Saturday, November 29, 2008
Friday, November 28, 2008
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
|Ann Coulter||3320 up, 749 down|
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.
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.
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:
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
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
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
Thursday, November 20, 2008
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
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
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
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
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
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
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.
My dad tries to get me to get in touch with my roots and learn to appreciate Hokkien. I'm not convinced I want to:
Friday, November 7, 2008
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Fan Girl's kinda hawt, I think. But then again, I'm one of those shallow bastards who think Zhang Ziyi's irresistibly hawt when she's angry. Check out the Youtube channel for monkey fun. For the benefit of those who don't get what's going on, here's the short version of the lyrics, translated by yours truly:
Fan Girl: I have a big fan. You can't have it. Stupid monkey.
Monkey: I'm off to help the monk get scriptures! Can I borrow your fan?
Ghost Girl: Well done, monkey! Here's a pill that'll keep Fan Girl from blowing you away.
I know I'm really curious how they've managed to breathe some fresh air into 西游记. As I recall, it mostly consisted of that damn monk getting kidnapped by demons, after which he'd get rescued by the monkey and his buddies, again and again and again - a feature that lends itself very well indeed to the production of the more shallow breed of anime:
Any decent anime connoisseur would know the type - on and on for 26 episodes without actually seeming to go anywhere, heralding just another 20-something episodes of the same damn thing, eventually resulting in such aimless monstrousities as Naruto (>200 episodes, ongoing), Bleach (~200 episodes, ongoing), One Piece (375 episodes, ongoing!!!) or Slam Dunk (>100 episodes). *yawnz* Btw, Gensoumaden Saiyuki up there runs for a merciful 50 episodes. Doesn't mean I could be bothered to watch it, though.
But an opera? 西游记, MINUS the repetitive** crap? Gotta get me some of that...
* Fear not, it's nice being a foreign devil. I'd know, I'm a foreign devil wherever I am on this Earth.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
So, the easy part's done, that is, getting the US population to choose between Obama and McCain. It would have been a much tougher choice had McCain chosen somebody sane for a running mate, but no, McCain, in his ineffable wisdom, made the choice easy and let himself be weighed down by that silly woman, essentially rolling out the red carpet to the White House for the Obamas, who are quite likely the going to make for the sexiest first couple in US history.So now what?
Seriously, I find it quite incredible that anyone has the stones to actually want to be president, given that they've now got to clean up 8 years worth of ham-fisted Bush warmongering. It's like coming home to find that the cat had not only shat on the carpet, but playfully decided to push it into the Hifi, through the antiques, across the keyboard and under the couch, with a separate piece behind the heater, for good measure*. Between Iraq, Afghanistan, the economy and the near-total loss of any sort of positive reputation in the international community, Obama has his hands very, very full, indeed. Bush managed to fuck things up on a scale that would have been beyond imagining had he not made it a reality. On the upside, I suppose cleaning up such a mess would make Obama look very, very good, indeed.
Will Obama save the USA and make it cool again? Stay tuned, keep your fingers crossed, touch wood, rub your lucky rabbit's foot but whatever you do, don't hold your breath.
* Thankfully, Haruka has not done this to me. Yet. I may have to break her neck if she does.
Monday, November 3, 2008
The National Fatwa Council are a gaggle of "religious scholars"* whose job is to tell you what you can't do based on religious grounds. Latest in their pathetic, flailing attempts to justify their existence: A ruling that tomboys are haram. I don't know about you, but seeing that article, I really wish someone like, say, Pink would come along and send them to see their virgins with a blunt, heavy object. "Social ills confronting Muslims", indeed... Wake UP, you ignorant bastards! YOU are the social ill!
If you can stomach reading the blatantly biased rags that pass for English-language newspapers in Malaysia, stay tuned for the NFC's decision regarding yoga.
On a related note, I wish good luck to the delicious Inul Daratista, and hats off to her for her efforts in battling the stuffy rulings of beardy old men who are afraid of an erection.
I suppose I should mention that, if Zeitgeist is to be believed, it doesn't matter who you vote for, the banks put them both there anyway to give the people the illusion of choice. Still, I'd much rather Obama makes it, if only to avoid the possibility of that brain-dead bimbo ever achieving the post of VP.
* An overly long time ago...
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Saturday, November 1, 2008
All that having been said, Zeitgeist: Addendum strikes a chord with me. There, I said it. For a very long time now, I've been living with a certain suspicion. Looking at the world around us, people will cheat, steal and kill for little bits of paper. Why is this? Why does it seem that there's never enough of the stuff to go round? Why is it that some people can live lives of obscene decadence while nations starve and die? And what I've been wondering is: Surely it doesn't have to be this way?
And that's basically what Zeitgeist: Addendum is about. Aside from the massive deluge of information regarding the diabolical agendas of powerful banking families, it also puts forward some striking thoughts from a certain visionary/nutter, Jacque Fresco. Visionary because what he proposes is a piece of social restructuring so radically ahead of its time it defies belief. Nutter for pretty much the same reason.
The long and short of what Fresco puts forward in the Venus Project is that money is unnecessary, and that without money, humanity can achieve the supremely pure communism captured in the sentence: "Communism is the complete abolition of private property."
One of the major justifications of the free market economy is the argument that, ideally, competition results in the best goods being produced for the lowest prices, hurrah for the consumer. Now, in case I haven't mentioned this enough times, I live in Malaysia, a nation intellectually crippled by an inferior education system* and the mass delusion that is theism**. This basically leaves us with a large segment of the population being fairly gullible, shallow-minded wage zombies. I'm sure some of you know the feeling. And in the land of the suckers, the marketing executive is king. Add to that the legendary Malaysian work ethic (or lack thereof) and the free market ideal degenerates into selling the most cheaply produced goods for the highest prices possible.
Of course, we see more twisted forms of the free market economy manifesting itself. Destruction of goods to create scarcity to raise prices. Outsourcing to foreign nations, creating a cycle of impossible competition a la Walmart. Planned obsolescence, keeping tech junkies always holding their breath for the next, better gadget, or spending money fixing the junk they'd already bought. Withholding of alternative energy technologies, because a handful of exceedingly rich people still haven't quite squeezed enough out of hydrocarbons And of course, instigating and perpetuating expensive wars against hapless nations who didn't actually do anything other than look like they were going to achieve a measure of economic independence. Always generate demand, always generate scarcity, because that is what keeps prices up.
And that's pretty much the central thesis of Zeitgeist: That the problem is money. In generating money, the banks perpetuate a game which ends in them owning everything. In trying to obtain enough money for ourselves, we are driven to evils, big and small.
What Fresco proposes is that, with money out of the equation, humanity's problems are now simply reduced to resources, and he believes that we DO have the resources AND the technology to keep everybody happy. And in the words of Mr Mulder: I want to believe. I really do.
It is a massive leap, no question about it. Without money, what are your motivations? Why live? Why work? To constantly scrabble for money is such a central part of so many lives, what would happen without it? Bankers and accountants would be out of a job, for a start. So would marketing executives (and good riddance). But then again, in a world without money, what's the use of jobs? Without money, the wage zombie, the salaryman, the white collar warrior is obsolete!
Fresco believes that with money out of the way, new, purer motivations would arise. That people would explore intellectual realms and pursue their passions, not merely to secure a high-paying job, but for the love of knowledge and human endeavour. Not only that, but a purer form of reciprocal altruism would arise, that is, people will do favours for each other, not because they wish to secure a favour in return, but simply because it contributes to the happiness of society as a whole. I think you can see now why I say visionary/nutter.
I've been atheist a long time, and I've seen my fair share of reactions to being told that one's entire belief system, upon which one has based an entire life, is a lie. But money? Destroying the childish myths of the Abrahamic religions was easy by comparison, but this new god, that is, Money, is a different prospect entirely.
If what the Zeitgeist movies say is true, humanity has created for itself a slow, self-destructive spiral of pure avarice. The way out is a revolution unlike anything this world has ever seen: the abolition of money. This doesn't seem to me like something that will happen gradually, like the erosion of the Catholic Church's credibility, but will require a sharp paroxysm of spiritual (and quite likely physical) violence. Like giving society at large a Heimlich maneuver. Sound crazy? I thought so. But keep an open mind. Watch the movie. Think.
*Go ahead. Ask any Malaysian what wonderfully useful things they learnt at school. Besides maths.
** Don't get me started on this one.