Monday, March 31, 2003

Back from New Orleans. Really had a good time there. Great weather, lots of sunshine and plenty of delicious seafood! Man, I'm gonna miss fried calamari so much :(

Thursday: Back in Chicago. Weather not too bad. Fall-like temperatures.
Friday: Much colder. Wind blowing.
Saturday: It's snowing?!? At the end of March?!?

I hate this city.

And now it's back to the daily grind. It's my last quarter here, and I'm trying not to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of projects and college work that I'll be doing in the next three months.

Meanwhile, the war in Iraq rages on. Even if the war hasn't turned out to be the walkover some generals and pundits thought it'll be, US progress has been pretty swift. A week and a half have passed and troops are already 50 miles outside Baghdad. Hopefully there aren't any screw-ups (uhh... Rolling Start?) and the war can end soon.

I'm more concerned about the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic going around the East and Southeast Asian region. Singapore's been affected and I hope people back home will be ok. I pray that the epidemic will end soon, and for the repose of those who didn't make it.

Is there no good news?

Friday, March 21, 2003

Off to New Orleans for Spring Break with the Better Half and some other S'poreans. How much fun will I have? Eh -- have @#! BA thesis to write. ;P Lugging my laptop and some necessary reading along for the week. I'm paranoid about bad things happening to my cranky Thinkpad. We'll see.

So, no updates until I get back. Will probably post again on Sunday 30th or the next day. Hopefully with good things to say.

Matta ne!

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Yes yes, I know there's a war going on. But I think you might be a bit tired of hearing about it.

Added Weather Pixies! :) One for Chicago and one for Singapore. They're lower down on the side menu. Aren't they cute with the little kitty?

If you're especially tired of listening to Bush's rhetoric, why not read this blog right out of Baghdad. I can't vouch for the authenticity, but it looks and feels pretty damn real. More real than the video game that CNN and the networks are turning war into anyway.

Where is Raed?

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Dubya goes to war. His speech this evening was so wrong in so many ways. Well, no one was expecting him to admit any US wrongdoing, but calling the UN, France, Germany and other countries who oppose a war with Iraq, cowards? My, what a moral high horse Bush rides.

Transcript of the speech

Meanwhile, if you're an American citizen who opposes the war, sleep soundly in the knowledge that your elected representatives in Congress are doing their best to get behind Bush.

Washington lines up behind U.S. troops

Even if you do approve of the war, shouldn't you be asking who the US's real enemies are?

The New York Times
March 16, 2003

Anger on Iraq Seen as New Qaeda Recruiting Tool


LONDON, March 15 � On three continents, Al Qaeda and other terror organizations have intensified their efforts to recruit young Muslim men, tapping into rising anger about the American campaign for war in Iraq, according to intelligence and law enforcement officials.

In recent weeks, officials in the United States, Europe and Africa say they had seen evidence that militants within Muslim communities are seeking to identify and groom a new generation of terrorist operatives. An invasion of Iraq, the officials worry, is almost certain to produce a groundswell of recruitment for groups committed to attacks in the United States, Europe and Israel.

"An American invasion of Iraq is already being used as a recruitment tool by Al Qaeda and other groups," a senior American counterintelligence official said. "And it is a very effective tool."

Another American official, based in Europe, said Iraq had become "a battle cry, in a way," for Qaeda recruiters.

Some of the information about Qaeda recruiting comes from interrogations of captured operatives and from materials found at the house in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, where Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the third-ranking Qaeda leader, was arrested this month, officials say.

The surge in Qaeda recruitment efforts has been most visible in Germany, Britain, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands, the officials said. Investigators have significantly increased their use of informants and, in some cases, bugging devices, to monitor mosques and other gathering places, where they have observed a sharp spike in anti-American oratory.

For example, German domestic intelligence agents have eavesdropped on increasingly shrill sermons in mosques about the possibility of war with Iraq, a message that officials there say has clearly resonated with young people. The officials expressed deep concern that the angry climate would lead to a torrent of new recruits.

"I can't use numbers, but we know the activity is increasing and the willingness to participate and to listen to radical messages is on the rise," says Carl Heinrich von Bauer, ministerial counsel at the Interior Ministry of North Rhine-Westphalia. He is the chief of the German state department that is responsible for monitoring terrorism. "There are more people coming to hear radical talks," he said. "Also we are seeing people go suddenly from jeans to traditional dress and long beards."

That target audience, officials say, is a somewhat changed one � younger people, many of them converts to Islam, easily susceptible to the appeal of violence. In addition, more women are being attracted to Al Qaeda, albeit in secondary roles, officials say.

"We have noticed an increasing number of people who seem to be willing to use violence for Islamic causes since Sept. 11 and especially in recent months because of Iraq and Palestine," said Jean-Louis Brugui�re, France's top investigative judge on terrorism cases.

In particular, Mr. Brugui�re said he had detected a "much more menacing attitude" that could make it much easier for Al Qaeda to sign up new recruits. "More people seem to be willing to commit violence," he said.

A senior American counterterrorism official said that Mr. Mohammed was deeply involved in recruitment activities for Al Qaeda, and that the authorities had already gleaned a better understanding of that operation from the materials found in the Rawalpindi house. The official confirmed that investigators were convinced that there had been a spike in such activities, but refused to say anything further.

Another official said the searches had produced a trove of information about Qaeda operatives in the United States and in Europe.

The most recent audiotape message that was purported to have been from Osama bin Laden, broadcast by Al Jazeera, the Arab television station, was partly intended to be a call to arms for Al Qaeda, counterterrorism officials said. In the 16-minute message, the speaker, whom the authorities say they now believe was indeed Mr. bin Laden, exhorts Muslims to seize the chance to defend President Saddam Hussein's "godless" government, portraying an invasion as an unwarranted attack against all Muslims by the United States.

"The fighting should be in the name of God only, not in the name of national ideologies, nor to seek victory for the ignorant governments that rule all Arab states, including Iraq," the speaker said. "All Muslims have to begin jihad against this unjust war."

Some officials said they began to detect signs of renewed recruitment efforts last summer, just as Bush administration officials began talking in earnest about plans to invade Iraq. When Ramzi bin al-Shibh was arrested last September in Karachi, Pakistan, the authorities said they discovered equipment for producing CD's, presumably to be used as training and recruitment tools. Recently, the authorities discovered recruitment videos and CD's were being produced in Karachi. The recruitment pitch is simple: American policies are directly responsible for Muslims' misery, all over the world.

Investigators and sociologists in many European countries say conversion to traditional dress is an important sign of conversion to militancy; new recruits are often pressured or persuaded to change their appearance as a symbol of their commitment. Officials said they had seen an increasing trend in traditional dress in Muslim communities.

"There are in effect two phases here," Mr. von Bauer said. "First you are expected to demonstrate your new inner faith outwardly, through traditional dress. Later you might go back to Western dress to make yourself less noticeable, because your faith is no longer a question."

To an extent, recruiters have turned away from the mosques, where so many of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers met and joined Al Qaeda. In Europe, in particular, governments have cracked down on open calls for violence in the mosques. Officials said they believed that militants now operated in tea shops, Islamic bookshops or ancient souks, where people often congregate after prayers. Officials also complained that they had struggled to find useful informants as extremist groups become even more conspiratorial and careful.

Officials have relied on information from the interrogations of hundreds of suspected Islamic terrorists captured in Europe in the last two years. They have provided a more detailed portrait of the people who are most susceptible to these groups' recruitment techniques.

According to some, the profiles have changed somewhat in recent months.

"Many of these people are younger than before � between 20 and 30," Judge Brugui�re said. "They are mostly converts. The threat of war in Iraq could have a tangible effect."

Mr. Brugui�re also noted that French investigators had seen a puzzling increase in the number of women, often ethnic European converts, who were playing an important role within European networks, as wives of cell members. The women have auxiliary roles, but provide immigrant radicals with cover and ease their naturalization.

Investigators also say Al Qaeda and affiliated groups have successfully sought young educated Muslim men, often within European universities. Three of the Sept. 11 suicide pilots, investigators believe, were members of a larger cell based in Hamburg, Germany, made up of young men attending local technical colleges. Officials say that recruiters continue to operate in universities because they prefer to recruit intelligent, skilled operatives.

According to Mr. von Bauer, the student recruits are more likely to convert to extreme religious views after arriving in a new environment.

He said the recruits were "alienated because they don't speak the language or understand the culture."

"Then they find community in Arab clubs or societies," Mr. von Bauer said. "This often brings them to the Friday Prayers."

Mr. von Bauer said feelings of alienation also contributed to some young Muslims' anger and feelings of disenfranchisement. "Imagine how it must feel for an educated Arab to come here," he said. "They see sex everywhere, on the television, on the newsstands, and it offends them. They immediately see this as the decadence of the Western world. They feel morally superior, and this fuels their outrage."

Despite an apparent increase in potential recruits, many analysts say that the American-led campaign in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 had shut down Al Qaeda's primary training camps and dealt an enormous blow to the network's ability to recruit and train new members. But officials believe that terrorist groups have established new bases of operation, especially in the Caucasus. "I fear that Chechnya could become the new Afghanistan," Judge Brugui�re said. "The threat is moving to the Caucasus, because the jihad system needs a battleground."

In response to concerns that European cell members and new recruits are traveling to the Caucasus, France has opened up an inquiry focusing on Chechnya and Pankisi Gorge in Georgia.

Other officials and experts believe that video images of an American-led invasion of Iraq may ultimately hand Mr. bin Laden his most useful recruitment tool.

"Bin Laden's strategy has always been to demonstrate to the Islamic community that the West, and especially the U.S., is starting a global war against Muslims," Judge Brugui�re said. "An attack on Iraq might confirm this vision for many Muslims. I am very worried about the next wave of recruits."

Saturday, March 15, 2003

Finals are just 'round the corner. Gotta go write papers (i.e. stay up late, rip hair out, struggle with writer's block, rip more hair out, consume copious amounts of caffeine, chug even more coffee) and cramcramcramcramcram. My BA remains in limbo and to top it all off my nose is runny, among other signs of impending flu/cold.

But first, allow me to gloat over the coming demise of the Pok�mon CCG -- well, in the US at least.

Friday, March 14, 2003

Just got back from watching Kon Satoshi's latest film Millennium Actress (Sennen Joyu) Beautiful, excellent animated film that's been picked up by DreamWorks. Hopefully Spielberg and friends won't mangle the theatrical release by dubbing it. The screening at the CEAS was thanks to a grad student here who ordered the DVD release from Japan. The DVD already came subtitled - decently subbed too! No reason for DreamWorks to not have a subtitled version now.

I can't wait to see this one again in a theatre. Top-notch animation, excellent direction. Another fine example of how animation can and should challenge the boundaries of film as storytelling.

Description of the DVD

A fan site dedicated to the movie
I disagree a little with the statement that the movie has the "empathy, warmth and truth of a Ghibli movie", simply because I think the narrative's a little more complex than that. imho, Miyazaki films derive their complexity more from the themes and imagery expressed.

Official Sennen Joyu page (in Japanese)

Sennen Joyu was certainly a good movie to round off my mini-movie binge over the last 48 hours. Watched Zhang Yimou's Red Sorghum (Hong Gao Liang) last night with The Better Half, and the wee hours of Wednesday morning saw me parked in the house lounge with Itami Juzo's A Taxing Woman (Marusa no Onna).

Man... I'm gonna miss my access to the CEAS library when I get home... :(

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Senior Night at the Pub a couple of hours ago. Free glass mug ("We can afford to lose a few brain cells" printed on it), and karaoke. Suddenly, I realised that Smash Mouth's All Star has particular significance for us UofC sufferers, with lines like:

Didn't make sense not to live for fun
Your brain gets smart but your head gets dumb


It's a cool place and they say it gets colder
You're bundled up now but wait 'til you get older

Also for all of us graduating this spring:

Somebody once asked could you spare some change for gas
I need to get myself away from this place
I said yep what a concept
I could use a little fuel myself
And we could all use a little change

What a wonderful piece of advice for jaded fourth-years! On a side note, some people of my generation like to claim we grew up in the 80s but really, they were over by the time we even realised they were there. Still, for some reason we think it's cool to think we grew up with Alphaville and Bananarama. I guess it's kind of true -- if you count listening to your car stereo while you were in diapers as growing up.

And now for some uplifting philosophy --

Hey now you're an All Star get your game on, go play
Hey now you're a Rock Star get the show on get paid
And all that glitters is gold
Only shooting stars break the mold....

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

New links on the side menu! The Economist's City Guide: Singapore and Anime News Network.

Ooooh... that's the way to show the French. Yeah. "Freedom" Fries. Go Congress.

French Fries Get New Name in Congress

Who da man? You a beeeg man now. Yeah.

Hmm, guess Congress thinks the growing deficits are manageable then.

The twin deficits loom

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

The Better Half has some very revealing quotes on the war from various sources. Go look at her blog!

Why does the US insist on making enemies everywhere?

Awww... France won't let the US go to war... What will the US do? Why, try and punish naughty nasty France of course!

Little momentum for anti-France legislation in Congress

Maybe the US should think about invading Iran instead.

U.S.: Iran's nuclear program is a 'great concern'

Oh wait - North Korea's doing something like that too right? And they've even test-fired another missile.

While the US fixates on Iraq in the UN, wonder if anyone in the Bush Admin is thinking about the US economy?

Dow at 5-month low

But what can the US do? It's stuck between the Devil and deep blue sea; it can't stand down now -- or can it? True, the US would lose some international prestige, but terrorists will twist anything to suit their purposes. And if the US can't devote resources to reigning in N. Korea and Iran because of a war in Iraq, how will standing down hurt the US in this regard? Besides, everyone knows that the US still carries the biggest damn guns around.

Ok, best-case scenario time: The US topples Saddam in a month. Installs a new democratic regime that really wants to create jobs, provide education for all and in general genuinely wants to improve the living standards of Iraqis.

Now how realistic is that?

Monday, March 10, 2003

Finished Pinball, 1973. It's the second novel in Murakami Haruki's so-called "Rat trilogy" --

Hear the Wind Sing (Kaze no Uta o Kiku) (1979)
Pinball, 1973 (1973-nen no Pinboru) (1980)
A Wild Sheep Chase (Hitsuji o meguru booken) (1982)

Now I feel like rereading the the first and third titles...

And also Norwegian Wood (Noruwei no Mori) (1987) -- there's a reference at the beginning of Pinball, 1973 to a Naoko who's dead and she never reappears for the rest of the book. I looked at the dates and locations in Norwegian Wood and it's plausible that they could appear before the events in Pinball... Or maybe not. Don't recall any mention of the Rat or J's Bar in Norwegian Wood...

Perhaps I'm reading too much into this. After all, Murakami's novels are all semi-autobiographical so it's not surprising that the same locations, characters and motifs often come up. This is not to say that his writing gets boring and repetitive -- far from it! :)

Sunday, March 09, 2003

On, unnerving news coming out of Japan:

1) "We have established a War Memorial friendship organization so that young people can support Yasukuni Shrine." Sadanari Hisamatsu, who heads the shrine's fund-raising organization, on getting more members to help alleviate the shrine's financial woes. (Shukan Shincho).

/shudder... as if the Japanese brought up memorising the Monbusho (Japanese Ministry of Education) - approved textbooks haven't been misled enough. It still shocks and disappoints me that the Japanese authorities have never admitted that they were voluntary aggressors in the war. Instead, they feed their young the falsehood that the Japanese were forced to go to war in order to survive in the face of rampant Western imperialism. So many Japanese don't know about the Nanking Massacre, about the brutality and cruelty of the Imperial Army both towards the people they conquered and towards Japanese citizens, of the ruthless state censorship from the 1920s onwards, of Imperial Army ambition and treachery in Manchuria and China etc etc.

The ideology of victimhood was fostered so strongly that the horrors at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were used to reinforce Japan's definition of itself as "victim", instead of becoming opportunities for national self-searching and positive change. The volte-face from aggressor to absolute pacifist in the post-WWII period is also mostly superficial, as part of the victimhood ideology. Even today I suspect that the anti-war beliefs of most Japanese wouldn't stand up very long in the face of critical inquiry... I hope I am mistaken though.

The Japanese establishment refuses to thoroughly reflect on why Japan went to war. No wonder the rest of Asia is concerned about increased Japanese military presence -- those who don't learn from history will inevitably repeat their mistakes (to paraphrase Santayana). And when that happens...

In my honest opinion, Yasukuni is a sore on the Japanese national conscience. The military figures enshrined within stand for almost everything that is wrong, not just in Japanese society, but in any society today. Slavish adherence to authority, imperialist thinking with Japan at the top of the food chain, violent suppression of public dissent, abuse of women, no respect for human rights... That it still exists with official consent (the PM is obliged to visit the shrine to appease the nationalist right-wingers in the fragile, volatile Diet) is truly shameful!

If the shrine cannot get enough funds, it should either cut its costs or close down. If the Japanese people can't or won't remove the shrine through popular dissent, let simple economics do the work. Good riddance!

More importantly however, when will the debate about Japan's actions leading up to and during the war ever occur? When will the Japanese people be able to know and decide for themselves?

2) From "Will Pop Culture Be the Engine That Unifies Asia?"

Pop songs, manga (comics), anime (animated films), and television series are all forms of Japanese popular culture with a large following among young people throughout Asia.

Writing in the March issue of Chuo Koron article in "Will Pop Culture Be the Engine That Unifies Asia?" Masahiko Ishizuka, managing director of the Foreign Press Center, reports on how pop culture was received at the Asia-Pacific Journalists' Meeting held in Tokyo last fall by the FPC and on the influence of pop culture in regional integration.

He says that behind the popularity of Japanese pop culture in Asia lies the fact that, thanks to economic development, living standards in other Asian countries have now risen to levels similar to those in Japan.

Lifestyles and consumer culture in other Asian countries have also become much like those in Japan. And people in countries like China and South Korea seem to feel an ethnic and cultural affinity with the Japanese.

But none of this means that these people necessarily like or respect Japan, notes Ishizuka. Young people may not care at all where pop culture comes from, and hopes that pop culture will have a favorable impact on regional integration may prove overblown. One audience member at the journalists' meeting stated, "The closer you look, the more the idea of 'Asian values' appears to be a mirage."

While Ishizuka accepts that something positive may come from this new synthesis of pop culture in Asia as it undergoes globalization, he emphasizes the need to look at things more thoroughly in order to better discern trends. (Kyodo News)

March 5, 2003

I've been looking for the actual article, but oddly enough the copies of Chuo Koron in the Regenstein are all gone.

Even so, based on this secondhand article, Ishizuka's piece sounds soooooooo wrong... To even think that one's culture is capable of "uniting" different societies (particularly as incredibly large and diverse a diaspora as the socio-political construct the West calls "Asia") is ludicrous and smacks of Imperial Army rhetoric during WWII. I wonder if he really believes that Chinese (also a problematic definition -- do you include Overseas Chinese too?) and South Koreans feel an "ethnic and cultural affinity" with the Japanese?

How could anyone be this insensitive? Again, the roots probably lie in Japan's continued self-delusion.

Last week I was pleasantly surprised to find a translated copy of Murakami Haruki's 1980 novella Pinball, 1973 in the CEAS's small library. Yesterday I asked if I could borrow it to photocopy (to my knowledge there was only ever one translation, by Alfred Birnbaum and it's out of print), and now it's on my desk.

Turns out that I didn't have to go to all that trouble. In fact, I could have gotten it at any time if I had just thought of it since there are html and pdf copies online :p Well, at least now I know I can get printed copies for free. Just go to and look for the links at the bottom of the page. (Run your cursor over the last line.)

Ergh... still waiting for a paperback edition of After the Quake

Friday, March 07, 2003

If you're one of the nine people on the planet who have not seen this yet, here's your chance. The impressive poster for Gulf Wars Episode II: Clone of the Attack!

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Being all alone is like the feeling you get when you stand at the mouth of a large river on a rainy evening and watch the water flow into the sea. Have you ever done that? Stand at the mouth of a large river and watch the river flow into the sea?

-- Murakami Haruki, "Sputnik Sweetheart" (trans. Philip Gabriel)

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Ignorance and Hate rear their ugly heads in the Washington (state, not capital) House of Representatives -- Two state lawmakers walk out during prayer by Muslim leader.

Good thing there were only two of them. Then again, perhaps they are two too many. If state leaders feel this way, what of the people they lead?

On a campus noted for it's political apathy (or enforced neutrality perhaps), I was slightly surprised to learn of a group at the University called No War In Iraq. They seem very well-organised, and have even compiled a collection of articles from Chicago faculty with grants from the Human Rights Program here and Rockefeller Chapel.

War With Iraq? University of Chicago Faculty Respond raises some interesting perspectives on the impending war. Dean Alison Boden's sermon on the difference between evil and sin and Prof. Kenneth W. Warren's assertion that the rich are using the poor to fight their wars are the most intriguing pieces, in my opinion.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Today's snowfall was light enough. The wind wasn't too violent, and the temperature outside was unusually warm (by Chicago standards).

The campus does look beautiful in the snow. A blanket of snow, unsullied by footprints, possesses its own transient beauty.

A friend of The Better Half's roommate has a photo of the UofC on her wall, taken in winter. Once, this person's friend was visiting in spring and saw the photo. "It's beautiful," the visitor allegedly commented. "Too bad it's in black-and-white."

The reply -- "It's not."

Monday, March 03, 2003

Browsing on eBay, looking to see how much the MechWarrior figures I want are going for, always reminds me of the first stanza of a poem encountered during my A Level Literature days:

WHEN first my way to fair I took
Few pence in purse had I,
And long I used to stand and look
At things I could not buy.

Now times are altered: if I care
To buy a thing, I can;
The pence are here and there's the fair,
But where's the lost young man?

-- To think that two and two are four
And neither five nor three
The heart of man has long been sore
And long 'tis like to be.

-- A.E. Housman

/sigh -- Desire brings suffering ;P

Woke up to -6 to -14 deg C temperatures, and lots and lots of snow being whipped around by 35 kph winds.

Damn Chicago.

Sunday, March 02, 2003

Added my girlfriend's (papayagirl1982) and her friend's blog to my list of links. Go take a look!

Every week the Centre for East Asian Studies here screens a movie. This quarter, since Introduction to Japanese Civilisation is being taught, the films every Friday have been Japanese films. These tend to be more obscure and more arthouse-ish films from the 1930s onwards.

This most recent screening was one of The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On (Yukiyukite Shingun). There's certainly no nudity in this provocative documentary, and the English title is a bit of a mistranslation (but after viewing the movie not a wholly inaccurate one). I could describe it, but I think this review of a book on the film does it much better.

I'm still trying to work out what I think about the film. It feels a lot like Rashomon, since the ex-officers that Okuzaki harangues into confessing all provide testimonies that differ in little but crucial details. At the same time, for me at least, the documentary was a fascinating look at how the Japanese deal with uncomfortable and horrible truths. Social norms regarding honour, cameraderie and what can or cannot be said are all played out before Hara Kazuo's unflinching camera.

Saturday, March 01, 2003

I'm reading Oe Kenzaburo's Hiroshima Notes. In 1963 Oe, by then considered a young and rising star in the post-war Japanese literary scene, went to Hiroshima to report on a large international anti-nuclear arms peace rally. While repulsed by the politics that wrecked the event from within, Oe was deeply touched by the resilience and unpublicised efforts of the A-bomb survivors to preserve the human dignity in their lives after the bomb took everything else away from them. In fact, he says this visit to Hiroshima permanently shaped his attitudes toward life and writing from then on -- notably with respect to his newborn son who had been born with a severe head abnormality. The prologue can be read here

Although he writes in the mid 1960s, much of the content is still relevant today. Particularly his criticism that the debate over nuclear weapons (and perhaps extendable to all forms of warfare?) is dominated by how powerful a weapon is, and not the human misery it causes. The result is that people push the human tragedy of Hiroshima out of their minds.

"There may be some room for various observations and rationales regarding the possible usefulness of nuclear weapons in preserving true peace [...] But it is obvious that all advocates of usefulness base their opinion on the power of nuclear arms. [...] Who, then, would want to remember Hiroshima as the extremity of human misery?" (Oe, 1995: 109)

Let us not forget the human cost.