Saturday, March 22, 2003

Anti-war protests are heating up in Indonesia with American fast-food outlets being targeted. McDonalds is very popular here in Indonesia. There's one in Jakarta that's open 24 hours.

America is loved and hated so much all over the world. I am not very fond of fastfoods. But for the greater part of my working life, I have worked for American companies.

While the world is in 'shock and awe' last night over the aerial bombardment of Baghdad, I had already tucked myself comfortably into bed in my hotel room in Jakarta. Haven't been feeling well for the past week due probably to lack of sleep and an overdose of war news on TV. Been leaving the TV on for the whole night for the past week; so last night, I decided to switch everything off.

For the first time for a while, I was in complete silence and darkness. Sleep didn't come that well though. But this morning my strength has returned a bit. My body's immune system is fighting its war against God knows what kind of bugs that are trying to take advantage of my temporary weakness. While over in Iraq, the coalition forces are routing the Iraqi army as expected, the outcome of the war raging in my body is not so certain yet.

The images of Baghdad under heavy bombardment reminds me of the opening scene of Blade Runner. Plumes of fire and smoke floating over a metropolitan night sky. In the poignant finale of the movie, the dying replicant played by Rutger Hauer saves the pursuing blade runner played by Harrison Ford from plunging to his death. Even a genetically engineered being on the throes of his death values life - any life - more than anything else.

Is this war just? There is no simple answer. Looks like war is a moral dilemma Man will continue to face again and again.

Friday, March 21, 2003

Michael Backman, author of "The Asian Eclipse", said that Malaysia often gets bad publicity in international presses because of bad PR handling. The recent police raids on Malaysiakini is a good example. 'Mahathir raids Internet critic' , yells an Australian newspaper. Often over-zealous civil servants over-stepped their boundaries when they tried to implement government policies. Another recent case is the police raid on Indian nationals at Palm Court who turned out to be legitimate IT professionals.

And of course, the biggest bungle of all by the Malaysian police was the Anwar affair. Even Lee Kuan Yew couldn't help himself but to come to Dr M's defence by telling the press in an interview that Dr M did not not order the arrest of Anwar under the ISA but the Police Chief was the one who did it. It is Dr M's style to come to his civil servant's defence and to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Bad PR has cost Malaysia too much already. Often statements from the government are not made in a coordinated and coherent fashion, with everyone from party minnows to ministers giving their two-cents worth. The water talks with Singapore is another example. The many confusing statements made by everyone had allowed the Singaporean government to accuse Malaysia of constantly flip-flopping on its stand.

Ministers in Malaysia are too used to making off-the-cuff statements which often come back to bite them later. Perhaps that's the Malaysian style. Everyone is entitled to his coffee-shop talk. This blog is merely a cyber version of coffee-shop talk.

Backman said that paying too little regard to the PR side of things had allowed two things to happen. It has allowed some journalists to assume the worst motives and to see conspiracies where often there are none.

Take Mr Backman's advice, treat journalists as the link between the government and the electorate. In politics, perception is everything.

Saddam Hussein will most likely continue setting fire to oil fields as the coalition forces extends its stranglehold on Iraq. This scorch earth policy pursued by Saddam during the Gulf war in 1991 resulted in all of the Kuwaiti oil fields being set ablaze by Iraqi soldiers.

Mother Nature bleeds and burns when Man wages war. This is the biggest casualty of all.

Anyone for sanitized wayang kulit (shadow play)? Visit Kelantan, Malaysia. I thought only communists purge "decadent" elements from a country's cultural heritage, looks like PAS is following suit. Even Makyong and Dikir Barat has been banned.

The new "wayang kulit" approved by PAS will not depict tales from Ramayana and Mahabarata but will depict ordinary folks. Cultural revolution, PAS-style.

4 tonnes of ammonium nitrate has been found by the Malaysian police in a oil palm plantation in Muar. This amount of ammonium nitrate can be used by JI to build a bomb larger than the one used for the Oklahoma bombing.

At the meantime, bombs are raining down on Iraqi cities. Smart bombs.

The first coalition casualties - from a chopper crash. Like the last Gulf war, there will be more casualities on the coalition side from friendly fire and accidents than from actual combat with Iraqi forces.

And if war drags on, the biggest enemies will be the protesters back home.

SARS is spooking everyone. There's almost nothing you can do to avoid or prevent it. You have to bank on your body's immune system.

People are now afraid to travel to HK, Singapore, Vietnam and South China. As if the war and the on-going terrorist treat are not bad enough. When I was a kid, dengue fever was the most common epidemic (It still is). Serious cases can cause death. The disease is carried by the Aedes mosquito. Mosquitoes, coughs and sneezes are now harbingers of death.

The US tried to "decapitate" the Iraqi military machine by targeting the leadership in the first bombing strikes. This is a big change of tactic from the previous Gulf War when the US categorically denied that Saddam Hussein himself was targeted in any of the bombings. Like psychological warfare, "decapitation" can help to shorten the war and save lives.

Donald Rumsfeld in his press briefing persuaded the Iraqi military not to support the already doomed regime of Saddam Hussein:

"The Iraqi soldiers and officers must ask themselves whether they want to die fighting for a doomed regime or do they want to survive, help the Iraqi people in the liberation of their country and play a role in a new free Iraq."

Psychological warfare is used with much greater prominence in this conflict. If it works well, a lot of lives could be saved.

Celtic beat Liverpoool 2-0 in the UEFA Cup quarterfinals. Big disappointment for Liverpool again after being knocked out of the Champion's League and FA Cup. Looks like they have to be contented with just the Worthington Cup this season and fight for a place in the Champion's League.

Liverpool is meeting Leeds United this Sunday. Hope they can pull themselves together after this defeat and come up with 3 valuable points.

The other match between Bush and Saddam enters its second day....

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Liverpool is playing Celtic tonight in the UEFA Cup quarterfinals return leg at Anfield. The first leg ended at 1-1 with the critical away goal scored by Emille Heskey. Glad there's something else to look forward to besides the grim news about the on-going war on TV. I'll probably catch the results on BBC tomorrow morning.

Liverpool is trying to regain its old form but they seem to be doing well in the past few games. Good luck to Liverpool - the team I've been supporting since I was a kid!

Saddam Hussein has never been short of colourful rhetoric. It was he who popularized the phrase "the mother of all battles" back in 1991. Since then whenever journalists run out of superlatives to describe anything, they will say "this is the mother of all .......". Now Saddam has appeared on TV after the initial wave of bombing from US at the crack of dawn in Baghdad with a new set of rhetoric, asking Iraqi to "draw your swords" against the "infidels".

No wonder Reality TV draws the viewers.

Peter Arnett's 'Baghdad Diaries' to Broadcast Worldwide

Apparently Peter Arnett is still doing what he does best - reporting from the ground in war-zone Baghdad, this time for CameraPlanet.

Former CNN correspondent Peter Arnett recalling the onset of the Gulf War in 1991:

"The most vivid were the first hours of the air war in which Baghdad was subjected to the most severe bombing in military history. We had a bird's-eye view of the whole event from the ninth floor of the Al-Rashid Hotel in the middle of Baghdad, which was where the media was staying. The bombing began at 2:30 a.m. Baghdad time on an absolute clear starry night. So we could see all the bombs exploding across the city. And it was incredibly dramatic......"

Back then, I was still a research student in the university. I remember following the Gulf War from an old TV set in the lab. Those green images of tracers flying through the Iraqi night sky and British pilots captured by Iraqi soldiers paraded on TV still remain vivid in my mind.

It has been more than a decade ago. I am older and hopefully wiser. Humanity it seems will always be in perpetual state of infancy - each generation repeating the mistakes of the last. We always claim that we learn from history. But the amazing thing is how little we actually do.

France, Russia and Germany insist US acting illegally - disappointment is expressed by many countries over the initiation of war by the US.

. "It's a tragedy,'' said Chile's U.N. Ambassador Gabriel Valdes. "Another tragedy is going to begin now.'' - AP

It will either be a tragedy or a triumphant victory for the US. If the war ends quickly and the Iraqi army surrenders without much ressistance and US forces are being cheered by Iraqis into Baghdad, then it will be a vindication of US and British action.

If it becomes a protracted affair, with bitter street-to-street fighting and heavy civilian casualties, then it is a tragedy.
A tragedy of great proportions.

CNN must be relishing the onset of war. It was the Gulf War that propelled CNN as a global media force. Peter Arnett reported live from Baghdad when the first bombs fell in 1991. Now another live war on TV has just started.

Curl up and enjoy.

Tomahawks are raining down from the skies in Baghdad as George Bush formally announces that the "disarmanment of Iraq" has begun.

The war on Iraq has begun. And we are all sitting comfortably in the comforts of our home watching everything unfold over TV. War is the latest reality TV show.

War should be outlawed, says Mahathir. That is the ideal of a utopian world. Violence and aggression is too ingrained in our genes for us to eliminate them overnight.

We are all still creatures of our genes.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Writing this from my office in Jakarta.
Love the city. Love the isolation.