Saturday, April 26, 2003

Pak Lah now wants apology from Economist.
By the way, Dr M will be back soon.

Suddenly, they realise oh... It took Pak Lah and Najib Tun Razak and their staffers 21 days to realise Christopher Lockwood and The Economist have taken a jibe at Malaysia and Dr Mahathir's legacy. Their apologists probably took much longer.

Now they - political hopefuls and unashamed apologists - begin the attack.

Probably mindful that the PM is coming back to work next week, one must be seen to be doing something meaningful to safeguard one's career and fortune?

  • Acting PM Abdullah Badawi demanded an apology from The Economist for publishing "inaccurate reports on the progress of Malaysia under Dr Mahathir Mohamad's leadership."

  • NST Group Editor-in-Chief Abdullah Ahmad criticised it as a distorted analysis.

  • Ex-NST Editor-in-Chief, Telekom Malaysia director cum Celcom chairman, Munir Majid, said in his usual sycophantic way: "I had taken a break from reading The Economist because I was sick of that publication putting across opinion as fact, as if it knew all the right things and all the right answers."

  • Utusan's Awang Selamat devoted three stories in his Sunday column, vilifying it.

  • Overseas UMNO Clubs Alumni calls the Home Ministry to withdraw Economist's circulation permit in Malaysia.

The Sunday Times has this for its editorial today: Misrepresenting Dr M and Malaysia. Suffice for me to excerpt just the opening and closing paragraphs:
The imperious survey of Malaysia by The Economist bears the distinctive imprint of the Orientalist mode of discourse in its catalogue of misrepresentations and reinforcement of stereotypes by which the mainstream media in the West views this country and the rest of the emerging world. [...]

The Economist is merely being blinkedly opinionated, blathering about the lack of democracy and freedom of expression in Malaysia while advocating the waging of war on Iraq. Facile opinions are not proscribed in this country, and faraway magazines such as The Economist are free to display the bigotry of dismissing the Malaysian Press as doing "pretty much what it is told" as they dance to the tune of Pax Americana.

I shall give them ALL benefits of doubt that ALL of them have read ALL the nine stories in The Economist, and not relying on excerpts in a Bernama dispatch, which The Star lifted in toto.

But what took them so long to finish the cerebral journey from brain to knee-jerking?

If they believed Dr Mahathir's contribution to Malaysia deserved a fair appraisal - which I did - they should have sprung into action on the first light to defend him.

To put on record, the April 5 edition of Economist carried a 9-story feature, headlined The Changing of the Guard - A Survey of Malaysia.

The irony is, The Economist published the stories on its website as early as April 3. Newsstand copies were available about two days later. Blogger Oon Yeoh discussed the stories on April 7 - chapter by chapter - and Uncle Yap posted them on his BeritaMalaysia mailing list the same day.

Read my Friday blog for backgrounder.

SARS Updates: April 27 morning

UPDATE: From AP, picked by The Star Online: Beijing's city government has ordered the closure of all the city's theaters, cinemas, Internet cafes and other public entertainment venues in an attempt to curb the spread of SARS, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Sunday.

Vindication! Again, Penang legislator Kee Phaik Chin - that fat lady with a pile of SARS-shit - was wrong when she said 'the record shows that SARS has not affected anyone below 30.'

I blogged yesterday that the youngest SARS victim is an 18-month old from Singapore.

Native English who is now based in Hong Kong, Phil Ingram of fame - the who and which were mentioned in the Guardian - emailed me yesterday to say that "actually, a 28 year old died of SARS in Hong Kong yesterday (April 25), methinks this under 30s argument is busted!"

Thanks, Phil. You made me feel vindicated.

No confidence. Straits Times Singapore reported that Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa was facing a no-confidence vote over SARS.

The Star Executive editor Wong Chun Wai made a reference to this - and China's sacking of its health minister and Beijing mayor - in his Sunday column, and said more, though nothing really new.

Interestingly he touched on street-style politics of the 60's, online media's armchair role in reporting SARS, and 'that-fat-lady-with-a-pile-of-horseshit' syndrome:

But the lesson from this episode, for the Chinese leaders as well as other Asian leaders, is the habit of resorting to secrecy as a first step in crisis management is no longer applicable today.

Those responsible for internal security should realise that bad news today would not lead to social unrest and panic. That may have been the case of street-style politics during the 60s.

But times have changed. Such secrecy can no longer work in the Internet age. While the state can attempt to stop the media from highlighting the SARS issue, it will not be able to stop reports over the Internet. [...]

It was the print media, lambasted by some quarters for supposedly sensationalising the SARS issue, that took the trouble to send reporters to the shopping complex to determine the true situation. Not the electronic or online media. [...]

It is irresponsible for any tourism official or politician in charge of tourism to suggest that the press should not highlight the SARS issue. Turning a blind eye, for the sake of political and economic expediency, is not the way.

The role of the media is to inform and educate the public and, in the case of SARS, the Malaysian press has generally played a meaningful role. Politicians should learn to accept criticisms, not just praises.

He then quoted NST chief Abdullah Ahmad's stand on SARS, which I blogged on April 23.

That makes Pak Dollah infamously famous because, doubtlessly, in a country of perennial patronage, we need opinion platforms from somebody high-up to cover our arse, and unfortunately mine is not spared.

Chun Wai also made a politically-correct commentary on the pow-wow between the Chinese press editors and Malaysian Health Ministry:
In Malaysia, I still believe the health officials have handled the flow of information reasonably well, despite the initial hiccups, but the reprimand to the Chinese dailies seems unnecessary.

The criticism and counter arguments between the Chinese dailies and the Health Ministry are unhealthy. Both sides should get on with the real work of fighting the health menace.

Here are the headlines I collected in the last 12 hours (Straits Times Singapore's server was down as I blogged):

Liberation by humiliation:
US forces made Iraqis walk naked in Baghdad park

UPDATED: April 27, 3:43pm.

Raw justice. April 25, 2003: Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet published photos of US soldiers forcing Iraqi men to walk naked through a park in Baghdad under "armed escort".

On their chests were written "Ali Baba - Haram" in Arabic, meaning "Ali Baba - Thief".
(picture left)

The Dagbladet story quotes a US military officer as saying that this treatment is an effective method of deterring thieves from entering the park and is a method which will be used again.

Regime of tyranny. This is something for advocates of Bush's invasion of Iraq to chew on. You have thought the US has a benign regime in the Whitehouse.

I want them to realise that 95% of Iraqis are Shias, whose religion is Islam. Exposure of one's anatomy in public is haram as it is required upon each Muslim to cover their aurat.

Bush must respect that, in Islam, there are nine parts of a male's body which are aurat compulsory to be covered:
  1. The penis

  2. Both testicles

  3. Posterior

  4. The right hip

  5. The left hip

  6. The right thigh (upto and including the knee)

  7. The left thigh (upto and including the knee)

  8. From below the naval upto the male organ and upto both sides of the body inclusive.

  9. The area between the testicles upto the posterior is a single aurat.

US forces, who have been thoroughly briefed on Muslim sensitivies before the invasion, have chosen to blatantly humiliate the conquered.

Even one were to go by global conventions, Bush should get Rumsfeld and Powell to go over Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention again. It clearly states that,
"Protected persons are entitled in all circumstances, to respect for their persons, their honour, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manner and customs. They shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof and against insults and public curiosity".

The Americans are a hated race before the September 11 attack. They are going to be more hated than ever.

Amnesty International has condemned the action of the US Forces. Details are in the press release dated April 25.

More info: Amnesty International's report: Iraq: Responsibilities of the occupying powers and Iraq Crisis page.

Take a look at the screenshot of Dagbladet front page, April 25. Click here to view the webpage.

Thanks Francis Foo of Melbourne for the pointer.

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Friday, April 25, 2003

Ban on Bup Kudus lifted

Dispute over Allah Tala for God resolved. Acting Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the government has lifted the ban on Bup Kudus, the Iban-language Bible, with immediate effect.

He said the issue in question – the use of the word Allah Tala for God in the Iban language – had been resolved.

He clarified the book was banned as the Islamic Development Department (Jakim) felt the use of Allah Tala, which was similar to Muslims' Allah Taala, was inappropriate.

Nevertheless, Pak Lah advised parties to exercise care when translating religious works. Excerpts:

“When I consulted the Council of Churches, I was told the word had been used by the community as a reference to God for a very long time.

“Since the word is found in the Iban Bible only, I don't see the reason why it should be banned,” he said.

“There is no reason to ban it and cause anger among the community.”

The Star: Bup Kudus, which had been used by the Iban Christians for the past 15 years, was banned on April 9 because the Home Ministry's Film Censorship and Publication Control Division felt that it breached the guidelines for non-Islamic religious books.

I blogged this on April 22.

Read letters to editor:

SARS Updates: April 26 morning

Youngest SARS victim. Penang legislator Kee Phaik Chin - that fat lady with a pile of SARS-shit - was wrong when she said 'the record shows that SARS has not affected anyone below 30.'

(Incidentally, my blog on Kee's bum advice was captured by a blogger in US, here on Salon blogs.)

The youngest to be infected is 18 months old, in Singapore, reports Straits Times today.

She is the granddaughter of a 72-year-old vegetable seller at the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre. His son, 35, who is in the Navy, is also infected. The family now has seven people down with the disease, not including the man's wife, who died on April 15 of what has now been diagnosed as Sars.

Here's a graphic of SARS epidemic sourced from Sydney Morning Herald as at April 24, or click on the image or here for a larger view:

Here are the headlines I collected in the last 12 hours:

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Email virus exploits SARS fears

'Coronex email virus. An AFP dispatch from Washington picked up by Straits Times Singapore:

A new Internet virus being circulated exploits fears about the SARS epidemic, duping computer users to download programmes that can replicate and clog networks, security experts said.

The virus is spread by emails that carry message lines including 'SARS' or 'I need your help,' said a warning issued this week by McAfee Security.

Computer security firms said the threat from the virus W32.Coronex@mm, dubbed Coronex, was low. Operating systems not affected are: Macintosh, OS/2, UNIX, Linux.

For more information on removing the virus, click here

Economist April 5 edition:
What took Pak Lah and Najib 3 weeks to respond?

There's only one reason. Either the staffers needed 21 days to travel the cerebral journey from brain to knee-jerking - meaning tardiness and latency - or they felt they don't owe Economist a living to help it push circulation in Malaysia.

I like to believe in the latter.

The thing is, only in today's newspapers do we get to read about acting PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi hitting out at The Economist weekly for allegedly making negative reporting about Dr Mahathir's contribution and legacy to Malaysia - 21 days late!

The April 5 edition of Economist carried a 9-story feature, headlined The Changing of the Guard - A Survey of Malaysia.

To many who surf the Net, it's already ancient history. The Economist hanged the stories on its website as early as April 3. Newsstand copies were available about two days later. Blogger Oon Yeoh discussed the stories on April 7 - chapter by chapter - and Uncle Yap posted them on his BeritaMalaysia mailing list the same day.

The Economist feature has these 9 stories:

The feature, anchored by Christopher Lockwood, covered issues like race relations, the New Economic Policy, the Internal Security Act, expenditure on mega projects, the PAS threat and the capability of Umno and the Barisan Nasional. Topics that have been much regurgitated. Practically nothing new.

If Bernama's story is anything to go by, it must have been the part touching on the change of leadership in Malaysia, A Qualified Success, which is seen as containing strong attacks against the leadership of Dr Mahathir.

The leading story, The changing of the guard, started like this:
“Is he (Abdullah) up to the job of guarding Malaysia against the demons of religious extremism, racial hatred and a fragile and volatile global economy? Will he be able to dispense with the authoritarianism that, to many, has made Dr Mahathir look more like a jailer than a guardian of his people? And can he hold the fractious ruling coalition together, a job that even Dr Mahathir has sometimes found a struggle?"

The feature signed off with "A qualified success" which concluded like this:
“Installing Dr Mahathir in Jeddah where the OIC is based would have another great advantage, for Malaysia at least; it would get him out of the country. [...]

“According to an old joke, the difference between Malaysia and Britain is that in Britain the prime minister is chosen every five years and the monarch rules for life; whereas in Malaysia the king changes every five years and the prime minister rules for life. There is some truth in that: since independence in 1957, Malaysia has had 12 kings (because the title rotates among Malaysia's sultans and rajas) but only four prime ministers. The greatest service Dr Mahathir could render Malaysia after all these years would be to retire, full stop.”

Yesterday, Pak Lah said nobody, including the Western media, could dismiss the progress and successes achieved by Malaysia under the leadership of Dr Mahathir. He said that under the prime minister, Malaysia emerged as a country which was prosperous, progressive, harmonious, respected and held in high esteem.

Soon after Pak Lah spoke, Defence Minister Najib Tun Razak, who is Umno vice-president, came around to tick off The Economist for "not giving an accurate and true picture of the country’s leadership and the government’s policies."

I reckon Razak Baginda must have advised his master thoroughly on this, strategically speaking.

Najib said by making comparisons between Dr Mahathir and Abdullah, the Economist could create misunderstanding over the power change process in October.

He said UMNO could propose that the government ban the distribution of the magazine, published in London.

Meanwhile, Dow Jones quoted Bernama as saying Malaysia's stimulus package designed to boost a depressed economy is likely to be unveiled in May - after Dr Mahathir returned from his vacation.

To those uninitiated of the UMNO shadow play, it's good to read all these with side-dishes by Nash Rahman:

You have 21 days to make a response.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

SARS: Editors regret Chua's finger-pointing

Another pricked ass: Malaysia's health minister. Editors of Chinese newspapers have packed up a pow-wow with the health miniter who allegedly accused the vernacular media for “blowing the SARS issue out of proportion". Some backgrounder:

  • April 21, minister Chua Jui Meng accused the country’s four Chinese newspapers for publishing reports about the SARS issue that caused Asian Wall Street Journal to pick it up, creating a perception problem on Malaysia.

  • April 22, health director-general Dr Mohamed Taha Arif issued a letter to Nanyang Siang Pau, accusing it of smearing the ministry’s image and credibility - apparently referring to coverage on Malaysia's first SARS death on March 30 - claiming that it resulted in the public no longer believing in the ministry’s actions or statistics on SARS.

  • April 23, Sin Chew Daily responded with a commentary describing Chua’s allegation as a deviation from the truth, and had misled the government and corporate leaders.

  • Yesterday, April 24, Nanyang published Dr Taha’s letter alongside with a reply from its editor-in-chief Hoong Soon Kean, who challenged the ministry to prove its allegation. It also transcribed NST chief Abdullah Ahmad's opinion on SARS handling, which I blogged earlier.

On the same day, the Malaysian Chinese Papers’ Editors Association (Bian Xie) has also expressed regret over the ministry’s allegation. The association said its members were only serving their readers by providing information about SARS, as the countries affected by the virus are Chinese countries. As a result, it is of interest to the local Chinese.

It emphasised that the association is helping the government to provide accurate information so that the people can take the necessary precautions and to avoid panic.

It called on the government to be more transparent in handling the SARS outbreak which has killed two Malaysians so far.

DAP chairman Lim Kit Siang said Chua should apologise to the Chinese papers for his unfair and baseless attack. Nanyang carried his statement here.

Black-out. Before this, the Health Ministry has attempted to gag the information flow by maintaining Malaysia was SARS free, and refuting the press reports. It was only after a directive from Acting Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who ordered transparency on the SARS issue, that more information was forthcoming.

Last week, Chua washed dirty lines in public by accusing the Transport Ministry for lapses in pre-departure screenings of airline passengers in overseas airports. The transport minister gave him a public rebuttal. Ironically, both are from the same political party within Barisan Nasional.

I blogged this here, and it was quoted by fellow bloggers Dinesh Nair and Tim Bishop (Berkeley, California).

The Star senior journalist Foong Pek Yee has an opinion piece today:
Blaming the local media for the ministry’s credibility crisis among the people – if it is indeed suffering from one now – can be construed as belittling the people’s judgment.

Malaysians generally have been keeping tabs on the SARS issue locally and abroad and their access to information is not confined to the local media.

People are very concerned simply because practically everybody has a stake in SARS.

The authorities should realise that the media has its role and responsibilities towards the society as well.

The SARS threat is definitely too big for any individual or any vested interest to stay above it.

There is definitely no room for anyone to claim credit, play doctor, fish in murky waters or find a scapegoat.

She warned that playing down the SARS situation or perceived to be doing so – in the name of dousing the crisis of fear – is akin to playing with fire.

She quoted the sacking of China’s Health Minister Zhang Wenkang and the Beijing mayor Meng Xuenong, as good examples of political casualties from SARS. She threw a challenge:
There should not be any pressures from anyone to stop the media from reporting on SARS while the media must also not create any alarm with incorrect reports.

Perhaps others who felt they have been unfairly accused of poor handling of SARS can invite WHO to audit their case and clear their good name.

Minister Chua, the ball is in your court. Just don't get too smart for your own good.

JD again....

Blog cosmos. Writer and content strategist Joseph D. Lasica, a Senior Editor of the Online Journalism Review, made a mention of this blog again, yesterday, in his New Media Musings: Come join the blogosphere.

Here is the link.

(Via Technorati Cosmos: JD Lasica).

The world is following SARS very, very closely.

From the unis to offices. Last night's overseas traffic to this blog revealed a new trend. Google, Yahoo, Agonist, SARSWatch, Singapore's SARS Info Centre and flyingchair continued to be the main source of referred visitors

Those who stayed on ranging 3 to 47 minutes, and pageviews ranging from 2 to 16 pages are those from US public libraries, universities (Manchester UK, Iowa, Maryland, Harvard, Southern Illinois, Princeton, Standford), colleges (Dartsmouth), and corporate organisartions like GE, Cisco, Intel, Edelman, HK Cable TV, Sony US, to name a few.

I guess visitors logging in from universities and colleges may be the students who research for their assignments. But I am not so sure about those who logged in from public libraries in US and Toronto. Are they retirees? Traffic from multinational organisations must be those road-warriors who are looking for SARS advisories and updates for global travels. But I am guessing again.

The data are changing by the minutes, and my free-version Sitemeter only tracks 5 pages of most recent log archive, spanning an average of 5 hours at best. So I am getting only glimpses of the traffic - or in my term: screenshots of Internet - and I can't really draw any conclusion beyond the sporadic observation.

Thanks to Francis Foo of Melbourne for linking this blog to his alumni community website, CASU. As many as 95% of the 100 over members are in Malaysia, with the rest spread over the 5 continents. Francis is the CASU website manager.

Probably, Asia will remain on the radar screens as the world's SARS' epicentre. Times London says SARS panic keeps on spreading, googled an hour ago.

Last night was caught in business engagements. I will try to blog later today. Meanwhile, here are more Google News on SARS

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Wednesday, April 23, 2003

That fat lady with a pile of SARS-shit

You trust what she says? Penang executive councillor Kee Phaik Chin (picture below) has a recipe for SARS immunity that medical scientists and researchers the world over fail to have. She said she got it from the Internet.

To boost the body immunity against SARS, according to her, you just need to follow these:

  • Eat a porridge (sic) of green beans mixed with sweet potato and brown sugar twice a week.

  • Drink plenty of water.

  • Exercise, preferably with your family.

  • Keep the inside and outside of your house clean.

She also said, "to date, the record shows that SARS has not affected anyone below 30.

theSun deputy R. Nadeswaran, in his page 4 commentary today, said Kee - by dispensing generously with all kinds of advice - has the dubious honour of joining the list of self-appointed "experts", who at the drop of a hat, are willing to provide cures and self-medication for a disease for which a cure has yet to be found.

Nades said, to communicate false information and unsubstantiated claims will only cause further confusion for an already muddled public. I cannot disagree.

He also mentioned about some budding politicians and a deputy chief minister who use SARS to relate to garbage collection and dirty toilets to score brownie points for political gains.

April 17, Star executive editor Wong Chun Wai wrote this in his commentary:
On March 23, the New Straits Times quoted Penang Culture, Arts and Tourism Committee chairman Datuk Kee Phaik Cheen as saying that the media should not highlight SARS stories as this would keep tourists away, adding that the economy would be affected if tourists stayed away because of the disease.

Kee doesn’t understand the seriousness of the situation. Malaysians are learning to cope with SARS, so they don’t need an outbreak of foot-in-the-mouth disease among politicians.

Neither can I disagree on this. Yesterday, NST Group Editor-in-Chief Abdullah Ahmad has given his reasons on what the bureaucracies have erred on SARS.

Meanwhile, The Star reported today: Tourism, which is Penang’s second biggest revenue earner, has been badly hit following the SARS threat and the announcement of the first "probable SARS death" in Penang on Tuesday.

Indicators of economic woes:
  • Average hotel occupancy rate dropped to about 29% early this week.

  • Some international hotels ask their staff to clear their annual leave and shutting down unoccupied floors to save costs.

  • Hawker food, a major tourism draw, especially with Singaporean visitors, is no longer pulling the crowd at Gurney Drive and other tourist areas.

  • Shopping malls are also relatively quieter and traders are complaining of poor sales.

  • But the worst hit are probably the tour operators, especially after it was reported that the first probable SARS death in Penang was a 26-year-old tour manager who had visited Beijing and Bangkok last month.

Kee may be scratching her head, and probably conferring with her boss, CM Koh Tsu Khoon, another talk-a-lot, to find functioning remedies for the state portfolio under her care.

All I can say is that, the two learned journos have been most courteous compared to me. But until she comes out with something plausible to combat SARS scare, rebuild tourist confidence and revive the inflow of tourism money, I still think she is no more than a fat lady with a pile of horseshit talking SARS.

But if she were to just sit pretty and stay quiet, nobody would say she's dumb. Would you?

SARS Updates: April 24 morning

Call of duty. Unknowingly, this blog has become the listening post to readers from Eastern and Pacific Coast US and Europe for SARS updates. The night before, traffic referrals continued to come mostly from SARSWatch, The Agonist and Google.

I saw increased visitors starting to come from Western Europe, including Finland and Denmark, and further east from India and Russia. Is it because Asia is now the feared epicentre of SARS that draws global concern?

This has become an eye-opener to someone like me who blogs on business and media - chronicling SARS, of all things!

In a way, to this surging international blog traffic, I feel obligated to put up as many information links for these visitors as I humanly could, probably once in the morning and once by midnight, in the next few days. Personally, I am very concerned with the economic impact this epidemic is creating. Not good for everyone.

Here are the headlines I collected in the last 12 hours:

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This is worrying
SARS virus is mutating rapidly;
Beijing genetic code differs from those sequenced in Canada and US

UPDATE: 251 killed, 4,461 infected worldwide. Washington Post dispatched a story from Beijing today. It's quite disturbing.

It quoted Yang Huanming, one of China's best-known geneticists, as saying that SARS samples already sequenced in the United States and Canada were similar to the Guangzhou samples because the American and Canadian samples came from people who caught the disease in southern China.

But when researchers did sequencing of samples collected in Beijing, about 1,200 miles to the north, they detected significant differences from the southern strain.

In simple term, it means the virus is mutating rapidly.

The discovery was made by Yang's Beijing Genomics Institute, which has collaborated with the Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology of the Academy of Military Medical Sciences in the project. However, he said their research could provide important clues as to whether the microbe will weaken or increase in severity over time.

The SARS virus belongs to a family of viruses known as coronaviruses (picture left), which are prone to mutations.

I have crossed checked the news piece with another by BBC, which confirmed it.

But there are scientists who doubt it.

Geneva SARS Summit in June. International scientific experts will meet in Geneva - set for June 17-18 - to discuss global strategies to control the deadly SARS virus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said today.

Sydney Morning Herald has these figures ready for tomorrow's (Thursday, April 24) print edition:

SARS virus has now killed 251 people and infected 4,461 worldwide.

Click here to look at the the stats by country.

I just had dinner with my Singaporean business partners. They said the general feeling among the people there is that Singapore government has done very unpopular things - webcam surveillence, digital tag and threat of jail sentence placed on quaranteened suspects - but they were the RIGHT things.

This blog has been getting tremendous referrals today from SARSWatch maintained by Tim Bishop of Berkeley, California.

People are now asking could it be a rerun of the deadly 1918-19 flu epidemic?

More Google News here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

SARS: Pak Dollah is fearful

Media - Bureaucrat stand-off. If it comes from somebody the stature of NST Group Editor-in-Chief Abdullah Ahmad, you better take note. This is what he said in his mid-week column, On The Record, today:

I worry a lot when it comes to health because I have a feeling that there are no mild cases of SARS.

Quoting China's decision to come clean in an open and transparent manner, as exemplied by the sacking of its health minister and Beijing mayor, Pak Dollah argued his case:
The irony of disinformation is that there can be a severe backlash if that is what it is shown to be — a sophisticated attempt to bluff your way out of trouble. Open and rapidly communicative economies such as Singapore and Hong Kong don't even bother to quell the fear factor, and err on the side of over-reaction.

On the other hand, Malaysia tends to err on the side of over-caution. In previous disease outbreaks, such as the Coxsackie and viral encephalitis, information curtailment can be argued to have worked to stem panic — the pathogens did not spread too far and wide. But SARS is different.

It has been imported from outside and its detection and control is being undertaken against the clamour of the world's attention. The health authorities cannot assume to restrict information for the good of the public.

It would be folly for the Health Ministry to follow China's example. There were sloppy attempts early on to manage information, but the media's careful uncovering of the incidence of the disease has done more to assuage public concern.

Instead, every precaution must be taken, with enough visibility to show that the Government is both earnest and effective in dealing with the potential scourge.

The English site of Chinese-language news portal also took the same stance: We Beg To Differ, Mr Minister.

I reckon health minister Chua Jui Meng has earned himself a deserving reputation that will his legacy make.

Here's a quick round-up of SARS over the last 24 hours:

Blog traffic so far

Networked, global community. My experiment with blogging started January 2 this year. I had intended to use it as a barometer to gauge how contagious Internet can be if online content crafted along current issues reaches a universal audience. This is what I discovered so far:

Traffic sample taken at 6.15am Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Based on stats culled from Sitemeter - which I activated only last weekend - the analysed traffic samples were taken at intervals where the world intersects its activities – close to midnight GMT, sundown in the US and sunrise in the east.

Today, for example, I got 52% of visitors from Malaysia and countries within its time zone, 16% from East Coast US, 4% from Pacific Coast US, 3% from US Great Lakes region, 1% from Mid-West US, 2% from North West US, 5% from Central Europe, 1% from Western Europe and 6% from Australia, and about 3% from NZ and probably Japan.

I took a peep at the back-end traffic analysis and discovered to my delight that Google, Yahoo, MSN,, and bloggers who blogrolled me, have referred many visits and pageviews to my blog. I guess the US invasion of Iraq and the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), two topics I blogged extensively over the past three months, have given me the vital catalysts to network to the global digital community.

At the onset, I blogged and warned of potential rumour-mongering if the government continued with its tardy information flow on the epidemic that was causing havoc in Hong Kong, mainland China and Singapore – countries with which Malaysia has tremendous traffic. I said if official updates were not managed convincingly, the haphazard use of SMS might become a deadlier carrier as people would resort to rumours and misinformation. It would disrupt market sentiments and business operations.

Writer and content strategist Joseph D. Lasica, a Senior Editor of the Online Journalism Review, was thrilled to learn that blogging has taken root in Malaysia and made and mentioned my blog and a related news feature in Star In-Tech that he picked up online. That pushed me onto the blogosphere’s radar screen.

US news portal MSNBC soon picked up my blog entry on SARS and related it to how Asians resort to new technologies, blogs and SMS, to access information about the epidemic. This was later picked up by The Agonist, a high-traffic blog in the US. Within 24 hours, it was linked and referred to by Berkeley, California-based blogger Tim Bishop who maintains, Hong Kong-based Phil Ingram who maintains blog, and Singapore-based legal practitioner Vernon Lee who maintains SARS Info Centre website.

On the other hand, Malaysian readers, including those who have migrated overseas, responded warmly to my anti-war stance.

The fact that there are over 200,000 active weblogs hosted by alone, not mentioning there are other independent web hosting services and corporate servers making the blogosphere thrive. To reach eyeballs is tough. More so, a blogger doesn't have the backing of portal presence from a conventional media organisation.

Suddenly, I found myself networked to a community that I would not be able to reach out formerly.

Come join blogosphere. You could do even better.

More at home now, my friends?

Tracking our journos. Wong Sai Wan, The Star Editor, East Asia Bureau, has completed his 20-month stint in Hong Kong. He filed his last article last Sunday: Land of hype losing its glitter. When he took over from Lim Chye Khim in 2001, Hong Kong was still reeling from sluggish economic recovery, and soon after it ran helter-skelter with bird-flu scares. Yesterday, from a first-person perspective as a recent arrival from SARS-stricken Hong Kong, he advised: There’s no need to overreact.

I have friends in Hong Kong who were laid-off, VSS-ed, or retrenched late last year. Not an exciting time in Hong Kong, perhaps. Sai Wan had this observation:

So far this year, there has been a string of bad news. On Chinese New Year day, Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Ho, on the orders of (Chief Executive) Tung (Chee Hwa), went to the famed Che Kung Temple in Sha Tin to pray for the territory’s good fortune.

When he drew a fortune stick (chim in Cantonese) that he said was for the whole of Hong Kong, he picked the worst one possible – it predicted that Hong Kong was in for a very bad time.

Ho then said things were already so bad that the low-fortune stick was a good indication that things could only get better.

He was wrong. Things have gone from bad to worse.

The severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak that hit Hong Kong officially on Feb 22 – just 18 days after Ho drew that bad-luck stick – has ravaged the territory and knocked the people's confidence.

I remember having referred my friend Peter Phang, KL-based director of Hong Kong Trade Development Council to Sai Wan so that some networking between Malaysian-Hong Kong business communities could be forged. Peter came home impressed with him as being very resourceful, razor-sharp with witty.

Wonder Sai Wan will revive his golf column in Star Metro?

Star senior writer Shahanaaz Habib - the first Malaysian journalist to make her way into Baghdad before US military invasion started, and remained there till this day - has filed in her best story so far. You shouldn't miss this: Struck by kindness of people. I mentioned this in my email exchange with Wong Chun Wai to show my appreciation of her story and how it impacted me as a plain-vanilla newspaper reader.

In the story, Shahanaaz recounted her survival trails after she arrived from Amman on April 3. She painted a picture of fraternity among foreign journalists by mentioning the warm assistance she received from them, bearing in mind that she has had no experience covering an ensuing war.

Most importantly, she came across the Iraqi people, despite the war and scarcity of food, is a race of good hospitality, and not hostility. She witnessed how by being a Malaysian, she earned respect and privilege not accorded to the Westerners. We must thank Dr Mahathir for creating a world brand that has few equals in Arab.

I noticed this is the first time her story was distributed through Joint Media Team Malaysia (JMTM). I stand corrected on this.

In contrast, I was told that Star's other Amman-based war correspondent, PK Katharason, has quietly "sneaked" back to Kota Kinabalu where he is regional associate editor (Sabah & Sarawak). Is he waiting for further instructions: "Next station, Syria!" ?

I have no idea whether Star's Doha-based correspondent, Brian Martin, has come home. I don't get to his stories lately.

I have heard theSun's chief reporter Terence Fernandez- who cheated death twice in three days - has survived the treacherous road from Baghdad to Amman, from where he filed his story: Baghdad kids wake up to peddling, yesterday. His opening paragraph is arresting:
Muhamad is only 10 years old, but already, he is the sole bread-winner of his family."

You must read his story, Page 10, theSun yesterday. Sorry, no online version.

I hope Shamsul Akmar is holding up fine in Baghdad. But please give the loose cannon - I mean Syed Hamid Albar - a good tomoi kick. Somewhere around his rear, preferably below the belt.

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No back down, Shamsul no back down!

Pricked arse. Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar is feeling very sore with an article by NST associate political editor, Shamsul Akmar Musa Kamal, about Malaysian journalists who covered the war in Iraq under Joint Media Team Malaysia (JMTM).

The minister took it as “a personal attack beyond professional criticism, independence of the press and the freedom of expression”. He said his ministry will respond in due course. Both The Star and The NST carried the news.

Shamsul Akmar was faulted for allegedly criticising the minister for insinuating that reporters covering the war had wanted to return as they were afraid after an ambush on their colleagues. Shamsul Akmar censured the minister as “being the least qualified” to talk about the situation in Baghdad when no one from the ministry had been there. This is the excerpt, NST Saturday April 19: Highlighting the unknown in Iraq:

But talking about misinformation, Malaysian journalists in Baghdad were informed that Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar had made a statement that they wanted to return to Malaysia.

He had also insinuated that they were in fear after what had happened to three of their colleagues.

What is scary here is that the Foreign Minister could be so misinformed over matters concerning citizens of his own country that one wonders if other information he dispensed about other nations and their people may be more misleading.

How Syed Hamid had come to such a conclusion is quite surprising as the journalists, including the three who were attacked, are preparing to travel to other parts of Iraq, including Mosul, which is currently seeing Iraqi resistance army engaged in battles with US troops.

As far as the the journalists are concerned, it is they who are being asked to return home and not the other way round.

At last, the likes of Syed Hamid who are the least qualified to talk about what is going on in Baghdad when no one from his ministry dared to step into Iraq had decided to jump on the publicity wagon to get a share of the limelight.

No wonder, some of the efforts by Dr Mahathir to instil pride and confidence in Malaysians are negated by the likes of Syed Hamid who are only interested to see his name in print and not get to the real facts of the matter.

Syed Hamid may have come to his conclusion that the Malaysian journalists were in fear based on his assessment of some of his people from the ministry who feared for their safety if they entered Baghdad.

All this boils down to what kind of leadership the minister provides.

Whatever it is, it takes away the credibility of Syed Hamid to talk about what is going on in Iraq, let alone talk about those who are there.

Then again, the Malaysian journalists who are preparing to move out from Baghdad to Mosul, Tikrit, Najaf and Basra and to Syria where trouble is brewing, should not be distracted from performing their tasks for which they had volunteered.

After all, they are the only ones to provide as much information to the Malaysian taxpayers and media subscribers, which may include Syed Hamid, who has no other Malaysian source of input.

That is the reason why the matter relating to Syed Hamid is in the lower segment of this column; because the taxpayers paid for the upper segment of this article.

On that note, the likes of Syed Hamid should at best be humoured.

I say Shamsul, this time don't run away carrying your balls. It's the minister who should be doing that. You have come under gun point, he hasn't.

Iranian blogger arrested

Another online petition. The latest to pop up on bloggers' radar screens today is the arrest of Iranian journalist-blogger Sina Motallebi.

His wife Farnaz Ghazizadeh told The Associated Press that the police promised to release her husband in two days, but she believed he would be held longer.

Motallebi's weblog, rooznegar or WebGard (meaning web surfer), was among the top 5 Persian most popular weblogs. But now, this weblog is no more but a blank page. There is a Google cache, though.

Guardian has a backgrounder (2002) about underground culture in Iran, where Motallebi was quoted as saying:

"There is a lack of freedom of speech in Iran, so weblogs are a good opportunity, especially for younger people, to explain their views and attitudes, because they can't explain them in any other media. They are a good way to exchange news, so they are a way to freedom and democracy, but it's still very young, less than a year old."

According to blogger Hossein Derakhshan aka Hoder of Editor:Myself, Motallebi is accused of threatening the national security by giving interviews to Persian language radios outside Iran, wrtiting articles both in newspapers and his weblog.

Bloggers have put up an online petition calling on Reporters sans frontières and other human rights organizations to assist in getting his immediate release.

Click here to sign your online petition.

Hoder has blogged about the impact of weblogs on Iran before:
"During the past 20 months, more than 10,000 Persian weblogs have been emerged. Their authors mostly live in Iran, where the number of Internet users hardly exceeds a half million...

"The popularity of weblogs among young Iranians, suggests that great changes has happened in Iranian society during the past two decades, at least among the new generations of middle-class residents of big cities...

"Individuality, self-expression, tolerance are new values which are quite obvious through a quick study of the content of Persian weblogs..."

Dan Gillmor said: "The Internet brings freedom in theory. But governments are increasingly grasping that free speech in this latest medium is a powerful tool, and they're clamping down."

To understand Iranian blogosphere better, visit Blogshares created by fellow Iranian (now in UK) Sayed Pouya Razavi, and an interview he had with Hoder.

(Via Dan Gillmor, Jeff Jarvis, Instapundit Glenn Reynolds and Hossein Derakhshan.)

Monday, April 21, 2003

Banning of 'Bup Kudus’, the Bible in Iban language

I misread it. My judgment was wrong. It didn't dawn on me that the government's banning of 'Bup Kudus' - 15 years after its adoption by my Iban brethren ( I have visited and stayed with Iban friends in Lubok Antu before) - could cause such a lingering repercussion.

On the ground, it is interpreted as a contravention of Article 11 of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia which states that ‘Every person has the right to profess and practice his religion’.

A group of concerned Malaysian Christians have launched an online petition to urge the Minister of Home Affairs to lift the ban immediately and unconditionally. Click here: for details.

On April 8, the Home Ministry has banned 35 titles, including Bup Kudus and 34 books written in Bahasa Malaysia considered "detrimental to the public peace." Bup Kudus is published by the Bible Society of Malaysia.

April 17, Malaysian Bar Council president Kuthubul Zaman Bukhari said that the ban should be withdrawn immediately as 'it infringes on the right to freedom of religion'.

The Association of Churches in Sarawak has appealed to the Home Ministry to review the ban. Association chairman Pastor Lawrence Banyie (also Seventh-day Adventist Church president) said: “Without the Iban Bible, we cannot conduct the church services.”

Excerpts from The Star, April 16:
“We, the Christians in Sarawak, do not understand why the Bup Kudus was banned, after all the Penyangup Baru - the New Testament in Iban language - has been in use for many years in our churches throughout Sarawak.

“The Bup Kudus - the complete Bible in the Iban language - has been in use since the first edition came out in 1988.

“To find Bup Kudus banned now has caused confusion, anxieties and alarm among the Christian community in Sarawak,” the association said in a press statement signed by heads of its member churches from different denominations.

News reports say the Home Ministry has agreed to a meeting with leaders of Malaysia's Council of Churches.

You can google the related news here.

Thanks Ong Kian Ming for the pointer.

Friends, do you like kids?

'We are the world...' Further to my blog last night on the fate of Iraqi children, who were maimed by US bombing, and about to be "collatorally damaged" by cluster bombs strewn over their playground, here's a PPS file which put together children from different parts of the world, facing different fate.

They may yearn for the same things growing up, though: A nice ice-cream and a cuddly hug by their parents.

But, childhood to them comes in different shades of colours, depending on their geo-political fate.

The worrying part is, some of them may breed hatred for the rest of their lifetime.

Download the PPS file here. It has been screened and cleared of virus.

Thanks Angela Lee for the pointer.

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Cluster bombs: A Hidden Enemy for Iraqi Children

'Hundreds are dying who should not die'. New York-based Human Rights Watch said it was appalled the U.S. military could have dropped cluster bombs in civilian areas of Baghdad, an act it described as a possible violation of international law.

Ali Ismaeel Abbas, a victim of US bombing, has his hopes for a decent life dashed forever.

Dr Geert Van Moorter, in Iraq for a Belgian medical charity, told Reuters: "I've seen more than a 100 victims of these things, probably half of them children. And they are still arriving at the hospitals. The bombs are still on the ground."

Meanwhile, Rumsfeld-endorsed Jay Garner had arrived in Baghdad to start a US-dictated care-taker administration in Post-Saddam Iraq. But clearing cluster bombs doesn't seem on his priority list. Many more Iraqi children look set to die in vain.

Child killer. Each cluster bomb can scatter around 200 bomblets the size of a soft drink can over an area the size of two soccer pitches. Most explode on impact. Others land intact, primed to explode if moved.

Moorter, who works for Medical Aid for the Third World, says the bomblets are often delivered by parachute, falling slowly from the air and leaving an enticing-looking green, yellow or white box on the ground.

"The ones that don't explode are called child killers because they make them in bright colors," he adds.

Sir Paul McCartney has called for a ban on cluster bombs being used in war, and insists only "time will tell" whether the coalition forces were right to go in to Iraq.

Cowardly weapons. Paul McCartney aka Macca participated in exclusive performances by British acts including Travis, New Order, David Bowie and George Michael to produce special album - Hope - to help child victims of the war in Iraq. All the artists recorded their tracks free of charge and London Records has agreed to produce and distribute the album without taking a profit.

All profits from the album will go to War Child, an international development and relief charity set up following the war in the former Yugoslavia. It says around two million Iraqi children suffer from serious malnutrition and that many are "fearful, anxious and depressed".

In 1995 War Child recorded the album Help with 20 bands and artists, raising more £1.25 million for the children of Bosnia.

"Whatever the politics, whatever the rights and wrongs of war, children are always the innocent victims so I am delighted to be able to make this small contribution," McCartney said at the launch of the CD in London today.

World opinion about the banning of cluster bombs can be googled here.

Click here for a first-person account of war zone by Dr. Moorter via satellite phone, recorded by SOS Iraq (Baghdad diaries), April 9 april, 6:19 p.m.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

New MDC chairman?

Negotiating terms. The Edge weekly hinted at Multimedia Development Corporation (MDC) getting a new chairman to replace Othman Yeop Abdullah who is retiring in May.

It says the likely candidate is current MDC board member Mohamed Said Mohamed Ali, who is also a former chief director of Telekom Malaysia. Mohamed Said is reported to be in the midst of negotiating the terms of his appointment.

Othman Yeop relinquished his MDC Executive Chairman post last September due to health reasons, and assumed the non-executive chairman position thereafter.

Co-incidentally, he resigned from MDC totally soon after Sarina Aman Karim resigned as MDC's Senior Vice President - Technopreneur Development January this year.

Major restructuring at MDC is anticipated, according to The Edge. (Online version available only after Tuesday.)

Screenshots spotted on Agonist and SARSWatch

It's about SARS. I was alerted that this blog was referred by Agonist in its forum discussion on the deadly disease that impacted supercities the world over..

I have created a composite screenshot to keep this, above.

One of my blogs was also linked by Berkeley, California-based blogger Tim Bishop who maintains Hong Kong-based Phil Ingram who maintains Flyingchair blog - also fererred to by Agonist - has kindly placed Screenshots on his blogroll. Many thanks to all.

This is Iraq's oil. Yes?

UPDATE: Guardian: Israel seeks pipeline for Iraqi oil

'We are the world...' How do you turn over a a global opinion that says US invasion of Iraq is but for oil grab? Ira Straus, an international relations lecturer at University of Tuebingen and at Moscow State Institute of International Relations has an idea. Play the global card. That's the imperative with which he writes in a UPI dispatch: Atlantic Man: An oil agency for Iraq.

This is his argument: "The really big prize for the international community in Iraq is not the administration of the country, nor reconstruction contracts, but an ultimate international ownership of the oil that lies under Iraqi ground."

Ninety percent of the world's people live in oil importing countries, not oil exporting countries. Those 90 percent need low oil prices and a steady supply. Let them vote and the American people will always win.

A less dramatic, but also less reliable, way for protecting U.S. interests in Iraqi oil is to rely on a combination of formal Iraqi ownership and informal U.S. "influence" through privatizations that would end up going to reliable business entities. This is being considered because it seems easier, and it would indeed lead to improvements in oil management and a better distribution of interests served by Iraqi oil.

However, it would also be seen as corrupt by large swathes of the global public. [...] The only way to get stronger protection for consumer oil interests is to stake a moral claim to the oil on behalf of the global public. This can be done by setting up a global oil administration agency. Not the United Nations Security Council, where the French and Russian vetoes on this issue would be used for selfish purposes but a normal competent specialized international agency in which countries get a voted weighted either by population or by their degree of involvement with oil, whether as consumers or producers.


Against those who would argue, "this is Iraq's oil", the global public would begin to discover the obvious answers: that it is the world's oil, developed by Western science, invested in by Western business, and nationalized at gunpoint, in contravention of legal norms, by the previous Iraqi regime.

Iraq would have a right to a generous rent on the use of the land and environment, but nothing more. Its interest would find its natural subsidiary place within the hierarchy of international interests. The interest of six billion oil consumers would form a base of a sturdy pyramid of interests that would be extremely difficult to overturn.

It's as good as getting the world to play Ali Baba and cheat on the loots of Baghdad thieves. You jackass.

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SARS in China: Better late than never. Better never than late.

Sacrificial lambs? China sacked its health minister, Zhang Wenkang, and Beijing's mayor, Meng Xuenong, according to a terse report by Xinhua news agency. No reasons were given, but Guardian believes it's related to their handling of SARS outbreak. The sack was announced just hours after officials disclosed a tenfold leap in the number of SARS cases in Beijing.

China has also cancelled the weeklong May Day celebrations in honour of international workers due to fears of SARS spreading further.

China has been accused of covering up SARS cases, and the nation's top leaders have recently begun demanding timely and honest reporting from local officials

Click here to view headlines on a China that's put under tremendous pressure to come clean on SARS.