Thursday, January 28, 2016

Dialogue session with Justice Antonin Scalia at NUS Law

Antonin Scalia, an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, visited my school yesterday for a dialogue session, which I attended. Justice Antonin Scalia is probably one of the more colorful judges on the US Supreme Court bench. At least, I hear more about him than the other Supreme Court judges. The other judge that I do hear and read somewhat about in the news is Justice Anthony Kennedy. The more popular American media outlets that I come more often across tend to be left-wing. They are shared more often by my peers on facebook, and have more channels on my cable television subscription. These include online news media such as New York Times and the Washington Post, and television shows such as The Daily Show with John Stewart, and Real Time with Bill Maher. Justice Antonin Scalia is one of the subjects which these more left-leaning media would lampoon or criticize. My more conservative friends in Singapore, especially those in my Christian community, have a much more favorable view of Justice Antonin Scalia, and I believe this is likewise in the US if I should watch some conservative television channels like FoxNews.

One of the reason why Justice Antonin Scalia would be viewed more favourably by social conservatives is because he is more guarded against reading certain rights, such as right to abortion or same-sex marriage, as stemming from the American Constitution/Bill of rights. His position would be that these rights ought to be legislated by the government of the respective states rather than through a blanket constitutional guarantee when the constitution doesn’t say anything about providing for such rights. He espouses a original intent/textualist approach towards interpreting the constitution, which roughly means that the constitution should be read according to what the drafters of the constitution intended when they drafted those texts. Opponents of such a manner of constitution interpretation would suggests a ‘living tree’ approach, such that the Constitution should be read to correspond with the needs of its times, or of its ethos.

Indeed, one of the pet subjects talked about by Justice Antonin Scalia in the dialogue session yesterday was his adherence to his preferred form of interpretation jurisprudence. Words, he says, must be given their ‘fair meaning’, according to the texts in its contexts, rather than subverted from this by some other broader method of interpretation that are prone to the subjective whims of individual judges. From the Wikipedia page about him, it says that he also dislikes using legislative history as a tool for interpretation. Legislative history involves things like reviewing changes to a statute over time to determine how to interpret the words of the statute. I am not sure whether Justice Antonin Scalia frowns upon using parliament/Congress readings from when the bill is being passed to aid in interpretation of the statute. At least in Singapore, this is allowed in the Interpretation Act section 9A, and is not discouraged.

There were several other things that were talked about at the dialogue session. But at least two of the students at the dialogue session asked him questions relating to obergefell v. hodges, the case where prohibition against same-sex marriage was ruled as unconstitutional in the US. The first student asked Justice Scalia what he meant when he said that the decision didn’t affect or interest him that much as reported in some article. I suppose why people found this remark by Justice Scalia puzzling was because it seem relatively indifferent compared to his dissenting judgment which was rather forceful and scathing of the majority judgment. Justice Scalia replied that what he meant by that was that even though same-sex marriage was deemed a constitutional guarantee, he as a Roman Catholic was still free to not practice it or to recognize it personally, and as such, it doesn’t affect him personally, though he acknowledged that it might have some repercussion on related issues such as whether a priest can refuse to solemnize a same-sex marriage. The second student asked Justice Scalia whether his scathing remarks in his judgment affected relationship with his colleagues on the bench. Justice Scalia replied that all said and done, he did shook hands with the other judges whose opinions differed from his, including Justice Kennedy. I don’t know what relationship is like between Justice Scalia and all the other judges, but I have read at least that Justice Scalia and Justice Ruth Ginsberg are good friends, even though they stand on opposite sides on many issues of the law, especially where there is a divide of social ideology.

I wish I had the opportunity to ask Justice Scalia for his personal insights about making sense of the depiction in the American media about the judiciary being as polarized as its politics, but I didn’t get to ask it due to lack of time. From my casual viewing of sources from the American Media, a lot of things seem to be polarized between left and right, liberals and conservatives, democrats and republicans. Is this necessarily an accurate picture when it comes to the American judiciary as well? I believe that there are many issues where things are not as polarized, or at least, not along the same lines as the liberal and conservative agenda. Most areas of law involve somewhat mundane issues such as determining liability for breach of contract and the appropriate remedies to be awarded, compensating victims of accidents and torts, etc. There is little to disagree about on these issues based on liberal or conservative ideologies. I wanted to glean whether Justice Scalia adhere to his interpretation jurisprudence because he genuinely believes that this is the right way of doing so, or whether there is some other motivations to it, such as politics? I believe some people who believe in the realpolitik or legal realist brand of school of thought would construe it as the latter. That is however a question that cuts close to the heart, and I doubt that those whose motivations are in the latter category will be honest about it. At least from my impression, Justice Antonin Scalia’s adherence to his espoused method of legal interpretation seems to be out of his genuine conviction that this method of legal interpretation is sound on its own merits, rather than out of some other motivations that is political in nature. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Memorial service for my grandmother

I went to Malaysia on Sunday yesterday with my family (my parents and my younger brother). We were there to go for the memorial service of my deceased maternal grandmother who had passed away in 2001. We went to the cemetery together with my maternal relatives. My maternal grandfather was there too. For the memorial, we sang the songs “shi shang zhi you mama hao”, “Mother of Mine” by Neil Reid, “What a friend we have in Jesus”, and “Amazing Grace”. The first two songs were dedicated to my deceased grandmother, and the last two were Christian songs. I believe all of us there were familiar with all of the songs except Mother of Mine, which was selected by an aunt of mine to be sung at the memorial service, but we tried singing along anyway based on the probably off-key rendition song led by that aunt of mine. No one would have ever guessed that the song would have sounded the way it does in the actual version on youtube after having heard my aunt’s rendition. We also said our individual prayers thanking God for the life of my grandmother. My grandfather prayed that my grandmother will bless all of her grandchildren in their studies and careers, and told her that we all love her very much. I don’t think that prayers directed to a deceased is appropriate according to Christian customs, but I can understand the emotional aspect of wishing to communicate to a departed loved one. Moreover, my maternal grandfather wasn’t a Christian most of his life, but conformed to the deathbed wish of my grandmother that he would become one so that he could be in heaven in the afterlife with her. He now goes to the same church as my family, but I don’t think he ever quite adopts the belief-system or practices (like praying) associated with the religion. In my opinion, he seems somewhat indifferent to religious matters. As someone who is more familiar with the Christian religion due to my upbringing, I have asked my grandfather whether he prays to God. He was taciturn about talking about such things, and I presume that it is most likely the case he does not.

Anyway, we went to celebrate my grandfather’s birthday at a Chinese restaurant later on that day. My grandfather is in his 80’s. The food was good, and it was fairly pleasant for me to be able to catch up with some of my relatives about their lives as we have not met in quite a long while. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Viewing God’s response to prayers as privilege and not entitlements

Part of my frustration with my chronic tension headache condition comes from the thought that God seems to be ignoring my prayers for healing. I wonder why God would not answer my prayers in the most direct and apparent way by healing me completely of my tension headache if he is indeed real, and hears my prayers. There are times when I feel so frustrated over this thought that I resolve to myself that the answer is God does not exists. But then, given some time, I would relent on that position, and attempt to find answers to give God the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps God is doing something to help me. He might be using gradual means rather than instantaneous ones. Or as the Christian trope would go, God’s will abides by his time. There might be some wisdom to such a saying. Moreover, when I consider that the alternative is one of disbelief in God, which does nothing to help me with my tension headache problem, I find myself perceiving God’s help in a different way – that it is a privilege more than it is an entitlement. If under the normal scheme of things, should things proceed according to nature without any intervention by God, that there be no healing, then healing on the part of God should be perceived as a favor to divert away from such an undesirable outcome, and the lack of such favor granted should invite no more disgruntlement than if God were not to exist and our problems persists in the natural course of things.

I wonder if this thought makes sense. Perhaps another way to explain my thought here is that often times, it is easy to get disappointed with God over the perceived lack of answer to one’s own prayers, when such disappointment is not warranted since God is not duty-bound to answer such prayers in the first place. On second thought, I think it is quite harsh that disappointment should be seen in such a negative light. Perhaps, it is understandable if one gets disappointed, but we shouldn’t go to the extent of being disgruntled with God because that shows that we are mistaking any positive response on God’s part as an entitlement rather than simply a privilege to ourselves. I wonder whether the same can be said of the ancient Israelites who grumbled against God in the desert because they wanted something which God was not duty-bound to give them. If they had merely expressed disappointment, God might not have been so angry at them.

I suppose I am guilty of such disgruntlement. More than that, I have probably expressed anger at God. I still want my healing, and I would hope that God would not make it so hard for me to get it, but I suppose I could very well have a certain greater depth of perspective regarding unanswered prayers, rather than instinctively becoming unhappy and getting angry at God. I would imagine a more emulable biblical character responding in a more dispassionate manner to unanswered prayers with “Well…if it isn’t the Lord’s will, then it is just as well, and so be it”, and I guess I could try to adopt the same attitude.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Thoughts about Euthanasia

I would like to write my thoughts about the issue of Euthanasia, or the right to assisted suicide. Part of the reason why I am motivated to do so is because I have been thinking quite somewhat about the issue, and another part is because I come across blog posts by fellow Christians who strongly oppose the legalisation of Euthanasia.

The brief summary of thoughts on euthanasia is that it should be legalised, but strictly regulated so that the option of euthanasia is only available to the genuinely dire and necessary cases. I don’t think that there are any stronger case for providing the option for euthanasia than when one reads about cases of patients with really insufferable diseases that torments them to no ends and with no respite until they die. For example, I once read of this case of a man with the well-known neurodegenerative disease, ALS, who requested to be given the option of assisted suicide, but was denied that option by the court. The way he died was by suffocation from choking on his saliva to death. I really can’t identify when conservatives argue that euthanasia should not be allowed because it infringes upon the principle of sanctity of life, or the right to life. Try saying that to those people suffering from these painful terminal illnesses pleading that they be given the option to end their own lives. “I know you are undergoing a lot of pain and want to die, but I am not going to allow you to, because principle of sanctity of life. You can choke on your saliva to death for all I care, or writhe in agony while the cancer eats away at you, but nope, no assisted suicide for you, because, well, principle of sanctity of life.” I am not sure whether conservatives who make these arguments are aware how cruel and unsympathetic their arguments sound, perhaps almost to the point of being silly. That is the problem of taking some principle as absolute and extrapolating them all the way I guess. It may sound rational, but only if you subscribe to the same paradigm of these principles being absolute. My thoughts is that the principle of sanctity of life, while a principle that should be accorded great weight, has to be considered together with other factors, notwithstanding the least, the principle of consent and dignity of life. If a patient is suffering from a really painful, terminable illness, and no other treatment options are able to cure or alleviate such pains, then perhaps, assisted suicide should be warranted with the patient’s consent.

The other argument conservatives raise is that such options are prone to abuse. I can agree with that, but isn’t this easily addressed by ensuring that certain regulatory features are in place? For one, there needs to be consent. For two, the illness must be recognised as being terminable, with all other forms of treatment options exhausted. Perhaps a more restrictive approach could employ a list regulating kinds of illnesses where the option of assisted suicide is available. Perhaps the regulatory issues are more complicated, but I am sure that they can be further refined. But to do away completely with the option of assisted suicide simply because of these regulatory issues seems to swing to the conservative extreme to me. While I identify with conservatives on a number of issues, euthanasia is not one of them. I hope that those conservatives who oppose euthanasia can somehow take on a more sympathetic view if they should consider their own personal susceptibility to such debilitating and tormenting illnesses. They might one day wish the option of assisted suicide is available to them should they find themselves beset with such illnesses someday, but find that it isn’t because they had opposed it their entire lives, and now find that those they had encouraged to oppose euthanasia similarly oppose them too from resorting to such an option at a time when they most wish it for themselves.

Visit to the neurologist; thoughts about visiting other specialists

I visited the neurologist at the hospital today. This is the third time I am seeing a neurologist over my tension headache condition. The short story of the end of the matter is that I left without a solution to my tension headache once again. Indeed, I had my reservations about seeing the neurologist as I expected such an outcome, but I figured that I should consult another neurologist for a third opinion, just in case he or she might have something useful. Guess that as it turns out, I am fully convinced that the neurology department is not able to provide a solution to my tension headache condition. All that I hear from the neurologist is that she is not worried about my condition as it is simply a tension headache. I was a little upset that the neurologist seems to treat my problem dismissively, but I guess I can’t really fault her when the limitation is inherent in the scope of the field of her medical knowledge. But I suppose that these neurologists could be a little more humble about the possible limitations of their medical knowledge, rather than assume that just because they can’t identify anything wrong, it means there really isn’t anything wrong, and that all is well with their patient, and the patient’s problems is irrational or imaginary.

Anyway, I am thinking of visiting a different specialist the next time. I have in mind an ENT specialist – one who is specialized in the medical knowledge of ears, nose, and throat. How would such a specialist help? I am too sure, but I encountered an article from a facebook support group that a patient who seems to experience a condition quite like mine found the appropriate treatment when he visited an ENT specialist. He had been struggling with chronic headaches for six years, and like me, had gone to numerous doctors and specialists, without finding an answer to his problem. In fact, the doctors started to regard him as having a psychiatric illness or angling for drugs due to his persistence. But he found an answer to his problem one day when he came across an old medical article (see here for more information) describing his condition and treatment for it. He took it to an ENT specialist, who treated him for the headache with some minor surgery, and was relieved of the headache almost immediately. I suppose I could consult an ENT specialist as well about such a condition and for his opinion on the matter. I am also seeking alternative medical therapies that might be helpful. I have been giving traditional Chinese medicine treatment involving gua sha a try, and I think it helps somewhat in alleviating the intensity of my tension headaches. I am also interested to give chiropractic a try as well, especially after viewing some youtube videos of it as being able to cure tension headaches. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Thoughts about addressing unbelief of others, and asking God to help with unbelief

At a Christian fellowship group meet today at school, a member leading the session went through the passage of Psalms 88 and Mark 9:14-29 where Jesus healed a boy with an evil spirit. The member leading the session talked about how the Psalmist in Psalms 88 experienced moments of doubts about God in his hardship, so much so that he made rather seemingly irreverent remarks about God in his lament that might seem blasphemous in nature. The member talked about how it is possible for fellow believers to experience similar doubts about God, and that quite often, such doubts go suppressed in Christian settings, and it is quite convenient for fellow Christians to push away such doubts from a fellow Christian because of their discomfort with handling it. The member referred to the Mark passage, and made the point that at times, what we can do about our doubts is to ask God to help us with our unbelief.

This session resonated with me because I have been experiencing some grave doubts about my faith in recent years given my hardships in life. And I can quite identify with the point made by the member that such sentiments are not too well accommodated in Christian settings at times. But to be fair, I am not sure what would be the right way to address such sentiments as well. There are Christians I know who would approach this by boldly telling the doubting person that he should just trust God and not doubt. Some other Christians would just try to allow the doubting person to talk out his sentiments without offering too much comments. Then there are those Christians who would try to afford an explanation, or some wisdom to the doubting person. For me, I will tell the doubting person that I too have similar doubts, but that I think it is okay to doubt, and that God is bigger than to be upset at our doubts, but that we should also try to give God the benefit of the doubt. I suppose different people may respond differently to different approaches, so I wouldn’t want to overly criticize any of the different approaches. But there are some which I find myself adverse to, so much so that I prefer not to relay my doubts to that Christian person whom I know would simply belittle my doubts.

Where I am with my own doubts right now, I think I am at the point where I think that there is a distinct possibility that God does not exist. It seems to me that he is virtually absent from the world, or from my life at least. Regarding the point made by the member that we can ask God to help us with our unbelief, I wonder to myself why I should even ask God to help me with my unbelief when it is quite possible that God does not exist in the first place. I guess my unbelief is the one talking there, rather than the believing part of me. I once watched a video featuring a talking session amongst four prominent atheists who are colloquially known as the Four Horsemen of Atheism– Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. In that dialogue amongst the four individuals, they talked about why believers seem so persistent in their belief in God. Christopher Hitchens made the point that one of the chief reasons which he identifies for persistence of belief is the act of the believer to ask God to help him with his unbelief. I guess from an atheist point of view, the asking for God’s help with unbelief is a rut which prevents the believer from embracing his unbelief and coming to the truth of atheism. Where I am at right now, I am pretty inundated by unbelief so much so that I don’t even want to ask God to help me with my unbelief. I tell God that if he wants to help me with my unbelief, he should remove my hardships in life, rather than demand my psychological attitude of belief towards him. I am not sure how God, if he does exist, will respond to my attitude towards him. I told the group that I think that God helps us with our unbelief even if we do not ask for it. Honestly though, I am not sure. But if there is any reason why I still continue believing in God, it is that I hope he would do something to alleviate me of my hardships in life.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Some thoughts about the Singapore general election – Coming to a tacit consensus for apportioning constituencies between PAP and the opposition.

The Singapore General Election is just around the corner. This would be my first time voting, since the last time the election was held, which was 5 years ago, I was a year too young below the minimum age requirement to vote. What are some of my thoughts regarding voting at this general election? Well, I believe that I should vote for what is good for my country, which would affect me and my loved ones as well in one way or another. As to what is good for Singapore and Singaporeans, I am not too sure, but I believe that the status quo of majority PAP as the ruling party, with WP as the minority opposition is comfortable and desirable.

I believe that the incumbent government composed of chiefly the PAP party has done a pretty good job since coming into parliament in the last election. But I can also empathize with the desire by Singaporeans to maintain a proportion of opposition members within the ranks of parliament to provide checks and balance on the ruling party, and also to keep the ruling party on their toes and not become complacent. The ideal composition I believe that most Singaporeans want would be a parliament with PAP as the majority ruling party, and an appropriately sized opposition in the minority.

I think it would work well if Singaporeans can come to some form of tacit consensus on who should vote for which political party based on the constituencies they reside in. I believe one such tacit consensus that may already be prevailing would be that those living in currently-held opposition constituencies should continue voting in the opposition, whilst those living in constituencies currently held by the incumbent ruling party, the PAP, should continue voting for the PAP. The difficulty however lie where Singaporeans wishes to vote in more opposition, but also keep the PAP as the majority ruling party. The difficulty and danger in an election though is that in trying to vote for more opposition representation in parliament without any form of tacit consensus, it is possible to swing too greatly in favor towards the opposition and grant them more seats than what ordinary Singaporeans would be comfortable with, or to be too adverse towards voting any opposition and not vote in enough. I am not sure what the prevailing sentiment amongst the majority of Singaporeans is regarding the number of opposition that should be voted in, whether this should be maintained at status quo, increased, or decreased. In my opinion, the status quo number of opposition is just right, and I don’t think there needs to be so much checks and balance on the ruling party by voting in more opposition if the PAP has been doing a good job, and remain clean and honest as the government given the existing number of opposition members. In my opinion, it would do well for similarly like-minded Singaporeans to vote along some lines of tacit consensus in order to reduce uncertainty of outcomes in the election, and my suggestion of where that line of tacit consensus would be is the status quo, both in terms of the numbers and the current constituencies held by the respective parties. 

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