Saturday, April 19, 2003

Will Saddam Hussein sightings be the next global phenomenon, joining the ranks of Elvis and UFOs? Despite being repeated targeted by the Coalition forces, Saddam Hussein seems to have out-Houdini-ed everyone again. He pops up every now and then on Arab television, and like Osama Bin Laden, taunts the West and rouses the Arab world.

Everytime Saddam appears on TV, the same questions are on everyone's lips: Is it a double? Were the videos shot much earlier? Maybe Saddam will not die because his real presence is not physical. He is a symbol: a symbol of defiance against the West. Just like how the image of Che Guevera has become the icon of the rebel and guerilla fighter worldwide, Saddam Hussein could also be another political branding. All advertisers know that logic and reasoning does not have the desired impact anymore in the new attention economy where people spend a greater part of their waking hours living the cyber-reality of the TV and the Internet. Eyeball is everything. And by the looks of it, Saddam Hussein seems to be doing just that, dead or alive.

Friday, April 18, 2003

The Coalition forces entered Iraq with the firm belief that Iraq was indeed producing weapons of mass destruction in violation of UN resolutions. Now that the Coalition has complete freedom to roam all over Iraq, they are trying to say that they task of actually discovering a smoking gun is not as easy as it seems. Donald Rumsfeld himself warned:

"It is not like a treasure hunt, where you just run around looking everywhere hoping you find something. The inspectors didn't find anything, and I doubt that we will..."

Saddam Hussein's top science adviser, Lt. Gen. Amir al-Saadi who surrendered to the Coalition forces also denied that Iraq has any weapons of mass destruction. And he told the press just prior to his surrender that time will prove him right.

There was such certainty on the side of US about Iraq's possession of WMD when they rallied the world to wage this war against Iraq. And that Iraq was playing a game of hide-and-seek with the UN weapons inspectors. Now that the hide-and-seek game is over, shouldn't it be easy for the US to immediately zero in on the evidence present?

Then there is also the lingering question: if Saddam Hussein did indeed possess WMD, why didn't he use it against the Coalition forces when Baghdad was under siege? Wasn't Saddam the brutal and merciless tyrant that we were all led to believe by the Western media? So, what's the big deal about unleashing some of the WMDs on the infidels who were invading their motherland?

Lots of questions and very few answers yet. The world waits for the unveiling of the smoking gun.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

There were thrills and drama early this morning when Arsenal and Manchester United fought to a 2-2 draw. I did not wake up in time for the 1.30am (Jakarta time) match and when I switched on the TV, it was already the second half and the scoreline was 1-1. Immediately I witnessed Thierry Henry's goal putting Arsenal 2-1 ahead. Having equalized and then going a goal ahead, Arsenal appeared to have the edge in the match at that point had not Ryan Giggs equalized for Manchester United almost immediately.

One could imagine how furious Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was! Normally cool and pensive, he was on his feet, ranting and raving. It was a rare sight indeed. And then there was the drama of Sol Campbell's sent-off leaving Arsenal with 10 men. Thierry Henry could have sealed it for Arsenal in injury time when he volleyed a right-footer towards goal, but Fabien Barthez produced a fantastic save to maintain the scoreline.

The championship race is still open with both teams tied on points. Thoroughly entertained by the match, I slept soundly and when I woke up, I realized how late I was for work already!

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

A Meditation on Time

Consider two contrasting conceptions of time:

1. From the Hannibal Lecter movie Red Dragon:

Will Graham (Edward Norton): I don't have much time.
Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins): Oh, but I do. I have oodles.

2. From the award-winning movie, The Hours:

Richard Brown (Richard Harris): I don't think I can make it to the party, Clarissa.
Clarissa Vaughn (Meryl Streep):
Uh.. You don't have to go to the party, you don't have to go to the ceremony, you don't have to do anything you don't want to do. You can do as you like.
Richard Brown: But I still have to face the hours, don't I? I mean, the hours after the party, and the hours after that...
Clarissa Vaughn: You do have good days still.. You know you do!
Richard Brown: Not really...I mean, it's kind of you to say so, but it's not really true

To most of us, time is a very limited commodity. We slice our days into hours and minutes and place our activities within these artificial compartments. We live within the interstices of time, starting and terminating things based on an imposed schedule. Very often we feel trapped by our routine because these time markers are like bars that imprison us within narrow confines.

We are also often reminded that time is money. Time is to be "spent" wisely. The more successful among us are those who are good at investing their time to generate material weath - exchanging the mutable and transient with something more durable. Only to realise that we also need time to enjoy the material wealth that we have accumulated. Some spent their whole lives accumulating and never get to enjoy the fruits of their labour. They are, for lack of a better word, spent.

Time for most of us, is a constant struggle against decay and depletion. We age, we wither and we die. Before the fuse gets burnt, we have to get an education, build a career, find a life partner and start a family - another preimposed schedule to be accomplished within the Great Interstice called a lifetime. We are told that time will pass us by, if we are not vigilant. Time is a ruthlessly efficient rush-hour train that does not wait for passengers. Which is why we often feel that life is such a rush, and in moments of reflection, we would say, how time flies.

Benedictine monks view time differently. In his book The Music of Silence, Brother David Steindl-Rast gives a beautiful account of how time is experienced by monks in a Benedictine monastery. Time to them is a process of filling-up, of realising the fullness of the day. Time flows and nourishes a soul as it traverses the day, unfolding its inner potential. The cycle of time is not a monotonous repetition of routines, tasks and schedules but an upward moving spiral where the soul transforms and breaks into higher levels of realization.

Whether one is running out of it, trying to kill it or has oodles of it, time is life. To live is to experience time. And the metaphors we choose to experience time determines the quality of our lives.

What kind of future do Iraqis want? What if they choose an Iranian-style fundamentalist Shia government? Will the US respect the will of the Iraqi people?

This is probably one of the reasons why the US wants to play the main role in organizing the post-Saddam government. They would prefer a western-educated, moderate Iraqis to lead the new administration. Handpicked Iraqi exiles from the West have been thrust forward as potential leaders of the Iraqi people. But would Iraqis place their future in the hands of exiles who fled the country when the entire country was suffering under UN sanctions and the tyrannical rule of Saddam Hussein? Would they still be in touch with the common people who bore the brunt of the regime's brutality?

"No to Saddam and No to America" is a common refrain heard among the Iraqis these days, struggling to survive in a post-war climate of lawlessness and appalling humanitarian situation. In the Arab world, no true Western-style democracy has yet to emerge. The US wants to make Iraq a model of for the Middle-East. But it is a bit premature to assume that this is what Iraqis want. At least under the Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein, Islamic fundamentalism did not have a chance to rear its ugly head. Now, everyone has an equal chance to stack a claim for the future of Iraq. The real battle for Iraq has only just begun.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Saddam's Sunset Sonata

A trivia question for Who Wants to be a Millionaire: Who is Saddam Hussein's first wife? Answer is Sajida Khairallah Telfah. She is reported to have fled to Syria. She bore Saddam two sons - the notorious Udai (Odai or Oday) and Qusai - and three daughters.

The story of Saddam's clan can rival the most violent chapter of the Godfather series. His two sons-in-laws were shot after they defected to the West and returned to Baghdad. Saddam also reportedly placed his first wife, Sajida under house arrest when she wanted him to punish the killers of her daughters' husbands.

Udai, the elder of the two sons was a notorious playboy and a ruthless killer. He was said to have kidnapped women he fancied from the streets and brutally raped them. He also murdered Saddam's favourite food-tester and shot Saddam's half-brother in the leg in an argument. Udai's enemies tried to kill him in 1996 in an assassination attempt. The bullet he took in the spine crippled him and forced him to walk with a cane for the rest of his life. He fell out of favour with Saddam and was even jailed by him for a while after a disagreement. The younger Qusai rose in prominence after that and was made head of the Iraqi secret police and the Republican Guard.

In letters discovered in Udai's residence after it was destroyed by American bombs, he expressed his bitterness towards his father. Udai wrote:

"My father wants to go down in history, but his heart is finished from any kindness. I have nothing in my heart toward my father, not any love or kindness. I don't know if he listens even to himself anymore. In the end I ask God to keep this house safe."

Among the debris, lip-print signed love letters from Udai's many girlfriends were found. One of them wrote:

"Remember me when you listen to Beethoven's `Moonlight Sonata,' which I heard for the first time with you,"

Poignant words indeed to be found amongst the ruins of Saddam's opulent palaces. Those moonlight days of romance were over the day the first wave American bombers streaked over the dark Iraqi sky, drowning the sonata with the pounding of Tomahawk missiles and the rattle of anti-aircraft fire. The saga of the Saddam clan has sadly come to an end.

Is euthanasia - medically assisted suicide - ethical? It is a tough moral question. Countries like Switzerland which have legalized euthanasia have been receiving "suicide tourists" from their neighbours. Supporters of euthanasia claim that there are people who are suffering so much from their chronic illnesses, often reduced to physically degenerated human vegetables, that it is a humane act to end their suffering through assisted suicide. These people endure so much pain that their lives have been reduced to a living death. If we can act humanely towards fatally injured animals by putting them to sleep, why can't we also act humanely towards human beings in the same situation?

Those on the opposite side would argue that all human lives are sacred and no one should play God in determining death. A sick patient, no matter how hopeless, still has a chance to be saved as long as he is not dead. Suicide, assisted or not, is a crime. There is also the danger for a person to make a rash irreversible judgement in deciding to die prematurely. Can a person who is ill be able to make a sensible decision as to whether to die or not?

Euthanasia like human cloning is a modern ethical dilemma. Human civilization has come to a point where it has gained the technology to accomplish marvels that used to be attributed to God. But can we, even in our most rational moments, claim to possess even a fraction of His infinite wisdom? I fear not.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Missing Iraqi Information Minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf who held daily briefings for foreign reporters prior to the fall of Baghdad has garnered quite a cult following. His colorful insults, boastful claims of Iraqi military successes and his amazing optimism have been an a great source of amusement for the journalists. His briefing sessions were among the highlights of the war: providing a much needed comic relief amidst the grim reports on civilian casualties and suicide bombers. Now a website called has sprouted to record his litany of creative abuses.

What is surprising is that the US did not include him in the deck of 55 cards that listed all the wanted people of the Iraqi regime. One journalist joking asked the US brigadier-general during a briefing if Mr Sahhaf was the "joker" in the pack! There is no denying that he has captured the public's attention with his morbid witticism: often asserting how the coalition "mercenaries" will be slaughtered and how Baghdad will be their tomb.

I propose to the US to offer amnesty to Mr Sahhaf and give him a spot on prime-time TV as a talkshow host. I believe he will give Letterman a run for his money.

It was a good weekend of top quality football, culminating in Real Sociedad's surprising 4-2 demolition of Real Madrid last night. The defeat of Real Madrid at the hands of their Premiera Liga title contenders was totally unexpected in the wake of their outstanding 3-1 rout of Manchester United in the UEFA Champion's League. Manchester United themselves however overcame the disappointment of their defeat to Real Madrid to thrash Newcastle United 6-2 on Saturday in the English Premier League.

I am also happy that Liverpool rose from the ashes of their previous week's humiliating 0-4 defeat to Manchester United to win convincingly against Fulham with a 2-0 scoreline. The England duo of Heskey and Owen found the back of the net for Liverpool. It is still an uphill battle for Liverpool to qualify for next year's Champion's League with contenders Chelsea and Everton also playing well. Both registered wins over the weekends.

A battle of giants coming up this Thursday morning with Manchester United facing Arsenal in a match that could end up determining the winner for the Premier League Championship. And this Saturday, Liverpool will face Everton in an exciting Merseyside derby that will be an all-out battle between the two for a Champion's League spot. What a great week for football this is! Makes me miss playing very much. And what a pity: I haven't done so for almost twenty years!

Like the firemen of 9/11, the health workers, namely doctors and nurses who have to risk being infected by SARS in their daily job have been recognized as the heroes in this battle against the deadly bug.

So far a 27-year old doctor at the Tan Tock Seng Hospical in Singapore has died from SARS. He contracted it from treating a SARS infected patient during the early days of the outbreak. The patient was in hospital for non-SARS related illnesses but was unfortunate to contract it from being in the same ward with another SARS patient.

Paranoia over the disease is spreading even faster than the virus itself. There were even reports that nurses have been shunned by taxi drivers and neighbourhood residences. But the health community has so far been brave and steadfast in leading this struggle against the disease.

In times of difficulty, heroes are made. We are lucky to have them in our midst.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

The prospect of the US widening its war on terrorism to other countries after the successful occupation of Iraq does not seem that remote anymore. The hawks in Washington are increasing making belligerent statements against Syria who has been accused of providing a safe haven to members of the Iraqi regime.

Has a Pandora's box been opened by the US? Or is the civil anarchy in Iraq more of a cinderbox? Whatever it is I know I'll be glued to the idiot box watching how this thing unfolds.