Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Individual Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

Executive Summary

In this essay, I make the argument for privatised mercenary peacekeeping organisations. The traditional R2P argument mismatches the subject and the object because it is incompatible to argue that State A should be responsible for the citizens of State B. If we are to argue that it is a human responsibility to protect others, then the responsibility and decisions should be taken by other humans, and not by their governments on their behalf.

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

R2P offers a new perspective to an old debate between the right of the international community to conduct humanitarian intervention, versus the right of states to maintain sovereignty over their people. Taking up the challenge proffered by Kofi Annan to prevent the recurrence of another Rwanda, the ICISS took the words of Pope Benedict XVI and reframed the debate on humanitarian intervention to shift the referent object from the state to the individual. The discourse is now on the individual’s right to security, and the proposal that while the state has primary responsibility to provide this protection, this responsibility will pass to the international community should the state demonstrate that it is unable to do so.
The academic debate (especially in the English language) has been largely one-sided in favour of R2P, but it has made little headway in the reality of international politics. In the international arena, the global South still see R2P as a machination of the North to interfere in their sovereignty, and it has largely failed to alleviate these concerns. This inability to translate words into action was highlighted by events in Darfur. The language of R2P was invoked in arguing for intervention in Darfur, while the Sudanese accused the West of using humanitarian objectives as a “Trojan horse” in order to achieve other hidden agenda. Ultimately, although a UN resolution was passed condemning the Sudanese government’s handling of the crisis and calling for intervention, practical response was muted. Although there was general agreement that the people in Darfur should be protected, there was no consensus on who this responsibility should fall, and a clear reluctance on the part of the West to assume it. In the crucial first two years, only members of the African Union were willing to commit their soldiers; ultimately the actual number of soldiers was far fewer than require and were handicapped by the lack of resources. Peacekeepers were forced to operate under stringent Sudanese terms that prevented actions of any consequence. Some were kidnapped and killed by rebels. Thus, while the debate carries on, R2P has yet to make a significant impact.

The Incentive to Act (I2A)

Even if states were to accept the logic of R2P, perhaps a greater hurdle is in structuring the correct incentives to encourage action. The agreement that a wrong should be righted does not equate to a commitment to help; it is a necessary but not a sufficient condition, as highlighted by the case of Darfur. A Jan 2005 survey of Americans found that while 74% felt the UN should stop the genocide in Darfur, only 60% thought the U.S. should contribute troops to a coalition effort. This illustrates the gap between moral support and action, and highlights the need for the right I2A. Today, there are two main problems that lead to the lack of I2A.
The first problem is that the states with the biggest incentive to help are often the ones with the least resources. The economic costs of failed and failing states generate large negative externalities, but these spill over mainly to their neighbours, hence it is the immediate region that has the greatest I2A. As in the case of Darfur, however, these neighbouring states are likely to have similar problems and limited resources which prevent effective action. Out of an envisaged African Union force of 3000 for Darfur, initially only 150 were deployed. While the North are often criticised for tardiness in action when there are no tangible benefits such as oil or minerals to be had, the fact remains that such operations are highly costly and not all stakeholders are swayed by the moral argument of ending suffering. Ultimately, states must balance any perceived international responsibility with their first responsibility to their own people.
R2P has also lost the competition for military resources to the global war on terror. Most of the high-profile humanitarian interventions in recent history took place in the interregnum between the end of the Cold War and the Global War on Terror. Successful or not, these include Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo and  East Timor, all in the 1990’s – there have been no similar interventions since (the most notable omission being Darfur).  In the absence of the Soviet threat, the vast military resources accumulated by the U.S. and its allies were turned to more noble purposes, alleviating the suffering in the developing world. However, three recent trends have now greatly reduced global appetite for such application of military force. The first is the extensive commitment of Western forces to the on-going operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the simultaneous rise of China and other major powers threatening to challenge American military hegemony. The second is the global financial crisis, with continued high levels of unemployment, public debt and home foreclosures in the West, which dampen the appetite for additional expense. The third is disillusionment with the perceived high cost and lack of success in recent military operations, Iraq and Afghanistan included, which cast doubt on whether such operations are worthwhile. Without tangible incentives to act, and instead faced with so much competition for resources, it is no wonder that R2P has become the stillborn step-child of the interregnum.

Morality vs Responsibility

Proponents of R2P invoke moral arguments to inspire and legitimise intervention, but morality should not be confused with responsibility. The oft cited exhortation is to prevent the recurrence of another Rwanda while the international community sits idly by. The human race is capable of terrible acts of cruelty, but we are also distinguished by our capacity for compassion and morality. It is a wonderful thing that we can look upon the suffering of a stranger, and desire in our hearts to help. But again, this morality does not equate to responsibility, which in turn is intended to convey obligation.
One day walking down the street, you see a little girl about to be hit by a car. Your instinctive thought is for the girl’s safety. If your reflexes are fast enough, you may be able to intervene to save her. There are both costs and benefits to this action – you might enjoy the accolades of a hero, but you could also leave your own daughter an orphan. And you might not succeed either way. On the contrary, there is no cost to inaction, except perhaps a pang of regret. Even if you do nothing but stand rooted to the spot as she is run over, you would not be found negligent and convicted in a court of law. This is because you did not have responsibility for her.
The problem with using a moral argument as the foundation for R2P is that responsibility for strangers must be voluntarily assumed, it cannot be imposed. This is particularly true in the absence of hierarchy. Like in the example above, there are costs in blood and treasure to intervention that are borne unequally across society, especially those in the military. The fact that some people derive moral utility from alleviating the suffering of others does not equate to a collective responsibility and obligation to protect them.

The Referent Subject

In the old Westphalian order, both the subject and object of international politics were states. In the R2P conceptualisation, the referent object moves down to the individual, but the referent subject moves up to the international community. The reliance on the international community was a natural choice during an era that bore the UN and multiple other NGOs, but it has failed to solve the collective action problem. While the UN lends legitimacy to any expedition, it relies on the willingness of individual states to act, because it lacks authority over any executive force. And with the end of the interregnum and the relative decline of U.S. unipolarity, the traditional lead has proven increasingly unwilling to play a role. The UN fails because it has legitimacy but no authority; without an executive arm it is all norms and no action.
Why not make the individual the referent subject as well? After all, the primary I2A depends on personal morality. The same concern for the well-being of others has led countless individuals to act in support of varied causes from fighting poverty and hunger to AIDS and diarrhoea. All of these are also matters of human security, and some are have much higher mortality rates, so why should genocide be securitised when these others are not?
As an individual, I would also like to testify on behalf of my dual identities, both of which are primary stakeholders in such a debate. As a soldier, I am strongly against such military intervention. I joined the military to provide security for my family, friends and country. I would also happily assist with noble causes such as humanitarian aid or disaster relief, but interference in the internal conflicts of other states is fraught with moral and legal dilemmas. The chances of being killed or convicted may be higher than that of helping others, and I may end up with front row seats to genocide with my hands tied by the rules of engagement. As a tax-paying citizen, I would be hesitant to support a military intervention because this compromises my own security, and the use of the military for such a task is unlikely to be cost-effective. Even if I wholeheartedly support intervention, I would not want it done by the military. These are no unique views; the suicide rate among American troops reaches new record highs with each additional year in Afghanistan, and 39% of Americans opposed intervention in Darfur in Jun 2005. While many people may support a military intervention, the government must also take into account the objections of others like me, with inaction as the likely outcome.
Thus, it should be the choice of every individual to assume the responsibility for the protection of others. The incentives for such action appeal more to the individual morality than the impersonal collective action of governments. The individual support of 54% of Americans would have a much more powerful impact than the inaction of America.

An Individual Solution to the Collective Action Problem

The most effective way to protect individuals from gross violations of human rights is to set up an International Protection Force (IPF), under the executive direction of the UN. Individuals who accept the responsibility to protect can support this force with their time and money, either by joining the force and serving in the field or through financial donations. Responsible donors around the world can now add the IPF to the existing menu of aid providers such as The Red Cross, World Vision and many others. In this regard, it is little different from other NGOs, except that volunteers in the IPF will be armed and trained for peacekeeping operations. Whereas high-end capabilities such as regime-busting air power are readily available from the developed nations, it is precisely the types of protracted operations that their militaries are loathe to get bogged down in; so these are the types of operations that the IPF will prepare for, and they would be more disciplined and better trained than the semi-literate soldiers from the developing world that the UN has traditionally been forced to rely on.
This solution allows the individual – any individual – to assume the R2P and receive the I2A. It provides the UN with an executive agency instead of relying on the goodwill of nation states with their own divided constituents. This also shields the agency from accusations of national or neo-colonial agendas by offended sovereign governments. And it allows the creation of an organisation that is specifically trained for the task at hand, minimising the likelihood of disastrous mistakes through the misuse of force.

Conclusion

There is a good philosophical case for the responsibility to protect, but its implementation has faltered because of the inability to provide the necessary incentives to act. While the UN provides legitimacy for humanitarian intervention, it does not have the authority to deploy actual forces, and its member states are paralysed by competing interests and perceived ulterior motives. Since the imperative for R2P is based on moral arguments, and the incentive to fulfil moral obligations is inherently personal, it makes sense to consider not only the referent object as the individual but the referent subject as well. Individuals are responsible for the protection of other individuals.
To translate this into action, an International Protection Force will be created directly under the command of the UN, but supported by the money and energies of any individual around the world. It will have a similar operating model to humanitarian NGOs such as the Red Cross, but with a military component in order to conduct human security operations. By putting all the utilitarian, moral and operational pieces in place this way, the responsibility to protect individuals can effectively be fulfilled.
These excerpts are taken from an essay written as part of the Master of Strategic Studies at the University of New South Wales in 2010. I believe the ideas are worth exploring, but have procrastinated too long and am too lazy to get it published now. So I shall post it here and see who finds it on the internet.

Bibliography

Alex J. Bellamy, “Responsibility to Protect or Trojan Horse? The Crisis in Darfur and Humanitarian Intervention after Iraq”, Ethics and International Affairs, Vol. 19, No. 2, Sept 2005, p. 31-53.
Alex J. Bellamy, “The Responsibility to Protect and the problem of military intervention”, International Affairs, Vol. 84, No. 4, 2008, pp. 615-639.
Alex J. Bellamy, “Whither the Responsibility to Protect? Humanitarian Intervention and the 2005 World Summit”, Ethics & International Affairs, Vol. 20, No.2, Summer 2006, pp. 143-169.
Alex J. Bellamy and Matt MacDonald, “’The Utility of Human Security’: Which Humans? What Security? A Reply to Thomas and Tow”, Security Dialogue, Vol. 33, No. 3, 2002, pp. 373-377.
“Americans on the Darfur Crisis”, WorldPublicOpinion.org, 24 Jan 2005, retrieved 1 Nov 2010, <http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/articles/btjusticehuman_rightsra/110.php>.
Bob Herbert, “The Way We Treat Our Troops”, New York Times, 22 Oct 2010, Retrieved 24 Oct 2010, <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/23/opinion/23herbert.html>.
Christian W.D. Bock and Leland R. Miller, “Darfur: Where is Europe?”, WashingtonPost.com, Thursday, December 9, 2004, Page A33, Retrieved 3 Nov 2010, <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A49825-2004Dec8.html>.
Christoph Bertram, “Interregnum”, Foreign Policy, No. 119, Summer, 2000, pp. 44-46.
Colum Lynch, “African Union Force Low on Money, Supplies and Morale”, The Washington Post, 13 May 2007, Retrieved 5 Nov 2010, <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/12/AR2007051201567.html?hpid=moreheadlines>.
David Rieff, “Humanitarianism in Crisis”, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 81, No. 6, 2002, pp. 111-121.
Desmond Tutu et al, “Open Letter to Member States of the United Nations”, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, 20 July 2009.
Gareth Evans and Mohamed Sahnoun, “The Responsibility to Protect”, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 81, No. 6, 2002, pp. 99-110.
Gary King and Christopher J. L. Murray, “Rethinking Human Security”, Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 116, No. 4, 2002, pp. 585-610.
J. Joseph Hewitt, Jonathan Wilkenfeld, and Ted Robert Gurr, Peace and Conflict 2010: Executive Summary, Centre for International Development and Conflict Management, University of Maryland, 2010.
J. L. Holzgrefe and Robert O. Keohane, Humanitarian Intervention: Ethical, Legal and Political Dilemmas, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003.
Ken Booth, “Security and emancipation”, Review of International Studies, Vol. 17, 1991, pp. 313-326.
Kofi Annan, “A Progress Report on UN Renewal”, Speech to the UN Association – UK, London, 31 January 2006, New World, April-June 2-6.
Lee Feinstein and Anne-Marie Slaughter, “A Duty to Prevent”, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 83, No. 1, 2004, pp. 136-150.
Mohamed Ayoob, “Humanitarian Intervention and State Sovereignty”, The International Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 6, No. 1, 2002, pp. 81-102.
Nicholas Thomas and William T. Tow, “The Utility of Human Security: Sovereignty and Humanitarian Intervention”, Security Dialogue, Vol. 33, No. 2, 2002, pp. 177-192.
R. Thakur and T. G. Weiss, “R2P: rom Idea to Norm – and Action?”, Global Responsibility to Protect 1 (2009) 22-53, 2009, Koninklijke Brille NV, Leiden.
“The Darfur Crisis: African and American Public Opinion”, Program on International Policy Attitudes, June 29 2005, Retrieved 4 Nov 2010, <http://www.globescan.com/news_archives/GS_PIPA_darfur_report.pdf>.
Thomas G. Weiss, “The Responsibility to Protect in a Unipolar Era”, Security Dialogue, Vol. 35, No. 2, June 2004,  pp. 135-153.

Charlie Lynn, “The great betrayal of our diggers in Afghanistan”, The Hon Charlie Lynn MLC, Member of the NSW Legislative Council, 4 Oct 2010, Retrieved 24 Oct 2010, <http://www.charlielynn.com.au/2010/10/the-great-betrayal-of-our-diggers-in-afghanistan/>.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Review of "The New Digital Age" by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen

The New Digital Age by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen (April 2013) is one of the most exciting books I have read in a long time. It provides a glimpse into the future of governments and societies, shaped by the technologies already on cusp of reality.

As one who has spent a significant amount of time recently thinking about how technology and society will necessitate changes in Singapore's government, I think this book is incredibly important. It is important because we cannot fixate on fixing the present, at the expense of planning for the future. This book paints various scenarios of the future, and provides a basis for us to answer the key questions "So what?" and "What can we do about this?"

So this is the context in which I will share my thoughts on this book. Also because till date, there does not seem to be any detailed thoughtful review out there.

About the Authors
The first indication of the credibility and importance of the book is the authors. Eric Schmidt should need no introduction. As the CEO of Google (2001-present), former CEO of Novell (1997-2001) and engineering jobs at renown places like Bell Labs and PARC, he has an engineering and tech pedigree as good as they come. Jared Cohen is the founder and director of Google Ideas, "a think/do tank that explores how technology can enable people to confront threats in the face of conflict, instability or repression." A Rhodes scholar, he served as a member of the Secretary of State's Policy Planning Staff from 2006 to 2010. Most notably, he was credited by Condoleeza Rice for leveraging social media as a tool of diplomatic policy. In 2009, he persuaded Twitter to postpone its routine maintenance so as not to disrupt the election protest underway in Iran. Jared is the main author of the book, and writes from a wealth of diplomatic experience, tempered by a deep appreciation of the potential of technology to change the world.

Summary and Key Ideas
The book is neatly organised by various facets of technology, and how they will shape our lives in the future.
  • Ch1: Our Future Selves - This chapter is a whirlwind tour of new technologies, but it also sets up some of the key messages consistent throughout the book: 1) That in the future, connectivity will be power and 2) Connectivity affords people everywhere the opportunity to innovate and make their world better. They also paint in this chapter a lovely picture of a day in the life of our future selves - with all kinds of intelligent devices anticipating your needs, or using your phone to scan your toe for damage when you stub it.
  • Ch2: The Future of Identity, Citizenship and Reporting - Our online identity and reputation will be more important than our offline identity, and we will take much greater measures to protect it. This results from the abundance of shared data about us, and the permanence of that data. "Parent-teacher associations will advocate for privacy and security classes to be taught alongside sex-education classes in their childrens' schools. Such classes will teach students to optimise their privacy-and-security settings." The balance of power between the state and its people will shift, as the people are empowered to have their voices heard, but repressive regimes would have many more tools to target their enemies, as well as monitor the flow of information. There is also a lengthy discussion on the idealism of whistle-blowing, and why it will be very difficult for anyone to establish another Wikileaks.
  • Ch3: The Future of States - One possible outcome of heightened state control of information is the Balkanisation of the Internet. Already practised by Iran and China, this could result in an Internet fractured and filtered by governments, reversing the current trend for globalised information. Cyber Warfare will become increasingly destructive, as demonstrated by STUXNET. Yet the difficulty in attribution will make it difficult to deter, nor can policy makers draw a clear line for what constitutes an act of war.
  • Ch4: The Future of Revolution -  Revolutions will be easier to start, but harder to finish. Technology makes it easier to set up an online presence, and disseminate information. But ultimately, a real revolution depends on a physical presence, physical courage and physical danger. It is easy for a crowd to mass and topple a government, but not so easy to build a new one. Government attempts to clamp down on connectivity will backfire, and I love this line: I didn't like Mubarak, but this wasn't my fight. But then Mubarak took away my internet and he made it my fight. So I went to Tahrir Square. This chapter also includes an interview with PM Lee Hsien Loong, who provides his take on Singapore's "Currygate" affair.
  • Ch5: The Future of Terrorism - It will be more difficult for terrorists to hide their activities in a connected world. But connectivity will open up new vulnerabilities, and the deadliest terrorist of the future may be armed with keyboards and phones instead of guns and bombs. As today, the internet will be a key tool for recruitment.
  • Ch6: The Future of Conflict, Combat and Intervention - The visibility of conflict will continue to increase, and greater efforts will be spent by each party on "marketing" their side of the story. Connectivity will also amplify grievances, "strengthening dissonant perspectives instead of smoothing over their inaccuracies." A single photo or video shot by a camera phone could become a rallying point, and it will be important to develop a system of digital verification to ensure such crowd-sourced "evidence" is not doctored. Similar to terrorists, rebel movement will also move their attacks online. The trend towards robots and drones in warfare will also give rise to new capabilities and moral dilemmas. Can the decision to kill be delegated to a robot? And even with human control, imagine a standoff between an armed robot and a six-year old child with a spray-paint canister ... the robot can either shoot the child, or be disabled, as the six-year-old spray paint over its high-tech cameras and sensory components, blinding it".
  • Ch7: The Future of Reconstruction - In any reconstruction effort, (re)building the communications network should be the top priority. This applies both to rebuilding infrastructure after as disaster and rebuilding a society after a revolution. This forms the backbone for all other efforts, including setting up a functioning government and civil institutions (e.g. providing some sort of national id system) and allowing ground innovations to meet the challenges in the relief zone. Connectivity and awareness will encourage altruistic behaviour, but less credible startups who use the online tools better (e.g. Kony 2012) may divert aid resources away from established players who could use them better. The authors also propose an interesting "guns for handsets scheme" to encourage ex-militants to disarm, and provide them the tools for a new life.
This review by the Huffington Post gives a listing of some of the individual ideas in greater detail.

Critique and Opinion

What's in a Name

First, I must warn that the subtitle is misleading - Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business. This book is of greatest interest to people trying to understand how technology will affect the intersection of society and the state, there is very little about how it will affect personal lives or business. Fortunately for me, this is of great interest to me, but this may not be the case for every reader.

The Problem With Telling the Future

The book is very speculative, and this may make disappoint people hoping for a definitive view. There are a lot of "could", "might", "perhaps". But then again, what book on the future is not speculative? So, don't expect a definitive view because they are technologists, not prophets. Instead, I actually enjoy the approach that the authors have taken. Looking at the trajectory of various technologies, they paint alternative future scenarios, some better some worse, and where possible they discuss deliberate steps that could be taken to bring the world to the more favourable ones. I think this is a useful and practical approach.

Where You Sit Is Where You Stand

This book is written by two people whose combined experiences give them a wealth of insights into technology, foreign policy and the challenges of the developing world. However, we cannot overlook that they are from Google, and as such there is inevitably a corporate agenda behind this. Some of the key repeated messages about the importance of the mobile phone as the gateway to connectivity for the developing world, and the potential of technology to solve many security challenges are undoubtedly there to underscore the importance of the work that Google Ideas is doing in these areas. Nothing wrong with the work, and it is natural that they would want to sell it. Just highlighting that it is a subjective viewpoint. And of course, we must also remember this is an American perspective.

This also introduces some bias into the work, which damages its objectivity. For example, I found it very strange that the chapter on online identity had absolutely no mention of the efforts that rival Facebook, which has also made it its mission to de-anonymise the internet with verifiable online identities, is making in this field.

So What's New?

In fields with which I am familiar, there was very little new information and few surprises. Since I follow closely the developments in the military, communications, and cyber threats, there was very little new factual information to be gained from this book. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Most importantly, in these areas I am familiar with, I was quite comfortable with the authors' assessments of the present, and hence more willing to accept their conjectures about the future. Also, having gained my trust in the areas I know a lot about, I was more willing to place my faith in what they are telling me about those areas I know little about. In particular the important areas such as online identity and the Balkanisation of the internet.

For People

As individuals, the key takeaway from this book is not how snazzy our lives will be in the future, and all the types of electronic prosthetics we will be wearing. Instead, we should take home the importance of our digital identity, and how to safeguard it. We should be thinking hard whether we want to give our kids names which will make them stand out in an internet search, or one that will help them sink below the noise. And of course, whether you want to buy them their domain name now. This is not a pipe dream, already credit companies are using online profiles to replace the traditional credit score.

We might also want to consider the investments that our governments are making in IT infrastructure. What will make the country more efficient? Which will make us more trackable? Ultimately, we each need to decide how comfortable we are balancing efficiency, security and privacy, and whether we agree with our government policy on this.

We may also want to consider our involvement in global causes, given the degree of direct access we now have to contribute and play a role. Along these lines, I've decided to share an essay I wrote on the Individual Responsibility to Protect (R2P), because the time now seems ripe for such ideas, as individuals become more empowered.

For Nations

People in government have to read this book, especially if you have not been keeping a close eye on technology. You will probably find it deeply disturbing, but it will give a good map of the landscape from which you

For Business

As stated above, nothing for you, sorry. But if you are an investor, this might give you a sense of what technologies have military applications, since militaries have pretty deep pockets (until recently).

For Militaries

The book gives a good overview of the issues surrounding autonomous and cyber warfare. There will be a lot of ambiguity, and some of the dilemmas highlighted (e.g. the morality of remote strikes or what constitutes a cyber act of war) need to be carefully deliberated.


If you read this far ... thank you. I must admit first that this review has been a rushed job. I read the audiobook over the week and was very impressed. So in my few spare hours on the weekend, I decided I would write as comprehensive a review as I can to recommend it to friends. Due to my upcoming exam, I have not given it as much consideration as I would have liked (especially the last part). But I hope it has still been helpful, and I will continue to refine it subsequently.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Stay At Home Dad

I've been a Stay At Home Dad (SAHD) for the last 3 days, while my wife recovers from her LASIK operation. Believe it or not, this is really the first time I've had primary care responsibilities for the kids, because she has always been there for us. It has certainly been an interesting experience, to walk in her shoes.

Of course, she didn't just disappear. First, she pre-cooked all the meals for us (probably deciding that I should not be allowed to feed the kids instant noodles). Then she left me a few pointers on what to do for the kids every morning.

Exhibit: Daily Routine
Day 1: Thursday
The boy, E (age 3+) woke up at 6:45 to pee. He then announced that he was hungry. Well, no point putting him back to bed. I was slightly disappointed at having my work interrupted, but at least I don't have to rush his breakfast. Mummy said he eats yogurt from breakfast, but when he saw me he wanted Ham Toast. (He thinks the world of my cooking, because he thinks I cook a really gourmet ham toast.) So I set about preparing breakfast and he had a happy, leisurely meal.

Until I started dressing him in his uniform. That's when he realised it wasn't the weekend.

He was upset, but still obediently finished all his food. Meanwhile, I got his sister, changed her and fed her. We were out the door before the stipulated 8:08 am and got to school in plenty of time. I was feeling pretty good about my fathering skills already!

Back home, the girl, K (age 1+) and I gave Mummy a ride to the hospital. I tried to hang up the laundry but it was quite impossible with her constantly wanting my attention. Well, I should treasure my time alone with her right? The laundry can wait. So we did some tumbling on the mat, and I resumed her gym lessons. I just need to tell her "somersault" and she will eagerly bend over with her head between her feet, waiting for me to tip her over. Sometimes I need to clear her path first, so she does roll over a line of cars; but I'm sure in no time she will be tumbling on her own. Then I heated up their lunch, cut some fruit (while distracting her with her favourite "Monkey!" app on my phone), and we were off to pick E up from school.

The kids' favourite educational app

I only left 5 mins late, but the line of cars was long. I then parked a little too far and we took a long walk. By the time I got to school, E was the last person in his class, and looked miserable. I felt bad. The teacher informed me that he was running a temperature, which I confirmed the moment I touched him. After a tiring walk back to the car, I was supposed to ask him about his day but he just closed his eyes and announced that he was tired.

Back home, he went straight to the couch to lie down. Wash hands? No. Watch Chuck? No. What? He doesn't want to watch his favourite cartoon? I was starting to get very worried. With K on my hip, I went hunting for the ear thermometer, only to find that the battery was flat. I started ransacking the house for an oral thermometer, but eventually gave up. We were late for lunch. E E was whining and K was crying. My blood pressure was going up.
We went into a store to buy Ah Boys to Men II but E picked out a DVD too...

Put them in their chairs and set food before them. K started eating her steamed fish and rice, but E simply refused. I needed to get some food into him before medicine (Paracetamol, as well as 3 other medications for his mycoplasma and chest infection), so finally I gave him a rice cracker. Then a couple more. Soon K wanted a rice cracker too and started refusing her food. After some cajoling, I gave up. They both happily munched rice crackers while I went hunting round the house for fever medicine and a thermometer. I found the former, but not the latter.

I wished I hadn't because when I made E eat the medicine (which he hated), he threw up his lunch. Keep calm. Clean him up. Give him what was left of his meds. (Should I give him those he threw up again? Nevermind!) Put K down for a nap. Force E to drink his milk. Put him down for nap. Thankfully, because he was sick, he slept almost immediately. Then I proceeded to start cleaning up the mess, and soak all the various fabrics that were covered in vomit.

We decided to forego E's swimming lesson in the afternoon, since he was still running a temperature. Instead, the kids just played together at home. It was quite hilarious really, watching E running around like a mad animal pushing his sister's doll-sized stroller. Meanwhile, K would go clomping after him, while wearing Mummy's kitchen slippers. Then they both ganged up to tackle me and climb all over me. This was certainly the highlight of the day. And while they occupied themselves, I could also tidy up the home a little.

And of course, when I went to answer the call of nature, they both trooped along. So I got a first-hand taste of the live audience experience.
I think I'm definitely in on the Mums' joke

Watching the two kids play happily together, despite E still being sick, I was once again reminded how fortunate we are to have two lovely babies. They are for the most part really good, and they love each other, and what more could we ask for? Then we all sat on the sofa and watched Chuck together, while I sponged E with a cold towel. Partway through the cartoon, Mummy came home from her operation and went straight to bed to rest. K was rather upset, she really missed her Mummy. But after hovering around the bedroom door for a while, she came back to watch Chuck.

Dinner was better. Maybe the two were ravenous, but they both ate everything without any fuss. Once again, Mummy had prepared what she could - the chicken soup and rice were all ready for me to dish out from the thermal cooker. I can't imagine if I had to do the cooking and housework in addition to taking care of the kids.

Bathed the kids, gave E medicine and put them to bed. This was fairly routine for us, since I do it most nights anyway. Mummy joined us towards the end to tuck the kids in. They were very happy to see her, but I like to think they were quite content after a day with Daddy too.

Leaving everyone on bed, I then headed out to join a gathering of my cell group men. As the conversation flitted from the challenges of litigation in banking to which biofuel regulatory bodies in Indonesia were the most reputable (and which hotel was most likely to collapse), I couldn't help but feel that after just one day at home, I was from another world. But then it came back to our families, our sick kids (when to use Paracetamol and when to use Ibuprofen, see below), and the challenges each of us was facing in marriage and I know why I am so blessed to have this group of brothers to confide in.

The stuff men share ... fever regimes

Then at last, it was back home, to catch up on office work while the family slept.

Day 2: Friday
The novelty was starting to wear off.

Although E woke up at 5am asking for water, he slept all the way till 7:40. In the meantime, did laundry - including all the pukey clothes. I can't feed the kids nearly as fast as Mummy does, so we were slightly late for school. Back home, Mummy was feeling a bit better, so we just hung around and watched K play by herself. With both parents in the room, she was very happy and secure, and just did her own cute thing. Then I made sure to leave early to pick E up. When he threw up at lunch, this time I was ready. Then off to nap.

It's difficult being in the same house as Mummy without disturbing her rest, so in the afternoon I took the kids out to the playground. It's been more than a year since we went to the playground at Delta Sports Complex, and it has become Tickle Tickle. Unlike some other playgrounds which are more catered to older kids, I think this place is really ideal for kids from about toddler to 6 years. So the two of them really had a blast.

An afternoon at Tickle Tickle

At the end of Day 2, we laughed over the two day's events, and having to juggle the crazy antics and sudden demands of the two kids. Mummy asked me how I found her lifestyle. I thought for a moment and told her that while there was nothing very unexpected about it, because I did have a good feel for what she went through from our WhatsApp conversations throughout the day, it was quite another matter to be actually experiencing it. In particular, I hate the rigid routine because I'm much more a spontaneous type of person; this is almost like being in the Army; no wait, this is worse than being in the Army!

I can do this for a day or two, but I certainly wouldn't want this kind of life! So I definitely have a renewed respect for my Wife, and all the other SAHM's out there. Happy Mothers' Day!

Day 3: Saturday
By the third day, K has other plans for me. She sticks to me all the time, even though Mummy isn't resting behind closed door anymore. Even at the extended family's Mothers' Day Dinner, she wanted to sit on me :)

Sorry K, I'm going back to work on Monday!!!

And for anyone curious about how my amazing wife runs her household, you can read her own blog here.