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I’m probably spending the last night in this room, which I have been staying for the past 2.5 years (this is yet another example of how abitrary SMU bureaucrats ruin my life, I guess). After living in my own room for so long, the possiblity of next year being spent in a double room is meh. But on the other hand, there likely to be more space and normal furniture (instead of the absurd loft bed unit).

Tomorrow? Very likely, third time round for the year: moving day. I hate my life.

Malaysia’s deputy high commissioner warns that our visa-free status in the UK is under threat – and likely will dissappear by 2011. In lieu, Malaysians wanting to snap a few pictures of the Big Ben will have to “RM1,200 in processing fees – which is non-refundable even if the visa application is unsuccessful”, because 12,000 Malaysians who go there choose to stay there without Whitehall’s permission.

Nevertheless, any such move is quite stupid. The only reason why Malaysians overstay is because of strict (and increasingly stricter) immigration law, fueled by xenophobia. Requiring visas won’t change that – after all, a large number of overstayers previously held valid visas (usually student visas). While marginal cases will be prevented from reaching the UK, short of banning a large number of legitimate visitors to the UK, requiring visitor visas only bumps up the costs slightly.

Onerous visa requirements, alas, will cause more harm to the tourism sector than the supposed harm of illegal immigration mitigated. The only long-haul low-cost airline route between Asia and Europe is the Kuala Lumpur-London one, lowering the cost of travelling. With AirAsia X planning routes to the Schengen area, where our visa-free status isn’t under threat, trips that will otherwise go to London may find themselves in Paris or Stolkholm. Onerous visa requirements, after all, kept AirAsia X from Japanese airports. If visas are hard to come by, I don’t think AirAsia will keep sending seven planes of tourists a week. Only so that illegally migrating will become slightly harder, and slightly expensive.

Tzipi Livni, former foreign minister and current opposition leader of Israel, had an arrest warrant issued against her in London – cancelled when the courts found out that she had cancelled her trip to Britain. War crimes is considered so heinous that universal jurisdiction is assumed – yet, unlike murder or rape, anyone in the UK can requests an arrest warrant.

The ridiculousness of such a loophole means that Livni could have been arrested and tried in London – despite being an opposition leader commited to a two-state solution and quick settement with the Palestinians (remember, her party Kadima came to being to bring about the Gaza disengagement). Not only will such a court case weaken the pro-rapproachment side of Israeli politics, it would rhetorically strengthen Israel’s right – particularly its persecution complex.

It isn’t as if a case proving culpability will be easy in a Livni case: her ministerial portfolio is a bit disconnected to alleged war crimes in Gaza. The Goldstone report, issued by a Human Rights Council factfinding mission, was deeply flawed – the resolution creating the Goldstone mission was in itself largely one-sided against Israel. Had the warrant was executed, perhaps the silver lining is that the report will be subjected to the scrutiny of British courts. And Netanyahu likely regrets Livni’s escape – the likely acquittal and court case will be a boon, politically, for him at home.

In Lost City Raiders, a bad TV movie (not even deserving a Wikipedia page) set in a dystopic 2048 in New Rome (with sea levels 15m higher, only 10% of remaining landmass is above it – bye Mauritius?). It started off with setting the stage – global warming wrecked havoc in the world. Past the tipping point, the horrible climate just cause a bunch of earth quakes that warmed the world further. Even though the climate have no (or at best, negligible) impact on earthquakes, volcanos and all things geological – its save to say New Rome will be ravaged by frequent earthquakes with or without the extra carbon dioxide.

Alas, at least it set the stage for a plot that I hope has nothing to do with climate change-laced moralism. Day After Tomorrow was just… bad. There’s suspension of disbelief and suspension of mental capacity. The bad thing about global warming being portrayed this way by fiction, popular or not, is – at least for me – it undermines climate change advocacy. It is sort of using a slasher-thriller to educate the population about the dangers of jaywalking. The very least, the Day After Tomorrow disassuages climate change from general warming – global average temparatures may go up, but it also makes things like subtropical blizzards very much so possible.

Nevertheless, the plotlines of films such as Waterworld remains implausible.

Joel Koktin has a good article on smart cities. He defines it as not just on environmental and liveability standards, but economic fundamentals. Part of that is best illustrated in Amsterdam:

Amsterdam’s relatively small size–740,000 in the city and 1.2 million for the entire metropolitan area–belies its strategic location in the heart of Europe and proximity to the continent’s dominant port, Rotterdam. The city’s Schiphol airport, Europe’s third-busiest, is only 20 minutes from the center of Amsterdam, a mere jaunt compared with commutes to the major London or Paris airports. Schipol has also spawned a series of economically vibrant “edge cities” that appear like more transit-friendly versions of Houston or Orange County, Calif.

Sounds somewhat familiar, no? Subang Airport used to be close to both Kuala Lumpur and Klang, and right next to Petaling Jaya. Alas, upgrading Subang Airport wouldn’t be the highlight megaproject Mahathir wanted for the pointless 1998 Commonwealth Games (other Commonwealth-related stupid infrastructure investments include our two separate, incompatible, loss-making LRT lines).

Rather than allowing Subang Airport to continue normal operation, it was closed so it won’t compete against KLIA. AirAsia was forced to a more inconvenient, more expensive KLIA – while Terminal 3 (since renamed Skypark) was relegated to handle turboprop airlines (MAS’ Firefly, competing against AirAsia, seems like a key beneficiary).

The airport switch-up mirrors that of Hong Kong (building of KLIA was rushed so the opening preceded Hong Kong by a few days). But unlike the retired Kai Tak Airport, Subang Airport wasn’t a safety hazard and expansion wasn’t a problem. Had Subang Airport been owned by a different operator, and the government didn’t go all out to make KLIA a “success”, Kuala Lumpur would have been better off.

P.S. The article is brilliant on highlighting several aspects of what make cities “smart”. Singapore leapfrogged Kuala Lumpur for a reason. That Changi Airport is about 20 minutes from the CBD is a nice touch.

The Malay word bandar translates into “city” today – synonymous with the word kota. It comes from the Persian word bandar which means “port” (the Malay and Indonesian word regularly used now is pelabuhan, which literally means “docking area”) – alas, most Malay cities tend to be port cities as well, bandar eventually became synonymous with kota and eventually overtook kota in naming cities.

In Indonesia, the usage is mixed between port-cities and, well, ports. Their word for airport is bandar udara (directly translated to “air port”), shortened to bandara. In Malaysia, the word used is a rather lengthy lapangan terbang (directly translated to “flying field”) – probably stemming from the fact airstrips were, for a long time, the only aviation hubs in Malaya.

On the topic of transport, kereta originally means carriage – kereta lembu in both Indonesia and Malaysia as “bullock cart”. Trains are translated to kereta api, often shorten to “keretapi“, (“fire carriage”, owing to the energy source for early Southeast Asian trains). However, while kereta soon became the word for “motorcar” in Malaysia, mobil is used in Indonesia – kereta refers to train cars. Cycle in Indonesia is translated to sepeda but just Malay-ized in Malaysia to sikalbasikal (“bicycle”) and motorsikal (“motorsikal”) as opposed to sepeda and sepeda motor or just plain motor in Indonesia.

Most Malaysians find Indonesian very difficult to understand, largely from the differing spelling convention and vocabulary. While Dutch vs. English influence played a role (e.g. Indonesia’s “apotek” vs Malaysia’s “farmasi” for pharmacy) – it’s largely how they evolved on different paths.

Since the 1980s, the primary method of achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace has been some sort of compromise hammered out by Israel and the Palestinian Authority (pre-Oslo, the PLO). Yet the immense failure of the peace process has never seem to deter more of the same.

The political realities in Israel and the Palestinian territories make it impossible for any solution to turn up (the closest, Ehud Barak’s offer in 2000, was shot down by Yasser Arafat by failing to address the “right to return” of Palestinian refugees and led to the Second Intifada).

Distrust and insecurity on both sides inhibit this. Israel will never trust full autonomy for the territories: Yasser Arafat’s dream Gaza International Airport, for example, was shot down by Israel because there would be no Israeli control over terrorists and weaponry flown in. At the same time, no Palestinian government will accept a compromise of statehood without a military.

International conservatorship, , with a firm plan towards self-governance and a framework to negotiate a final settlement afterwards, over West Bank and Gaza will immediately solve a lot of problems in the short-run, and provide a stable path to a final settlement in the long-run – think Kosovo, East Timor.

Just like UN and NATO having a mandate and mission to pacify Kosovo, a conservator government will have an interest in doing so in the territories, with a far greater legitimacy than if Israel did it. Along with something like a Marshall Plan, the Palestinian territories could very quickly be developed (Gaza, for example, is well-positioned to be an international entrepôt).

Jerusalem could be carved out, in the period, to be ruled by a special local government – Israel could still use it as its seat of government, but that doesn’t prejudice an eventual final settlement. Other settlements could be placed under the conservatorship (what a way to discourage settler activity!) – they can still practice Israeli law, just like how West Berlin applied West German law before unification.

Any eventual self-government in the territories will require strict protections of minority rights – and a large Jewish population on the other side of the Green Line will encourage Israel to open its borders and integrate the territories into a cohesive socio-economic zone – think Benelux.

When both sides come close to negotiating a final settlement, questions like the status of Jerusalem, military or Palestinian refugees should by then be quite academic and inconsequential. It could end up with two (or more) states. Or a single state similar Belgium – a homeland for the Flemish and Walloons, with a special area for divided Brussels.

The only bit is that this plan requires a neutral international organisation or state to be a conservator (neutral as in neither the United Nations or the United States qualifies). But it isn’t as if the international community isn’t already invested in the conflict – and even if that was so, there are international benefits to a solution.

Pacifying Muslims is one thing – a successful settlement, with a liberal democracy on both sides of the Green Line, will improve the lot of liberal democracies in the region (Israel is the Middle East’s only liberal democracy – it isn’t exactly, at the moment, a shining example).

Heh, saw this on Twitter:

WE NEED HELP! we got news Egyptian gov is building a WALL blocking all trafic to and fro Gaza! PLEASE LOOK UP ON THIS AND BLOG/TWEET!

The barrier between Gaza and Sinai has always been there since the Sinai handover, dividing the city of Rafah. What’s funny is that those opposed to a similar wall by Israel find it shocking that their Arab brothers will consider doing the same. If the western banks of the River Jordan is handed over to the Palestinians (presently, it is an Israeli-controlled buffer zone), I’m sure Jordan will build some barrier.

Until, of course, the Palestinians pacify themselves.

The biggest mistake made was striking a deal with the PLO (the Oslo Accords), allowing them backed to the West Bank and Gaza – instead of granting self-governance and eventual independence directly to those residing there. Years of Fatah-led incompetence and corruption, as well as a dose of malice, caused the situation to escalate to this. It’s a bit like London giving IRA control over Catholic-majority areas of Northern Ireland: it simply isn’t a good idea.

P.S. Not to say that the Palestinians were the only belligerents of the Oslo Accords – Israel resumed building settlements sometime before the Al-Aksa Intifada, in contravention of the Accords. It takes two to tango.

It’s always funny when the court acts like this: the Court of Appeals threw Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s appeal because the memorandum of appeal is written in English, not Malay (or Bahasa Malaysia – BM). The justification:

“It requires the appellant to file the memorandum of appeal in the national language. No other language will be entertained and it will not qualify as a record of appeal.” […]

“Everything seems to go wrong with the appellant and the flagrant breaches of the rules seem to be the hallmark of the appellant in this case,” Abdul Malik said.

The amazing bit? The Sun didn’t translate those portions into English. They quoted the justice’s judgement directly. In Karpal Singh’s words:

“I would have thought there was more than a need for him to have written his judgement in Bahasa Malaysia in view of the strong language he uses in support,” said Karpal.

Just a random thought on macroeconomic policy. Macroeconomic policy can be roughly divided into fiscal and monetary policy. Since last century, independent central banks guiding the bulk of monetary policy have become widespread, practiced by all post-industrial countries (well, for now – Ron Paul’s push to audit of the Fed may change that).

The logic is simple. Especially when guided by a clear, measurable mandate, independent central banks produce better monetary governance than with politicians in charge. Politicians, including elected ones, tend to manipulate monetary policy for short-term goals. Take Deutsche Bundesbank for example – with a clear mandate, strong independence, it transformed the hyperinflationary mark into a hard currency.

So why do we trust politicians, especially elected ones, with fiscal policy – especially taxation? Take taxation structure in most post-industrial, developed countries – they tend to be extremely complex, riddled with special interest taxes and shelters. Furthermore, the tendency to leverage and deficit spending is high in most countries – fiscally-prudent democracies are rare and in between.

For the latter, the only policy being used to control politicians is the balanced budgets requirements – which can be quite daft. There is no incentive towards maintaining a reserve (saving for a rainy day), require governments cut spending and raise taxes during recessions, and prevent/discourage leverage where it make sense (like long-term infrastructure projects).

What if, instead, independent bodies sets taxation policy, with specific mandate directives. Elected politicians cannot pull countries like Greece into a fiscal nightmare. Also, because increase in government entitlements will show up in tax increases, politicians will be more prudent in laying them out – and also more incentivised to scale them back. Think America’s impending Social Security crisis – if payroll taxes rose in tandem with expenditure, the political will to reform Social Security would be much higher.