Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Buzz your rep on the bus issue

Brave New World (The Star)
15 December 2011

There is a need to understand what the philosophies of the competing political parties are, to know their thoughts on the problems of the day.


UNLIKE most of my contemporaries who signed up for driving lessons as soon as they turned 17, I was a late bloomer. I did not learn to drive till I was way into my 20s and then I did not actually drive until a few months after getting my licence because the Mini Minor I bought blew her gasket when my mate was driving it from the dealer to my house.
So for years, getting to and from work meant taking a bus. From the depths of Keramat, I would take a blue Sri Jaya bus to Chow Kit and from there I would take either a yellow No. 12 minibus or a pink No. 30 minibus (Actually its number 39. The Star made a mistake. Just in case there are any mini bus fanatics reading this!) to get to my final destination (both the Sri Jaya bus and the minibuses are now history of course). The whole trip would normally take me an hour and a half.
It was pretty tiring just getting to work. The buses were usually full to the brim. If I was fortunate enough to actually get a seat, inevitably there would either be an old pakcik standing next to me tremulously holding on for dear life or, more commonly, a heavily pregnant woman looking at my seat with undisguised longing, her bulging belly gently bumping my head.
Needless to say, I would end up standing for the entire journey hanging on to a metal bar as I perched precariously on the outside step of the bus, my Billy Ray Cyrus mullet blowing in the wind.
Once, I got to my final stop in such an exhausted state that I knew I would die if I tried to cross the busy street to my office. Being the wise young man I was, I just curled up on the bus stand bench and slept, lulled by the gentle sounds of the mon­­-soon drain gurgling and the kapchais spluttering.
The reason I am reminded of these adventures during my early days in Kuala Lumpur is the news that some bus com­panies are actually stopping entire routes because they are losing so much money from them.
Apparently, the prices of tickets have not gone up to balance the tremendous rise in fuel and maintenance costs.
This is indeed a serious problem because it will affect tens of thousands of people, especially those who live on the outskirts of town and those who live in rural areas.
And it is merely one of many serious problems that the Government, whoever they may be, will have to try to solve.
I don’t have any answers but I would like to know what our leaders and leaders-in-waiting have to say about such things.
Sure, it is fun to read about the shenanigans of our politicians.
Of course, no one expects candidates to be up to date on every single issue. That would be impossible to achieve, but to a large extent knowing what they will do or are likely to do is a question of philosophy.
There is a need to understand what the philosophies of the competing parties are. Are they laissez-faire capitalists or are they socialist? Or perhaps they are somewhere in between?
With this knowledge, we can figure out pretty much the kind of approach and direction they will take in governance.
Of course it would be useful if they had transparency as well. If a government official tells me “we don’t have money to subsidise bus routes”, then I jolly well want to know how much money we do have and just what have you been spending it on.
Alas, I know that this is a rather forlorn hope as Malaysian politics can be quite infantile and as we approach the next general election, it will probably be the usual mudslinging and histrionics.
But we can make a little change. The next time we see our candidate, let’s ask them some questions about things that affect our lives.
It will force them to think of the issues, or at the very least it will show us if they can think at all.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Understanding our rights

Brave New World (The Star)
3 December 2011

Rights are not something to be played with. It is not a political tool to be bandied about. It is fundamental and inherent. It exists in us simply because we are civilised men and women.


RIGHTS are the weapons of the powerless. And just who are the powerless? Well, in my view, it is most of us.
Ordinary folks who either do not hold the reins of government machinery or have the means to control those who hold the reins.
That is why only those who are powerless or who have been powerless can truly appreciate rights.
We only have to look at history to see that to be true. The Magna Carta was created because the nobility of Britain felt powerless against the King.
The American Declaration of Independence takes the shape that it does because the founding fathers wanted to ensure that they would never again be under the yoke of a distant king.
Our own leaders, during the early days of our existence as a nation also understood this need for rights, having been ruled by an oppressive force more powerful than them.
Of course there are those with short memories who belittle rights when they have power, bemoan the lack of them when they lose power and belittle them again when they have power once more.
But then, there will always be the utterly unprincipled in any community.
The human race has evolved. We have values which prevent the strong simply taking what they want from the weak.
Our laws are in place so that we can be assured a person who is bigger than us can’t simply knock us out and take our wallets.
And just as we have laws to protect us against thieves and thugs, so too do we have principles which prevent the rulers from abusing us.
As a race we have come a long way from “only the strong will survive”. And that is due to the civilising of human kind.
Rights therefore are the current pinnacle of this civilising process. It indicates that we are civilised.
Related to human rights is democracy. When we choose our own leaders, we ensure that we are not led simply by someone who is going to force himself or herself onto us.
Once again, we see a principle which empowers the powerless.
This is why I care so much about human rights and democracy.
This is why I get furious when those who do not understand or choose not to understand, take my rights away.
That is why I work on the premise that we must have as much rights as possible.
Of course I understand there are limitations to everything, including rights, but those limitations must be made with the aspiration that a complete right is the ideal.
It is only with these aspirations in place will we ensure that whatever limitations imposed are the barest minimum and with the smallest effect on our rights.
Rights are not something to be played with. It is not a political tool to be bandied about. It is fundamental, it is inherent. It is not something that can be given for it exists in us simply because we are civilised men and women.
The powerful do not wish to see this.
It is up to us, the powerless, to remind them.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

An Assembly Tale

Malaysia Today
1 December 2011


The scene is a small terrace house, somewhere in Kelana Jaya. Ten year old Mary and her younger brother Timothy approach their father who is sitting in the living room flossing his teeth after a large meal.

“Papa, Timmy and I would like to tell you something”
“Oh, really, both of you want to gather together and say something?”
“Yes, we think it is a very important issue and we would like to express ourselves to the whole family”.
“I see, so you want to assemble peacefully. You are not going to get violent are you?”
“Of course not Papa!”
“Good. Good. Very well, you can’t say I am a wicked and authoritarian father. I am in fact very liberal; much more liberal than other fathers, for example that Mr Hlaing from Myanmar. I am very happy to give you the space to get together with your brother and express yourselves to your little hearts’ content”.
“Oh thank you Papa. You are such a kind and understanding Papa”.
“I know, I am, all my buddies tell me. However, I just have a few teeny tiny conditions”
“What are they Papa”?
“There are some places in the house where you cannot gather. The kitchen is one. It is a very sensitive area where food is being prepared and I don’t want you to get in the way of your mother who is busy cooking there. Also you can’t gather in the dining room because that is where we eat. The living room is off limits due to the fact that the television is there and you would be interrupting the quiet enjoyment of the family by making noise when we are trying to watch TV. The garage is a no go zone. If you go tramping around in there you might jolly well scratch my car and we can’t be having that can we?”
“I suppose not Papa. Is there any where else we can’t gather?”
“Let me think. Of course! You can’t assemble in the toilet”.
“In the toilet? Why not?”
“You know very well that I suffer from incredible bouts of gas and I need the toilet to be free at all times so I can relieve the build up”.
“So, where on earth can we gather”?
“Your bedroom”.
"How can the other family members know what we are complaining about if we are stuck in our bedroom”?
“You silly little thing. If the rest of the family want to hear what you are saying they’ll just have to go to the bedroom isn’t it? Except little Annie. She’s too young and I don’t want her getting confused by what you have to say”
“Are those all your conditions Papa”?
“No, I have one more. If any of the family members complain about what you are saying, then I won’t let you speak”.
“That is not fair. You know that big brother Abe never agrees with us and he is bound to complain. He is your favourite and you always listen to him no matter how stupid his views are”
“Now, now, you are being over emotional. I don’t have any favourites and it is irresponsible for you to say so. See, I let you speak and you say irresponsible things. There are limits to freedom you know”.
“Your limits have no limits papa. This is too much.”
“Alright then, if you are unhappy with my rules you know what you can do.”
“You can go to your room and talk to yourself over there”.

Mary and Timothy trudge unhappily to their bedroom. Suddenly their father calls to them.

“Wait! Wait! Mary, I said you can go to your bedroom. I did not say that you and Timmy can go there together in a procession. When you walk in a group you block up the hallway and that is very bad. There’s a good girl. Now off you go and when you are finished, go make me a cup of tea”.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Keep it simple and indelible

Brave New World (The Star)
17 November 2011

Why must the use of indelible ink need a constitutional amendment? If you have the right to vote under Article 119 and as long as that right is not taken away from you, there should be no problem.


I HAVE always advocated respect for the Constitution and constitutionalism. I had no idea that the Attorney-General was of the same mindset.
In fact, he is so concerned about ensuring the Constitution is adhered to that he seems to have spotted constitutional issues where there appear to be none at all.
You see, according to him, if we were to use indelible ink during our elections, where those who have voted will be smeared with a bit of ink to ensure they don’t vote again, it would require an amendment to Article 119 of the Constitution.
Dutifully, I whipped out my copy of the Constitution and checked out the said article. Good news, it does exist and furthermore it is about the electorate.
Examining Article 119, I see that it is about who is entitled to vote. Basically you can vote if you are a citizen who is past the age of 21, resident in your constituency (or an absent voter), duly registered, not mad and not a convict.
I read it and I read it again, but I can’t for the life of me see how the use of indelible ink is going to need a constitutional amendment.
In essence, Article 119 is about who can vote. If you have the right to vote under Article 119 and as long as that right is not taken away from you, I don’t see what the problem is.
You can smear my index finger with indelible purple or draw an intricate pattern on my face as a sign that I have voted if that’s what you want, but as long as you don’t stop me from actually voting, there’s nothing unconstitutional here.
I tell you what should be amended though; the need to register to be a voter. Why can’t we just be automatically registered once we have reached the age of 21? It’s not difficult to ascertain a Malaysian citizen who is over 21; they are the ones with the blue identity cards which say their birthday is over 21 years ago. See, simple.
I like simple things. For example, I like the simple pleasure of making a cross on a piece of paper next to the candidate of my choice.
I like that if you can count, you can count the votes.
I like that anybody can check if there is hanky panky in the electoral process because checking little pieces of paper does not require any sort of qualification.
I don’t like complex things like e-voting. It sits uncomfortable with me that my vote is converted into electronic form and then disappears into the ether where who knows what’s being done to it.
All I want is to go with my MyKad to a voting centre, get my piece of unmarked voting paper slip and a pencil, make my choice, get my finger or whatever digit they choose smeared with ink, then leave knowing I have done my civic duty. Simple.
Maybe that is why I can’t see what the AG is getting at, I am far too simple.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Court decision a pleasant surprise

Brave New World (The Star)
3 November 2011

Higher education is not merely about going to the lecture theatre and mugging for your exams. It is about expanding your horizons, taking responsibility for your actions and acting on your convictions.

THE Court of Appeal’s decision on the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Four case, which declared in a majority 2-1 decision that Section 15 of the University and University Colleges Act (UUCA) is unconstitutional, was a very pleasant surprise indeed.
The four students from UKM were initially charged by their university for “expressing support for a political party”. This is an offence under Section 15 of the UUCA.
They were accused of this primarily for being present during a by-election campaign in Selangor.
The question before the court was whether Section 15 impinged on the students’ constitutional right of expression.
One of the reasons that the dissenting judge used in his decision to not question the validity of the UUCA was that his lordship was of the opinion that it was not up to the court to question the harshness of the UUCA.
I respectfully disagree, for what is being questioned is not the harshness of the law, but the constitutionality of the law.
The thing about our Constitution is that all the protections they give us usually have a proviso.
The proviso generally being that Parliament can make laws which limit our rights if it is in the inte­rest of public morality, order and national security.
For years and years, our courts have often times simply accepted repressive laws made by Parliament without actually questioning whether these laws are constitutional or not because the Government said that it was necessary for national security or public order or morality.
In effect, there was a tendency to allow the party with a majority in Parliament to do what it wanted.
This is derogating responsibility. It is not enough to simply accept the word of the Government when it says “this law is for national security”.
There should be an examination of it to see whether it really is for national security.
Without that examination, any old law can be made.
There will be no limitation on the lawmakers and what we will end up with is a system of governance where there is no real protection of our rights.
That is why it was so exciting to see the two judges in the UKM Four case clearly stating that any law made has to be scrutinised to ensure that its constitutionality is based not merely on the form of the law but also its substance.
In this particular case, they held that preventing students from expressing support for a political party is in no way a threat to national security, public order or morality.
The decision is made not only by taking a legalistic approach but is also one based on common sen-se.
After all, a person above the age of majority is free to enter into contracts, get married, be the head of a corporation, vote, be Prime Minister, etc, and yet by virtue of being a student they can’t express support for a political party. This does not make any sense.
Furthermore, how can supporting a perfectly legal organisation be considered dangerous?
The stand of the Government as well as the dissenting judge is that the UUCA is there to prevent students from getting involved in politics and thus being distracted from their studies.
This too does not make sense. Having been a student myself and having taught them for 21 years, let me assure you that young people can get distracted from their studies by a million and one things and chances are unless you are some serious political nerd, politics is not going to be on that list.
We might as well ban students from playing online games if we are so concerned about their focus on studying.
Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin was also reported as saying that if it is considered that a student’s constitutional right of association is more important than his studies, then we can do away with UUCA.
Again, I have to disagree. This argument is far too simplistic.
When we restrict a person’s fundamental freedom, whatever that freedom might be, we are stifling their ability to develop.
Higher education is not merely about going to the lecture theatre and mugging for your exams.
It is about expanding your horizons, taking responsibility for your actions and acting on your convictions.
You can’t do this if you are kept chained by repressive laws.
But it is still too early to rejoice this victory for fundamental liberties in general and academic freedom in particular.
The case might still go to the Federal Court and who knows what their decision will be.
Neither is this case reason to say our judiciary is independent.
What this case does show is that there are individual judges in our courts who understand and appreciate constitutionalism, there are lawyers willing to argue for this principle and there are young men and women in our student body brave enough to stand up for their rights.
There’s still much to be done, but for the moment this is reason enough to cheer.

Don’t send Myanmars back

Brave New World (The Star)
20 October 2011

Among Myanmars detained in Malaysia for immigration related offences are economic migrants as well as political refugees who left their country for fear of persecution and oppression.


FOUR years ago, scores of Myanmar citizens were killed by their government for taking part in non-violent protests which started out as a reaction to a cut in fuel subsidies.
The involvement of a large number of monks, many of whom were also beaten or killed, led this episode in Myanmar’s history to be known as the Saffron Revolution.
During the Saffron Revolution, according to the then Myanmar junta, 1,000 arrests were made (non-governmental sources put the number at many times that), but there were also many who were arrested before 2007 and many more who were arrested after.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) Burma estimates that there are currently as many as 2,000 political prisoners in Myanmar.
The AAPP also states that torture is commonplace among these political prisoners.
The people of Myanmar are among the poorest in the world, but their unhappiness is not limited to economic deprivation.
Considering the situation in Myanmar, where any sort of opposition to the authorities – be it in the form of peaceful protests, academic writing, public speaking or even artistic expression – is deemed as dissent and a political threat, it would come as no surprise that people would leave the country out of fear of persecution and oppression.
It is quite clear that human rights violations occur on a large scale in the country. Thus, people leave for reasons not limited to economics.
In this light, it is shocking to read that the Government has agreed in principle to deport Myanmar nationals who are currently detained in Malaysia for immigration-related offences.
It is possible, if not probable, that among those detained are political refugees and not economic mi­­grants.
After all, if you are trying to escape a country due to your political views or ethnic background, necessities such as visas may not be on your to-do list.
The spin on the part of the Government is that Malaysians detained in Myanmar would be returned here, so it’s not simply a deportation exercise but a “swap”.
I would like to know how many Malaysians are actually detained in Myanmar.
I mean what would possess a Malaysian to enter Myanmar illegally? To get a high-paying job because Myanmar is so much more deve­­loped than Malaysia?
Or perhaps it’s a bunch of folk who went to Chiang Mai (Thailand) but overshot a little bit and went too far west?
It would be inhumane to have a blanket arrangement with Myanmar to return those detained here.
We cannot be sure what fate awaits them.
The act of sending people back to a country, which we know as such a harsh and intolerant regime, is simply unethical behaviour.

Right to question hudud law

Brave New World (The Star)
6 October 2011

My problem with religion-based law making, is the idea that it cannot be questioned because it is divine in origin. In a democracy, if we can’t question the laws that affect our lives, then it is not a democracy at all.


POOR Fulham. Despite thoroughly thrashing Tony Fernandes’ Queens Park Rangers 6-0, all the sports headlines were about the other London derby where Tottenham Hotspur edged Arsenal 2-1. I suppose it is all about perception; just what is important and what is not.
As much as I would like to think that the game at White Hart Lane is an indication that the power in North London has shifted to Seven Sisters road, I am ever cautious and am reminded of the saying that a swallow does not a summer make.
Although I suppose in the case of the Spurs-Arsenal rivalry, considering that we have beaten them three times in the last four league clashes, it just may be there is more than one swallow fluttering about.
However, I digress. My earlier point remains and that is the perception of what is important and what is not.
At the moment, there are all sorts of news stories floating about and they point towards one thing, elections.
PAS has once again raised the hudud issue. Frankly, I am not too worried about this matter.
Pakatan Rakyat has stated that they will not go on with hudud unless all the component parties agree.
This seems highly unlikely as DAP will never agree and I am sure there are some voices in Keadilan too who will not be comfortable with hudud.
However, if they do try to introduce it, I will most certainly object.
The reason why I object is encapsulated in Hadi’s (PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang) statement in the press on the matter (if it was accurately reported) where he said that hudud cannot be questioned.
Whoa there, “cannot be questioned”? I am sorry, if you have personal beliefs that affect only you and you won’t question them, that’s all fine and dandy.
But if you are going to introduce something into the public sphere, something that will affect the lives of the citizens, I don’t care if the source of what you are introducing is divine, it jolly well better be questioned.
And I don’t care if you say I have no degree from Al-Azhar and no goatee to go along with it, I will question any law that any government wants to introduce.
This has been my problem with any religion-based law making, the idea that simply because it is divine in origin means it can’t be questioned. In a democracy, if we can’t question the laws that affect our lives, then it is not a democracy at all.
And then there is poor Mat Sabu; charged with criminal defamation for questioning the heroism of the policemen who fought at Bukit Kepong.
I checked the Penal Code and sure enough, criminal defamation can be committed against the dead.
It’s a bit weird because how far back does this provision extend? I mean in historical matters there will always be different perspectives and differing opinions based on new findings and discoveries.
In case the Government decides to charge me with criminal defamation for questioning the character of one of our early leaders, let me use an American example.
Thomas Jefferson; renaissance man who helped draft the American Constitution and ensured a modern democracy where all men were created equal, or a shameless hypocrite slave owner who fathered numerous children with his female slaves?
Both views are correct and depending on your own take on history the view that will take precedence will differ.
And surely that was what Mat Sabu’s statement was; his take on history.
Was it insensitive, probably, should he be prosecuted for it, I don’t think so.
However, all these issues are really not that important to me. I think they are just the usual sound and fury that come with politicians posturing in the light that elections are coming.
The real important story for now should be the Budget and more importantly the alternative budget that the Pakatan has unveiled.
It is really good to see Pakatan acting like they have a Shadow Cabinet (although they don’t have one really).
We need to see concrete counter proposals from the opposition to not only help us question the Government’s Budget but also to assess the alternatives which a different government could give. This is vital in a mature democracy.
I certainly hope that discussions in the next couple of weeks will be about comparing the two budgets for surely that is more important than a hudud law which is unlikely to be implemented and Mat Sabu’s supposed lack of patriotism.

> Post Script: I don’t think the Fulham game was that important, who cares what happened at Craven Cottage. We beat Arsenal, again!

Testing the limits of reform

Brave New World (The Star)
22 September 2011

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak indeed has the country buzzing with his promises of sweeping reforms, but any change to these laws will take at least a year – and that’s practically an infinity in politics.

THERE’S been so much excited quivering during the past week over the Prime Minister’s Malaysia Day speech that I sometimes feel like I’m living in a bowl of jelly. This is not the first time a PM has made the Malaysian public as giddy as schoolgirls at a Justin Bieber concert.
I am old enough to remember former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s “Clean, Efficient, Trustworthy” promise upon taking power and how people thought that this was the beginning of a new type of government. One that was not “dirty, incompetent and dishonest”. Of course, after the numerous financial scandals involving billions, that hope went out the window.
Tun Abdullah Badawi’s “work with me not for me” statement also captured the public’s imagination and his promise for greater civil liberties had hardcore opposition supporters voting BN for the first time. It didn’t take too long before tear gas and chemical water cannons washed away the euphoria which greeted the new PM.
Now it is Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s turn, and indeed he has got the country buzzing with his promises of sweeping reforms.
The Internal Security Act (ISA) is to be abolished, and the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) amended along with a slew of other changes.
I do not believe that I am being overly cynical when I say “this is all well and good but I’ll believe it when I see it”.
My concern is two-fold. First, unless and until we actually see the shape that the amended PPPA takes, and until we can closely scrutinise the two new laws which are supposed to be the replacement for the ISA, I think it is premature to think that we are finally rid of these draconian laws.
From my understanding, under the proposed amended PPPA, a newspaper can still have its licence taken away by the Govern­ment. Is this process going to be easy for the Government and without any recourse to the courts for the paper? If so, then there’s not much change, is there?
The same goes with the two new security laws that are supposed to replace the ISA. If there is still broad discretion to detain without trial then all we have is old wine in a new bottle. I am unconvinced, for example, that the new laws will only be used for terrorism cases.
If the new law is only for terrorists, who is going to define who is a terrorist and who is not? And without a trial, a detention order can still be easily abused – all one needs to do is accuse a person of being a terror threat.
My second concern has to do with the sustainability of the idea within Umno. Let’s not forget, the system of government we have in Malaysia follows the Westminster model, that is to say we don’t vote for our PM directly.
The PM is fundamentally the choice of the party with the majority in Parliament, as opposed to the presidential system where the leader of the nation is chosen directly by the people.
If this idea to abolish the ISA and to make these sweeping systemic changes is primarily from the Prime Minister, how can we be sure that his party will follow through with it if he is no longer PM?
Any change to these laws will take at least a year. A week is a long time in politics, a year is practically an infinity – and anything can happen in such a period.
Putting my concerns aside, I hope that something positive will come from these promises and that these laws will be changed, and the changes will be substantial and meaningful. If it does happen, let us not forget that they happened because the people wanted it to happen.
No matter what the ruling party claims, if it wasn’t for the shock that they had in March 2008, if it wasn’t for the constant call for the repeal of these laws from the public and civil society, we wouldn’t all be quivering as we are now.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Vengeance has no part in justice

Brave New World (The Star)
25 August 2011

It is easy to talk of proper procedure and fair trial when emotions are not brought into the picture. But in extreme cases, it is much harder to rationally hold on to such principles.


I REMEMBER watching a BBC interview with Muammar Gad­dafi many years ago.
It was the weirdest thing. In the middle of the interview, he broke wind with such vigour and volume that it was captured by the microphone.
Whether this was a case of uncontrollable gas or whether it was his way of showing contempt for the BBC, I have no idea.
How times have changed.
At the time of writing, the whereabouts of Gaddafi is unknown.
It does look like it is the end of the line for him and his regime.
I know that there are many Libyans who are of the strong opinion that he is guilty of many crimes against his own people.
From watching the interviews on TV, there is an overwhelming sense that there is a thirst for justice.
This is very understandable. Just as it is understandable that the people of Norway, for example, are desperate to see justice done against that lone right-wing gunman who mowed down and blew up so many innocent lives.
The tricky part here is separating justice from vengeance.
And this is where it gets hard.
It is easy to talk of proper procedure and fair trial when emotions are not brought into the picture.
But in extreme cases, be it a dictator who ruled with an iron fist for decades, or an evil individual with automatic weapons killing innocent young people, it is much harder to rationally hold on to such principles.
When something bad has been done to us, the urge to do all in our power to wreak retribution on those who have wronged us can become overwhelming.
It is imperative to try to remember the principles of justice and fairness that all civilised peoples adhere to during such times.
It would be a shame if the people of Libya, on the dawn of a new era, begin their fresh start with vengeance replacing justice.
It would be a blemish on the years of peaceful adherence to the rule of law in Norway, if they do not treat such a monster with the same kind of procedural and evidentiary fairness as they treat every one else.
It is easy to talk of justice.
But the true test arises only when we have to make sure that even the despised receive it without vengeance clouding our judgment.
If we can do that, only then can we claim to be living up to the civilised behaviour we aspire to.

Friday, 12 August 2011

’Tis the season for delusions

Brave New World (The Star)
11 August 2011

There’s a whole bunch of us here in this happy place of delusion and madness, but while my insanity is fairly benign, my fellow inhabitants’ are not so harmless.


I LIKE to think of myself as a reasonable person. A person who would think logically most of the time and make decisions based on said logic.
But, around this time of the year, something happens to me and my usual level-headed self is replaced by a blithering idiot who mouths off such inane stupidities that people around me back away with fear in their eyes.
No, this state of being is not the result of low sugar levels brought about by fasting; I become like this because the English Premier League starts this weekend. And this year, like every year for as long as I can remember, the beginning of the season fills me with hope so high that I make Don Quixote look like the patron saint of sceptics.
I was chatting to a friend recently – well, I was babbling, really – about the new season and how excited I was. He dismissed me by saying there can be no thrill in a league where only two teams keep winning.
I agreed, but – and here my madness becomes apparent – “this year will be different,” I declared. “This year, Spurs will be champions.”
Every year, for a space of about two weeks I become like this. Then the season starts and I am flung out of Cloud Cuckoo Land to crash with a resounding thump in a reality where Manchester Bleeding United wins the damned thing again.
This year, however, I am not alone in Cloud Cuckoo Land. There’s a whole bunch of us here in this happy place of delusion and madness. The difference, however, is that while my insanity is fairly benign, my fellow inhabitants’ are not so harmless.
You see, I have delusions that Spurs are actually league winners, but these other chaps around me are under the impression that there is a massive Christian plot to grab unsuspecting Muslims and turn them to the way of Christ.
They go around with a red mist in their eyes and they see Christian conspiracies everywhere.
A fundraiser for HIV patients? No, no, it is a function where Christians are corrupting and converting Muslims. Lack of evidence that such proselytising is occurring puts no damper on their fervour. Who needs facts when you have conviction?
My friends in Cloud Cuckoo Land froth in the mouth as they make police reports against the wicked Christians, their bile dripping on the floors of police stations country wide. And they howl for new laws to make it a crime to proselytise.
Not once do they show any shred of proof to back their claims. Not once do they look inward and ask the question: if Muslims are leaving the religion, what is it that we are doing wrong?
Oh no, proof is for wimps, and introspection for those who don’t have a convenient scapegoat at hand.
As I sit here in Cloud Cuckoo Land, looking at their infantile antics and listening to their obtuse rants, I am grateful that the season is starting so soon and a happy distraction will be available every week.
On Saturday, I will watch with bated breath and hope that we beat Everton in our first game. And if we do, perhaps we can go on and win the title for the first time in half a century.
Yes, I admit, I am being delusional and not a little stupid, but at least my delusion and stupidity hurts no one.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Haunted by the Fanged King

Brave New World (The Star)
28 July 2011

There is a sense of social justice to be found in our myths. But in the real world there will not be magical heroes. There will only be the constant vigilance and small acts of courage of ordinary folk.


WHEN I was a little boy, there was one particular traditional story that freaked me out. This was the tale of Raja Bersiong (the Fanged King).
If I am not mistaken, it is set in Kedah. Anyway, for those of you not familiar with this Malay legend, let me tell you the tale.
Long ago there was a very cruel Raja.
He treated his subjects viciously and was feared and hated.
It is said that he had fangs instead of teeth.
One day, his cook was preparing his lunch when she cut her fingers and bled into his vegetables. Because she was pressed for time, she just went on cooking the meal, rather than face the wrath of the Raja for being late.
When the food was served, the Raja exclaimed that this was the best spinach he had ever eaten.
He called the cook and asked her what she did differently.
Out of fear, she admitted that the only difference to the dish was the addition of blood.
The Raja then ordered that blood be put into all his meals.
Eventually, his appetite for blood grew and grew, and soon people were being slaughtered just to sate his appetite.
The cruel reign of the Raja degenerated into one of abject terror.
Naturally, a hero appeared and he fought the Raja.
The hero had magical powers and he used it to turn himself into a tiger which then devoured the evil ruler.
The story ends, therefore, with a touch of irony; the fanged king met his doom at a pair of fangs.
I tell you, this story scared the heck out of me.
When I was seven I cut my lip and I bled into my mouth.
Inadvertently, I swallowed some of the blood.
I lived in terror that I was going to become Raja Bersiong.
Sure enough, a day or so later, I felt a pain in my neck.
Oh no, I thought, this is it.
My fangs are starting to grow.
It turned out that I had mumps.
Anyway, the point of these ramblings is that unlike some assertions that our culture demands subservience and sheep-like behaviour, our legends say otherwise.
There is a sense of social justice to be found in our myths, which means it is within our collective psyche to stand up against injustice and cruelty.
The legend of Raja Bersiong is about how the abuse of power will eventually lead to one’s downfall.
Of course, in the real world, there are no fairy tale demonic kings.
The forces of oppression take different, more understated forms.
It happens through the usurping of control in public institutions meant to serve the greater good. And just as there are no demonic villains, neither are there magical heroes.
A single hero can’t battle such subtle widespread tools of oppression.
In the real world, it is up to the people to take that responsibility.
In the real world, there will not be a battle royale between a brave tiger and an evil Raja to make the world a better place, there will only be the constant vigilance and small acts of courage of ordinary folk.
Without it, we will forever be haunted by our own Rajas Bersiong.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Protecting the royal institution

Brave New World (The Star)
14 July 2011

The monarchy is held in very high regard among many Malaysians. If we are to ensure that this high regard continues, then the royals must play their role as determined by the Constitution.


NOW that the Bersih march is over, I would like to raise an issue that appears to have been overlooked. Just before the march was due to happen, the King intervened and said he would prefer it if a street demonstration did not occur. At the same time, he acknowledged the peoples’ right to express their legitimate expectations.
It all looks and sounds very reasonable and laudable. Indeed, I reckon most people would say that it is. However, I would like to raise a small warning flag if I may.
Our country is a constitutional monarchy. This means that the powers of the King is determined by the Constitution. His Majesty’s powers are limited. His only true power is to select the Prime Minister and to decide whether to dissolve Parliament or not.
In the past, the King was much more powerful but his immunity from prosecution and power to veto legislation was taken away by a constitutional amendment under the Barisan Nasional government led by Datuk Seri (now Tun) Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
There is, however, one power that the Constitution never provided for, and that is for the King to be involved in politics and governance.
His Majesty is meant to be above the petty politics of the day. In this way, he is above partisanship and also beyond reproach. Thus this seperation of royalty from politics is, in my view, a manner of protecting the institution.
What the King did when he made his statement about the Bersih march arguably borders on involvement in governance. It is of course his Majesty’s right to say what he wishes, but there is always a risk that his statement may have serious implications on public life.
As it is, both sides in the Bersih debate have claimed that the King supports them.
The Government said Bersih defied the King by taking to the streets. Bersih said they were merely following his Majesty’s request by wanting to have the rally in Merdeka Stadium, and it was the closing of the stadium that forced them onto the street.
Already, we can see here how all parties have dragged his Majesty into the fray. If the dignity of the monarchy is of concern, then this should not occur at all.
However, I am also worried that the royal statement may start a precedent where the King gets involved in public matters.
The danger here is that there is no constitutional provision empowering him to do so. And if he does so, he is beyond reproach due to laws such as the Sedition Act. That means that if the King gets involved, the people can’t criticise his involvement or his statement.
In a democracy, it is surely wrong that a hereditary — not an elected — leader can have such influence. This is not only because we the people can’t criticise him but we also have no avenue to show our displeasure via the ballot box.
Many people often point to Thailand where the king has a lot of influence in public life and is still largely beloved. All this is well and good as long as the Thai king is as respected and popular as the one they have now.
What if he is replaced by someone who is not held in such high regard? Such a situation, where a monarch who gets involved in public life and yet has all sorts of laws preventing the citizenry from publically opposing him, would lead to a system of governance that would be an uncomfortable mix between a constitutional monarchy and an absolute monarchy.
As I write this, I am aware that there are many out there who will be jumping up and down claiming I am being derhaka. This is another danger of the King making public pronouncements about issues on governance.
Even if the government of the day does not take action against those who criticise His Majesty, there will be plenty of little royalists who would love to take matters into their own hands, regardless of the resonableness of the complaint or the unreasonableness of the royal statements.
I come from Penang, which means I do not have an instinctive attachment to royalty, having never had a “sultan of my own”. Yet I realise that the monarchy is held in very high regard among many Malaysians.
If we are to ensure that this high regard continues, then the royals must play their role as determined by the Constitution. Only in this way can we make sure they remain untouched by the dirt of politics and the tenuous democracy we have is not watered down further by putting royal involvement in the mix.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Impartial referees matter

Brave New World (The Star)
30 June 2011

Without faith in the impartiality of referees, the beauty of football just goes out the window as doubts over his fairness will mar the proceedings, no matter who wins or loses. The same goes for the EC referees when it comes to elections.


WHENEVER Tottenham Hotspur play Manchester United, we Malaysian Spurs fans, we few, we happy few, will check out who the referee is. There are a couple of them (who shall remain nameless) whose names we dread every time this particular fixture comes about.
It’s not that any of us have any proof that these men are corrupt and biased in favour of the ruling team, it’s just that this is our perception.
And who can blame us, when a ball that falls a metre into the goal and should have won us the match is deemed as not having crossed the line by the man in black.
Now, before you Manchester United fans out there write angry e-mail about how I’m just another whining Spud (which I suppose I am), let me say that there is a point to all this.
Referees matter. They are important and they must be seen to be impartial.
Without this faith in their impartiality, the beauty of the game just goes out the window as no matter who wins or loses, the doubts over the fairness of the match will mar the proceedings.
Now, if referees are important for something like football, imagine how vital it is to have free and impartial referees for something which will have an effect on our very lives (and not just our Saturday night thrills).
I am speaking of course about elections and the Election Commission (EC).
Do I feel that our electoral system needs an overhaul?
Absolutely, and I believe it has to be much more than just the introduction of indelible ink and other such measures to prevent fraud.
Primarily I think that the EC has to be given the same status as it used to have before the 1962 Constitutional Amendments.
Bear with me as we delve into a bit of history.
Before the 1962 amendments, the EC had tremendous power and, more importantly, it had a great deal of independence.
Between 1957 and 1962, it was the EC that determined the delineations of the constituencies. And because commissioners had security of tenure (it was really hard to get rid of them as once appointed their tenure was akin to that of judges), their decision could be made independent of any sort of pressure from the government of the day.
However, in 1962, all that changed. The security of tenure was stripped away so that the commissioners worked at the pleasure of the Executive. Furthermore, the delineation of parliamentary constituencies was now placed into the hands of Parliament.
The implications are obvious. Whoever controls Parliament could then determine the delineation of the constituencies that best suits them.
And because you have control of Parliament that means you also determine the Executive. Thus, you will have power over the EC, too.
In the words of H.E. Groves at the time of the amendment:
“The vital power of determining the size of constituencies as well as their boundaries is now taken from a commission, which the Constitution makers had apparently wished, by tenure and status, to make independent and disinterested, and has been made completely political by giving this power to a transient majority of Parliament, whose temptation to gerrymander districts and manipulate the varying numerical possibilities between ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ constituencies for political advantage is manifest.”
I do not care who has the majority in Parliament, be it Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat or any other party that may pop up.
The current situation is simply not a good state of affairs because it can be abused by whoever has power.
So to those who think that the election system is hunky dory, I beg to differ.
And please don’t tell me that I can’t differ, because we are supposed to be a democracy and we have the right to express ourselves.

Wham, Bam that’s my Man!

Brave New World (The Star)
16 June 2011

There are many “soft men” out there who do not understand what it means to be male and as a result the girls start to get ideas above their station.


WELCOME gentlemen, welcome. Please take a seat. Anywhere will do. The serving wenches will be coming in a moment to serve your tea. Feel free to ogle at their bosoms and buttocks. That’s what they are there for.
We are gathered here today for the inaugural meeting of the Husband In Charge Klub or HICK for short. In the light of the creation of the Obedient Wives Club, it was thought that it would be appropriate for us men to have an equivalent society; something to help men in Malaysia truly understand what their role is.
After all, there are so many “soft men” out there who simply do not understand what it means to be male. It is these idiots who give us a bad name and they cause so many social problems. For example, they believe in women’s rights. This gives the wrong message to women.
Just because of a small bunch of sissy boys, it is as though we all agree with all that feminism rubbish. The girls start to get ideas above their station and because of that we poor men are not treated well and we have no choice but to have affairs and what not.
Therefore, for the good of society, we must set all men straight. Let there be no mistake, gentlemen, we are here to put things right in this country. We are doing a service to our nation. We should be as proud as a cock strutting the farmyard.
So, let’s establish our core principles and ideals. First, and most important, we are masters. Our word is final. We are the kings. We can express this through various means.
For example, there is no real need to actually talk to your woman. A grunt is sufficient. It is up to her to interpret what that grunt means.
In the first few weeks of marriage, you might need to help her understand by slapping her on the back of the head if she doesn’t get the difference between the “I want a drink” grunt with the “take off your clothes and wait for me in the bedroom until I finish watching football” grunt.
It is also great to have some public displays of subservience from your woman. Make her kiss your hand when you drop her off anywhere. What is important here is not the hand kissing as such, but your own attitude to it.
Don’t look at her when she kisses your manly digits. Look away as though you have something better to do. And remember, if you can zoom off in your car before she has the chance to step away, even better.
The next thing we must concern ourselves with is personal hygiene and fitness. The rule here is simple, neither is necessary. You can be as smelly and as unfit as you like.
She should learn to appreciate and to love your manly musk. And if you get overweight, well, it’s just more of you to love isn’t it?
Mind you, it is very important that this does not go both ways. Your woman must be as fragrant and as slim as on the day you met her.
If she gets podgy as a result of her dropping all those brats that you put into her womb, you have every right to complain about how unattractive she is and how it is because of her that you can’t get it up any more.
Now, the OWC is going to train women to be high-class prostitutes in the bedroom. This is very good. However, our women do not have the same experience as we do with high class prostitutes, so let’s help the girls a bit by telling them exactly what high-class prostitutes do.
On a final note, if they are going to be high-class prostitutes, then what about us? Do we have to be high-class studs?
Of course not, we have to put up with their incessant whining for jewellery, shoes, handbags, clothes, marketing money and all that. It would simply be inhuman to expect us to give them good sex as well.
Remember our motto: “Our Pleasure is Their Pleasure”.
That’s about it gentlemen. I think it is time for our tea break now. Ah, here come the wenches. Move your lovely butts, sweet things, we’re parched!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Some want it, some don’t

Brave New World (The Star)
2 June 2011

Note: The parts in red were removed by The Star


There is an international environmental law called the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal. Yes, I know, the title alone is enough to put anyone to sleep. I have had generations of students do just that.

Anyway, please bear with me. This international law, which Malaysia is party to, basically forbids the illegal export of hazardous wastes to countries that do not want them or do not have the ability to dispose of them safely. It came about because it is actually cheaper for companies to hire a ship, pack it full of hazardous wastes and then dump it in some third world country half way across the planet.

A nasty practice to be sure and one that got pretty out of hand in the eighties, particularly in African countries. Hence this international law came about and Malaysia very rightly decided to be part of this regime. After all why should we take other people’s dangerous waste products?

It is a bit odd therefore that this Lynas rare earth plant was even considered in the first place. The waste product of any rare earth manufacturing is radioactive. It causes ill health and untold misery. It’s happened before in Perak and now it looks set to happen again in Pahang.

The Asian Rare Earth company in Bukit Merah was Japanese, the one in Lynas in Australian. I wonder why they didn’t just have the plant in the wide open spaces of Australia. Is it because it is cheaper to have it here, or perhaps because the Aussies have more stringent laws with regard to radioactive wastes and therefore it makes more sense to come to a country where such laws do not reach such high standards.

Whatever the reason, it sure looks like a version of dumping to me. Instead of creating the waste in their own home country and then dumping it here, they just build the plant right here along with their waste products. I do not blame the people of Gebeng to be very concerned because this is their health and the future of their children at stake here. Their opposition to the plant is totally understandable. Naturally the government and the proponents of the plant will say that it is all safe and fine and dandy.

Speaking of the proponents of this plant a bunch of them disrupted a peaceful protest against the plant recently in Kuantan. The anti anti-plant group was reported to number in the scores and they not only yelled and screamed but also apparently resorted to a spot of physicality. They didn’t like the anti plant people because it seems that they were scaring away tourists.

Isn’t it nice to have such tourism minded people in Kuantan. I didn’t even know that there were tourists in Kuantan. Furthermore one of them was said to have stated that “this is Malay land”. This got me confused, is it alright to have Malay land irradiated? Does the glow of radiation enhance the Malay-ness of the place? Very odd indeed.

There was a review expert panel set up and they have been having meetings with various concerned groups. They seem to be saying that the plant is safe. However, opponents of the plant say that the data obtained in coming to this conclusion came from the plant proponent themselves and therefore is unreliable. An independent third party should be called in to make the necessary investigations and data gathering.

This is a reasonable request, and one which actually mirrors the decision of the High Court in the ARE case in Perak. The judge in that case held that analysis of the data coming from the ARE plant sources could be questioned as the neutrality of said data would doubtlessly be, well, questionable.

I am certain that those who are opposed to this plant will continue in their struggle and I hope that there will be a full and open disclosure of all the facts so that an informed decision will be made. It still seem strange to me however that a government which has put its name to an international law which condemns hazardous wastes would even consider such a plant on its shores.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Check, some news just isn’t right

Brave New World (The Star Online)
19 May 2011

The irresponsible, unfounded and silly abound on the Net. It is up to responsible news organisations to verify the truth of the matter before picking up the story.


HEY! Guess what? The other day I was wandering around Brickfields in Kuala Lumpur and I saw a group of Hindus discussing something in their temple compound.
You know what? I think they want to make Malaysia a Hindu state!
They are somehow going to get two-thirds of both the Dewan Rakyat and the Dewan Negara along with the Council of Rulers to change the Constitution and make us a Hindu state.
No, don’t laugh. I recognised a politician in there among them, so it must be true.
How can you tell this story is true? Well, you are reading it in a newspaper aren’t you? And to make sure this story is truly credible, I’m going to make the same assertions on my blog.
Does this sound stupid to you? It does? Well, that is because it is.
Now in the world we live in today, anyone with a computer can say any old thing, no matter how obtuse, and then get it out for the whole planet to see.
For example, the “scoop” that a bunch of priests and politicians are going to turn this country into some sort of Christian state.
It’s a wild accusation – irresponsible, unfounded and silly.
However, on the information super highway, you get a lot of silliness and this is to be expected.
In my view, this freedom to be as dumb as you can be is a price worth paying for the freedom of expression the Net gives us.
However, I find it is surprising that this “scoop” would be carried by a newspaper. Aren’t newspapers supposed to work within this strange thing called “journalistic principles”?
Shouldn’t a newspaper check out a story first by doing a spot of investigating? I don’t know, perhaps by calling the organisers of this “insidious” meeting of Christians and asking them.
The conversation could sound something like this: “Hello Padre, are you going to convince Parliament and the Council of Rulers to make this a Christian state? You aren’t? Are you sure, because a blogger said you are.
“What’s his name? I don’t know because he uses a pseudonym. Perhaps there is some other way you want to do it, maybe by force?
“What did you say? Oh, yes, Christians make up only 7% of the population and there is no Christian Army to call upon.
“I see, so it’s just a silly accusation then? Right, well, thanks for your time Padre.”
There you go, simple. No need to do a Woodward and Bernstein with midnight visits to underground car parks to meet informers named “Deep Throat”.
A simple phone call is all it takes.
Speaking of simple, it came as no surprise at all to me to hear Ibrahim Ali jumping on this story and then proceeding to rave and rant.
He promises to lead a crusade against Christians, and that he and his jolly Perkasa pals will be the first to lay down their lives.
What a brave man he is because I would have thought that such language would definitely bring the law down on your head.
I mean what if some Buddhist said he wanted to wage war on Muslims, he would have been locked away under the ISA or the Sedition Act before he can say “bad karma”.
But then it doesn’t take much bravery to say such things where Ibrahim Ali is concerned. Especially if the de facto Law Minister has given you the freedom to make such comments.
He said we have to live with such comments and he won’t use the Sedition Act.
This is because people say such things on the Net anyway and to single out Ibrahim Ali would not be right.
Hey, that’s good to know. So if lots of people say the same thing on the Net, then the Government won’t take action against any single person? This is a fascinating new policy.
Does this mean that if, say, a thousand of us put on our blogs, tweets and Facebook that we want an armed rebellion, no action will be taken?

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Terror threat remains

Brave New World (The Star)
5 May 2011

Osama bin Laden’s death does not mean that the problem he symbolised has gone, not until the causes of terrorism are dealt with properly.


THE killing of Osama bin Laden has been dominating the news. This is to be expected, of course. After all, he is the embodiment of all evil where America is concerned. And what is important to America must naturally be important to the world.
Despite my sarcastic tone, let’s be clear. I think the world is a better place without Osama, mass murderer and hide-and-seek champion. He has claimed responsibility for the killing of thousands of civilians and in that he is monstrous.
I am of course aware that people like former US President George W. Bush and former British Premier Tony Blair are also responsible for the deaths of thousands with their, I submit, utterly unlawful war against Iraq. Be that as it may, Osama is still an international criminal and his demise will not see me shedding any tears.
It will be interesting to see what happens from this point. Already there are some choices made by the Americans which will raise heated debate.
The fact that Osama was so quickly buried at sea will mean that his body is now irretrievable. This will doubtless give fuel to the conspiracy theorists out there to claim that he is not really dead.
The politically cynical point out that this operation has come at a terribly convenient time for Barack Obama. The killing of Osama will boost his flagging popularity, just in time for the tough upcoming presidential election.
I for one believe that he was killed by the MI6. It is all a British plot designed to keep the world’s press preoccupied so that William and Kate will have a peaceful honeymoon.
Flippancy aside, the death of Osama does raise serious questions. There is a saying used by some who practise stick fighting: to destroy the enemy, you must de-fang the snake.
This means that if we destroy the opponent’s weapon, in this case his stick hand, then we have achieved a step to victory.
This principle, although generally sound, does have its problems. For destroying a person’s main weapon does not mean the problem is solved.
Just because a person loses his stick hand does not mean he has lost his other hand, legs, head and elbows. A key factor may have been removed, but the problem could still remain.
We can see this on the world stage in Egypt, for example. Although former President Hosni Mubarak is now gone, corruption is still rife in Egypt — and so is the economic chaos that the people were so angry about.
In other words, the “fang” is gone but the rest of the body is still there. In Egypt, it was not simply Mubarak that was the problem but an entire system rotted to the core after decades of corruption, nepotism and oppression.
With Osama now dead, it does not mean that the problem he symbolised has gone. The world must still deal with terrorism and, more importantly, the causes of terrorism.
There will always be mad men in the world, those who think that violence is the method to achieve their objectives. But for these kind of people to get large numbers of followers and supporters cannot be simply explained away by saying that all of them are bad.
Terrorism is not some sort of mental problem, it is the result of political, economic and social factors.
In countries where the political process is exclusive and people are not allowed to take part in governance, either because the system followed is a dictatorship or a sham democracy, they are more likely to turn to unlawful methods to get their point across.
When there is widespread poverty and desperation, it is easier to get recruits into a cause which promises salvation, even though the promise comes with a price of mindless violence.
When people are faced with gross social injustice, men like Osama with the message that they will fight that injustice (as deceitful as he may be) will draw plenty of eager followers.
Osama is dead, and although this is definitely a blow to Al-Qaeda and other organisations of their ilk, it does not mean that all is well.
Unless the approach taken goes beyond cowboy gunship diplomacy and idiotic jingoistic flag waving, and while the causes of terrorism are not dealt with properly, all that has been achieved is the destruction of a fang. The threat is still there.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Show us the real dirty stuff

Brave New World (The Star)
14 April 2011

Videos on those in power with enough money to make Midas go green with envy make for more pertinent viewing than nasty clips of consenting adults.


SO, the infamous video has been making the rounds. I received a message on my mobile phone a few nights ago telling me which website to go to if I wished to take a gander.
I did not.
Neither did I do so when a link was conveniently placed on an Internet news portal.
The reason: My lack of curiosity in such matters is manifold.
First, it’s none of my business what consenting adults do to one another.
Second, come on, these are old people getting busy here; it is not what I would call scintillating viewing.
Rather gross actually, in a wobbly wrinkly way.
Finally, the reason these things float around is because they are supposed to make some sort of statement about our leaders and potential leaders, and frankly I don’t care about this kind of moralistic thinking.
I’ll tell you what videos I would like to watch.
I would like to see videos about leaders and their obscene wealth.
I want to see investigative work done on those in power with enough money to make Midas green with envy.
I want to know how they got it and whether there was any abuse of power in the process of them getting it.
In fact, I’d like to see what their family members’ wealth is like, too.
For me, that would be a far more pertinent issue with which to clamber upon one’s moral high horse for.
I would also like to see a video about strange decisions made, like the one proposing to build a rare earth plant in Lynas, Pahang.
It seems odd to me that, after the tragedy of Bukit Merah in Perak some 30 years ago, such a plant would find a welcome home on Malaysian soil.
In case you don’t know what rare earth is, it is a radioactive substance used in the electronics industry.
Its waste product releases low-level radiation, which can cause a host of potentially lethal ailments.
In Bukit Merah, the residents, upon discovering the dangers of the factory (called Asian Rare Earth) in their midst, fought back, taking the case all the way to the highest court in the land.
They won in the High Court on the grounds of nuisance and the factory was ordered to shut down.
This decision was reversed by the Supreme Court.
Fortunately, due to public pressure in Japan on Asian Rare Earth’s parent company, Mitsubishi, the place was finally shut down.
Many of the residents of Bukit Merah suffered major illnesses at a rate far higher than the national average.
Are we going to see that happen to the people of Lynas?
Perhaps someone should make a video of this issue.
This one I guarantee I’ll watch.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Focus on the big issues

Brave New World (The Star)
24 March 2011

The civil unrest in the Arab world and fears of radiation poisoning in Japan hold many lessons that Malaysia can do well to take note of.


LIBYA is being bombed; Japan is in the grips of a natural disaster as well as fears of radiation poisoning; another long-standing regime looks poised to topple in Yemen; and in Malaysia we are talking about sex videos.
As the world suffers convulsions from earthquakes and military action, we sit under our little coconut shells salivating over the latest sex scandal.
When will we grow up?
There are far more important things to worry about.
If there is anything to be learnt from the madness that is going on around the world, it is that there are some big issues to be dealt with.
If they are not, then disaster can strike.
The tragedy in Japan should make us think about two things.
The first is that nature is unpredictable and we must prepare for such unpredictability.
This is especially true in the light of recent climatic changes in the world.
Sure, it is unlikely that we will suffer a magnitude-9 earthquake; and the tsunami of 2004 is unlikely to happen again.
However, due to changes in weather patterns, we must prepare for effects like greater intensity of rainfall and rising sea levels.
We must ensure that precautions are taken to protect ourselves from these phenomena.
Another thing to ponder from the happenings in Japan is the feasibility of using nuclear power in our country.
I am worried about the safety issues surrounding a nuclear plant.
However, if the powers that be are so convinced, then let’s build our first nuclear plant in Putrajaya.
I am being facetious of course, but surely we should be looking more closely at energy-saving methods and alternative energy production.
Perhaps not on a large scale but on a smaller scale such as solar panels for individual homes.
Over in the Middle East, if Libya and Yemen are to teach us anything, it is that corruption and abuse of power will eventually lead to internal strife and turmoil.
And as hypocritical as the military action on Libya may be (for goodness sake, some of the weapons used by Muammar Gaddafi were the result of Tony Blair’s wheeling and dealing), it is a stark reminder that if things get out of hand, there will always lurk the possibility of superpower intervention.
These are big issues to think about, and they are just a few examples.
There are so many things that should cause us concern – the state of our economy, the integrity of our institutions, the plight of our indigenous peoples and our education system.
The list goes on.
These are the issues that must be debated now. Instead, I foresee yet another tawdry round of innuendoes and crass “banter” about some bedroom antics.
It would be a shame indeed that as we giggle and snicker, our country continues to roll on to an uncertain future.
All because we refuse to learn from the world around us.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Suppressing dissent at a cost

Brave New World (The Star)
10 March 2011

We are squabbling over the ridiculous while the really big issues that will affect us all go undebated. One day we are going to look up and realise these issues have overtaken us.


TWO weeks ago 10 students in UPM, who had won seats on the Student Representative Council, were told that they were disqualified by the university management.
This led to an angry reaction from their supporters and scenes of chaos on campus ... well, by Malaysian standards they were chaotic. Eventually the 10 were reinstated.
Last week seven students from Kuala Kubu Baru wanted to return their copies of Interlok to the school because they did not want to read it.
This resulted in them being brought to the police station and collectively interrogated for 10 hours.
These two incidents are separated temporally and spatially but there is a common link between them.
Before I go into that however, I just want to say how shocking I find the Kuala Kubu Baru incident.
It is beyond belief that seven boys, could be questioned by the police in a police station for something like this.
No doubt there is some political controversy about this book, and obviously the boys were making a political statement of some sort.
It would be naive to think otherwise.
However, they were not breaking any law and they were not in any way acting in a manner which would justify this heavy-handed action by the school and the police.
At the very most this was an internal school matter which should have been dealt with by the school authorities and no more.
Ideally of course, knowing the combustible nature of this book, it should have been dealt with in a firm, but sensitive, manner.
Be that as it may, this is what happened in the last two weeks and the common thread is paranoia.
The students of UPM and the boys in KKB were standing up for what they believed in, and it just so happens that what they believe in contrasted with what the powers-that-be want.
The UPM candidates who were disqualified were all “Pro-Mahasis-wa” candidates, not the establishment friendly “Pengerak”.
The KKB boys were in their own way protesting against a book that has been given the stamp of approval by the Education Ministry.
They were in short, dissenting. And dissent cannot be tolerated, especially if expressed by the young.
This is clear by the over the top reaction by the authority figures in these two situations.
So keen were they in protecting the status quo that they would behave in a manner that defies logic and reason.
Is this the level of feudalistic loyalty that we have in this country?
I am afraid that it is.
This kind of medieval thinking and attitude does not only lead to acts of injustice but also bodes ill for our future.
This year is more than likely going to be an election year. Buoyed by its recent by-election victories, the ruling coalition is bound to want to go all the way to win back their precious two-thirds majority.
In a mature democracy winning a strong majority and being able to form a government would be more than enough.
Not here. It is complete domination or nothing at all.
Be that as it may, there will probably be an election this year.
If this is the case, I want to hear what the politicians who want our votes have to say about the floundering economy.
I want to know why there is so much currency leakage.
I want to know how much longer can we depend on our petroleum resources.
And, more importantly, I want to know what are all the candidates going to do about it.
However, considering the stage of our national mental development – that the winning of seats on a powerless student council and the returning of textbooks can lead to such an over reaction, I doubt we are going to get that level of debate.
We are squabbling over the ridiculous in this nation.
We are squabbling while the really big issues that will affect us all go undebated.
One day we are going to look up and realise these issues have overtaken us, by which time it may well be too late.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Commission must be neutral

Brave New World (The Star)
24 February 2011

To ensure that there is no conflict of interest, the conducting officers must be totally unbiased.


THE family of Teoh Beng Hock has decided that they do not want to take part in the Commission of Inquiry which was set up to investigate his death.
This act has been criticised by some quarters as being a political ploy designed to delay the proceedings. I beg to disagree.
The family has some very compelling reasons for doing what they did.
Their main complaint is that there is currently an appeal in the courts regarding the findings of the inquest.
To refresh your memory, the inquest that was formed to investigate the cause of Teoh’s death concluded with an open verdict.
The magistrate was unable to come to a conclusion whether Teoh was killed or whether he committed suicide.
The Attorney-General’s Chambers has decided to appeal to the High Court.
They believe that the cause of death was suicide and they want a declaration from the court to that effect.
The family want this High Court case to either be settled first or dropped by the A-G before the CI continues.
This is a reasonable request for what happens if the CI comes up with one decision and the High Court another?
They are also unhappy that the conducting officers are from the A-G’s Chambers.
The conducting officers are the people with the responsibility of conducting the inquiry.
They organise proceedings, for example by drawing the witness list.
It is odd indeed that the people who are conducting the proceedings of the CI are from the very same body (the A-G’s Chambers) who are calling for a finding of suicide.
It would appear therefore, that there is clearly a conflict of interest here. They are working for the CI, which is supposed to be independent and neutral, yet they are also from an organisation that has made up their mind as to the cause of death.
I am not for one moment questioning the integrity of the individuals who make up the CI.
However, the CI must be impeccable in its neutrality and, more importantly, it must appear to be impeccable.
The way it stands, this neutrality can be cast in doubt.
Furthermore, it must be remembered that the A-G’s Chambers was involved in the initial investigation.
For example, the Investigating Officer revealed the so-called suicide note so late in the inquest proceedings because he was waiting for the green light from the Deputy Public Prosecutor (who is part of the A-G’s Chambers).
The DPP and thus the A-G’s Chambers had a supervisory role in the original investigation, so how can their staff play such a prominent role in the CI.
In order to ensure that there is no conflict of interest, the conducting officers must be totally unbiased.
If it means getting them from an independent source, so be it.
There is after all precedence for this.
In the Commission formed to investigate former Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s black eye incident, an independent party was chosen to lead the conducting officers.
The CI has to distance itself from any possibility of impropriety.
This was not done and thus casts doubts on the whole procedure.
This is the reason why the family and later the state of Selangor decided to pull out.
It is unfortunate that there are accusations that the family had done what it did under external pressure.
They have been through the mill for the past two years or so.
They have stated time and time again that all they want is justice.
It is perfectly within their right to withdraw, and it is perfectly understandable.

Suppression taking its toll

Brave New World (The Star)
10 February 2011

Ruling with an iron fist may work as long as a country is relatively prosperous, but if good governance, accountability and fairness are gone it will only be too easy for poor decision-making and corruption to come in.


I WAS, to use that wonderfully Malaysian term, outstation, last week. The hotel I stayed in did not have any Malaysian channels on its telly, so all I had to watch was CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera.
For the entire week I was there, it seemed that the only news in the world were the protests in Egypt. Oh, and Fernando Torres joining Chelsea.
Watching the Tunisian-inspired protests on Tahrir square convinced me even more about the importance of democracy.
Egypt has been ruled by Hosni Mubarak for 30-odd years. In that time, political dissent had been quashed, elections rigged and democracy sidelined in favour of so-called stability.
This may work as long as a country is relatively prosperous.
However, in general, a lack of democratic principles will only lead to poor governance.
With the elements of good governance; transparency, accountability and fairness gone, it is only too easy for poor decision-making and corruption to take root.
Not exactly the right ingredients for prosperity.
Egypt has been mismanaged to the extent that 40% of its people live below the World Bank poverty line.
Food is expensive; Egypt has to import a large amount of its grains from abroad and is far from self-sufficient.
Amid this suffering, the people see a group of politicians entrenched as leaders and who are tremendously wealthy to boot.
Without the usual organs of a democratic state there is little chance for the citizenry to ensure changes of government and to see justice being done when there is corruption or incompetence or both.
This lack of empowerment will lead to frustration.
Such frustration can of course be suppressed by an iron fist; in the case of Egypt, the Mukhabarat or secret police. However, such suppression can only last so long.
We have seen it before in Indonesia, in the Philip­pines, and currently in Egypt and all over the Middle East.
When the pressure gets too much, people will revolt.
In this part of the world democracy is often portrayed as the opposite of order.
If people are free to speak their minds, if governments are tied to laws that limit their power, we are told that this would lead to chaos and a government too weak to take actions that it thinks are necessary for the good of the nation.
The term that used to describe this philosophy was “Asian Values”.
It is as though we Asians do not “value” our human rights and our civil liberties and the inherent dignity that comes with the power to freely choose who leads us.
It is all of course a great fallacy to think that we simple Asians want to be led by the nose by our glorious leaders.
Just as it is a fallacy to believe that without a true democratic system; a system that will keep government in check, dispense justice fairly and transparently, and empowering the people to have a voice in their own destiny; somehow peace and stability will be ensured.
Egypt, along with numerous other nations, has proven this to be not true.

B movie merits more attention

Brave New World (The Star)
27 January 2011

With the infantile politics demonstrated in the Tenang by-election and elsewhere, watching a low-budget science fiction movie may be a more worthwhile pursuit.


ONE night, many, many, many years ago, while flicking through the TV channels, I came across a movie called Robot Monster. It was made in 1953 and was so funny it made me cry.
Robot Monster was one of those science fiction movies about alien invasions so favoured in the 50s.
Of course, nowadays scholars of movies – I’m sorry, I mean, scholars of film – will suck on their professorial pipe, stroke their academic goatees and tell us that these alien invasion flicks were really thinly veiled cautionary tales about the dangers of the Soviet Union and they were actually a reflection of American paranoia.
This may be, but who cares about symbolism and all that stuff when the movie is just so funny.
The one thing that stuck in my mind most of all was the cheapness of the whole thing. The “special effects” if you can call them that, were quite literally cardboard spaceships stuck to wires bobbing around.
The “plot”, which had something to do with indestructible aliens from the moon coming to kill us all, is suddenly inexplicably interspersed with dinosaurs (actually real lizards with extra bits stuck on their backs) coming back to life.
But the coup de grace for me was the costume of the Robot Monster himself. Obviously, the producers were working on a budget, so there was only one monster, not an army. This was so they had to get only one costume.
The costume in this case was a gorilla suit. However, a gorilla was not nearly alien enough. What kind of self-respecting science fiction monster looks like a common Earth gorilla?
So in order to give it that “alien vibe”, the makers of the movie used a deep-sea diver’s helmet as the head of Robot Monster. Voila, we now have a real sci-fi threat in our midst.
But wait! There was a problem. They only had enough money for one gorilla suit and one deep-sea diver’s helmet. For most of the movie, this was okay because there was just Robot Monster wandering the deserts of America (the only country aliens land, it would seem) molesting the heroine.
But in a couple of scenes, Robot Monster had to communicate via a television screen with his boss, Boss Robot Monster.
They used the same outfit for Boss Robot Monster, so they looked identical. How were they to differentiate between the normal Earth-invading Robot Monster and Boss Robot Monster, especially when there was no money?
The answer was ingenious. Some flunky must have looked around the studio’s storeroom and come back with a violin bow. So when you see the two identical Robot Monsters talking to each other, the one waving a violin bow with great authority and menace, well, is the Boss Robot Monster.
I am not sure whether you can find this movie at your usual pirated DVD stall, but if you YouTube “Robot Monster Trailer” you will get a pretty good idea of what I am talking about.
Now, you may wonder why I am writing about such frivolity. Frankly, I was about to write about the Tenang by-election, but the banality, childishness and sheer lack of substance in the politics of this nation had me feeling rather blue.
And although the reality of the infantile politics we are faced with will have to be dealt with, for the moment at least, I’d rather think of something ludicrous that made me cry tears of laughter as opposed to something ludicrous that makes me weep tears of frustration.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Social mores change with time

Brave New World (The Star)
13 January 2011

Children’s literature has to be carefully examined as many books written decades ago are blatantly racist, something certainly not acceptable in this day and age.


PAUL Theroux really annoys me. His most famous book is arguably The Great Railway Bazaar. It is undoubtedly well written and his style is gripping, but he sounds like an arrogant, whiny American throughout, which is very irritating.
What I find most grating is how he casually passes judgment on entire communities and societies from the few moments he observes them while sitting in his train carriage.
My home state Penang was reduced to little more than a bordello for foreign sailors. This conclusion was arrived at after looking out his train window during a short stop in Butterworth train station on route to Kuala Lumpur from Thailand.
What a plonker.
I won’t burn his books though. In fact, I won’t burn any book. No matter how offensive. Neither would I ban any book. No matter how offensive. Instead, to paraphrase John Stuart Mills, one kills off bad ideas by debunking them.
In this light, the recent furore over a secondary literature text has raised many disturbing questions. First off, the book burning episode is to be criticised as crude and an affront to the freedom of expression.
But if one were to criticise this deed, then one must also be willing to criticise other forms of assault on the written word, namely the act of book banning.
If one were to defend Interlok as a work of literature, then one must be equally willing to defend The Satanic Verses. Both are literary works and their value, or lack of, should be judged on those grounds, as literary works.
So, as offensive as I find the burning of this book, I find the lack of intellectual honesty as well as hypocrisy in the criticism by some quarters of the book burning, equally offensive.
Going back to the crux of the mater, the content of Interlok, there is clearly a need to examine the book to assess its suitability as a school text book. But this assessment must be made by level heads and their reasoning must be made open for public debate.
Times change and it is possible that what is deemed acceptable in the past is not so acceptable today. Children’s literature in particular has to be carefully examined. There are many books written decades ago which are blatantly racist, and surely such a viewpoint is not acceptable in this day and age.
Neither should the standing of the author be part of the decision making. A work should be judged purely on its merits.
George Bernard Shaw may have had some grotesque views on the “benefit” of the killing of “unproductive” members of society, but his Nobel winning works ought to be judged as they stand.
However, as I stated earlier, such an assessment has to be made in a reasonable, clear minded and transparent manner. Dramatic outbursts from either side of the debate serve no purpose except to reveal a childish streak in the debaters.
Besides, if we are talking about instilling good race relations among school children, the problem is far deeper than any literature text.
In a school system where children are told to give one greeting for Malay teachers and another greeting to those from other ethnic groups, it is obvious that the removal or the continued use of one piece of fiction is hardly going to make any real difference.