are the province of the old and chronically infirm. A nasty state of affairs that.

Another argument is that the basis of all rights is life and without life one cannot enjoy those rights. Therefore, the government is justified in taking action that would prevent people from a course of action that would deprive themselves of those rights i.e. death. The most obvious rebuttal to that is that it may well apply to suicide but we all die anyway and smoking simply increases your risk of a disease that would kill you sooner than a healthy person would otherwise would. And similarly on that line of logic, we're going to have to ban fastfood and a whole bunch of other activities like skydiving (presumably on the basis that unlike driving, there is no societal utility from the others).

But the more fundamental problem is the argument is that it is simply a bald assertion and I should know that because I once used that argument to justify the torture of terrorists, nasty line of argument once you push it to its logical conclusion. It effectively justifies almost anything.

The positive argument in turn argues that the state is simply incapable of demonstrating a compelling interest to prevent their citizens from hurting themselves and might well point to the fact that the Common Law allows even the mentally insane to reject life-saving treatment as long as the person is aware of the consequences on the basis that only the patient is capable of determining what's in their best interest. This is of course part of a broader general proposition that only you know what you want and can determine what's in your own best interest as a rational thinking person.

This is of course not to say that the state is incapable of asserting some form of paternalism and limiting personal autonomy but those are generally on the basis that for some reason the rationality and thinking aspect of the equation has been diminshed or circumvented. Thus we limit the rights of children and do not allow suicide clubs or pacts for fear of undue influence. But it is nevertheless important to keep in mind that this is the exception to the rule and not the rule itself.

I come down on the side of personal autonomy and liberty because I'm simply not arrogant enough to impose my views on others and thus I "impose" (beware the fallacy of false equivocation) a system that would allow all views to promulgate.


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*Yet another hiatus*

Apologies for the hiatus but things have been fairly hectic recently due to the amount of debate related stuff e.g. Matriculation fair, the NUS Summer Debates Workshop in collaboration with UBC and the UBC Worlds 06/07 adjudicating core and organising committee, training sessions and the forthcoming Welcome Tea.

And in case anyone is searching for the NUS Debate Team and wants to know how to contact us, either email either of the contributors (more me than CL) or come for the Welcome Tea(s).

The first will be held on Wednesday 160806 at USP at 6 p.m. Meet at the ATM on the ground floor.

Alternatively, come by this Saturday 190806 at the new Faculty of Law, Bukit Timah Campus, at 10 a.m. at classroom 1-1.

We welcome one and all so see you there.



Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Gary Becker and Richard Posner joint blog

Need I even say more?

Two of the most prominent figures, some might even say Fathers of the entire Law and Economics movement.

And this is their blog.

I feel like a fanboy.


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

TODAYonline: Feel the Heat if you Break your Promise

The above letter can be summed up as uber or hyper nationalistic and patriotic. And while there is nothing wrong with those in and of itself per se, like all things, when done to excess, it can only lead to harm and untold misery. The slight hyperbolic untold misery bit is due to the lessons of history where dissent was forbidden and the unchecked power of the authorities (both secular and religious) trampled upon the liberties if not the personal safety and lifes of those who would dissent from what they correctly viewed as ill.

I'm a little hesistant to fisk this as I normally would given that the letter writer is a 16 year old student and I doubt that baracking someone is the best way of persuading him to see the errors of his views.

So I'm going to use this as an explainatory lesson instead. But here's my thesis, dissent is not disloyalty in fact dissent is loyalty and the ultimate form of patriotism. It is only when I believe that my nation can be better and better served that I dissent. If not, I would simply ignore it.

by Jeremy Lim

FIVE years ago, on Aug 9, I was at the National Stadium with 35 others — who represented a cross-section of the people of Singapore — reciting the Pledge on stage. It was a proud, ecstatic moment for me.

I'm glad that he's proud to be Singaporean or at least proud to demonstrate that he is Singaporean. And I believe that there is much to be proud of Singapore (if not necessarily being Singaporean).

But as I will later expound upon, that should not be sufficient reason to put on blinkers and say that all is well with the system or even with policies.

However, I did not realise at first that it was more than a ceremony. It was a commitment I was making to the nation to be part of 'one united people, regardless of race, language or religion ... so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation'. There were millions of witnesses, including those who watched the event on television and the Internet.

The words in the Pledge are powerful. And we would do well as a society to remember and live up to them.

I absolutely agree. But from here on, we take very divergent paths with regards to what it means to live up to the pledge.

As Singaporeans, we have all taken the Pledge. It is a solemn undertaking to the nation. If we do not honour it through word and deed, we have broken a serious promise — and shouldn't we always keep the promises we make?

Hopefully with age comes experience and with experience expertise. I don't necessarily disagree with what he says but the phrasing leaves me very cold. Instead what I will say is that the pledge is a powerful statement of alliegence and in particular what forms the basis of an ideal society. I think that the pledge can be amended to included things like non-discrimination of gender, sexual orientation and belief systems but it doesn't detract too much from the idea of an equitable society (I'm conflating equity and equality because there really isn't much conceptual difference between the two that does not become mired in sophistry).
I believe one of the better ways of keeping our promise to the nation is to always treat Singapore as our home. Before we act, we should ask: 'Would we do this to our own home?'

I think analogies are very helpful as long as one is aware of all times of their limitations i.e. in that they are similar but never identical. Unfortunately, very often analogies are used to overly simplify matters and used in lieu of proper analytical reasoning and very often have loads of emotional baggage loaded with it.

But what is the fundamental problem with the analogy? Basically I think it's overly simplistic and the nuance is what's of upmost importance here. Because the moment one sees the problem with the analogy i.e. how a nation and a "home" are intrinsically different, his entire argument collapses.

The use of the home is misleading insofar as one cannot extrapolate infinitely backwards. The most immediate problem is that it leads to impossibilities e.g. one cannot say that given that the 100m run times have consistently fallen that in the future runners would be able to complete it in negative time or even for that matter 1s. Along the same lines, just because we reduce the age limit for any particular act does not necessarily equate to eliminating it for the simple reason that we acknowledge that children do not have the same mental capacity and capabilities that adults do BUT that we acknowledge that they are readily getting this at a much younger and younger age.

Conceptually, we run into the same critique that Tatcher faced with her explaination of why a budget deficit was bad i.e. by comparing it to a home living in debt. The humourous critique was that it was "home economics" with the slightly degoratory associations with the subject. But basically the short answer is that what is right at an individual level may not necessarily be true when we are talking about the aggregation of many many individuals.

Therefore, the important point here to note is that we are living in a democratic society premised on Constitutionalism etc. The home is not predicated on rule by the ruled and that is an intrinsic difference that lies at the heart of the fundamental flaw of the entire argument.

For example, would we disrupt the peace and harmony in our home by inciting another member of our family? Likewise, we should not provoke others with inflammatory comments about their race or religion, knowing that it may lead to bitterness, unrest and disorder. For not keeping to their pledge to the nation, three racist bloggers were punished.

This of course begs the question that peace and harmony are to be prized. That is of course a fair enough assertion in that it is probably self-evident. But the issue is as follows, at what price?

Taking first the inflammatory comments inciting violence, a clear distinction should be drawn between that an the advocacy of violence. Without that distinction, a critique or expression no matter how justified, will always be at the mercy of extremists prone to violence. Thus to silence speech, one simply needs to threaten violence.

And this has severe repecussions on a number of issues. Firstly, it jepodises the political system of resolving issues i.e. instead of debate and the vote, it legitimises violence as a political tool. Secondly, it undermines the rule of law in that there are criminal codes and penal sanctions against mobs and riots for a freaking reason. They want to protest, go ahead, but the moment violence is used, that's when the coercive force of the government should come in.

And lest this be thought to be a "liberal" critique, conservative right wing fundamentalist (okay, massive redundency there, I probably could have simply said fundamentalist) Christians are upset that they are not allow to make what they consider justified comments/attacks on an "abomination unto God" i.e. homosexuals because the government has controlled speech and currently they consider that unwarrented inflamnatory speech.

In short, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

By the same token, I think all pledge-breakers should be punished by law. I can't help feeling livid when I read about Singaporeans joining forces with foreigners in the condemnation and attack of our home. Have they forgotten their pledge?

Heh, I don't recall our pledge saying that we cannot enlist foreign support for criticisms of domestic polities.

Yes, as citizens, we have the right and duty to give constructive criticism in the best interests of our country. But it is a different thing when you say it in a foreign newspaper or support a foreign organisation in criticising your country publicly. If anyone wants to do that, they should relinquish their citizenship. Why should they be allowed to break a solemn pledge with impunity?

Eh? I don't see the difference. Either those foreign organisations have legitimacy or they do not, either those accusations have grounds or they are baseless. In the second bit, whether or not foreign elements are effected becomes irrelevant to the issue and the tossing about of the word "foreign" becomes like a magician's handwaving to keep the audiences eye away from what's happening.

Of the first bit, the implication of his policy is that no international body has the legitimacy to "interfer" in the politics of the domestic government. If so, we can kiss the UN and all other IGOs and NGOs goodbye. One has to wonder whether the writer has thought through this issue or is simply regurgitating the canards pushed by certain elements of our society.

The slogan for this year's National Day Parade is: 'Our global city. Our home.'

I like it because it highlights and reminds all of us of what Singapore is — a home.

By fulfilling the spirit and letter of our Pledge, we can together continue to build a great home. To do that, we need to lead, support or, at least, get out of the way of efforts to make Singapore a better place.

Ra ra Singapore! If this had been in a letter which was more subtle, nuanced and demonstrated the understanding of complex issues better, I would have such great hopes for the future (to be fair, I'm been impressed by the young crop of debaters).
Let me cite the casino issue as an example. The Government came up with the proposal. After studying views from all sides, it has decided to go ahead. Now, it is our duty to support the idea and make it work or, if we are still not happy with it, to accept it as fact and find ways to ensure it turns out well for the country by mitigating any possible social impact.

Absolutely no. The whole point of a democratic society is the ability to effect change through the vote. Something does not simply become right because the government or the current majority of voters says it is so. Issues like women's sufferage and the Civil Rights Movement come to mind here. While I supported the casino, I realise that to opponents of the casino, my arguments does not necessarily rebut theirs nor theirs mine. This is what we mean by a fundamental clash of (differing) values.

But what I find terribly disturbing is the idea that once the government makes a decision it is our duty to support the idea and make it work. Put another way, surely it cannot be our duty to support the implementation of a policy that would render suddenly half our nation as second class citizens.

Sitting on the fence, however, may not the best thing to do. I am for leading or for being part of the team to make Singapore a better home. After all, a home is not about the place. It is about the people.

We still have problems with littering, ungraciousness, dengue-carrying mosquitoes, bullies, animal abusers and more. There are frequent letters and reports of these challenges in the media for us to be concerned. And the root of the problem? Some people just do not care.

They contribute to the problems and make life frustrating for other people sharing the home. They simply fail to see a good home is created by all the people who live in it. I hope that they do not wait until they lose it to appreciate it.

My wish on the 41st birthday of my nation is for all my countrymen and women to unite in building ourselves — and our future generations — a magnificent home. Happy birthday, my homeland!

At least he didn't end with Majulah Singapura! =P


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Monday, August 07, 2006

TODAYonline: HK passes surveilance laws
HK passes surveillance law
HONG KONG — Hong Kong legislators passed a controversial surveillance law yesterday after a protest walkout by opposition lawmakers, who said it undermined civic freedoms.

The bill will allow the authorities to monitor private communications with telephone wire taps, email scans and other covert techniques, and was adopted after a marathon three-day debate.

It comes at a time of raised concern over the role the government has played in the lives of people in this former British colony since sovereignty switched to communist China in 1997.

The measure was passed without a vote cast against it as opposition lawmakers, angry that none of their 200-plus amendments was adopted, boycotted the final vote.

"This is a bad day for human rights in Hong Kong," said legislator Lee Wing-tat, chairman of the main opposition Democratic Party.

"It will mean that anyone who is active within civil society — lawyers, legislators, political party activists and even workers of non-government organisations — will, from now on, live in fear of investigation by the authorities." — AFP

CNA did a fairly good clip on this yesterday and the one comment that stuck in my mind was when they reported that one of the senior MPs who also happened to be a veteran lawyer confessed that he could not understand the text. Which should be a sign if this were an actual negotiations for a contract to go back to the drawing board.

But what I want to blog about today is whether distrust of power i.e. the tendancy to believe that power will be abuse is a logical and rational position to take, or whether this is nothing more than a manifestation of paranoid delusion.

If you can't guess my answer, you're probably new to this blog =P But the answer is that it's a perfectly reasonable position to take and a logical and rational one to boot.

Obviously, history (as usual) teaches us a number of valuable lessons, and first and foremost is that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolute ~ Lord Acton. The rise of Constitutionalism (and the revolutions in France etc.) were a reaction to absolutism and in particular, the wielding of power in an arbitrary fashion, not least in an oppressive manner. Constitutionalism (which by the way was imported into ALL the Commonwealth nations upon their independence) believes that checks and balances are necessary and one of the ways in which this can be achieved is through a guarantee of fundamental liberties in addition to a separation of the powers of government into its component parts with each part to check and balance one another.

But that doesn't necessarily answer the above issue on the bit about surveilence and one of the things that we should consider is that it has been and will continue to be abused. Let's take the case study of the US in the context of the Civil Rights Movement.

As we no doubt should or ought to know, the FBI under Hoover ran a programme on surveilance on most public figures in the States. The belief was that it was to be used not only to keep tabs on such people, but also to use such material to engage in backmail if necessary.

One of those figures monitored was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who together with Rosa Parks, are probably the most iconic figures of the Civil Right Movement back in the 1970s. He was also human and engage in a number of affairs, of which because of the surveilance on him, got back to the FBI. But what was truely startling was what the information was used for and why.

In the Select Committee's SUPPLEMENTARY DETAILED STAFF REPORTS ON INTELLIGENCE ACTIVITIES AND THE RIGHTS OF AMERICANS with respect to Dr. King, we see how there was a "war" against him to "neutralise" him as an effective civil rights movement leader and the emphasis was to "completely discredit" him and his advisors.

From the report we learn the following:
Congressional leaders were warned "off the record" about alleged dangers posed by Reverend King. The FBI responded to Dr. King's receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize by attempting to undermine his reception by foreign heads of state and American ambassadors in the countries that be planned to visit. When Dr. King returned to the United States, steps were taken to reduce support for a huge banquet and a special "day" that were being planned in his honor.

The FBI's program to destroy Dr. King as the leader of the civil rights movement entailed attempts to discredit him with churches, universities, and the press. Steps were taken to attempt to convince the National Council of Churches, the Baptist World Alliance, and leading Protestant ministers to halt financial support of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and to persuade them that "Negro leaders should completely isolate King and remove him from the role he is now occupying in civil rights activities." When the FBI learned that Dr. King intended to visit the Pope, an agent was dispatched to persuade Francis Cardinal Spellman to warn the Pope about "the likely embarrassment that may result to the Pope should he grant King an audience." The FBI sought to influence universities to withhold honorary degrees from Dr. King. Attempts were made to prevent the publication of articles favorable to Dr. King and to find "friendly" news sources that would print unfavorable articles. The FBI offered to play for reporters tape recordings allegedly made from microphone surveillance of Dr. King's hotel rooms.

I think at the minimum, what this demonstrates is that it is definately not beyond the pale that "enemies of the state" that these surveillance law are supposed to target (see NSA wiretapping the co-option of SWIFT) may easily be peverted for misuse, particularly if you suddenly find yourself out of favour (for whatever reason) with the administration.

And that is sufficient cause for concern.

But let's transpose this to the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong and I think this possibility is elevated by a good many times especially when we consider the raison d'etat of the CCP i.e. to stay in power to fulfil the Communist Revolution. We also know that surveillance is part and parcel of the regime e.g. 50,000 people to man the firewall to keep "dangerous" information of spreading via the internet, inwards or out; tracking, arresting and detention of "dissidents" etc.

Thus the new law arguably posses a huge threat in that region especially given that China is not shy about sheding its velvet glove for a steel fist and to change the Basic Law (the pseudo-Constitution of the SAR which "guarantees" its freedoms) if need be.

Which is why, I personally have an innate distrust of power and I feel much safer when the governing of power is based upon mistrust than trust.


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Sunday, August 06, 2006

TODAYonline: Early Curtains for Provocative Play

I figure that since I'm currently on a roll with regards to freedom of expression and speech on a local context, it couldn't hurt to comment on this issue particularly because of the playwrite's earlier brush with the authorities i.e. Talaq and the implications it has with regards to the balancing of rights (or lack thereof) that we see.

Early curtains for provocative play
A day before its opening, MDA says it portrayed Muslims negatively

Loh Chee Kong AND Ashraf Safdar

LESS than 30 hours before it was to open on Saturday evening, the Media Development Authority (MDA) pulled the plug on controversial playwright P Elangovan's latest work.

The MDA announced that it was withdrawing the arts entertainment licence for Mr Elangovan's provocative offering which, it said, portrayed Muslims negatively.

Two things here.
1. Why was refusal granted so late? And here we see echos of what happened for example with Snowball 2005. I think while there may ostensibly be good reason for refusing the staging of the play, the manner in which it was done would simply fuel conspiracy theories.

Not to mention, leaving a bad taste in the mouth.

2. Just because it portrays a particular racial group negatively, is that sufficient reason to simply disallow a play or a piece or a speech or any form of expression? Especially where there might be competing and compelling reasons to allow them e.g. truth or more fundamentally, the right to express oneself? Keep that in mind as a short history of Talaq will be given further in this piece.
It is the first time the MDA has disallowed the staging of a play since it was formed in 2003 and took over the licensing of arts entertainment from the Public Entertainment Licensing Unit (Pelu). The agency issued some 1,200 arts entertainment licenses last year with about a fifth of those requiring a rating.

Useful to know that this was pretty particular then.
Mr Elangovan, too, was initially granted a licence on Aug 1 to stage his full-length play over two nights during the weekend at The Substation.

But in its press statement on Friday, the MDA said that it was banning the production Smegma, which was scheduled to be performed by theatre group Agni Kootthu, as it was "insensitive and inappropriate for staging".

The MDA added that it had consulted the Arts Consultative Panel — a committee formed in 2004 and made up of 35 members including arts and media professionals, educators and grassroots representatives — and its members were "concerned that the play could create unhappiness and disaffection amongst Muslims".

Here, it's a mark of how socialised we are with regards to "sensitivity" of our "multi-racial and religious society" that if I were to ask the question, "so what?" I would either get blank stares or accusing glares.

But I think the implication can be fairly disturbing, especially coming on the heels of Talaq, in that race becomes a shield against commentary, because even if something needs to be said, but as long as it causes "unhappiness and disaffection" amongst protected communities (by which I mean "religion, race, descent or place of birth", as reflected in the constitution. And no, gender and sexual identity are not under this list, which makes it perfectly legitimate to discrimate against them) then no speech can be had, arguably without governmental approval.
The synopsis for the play, which was to be staged at The Substation's 100-seater Guinness Theatre, read: "The bizarre experiences and incidents in the play interrogate the moral, cultural, religious, political, economical legitimacy world from many perspectives of the underdogs and their masters. When the comfort zone is shattered, ugliness rears its head like smelly smegma."

With its script filled with Hokkien and English expletives, the play consists of 10 vignettes. These included one which depicted Singaporeans' sexual escapades with underaged girls overseas and a class of kindergarten children calling their Member of Parliament a "pig".

Another scene scripted also has three men in a prison cell making fun of the Singapore flag.

Ehhhhh...poisoning the well? Hard to say honestly, but if I were to deconstruct this piece, I would probably say so.
Mr Elangovan, 48, told Today that he had submitted the script last month and was granted a licence for it under an RA (18) rating for "strong language and adult themes" on Tuesday.

That very same day, however, he was also informed of the National Arts Council's decision to cut its funding for the play due to "sensitive content".

Beneath the coarse language and disturbing scenes, Mr Elangovan said that Smegma "analyses the five stars on the Singapore flag".

After hearing of MDA's decision through a phone call on Friday afternoon — he was informed in writing about three hours later — he told Today that he was "unsurprised".

"This is always happening to me," said the playwright, who, in his 33-year career, has been labelled a maverick by his milder critics and a "rabble-rouser" by his harsher ones.

So was the license given on a probational basis pending review by the committee? Surely, as journalist, this constitutes a news-worthy event to investigate and dig up more facts right?!
In 2000, another of his plays, Talaq — about an Indian-Muslim woman's brush with marital violence — was banned by Pelu in the face of protests from Muslim and Indian authorities.

Here's the rather fascinating history behind the entire "event". Talaq, which refers to the word "dismiss" and when spoken trice is effective divorce in certain Muslim (and non Muslim) nations. This play, based upon the experiences of 13 Indian Muslim women, was about marital violence and the dimished role that women had in certain societies because of apparent religiousity. It was IN FACT performed and had an initial run (three in fact) without much (if any) controversy.

It was only when they tried for a theatre run in English and Malay that the Tamil Muslim Jama’ath and MUIS "protest(ed)".

So here we have a classical clash, on the one hand, the propagation of social commentary on the plight of women in certain societies. And on the other, concerns about offending the sensitivities of certain racial and religious groups.

The problem as I mentioned before is this. Offending people is part and parcel of free speech and when I mean offending, I don't mean the squirrelous definition that tries to distinguish between speech/expression that offend different groups and by which offence means only protected groups get offended and no one else. For example, I find speech that try to justify fundamentalism or the support of dictatorial regimes on the grounds of "Asian Values" odious and offensive, but we don't clamp down on those speech. So why is race and religion automatically protected in this regard.

The justification comes by way of pointing to the destabilising effect of such speech etc. But it doesn't answer the original argument. Worst still, given that we have laws against riots and disturbances of public peace and order, it would appear that we are pandering to the views of a violent minority and not using the law against them as we should.

The key to free speech is that if you are offended by speech, you counter that speech by making your own speech and not by clamping down on the "offending speech". And in this particular instance, there was good reason to allow that speech. Here's an unpublished press release by AWARE in the aftermath:
On this day we remember the millions of women who suffer in silence - the pain, of physical abuse and mental anguish - that's inflicted on them because they are women. They suffer in silence because they have been disempowered; because they have no where to go and because men hold the reins of power over them, their right to speak and to be heard.

It has taken many years of struggle and awareness-raising programmes in Singapore to break that silence, to offer safe spaces for the victims and to get laws enacted to provide for greater protection to victims of violence. For instance, because of these laws, an increasing number of complaints are filed in the Family Court. In 1996, 1,306 cases were reported; in 1997 the reported cases grew to 2,019 and in 1999 to 2,280.

Statistics also show that spousal violence cuts across all ages, races, religions, occupational and educational background. But there are many that go unreported. Many families suffer in silence. We, therefore, have to continue raising awareness and empowering the victims to break away from the cycle of violence and break the silence. Drama provides one of those means of breaking the silence.

It is therefore, disturbing, that "Talaq", a social commentary on the evils of domestic violence, has been silenced and thus silencing the right of the victims to speak and to be heard.

We thought we had moved away from those dark days of silence. This episode serves to remind us that the struggle against violence is an on-going one and that men in power can silence women's right to speak against oppression by any means within their power. IN this case men have used race and religion to silence; the licensing and funding authorities have succumbed to their arguments and banned the play "Talaq".

Domestic violence is not acceptable in any religion. Using religion to silence a social issue, such as domestic violence, makes a farce of our education, and our progress and our claim as a first class home for all.

Nov. 25th 2000

But here's the final bit of the article...
In 1975, he was investigated by the Internal Security Department because of his reinterpretation of a classical Indian story where a Muslim and Hindu King have a conversation.

When Today spoke to the playwright-cum-director about Smegma earlier, Mr Elangovan said that he doesn't intentionally write incendiary material.

But in this case, the MDA indicated that he had crossed the line.

It said: "Smegma undermines the values underpinning Singapore's multi-racial, multi-religious society. The play portrays Muslims in a negative light."

I think everything I said above applies here. But the last statement is a disturbing non-sequitor. Taken on its plain reading, one cannot portray any religion or race in a negative light and effectively makes them immune from criticism no matter how fair or justified.

As I have said previously, Singaporeans are not stupid and 4 plus decades of NE and Racial Harmony Day have socialised us against racism (a very good thing I might add) and we have spoken out against racism many a times. If so, such statements are also a terribly slight on us citizens for being incapable of evaluating and distinguishing between criticism and rabble rousing demagogue.

And more so I think, when it comes to religion because it is a choice and because unlike a biological fact like "race" (I prefer ancestry), it is a point of view that should be no more immune from critique, especially when considering its rather abysmmal history.


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Friday, August 04, 2006 FEER to comply with requirements for off-shore newspaper

Hat-tip to the annoymous commenter who has been kind and patient enough to visit and leave comments despite the recent hiatus.

Anyway, this story has only been picked up in Today today, which might explain why I hadn't realised that this had happened.

Before I begin, I would like to emphasis that the foreign press are treated with immense suspicion and are greatly restrained by virtue of their "foreignness". Alot of these restrictions DO NOT apply to the domestic press (or are present in a greatly lessened form).

To be honest, I didn't think even as a simply factual article, that it was terribly well-written, for the simple reason that it doesn't make any sense even on repeated readings unless you've got a knowledge of how laws work and where to find the relevent statute.

Our tax money goes towards the maintanence and upkeep of an online repositary of the latest and most current of our statutes at Statutes Online, a remarkable service given the inaccessibility of most nations' statutes. Case in point, try finding current vietnamese legislation. You'll tear your hair out.

Anyway, here's the puzzling paragraph...
This change is to correct an anomaly for FEER, which currently does not have to comply with conditions for offshore newspapers.

And the explaination given?
It follows the FEER's move from a weekly to a monthly publication in 2004.

Which means absolutely NOTHING until you go and look at Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (Cap. 206, 2002 Rev. Ed.). If you're looking for it at Statutes Online, just type in 206 in the space provided and then the corresponding link at the next page.

But here's why there was a lacunae (hole) in the law.
Permit required for sale and distribution in Singapore of offshore newspapers
23. —(1) No person shall sell or distribute, or import for or possess for sale or distribution any offshore newspaper in Singapore unless there is in force a permit granted by the Minister to the proprietor of the newspaper or his agent authorising the sale or distribution of that newspaper in Singapore.

The definition of "offshore newspaper" is found in 23(7)(a) which reads, "“offshore newspaper” means a newspaper published outside Singapore at intervals not exceeding one week which contains news, intelligence, reports of occurrences, or any remarks, observations or comments, pertaining to the politics and current affairs of any country in South-East Asia, except where the circulation of every issue of the newspaper in Singapore is less than 300 copies"

That in turns explains why when FEER shifted from a weekly to a monthly format, it technically was no longer a "offshore newspaper".

But here's the kicker. Unlike Malaysian and Local press, there is no room or avenue for appeal in the event that your (offshore newspaper) application for a license is rejected. But more on that latter.

So, in turn, what exact is this "declared foreign newspaper"? For that, we turn to s. 24 of the same act
Declared foreign newspapers
24. —(1) The Minister may, by order published in the Gazette, declare any newspaper published outside Singapore to be a newspaper engaging in the domestic politics of Singapore.

(2) No person shall, without the prior approval of the Minister, sell or distribute or import for or possess for sale or distribution any declared foreign newspaper.

(3) The Minister may grant his approval under subsection (2) subject to such conditions as he may impose or may refuse to grant or revoke such approval without assigning any reason.

(4) The Minister may restrict the sale or distribution of each issue of any declared foreign newspaper granted approval under subsection (2) to such number of copies as he thinks fit, and may require such copies to be marked in such manner as he may direct.

(5) Any person who contravenes subsection (2) or fails to comply with any of the conditions imposed under subsection (3) or who sells or distributes any copy of a declared foreign newspaper which is not marked in accordance with subsection (4) shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $50,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or to both.

(6) In any proceedings under this section, it shall be presumed, until the contrary is proved, that any person found in possession of more than 5 copies of the same issue of a declared foreign newspaper had possession of them for sale or distribution.

In case, anyone was wondering what the numbers in square brackets indicate, it simply refers to the amending act that insert or amended that relevant clause. Therefore [22/86] refers to the Act 22 of 1986 which has either inserted or amended the clause. Now, the benefit of being a law student is access to LawNet, which in turn, gives us access to all these amending acts and the relevent parliamentary debates. For all your "plebians" out there, sorry, you probably have to go to the Supreme Court Library.

But let us turn to s. 24(1) and you, the reader, as an reasonable intelligent person will realise that effectively this is a form of governmental fiat. As long as the Minister says so, you become a declared foreign newspaper. And note, the section is not worded in such a fashion that you have to engage in the domestic politics of Singapore before the Minister can "declare" you, but simply by virtue of being "declared" you become a "declared foreign newspaper". But before unwary readers believe that this is utterly arbitrary, it would appear that the minister does gives reasons as to the offending articles and acts.

And thus far, only 2 such papers have been so declared. FEER and the former AWSJ (it's now called the Wall Street Journal Asia).

But regardless, the courts do come to the rescue in this respect. Ministerial decisions (except where on the basis of national security and in particular when there is the particular recitation of article 149 of the Singaporean Constitution, the basis of our Internal Security Act a.k.a. ISA) are always reviewable on an objective basis i.e. the minister cannot simply say s/he's satisfied (subjective basis) and that's the end of the story.

Just a slight problem. The definition of engaging in the domestic politics of Singapore is so wide that any comment on any local issue/policy would almost flout it.

Here's the relevent judicial pronouncement from Chan Sek Keong J (as he was then) in Dow Jones Publishing Company (Asia) Inc v. AG, [1989] 3 MLJ 321 (Sing. C.A.):

"In the context of Singapore, domestic politics would, in our view, include the political system of Singapore and the political ideology underpinning it, the public institutions that are a manifestation of the system and the policies of the government of the day that give life to the political system. In other words, the domestic politics of Singapore relate to the multitude of issues concerning how Singapore should be governed in the interest and for the welfare of its people."

So, basically, foreign press comment on Singapore at their own risk.

And no, there isn't any constitutional issue involved here because they are well foreign and art. 14(1) guarantees the freedom of speech and expression only to citizens.

And so that's how the cookie crumbles I suppose.


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