Friday, April 04, 2003

SMS texting is not as popular in America compared to countries in Asia and Europe. The average for cellular users in the US is only about 7 messages per day compared to the global average of 30. One of the reasons given is that in America, land calls are cheap. It is not surprising therefore even cellular communication is not as popular here compared to the rest of the world. I suspect another reason is culture: Americans have a preference towards verbal rather than written communication. One sees examples of this on their TV: endless talk shows and chatty advertisements which virtually brings the dreaded door-to-door salesman to your living room. From my experience working with my American colleagues, they tend to be keen in communicating verbally - either through face-to-face meetings, conference calls or leaving voice messages. Especially conference calls. Hence I'm not surprised that Americans do not text as much.

For most Asian countries, SMS is considered a cheaper alternative to making voice calls, hence its popularity among the younger generation. It is also considered a hip way of communicating; a whole lexicon of SMS-speak has evolved to overcome the limitation of the 160 characters per message and also the difficulty of keying alphanumerics on a 12-button keypad with one's thumb.

SMS is one of the best things to have come out of the cellular revolution. No one foresaw its eventual popularity. Now it is a way of life for millions of people.

Angered by a US State Department report report about corruption and bad human rights record in Thailand, Prime Minister Shinawatra Thaksin lashed out against the US:

'The US is fond of preaching rectitude to the world. 'But sometimes, the person who teaches never practises what he preaches,'

Many nations are irked by the so-called "arrogant" attitude of the US for acting in a condescending manner towards other smaller nations. The US has this belief that theirs is the best political and social system in the world and there is no reason why other nations should not adopt their best practices.

The US could be right. But they have to understand that changes do not happen overnight. The US is lucky that they have a chance to evolve their system over a long period of time without being harrassed by a critical world opinion. They had their opportunity to learn and make mistakes and they should not deny this right to the new developing nations. "Seek to understand before you are understood" - one of Stephen Covey's "7 habits" is the attitude that the US should adopt.

Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch claims that the US public has an "inferiority complex" when it comes to accepting world opinion over the war in Iraq. He is a big supporter of the war and he urged to the US to forge ahead courageously instead of being deterred unnecessarily by world opinion.

It is surprising that Murdoch, being a media person himself could be so out of touch with the world; "superiority complex" would be a better expression to describe the US's attitude towards the world. When has the US ever bowed to world opinion? The US has always acted based on its own interests. There might be some caution over US public opinion but never world opinion in general.

But one has to acknowledge the fact that the US as the superpower of the world has no choice but to exert its will and act on what it thinks is right. Every conflict in the world is also a US problem. To have to shoulder such responsibility, it is unavoidable that the US must act with a certain amount of authority. This authority is often interpreted as "arrogance".

Yes, the US has to be given the authority to act responsibly for world. But what the world hopes to see is an authority that is exercised with humility, compassion and justice.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Does every one in three people in Malaysia support the US-led war in Iraq as claimed by writer James Wong? So far I personally have not met any who does. Being peace-loving people, most Malaysians take the virtuous albeit simplistic view of abhoring war. But one in three as being supportive of the war sounds pretty reasonable. I think one should not be emotional against people who have a different view from yours. We make our decisions based on the limited facts that are at our disposal. No one can be sure that his or her view is the right one when it comes to matters such as this.

In a utopian world, war indeed should be outlawed, as what Mahathir has suggested in his speech at the recent NAM conference. But history has shown that, the only constant throughout the entire course of human affairs is war. Some historians believe war is a natural state of man and a good leader should not wince but learn to deal with it.

Should the Iraqis be allowed to live under the repressive and barbaric regime of Saddam Hussein or should they be "liberated" by US-led forces in a war which will definitely bring some amount of death and destruction? And what about the Post-Saddam future for Iraq? Is there going to be more strife and torn in this land that is the cradle of civilization?

Only time with tell.

While the world was preoccupied with the Iraq war and Asians busy protecting themselves with the SARS virus, a shocking event happened on 1st of April - Leslie Cheung commited suicide. Many thought it was a bad April Fool's joke but wasn't.

Leslie Cheung was one of my favourite Hong Kong actors. Loved his performances in Wong Kar Wai's movies such as Days of Being Wild, Ashes of Time and Happy Together. In a sense, many of us grew up with Leslie Cheung. Who could forget the song "Monica" during the height of the Canto Pop Rock era? He defined the energy and flamboyance of an era now sadly gone.

Perhaps in a morbid way it is a fitting end to an actor who looks eternally boyish and youthful, even at 46 - his youth will forever be immortalized a la James Dean. We will never see a Leslie Cheung graying and withering away as an old man. He will always be an icon of the restless and rebellious youth like the character he played in "Days of Being Wild". For fans like us, his songs and movies are already a part of our lives and will continue living in us throughout the rest of our lives.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

News about how Donald Rumsfeld opted for a war strategy of high-technology and small agile forces against the wishes of Pentagon has been discussed everywhere. Though both Rumsfled and US commander Gen. Franks denied that they were disagreements over the strategy, and despite many reassurances to the contrary from both the US and British side, it is quite clear that the coalition forces have stuttered in the first week of the campaign. Instead of shocking the enemy into submission, they have been stalled, over-stretched and dragged into street-to-street fighting by the Iraqis.

The battle for hearts and minds of the Iraqi is also getting more difficult as the war drags on not if unnecessary civilian casualties like this keep on happening. Seven women and children were killed by US soldiers because the van they drove did not stop after a warning shot was fired. They might be acting within the rules of engagement but they are scoring an own goal again for the benefit of Saddam Hussein. "It was the most horrible thing I've ever seen, and I hope I never see it again," quoted an army medic at the scene.

It is a cruel thing to happen. One could only wish it had been a bad April Fool's joke.

"I am still in shock and awe at being fired," said journalist Peter Arnett has now been hired by anti-war UK tabloid Daily Mirror. I'm sure the interviewed he gave to Iraqi TV shocked and awed the authorities in US too.

"I report the truth of what is happening here in Baghdad and will not apologize for it," said Arnett. Looks like the war on the media front is being fought as bitterly as the one on the ground. As the old adage goes: "The pen is mightier than the sword".

After being fired by NBC for airing his views about the Iraq war in an interview with Iraqi TV, veteran TV journalist Peter Arnett apologized to the American people for his "misjudgement". But he claimed that he was merely expressing what everyone already knew about the war. Arnett also came under criticism in the 1991 Gulf War for reporting that a biological weapon factory bombed by the US was in actual fact a milk powder factory. Despite having differing views, the Iraqis have a respect for him and sees him as a "fellow warrior".

Arnett was also fired by CNN for his report on the alleged use of sarin gas by the US in Laos in 1970 to kill US defectors. For having the guts to go against corporate giants like CNN and standing by what he believes in, he has my respect too. This Pullitzer Prize-winning journalist was also credited for conducting the first ever TV interview with Osama Ben Laden in 1997.

Monday, March 31, 2003

Veteran war reporter Peter Arnett was interviewed by Iraqi TV on Sunday. His comments will definitely not be viewed favourably by the coalition side. He thinks that the original US war plan has failed due to the unexpected resistance of the Iraqis. He even said: "Iraqi friends tell me there is a growing sense of nationalism and resistance to what the United States and Britain is doing."

This will definitely knock a couple of dents into the US's claim that Iraqis will welcome US and British troops as liberating forces.

It is interesting to read that Labour party chairman, John Reid's claim that the BBC's war coverage is biased in favour of Saddam Hussein. BBC has been my main source of news about the war since it began more than 10 days ago. Though I would not go so far as claiming that they are biased, I would say that the BBC reporting, and perhaps most Western media in general, tends to want to project the fact that the war is not going as swiftly as original planned. Often heard comments like 'tougher than expected Iraqi resistance' and 'over-stretched supply lines' gives the impression that the coalition forces have underestimated the Iraqis.

Reporters want to portray the dramatic. They were promised 'shock and awe'. That didn't really come. Obviously one would expect some kind of backlash from the press. One thing is clear: this is not going to be a swift war. Though the American leadership claims that everything is going 'according to plan', no one will buy the fact that this plan of 'flexibility and adaptibility' as General Tommy Franks put it is the original 'shock and awe' one. There is a world of difference between the two.

The sequence of events that led to the SARS outbreak in Singapore makes harrowing reading. It can be traced to 3 so-called "super-infectors" - all women - each of whom could have infected 20 other people.

Years ago I read the book Hot Zone by Richard Preston about the outbreak of the Ebola virus in suburban Washington. It was a chilling read, more gripping than any fiction because the events were real. While war is being waged on the Iraqi front, another more deadly war is being fought, by virologists, doctors and scientists, to identify the enemy - the SARS virus - and to find an antidote. The war against virus is one that the human species cannot afford to lose.

The Health Minister of Singapore told reporters that SARS is more infectious than doctors originally thought. A very sick SARS patient who coughs and sneezes can transmit the virus to people up to a metre away. The virus can stay and contaminate objects for up to three hours.

The virus is the ultimate weapon of mass destruction.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

Imagine going on a flight with air stewardesses all wearing surgical masks. That is the prospect greeting air travellers on board Asian airlines these days. It will definitely be a very surreal experience to go into a plane and see rows and rows of passengers in surgical masks. Even if you are not sick, you might even be hesitant to even leak a cough or risk having yourself treated like a leper by your fellow passengers.

This is the kind of fear medieval people faced during the Plague. I'm glad I won't need to be travelling for some time.

One taxi driver who ferried a SARS patient from the airport to Singapore General Hospital has been the subject of a manhunt in Singapore. It has even caused the public to shun public taxis!

This is how paranoid people have become about SARS. It is extremely scary. This is going to have a bad effect on the already bad Singapore economy which is still trying to cope with the fallout from the Iraq war. People who are known to have contact with diagnosed SARS patients have been forced to stay at home, by law!. The government is trying to trace some Chinese passengers who were in the flight from South China with the SARS patient. Looks like they cannot be traced yet. They could be tourists and might already be in Malaysia or some other country.

Hope this dreaded atypical pneumonia does not hit Malaysia that badly. I'm sure carriers are already in the country. Maybe citizens of certain countries have better resistance. Even in Indonesia there are no confirmed cases yet.

A French commentator interviewed on BBC today said that anti-American rhetoric in the French media is coming to a point where one would expect the 'canonization' of Saddam Hussein. Anti-war protests is well and fine but we must also be cautious not to swing too far in the opposition direction to the extend of potraying Saddam Hussein as a hero.

Saddam Hussein is a villian of Bond proportions. But I'm not sure if Iraq can be saved by Bond-like adventurism by the coalition forces. But war has begun and the war has to be pursued to its logical conclusion.

Anti-war protests are heating up everywhere including Malaysia. Here at Jalan Thamrin, Jakarta, there is one almost every Sunday. Just outside the Internet Cafe where I'm typing this, looks like another protest by Muslim groups is just about to start. This spot here, right in front of the Hard Rock Cafe and the popular 24-hour McDonalds (apt symbols of American culture and influence), has become the hub for anti-American protests.

Yesterday I had a meal at McDonalds. I had to walk through a metal screen and have my bags checked by security personnel. Saw a McDonalds ad on Indonesian TV the other day; basically a PR one, extoling how McDonalds had helped to create many job opportunities for young Indonesians. I'm not very fond of fast-food. Maybe because we already have our local ones - noodles stalls, mamak stalls in Malaysia and roadside hawkers. And they certainly taste a lot better.