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The Waste of War

I came across an article recently on BBC, and the bitter irony of it struck me...

Basically, after the recent massacre in Gaza, a UN team and (separately) Hamas operatives went around collecting unexploded ordnance - it was all stored in a
" site in Gaza City where more than 7,000kg of explosives was being housed.

It included three 2,000-pound bombs and eight 500-pound bombs, which had all been dropped from aircraft but failed to explode.

There was also a large number of 155mm shells for delivering the incendiary chemical white phosphorus.(BBC:17/02/09)

The UN was waiting for permission and special tools from the Israelis to be able to dispose of them, but
"On Sunday, when UN officials returned to the warehouse, which was under a Hamas police guard, they say they found most of the explosives had gone missing.

Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner said the stockpile had been "commandeered by Hamas"." (ibid.)

Well - it hardly surprises me.

Imagine: there's all this lethal equipment that was meant to kill your people, and only by luck did not go off. Then, after collecting it you're meant to guard it, waiting on the permission from the people who dropped in on you in the first place, so that it can be taken from you and destroyed... It's just grotesque! :-(

On a related matter, there's an interesting letter/article written by King Abdullah of Jordan in 1947 called "As The Arabs See The Jews". It's worth reading for some historical perspective - here are couple of choice quotes:
"I was puzzled for a long time about the odd belief which apparently persists in America that Palestine has somehow "always been a Jewish land." Recently an American I talked to cleared up this mystery. He pointed out that the only things most Americans know about Palestine are what they read in the Bible. It was a Jewish land in those days, they reason, and they assume it has always remained so.
Only once, during the empire of David and Solomon, did the Jews ever control nearly—but not all—the land which is today Palestine. This empire lasted only 70 years, ending in 926 BC. Only 250 years later the Kingdom of Judah had shrunk to a small province around Jerusalem, barely a quarter of modern Palestine.

In 63 BC the Jews were conquered by Roman Pompey, and never again had even the vestige of independence. The Roman Emperor Hadrian finally wiped them out about 135 AD. He utterly destroyed Jerusalem, rebuilt under another name, and for hundreds of years no Jew was permitted to enter it. A handful of Jews remained in Palestine but the vast majority were killed or scattered to other countries, in the Diaspora, or the Great Dispersion. From that time Palestine ceased to be a Jewish country, in any conceivable sense.

This was 1,815 years ago, and yet the Jews solemnly pretend they still own Palestine! If such fantasy were allowed, how the map of the world would dance about!

Italians might claim England, which the Romans held so long. England might claim France, "homeland" of the conquering Normans. And the French Normans might claim Norway, where their ancestors originated. And incidentally, we Arabs might claim Spain, which we held for 700 years."

And another - remember that this was written in 1947, before Israel was founded and not long after the end of the Second World War
"We are told that we are inhumane and heartless because do not accept with open arms the perhaps 200,000 Jews in Europe who suffered so frightfully under Nazi cruelty, and who even now—almost three years after war’s end—still languish in cold, depressing camps.

Let me underline several facts. The unimaginable persecution of the Jews was not done by the Arabs: it was done by a Christian nation in the West. The war which ruined Europe and made it almost impossible for these Jews to rehabilitate themselves was fought by the Christian nations of the West. The rich and empty portions of the earth belong, not to the Arabs, but to the Christian nations of the West.

And yet, to ease their consciences, these Christian nations of the West are asking Palestine—a poor and tiny Moslem country of the East—to accept the entire burden. "We have hurt these people terribly," cries the West to the East. "Won’t you please take care of them for us?"

But we say that Palestine has already sheltered 600,000 refugees. We believe that is enough to expect of us—even too much. We believe it is now the turn of the rest of the world to accept some of them."

Just in case you're wondering - my stance on the Israeli-Palestine conflict is that I think an injustice was done by forcing Israel on the Palestinians, but it cannot be reversed now. They need to live side by side in a two-state solution that rests on the pre-1967 borders, and perhaps some land swaps for the largest Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Ethical dilemma - when would you kill someone?

Here's a moral dilemma that I heard some philosopher tell [* Edit 03/03/09: I heard it on one of the 'Philosophy Bites' podcasts], it addresses a dilemma of consequentialism - i.e. judging acts by their consequences.

First scenario
Imagine you are are told that if you kill one healthy person, his organs will be used to save the life of five others. It is guaranteed that those five will be saved if you kill him, and otherwise they will definitely die.

What do you do?

Second scenario
You have been taken hostage by a terrorist. He gives you a gun (but you don't have the option to shoot him, OK?) and tells you that if you shoot one person, he will let another five go free. If you don't shoot the person, he will kill the other five. If you shoot yourself, he will kill all of them.

What do you do?

Third scenario
You're in charge of a rail track system on which there is a runaway train that you cannot stop. Coming up in front of the train the track splits into two, and you have to decide to send the train left or right. However, on the left track there is one person tied to the tracks and on the other, there are five people. Sending the train down either track will kill the person or persons tied to the track.

What do you do?

If you're like most people, for the last scenario you would have immediately chosen the track with one person; for the first you will likely have decided that it's not OK to kill a healthy person to use his organs to save five others. And, for the second scenario, you may have hesitated between one or the other.

The question is: what is the moral difference between the first and the third scenario? The consequence is the same. In each, you are killing one person to save five others. But what seems obvious in the third, is not obvious in the first.

Hehe :-) bit of a mind-fcuk eh? :-O

My guess is that the first scenario is a lot more likely to happen, and therefore we recoil at the idea; it also would have consequences in terms of establishing a precedence and - ultimately, someone one day could decide to harvest our own organs.

In the third one, there is only a split second to make a decision and therefore it is easier to make.

Also, in the first one, the healthy person is a completely free agent - i.e. not captured, or otherwise in any danger, and you have to kill him in cold blood; whereas in the other two scenarios someone else has put him in that situation, and therefore you are absolved of some responsibility.

What do you think?

PS: For those who like philosophy, here's a new blog I came across with Philosophy Cartoons.

Nasi Lemak Cikgu

One of the nice things about having friends to visit is that you are forced to go out and do something, and you usually end up learning more about where you live.

WW had hearf about 'Nasi Lemak Cikgu' many times, and our guest said he wanted to try some Malay food - so we checked it out for breakfast today

It was full, with many families and people enjoying the food, and it took a little while to get a nice table.

The choice of food is simple - nasi lemak biasa, with fried egg, chicken, or sotong. We ordered a selection, along with some drinks (teh-o-limau, etc.)

Verdict? Nice, though it didn't seem amazing to me. But the chicken was tasty (fried with curry leaf), the sambal tart (but it could have been a bit hotter), and the sotong tender :-) However, there were hardly any ikan bilis, which was a pity.

It cost RM20 for three plates of nasi lemak, chicken, two portions of sotong, and the drinks, which is reasonable.

The address is Jalan SS5B/2, easily accesible from the LDP if you turn off at the Western Digital junction.

Profit Blogging Bootcamp - Meeting for money?

Well, I signed up for a "Profit Blogging Bootcamp" workshop with Asia Online Mastery. It is free and I kept on seeing the ads in the newspaper, so I finally gave in to temptation :-)

Their headline on the ad is:
"Discover How I Made USD 36,322.57 On The Internet in ONE MONTH And How YOU Can Do It Too"

Well, I suppose he did do that at least once, but I'm sure it wasn't in his first month, anyway :-)

I was speaking to someone the other day who had started a blog because she had been reading another blog that was successfully making some money. Like many others, more than a year down the line she had yet to reach her USD100 Adsense payoff point. It reminded me that it's not unusual for people to start blogs to make money - I have no statistics, but I have been told that more than once, and seen it online.

However, the most popular blogs in Malaysia were not started to make money, maybe just because when they did start, that was not an option. I wonder how it will be in five years, when people starting blogging now have the examples of leading bloggers who get four-figure sums for blogging, invited to events, freebies, etc. It's definitely true that people are more likely to follow what others do (though of course they adapt, and some people are truly innovative): so when five years ago blogging was mostly defined by people talking about their life, often anonymously - or at least without having met each other - now, blogging is seen by many as a means to become something of a celebrity, and meeting up with other bloggers is more commonplace and, in many instances, facilitated by other interested parties.

Here's an interesting quote from a paper by Reed - it is a quote from a blogger who describes the first time they meet up:
"At ?rst we sat there on this table looking at each other in stupe?ed silence, slightly nervously, and then someone just went ‘you know what you wrote the other day about Princess Diana, that’s so completely true’, and then suddenly the conversation exploded. I think the weirdest thing about meeting people face to face is how normal it feels very swiftly."

Anyway, back to the workshop this evening. It is free, but I wonder what they get out of it? I suppose they will try to sell some extra training package, or something. Anyway, I'm sure it will be interesting, and I'll meet more bloggers :-)

Reed, A., 2005. ‘My Blog Is Me’: Texts and Persons in UK Online Journal Culture (and Anthropology). Ethnos, 70(2), 220-242.

Language and logic

Another day is coming to a close, and I have been wrestling with an annoying problem with my blog for the last hour or so (it is somehow still linking to a pdf that I deleted). I also realise that I haven't posted since Sunday. The problem I had reminded me of something I wrote back in 2001 when setting up a website for my Masters - so, in 'filler post' manner, I am pasting here :-) I never used it in my Masters dissertation, but it always stuck in my head, so why not post it here now?

It's a bit unpolished, and I edited it slightly. But here it is:


Western civilisation is closely linked with the totalising approach that is represented by the scientific discipline. The modern computers are based on transistors that are now so small that thousands of them are contained on one silicon chip. Transistors operate on a binary system whereby the transistor can be either in an 'On' or 'Off' position; computing logic is based on a series of questions relating to statements to which the answer can be either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. These are run at an unimaginable speed through the arrays of transistors and come out with the type of program that I am using to type these words. It is tempting to draw a direct line back to the Aristotelian syllogism, where A cannot be also B. Within the binary system there is no room for uncertainty or grey areas, all probabilities and possibilities will be expressed in terms of quantitative statistical mathematical probabilities. It is this unforgiving logic that is at the root of the information technologies – the technology that is a product of the social system from which it is drawn, a product of it and thus it also will contribute to the reproduction of the type of system that produced it.

An anecdote from my preparation of the website illustrates the way in which the engagement in particular practices may teach particular types of logic. For a few days I have been coming back to a problem I had with my online questionnaire whereby for a reason I could not fathom, some of the answers were being correctly reported in the summary sheet, while others weren’t. Finally, through a process of trial and error, I discovered that it was the label I was giving some of the questions, e.g. : "Q3.1", or "Q4.2_other", that was the problem. Specifically, it was the dot between the numbers that made the difference, this was not mentioned in the instruction manual which says, in relation to this point:
"List/Menu Assigns a name to the list or menu. This field is required, and the name must be unique!"

The name must be unique, but it does not say that if it has a dot in it then it may/will not work. This is the kind of technical shortcoming that is often described as a ‘bug’, errors that are seen as integral to a computer program but would never be acceptable in most other consumer goods that are put on the market. It may also be that it is way in which Dreamweaver has encoded the actual instructions in HTML for this particular element of the graphical interface does not correspond with how the other program – a ‘CGI script’ – operates. The latter is what is run when the questionnaire is filled out and then the ‘Submit’ button is pushed. In fact I have no idea what the real cause is, the only apparent cause that I see is the errant dot, but the reasons why that dot is causing a problem are probably multiple and even if someone were to explain them to me, it is likely that I would not understand it.

The reason why I tell this rather anodyne anecdote, the type of experience many people have had, is that it seems to me that in grappling with the software, I am obliged to start to think in a specific, probably Cartesian, manner. I am learning a language, and a particular type of logic. – if, in my 'travels' in cyberspace I was to meet up with someone who had used the same software then we would have a common understanding that may enhance or otherwise influence our interaction.

I’m moving towards a techno-determinist argument here: i.e. the programme has a ‘language’ that will influence my interaction with another person. However it is in the strength and inevitability of the potential causal link that I would like to place my argument. I have learnt a different logic, let’s assume, but I will use it according to my own interpretation of what is necessary and important for myself. This will be based on previously learnt behaviours and ingrained habits/practices. I may have learnt a new logic or language, but whether it actually affects my practices will depend on how much it clashes with previously learnt thought processes and the extent to which I perceive that taking on this logic will enable me to further my interests as defined by my social upbringing.

Checking out Gunung Ledang

We're planning with some friends to do a short camping trip up Gunung Ledang in a couple of months, and today we went on a short scouting trip to check out the area.

One of our party had been there before, and wanted to check out a resort that was not the standard one where all the tour buses go and everything. It's call Taman Hutan Lagenda, and you have to drive 10-15 minutes through a bumpy plantatation dirt road to get there.

On the way we spotted this kingfisher

The resort itself is nice, basically a start-off point for hikes - with accomodation ranging from a Deluxe Chalet at RM220 a night, to dormitory beds at RM10 each.

We followed a short trail that loops around from the resort

Nothing very fascinating, but pleasant. There was this unusual root that you could walk under

Anyway, we spoke to some guides and got a price list and all - and hopefully we'll be able to go up in May :-)