26 January 2004

Domino Effect

An artifact of 1960s anti-communist hysteria, Amercian neoconservatives devise the theory that should any single country in Asia fall to communism, all countries in the continent will subsequently fall as well, like a stack of dominoes... hence, justifying their interventions in Indonesia (supporting 'regime change' and replacing Sukarno) as well as the Vietnam War (assasinating the democratically-elected South Vietnam president, replacing him with a series of authoritarian, war-happy generals, and going to war with North Vietnam).

Let me invent the New Domino Effect theory for my readers:

Should any single country in Asia fall sick from flu, all countries in the continent will subsequently fall as well, like a stack of dominoes...

Like last year's SARS, this year's H5N1 avian flu proves to be an epidemic fit for the globalised economy. And like last year, several governments have been caught with their pants down this year. Cases in point: Thailand and Indonesia, which have had cases of avian flu for the past few months and covered it up until very recently.

Now, here's a map of Asia for us to consider. Let's take a look at the 7 countries that have bird flu, in order of declaration: South Korea (7 Nov), Vietnam (9 Nov. First human deaths on 11 Nov), Japan (13 Jan), Laos (21 Jan), Thailand (23 Jan. First human death, 26 Jan), Cambodia (23 Jan), Indonesia (25 Jan).

Notice anything weird? Big gaping hole in the almost contiguous land-area: China. Are we to believe that the Middle Kingdom is safe from the current outbreak, when it is conspicuously surrounded by 2 countries to the East, and 5 more to the South with the flu?

The scientific facts of the case are stacked against China's denial - H5N1 is known to be spread across borders by migratory birds, whose droppings fortuitously land near chicken farms and hence infect the livestock. Well, not that much of a long shot as it sounds, since it's apparently happened 7 times already. Can we believe that migratory birds don't shit when they fly over China from Japan to Indonesia?

Of course, China will be given a chance to come clean next week in the emergency bird flu conference in Thailand. It had better.

24 January 2004

Chinese New Year Woes

I'm more than happy to skip all the Chinese New Year visiting; relatives are poison, and all the questioning they subject me with is not worth the ang pow money...

My CNY resolution of the year is: Learn to forget all dialects. This will prevent me from comprehending the longer sermons from my grandfather's sisters, who should really save those sermons for their own grandchildren.

Sample sermon...
"Don't you love your mother? She's brought you up for 27 years now, you should do your fillial duty and make sure she spends the rest of her days in peace and comfort. Find a girlfriend and get married soon, so your mother doesn't need to do any housework. You're a graduate, try to earn lots of money and buy a car, so you can drive your parents all over Singapore..."

Yes, if one day SDU decides to shoot advertisements in dialect, we'll know which kindly great-grandmother to recommend.

Now, compare that sermon to one very practical, encouraging, and uplifting advice my father's cousin gave me. I repeat it here, also for the benefit of Camorenesi:

"So the civil service rejected you last year. Never treat that rejection as final, never believe the doors are
closed... Try and try again. They always underestimate the number of people they need, so they're always hiring."

So, my second resolution for CNY is to try again for that cushy civil service job. Just to show that I haven't given up any hope of beating the underemployment trap, that I have a chance aside from applying for waitering...

So, how did we deal with the Stupid Annoying Questions of CNY?

"Have you gotten a job yet?"
"When are you getting married?"
"Don't be shy, show us your girlfriend someday!"

For my part, I dressed in Black and Grey during the reunion dinner and put on the most bochap face and the "Ask me anything stupid and I'll KILL you" attitude® that no one asked. And perhaps the fact that my aunts and uncles seem to have woken up to the fact that there are an alarmingly high number of graduate taxi drivers in Singapore, probably
saved me from the questions as well...

And yes, I didn't do any visiting this year. It's the best way of avoiding the SAQ... maybe next year, I'll spend the holiday overseas (even if it's in Johore).

That's because I'm too polite to reply to the SAQ the way I want:

1. No, I haven't got a job. May I ask if you have enough money in the CPF to retire? Or how many more years it'll take for you to pay off the housing loan? Or how close your company is to the next retrenchment exercise?

2. No, I'm not getting married. I'd rather live in a free love commune.

3. Well, I could bring along my blow-up Gackt doll next year, if it makes you feel happy...

21 January 2004

International Criminal Court to Examine Blair War Crimes

News reports from Reuters and the Independent

"Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court are considering a request by an international body of lawyers to try the Prime Minister for alleged war crimes during the invasion of Iraq."

The logic of war meets the morality of war. Disproportionate use of force causing civilian casualties is a crime under international humanitarian law.

During last year's invasion of Iraq, the Wonder Duo dropped cluster bombs in dense urban areas, killing many civilians.

The logic behind cluster bombs is simple: efficient decimation. Hundreds of mini-bomblets (ie. 'clusters') are scattered by larger bombs, rockets, and artillery shells, hence enhancing the destructive power by dispersing the area of destruction... Needless to say, where these clusters end up is neither controllable or predictable. That's why many markets and bazaars in Baghdad were hit by cluster bombs, even though they were not targetted.

Reuters reports that British aircraft dropped 70 cluster bombs and British artillery fired over 2,000 cluster shells during the war.

Another hot issue that the prosecutors at the ICC have been asked to consider, is whether the Allies deliberately targetted non-military installations during the invasion, an illegal act under the Geneva Convention.

It would seem that Blair should've considered this chain of events before signing up with Bush... unlike the US, the United Kingdom IS a signatory to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, where heads of state are NOT exempt from prosecution.

I doubt, however, that there will actually be a trial, even though the evidence seems quite clear-cut. Two words: political pressure.

The BBC reported the news on radio at 4.30 in the morning, with many interviews and analyses which kept me up till dawn, but apparently this news is missing from their website... Brilliant.

20 January 2004


Recently certain friends and acquaintances have been asked to give feedback about this site, to choose their favourite articles, since I'd like to assemble a portfolio of my own. There were those who were not really interested in commenting but not forthright enough to say so, or too polite to offer anything constructive beyond "Yeah, I'm reading it...", which is of course the polite version of "no comments", Singaporeans' most popular answer to just about anything... I'm kind of sorry for having inflated expectations of their expressive abilities and imposing on their time. Which is my own polite way of saying "fuck you", in case anyone wonders.

And to those who took the time to read, to consider, and voice their opinions, and for those who posted comments here on xanga, many thanks - you know who you are!

Whether this blog was praised or panned, people tend to agree that
1. Illusio has a high 'bombastic' word count.
2. "The cerebral undertones... come across rather much too strongly".

noun. A formal justification, explanation, or defence of one's opinions, position, actions, or belief system.
Note: NOT the plural form of "apology", and has NOTHING to do with making one.

1. I have always tended to write about specialised topics, uncommon things, and tend to push myself to deep analyses of my subjects. It's my prerogative. And, as a sympathetic reader pointed out, "everyday language lacks... conceptual and semantic endowment" for complex and specialised topics such as what I have been writing consistently at Illusio.

I believe that the English language would be impoverished if we refuse to see that even long words, big words, can be appropriately used, especially if it takes too much difficulty to find a short phrase to replace them. Humans keep coining new words to describe the growing complexity of their world... yet we Singaporeans are linguistic beggars because our national newspapers limit their writers to words not more than 3 syllables or 8 letters long, and our major publishing houses, who believe that the market out there consists of people with the mental capacity of 14-year-olds.

However, when there is a feeling that the writer is deliberately and unnecessarily using difficult language or dropping literary allusions and big names, then it really becomes "bombast".

If I cannot convince my readers that the "difficult" language is necessary and appropriate in my articles, I consider that as a failed attempt at writing and a sign that I need more practice, or at least run one round of editing before posting on the blog. (Which I currently never do. And there, doesn't it actually annoy naysayers more, since I don't need to put in any effort at difficult language?)

One can still come across as natural and unaffected even when writing difficult words.

2. Again, I remind my readers that I choose to write on uncommon topics and offer uncommon viewpoints with uncommon depth.

Think metaphorically, if your writing was a student in a classroom where your readers are other students: In the context of our academic history, your writing would be a "mugger" - The over-achieving high-brow kid which we were all too familiar with in our school days. There is one in almost every classroom.

My point is, these kids are never popular with the other kids. They are viewed either as "spoil-market", a threat, or just simple too weird out by the other kids.

A friend wrote that in his email (and incidentally, he concluded that he still liked my writing :D).

Here's my spin on it: Staying with the same metaphor, I would be the student who realises that one way to succeed would be to differentiate yourself out of the normal market, carve out a niche for yourself, play for different stakes, play a different game from the rest of the classmates.

Of course, it's entirely possible that the rest of the class would mis-recognise the strategy and insist that I'm "spoiling the competition", but the fact is, I'm no longer competing with them, or even for the same prizes as them.

I would probably be - and I have been, on occasion - the student who disagrees with the GP tutor and uni lecturer to present a counter-argument that is nevertheless logically and theoretically reasonable, and hence still ace the assignment. Of course, that doesn't stop the real "muggers" and the rest of the students to give the standard, acceptable, and approved answers and get their aces (or other grades, as dictated by the normal distribution for interchangeable and indistinguishable products).

I'm one of those who are horribly disappointed with the "new and improved" Straits Times Weekend Edition and the intellectual poverty it imposes on Singaporeans. Read the NYT Weekend Edition, and you'll see why it literally takes one an entire weekend to parse through the very thoughtful and thorough news, commentaries, and reviews. Time taken to read ST on Sunday: 10 minutes, inclusive of the Life! section.

Why do I write? I'm sure you would've read my first blog. Given that, there isn't any discrepency between what I write and how I write it, really...

17 January 2004

The Logic of Warfare (a selective history)

Charles Tilly is credited with reading the history of Europe since 1000 AD as the history of uninterrupted, ever-intensifying, rational warfare, going so far as insisting that "wars make states as much as states make war". Yet uninterrupted warfare was practised much earlier in China (which incidentally has the same area as Europe), during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods of its history. For 550 continuous years, from 770 BCE to 221 BCE, over 150 kingdoms fought each other, annexed each other, and dwindled to a single polity, the State of Chin.

One does not battle for 550 years without the invention of universal conscription, more efficient economic models, agricultural reforms, and of course, harsher and more complete extraction of taxes from farmers (which would reach an unprecedented 25% in Shogunate Japan later) - hence, the invention of serfdom...

The invention of maiming is tied to serfdom. Norbert Elias reports that less than a millennia later in continental Europe, the barons of Europe regularly tortured 'civilians' as they raided their rivals. Why the disjuncture between the mediaeval celebration of chivalric combat between soldiers, and the torture of non-combatants? Rational calculation: everything the serfs produce, as long as they are productive, will benefit the baron.

Elias unearths diaries of noblewomen, wives of barons, who describe their delight as they joined their husbands in the torture of enemies' serfs and farmers. A certain noblelady personally cut off the breasts of a milkmaid, poured tar on the stumps, and sent the girl back to her enemy, alive. Today, warlords and soldiers in Africa maim civilians as part of a rational "denial of resources" strategy against their opponents.

Over in England, the invention of the longbow in the 14th century finishes off the ideal of 'chivalry' of melee combat between noblemen. Exceptionally efficient long-range bombardment from longbows decimated the French armies even before they could come close to combat, in Crecy, Poiters, and Agincourt. The lesson: Decimate your enemies...

The calvary charge, as popularised by Napoleon's military campaigns, then romanticised by adoptors, effectively ended in Crimea when the Light Brigade fell to "canon to the left of them, canon to the right of them, canon in front of them". From then onwards, we learn to pulverise the enemy with artillery fire, bomb them to bits from planes...

Nerve gas? The subtle art of poisoning and germ warfare didn't just end there. Not when, as part of the terms of surrender, Japanese researchers in the notorious Unit 731 were transfered to the United States to continue their research.

Which of course won the war by dropping 2 atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To date, no war crimes tribunal has been set for the men who planned the attacks. Last year, the Pentagon started research on small-scale nuclear bombs that could penetrate underground bunkers.

Guerilla warfare is strangely justified from the results it produces. It does the job, as just well as any weapon, any method of war.

A morality of war is non-existent, as long as we listen to the logic of warfare. How else do you win a war, except by destroying your opponent? Maim them, decimate them, pulverise them, blow them to bits, launch a megaton bomb, blow yourself up in their public places. They all work, and none of them are more or less morally reprehensible than the rest.

This is the logic of war, and I'm afraid there's no moral standard inherent to warfare; warfare does NOT have morality as its first principle.

15 January 2004

On War

"No universal history leads from savagery to humanitarianism, but there is one leading from the slingshot to the megaton bomb."
--- Theodor Adorno, "Negative Dialectics", 1966

We'd like to think we're a civilised people, that a million years of evolution would breed out the animal in us. Violence, according to some historians, has been effectively tamed through the "civilising process", and we are the only species to draw up rules of engagement for war, a code of morality for justified violence...

Why would the technology of war (and the capacity to kill) still march on relentlessly, unless the urge to slaughter remains undiminished?

Whither the morality of war, that sense of justice in combat, that allows some of us today to declare others as "unlawful combatants" undeserving of justice, basic human rights, and exempt from the Geneva convention on the treatment of prisoners?

10 January 2004

Great Internet Firewall of Singapore (Singnet outtage edition)

I'm wondering how many of you using Singnet broadband (and whether users on Pacific or Starhub/SCV) have encountered this problem during the recent week while surfing: all webpages from Blogspot, for example:


are redirected to http://new.blogger.com, which is the usual page you get, if the blogspot URL you entered doesn't exist.

Meaning, for the past week I haven't been able to read any blogs from blogspot.

Now, the weirdest thing is, you have to manually set your proxy settings to proxy.singnet.com.sg:8080 in IE/Netscape/Mozilla in order for the blogspot pages to load properly and not get redirected.

This is weird, since from 3 years ago, Singnet users didn't need to set their proxy servers; everything is automatically cached/filtered/blocked at the server end. Yet this week, something comes up to remind us all that proxy servers are not just for "speeding up internet access", as our ISPs call it, but to block/filter webpages.

Nowadays, it is considered impractical and heavy-handed to block entire websites, so our ISPs are experimenting with targetting and blocking specific pages from websites. Officially though, our ISPs do not have the technology to block specific pages, and are not acquiring the hard/software for this technology.

Jim Carey too, had this feeling in The Truman Show, when he discovers the stars in the sky to be huge stage lights. It's only the imperfect implementation of proxy blocking that reminds people of the existence of proxy servers behind our "Internet experience".

Latest Update:

I've been told that the blogspot problem has disappeared since yesterday noon, so you don't have to manually set the proxy server in your browser... Although, there might be longer loading times for singaporean pages on blogspot o_0

Don't ask me how that can happen, but a few friends told me the same thing. I'm sure in a day or two, the technology will be perfected, and everyone can have a wonderful internet experience without realising the amount of spying our ISPs do behind our backs

04 January 2004

Wisdom from Unexpected Quarters

I found an interesting and wise quote, taken from the first line of an editorial from the above link.

A wise man said this shortly after WW2:

"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger."

Which probably summarises neatly, last year's invasion and occupation of Iraq by the Wonder Duo, Bush and Blair.

And the wise man? Herman Goering, founder of the German Gestapo and Air Force.

Sieg Hiel! Or, as Radiohead puts it, Hail to the Thief!

03 January 2004

On the New Year

I am not in a habit of making resolutions for the new year or to reflect on the passing of the old. Somehow, these traditions seem nothing more than distractions from the purpose of human existence, that they achieve the complete opposite of what they intend to do.

Everyday living requires some form of planning ahead to set personal goals, and some form of reviewing to reflect and re-appraise one's position and direction in life. We ask ourselves questions like "Did I set out to do what I promised?", "Did I live well/correctly this year?", "What do I hope, plan towards, for the next?"

My quarrel is with the institutionalising of this natural self-reflexivity into an annual affair. The new year tradition is a caricature and perversion of this human instinct. Most people end up making wildly ambitious resolutions that they never keep, and never bother to keep once they articulate the plan. And on reviewing the previous year, they sadly remark that the previous year's resolutions were not met either. And blithely live on in the new year.

This new year tradition then dulls the impulse to review and plan constantly, consciously, every so often in the days of our lives. The space of one year is too long a wait between self-assessment and reflexivity.

If we made our self reviews/plans much more frequently, we'd end up making more reasonable and realistic goals, and constantly monitor satisfaction with our lives. That, I believe, is more meaningful and useful than the annual tradition.