Friday, June 30, 2006

How did it get in there?

This is an amazing story from Pakistan. Apparently doctors have removed a light bulb from the anus of an inmate and the felon didn’t know that it was there!

Fateh Mohammad woke up one day complaining of a terrible pain in his rear. Doctors took one-and-a-half hour to remove the object. The doctors, the inmate and the prisoners are all baffled as to how the light bulb got there.

However the authorities doubt Fateh’s possible explanation – that someone had drugged him and inserted the bulb while he was comatose.

One good thing to come out from this (literally?) is that the bulb was extracted in one piece. Otherwise, the doctors say, it could have been “a very very complicated situation”.

Isn’t it already is a complicated matter. I am perplexed as to how the bulb got there. There MUST be some explanation to this.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The myth of al Qaeda

Newsweek magazine senior editor Michael Hirsh says that the US government has given more prominence to the supposed strength of terrorist group al-Qaeda than in reality.

He says the movement led by Osama bin Laden was a failing group before the Sept 11 attacks, on the way of losing its control and never represented the mainstream jihadi community.

Then came 9/11, the invasion of Afghanistan and two years later the Iraqi war. To garner support for the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US government identified many so-called high level al-Qaeda operatives in these regions that must be stopped.

Now Hirsh says that most of the people identified by the US as high-level al Qaeda terrorists are in actual fact made up of low-level messenger men, one who was even slightly daft. He says that they were more life's losers, “the kind who in a Western culture would join street gangs or become a petty criminals but who in the jihadi world could lose themselves in a "great cause", making some sense of their pinched, useless lives”.

However he admits that there were ruthless ones like lead 9/11 hijacker Muhammad Atta and 9/11 master strategist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in al Qaeda. Still, he argues, it was the US who made these terrorists heroes they are now in some parts of the world today.

He says the US government had altered its foreign policy and had waged war, especially in Iraq, over these and now had inevitably turned this group into a global voice for the jihadis.

He finishes his article by stating: “America ventured into the lands of jihad and willingly offered itself as a target in place of the local regimes. And as a new cause that revived the flagging al Qaeda movement. It is, no doubt, bin Laden's greatest victory”.

Read his full article here.

Saving Cpl Gilad

Remember the movie Saving Private Ryan? It is about a World War 2 story in which the American army goes behind enemy line to save Private James Ryan so that his mother will at least have him home safely after his three brothers were killed in action.

How much of this is mirrored in Israel’s latest military incursion into Palestine and Syria in the past two days as the attacks are meant to save 19-year-old Cpl. Gilad Shalit who was kidnapped by three Hamas-affiliated groups on Sunday.

The Israeli offensive began early Wednesday with the army sending tanks and thousands of troops into Gaza. Then in the evening, the military fired artillery near Gaza City as warplanes launched missiles in northern and southern Gaza.

Media reports said that earlier today, Israeli warplanes buzzed the seaside home of Syria's president and bombed Hamas targets in Gaza as well. It was reported that fighter jets also knocked out electricity and water supplies for most of the 1.3 million residents of the Gaza Strip. And three bridges were destroyed to keep militants from moving Cpl. Gilad.

For its part, the Hamas-led Palestinian government is ready for a prisoner swap with Israel, but standing firm that the offensive will not secure the soldier's release. The Israel government has rejected this exchange deal.

So far there have been no casualties, just yet. But it is surely bound to happen soon.

No one knows how long the Israeli attacks will continue but I am a tad bit suspicious over the reason for the offensive. Could it really be that an elderly Jewish mother has suddenly become so important for the government that it mobilizes the entire armed forces to save her son?

Or could there be some other motives? Like sending a warning to the Hamas-led government not to be too clever in sponsoring future terrorism attacks perhaps?

Whatever it is, Israel is just running the risk of sparking a major war in the region. As it is, the Syrians have started to fire on the raiding Israeli jets.

And as in the previous cases, there is bound to be a revenge attack by the Palestinians – either by suicide bombings inside Israel or by kidnapping even more Israelis.

I have mentioned this before; that this is just another vicious cycle with no end, only causing the losses of innocent lives.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

NAM News Network looks dull and uninspiring

A new news agency is in the block. It calls itself NNN, short for Non-aligned News Network. Yup, you guessed it. It is indeed a media vehicle of the Non-Aligned Movement.

The movement mooted the plan for its own internet-based news service last November and finally has now launched its network.

The brainchild of the NNN is none other than the Malaysian government, which is the present chairman of the 116-member coalition of developing countries. The aim for NNN is to tackle issues not covered properly by the global media giants like BBC, CNN and Fox News. It also wants to address the western bias shown by the international media.

Its biggest spokesperson is Malaysian Information minister Zainuddin Maidin, who told al-Jazeera:
“Unless we do this, we shall continue to bemoan the fact that the so-called international media has not and will never give the fair coverage that is due to
All okay with me but I am just worried that NNN itself becomes too eastern bias? What if it only contains articles and materials seen from the NAM angle? Wouldn’t that also be a media bias? And ultimately who will control the flow of news into NNN?

If NNN is going to rely on state new agencies and NAM state-owned dailies to provide it with news, then I believe the starting point itself is wrong.

Looking at the NNN website today, what I see is an Indian government press statement, a PR photo of Dr Mahathir at some function and some irrelevant news pieces. There is nothing in the site to tell me more about what is happening in the world, or in NAM for that matter.

What I want to see are more articles, opinions and news from around the world, but with the NAM angle. They should also incorporate the world events as they happen. NNN can’t afford to just leave out what’s happening in the outside world simply because it is a NAM News Network, only interested in NAM matters.

And more importantly, I think NNN should have a re-look at their site. It looks like a typical government website. It resembles the Malaysian news agency Bernama’s site and is simply too dull.

No one is going to think about coming back to this site after visiting it once. It needs a change of font and overall colour scheme. It must have more graphics and incorporate more multimedia links.

I am sure NAM nations can find some money to get a decent professional to create a proper and vibrant website for them. After that, they can concentrate of writing good, and I mean really good, and interesting articles about all, for all.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Political Correctness gone mad

It looks like political correctness has gone bonkers in the world today. It is no longer civil to speak your mind, it seems. Everything you say and write must not hurt or upset someone else.

The latest to have a politically correct makeover are the famous and popular Famous Five and Secret Seven books by Enid Blyton.

The characters in these books will now have their names changed, behaviour altered and words mellowed.

So, the latest published version of Magic Faraway Tree book will have:
  • Sexism toned down with girls and boys expected to share chores
  • Characters renamed from Fanny and Dick to Frannie and Rick
  • Dame Slap becomes Dame Snap, and now scolds children rather than smacking them
  • Bessie, a black character with a name associated with slavery, is now a white girl called Beth
  • Changes in the language include ‘hey’ replacing ‘I say’, ‘queer’ is ‘odd’ — and ‘biscuits’ are called ‘cookies’ in an attempt to appeal to US readers

I think that in certain circumstances it is okay to be PC, especially in a world today where everyone is equal and it is vital to treat every person from every community, race and religion as the same.

However when it comes to literature, I think the original versions should be left unaltered. If not for anything else, it will surely allow the generation today to know and learn about the mindset of the people at the time the books were written.

For me, I grew up reading these books and I am glad I discovered about sexism and racism in these books and I am sure it didn’t alter my perception of people and society today.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Veggies, fish, meat and dead bodies in markets

For those of us living in relatively peaceful and safe nations, going to the markets on any given mornings will be a chore that is met with the hustle and bustle of the active traders there.

People from all kind of life meet at the markets and all of us are there for the purpose of buying food to feed ourselves and our families.

We meet strangers at the markets, some whom we talk to, others we just nod. We take these markets for granted, knowing that it will be there, that the traders will continue selling things that we need and whenever we go, we will find them.

People in Iraq however are not so fortunate like us. There, market traders have almost stopped selling vegetables, meat and other goods for the people. In fact, these traders have found another vocation altogether.

Nowadays they spend most of their time clearing the debris caused by mortar shells and suicide bombs. I don’t know why the rogues in Iraq like to regularly target the markets there.

Could it be because markets are one place where people go without any fears or prejudices attached? It is after all a place where everyone gathers. And as such attacks to these places will drive whatever messages the perpetrators of violence want to send.

In the end, what happens is that innocent people are victimized in one place they think they can do their chores peacefully, and it leaves the traders with the additional task of cleaning up the mess, not to mention, at the expense of their already measly income too.

The photograph above shows some traders in the century old Isterbadi market in Baghdad clearing up the debris after a bomb blast in it killed at least four people and wounded 13 others yesterday.

This same scene is repeated almost daily in other markets all across the war-torn Iraq. It has now become a common sight that along with the little supply of meat, poultry, vegetables and fish, you can also find dead bodies in the Iraqi markets. The only difference is that they are not for sale, and they surely did not come to these markets to be slaughtered!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

So who is in power in Malaysia?

Dr Mahathir is right you know. The Malaysian government should answer the questions the former premier has raised. After all they are valid questions and the longer PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi reigns silence, the more the confusion and speculation will be abound.

Among the issues Dr M wants answers for are the long standing Approved Permit matter, the direction of Proton and the recent debacle involving the scrapping of the new Causeway bridge.

Mahathir has also been very critical over recent changes in the auto policy and has expressed unhappiness over decisions to scrap state projects initiated under his administration.

So far, Abdullah has tried to stay above the fray and has left his deputy, other ministers and senior officials within the ruling party to respond to Mahathir's criticisms.

He has said that it was within Mahathir’s right to criticise, adding that he will use government departments and ministries to answer Dr Mahathir.

Dr Mahathir is not happy at all with these. He wants answers and he wants to hear them from Abdullah himself.

Now he has upped the ante, goading Abdullah to speak out and not rely on his ministers to do the task for him.
"Now I don't know who is in power. If you ask a question, he does not answer.
Others will answer.”
Mahathir also portrayed the cabinet as dancers and wondered aloud who was calling the tune.
"They are like a chorus line. They are all dancing. When one kicks, all will
kick. They are like the Rockettes."
And more damaging for Abdullah, Mahathir openly wondered if the PM was just a dummy who allows his advisers to hold more sway over policy.

I think as a citizen I am entitled to know the truth as well. So Pak Lah, stop dilly-dallying and come out in the open with the answers, just as you promised that your government will be clean and transparent.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Heaven on a bun for US$100

No! No! Now don’t get turned off by this photograph for this is not just any other burger. It is billed as the 'beluga caviar of hamburgers'.

For you and me, that means this is one expensive burger. It is priced at US$124.50 with tax – the burger alone is US$100. For this amount of money, you could actually buy more than six dozen burgers from McDonald's, or Burger King.

It is now available at the swanky Old Homestead Steakhouse in the Boca Raton Resort and Club, in Florida.

So why is this burger so expensive, you may ask. It is simply because the steakhouse has never sold burgers before and now that they do, they want to make it special by hiking the price.

The burger itself is about 5 1/2 inches across and 2 1/2 inches thick and its patty is a mound of meat from the American prime beef, Japanese Kobe and Argentine cattle. Garnishing will include organic greens, exotic mushrooms and tomatoes.

This burger comes just months after a British store started selling what it labeled as the most expensive sandwich at 85 pounds.

I just find it so amusing that in one hand we have fast food outlets trying to flood the market with cheaper burgers (99 pence/cents) to attract more consumers. And then we also have this almost indecent pricing for the same type of food.

Why would anyone pay so much money for a hamburger or a sandwich in the first place?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Roads To Nowhere

More from Art Not Oil campaign, a campaign by Artist-Activitists to highlight the wholesome destruction caused by global oil companies.

Today’s work is titled Roads To Nowhere by Fiona Richmond.

Let’s discuss nuclear

An American boards a plane and notices he's seated next to an Indian fellow.

He immediately turns to him and makes his move. "You know," says the American, “I've heard that flights will go quicker if you strike up a conversation with your fellow passenger. So let's talk."

The Indian, who had just opened his book, closes it slowly and says to the American guy, "What would you like to discuss?"

"Oh, I don't know," says the guy, smiling. "How about nuclear power?"

"OK," says the Indian. "That could be an interesting topic. But let me ask you a question first. A horse, a cow, and a deer all eat the same stuff, grass. Yet the deer excretes little pellets, the cow turns out a flat and patty discharge, and the horse produces muffins of dried poop. Why do you suppose that is?"

The American guy is dumbfounded. Finally he replies, "I haven't the slightest idea."

"So tell me," says the Indian, "How is it that you feel qualified to discuss nuclear power when you don't know shit?"

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Art Not Oil – getting back at the oil industry

The first prize is justice, second is survival’ – that is the key message of a special kind of arts exhibition taking place in London now.

It involves artist-activists who exhibit through their work the destructive role played by the oil industry and other alternatives. The annual event, called Art Not Oil, is aimed at encouraging artists to create work that explores the damage that oil companies are doing to the planet, and the role art can play in counteracting that damage.

Beginning today, I will try to highlight some of the more exciting art work on exhibit at the event.

For more info about this event, visit their website here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Iraq - a disintegrating country, US - a weakening super power

Despite the optimistic picture given by the US President George W Bush, we all knew that life in Iraq was unbearable for the innocent civilians.

We knew that the sectarian violence in the embattled country was affecting everyone. What was more disappointing was that the US forces there could not do anything to stop the bloodbath.

At times, the western powers either played down the daily dose of atrocity or said that the local Iraqi government and their troops were gaining upper hand over the situation. Some even said that the press was guilty in over-sensationalising the conditions in the ground.

However now comes the definitive proof that things are not so rosy in the Iraq. A leaked memo from the US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad to the State Department in Washington on 6 June revealed Iraq as a country disintegrating in which the real rulers are the militias, and the central government counts for nothing.

The memo was first leaked to the Washington Post and today the Independent published it.

In it, ambassador says:

“Islamist and Militia groups have been negatively affecting daily routine. Harassment over proper dress and habits is increasingly persuasive.”

He added that the pressures from these groups are so unbearable and that the people are in a constant state of mistrust – not knowing who will stitch them up for wearing western clothes, or for using a mobile phone or if you are a woman, for driving on your own.

Iraqi employees at the US embassy are now living in fear for their lives, worried that other Iraqis will find out who they are working for.

The cable says:

"We have begun shredding documents printed out that show local staff surnames."

The fear and untrustworthy is so deep that the local staffs are also worried the Iraqi military units guarding the perimeter of the Green Zone, the heart of US power in Iraq, are actually members of the militia.

Such concerns are definitely perturbing, especially when not knowing whom to trust in your own country. And it looks as though the US-led invading forces and the local government are in the dark as to the happenings on the ground.

Worse still, both the US and Britain have said that they will withdraw their troops as the security situation improves. Based on the memo by the US ambassador, situation in Iraq seems to be going from bad to worse.

What does this mean based on the news about US troops reduction by Christmas? If that reduction do take place, what does this say about the American strategy in Iraq? Looks like they have none - and that they are ready to drop everything and jump the sinking ship.

If that happens, would they then have the moral authority to continue to be the global police?

As I see it, it is yet another sign of a weakening world power, waiting to be overtaken by the new power houses.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Battle between cyclist and his shadow

This is a photograph of participants riding through Slovenian capital Ljubljana at the mass start of 157 km Franja cycling marathon.

Wonder what the shadow is saying to the cyclist?

Could it be saying: “I am bigger than you. I am faster than you. And stop following me. Let me win in style!”.

US to bring back home the troops?

A new Iraqi government is in place. A local armed force is up and running. The most wanted terrorist is out of the equation. And so far, more than 2,500 US soldiers have died in Iraq. So is this a good time for the US to bring back its troops?

Not just yet – that’s according US commander in Iraq to General George Casey.

However the latest issue of the Time magazine says that a reduction is possible. The magazine says:

“According to a senior officer, Casey - who is expected to meet with Rumsfeld in Washington this week--is leaning toward a reduction to 100,000 troops in Iraq by Christmas.”

That’s just six months away. Let’s wait and see how this develops.

How the mighty have fallen

France was on top of the world in 1998 when they won the World Cup in their home turf. They defeated Brazil 3-0 in that final.

Eight years on, that remains their last win in the World Cup. In fact the goals scored then also remain the last they have scored in a World Cup series - until today.

In 2002, they were outplayed and beaten by Senegal (1-0) and Denmark (2-0), and drew with Uruguay (0-0) – all without scoring a goal and handed over the grip of the trophy without a fight.

This year, they started in a similar form by drawing 0-0 with Switzerland. It is indeed a mystery as to why such a gifted team fails to perform as it did in 1998.

Today all that looked set to change when they met South Korea and Thierry Hendry gave them an early lead. They did not exactly play wonderful football but at least they played well to score and maintain the lead.

Alas, that was not to last long. Despite scoring at long last, victory nevertheless continues to elude them as South Korea drew level with 10 minutes to go.

Hopefully this talented team will put things right next week when they play Togo.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Fortunate ladies from Iran

The two Iranian girls can consider themselves very fortunate. Unlike many of the sisters back home, they are in Germany to watch and cheer for their national football team. They are also free to wear what they want to wear and however they want to support their team.

In contrast, the women in Iran are prohibited by the state from watching football matches, not even the training sessions of the national team. The state believes it is its religious duty to keep the women away from football games.

And with an increasingly radical Islamic governance, women in Iran are now even deterred from wearing revealing/western clothes. A strict Islamic dress code must be adhered by all women.

Anyway for these Iranian women who were in Germany - for there were many - their loud cheers and presence were not enough to ensure a win for their national team.

But the fact that they were there is in itself a victory for the women of Iran.

Conflicts are never far from the blameless

First there was a bus attack which killed 64 people. Then naturally the Sri Lankan government blamed the LLTE and launched air strikes on rebel territory. The rebels however claim the bus bombing was the work of forces allied to the government to ruin the truce and warned that any strike against its headquarters in Kilinochchi will mean war.

Yahoo!'s news correspondent Kevin Sites visited Kilinochchi and said he found “a community aware of its unique vulnerability”.

He writes: “But while the physical hardships can be endured, there's concern here that they could be victims again if the latest violence boils over into all-out war and, as in the past, they find themselves caught in the crossfire.”

Read more of his excellent write up here.

The photo above shows some Tigers on their rounds in Kilinochchi.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Is Malaysia in a political crisis?

In the recent weeks, apart from the football, Malaysians have also been entertained by public outbursts of former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad against his hand-picked successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

There were some concerns that Mahathir’s stinging comments will undermine the government and split the ruling party Umno. This danger is ominous for Abdullah as he does not want any form of challenge to his leadership.

So now there are talks that Umno will take action against Mahathir for speaking his mind.

These talks are further fueled by a statement by party deputy president and deputy PM Najib who said that party dissenters are subject to discipline.

Mahathir seems to know what his outbursts will bring. In fact he predicted that instead on answering his criticisms, the government will demonize him through the media. He may be right as we can see his former colleagues openly slamming him for his hardtalk – something which they would have not done during his regime.

"But the questions that I raised have received no answer. Maybe it is because they don't have an answer. That is why they try to demonize me, make me appear very bad." – Mahathir.
As for Abdullah, he is non-committal if Mahathir will face party action but he has said Mahathir was free to talk as “this is a democratic country”. Abdullah has not answered any of Mahathir’s criticisms yet. He however said in a statement on Monday that his government, through the relevant ministries, would reply to Mahathir's demand for answers on the issues he had raised.
"I have more important things to do, like repaying the trust given to me by the people." - Abdullah.
And while all these are going on, what is in the mind of the Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, a former ally of Dr Mahathir? He is worried that other countries might mistakenly believe Malaysia was in political crisis.

Aren’t we in one Mr Minister? We are in one until the government responds to all the criticisms raised by not just Dr Mahathir but also other citizens. The moment we know the government is trying to shut Dr Mahathir or anyone else from raising worrying issues, we know we are in a crisis.

And the government is doing just that at the moment by using the media to either sideline the issues or to blank out the people who raise the issue.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Don’t blame me, I just made them

There are about 100 million Kalashnikov assault rifles in the world today. This is the weapon of choice for all terrorists, freedom fighters and rebels all around the globe.

The assault rifle’s design by completed by Mikhail Kalashnikov in 1947 and two years later, it was the standard issue for the Soviet army.

Today, even the inventor is mystified as to why his AK-47 is such a favourite amongst the rogues. The 86-yar-ols gun maker says:

"Whenever I look at TV and I see the weapon I invented to defend my motherland in the hands of these bin Ladens I ask myself the same question: How did it get into their hands'?"

But he is not apologetic over it and defends himself by saying:

"I didn't put it in the hands of bandits and terrorists and it's not my fault that it has mushroomed uncontrollably across the globe. Can I be blamed that they consider it the most reliable weapon?"

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Battle for the survival of temples

This man has just come out of a ‘battle’ with the Malaysian enforcement officers, trying to protect a Hindu temple which the authorities want to demolish.

Sadly this ‘battle’ is happening quite regularly all across Malaysia with the authorities going all out to bring down the number of unregistered temples. And with more such temples demolished, more disgruntled Malaysian Indians come to the fore - like this man. If the government is not careful, it is in danger of breeding a Hindu radical in people like this man.

Before I go further, let’s look at the temple situation in Malaysia. There are tens of thousands of temples here – right from those well-established and registered to unregistered zinc-roofed temples to illegal shed attachments to some dwellings.

Some of the established and registered temples are better administered and do a good job as a place of worship for the community.

As for the second category of temples, these are usually places of worship founded in residential areas of the community and had, over the years, become popular not just with the local community but also for people from outside the area. Another feature of these temples is that they are usually found in former estate land. After the plantation has been sold to property developers, they then become part of the plantation that need to be removed. Usually these temples are very old – some even touching the other side of 100 – and very popular with its now ex-estate residents and outsiders.

And the third category of temples – the shed at the back of the house – is an extension of these estate temples. These temples are created by people who had moved out of the estates and to continue their daily prayers, they just resort to building a temple next to their house.

The Hindu Sangam is and has been for years trying to register all the temples in Malaysia. I am all for such a move, but not for the third category of temples. The temples in the backyard act more like a personal prayer room and should not be allowed to mushroom in residential areas. In their places, a common registered temple should be allowed to be built for everyone in the community.

I believe temples should not just be a place for someone to pray but also a place for the community to gather, socialize and develop their cultural heritage and roots. And I think many will agree with me.

But this is where the local authorities, state government and even the federal government fail to follow the plot.

As I see it, temples – all categories of them – are seen as a nuisance and eyesore in Malaysia. The Selangor state government for example does not allow for new temples to be built in the state. In fact it does not even allow renovations to present established temples. And Selangor has been the prime mover in demolishing the former estate temples. In the past five years, I have personally covered news assignments of temples aged 100 years or more being demolished ruthlessly and many times under very violent conditions.

Many times the reasoning given is that these temples are illegal, unregistered and public nuisance.

Well, they have become illegal because the land owners who gave the land to these temples have now sold the land for a profit to developers who want the temple removed from the residential project.

The temples remain unregistered because they are old and precede the registration requirement rulings. And they become public nuisance because the authorities do not allow refurbishments to these temples.

Instead of strictly sticking to the letters of the law, I think the authorities should be sensible in firstly allowing these temples time extensions to be registered and become legal. Then they should be allowed planning permissions to be upgraded and finally green light should be given for the construction of new temples in residential areas.

By doing so, in the long run, the government will see uniformity in Hindu temples in Malaysia, with even the old but unregistered temples becoming part of the process.

I think this will also solve the problems of shed temples mushrooming everywhere.

This can be done. There are examples of sensible local authorities and developers who had helped turn an old, zinc-roofed temple into a proper place of worship. The temple at the Mid Valley Megamall is just an example.

And surely in a country where more tolerance has been practiced when it comes to mosques, I am sure the authorities can similarly extend that sort of understanding for Hindu temples.

Failure to do this will only sideline the already disgruntled community and the last thing we need in Malaysia is an army of Hindu radicals.

For more read a detailed coverage in malaysiakini.

Finger lickin’ good all the way to the court

Apparently KFC’s fried chicken is bad for our heart. A US-based consumer group says the global fast-food outlet was using a type of oil that promotes heart disease.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest says the frying oil used by KFC makes our arteries ‘extra crispy’. To protect us, the unsuspecting consumers, this group filed a suit today in Washington seeking KFC to stop using this oil and switch to healthier oil.

If the group fails in its bid, it wants the court to require signs at KFC outlets saying "KFC fried chicken and certain other foods contain trans fat, which promotes heart disease."

And how does KFC react to all these? They say the lawsuit was baseless.

So consumers, it is your choice. Do make up your mind before you step into a KFC store the next time to have a finger lickin’ good experience.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Bush wants more blood

President Bush stands his ground in insisting that his invasion into Iraq was worth it. He says:

“I keep reminding the American people that the stakes are worth it. It is worth it to help Iraq succeed. It is worth it to have a democracy in the Middle East. It is worth it to show other reformers and people who want to live in a free society what is possible.”

Never mind the thousands of lives lost in the last four years, the continued anarchy in Iraq, the never-ending blood-spilling amongst its bitterly divided citizens, the appalling low popularity of the president Bush in his country and the world and the global protest against continued US troops presence in Iraq.

Never mind about all of these as long as the president feels it was worth it. After all why wouldn’t he say so - it was his war and he has to make it a success, no matter how damaging it turns out to be.

Will you protect me?

What must be in the mind of this young Palestinian boy? Would he be thinking if these new Hamas police can protect him from the continuing violence in his homeland?

Or is he wondering if these cops are the ones who will eventually cause his death? Or could it be that one day he too can stand in a parade in a truly independent nation?

Only time will tell but at the moment his lifespan depends very much on the illusive peace and comfort in his country.

Yesterday his country came under more fire from the Israelis. An Israeli helicopter air strike in the northern Gaza Strip and there was a blast in the Jabaliya refugee camp.

And today his fellow citizens set fire to the PM’s office and the parliament in Ramallah – another sign of the widening conflict between Fatah and Hamas in the political front.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Football is the answer

Almost everyone in the world, in every nook and corner of the planet, is caught up in the World Cup fever. The tournament, which started on June 9, enters its fourth day today and thus far most of the games have been smashing.

The picture above shows some Afghan boys, oblivious to the political situation in their country, getting into the World Cup groove and playing football in Kabul.

Who says football can’t be a uniter of people?

Ronaldinho and his ball

If you are the world footballer of the year for the second straight time, are playing your best football with a smile and now ready to set the world on fire in the World Cup, it is little wonder that even the ball wants to kiss you.

For all ignorant souls, this is Ronaldinho. He plays for Brazil in the ongoing World Cup. He has just led his club Barcelona to retain the Spanish championship and win the Champions League.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

India – the land of promise

Is India really on its way to become the next global economic superpower? Many business experts and economy gurus believe so, although some are sceptical, claiming that the boom is exaggerated.

The Times of London said this about India in its editorial:

“There are still huge bureaucratic obstacles: a “licence raj” not yet fully dismantled; a creaking infrastructure with potholed roads, aged airports and an overloaded electricity grid; a number of states with appalling local government and Naxalite uprisings; and a sprawling administration that may be democratic but is held back by corruption, political rivalries and vested interests.”

But the daily highlighted the three big advantages India has: democracy, English and a free market. Read the full article here.

A booming India is no doubt good news for the estimated 350-400 million people (of the 1.1 billion population) who are below the poverty line, 75 per cent of them in the rural areas. (see pix above)

Friday, June 09, 2006

Al-Zarqawi death just a symbolic gain

Finally after months and months of cat and mouse game, the Americans at last emerged victorious in eliminating their main target – the slaughtering sheik Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The most wanted terrorist in Iraq’s regime of terror came to a violent and bloody end yesterday after US warplanes dropped two 500-pound bombs on his isolated safe house.

During his lifetime, the sheik had been blamed for the continuing violence in Iraq. His fingerprints were visible in numerous kidnappings, beheadings and suicide bombings. He was thought to be the prime mover of the sectarian violence in the country. He had openly called for the vilification of Shiites as infidels.

So will this significant victory bring about to a peaceful Iraq?

If the immediate reaction of his fellow Sunnis is an indicator, then I think the trouble in Iraq will just continue for at the last count, at least 40 people were killed in bomb blasts in Baghdad just as his death was announced.

And his terror group al-Qaeda promises to continue its holy war and worse still, now they are dedicating it to the death of their martyr. Well, they will, won’t they? If not for anything, at least to tell the Americans that they will survive the loss of the leader.

And more worryingly, some experts believe that al-Zarqawi's importance was exaggerated and that the entire insurgency was not orchestrated and directed by a single figure. These experts believe that more than a dozen Sunni Arab insurgent groups are operating in Iraq, most employing ruthless tactics just as al-Zarqawi.

Given these then, the killing of al-Zarqawi looks like just a PR exercise for Washington and the new Iraqi government.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Mahathir’s painful mistake

This is what happens if you linger on power for too long and don’t allow for a democratic process for the election of your successor. You are bound to be disappointed if you think your chosen one will safeguard your legacy and will not deviate from your policies that you put in place in your rule.

Former Malaysian premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad has finally learned this bitter lesson now. Never one to encourage an open contest for the top posts in his ruling party Umno, Mahathir had the habit of appointing his deputy/deputies.

The one he thought will be the perfect protector of his 22-year legacy, Anwar Ibrahim, had a spectacular fall in 1997.

Then came Abdullah Ahmad Badawi – the quiet one – who was in the opposite camp the last time there was an open contest for the party leadership in 1987.

Mahathir thought Abdullah would be the perfect foil to just linger on for about a term or so and then eventually hand over to hardline Mahathirista, Najib the present deputy.

But sadly for Mahathir things didn’t turn out the way he planned. Abdullah - since assuming leadership in 2003 - now seems to be deeply rooted to his position, and what more, he is making fundamental changes to the system put in place by Mahathir.

Mahathir’s disappointment is very clear from this interview which he gave two days ago.

Excerpts from the interview:

Your biggest blunder?

I have made many blunders in my career. I have helped many people up only for them to stab me in the back. So, it is a common trait for me. I'm in the habit of choosing the wrong people…

Do you think Pak Lah has back stabbed you?

Minor bruises, like saying I finished all their money when I know very well that the country has never been as rich as it is now. Having chosen him as my successor - in fact, he was not the first choice, he was second as he didn't have the highest vote. Najib (Abdul Razak) had. I chose him and I expect a degree of gratefulness. But I was told that I had been involved in mega-projects and finished the money. Nobody has the money now...

Are you engineering the early departure of the PM?

No, I'm not capable of that but when he does the right thing, I have nothing to say or support him but if he does the wrong thing and undermines national interests then I will have my say.

Are you trying to have him replaced?

I can’t have him removed, it is for his own party to remove him, for Umno to remove him. I'm not helping or going around campaigning and tell people, ‘please remove this man’. But I'm supportive of Umno, my party.

Are you confident of the present administration?

If he keeps on doing the wrong things I cannot be confident so I'll keep watching. But it must be something substantial before I pass my comments. Simple things like people do, like getting contracts, I will not say anything.

So, to all the democratically-elected dictators in this world, learn from Dr Mahathir’s mistakes. Allow (free and open) democracy to prosper in thy nation!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

View from the bush

With the kick-off for the greatest football show is just two days away, teams are busy finalizing their preparations, each aspiring to leave Germany as the champion. Gone are the friendly matches and all last-minute tactics and plans are being plotted at training grounds.

Unsurprisingly the security for the teams is tight, with police standing guard outside each teams training centres/pitches. This had left with many fans disappointed as they are unable to see their idols up close.

This photograph shows a Portuguese football supporter hiding in a bush as he watches a team training session at in Marienfeld, Germany.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

No reasons to doubt the testimonies of Haditha victims

I fail to understand that even after so much of evidence is available to show that some US troops did indiscriminately fire their guns to kill 24 civilians in Haditha, there are some right wing pundits in the US who blame the media of sensationalizing the issue.

Right wing television station Fox News has been the conduit for these pundits to tear upon the media for asking/raising questions about the massacre and demanding that those responsible be held accountable.

One such pundit, Michelle Malkin, even goes as far as saying that she was dismayed by “a lot of our colleagues” who pretend to know what had happened in Haditha. She continued that there was a large antiwar contingent (meaning the media) that is willing to “believe every last lie” about the US troops.

Another pundit, Bill O’Reily who has his own show on Fox television, said in one of his programmes that "[p]redictably, the left-wing press has run with the alleged massacre at Haditha ... screaming about holding all of those involved accountable."

He continued by asking: "Why do so many rejoice when bad things happen to the USA?" "[T]he answer is that some Americans, including many in the press, honestly feel that the Bush administration is evil".

He said that the actions of a few will be used to demonize the entire country and likens it to the saying that if one child turns out to be a criminal, the entire family's bad.

Maybe these pundits have their reasons to doubt what is being written in the US media. For me, I think the media is doing its best to uncover any cover-ups and rightly so, those found guilty of the murders of these innocent Iraqi must face the music.

In the meantime I found this testimony of a young girl who witnessed the killing of about eight of her family members, including her father, by the US troops on the fateful day in Haditha. She was speaking in her language to the Al-Jazeera television and I have no reasons to doubt the English subtitles.

Monday, June 05, 2006

From My Lai to Haditha – the unlearned lessons

During the height of the Vietnam War, on March 16, 1968, US soldiers opened fire indiscriminately on about 500 Vietnamese villagers – mostly children and women in the hamlet of My Lai.

Failing to locate any Viet Congs, the soldiers from an infantry regiment, killed the villagers, sadly which included some babies too. Some were tortured or raped. Dozens were herded into a ditch and executed with automatic firearms.

The whole sad incident could have been unknown but for a brave soldier who wrote letters about it to President Nixon, the Pentagon, the State Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and numerous members of Congress. The copies of this letter were sent in March, 1969, a full year after the event.

This single incident provoked so much of outrage in the US and the rest of the world and proved to be a catalyst for the American pull-out from Vietnam. It also left with one everlasting television image of the US soldiers being airlifted out in a helicopter from the US embassy in Saigon.

Now fast forward to 2005, or November 19, 2005 to be precise. This time around the Americans are at war in Iraq, looking for insurgents and terrorists, in the Iraqi town of Haditha.

On this particular day, US Marine Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas was killed in Haditha in a roadside bomb attack on Marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. This prompted his 12 fellow soldiers to shoot indiscriminately on 24 unarmed Iraqis, including 11 women and children, killing all of them instantaneously.

Haditha is now the subject of two US military investigations — one into what happened, the other into a possible cover-up. This after the incident was reported by the Time magazine in March. There were other ‘leaks’ by fellow soldiers who found the act to be so sickening that at least one is known to be suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

If these charges are proven, this incident will surely change the course of war in Iraq. Just like My Lai, Haditha too can be the catalyst for turning the tide of public opinion against US presence in Iraq, prompting an early recall for the troops from there.

I just hope that the situation does not become much worse that it comes to a stage where the American troops will have to be airlifted out in helicopters from the roof of the US embassy in Baghdad.

My name is Mona Lisa

Without a doubt Mona Lisa, also known as La Gioconda (La Joconde), is one of the most famous paintings in the world today. None other is as romanticized, celebrated, or reproduced as this Leonardo da Vinci painting which shows a woman with an enigmatic smile, looking out from the canvas.

It is believed that Leonardo started the painting on a poplar wood in 1503 and completed it four years later. The identity of the subject is still a mystery with many theories being thrown about. Some say it is a self portrait, while others claim that it is actually the wife of socially prominent Francesco del Giocondo called Lisa Gherardini. Others argue that woman behind the famous smile is the Duchess of Milan Isabella of Aragon.

Now scientists in Japan have made some inroads that will actually bring us closer in knowing the woman by reproducing her voice. This artificial voice is created by measuring the face and hands of her to estimate her height and recreate her skull.

These were then run through voice simulation programs to recreate the vocal cords and other organs that produced the mystery woman's voice and determine its pitch. To make it authentic, they used a native Italian speaker to get the right intonations for the Mona Lisa's voice.

Now, the computer generated voice can be heard by all here.

I thought it sounded like a man and I still don’t know anything more about this woman but then this is the closest we can get at the moment to know the little bit extra about this mystery woman.

But the more I think about this, the more I am certain that there are other possible spin offs that can be made through this break through.

Just imagine a super-duper Top 10 hit single by an artiste known as Mona Lisa!!! With a really snazzy video and free downloads, we could be looking at the song of the year as well.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Om Santhi, Santhi, Santhi…

This man in the picture above is not an England football fan with St George’s flag badly drawn on his face. Neither has he got blood trickling down his face after being hit or shot.

However if you were to talk to him, he might most probably say he does not care who wins the World Cup. But he would definitely mind any mention of violence or blood, for he is a man of peace.

He is a sadhu (holy man) from India, with a painted face marking a religious symbol. His chants, as mentioned above, are for the peace – of his own and for the rest of us.

The hand of a survivor

This picture tells a tale of itself of the situation in Java today after the recent earthquake which killed more than 6,200 people. It shows a hand of an elderly woman undergoing treatment in a makeshift hospital in the earthquake hit Yogjakarta.

This woman can consider herself very fortunate for being alive and being taken care by medical workers. Thousands more are in worse conditions while many more are still taking shelter in the streets.

Friday, June 02, 2006

An enjoyable work of fiction

I went to watch The Da Vinci Code yesterday. Just as I liked the book, I enjoyed the movie too. For me it was a work of fiction and I am not going to lose any sleep over the theories expounded by the author Dan Brown.

As such, I don’t understand all the street protests, candlelight vigils, hunger strikes and legal suits across the world that followed the release of the movie. I simply do not see the movie, or the book, as a threat to the Christian church or its followers.

And I, for one, thought director Ron Howard had done justice to the book and don’t think the movie deserved the bad reviews it got on its openings.

At the end of the day, it is a just movie (and book) that worked well by simply tweaking into our inquisitive minds.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Lets salute the journalists in Iraq

Yesterday I blogged about an article by an Iraqi journalist on the need for a continued presence of the media in the war-torn country.

Today, another similar article appeared in The Times, by its diplomatic editor Richard Beeston, who said that journalists in Iraq regularly work under tremendous pressure of inconvenient working conditions as well as casual life-threatening violence.

He asks: “Why would any sane person want to be a journalist in Baghdad today? The work is dangerous, the conditions are unpleasant and the job often frustrating and unglamorous.”

And his answer?

“Most of those correspondents who still volunteer to work there do so because it is the most important news story in the world today.”

So let us all salute the horde of journalists – Iraqis and others – for their untiring work so that the rest of us can fill the huge gaps in our knowledge.

Read Beeston’s full article – The dead and the deadlines – here.

Beware of the ransom virus

There is a new virus making its round in the cyber world. It is called ‘Ransomware” and here is how it works:

Hackers will breach your computer files and hold them for a ransom – usually in the form of payment for drugs from an online pharmacy.

Once your computer has been infiltrated, you won’t be able to open your files and instead will find a 30-digit password protected folder. Then a ransom note will appear in the form of a new file. This new file will be called “Instructions how to get your files back”.

Ransomware started in the US early this year and so far there has been one reported case in the UK. This surely looks like the start of a new form of cyber crime.

And this is how they breach your computer in the first place:

A message will appear on your screen informing that you had been attacked by an unnamed virus. A pop up box will also appear stating that it is the anti-virus programme. Once you click on it, you will download the corrupt ransom software.

So be very careful as to what you click open in your computer. Don’t fall to this cyber crime.

Eating grass for lack of any other food

What started as a bloody duel between East Timor’s military and some disgruntled soldiers has now escalated to open street-war between rival eastern and western gangs.

These machete-wielding mobs are clashing and setting dozens of fires despite the presence of about 2,500 foreign peacekeepers. So far at least 20 people have been killed in the past week.

The unrest in this tiny nation has now seen some 100,000 people leaving the capital Dili, seeking safety in the outskirts. These poor and innocent displaced locals have lost their homes, peace and maybe livelihood as well. And due to hunger, they are also forced to eat grass.