Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I Will Be Back

Too busy to blog.

Too many assignments. Should have planned schedule better.

Will put up assignments and notes for interested readers once I get a grade back.


Labels: ,

Sunday, January 28, 2007

An EU-like pact for Asean: A distant dream? - International Herald Tribune

An issue I keep an eye on if for no other reason I think something along these lines is inevitable if not in my lifetime, then my hypothetical children's lifetimes. And further, I believe the question becomes really an extent to which this becomes reality.

I think the present inequities and disparities between the nations (not least due to geographical distances between and within nations) make any true EU style association and cooperation more of a pipe dream than anything else.

And I don't think it can be understated how much these disparities make it difficult, if not downright impossible for there to be the sort of political organization that people think of associated with the EU. It's one thing after all for there to be a regional trade bloc since these disparities form the very basis of comparative advantages to advance trade. But it would be a nightmare to try to create a common currency given the economic and political differences between nations.

After all, a common currency is going to require a central bank which in turn will be imposing a single interest rate across South East Asian nations. Given the different business cycles and stages of economic development these nations are in, it's impossible for a single interest rate to be imposed that would not either cripple some economies or hurt all economies involved.

And let's not forget that one of the central tensions within the EU and surrounding the EU Constitution is the balance of voting power between the larger and smaller nations. At this point, I don't necessarily trust the larger nations to vote or govern in such a way that would not be detrimental to the smaller nations. Conversely, the larger nations would not be pleased should the smaller nations be able to stiffle any political/economic moves that are in the favour of the majority of people involved.

The biggest problem as I see it is that it is intrinsic within the system and not necessarily one that can be solve through a tweaking of the policy mechanisms. I may yet be proven wrong of course...but let's see how it goes from here on.


Labels: , ,

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm

Literate Good Citizen

Book Snob

Fad Reader


What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

I got Obsessive Compulsive Reader the first time but I don't remember which answer I changed.

Anyway, close enough regardless of which I got. Although I think that they should be a category for Debater because it otherwise skews the results.

Labels: ,

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Is Shaun an Evil Baby Torturer?

I have some time before Equal Protection class starts to burn so let me set this in context. Due to the peculiarities of the exchange program I'm currently undergoing, my course credits transfer (which explains why I'm bugged to keep a particular number of credits per quarter) BUT not my grades (which is why they've effectively said, don't bother us unless you fail). Factor this in together with the fact that I'm barred from taking a course once back in NUS that is substantially similar to what I'm taking in UW, together with my somewhat precarious situation of my final year of studies being worth 33 1/3% of my final degree grade and some small amount of strategizing becomes necessary i.e. they are some courses that I'm probably going to score in for various reasons and some I will most assuredly not e.g. structured loans or secured transactions because the top students and corporate lawyer wannabes will flood that course and they are better than me at substantive law.

As a result, I dropped my International Protection of Human Rights and took another class instead. But because of the partial time conflict, this nevertheless gives me the opportunity to audit the class for the first half of every lesson. And since I haven't been kicked out of the class and am still allowed to speak, it probably means that the lecturers don't mind my presence there.

So anyway, the class starts off with the very provocative ticking time bomb scenario which can only be stopped by torturing a known terrorist. And of course, I couldn't resist saying something. So my comment (around the 4th I think) was about a simple acknowledgment that torture is being used and it is better to regulate it then to turn a blind eye to it (and implicitly being moral hypocrites). I would very strongly suggest searching my blog with the keyword "torture' and read every single post because you'll find a very fascinating development in my stance on this very particular issue.

Anyway, having taken the initial step towards cementing the class's view of me as the ultimate evil realist (I'm actually more of an Institutionalist but that's not the point), I was for some reason given the chance to have the last word and I basically made the point I last made when I last faced this scenario. Why draw the line where we draw the line? I personally think this is a rhetorical device without any particularly strong argumentation factor and I would charge this scenario as basically drawing a very morally arbitrary line. And what I did say was, why not given a situation where we have a better than probable knowledge that this terrorist is likely to know where the bomb is, why not torture his 4 month old baby or even his family?

I hope that by the end of my two comments, I left everyone utterly confused as to my personal stance on this issue but I'm beginning to realize that it could just as easily translate to an advocacy to torture and not just the person involved on a routine basis.


Labels: , ,

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Developmental Economics in China

My "Elder Sister" thinks I alienated a number of people in class today after issue with the prof's "leftist/radical" views of market economics in China. His critique and arguments have great force particularly in terms of the perpetuation of inequity within China as reflected in the rising social tensions between the rural/urban poor and the cosmopolitan middle class/rich.

Except that I threw out a defense of property rights which turned into a defense of globalisation which turned into a defense of prioritisation between economics and environment, which turned into a defense of market forces governing environmental regulation. Into a insane argument that any and every single results in some form of inequity and disenfranchisement (I got rightly corrected of course but I suppose my only argument was that it was a question of spectrum rather than an either-or proposition). And finally a "defense" of cultural relativism via Asian Values (which I absolutely abhor by the way because it is such an empty concept and smacks of the genetic fallacy).

Although along the way I did sneak in a argument that if the international community was concerned about a particular problem in the domestic sphere of a foreign nation and the problem was simply one of resources, their obligation is to pony up the cash.

I think I've toned down a lot in the past few years. I generally don't go into full debate mode unless someone seriously pisses me off so I thought my tone was fairly reasonable. But I'll defer here to an objective third party and probably shut up for a little while =P


Labels: , ,

Asian-American parody inflames Princeton - International Herald Tribune

Heh, it finally hit the IHT. I was wondering how long before it would make the mainstream international news.

But this annoyingly is sucking political oxygen from the underlying debate that needs to get way more attention. For whatever reason, we don't think it's "unfair" discrimination when we elevate historically disadvantaged and disenfranchised minorities to create a level playing field at the expense of the dominant group that would otherwise benefit from a colour blind, apparent level playing field. The most obvious example I can think of would be immediate post-Apartheid South Africa. Not taking into account what had happen would simply re-entrench the white minority.

But it strikes us harder when another minority loses out through such laws and I think it forces a rethinking of what exactly we should be expecting from an institute of higher learning, the value of diversity and how the selection procedure apparently works.

Labels: ,

Free Speech Friday - The Daily of the University of Washington Online

Cheap Filler Post

I got a letter published in the University's daily newspaper inadvertently.

Since they had an online version which allows comments to individual articles (something that the local press may want to consider e.g. Todayonline etc.), I posted a comment which was eventually republished as a "letter" to the editor.

The problem is that my writing style when comment on blogs or blogging for that matter tends to be more conversational and a lot snarkier than in contrast to my letters to the press (which reminds me, I should start tagging them as such).

And the thing is, the editing was fairly minimal in comparison to either the Straits Times or Today (I'm not sure if Streats when it existed published any letters of mine). In fact, on checking, there was barely any editing at all (and in fact the editing done was clearly marked out by square brackets).

So *cough*, the functional effect of it was that it was a lot more adversarial and less polite than I would have phrased it. In particular the way I ended the comment
I realize that not all of us are lawyers or necessarily well read in a particular area of law, but seriously, where’s the fact-checking in this regard?
So I feel kinda bad now.....

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Arguing, Argumentation and Justification

There was a certain confluence of events today that prompted this post.
1. Roman Law (the right for fathers to sell children into slavery)
2. International Human Rights (the idea of grundsnorm and axioms)
3. Chinese Law (Socialist Legal System....sort of)
4. Ongoing exchange on income inequity and retributive tax regime on YR

There is a theoretical approach called the critical approach which encourages us to be aware and critical of our mental frameworks when evaluating an external system. A somewhat analogous parallel would be what Hart calls the external as opposed to internal critique. The relevance is that it forces us to be aware of and hopefully be able to justify the particular schema or analytical framework that we are using.

For example, to twist an example used by Lon Fuller in his Morality of Law (and validly critique by Hart in his article pointing out that it might as well be called the Morality of Poisoning), he argues that there would be something intrinsically inconsistent and immoral if we randomly assigned rights to people without due regard as to their status or position and the example he uses is abortion. However, given that any abortion regulation e.g. wait periods, 2nd physician, facilities that can be used for termination etc., inevitably places an increased burden on indigent women, is it anymore right/moral/immoral that because of their economic condition they are forced to relinquish control over their own bodily integrity as opposed to a lottery draw for any woman regardless of their economic position?

Or take a less emotive topic e.g. right of road access. In certain cities e.g. Manila and Mexico City (and some European cities), in a bid to curb the number of cars using the roads on any single day, they have a system which only permits cars with even numbers on certain days and odd numbers on others. This system can be contrasted to a system, say Singapore's which puts a huge premium on the prices of cars and further delineates access to certain roads at certain times of the day with willingness (and capacity) to pay.

Or why do we even principally support redistributive policies anyway? One justification is the entire veil of ignorance argument i.e. assume you do not know what your status in life will be, create a system and the system that is created will in turn tend to look somewhat like the capitalist welfare states that we generally have. But even Jon Rawls (the philosopher form which the former proposition was derived) believed the only form of inequity that should exist is that which takes from the rich to give to the poor. But do the rich necessarily consume more resources and when they pay 12 times more in absolute terms, do they get 12 times the vote or 12 times the response time from the police (actually...)? I generally accept redistributive policies on the basis of indifference curves and marginal utility analysis but I don't think there is a particular principled reason why it's necessarily normatively better than another principle.

Or the eternal question of whether a colour-blind Constitution is actually more equal than a Constitution that supports Affirmative Action or vice versa.


Labels: , ,

Monday, January 15, 2007

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

It's Martin Luther King Jr. Day and this is his famous Speech on the Mall a.k.a. I Have A Dream speech. I have chosen not to use the audio recording simply because I believe here the words are so powerful that it does not require an orator of Dr. King's calibre to make it resound.

This is the remarkable power of good rhetoric, not just polemics and sound bites.

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Labels: , ,

Name and Shame: Part of Broader Societal Game?

(h/t: The Kway Teow Man: Is it public shaming? Isn't it Citizen Journalism? and

Mocking Andy Ho shouldn't be this much fun but dang he doesn't disappoint with every single article he writes. Although to be fair, his articles against woo were pretty good, but being a medical doctor, he should be ashamed by his misleading article on the Terri Shiavo case, especially after the entire premise of his article (that she could actually feel "pain" i.e. suffer as opposed to simply reacting to external stimuli was thoroughly debunked by the subsequent autopsy).

But apologies for poisoning the well, here's what he has to say on this subject.

The Straits Times, Jan 11, 2007

For shame, stop this indignity

By Andy Ho, Senior Writer

SOME Singaporeans have taken it upon themselves to shame their fellow citizens when they do not like what they see.

A recent example: Someone posted on the Internet a video of a woman carrying a six-month-old child and boarding a train, whereupon some young, already seated, commuters seemed to fall asleep instantly.

Bloody hell! Why didn't I think of this earlier? As a general rule, I give my seat to anyone whom I think deserves it more than I do. Admittedly, I've stopped giving my seats automatically to females unless they're carrying more stuff than I am (or are carrying particularly unwieldy stuff) but as a general rule of thumb, anyone who looks older, or pregnant women or even kids with those ridiculously large school bags "get a free pass" from me.

As an aside, there was a spirited discussion from a group of elderly (rather elderly in my opinion) after I gave up my seat to one of them. According to my mother (who understands more dialects than I do and was closer to them anyway), they were split into two camps as to whether there was an obligation on my part to give up my seat to any of them. But it generally boiled down eventually to, it's nice but not an obligation.

While I certainly don't expect others to do it to me i.e. not a general obligation, I personally believe that I ought on the simple basis that it's a minuscule sacrifice on my part i.e. small disutility in contrast not only to the potential harm for someone who really needs that seat but also the much large utility accrued. And quite sometimes, I've manage to "persuade" others to do the same. I only bring this up because lately I've been coming across the canard that atheist are amoral since they lack the fear of a big sky fairy punishing them after they die and it's really annoying me no ends.

This act of public shaming drew a lot of online support. But it also evoked much criticism.

By inflicting disgrace on someone for many others to see, such cyber-pillories remove any ambiguity about what some in society expect from others. Friends and families might chide the perps (perpetrators) while neighbours may snicker.

Those who support the action say that not only are offenders chastened, but such shaming could also deter others from misbehaving. It might even rehabilitate the offender, if he is persuaded that his actions were wrong.

Shaming is democratic, they say, in the sense that it reflects a community's values rather than some norm that the authorities may choose to impose willy-nilly. For example, while the Nazis marked the Jews with a yellow star to shame them, the same symbol is now worn proudly in Israel. Same for the pink triangle worn by homosexuals.

Almost Godwin but the point is taken that public adopting of a mark of derision transforms it into a form of cohesive unity and pride. It's a toss-up, Dan Savage used to call on his readers to start any letter to him with "Hey Fag" to diffuse the negative connotations associated with him but there was a huge debate over this particular technique used.

Is cyber-shaming par for the course then?

No, I find something disconcerting about it.

In a sense, shaming is an attempt to coerce conformity. Notice that to make the claim that shaming can be morally reforming requires those who dispense it to do so in the spirit of a parent punishing a child. It also requires the perp to repent and make amends.

But getting offenders to repent sounds like a cleric's job. It may also be how punishment functions in the intimate setting of one's family. If that is the case, we should not be shaming our fellow citizens. After all, who appointed us to guide their moral development?

The "perp"? What the hell? It's one of those times where you really wonder whether he keeps any distinctions straight or it's just one huge mess to him.

Well first off, could we please draw a distinction between criminal law (perp), Positive Morality (the morality, values, norms and mores of a paritcular institution or society) and Critical Morality (think of it as morality with a big M i.e. the values we use to critique positive morality) and a distinction between secularism and theocracy.

Positive Morality (much less Critical morality) is not the sole purview of religion. Society inevitably exerts certain forms of positive morality. Here all these people are doing to to highlight (without criminal sanction mind you) examples of flouting of societal norms.

It's remarkably strange to see Dr. Ho write, "who appointed us to guide their moral development?" considering his rather paternalistic view of the State (societal rights over human rights). Perhaps he believes that only the State ought to have the ability to lay out moral rules, but this runs inconsistently with his disavowal in the previous block quote of the democratic pressure to rein in those who do not conform to societal norms.

Anyway, for the whole thing to work, the offender must first care about what others think of him. The broader and deeper one's communal attachments, and the wider similar views about morality are held, the greater will be one's shame if shown up.

Thus while shaming sanctions are widely and effectively employed in homogeneous Japan, the diversity in Singapore means that their efficacy may be less than obvious.

I think our communities do not have the Japanese level of interdependence or strong norm cohesion, so shaming would be largely retributive - an eye for an eye - in effect.

A better argument but a very strange cultural relativistic one. Considering the uproar which he claims occur, it would be reasonable to say that we believe that people ought to be giving up their seats to obviously pregnant women and that on the whole we frown upon faking sleep to get around it.

And it's also a bit of a non-sequitor because we can draw upon a broader claim that there are certain values, norms and rules that can get a consensus even amongst diverse cultures. And even if we could not, respect for another's culture must end in a line somewhere e.g. the Picairn Island incident and the whole notion of honour killing. At his point, I can't think of any culture on where public transport there isn't a sense that we ought to be giving up our seats to those who need it more than us.

But let's just say, for the sake of argument, that shaming sanctions do turn out to be very effective. This may cause the shunned offenders to form a deviant sub-community where people are numb to shaming: After all, people can adapt quickly to the emotion.

Some economists have even modelled shaming penalties and found that the more people are shamed, the less effective such shaming penalties become. Also, the stigma attached to such penalties decreases as more people are subjected to them.

Maybe, I really wouldn't know about it. The extent of my knowledge is that shaming is much more effective than a monetary penalty system, see Steve Levitt's Freakonomics.

But considering the failure of status quo, we should be doing something about it. And furthermore his argument seems to be premised that too much shaming is a problem i.e. it's not a problem inherent in the policy but one which requires that the policy mechanism be tweaked.

In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic about 17th-century Boston, Hester Prynne, who bears an illegitimate child, is forced to wear a scarlet 'A' on her chest. Embracing the contumelies heaped upon her, she even embroiders the scarlet letter herself. And with Pearl, her daughter, she establishes a defiant mini-community on the margins of the town that shamed them.

Likewise, some criminals develop new 'families' made up of fellow criminals who share a perverse pride in their immorality. When this happens, shame no longer deters bad behaviour.

Of course, in reality, there are few completely 'shameless' people, but the risk that deviant sub-communities may form is one instance of a more generic problem: How to achieve the optimum amount of deterrence or retribution? How can we know if the amount of suffering we inflict is proportional to the perp's blameworthiness? Moreover, shame can spill over to the non-guilty family members and close friends of the person shamed.

That's seriously stretching. And brought to its logical conclusion we ought not to shame anyone for any reason whatsoever.

That might well work because I tend to believe that reason is much more effective than shame and in fact reason can counteract shame e.g. if through Reason I establish that my actions were not contrary to it and therefore is no stain on my conscience. But nevertheless, shame appears to a integral part of any culture for wrongdoing and I think that it can be harnessed for good if it is not shaming for shaming's sake but there is also good reason to explain why that particular action is wrong in that regard.

Here is another problem: Shaming invokes the crowd's help, so it may quickly become a form of lynch justice. Publishing the names of sex offenders to shame them, as in some United States jurisdictions, has led to instances of rioting. Even if this does not happen, shaming leaves too much power in the hands of a fickle public.

Alright. Fair enough, I buy the point about Megan's Law (publication of sex offenders details etc.) and there was that ludicrious case of a paediatrician who nearly got lynched because the stupid mob mistaken though it mean pedophile. As it was her property got destroyed.

But the most basic problem with this assertion is that it is a massive non-sequitor. I mean to go from shaming to lynch mob justice is the worst sort of slippery slope argument I've seen in sometime. It's one thing to say that our baser instincts to protect our youth can manifest itself in lynch mob justice. But over spitting in the streets or not giving up a seat? This begins to feel like a descent into Alice's rabbithole

Then again, shaming is too easy a task to do, so private enforcers may use it indiscriminately while alleged offenders could have little opportunity to defend themselves. Eyewitness accounts can be faulty and even video captures could be misinterpreted since the context may not be obvious.

Not a new problem, we already have PIs doing it for unfaithful spouses. And again, it's a problem with the policy mechanism rather than anything intrinsically wrong with policy justification itself. Would it become a big problem? Maybe and if that happens, we shut it down.

While the shamed may suffer disproportionately, those who do the shaming might not themselves be left unscathed either. In many respects it is like any practice that 'in' groups use to make 'out' groups feel inferior, unwanted and rejected - as any teenager can tell you.

I am not saying that all instances of shaming are irrevocably bad.

*Giggle snort* ye gods, it feels like a bad secondary school essay. In and out groups are an intrinsic part of any society. Outside of criminal laws (the most obvious example of in and out groups) society also creates norms which are essentially just part of the social contract. And they are not stagnant either. Some may be good, and some others bad, stupid, ridiculous, foolish and just plain wrong, but society and its norms are not stagnant.

But while it may be a good thing for one to feel guilty and ashamed when one does something wrong, eliciting shame in another person is quite different. The former reflects a conflict between the kind of person I am and whom I had hoped I was or want to be. But the latter - condemning a wrongdoer in the guise of shaming him - involves the desire to see him squirm or suffer: Its goal really is to degrade and dehumanise someone - publicly.

Degrade and dehumanize? Alright, seriously, what was the editor doing when reading through this article? This runs almost contradictory to his premise that the goal of shaming is to ensure conformity. Conformity i.e. a desire to bring someone back into the fold i.e. rehabilitation (of a sort) is based on a desire to bring back someone into the fold of "civilized society". So unless the society is degrading and dehumanizing e.g. totalitarian and theocratic states, this argument simply holds no water whatsoever.

While shaming others publicly may seem impartial - we like to believe we are doing so on the basis of some higher moral principle - what it actually permits is for us to feel justified in expressing raw anger and moral superiority, negative emotions that are usually nicely kept under wraps.

Thus shaming is like very public gossip, whose shock value is what entertains. Its shock value, in turn, comes from the fact that it allows our strongest negative emotions such as hate and vindictiveness to be ventilated. This is why shaming others not only coarsens our own sensitivity to the dignity of others but also fosters the wrong dispositions in those of us who dole it out.

Shaming: It is undignified. Let's not do it.

What?! Can anyone parse this for me? It's just reads like a lot of handwaving and really brings to mind that "it's not even wrong". All I see is a whole bunch of non-sequitor assertions ("Thus shaming is like very public gossip, whose shock value is what entertains") or that it "comes form the fact that it allows our strongest negative emotions such as hate and vindictiveness to be ventilated". These are not arguments, it's rhetoric!

Well, putting all those aside, just one last final point about what I believe is the difference between these and CCTV. I believe the line is very fine and for now (until we descend into the dystopia of Dr. Ho's totalitarian state where citizens are an extension of state secret police apparatus) there are the following two distinctions.
1. Power. I have an innate distrust for any concentration of power in the believe borne out by history that Power tends to Corrupts, and Absolute Power tends to Corrupt Absolutely. CCTV may have very benign intentions are first, but the temptation to use those captured footage in a bid to embarrass political opponents or simply to keep tab on the state's "subjects" is a very real and present danger especially when there isn't transparency.

In contrast, individual citizens occasionally shooting what they feel as unsocietal behavior is nowhere near the threat to privacy that the state through its and resources can bring to bear on this issue.

2. Transparency. Does anyone know what's on those tapes, who has access to it etc.?

3. The law. The state can always change the law to suit its purposes (whether benign or malign) subject to constitutional restrictions and judicial review. The individual citizen is always constrained by the law. And I submit that there is a notion of "reasonable expectation of privacy" which can be used against someone who infringes upon your privacy. The most immediate and obvious example would be those upskirting or spying on changing rooms.

It's not as comprehensive or cohesive as I would have liked it but that's pretty much all the time I have so....


Addendum: CL points out that it also involved a video of a couple making out at the back of the bus and the discussion of the justification of making the video. And it's true that I do not explicitly state the justification for why I think that the video making was not wrong.

1. It's not legally wrong. There is no right of privacy in Singapore so your likeness can be used subject to copyright. The best that can be said is the "reasonable expectation of privacy" which I point out above is simply not present in these two cases.

2. It's not morally wrong. While a general distinction should be made between law and morality, in this case, I really don't see a moral claim for not publishing the video in light of the fact that given it was a very public place and that our culture (legal or otherwise) does not impute this notion of privacy in public places, there really cannot be any sustaining of a reliance claim on that of privacy.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Southeast Asians to draft EU-style charter - International Herald Tribune

I'm still fairly stunned by all this. Even as late as yesterday, I was outright snorting that the IHT report that the member states of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) were contemplating such a charter was going to be more of the same old same old. Especially in light of the traditional ASEAN notion of consensus and non-interference in the affairs of member states.

And also I think, the remarkable ineffectualness of most ASEAN led multi-lateral interventionist actions, in particular the absolute remarkable failure to deal with the Indonesian forest fires that lead to the year haze (and which lead to losses of over USD 9 billion in 1997 and a near similar amount just last year). I would include in this assessment, too, the stalling over further trade liberalization since the 1970s-80s. And the outright stagnation since the 1990s, see e.g. Proton in Malaysia and agricultural products generally across the board.

And of course there is Myanmar, the backlash against them and ASEAN coming surprisingly in the form of Malaysia (although apparently they have been pushing this stance since the 1970s making them the earliest and arguably most consistent nation with regards to relations to the military junta). But read in another light, together with most vocal opposition to Indonesia recalcitrance and general trade illiberalization, maybe this was the final logical step seeing as ASEAN is acknowledged as the next closest regional organization after the EU (this idea was tossed around a little during the St. Gallen Symposium last year).

But as always, the formal law does not always correlate to events on the ground, especially in South East Asia so it's worth looking at the meat of the Charter.

Among the agreements approved on Saturday, the first day of the meeting of the heads of state in this central Philippine province, were the drafting of a new charter that seeks to integrate Southeast Asia much like the European Union, establish a free-trade zone by 2015, intensify the war on terrorism, protect the region's migrant workers, and improve the campaign against HIV/AIDS.
Eh...okay.... I have no idea what that means but let's play pundit anyway.
1. Integrate like the EU. It's worth mentioning that the EU evolved from a partnership primarily between Germany and France on the Coal and Steel Committee to the European Economic Committee (EEC) to the European Committee (EC) and finally the European Union (EU). Along the way, it expended in size, scope and ambition, from trade liberalization to globalization (including freedom of movment to work) to human rights consolidation and the creation of a quasi-federal system in the form of the European Parliament. Oh and yes, the Euro system (which necessitates a EU Central Bank).

So a term tossed out like this makes me wonder how far they want to push this thing. I wonder if Singapore will become like the next UK within the EU.

2. Establish a free-trade zone by 2015. Well if they succeed, it'll only be 5 years outside of the original goal. Singapore can only stand to benefit from this honestly.

3. Intensify the War on Terror. A lot of scope for synergy and consolidation there. And it's blindingly obvious that it's necessary. The normal issues of sovereignty, interference and opposing sympathies will rear its head but that's par for the course. In the meantime, the suggestions seem innocuous enough...
Meanwhile, the leaders also signed a counterterrorism agreement that, among other things, makes it obligatory for each member country to share information. The landmark agreement should also allow the extradition of terror suspects. It called on Asean nations as well to stop terror financing and hold counterterrorism trainings.
The devil is in the details and I foresee problems about extradition primarily between Malaysia and Thailand but it would be interesting to see how that gets sorted out.

3. Improving the campaign against HIV/AIDS. This, I humbly submit, is code for dealing with Myanmar, which not only has a massive problem which is leading to a refugee crisis that is upsetting Thailand, but they also recently kicked out the Red Cross which makes things a lot more dire. There was a Foreign Affairs article a while back which makes a very strong case that on the five grounds of humanitarian intervention, Myanmar is a candidate on all five grounds.

But it's a massive problem which will only get worse if nothing gets done immediately.

And of course there's the drug problem as well....*sigh*

Nevertheless, this is an exciting development (not necessarily in a good way but still exciting) so we'll see what comes up in the next few months and years.

p.s. It seems that Terrence Lee is a Doctoral Candidate at the Department of Pol Sci at UW. I wonder if he'll write an article for this

Labels: ,

Readers beware: the myth of bias-free media - The Daily of the University of Washington Online

Mr. Brandon Dennis is the resident social conservative columnist for UW's student newspaper and I've been meaning to fisk his columns for sometime because I honestly think they are bad because he tries to prove too much (or are just plain wrong or the facts and sources he uses are very dubious e.g. World News Daily).

In this article, he makes (at the very conclusion) that because all forms of media have an inherent bias, there is a need to take more than one viewpoint to come to a conclusion. An entirely, eminently sensible position to take. You need two lines to create a point and you definitely need to read more than the Straits Times if you ever want to be a debater. And as they concede, they do have a pro-government bias.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, except when you're effectively the only mainstream English daily, I would argue that you have a duty above and beyond that of simply being partisan. And in fact, with their history of misquoting opposing viewpoints, one wonders where the notion of journalistic integrity has gone.

Anyway, the real problem is that he also tries to exonerate (in a fashion) Fox News by attempting to tar all other forms of media with the same brush . Oh and he starts off with a little homily about how research showed him that the PATRIOT Act was really not as bad as the media makes it out to be and gives this little exchange between him and another student who has apparently sipped from the cup of liberalism and therefore cannot comprehend it might not be terribly bad.

To be fair, it's not all that bad, but let's just say that the Executive's actions with regards to warrantless NSA wiretapping and the SWIFT cooption incident demonstrate bad faith and a deliberate subversion of the rule of law. After all, Congress may be acting ultra vires with its passing of FISA or the War Powers Resolution but the appropriate course of action is to get it struck down not go ahead and flout what is a properly enacted statute.

Anyway, I realise that this is not my usual style of fisking but I typed out the comments already and I have no desire to reformat them to address his column paragraph by paragraph. So here it is....

Fallacy 1: Equivocation in mixing unconscious bias with actual bias (hmmm…maybe the word prejudice should be used here) and lumping all forms of media together (except for the poor talk radio hosts) and thus using it in a misleading fashion in an attempt to tar all other non-Fox networks and forms of media.

Which leads us to…

Fallacy 2: Non-sequitor. Even if all forms of media were actually deliberately biased (an unsustainable assertion as it is), the question must be the extent of their biasness i.e. some must be less biased than others. Included in this assessment must be a determination of whether there is a good faith attempt at being non-baised e.g. AP, Bloomberg etc. And furthermore, that doesn’t take Fox off the hook for pushing a very particular agenda.

Which brings us to…

Distinction 1: Editorial and News. Whether "old" or "new" media and without a definition here I will presume old refers to non-internet, non-news cable network types of media, which in turn refers to "new" media, there is a distinction to be made between the editorial section (where the paper sure takes a particular stance or conscious bias) and the news section where I will note that the best Mr Dennis comes up with is unconscious bias. Thus while I may dislike CNN’s Lou Dodd for pushing his populist rhetoric, it doesn’t permeate the rest of its news programming unlike say Fox. There is a reason why this distinction exists and conflating the two is being sloppy at best and disingenuous at worst.

Distinction 2: Reality of news reporting. More often than not, the frustration with the "old media" is that in their attempt to be balanced, they lose objectivity and that’s bias. See e.g. the pre-Dover trial media presentation of Intelligent Design. The entire he-said, she-said approach gives the impression of a scientific debate where there was none. This is balanced but it sure isn’t objective.

Issue 1: Does reality have a "socio-political-economic liberal bias"? Or conservative one? This is relevant in assessing whether a report or an entire network is biased in the sense that it is non-objective. Obviously, if reality has a liberal bias, then reporting in a liberal fashion isn’t being biased but simply being true to reality. Sometimes there is a right and a wrong answer (see e.g. the perpetual false dichotomy with regards to the adult and embryonic stem-cell debate or even that of globalization and "social justice") and by deliberately ignoring the strongest arguments of the other side, that’s real bias. However, ignoring factual distortions and not giving the other side a venue to perpetuate those views is not being biased, that’s just being objective.

First Amendment 101: I’m not entirely sure if Mr Dennis ever did any research or took any courses on First Amendment law and in particular libel because his example about the (deliberate) misquotation (“I am sure that there is no such thing as a fairy” becoming “I am…a fairy”) is just flat out wrong.

That is a libelous statement that would not receive First Amendment protection. Even under the most stringent protections available under New York Times v. Sullivan, the public official simply has to show that a false statement was make with actual malice i.e. that it was false or made recklessly in disregard of the truth.

The defamatory imputation is what is important here and therefore the ellipses are of no bar to a successful suit made here because the average reader of reasonable intelligence will take it to constitute an admission of homosexuality whereas the original statement of which it was made had nothing to do to that effect.

I realize that not all of us are lawyers or necessarily well read in a particular area of law but seriously where’s the fact checking in this regard? Kinda reminds me of the Ridge and some particularly sloppy articles written.


Labels: , , ,

Friday, January 12, 2007

Public Law Assignment 2006

This essay cost me an A in Constitutional Law but I quite like it and it saves me from having to think of something to blog about. The citations have been omitted but the most important articles have been put in the essay itself.

If nothing else, this acts as a decent primer on Constitutional Developments since Independence. So enjoy.

Constitutional Amendments since 1966: Whither withered effects on Constitutionalism, Limited Government and Representative Democracy


In the intervening period between the original Wee Chong Jin Constitutional Commission ("Commission") with its subsequent report ("report") and now, Singapore has come a very long way particularly with regards to its economic growth as well as subsequent social, political and constitutional developments.

The terms of reference of the Commission reflect what was felt to be the urgent problems that Singapore faced in the latter half of the 1960s. But despite the differing socio-economic-political climate, the assumptions and solutions advocated by the report have an as strong a force today, in its advocacy of a non-racial approach with a strong emphasis on protection of the individual's fundamental liberties as the best way to preserve multi-racialism and also formal institutional checks on the government.

This paper will be looking at Constitutionalism from the viewpoint of constitutional supremacy and the type of constitution that the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (“Constitution”) purports to be and its reality. In the area of limited government, this paper will focus on the mechanisms of constitutionalism that limit governmental power e.g. rule of law, separation of powers, institutional and political checks and balances.


The issue of constitutionalism revolves around the notion of constitutional supremacy. Article 4 of the Constitution states clearly its supremacy. And any law that is inconsistent with it, is to the extent to which it is inconsistent, void.

So the issue then becomes how easily is the Constitution amended and how often it is amended. There have been 2 major constitutional amendments in this respect, firstly, the restoration of the super majority of 2/3 amongst parliamentarians to amend any aspect of the constitution itself, and the subsequent additions of articles 5A and 5(2A). The first has the effect of making our Constitution a controlled one i.e. it requires something more than a bare majority to amend. That was a positive development for it clearly delineates how the Constitution is a superior law to ordinary legislation i.e. requiring more than a bare majority to amend. The second set of amendments would force any amendments to the stipulated constitutional articles, to also be subject to a 2/3-referendum passage. This strikes an apparent balance between flexibility and rigidity of the Constitution that the Commission captured well when they expressed the opinion that:

We are aware of the adage that a Constitution that will not bend will sooner or later be broken. We are also aware that a Constitution that is too flexible may well turn out to be worse than having no Constitution at all.

However, it must be noted that not only are the entrenching provisions not in force, but they are subject to the discretion of the President, whether to require a referendum. Additionally, amongst all the branches of government, the judiciary is not amongst those entrenched under the provisions. This has disturbing implications as to its role as a check and balance on government. Even so, since this is now a matter of when they would come in force rather than whether they ever will, it should be acknowledged as a positive development to Constitutionalism and applauded.

While the Constitution may be controlled, it is very flexible. The near absolute monopoly the People’s Action Party (PAP) has in parliament, together with its use of the party whip, ensures that any Constitutional amendment would automatically be passed. Furthermore, the Constitution's remarkably flexible can be observed through the great number of amendments made since our independence, in particular the ease in which the EP scheme was passed. Despite being a major amendment to the Westminster system we operated on, there was a refusal to allow submission of the scheme to a referendum. But that the government chooses to amend the Constitution does go towards showing the acknowledgment that it is legally supreme.


Any study of “limited government” will need to examine how governmental power is theoretically limited with its concurrent reality. From the above analysis on Constitutionalism, it is clear that the Constitution is at best a weak restrain on power. For a number of reasons examined below, the dominance of the party is such that recourse to the ballot box insofar as it provides for an alternative government (and thus a removal of a bad government) is currently not serviceable as an external political check.

Thus we have to turn to internal political checks and balances with the most significant Constitutional amendment to this area being the introduction of the Elected President (EP) scheme in 1990. While the scheme might have been originally promising, subsequent developments have created a relatively much diminished institution.

This development’s significant is its furthering of the doctrine of the separation of powers. Being a Westminster System, Singapore does not have a 'pure' separation of powers. Instead we have a fusion of personnel because the cabinet is drawn from parliament. With the introduction of the EP, who may not be a member of any political party, we now (ostensibly) have a formal check and balance against the Legislature/Executive.

While the pre-EP's powers were almost exclusively ceremonial, in contrast, the EP's role is by far more custodial and was envisaged to be a check on a free-spending, rash and irresponsible government out to drain the nation's hard earned reserves through populist measures. In addition, he too was to be the safeguard of our fundamental liberties, protect the integrity of the civil service, and be a force of anti-corruption.

However, subsequent constitutional amendments and clarifications have diminished his powers. The most significant is probably the introduction of article 151A, which ousters the President's ability to disapprove of any defence or security measure at his discretion. Furthermore, the determination of what constitutes a defence or security measure resides solely in the purview of the executive thereby diminishing the President's ability to be a financial guardian in this respect. In addition, the greater fear would be that a fiscally irresponsible government, which the EP is meant to check, would be able to use this article as a loophole.

Similarly, articles 22B(9) and 22D(9) curtails the EP by removing his oversight of the transfer of reserves and placing that in the hands of the Executive (minister) or political appointees (statutory board chairperson, CEO and various directors). Furthermore, it appears that the power of the EP to act as a restraint on cabinet’s power would tend to be construed narrowly, as was the case of article 144. And while this was not a constitutional amendment per se, it lends credence to the general notion that power ultimately resides in the Executive/Legislature and greatly circumscribes the concept of limited government.

It would have been a positive development if the White Paper on past reserves, been instituted into the Constitution. However, it remains a convention, which though ‘binding’ on future governments and EPs, has an “easy escape clause” in that any party simply needs to notify the other party that it does not wish to abide by the principles enunciated.

But where the EP has the most potential to act as a check on the government is to be found in articles 5 and 5(2A). However, this is only a potential power as these articles are still not in force after over a decade and a half. Furthermore, the amendment of art 22H, which was referred to the Constitutional Tribunal and achieved, now establishes as long as article 5(2A) is not in force, the President only has the power to withhold his assent to (non-constitutional) bills that would circumvent or curtail his discretionary power. It is recommended that these articles be instituted to give the EP his full powers and to strengthen Constitutionalism and Limited Government.

Turning to non-political checks and balances, we observe through the Parliamentary Debates on the rule of law (Lex Rex), that there are two competing (though not mutually exclusive) concept i.e. Natural Justice i.e. procedural fairness and Substantive Justice. Closely correlated with its capability to restraint government is the notion of judicial review and subsequently that of an independent judiciary. For the judiciary must be able to examine and strike down laws that are inconsistent with the Constitution and hence void.

It is in this context that a focus on our fundamental liberties serves as a bulwark against an arbitrary and autocratic government whether it exerts a tyranny of the majority or of a minority. An independent judiciary capable and willing not only to examine the Executive's decision but to also act as the guardian of our fundamental liberties, best serves such a system.

Prior to 1989, the judiciary had been willing and able to take a robust interventionist stance i.e. taking an objective test to and looking behind the decisions of the executive as part of judicial review. Wee Chong Jin CJ said: "the notion of a subjective or unfettered discretion is contrary to the rule of law. All power has legal limits and the rule of law demands that the courts should be able to examine the exercise of discretionary power."

This was subsequently overturned in 1989 with an amendment to "restore the law on judicial review" i.e. back to the subjective test. At the same time, appeals to the Privy Council were limited i.e. abolished "in respect of judicial review of decisions under the ISA, of interpretation of the ISA and interpretation of any provisions in the Constitution relating to subversion and emergency powers contained in Part XII of the Constitution." The result is that at least in matters of national security pursuant to article 149, there is really no limit to governmental power or discretion beyond that of the ballot box.

And similarly, while it is heartening and gratifying that the courts have asserted the right of any individual qua citizen to bring a suit alleging a legislation to be inconsistent with the Constitution, nevertheless, the approach adopted has been more akin to a "bathroom scales" than a "balancing" one. Thus, as long as any of our fundamental liberties clashes with national security, it is axiomatic that national security will prevail absolutely.

Such approaches see Parliament as the principal guardian of our fundamental liberties. However, this does not derogate from the necessity of having the recommended formal institutional checks and balances on government.


Representative Democracy refers to “a limited and indirect form of democracy based upon the selection (usually by election) of those who will rule on behalf of the people”. The practice in Singapore is that of parliamentary democracy where the emphasis is that on deliberation through an adversarial ‘loyal opposition’ which is capable of forming an alternative government i.e. political pluralism and plurality of views.

A. G(reat) R(acial) C(ommitment)s?

In general, it can be said that the constitutional amendments made to this area have had a positive effect in the short run but a detrimental in the long term, based upon a cost-benefit analysis (CBA). Firstly, the GRC system, both in its original intent as well as the subsequent enlargements in 1994 and 1996, have had the effect of undermining the notion of one person one vote. As a result, people are selecting on the basis of teams, which prima facie limits the choice of the electorate to “cherry-pick” individual candidates. Furthermore, there is no necessity to have by-elections in the event one of the team members is unable to execute his duty, as an MP as was the case in 1999, where the reason given by then PM Goh was the need to focus on economic recovery.

The GRC scheme also works against parliamentary democracy by effectively eliminating opposition parties as a possible alternative government. This has as much to do with the strength and track-record of the PAP as it does the weakness of the opposition, which is simply not capable of fielding enough viable candidates to contest a true general election while adopting the election tactic of simply allowing the PAP to form the government and offer themselves up as alternative voices in government. Additionally, by prolonging the period the opposition is not in government, this hurts their credibility as a viable opposition.

These detrimental effects are partially offset by the fact that the GRC system was originally conceived and continues to ensure minority (non-Chinese) representation in parliament in a bid to maintain the necessary multi-racialism. This thereby ensures true popular representation in parliament thereby bolstering parliamentary democracy. Unfortunately, the subsequent enlargements of the GRCs to 4 and then 6 member teams in 1991 and 1996 respectively, have reduced the total number of guaranteed minority parliamentarians.

One may well applaud the intent, however, it does presume and perpetuate a very stratified notion of race and race relations, with possible detrimental effects in the long run. The is so given that the “non-racial” approach advocated by the original commission, the reasons for which still has force today, coupled with over half a century's worth of Religious Harmony Days and constant “National Education” to drum the importance of harmony. But if one accepts the premise of the necessity of minorities representing minority views, then in the modern context, the most woefully underrepresented segment of society has to be Women. If so, the GRC system ought to be adapted to ensure female political participation.

B. The non-elected, not-quite-elected, and not-so-elected

Any evaluation of the Non-Constituent Member of Parliament (NCMP), and Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) scheme, must be done via a CBA taking into account Singapore's context. So while on the one hand, such members, not being elected or having a popular mandate should be considered to be undermining Representative Democracy, at the same time, these MPs may well be representing the protest voters or the voters who did not vote for the PAP in the elections.

But the great uneasiness over these schemes can observed via the NMP scheme being subject to a "sunset clause", while the number of NCMPs are limited constitutionally. Particularly so when seen in light of the PAP’s approval of NMPs apolitical nature and presenting of non-partisan 'opposition' views in Parliament with their subsequent expansion in 1997 and 2001. There is nevertheless much force in the critiques levered against the concept of the NMP scheme, ranging as far back as the Randel Commission, and to the parliamentary debates.

However, these schemes were conceived that they would be able to provide an alternative viewpoint in parliament. Thus, while acknowledging the so-called ‘Opposition Gap’ i.e. the lack of opposition members providing opposing viewpoints in Parliament and the necessity of improving the quality of debate, nevertheless a question is raised as to whether this erodes representative or parliamentary democracy in the long run by “co-opting” the best and removing the impetus for an opposition/alternative government.

There is also the further downside of non-elected bodies sharing executive/legislative powers. For example, the provisions for the EP ensures that he has to share power not only with the cabinet but also non-elected bodies like the Council of Presidential Advisors, and Presidential Elections Committee, thereby entrenching them in the Constitution and undermining the concept of representative democracy in our parliamentary system. Similar to this is the Presidential Council for Minority Rights, which bears some similarities to the Council of State envisioned in the report in protecting minority rights. Unfortunately for parliamentary democracy, not only is this a far more limited version of the council originally proposed, but even on the protection of minorities front, it has yet to raise any adverse reports despite the prima facie "differentiating measure" inherent in many of the above-mentioned constitutional amendments.


The constitutional amendments have constituted a mixed blessing for the three specific objectives evaluated. However, even those can be said on balance to further these objectives, only achieve this in the short run will questionable to detrimental effects in the long term. We would do well to adopt the general advice of the Commission to focus on protecting the individual's fundamental liberties through strengthened and independent institutional checks and balances.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Stream of Consciousness Post - There's an analysis of a legal case, geopolitics and social mores in there somewhere

I've just finished my readings for International Protection of Human Rights and am now in an attempt to wind down and get some sleep. Part of the problem is that the classes I have been taking and the readings that have been assigned have been rather thought provoking, which is not a conducive state of mind in which one may fall asleep.

Take for example, the case of Lochner v NY, one of the most discussed and condemned cases in the whole of the US Supreme Court decisions, ranking just behind Dred Scott, where the court determined that the Mr. Scott was still a slave despite his "master" having brought him into a free state and freed him there. If one accepts the proposition that judges ought merely declare law and not make it, then I submit that the case was in fact rightly decided but the moral repugnance of slavery makes it such that we would rightfully condemn it today.

What I would ask people to keep in mind is that slavery as an institution arose separately and independent across cultures and was often sanctioned by the prevailing religious ideologies, most obviously, the Judeo-Christian faith, which admittedly was eventually at the front of ending that particular evil, which only goes to show that the bible can mean almost anything you want it to. Also implicated is Buddhism and the prevalence of a form of slavery even under the reigns of the Buddhist kings in the South East Asian region.

But back to the case of Lochner, what the US Supreme Court did was to find the "liberty of contract" in the 5th and 14th Amendment and based on a laisse faire doctrine, struck down a law mandating a maximum amount of time that workers in bakeries may work (60h per week and not more than 10h per day) etc. As a mark of how little support this case has, apparently only the libertarians support it. But it is worth noting that the prevailing economic ideology that the Court was using was itself derived from the social ideology of the anti-slavery crusaders who has argued that labour inherently belong to the labourer and that slavery took that and the liberty of contract away from the slave.

The criticisms of this case are many fold, ranging from the the basic that there is not such right in the Constitution, to there is no such implied right in the constitution to there is no such substantive right in the constitution to even if there were, this was a legitimate act on the part of the state (whether as a measure for public health or to correct market failure). So in short, there are many levels of criticism. But nevertheless, I think each of them can be addressed fairly persuasively. I would on balance fall on the side of the dissenters on the basis that this was a legitimate regulation on the part of the state, although I wonder whether this is necessarily true if the state had mandated a maximum of a 40h workweek (sounds familiar?) and this was due to special interest lobbying based on flawed economic analysis and theory.

And that's just one class.

Law and Genetics was fairly scary given that I had not touched science in ages and my only contact with science these past two years has been my daily readings of and other sites dealing with evolutionary biology and the anti creationism and intelligent design movement. Nevertheless, it was fairly painful having to wade through the "genetic primer" and recalling all those facts of Mandellian inheritance and dominant and recessive alleles and things like autosomal recessive inheritance.

Good fun those.

International Protection of Human Rights is an absolute blast and our assigned "textbook" is absolutely smashing. It's Mary Ann Glendon's, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (2001) and it makes for absolutely compelling reading and in particular the personalities that made up the committee that drafted the UDHR. What was absolutely surprising was the importance that a Lebanese Professor of Philosophy turned master diplomat (Charles Malik) and a Chinese Renaissance Man (Chang Pei-Chung) had in the intellectual foundation of the document.

But read it, I'm 142 pages in and it's absolutely great.

Introduction to (Ancient) Roman Law. To forestall the inevitable questions, yes it's still somewhat relevant. Basically there are two legal traditions in the world presently, the first is the Common Law system, having its foundation in England and exported to all its colonies including the earliest one that revolted i.e. USA. The other, encompassing the rest of the world is the Civil Law tradition. That tradition is traced back to Roman Law and in particular the Justinian Digest.

Please don't ask me what the difference is between the two systems. In a group of 8, 4 of us were lawyers who had studied this to varying degrees and even we couldn't give an outright answer seeing that there has been a strong convergence in the two and any differences that we are apt to give is more likely to be misleading than not.

But it's shaping up to be a good quarter. Send me stuff you want shredded! I don't have time to go searching for them anymore!


Labels: ,

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Back to School and Thoughts about Debate

Urgh, dang quarter system meant that I had to rush back to Seattle to attend the first day of school yesterday. Of course I was helped by the fact that I didn't break as an adjudicator, something that seemed likely until the last round.

I hesitate to write too much about this given that a blog, and is for all intent and purposes, a public affair and it's not too much of a stretch of imagination that something I write/publish sometime, somewhere will come back to haunt me e.g. the stuff I wrote about the Iraq invasion/liberation or hell, my general support for free expression and anti-death penalty etc. ad infinitum ad nauseum.

But generally, what I can say is that I had a fairly good run in the tournament. When I was a panelist, I was in good rooms with breaking adjudicators. When I was in weaker rooms, I was a chair. I'm just a little bummed that at the end of it all, I didn't break although I thought it was somewhat clear when I was assigned as a panelist in the last round to a decent room but really an inconsequential one (the teams had nothing on the line except one last good speech).

My experience as an adjudicator has provided valuable experience in how to speak for Worlds and it is fundamentally different from either All Asians/AUDC or the AustralAsians, which is why any comparison that I made during oral adjudication with any of the other styles was hedged with many qualifications and caveats.

My only real regret was that given the motions turning out the way they did, I was not a speaker at this tournament. This had to have been the first tournament in quite sometime where I actually had specialist knowledge for every single debate round and for every side (including strangely enough Quebec and Cosmetic Surgery). And it was that specialist knowledge that made the debates I watch sometimes particularly painful.

For example, on the motion, THBT the United Kingdom should destroy its nuclear arsenal, I was in an above average room with strong speakers, good engagement and team and role fulfillment. Nevertheless, NONE of the speakers mentioned the NPT and the obligations of the Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) to disarm their nuclear weapons as part of the common bargain threshed out in the negotiations of the treaty. As a result, an entire line of argumentation about the NPT and International Law was simply dropped and it was a fairly fundamental part of the theoretical and analytical framework for the justification of disarming nuclear weapons.

Or on an even more extreme case, THBT South Africa should Accelerate its land distributive policies. The word accelerate ought to have told you that there was a land redistribution policy in status quo but no one knew what the freaking policy was. Not my room which included Oxford A, Cambridge C (who made it to the grand finals) and Queensland A(? if it was they made it to the finals too) and NTU. Nor anyone on the NUS team and you really should have seen Alex's face when I said the following four words, "Willing Buyer, Willing Seller". Everything came crashing back to him at that point.

I personally think that the style of Worlds requires two strong speakers. Having a mismatched team is begging for adjudicators to never give you first as it is almost inevitable that the weaker speaker does not fulfill the speaker or team role and adjudicators will seize on that as grounds for a lower position. This is entirely right because the very minimum that has to be met are team and speaker role fulfillment before issues become a serious matter of determination of position and ranking. There will be exceptions and I have seen them, but I got outvoted in those two situations.

Another reason is that the 15 minute preparatory and walking time means that both speakers must have worked together for a substantial amount of time or they have a common frame of reference e.g. world schools e.g. me and Alex (both Li and Yeo) or Mark (general training) or Lifeng (Pro-Ams) etc. Even so, it's nothing like working with CL in terms of background (world schools), time (you try talking debate everytime you go out on a date for 5 years and see where that takes you) and matter (I read the Economist and Foreign Affairs, CL reads stuff like UK and US Spectator as well as Reasons and Mother Jones) and just sheer complementarity in terms of speaker roles (now anyway, we were still working team roles for a while and only settled in last that was a good year despite not going to Worlds).

But I would suggest that this only works for Worlds. With a three-on-three style, having a "couple" debater (and strong ones generally) and a third person requires that the third person be able to mesh in with the only two. CL and I had much success individually with Mark and Alex (CL in Santa Thomas IVs and AUDC, me at NTU IVs), and vice versa. In contrast Alex with us at SMU Hammers was a good example of the converse as he was far far weaker than he was now, as he was coming straight out of NS. Since we kicked him into third and took substantive roles, our prep was very much varsity style one liners, which left him at a disadvantage as we left him to his own devices in determining the coherency of the team stance and argumentation.

That I believe, is the general problem of having a muppet i.e. a speaker you are essentially controlling as an extension of yourself for a debate. There is absolutely no doubt that that person will benefit tremendously from being on a team with two strong speakers. However, that has to be taken into account by the other two. Given a certain level of competency, there is no problem (see above). If the disparity is substantial, allowances must be acknowledged and made e.g. a simplification of the matter and ensuring the third speaker (or worse, if he is a substantive speaker) knows exactly what you desire out of a particular argument that he or she is running. Nothing is more startling, distracting, or destructive than for an argument about separation of powers and institutional competency to turn into a argument about democracy or an argument about regulatory capture be turn into a simplistic point about how bureaucracies are bad.

My favourite story which I still relate to the juniors is to challenge them to give me the argument of the "Russian Example" with regards to global nuclear disarmament. The background was that during a prep with Alex and Chun Hui, we tried to prep for THW support global nuclear disarmament and I casually dropped the phrase "Russian example" to Alex in the expectation that he would pick it up given his knowledge of the issue (due to the Model United Nations Conference at NTU) and the Economist. He did.

This is part of the broader point of having a lingua franca with other debaters whereby certain catch phrases resonate very strongly not unlike law e.g. separation of powers, western liberal democracy, cost benefit analysis, institutional competency and regulatory capture (I'm still trying to introduce the last point, it seems people have trouble with the concept I am told). Thus on a debate about allowing political parties that advocate pedophilia, it was a matter of getting out ideas of rule of law, political process, nature of democracy and a very very sneaky argument in a POI where I asked if sexual assault laws were going to be repealed as well. Since the answer was no, I turned the debate into one where the party was advocating a lowering of the age of consent (I didn't get called on it admittedly although Ashok R. having proposed the debate was fairly frustrated by my redefinition of the debate somewhat).

Anyway, I'm stuck in Seattle for another few months and am unlikely to debate here so this is likely my last debate post.


Labels: ,