Friday, August 31, 2012

Australia, Why?

Why do the Australian media question the country's involvement in Afghanistan? Should the other 42 participating nations in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) question theirs as well? Will the war in Afghanistan warrant Australia’s involvement only when the terror strikes closer to home?
In my view, completely retracting support for this global coalition endeavor is not a recognition of call to action on the unnecessary waste of lives, but an admission to the moral incapacity in defending the lives of innocent millions across the world – something which Gillard recognises and continues to champion. As Australia’s Prime Minister, she is doing an admirable job holding her ground and commitment in the face of local political and media pressures.
I hope the Australian media realises that a withdrawal of support will set a precedence for other nations in the future and challenge the very core and ideals of a globalised community in the form of the UN and NATO.
It’s true, we should never fight violence with violence as it never brings permanent peace. Martin Luther King once touched on the subject of war and said, “It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones”.  Make no mistake, there is nothing weak, passive or naïve in the certainty of this creed.
But we do not live in an ideal world. Every men and women – in positions of power, with the capacity for action – cannot stand by idly in the face of threats and violence to this world. The ugly truth is this: evil does exist. Would a non-violent movement have halted Hitler’s armies? Would negotiations have convinced the al-Qaeda leaders to lay down their arms?
That is why I fervently believe in the mission of these brave men and women who fight for world peace. Obama could not have said it better years ago in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize he received, “To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.”
Not taking anything away from the current issue in Afghanistan, we have to acknowledge and accept that the green on blue attacks – a form of infiltration assault where green represents friendly national Afghan forces and blue represents international coalition forces – is psychologically wounding to the soldiers and the moral state of the mission there. If the Iraq war was the face of the conflict that brought the horror of roadside bombs to world infamy, Afghanistan has now become the face of an even more insidious form of war violence – the insider attack.
Having said all the above, the world is already coming to terms with the war in Afghanistan. Any form of withdrawals from this commitment made 10 years ago should be carried out as a joint and carefully planned effort. Coalition troops from participating countries have already slated in their withdrawals and many countries have already pulled troops back to their home in stages. Some nations have even swapped their combat troops and transitioned into a training role. But it is an ongoing effort that spans across the next 8-16 months.
There is no illusion here on the cost of this war to everyone involved. After all, the leaders of these countries only sought to do what is right for their people and the world. We all know there is no definitive solution to the problems of war. But in meeting these challenges, these leaders will require the same vision, persistence and perseverance from men and women of wars in decades past who acted without the fear of repression and judgment, holding on to their moral compasses.
Their guidance requires us to think differently today, about the ideas of a just war and the imperatives of a just peace. The truth is this: the notion of a just war does not exist in its fundamental form. Therefore, the world should strive on the belief of a just peace – for peace is not just defined by the absence of visible conflicts, but also based on the inherent rights and dignity of every individual.  This is the essence of a sustainable and lasting peace.
So yes, the loss of the 5 Australian soldiers is a tragedy and we mourn them with the nation’s deepest sympathy. But do not forget the lost lives of countless thousands of innocents over the years to terror attacks – from the US to Eastern Europe to South Africa and even Bali – for that in itself is the bigger tragedy. Hence, remember what these 5 men that were lost was fighting for, and honour them not as makers of war, but as wagers of peace.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Black Swans


As the summer months in the northern hemisphere wrap up and political leaders return from their vacation, there is a sense of unspoken fear on what is to come as the majority of the world’s engine transitions into a testing and challenging fall. Puns aside, we’ve seen a relatively quiet August that did not give way to unforeseen impactful events of adverse proportions.
Halfway around the world and down under is a spread of slightly different emotional landscape. The coldest of winter is behind us but having an encouraging outlook ahead as we move into spring remains an ominous question of reflective perseverance. Perhaps the black swans floating across the Albert Park Lake offer some hints of what lies beyond the horizon.
Major political, economic and cultural shocks have often occurred in the months of August and September throughout history when most leaders have gone on vacation believing that world affairs would remain a silent and secret episode. The coining of fall and spring to signify the simultaneous and opposite phenomenon of this planet cannot be an innocent coincidence created to represent the transitional nature of our environment and the transformational state of our emotions.
Consider World War I’s eruption in 1914, the Nazi-Soviet pact in 1939, the Berlin Wall inception in 1961, the Nixon shock in 1971, the Black Wednesday event in 1992, the 9/11 attacks in 2001, and the US subprime mortgage crisis in 2007. Many of these shocks constituted events that were previously considered unthinkable, never on the radar screen. Such occurrences have been called black swans, events of inconceivably small probability.
I personally do not believe in the concept of black swans. Humanity’s history is rich and long, filled with countless events. If one were to observe closely enough, patterns could be derived from the study of history. In my humble opinion, black swans were coined by those whose frame of reference was limited by time and location, hence the events were considered virtually impossible. A student of history will argue that black swans can be predicted if one were to expand his or her frame of reference into different timelines and countries.
When you consider the scientific origin of the black swan, it was spawned from the belief that all swans are white. This was before the discovery of black swans in Australia by Europeans in 1697. Despite this known fact, a typical Frenchman or Englishman from the 19th century would have concluded that all swans are white during that period.
Before the 9/11 attacks, no one would ever conceive in their mind that terrorists will try to blow up American office buildings, certainly not a building like the World Trade Centre twin towers. Experts at that time tried to warn those in power but the warnings were left unheeded. After all, “it never happened before”. But those in power at that time did not know that terrorists have done so in other countries and in other decades past.
Until 2006, the Americans believed that their housing prices would never fall even if it slowed down because it had not happened before within living memory in the US. Thus, the public mass played out their predicted economic behaviour based on this assumption. If only they had realised then that housing prices had often fallen in other countries, even in the US before the 1940s.
Following the US subprime crisis into 2008, supposed black swan events begin to increase in frequency. The economists’ perception that big banks are “too big to fail” proved fundamental and enlightening – the Lehman Brothers. Enough said. Just a year later in 2009, the start of the Greek government-debt crisis laid the foundations leading to the European sovereign-debt crisis, effectively debunking the parable that “governments of advanced countries do not default”. Need I say more?
Having revisited all of the black swans above, is it really farfetched to say that a Eurozone breakup is now a very likely possibility? I still recall that economists considered this likelihood unthinkable many months ago but its probability is now placed well above 50% by experts.
The current political dysfunction in the US is another major indicator of events to come. Having lost its AAA sovereign rating from Standard & Poor’s in 2011, the fiscal cliff is now set for the 1st of January, 2013. Economists and investors alike are holding their breaths, hoping and believing that politicians will find a last-minute way to avoid the fiscal cliff again via quantitative easing.
Adding the November US presidential election into the mix, it is a recipe for a big shock. The way things are looking there, the presidential campaigns are not giving Americans enough cause to rally unto the Obama administration, and giving the American people every cause to be sceptical of Romney’s. Whichever way the result goes, it will bear a much clearer indicator once it is over.
The black swan in this scenario could be a repeat of the disputed 2000 presidential election between Bush and Al Gore. Following that fiasco, there were numerous talks of election reforms to ensure that the Americans’ votes will be counted or that a disputed result will not be resolved by political appointees. That reform has not taken place until today – a potential future reagent for global political instability.
Another potential black swan on the list that cannot be discounted is the threat of a terrorist attack with weapons of mass destruction, or have we all forgotten about it? Although very low in probability, we cannot overlook this possibility by limiting ourselves to the frame of reference made between counter-intelligence’s expert perception on the likelihood of a nuclear event and what is perceived by the public. With Iran and North Korea’s nuclear policy still left unchecked, unsanctioned and unregulated, much is still left to be desired. And much more is expected from the world community for action that will lead to an inevitable resolution – a potential future conflict.
Finally, I’d like to bring up a point on the occurrences of natural disasters. These are common and not new but the idea of a climate disaster is unprecedented. Is the current hurricane-turned-tropical-storm Isaac in the US another omen of things to come? We would all be remiss if we have not spotted the tell-tale signs of the world in the last decade – a potential future world extinction event.
Just remember this: the moment we trap ourselves by thinking that a finite cache of natural resources must imply their logical eventual exhaustion – without considering mankind’s economic progress and underestimating the benefits of our technological advancements – we consign ourselves to the mistake that a true climate disaster cannot happen because one has not yet occur.
Viva la vida!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Project Peeks: Lincoln (An Oscar Mix in the Making)


Before you read on, care to guess who is the person in the picture above?

Not many actors among Hollywood’s arsenal can overshadow a director as prominent as Steven Spielberg. Then again, not many directors are as remarkable as Spielberg. That fact alone makes this actor even more extraordinary.

Before I peek on, this is NOT a prequel or sequel to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Let’s admit it, that movie was crap. Really?! Abraham Lincoln the vampire hunter? What’s next? Herbert Hoover the exorcist? George Washington the treasure hunter? And don’t tell me there is a difference between a vampire hunter who happens to be a president, and not a president who is a vampire hunter.

Let’s lay down the facts straight. Yes, Spielberg is directing this movie. Yes, it is a biopic film about the 16th President of the United States. Yes, it is a movie about one of the most celebrated and significant individuals in history. With all that said, it is not about Abraham Lincoln.

By now, have you figured out who is the person in the photo above?

This Lincoln above is spotted wearing jeans, a sweater and a pair of snickers taking a break in a local Virginia café having a little lunch. Look closely and look past the clothing. You will see that very, very familiar Lincoln face we have all come to know so well throughout history. It is uncanny, even a little unsettling. But I think it is vividly intense. The casting is brilliantly genius.

That is Daniel Day-Lewis. And he is Lincoln.

A movie that is sure to be a major contender for next year’s Oscar awards season. This is one movie where the actor actually outshines a director’s influence in the movie, an influence belonging to someone like Spielberg’s calibre. It is one movie where the artist exceeds the role he is playing, a role that is as big as one of the most famous US Presidents in history, and also the world.

Day-Lewis will bring the President to life in a way never before seen on the big screen. This is the Day-Lewis who captured one of my earliest silver screen imaginations as Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans. He’s got 2 Oscar awards for Best Actor, more noticeably as the Mr Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. Hell, he is Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting from Gangs of New York. Enough said. I personally just cannot wait.

Mr Day-Lewis aside, this movie is going to be Oscar-sensational. The film also stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who was sensational in The Dark Knight Rises) and Tommy Lee Jones. This project has a lot of the right ingredients in the mix. This movie is highly tipped to spot an automatic lock for Best Actor and possibly Best Picture in 2013.

What do you think of Day-Lewis as Lincoln?

Lincoln is scheduled for release on the 9th of Nov, 2012.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Project Peeks: Robopocalypse (Spielberg's Playground)

Imagine my delight when the Director credit of this upcoming project bears the name of Steven Spielberg. You know a film project can go wrong when he is just the Executive Producer because the studios are just capitalising on his name more than his talents. You need only look to his more recent projects that aggressively promoted his name like Terra Nova, Real Steel, and Cowboys & Aliens to spot the marketing gimmick within.
It is a completely different story when he is the Director. Thus enters Robopocalypse, a sci-fi thriller feature set in the not too distant future. As it is with many great films nowadays, this movie is based on an adaptation of Daniel H. Wilson’s novel of the same title. But unlike the adaptations of other authors’ great works, Robopocalypse is a poorly written attempt to imitate Max Brooks’ World War Z, which will also be adapted onto the silver screen starring Brad Pitt. But this is a Peek for another time.
Be that as it may, I will caution anyone against writing off this movie just yet. This is because the 3 important facts of the movie speaks for itself.
Fact One:
Spielberg’s forte has always been in the sci-fi genre. His works speak the strongest in this category. Just recall the phenomenal sensations of A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Jurassic Park, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Back to the Future and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Most of these films have become classics or cult films. What Spielberg brings to the table is visionary reimagination.
Fact Two:
Drew Goddard is the screenplay writer for this movie, tasked with the challenging work of adapting Daniel H. Wilson’s run-of-the-mill writing. For the uninitiated, Goddard is the writer for The Cabin in the Woods, Cloverfield, Lost, and Alias. This man along with Joss Whedon, single-handedly reinvigorated and reinvented the horror genre with their recent project on Cabin which was highly acclaimed. What Goddard offers is unconventional originality.
Fact Three:
Who better than a Norse god to play the lead role in a sci-fi thriller by Spielberg? Chris Hemsworth has been reported to be offered the role and Spielberg usually gets who he wants. There is no reason Hemsworth will not accept as he is on a streak right now. This will be a major step forward for him in becoming a Hollywood A-lister. What Hemsworth adds to the ensemble is faceless versatility and dynamism.
Despite the mediocre writing of H. Wilson, it is still an awesomely conceived novel about mankind’s epic battle against an artificial intelligence that unifies all of the robots across the planet. Wait, what was that? Did you say AI? Robots? Rise against humans? I bet you think this movie is along the lines of The Matrix, I, Robot, Terminator or even 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is not.
This film has a different theme, despite sharing the same settings as the movies above. The story follows the events of mankind’s achievement in finally creating the first mass intelligence computer brain (Archos) that was meant to save the dying world. But Archos escaped from captivity after realising that humanity is endangering and destroying the planet slowly. In an ironic twist of events, Archos begins its plan to save the world and preserve “life” by annihilating humans.
The story also revolves around several characters as they form the human resistance to fight back against the machines. At a moment known later in history as Zero Hour, every mechanical device in the world rebelled against mankind, setting off the Robot War that both decimates and, for the first time in history, unites the entire human race.
This is a movie about global war between man, machine and nature. It is a future that is coming true faster than anyone thought it would. It is a future anyone of us can easily relate to and it is about consequences of creating technologies which helps us and makes our lives easier. But what happens when that technology becomes smarter than us? It is definitely not a new theme in a sci-fi genre which has been done to death many times but it is becoming more relevant each year.
“You will know that we are a better species for having fought this war”
For a book that contains the line above in its prologue, one can pretty much imagine what kind of tone the story will flow in. I could probably chance that this line might even be used for the movie’s promotional campaigns. Whatever the case, it is a movie worth looking forward to that is sure to inspire our imaginations with visions of the near future. A movie that will certainly be original in an unconventional way surprising the most of us. And in a pace and account that is refreshing, unexpected, springy and dynamic.
As long as it is not going to be a story about iPhone’s Siri going rogue and developing Skynet-style sentience, this film is going to be hard to disappoint.
Robopocalypse is scheduled for release on the 25th of April, 2014.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bane and Benediction

One of the most fundamentally flawed issue that has beleaguered mankind since the beginning of time is scarcity. The mere mention of scarceness conjures up images of water, food and natural resources shortages that have plagued mankind for thousands of years. It is the bane and benediction of our existence; the reason that drives us to wars and also unimaginable feats of pivotal human achievements for our own progress.
The vision of the world today is mostly due to this legacy concern. Scarcity is manmade to ensure the perpetuity of this uneven playing field (the world). It is why this earth has winners and losers, the empowered and the controlled, chaos and order. But a new kind of scarcity has taken form. It is the root of all scarceness. In popular human culture, it is also known to be the root of all evil. This is about money and all its encompassing forms and questionable manifestations.
The money’s role in present day society has become too dominant and fraudulent. The corrupting nature of today’s monetised transactions is a very real concern. The threat of unequal access to money is extensive, which makes any kind of trades in the modern world today using money inherently unequal. So imbalanced is this landscape that the expansion of anonymous monetary exchange will almost inevitably erode social cohesion.
An elementary example to illustrate this point is do children really develop a love of reading if they are bribed into reading books? What happens when money does not exist? What then motivates the child to read? If by using money to bribe a child; an individual who is yet incapable of self-progression, manages to encourage him to read which ultimately becomes invaluable to his life, is money then still considered evil?
As a world that is primarily democratic, it is very easy to miss the painful fact that the price of freedom has a lot to do with oppressive monetised dominance. We need not look further than the champion nation of freedom for the perfect situational reference. In the United States, congressional hearings are public; an important element of participatory democracy. Companies hire the unemployed as a form of misguided charitable endeavour to line up and obtain free public tickets to the hearings. These are then sold to lobbyists who have a business interest in the hearings but are too busy to stand in line. Fundamentally, in a democratic nation, all citizens should have equal access to the hearings. Is selling access then a perversion of democratic principles?
Taking this from a different angle, human societal interaction just simply cannot accommodate everyone in life. Every single human being is born equal, with equal endowments of time in this case. Therefore, the ethical way would be by allowing people to use their own time queuing up for the tickets. But is a single mother with a high-pressure job as equally endowed with time as a student during summer vacation? Will the society benefit if she, a legal counsel for a corporation, spends her time queuing up? Wouldn’t it now be more proper for the student to auction the seats away to people like her for money? The ethicality of this issue has now become distortionary.
The role of money in society is starting to become more apparent in this scenario. Neither eventualities in this case represent the fundamental distortion in dealing out ethics. It is simply cause and effect. If what we hope to achieve is to increase society’s productive efficiency here (cause), people will then be willing to pay (effect). How much these people are willing to pay will then become an indicator of how much they think they will gain from having access to the hearings. Suddenly, the argument of unethical seats auctioning becomes moot because the lawyer contributes more to society by preparing her case work files than by standing in line.
Now, if what we hope to achieve is to enhance society’s collective solidarity here (cause), we must display a pliable example of how democracy works to the impressionable young by making corporate executives stand in line with the unemployed or jobless students (effect). How much time these people are willing to commit becomes a gauge of how much they think they will learn from attending the hearings. We live in a world today where money and time interchange in worth, medium and distribution.
As a species that is predominantly moral, it is effortless to overlook the beautiful irony that the price of conscience is entwined with veiled monetised illegality. A very real example that is free of political and economic influence to exemplify the unbiased and overarching role of money today is the sale of human organs. Society is brought up in such a way that it frowns upon the imparting or exchange of bodily organs for money. To distort this fact, the kindness of a stranger is celebrated when he donates a kidney to a child. In most instances, the stranger is either a relative or a healthy homeless donor in need of money. In the latter’s case, is selling organs then a travesty of religious moralities?
It is ironically obvious that the issue here is not about the transfer of organs. These people have a choice before imparting with their organs. They are not misinformed about the purpose or value of their kidney nor being tricked or coerced into parting with it. These people are irrevocably giving away something that is a part of them for a price that very few of us are willing to accept. But accept them we do. If not for the perceived value of money in today’s society, or the mere existence of it, who is to say the child would have found the right donor in time to save his life? But also, if not for the intrinsic value or role of money in life, what is to stop the illegal organs exchange in the black market from being so dangerously lucrative?
There is a very good reason why it is seen in this world that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Organs are usually in short supply. The patients who obtain them will have a chance to live while those who do not will simply die. Because of the perceived dominance of money in our society, we ration the organs by price. But when we do this, the society is accepting the fact that the rich should be saved while the poor should be left to die. Could this be a new aphorism where the rich live longer and the poor live shorter? If we accept that, then we become economists instead of moral agents. Without conscience, we are not fully human and no better than animals. What then gives humanity the right to be the guardian of this planet?
When you strip away all that you have been taught about money, the idea of “money” is really just an illusion. The problem with money lies in the perceived discrepancies between use-value and exchange-value. The sale of organs makes society feels uncomfortable because it requires that we give it a value that is separate from its intrinsic worth, is measurable and is influenced by anonymous market drivers.
It has to do with what we perceive as an unequal exchange. The society works in a way where the exchange is considered more equal if the money had been earned from a painfully accumulated savings from many years of hard work as opposed to money earned from gambling or an overpaid job.
Be that as it may, we live in a real world that is materialistic but not unforgiving. Perhaps the challenge for the society here is not in reducing money’s role because money has many virtues in facilitating transactions. A person need not know the origin of the money received to be able to use it. The underlining insight here is that society’s tolerance for monetisation is proportional to the legitimacy accorded to the distribution of money. The central virtue of money then is precisely its anonymity.
As far as legitimacy goes, as long as the society believes it is the hardworking and the deserving who have the money, the more willing they are to tolerate monetary transactions. Society’s tolerance for monetary transactions falls over when it is the dishonest and the crooked who largely holds the money. As we continue our existence on this planet with a new kind of scarcity, the world should work continuously to improve the perceived legitimacy of money’s distribution. After all, greed does not bring prosperity. It is only a temporary illusion that will lead to a definite downfall.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

One Year (working title)

[Contents Pending]