Saturday, May 03, 2003

"Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that." - Bill Shankly

Famous quote by the legendary Liverpool manager, the late Bill Shankly. Liverpool have a rich tradition of top quality football. When I was a teenager, they were winning the league championship every year. Those were the good old days. But they haven't done that for more than a decade. Even though they won the Treble in 2000 - FA Cup, Worthington Cup and UEFA Cup, it is the Premiership title that matters.

That's not going to happen this season though. Liverpool is only fighting for a UEFA Champion's League spot. This and next weekend is crucial. They are facing Manchester City today. And on the final game of the season, they will face Chelsea to determine who gets the final spot for the Champion's League. Two wins are needed. It's in their hands. Can they do it? It will be a great test of the Liverpool's team character.

Friday, May 02, 2003

Unravelling the Unabomber

There's a debate as to whether the Unabomber's cabin should be preserved. The Unabomber, whose real name is Ted Kaczynski was a Havard-trained professor of mathematics. He become notorious for launching a 17-year bombing campaign against other academics whom be believed to be part of a slow takeover of the world by modern technology.

The Unabomber was living alone in the cabin in question in Montana when he was surrounded and apprehended by the police. The cabin was located at a remote mountainside with no electricity or water supply. It was there that he wrote his Unabomber Manifesto, condemning the evils of technology. It is strange for someone trained in the sciences to be condemning technology, but some of the things he pointed out in his Manifesto warrants reflection. His views are those echoed by the Luddites - people who think technological advance is bad for mankind.

The Unabomber and many Luddites think that we take technological advances for granted and are unaware that they are slowly taking over our lives, robbing us of our essential humanity. An example pointed out by the Unabomber in his manifesto is how we build roads to give priority to cars and not pedestrians. People, who's natural habit is to walk, has to give way to noisy polluting vehicles. We have become very unquestioning in our acceptance of technology. For instance, is it really necessary for us to travel that fast? At the price where one cannot walk 100 meters in straight line without being knocked down by a moving vehicle? Our lives have already been constrained by technology. Were people a few centuries back a lot more deprived than us in terms of conveniences? Do we really need cars, television and cellular phones?

Many Luddites do not reject technology outright. Technology does bring benefits to mankind. Healthcare has benefited a lot from technology. Computers have helped to automate many menial and repetitive tasks. The point that bears listening to from the Luddites is: are we being too casual in the way we allow technology to take over our lives without considering the price that we have to pay?

Ted Kaczynski was a sick man to have resorted to terror to bring his point across. But maybe the preservation of his cabin will at least be a reminder to us that perhaps there are simpler ways of living which are no less richer than the technology-enhanced one which we in our ignorance embrace with so much pride.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

Are there any survivors in the Columbia space shuttle which disintegrated upon reentry to Earth? The answer: there are no human survivors but there are some non-human ones. Some living organisms actually made the trip home safely - these are worms, called C. elegans, on board the shuttle as part of a scientific experiment. These primitive multicellular creatures - hundreds of them - were found in containers among the debris of the shuttle collected together in Texas.

C. elegans are actually very interesting living organisms. They have two sexes: males and hermaphrodites, which are females that produce sperm. Apparently a hermaphrodite worm can fertilize her own eggs! Typically 300 eggs are self-fertilized but later the female usually prefers to accept sperm from males to produce a larger number of offspring.

Having a life-cycle of between 7 to 10 days, these sexually versatile space travellers have already bred 4 or 5 generations since boarding the Columbia. Human beings have made tremendous strides in science and space exploration but we are essentially very fragile physical creatures - easily-punctured skin-bags of flesh and blood - unsuitable for exploring the hostile worlds of inter-planetary space. Perhaps the future of space travel belongs to more robust machines and artificially created organisms who could do the job on our behalf. Primitive creatures like these worms, who could gather data and information at the molecular level, communicate, reproduce and survive the hardzadous journey to and back from the depths of space could be our future astronauts.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Looks like the Golden Goal rule will be replaced by a "silver" one for next month's UEFA Cup and Champion's League final. The sudden-death golden goal rule was introduced as a way to overcome an unnecesssarily taxing full half-an-hour of extra-time to decide a winner. The first team to score a goal (golden goal) during extra-time is considered the winner. Since it was introduced, two European Championship finals have been decided through golden goals. It proved to be a dramatic and exciting way for a winner to emerge in a cup final.

There have been complaints however, that the golden goal rule promotes an over-cautious style of play during extra-time as teams were afraid to concede a goal. And the sudden dramatic winner could prove to be too emotional for fans, resulting in unexpected security problems. The silver goal rule seeks a compromise between the old format and the sudden-death system by having teams which drawn at full time to play a full 15 minutes of extra-time. The leading team after 15 minutes will be considered the winner. If the situation is still drawn after the extra quarter of an hour, another 15 minutes is added to determine the winner. If teams are still deadlocked after that, the trusty penalty kicks routine will kick in.

With the silver goal rule, teams still have a chance to make a comback within the first 15 minutes of extra-time even when they are a goal down. The losing team will fight their utmost to find an equalizer and extend the match another 15 minutes. There will be no less excitement. Heroes and villains can still be made within that short span of extra time.

The sure way of deciding a winner in the event of a tie, is still the best-of-five followed by sudden-death penalty kicks. However many feel it is like a lottery draw. Perhaps FIFA or UEFA can introduce different variations of the penalty kick: such as a two-vs-two shootout or other setups where the goalkeeper/defender and striker have a fairer chance of using their skills to determine the winner.

Monday, April 28, 2003

Michael Douglas' famous speech in the 1987 Movie, Wall Street:

"The point is ladies and gentlemen that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of it's forms - greed for life, for money, knowledge - has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed - you mark my words - will not only save Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you".

The role of corporate raider, Gordon Gekko, won him the Best Actor Oscar that year. The "Greed is Good" philosophy sums up the ethos of the eighties and early nineties.

The Russians have Chechnya, the Iraqis have the Kurds; Indonesia has Aceh. For decades Aceh, the northern Sumatran province have been fighting for autonomy. The people there are fiercely religious Muslims and historically, they have been known to defend their homeland bravely against colonialists and invaders.

The Indonesian army has over the decades used heavy force to control the region, resulting in many alleged claims of brutality and violation of human rights. Leading the fight for Aceh independence is the Free Aceh Movement, GAM (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka). Talks for peace between the Indonesian government and GAM broke down recently and the government has threatened to go to war with GAM over Aceh

Some have put the blame for he recent bomb blasts - 3 within a month - on GAM. Though GAM has denied any responsibility for the blasts, suspicions still lingers as the modus operandi for the three are similar and a GAM suspect has been arrested for the first.

No matter who is responsible for planting these bombs, it looks like they are not going to stop anytime soon. There have been no claims for responsibility - like all the previous blasts before. The main aim is to create a climate of fear. Even though Jakartans and Indonesians in general are quite used to such occassional acts of terrorism, foreigners will view these things negatively and this will definitely impact Indonesia's economic recovery. And next year is Indonesia's general elections. Life here is never quiet.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

It was a good Saturday for Liverpool, beating already relegated West Bromich Albion 6-0. In the process Michael Owen capped another milestone in his brilliant career by surpassing the 100th league goals mark, in a match which he knocked in 4. He and Milan Baros combined well to wreck havoc through the WBA defence. Two more matches to go, with the final match of the season against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge looking like the one that's going to decide who takes the final Champion's League place.

A dent on Arsenal's league title hopes when they were drawn 2-2 with Bolton. Manchester United plays Tottenham Hotspurs today - it'll be interesting to see if they can capitalize on Arsenal's 2-point slip. Another night of exciting soccer this evening!

A pipe bomb exploded at the Sukarno-Hatta Airport in Jakarta early this morning. The bomb went off near the KFC outlet there at the domestic terminal. This is the second bomb in four days after the one that exploded behind the UN office at Jalan Thamrin. Looks like we are back to the routine of unexplained bombs in this city. The last major bombing that I can remember was the one that explode outside the Eksotis Discotheque in Mangga Besar.

But here I think people are more concerned about SARS than bombs. You can't do anything to avoid bombs. Life still goes on.