Saturday, April 12, 2003

Sony has applied for the rights to use the Iraq war's catchphrase "Shock and Awe" probably for its upcoming video games. I wonder if anyone did the same for "the mother of all battles" popularized by Saddam Hussein in the last Gulf war in 1991.

The language used in war ranges from the understated to the most audacious exaggeration (as demonstrated by the Iraqi Information Minister). Rumfelds today gave an example of the former by referring to the anarchy that is enveloping Baghdad now as just a transitional a period of "untidiness".

Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha said that India has a better case to launch a preemptive strive on Pakistan than the US on Iraq because Pakistan's alleged support for Kashmiri terrorists and its possession of nuclear weapons. Has the US opened a Pandora's Box in international politics where every country can simply justify war against another through the excuse of preemptive action?

As Baghdad plunges into anarchy with widespread looting in the streets, the world begins to wonder what is the price for the so-called liberation of Iraq?. Is Iraq a hot potato now for the US and Britain? Can the coalition forces find weapons of mass destruction - which was the main justification for invading Iraq - beneath the rubbles of Baghdad?

UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix claimed that the US were already bent on war way before the UNMOVIC team had a chance to thoroughly inspect Iraq for WMD. Even though it is not often admitted, the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime is definitely a key motivation for the US. Now that the regime is toppled, another rogue state has been successfully dealt with, after the Talibans. The world wonders: who's next? Syria? Sudan? Iran? Or North Korea?

India would say, Pakistan should be next. And they might have a point there, thanks to the US.

Friday, April 11, 2003

After the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, no one could have anticipated that another potential economic disaster would follow in its wake 6 years later. This time, it comes in the form of a virus. Already SARS has forced the cancellation of flights and a drastic drop in tourist arrivals. The service sectors and the travel industry are the worst affected. If this continues, the economic consequences could be severe. The situation is compounded by the fallout from the Iraq war and the still sluggish US economy.

With the restriction of visas for travellers from SARS-affected countries such as Hong Kong, China and Taipei to Malaysia, this has essential set back the government's massive drive to promote tourism from these countries. In Singapore, restaurants are registering fewer and fewer customers, especially in areas which depend heavily on tourist dollars such as Boat Quay and Clarke Quay. Some are on the verge of closing down.

No one anticipated the financial crisis in 1997. Everyone thought the dot-com boom as the start of a brave new world. And just when the world is slowly recovering from the shattering technology crash, a bug arrives to create havoc. History unfolds in unexpected ways.

Now that the coalition troops have over-run Baghdad, Saddam Hussein's palaces have come under scrutiny and criticism for their tackiness. Much has been made of their gold-plated toilet fixtures and immitation French baroque furnitures.

His palaces remind me of some of the houses of the upper middle-class rich in Malaysia and Indonesia. One professor of architectural history commented that Saddam's palaces could look at home even in Beverly Hills. I guess poor taste is universal.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

The entire Iraqi regime leadership seems to have disappeared yesterday. Sorely missed is the Iraqi information minister, who gave daily accounts of the latest exploits of the Iraqi army in resisting the advancing coalition forces. He would boast about the latest number of "mercenaries" killed by the Iraqi army and mock the futility of the coalition forces' attempt to enter Baghdad. Even when television pictures were showing American marines walking on the tarmac of the Saddam International Airport (now renamed Baghdad International Airport), he was still claiming that it is still in Iraqi hands and the Americans have been driven away from the area. At one point he even drew parallels between what the coalition forces are saying through the Western media to the American movie "Wag the Dog" starring Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman! In this movie, a Washington spin-doctor and a Hollywood producer fabricated a war through the media to divert attention from a brewing presidential sex scandal back home.

The Iraqi Information Minister could be a master of lying through his teeth, but I do admire his taste for American movies.

The war in Iraq has been won with the apparent collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime. Now the task facing the coalition is to win the peace. And that is a more difficult task. Combat fighting spills blood and yields casualties but its outcome is always clear: there's a winner and a loser. Diplomacy and politics are murkier grounds.

Now that an oppressive force has been removed, the underlying tensions and power structures of Iraqi society will be revealed. There will be a period of convalescence, where oposing forces will struggle against each other untill some kind of equilibrium is found. The tension is dynamic. In worse cases, instability could occur, resulting in the utter collapse of civil order.

Every action causes further reactions. Saddam Hussein has been toppled by the Americans and British. What reactions will it cause in this volatile region? Will it be seen as another humiliation for the Arabs? Will it embolden the West and lead to further militaristic solutions against such perceived threats in the future? Or will this really be a first step towards a roadmap for peace in the Middle-East?

The war, by all accounts had been a swift one; but winning peace itself, will most probably be a protracted affair.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Tired of boy bands, pop princesses and the stupid ketchup dance, I've been searching for a while for a good contemporary artist to listen to. And out of the blue came Norah Jones. This 22-year old lady swept the recent Grammy awards with 8 wins, including the pretigious album of the year.

Norah does have the looks and body of another bellybutton pop princess, but surprisingly that is not her main asset and selling point. "Come Away With Me", her debut album contains deceptively simple songs that blend different genres such as jazz, blues and folk together into something utter fresh and new. Her balmy and silky voice caresses throughout the entire album, supported by bare instrumentation - mostly a quiet bass and piano.

Norah has got me addicted to her music already. At last I find something which I can play every evening after escaping from the maddening Jakarta traffic. One is immediately shrouded by the soothing magic of her enchanted voice. I look forward to following the career of this very talented lady. Hats off to Norah Jones!

What drives people to become war time reporters and run the risk of losing their lives in the battlefield? Perhaps it is a desire for adventure and glory. Many journalists, like Peter Arnett, gained their celebrity status from reporting live from the war-scene. It is a feather on their journalistic cap. As major wars do not come often within one's lifetime,for many it is a chance not to be missed. It is a chance to witness history as it unfolds.

This Iraq war has introduced the new concept of embedded journalism - journalists officially planted into the combating forces like interns on vacation training. So far 12 journalists have paid the ultimate price for covering this war. However I do not think news like this will deter any journalists from rushing to the next battle-front in the world. War journalists thrive on such adrenalin rushes. They are like people who participate in extreme sports and dangerous stunts. It is what they do. The impulse is almost a spiritual one.

Even the Catholic practice of private confessions with priests will have to be stopped due to the fear of SARS in Singapore. A "general absolution" will be granted, said Archbishop Nicholas Chia.

While the SARS virus wrecks havoc everywhere, I guess this is a convenient time for sinners to get away lightly with their transgressions.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Could cockcroaches be the carrier for the SARS virus which spread rapidly throughout an apartment block in Kowloon Hong Kong? This was suggested by the HK authorities after they were baffled by how the disease could have infected 300 people there so easily, even those who had no direct contact with any SARS patient.

Our generation has not witness this much fear and paranoia over a disease before. The situation in Singapore seems to be escalating too. Eight people on the island has died from SARS so far with including a 27-year old doctor who had treated another SARS patient. Another SARS patient has lost both her parents already from the dreaded disease.

To East Asians, SARS is bigger news than the war in Iraq. And definitely a bigger tragedy too.

Has Saddam Hussein finally met his doom? Latest report say that the Iraqi leadership has been targeted with bunker busters in the latest bombing. Based on intelligence (from 3 sources) gathered, Saddam Hussein, his sons and top officials were in the building discussing escapes routes from Baghdad when they were bombed.

Saddam survived an earlier attempt to "decapitate" the Iraqi regime at the onset of the war. Had that been successful, the war would probably have yielded a lot less casualties - both civilian and military. Thousands of Iraqi soldiers have been senselessly ordered to fight against a vastly superior coalition force in a war they cannot win. Lives have been unnecessarily lost; young capable men whose energies could be utilized in the rebuilding of Iraq.

We certainly hope with this latest attack, Saddam is finally damned.

Monday, April 07, 2003

The Hours, a highly moody and depressing movie about suicidal women, comes at a distressing time of war and the shocking real-life suicide of HK singer Leslie Cheung. The movie is slow, and to most audiences, considerably dull.

I enjoyed it because of its experimental form and its overall moodiness. Haven't had a movie that deals with sadness since the excellent Shadowlands starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. This movie is bold enough to go at a languid pace, with little humour as it unravels the grieve and desolation of its three central characters played by Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep. These characters inhabit different times and circumstances but suffering the same inescapable fate of being imprisoned in a contented life which is inwardly empty. "Mrs Dalloway", the novel by Virginia Woolf becomes the common theme that binds the three stories together.

Leslie Cheung's suicide and "The Hours" make me think about depression and how it can suck a person in like a vortex until he is incapable of pulling himself out. Moments like this haunts a person every now and then. One stares ahead and see the years, and days and the hours as an abyss of utter emptiness; and in moments like this, one feels so utterly lonely and vulnerable, unable and even unwiling to face life.

Sometimes, it seems all our days of joyfulness and confidence is there for us to nurture a store of inner strength to face these unavoidable confrontations with darkness.For these moments are the real tests of life. May God give us the strength to weather them all.

The 4-0 defeat by Liverpool to Manchester United was a very difficult one to swallow. It all went downhill with the sent-off of Sammy Hyppia sent off after 5 minutes. The Liverpool team was then in complete disarray. Already weaken by an injured Michael Owens on the bench, Liverpool had to sacrifice striker Milan Baros to put in Igor Biscan to fill in the defensive gaps at the back.

Liverpool's performance has been lack-lustre since November last year. With key players like Owens, Henchoz and Hyppia missing, Liverpool could not mount a serious challenge to Manchester United's on-slaught.

I admire Liverpool's system of play. But I must agree with the critics that they have been playing negatively for many of their matches. They had a good 25 minute spell against Leeds and then fell back into their negative mode. It is almost a disease they can't rid themselves of.

I wonder what Houllier has up his sleeves to win the remaining six matches to gain at least 4th-placing to qualify for the Champion's League. Whatever it is, I will still be rooting for them.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

Reading the headlines of Utusan Malaysia today, t is clear where the newspaper's sympathies lie. "Lapangan terbang dikuasai semula -- Tentera Pengawal Republik halau askar-askar AS setelah ditawan tidak sampai 24 jam" screams the frontpage (Airport Reoccupied - Republican Guards drove US soldiers away after less than 24 hours of occupation).

Utusan Malaysia has consistently taken the side of the Iraqi regime, often reporting their unsubstantiated claims as facts. This kind of biased reporting is a dangerous game, especially for a paper that is popular among the Malay kampong folks. One can imagine the kind of coffee shop talk that such headlines can fuel. Again and again, the paper reinforces the view that the US are the aggressors and the Iraqis are resisting valiantly, even gaining grounds on the coalition forces. It can be argued that Utusan is merely correcting the US slant in many of the mainstream Western media. But this cannot be done at the cost of compromising basic journalistic integrity: unsubstantiated facts should not be reporteds facts, and certain not in bold headlines without any qualifiers.

But then again, no paper is truly neutral and unbiased. The media is a powerful too for swaying public opinion. The question to be asked is : should the media be given so much power? Perhaps Mahathir has a point when he said that unlike politicians, journalists are not elected by the public. Who gave the right to journalists to supposedly champion the rights of the people and claim to speak on behalf of them?