Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

Tom Cruise in another sci-fi movie. From the trends I observed, Americans don't fancy sci-fi themed movies that much. It was not that Oblivion was bad, it was a little slow however. That being said, I found Edge of Tomorrow to be dissimilarly fun and energetic. Of course fun here refers to seeing Tom Cruise die over and over again. 

Basically, Edge of Tomorrow is a 'Groundhog Day' themed movie, where the same day keeps repeating for Tom's character, Major William Cage, but in this case the mechanics are fully explained. Major Cage is an officer who has never seen a day in combat, instead he serves as a spokesperson for the military appearing on various television shows to bolster new recruit numbers. After a misunderstanding with a senior officer, Cage was demoted to private, and sent to the first wave of an offensive. The world Major Cage was living in had been attacked by a formidable alien race dubbed the Mimics which look like constantly squirming straggly spaghetti strands of black steel. Now, they controlled central Europe, and where they conquer, no survivors remain.  

The mechanics of the daily resurrection is as such -  Cage has to die everyday unless he wants the aliens' counterattack to succeed. It was explained that on the first day he died, he killed an alpha of the Mimics which have the ability to traverse time, if only in consciousness. Because the Mimic juices infused with Cage's body the moment he died, he shared their ability to turn back time as well every time he dies. 

He met the love interest, the lithe Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) in one time loop. She was poster pin-up veteran known as 'Full Metal Bitch' who apparently won a battle against the Mimics in Verdun. Coincidentally, Vrataski had used the same ability to reset time after death, giving her the ability to prevail in that battle. But neither can reveal their abilities to the authorities, for no one would believe them. So Vrataski takes it upon herself to train Cage to be a real soldier, a guy who eventually accepts the burden of his star-crossed fate and steps up to be the saviour of mankind, naturally. To do this, he needed to infiltrate deep behind enemy lines to destroy a Mimic entity called an Omega which acts like a queen bee of sorts. 

I hate to see a good decent sci-fi movie with good ratings flop in the earnings. I would have given top marks if it hadn't starred Tom Cruise. This time Tom is not as smug as he usually is in his Mission Impossible movies. Overall I give a 9, minus 1 for Tom.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Hercules: Man vs Myth

Why do movies seem to come in pairs? Last year Olympus Has Fallen/White House Down. While both movies had their virtues, this year’s Legend of Hercules was pretty B-grade and not outstanding. However, this under marketed flick helmed by uber celebrity Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson deserves not to be preconceived with the similar derision as the earlier one. If anything, after ‘The Edge of Tomorrow’, ‘Hercules’ would get my vote for movie of the year so far.

If 2014’s Hercules was colonized i.e. the movie title has a colon in it, I think ‘Man vs Myth’ should be it. This version of Hercules parks the Greek gods aside and focuses on the man, or rather what the man could have been. But this is if I’m not mistaken, this is the only Hercules on screen that features the Twelve Labours like killing Hydra or the Nymean Lion etc. in keeping with the Herculean myth.

The premise of the movie postulates that Hercules was flesh and blood, no more infallible to injury than the rest of us. But he is very much stronger than the rest of us, powerful enough to rip the jaw off of any perilous beast. This Hercules grew up in Athens and his Labours were a form of penitence to King Eurystheus after killing his wife and kids in an inexplicable fit of madness. The mythical creatures he fights are merely aberrations made up by his nephew, Iolaus, an accomplished story teller. He travels around in a posse of which Iolaus is a part of, and travels around Greece serving as mercenaries for various parties. The myth of him being a demi-god and his celebrated Labours are the ultimate infomercial of its time for a gang of hired swords.

What an excellent accompaniment to Hercules his ragtag bunch makes. They consist of his no. 1 PR man, Iolaus, a maniac of a mute with a deeply troubled Tydeus, a token female warrior, Atalanta, mostly accurate seer Amphiaraus and long-time friend to Hercules, Autolycus.

I like summer movies that are action filled that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Hercules has a few side-splitting numbers as they debunk various Greek myths. It’s a near perfect blockbuster with a passable plot, awesome CG and star quality attractions (larger than a pebble, smaller than a boulder). While the earlier Hercules was all-muscle, this one rips the competition to shreds. Here’s to hoping that Hercules won’t be a flop, fingers crossed. This is a 9.5/10.
Silly as it may seem, this movie is brave enough to follow the actual depiction of Hercules in literature with the Lion Hat.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Flight Path from Europe to Southeast Asia is One Big No-Fly-Zone

When Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, there was talk that airlines should not have flown over conflicted regions where security is on the edge. Hindsight is always 20-20 as they say. The thing is that while flying at over 10km above sea level has always been considered safe even over those restive regions because supposedly only state actors have access to surface to air missiles capable of reaching commercial jet cruise altitude. Thus, states are presumed to be competent and responsible.


So if the problem are the rebels and insurgents with the lands they occupy, then flying over Central Asia is trickier than you would think. One critical region which the main Asia-Europe highway in the sky traverses is the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the area of eternal turmoil. Do they have those long range surface-to-air missiles? Do they know how to use it? Nobody really knew the eastern Ukrainian rebels could do what they did. If we were to apply complete no-fly-zones on all these conflict regions, airplanes have to take the scenic route on their transcontinental journey. Scenic routes are not cheap. 


A few things to note on the map. Climbing over the Himalayas is a no-no for commercial planes because it is too risky with the small aircraft to ground clearance with the mountain and horrendous turbulence. The Middle East and the Central Asia is rife with insurgencies. A straight route from Europe to Asia would take any commercial flight path over a number of these war zones. Diverting planes around these regions is like navigating around a maze and is not the answer. The downing of MH17 is the betrayal of the trust that no individual or group should ever attack a tin can full of innocents 33,000 feet in the air. May God bless their souls.

Monday, 14 July 2014

National Boundaries Are Not Unalterable

America’s foreign policy for the past two decades has been miserable. Time and time again, the World’s Policeman has acted only in its own interest or what it perceives it to be beneficial. The art of nation building is not confined to arbitrary borders drawn on the map decades or centuries ago. ‘Why can’t we all get along’ does not work in conflict regions. Divided peoples don’t form nations. Political borders mean squat if you don’t resonate with the central government’s aspirations. I will run through a few international regions which have been conflicted lately, and discuss how America’s cookie cutter policies do not work and that democracy is not the world’s panacea.

Crimea and Eastern Ukraine

The relatively resort-like peninsula of Crimea had been in the Russian Empire’s fold since it was annexed by Catherine the Great in 1783. In 1954, Communist Russia transferred the peninsula to Ukraine, which didn’t seem such of a big deal then, since Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union which was mostly Russian centric. The Muslims Tatars which were remnants of the older Ottoman vassal state, Crimean Khanate, were severely oppressed during the Communist period.

Ukraine’s borders in the 20th centuries were always changing. To the Russians, the south and eastern parts of modern day Ukraine, particularly the cities of Sevastopol and Odessa, were very much part of the Russians nation building. Ethnic Ukrainians on the other hand identify more closely with the Polish nation to the West.

In 1991, when Ukrainians including ethnic Russians (except Crimean) overwhelmingly voted secession from the Soviet Union they voted because of years of destitution and aggravation with the enormous Communist entity. Today prior to the 2014 elections, elections reveal a schism between the Russian speaking east and south and Ukrainian speaking Ukraine.

Nowhere was more pro-Russian than in Crimea, where more than half its inhabitants are Russian. After Moscow disguisedly took over control of Crimea, referendums on whether to join Russia were held, and although the results were widely discredited as a farce (the Tatars boycotted the elections), the mood on the ground clearly shows that the majority favours a Russian future.

In my view, Russia is trying to protect its people even ones outside their national borders. In the decade leading, Russia has created precedent for this. Russia invaded the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia on the reason of defending the native Russian people. Not to mention, Russia has vested interests in Crimea, including its Black Sea fleet harbour in Sevastopol.

Is this a modern invasion or liberation? Encountering no resistance to Russian rule, but instead greeting it with open arms. Why should we try to restrain a rat if it so desperately wants to flee our grasp? Wouldn’t we then be its captor?

Of course, the West stands firm against Russians newly acquired territory. Russia and China are the frenemies! These retaliatory stances are evocative of Cold War times as the new pro-West Ukrainian president takes office. My take on this is that National borders aren’t sacrosanct, and the determining factor is the desire of the territory’s inhabitants.

Iraq

When George Bush Jr. rolled his tanks into Iraq, he didn’t have an exit plan. Maybe he thought he could occupy it for years and years, and the oil will bring mutual benefit for the US and Iraq. Now with terrorist groups destabilizing Iraq along sectarian lines, I see the best solution as digging up Saddam Hussein, reanimating him, and putting him back in charge.

Jokes aside, in the haste of leaving Iraq, Obama has not left a government that can last. I think the biggest mistake is thinking of Iraq as a strong united country. The Middle East’s problems really started a century ago, after the British and French were divvying up the spoils after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. The natural boundaries that follow ethnic lines were completely ignored. I think the British drew Iraq’s boundaries based on the Tigris/Euphrates river boundaries that were within British influence, as opposed to Syria which was under French influence.

Saddam Hussein was a national hero, I would say, keeping the fractious communities under the same flag. Amongst other, the three main ethnic groups or sects in Iraq are the Kurds, the Sunni Muslims and the Shia Muslims. Saddam was a Sunni and oppressed everyone else. The weak governments that US installed after Saddam’s downfall were democratically elected Shia Muslims from the southeast. Iraq’s newer Shia Presidents began to govern along sectarian lines, favouring his own over the minorities, naturally.

 One man one vote, and there are more Shias than Sunnis in Iraq. Which goes to show how incredible Saddam was, he could never win an election freely and fairly. Just like Thailand, just because he is democratically elected, it does not mean he is accepted by all. Another case of failed democracy, a notion which the West just cannot accept.

It is time to split up. Like Crimea in Ukraine, it is pointless to hold on to a larger political entity if no one can see eye to eye. And since neighbouring Syria is also fractious, the new borders will probably be along more natural sectarian lines which straddle current national borders. We can only wish that events in the future could prevent these territories from becoming militant states.

Kurdistan

This brings me to Kurdistan, an aspirational nation of the Kurdish people, which I have grown to sympathise with. The Kurds today live in a region that spans across primarily 4 countries; Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Thirty million people without a state to call their own. They are Muslim but they are not fanatical. They openly accept people of other faiths and races in their lands unlike the Iraqi Arabs. They fight because they want a state of their own. The governments of the four adjacent countries multilaterally suppressed the Kurds, fearing loss of territorial sovereignty if ever a Kurdistan arises.

Since the first Gulf War in 1991, the Kurds fought Saddam and created their own quasi state which remains today, despite the Gulf War and the American ‘interventions’. The region in Northern Iraq is called Iraqi Kurdistan or Southern Kurdistan is administered by a government called Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). In the current government (or what’s left of it that is functioning), the democratically elected KRG administers a few northern provinces as a federal region.

Kurdistan is peaceful. Kurdistan is prosperous. Or so says the promotional content of KRG to the world concentrating on its motto: The Other Iraq. Iraqi Kurdistan may well be on its way to statehood, with the instability and unravelling of the Iraqi government. But what would be better is if they were to merge with Western Kurdistan or also known as Rojava in Syria. Since Syria’s civil War, much of Kurdish lands are controlled by Kurdish militias trying to isolate themselves from the horrors happening in rest of Syria but find themselves battling Al Qaeda forces.


India

India’s case is interesting, since independence, has created a bevy of new states delineated by linguistic and ethnic boundaries and also as way to encourage economic development in less developed areas by means of better governance as opposed to a large but less efficient monolithic government entity. More state reorganisations are planned in the future to achieve similar goals.

Does the reorganisation of internal political boundaries threaten the Indian federal government? I think not, instead it gives the community a sense of empowerment and to the community, a government that understands them and their sensibilities. In other words, reorganising the states in such a way dampens any ethnic based secessionist sentiments.

Of course, the exception in India is Kashmir, which actually closely resembles the situation in Crimea. When India and Pakistan was partitioned in 1947, Muslim dominated regions in Kashmir should have at least been awarded to Pakistan. In the decades ahead, pro Hindu policies of the Indian governments only serve to alienate the Kashmiri Muslims more. Naturally, the Muslim residents of Kashmir Valley have repeatedly revolted against the Indian state, and formed their own terror groups. The whole mess harks back to political blunders left by colonial powers, not unlike in Iraq. What we have today is a heavily militarized zone with multiple overlapping claims between India, Pakistan and yes, China. It looks like the situation will remain in status quo for a long time to come.

Thailand

All everyone can think of when thinking about Thailand’s political impasse is Red Shirts vs Yellow Shirts. The Red Shirts are Thaksin supporters from the rural areas excluding Southern Thailand who constantly win elections because of their numbers. Yellow shirts are urban folk who think Thaksin’s corruption is too much and any Red Shirt should not come into power even if they win. Their side has toppled the Red Shirt government twice before by means of street protests and judicial coups.

The army general launched a coup of his own, dismissing the previous constitution and setting up a temporary military government eschewing democratic values. This is the Thai kingdom’s twelfth coup since independence, and it is clear that the army does not have long term plans as government. Most Western leaders decry such a move, counselling a return to democracy.

On the contrary I think this is the best thing to happen to Thailand. I am not taking any faction’s side but simply reflecting on how democracy has failed despondently in Thailand. When a party wins an election, all sides have to respect the outcome and not try to overthrow the legally elected government by hook or by crook.

With that being said, if corruption is an issue, institutions should be in place to keep the elected representatives in check. But most importantly, the new constitution should have procedures in place to disallow any future political impasses to further stagnate Thailand’s development. Either the general gets real creative or he should engage some madcap constitutionalist to come up with some bizarre form of government.

The USA has the Foreign Assistance Act, Section 508 of which states that the U.S. must cut aid to countries in which a “duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup” until the resumption of civilian rule. So like a broken record, when a government falls off the thin tight-rope that is democracy, the State department issues its default ‘return to democracy’ statement. But the truth is, not every country is ready for democratic rule. In some countries, the majority has no interest in the welfare of the minority. Sometimes, certain regions need to be carved out from long existing nations. Sometimes they can exist peacefully as autonomous regions. Other times you need to be mindful of which inter-community dynamic works well and preserve it.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

KIDEX alignment in the Klang Valley

The controversial KIDEX highway is widely speculated to acquire an indefinite number of land plots and people's homes, grinding its way like a chainsaw through a "serene" neighbourhood. (It's really so congested now, it's anything but serene). But the Kidex, working in conjunction with the SKIP highway (see other proposed highways) to provide an alternative North-South alignment to the LDP or Lebuhraya Damansara-Puchong highway, which is an important but heavily choked North-South highway.

The origin of the problem is that the Klang Valley roads are not designed with a grid like matrix like in other cities, and so all these proposed brown-field highways try to correct the navigational inadequacies of the current highway networks. The closest North-South highways are the LDP, the NKVE and the MEX. I don't have a traffic projection software and a supercomputer in my garage, so I can't tell you what percentage of traffic it will alleviate, but I can tell you qualitatively that it will ease the pressure off the East-West highways like the Federal Highway.

But I have reservations for the northern termini of Kidex as it feeds into the northern sections of LDP and the NKVE, two chronic highways Kidex is supposed to remedy. It's definitely a case of diverting the jam somewhere else.

In the Google map below, KIDEX is in purple, while the LDP is the thick green line.


View KIDEX in the Klang Valley in a larger map

Monday, 7 July 2014

Map of Proposed Highways in the Greater Klang Valley

The Selangor Menteri Besar announced that if the Kidex Skyway (Kinrara - Damansara Expressway Skyway) is not approved, four other proposed highway projects may get the axe as well. In the map I drew above (painstakingly I might add), I highlighted six highway projects and superimposed them on a map of existing expressways and major roads. Some expressway alignments are modified to express overall traffic flow as opposed to actual highway limits. I also outlined dense urban areas and where the highways connect to.

I am missing the Besraya Eastern Extension because it is too new, and I don't have the alignment. The West Coast Expressweay alignment is mostly guesswork because there isn't enough resources. The EKVE is missing a few spurs connecting to Ampang, Ukay Perdana and Hulu Langat, but the whole alignment is still up in the air, so I didn't bother. Actually, most of the proposed expressways are not finalized, so they may be subject to change.

 

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

PJ Free City Bus Route

The Free City Bus (FCB) service was launched in March 2014 from 6am to 9pm daily travelling on a 28.2km route around PJ. The bus route that was published was a little unclear around PJ state area because of the current one way system vehicles are forced to take to get anywhere in the area.

So I've redrawn a map to make it a lot clearer. Also I've divided the route into 3 stages, so the three different colours accentuate the route around PJ State.


Of course the One Way traffic system is slated to be implemented soon, so the route will change.