Archive for September, 2011

World comes to Bali’s Ubud Writers Festival

September 30, 2011

Bali’s renowned Ubud Writers & Readers Festival kicks off Wednesday, October 5 and runs though Sunday, October 9. Despite drama over festival sponsorship that ended with ANZ Bank coming aboard, this year’s eighth edition of the annual event will have a full complement of more than 100 writers from at least a dozen countries.

The event, founded as a response to the 2002 Bali bombings that left 202 dead, takes on added meaning this year in the wake of last Sunday’s latest church bombing in Java. The festival always features a variety of writers from across Indonesia and Southeast Asia, fostering wide ranging discussions on contemporary national and regional issues. It also brings writers from the across the Muslim world to the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, albeit to Bali, a Hindu island that’s traditionally welcomed foreigners and their cultures.

Western world headliners at this year’s Ubud event include Booker Prize winner DBC Pierre, Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz, and creator of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Alexander McCall Smith. Often, though, it’s the writers you’ve never heard of that make the biggest impressions; these festivals are about broadening literary horizons for readers and writers alike.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie. See his biography, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com.

Yale brings liberal arts to illiberal Singapore

September 19, 2011

In the West, Singapore has a well-crafted reputation as the little engine that could, and that does it on time. It’s a charming image that’s almost completely false.

Singapore receives ritual designation annually as the world’s second freest economy, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, from America’s rightwing Heritage Foundation. Singapore’s mythical status as a corruption-free zone is built on the twin pillars of selective law enforcement, such as ignoring widespread reports of unlicensed promoters illegally bringing higher rollers to its two enormously profitable casinos, and lack of laws against practices considered corrupt in the West, including conflict of interest and trade restraining practices. Though it presents itself as a parliamentary democracy, Singapore’s government deploys its full rage of powers to sustain the ruling party’s reign and suppress political free expression.

In its own neighborhood, people know Singapore as the preferred destination for wealth, legally obtained or otherwise. When Singapore says it wants to become the Switzerland of Asia, it’s not talking about tropical alpine skiing. While spouting pieties, Singapore bathes in filthy money stolen from the poor of Asia and beyond, and hypocrisy breeds contempt.

So it comes as a surprise and disappointment that Yale University has fallen for Singapore’s propaganda. Yale will build its first branch campus in the city-state. Bringing liberal arts to an illiberal place, Yale won zero concessions from Singapore on free speech issues and thinks the new campus will help elevate its reputation in Asia. Enjoy your Singapore sting on the rocks, Yalies.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie. See his biography, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com.

Osama died happy – thanks to Bush

September 11, 2011

Note: The chronicle of my post-9/11 terrorist conspiracy is available at Asia Times

Ten years ago, al-Qaeda extremists wrought tragedy upon America, killing more than 3,000 people in attacks aimed at the US political, economic and military nerve centers. The George W Bush administration turned this day of infamy into a decade of disaster for the US, just what Osama bin Laden had in mind when he ordered the 9/11 attacks.

The Bush administration’s reactions and their consequences did far more damage than the attacks themselves over the past decade. By turning the US into the country caricatured in al-Qaeda propaganda, the Bush people set the stage for catastrophic results at home and overseas. How dare they show their faces on this anniversary of their great failure, or take it as an occasion to sell books or indulge their sense of self-importance. They deserve to be served with warrants, strewn with garbage, and, most of all, never listened to again.

One thing you’ll never hear them do: take responsibility in any way, shape or form for the deadly attack that happened on their watch or the disasters that followed due to their errors. Condoleezza Rice thinks she was right to ignore the memo titled “Bin Laden determined to strike in US” five weeks before 9/11. Dick Cheney knows it was a good idea to turn away from Afghanistan, where the group that attacked the US on 9/11 was, to Iraq, where it wasn’t. Donald Rumsfeld thinks trying to police Iraq with at least 100,000 fewer troops than the generals recommended was a perfect plan. When George W Bush said, “We’re changing the culture of America from one that has said . . . ‘if you’ve got a problem, blame somebody else,’ to a culture in which each of us understands we are responsible for the decisions we make,” it was just another instance of Bush either not understanding his own words, or not meaning them. (more…)

Rolling the dice in Thailand

September 4, 2011

Renowned novelist Christopher Moore has written with his usual insight on illegal gambling in Thailand. The longtime chronicler of Thailand notes the king-sized hypocrisy of police denying the existence of illegal gambling despite estimates of up to 1 million illegal gambling establishments in Thailand and, more to the point, bribes to police in connection with illegal betting of up to 8 billion baht ($275 million).

Moore suggests legalization of the estimated $12 billion underground industry, along with education on mathematical probabilities to counter Thai beliefs in luck and spirits tied to gambling. “Probability will teach children that there is no luck, no belief system or supernatural force that will intervene on your behalf in gambling,” Moore, perhaps best known for his Vincent Calvino crime novels and Land of Smiles Trilogy that all draw heavily on his understanding of Thai history and culture, says.

I interviewed Moore and several other knowledge sources for a report on prospects for casino legalization in Thailand in the February issue of Macau Business. International gaming companies have long salivated over the prospects of bringing casinos to Thailand. The combination of Thailand’s gambling-keen population of 65 million and more than 15 million foreign visitors make it the juiciest plum in Southeast Asia currently without legal casinos. But political and religious opposition have so far trumped the commercial opportunity. Groups that benefit from illegal gambling, including corrupt politicians and police, also oppose legalization. There’s also fear among some in the tourism industry that gambling could diminish Thailand’s appeal to visitors.

After the Thai general election in July, I wrote about whether the return of allies of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a supporter of gambling legalization, will help bring casinos to Thailand. Yingluck Shinawatra and her Phue Thai party have the difficult task of healing the rifts in Thai politics that widened after last year’s Thaksin loyalist Red Shirt occupation of Bangkok and subsequent crackdown that left 91 dead.

Christopher Moore says it’s time to get practical and make gambling legal. But the odds remain stacked against it until Thais find common ground on less divisive issues.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie. See his biography, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com.


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