Thursday, April 24, 2003

They knocked four goals past Real Madrid, but that wasn't enough for Manchester United to go through to the semifinals of the Champions League. In a glorious display of top class football, both sides should why they are among the best teams in Europe; but in the end it was left to the magical skills Ronaldo who scored a hattrick to dash United's hopes even though the match ended in a 4-3 victory for them. Real still qualifies on a 6-5 aggregate thanks to their convincing 3-1 win on the first leg.

Being a Liverpool supporter, I naturally rooted for Real Madrid to win. But even I must applaud the gritty display put up by the Red Devils last night. They were like a battering ram, throwing everything they've got at Real's defence. And Real, being Real, were at times casual about their defending and that resulted in an own goal and another from a Beckham freekick. But everytime they let in one, they put another into United's goal.

In the end, it was the exquisite skills and the experience of the Real Madrid team which made the difference and the 4-3 scoreline says it all. What a memorable night of European football it was - the kind of stuff that fans of the Champions League crave for. Now United has to focus on winning the League Championship or they will again end another season empty-handed.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

"That night, I was just getting all my reports ready when suddenly there was an announcement that Ceaucescu and his wife had been executed.
Feverishly I wrote a new, different script, changed it all around, just managed to put it out, and threw the pen down on the table with a sense of relief - I had about 15 seconds to spare.

I looked down at the pen and it was the one that Ceaucescu's housekeeper, who'd taken an inconceivable liking to me, had handed to me from Ceaucescu's desk earlier that afternoon... So I'd written Ceaucescu's obituary with his own fountain pen".

- BBC Correspondent, John Simpson

It has been a year since I converted over to the BBC from CNN as my main source of news. Previously in Singapore, my acquaintance with the BBC had been through the BBC World Service on radio which I listened to regularly - and that was because I was the only person on the island who did not own a TV set! But whenever I travel, I'd would watch CNN, available in most business class hotels. CNN had always been my main and preferred source of news. When I couldn't get access to satellite TV, I would check their website for the latest.

Understandly, I was quite disappointed when my hotel in Jakarta did not provide CNN. They told me that it was a government directive because CNN had made biased and negative reporting about Indonesia in the past. So I had no choice but to settle for what they have, which was BBC. After one year of watching BBC, I realised how much better their reporting is compared to CNN. They are fair, balanced and focussed, avoiding any unnecessary sensationalism. The quality and professionalism of their presenters has also won my admiration. While the CNN has a tendency to give priority to news that are US-centric - such as the plight of the Cuban refugee, Elian Gonzalez and the disappearance of intern Levi Chandra (which were of no interest to the rest of the world) - the BBC provides a better perspective of the world with more extensive coverage on Africa and Asia.

Interviewer Tim Sebastian in Hard Talk and veteran journalist John Simpson in Simpson's World are my favourite BBC personalities. Nowadays life would feel a bit empty without the pulsing electronic rhythm of BBC's incidental music in the background. BBC starts my day in the morning and lulls me to sleep at night.

There was no doubt about US eagerness to go to war in Iraq from the very beginning despite the fact that UN weapons inspectors were already on the ground, trying their best to do their job. The US clearly wanted to remove the Saddam Hussein regime, whether he possessed weapons of mass destruction or not.

Chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix criticised the US and Britain for their shaky evidence in "proving" that Iraq did indeed have weapons of mass destruction. The fact that Saddam did not use these weapons to defend himself and the absence of evidence discovered so far do not help the Coalition's case for war.

If Saddam Hussein had willingly cooperated with the UN and had not left any reason for the world to doubt his sincerity in eliminating WMDs, it would have made it extremely difficult for the US to launch a war against Iraq. It was evident that the Bush administration did not want to end up in this difficult position and had made an effort to intensify the pressure on Iraq. No way was Saddam Hussein going to remain in power. The key objective of the war was to remove Saddam Hussein because his is a rogue regime which could be a threat to the security of the US.

One could argue that Iraq under UN sanctions could never have been that serious a threat, but the US does not want to bet their chances. September 11 represents the kind of disaster that could befall the US again if the dangerous elements of the world are not rooted out early. War in Iraq is an act of prevention and an opportunity to reconfigure the geopolitical forces in the Middle-East.

Perhaps Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is right in saying that this war will spawn another 100 Osama Bin Ladens. Time will tell whether the world has been made safer or more dangerous by the US's actions.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

There was sheer drama yesterday when Liverpool beat Charlton Athletic 2-1. They were down 0-1 until the 85th minute when Sammi Hyppia finally knocked in an equaliser. But a draw wasn't good enough for Liverpool who has to win all its remaining matches to qualify for a Champion's League place. And miraculously enough, at the last minute Steven Gerrard struggled his way into the Charlton box and somehow managed to drive the ball into goal. It was sheer determination that won the match for Liverpool who gave an underpar performance after their fantastic derby win over Everton.

Three more matches to go for Champion's League!

Monday, April 21, 2003

Hollywood filmmakers are coming up with various ingenious ways to beat piracy. "Forensic watermarks", invisible to a human eye but capable of being picked up by video cameras is the latest weapon in this on-going war.

It is common here in this region, especially in Jakarta to see VCDs and DVDs of the latest movies before they are even released by Hollywood! The Chow Yuen Fatt movie, Bulletproof Monk is an example. I've seen the VCD on the streets months ago when reports were saying that the movie was only in post-production!

I personally do not like pirated VCDs because of the poor picture quality. Not only are details blurred but the colour of the movie loses a lof of its original lustre. The colour palette of a movie chosen by the director and cinematographer is a very important aspect of movie-watching for me. If I cannot watch a movie in its original glory of sound and colour, I might as well not watch it at all.

I noticed that there are two categories of movie-watchers. The first category watches a movie for its story or plot. A movie is considered good if it is exciting, touching or funny. This is the category of film-watchers who would not hesitate to buy pirated movies as long as the quality of the picture is "clear". Their definition of "clear" means that the actors faces, dialogues and actions can be clearly discerned. A movie is like a fast-food meal: it is tasty enough and it fills the stomach. Forget its nutritional value.

The second category - the film-making connoisseurs - goes for a movie less for its plot or storyline, but for its emotional and intellectual experience. True, a strong plot is still important to hold together the movie but the other elements such as its metaphors, mood, camera angle, composition and editing makes it a more thorough experience. I belong to this category but It does not mean I'm the kind of snob who does not go for the latest low-brow action flicks or silly comedies; I still go for MacDonalds occassionally and enjoy its McChicken and sundaes, just that I wouldn't treat it as my daily staple. In actual fact, I rarely not enjoy a movie - because I always go with the right expectation. If it is a teen-slasher flick, I would still enjoy it because I know what is coming. I might even consider some of them good because they introduce interesting variations to the theme of scantily-clad damsels being slaughtered by masked men. This is also one of the reasons why I do not give to much weight to plot: most stories are variations of the same age-old archetypal themes. Every now and then, you encounter a very original screenplay and if it happens to fall under the hands of a good director, then you have a masterpiece.

Pirate VCD buyers treat movies as consumables. They are to be viewed and thrown away. The connoiseurs are those who are likely to buy originals because movies are treated as unique experiences, and once viewed they become indelible part of their lives. That is why,I always feel that the theatre with Dolby or THX sound system is still the best place to watch a movie for the first time. I'll only go for a first viewing on VCDs or DVDs if I missed the run at the local cinema. Always non-pirated ones, of course.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

SARs has produced the first "fugutive" when suspected patient jumped quarantine in Jakarta and flew to Hong Kong! The man - a Briton Chinese - was ordered to be quarantined at home but the authorities said that the man had been very uncooperative.

It is little surprise to read today that the man actually sneaked out from Jakarta to fly to Hong Kong. The immigration on both sides were not able to intercept the man in time. But reports say that he has been traced in Hong Kong and will undergo reexamination again to determine if he is really infected with the virus.

Quarantine is like a prison sentence and causes a lot of hardship to suspected SARS victims. But people in this region has to realise the utter severity of the problem at hand. The situation now is almost akin to war. Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said yesterday that SARS could be the worst crisis Singapore has ever faced. For people under quarantine, they should count themselves lucky that they at least do not have to suffer what the Iraqis are suffering now: homes destroyed, families and relatives killed and a country in chaos. We are so accustomed to peace that any slight disruption to our daily lives is met with utter annoyance. Ours is a generation who have not experienced war on our own soil and are ignorant of the fact that history is filled with such social disruptions.

So far, the SARS outbreak has caused relatively minor disruptions compared to what one would experience in war. And yet we are not exhibiting enough spirit to weather through it. We have to start learning how to do so. The human race has pulled through worst before. No reason why we can't do it.

Liverpool beat Everyton 2-1 in the Merseyside derby today. Goals by Michael Owen and Danny Murphy gave the Reds a valuable away win and a step closer towards a Champion League's spot. Elsewhere Manchester United and Arsenal also registered wins against Blackburn Rovers and Middlesbrough respectively.

This is going to be an exciting finish to the season. And I'm not going to miss a single moment of it!