April, 2007

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Pearl Harbor – Success or Blunder?

This was posted up here on the 14 Feb 2001, shortly before the release of Michael Bay’s turkey of a mess Pearl Harbor movie.

blog-Pearl-Harbor-Movie-Poster.jpegAnother commonly made observation of the Pearl Harbor attack was that most pundits believe it was a complete success, with aircraft from the Japanese Imperial Navy sinking and devastating dozens of American battleships, cruisers and destroyers docked at the harbor. General Yamamoto had asserted that Japan’s only chance for victory against the United States was a devastating strike against its naval forces in the Pacific, and in so doing would shock the United States onto the bargaining table and sue for peace. Japan could then continue on to seize the resource rich lands of South-East Asia without American interference.

But in reality, the Pearl Harbor attack wasn’t an unqualified success, contrary to popular thinking. I would rather call it tactically a success with a large number of American battleships sunk while in dock, but strategically a big blunder on several counts. The American battleships were indeed sunk with great loss of lives (the battleship Arizona was hit directly in its ammunitions hold, exploded in the harbor, and sunk in minutes with two thousand of its crew sinking with her), but this only forced the American naval forces to place its aircraft carriers as the prime components in its strike forces; and her two aircraft carriers, the Lexington and the Yorktown, had mercifully escaped destruction. By a stroke of luck when the Japanese planes struck, they were out of harbor. And as it turned out, it was the American aircraft carriers which won the subsequent naval battles of the Pacific in the next 3 years.

In addition, Yamamoto missed out on a second opportunity that would have severely set back the American ability to react. Just beyond Pearl Harbor were a large field of fuel tanks that housed a good portion of the available fuel for the American naval forces. If these had been destroyed in the Pearl Harbor attack, fuel shortage would had posed a severe problem for the Americans. In fact, the astute Japanese pilots in the initial wave of attacking planes spotted the untouched fuel tanks just yonder, and upon their return, begged Yamamoto to allow them a return strike to hit the fuel depot. But Yamamoto, amazed at his own initial success in sinking the American warships, hesitated, and chose to instead withdraw, and in so doing, missed out on this opportunity.

And lastly, most significantly, the biggest strategic blunder with the Pearl Harbor attack. Instead of forcing the United States to the bargaining table as Yamamoto had hoped, it instead galvanised the entire nation into a single, integrated spirit, as personified when President Roosevelt called the attack “a day of infamy”. It forever silenced the critics and anti-war politicians in congress, and set the entire nation to its singular purpose- the defeat of Japan and Germany. And in six months, the Japanese fleet were turned back, and their road to defeat was started.

A high adrenaline event

I can finally breathe easy now that my choir’s SYF (Singapore Youth Festival – Central Judging of Choirs) event is over. The girls, together with their conductor, were awarded ‘gold with honours’. I couldn’t believe my ears when the results were announced early this evening as we were prepared for the worst especially with all kinds of negative remarks made about the choir. We went through 2-weeks of downhill performance before this day and never shone before other good choirs during choral exchanges. I knew that my choir members were made of the right stuff for the loftiest award but such awareness often wears off when one is immersed in an environment where people around you tend to be musically trained and when comparison and competition are strife.


I think I shouldn’t be running choirs for too long. It is taking a toil on my mental and physical health. I myself had enjoyed being a chorister before and it affects me personally whenever my students reveal their lack of commitment and passion. The school has high expectations of the choir too. And in a way, I feel pressurized to ensure that the choir deliver because the school has treated us very well.

It’s really the people-factor that is burdensome. Sometimes, I was caught in a dilemma of whether to field an ‘attitude-problem’ but fantastic singer in a competition. In the past, it was an absolute ‘no-no’ as such a student didn’t earn the privilege. Now, it really depends. I have been reminding myself to use people for a greater good and glory. If I cannot improve how my ‘ill-disciplined’ students behave in the short run, I would use their talents for the benefit of other well-behaved students. If I can use them to value-add without damaging the morale of a team, why not. At the end of the day, I want to see my choir experience great satisfaction and exuberance in achieving a great goal, especially for those who have put in their heart and soul to do well. In short, I go for a win-win situation. Sounds like a game strategy, isn’t it?

My choir still have a distance to go to develop strength of character in many aspects. They need an excellent guide with a strong heart with a ‘never-say-die’ mindset.

Rendang at home

Chicken Rendang Curry @ Home

blog-2007-cooking-PICT3298-rendang-curry.jpgWhile I was in Australia, one of my favourite dinner menu items was curry using prepared paste, for example using Brahim’s simmer sauces. They’re really easy to prepare, with short cooking times of around 35 minutes.

I haven’t done this too much now here in Singapore, but gave it a go on Thursday evening. Here’s a picture of the outcome.

What you need: Brahim’s curry sauce (there’re many types available), around 110 grams of chicken meat per person, fresh mushrooms, carrots and potatoes. The total ingredient cost should be around $8 to $9 for two persons. Here’s how I do it:

  1. Cut the chicken into smaller pieces, and fry at medium heat for around 5 minutes with light seasoning.
  2. Pour the contents of the sauce package into a sauce pan with the chicken in it. Add water until it reasonably covers the chicken pieces.
  3. Put it at medium heat, stirring occasionally for around 15 minutes.
  4. Add sliced carrots, potatoes, and mushrooms. At medium heat, it should take around 20, 15 and 10 minutes for carrots, potatoes and mushrooms to cook reasonably.
  5. Cook until the gravy is of the concentration you like, e.g. less or more watery. Ling likes the watery kind of gravy while I prefer the opposite.
  6. Throw in garnishing. Basil leaves – yummy.

Serve, eat and get fat! :)

The Niland Brothers

Another short entry I wrote, which was originally posted up here on 6 Oct 2000.

blog-saving_private_ryan.jpgThe source of the story in Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg’s tour-de-force motion picture on the second world war, was in reality based on a very real story that did take place, despite the very many skeptics who regard it impossible that the United States army would risk the lives of other soldiers just to save one. The following is an extract from D-Day by Stephen Ambrose:

“… The third volunteer, Sgt. Bob Niland, was killed at his machine gun. One of his brothers, a platoon leader in the 4th Division, was killed the same morning at Utah Beach. Another brother was killed that week in Burma. Mrs. Niland received all three telegrams from the War Department announcing the deaths of her sons on the same day. Her fourth son, Fritz, was in the 101st Airborne; he was snatched out of the frontline by the Army.”

In the DVD edition of Saving Private Ryan, there is a behind the scenes documentary on the making of the motion picture; and it includes a segment where the surviving Nilands in the family are interviewed.

Additional Links: An Interview with Stephen Ambrose; Extensive online article on the D-Day Landings.

The Reluctant Warrior

The recent movie by Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima, makes a passing reference to the death of General Yamamoto during the war. Here’s a short but well-known story about him that I originally posted up on the 13 Feb 2001.

blog-Yamamoto.jpgPerhaps the most well known- and sometimes misunderstood- general of the Japanese military forces was General Yamamoto Isoroku. General Yamamoto was the commander in chief of Japan’s Combined Fleet in August 1941, and was the chief architect behind the attack on Pearl Harbor, which momentarily crippled the US fleet docked at the harbor on the 7th December 1941. This attack has also been the subject of several several motion pictures, including Tora Tora Tora, and the upcoming Hollywood epic, Pearl Harbor.

What is less well known however is that Yamamoto actually opposed war against the United States; a stark contrast with the other war-mongering military leaders in Japan, who were spoiling for a fight with the Allied powers. He had been a visitor to the United States a decade before the war started, and knew that Japan would surely lose a protracted struggle with such a powerful opponent, with the large American industries which could be switched to produce war time munitions, equipment and other hardware. However, he was a minority voice; and when the Japanese war cabinet elected to go to war with the United States, he threw his entire person behind the task, being the loyal officer he was.

Even then, he was never confident of long term success, and even wrote that he would run freely with his forces in the Pacific for 6 months, after which he would be sorely pressed when the American industry came online to back their military might. He was in fact, nearly correct to the day. After the successful attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Japanese military forces went on to great success in Malaya, Singapore and the Philippines, and had the British and American forces on the run, defeat after defeat. But nearly exactly six months later, in June 1942, his naval forces was defeated at the Battle of Midway, and the tide of the war forever turned against the Japanese. As Yamamoto had said, he did indeed run amok for 6 months.

1 flower = 4 seeds

blog-plants-PICT3340.jpgThe cinnamon basil plant which flowered some weeks ago has started to show signs of its final stages of life, or so it seems. As I tried to observe for formation of fruits from its withered flowers, I was dismayed that no fruit-like structures were in sight. Perhaps the pollinators were absent as I hardly ever open the windows to this room. Oh c’mon, at least the pink flowers were a lovely sight to behold and their lemony scent was an aromatic treat. :)

While my subconsciousness was dismayed at the failed venture of making my basil plant go to seed, my habitual curiosity saved the day. As I was pruning the half-dying bush, I decided to pluck the dried remains of those flowers for further examination. I peered and peeled the tiny, delicate sepals and to my surprise found tiny black ‘beads’ of about 1 mm in diameter hidden within. Logically, these should be the fruits of the plant. Hooray, there should be at least one seed in each of these black fruits! I was thrilled! My basil plant has made babies! :D

For the next few minutes, I started on an adventure of checking for more hidden fruits in each withered flower. Hmm, not all flowers were pollinated though. The pollinated ones would eventually undergo fertilisation and the tell-tale sign is the browning of the sepals. In addition, every flower can produce a maximum of 4 fruits and therefore 4 seeds.

I recalled seeing tiny ants crawling in and out of the flowers previously. Those ants must be the substitute pollinators. Well and good.

blog-plants-PICT3345.jpgI sowed about 20 or so teeny weeny black fruits onto some damp soil in 2 small plastic pots. Really hoping for offspring to sprout and meet their parents soon. As these seeds are produced by sexual reproduction, I should expect some genetic variation. Oh, how I wonder what these offspring will turn out to be.

I gathered more information about basil fruits from the internet and learned that these fruits are called achenes. An achene is an indehiscent fruit containing one seed. It does not split when mature. Achene, hmm, sounds kinda familiar – didn’t pay close attention to such terms while I was a biology student! I remembered a ‘learning styles’ speaker once said that true learning takes place at home. Hee hee.

Size comparisons

Upon reading my earlier entry on our new Sterbai Cory – which Ling has named GG – addition to the tank, I realized that it’s rather difficult to tell the relative size of this gentle giant compared to the other Corys in the tank. So here’re two quick pictures I snapped in the evening to better show how they compare.:)


The four types of catfishes nicely caught in the picture above. From left to right, a Leopard Cory (they look very similar to Sterbai Corys), one of our five pygmy catfishes or Ottocinclus, GG, and a Bronze Cory. They’re scrounging around for tasty morsels in the gravel; those white little bits that you see in the picture are fish food.:)


They’re a lovely bunch. Ling’s gradually growing to them too.:)

“Flied Lice” – The Simpsons Season 9

Fried rice with crab meat @ Koufu (Sengkang East Avenue)

Since I started on the obsession of finding a great plate of mee goreng at local foodcourts, it’s been a while since I had a plate of fried rice when we eat out.

dining-160.JPGStill, it was too much to pass up a “Fried rice with crab meat” offering at the Koufu foodcourt the Saturday evening before the last. One commonly finds seafood fried rice sold at many foodcourts, but the only seafood thing about those offerings are the fishcake, prawn pieces, and crab sticks. But this one really looked like the real thing, and the high price tag of $6 suggested evidence. Even Ling upon one look at the plate when it came was mightily impressed with exclamations “wow real crab meat!”

After all the initial excitement and 10 minutes later with a cleaned out plate, I’ve got mixed feelings. The pluses: it was real crab meat fellas, and rice used tasted very high quality and each grain well cooked. Garnishings while not extravagant were at least consistent with what should go in with fried rice. I mean, some foodcourts put in bean sprouts and carrots into their recipe!

The minuses: I’m just not sure if the crab meat, aside from novelty, really added to the taste. Or, put in other words, this plate tasted slightly better than the usual fried rice fare and just a notch below the United Square foodcourt standard. And of course, there was the problem with the big price tag.

  • Food: 7 / 10
  • Value: 2 / 5
  • Overall: 3 / 5. It looks good, tastes pretty alright. But at $6, this is just too expensive for me.

Tank Version 5.0

The last of the four Lionheads, Patches, expired a fortnight ago after losing a bout with white spots. Ling was especially sad since they were the four critters that got us started on our aquarium hobby. We decided to start anew with a new tank, so on the 19 March Sunday, headed out after the morning service at Wesley to several aquarium shops all over Singapore to pick up what we need.

blog-2007-aquarium-PICT3241-new-tank.jpgMany Singaporeans would have kept an aquarium at some point of their lives, but for those who haven’t, here’s a quick orientation to the (very) low initial costs involved in getting into the hobby and enjoying these lovely fellows.

  1. 14 inch glass tank (Lam Hong Aquarium at Ang Mo Kio) – $18
  2. Hagen external filter (Sea View at Seletar) – $17
  3. Critters (two Guppies, three Corys, two Gobys) – $7
  4. 10 kg of Aquarium gravel (Aquastar at Yishun) – $10
  5. 24 hour Timer (Cold Storage) – $12

Several items were recycled from the old tank, including the fluorescent lamp for lighting, water treatment, gravel stones, a cooling fan, with the plants taken from the larger living room tank. Our expenditure for the Sunday setup was just $65ish, and Ling now gets a pretty nice view on her table.:)

Medics, Nurses and Doctors

Here’s the first of the many stories I wrote during the earlier years of keeping this web site. The source for this one is from Citizen Soldiers by the late Stephen Ambrose, and I put it up on the 6 Oct 2000.

blog-the_english_patient.jpgConditions were very tough for the medical personnel during World War 2; the hospitals and medical tents couldn’t be too far from the frontline in order to effectively treated the wounded soldiers. This was to say nothing of that often, these positions were often shelled by enemy artillery as well.

But it wasn’t just that the wounded soldiers often felt great affection for the nurses and doctors who nursed them back to health during the war, like what one saw in The English Patient. Many nurses in the war also found themselves weak with admiration for the wounded men. One American nurse, Lt. Frances Slanger of the 45th Field Hospital, once expressed the feeling in an October letter addressed to Stars and Stripes, a war-time magazine, but written to the troops. She mailed this one morning to the armed forces magazine. Her letter perhaps best surmised how many of the nurses felt about the wounded soldiers they healed:

“You G.I.’s say we nurses rough it. We wade ankle deep in mud. You have to lie in it. We have a stove and coal… In comparison to the way you men are taking it, we can’t complain, nor do we feel that bouquets are due us… It is to you we doff our helmets.”

“We gave learned about our American soldier and the stuff he is made of. The wounded don’t cry. Their buddies come first. The patience and determination they show, the courage and fortitude they have is sometimes awesome to behold. It is a privilege to receive you and a great distinction to see you open your eyes and with that swell American grin, say, ‘Hi-ya, babe.’”

Frances Slanger was killed that evening by an artillery shell. She was one of the seventeen Army nurses killed in combat.

Additional Links: Click on this link to read more about her.