Wednesday, August 30, 2006

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Rating: 0.5/5

The writer was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972. The Spanish work, said to metaphorically describe the history of
Colombia, was published in 1967 while the English translation entailed in 1970. I've heard very, very good reports about this book. It's apparently President Clinton's favourite book. I didn’t finish it. I remember there was this girl who had this thing for eating soil. Yeah, like the brown stuff you plant trees in.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Going to Bed

Bed is a swanky New York club where the ladies from Sex and the City partied at.

Bed is also a cafe in Penang along their equivalent to Jalan Telawi which serves cuisine like cheese baked rice etc.

Thanks so much Michelle! It was fun hanging out and checking out your ultra cute childhood photos.

We Want to be Models

Good luck, guys....

We Love Fitness First

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Israel-Lebanon Conflict

The lagged response of the international community towards the Israel-Lebanon conflict comes as no surprise. The US, usually the first to jump at the opportunity of involvement in a Middle Eastern conflict, has stayed relatively dormant this time.

The hesitance of the US to force an immediate ceasefire is clearly part of a greater strategic plan to strengthen the state of Israel’s position in the Middle East.

The Jewish state is surrounded by Muslim countries which are hostile towards its existence. Israel’s major worries are the on-going military threat posed by Palestinian armed groups along the West Bank and more recently, the fortification of the militant Hizbullah group in southern Lebanon.

The beginning of the latest in a long history of violent conflict between Israel and its neighbours began when Hizbullah captured two Israeli soldiers in the hope of forcing a prisoner exchange –Israel holds 15 prisoners of war from its occupation of Lebanon from 1982-1985.

Instead, Israel retaliated by bombarding Beirut’s international airport and blocking Lebanese ports with Israeli navy ships. A series of military action between both countries ensued.

While French president Jacques Chirac called the Israeli air attacks “completely disproportionate” and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemned Israel’s move, the US merely called for restraint but upheld Israel’s right to act in self-defence.

An emergency UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to the violence failed to materialise due to opposition from the US and Britain. President Bush merely promised the Lebanese prime minister that the US would press Israel to spare innocent lives.

Without prior knowledge of the matter, it is easy to point fingers at Hizbullah for instigating the violence. George Monbiot wrote in The Guardian that military action in Lebanon was premeditated and the Israeli government had been waiting for an excuse to wipe out Hizbullah forces.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle however, Israel’s attacks had in fact been planned more than a year ago. An unidentified senior Israeli army officer was reportedly “giving PowerPoint presentations to US and other diplomats, journalists and think tanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail.”

Condoleezza Rice has justified America’s inaction so far by labelling the conflict as inevitable “birth pangs of a new Middle East”. These so-called “birth pangs” have killed 120 Israelis, including 38 civilians. In Lebanon, officials say 711 people have been killed while a million have been displaced from their homes.

After more than a month of fighting, a ceasefire was finally forged on August 14. The UN expects to deploy peacekeeping troops in southern Lebanon by next month. Europe is making up the bulk of the force by pledging 9,000 men.

Malaysia and Indonesia have promised 1,000 troops each but there are concerns that Israel will oppose this as both are Muslim countries having no diplomatic relations with Israel. Of the 15,000 troops pledged by the international community, not one of them is American.

Israel is likely to have gained little in its efforts to weaken Hizbullah as Iran and Syria remain supportive of the group and have provided ample economic means for its survival. The true losers of this war are evidently innocent Lebanese civilians whose homes and lives have been completely destroyed.

The UN has once again received a big blow to its credibility. The organisation’s incapability to act is further proof of its powerless-ness in the face of American unilateralism.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Lexus and the Olive Tree

Thomas L. Friedman,Non-fiction
Rating: 4/5

The Lexus and the Olive Tree is an account of the conflict between modernity, symbolised by the Lexus, and cultural identity, symbolised by the olive tree. Friedman is a three-time Pullitzer Prize winner and currently writes op-ed columns for the New York Times. A strong right-wing vibe resonating from his work can be sensed while his writing style has been deemed by more than one source as overly-simplistic and ‘meant for children’. Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading it. There were interesting bits about the Mahathir vs George Soros debacle during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner, Non-fiction
Rating: 3.5/5

This is an interesting work analysing social trends using tools and methods an economist would use. The initial chapters of the book tried to answer questions such as ‘How is the Ku Klux Klan like a group of real estate agents?’ and ‘Why do Drug Dealers still live with their moms?’ -these were very insightful. However, the same cannot be said about the latter part of the book as analysis on the connection between babies’ names and how far they went in life seemed an unnecessary part of the book.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Memoirs of a Geisha

Arthur Golden, Fiction
Rating: 3/5

This is a beautifully written novel detailing the life of Sayuri, a nine-year old girl from a poor fishing village who eventually rose to fame as one of the most successful geishas in Japan. Golden has done a great deal of research in uncovering the historical facts behind a geisha’s way of life in the 1930s and 1940s. The book is enticing from the start and the reader will find himself rooting for Sayuri’s success through various adversities.

Click here for a Mad TV spoof of the movie which I absolutely love.

Blog News

I'm enjoying the new 'Label' function which Blogger Beta provides.

I initially wanted to start off a separate book blog but with this new function it's going to be easier for me to categorise everything.

The next post is the first of a series of mini reviews on books I've read over the past year.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

More WTO Stuff

In July the director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Pascal Lamy, tried to get six countries –the US, the EU, Australia, Brazil, India and Japan –to reach a consensus on trade deals.

Lamy saw no point in broadening trade talks to all WTO members unless these six countries were in unison. It was hoped that the six of them would settle their differences first before involving everyone else.

To no one’s surprise, these negotiations failed. The WTO resolved to suspend the Doha round of global trade talks as the US and the EU continued to argue over who had made the smallest reduction in agricultural subsidies.

The WTO has been associated with globalisation as it is the sole international agency responsible for monitoring global trade. Its purpose is to reduce poverty and income inequality between nations through promotion of free trade and abolishment of protectionist barriers.

The breakdown of these negotiations has led sceptics to point out that multilateralism and globalisation were never destined to succeed. There are 149 member countries in the WTO, each having veto power over any decision. This privilege ensures that individual state sovereignty is not undermined but it also leads to a very difficult and complicating decision making process.

Nonetheless, it is farfetched to anticipate that global trade will come to a grinding halt. Regional and bilateral trade agreements such as the existing AFTA and NAFTA ones will remain, if not grow in number.

Following the failure of the Doha round, Indian Minister of Trade Kamal Nath announced plans to pursue bilateral trade agreements with Europe and Japan. By the end of 2006, the EU hopes to begin negotiations on a free trade agreement with six Central American countries.

But if globalisation is to get back on track, then it is absolutely essential that industrialised countries are aware of the hypocrisy of their actions. OXFAM, a UK-based charity to aid poverty reduction, estimates $13 billion worth of European and American subsidies are illegal under WTO rules.

Let us assume the intentions of rich countries are indeed to aid and develop poverty-stricken ones.While they expound the virtues of free trade and pressure developing countries to open up, they have failed to take note of two crucial factors.

Firstly, the case for protectionism in the developing world is in fact justified. The industrialised world does not seem to remember that they themselves achieved economic success on the back of protectionist measures.

It is historically proven that countries from 18th-century Britain to present-day China have protected new domestic industries and only gradually opened up when these matured.

Protectionism is in fact a key factor to the rapid industrialisation of a country. To expect a sudden removal of barriers to entry in developing countries while domestic trade is still in its infancy is a clear example of double standards.

Secondly, all charitable funds and efforts channelled towards development of poor nations have been undermined by domestic trade barriers imposed by rich countries.

According to the World Bank, agricultural subsidies in industrialised countries amount to $350 billion -five times the amount they provide for development aid. On average, the world’s two billion people living on $2 a day or less face twice as many trade barriers as rich people.

Economist Robert Wade wrote in The Guardian recently that free trade, if pushed onto unwilling and unready nations, would not aid development and growth. Instead, developing countries would be forced to specialise in existing industries only and as a result would have no opportunity to diversify into newer sectors.

The growth of developing countries depends on their diversification into higher-value added activities he wrote. The 2.5 billion people whose main income source is agriculture need to know they have economic mobility. Cotton growing countries should be allowed to progress to textile production and develop a service sector of their own.

This means developing countries must be given time to grow. They should be allowed to protect domestic services and industrial production for a time period agreed with by industrial countries.

At the end of the stipulated time period, developing countries should then begin a process of removing protection in services. The World Bank estimates that developing countries could gain nearly $900 billion in annual income from elimination of their barriers to trade in services.

If our initial assumption was true and rich countries really do want to close the inequality gap between themselves and their developing counterparts, they need to take the lead by removing agricultural subsidies –to a substantial effect.

Farmers from poor countries are unable to compete with vastly subsidised exports from the EU, US and Japan. In these countries, dieing trades should be left to die with a shift of focus onto the industrial and service sectors.

Allowing domestic agricultural industries to die a natural death may seem like rich countries are shooting themselves in the face. But this would not be the case if that assumption was true.

Monday, August 14, 2006


Originally uploaded by peachmaracuya.
Here's a picture of Tao and I in Cameron Highlands reliving our glorious scouting days.

We thought we could be heroes and not bring any jumpers.

Instead we ended up wearing clothes which belonged to my father.

Click on the Flickr button for more pictures of my sister Sa and I in oversized clothes.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Beginning of The End

Pascal Lamy, director general of the WTO, suspended the Doha trade round recently when trade negotiations between six key members broke down in Geneva.

Lamy’s idea was to get the EU, the US, India, Brazil, Japan and Australia to reach a consensus first before involving other members.

The US was blamed for not showing enough flexibility on the issue of farm subsidies. In retaliation, US trade representative Susan Schwab said a no deal was better than a half-hearted ‘Doha lite’ one. She blamed the EU and emerging economies for not giving up enough to justify what she claimed were substantial cuts in America’s farm bill.

The Doha round of trade talks is centred on reducing poverty and income inequality between countries by liberalizing international trade. Rich countries want poor countries to open up their markets to services and industrial production. Poor countries want rich countries to do the same for agricultural goods.

The WTO’s strength, is also its weakness: All members have veto power over any decision. This means that while no one state is more powerful than any other, decision making is a long and tedious process.

Critics have been quick to suggest that the collapse of the Doha round marks the beginning of the end of globalisation. It is unfeasible to expect all 149 members to reach any compromise if six of them aren’t already able to do so.

Bilateral and regional trade agreements are the clear winners in this debacle. India has announced plans to collaborate with Japan and with the EU. South East Asia is expected to experience a stronger EU presence as well. By the end of the year, the EU hopes to begin negotiations on a free trade agreement with six Central American countries.

This may seem a more manageable alternative to multilateral trade. However a report in The Economist suggests this may not be as easy as it seems. Too many bilateral deals within a region, each with different conditions, may complicate matters.

Furthermore, bilateral and regional deals may be in danger of being exclusive to rich and emerging countries only. Poor countries such as those on the African continent most in need of poverty reduction may be excluded from this rich man and potentially rich man’s club.