Sunday, December 31, 2006

It's the End of the Year as we know it, and I feel fine

New Year's Eve is going to take place in a matter of hours and so I thought I would invest the time in bashing out a blog entry to talk about the year that's going and the year that we will be entering. Sort of a year-end review that listed companies are so fond of sending out to their stake holders.

One the whole, the year 2006 was a good one for me. Even the death of my Grandmother could not tarnish the positive note that the year had. Although it was sad to lose a much loved Grandma, she was old and sick and her death was something that she was prepared for and as a grandson, I could not have asked for more for her. The family was prepared for her demise, I think when a person reaches 85, death becomes something that you accept and you start to look towards leaving the stage with a graceful curtain call and that's what happened.

In the process of losing my grandmother, my mother's family gained unity. Mum, Aunti Frieda and Uncle Soon got togeher, something which they had not done for quite sometime. We found relatives we never realised that we had. And yes, those at the PUB who remembered my Grandfather attened her funeral, showing that in spite of his repuation for being 'hot tempered' grandfather was so highly regarded for his integrity that the good will his actions generated would survive him and be there at Grandma's funeral. If there was anything that was lost with Grandmother's death was the fact that we lost a moment of great family unity.

On the financial front things were good. No, I did not strike the grand lottery and retire. I even failed to reach my savings target but at least I end the year with cash in the bank. It's especially satisfying to do this because I free-lanced, an activity that often associated with dire poverty. I hope that I'll be disciplined enough to continue saving cash and hopefully I'll be better at paying my bills.

My good fortune this year can be attributed to one community, the Saudi Arabian community. It was by chance that I learnt about HRH Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud's trip for Ali Baksh. It was God willing that the Ambassador Dr Amin Kurdi, decided that I had something to add to his preparations for the visit. The financial rewards for me were good and working on the project allowed me to deal with the higer echelons of society.

There were undoubtedly stressful moments. The energy I ended up investing into the project drained me and at times I was very angry at the way things looked like they were turning out.

However, the Crown Princes visit was on the whole, a defining moment for me. It gave me the confidence that I could do things that are normally handled by a team of officials. More importantly, it enabled me to look forward to building relationships with people from another culture, which is in many ways very special. I saw Saudi Arabia and I think its a place worth discovering.

I'm greatful to His Excellency for giving me the opportunity to work on this project. I'm greatful to His Excellency for showing me what "My Word is my Bond" really means.

I'm glad that I had the opportunity to develop my relationship with Khaled Maeena and the team at Arab News. The articles that I wrote for them during the IMF peroid was also an opportunity for me to discover the pleasure of writing serious news articles and it was also a pleasure to have people from different parts of the world to engage me in discussion.

On a more personal level, I'm glad that I meet people like His Excellency, Dr Abubakar Bin Bagader, Deputy Minister of Information and Communications and I hope that my friendship with Khalid Mussa from that Ministry will be able to grow.

I also worked for Aramco this year. The experience of working with the Embassy put me in a decent position to have a better understanding of Arab culture, and I'm glad that I met Munira Ashgar, an extraordinary lady with a passion for her own culture. Unfortunately the Aramco project was Ali Bakhsh's farewell in Singapore and I wish him well for the opportunities he presented me to work with his community. I hope, Inshallah that I will have more opportunities to build a good relationship with Mohammed Bassurah who succeeeds him.

Ironically a good porition of my good fortune with the Saudi Community came from PN Balji rejecting their business. Balji helped to guide me into a better writer and it was he who helped me to develop a better understanding of what is News. In 2005,  he helped me stay alive, both as a full time employee at BANG Pr and as a free-lance project worker. In 2006, it was he who made me discover myself by not being a backup. The sign of a good mentor is one who encourages you to flourish on your own. Although he did not get the business, he encouraged me to make the business mine. That is surely as sign of a good leader.

Polaris was the other highlight of the year and I'm greatful that my relationship with the company went beyond my relationship with Raymond. We had fun working on the ad for South China Morning Post and I'm glad that he and I still make lunch a regular activity.

Supriyo Sircar and I have started our working relationship on a decent note. The PR project with ARUP Gupta was a success and it looks like Polaris will continue to use my services. I felt that Arun Jain's company had something special to contribute to the world and it's my privillege to help them to just that.

Business cannot survive on grand projects alone. Its the small bread and butter projects that enable one to survive and to this end, I am greatful to Allan Fong at L'eap Communications for allowing me to work on decent small projects like Nescafe Gold and Alcon. I'm especially greatful to the work at Alcon, medical science is advancing and being able to help those with visual impairments.

I'm also greatful to my partners in my other consortium, Loh Mun Loong, Adrian Chiam and Jane Tan. Thanks to their support, I've had the opportunity to work with 3M and to discover the joys of working with SME's like Telcom United and Fabulous Tan.

On the media front, my relationship with Today continued to work at a prominent pace and hopefully I'll be able to do something with the radio in the comming year. It's about experiences, experience and experiences and I've been all the richer for it.

While things were good on the professional and financial front, the highlight of the year undoubtedly took the shape of a 7-year old girl. I never expected that I would find so much joy in being involved in the life of another person but the days that I spent taking the little girl to school, watching her smile and listening to her show off her ability to recite the alphabet made me feel that I had something really worth looking forward to on a daily basis. Suddenly, I realised that it was not a bad thing to be able to want to live your life beyond yourself.

I'd like to end this note by saying thank you to all of my good friends who have helped me become who I am today. Each of you has played a role in helping me to grow and I look forward to another year of growing our friendship.

Happy 2007 and to all Muslim Readers, have a good Eid Al Adha

Outrage at Timing of Execution

Ebtihal Mubarak, Arab News

JEDDAH, 31 December 2006 — The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) yesterday criticized the timing of the execution of Saddam Hussein. An analyst with the official SPA said the execution has drawn strong disapproval of observers because it took place during the holy month of Dul Hijjah, besides being on the first day of Eid Al-Adha. “It is an occasion which is respected by the entire Muslim population,” the analyst said.

He also found fault with the trial as its procedures underwent several replacement of judges and because it took place while the country was under a state of occupation and under the shadow of the ongoing sectarian violence and political strife. “Observers had expected that the trial of the former head of the Iraqi government who ruled for a considerable length of time would last longer with sophisticated legal and court procedures without politicization of the affair,” the analyst said.

Saddam’s execution struck a chord of sympathy in many Saudis, although they did not deny the crimes he committed. “We all know that Saddam was a dictator who led his country to one disaster after another,” said 47-year-old Saudi businessman Mohammad Al-Rashed, “but still his trial was illegal. What we saw on TV were more scenes of black comedy rather than objective trial.”

He said that the trial was based on the Dujail incident, in which Shiite villagers were executed for plotting against Saddam, and that it was neither enough nor convincing, as Saddam was not dealing with entirely innocent citizens. “What would any Arab leader do if he knew of an assassination plot? They would all do exactly what Saddam did, maybe more.”

Al-Rashed thought that Saddam’s war against Iran would have been a more convincing case for trial than Dujail. He said it was a crime against not only Iranians but also Iraqis.

“He was merely a tool in the hands of Americans and when his role was done they sacrificed him on the Eid day. The choice of the execution day is no mistake and it surely is an American message that mocks our defeat and surrender,” he added.

Other Saudis felt sympathy for Saddam. “We prayed for Saddam’s soul in Madinah with my family today,” said Mariam Saleh, a 29-year-old teacher. She felt that Saddam was humiliated in his last days by the Americans.

Regardless of what he did before, “he is still a Muslim and thus deserves our mercy,” said Mariam.

Mohammad Al-Assaf, 33, had different opinion of Saddam’s execution on the Eid Al-Adha day. “Now they made him a martyr,” he said.

He said the Americans are not na├»ve and they chose the day on purpose. “They wanted to implant in the minds of Muslims that the Shiites of Iraq chose the sacrifice day to kill Saddam as a challenge to Iraqi Sunnis.”

Al-Assaf said the sentence of death was passed 55 days ago and the Americans knew that by choosing the morning of Eid Al-Adha to execute him would upset all Muslims, even those who acknowledge Saddam’s cruelty.

“America’s claims of restoring peace in Iraq proved to be nonsense today. They only make things worse by inciting Sunnis against Shiites and fueling the division,” he said.

Others expressed sentiments that ranged from outrage over the continued state of insecurity and lack of sufficient infrastructure in Iraq to utter contempt for the US occupation and its past military support of the strongman from Tikrit.

“Saddam is dead, let’s close this chapter forever,” said Sultan Al-Otaibi, a resident of Jeddah. “The next chapter that we need to close now is who supported Saddam and gave him weapons. Donald Rumsfeld was hugging Saddam and the US supported him and provided biological weapons and delivery equipment.”

Imran Waheed, spokesman for the British affiliate of the Muslim political party Hizb ut-Tahrir, agrees. “Saddam’s trial conveniently ignored his close ties with Western governments and corporations throughout his years of brutality, the weapons bought from Western corporations, the support given to him in the war with Iran,” he said. “Bush and Blair, like previous leaders of the US and Britain, continue their close relationships with brutal dictators in the Muslim world when it suits their interests, and will surely discard them when it suits their interests.”

Muhammad Mardi Al-Tayeb, a Sudanese resident in Jeddah, asked what difference Saddam’s death had made to Iraq. “The very same day he was executed, Iraqis woke up to more bombs, shooting and people dying,” he said.

People like Saddam get what they deserve. However, Muhsin Ali, an Egyptian worker in Jeddah, said that he wished justice was carried out by the people of Iraq themselves rather than with the Americans orchestrating everything covertly.

“I never loved Saddam, but as an Arab I felt it was insulting that a former president, even though he was bad, was executed with the help of the US,” explained Ali.

Saudi student Hashem Al-Imam said that Saddam got what he deserved. “This is the appropriate end for a dictator that ruled Iraq with an iron fist and killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and forced many Iraqis to become refugees,” he said. “Today is a celebration of two happy occasions, Eid Al-Adha and the execution of Saddam.”

However, Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said executing Saddam at the beginning of Eid was an “insensitive and provocative act by the US-backed Iraqi government.”

“No one can deny that Saddam should have faced justice for his crimes against the people of Iraq and also his invasion of Iran and Kuwait,” said Abdul Bari. “Far from contributing to a so-called healing process, it may serve to further intensify the sectarian divisions in Iraq.”

— Additional input from Mahmoud Ahmad and Ismail Nakhuda

The Tyrant is Dead: Long Live Tyranny.

Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s former President was by all accounts not a figure that inspired sympathy. In the years that he ruled Iraq, ordinary Iraqi people were forced to live with arbitrary arrest, regular tortures and other forms of human-rights abuses. The man had no qualms in using banned chemical weapons against civilians and while his people starved during the years of international sanctions, one of the Arab World’s most learned people ended up living in wretched poverty, while he and his ilk lived in luxury.

However, his execution by hanging was a tragedy and I believe that instead of marking the “Dawn of a New Era,” in a “New Democratic and Stable” Iraq, will only lead more violence within Iraq and greater instability in the Middle East and beyond.

Although Saddam Hussein was nobody’s angel, his removal from power by the 2003, US lead invasion was illegal under International Law. The UN was presented with no evidence that he possessed “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMD) and the UN Inspectors found none. However, instead of working to secure real evidence to justify the invasion under the UN’s Sanctions, the USA and UK decided to invade Iraq to “Liberate” the Iraqi people.

Having removed him from power, the Western World chose not to offer the Iraqi people what they had been promised – a free, fair and prosperous society. Iraq’s oil wealth was supposed to be released to build a “New” Iraq, which would be run by a democratically elected executive, reporting to a democratically elected and multicultural legislature and an independent and impartial judiciary. There were some hiccups but when Saddam was captured and paraded in front of the cameras, it looked like Iraqi’s would get the chance to live a decent life in a decent society.

Three-years on, Iraq is on the verge of what incoming US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates calls a “Civil War.” Everyday, ordinary Iraqi’s who used to be united under Saddam’s tyranny had the choice of being shot at by various militias on a daily basis. The USA, the world’s most powerful armed force is seemingly powerless to help Iraqi people, unless they happen to be driving a Haliburton Executive to work on an overpriced contract. The release of oil wealth that was supposed to take place has not gone into the Iraqi economy, unless you count the diversion from building a palace for Saddam Hussein to driving Haliburton Executives as major economic progress.

However, the Western Occupation of Iraq has yielded one or two positive results. Democracy – Iraq has a democratically elected government, which was only elected by Iraqi people because Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani thought it was a good idea. The Judiciary has also proved to be so independent and impartial that Saddam Hussein was denied access to defence lawyers (of which a few were shot, gangland style) and a judge who voiced the opinion that Saddam Hussein was not the “Evil” dictator who messed-up Iraq was removed. Saddam Hussein was actually very lucky, he was allowed to shave, trim down and stay alive for three-years, and even if some of his prison guards liked video taping him, he didn’t have Pte Lyndie England looking after him at Abu Gharib.

Perhaps a few people could argue that Saddam got off very lightly compared to what he did to others. Saddam was not known for his gentle approach to dealing with his opponents, but wasn’t that supposed to stop when he was toppled. Wasn’t the trial of Saddam Hussein supposed to be about showing Iraqi people a fairer form of justice than what they were used to?

Iraqi’s have also been robbed of the chance to discover their history through the trial of Saddam Hussein. Why was he allowed to do what he did? South Africa “Healed” from Apartheid by having a “Truth and Reconciliation” committee that either forgave or punished perpetrators of a regime that abused human rights longer than Saddam Hussein existed. Iraq will never get anything resembling that.

And perhaps that’s what the Western powers want. Saddam, a former US ally (Guess who provided him with those chemical weapons he was supposed to have used against Kurds, Marsh Arabs and others?) had been removed because the person in the White House decided he was no longer fun as the villain to centre foreign policy around. Imagine what other ‘Western Backed’ Arab Governments would do if they realised how supportive the West actually was towards those they backed. To hell with justice, to hell with fairness and to hell due process and national reconciliation, a corpse wouldn’t be able to put a damper on the joys of being ‘Western Backed.’

Iraqi’s have been stoic. They think they’ve merely replaced one lot of thugs for another. Only this time, they’re less patient, particularly with the thugs from outside telling them that being violated is part of the act of being “Liberated” and “Defended.”

So, for Saddam Hussein and Iraq, it’s a case of – The Tyrant is Dead: Long Live Tyranny.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Good Dudes Parade

It did occur to me that I was being exceedingly sexist by having a section for guys to drool over and nothing for girls at all. So, I decided that I would put the guys on parade.

However, since I don't make it a habit of capturing the hunky chunky form on my trusty phone camera the ladies will have to be content with looking at my guy friends. Some of my friends can be described as hunky, some are cute, some a handsomely boyish and some are cute in a different sort of way. What all the guys that I've posted up do have in common is the fact that I've always been able to have a good laugh with them and they've helped me in their own peculiar ways to get by life as all good friends, colleagues and aquaintainces so often to.

Ladies, I hope this does a little bit to make up for having to look at blokes eye candy.

Four Public Holidays

It was the last working day of the year 2006 and I spent a good part of it trying to relax and to get to know what the heck I'll be aiming for in the year 2007. The year is supposed to be the Year of the Pig, another good year for me and somehow I have to make the most of what's in it for me.

The year will unfortunately end with me not making my savings target. In fact I ended up having to dip into savings yet again. Unfortunately for me, I did not have cheques comming in this week and somehow I'll have to make it to the next one, which if as expected won't come in until late next week. And thanks to Tuesday being a make up holiday for Eid Al Adha or Hari Raya, it's going to be four days of no cash comming in until next Thursday - a case of - oh heck. I guess that's part and parcel of being self-employed, when the cash is not flowing in the way you like it to, public holidays become something of a pain in the butt.

However, projects are in the pipeline and somehow or other, I think its possible that this year won't be like the last one when I came home from Germany, worried that it would be bankrupted with each impending day. There are things to do and I can do them and somehow, in the early months of the next year, I'll be able to sort out the rougher parts of this year that I did not and cannot do within the next couple of days.

Today was Han Li's birthday. Spent about half an hour with her over a cup of coffee. I'm seroiusly thinking of spending a few days with her in Hanoi before I try and go to Hamburg. At the very least, it will be a new experience, and I'm told that I would be delighted with the array of beauties . I'm reminded of PJ O'Rouke who described Vietnamese beauties as making Cindy Crawford look like Ross Perot (You'd think that with all that money, Ross could have made himself look a bit more like Cindy )  Anyway, the crazy one tells me that hotels in Hanoi are decent and I should not worry as long as she's with me - which is probably a sign that I should be publically wetting myself with worry

Still trying to make New Year's resolutions. Not sure why one bothers, most of them are broken at the very first opportunity. For some reason, I decided that I would try and make the effort to get fit - I went running for a grand total of two occasions and that idea died along with the dinosaurs . Running, its supposed to be ultimate cardiovascular work-out, a time good enough for the body to convince the natural storage system that it's time to let go of things and reduce one to a hardened washbord of someone elses fantasy. Really, I don't know why I've been so bad at keeping up the running, I live in the East and near the beach where things are good and glorious for outdoor pursuits

Geetha will be having a small gathering at her place on New Year's Eve and I've been invited to join her. I think that's something I'd like to do very much. This is a special year for the lady , she reached the big Four-Zero  but for once, since I've known her, I was late in sending the good birthday greetings . Hopefully, New Year's Eve with her will be well spent. Geetha is just one of those people whom I can spend alot of time with. I've said to her on many occasions that she's the first person that I've met since I moved back here who provided me with anything resembling a WOW  feeling and even though we've somehow never got round to do anything, she's someone who remains special  - each and every meeting with her is something that I look forward to.

Wei, a former business partner once made the remark that I had a way with Indians and Arabs. He said that he didn't mind as long as my affinity with these two groups helped to pay the bills. Capitalism, as they say, is colour blind . I have been blessed this year by old relationships between these two communities. The Saudi Embassy, Aramco and Polaris were clients that made me feel that I had achieved something. I also enjoyed writing for Arab News this year. It felt good to write about issues that I felt I needed to comment on. I hope that I'll be blessed with the good fortune but more importantly the common sense to build on my relationship with these organisations and communities in 2007.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Finn Fun

It's been a bloody awful day. Whole day was spent raining cats, dogs, pigs, cows and the whole load of barnyard animals and having pretentions about being clever, I promtly decided to wear my cheaper shoes thinking that the rubber soles would do the trick in keeping the water out. - Boy was I wrong  - half way through walking in the rain, guess what, one of the dastardly soles had the audacity to fall out and there I was plonking around the place like a clown with a wet foot. Anyway, I finally did the smartish thing and sent the shoe for repair before heading home to change shoes.

Anyway, here I am on Boxing Day or St Stephens Day bashing out a blog entry as a form of releasing my frustrations with the wet shoe. It's been raining non stop and I think the most appropriate thing to say is that I've not been dreaming of a wet a soggy Christmas or even Boxing Day. Then again, there's been no Tsunami and I guess I must be doing OK when you take that into consideration.

On a more positive note, I went out with Azmi and ended up running into Cripe Hulphers and Ride Hamlin (The Gentle Giant - who is only 1.92 metres tall and a mere 105kg  ) I haven't seen the guys from Finland and it's been really great to see them and to catch up on old times and to hear of how old friends are doing in the land of the never rising though sometimes never setting sun. I think I fell in love with the stunning nature of Finland all those years ago in the year 2000. Utterly amazing.

Of course no reunion with Finns is ever complete without the joys of booze and I ended up having more than is actually good for me. Ah well, as one Finnish friends used to say, "It's Friday Night, I am drunk and it is the most beautiful thing in the world," or in this case it had to be substituted for Boxing Day. Anyway, poor Old Ride was hopping to see some sunshine and instead has had the joys of looking at the gloomy skies and the rain - though Christian, ever the optimist did point out that this time of the year in Finland has Zero Sunlight.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Merry Christmas and what nots in the Tropics

Today is Christmas Day, the world's favourite festival. Shoppers who had been busy spending their bonuses stayed at home and stuffed their faces on turkey or goose and Christmas trees stood tall and proud for all to see.

I on the other hand slept late. It was up at 11, lunch at 1130 and then nap time at 12 before being woken up at 1400 before going out to stuff myself silly at another lunch appointment. Didn't spend it in the traditional way but I had some Christmas presents to open and lots of food to eat.

Christmas, the festival of goodwill to all mankind was marked in a pretty unremarkable fashion. You could say that it was an anti-climax to months of build-up, hype and excitement. However, that should not have been in anyway a detraction from the significance of Christmas, namely the fact that Christmas is the one day of the year that we can have peace and good will to all mankind.

Sent a note to Azlan who has arrived in Jeddah and the last time I sent an SMS to him, it seems that he was on his way to Medina, one of the Holy cities in the Islamic World. He will, God willing be able to get decent coverage for the Malay TV station of the Haj, one of the greatest incidences in the life of any Muslim.

I'm not sure how much significance one can drawn from this but I think its really nice that he's off to do Haj Coverage on Christmas Day. Good to have the monothestic faiths working together for the same goal - if you take a look at the major conflicts in the last few years, you'll notice that most of them have been caused by the inability of the monothestic faiths to get along and accept that they're worshiping the same God.  So, if a Muslim can be doing something vaguely significant on Christmas Day, it's got to be a sign that perhaps life is not as violent and vile as it may sometimes be.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht - All is calm, all is bright.

It's Christmas Eve and my mother is busy organising Heilige Abend with the family in Germany. Heilige Abend or Holy Evening is the time when the German Speaking world opens presents and families get together.

I prefer the term Helige Abend to Christmas Eve because I think of the German version of "Silent Night" - the translation of Silent Night, Holy Night, reads like the TS Eliot (At least I think it was TS who wrote the poetic description) of the night that the British and Germans faced each other in the trenches of the First World War.

As legend has it, the British Troops were in their trenches celebrating Christmas, singing Silent Night. Suddenly they heard the same tune being sung in German. Troops from both sides crossed "No Man's Land" and celebrated Christmas together. Of course, they went back to killing each other, but at least they had a moment of peace and harmony together in a time when people were focused on killing each other.

It's not much to talk about in the modern world of fast-pace, grab all you can culture that we have today. But in a time when people were at war, every single moment of peace was precious and I think this is something that's worth remembering. As long as we have peace, we don't appreciate it. But if we were from a culture where killing was the norm, each moment of peace would be something we'd hold onto for life.

And it was Christmas, the Silent Night that brought people who were killing each other to stop killing and come together in peace and harmony. For that, I think the power of the Silent Night is something worth celebrating every year,

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Who Really Made Singapore?

I've been looking through my friend, Simpleman's post on the 'Elite in Singapore' and through reading the various postings, I started to think about - Who really made Singapore? It's an important question to ask because I believe that if we can answer the question on who we were, it will enable us to answer the question of how we are going to get ahead. The future as they say is often in the past.

Lee Kuan Yew will undoubtedly get the prize as the individual who did the most to make modern Singapore. Our first Prime Minister was a masterful politician and nobody should be in any doubt of his intelligence, tennacity and integrity. The man was educated in the best of Victorian Britain's traditions and the Victorian Values, which later became repackaged as Asian Values, have helped Singapore create a culture where hard work, education and honesty are rewarded. Even if I think MM Lee's position on affairs in the Middle East will be dangerous for Singapore, I admire the fact that even in his mid-eighties the man's mind remains sharp as a razor.  

On the whole, Singapore has also been blessed with good government. Say what you like about government officials in Singapore being obnoxious, Singapore's civil servants are intelligent, hard working and most importantly honest with the best intentions at heart. The government has been by and large very effective at delivering the goods that government should provide like water, urban planning and a clean and safe environment.

However, while good government, lead by competent people has played an important role in Singapore's success, the real success of Singapore lies in the hands of Singaporeans themselves.

Yes, the government provided an education system but it was up to Singaporeans to make use of it. Yes, the government provided a police force but it was up to Singaporeans to respect the laws of the land. Technocratic competence in the civil service has given us a world-class government but that technocratic competence would mean very little if people were not willing or able to execute beautifully laid out plans.

Singapore's economy is in actual fact built by small-time entrepreneurs from China and India and other parts of the world. More often than not, these were men who were barely litterate but had a good nose for opportunity, a head for figures and a ruthless drive to make a better life for themselves. The drive and hunger provided by these men is what has built Singapore. It was these men who understood that their children could achieve a better life through the things that the government was providing and they helped the government to provide things by funding complementary institutions like private schools and so on.

Perhaps I'm getting a tad cynical in my old age but I think Singaporeans have underestimated their own contributions to the nation. We've become so in awe of the government that we seek every solution to our problem in the government and we become unable to find our own drive and hunger.

This is seen in the continuing awe that we hold government schoolars in. Somehow we see them as being central to our success. To be fair, the government schoolarship system has helped nuture a cadre of competent people to run the show. To be fair, most government schoolars are from humble origins and have risen by merit. However, should we, the general population hold them in such awe? Should we be so enamoured of "White Horses" that we grant them special privilleges that they are embarrased by?

The answer is NO. Government schoolars are good at keeping the system running but that does not make them necessarily good at creating new value. Take the army for example. The SAF scholarship is one of the most presitious scholarships available in Singapore. Thanks to this system, our officers are highly educated people. I was exceedingly privilleged to be lead by men who were good leaders who happened to be SAF scholars. I think of Colonel Toh Boh Kwee my former Commanding Officer. I think he was an Oxford Graduate but he was more importantly a commander who lead by example and was dedicated to bringing out the best in his men. I think of LTC Tan Chong Lee, my former Battery Commander (BC), a Cambridge Graduate who was married to his job. Most of all, I think of LTC Lam Sheau Kai another former BC, from the LSE, who made it a point to go to his men and talk to them in Hokkien so that he could communicate effectively.

Do I think the SAF Scholarship system automatically secures the best man for the job? I don't. It was my provillege tobe lead by men who were leaders first and SAF scholars second. Quite a few people I knew were less fortunate. They were lead by SAF Scholars first and leaders second. When you provide a secure and guarenteed path for people, there is a risk that they become more interested in reaching the end goal rather than the job at hand. Why strive so hard as a platoon commander when you know that as long as you follow the script given to you, you'll be the GM of a Temasek Listed company before your 40th birthday?

And even when the SAF schoolar is genuinely dedicated to the job at hand, he's not given enough time to make a difference. Commanding Officers come and go. Likewise for battery and company commanders. They stay in their post for a year and before you know it they're gone. I say this with some pride but at one stage in the artillery formation, all the active battalions were run by men who were 23SA Battery Commanders. Why? The reason was the fact that 23SA officers served tours of 2-years rather than 1 as was the norm. As such they could grow into the job and show real results of their leadership. - Football teams have a similar situation, Man U does well because Sir Alex Ferguson has been in the job for 20-years. How good can our leadership actually be if people in varoius jobs are not given the opportunity to develop in their jobs?

Finally, I'm reminded of what Uncle Andy said: "You know the army is going downhill when so much attention and training is lavished on the officer corp at the expense of the NCO corp." Officers are planning people. Smart people can come up with all the plans but if their not executed properly, they are useless. NCO's or Specialist in the SAF are the people who get things done. They are the people who get things done because they are close to the men and they have grown into their jobs. CO's may come and go but an Regimental Quartermaster (RQ) Sargent may stay in the same job for a decade or so. A good RQ ensures that the battalions logistics are in order, without him the battalion is useless.

Can society continue in its current mode when everything is focused on the planning people (officers) while ignoring the doing people (specialist)? How can we compete against the masses of China and India with a government staffed by clever technocratic people but while the masses or the people who get things done have not been as well developed?  

A while back, an emminent academic pointed out that the future of Singapore will be in the hands of the SME's. Small time entrepreneurs with a good a idea and the guts to try things our despite established norms. Where will these entrepreneurs come from? Alot of them will come from ambitious foreign talents, mostly from developing nations like China, India, Nepal and even neighbouring Malaysia. A good many more should come from the rank and file of ordinary Singaporeans who may not fit into the established pattern of government schoolarships but are celever enough at varoius things.

These people need to nutured. Their hunger is what will drive Singapore. It was what drove Singapore in the past and it will do so in the future. Super government can help but it's not necessary or useless if the average member of the population does not have hunger. Look at the way in which Hong Kong has succeeded with a hungry population but very ambivalent government. It's time Singaporeans lost their awe (This does not mean we lost our respect of good government or appreciate the value it brings) of the government and political leadership and start valuing their own strengths and weaknesses instead.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Back to the Scene of the Crime

Uri Avnery,

When the Israeli government decided, in the space of a few hours, to start
the Second Lebanon War, it did not have any plan.

When the chief-of-staff urged the Cabinet to start the war, he did not submit
any plan. This was disclosed this week by a military investigation committee.
That is shocking.

A plan is not an optional extra, something nice you can do without. A war
without a plan is like a human body without a spinal column. Would anyone think
of building a house without a plan? To put up a bridge? To produce a car? To
hold a conference? After all, unlike a house, a bridge, a car or a conference, a
war is supposed to kill people. Its very essence is killing and destroying.

Almost in every case, to initiate a war is a crime. To start such a war
without a plan and proper preparation is totally irresponsible — heaping crime
upon crime.

When a state starts a war, the sequence is — in simplistic terms — as

(1) The government adopts a clear political aim.

(2) The government deliberates whether this aim can be achieved by war —
after it comes to the conclusion that it cannot be achieved by other means.

From this point on, the emphasis moves from the political to the military
leadership. Its duty is:

(3) To draw up a strategic plan for attaining the aim decided upon by the

(4) To translate the strategic plan into a tactical plan. Among others: To
decide what forces are needed, which forces will be employed, what is the target
of each force and within which time it must achieve it, as well as to foresee
possible moves by the other side.

(5) To prepare the forces for their tasks, in accordance with their training
and equipment.

A wise government will also think about the situation it would like to have
after the war, and will instruct the military to take this into consideration
while planning its operations.

Now it appears that nothing of this sort happened. There was no clearly
defined war aim, there was no political or military plan, there were no clear
objectives for the troops and they were not prepared for the tasks they were
given. Without a central plan, nothing of these was even possible.

A war without a plan is no war at all, but an adventure. A government that
starts a war without a plan is no government at all, but a bunch of politicians.
A general staff that goes to war without a plan is no general staff at all, but
a group of generals.

The way events developed, according to the inquiry committees, was like this:
The government decided on the war in a hurry, within a few hours, without
defining any aim.

In the following days, several war aims were thrown around. They followed
each other in quick succession and contradicted each other in many ways. That by
itself is a recipe for disaster: Every aim demands its own methods and means,
which may be quite different from those demanded by another.

Among the aims that were announced: The release of the two captured soldiers,
the destruction of Hezbollah, the elimination of the arsenal of missiles in
South Lebanon, the pushing of Hezbollah away from the border, and more. Beyond
that there was a general desire to have a Lebanese government that was
completely subservient to American and Israeli interests.

If competent army officers had been instructed to draw up a plan for each of
these aims, they would soon have arrived at the conclusion that all of them were
unattainable by military means.

The idea that the two prisoners could be liberated by war is manifestly
ridiculous. Like going after a mosquito with a sledgehammer. The proper means is
diplomacy. Perhaps somebody would have suggested capturing some Hezbollah
commanders in order to facilitate an exchange of prisoners. Anything — except a

The destruction of Hezbollah by a necessarily limited war was impossible, as
should have been clear from the beginning. This is a guerilla force that is part
of a political movement which is deeply rooted in Lebanese reality (as can be
seen these days on any television screen). No guerilla movement can be destroyed
by a regular army, and certainly not in one single stroke and within days or

The elimination of the missile arsenal? If the army command had sat down to
elaborate a military plan, they would have realized that aerial bombardment can
achieve this only in part. A complete destruction would have demanded the
occupation of all of South Lebanon, well beyond the Litani River. During that
time, a large part of Israel would have been exposed to the missiles, without
the population being prepared for it. If that conclusion had been presented to
the government, would it have taken the decision it took?

The pushing of Hezbollah from the border by a few kilometers north is not a
proper war aim. Starting a war for that purpose, leading to the killing of
masses of people and destroying whole neighborhoods and villages, would have
meant frivolity where serious deliberation was required. But the government did
not have to go into such deliberations. Since it did not define any clear aim,
it did not demand nor receive any military plan.

If the recklessness of the political leadership was scandalous, the
recklessness of the military leadership was doubly so.

The army command went to war without any clearly defined aim and without any
plan. There were some plans that had been prepared and exercised beforehand,
without any specific political aim in mind, but they were ignored and abandoned
as the war started. After all, who needs a plan? Since when do Israelis plan?
Israelis improvise, and are proud of it.

So they improvised. The chief-of-staff, an air force general, decided that it
was sufficient to bomb: If enough civilians were killed and enough houses, roads
and bridges destroyed, the Lebanese people would go down on its knees and do
whatever the Israeli government commanded.

When this failed (as should have been foreseen) and most Lebanese of all
communities rallied behind Hezbollah, the C-o-C realized that there was no
avoiding ground operations. Since there was no plan, he did without. Troops were
sent into Lebanon in a haphazard way, without clear objectives, without
timetables. The same locations were occupied time and again. The end result: The
forces bit off small pieces of land on the edges of Hezbollah territory, without
any real achievement, but with heavy losses.

It cannot be said that the war aims were not attained. Simply, there was no
war aim. The worst part was not the lack of a plan. The worst part was that the
generals did not even notice its absence.

A military leader needs intuition. Certainly. But intuition grows from by
experience — his own experience, the experience of his army and the accumulated
experience of centuries of warfare.

For example: If they had read the books of Basil Liddell Hart, perhaps the
most authoritative military commentator of the last century, they would have
learned that the battle of David and Goliath was not a confrontation between a
boy with a primitive sling and a heavily armed and protected giant, as it is
usually presented, but quite on the contrary, a battle between a sophisticated
fighter with a modern weapon that could kill from a distance and a cumbersome
combatant equipped with obsolescent arms.

Now we have several military inquiry committees, appointed by the
chief-of-staff himself (about 40 of them!), and they, one after another, confirm
our criticism almost word for word. Not only confirm, but add a wealth of
details that paint an even darker picture.

It is a picture of utter confusion: Improvised operations, an anarchic
command structure, misunderstanding of orders, orders that were issued,
cancelled and issued again, general staff officers giving orders directly to
subordinate commanders bypassing the chain of command.

An army that was once one of the best in the world, an object of study for
officers in many countries, has become an inefficient and incompetent body. The
committees do not answer a basic question: How did this happen?

Next June, the occupation of the Palestinian territories will reach its 40th
anniversary. There is no precedent for such a long military occupation regime. A
military occupation is by its very nature a short-term instrument. In the course
of a war, the army conquers enemy territory, administers it until the end of the
war, when its fate is decided by a peace agreement.

No army is happy with the role of an occupying force, knowing that this
destroys it, corrupts it from inside, damages it physically and mentally,
diverts it from its most important function and imposes on it methods that have
nothing to do with its real mission — to defend the state in war.

With us, the occupation became, almost from the beginning, a political
instrument for the attainment of objectives that are foreign to the function of
“Defense Forces”. In theory, it is a military regime, but in practice it is a
colonial subjugation, in which the Israeli army mainly fulfills the shameful
task of an oppressive police force.

An army whose job is to uphold the occupation — “targeted killings” (approved
this week by the Supreme Court in a shameful decision), demolition of homes,
mistreating helpless civilians, hunting stone-throwing children, humiliating
people at innumerable roadblocks and the hundred and one other daily doings of
an occupation army — has shown that it is not fit for real war, even against a
small guerilla force.

The corruption of the Israeli Army and the rot that has set in, exposed in
all their ugliness by the investigations of the war, are a danger for the State
of Israel.

Abizaid, Top U.S. Mideast Commander During Iraq War, to Retire

And here goes probably the last US commander on the ground with a grasp of Arabic

By Tony Capaccio

Dec. 20 (Bloomberg) -- General John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East during most of the Iraq war, said today that he will retire in mid-March.

Abizaid has opposed a major increase in U.S. troops in Iraq -- an idea President George W. Bush is considering -- saying extra forces would only increase Iraqis' dependency on U.S. forces and strain a U.S. military that's already stretched.

Abizaid, at a press conference in Baghdad today, said ``the time is right'' for his retirement and ``it has nothing to do with dissatisfaction'' with U.S. strategy in the war. Abizaid was with new Defense Secretary Robert Gates who's in Iraq to reassess that strategy.

Abizaid, 55, is the longest-serving head of the U.S. Central Command, with authority over more than 200,000 U.S. troops in the Middle East, South Asia and the Horn of Africa. He began in July 2003 what was supposed to be a 3-year stint in the post and agreed to stay on until early 2007 at the request of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, said Major Matt McLaughlin, a Centcom spokesman.

Testifying at a Nov. 15 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Abizaid said he did ``not believe that more American troops right now is the solution'' to quelling the sectarian violence in Iraq, now at an all-time high.

Discussing the issue with reporters several weeks before, he made this point: ``Every time American troops operate in large numbers, it creates a dynamic where Iraqi troops do less. It's very important that Iraqi troops take responsibility for military operations in their own country.''

Moreover, adding troops in Iraq would strain military missions elsewhere, he said. ``Where do you think they would come from?'' he asked.

Independent Views

Abizaid, during the Nov. 15 hearing, became one of the first active-duty military officials to say that then-Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki was correct when he told the armed services panel in February 2003 that the U.S. would need ``several hundred thousand'' troops to stabilize a postwar Iraq - - an assessment roundly rejected at the time by Rumsfeld and his then-deputy Paul Wolfowitz.

Abizaid disagreed publicly with Rumsfeld as early as July 16, 2003, when he told a press conference that the U.S. faced a ``classical guerrilla-type campaign'' in Iraq.

Rumsfeld in an earlier press conference said ``I don't use the phase `guerrilla war' because there isn't one.''

The book ``State of Denial'' by Washington Post editor Bob Woodward, Abizaid as telling visitors to his Qatar headquarters in 2005 that Rumsfeld ``has no credibility anymore.'' Abizaid denied making the remark.

A native of Coleville, California and the grandson of Lebanese Christian immigrants, Abizaid is fluent in Arabic and attended the University of Amman in Jordan before earning a master's degree in Middle Eastern studies from Harvard University.

Counting Days

It's Wednesday and once again I am up and awake at a time of the day where most people would normally be fast asleep. I'm here trying to unload the contents of my purile mind into cyberspace in the hope that somehow, somewhere people out there will find a gem or two in my sad little life.

Anyway, life was not too sad. Actually it was quite cute. Ended up catching up with Han Li and spending quite a bit of quality time together. Relaxing to be together and I'm wondering if I should try and plan dropping by Hanoi before heading off to see my mother in Germany? At the very least it could be a new experience.

I'm currently counting the days down to Christmas and then to New Year. I'll need to work out an article for Today and for Arab News. Hadn't had time to work on the Christmas cards in the way I used to, but I think I shall try and express my Christmas wishes via what I seem most familiar with - articles. I think Azlan's trip to Saudi for Haj Pilgrimage on Christmas day would be a good start. I wouldn't go to the extent that Gina's church would go to and call poor old Santa Claus a creation of the devil, but I do feel that the "Shopping Spree" and "Spend till you die" aspect of Christmas has been overdone and the spirit of Christmas needs more emphasis.

Christmas, Jesus's birthday is something worth celebrating. Whether you believe that Christ is devine is irrelevant. For me, the man could have been many things, but his message was and is devine. The command to love your fellow man, including those who sin against you is something that we don't hear too often and I think people could do more to spreed this message. There is way too much hate being preached - even amongst certain people who would claim to be messengers of Christ.

It's worth remembering that he told a wealthy young man to "Sell your posessions and become a follower of mine." - It's something that many Church leaders would do well to remember as they count their tithes. It's also an irony that his message of giving up your material posessions is celebrated by endless consumption of things that you don't need or really want after the whole jing gang is over.

Perhaps I'm a little cynical because my travel plans went awray. Perhaps I'm cynical because the last time I spent Christmas in Singapore was two-years ago with my Grandma who died this year.

All this may be true but that shouldn't detract from what I really want for Christmas. That is, I would like to walk on Christmas day and not be detracted by the pressures to want and need more. I'd like to walk on of the house on a Christmas day and feel that I'm not going to look at the poor and suffering remaining that way. It's not going to happen but at least I can dream that on Christmas day I will be able to just be.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


It's raining. It's been raining so heavily for the best part of the day that some areas of town are completly flooded. It's water, water everywhere and although this could, lead to a few environmental issues, on the whole it will have the magic benefit of making the weather a bit cooler and this will also keep our local reservoirs filled. Singapore, as I've reminded myself on quite a few occasions is a water-scarce nation and needs to be able to get hold of every drop of the stuff that it can get.

Anyway, I've spent the better part of the day walking under ground trying to avoid the rain. Went to physiotherapy in the morning where I ran into my little insurance agent. The cute little thing had a car accident a few days ago and needs physio to recover - hope she does so quickly.

 Then it was down to town to finish off the report for the helpline event that we had on Sunday. This will hopefully allow us to collect a bit more money before Christmas. Anyway, we have delivered beyond the client's wildest expectations. It's pitty we were not collecting the actual advertising dollars, would be enough to keep us in lucre for the rest of the year. - The main thing is, I manage to get the bills paid and come close to the savings target that I had set for myself. If there's a lesson for me this year, it's been the importance of being liquid. The jobs come in and sometimes they don't, so you got to have a means of making sure that you can live during the times when the cash does not flow.

Anyway, December is comming to an end and I'm still running about like a hatter. Somehow, whenever I think I can retire from the life that I lead and head towards a state of meditation, I somehow end up having to do more mad things that I thought I would never get round to doing. So here it is, activity is non stop and I may go mad before you know it.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Democracy, Made to Order?

From Arab News

19 December 2006

most British politicians, Tony Blair is a proud member of the British
House of Commons, the mother of parliamentary democracy. Thus when a
legislator like Blair speaks on democracy, as on his current Middle
East peace mission, he deserves a respectful hearing. He has called for
new elections in Palestine. He says the government Palestinians elected
January has failed because a basic plank of its policy is that it is
not currently prepared to recognize the state of Israel. Because the
Hamas government would not renounce violence against Israel, the
“international community” led by Blair’s friend George Bush, has
mounted an economic and political blockade against the Palestinian
administration. The result has been widespread economic and social
disruption that has ratcheted up Hamas-Fatah rivalry so that Palestine
seems now on the brink of civil war.

The only way out of this
conflict, out of this threatening impasse says Blair, who as a child of
the mother of parliamentary democracy should know more about the
democratic process than most world politicians, is a fresh general

Those who would learn from the wisdom and experience of
the British prime minister may well want to ask him one important
question. What will happen if in another free and fair election, the
Palestinian people once again choose Hamas to be their government?
Presumably, his and Bush’s international community will accept the
electoral verdict if it falls in favor of Fatah. We in the Middle East,
who are so unversed in the matter of democracy, may not be able to
appreciate the subtle difference that would allow Washington and London
to however reject the choice of the Palestinians if it is once again

Just supposing that Hamas won a second time. Would that,
by some complex formula of democracy that we clearly do not understand,
mean that the world’s capitals would finally accept the outcome? If so,
why was their choice not good enough the first time? Or will
Palestinians be forced to go to the polls for a third vote, to see if
they can make a different decision?

In his busy schedule as an
important international statesman, Blair has not yet had time to
explain how a free election, designed to produce a government that
reflects the views of the largest group of a country’s citizens, can
somehow nevertheless be invalid. If, for instance, the international
community had felt that Blair’s May 2005 election victory with just 35
percent of the vote was invalid, because of his unwavering support for
US aggression in Iraq, would world statesmen have been right to have
backed a call by the British opposition Conservatives and Liberal
Democrats (with 54 percent of the vote between them) to run the
election again?

Or, then again, should Blair, as a democratic
champion, have demanded a completely fresh US 2000 presidential
election after the Miami-Dade County voting machine scandal let George
W. Bush into the White House? If he had, at the very least, it would
have saved at least 600,000 Iraqi lives. But he did not. Why?


Democracy, Made to Order?

From Arab News

19 December 2006

most British politicians, Tony Blair is a proud member of the British
House of Commons, the mother of parliamentary democracy. Thus when a
legislator like Blair speaks on democracy, as on his current Middle
East peace mission, he deserves a respectful hearing. He has called for
new elections in Palestine. He says the government Palestinians elected
January has failed because a basic plank of its policy is that it is
not currently prepared to recognize the state of Israel. Because the
Hamas government would not renounce violence against Israel, the
“international community” led by Blair’s friend George Bush, has
mounted an economic and political blockade against the Palestinian
administration. The result has been widespread economic and social
disruption that has ratcheted up Hamas-Fatah rivalry so that Palestine
seems now on the brink of civil war.

The only way out of this
conflict, out of this threatening impasse says Blair, who as a child of
the mother of parliamentary democracy should know more about the
democratic process than most world politicians, is a fresh general

Those who would learn from the wisdom and experience of
the British prime minister may well want to ask him one important
question. What will happen if in another free and fair election, the
Palestinian people once again choose Hamas to be their government?
Presumably, his and Bush’s international community will accept the
electoral verdict if it falls in favor of Fatah. We in the Middle East,
who are so unversed in the matter of democracy, may not be able to
appreciate the subtle difference that would allow Washington and London
to however reject the choice of the Palestinians if it is once again

Just supposing that Hamas won a second time. Would that,
by some complex formula of democracy that we clearly do not understand,
mean that the world’s capitals would finally accept the outcome? If so,
why was their choice not good enough the first time? Or will
Palestinians be forced to go to the polls for a third vote, to see if
they can make a different decision?

In his busy schedule as an
important international statesman, Blair has not yet had time to
explain how a free election, designed to produce a government that
reflects the views of the largest group of a country’s citizens, can
somehow nevertheless be invalid. If, for instance, the international
community had felt that Blair’s May 2005 election victory with just 35
percent of the vote was invalid, because of his unwavering support for
US aggression in Iraq, would world statesmen have been right to have
backed a call by the British opposition Conservatives and Liberal
Democrats (with 54 percent of the vote between them) to run the
election again?

Or, then again, should Blair, as a democratic
champion, have demanded a completely fresh US 2000 presidential
election after the Miami-Dade County voting machine scandal let George
W. Bush into the White House? If he had, at the very least, it would
have saved at least 600,000 Iraqi lives. But he did not. Why?


The World's Chubbiest Flesh Ball

Tonight was Zen's last night before going to her first day of work at the Port Authority of Singapore (PSA). Zen, a friend of mine, has the distinction of being the world's chubbiest flesh ball, sometimes affectionately known as "The Waddler." Zen is also a hooker by profession.

I first met Zen when I was having dinner in the Geylang Area. We ended up chatting and I was impressed by her confidence. You could say I have soft spot for underdogs and we became good friends.  One could say that this is part of a self-destructive 'Do-Gooder" syndrome that I sometimes have but I couldn't help admiring someone who could remain so happy, bouncy and cheerful in spite of having what you could call a pretty disgusting life.

Somehow, here was a person who had the ability to laugh at things and find pride in doing something that most of us, in our bourgoise self-absorbed life would thumb our noses at. Zen will brag to you about the fact that, "I'm not some Poly Student you can touch for FREE, I'm a HOOKER - a LORONG 16 HOOKER." It's hard to imagine her as an object of desire, more like an object of humour (think the Michillin Man) but she provided me with an insight into the strange things that "Sterile Singapore' gets turned on by. She survived on a loyal following - her customers included a few taxi drivers, a Sushi bar attendent, a coffee shop boy, two Indian IT professionals and ......a Budhist Monk.

Although I get teased by it, I think Zen is the first Singaporean girl that I've come to respect and even admire. Here is the world's chubbiest flesh ball in what could be a pretty disgusting profession. Everyday its a choice of putting up with men, who are quite often at their worst or starving. Somehow she does the job but she finds pride in it. The friends who have met her can't believe her - they wonder "Why can't she just upgrade herself and get a normal job." However, Zen has a rather crazy pride in what she does - unlike being in a normal job, she proudly announces that she is "The Queen of Lorong 16" and tells people - "Ask for Nancy - they'll know who I am."

Now she's got herself a normal job and is looking forward to a life off the street. I think I will miss her laugh in that part of the world but I believe that just as she found a way to make something for herself as a hooker, I think she'll find a niche for herself.

I believe, funnily enough that Zen's ability to find something for yourself when everyone else only sees shame and defeat to be an inspiration. Good for her and I wish I had that ability and many more people had it too.

Monday, December 18, 2006

In Praise of Conmen

It must be something to do with Christmas being round the corner but my email box has been flooded with emails from people offering me outrageous sums of money if I would only offer them my bank account details and a small sum of money to help them make the transaction comes true – after all what’s a couple of thousand if you’re being promised a couple of million.

Most of the emails are from obscure businesspeople from the Arabian Gulf and scions of African dictators promising to pass me a share of their family’s ill gotten gains.

Thankfully for me, I’ve received so many of these emails that I’m pretty immune to their promises of instant wealth. As good as the offer may be I believe that if something is too good to be true, it usually is. I don’t respond but the emails keep coming and I suspect the reason they do is because there are people who fall for this scam, in spite of official warnings by the Nigerian government and others. Why do people fall for these emails?

I suspect it’s because people are basically greedy and somehow the lure of instant millions has the ability to overcome common sense and intelligence. George Soros argues that we are now living in a ‘Feel-Good’ society that is dependent on instant gratification. Instant wealth promised by the conmen offers the same thing as instant coffee – the final product without having to work for it.

Instant promises are very appealing and in some cases they work. The 1990s was filled with stories of how young people made instant millions by floating their websites on the stock market. However, as proved by the crash of the ‘Dot Com’ bubble, instant wealth can disappear as quickly as it appears, especially if it’s not built on a ‘real’ business. Adam Khoo, Singapore’s most renowned ‘wealth expert’ once pointed out that ‘boring businesses’ are only boring because they’ve been proven to work.

Yet, in spite of these lessons, greed seems to overcome common sense and other life lessons. Singapore’s radio news recently reported a case of how 50-over people were trying to get a refund from the XL Foundation, lead by Roger Hamilton. This group of educated and experienced professionals had one chief complaint. They had bought membership to Mr Hamilton’s business club on the understanding that they could achieve instant access to worthwhile contacts across the globe and achieve instant fulfilment through Mr Hamilton’s promise that he’d donate money to charity. When they didn’t get any of this, they were upset.

Say what you like of Mr Hamilton’s behaviour but he should be commended for understanding the human desire for wanting all things instant. As long as he promised to provide something instant, nobody questioned him on what made him eligible to talk to them about achieving wealth. Here is a man who proudly declares that he has never held a real job in his life and proudly stands by the belief that, “Each day of hard work is a day further from wealth.” Does Mr Hamilton have a track record of producing wealth? And yet, this open declaration by Mr Hamilton is obviously far more appealing than that of Warren Buffet, the world’s second richest man and most canny investor, who planned to retire a mere 10-20 years after his death.

There are more than enough pressures to keep up with the Ah Sengs, Muthus and Ahmads these days. These pressures can make one vulnerable to attractive promises. However, haven’t enough people been conned for us to want to make a move to educate our children to the very principle that ‘There is no such thing as a free-lunch?’ Shouldn’t we remember that you can never get ahead of the Ah Sengs, Muthus and Ahmads through the promise of an instant fix?

Powell Says U.S. Army `About Broken' Because of Iraq Commitment

By Paul Basken and Nadine Elsibai

Dec. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said the U.S. Army is ``about broken'' and he cast doubt on whether the military could or should sustain boosting the number of troops in Iraq to speed up training of local forces and help suppress sectarian fighting.

The Army and the Marine Corps don't have enough personnel to maintain an increase in force in Iraq, a step that some policy makers advocate, Powell said on CBS's ``Face the Nation'' program.

``There really are no additional troops'' to send, said Powell, 69, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War and served as the nation's chief foreign policy official during President George W. Bush's first term. ``The current active Army is not large enough and the Marine Corps is not large enough for the kinds of missions they are being asked to perform.''

The U.S. is at a crossroads in Iraq as Bush reviews assessments from outside experts and administration advisers in preparation for announcing his next steps in Iraq after the first of the year.

Among the options the president is considering is sending 15,000 to 30,000 more troops to Iraq temporarily, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post reported last week, citing unidentified administration officials. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona has been the leading congressional advocate for such an increase, saying the U.S. never committed enough troops to the war to accomplish the mission.

``We have tried this surge of troops over the summer'' and it didn't work, Powell said, referring to an operation in which the U.S. shifted more troops into Baghdad to help local forces break a cycle of attacks and reprisals between Sunni and Shiite Muslim factions.

Extending Tours

Additions to the 140,000 military personnel now in Iraq would be created by extending duty tours for some soldiers and Marines already there or accelerating the arrival of forces scheduled to go, he said.

``All of my contacts within the Army suggest that the Army has a serious problem in the active force, and it's a problem that will spread into the Guard and Reserves,'' Powell said.

Any proposal to add forces should be made with a ``clear'' mission outlined and a definite schedule for how long they will be there, Powell said. The U.S. military can't quell the sectarian violence in the country, a task that must be accomplished by the Iraqis, he said.

Powell said he agreed with the assessment of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which said in its report released Dec. 5 that the situation in Iraq is ``grave and deteriorating.'' The independent commission said the U.S. should set a goal of pulling back most combat troops by early 2008 and focus on training Iraqi police and military forces.

Democrats Split

Two senior Senate Democrats indicated their party is divided on the idea of temporarily dispatching more U.S. troops.

Nevada Senator Harry Reid, who will be majority leader starting next month, said on ABC's ``This Week'' program he would support a surge of American forces for two or three months as part of a larger plan to withdraw combat troops by 2008. Senator Edward Kennedy, a Democrat of Massachusetts, said in a separate interview on ``Fox News Sunday'' that such a proposal would be rejected in Congress and at the Defense Department.

``If the commanders on the ground said this is just for a short period of time, we'll go along with that,'' Reid said. Kennedy said ``there is going to be opposition to that'' among members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and military leaders at the Pentagon.

Democrats won control of Congress in last month's midterm elections in part because of public dissatisfaction with Bush's handling of the war. More than half of Americans want to set a schedule to withdraw all troops, a Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll found. By 62 percent to 35 percent, Americans disapprove of Bush's handling of the war, the Dec. 8-11 survey found.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A Surprisingly Good Idea

You have to hand it to Iran’s President Amadinajad and his talent for self-publicity. From his alleged declaration that Israel will be “Wiped off the map,” to his nuclear ambitions, Iran’s President has had a way of making editors scramble to write dramatic headlines.

The Iranian President’s latest publicity event – The Conference on the Holocaust, has been no exception. World leaders have condemned his actions for denying the Holocaust and writers around the world have been busy writing articles linking ‘Holocaust Denial’ with the dangers of allowing Iran to have a Nuclear Bomb. 

The Conference that was organised in Tehran did have a feel of ‘bad taste’ to it. The Holocaust of the 1940s was by most accounts - gruesome. A group of people were systematically targeted for extermination based purely on their ethnicity and whether one accepts the figure of six-million dead or not, the point remains that human lives were deliberately terminated in a cold-hearted manner. The various accounts of survivors of the concentration camps are a harrowing and any suggestion that their suffering was somehow exaggerated feels wrong.

However, does that make the idea of having a global conference on the subject wrong? Although the gathering of revisionist historians seemed to many people to be like a gathering of an intellectual version of the ‘Perverse,’ holding a global conference on the subject of the Holocaust is not in itself a bad thing. In fact, it may be an idea that the International Community should adopt.

Holocaust Denial, a term used to describe the denial that the systematic slaughter of the Jewish people by Germany’s Nazi regime is jail able offence in many European countries. The proponents of such laws have argued that any disagreement with the historical facts can lead to ‘Anti-Semitic’ crimes. However, as demonstrated by Israel’s actions in the Gaza strip and Southern Lebanon, questioning the Holocaust and Anti-Semitic actions are not linked.

So, if there is no link to Holocaust Denial and a rise of Anti-Semitic crimes, there is no reason why the international community should not welcome the idea of a global conference on the Holocaust. After all, it’s also been argued that the best way to win an argument is to present a case with evidence or as The Economist believes, those who believe the Holocaust never took place should be given a public forum where they will be ridiculed in the face of the evidence in favour of the Holocaust.

A Conference about the Holocaust would force ‘Revisionist Historians’ who deny the Holocaust to present their evidence to the global public. It would also force them to prove their case in front of evidence that states that the Holocaust did take place. Some people will no doubt continue to support the ‘Revisionist’ version of history but most rational people will ridicule ‘Revisionist’ history and help destroy its credibility.

The second but no less important purpose of holding a Conference on the Holocaust is the fact that it will create a system whereby societies are forced to examine the darker side of human nature. What makes people hate others? Why do people engage in senseless slaughter, and such similar questions will be raised on a regular basis. This will hopefully lead to greater efforts by people to achieve a ‘Dialogue of Civilisations’ rather than a clash.

The Holocaust against the Jews in the 1940s is not the last instance of genocide or Holocaust. Look at Bosnia’s ethnic cleansing or Rwanda’s slaughter of its Tutsi population in the 1990s. These instances will need debate and nations will need to do ‘soul-searching’ as they reconcile from such instances. The International Community needs reminding that genocide does take place. Clearly, conferences that are aimed at discussing these instances can be valuable to humankind.

President Amadinajad’s conference may have been provocative but instead of seizing the opportunity to force the Iranian President to use the conference to create a dialogue between civilisations, the howls of outrage that came from the International Community only served to write more headlines and that is the real tragedy of last weeks conference.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Closer to what?

Here we are on a happy Saturday yet again. December, it seems was a good month for me to collect a bit of cash, have been collecting cash over the last two weeks, which is good and have been slowly but surely paying myself back for the times I needed to draw from savings just to make ends meet. Anyway, I'm regretfully going to fail to reach my year-end savings target but I will at the same time be delighted to finish the year with cash in the bank. Managed to save some extra with some USD200 from Arab News and should expect another USD200 from them next month. Looks like Arab News may be able to help me save a bit more.

Anyway, what's there to tell you, other than the fact that restlessness has prevailed in the land of the Dozy Lemon. Last night I went to a friend's "Glam" or more approriately "Glitz" event. Lady who invited me looked very hot - Australian Blondes have a wonderful purpose in life of being that. Also managed to catch up with an army friend, who also knew the lady in question. This was well and truely a fancy event with ladies looking exceedingly "nice" in long flowing gowns - however, I hate to say this, our Singapore girls still don't quite make the cut when they go up against the chicks from the Mainland. It's amazing how the Chinese have become so stylish and well kept in spite of growing up in a poor and communist environment.

I noticed this when I was working with the TNBT group. Angela, who is from China deliberately dressed down and dowdy to take away attention from herself. And in spite of everything she was head and shoulders above the rest in the looks and brains department - and that's when the rest of the girls were obviously wearing their "Look to Kill" outfits. Singapore may be a global city on many fronts but when it comes to style and presentation, our ladies lose out to those from China and India.

However, I shouldn't complain. I'm a guy and so most girls look good to me. As a Singaporean I'm not afraid of rising China and India. It's a reality and we have to just stay smarter than them - which will be tough because they have the same hunger that we had in the early 80s. How do you keep hungry people at bay. Malay friend of mine points to the fact that we (as in the national we) used to laugh at Indians for being "Smelly" but now we want to "Smell their Money." Indian IT companies and Indian IT executives are rolling in it and boy do we want them as customers these  days.

Tomorrow, I'll be helping the migrant population of Singapore celebrate International Day of the Migrant (IMD). Our client, Telcom 1515 will be sponsoring a helpline for the migrants. Will be the first big show of support for our migrant community and it's high time that we did it cause they do, do all our dirty work but keep the economy functioning. The client in particular makes good money by providing them with cheap phone calls. Amazing what technology can go for you these days, you can find a market out of market that nobody else would want to touch. It's actually a good sign that this is happening. Creates more entreprenuers and mroe business for everyone all round. The world needs to be well fed.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Intelligence Chief Is Clueless in Congress:

Dec. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Does intelligent life on the Intelligence Committee matter?

This isn't an existential question. It arises because Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi, in an appointment fraught with intrigue, selected Representative Silvestre Reyes to be chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

In an interview posted on Congressional Quarterly's Web site on Dec. 8, Reyes couldn't answer the most basic question about the antagonists in the biggest foreign policy disaster confronting the U.S.

``Is al-Qaeda a Sunni organization, or Shiite?'' Reyes was asked by reporter Jeff Stein. ``Predominantly, probably Shiite,'' he answered.

Later in the same interview, Reyes was asked about Hezbollah, the militant group in Lebanon that recently, as most people who read newspapers know, had a small war with Israel. ``Hezbollah. Uh, Hezbollah?'' ``Why do you ask me these questions at 5 o'clock?''

True enough, late afternoon is like the dead of night to members of Congress, who prefer bankers' hours and a three-day workweek. In his defense, Reyes said, ``It's hard to keep things in perspective and in the categories.''

Translated, that means he can figure out his job without figuring out who's killing whom and why, in a part of the world where we've lost almost 3,000 Americans and untold numbers of Iraqis.

This Isn't Soybeans

But really, how can someone who's ALREADY on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence be so clueless? It's not as if he is an expert in soybeans just coming over from the Agriculture Committee and being thrust into a new area.

Reyes's selection raises another dumb question: How could Pelosi get one of her most important early decisions so wrong?

The short answer is by giving in to personal pique and playing old-time identity politics. Pelosi passed over the obvious choice for the job, California Representative Jane Harman, the ranking minority member of the committee. The reason: Apparently, Pelosi, also of California, had found the vast state too small to comfortably house both of them; plus, she decided that Harman wasn't tough enough on President George W. Bush.

It was a slippery slope from there. To make up for dissing a woman, she leaned toward selecting a black member of the panel, Representative Alcee Hastings of Florida. Problem was, Hastings was as ethically compromised as Representative Jack Murtha, whose backing for majority leader by Pelosi spurred a week of stories about Murtha's role in the Abscam scandal of the 1980s.

Demographic Politics

A similar flood of stories recounting the bribery scandal that led to Hastings's impeachment when he was a federal judge torpedoed that potential appointment. Pelosi, as night follows the day, picked a Hispanic on the committee, Reyes.

Pelosi's choice of party demographics over the right person for the job is reminiscent of former President Bill Clinton's decision to choose a woman -- any woman -- for attorney general. He couldn't see how easy it would be for his enemies to take Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood, whom he saw as working women with child- care issues, and paint them as wealthy elites exploiting the hired help with immigration problems.

It's not only a Democratic problem. Surely, when the first President Bush said Clarence Thomas was the best-qualified person in the country to be a Supreme Court justice, he meant that he was the best-qualified black who was opposed to affirmative action that he could nominate.

Unlucky Pelosi

When the current president decided, with prodding from the first lady, that it was time for him to appoint a woman to the court, he looked across the hall and picked a crony, White House Counsel Harriet Miers. Even his closest allies couldn't accept that.

Miers went quietly, and Justice Thomas has barely been heard from, but Pelosi isn't so lucky. Reyes is already going against her position on Iraq and leaning toward Bush, not only opposing a reduction in troops but proposing as many as 30,000 more.

Intelligence matters. If Bush had known more, would he have barged into Iraq and risked the creation of a Shiite theocracy aligned with a nuclear-obsessed Iran? In the 2000 campaign, Bush derided a reporter's request that he name four world leaders in a pop quiz as an example of ``gotcha journalism.'' That's after Bush only managed to come up with ``Lee'' for Taiwan's president at the time, Lee Teng-hui, and identified Pakistan's leader as ``General.''

Timorians and Grecians

That episode got lumped in with other Bush lapses, like calling the East Timorese, Timorians and Greeks, Grecians, as in the hair color for men, all of a piece with the non-elite image he fostered. Details are for chumps.

Then came 9/11. It desperately mattered that General-what's- his-name was heading Pakistan, and Pervez Musharraf became essential in the war against al-Qaeda (Sunnis, Mr. Reyes) hiding in Afghanistan.

Even after 9/11, according to ``The End of Iraq,'' a book by the former U.S. ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith, Bush didn't race to learn what he didn't know. In a meeting with three Iraqi-Americans, Bush was surprised to find there were two Islamic sects who hated each other in Iraq. ``I thought the Iraqis were Muslims,'' Bush said.

Not exactly. Iraq's Shiite majority is now aligned with its former enemy, Iran, potentially creating a theocracy with the potential to have a nuclear bomb. Iran, which also backed Shiite- controlled Hezbollah, is on the verge of achieving its greatest strategic triumph in centuries without firing a shot. The Saudis, our allies, are threatening to get involved on the side of Iraq's Sunni minority. It will take decades to undo the damage, if ever. Pray the next president knows more than to invade countries whose factions he knows nothing about.

The sooner Pelosi chooses her colleagues on how much they know and not what category they fit into, the better off she, the Democrats and the country will be. Turns out what our leaders don't know can kill us.

(Margaret Carlson, author of ``Anyone Can Grow Up: How George Bush and I Made It to the White House'' and former White House correspondent for Time magazine, is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

Almost Suicidal

Clement's interview with HE Kurdi was published in Today. There were parts of it that were a little on the dicey side but I think HE comming out looking quite well given in the circumstances. He had managed to come out and state that Saudi was into maintaining peace in Iraq after the New York Times came out with a long article about how HRH Custodian of the Two Holy Mosque, King Abdullah had told Dick Chenney that Saudi would support Iraq's Sunnie's in event of a US pull out. Anyway, at least Today did a bit more work than Straits Times who took the NYT's report verbatium. I guess this is a case of how number 2 works harder to get a story.

Anyway, the Saudi Government has made an official statement inline with what Dr Kurdi has said. Today have come out looking like they got the advance story, Dr Kurdi looks like he's engaged the press on a crucial issue in the battle for public opinion and I have hopefully secured the relationship with both parties. However, Dr Kurdi has not responded and various factors could be at play and I hope he's feeling ok with how things are turning out. Have sent him some emails on the subject.

Political press relationship management can be tense especially when you're in the managing relationship business. The Saudi's have been good to me and Today is the place where I started doing resonably good things and so I'd like to help these parties build a better future for themselves.

Met with Richa the assistant marketing manager and general dog's body at Polaris. Have managed to pass two event managers to her to help her organise her D&D. She's also looking for a coffee maschine, stationary supplier and so on. Have already started on getting them an eye-doctor too. I love this dealing business but I need to learn to be sharp about getting paid. I think I can do alot of good things with and for Polaris but I need to learn how to take care of myself as well as making other people richer.

I find it quite funny that my life is preoccupied with Arabs and Indians, Vietnamese, Nepaleese, Mainland Chinese, Faggots and Fatty Tummy Bums from I don't know where. I  think I'm at that stage in life where I seem to attract the wierd and wonderful people who make life that much more interesting. I think the only people I don't seem to have anything in common with are normal Middle Class Graduate Singaporeans - with the exception of good army mates. Perhaps its just time to be true to myself.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The 200th Blog Entry

Its another dozy morning after yet another late night. Aunt made a comment about how I'm starting to become more like my father and grandfather before him, dependent on very little sleep. Not quite true, I do love my beauty sleep, I just tend to sleep less on weekdays when there's lots to do and catch up on my sleep at weekends. Anyway, the cause of this recent bout of a late night is a young lady I met in a pub that I had not intended to go to. Somehow she was into palm reading and I ended up letting her read my palm and we somehow, at the risk of sounding like an ex-colleague of mine, talking and talking into the wee hours of the day.

Anyway, there's no happy, steamy ending to that story and so I thought I would drop another entry into this blog with the attempt to write and show that my life is made up of more than a few moments of great what could have been moments with everything that walks in a skirt (and before the snide remarks come out.....not everything in a skirt is to my taste, I used to live in Soho and know the suprises that things in skirts can produce.)

This is the 200th entry into my blog on multiply. So I suppose there should be some sort of celebration and a few wise words from me about having made this many blog entries. Unfortunately I'm rather short on wise words other than to say thank you to all of you who have read the entries and commented on some of my entries. Its still a long way before I turn my life story into a soap opera worthy of bubbles the soap bubble but I believe that I shall, God Willing persevere.

Not much grand news to add to this. I suppose no news is good news to anyone in the business of manufacturing the stuff. Finally got Clement the interview with Dr Kurdi. The interview took a slightly more political tone than I had expected and he's bashed out a story. Hope HE Kurdi will find the story fair and I'll keep my relationship with the man. But then again I guess I have to be prepared for everything and live with the way news is prepared.

Have been ridiculously busy trying to prepare for an event on Sunday and preparing for a few proposals for next year. Somehow have to keep the cash flowing and the bills at bay. I suppose the realisation for this is a sign that I've grown-up a little