Sunday, November 19, 2006

On Fat Kids

One of my favorite debate issues, unhealthy advertising for children's television, is being turned into a policy by Ofcom in the UK.

The reason why I like it so much is because it's one of the most balanced issues I've seen, not to mention one of the richest. On one hand, banning junk food advertisements might help stave off childhood obesity. On the other, childhood obesity should be something parents should pay attention to, and the burden and responsibility shouldn't be on the government, lest parents become complacent. There's also the "Joe Camel" principle, then again the consequences to children's programming might be dire considering who their major sponsors are.

In any case, the most interesting point about this new proposal is that it doesn't just cover children's programming, it also covers programming that has an audience composed primarily of children. That means shows such as Friends is also included in the ban.

If you're too lazy to read the two links above, here's the faq that the Guardian provided:

FAQ: Junk food advertising

Why is Ofcom taking action now?
In December 2003 the government asked the regulator to consider strengthening the regulation of food and drink advertising on children. It then embarked on a marathon research effort that sought to determine the effect of junk food advertising on children's eating habits and place it in the context of other influences including demographics, family eating habits, school policy, public education, food labelling and exercise.

Why has it taken so long?
It has been a long and exhaustive lobbying process, pitting the combined might of the food industry, advertising trade bodies and broadcasters against single issue health groups and consumer associations. The latter loose coalition saw their arguments gain traction as the Jamie Oliver-inspired healthy eating campaign and the debate around childhood obesity gathered pace.

How did we get here?
Having established that television advertising had a "modest" direct effect on eating habits and a larger indirect effect, Ofcom published a menu of potential options. However, none satisfied the health lobby, which wanted to see a complete ban on all junk food advertising before 9pm. Ofcom argued that would have a devastating effect on broadcasters, and came back with further proposals more draconian than its original ones but still stopped short of a complete ban.

Why has it proved controversial?
The debate over advertising junk food to children is a microcosm of the wider debate around obesity and the damaging effects of "pester power". The combined lobbying power of the food industry, added to the debate around obesity and a government taking a keen interest but not wanting to legislate in the area left Ofcom in a no-win situation.

In other news, there's also a proposal coming from the UK that wants severely obese children get gastric bypass surgery.

That is, the government should subsidize the gastric bypass surgery of severely overweight children.

Could be a good debate.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Myanmar and China

The New York Times has an article explaining how China's wealth and relationship with Myanmar is keeping the military junta alive despite US sanctions.

Since the New York Times keeps their articles behind a firewall after a few weeks, I'm posting the entire article after the jump.

Despite Energy Wealth, Myanmar Is Mired in Dark
Published: November 17, 2006

SITTWE, Myanmar — In the balmy waters of the Bay of Bengal, just off the coast, an Asian energy rush is on. Huge pockets of natural gas have been found. China and India are jostling to sign deals. Plans are afoot to spend billions on new ports and pipelines.

Yet onshore, in towns like this one, not a light is to be seen — not a street lamp, not a glow in a window — as women crouch by the roadside at dawn, sorting by candlelight the vegetables they will sell for two cents a bunch at the morning market.

Paraffin and wood are major sources of light and heat. People receive two hours of electricity a day from a military government that is among the world’s most repressive.

But attempts at outside pressure to prod the government to address its people’s needs and curb abuses have faltered, in large part because China’s thirst for resources has undermined nearly a decade of American economic sanctions. Critics say that Washington’s policy has handed Myanmar, formerly Burma, to China. Still, as President Bush prepares to meet with leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting in Vietnam on Nov. 17, one topic on his agenda will be how to keep up the pressure. He is not likely to find cooperation, not from rivals like China and Russia, or even countries like Singapore and Indonesia, which trade freely with Myanmar.

The Asian energy rush is the latest demonstration of how the hunt for oil and gas, and China’s economic leverage, are reshaping international politics, often in ways that run counter to American preferences.

In many respects, with the rise of China’s economic power and its unflagging support, the government here has become more entrenched than ever, people inside and outside the country say.

“What can we do about it?” said a well educated man here, when asked about the plans to sell the gas abroad in the face of the deprivation at home. “What good would it do to protest, what would we get?” People were too afraid of the 400,000-member strong army supplied by China, Russia and Ukraine to complain, he said.

In numerous encounters in Myanmar, where most speak with extreme caution to foreigners and almost always anonymously for fear of jail, people joked sardonically that China was the “big daddy” and that soon it would “own” Myanmar. “China is a good friend of the government, not of the people,” one woman said. “They are like brother and brother-in-law.”

The Bush administration has pledged that it will not let up on its sanctions against the government until it releases the opposition leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 11 of the past 17 years.

Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party won an overwhelming victory in elections in 1990, and Washington insists that the government recognize those results, and release an estimated 1,100 political prisoners.

The Bush administration says it plans to file a Security Council resolution at the United Nations in coming weeks condemning the government for its human rights abuses, and tightening sanctions further.

The United Nations under secretary general, Ibrahim Gambari, met with the junta leader, Gen. Than Shwe, on Nov. 11 in Myanmar and urged the government to mend its ways on forced labor and political prisoners. The meeting ended inconclusively, United Nations officials said.

With so much energy and other resources at stake, and given its preference to shun outside interference in internal politics, China’s leaders are seemingly unbothered by what is happening inside Myanmar.

China’s National Development Reform Commission approved plans in April to build a pipeline that would carry China’s Middle East oil from a deep water port off Sittwe across Myanmar to Yunnan, China’s southern province. This would provide China with an alternative to the Strait of Malacca, which it now depends on for delivering its oil from the Middle East.

Though no date has been announced for work on the new pipeline across Myanmar, the military appeared to be getting ready to build the deep sea port on the island of Ramree, to the south of here, local people said.

In another sign of the importance of Myanmar to China, the chairman of the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, Fu Chengyu, said in a speech this year that the company would focus its investment in the medium term on two countries: Myanmar and Nigeria. Cnooc engineers are currently exploring for oil on Ramree, and the company has rights to other oil deposits in central Myanmar, according to Myanmar government reports.

India, thirsty for energy to fuel its own fast-growing economy, sees Myanmar as a place where it needs to contain China. In the late 1990s, democratic India switched its policy toward Myanmar from antagonism to friendship.

And Thailand, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, spends about $1.2 billion a year for Myanmar’s natural gas, giving the military government badly needed hard currency.

In conversations with people in a number of towns, a portrait emerged of a universally unpopular, deeply corrupt government. People told of worsening poverty, a collapsed education system and a health care system that could deal only with those who paid. Tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS were rampant, they said.

The government’s budget for its AIDS program in 2004 was $22,000, according to a recent health survey by John Hopkins University Medical School.

The junta leader, Gen. Than Shwe, 73, whose early military training was in psychological warfare, was described by many here as a master manipulator of his minions. He insisted, apparently out of fear of a coup, that the capital be moved this year from Yangon, formerly Rangoon, to a new site in the jungle, Naypyidaw.

The move, costing millions of scarce dollars, was in step with the general’s belief that he marched in the footsteps of the old Burmese kings — the name of the new capital means “Royal City.” Then, as now, there was a fierce line between the rulers and the ruled.

For the first time, health workers said they were discovering severe malnutrition among children in urban centers, a true anomaly in a lush country that was once the world’s biggest exporter of rice.

In Mandalay, the second-biggest city, almost naked children with distended stomachs scrounged on the riverfront. In one village on the Thwande River on the west coast, nomadic families were too strapped for food to offer any to visitors, a traditional courtesy in Myanmar.

“Why is there severe malnutrition in this Garden of Eden? Because people are poor,” said Frank Smithuis, a physician who has worked in Myanmar since 1994 and heads the Doctors Without Borders, Holland, medical programs. “People are going from three meals to two meals to one meal. One meal a day just isn’t enough.”

In the village of Leat Pan Gyunt, south of Sittwe, villagers said they could afford to send their girls to school for only three years. The local school consisted of one dirt-floored room for all grades from first to eighth. The desks were planks of wood supported on two bricks.

Afraid of protests by students, the government dispersed the University of Yangon to sites outside the capital.

At the new Magway University, the medical students were learning surgery from books and videos, without working on human corpses because the government refused to pay for formaldehyde, two people familiar with the situation said.

In contrast to the deepening poverty — Myanmar’s per capita income is calculated at $175 a year, far below neighboring Bangladesh — the military leaders were amassing fortunes, people said.

The latest evidence was a video leaked to a Web site,, based in Thailand, of the recent opulent wedding of General Than Shwe’s daughter, Thandar Shwe. The video showed the bride, with her father alongside her, decked out in a necklace of six ropes of large diamonds, her hair looped with diamonds as well.

For those educated people who want change, the path is treacherous.

“I don’t want to waste myself in jail,” said one woman, who had two relatives imprisoned. “They were not the same when they came out.”

In a similar vein to the dissidents in Eastern Europe in the 1980s, the woman said she believed change had to come from inside the country. But unlike Poland under Soviet rule, no unions are allowed in Myanmar, and most kinds of formal associations are considered suspect.

She said she held classes at her home on how to be more confident, how to strategize. She was trying to spread her classes to Buddhist monasteries and Christian churches, she said.

“Only education can change people because people don’t know anything,” she said. “Only about 10 percent of the people know what is going on.” Sometimes she was in such despair, she said, that she believed that the only way to win against the government was “to think like them.”

“But we can’t think like them,” she added, “nobody thinks like them.”

Not all opposition groups that work outside the country believe that Washington’s hard line is serving the best interests of Myanmar or the United States.

With its policy of isolation, the Bush administration was allowing China, and to a lesser extent, India, to have a free hand in Myanmar to the exclusion of the United States, said Aung Naing Oo, who spent a year at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and who is the author of several books on Myanmar.

“The geopolitical situation favors the Burmese military,” he said. “China and India both want to support it, and the Asian nations have no teeth.”

Still, on a recent trip to Vietnam, a delegation of Myanmar officials heard something that astounded them, he said. They went to find out why Vietnam had become so suddenly prosperous.

“The Vietnamese said one word: ‘The Americans.’ The Burmese could not believe that after fighting a war Vietnam was friendly with the United States.”

"Sex" Education

Recently, the Boy Scouts of the Philippines announced that they will be accepting girls into the ranks of the BSP.

This, not surprisingly, pissed off the Girl Scouts of the Philippines.

Boy scouts cannot teach girl scouts to be “womanly women,” said the GSP

"We do as many challenges now as the boy scouts and we are part of an international organization, which is the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. We have relevant programs like in Africa about HIV-AIDS, and here in the country, we are also doing programs even in reproductive health, awareness of what a girl is. A girl is different from a boy in the first place, why are they saying too girly?" she [Dr. Cristina Yuson] said.

This brings up a good debate, do organizations such as the Boy Scouts have a right to choose who gets to be a member?

Raul Pangalangan gives some very good insights into this question, particularly the notion of the "right to expressive association".

Basically, the right to expressive association means that if your freedom of expression as an organization is linked to the kinds of people you allow to become members, then you essentially have a right to discriminate among your applicants.

This may seem a bit mindboggling, but the idea here is that if your organization is sending a specific message that requires a particular membership (say, the GOP for instance), your organization can exclude people from joining (say, card-carrying Democrats, if there are any).

This was the case when the US Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to boot a homosexual from its ranks.

This kind of mindset might allow for a certain danger of discrimination, but then again, the burden of proof is that your membership has to exclude people to properly express its views.

Another thing that needs to be discussed regarding this development was, what is the difference between the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts in the first place? Aside from the obvious, of course.

It all boils down to the age-old question of whether or not there are inherent differences between genders that requires different activities and actions to be undertaken. Makes you wonder if there are any studies regarding this, doesn't it?

In that regard, there is also a movement in the United States that's demanding for single-sex public education to be provided.

The idea being, the government should provide diverse options when it comes to education, and since there are some parents who would prefer to have their kids go to single-sex schools but don't want to pay for an expensive private school, they should provide for this. I don't exactly know if this is reasonable.

But it certainly is debatable.

Single Mothers and their Sex Offender Boyfriends

Single mothers will be able to ask the police to check the background of a new partner to find out whether he is a sex offender under moves being considered by the Home Office, the Guardian can reveal.

For those of you who like debating about registered sex offenders and pedophiles but are pretty tired of the same issue all over again, this might just be the issue for you.

It is a pretty interesting proposal, especially since single mothers are probably the no. 1 targets of child sex offenders.

At first glance this might seem like a pretty skewed motion. How can you possibly argue against protecting people from these registered sex offenders?

But as the article says (and as the proposal attempts to address), this kind of policy might be open to abuse. You might have these single mothers actively promoting and advertising that Mr. A is really a pedophile. In which case, you will have the whole 'right to privacy' debacle on your hands.

More importantly though, how about these sex offenders? What happens if you were a sex offender but you got help and now you don't stalk children anymore? Are you still considered a sex offender because of your past actions? If so, is it right to continue your punishment through the persecution you're going to get from this kind of policy?

My question is, if this can be the case, what's stopping the government from disclosing the same information schools and other public/private institutions that cater to children? Or do they do so already? I don't really know.

All in all, in a debate like this, you are inevitably going to have to give a discussion the same issues that any pedophile debate might entail. What you have to be careful about is being able to provide the proper nuance that would keep your debate from being generic.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More On Net Neutrality

The Consumerist, a blog accounting the tales of woe suffered by the little man from the Big Bad Corporations, gives you more matter on the issue of net neutrality. You can go with why net neutrality is good, or you can go with why net neutrality is bad.

Friday, November 10, 2006

An Oldie but a Goodie

The issue of criminals and their published memoirs is certainly nothing new, but the British government has come up with a new proposal to stop ex-convicts from being able to profit from published works about their crimes.

The operative word here being "profit", the current proposal doesn't seem to restrict these criminals from getting their life experiences published, just that they can't get any kind of profit from them.

Good thing Martha Stewart is American.

By virtue of the fact that this issue is ancient, you won't see this being debated anymore (certainly not in the last few tournaments). This issue is a good one for beginners to train on because it requires more logical thinking and argumentation rather than knowledge on technical matter (although being able to cite a few examples always helps).

For example, why is it so wrong for criminals to profit from publishing their criminal acts? By serving their sentences, they've already paid their debt to society. Why should additional, across-the-board, penalties be accorded to them after the fact?

On the other hand, as the article says, criminals being able to profit from their works goes against the very principles of natural justice, and justice isn't just measured by how much time is served in prison.

One can even argue that the proposal is trying to have its cake and eat it too - they recognize the value of these published memoirs (after all, they're not disallowing it) but they don't recognize the value of compensation for these criminals' experiences. What makes these two values so mutually exclusive? And wouldn't that be self-defeating since without any form of monetary compensation, criminals won't be inclined to share their life stories and thus destroying the value that they so want to protect?

Really good issue. People should start discussing this again.

Socializing Medicine

As the Democrats take over the US Congress, the issue of health care becomes hot again. Slate has a good perspective on what's happening now. The basic idea being argued here is that the current system of health care in the US (that is, privatized health care) isn't working and it's time to start thinking of socializing health care the same way it is in Canada, UK and France. The clincher is this,

the United States spends about twice what Canada, France, and the United Kingdom do on health care (all three have socialized medicine) yet ranks lower than these countries on life expectancy and higher on infant mortality.

Read it.

Madonna's Madonna Complex

In recent years, the "in" thing for celebrities has been to adopt orphans from third-world countries and display them to the paparazzi as if they were the latest piece of jewelry. Madonna has been the latest offender/defender of these orphans and has made this issue relevant again.

The issue in question? Not particularly having celebrities use people as ornaments, but the idea of trans-racial adopting, and whether or not that's an action that should be condoned.

This kind of activity isn't particularly new. This kind of practice has been going on for years, so much so that it has become part of Popular Culture already, as manifested in Arrested Development.

Certainly, there is a value to be had for trans-racial adoptions. Children who would have otherwise have grown up poor in a third world country without proper care or medication literally have a new world open to them.

Then again, it also has its own problems. What happens to that particular child's own culture? What about his identity? What happens if he/she's alienated in the predominantly White society that he/she's presumably going to be living in?

There's also the question of what the point of trans-racial adoption is. Why adopt people from another country if there are orphans in your own country that you can adopt as well? Adopting one child is certainly not going to alleviate poverty. What are the implications of trans-racial adopting, and should they be encouraged/discouraged?

In any case, the assessment of values in this debate probably boils down to two things - the child in particular and third-world children and the society in general.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Hacking Democracy

To mark the US Midterm Elections and to partly explain why despite all evidence to the contrary, I think that the Republicans are going to maintain control of the US Legislature, this is an HBO documentary explaining almost point by point how the elections in the US HAVE been rigged and CAN be rigged in so many levels and how nobody in government is doing anything about it.

The best part is in the end, where they demonstrate the 21st century version of dagdag-bawas.

This is why I can't understand why a lot of people keep on insisting that we need to "modernize" our voting system. Any ten-year old with a computer will tell you that any digital system can be co-opted, the DRM wars is just the easiest example.

That's the entire movie by the way. One hour and twenty minutes, so it might take awhile.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Further reading on disabled newborns.

The Guardian has further insight into the issue of euthanasia for disabled newborns.

Another thing you need to clarify with this issue, you're not supposed to be talking about cases wherein the disabilities are detectable during pregnancy. Those cases are different, and they fall in another debate. That is, aborting fetuses that have birth defects. The cases that you are supposed to be talking about are those that aren't detected during pregnancy or those detected during the third trimester, depending on which context you're going for (some countries allow abortions as long as they're before the third trimester). This might seem like a small and insignificant difference, but in a messy and/or high-level round, this can make or break your team. Not specifying these things only make it more possible for the debate to be more muddled up later and as most of you should know, you can't just "clarify" this in a point of information or in the next speaker.

In any case, the most striking point I found in the article above is this,

The UK Disabled People's Council yesterday rejected discussion of euthanasia for newborn babies. "It is not for medical professionals or indeed anyone else like families to determine whether someone else's quality of life will be good simply on the grounds of impairment or health condition," said its parliamentary worker, Simone Aspis.

Which is true. But then again, the question remains, who does? How do you qualify "quality of life"? That then becomes an issue in the debate that you need to settle. As opposition, it might be strategic to say something like that but you have to be able to answer it as well. If the parents are the determinant of quality of life, why are they so? This gets more and more complicated the further you go, but then again, that's what makes this an interesting debate.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Mercy Killing for Disabled Newborns

Britain's Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecology are lobbying for the legalization of euthanasia for disabled newborns.

This seems to be a pretty interesting perspective on an old standby. It certainly has a different dynamic to it. It's one thing to talk about the killing of a terminally ill/disabled patient that's lived a long life, it's another thing to talk about the killing of one that has his/her whole life ahead of him/her. However, the same question of quality of life still applies. In protecting life, does the quality of that life factor in?

This debate gets even more complicated when you try to set it up. How would you define what a "disabled newborn" is? Does a crack baby qualify? How about if the baby is just genetically blind? You have to be careful in how you set this debate up lest you suddenly find yourself defending something you weren't exactly planning to, such as killing babies that just can't walk. What kind of disability you eventually choose to discuss has to be so bad as to warrant taking someone's life.

Sensitivity is also something you need to watch out for. You can't just talk about these babies as if they were statistics. Doing so only serves to turn off a lot of people. Be careful how you package your arguments.

In my opinion, this issue becomes harder if you're to oppose it. You have to justify why child barely alive has to live the next 40 years in life-support systems, never truly living.

One possible track is mentioned in the article, how such a policy only serves to promote bigotry for disabled people, as if they were lesser human beings.

If you can't make the connections for that argument, realize that the only other living beings killed for their disabilities are horses with broken legs.

The best strategy that an opposition team should take (at least I think so) would be to try and frame the issue as if it was a typical euthanasia issue.

Then again, in a debate, anything could happen.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

For a Redrawn Middle East

Ralph Peters from the Armed Forces Journal is making the case for a Middle East with borders that follow cultural/religious boundaries instead of the current borders that were made by the European empires of the 19th Century.

Now this would make for an interesting debate. Does a peaceful Middle East require redrawn territories? Or can we attain peace in the region in despite the current configuration?

This would also be a pretty complicated debate. How do you draw the borders? How can you make sure that every country in the region is satisfied? How do you deal with Israel?

On one hand, you have the Squiggly border theory, an NBER study done by a couple of Harvard economists that basically states that the more squiggly the borders, the better chances for growth while the less squiggly the borders, the more worse off the state is. This stems from the idea that straight borders indicate a state that was artificially determined (most of the time from some invading colonial/imperial power) whereas squiggly borders indicate a state that was more naturally determined. The straight bordered countries are worse off because the state was created without consideration of cultural, religious and/or ethnic conflicts within the region.

On the other hand, you have the example of Yugoslavia, proving that peace and development might not necessarily be accomplished by a state formed by ethnicity.

Then again, this is the Middle East, so who knows?