Monday, November 27, 2006

Freak Weather Conditions

So it snowed in Seattle yesterday.

It's autumn.

And then I had to walk through hail to get back home. Fortunately the wind wasn't so strong and the hailstones were fairly small so getting pelted didn't sting too much.

Line of the day goes to CL: "Considering all the freak weather conditions that follow you. Thankfully, earthquakes aren't weather conditions.

Bah humbug.

Don't worry, you'll get back to your regular dose of political commentary soon. I've got something on the insanity occuring in Nicaragua with regards to reproductive justice.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Good Fences make Good Neighbours

Apparently, Robert Frost was being ironic when he said this and it is clear why this would be so if one considers or attaches certain associations with neighbour i.e. not simply one who lives beside you but a notion of communal association and arguably aid in times of trouble and need.

For the law students, perhaps an easier manner in which to conceptualize it is the idea of duty of care as originally conceived in Donoghue v. Stevenson i.e. someone whom you ought to consider when doing something or performing certain actions for fear of causing harm to you neighbour.

The distinction between the former and the later is perhaps a distinction between a duty of care and a duty to care such that in the former, one has a positive duty to actually make things better for your neighbour whereas in the later, one simply has to take care not to hurt your neighbour.

I personally see race and religious relations in Singapore to be in the later category. Insofar as criminal sanctions or general legal restrictions are to be imposed, they are premised on the idea that as long as you don't thread on my toes, we can live in relative peace and tolerance. So two very good examples of these are the Maintanence of Religious Harmony Act as well as the Sedition Act.

One of the things that the MRHA does is to allow for the issuing of restraining orders (against religious office holders or other persons) for "causing feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility between different religious groups" which as the parliamentary debate tells us includes aggressive evangelism (nice that the government understands how annoying that is). The criminalisation of the above comes from the Sedition Act (and the new provision of the Penal Code), or alternatively, the violation of the restraining order.

By the by, there is a raging debate right now as to how aggressive atheists should be in propagating their worldview. I think the rise of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris is partially in reaction to the very aggressive stance on the part of the religious right and the intrusion of religion as the basis of morality and thence law as well as the education of science.

I think the conflict as it boils down to is the following. One side sees fanaticism of any sort as necessarily bad and they fear that the public face of science would be atheistic, which is precisely what the religious right want to do by forcing people to make a choice between god or science in the belief that people will tend to pick god, which will hurt science. The other side thinks it's cognitive dissonance no matter how you parse it, that taking down all the goddidit arguments thrown up by ID and their ilk but then suddenly drawing an arbitrary line in the sand and saying that science does not deal with That and therefore permits both god and science to coexist see e.g. Ken Miller (stauch Roman Catholic Evolutionary Biologist).

I think I sympathise with the first camp on a consequentialist argument but will tend towards the second for the sake of intellectually honestly. Yes, science will never disprove the god hypothesis but it sure can go a long way in mounting evidence against it. Maybe Science ought not for the sake of "good neighbourliness" have a stance but it sure has an implication.


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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

More Free Speech Case

US town bars foreign flags in swipe at immigrants

Thu Nov 16, 3:37 PM ET

PHOENIX (Reuters) - A Nevada town passed a law this week making it illegal to fly a foreign nation's flag by itself, the latest swipe by a U.S. community at illegal immigrants.

The town council of Pahrump, which lies in the Mojave Desert west of Las Vegas, voted 3-2 on Tuesday to make flying any foreign flag above the U.S. flag or alone anoffense punishable by a $50 fine and 30 hours' community service.

The meeting also pushed through measures to deny services to illegal immigrants and make English the official language in Pahrump, a commuter town of 40,000 residents some 60 miles (97 km) west of Las Vegas.

Supporters said they passed the measure to hit back at Hispanic demonstrators who carried Mexican flags when they marched in U.S. cities earlier this year to press for rights for 10 million to 12 million illegal immigrants living in the shadows.

"All of the illegal alien protesters are waving Mexican flags, and we just got tired of it," town board clerk Paul Willis told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"This is the United States, and the Stars and Stripes should fly supreme," he added.

Hispanic groups slammed the flag ordinance as a blow to first-amendment rights to free speech but thought it unlikely that the community would enforce it.

"It is clearly unconstitutional, but given that Pahrump that is such a small town, I don't think they are going to be hiring any flag police any time soon." said John Trasvina, the president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

In passing the bylaw, the town joined several other communities from California to Pennsylvania that have passed laws curbing illegal immigrants in recent months.

Among them are Escondido, in southern California, and Hazleton in Pennsylvania, where councilors barred landlords from renting to undocumented aliens and denied them access to services.

In Texas, where a third of the citizens are Hispanic, the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch this week enacted laws fining landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and making English the official language.

Texas lawmakers preparing for the next legislative session in January filed bills this week to block state assistance to illegal immigrants and their children and to tax money transfers to Mexico, according to the bills.

One of the nice things about Constitutional Law in Singapore is how simple it is to predict how cases will turn out in Free Speech cases. And in our Constitution is a very explicit clause that defers to Parliament in terms of what constitutes "necessary or expident". Factor that to the presumption of constitutionality (i.e. the challenger has the onus of proving it is unconstitutional) and the government really has a remarkably low burden to shoulder.

It's a little harder to determine it under the US Constitution but the Court is at least on matters of speech/expressive conduct to be fairly clear.

Firstly, this is the suppression of what appears to be at a minimum, to be expressive conduct i.e. conduct that portrays a particularized message that an objective viewer would in the circumstances understand what it means per US v O'Brien. And what makes it even easier is that the town is specifically banning expressive conduct!

I would suppose that if this case came to court, the best (and arguably only) defense the town has is to somehow finesse this as a Time, Place and Manner regulation per the Ward line of cases. That is a regulation that does not prohibit speech so much as channeling it e.g. no protesting in the middle of the road and thereby obstructing traffic without a permit. Or decibel level control at particular times. These are content neutral regulations that would not discriminate amongst viewpoints.

But it is so obviously not facially content neutral, much less on its asserted governmental interest, since the town came right out to say they were regulating on a content discriminatory basis. Thus the court would have to apply strict scrutiny i.e. compelling state interest, and narrow tailoring of the regulation to the state interest such that it really is the least restrict alternative.

If so, unless the court makes a u-turn on the entire flag burning cases e.g. Texas v Johnson and accepts the primacy of the flag as a compelling state interest (they don't in case it wasn't obvious enough and in fact point out that's what makes it so potent as speech), I don’t see how it would survive a challenge.

Furthermore, unlike the flag burning cases, it is not a direct assault on the US flag here.

And just to rub it in, I would not think it would survive on a substantial overbreadth analysis either, Broadwick v Oklahoma. By substantial overbreadth I mean that the regulation would sweep in way too much protected speech as it is (you could put up the flag not simply to support immigration reform).

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Cross-posted from CL's blog: ratana

NB: Lack of grammar and syntax is for some strange reason exclusive to when she blogs. Other than that, her emails and SMSes use perfect English. And so without further ado...

(mock the stupid)

i know it is sometimes mean, but i really cannot stop myself here. tell if this is funny, or just plain *omg i hope he never reproduces*

some context: i attended a public forum on making end of life decisions this afternoon. the speakers were experienced, compassionate and humourous professionals. while what they shared was not necessarily ground breaking, for families faced with difficult choices, this can demystify some of what they are going through, and can show them different grounds by which certain decisions can be made. of course, for the people who are not in that particular situation, it is just good forward planning.
(S: I absolutely agree. Whereas CL has actually done her job in getting an AMD, all I have really is a hope that the common law doesn't screw me other between now and when a decision has to be made on my behalf. CL and my mom know my decision to pull the plug.)

while i like to think that there is no such thing as a stupid question, there was a particular gentleman who really did take the cake. he might even surpass in stupidity what was witnessed at a dr. love forum. the gentleman stood up twice.
(S: Get CL to tell you what happened at the Dr. Love forum and mind you, these were ladies in their 30s and 40s asking basic biological and anatomical questions. I blame MOE and the lack of the internet for that absymal lack of knowledge)

the first time, he had a question, and a suggestion. if it had come from the ri boys (who are 14) i was relief teaching, it might have been good for a bit of a chuckle. but this is a grown man. he wanted to know if HK had access to advances in medical technology that SG did not. why HK? because he had been watching a HK drama, where the police were able to question a witness who was in a coma by reading his brain waves. *insert snotty comment about the state of the gentleman's brain waves*
(S: Repeat after me...not everything you see on TV and particularly Chinese dramas are real. He isn't stupid I think but it's a fantastic manifestation of not thinking things through. After all, if such technology existed, we wouldn't have a problem with end of life choices for certain)

the suggestion, i suppose, is forgivable, given that a) he is SGean, and b) he's not a debater. it was that the people who wanted to get euthanised but could not, since it was illegal, why not move them to somewhere where it was? one of the speakers was an experienced social worker at beth israel and she explained the limitations that were placed on Oregeon's Death with Dignity Act (google it, some of the experiences are very heartening)--the short answer being, nope, you can't just move in out of state. this is likely the same with the Dutch laws, and this is certainly the case with access to abortions. sometimes i forget what debate can do. sigh.
(S: It's not exclusive to debaters but on average, I would submit that your average teenage debater knows way way way more than your average adult Singaporean. I'm even willing to stake money on that to be honest. If you put your average Worlds Debater in competition then it's an outright trashing. It's really a matter of being well read enough to have facts and being able to think and apply those facts)

the second time, and i really should be ashamed, he asked something that, if you wanted to be generous, is a question that many people facing these hard choices ask--which is the right way to go? while the confusion and the pain (on the part of the loved ones) is understandable, he asked the question in such a singaporean way--gimme all the answers, i don't want to think for myself. it isn't mock the stupid any more..i don't know what to do about someone so disrespectful of the tensions that patients' loved ones face by being so completely unable to even grasp the depth of the tensions regarding end of life decisions.
(S: I'm not even sure why a doctor's opinion is relevant here. Her expertise in terms of prognosis, suffering and quality of life I can understand but to make a choice like that I see absolutely no reason why a doctor's opinion on almost any end of life decision is better than any one elses. Note the caveat, this is not a matter of deferring to expertise but the notion that doctor's have so kind of special claim to morality. For an example of what I mean, it's worth taking a gander at some of the absolutely horrific arguments made by medical doctors during the euthenasia debate.)

oh, and by the way, man-with-limited-electrical-activity-in-the-brain, no one can make the end of life decisions for you or your family. the palliative care team can provide certain services, the social workers can help provide some ideas, but at the end of the day, the risks, consequences and values are very personal experiences. as to why the AMD is so vaguely defined? it's SG. oh, but i'm sorry, that's also why your electrical activity is so limited, isn't it?
(S: C'est la vie. Peace)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

My God Problem - Natalie Angier - Athenaeum Library of Philosophy

Is that anything more I need to say really?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Netherlands proposes to ban burkas - Europe - International Herald Tribune

I think like any professional or student in a professional field and reading an article that touches on that profession is more often than not an exercise in frustration.

Owning to space, editorial and simply just general interest constrains, there is simply a limit to how much detail a journalist can put into a short article in a newspaper. Here, of course, I am distinguishing between op-eds and magazines like The Economist which does kick ass articles, making it a venerable bible for debaters.

Anyway, facts of this case
Five days before a national election here, the center-right government announced Friday that it planned to introduce legislation to ban burkas and similar garments in public places, saying the full- body garb worn by a small number of Muslim women in the Netherlands posed a grave security threat, both to the country's security forces and citizens

So let's parse this. The asserted governmental interest is national security. The mechanism is banning full covering garb that conceal the identity of the wearer in public e.g. burkhas.

Taking it from a legal perspective and in particular a US First Amendment perspective (note that it conflicts in quite respects to the ICCPR), let's analyse if the government is justified in doing what it does.

First off, is it speech? Speech has been defined fairly broadly to include expressive conduct such as flag burning. The idea is whether it sends a "particularised message" that in the circumstances, the viewer can be objectively taken to understand what it means, per US v O'Brien (draft card burning case). And I think it should be fairly evident that this is a form of expression i.e. the demonstration of what you believe to be appropriate dress for pious Muslim women.

Next, is the proposed legislative facially neutral or content based? If it's the latter, the government's actions will be subject to strict scrutiny and in all likelihood it's going to see (there has only been one case that has survived it and it has to do with a restricted zone around polling booths). If it's the former, then it would be subjected to intermediate scrutiny as per O'Brien. Well, I don't have the exact text of the legislation here but let's say we give the Netherland's government the benefit of the doubt and say no dress that conceals the identity of the wearer, so it would include hoodies and ski masks and say helmets and visors. If so, then it is facially neutral in that it is not content-based discrimination. Or in the language of O'Brien, the regulation seeks to restrict the non-expressive conduct as opposed to the expressive conduct.

The test then under this intermediate scrutiny is that there must be a) a substantial governmental interest (not compelling) and that b) the measure taken must substantially serve the governmental interest. Note that under (b), the government does not have to take the least restrictive alternative. It must simply be necessary such that the governmental interest will be greater served with the ban than without it. Plug in the facts and it should be fairly clear that the Netherlands has the ability to do so, nevermind the fact that it is arguably broader than it has to be. It doesn't really matter. It would have been a problem if it simply bans burkhas and not all forms of concealing garb of course.

And finally, let's see if there is a religious defense. Well the approach in the US as advocated by Scalia J. currently is that it does not violate the free exercise of religion where it is a law of general application. So sorry, not peyote tea even if you legitimately claim that it brings you closer to the divine.

I think that's roughly right, I find it inconceivable that despite the mass of scientific facts that persons with terminal cancer cannot use marijuanna to aliviated their pain but if you claim religion you could. But that's a rant for yet another day.


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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Milton Friedman, a Leading Economist, Dies at 94 - New York Times

In Memory of Milton Friedman.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006 Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed!: Books: Katharine DeBrecht,Jim Hummel

Do you find this disturbing? No it's not a parody.

Book Description
This full-color illustrated book is a fun way for parents to teach young children the valuable lessons of conservatism. Written in simple text, readers can follow along with Tommy and Lou as they open a lemonade stand to earn money for a swing set. But when liberals start demanding that Tommy and Lou pay half their money in taxes, take down their picture of Jesus, and serve broccoli with every glass of lemonade, the young brothers experience the downside to living in Liberaland.


From the Publisher
Would you let your child read blatantly liberal stories with titles such as "King & King;" "No, George, No;" or "It's Just a Plant?"

Unless you live in Haight-Ashbury or write for the New York Times, probably not. But with the nation's libraries and classrooms filled with overtly liberal children's books advocating everything from gay marriage to marijuana use, kids everywhere are being deluged with left-wing propaganda.

"Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed" is the book conservative parents have been seeking. This illustrated book -- the first in the "Help! Mom!" series from Kids Ahead -- is perfect for parents who seek to share their traditional values with their children, as well as adults who wish to give a humorous gift to a friend.

Praised by Rush Limbaugh and hailed as "the answer to a baseball mom's prayers" by talk radio host Melanie Morgan, this book has already been the subject of coverage in The Wall Street Journal and Harper's magazine. Written by a self-proclaimed "Security Mom for Bush" and featuring hilarious full-color illustrations by a Reuben Award winning artist, it is certain to be one of the most talked about children's books of the year.

Here, let me riff on a theme by Richard Dawkins. He said that it should "grate like fingernails on a chalkboard" when one hears the terms "christian child" or "muslim child" etc. And that essentially there were no such things except christian and muslim parents.

This is, of course, not to say that young teenagers cannot hold convictions, much less religious ones, but it's worth question why we don't hear terms such as "liberal child" or "conservative child" or "Kantian child" or "marxist child" the same way we do when it is prefaced by a some religious adjectives. If we do not think that any child (beyond some wildly precocious ones) are capable of understanding what it means to be liberal or conservative, in what manner do we think them capable of believing in Thor of the Abramahic god or what patheon of dieties their parents believe in?

No where else in our constitution do we find the right specifically reserved by default that children adopt the religion that their parents have chosen.

I probably won't go as far as to call religious indoctrination (let's not lie, it's indoctrination whether it be religious or secular values, but if it really hurts your feelings, let's call it instilling values alright?) child abuse because it's not impossible for the kid to grow up and cast off the vestiges of faith (no "reasonable faith" is an oxymoron, it is not acceptance on the basis of experience or evidence).

But nevertheless, it's time for us to take stock of what exactly is happening in the name of religion and to cast it alongside any other worldview and stop ascribing something automatically positive to it. That should be at the very minimum be a start.


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Monday, November 13, 2006

Diluting a Disease (Features) Morgon Mae Schultz

Woo. With a bait-and-switch somewhere in the middle. Here's why

In 1918 a vicious strain of flu spread to every populated continent, snuffing out lives faster than coffin makers could supply caskets. The Spanish flu killed as many as 50 million people over two years. People who were perfectly healthy when they woke up in the morning could be dead by nightfall. Medical classes were canceled so that students could serve as doctors and nurses. In Europe, military strategists on all sides of World War I scrambled to redraw battle plans for lack of healthy soldiers.

Surrounded by death and reduced to simply comforting patients with aspirin, a desperate doctor in Pittsburgh asked a nurse whether she knew a better way to save lives. The nurse, who had worked with homeopaths, urged the skeptical doctor to switch to their simple remedies, which she had seen save countless lives.

According to the late homeopathic historian and authority Julian Winston, a victim of the Spanish flu treated by a conventional doctor had only a 70 percent chance of surviving; homeopaths saved 99 percent of their patients. Now a number of modern-day homeopaths believe they can help fight another pandemic -- a rare bit of hopeful news given that, as this magazine went to press, neither the mainstream medical establishment nor the pharmaceutical industry had found a way to counter H5N1, the virus that causes avian flu.

Firstly, how is homeopathic historian an authority on this subject? Secondly, I would love to see the data and the studies on this because if it really had been a 99% cure rate, you would have thought that science would be scrambling to discover the next big thing.

Well guess what? The reason why homeopathy never made much of a headway in the medical community is because it defies not just commonsense but every single rule and law of chemistry, physics and matter that we can think of. And yes, that includes quantum physics which has been desparately invoked in a bid to save the irrationality that if homeopathy.
German physician Samuel Hahnemann discovered homeopathy 200 years ago when he found that cinchona bark containing quinine, then the best treatment for malaria, caused all the symptoms of malaria in a healthy person. After experimenting with more than 200 substances, he concluded that like cures like. Give someone with a runny nose a homeopathic solution of onion, that pungent veggie that normally causes a runny nose, and it strengthens the body in just the right way to heal. If you're suffering from insomnia, a homeopath will give you a controlled dose of a caffeine-like substance.

Bollocks. Five seconds on google, and another ten on wikipedia's entry on quinine gives you the history of what actually happen. A tribe used it as a muscle relaxant to treat shivering colds, it was observed by a jesuit priest who sent it to back to Rome as an experiment to determine if it could be used to cure malaria. Guess what? It did. This happened in the mid 1600s by the way, much long before this ostensible homeopathic doctor discovered it.
Homeopaths dilute substances in double-distilled water, vigorously shake the mixture, and then dilute it again, explains homeopath Dana Ullman. They repeat this over and over until it's unlikely that a single molecule of the original substance remains, and then deliver what's left in a pill. No one knows exactly why this works, but homeopaths posit that water retains the energy of a substance and delivers a message to the body. (Ullman likens it to rubbing a magnet on a piece of metal to transfer the magnetic properties.)

Precisely! As is admitted here, there is not a single molecule left in the entire mixture. In fact the sheer inanity and absurdity is that the more diluted the mixture the more effacious the "remedy". In which case, drinking tap water ought to be the elixer of life.

In fact at the concentrations that they are talking about i.e. 100C, for there to be a single molecule, it would need a volume of solution equivalent to the size of the current know universe. See numbers here.

But what can we say about the analogy to magnetism? Well good try. But until you actually demonstrates that it works, all your theorising is like theological debates on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Here's some good fisking and trashing by Orac on Homeopathy and here in particular is where he reviews an article in JASEB deconstructing the claims of homeopathy.
Because of its success in treating the era's epidemics, homeopathy enjoyed its greatest popularity during the 19th century. Just before the American Medical Association was founded as an alternative to the American Institute of Homeopathy, there were 22 homeopathic medical schools in the United States, including at Boston University and Stanford. Today, the method is most popular in England, where 40 percent of conventional doctors refer patients to homeopaths.

Well it generally doesn't hurt because it's just water and patients do feel better on a placebo effect but that in no way supports the notion that it is actually effective.
Countless conventional studies, including one published last summer in the British medical journal The Lancet, have concluded that homeopathic remedies are no more reliable than placebos -- cold comfort in the face of a deadly virus. The French Society of Homeopathy, however, found in a 1998 survey that 90 percent of those who used a homeopathic solution called Influenzinum were able to avoid a common flu bug. For those already laid up with the flu, at least three separate studies favor homeopathic treatments over using a placebo.

Bingo.... But here's where we go merrily down the rabbit hole. If it is no better than a placebo, it doesn't work should be the lesson that we ought to be taking away from these studies.

In summary: It does not work.
Some mainstream doctors, like Christian Sandrock of the University of California-Davis Medical Center, are willing to consider this evidence but still caution patients against relying on it as a cure-all. And some mainstream doctors still stereotype homeopaths as con artists or quacks. But even homeopathy's harshest critics don't accuse practitioners like Ullman of peddling harmful substances, so there's a powerful argument to pursue the remedy further. can't be harmful because all it is is water. Unless you use it in place of conventional medicine which is arguably harm enough that doctors and pundits ought to stop peddling fashionable nonsense and get back to evidence based medicines and getting people to understand what they are getting into.

The standard flu vaccine requires specially cultivated chicken eggs, infected with a specific strain of virus that can be grown only after it is identified, which is why scientists must wait until H5N1 mutates into a human-to-human bug. Once this happens it will be difficult to produce vaccine fast enough (one dose often requires its own egg). And even if a number of heretofore nonexistent pharmaceutical facilities sprang up to instantaneously produce vats of vaccine, scientists aren't sure whether host eggs could survive long enough to be harvested.

In the short term, the U.S. and Asian governments have pinned their hopes on Tamiflu, an antiviral drug (not a vaccine) meant to seize influenza inside a victim's cells. It works in petri dishes, but, according to the maker's website, its effectiveness in humans has not been established. Even if Tamiflu proved deadly to the virus, homeopaths point out that the antiviral could, as antibiotics have in the past, cause patients to build up resistance or spur diseases to mutate into more powerful strains, constantly upping the ante. Ullman goes so far as to argue that people who take Tamiflu "are posing a public health threat."

Um, it's been tested on humans or the FDA wouldn't normally allow it. But it's a fair point with regards to the development of resistence although by that 'logic' we should just stop prescibing antibiotics and hope we don't die out before the bacteria evolve to coexist with us.

The key here as anywhere is that of balance.
Homeopaths prescribe remedies according to symptoms, so they already have the ability to study the disease in patients without worrying about which strain of what virus is the culprit. Homeopathic treatments are cheaper and easier to produce than a standard vaccine because they're made from natural substances and pure water. And since most remedies aren't patented, progress isn't hindered by squabbles over intellectual property rights. Best of all, homeopathy is about strengthening the body instead of targeting the bug, so patients don't become unwitting vessels for a mutated virus.

This is simply utter and complete nonsense. It doesn't work, it's just water, it doesn't by any measure strengthen the body because it doesn't work.

Sometimes I think I should be making a living by turning off all logical faculties.



Saturday, November 11, 2006

TODAYonline: The Gongfu Scientist

*Wince wince* I do not mind the gongfu part so much because everyone is entitled to do what they want with their bodies (I'm ambivalent on whether one should be able to sell oneself into slavery but I generally support euthanesia).

But what was truely flabergasting was the feng shui bit and the part where she is asked "Are Western science and fengshu truly compatible"?

Her response?
I don't think there's any inconsistency between science and fengshui at all. It's just that fengshui acts on intangible energy and science can't explain or measure qi. It's wrong to say fengshui is unscientific as, to me, science is about formulated, systematic knowledge attained via empirical means — that is, experimentation, observations, so on. Fengshui knowledge has been attained through 5,000 years of observation and recording — 5,000 years of empirical evidence!

Let's deal with what's wrong with the question first. Simply put it's a false dicothomy to imply that there is a "western science" as opposed to an "eastern science" or an "african science" or whatever. The scientific theories of electromagnatism are probably true regardless of how discovers it or determines it. Otherwise, I would like to know what the differences are.

Why science is science is as precisely because "science is about formulated, systematic knowledge attained via empirical means" so it doesn't matter where something is developed or conceived of as long as it scientific.

And that's why she descends into what I would consider woo with regards to fengshui. Science is a method and methodology, observations mean nothing without explainations which is what theories are. And one of the core aspects of science must be that it is falsifiable and make some form of prediction. Other auxillary aspects is that it ought to be repeatable.

Therefore it is a total and utter cop out to simply say that "[i]t's just that fengshui acts on intangible energy and science can't explain or measure qi". That is a total and utter cop out and totally wrong in science. Simply put, the scientific consensus acknowledges the existance of dark matter because it is the only possible outcome for reconciling the anomolous speed of the spin of galaxies with the current Big Bang theory. Or to rephase it, if there's something there, science will investigate it.

Similarly until there is a demonstration that fengshui actually works, there is no point in postulating in these "mysterious energies". And think about it, this would totally confound everything we know about energies in our current knowledge and would be worth at least a Nobel where's the research and published articles?

At the heart of fengshui's claim is that by arranging your furniture you can affect your life. Some of it is pure commonsense and psychology e.g. not allow your dinig room to face the toilet or sleeping under a sloping wall where the gradient approaches you. Or even ensuring that all employees must pass their boss's office on the way to work. But the rest of it is simply pure woo.



Friday, November 10, 2006

What American Accent do you Have?

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: Philadelphia

Your accent is as Philadelphian as a cheesesteak! If you're not from Philadelphia, then you're from someplace near there like south Jersey, Baltimore, or Wilmington. if you've ever journeyed to some far off place where people don't know that Philly has an accent, someone may have thought you talked a little weird even though they didn't have a clue what accent it was they heard.

The Midland
The South
The Inland North
The Northeast
North Central
The West
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

It sort of stands to reason. The accent most attributed to me thus far is British. Which leads to all sorts of hillarious questions like "Do all Singaporeans speak with a British accent?" That got a loud bark of laugh out of me. Yeah, I've long given up pretending to be able to speak for the "Common Singaporean" although my parental background is pure blue-collar working up to white-collar.

I know quite a few Singaporeans that speak with the Singaporean accent or what I think is called an accentless accent. But unfortunately, it seems that this causes understanding problems as I was told with regards to a bilateral negotiations.

Hell, even my accent gives the Americans problems e.g. Scheduling (I repeated it thrice before I f-ing gave up and realised that I was using the British pronunciation and used the American one instead). And to be honest, I'm beginning to think there really are cognitive differences in the way "Asians" and "Westerners" think. I'm never sure if anyone understands my comments or questions. But that may just be me to be sure although I don't have this problem back home.

Anyway, I'm now claiming that my accent is Peranakan ala Lim Kay Tong. And it mostly stands to reason given that I grew up in such a household (complete with matriach and great food).


Tuesday, November 07, 2006


They just passed the 218 mark!

Whoo! Ye gods, I'm such a political nerd.

I'm not sure if I want them to pick up the Senate as well. I think the populace may be a little cautious of voting in the Democrats with majorities in all 4 areas (Presidency, Senate, House of Rep and Governorships)

And in local news, Maria Cantwell handily beats Republican opponent Mark McGavick

Thursday, November 02, 2006

South Africa's turnabout - News & Features - International Herald Tribune

Because Reality Exists whether you believe in it or not

So slightly more than a decade after a real AIDS epidemic (as opposed to the supposed "Autism epidemic") and countless deaths that could otherwise be mitigated and prevented, the South African government has finally decided to put the woo, wishful thinking and general anti-science and reality worldview to one side and deal with the problem staring them in the face.

Once upon a time, it might have been argued that HIV does not cause AIDS but that was close to 3 decades ago. You might have also argued that anti-retro viral drugs either do not work, or are not worth the the cost (literal and metaphorical) when the life extension was so short, the cost insanely high and the side effects rather extreme. And yes, one could then well argue in that situation that sanitation, food and vitamins are possibly alternative modes of treatment.

But seriously, it takes a serious dose of denialism to do this over the past decade. Here's a very very brief two paragraph distilling what had happened:
To many here, Tshabalala-Msimang's fall from grace is an example of democratic pressures at work. Mbeki, who once questioned the scientific link between HIV and AIDS, fell silent on the issue years ago after being internationally criticized. But until now, Tshabalala- Msimang has been the public face of his government's AIDS policies.

An unrelenting advocate of vitamin and nutritional defenses against HIV, she has been widely derided for stating that anti-retrovirals are "poison" and for advocating a diet heavy in garlic, beet root and other traditional remedies as a way to forestall the development of AIDS. Under her tenure, the government resisted giving pregnant women drugs to reduce the transmission of the HIV virus to fetuses until forced to by a court order.

In reality, if you will search this blog and click on the relevant links, it simply does not give you a full flavour of the sort of insanity that gave rise to this, insantiy that really is no different from say the tulip bulb hysteria in the Netherlands when a single bulb could buy you a house.

Most of the time, wishful thinking doesn't cause much harm, and let's face it, we can more than easily go through life believing fervently in the supernatural without it affecting our lives in any adverse fashion. But sometimes it happens, refusing chemo or radiation therapy despite being at stage one cancer because you belive that hocus pocus will actually cure you (and when you restrict your "reseach" to the woo sites). Or when you simply deny the weigh of scientific evidence to subject yourself or children to really horrific treatments e.g. lepron treatment for autistic kids on the false premise that their condition is caused by mercury and that testosterone is making it hard to remove it from their bodies and therefore you basically chemically castrate them by removing the "excess" testosterone from their bodies.

Guess what? Does not help.

So please please please no more, it's just too painful to read.


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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Sometimes You Really Have To Read The Entire Thing

Irony is really dead for me and so is parody as it is simply too hard to distinguish those from the insane and inane ravings of the religious fundies and conspiracy theories nuts. And given that I read Fundies Say The Darnest Things everyday, I get a huge dose of these ravings.

But one post in particular struck me and I'm replicating it here
The pertinent question is whether that pronouncement is an accurate statement of the English common law which is, conceptually, the genesis of the notion that there is no rape where the prior consent is followed by penetration and then withdrawal of consent. Battle says that it is. The concept, undergirding the Battle holding, rooted in ancient laws and adopted by the English common-law,views the initial “de–flowering” of a woman as the real harm or insult which must be redressed by compensating, in legal contemplation, the injured party - the father or husband. This initial violation of the victim also provided the basis for the criminal proceeding against the offender.

But, to be sure, it was the act of penetration that was the essence of the crime of rape; after this initial infringement upon the responsible male’s interest in a woman’s sexual and reproductive functions, any further injury was considered to be less consequential. The damage was done. It was this view that the moment of penetration was the point in time, after which a woman could never be “re-flowered,” that gave rise to the principle that, if a woman consents prior to penetration and withdraws consent following penetration, there is no rape. Maryland adheres to this tenet, having adopted the common law, which remains the law of the Land until and unless changed by the State’s highest court or by statute."

Normally given huge chunks of words in a long paragraph on this site, I would simply tend to skim through it to get the gist. And while the idea of course gave me a little jolt, I realised that oddly enough, it was a little too well written and some parts of it seem terribly familiar. I meant the words, Common Law, jumps at you when you're a law student and so I took a closer look and in fact checked the attribution of this quote.

To my shock and horror, it was a decision by a judge in the Maryland Court of Appeal and even given all the crazy things that judges have said I just did not want to believe it. So I clicked on the decision and read the damned 51 page decision.

Yup, it was a misunderstanding. The quote above makes a lot more sense if you realise that Battle refers to a case. The "explanation" above is the explanation of the basis of the Common Law ruling in Battle.

The matter before him was an appeal for a criminal conviction and one of the legal issues here is whether the trial judge misdirected the jury by not responding correctly to their question as to whether women have the right to withdraw consent after initial penetration. The answer here as to the current statuts of Maryland Law is no because of the controlling case of Battle v. State of Maryland. The misdirection is actually grounds for a retrial or even an overturning of the conviction on due process so it's pretty important.

As he points out, the legal issue here has not been overruled or commented upon negatively and therefore the trial judge is still bound by legal precedent (unfortunately the trial judge thought it was a factual not a legal issue or he could have ruled as a matter of law that Battle is no longer good law)

And in case you're wondering why he does not simply overturn the ruling in that case, the short answer is that he can't simply because it's not an issue before him. As a judge he can only look at the issues before him and unfortunately the issue here is not the continued validity of the law.

Anyway, you would be pleased to note that the person contributing this quote has very kindly changed the entire submission to reflect that it is very unlikely to be the judge's personal opinion on this matter.

But yes, one of the problems about law is that it's a little hard for laypeople to initial pick up a judgment and read it and understand it. It's not simply a matter of reading and comprehension. Well, it is that but the jargon and structure needs familiarity to properly comprehend as well as a knowledge of how the judicial system works.

But it's fairly easy to teach it and most law students pick it up fairly rapidly. And I think it's a fairly important skill. In a manner of speaking, I think it's way easier to understand than a scientific paper and if we as the public should pick up the skill of reading scientific papers, more so I say for reading court judgements.