Monday, December 29, 2008

Dazzling wit!

You're doing it wrong. Oh, so very, very wrong...


Photo taken in a certain doughnut shop, deep in KL. Will whoever came up with this monstrousity please do us all a favour and die slowly in a fire?

New depths for the Star and the Malaysian public

I don't know about you, but I find it more than a bit telling of the quality of the Star's reporting and the moral fibre of its readership when the 'Most viewed' list looks like this:


In this one glance we see the gullibility, barbarism, prudishness and pettiness of the Malaysian public. "Party without undies planned"??? THIS is what passes for news?! We're next to THAILAND, for fuck's sake! By the way, that "Bush is 'booted' out" article is indeed regarding the incident mentioned in an earlier post, 2 WEEKS AGO. And the astrologer is from no less illustrious an insitution than the "Geocosmic Centre of Yijing Meta-Science Research Malaysia". Right... I believe you mean PSEUDO-Science, you shameless bastards. "Geocosmic", my eye...

By the way, Feng Shui master Lee Cheng Hoe says:

"Meanwhile, people can place water features at the south-west corner of their homes with the water flowing towards the inside to help counter negative energy."

Hope you're proud of yourselves. I'm-a going to peep at a real newspaper's website before this drivel induces projectile vomit.

Something we won't see during Obama's time

Spotted this on /b/. lol'd something fierce:

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Dickens and Liquid Crystal = Joy!

I've just liberated this handsome little device from the uncomprehending clutches of my parents and I have to say, I love it!

I daresay I've been trawling the net way, way too long. The tides of pop culture have pulled the English language quite some distance from the days when books were written with pen and paper by lamplight. English, as we see it today, in magazines, newspapers, books and that crucible of memes, the Net, has become a leaner creature, driven by the needs of a rapidly accelerating world to convey the maximum amount of information with the minimum number of words.

In under an hour each morning, I'll be skimming Malaysian news*, IHT, BBC News, Wired, Al Jazeera, New Scientist and Scientific American. If the mood takes me, I'll sample bits and bobs of the blogsphere, grimacing at pretentious pseudopatriotic blowhards, laughing at fundies or pondering the intellectual integtrity of a peer's post. Back in the real world, within arm's reach is a pile of linguisitics texts to devour, printouts from Edge.org, a small stack of Japanese books with an accompanying BIG stack of Japanese dictionaries and sod knows what else in the fearsome ranks of archfiles of reference material I've printed. In the bathroom, a pile of Skeptical Inquirer, Scientific American Mind, Popular Science and New Scientist. In my car, Bertrand Russell's Unpopular Essays, because I need something fun to read in KL's traffic jams. And by my bed, science fiction of various grades, ranging from trashy WH40k to the stuff that makes you think, by the likes of Alistair Reynolds, Vernor Vinge and Huxley, supplemented by 3 volumes of Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe, assorted manga and a majestic, leatherbound tome: Bullfinch's Mythology. Oh, two majestic leatherbound tomes! The other one is the complete Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy - all 5 books of it.

Point is, I'm one of those people who are firmly of the opinion that one can never read too much. I've been wolfing down information for quite a while now, often simply for the sake of it, SO... I did find in the garden of literary and intellectual wonders that I surround myself with a particularly rare and radiant blossom in the form of Checkov's Uncle Vanya. It came with the ebook reader, one of a hundred literary gems** that now sit in a slim device of steel, leather and semiconductor wafers (with all the right buttons in all the right places! What a triumph of engineering design!) on my desk, though more often, these days, in my hand.

I'd never read Checkov, and was enamoured of science very early in my life, so for a very large part of it, classics were something I read because I simply had to know.

*Brief interlude. Haruka wants her chin rubbed.*

Where was I? Checkov! There is a singular beauty to the language as written in his day, and its such a joy to read after days and days of Pinker's pedantry! To be fair, given Pinker's subject matter (I'm halfway through The Language Instinct), pedantry is a necessary evil, especially for a schmoe like me who's never studied linguistics, let alone cognitive linguistics, at uni before. As such, seeing English put to work by the hands of such masters as Wilde, Shaw, Dickens and the like is a much-needed break from the relatively clipped, emotionless drone of news and popular science texts.

I luv the ebook reader. All I need now is a steampunk version of it and I can die happy...

*The travesty that it is...

** I was very chuffed to find Darwin's On the Origin of Species was among them.

The Atheist's work is never done

Here's a question I saw on Yahoo! Answers:

Do people and their pets reincarnate together into different lives?
Just thought of this lol do you think like, with people and their pets, that in every or some lives they reincarnate together. Like a person has a dog, is the person and the dog likely to meet eachother again somehow in the next life?

Of course, I felt obliged to give my most diplomatic, not-at-all-contemptuous retort:

As an atheist, I'd think it wiser to go on the assumption that there is no afterlife. Make the most of this life, chill out, be groovy, live well. When death eventually comes, you or your dog won't be in a position to object.

So, yeah, 2 points for me. I peeped at it a while later to find another answer:

Yes, this absolutely is the case, people ALWAYS reincarnate with their pets. However what generally tends to happen is that because of the karmic relationship between the person and his or her pets, the roles are almost always reversed in the next life. So your pet will become your owner, and you will become the pet - or, depending on how poorly you treated your pet, you may instead end up being reincarnated as the feeder animal that gets fed to your previous-life pet's new pet - who, in all likelihood will be the reincarnation of one of your other previous-life pets or a smaller animal that you fed to them (as in the case of a feeder mouse, cricket, or feeder goldfish). Hope this clears things up for you!

Patrick Stewart, help me out here...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Infidel Xmas

Heisei banzai! Well, it was Emperor Akihito's birthday yesterday... And so we come once again to the birthday of the man with the mullet himself, Jesus H Christ, who shares, among other things, his birthday with Mithra.

Look, tell you what, I'll skip out on the dissection of the life and times of the zombie king for now. There's plenty of that all over the net, and I'm in no mood to vent atheist's frustration* right now, because my kittens are happily dozing together not 2 meters from me. Good vibes, right there.

So, what's a heathen devil like me (and no doubt many others) to celebrate at a time like this? What have I to look forward to at a time like this, I, who simply am not convinced of the existence of a theistic God, for whom this day is of no greater significance than, say, Thor's birthday?

Plenty, I suppose. This time of year, perhaps more than any other, is a point in the year where everyone, regardless of race, colour or creed, are that little bit more likely to be nice to each other. I concede that this little spurt of altruism is, indeed, inspired by the God delusion, but it's my own, perhaps overly optimistic little hope, that every year, perhaps one or two more people will realise that all humans are in the game of life together, and we don't need a date of religious significance to simply be nice to each other.

Xmas, for some reason, always makes me think of the famous Christmas Truce, in which German and British troops in the trench-hells of the First World War unofficially decided on a cease-fire and just live-and-let-live for a bit. For a brief few days, soldiers, young men with orders from some unfathomable political force to kill one another, on two sides of a fool's war, ceased to be soldiers and were just people again - people in a tough spot trying to help each other to get by. In a crucible of blood, bullets and barbed-wire, the imaginary lines dividing men were melted away to give birth to the collective realization:

It doesn't have to be this way. We don't have to kill each other.

Such an epiphany is sorely needed in many parts of the world today.

So, while I don't celebrate the birthday of Jesus/Mithra, what I do celebrate is one more excuse for people to be nice to each other. One more justification to reach out to the other side, not to strike them down, nor to turn them from their beliefs, nor to take what is their right, but to just simply be together and not fight, just for a while, and realize the true enemies are not the people under a different flag or even worshipping a different god. The true enemies are found in the delusions that make people divide the world into Us and Them.

* Atheist's frustration = the exasperation felt by atheists and secular humanists everywhere at the continued existence of religiously inspired absurdity.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Fire extinguishers and their uses: A guide to Korean politics

Trawling the net as long as I have, one of the great things I find about the net is that there's always, always another "Seriously, wtf???" moment lurking around the next link. Here's one.

Long story short, the ruling party was meeting to ratify a FTA between South Korea and the US. The opposition wasn't invited, and the ruling party* barricaded themselves in the meeting room. So, about a dozen or so opposition lawmakers decided to invite themselves, with the aid of sledgehammers and crowbars. Alas for the underdogs, though they eventually tore down the door, they didn't manage to get into the meeting and stop the FTA, thanks to a further barricade of heavy furniture.

Somehow, I doubt that, even if they did get in, the opposition lawmakers would be interested in sitting quietly at the meeting table to rationally discuss the pros and cons of said FTA.

* The "Grand National Party". How pompous can you get?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cattank!

Here's an old chestnut that gave me a geeky lol worth sharing:

Friday, December 19, 2008

When Money is the New God...

... and the new God ain't working, it's time to scurry back to old Gods. That's the impression I got from this IHT article. I can't quite recall who it was who said the real measure of a man makes itself known in times of adversity, or words to that effect, only wittier and catchier. Evidently the credit crunch has revealed a great many people for the spineless, money-grubbing, irresponsible little weeds that they are.

Despite my best efforts, many acquaintances of mine maintain a terribly naive view of human nature, resolutely believing that humans are, in their heart of hearts, strong and good and kind and similar saccharine tripe courtesy of Chicken Soup for the Gullible Soul. Take a good look now. Like a toddler who's tripped and fallen, these people run crying for the security blanket of an imaginary friend, finding shallow solace* for shallow minds in the empty promises of the master conmen who dress themselves up with titles like "reverend", "pastor" and "father".

It is tempting to simply pour scorn on these poor fools blindly chasing their childish delusion and leave it at that, sparing them no more thought than one would the expiry of another Happy Tree Friend. I for one take this as a clear indication that those who would speak in defense of science and reason are not doing enough, though for the life of me, I know not what more we can do. There's nothing quite as exasperating as the combination of wilful ignorance, smugness and in certain cases (Dinesh D'Souza and Deepak Chopra come to mind) small-minded spite that one encounters in trying to reason with died-in-the-wool theists.

But, heathen comrades, keep your chin up and do not despair! We, the infidels of the world have truth on our side and empirically verifiable evidence to back it up, which is infinitely more than the delusional hordes can or ever will offer. The Age of Reason will come, but it won't just turn up by itself, like certain poor fools are wont to believe about their "messiahs". It will take work, perseverance and the patience of mountains. And when patience runs out, then at the very least some creative stress relief in between.

So, for your consideration here's Chris Cocker, of "Leave Britney alone!" fame for you to annihilate at your leisure with a blender. And a gerbil, just in case.

By the way, if you haven't already, do watch Bill Maher's Religulous. Maher does strike me as a bit smarmy at times, but it's good to see religion put in it's proper place, i.e. a collection of silly old myths for sane people to look back and laugh at. To the atheist, this movie is a light-hearted reminder of what the conflict between faith and reason is about. To the agnostic, it is a wake-up call. To the theist, a mirror and a well-deserved smack in the face, that is, if a theist has the stones to actually watch it. Go see!

* Just had to mention: I just watched Quantum of Solace. Bond sans cool gadgets? Boo!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Yay! Good news for a change!

I was rather chuffed to see the front page of today's Star (the print version) adorned with pics of Governor* Bush getting shoes chucked at him by an Iraqi journalist. Big props to Muntader al-Zaidi, caster of shoes, for his courage in giving that inarticulate hick what's been coming for quite a while now. My only complaint is that neither of the shoes hit Bush. Apparently, $10 million has been offered for those shoes! I wonder if this is going to start a fad...

Anyway, it wasn't long before the creative souls at B3ta got to work:


On a completely unrelated noted, I peeped at this Comedy Goldmine from Something Awful and figured the teachers who read this blog (both of you) might appreciate it.

* Yes, Governor, because that's the last post he held legally.

Monday, December 15, 2008

What to do with all them old CDs

A thought occured to me a couple of days ago. Simply put, it is this:

Would it be possible to build a solar power plant using old CDs?

Would it be feasible to have racks to hold groups of CDs together connected to heliostats to reflect the sunlight over a large area into a black receptacle where water is heated into steam to power a turbine?

It seems to me the limiting factor here is the reflectivity of the CDs. I mean, it's not like there's a terrible shortage of discarded CDs, is there?

*Posted this on the RDF forums. Will be waiting most eagerly for the response, even if this idea is shot down in flames, coz science is just like that...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ah, to be a cat...

Everytime I see Haruka and Souseki dozing together like this, I can't help but feel a twinge of envy - they look like the most contented critters in the universe! However, I do wonder if Haruka still harbours a little resentment towards Souseki:

In case you're wondering, Souseki is alive and well, and has about 2 days left of being male, as at the time of writing.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I used to like dinosaurs... *Used* to.

My niece is visiting, and when she's not harassing my poor cats, she can usually be found watching Barney dvds. Well, maybe not quite dvds in the plural. I'm quite sure I've been overhearing the same dvd over and over again for the past week. Were I not an infidel, I'd be fairly sure Barney is the AntiChrist.

Anyway, here I sit, with that wretched purple dinosaur's voice ringing in my ears and some odd thoughts popped into my head. For instance, how do children's shows come about? On what basis would the character design be settled upon? Do they target a particular demographic? And just how exactly do they aid a child's mental progression other than by grabbing attention with bright colours and writing information into young minds through sheer repetition of annoyingly catchy tunes and silly voices?

This led me to the odd little question: Given a culturally homogenous society, would it be possible to design the perfect (or close to perfect, at any rate) children's show? That is, if we decided to, say, isolate a group of munchiekins for the entirety of their childhood and run any number of diabolical experiments on them, gauging their responses to various cartoon characters, songs, information and whatnot, using the results to produce a children's show giving the best possible rate of information retention? Preferably with the minimum amount of painfully annoying, repetitive songs?

Well, its just a thought is all. Much like fantasizing about blowing Barney's brains out with a suitably large-caliber gun is just a thought. A happy, happy thought. Anyway, on a vaguely related note...

The Sep/Oct 2008 issue of Skeptical Inquirer pointed a little fact which I found at once unsettling and reassuring. Apparently, the human brain reaches it's maximum size around the age of 14. After that, it very slowly shrinks throughout the rest of one's life. By the time one is 70 years old, the brain is about the same size it used to be at the age of 3.

Now, this is unsettling to me because, at first glance, it appears that my poor, addled brain has been slowly, inexorably dying for more than half of my life. :-( I suppose this is one little fact of life I should keep from my dad (70 this year).

But, upon further consideration, this is quite uplifting! Why? Well, for a start, my dad, and many individuals I've met around the same age (bar one), clearly possess an intellectual capacity light years beyond that of any 3-year-old child I've witnessed. What I draw from this is that it illustrates the sheer magnitude of the human brain's powers of storage and cognition, that even with the capacity of a 3-year-old's brain , one can still function perfectly well (most of the time) with all of the software, that is, the accumulated memes we've managed to scrape together, from 70 years of living. Who knows the limits to our untapped potential?

Well, I look at this as a reason for optimism, a valuable thing indeed in these very interesting times we live in, this age of economic time bombs, of global terror, of culture war... and of goddamn purple dinosaurs.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Huffin' and puffin'...

Well, since we're on the subject of 3 Little Pigs anyway, here's a video that surfaced from the depths of my memories from when I still watched TV:

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The way fairy tales should be told

Was searching for the Fatboy Slim video with Christopher Walken struttin' his stuff when I stumbled on this:



You gotta love Christopher Walken :-D

Friday, December 5, 2008

Yet another childhood memory tainted forever...

Thanks a LOT, Break.com... *sigh*...

Something I've always wondered about, but could never be bothered to look up...

If a hyponotist has you under a trance, then tells you to die, would you? Could he tell you that your heart just stopped? On a related note, what do you suppose would happen if you were under the influence of an asshole hypnotist?

Being a rebel for a bit...

I heard that in merry Englande, one can be prosecuted for having information on how to make a bomb on your computer. So, as a slap in the face of the obviously computer-illiterate muppet who came up with that one, here's a happy link for you:


There, all you'll ever need to know about blowing things up. Need moar? Just fucking Google it. And here's a fun word to look up: Flux compressor. Go knock yourselves out. Or blow yourselves up, whatever floats your boat.


Point is, a law like that is completely useless in the face of internet access. If people want to find out about something as simple as bomb-making, they will. You want to stop people from blowing things up? Think a little harder about WHY they'd want to blow things up in the first place, eh? I'm beginning to think they were right about Guy Fawkes being the only sane man who entered Parliament...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Oh, lookit! Doublethink!

How intellectually dishonest does one have to be to work in Malaysia's "most widely read English daily"? Well, now we know. From the Star's website today:


Hurry and you should still be able to see it. And yes, that is the same Zaid who made that very brave speech mentioned earlier on this blog, and indeed many other blogs. And that's why these days, the U in UMNO stands for 'useless'. Seriously, how do these people live with themselves?

Check out the two articles, and you'll find that neither makes reference to the other. And of course, there'll be the obligatory statement from the PM, who still maintains an unbroken record of not saying a single word he went back on less than 3 months later or which isn't an utterly worthless platitude that's blindingly obvious to anyone with a primary education.

Still hoping that China, or better yet, Singapore will kindly invade Malaysia...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Friday, November 28, 2008

It ain't easy being a hero...

So... what happens when you run out of bad guys?

Pic from break.com

Quick question: On the decay of beauty

Was in a traffic jam today, which means I had some time to do a little thinkin', and what I was thinking about was this:

At what point does something stop being beautiful and turn crass, tasteless, cliche, etc?

Anyway, what brought this on was sitting in my car, listening to Malaysian radio and despairing, for verily Malaysian radio advertisements are, possibly without exception, the most revolting perversions of humour and/or aesthetics ever aired in the history of man. Seriously, just listen to it and tell me you don't want every Malaysian radio marketing exec shot for crimes against culture.

So, yah, I'm-a just leave this question here for now. Might come back and discuss it further, if the urge takes me.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Urbandictionary.com on Ann Coulter

And here's the top result:

Ann Coulter 3320 up, 749 down love ithate it

The granddaughter of Adolf Hitler, Ms. Coulter started at a young "girl" playing with toy soldiers, whom she decimated because each one was either Muslim, gay, liberal, or simply "had it coming". She did several hours of selfless volunteer work in high school, aiding in programs in her youth group at Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, the Christian based organization "Focus On The Family", and the prestigious Ku Klux Klan. This lovely woman then excelled onto college at Cornell University, majoring in eugenics. The author of several wonderful books such as "Slander" and "How To Talk To A Liberal (if you must)" are undoubtedly some of America's favorites. She has also started her own religion, Coulterism, where they believe she is Christ coming back in the image of a woman. They use her classic books as their bible.

Actually no. There is only one word to describe this woman (synonyms: see cunt)
Ann Coulter is a neofascist cunt who will basically do anything that goes by if it has a quarter and a penis.

$tupid

The seemingly utopian ideal of a world without money has been stewing in my head for quite a long time, perhaps ever since I became familiar with communism as related by someone other than some small-minded Republican who hasn't gotten round to moving on from the dark days of McCarthyism. Just stewing, mind you. It's not like I've managed to formulate some grand plan to free humanity of the shackles of currency and haul us all, kicking and screaming, into the nigh magical post-scarcity future of Iain M Bank's Culture.

With this moneyless ideal in mind, this article from BBC News' website caught my attention. Anybody who's been using the Net long enough will know of the ongoing conflict between those who believe information should be free and the men in suits who would put a price tag and take a commission for every little piece of so-called "intellectual property" produced.

A couple of months ago, I slipped a Youtube video into this blog from this Jap bloke - Hiroshi... something-or-other. Anyway, he pointed out that as this world gets more and more connected, the value of information diminishes, such that information is no longer of any real value, but the wisdom to sort, select and wield information becomes of paramount importance. It wasn't long ago that a human mind was only limited by its imagination. Now, with the Net, a human mind is limited only by the collective imagination of all of humanity. With the Net, the floodgates have opened to a massive leap in the limits of human cognition. Perhaps, in this respect, we've unwittingly stumbled into Vernor Vinge's technological singularity.

I can't escape the feeling that humanity is on the edge of something good. Well, hell, better than good. Something bright and amazing but for some reason continues to elude us because too many people close their eyes to too many uncomfortable truths. For a start, why is it that the richest 10% of adults account for 85% of the world's assets?

It is a sad fact of life that money begets money. To get rich, you *could* win your fortune by your own (or if you're sneaky enough, someone else's) sweat, blood and tears. But hell, that's nothing compared to being born rich, and raised to get richer. We see such tycoons as Branson, Soros, Buffett make it big and are seduced by the glammer. Wealth beyond imagining - isn't that a good thing? Isn't it great to be able to build such a fantastic fortune from the ground up?

I say no. I liken the achievement of these tycoons to that of players of a very skillful, yet fundamentally worthless game. Like tiddlywinks or golf, say, or maybe even Yugi-Oh, Poxnora, or Pokemon or those horribly addictive Facebook games (you know the ones), the acquisition of money is a game. However, it is a less-than-zero sum game that's fueled by the many, many losers who play it under the sad yet seductive delusion that anyone can be a winner. And it is in the blind pursuit of this delusion that we dig for ourselves a deeper and deeper hole. Add to that the effects of inflation and the very idea of eliminating poverty is but a castle in the sky.

As long as money as churned out by a central bank exists, this game of musical chairs will always plague humanity - there MUST be losers. And because of the nature of money, building value out of scarcity, we can never achieve our full potential. Worse yet, in our blind, desperate, groping for more money, we pollute everything we touch. Beautiful music is twisted into catchy jingles, whatever sells. Visual arts intensify into the garish obscenity of modern advertising. Literature degenerates to whatever makes the widest possible market feel good, burying truly valuable words in a tide of glurge, mysticism and motivational rot.

This is not to say that the world of Idiocracy is coming to life. Intellectuals in every age have despaired of the folly of man, few as eloquently as Erasmus, yet somehow, we manage to bumble our way through.

In the past, the scale of the social meltdown caused by the sheer buildup of inequality was held in check by the limits of communication and transportation technology. Then, in the wake of the 2nd World War, a hint of what things may come was seen in long paroxysm of violence that was the Red Revolution and the wave of communism that swept the world. History has shown us that communism is not the problem, but rather the weakness of human nature in executing the communist ideal. Only the most ruthless, unscrupulous, yet charismatic people could stand a chance of leading such revolutions, fueled by the righteous indignation of the oppressed. With such people on top, the social experiment of communism could only fail. The remaining communist regimes have had no option save to become reluctant participants in the capitalist game.

Now, the world is more connected than ever before, and globalisation slowly smudges the borders between nations into nonexistence. With Deng Xiaoping's reforms, China is now set to be the biggest player in human history of the money game, meaning the stakes have now been raised like never before. But, ultimately, this is a game that can only be lost; it's simply a matter of time.

It's clearer to me now, more than ever, that a new system is needed. I can't rightly say that I have one, and, crazy as it sounds, I think Jacque Fresco is looking in the right direction. But, as Bertrand Russell rightly pointed out, the very idea of humanity spontaneously adopting an system guaranteeing equality and justice for all is laughable. There are simply too many people with too many vested interests in inquality and injustice and, of course, they're holding all the cards. True human progress, a world in which war and poverty are eradicated and every human has an equal oppurtunity to reach their full potential, demands the system be overturned, but it won't be pretty.

I don't think I've ever quite hoped so much that time will prove me wrong.

Just how true IS this?

From this week's edition of the lurvely, intelligent webcomic, Subnormality:

For the life of me, I can't remember where I found Subnormality, but I was hooked the day I saw this. For the benefit of those of you blissfully unaware of the culture war, the Horsemen are:

Science = Richard Dawkins
Progress = Daniel Dennett
Reason = Sam Harris
Equality = Christopher Hitchens

Every one of them leading authors of books speaking out against religion. I recommend Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation for newbies.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

... and his bowels unplugged, and his nostrils raped, and his bottom burnt up...

I'm just over halfway through a beyootiful leather-bound copy of Bulfinch's Mythology, deep into the bits on King Arthur, Lancelot, Gawain, Galahad and all the rest of those armour-clad, simple-minded, chauvinistic hoodlums. I have to say, it's quite fascinating to read all this without Hollywood's butchery, but I think some of the original impact of these stories may be lost when I've this drifting through my head as I read it:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

=^_^=

Oooh, I wish my home had a staircase now...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Here's hoping mine will come on a white horse called Binky...

I just attended a funeral today. Well, for the past 3 days, actually, being Chinese and all. A grandmother* whom I suppose I'll now be referring to in the past tense. I did what I could to hold my peace, seeing as there were a few services held by her church, led by her pastor and his wife (herself a reverend, apparently), who are, frankly, the most atrociously tactless, pious, self-righteous, smarmy, God-bothering goits I've ever encountered on this side of the Pacific.

Anyway, I've no mood to be angry at fundies right now - there's a kitten purring on my desk, trying to paw my nose. Moving right along, I was asked at the funeral, "What's the point of life?" - a wonderfully existential question that all thinking atheists will have pondered at some point or other. What do we, the infidels, have to look forward to? Suffice it to say, this led me to ponder the subject of death and how drastically different my own outlook was compared to those in my immediate vicinity at the time. Admittedly, most of them were the pastor's sheeple who viewed such things as art, science and philosophy as "stuff smartass gweilos do". It's like being surrounded by little yellow Republicans.

In any case, I found myself just about to say something about my heathen outlook on death and the afterlife, but stopped short, deciding I'd best put something like this down in writing, where I can better structure my thoughts. So, here's me on death.

To be honest, I think I'm fairly comfortable with it. Well, with regards to my own death, I won't be in a position to object or even care after it happens, so there's not much of a fuss to kick up about it, other than to plan ahead and help those remaining to deal with the consequences of own's own expiry, timely or not. Anyway, as Steven Wright said, "I intend to live forever. So far, so good."

A lot of people have trouble dealing with death. Ok, I read that again and just realised the sheer magnitude of understatement there. What I meant to bring up was the fact that as living organisms, we have a big stake (which is to say, everything) in our own self preservation and as such, our genes program us to do everything in our power to stay alive. Hence, part of the software (or hardware, depending on who you ask) that comes with our marvellous brains is a fear of death. As we form relationships with and become attached to the people around us, our fear extends to losing them, as well. And so it is that one of the cornerstones of the Abrahamic religions is to exploit the sheeple's fear of death, to cast that most seductive of illusions - death is not the end, but a beginning. Charming, probably reassuring, but utterly baseless.

In a sense, the Abrahamic religions have pulled off (and are keeping up!) the biggest, most heinous scam in human history, that is, they are selling a product that cannot be claimed until the customer is actually dead, i.e. a happy afterlife. There is no way whatsoever to verify the authenticy, or even the existence of said product, yet people will expend ludicrous amounts of money and effort securing it, keeping the clergy's pockets very well-padded indeed, with absolutely no way of expressing one's dissatisfaction upon failure of delivery.

And it was while considering this that it occurred to me that I'd read of another, very similar situation. When the first human explorers first landed on Mauritius, they encountered a plump, flightless and endearingly naive bird, that is, the Dodo. Apparently, this critter had evolved happily on that island with no natural enemies, and hence viewed the newcomers not with fear or caution, but with curiousity. Indeed, when the first hungry sailor reached out, grabbed one inquisitive bird and broke its hapless little neck, its fellows, rather than run away with fear, crowded around wondering what the hairless beach ape had just done with their suddenly very relaxed comrade. Seems to me that the seduction of faith is not unlike the doom of the Dodo - a pit of ignorance with little to no hope of escape.


But what about the secular understanding of death? I can't speak for all us infidels, but I can speak for myself and the happy few who share my view. My view is quite simple and nigh impossible to sugar-coat - death is the end. Of the individual, of course. We live, we procreate and so we must die. As sexually reproducing creatures, each new generation represents a shuffling of genes, with time and experience selecting for the individuals most fit for their environment during their lives. For each successive generation to evolve, older generations must die. From the point of view of the gene, immortality simply means stagnation, nothing more.

In the most simple terms, we strive to be the best and brightest we can, marry, have kids, raise them to be the best and brightest they can be, fulfilling the imperatives set for us by our genes: survive, evolve, prosper. Even looking at life and death from this simplistic perspective, one may be inclined to slip towards despair. Such temporary creatures we are! What's the point of it all? Oddly enough, one encounters a surprisingly witty and charming response to this painful question from a movie with, of all people, Jack Black:

"Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift. That is why it is called the present." - Master Wu Gui, Kung Fu Panda, 2008.

Pleasure and pain are all too real for us, regardless of race or creed. If we are here for such a short while, why waste so much effort visiting misery upon others? Is it not better to live for our happiness and that of those around us? And by happiness I don't refer to the raving, frenzied hedonism of pubs and clubs, but just simple contentment. A full stomach, a healthy body and mind, companionship, a wide universe to explore - what more can one ask for? In my eyes, the only thing more one could wish for is the same for those who haven't. In that cute old tortoise's words, I see a touch of Zhaozhou Congshen's Zen of everyday-mindedness.

To me, this world is what this life is about. No childish promises of angels, houris and immortality in the hereafter. No empty threats of eternal damnation, lakes of fire and everlasting torment. And definitely no hurting or killing people trying to convince them otherwise.

This, in itself, is justification enough for living my life the way I do. My sense of morality leans towards the utilitarian, and so I am very much convinced that I do indeed serve the greater good of humanity in trying to tear down religion and open closed minds to new ways of thinking. But, shortly after encountering Dawkins, another element to the purpose of life came to light, in the form of memes.

Artists and poets have known this in their gut for thousands of years, and it is only in recent years we see scientists and philosophers looking closely at memes as a concept. But its no new revelation that an individual's ideas (if the idea is catchy enough) will far outlive the individual. Shakespeare, Archimedes, Al-Khwarismi, Einstein and other such luminaries will live forever in human memory for their contributions to the sum of human intellect. Note that I say catchy. An idea does not necessarily have to be good, or even true for it to gain a healthy following, but I digress. The point is, in memes, we may live far beyond our corporeal forms. What will we leave behind? A cute habit? A fad? A scientific breakthrough? A trail of blood? A better world? A dazzling wit?

So there's a little something more to keep a guy motivated. Granted, one won't actually be conscious to admire how your memes are doing, but I think it's kind of fun to try putting together something nice to stand the test of time. I suppose that's why I write what I write. When I was a kid, I thought the coolest thing in the world would be to have a unit of measurement named after me. I must confess, to this day, I haven't the damnedest idea what one could possibly measure with a Cheng.

Right, this post is way longer than I'd expected. Will continue elaborating in later posts as the whim takes me. Or on request, I suppose, rare as those are. But, next couple of posts will be happier stuff, 'onest guv...

* Not sure what's the right term here. My maternal granddad, who expired long before I was even a gleam in my father's eye, had 4 wives. My mum is the daughter of the 3rd, the one who just expired is the 4th. My parents tell me I still refer to #4 as 'grandmother'. I'm not sure that's quite right, and so would be grateful for clarification on the matter.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I was never any good with ties myself...

There are times I empathise with Dilbert so much it's scary:

Dilbert.com

Thursday, November 20, 2008

So, SO wrong...

WARNING: Not suitable for viewing by impressionable young minds! Or anyone at all, for that matter...

Just got introduced to the joys of Happy Tree Friends. I know I REALLY shouldn't be laughing, but I do:







Um... Flippy's my favourite. I am so guilty.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Devil inside speaks again...

Was reading New Scientist's article on Dumb Eco-questions You Were Afraid to Ask, when a diabolical thought popped into my head. Here's the question:

Q: What is the single most effective thing I can do for the environment?

New Scientist's answer: Over a 75-year lifespan, the average European will be responsible for about 900 tonnes of CO2 emissions. For Americans and Australians, the figure is more like 1500 tonnes. Add to that all of humanity's other environmentally damaging activities and, draconian as it may sound, the answer must surely be to avoid reproducing.

Cheng's evil answer:
DIE.

You have to concede, my inner demon isn't actually all that far off. I mean, die vs don't live, there isn't all that big a gap between them, eh? Eh?

Monday, November 17, 2008

My cats have been cloned!

Was browsing icanhascheezburger and was pleasantly surprised to find that somebody out there has a pair of kitties completely identical to my own Haruka and Souseki! Small world, eh?

ZOMG educated women! Quick! Kill them!!

... or so the Taliban think. This article came to my attention from Something Awful's thing on development economics, a field which these days seems more and more like an oxymoron. It reminded me that I'd read the Bookseller of Kabul about a year ago, a book that truly left me agog with the atrocities perpetrated by the Taliban, an organization that seems to be built entirely around hatred, anger, ignorance and religious dogmatism (with the accompanying hypocrisy).

And of course, a thinking man is then left to wonder, what manner of diabolical circumstances need come together in order that an organization so utterly loathsome as the Taliban be allowed to attain the power to run Afghanistan? Please refer to Chomsky. Hegemony or Survival is a good place to start.

I'm all for cultural diversity and everything, but I think it's high time a lot of us took an honest look at the world around us and just admitted that there are such things as cultures this world could do without. Tolerance is a worthy ideal, but that's all it is - an ideal. Reality demands that a line be drawn and a stand be taken against the exclusivism and glorification of ignorance espoused by the Abrahamic religions.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but theirs is the kind of thinking that holds us back as a species, and must be wiped out. Sound a bit harsh? I think acid in the faces of innocent schoolgirls warrants such a reaction, don't you?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Prez/PM has WHUPASS

I wasn't previously aware of Vladimir Putin's sporting skillz, nor am I usually fussed about a head of state's abilities beyond the ability to govern, but a Judo champion?? And ex-KGB to boot??? Man, round here, an MP's doing well if he can do a pushup...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

m3h

I luv you, /b/.

Oh, and before you click that, if you're not familiar with 4chan.org, what you find on the other end of that link may be NSFW. Or not. Well, hell, it's random, all right?? I mean... meh.

What Zaid said

I swear, this guy's name keeps making me think of the chopper scene in Pulp Fiction. Happily enough, Zaid's not dead (good luck to him on keeping it that way) but alive and well and fighting the good, if very uphill, fight against Malay supremacists and the loud, ill-educated rabble that pass for MPs in UMNO.

A little background: Zaid Ibrahim was the bloke formerly in charge of judicial reform under the current PM, Abdullah Badawi aka Pak Lah to his fans aka Sleeping Beauty to his critics. Seeing our previous PM, Dr M, completely crippled the M'sian judiciary and left it subject to the whims and fancies of the government, Zaid had a LOT of work to do. But, this is Malaysia. There's quite a few terribly influential people who prefer that justice is something only poor people must suffer, so there was no way in hell Zaid could get the job done whilst M'sia suffers a dearth of honesty in all its forms. So what could Zaid do? He done resigned, and continues to speak out against the bad joke that is, alas, the system in the Malaysia. Props to him.

On 31 Oct 2008, he unleashed a speech that really stomped on the UMNOputeras (i.e. the miscreants who push the Malay supremacist agenda primarily to keep their pockets well padded) toes. Why? To speak simply, it pointed out an uncomfortable, irrefutable truth: that UMNO as it stands now is blatantly, anachronistically racist and a detriment to Malaysia. Here's the speech, preserved in all its (lengthy!) glory:

Speech by Datuk Zaid Ibrahim at LAW ASIA 2008
31 October 2008 @ 9.00am
Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre

Malaysia – A Lost Democracy?

1. Let me start by inviting you back into history. Imagine that it is the morning of the 31st of August 1957. At midnight, an independent nation calling itself the Federation of Malaya is to be unveiled. Conceived as a cutting edge model of multiracial and multi-religious coexistence and cooperation, it is poised to stand out as an example of what can be achieved through diplomacy and a respect for the spirit of democracy. It is of great historical significance that the transition from colony to independent nation, so often achieved only at the great price that turmoil and unrest exacts, has been achieved peacefully. Though this is a process that may have been made more difficult without the skill and fortitude with which negotiations to that end have been carried out, they do not define it. That honour goes to the aspirations of all those who call Malaya home. The quest for self-determination has not been one that recognized race. It has been, simply put, a Malayan one.

I would like to think that as midnight approached, one o the elements that gave confidence to the Alliance leaders and, in fact, all Malayans was the knowledge that a constitutional arrangement that accorded full respect and dignity for each and every Malayan, entrenched the Rule of Law and established a democratic framework for government had been put in place. The Federal Constitution was a masterful document. Inspired by history and shaped lovingly to local circumstance, it was handcrafted by a team of brilliant jurists who appreciated that they could not discharge their burden without first having understood the hearts of minds of those who would call this nation their home and whose children would call it their motherland. Hundreds of hours of meetings with representatives of all quarters resulted in a unique written constitution that cemented a compact between nine sultanates and former crown territories. This compact honoured their Highnesses the Malay Rulers, Islam and the special status of the Malays even as it seamlessly allowed for constitutional government and created an environment for the harmonious and equal coexistence of all communities through the guarantee of freedoms and the establishment of the institutions that would allow for the protection and promotion of these guarantees. If at all there was a social contract, it was the guarantee of equality and the promise of the Rule of Law.

I would say that as at 31st August 1957, the Federation of Malaya was set to become a shining example of a working democracy. Though special provisions had been included in the Constitution to allow for protective affirmative action measures where the Malays were concerned, and later the natives of Sabah and Sarawak when these states merged into the renamed Federation of Malaysia, and for declarations of Emergency and the enacting of exceptional laws against subversion, these provisions were not anti-democratic nor were they undermining of the Rule of Law. Conversely, if used as contemplated by the founders of the Constitution, they were aimed at protecting democracy from grave uncertainties that could undermine the very foundations of the nation.

If I sound nostalgic, it is because in some ways it could very sadly be said that democracy and the Rule of Law, as they were understood at the time this nation achieved its independence, at a time when I was much younger, have been consigned to the past. Events that followed in history undermined and stifled their growth. To understand how this came about and the state of things as they are, one however must have an understanding of the politics of the country. I seek your indulgence as I attempt a brief summary of key historical events.

After the euphoria of 1957, race-relations took a turn for the worst in 1969. The race riots of that year have marked us since. As a response, adjustments were made and measures introduced to keep what was now perceived to be a fragile balance in place. The Rukun Negara was pushed through as a basis of national unity and the New Economic Policy (NEP) was unveiled by which the government was mandated to address the disparity in wealth between the Malays and the other communities, in particular the Chinese, that had been identified as the root cause of the resentment that had exploded into violence. These measures, in my view, were on the whole positive. They were agreed to by all the political parties making up the government, in part due to an understanding that the NEP was a temporary measure aimed at assisting the Malays that would not disadvantage the other communities. The late Tun Dr. Ismail talked about giving the Malays an opportunity to survive in the modern competitive world. It was readily appreciated that unless society as a whole addressed and rectified certain historical imbalances and inequities, the country would flounder. In my view, these measures were easily reconciled with democracy and the Rule of Law.

The 1980s presented a different scenario altogether. We saw a unilateral restructuring of the so-called Social Contract by a certain segment of the BN leadership that allowed for developments that have resulted in our current state of affairs. The non-Malay BN component parties were perceived by UMNO to be weak and in no position to exert influence. Bandied about by UMNO ideologues, the Social Contract took on a different, more racialist tone. The essence of its reconstructed meaning was this: that Malaya is primarily the home of the Malays, and that the non-Malays should acknowledge that primacy by showing deference to the Malays and Malay issues. Also, Malay interest and consent must be allowed to set the terms for the definition and exercise of non-Malay citizenship and political rights. This marked the advent of Ketuanan Melayu or, in English, Malay Supremacy. Affirmative action and special status became a matter of privilege by reference to race rather than of need and questioning of this new status quo was not to be tolerated.

As Ketuanan Melayu evolved and entrenched itself, Islam became political capital due to the close links between Malays and the religion. The Constitution itself defines a ‘Malay’, for purposes of affirmative action, as someone who amongst other things professes the religion of Islam. This over the years led to a politically
driven articulation of Malaysia as an Islamic State. Again, no questions were tolerated. Majoritarianism had
become the governing paradigm of governance as the character and nature of rights were defined by Malay interests and defined by them.

This new political philosophy in which the primacy of Malay interests was for all purposes and intents the raison d’être of government naturally led to interference with key institutions. I say naturally as it was, and still is, impossible to reconcile the principles of equality and civil rights of the people of this country with the
primacy of one group over all others. Needless to say, a new social order in which some are made to defer to the primacy of others is not going to be easily accepted. As such, in order to enforce compliance and to encourage acceptance harsh measures would have to be taken to quash protest or disagreement. Policy doctrine or diktat not supported by consensus will almost certainly be a subject of contention. It is for this reason that in the 1980s already harsh anti-democratic laws that allowed for the suppression of legitimate dissent such as the Internal Security Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Police Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the Sedition Act were tightened further. Where possible, reliance on them was made immune from judicial scrutiny a feat achieved only through a constitutional amendment that suborned the Judiciary to Parliament. It got to a stage where when more than 5 friends got together, one wondered whether it was wiser to obtain a police permit. Such was the state of the law, such was the state of democracy.

Mukhriz Mahathir will probably be the new UMNO youth leader. In saying as he did recently that there is
no need for law and judicial reforms as it will not benefit the Malays, he typifies what is perceived as the
kind of UMNO leader who appeals to the right-wing of Malay polity. That he may be right is sad as it leads to the ossification of values that will only work against the interests of the party and the nation. This type of thinking may pave the way to a suggestion in the future that we may as well do away with general elections altogether as they may not be good for the Malays for if the justice that a revitalized Rule of Law would allow for is not to the benefit of the Malays, what is? More inefficiency, more corruption and a more authoritarian style of government perhaps. We are a deeply divided nation, adrift for our having abandoned democratic traditions and the Rule of Law in favour of a political ideology that serves no one save those who rule.

How else can we describe the state of affairs in Malaysia? In a country where the Rule of Law is respected and permitted to flourish, just laws are applied even-handedly and fairly. I can point to numerous instances where that has not been our experience. Let me point a few out to you. A gathering of one group constitutes an illegal assembly but not that of another. A speech or publication is seditious or constitutes a serious threat to the security of the nation such as to warrant detention without trial under the ISA if published by one person but not another. This cannot be right even if it were to be to the benefit of the
majority, which is not the case. My belief in constitutional democracy and the Rules of Law is founded on an acceptance of their functional qualities and the prospect of sustainable and inclusive development that they offer. It is of no concern to me whether Fukuyama was right when he declared that in view of the success of liberal democracies all over the world and the collapse of communism, mankind had achieved the pinnacle of success and history was dead.

There are less esoteric reasons but as, if not more, compelling ones. Indonesia’s transition to democracy since the end of military rule in 1998 showcases these. The majority of Indonesians have embraced democracy, religious tolerance, and religious pluralism. In addition, a vibrant civil society has initiated public discussions on the nature of democracy, the separation of religion and state, women’s rights, and human rights more generally. These developments have contributed to a gradual improvement in conditions for human rights, including religious freedom, over the past few years. Since 2003, Indonesia has also overtaken Malaysia on the Reporters sans Fronteres Press Freedom Index, moving up from 110th place to 100th out of 169 countries covered. Malaysia on the other hand has dropped from 104th place to 124th place in the same period. I am not surprised. In 1999, Indonesia passed a new Press Law that, in repealing 2 previous Suharto administration laws, guaranteed free press through the introduction of crucial measures. This new law allows journalists to freely join associations, guarantees the right of journalists to protect their sources, eliminates prior censorship of print or broadcast news and makes the subverting of the independence of the press a criminal offence. It also establishes an independent body to mediate between the press, the public and government institutions, uphold a code of ethics and adjudicates disputes. Progress has not stopped there. On 3 April this year, Indonesia passed its Freedom of Information Act. This latest law allows Indonesia’s bureaucracy to be open to public scrutiny and compels government bodies
to disclose information. To enforce disclosures and to adjudicate disputes, a new body has been created under the new law, independent of government and the judiciary. While there remains some debate about the penal sanctions for misuse of the law, the passing of the Act clearly is a step in the right direction.

The lessons of the African and the Caribbean states are there for all to see. Do we emulate Zimbabwe or do we take Botswana as our political and economic model? How is it that Haiti is far behind the Dominican
Republic in economic terms when they both achieved their independence at about the same time, and have the same resources? Singapore’s success is mainly attributed to its commitment to good governance and rule of law, even though political dissent is not tolerated. Democracy, a system of government based on fair and transparent rules and laws, and the respect people have for institutions of government – these make the difference. Economic prosperity drives democracy but stifle true democracy and the inevitable outcome is economic ruin. It is useful to remember that freedom is vital for economic development.

The critical feature of a constitutional democracy to me is the test of Constitutionality itself. Does the government allow its own legitimacy to be questioned? Does it permit executive decisions to be challenged? Written Constitutions normally provide the standard by which the legitimacy of government action is judged. In the United States the practice of judicial review of congressional legislation ensures that the power of government to legislate is kept under check. Bipartisan debate and votes of conscience are not only encouraged but also expected of Congressmen and Representatives. More recently the Basic law of Germany and Italy provided explicitly for judicial review of parliamentary legislation. We have the opposite situation here. The jurisdiction of the High Court can be, and has been, ousted when it comes to challenges of executive decisions even if such decisions impact on fundamental liberties and other rights under the Constitution. For instance, where government compulsorily acquires land for a public purpose, the Courts are prevented from questioning the bona fides of the acquisition. Where a discretion is exercised by the Minister of Home Affairs under the Internal Security Act, the Court is barred from examining the exercise of the discretion except so far as to ensure that the procedural requirements have been followed. Such detention without trial would be considered repugnant in any system predicated on the Rule of Law.

Nation building is not a simple process. It is not achieved through tinkering with political ideologies or injudicious use of the coercive powers of state. These do not promote the lasting peace and stability that we crave for. We have failed miserably in dealing with complex issues of society by resorting to a political
culture of promoting fear and division amongst the people. The Ketuanan Melayu model has failed. It has
resulted in waste of crucial resources, energy and time and has distracted from the real issues confronting the country. Tan Sri Muhyiddin, the DPM-in-waiting it would seem, suggested that there is a need for a closed door forum for leaders of the BN to develop a common stand; a renewed national consensus grounded on the Social Contract. This is positive step but it should include all political leaders and be premised on the Social Contract that was the foundation of independence. The results of March 8th clearly show that the BN no longer exclusively speaks for the rakyat. Promoting discourse and dialogue is essential, as we must learn to talk and to listen to one another again. The recent pronouncement by the Malay Rulers underscores the urgency with which we need to look at rebuilding the politics of consensus. Communication and trust amongst the people must be reestablished.

The founders envisaged a Government for all Malaysians. Even Tun Dr. Mahathir spoke about it. One of the elements of Vision 2020 as envisaged by Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed was the creation of a united Bangsa Malaysia. How can such a vision be achieved if the Government is not willing to listen to the grievances of
a substantial segment of Malaysians? Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad introduced the idea of Bangsa Malaysia in a speech entitled “The Way Forward”. This is one of nine central and strategic challenges of Vision 2020. Although he only mentioned Bangsa Malaysia once, its use had sparked enthusiastic debates. The creation of Bangsa Malaysia is the challenge of establishing a united Malaysian nation with a sense of a common and
shared destiny. This must be a nation at peace with itself, territorially and ethnically integrated, living in
harmony and full and fair partnership, made up of one Bangsa Malaysia with political loyalty to the nation.

Different meanings have been given to that term Bangsa Malaysia. Many believe that it was intended to bolster the non-Malays through the envisioning of a united country where their cultural and religious uniqueness would not be threatened; Tun Dr. Mahathir in fact explicitly mentioned this. On the other hand, some believe that Bangsa Malaysia was just a neat reference to a Malaysia united under Malay or, more appropriately, UMNO hegemony. Whatever the case, I would like to believe that whilst the government of BN has done little other than pay lip-service to the concept, principally by issuing pandering slogans, since Dr Mahathir left, the country will nevertheless in the future move towards a more pluralistic society. The integration of different ethnic groups would occur naturally through the expansion of economic life and through the unintended effects of globalization so much so that ethnicity will be depoliticized. We nonetheless need to actively promote efforts at an institutional level if we want this notion of Bangsa Malaysia to materialize. The political parties making up government may not want to do so for their own short-term interests but as a whole, the people will call for it. This brings us again to the democracy and the Rule of Law. We will not succeed in promoting, a united country and allow for the evolution of Bangsa Malaysia if we do not subscribe to the Rule of Law. We need the openness, freedom and social justice that will be possible only with it in place. and democracy. How do we bring unity to the people if we are not prepared to respect their dignity?

To achieve the aspirations of the New Economic Policy, Bumiputras need to be given thinking tools to participate in the global economy. At present their attention is kept focused, almost on a daily basis, on race related issues even though there are serious issues such as the economy and the lack of trust in the institutions of government to deal with. The obsession with the Ketuanan Melayu Dotrine has in fact destroyed something precious in us. It makes us lose our sense of balance and fairness. When a certain Chinese lady was appointed head of a State Development Cooperation, having served in that Cooperation for 33 years, there were protests from Malay groups because she is Chinese. A new economic vision is necessary, one that is more forward looking in outlook and guided by positive values that would serve to enhance cooperation amongst the races. This will encourage change for the better; to develop new forms of behaviour and shifts of attitudes; to believe that only economic growth will serve social equity; to aspire to a higher standard of living for all regardless of race. We need to meaningfully acknowledge that wealth is based on insight, sophisticated human capital and attitude change. A new dynamics focused on cooperation and competition will spur innovation and creativity.

Some might say that this is a fantasy. I disagree. How do we go about transforming the culture and values of the Bumiputras so that their ability to create new economic wealth can be sustained? By changing our political and legal landscapes with freedom and democracy. Dr Mahathir was right to ask that Malays embrace modernity. He fell short of what we needed by focusing on the physical aspects of modernity. He was mistaken to think all that was needed to change the Malay mindset was science and technology. He should have also promoted the values of freedom, human rights and the respect of the law. If affirmative action is truly benchmarked on the equitable sharing of wealth that is sustainable, then we must confront the truth and change our political paradigm; 40 years of discrimination and subsidy have not brought us closer. There is a huge economic dimension to the Rule of Law and democracy that this government must learn to appreciate.

Relations between Islam, the state, law and politics in Malaysia are complex. How do we manage legal pluralism in Malaysia? Can a cohesive united Bangsa Malaysia be built on a bifurcated foundation of Sharia and secular principles? Will non-Muslims have a say on the operation of Islamic law when it affects the general character and experience of the nation? This is a difficult challenge and the solution has to be found. Leading Muslim legal scholar Abdullah Ahmad an-Na’im is hopeful. He believes that the way forward is to make a distinction between state and politics. He believes that Islam can be the mediating instrument between state and politics through the principles and institutions of constitutionalism and the protection of
equal human rights of all citizens. Whatever the formula, we can only devise a system that rejects absolutism and tyranny and allows for freedom and plurality if we are able to first agree that discourse and dialogue is vital. Democracy and respect for the rights and dignity of all Malaysians is the prerequisite to this
approach.

A compelling argument for a constitutional democracy in Malaysia is that only through such a system will we be able to preserve and protect the traditions and values of Islam and the position of the Malay Rulers. For a peaceful transition to true democracy of this country, one of key issue that requires care is the position of Islam and its role in the political system of the country. In fact I regard this to be of paramount consideration. Although the expression Islamic state is heard from time to time, and whilst it is true that ABIM, PAS and lately UMNO had the concept a key part of their agenda, the areas of emphasis differ and are subject to the contemporary political climate. For reasons too lengthy to discuss now, I would say that the “synthesis of reformist Islam, democracy, social welfare justice and equity “ would be sufficient to appease the majority of Muslims in so far as the role of Islam in public life is concerned. This state of affairs
could be achieved peacefully and without tearing the Constitution apart. The progressive elements in PAS, inspired by Dr Burhanuddin Helmi in 1956, are still alive. PAS leaders of today who have carried that torch also make reference to a more accommodating vision of Islam that puts a premium on substantive justice and the welfare of the people as major policy initiatives.

UMNO’s approach (or more accurately Dr Mahathir’s approach) to Islamic content in public policies was articulated in the early 1990s. This however achieved little in changing the political system. His “progressive Islam “was more nationalistic than PAS, and designed to usher new elements of modernity into Islam. Science and technology were touted as the means to defend Islam and the faith. The approach taken was short on the ideas of human rights and social justice, and the Rule of Law and designed more to convince the rakyat of Islam’s compatibility with elements of modernity like science and technology. Anwar Ibrahim, the present opposition leader, articulated a brand of reformist Islam that was more individual centered and liberal. Drawing its humanist thought from the great Muslim scholar, Muhammad Iqbal, Islam Madani gave emphasis on human rights and freedoms. Islam Hadhari came on to the scene just before the 2004 general elections as another form of progressive Islam, possibly inspired by the thinking of another noted scholar, Ibn Khaldun. Unfortunately, nothing much came out of this effort.

Whichever model or line of thought that will find permanence in our political landscape, Islamic aspirations and ideals will certainly become an important component in the realm of public policy. To prevent conflicts and ensure that various beliefs are absorbed and accepted into the political system, it is imperative that no force or compulsion is used. This is where the merit of a government adopting democracy and Rule of Law becomes apparent. The discussions and deliberations of even sensitive and delicate issues will make the participants aware of the value of ideas and the value of peaceful dialogues. Managing disputes through a determined, rules-based process will allow for a peaceful resolution of problems. The tolerance shown by the protagonists in Indonesia over delicate religious issues bodes well for that country and serves as as a useful illustration of what could be. Approached this way, Islam in the context of Malaysian politics will be prevented from being as divisive and as threatening as race politics.

In this, the issue of conflicts of jurisdiction still requires resolution. Our civil courts are denuded of jurisdiction to deal with matters that fall within the jurisdiction of the Sharia Courts. No Court has been given the jurisdiction and power to resolve issues that may arise in both the Sharia Courts and the civil Courts. The present separation of jurisdictions presupposes that matters will fall nicely into one jurisdiction or the other. However, human affairs are never that neat. What happens to the children of a marriage where one party converts to Islam and the other party seeks recourse in the civil Court? Or when the Sharia Court pronounces that a deceased person was a Muslim despite his family contesting the conversion? Or where the receiver of a company is restrained from dealing with a property by a Sharia court order arising out of a family dispute? Where do the aggrieved parties go? I had suggested the establishment of the Constitutional Court, but that plea has fallen on deaf ears.

There is marked increase in the use of harsh draconian measures in dealing with political and social issues. Some people say that groups such as Hindraf advocate violence and therefore justifies the use of such measures. They may have overlooked the fact that violence begets violence. Was not the detention of HINDRAF leaders under the Internal Security Act itself an act of aggression, especially to people who consider themselves marginalized and without recourse? It is time that the people running this country realize that we will not be able to resolve conflicts and differences peacefully if we ourselves do not value peaceful means in dealing with problems. The situation has been aggravated by the absence an even-handed approach in dealing with organizations like HINDRAF. While I applaud the Prime Minister for calling upon the Indian community to reject extremism, should not a similar call be made on the Malay community and Utusan Malaysia? I call on the Prime Minister, both the outgoing and the incoming, to deal with such issues fairly. Start by releasing the Hindraf leaders detained under the ISA. The release would create a window for constructive dialogue on underlying causes of resentment. I also appeal for the release of Raja Petra from his ISA detention. He is a champion of free speech. His writings, no matter how offensive they may be to some, cannot by any stretch of the imagination be seen as a threat to the national security of this country.

The Malays are now a clear majority in numbers. The fear of their being out numbered is baseless; they are not under seige. The institutions of government are such that the Malays are effectively represented, and the there is no way the interest of the Malays can be taken away other than through their own weakness and folly. The BN Government must abandon its reworked concept of the Social Contract and embrace a fresh perspective borne out of discussions and agreements made in good faith with all the communities in this country. It is time for us all to practice a more transparent and egalitarian form of democracy and to recognize and respect the rights and dignity of all the citizens of this country.

At the end of the day, we must ask ourselves what it is that will allow us to protect all Malaysians, including
the Malays? Good governance is about good leadership; and good leadership is all about integrity. We must have leaders of integrity in whom people can place their trust. If there is no integrity in leadership, the form of government is immaterial – it will fail. Integrity in leadership is the starting point to creating a just and fair society. Integrity of leadership does not lie only with the Prime Minister or his cabinet. It needs to permeate through all the organs of government. A key organ of government, the one tasked to protect the rights of the common man against the excesses of government, is the Court. The Rule of Law in a constitutional democracy demands that the Judiciary be protective of the nation’s subjects be they, I would say especially, the poor, the marginalized and the minorities. The Courts must act with courage to protect the Constitutionally guaranteed rights of all citizens, even if to do so were to invoke the wrath of the government of the day. Even though not all Judges will rise to be Chief Justice, in they own spheres they must show courage. For example, in PP vs Koh Wah Kuan (2007), a majority bench of the Federal Court chose to discard the doctrine of separation of powers as underlying the Federal Constitution apparently because the doctrine is not expressly provided for in the Constitution. This conclusion is mystifying as surely the court recognizes that power corrupts absolutely and can thus be abused. If the courts are not about to intervene against such excesses who is? Checks and balance are what the separation of powers is about. Surely the apex court is not saying that the courts do not play a vital role in that regard?

The reluctance of the court to intervene in matters involving the Executive is worrying. In Kerajaan Malaysia & Ors v Nasharuddin Nasir, the Federal Court ruled that an ouster clause was constitutional and was effective in ousting the review jurisdiction of the Court if that was the clear intention of Parliament. The apex court so readily embraced the supremacy of parliament even though the Constitution declares itself supreme. There is nothing in the Federal Constitution that explicitly sets out the ability of Parliament to limit the Court’s review jurisdiction. The Court could have just as easily held that as the Constitution was the Supreme Law, in the absence of express provisions in the Constitution the Court’s review jurisdiction remained intact. Is it not possible that in vesting the judicial authority of the Federation in the High Courts the framers of the Constitution intended the review powers of the Courts to be preserved from encroachment by the Executive and Legislature? In India, the Supreme Court has held on tenaciously to a doctrine of ‘basic structure’ that has allowed it to ensure the integrity of the democratic process and the Rule of Law. Any attempt to denude the courts of the power to review by amendment of the Constitution has been struck down.

The Rule of Law has no meaning if judges, especially apex Court judges, are not prepared to enter the fray in the struggle for the preservation of human rights and the fundamental liberties. Supreme Court judges in other jurisdictions have done so time and time again. Though it is far less difficult to accommodate the will of the government, that must be resisted at all costs, particularly where justice so demands. Only then can we say that Malaysia is grounded on the Rule of Law. To all our judges I say discard your political leanings and philosophy. Stick to justice in accordance with the law. As Lord Denning reminded us: Justice is inside all of us, not a product of intellect but of the spirit. Your oath is to the Constitution; shield yourself behind it. Without your conviction, democracy is but a concept.

I would like to say more about law, democracy and about our beloved country. But time does not permit. In any event, I have to be careful. The more we say, the more vulnerable we become. But my parting message is this: The people of goodwill must continue to strive to bring about change, so that we can rebuild the trust of all Malaysians. From that trust, we can rebuild the country where we do not live in fear, but in freedom; that the rights of all Malaysians are acknowledged, respected and protected by the system of law that is just and fair. There is no quest more honourable and a struggle more worthy of sacrifice.

Thank you.

Zaid Ibrahim

Monday, November 10, 2008

More tales of Malaysia's boys in blue...

You know, outside of the ISA, I'm not sure I've ever heard of Malaysian police actually arresting someone. They're always either shooting people, taking bribes or, as this article points out, being very, very stupid:

Groom-to-be dies after car rams into m-bikes

By STEVEN DANIEL

KUALA LUMPUR: A man was killed while four others were seriously injured after a car driven by a policeman was believed to have lost control before ramming into them on the opposite lane.

The incident occurred at around 3am yesterday along Jalan Loke Yew when the Proton Saga driven by a lance corporal rammed into four motorcycles.

Witnesses claimed the car made an illegal U-turn before ramming into the motorcycles.

A Nissan Bluebird behind the motorcycles could not brake in time and crashed into the Proton Saga which had two policemen and two civilians inside.

Witnesses claimed they saw the driver of the Proton Saga run away upon realising that someone had died.

Syed Mohd Shahrizal Syed Sahari, 21, one of the motorcyclists, suffered serious head injuries and died at the scene.

His body was sent to the Kuala Lumpur Hospital for postmortem.

A traffic police spokesperson said Syed Mohd Shahrizal’s four friends including a woman in her 20s were rushed to the University Malaya Medical Centre.

The spokesperson said the General Operations Force officer was detained at around 10am yesterday while lodging a police report at the Jalan Bandar traffic police station.

It is learnt police have obtained a blood sample from the policeman to determine if he was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Syed Mohd Shahrizal’s sister, Shari- fah Shamila Syed Sahari, 31, when met at the hospital said her brother was to get married in a fortnight.

“Only yesterday (Saturday) I had accompanied him to buy his wedding attire and he was so excited. Today he is gone,” she said.

Minutes after police cleared road debris from accident scene, five people including a woman were beaten unconscious by a mob over an alleged misunderstanding.

It is believed the group uttered vulgarities to the crowd before they were beaten up.

They were sent to hospital and are believed to have been discharged yesterday evening.

Dang Wangi deputy OCPD Supt Sulaiman Salleh said police have yet to receive any report regarding the incident.