Sunday, September 22, 2013

malaysiakini: 10 ways to really help bumis ... by P Gunasegaram

10 ways to really help bumis
QUESTION TIME The recent RM30 billion package (although I am not sure how it works out to that) for bumiputera economic empowerment is certainly not something that will help or have any kind of impact on the vast majority of bumiputeras who form 67 percent of the population.

Just think of that figure for a moment. Nearly seven out of ten people in the country are bumiputeras. Help everyone in the country who needs it and you help the bumiputera community the most. More on that later.

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s plans to economically empower bumiputeras will not help the ordinary bumiputera because he is not the one who owns shares, or will become a major entrepreneur, or live off government contracts. That affects only the rich bumiputeras.

Realistically, the economic empowerment programme is a thinly disguised ruse to help those who continue to live off the government through patronage and corruption. And in this case this is the Umno elite and many of them are likely to be among the 150,000 delegates who will vote in Umno’s forthcoming general assembly.

It’s another form of vote buying.

So what will help ALL bumiputeras and especially those who are in the poor and middle classes and thereby help bridge the income gap between bumiputeras on the one side and Chinese and Indians on the other?

For that, you simply go back to the basics.  Here are are 10 things we can identify immediately. If the government had been doing this without respite and full sincerity for the last 56 years from independence we would long ago have become a developed a country, even far surpassing that of our southern neighbour Singapore which has no natural resources to speak of.

1. Raise school education levels

In the haste to increase Malay usage and hire more Malay teachers into the education system after 1970, educational quality dropped in national schools. Until today this is a major problem because of poor quality of teachers (entry standards were foolishly dropped) and lowering examination standards to favour bumiputera students. 

It will require much more than the national education blueprint, a document laced with political considerations. Education has to be de-politicised, secularised and its syllabus reoriented to modern needs.

And this has to be done by true educationists, not nationalists who tend to be blinkered because of their political overzealousness and who think of education as brainwashing instead of a development process. Education needs to be taken out of the hands of politicians.

This is crucial for bumiputera development. If they don’t get good education right from the start - and that includes preschool - then they are going to be handicapped relative to the rest because most bumiputeras go to national schools. National schools must be at least as good as vernacular schools. That would also mean that non-Malays will start coming back to national schools.

Education is such an important thing to improve incomes that it covers several of our other points. No country has managed to improve and equalise incomes without a superb education system. Putting as much resources as possible into this is vital.

2. Revamp higher education

The entire education system must be revamped to put meritocracy and higher educational standards in place. If bumiputera students lack minimum standards, you must enable them to reach those standards through tuition and other means and not drop minimum standards. Only then will bumiputera students take the trouble to be on par. 

azlanGenetic studies have shown beyond doubt that no race is superior in terms of intelligence which implies that attitude and environment is all important.

There is really no point in government universities churning out graduates in the thousands if they don’t have the basic skills to be employable.

3. Don’t compromise on education quality and standards

In education as in life, one cannot aim for equalisation of outcomes - you can only hope to equalise opportunities. Then it is up to those given the opportunity to make use of it. If results are adjusted to sort of equalise the eventual outcome, inefficiency and incompetence will be the result.

If our programme of eradicating poverty and eliminating the identification of race with economic function - the original and oft-forgotten twin pillars of the New Economic Policy of 1971 - was premised on these methods, we would most likely have been able to bring about the change in attitude necessary to produce better outcomes. Instead spoon-feeding has needlessly lengthened dependence.

4. Empower bumiputeras with English

Sometime back, I witnessed the unhappy spectacle of a young, suave, urbane, Malay Oxford graduate defending the move by the government to revert to teaching of science and maths in English who swore blue that evidence is that teaching these subjects in the mother tongue made it easier for them to understand them. I told him that in his case - he was the son of a diplomat, I believe, and educated all over the world - it did not seem to have done him much harm.

NONEThat young man is Khairy Jamaluddin (left), son-in-law of former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, and current Umno Youth chief. I just cannot understand the attitude of people who have benefited so much from the English language and yet who are so keen to deny this benefit to millions of others from their own race. Does being a politician blind them to what is good for their own race? Or is it something else that motivates them?

5. Cut corruption

If the government wants to reduce income gaps, then it must cut corruption, bring it down to virtually zero. Look where it got Singapore to. Just one illustration will be sufficient for this. Let’s say our chief ministers were corrupt. Then this land proposal comes up - one of them de-gazettes forest reserves, allocates the land to a developer and then approves the conversion for mixed development.

NONEThe chief minister, who may be bumiputera, will get, oh, let’s say anywhere between RM1 million and RM10 million. And the developer, most likely non-bumiputera, will make anywhere between a RM100 million and RM1 billion from the deal. A precious state resource is sold way below its value and the income gap between the bumiputera and non-bumiputera is considerably widened - because of corruption.

And to make it worse, this bumiputera chief minister may well go out on his political rounds and talk self righteously to rallies and such and rail against the wide gap between bumiputera and non-bumiputera incomes!

This is just by way of illustration of course, the point being corruption when analysed and tracked almost always increases income gaps..

6. Cut subsidies and import taxes

One of the myths is that the poor are helped considerably by subsidies on say fuel and electricity. That’s wrong because the poor don’t use much of this. The rich and industries use much more of this than the poor. The clear implication is that subsidies while helping the poor, help the rich much more.

What should be done in tandem with subsidy cuts is to cut or remove import taxes altogether so that the prices of goods come down and local industries (such as cars for instance) are not protected by tariffs which make their product prices higher. This is a policy which will help the poor but since probably more than 70 percent of them are likely to be bumiputera, they will be the prime beneficiaries.

7. Have open tenders

Contrary to popular belief negotiated tenders are not likely to benefit bumiputeras - instead they are likely to benefit connected bumiputeras through patronage. Best to have an open tender. If it is deemed necessary to give bumiputeras an advantage, then this can be done via a price differential, say 5 percent.

That does two things - one, bumiputera pricing is not way out of line with the others, and two it still does give a preference to bumiputeras but a quantified one.

8. Use all resources available
Any wise country will use all the resources available to it and not restrict it to a particular race. It is important to staff government departments on merit to ensure proper performance and  to cast the net for recruitment as far and as wide as possible.

The rush and needless urgency to put more Malays into the education system ahead of time resulted in a huge and rapid decline in the quality of education as entry standards for teachers were lowered. This directly affected most the quality of national schools which most bumiputeras attended.

9. Raise government efficiency

There is one imperative for raising efficiency - those who are not efficient must be made efficient or removed altogether. Government departments cannot be made refuge for idlers and shirkers. They must earn their income and to do their part for the betterment of the nation - we can’t afford a subsidy mentality in government.

Once that is established, we must put in all effort needed to make our government services really top class and one that facilitates rather than hinders all legitimate private efforts to initiate economic and other activity.

10. Give loans, not grants

Najib’s bumiputera empowerment programme even envisages grants for entrepreneurs. That’s absolutely the wrong move which is sure to encourage abuse and breach of trust. Instead grant loans instead. That way only those confident of their projects will seek them. And the repayment of these loans will ensure that financing is available for future generations.

azlanThe same should be the case for scholarships. Limited number of merit scholarships are fine but it is pointless extending scholarships in the thousands indiscriminately. What is given free is seldom appreciated. Instead, these can be loans which will have to be repaid and which will then enable others to take advantage of opportunities in future.

These measures are not anywhere near rocket science and I trust most Malaysians will agree with them. But unless politicians eschew race politics and become really and genuinely interested in helping their communities, things are not likely to change.

I wish these politicians had the “scrotal gumption” (to borrow the words of retired judge Mahadev Shankar) to put aside politics and do the best for their own race. In the process, they can’t help but do well for all Malaysians too as all these 10 measures will help all of them no matter their race, religion, creed or social status.

With seven out of 10 people in the country being bumiputeras and perhaps more in the lower income category, Isn’t it about time we moved to a Malaysian agenda? Even if it is 56 years too late?

P GUNASEGARAM is the founding editor of KiniBiz.

malaysiakini: Chin Peng: Remember me as a good man... by Aidila Razak

Chin Peng: Remember me as a good man

History may be written by the victors, but for former communist chief Chin Peng, the last leader of his kind in the region, it does not matter if he won or lost.

chin peng funeral 200913 "In the final analysis, I wish to be remembered simply as a good man who could tell the world that he dared to spend his entire life in the pursuit of his own ideals to create a better world for his people.

"It is irrelevant whether I succeeded or failed, at least I did what I did," he said in his last letter.

Distributed to visitors at his wake in Bangkok, the letter entitled 'My Last Wish' said his hope was that the younger generation would build upon his struggles.

"It is my conviction that the flames of social justice and humanity will never die."

Chin Peng, who was secretary-general of the Communist Party of Malaya, died in exile in Bangkok on Sep 16, at the age of 89.

The full text of the letter, obtained by Malaysiakini in Bangkok, is reproduced here:

“My dear comrades, my dear compatriots,

When you read this letter, I am no more in this world.

NONEIt was my original intention to pass away quietly and let my relatives handle the funeral matters in private. However, the repercussions of erroneous media reports of me in critical condition during October 2011, had persuaded me that leaving behind such a letter is desirable.

Ever since I joined the Communist Party of Malaya and eventually became its secretary-general, I have given both my spiritual and physical self in the service of the cause that my party represented, that is, to fight for a fairer and better society based on socialist ideals. Now with my passing away, it is time that my body be returned to my family.

I draw immense comfort in the fact that my two children are willing to take care of me, a father who could not give them family love, warmth and protection ever since their birth. I could only return my love to them after I had relinquished my political and public duties, ironically only at a time when I have no more life left to give to them as a father.

It was regrettable that I had to be introduced to them well advanced in their adulthood as a stranger. I have no right to ask them to understand, nor to forgive. They have no choice but to face this harsh reality. Like families of many martyrs and comrades, they too have to endure hardship and suffering not out of their own doing, but out of a consequence of our decision to challenge the cruel forces in the society which we sought to change.

It is most unfortunate that I couldn't, after all, pay my last respects to my parents buried in hometown of Sitiawan (in Perak), nor could I set foot on the beloved motherland that my comrades and I had fought so hard for against the aggressors and colonialists.

NONEMy comrades and I had dedicated our lives to a political cause that we believed in and had to pay whatever price there was as a result. Whatever consequences on ourselves, our family and the society, we would accept with serenity.

In the final analysis, I wish to be remembered simply as a good man who could tell the world that he had dared to spend his entire life in pursuit of his own ideals to create a better world for his people.

It is irrelevant whether I succeeded or failed, at least I did what I did. Hopefully the path I had walked on would be followed and improved upon by the young after me. It is my conviction that the flames of social justice and humanity will never die.

Farewell, my dear Comrades!

Farewell, my dear Compatriots!

Farewell, my dear Motherland!”

A “grouse” about TMI’s “woeful” usage – by Clive Kessler

A “grouse” about TMI’s “woeful” usage

– Clive Kessler
The Malaysian Insider
September 22, 2013
“In a public tribunal, many air grouses over Election 2013,” your recent TMI headline trumpets.
Malaysian journalistic usage, with its verbal idiosyncrasies, is sometimes strange.
Even stranger is the fact that those who seek to offer an alternative approach, or speak in a different voice, often (and unthinkingly, so it seems) adopt the language of the dominant press.
They, and here now including The Malaysian Insider, do so without recognizing the hidden assumptions and attitudes, the insidious implications, that are built into those all too familiar “mainstream” usages.
Malaysians love to speak of “woes”.
A woe is a disaster that descends without discernible cause, mysteriously, and without anyone being responsible. Since they exclude human agency, the word’s connotations are exculpatory.
To call some systemic failure (of public utilities or services) a “woe” is to imply that it is a mysterious affliction, a metaphysical conundrum, for which nobody is, or may be held, accountable.
Whose interests does this implication, neatly smuggled unawares by the word “woe” into a reader’s response to the reported facts, serve?
In the face of “woes”, Malaysian citizens are often said to have “grouses”, even grouses that the powerful may from time to time graciously acknowledge and perhaps, however ineptly, attempt to assuage.
But what is a grouse?
It is a querulous and ungrounded complaint, a petty and ungrateful expression of unwarranted resentment, an irritating and pestering expression of dissatisfaction.
To call a complaint a grouse is to imply that those who voice it are simply indulging in immature, churlish and gratuitous denunciation, not that they may have a legitimate cause of dissatisfaction and complaint.
The “woes” and the ensuing “grouses” that people are driven to express — so this unfortunate choice of words wrongly suggests — are malign visitations of unfathomable fate, unlike the “problems” and “failures” that arise from human action and the workings or otherwise of humanly created systems.
Again, whose interests does recourse to the preferred mainstream usage serve? It’s not hard to see.
So, even if the politicians and mainstream press keep using these favourite terms (as well they may, since the hidden connotations suit their purposes), why should others with different views, as well as their own distinctive professional approaches and obligations, follow their ways?
Why would TMI want to reinforce the semantic “anti-accountability shield” that — by choosing these two misleading words — those entrusted with public office happily wear to protect them from public opinion, even legitimate public dissatisfaction?
Words like “woes” and “grouse”, as they are routinely used in Malaysian political language, are just that: semantic shields, “cop-out” devices. They are instruments of evasion: for evading moral and public accountability.
Or, otherwise put, they are “get out of jail cards” for politicians and public authorities who refuse to accept or who fail in the discharge of their responsibilities.
So, every time you feel tempted to talk of “woes” or “grouses”, please think twice. No, not twice. Just once should be enough.
As George Orwell taught us long ago, the offence here is a dual one. These words are not just clichés. They are the instruments, often cunningly deployed and then lazily accepted, of political befuddlement.
Political corruption, the corruption of public life, begins with the corruption of language and thought.
So the beginnings of an alternative politics must involve a critique of the dominant usages and the generation of a new language of public debate.
The imperative need of the moment, in Malaysia and worldwide, is a “semantically-led political recovery”.
It should begin here by people naming so-called “woes” as problems, which occur and persist because those in authority who have that responsibility have failed to fix them.
And by recognising that so-called “grouses” are generally expressions of legitimate grievance, protests against failures and injustices that people should not have to endure. That governments should not make them endure.
To call them “woes” and “grouses” is to join those in authority — shamefully eager to flee from accountability over how they carry out of their public responsibilities — in trivialising legitimate expressions of popular discontent.
Worse, in dismissing them with a nasty, contemptuous sneer.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Slate; Are You a Language Bully? .... by Matthew JX Malady

Are You a Language Bully?

Cut it out.

SLATE, Updated Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013, at 12:53 PM
By Matthew J.X. Malady

Can you recite the dictionary definition of peruse from memory? Do you have the etymology of short-lived stored in the recesses of your brain, available at a moment’s notice for impromptu punctuation lesson purposes? Are you an expert on the difference between rebut and refute? If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, then you may just be a language bully.

You may not be one, though. So don’t panic. Here’s the best way to know for certain: Do you annoy and infuriate people at dinner parties and other social gatherings by correcting others on how they use or pronounce certain words?

That’s the key hallmark, because there’s certainly nothing wrong with simply knowing things about words that the average person does not. It’s great if you’ve built up lots of esoteric language knowledge and proceed through life as an intelligent person who is interesting, and humble, and fun to be around during trivia nights at the bar—a loveable know-it-all, in other words. But no one loves a know-it-all who doubles as a showoff. Who among us hasn’t bristled over Alex Trebek harshly judging Jeopardy! contestants for their incorrect answers? And who doesn’t smile broadly as Rodney Dangerfield’s Thornton Melon outwits the stuffy, bow-tied business professor during the climactic final examination scene in Back to School?

Those who use their advanced knowledge to embarrass or humiliate others are the absolute worst. Yet, for whatever reason, language bullies don’t seem to get this, or they don’t care. Either way, they are out there at this very moment, lurking, lying in wait, ready to pounce. (They know you used the word nonplussed improperly the other day, and you will be hearing from them shortly. So prepare to feel dumb.)

Before considering why these individuals do what they do, it’s probably best to differentiate the contemporary language bully from other people who go around correcting us. That old-timey co-worker who informs you that “ain’t ain’t a word,” for instance, is not a language bully. He’s just annoying. The same goes for there/their error-pointer-outers and those who get worked up about when it’s OK to use the word literally. These elementary language kerfuffles deal with a particular type of displacement from the norm: For the most part, we all know the appropriate rules in those instances, but sometimes we slip up anyway—or we just don’t always care about getting those things right. Such uncomplicated lapses aren’t usually fodder for language bullies, who own important books and roll in more rarified, detail-oriented correction circles. They specialize in applying real or imagined upper-level knowledge to best ensure maximum kingmaking impact.

For some examples look no further than any space where those who have read, watched, or listened to something can provide feedback. Comments sections, for instance, are to language bullies what the Cheers bar was to Norm Peterson, or what murky waters at twilight are to the bull shark. These response repositories are where we are implored to learn that peruse doesn’t really mean to skim over something leisurely, and where we discover that some guy with the handle funkymonkey23 would love it if, “just one time,” a writer would not misuse the word tithe.

Social media provides another convenient forum for those with prescriptive tendencies. A few weeks ago, for example, in a 435-word post on Syria for Slate’s blog the World, Joshua Keating included the phrase “President Obama seems extremely reluctant about the idea of intervening in Syria.” Soon after, a reader took to Twitter with this: “Nothing exposes semi-literacy like the inability to tell ‘reticent’ from ‘reluctant,’ @joshuakeating.”

Let’s put aside every other question we might have about that tweet, and consider, simply, why someone would write such a thing.

“When people, especially publicly, correct others’ mistakes, a lot of that has to do with signaling to other people,” says Robert Kurzban, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania whose work focuses on the nature of evolved cognitive adaptations for social life. “People are trying to signal their expertise, because being able to identify mistakes indicates that you know more about something than the person who committed the error.”

Those who engage in public corrections of this sort often are looking to feel good about themselves, and, according to Benoît Monin, a psychology professor at Stanford University, displays of language all-knowing-ness provide a ready-made, two-pronged opportunity to do so. “The way we evaluate our competence is relative to other people,” he says. “If I need to feel good about my language skills, one way that I could do that would be to give myself evidence that my language skills are awesome. Another is to give myself evidence that other people’s language skills suck. So by putting down other people, I can feel better about myself.”

On a recent episode of the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley, John McWhorter similarly pointed to the way language bullying makes one feel superior—and also argued that classism was at work. Both Monin and Kurzban suggest that the status of the person making the correction relative to the individual who committed the perceived error typically plays a role. According to Monin—whose work examines how people respond in specific interpersonal situations to maintain or enhance their self-image—when individuals feel as though they have something to prove, either to themselves or others, language bullying is more likely to occur. “When we’re threatened—if I didn’t get into college, or into grad school, or I didn’t get the job at the New York Times—I might be the first one to write something attacking someone else’s language because it will elevate me a little bit,” he says. “On the other hand, if I’m super-secure, I’m probably not going to do that.”

Kurzban compares the situation to one in academia where an overly ambitious graduate student attempts to catch a renowned expert off guard with a gotcha question during a Q&A session. In that setting, someone who feels secure in her position will ask questions out of genuine interest, and a desire to learn more, Kurzban says, “whereas the person who is up-and-coming has some signaling to do.”

For language bullies, that signaling usually manifests in one of two scenarios. In the first case, someone of a higher status or position uses some advanced understanding in order to feel superior. “When someone corrects our grammar or word usage, shame and embarrassment are likely emotions,” says Michael Kraus, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois who studies the impact of social hierarchy on everyday life. “In this context, word usage and grammar corrections are an effective tool to put someone in their [low-status] place.”

But there’s another common instance of the phenomenon, according to Monin. “I suspect it goes the other way, also—that there’s a particular glee for the cranky person who thinks: ‘This guy went to Harvard and now writes at the New York Times, and yet I know better than him,’ ” he says. “There is a glee in upending people who are supposed to be superior to us—especially if we think it’s unfair that they are superior to us. That’s the other hidden part of this: I’m tearing my hair out at this horrible mistake, and I’m all agitated, but it seems like the true emotion is a joyful, vengeful one. I’m actually kind of excited to be able to correct you.”

Monin suggests that, for some language bullies, acquisition of specialized, technical information—knowledge of an oft-mistaken definition, for instance, or mastery of a particularly tricky grammar rule—is at least partly undertaken in anticipation of an ego-boosting endgame. There is a thrill, that is, in being one of a select few who knows “the truth” about how to use a certain word. “It’s an obscure, esoteric truth,” he says. “And one reason to know it is because you know you are going to feel superior to everyone else. There’s something that feels really good about realizing you’re in the know and everyone else is wrong.”
But to take full advantage of that knowledge, language bullies must use it in a way that allows others to recognize and appreciate their possession of this advanced understanding. So the excitement they derive from publicly correcting someone does not end when the offending party is set straight. In some ways language bullies are putting on a show for other persnickety peevers.
“It’s like when an insect makes a scent or something to get a mate from miles away,” says Monin. “They are kind of emitting this thing for someone else who is another linguistic snob to come over and say, ‘Oh yeah, I know, I hate it when people do that.’ And it’s like this weird matchmaking thing: ‘Here, come over here and grind your teeth with me if you think that’s horrible.’ ”

Consider this note submitted to NPR a while back by an avid listener: “NPR’s journalists routinely use the word ‘decimate’ when they mean to denote ‘completely ruined or destroyed.’ ‘Decimate’ means to kill every tenth person or soldier as a means of mass punishment. How in the world can a town or country be decimated? It can’t possibly. The word they should be using to mean ‘completely ruined or destroyed’ is ‘devastated.’ ” That may seem like a ridiculous thing to fuss over, but, before long, fellow commenters piled on. “This one bothers me too,” another listener wrote. “I hear decimate and I think ‘reduce by 10%’ as an automatic reaction!”

So language bullies love company. But the only people who love language bullies are other language bullies, and that’s largely because the rest of us realize that the use of their advanced knowledge doesn’t have to result in a shaming exhibition at another’s expense. When someone uses a word in a way that we believe to be technically incorrect, we have choices. Beyond the obvious one—simply recognizing that the definitions and usages of words change over time, and getting on with our lives—there are at least two additional options available. We can correct the person in private, or we can point out the mistake publicly. “I think that choice is pretty revealing,” Kurzban says. “If you are in an antagonistic relationship with the person, then you might do the public correction. If you’re in a positive interaction with the person, and you want to save them from embarrassment, then you might do it privately.” He adds: “I know who my real friends are in this way. My friends email me when I [make an error] in a blog post. My enemies put it in the comments section.”

That’s not to suggest, of course, that all who offer up hyper-technical corrections in a public forum are necessarily language bully-type enemies. (Monin posits that some correctors may earnestly consider themselves stewards of the language: “If people misuse a word repeatedly, that becomes the usage of the word. So in that respect, it’s important to [speak up] if I think the ‘correct’ usage is important.”) But even if we assume altruistic motives in every case, that doesn’t make pushy, nitpicky language corrections any easier to stomach.

A few weeks back, an item featuring a vocals-only version of Outkast’s turn-of-the-century tour de force “B.O.B.” devoid of all accompanying beats and background instrumentation appeared on Slate’s Brow Beat blog. The post was titled “The Isolated Vocals for ‘Bombs Over Baghdad’ Are Amazing.” For anyone even remotely interested in hip-hop, and for lots of lovers of music generally, the isolated vocal track is amazing. And awesome—the speed and accuracy with which André 3000 and Big Boi rap is tremendous to the point of boggling the mind. For one language bully, though, a commenter named Jeff, the post was exciting for a different reason—it provided the perfect opportunity to deliver a wording wrist slap. “Awesome implies something that leaves you in awe,” he wrote, emphasizing the technical definition of the word awesome while simultaneously de-emphasizing the technicality that the headline used the word amazing rather than awesome. “Is anyone really in awe at this? A hurricane is awesome. That first true smile from your baby is awesome. This is neat.”
Cue the sad trombone

Fortunately, Jeff’s anti-awesome bullying was not the last word on this issue. In a triumph of good sense, his insight received no love, and zero likes, from fellow commenters. Instead, it got what it deserved. “You must be a hit at parties,” a follow-up commenter replied concisely, awesomely. Twelve people gave that one the thumbs up.

TMI: Anwar Ibrahim & reformasi: From the eyes of an ordinary citizen.... by Anas Alam Faizli

Anwar Ibrahim & reformasi: From the eyes of an ordinary citizen - Anas Alam Faizli

“No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones.” (Nelson Mandela)

Growing up, I remember sifting through my father’s collection of old newspaper clips. One reported that a certain persona by the name of Anwar Ibrahim was about to join Umno. That paper clip was from 1982.

Many in Anwar’s circles and followers at the time viewed him as their next hope for a leader that could strongly challenge the government. Needless to say that move to join Umno was not welcomed by many; my mum, a member of JIM included. In 1996, while tabling the budget in Parliament -an annual event where I await with bated breath for him to introduce a new vocabulary – a practice he was famous for – Anwar was surprisingly spotting noticeable breakouts.

The financial crisis a year later shook most of the tender South East Asian economies, while Anwar was at the pinnacle of his political career. I did not really understand my parent’s remark then about how Anwar would soon “get it”. I soon did.Mum responded “Baru nak matang lah tu…(he is probably just about to mature…).” The consternation she felt then remained.

I watched 2nd September 1998 unravel on television while I was on campus down south. I will never forget that moment; sitting down dumbfounded trying to gather my thoughts.

From then onwards, keeping track of Anwar’s ceramahs around the country, news and developments, became daily affairs. Anwar’s famous: “Ini adalah konspirasi dan fitnah jahat untuk membunuh karier politik saya”– echoed in mind every day.

More arrests were subsequently made in that period, under the draconian ISA. The late Fadzil Noor then lead a coalition of political parties and NGOs known as GERAK. GERAK held massive protests to free Anwar. The reformasi movement then gathered momentum, initially as an Anwar-specific cause.

But what it evolved into was something far greater. It united all opposition, NGOs and Islamic movements and revolutionized to become something bigger. Amidst major differences, opposition parties then realized that there existed transcendental values that they all fiercely subscribed to -such as justice, liberty, and freedom. This realization had major uniting capabilities. Activists made up of PRM, ABIM, JIM and men who left Umno then decided to form ADIL, an organization which eventually graduated to become the Parti Keadilan Rakyat that we know today.

At the height of it all was Sunday 20th September 1998, where the largest ever demonstration took place in Dataran Merdeka, under the Reformasi umbrella. The crowd that had gathered at the National Mosque for Anwar’s landmark Reformasi speech, rallied on to Dataran Merdeka for another speech, then on to Jalan Raja Laut and ended up in front of EPF.

The energy and conviction I felt and witnessed being among the crowd at the time reminded me of our next-door neighbor. Only five months prior, Indonesians ousted their own President Soeharto.

Malaysia had never witnessed such resolute. But the important thing to note is that it was not all for Anwar alone. It was a show of deep unhappiness towards the grave injustices that the government seemed to be able to inflict against someone as high up as the deputy premier. What then was left for the ordinary rakyat.

We finally realized then how deep and structural were the extent of the government’s tentacles controlling the country’s police force, state media and the entire judicial system.

That very same night, balaclava-clad commandos stormed into Anwar’s private home and roughly seized him. Nine days later, he made his first public appearance with a black eye. Malaysia had just witnessed the death of democracy.

What happened after, we all knew and followed. Anwar was put on a controversial trial, found guilty, and sentenced to 9 years of imprisonment. How could the once number two Malaysia, be politically imprisoned, brutally beaten, and emotionally vilified to beyond any human extent, I wondered. Anwar Ibrahim became Malaysia’s most controversial prisoner of conscience.


Reformasi breathed new life into Malaysian youth of the 1990’s, at a time when youthful zeal and activism spirit had diluted in favor of material wealth and pleasure. This was a contrast from the youth of the 70s, whose idealism were more pro-poor, intellectually-driven, and in line with the spirit of merdeka, fitting of a recently liberated nation. It is a mass movement that was manifested by rakyat from all walks of life, whose birth was spontaneous, honest and pulsing of the rakyat’s aspirations. It still very much is; it belongs to everyone, within and out of political parties, young and old.

Fifteen years on, Malaysians have perhaps experienced an unconventional politically maturing process witnessing Anwar and our reformasi. We inherit a Malaysian with various realities to embrace; a rigged election system, highly racially sensitized plural society, a government who has overbearing control over all economic, judicial and social aspects of the country, and spatially and demographically unequal standards of living, amidst many others. It is not easy to change status quo, a system that has deeply entrenched for the past 50 years. Not easy, yet not impossible.

The man who triggered reformasi

The reformasi movement was borne out of the struggles of many political personalities, without whom it could not have materialized as it did, too many to credit without risking injustice. This piece is not about Anwar Ibrahim, as many will easily be led to believe, but it is about the man who triggered reformasi.

A revolutionary varsity student leader in his UM days, Anwar later co-founded one of the pioneering civil society organizations of late 1970s Malaysia, known as Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM). His tendency to highlight the plight of the poor and vulnerables, and criticize the government vocally booked him a 20-month stint ISA stint in 1974 after the Baling incident.

Post 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution, Malaysia felt the heat from the rise of Islam in the global scene. We witnessed for the first time the proliferation of Islamic-based civil society organizations. This proved a bonus to PAS, whom at the time was welcoming home waves of new young professionals from abroad who embraced the idea of new dynamism in the party. It helped raise the party’s profile amongst foreign-trained barristers, doctors, engineers and economists, posing a significant challenge to Umno’s political hegemony.

Anwar Ibrahim seemed like the viable solution and heir for Tun Mahathir and Umno; a man seen and known for his sound Islamic principles and honorable background, coupled with remarkable literacy in occidental thought and philosophy. Anwar was about to become an influential political figure, climbing the political ladder up to some of the most important positions in a country; as the finance minister and the deputy Prime Minister. Known to be neither unwavering under pressures of corruption nor compromising to cronyism, he had a political career that was not easy to bring down. That fateful September, the sky fell down onto him in a political and economic saga that forever scarred the face of Malaysian political history. But not all was lost. As widely remarked, cleaning sewage water is almost impossible when swimming in it; rather it has to be done from outside the gutter. The man probably needed to learn that. A lesson that he had been paying dearly since.

Building blocks towards a new age reformasi

In November 1999, Malaysia saw the nascent opposition force leading to the 10th General Election known as the Barisan Alternatif. For the first time in history, the opposition garnered the highest ever votes from the Malays. That record had never been challenged even up to this day. Barisan Nasional was salvaged by Chinese and Indian votership, which perhaps at the time were probably politically and economically unready to seriously challenge status quo.

In 2004, Barisan Nasional (BN) turned the tables in a landslide victory. Re-delineation exercises had allowed for substantial gerrymandering, winning BN 24 out of 25 new seats, and more than 90% of the parliament. The retirement of Mahathir, who then already made enough anti-fans for himself, too ushered in fresh support for Umno and Barisan Nasional. It was a personal struggle for me to believe that change was ever going to be possible in Malaysia.

The period before the next 2008 General Election saw the opposition making significant headways, building a forte. Anwar too was already a free man, and was beginning to truly attempt to unite the various parties to form a formidable opposition that the government had no choice but to reckon with. The introduction of needs-based policies also attracted significant new interest especially the non-Malays into its stable. It’s only fair considering the vast new inequalities that were emerging from decades of favoritism-based policies, leakages and misappropriation of resources.

Leading up to the 2008 12th General Election, the waves of change was felt even earlier on. I actually took unpaid leave to come home for the voting and campaign period- from an overseas posting at the time. The opposition won five states and formed Pakatan Rakyat which includes PKR, PAS and DAP. Call for change had begun to creep up from the rakyat from all walks of life to show its teeth.

Knocking down the incumbent ruling party off of its comfortable two-third parliamentary majority was by no means a small feat. It prompted five years of the government launching various “transformative” efforts on the part of the government. As a result, we are now entering supposedly the next phase of growth with endless possibilities. Pun very much intended, if I may. Sure, we are building more highways and train tracks. Yet what is lacking is arguably the required political will power to undertake the softer and real transformation we so badly need.

That very same period provided the opposition time to reorganize and work with their differences to productively form a coalition with its own development plan, its own manifesto and its own budget proposition. It was the first time ever Malaysians could critically compare alternatives to these documents proposed by the government.

Rejuvenating reformasi

Moving forward post 13th General Election, we ask ourselves again, where do we go from here? The natural question now is whether Anwar should make way for the formidable line up of fresh and younger personalities in PKR and Pakatan Rakyat whom clearly have been gaining their own strong following. Is the way forward now a post-Anwar Ibrahim era, which entails institutionalizing and strengthening of the underlying political system? Better structure will allow for the natural development of a continuous pool of talent and leadership, but is it enough?

Strong leaders have historically proven to be the ultimate source of unification to bring about waves of change that ripples above and beyond those laid out by an institution or system. That kind of strong leadership was the only way substantial Malay votes in 1999 could have shifted, a two-thirds majority for the government in 2008 could have been denied, and a game-changing 52% mandate onto PR for 2013 could have been witnessed.

Anwar Ibrahim too is now a different man. From a youthful varsity leader, to a charismatic Islamic leader, to a Deputy Prime Minister, and even down to being an inmate, Anwar’s bruises could have not been only physical. The wisdom and maturity could not have been without blood, sweat and tears.

Two general elections passed after his release and Anwar stuck to his guns. But to claim ownership of the reformasi can only mean one thing; that he steps up to the presidency post of the party himself, to make reality the reforms that he himself had envisioned for the country. Time is ripe for him to take the mantle, step up the challenge again, be democratically elected and rise up as the President of Parti Keadilan Rakyat. It is the implicit hope of the Rakyat, for him to articulate his vision for Malaysia particularly on his young and future masses.

Anwar Ibrahim triggered the reformasi. Now he needs to rejuvenate it too.

* Anas Alam Faizli is an oil and gas professional. He is pursuing a post-graduate doctorate, co-Founder of BLINDSPOT, BANTAH TPPA and tweets at @aafaizli.

TMI: “Useless” research — the seed of great breakthroughs... by Prof. K Ranga Krishnan

“Useless” research — the seed of great breakthroughs -  K Ranga Krishnan

A few weeks ago, as I was preparing to welcome our new batch of students to Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, I came across a wonderful and thought-provoking paper by Abraham Flexner — the educator whose report a century ago revolutionised medical education worldwide — titled The Usefulness of Useless Research.
I was struck by the clarity of the paper’s exposition on how research driven by curiosity leads to unexpected advances.
Flexner wrote this article in 1939 to address the growing discussion on why research has to be useful, a discourse that is happening to this day.

Flexner then pointed out to Eastman that the real credit belonged to James Clerk Maxwell, who predicted and developed the underlying principles of electromagnetism, and others like Heinrich Rudolf Hertz, who detected and demonstrated these electromagnetic waves.He recounts an illustrative interview that he had with George Eastman of Eastman Kodak fame. Flexner asked him who he thought was the most useful worker in science. Eastman said Guglielmo Marconi, the man credited with using wireless waves to produce the radio.
Neither of these men had any thought about how their work would be useful.
To quote Flexner: “Curiosity, which may or may not eventuate in something useful, is probably the most outstanding characteristic of modern thinking ... Institutions of learning should be devoted to the cultivation of curiosity, and the less they are deflected by the consideration of immediacy of application, the more likely they are to contribute not only to human welfare, but to the equally important satisfaction of intellectual interest, which may indeed be said to have become the ruling passion of intellectual life in modern times.”
When driven by curiosity
To wit, one might say that that was yesterday, but today is different.
Well, I can recount many recent stories which continue to illustrate the value and potential of curiosity-driven research.
Dr Ahmed Zewail, who won the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, gave in the article, Curiouser and Curiouser: Managing Discovery Making, many more examples of breakthroughs based on curiosity-driven research, where the quest was the only motivation and practical utility was not a consideration.
One example is the development of the laser by Dr Charles Townes. He was driven only by fundamental questions on microwave spectroscopy and amplification of light. This work led to the laser now widely used in science medicine, and is a part of our daily lives.
Another story is that of Dr Eric Kandel, who was curious about how the brain works.
Dr Kandel began his study many years ago by examining Aplysia (squid). This work led to a Nobel Prize in 2000 for his groundbreaking research showing how memory is encoded in the brain’s neuronal circuits. Now, this research has become an area of intense interest for treatments of various types of memory disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease.
In short, I think Flexner’s perspective still remains fresh and valid. Curiosity remains the foundation of discovery research, and seeds many of the innovations that lead to useful inventions which change our lives.
Create the right environment
Dr Zewail says there are three essentials to promote curiosity-driven research. First, the right people: Research and development needs young, creative and curious minds. Second, adequate resources. And, finally, an atmosphere that promotes the interaction, exchange and fertilisation of ideas.
Discovery research is not the only kind of research — the development of inventions and tools and medicines that help enhance life are just as critical.
Applied research requires people who can look at problems, understand needs and draw ideas from a variety of sources to develop, test and modify solutions. The mindset is that of a problem-solver and inventor.
Just like curiosity-driven research, this type of research also requires the right people and the right atmosphere that promotes interaction. It also requires a risk-taking culture and resources. We need both kinds of research to flourish and interact to optimise the development of solutions to our various needs and difficulties.
Unfortunately, the timeline between discovery and translation can take a long time. Developing places for natural interactions to take place between this community of discoverers and inventors with the potential consumers of the inventions could make this process easier and maybe faster.
Harnessing and encouraging curiosity from childhood will go a long way in identifying and promoting the enquiring nature that leads individuals to become researchers. But we also need this as a general principle in education to foster the creativity that is required for the knowledge economy.
While we clearly want to develop researchers, we need innovation to flourish in the general workplace culture. One need not be a researcher to come up with better ways to improve work, reduce costs or improve morale — one just needs a mind that looks at problems as an opportunity, not a misery. – September 6, 2013.
* K Ranga Krishnan is Dean of the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore. A clinician-scientist and psychiatrist, he chaired the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at Duke University Medical Centre from 1998 to 2009.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

malaysiakini: Institutionalised racism?.... by KJ John

Institutionalised racism?
I also have a dream. Martin Luther King Jr had the original dream for the US of A from 50 years ago, which we all remembered recently together with CNN; it was the same year we also became Malaysia.

As we move into the second half century, after 50 years of nationhood; my dream is that we may yet become 1Bangsa of Malaysians.

In other words, I have a dream of One Nation, One People; a nation-state made of one single class and category of Malaysian citizens; wherein the sun shines equally on every Malaysian without ethnicity, religious or cultural considerations; including all who are citizens, even if by the backdoor as we already heard from the royal commission of inquiry (RCI) in Sabah.

But, who or what is our greatest current stumbling block. I agree totally with Brother Haris Ibrahim about his premise and thesis: that it is Umno’s agenda to realise a Ketuanan Melayu nation-state which remains the most important and detrimental factor in realising our one Bangsa of Malaysians dream. Why do I say also this?

Let me simply review how this misdirected but strategic intent was “evolved into what is now called the Biro Tatanegara or National Civics Bureau (BTN) by all promoters of that skewed agenda.” Some fringe groups supported by a former president of Umno today already sing the same tune today, every day.

Where did BTN and Ketuanan Melayu agenda start?
My literature search appears to lead me directly to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (Pak Lah) when he was head of the Department of Culture, Youth, and Sports in the early 1970s, and later the secretary-general of the ministry by 1974.

He was also already an Umno member from as early as 1965, which is about the same time he joined the PTD service.  In 1978, he resigned from the Pegawai Tadbir Diplomatik (PTD) service and stood as Member of Parliament for the Kepala Batas constituency. 

He then was appointed parliamentary secretary for the Federal Territory Ministry in 1978 and by 1980 became deputy minister in the same ministry. Then in 1981 he was appointed minister in Prime Minister’s Department and served under Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. That appointment appears to have become the framework for the birth of the BTN.

Wikipedia records the following about the BTN:
Biro Tata Negara (National Civics Bureau, or simply BTN) is an agency of the Malaysian government in the Prime Minister's Department. It was established in 1974 as the Youth Research Unit (Unit Penyelidikan Belia) under the Youth Ministry, but was renamed and transferred in 1981. BTN's stated objective is to nurture the spirit of patriotism and commitment to excellence among Malaysians, and train leaders and future leaders to support the nation's development efforts.
Do you see what I see? Pak Lah was the ministry’s secretary-general and the Youth Research Unit was in the Youth and Sports Ministry and then when he became minister in the PM’s Department (JPM), the division was then renamed and transferred to JPM when he became the minister in the PM’s Department under Mahathir.

He had already served under Abdul Razak Hussein as secretary to the Majlis Gerakan Negara, Mageran or the National Operations Council which was set up to help Malaysia tide over the May 13, 1969 riots, and under Emergency law conditions.

Therefore, I hereby propose that the agenda for Ketuanan Melayu was born and nurtured by the Umno team linked to the Mageran and then fostered and festered by Mahathir, the very man who was thrown out of the party by the late Tunku Abdul Rahman.

It therefore appears to me that the vision and agenda to create a psychology of subservience amongst the other ethnicities began within the NOC and it grew to become the agenda for evolving a Ketuanan Melayu mindset as an after-effect of the May 1969 general election when Umno nearly lost Selangor. (1)

That also explains why the new Federal Territories Ministry was formed and later was moved out of the Selangor government to become a new electoral jurisdiction.

Tanda Putera - truth versus fiction
There are so many “flaws” being pointed about the movie that I am now not too open to see it any more. I enjoy watching historical movies like the life of Lincoln, which captures the struggles and translates the grand story about the life of such people. But there are two fundamental differences about all such historical narratives - they are not funded by the government and they do not toe a particular line in terms of the grand thesis.
From what I have read of reviews; it appears like Tanda Putera is really nothing about the true and real friendship between two of our former leaders.

Let me quote one true and real story to make my point. In the days of the National Operations Council chaired by the prime minister to monitor development in Malaysia, there was once a briefing by the Public Works Department (JKR) director-general about the progress of all projects under the department’s jurisdiction. At this point, all projects were under the JKR’s supervision, and none were “privatised”.

After the full briefing, the late chairperson asked if enough projects were being given to the bumiputra contractors, and the JKR DG spoke in the affirmative, and then the late Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman added: “Please make sure that enough projects are also given to other credible contractors to ensure that project completions are not delayed, or simply not completed.”

Recently at a Pusat Komunikasi Rakyat (Komas) forum on discrimination jointly hosted with a UN Expert on the subject, a Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) councillor reported that within MBPJ all small projects are given to bumiputera contractors registered as class F contractors. None are given to those of other ethnicities. Is this not another form or institutionalised racism?

Is it plausible that after 50 years of building a nation-state, the only group who are disenfranchised in PJ are still only the Malays?

It is my view that the Article 153, after 50 years, has been institutionally abused for the greater purpose of systemic racism under the so-called Bumiputera Policy, which even under the constitution was meant only to be limited to four arenas of application.

Even so, the particular interpretation of this so-called policy in peninsular Malaysia has excluded the Sabahans and Sarawakians and especially the Orang Asli and the other multi-ethnic urban poor in urban areas. May God bless the urban poor in Malaysia with better and fairer opportunities.

1 For a comprehensive understanding and nuances of this phenomenon and related issues please read Kua Kia Soong’s well researched book called, 1May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969.’

KJ JOHN was in public service for 29 years. The views expressed here are his personal views and not those of any institution he is involved with. Write to him at with any feedback or views.

After all these years, Malaysia still held hostage.... BY OOI KEE BENG,

After all these years, Malaysia still held hostage
SEPTEMBER 04, 2013

In thinking about 2013, the year the Federation of Malaysia celebrates its 50th anniversary, one cannot but compare the national atmosphere to that in 2007, the year the Federation of Malaya celebrated its 50th anniversary.

I remember that the New Straits Times under Datuk Seri Kalimullah Hassan ran a week-long serialisation in January that year of my book The Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr Ismail and His Time (ISEAS 2006) with the express purpose of putting the country into a contemplative mood and reminding Malaysians of what nation building is all about.

Given the faltering reform programme of then prime minister Tun Abdullah Badawi, 2007 couldn’t help but be a contemplative — and agitative — year for many Malaysians in any case. Be that as it may, to be fair to Abdullah, much change had come to the country after he took over from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in October 2003.

Otherwise, the latter would not have been using his considerable political acumen back then to undermine his successor’s position. Only Dr Mahathir’s bad health that year limited his attacks on the prime minister.

Also noteworthy was how tame the Umno general assembly was in 2007. Racial provocation was kept to a minimum amidst rumours that elections would soon be called. However, Malaysia’s first astronaut, Sheikh Mustaphar Sheikh Abdul Shukor, presented the Jalur Gemilang that he had taken into space to Abdullah at the Umno meeting, signifying that whatever success the trip into space had been, it was an Umno achievement, not a national triumph.

Inter-religious tension was also building up with the destruction of Hindu temples and the controversial burials of supposed Muslim converts.

The mood in 2007 was therefore generally more confused than contemplative, and it soon led to open political activism in Kuala Lumpur.

The first Bersih demonstration took place on November 10 to highlight the need for electoral reforms, which was followed two weeks later by the Hindraf rally to demand rights for Hindus.

Already on September 26 that year, about 2,000 lawyers and their supporters calling for proper investigations into allegations of inappropriate appointments of judges had marched to the residence of the prime minister.

Six eventful years, another two Bersih demonstrations and two exciting elections later, much has changed.

The country now has a two-party system where the opposition has actually won the popular vote though without being able to take power; it now controls three states with a huge majority, and has majority support in all urban centres.

The national atmosphere, however, remains as confused as ever. Dr Mahathir’s son is now Mentri Besar of Kedah and is expected to aim for a top position within the party; inter-religious tensions persist between ever more hardened positions; race-baiting continues and the coming Umno party elections are not expected to be anything close to being as tame as the 2007 party assembly; East Malaysian support now keeps the federal government in power; Chinese and urban support is solidly behind the opposition; the country is apparently no longer an oil exporter; violent crime has become shockingly common; and worries about the economy grow by the day, etc.

Datuk Seri Najib Razak has now received his own mandate to rule, no doubt, but it is an unconvincing one since he did lose the popular vote in West Malaysia, and nationwide.

Whether the Prime Minister will survive the term, or even the year, is silently debated.

For now, his worst enemies are not in the opposition, but come from within his party. After all, nice-guy Abdullah was ousted 13 months after he won a weak electoral victory in 2008.

The year 2013 is also the 10th anniversary of Dr Mahathir’s retirement as prime minister. Yet, Najib’s administration, the second post-Mahathir government, continues to struggle with Dr Mahathir’s dubious legacy and personal intrigues.

The political balance is certainly not stable. It may even be desperate, which is why there is so much talk about the need for a unity government that can straddle the incapacitating divides.

The political split down the middle has not been good for business confidence or public confidence in general. Sadly, it has not as yet thrown up effective leadership that can focus on national development instead of individual political careers and does not use disunity as its raison d’etre.

Therefore, for all concerned, there is a lot to contemplate this coming Malaysia Day, and a lot of action required from political and business leaders to limit the opportunistic exaggeration of natural differences among Malaysians.

Without that, the country — and its economy — cannot begin to end its undeserved fate of being held hostage by politics that appeals to the basest instincts of its population. - September 4, 2013

* Ooi Kee Beng is the Deputy Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), Singapore. His articles are accessible at