Literature moving into obscurity

June 15, 2014

Literature moving into obscurity

by Bhavani Krishna Iyer*

E Literature

I HAVE vivid recollections of receiving brickbats from family members and friends when I made the announcement one eventful day that I was planning to pursue a doctoral degree in English Literature.

Many thought that such a degree would not earn me a living and yet others thought literature was out of vogue. I would say both these groups were neither completely right nor wrong, but the point is I have no regrets having pursued my passion.

It was uphill all the way getting material, and my search to support my thesis often ended in futility. I remember scouring bookshops in India where the assistants would send me to the deepest, darkest and most obscure corners in the shop to look for books related to literature. I often felt small but never any less important.

IT and engineering references were hot sellers and the bookshop owners used to tell me that literature books don’t sell because there was no demand.

There is also this common complaint that studying literature will not be of any use for a working adult unless one is teaching the subject. Not forgetting the acidulous remark we get that literature will not teach anyone how to make a sandwich or build a bridge, hence, why bother?

A course mate said she was almost coaxed into doing something “more marketable” when she was about to embark on the PhD. Such were the harsh realities when all things related to science and technology appeared to have elevated status at work and outside work, due to their perceived importance.

English writersWhen I stood in front of my boss years ago, asking for time off to attend classes, I was not surprised that he asked “how is it going to be of any benefit to you and the company.” I simply said, “I will be a better person to say the least, and of course as an employee, I will have a more enlightened view of my surrounding, the environment and the people around me.

“People with a literature background have better written and other communication skills and it has been widely accepted that understanding complex ideas and theories and doing research come easy,” I explained. He did not say anything further.

The zeal for literature is very much a personal preference, either you like it or you don’t and for those who are consumed in it for reasons other than academic, they will know the many-pronged benefits. I am a staunch believer that the interest can be developed.

Exposure to literature keeps one afloat in a conversation about the life and times of people which would appeal to just about anyone. Additionally, one’s vocabulary increases by reading literature and last but not least, literature serves as momentary escapism from the harsh realities of life. It serves to de-stress people who are overcome by the stress of modern living. People who read literary works will know the power and pleasure of using the language with all its quirks.

Personally, I think, literature adorns one with the ability to appreciate the enriching array of human characters and experiences.”But literature is difficult,” is often the lament from many, but let me tell you it need not be so if you get into the groove of it and start with the right material.

The Ministry of Education has incorporated a component called Language Arts in its English Language syllabus where pupils from Year 1 study rhymes, short stories and others to “activate pupils’ imagination and interest”.

I am told by a friend who is a teacher trainer that the English language teachers are exposed to teaching literature in the classrooms, in a small way from the way I see it but this is a good move and I hope we get this going without high-handed interference.

Having said that we seem to be in transition most times from quick-fixes in as far as learning English is concerned and perhaps a revolutionary policy in teaching and learning English might be just the answer to arrest the decay.

*The writer was a language teacher and now teaches part-time in public universities, apart from having a full-time job. Comments:

Roth Unbound: A Guardian Book Review

January 17, 2014

Roth Unbound: A Writer and His Books by Claudia Roth Pierpont – Review

Who inspired Philip Roth’s characters? This new study claims to reveal many secrets.
The Guardian, Friday 17 January 2014 09.00 GMT
Philip RothPhilip Roth

Philip Roth, at age 40, published the essay “‘I Always Wanted You to Admire My Fasting’ or, Looking at Kafka”, which appropriates its title from the short story “A Hunger Artist”, and fantasises that the genius of Prague didn’t die at age 40, but instead was cured of tuberculosis, and lived on to witness the Nazi regime. His response was to give up literature and flee to America, where he took a job teaching in a shabby Hebrew school in Newark, New Jersey.

Among his students was a young “Philip Roth”, who nicknamed this strange, halitotic hermit “Dr Kishka”, Yiddish for “guts”. The Ghost Writer, published six years after this piece in 1979, is the first of Roth’s novels narrated by his alter ego Nathan Zuckerman. In it, Zuckerman imagines that Anne Frank survived Bergen-Belsen only to have to hide from the celebrity of her diary in a clapboard farmhouse in the Berkshires, where she changed her name to Amy Bellette and served as an amanuensis to a famous Jewish-American novelist. Roth’s Kafka spends his post-literary existence drilling children in the alef bet; Roth’s Frank spends hers imparting to the work of her employer and lover the authenticating imprimaturs of Holocaust trauma and European Kultur.

Kafka, in his lifetime, published two books; Frank, in hers, published none; Roth debuted with Goodbye, Columbus in 1959 and announced his retirement 25 novels later with Nemesis in 2010. According to Claudia Roth Pierpont, he has been enjoying his dotage “discussing books and politics and a thousand other things”, entertaining her with “memories, observations, opinions, thoughts, second thoughts, jokes, stories, even songs”.

Pierpont assures us that though she is not related to Roth, she has produced this study of his fiction with his collaboration. It is no surprise that her book is a useful resource for plot summary, then, but it is shocking that the new secrets it claims to offer are only shopworn trivia that even my parents – not academics, just Jews from Jersey – already know: the stock in trade of Saturday synagogue book clubs, and the Sunday New York Times. In The Ghost Writer, the novelist EI Lonoff, who shelters the ostensible Anne Frank, was based on Bernard Malamud; the novelist Felix Abravanel, who is too egotistical to adopt Zuckerman as a literary son and so dispatches him to Lonoff, was based on Saul Bellow – neither were grateful, but both were flattered, I’m sure.

Pierpont mentions that a Zuckerman first appeared in My Life As a Man, as a character in two stories by Peter Tarnopol, another Rothian double, who happens to share a psychiatrist, Dr Spielvogel, with Alexander Portnoy.

Yet another Roth redux, the public radio intellectual and lit professor David Kepesh, changes into a six-foot-tall, 155-pound breast in The Breast; in The Professor of Desire he ventures to Prague and hallucinates a whore who, for $10, will narrate the sex acts she performed on Kafka, and for another $5 will let Kepesh inspect her octogenarian vagina himself. Pierpont tags these books as reactions to The Metamorphosis, but also to Roth’s sojourns behind the iron curtain, which themselves were merely bids to escape his reputation after the release of Portnoy’s Complaint, that classic of filial suffering and fervent wanking: Roth’s “Portnoy readers – even the ones who loved the book, or maybe especially those – viewed him as ‘a walking prick’. When they came up to him in the street, that’s what they saw, it seemed to him, that’s whom they were congratulating.”

Roth--BookThe problem with this is not how one congratulates a prick – by wanking it, perhaps – but rather the quotation marks: it is not clear, when it comes to “a walking prick”, who exactly is talking. This vagary plagues every page of Roth Unbound, regardless of attributive punctuation, to the point where Pierpont’s criticism references Roth’s “non-fiction books” as if they were gospels, and assimilates their opinions too. These supposedly impeachable sources are The Facts, which purports to be an autobiography discussed in letters between Zuckerman and Roth; and Patrimony, a memoir of Roth’s father’s death, written in the midst of his decline.

Then there are the miscellanies: Shop-Talk, and Reading Myself and Others. The former collects conversations Roth conducted with the likes of Primo Levi and Milan Kundera, in which he proposes interpretations of their works and they, of course, agree. The latter is a Maileresque orgy of vanity featuring interviews of Roth by George Plimpton and Joyce Carol Oates; an essay about writing Portnoy, in which Roth excerpts a speech he delivered to an Anti-Defamation League symposium; an essay on the novelist-critic divide, the bulk of which is given over to a letter Roth wrote but never posted to critic Diana Trilling, dissenting from her review of Portnoy; a self-interview Roth did for Partisan Review that refers to an essay he wrote about himself for Commentary; not to forget his own review of a Broadway play adapted from his earliest stories.

Now that Roth’s retirement has given him the opportunity to pursue his legacy full-time, it is telling that he hasn’t proceeded in the manner of Henry James, who dedicated his final stretch to assembling his corpus into the New York Edition, rephrasing whole sentences, if not just rearranging the commas he had strewn them with half a century previously. It is as if Roth doesn’t think it makes much difference that Our Gang, his humourless Nixon pastiche, and The Great American Novel, his fussy and precious baseball picaresque, are still available as they were written. Or maybe, after more than four decades in analysis, he has resigned himself to their flaws, or even thinks they are perfect and deserve to be shelved alongside his best: The Counterlife, Operation Shylock, Sabbath’s Theater and American Pastoral.

But then Roth’s tendency has never been to withhold, rather to explain, or revise by explanation, and it is ironic that the same technique that unifies his oeuvre has the opposite effect on its criticism: to Pierpont, Letting Go is about the influence of James, Thomas Wolfe, the stultifying 50s, and “not letting go”; When She Was Good is about the influence of Sherwood Anderson, Dreiser, the stultifying 50s, and Roth’s first wife Margaret Martinson, who faked a pregnancy, faked an abortion, took Roth’s money in a divorce and promptly killed herself (though Pierpont insists that her fullest character portrayal is as Maureen Tarnopol in My Life as a Man).

Roth’s second wife Claire Bloom is Eve in I Married a Communist and, wait for it, Claire in Deception; while the female actor in Zuckerman Unbound is a monster made of Bloom, Edna O’Brien, and Jackie O, whom Roth once dated (kissing her was like “kissing a billboard”). Establishing biographical correspondences is a pleasant way to wait out the clock, but it will never pass for serious criticism. Still, with each of Pierpont’s chapters centred on a certain book, pure fun salaciousness just isn’t feasible. The result is that Roth’s life between publications is mostly ignored, and the most obvious lacuna is the fact that in 2012 Roth authorised an official biography, to be written by Blake Bailey, whose prior subjects – John Cheever and Richard Yates – had been too dead to refuse the honour, or meddle.

This suggests that Roth Unbound might be even more than its breathless publicity promises; indeed, it might be Roth’s most virtuoso stunt. Imagine Roth approaching his 80th birthday laden with awards and honorary degrees, globally translated, universally read, his talent having triumphed over every adversity: mental breakdown, heart ailment, rabbinic orthodoxy, feminism. As an artist who has always thrived on transgression, he must have discerned his mortality in the sense that there was no opposition left for him to outlast. Once again, he would have to invent one, a persecution not romantic or erotic this time, but ultimate enough to flirt with the posthumous, and so he granted access to a biographer, and pretended to retire.

Predictably, the oppressive prospect of having a stranger narrate his life invigorated Roth, and had him reasserting the pre-eminence of his work, by ghostwriting a study of it. The slackness of the prose, then, must be attributed not to Roth’s senescence, but to the demands of writing under an assumed identity. Unable to bear not receiving credit for this feat, and for having concluded his career in the voice of a sympathetic female, Roth chose a pseudonym – “Claudia Roth Pierpont” – just foolish enough to betray the truth. Roth, it seems, is back, and once again he is begging to be punished.

Malaysia’s Political Outlook 2014: Key Challenges Facing Najib

December 26, 2013

RSIS No. 236/2013 dated 26 December 2013

Malaysia’s Political Outlook 2014: Key Challenges Facing Najib

by Yang Razali Kassim


Prime Minister Najib Razak’s top-most concern in the new year is not just UMNO’s dominance but also its very survival. Signals from the recent party general assembly point to a three-pronged strategy to achieve this aim.


Rosmah and NajibMALAYSIAN PRIME Minister Najib Razak approaches 2014 with one big worry on his mind: how to win – decisively – the next general election (GE) that has to be called by 2018. The last one seven months ago on May 5 saw his ruling Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition making its worst showing since 1969: despite winning the majority of seats, BN lost the popular vote to the opposition alliance led by Anwar Ibrahim.

As the new year begins, the big signal from Najib is that “1Malaysia” will probably have to be set aside as an electoral strategy. This is significant as it could mean that his vision of a unified, cohesive and inclusive plural society that was much touted in the 2013 GE – is as good as cast to the backburner.

Najib’s conservative swing

At the recent general assembly of UMNO, the anchor party of the multi-racial BN coalition, 1Malaysia was hardly mentioned in Najib’s keynote speech. Yet when resolutions were debated, one delegate sought to kill the whole idea, calling for 1Malaysia to be replaced by “1Melayu” – or 1Malay, referring to the majority community that UMNO represents.

Najib did not respond in defence of 1Malaysia. Instead his entire rhetoric during the assembly was primarily about advancing the Malay and Muslim agenda – signifying a major refocusing on this core constituency as UMNO gears up early for the 14th GE.

Unchallenged as president in party elections prior to the assembly, Najib has one TDMeye on his own political survival. The still influential former Prime Mnister Mahathir Mohamad has been uneasy about the BN’s worst showing at the May 5 polls and may want to ease Najib out, just as he did to Najib’s predecessor Abdullah Badawi. As his popularity dips due to some economic belt-tightening policies expected in the new year, Najib’s swing to appease the UMNO conservatives is not surprising.

Party hardliners are convinced that the multi-ethnic BN’s political survival rests increasingly with UMNO, whose survival in turn rests on the Malay constituency, which is synonymously Muslim. While 1Malaysia was designed to embrace all the races, its failure to attract the non-Malays, especially the ethnic Chinese, at the last

GE has weakened Najib’s hand.

The conservative faction’s argument is this: Forget about winning over the non-Malay vote and focus on expanding the Malay/Muslim ground. UMNO is strong enough to stand on its own; while the BN coalition won 133 seats overall in GE13, UMNO alone, as its anchor, won the most seats with 88 – even more than any of the opposition parties, whose combined tally of 89 seats was just one more than UMNO’s. In other words, it is UMNO that will remain the backbone of the political system. Thus Malay political power will be pivotal to the country – from political stability and security to economic progress and development.

UMNO’s three-pronged strategy towards GE14

This conservative logic formed the bedrock of the “back to basics” strategy that was spelt out by Najib, whose speech was themed “Fortifying the Future”. Going forward, UMNO will pursue three strategic thrusts – or what Najib called the “three messages from the assembly”: The first is a turn towards Islamic Shariah; the second is a stronger Malay and bumiputra agenda, for which, he said, UMNO need not be apologetic; and the third a “transformed UMNO” as a “party of the 21st century”. It is significant that UMNO as the “party of the future” will become not just more Malay, but Islamist at the same time.

Becoming more Islamist for a Malay-nationalist party like UMNO is an equally significant shift. Ideologically-driven Islamist parties actually find ethno-nationalism objectionable. UMNO clearly is positioning itself as the primary political vehicle for the Malay and Muslim constituency, thus raising the prospects of an all-out contest for power with the opposition Islamist PAS, even as UMNO – paradoxically – woos PAS for unity talks.

Umno's embelmUMNO’s drift towards a more Islamist identity was marked by a highly controversial drive to pitch itself as the defender of Sunni Islam in the face of what it paints as the growing threat of Shiism in the country. The federal constitution would be reworded to define the official religion as “Islam Sunnah Wal Jamaah” or Sunni Islam, not simply Islam. That this move is partly politically-motivated is seen in the immediate targeting of the PAS deputy leader as a closet Shia and therefore a threat.

The second thrust of a greater push for the Malay and bumiputra agenda is clearly aimed at solidifying the Peninsular-East Malaysia axis around the Malay core. Najib conceded the crucial role of the “fixed deposit” states of Sabah and Sarawak in BN’s ultimate win in the last GE. As many see it, if not for these two states, there would have been a change of government in Malaysia. With Najib’s renewed emphasis on the Malay and bumiputra agenda, the New Economic Policy that officially ended in 1990 but was unofficially continued, has finally been resurrected in all but name. CEOs of all government-linked companies have been given KPIs to realise this goal on pain of seeing their contracts not renewed.

To complete the three-pronged strategy, UMNO will go all out to win the young voters. In the next GE, some six million new voters will be casting for the first time. The majority are likely to be anti-establishment and anti-UMNO. They could make a difference whether there will finally be a change of government or not in GE14. No wonder Najib made it clear: UMNO must win over the young voters and master the social media with which the young are savvy.


UMNO’s eagerness to recover its eroded political ground has seen it responding in unexpected ways, with implications yet to be fully fathomed. Its readiness to march to its own drumbeat is a warning to friend and foe alike that the rules of the game will be set by UMNO alone.

To its ethnic-based political allies in BN, which are facing their own internal crises, the message is that the BN power-sharing system will be on UMNO’s terms. To the opposition, the message is clear: whoever controls the Malay and Muslim ground will control power – and it is not going to be the opposition, which is not homogenous ethnically and ideologically.

UMNO is desperate to win. Going forward, all communities will be forced to ponder what this means for them and the country.

Yang Razali Kassim is a Senior Fellow at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University.

Book Review: ‘To the Letter,’ by Simon Garfield

December 1, 2013


Kind Regards

‘To the Letter,’ by Simon Garfield

by Carmela Ciuraru (11-29-13)

Once there were letters: handwritten, typewritten, carefully crafted, dashed off, profound or mundane, tinged with expectancy. Correspondence required waiting. “I need you more and more, and the great world grows wider, and dear ones fewer and fewer, every day that you stay away,” Emily Dickinson wrote to her future sister-in-law, Susan Gilbert, in 1852. Were they alive today, would Dickinson and Gilbert merely G-chat?

on the map simon garfieldSimon Garfield (above) might think so. His latest book, “To the Letter,” is a nostalgic and fretful look at the “lost art” of letter writing. “A world without letters would surely be a world without oxygen,” he declares, noting that his book confronts this possibility. It’s tempting to laugh nervously and say, “Why so ominous?” But then again, OMG, maybe he’s got a point. A certain artfulness has surely been lost as emoticons and Snapchats take over as modes of expression.

For the most part, Garfield — a British journalist whose previous books include studies of fonts and mapmaking — steers clear of contrasting the virtues of pen and paper with the sins of email and text messages. But sometimes he can’t help himself. He writes, for instance, that emails are “a poke,” and letters “a caress.” A strange analogy, to be sure, and anyone who has agonized over a lengthy, emotional email to a friend, lover or family member might disagree.

He also claims that the last letter “will appear in our lifetime,” and that we will not notice the passing of this final missive until it’s too late — “like the last hair to whiten, or the last lovemaking.” Such weird rhetorical turns are, thankfully, few and far between.

‘To the Letter,’ by Simon GarfieldGarfield’s book is stuffed with marvelous anecdotes, fascinating historical tidbits and excerpts from epistolary masters both ancient (Cicero, Seneca) and modern (Woolf, Hemingway). By the late 19th century, the “letter-writing manual” had itself become a thriving literary genre. Lewis Carroll contributed some prescriptive advice in the booklet “Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter-Writing”: “If your correspondent makes a severe remark, either ignore it or soften your response; if your friend is friendly, make your reply ever friendlier.”

It’s wonderful to learn about the iPads of ancient Rome — thin wooden writing tablets sliced from alder, birch and oak — and to stumble on this delightful closing phrase of a letter dating to the third century A.D.: “Remember my pigeons.” Or to encounter an exasperated Erasmus, chiding his brother for not having written back: “I believe it would be easier to get blood from a stone than coax a letter out of you!”

The letters of Marcus Aurelius reveal not a would-be Roman emperor but a lovesick youth pining for his teacher. “I am dying so for love of you,” Aurelius writes, to which his tutor replies, “You have made me dazed and thunder­struck by your burning love.”

Throughout, Garfield uncovers start­ling examples of lust (“I think of your breasts more than is good for me,” a British soldier writes to his sweetheart), intimacy and suffering. Some of the most poignant letters expose the private anguish of writers and poets. The correspondence between Leonard Woolf and Vita Sackville-­West, in the aftermath of Virginia Woolf’s suicide, is devastating for what cannot be expressed.

Despite Garfield’s alarmist stance, it seems premature to assume that letters will go the way of the woolly mammoth. After all, the death knell has been sounded since at least the invention of the telephone. In any case, his epistolary ardor proves infectious, as he reminds us of the pleasures of composing letters without password protection or “send” buttons, those secured in dusty bureaus rather than “in the cloud.”

One of the letter’s strongest defenses comes from Katherine Mansfield, who in a tender note to a friend conveys beautifully, and succinctly, what the form at its best can achieve. “This is not a letter,” she writes, “but my arms around you for a brief moment.”

Carmela Ciuraru is the author of “Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms.”

Proficiency in English Language and Nationalism

November 25, 2013

Proficiency in English Language and Nationalism

by BA Hamzah and Din Merican

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. …–.George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”, 1946

BA HamzahWe spent endless hours together debating the English language issue and are  extremely concerned that many Malaysians still question the importance of English in this era of science, Google and globalization.

As our nation strives to achieve the status of a developed country envisaged in Vision 2020 (1989 document), we need to be more rational and stop making excuses in the name of pseudo-nationalism, or as the Malays put it menegak benang yang basah (to stand a wet thread). We must accept the reality that we live in globalised world and English is the global language. Don’t believe us, just ask the Chinese, Japanese and South Koreans.

English proficiency in Malaysia has reached a critical level that it can undermine the well-being and international prestige of our country. Failure to deal realistically with this matter is a real tragedy. We could end up spending billions of ringgit more in consulting fees to have foreign consultants negotiate for us, prepare our policy and research papers and speak at international conferences on our behalf.

George Orwell is right

We are reminded of the essence of George Orwell’s masterpiece “Politics and the English Language”, written in 1946. The author of 1984, Animal Farm, Homage to Catalonia and other fine works had chastised many of his contemporaries who abused (by politicising) the modern English language, most evident in their political writings.

In a slightly different context, since 1971, politics has also undermined with the wider use of English in Malaysia after the Barisan Nasional Government downgraded the use of English.

Historically, the decline of English in our country can be traced to the Razak Report in 1956, which recommended Malay as the medium of instruction. Had our political masters adopted the recommendations of an earlier Barnes Report (1951) to use Malay in primary schools and English for secondary and tertiary education, we could have avoided the current embarrassment.

George Orwell once wrote, “in our time, political speech andGeorge Orwell writing are largely the defense of the indefensible”. Does not this sound familiar in our current setting? Orwell further noted in his essay “the great enemy of clear language is insincerity”. Of course, he was not only complaining about the insincerity in the use of grammar but also insincerity in the general sense of the word

We sense an element of fear and insincerity among many, especially Malay politicians, in Malaysia when it comes to English. Rather than acknowledge its usefulness in almost every sector of human endeavor, they use English as a bogey to accuse those with a different view of English as being anti-national, and worse still anti-Malay. In such a hostile environment, it is impossible to conduct a rational debate.

Some politicians worry about losing Malay votes if they were to embrace English. Nothing could be far from the truth because English has never featured as a prominent issue in the last thirteen general elections.

There is a sense of contradiction and double standard too. Among the most vocal critics of English are those who have benefited greatly from an English education, whose offsprings attend private English schools abroad and locally. They seem to do it on purpose: to perpetuate their own political survival and to deny the others, the majority who cannot afford an expensive English education, the rite of passage. This is a classic case of using the pedagogy to suppress the poor, mainly Malays.

As an open economy that is highly dependent on international trade and the services sector, Malaysia can benefit from a work force that has a strong command of English, a critical advantage in a competitive world.

Studies have shown that proficiency in English is critical to international trade, diplomacy, foreign investment and understanding of science and technology. English is the language of the industry, to cite Tun Dr Mahathir. It is key in attracting foreign investment and international tourists.

Malay Language Champions are self-serving

The corporate world relies heavily on English for their networking and advancement. Top and middle management in PETRONAS and Sime Darby, for example, conduct their business deals in English. To progress the nation has adopted science and technology, relied on foreign investment and international trade for its well-being, for example.

If the Malay language champions and other critics are sincerely concerned with the well-being of the nation,they should be less self-serving, more open-minded and supportive of any policy to reintroduce English, crucial for the development of science and technology, promotion of trade and foreign investment.

Real nationalists would do everything to promote the national well-being. Like it or not, the destiny of this nation is tied closely with good governance which provides the objective conditions for greater economic productivity and higher economic growth trajectory; since the Asian financial crisis (1997-1998), economic growth in Malaysia has not recovered fully from its nosedive. Whether a more robust economic recovery could have been achieved with higher English proficiency is debatable, there are studies, which correlate proficiency in English with economic development.

Corporate World needs English Language proficient workers

According to a survey conducted by The Economist Intelligence (2012), 70 per cent of the executives said they need English to expand their corporate vision and more than fifty per cent of the work force need to be proficient in English. According to another report workers with very good command of the English language tend to garner 30-50% higher salaries than “similarly qualified candidates without English knowledge.”

The same study shows a positive relationship between employability and English proficiency, worldwide. Statistics (2011) show that more than forty- thousand Malaysian graduates from public Universities with low proficiency in English find it difficult, year in and year out, to get jobs in the private sector. Their lack of employability puts a drag on the country’s economic trajectory.

The strong correlation between gross national income and proficiency in English is now an accepted mantra. Many maintain that the correlation between English proficiency and gross national income is a virtuous cycle, each mutually reinforcing each other. According to one study, proficiency in English can increase job employability and better salaries. It can also remove some of the accumulated deficits in education affecting students, especially those in the rural areas with limited access to English education.

English proficiency can level the uneven playing fields and close the income gaps between the ethnic groups in this country. Admittedly, language can be emotive as it is cultural specific. However, here we are talking of a productive language and at no time, anybody has even suggested that it should replace or supplant the national language. Today is English as it was Latin in the era of the Roman Republic and early years of the Roman Empire.

Move with the Times

We must move with the times. If Malay has been the lingua franca for science, trade, technology and diplomacy, for instance, the entire world will gravitate to our shores learning our language. Unfortunately, this has yet to happen. While we have raised the standard of teaching and proficiency in Malay, we still lack behind in the number of textbooks on science, technology and public policies written by locals. Until we have our own references, lecturers have to rely on references in English language to conduct advanced research and for knowledge. This requires proficiency in English.

Some take solace in countries that have done very well without English. The comparison with the Netherlands, Germany and the Nordic countries, to mention just some, is misplaced, like comparing oranges with apples. Contrary to some perception, the standard of English proficiency in these countries is very high. They benefit from proper teaching of English where grammar and literature are emphasized. It will be a long way, if we continue on this trajectory, before we can achieve their status. At one time, we had this advantage but we squandered it in the name of pseudo nationalism, which many have we now regretted.

Our failure not to empower English for knowledge will put Malaysia at a disadvantage in almost all fields of mainstream human interaction.

One immediate remedial action is to acknowledge the positive role of English, for example, in nation-building, economic well-being and diplomacy. The Government of the day should reinforce the acknowledgement by reviving English schools in all districts as a matter of urgency. Give the rakyat a choice by leveling the playing field. They deserve equal opportunity to advance themselves intellectually.

Din MericanXUnder the current arrangement, only the children of the elite will have access to English schools, mostly in urban areas. Those who live in the rural areas are likely to suffer most from the policy of downgrading the use of English. It is unfortunate that the poor Malays have become the victims of UMNO-dominated Government policies.

What Happened to Our Education after 56 (50?) Years of Independence?

September 9, 2013

What Happened to Our Education after 56 (50?) Years of Independence?

September 09, 2013
Latest Update: September 09, 2013 10:37 am

“The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of the mind for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.” Anatole France.

malaysia-at-50-Malaysia-Day_129_100_100I grew up listening to many stories of how wonderful an experience of going to school in the early years following the declaration of Independence in the year 1957. Irrespective of your differences, everyone sort of bonded together during their school years.

Picnics at the park during the weekend with your schoolmates, regardless of religious and racial creed, was the norm back then. In fact, in the words of my now deceased grandmother, “It would mean the end of the world for me if I didn’t go to the park with my friends.” Such was the bond they had back then.

Politicians messing up with our education system !

Politicians messing up with our education system !

But, I aim to not discuss the strong social bonds that exist back then but instead I want to talk about the learning experience of the yesteryears. More precisely, the freedom of thought and the soul of the education experience that they went through.

As I grew up, I have this habit of talking to people and asking them what it was like learning and being educated in the early 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. I liken this exercise as my time-travel machine, getting insights and stories from various people, since I was born in an era where some believe was the beginning of the decline of Malaysia’s intellectual progress.

In summarising all these experiences, I arrived at the conclusion (at this point I hear someone disagreeing with me on scientific grounds of my methods) that they were all learning and being educated in an environment that not only encourages questioning but also indulges curiosity and freedom of thought.

Not only was I convinced that the conclusions I made were one of the primary drivers of excellence, I believe wholeheartedly that the aforementioned environment sets these individuals up for greater success in the coming years of their lives.

A businessman I met in my secondary years in school said this to me, “Back then, we pride ourselves in asking tough questions in class and the teachers will reward us accordingly, even when we ask the most menial of questions, such as why do we have to learn in school, why can’t we just play all day?”

Swat TeamOn this one, we all can be smart

Until today, I remain regaled by stories from the glory days of yesteryears. I went through a different learning experience altogether compared with the uncles and aunties that I hear stories from. I, like most of my peers today, went through the daily Sekolah Kebangsaan and Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan in our bid to realise our dreams.

I started my schooling years believing in the fact that this was the place where all my questions will be answered, a place where I could begin the long and arduous journey of realising my dreams and achieving my full potential, after all at the back of my first exercise book; there it was the National Education Philosophy that reads:

“Pendidikan di Malaysia adalah satu usaha berterusan ke arah lebih memperkembangkan potensi individu secara menyeluruh dan bersepadu untuk melahirkan insan yang seimbang dan harmonis dari segi intelek, rohani, emosi dan jasmani berdasarkan kepatuhan dan kepercayaan kepada Tuhan. Usaha ini adalah bertujuan untuk melahirkan warganegara Malaysia yang berilmu pengetahuan, berketrampilan, berakhlak mulia, bertanggungjawab dan berkeupayaan mencapai kesejahteraan diri serta memberikan sumbangan terhadap keharmonian dan kemakmuran keluarga, masyarakat dan Negara.”

mahathir baruAsk Him Coz he should know

Surely, an important piece to realise, if not the fundamental guidelines of this philosophy is to promote and nurture the sense of curiosity. In addition, an environment that supports curiosity and allow for questions to be asked goes a long way in creating critical-thinking among students, who undoubtedly will be an important asset to this country.

Boy, was I in for a rude awakening. At the age of 10, I was made to sit outside the classroom as a result of me asking the teacher how does scolding students in public help achieve the National Education Philosophy. Curiosity wasn’t a welcome guest when I went through school, and today it is still not welcomed in classroom.

Why are we doing this to ourselves and, more importantly, to the future generation of my beloved nation?

Deaf EarsThat’s What we Have become!

Fifty years on since the inception of Malaysia, curiosity has gone from a celebrated trait to a trait no one cares about. Let us change this Malaysia. We can start by encouraging and allowing our kids to ask questions and not punish them for doing so.For a better Malaysia. – September 9, 2013.

* Rahman Hussin runs Akademi Belia.

Tribute to Seamus Heaney: Bard of Tradition and Modernity

September 2, 2013

Tribute to Seamus Heaney: Bard of Tradition and Modernity


Seamus Heaney (pic above), who has died aged 74, was widely regarded as the greatest Irish poet since William Butler Yeats, who like Heaney was a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Born and raised in Northern Ireland, Heaney was renowned for his mastery of Irish and Gaelic sources, as well as Old English, the Anglo-Saxon tongue from which he translated in 1999 a much-praised version of the medieval epic “Beowulf”.

Although wary of being compared to Yeats – who died in 1939, the year Heaney was born – he acknowledged his kinship with a compatriot who also dug deep into ancient Irish traditions while reflecting his country’s modern conflicts.

Seamus Heaney was born on April 13, 1939 into a Catholic farming family in County Derry, Northern Ireland.

His father was a farmer, while his mother’s family had been workers in the local linen industry. The eldest of nine children, Seamus grew up on the family farm of Mossbawm, before becoming a boarder at St Columb’s College in the city of Derry, where he studied both Latin and Gaelic.

He went on to take English language and literature at Queen’s University in Belfast, which became his home until 1972 and where he came under the influence of the British writer and teacher Philip Hobsbaum, who helped confirm his vocation as a poet.

His first published work was “Eleven Poems” in 1965, the year in which he married Marie Devlin, a fellow writer about whom he penned some of his finest poems and with whom he had two sons and a daughter.

Other collections include “Death of a Naturalist” (1966), “Door into the Dark” (1969), “North” (1975), “The Haw Lantern” (1987), “Seeing Things” (1991), “The Spirit Level” (1996) and “District and Circle” (2006). In 1972, at the height of the violence involving British troops and Catholic and Protestant paramilitaries over Northern Ireland’s status, Heaney moved to Dublin, which was to be his home base for the rest of his life.

After a spell devoted only to writing, he resumed teaching activities in 1975, speaking as a guest lecturer in US universities and in Britain.

Between 1989 and 1994 he held the coveted post of Professor of Poetry at England’s prestigious Oxford University. The following year he became the fourth Irish writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, the three others having been Yeats (1923), George Bernard Shaw (1925) and Samuel Beckett (1969).

In March 2009, Heaney was awarded the £40,000 ($62,000, 47,000-euro) David Cohen Prize for Literature for his lifetime of work.

“For the last 40-odd years, Heaney’s poems have crystallised the story of our times, in language which has bravely and memorably continued to extend its imaginative reach,” said Andrew Motion, Britain’s then-poet laureate and the chairman of the judges.

“At the same time, his critical writing, his translations and his lecturing have invigorated the whole wider world of poetry.” In 2003 the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry was opened at Queen’s University, housing a unique record of Heaney’s entire works. – AFP/Relaxnews/The Malaysian Insider, September 2, 2013.

The Udang sebalik Batu Appointment by Najib

August 20, 2013

The Udang sebalik Batu Appointment by Najib

by Alyaa Azhar @

ShahrizatUMNO Wanita chief Shahrizat Abdul Jalil’s appointment as Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on women’s affairs is basically to shore up support for Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak in the upcoming UMNO election, PKR strategy director Rafizi Ramli said today.

“People should read between the lines with regard to her appointment,” he told FMT.

“The Prime Minister knows his position in Umno is shaky. That is why he is collecting people who can be in his team against anyone challenging his presidency.Unless you are really desperate, you would not have chosen Shahrizat, whose rejection by the people is clear.”

Shahrizat’s political career has taken a beating since two years ago, when Rafizi began a series of exposes on alleged corruption and mismanagement in the running of the National Feedlot Centre (NFC), headed by her husband.


Rafizi today described it as “one of the most captivating scandals in recent years”.

PKR Wanita Chief Zuraida Kamaruddin has also spoken to FMT about the appointment, noting that this would be the second time Najib had chosen her to be his special adviser since she quit her ministerial post over the NFC scandal.

“It looks like the Prime Minister just cannot get away from Shahrizat,” she said. “It is as though he owes her something, and I cannot figure out what exactly it is.”

She alleged that Shahrizat was ineffective when she was a minister and not likely to do any better as Najib’s adviser. “Her appointment is just a waste of money.”

She speculated that Najib was merely giving her a platform to defend her leadership of Wanita UMNO in the coming party polls.

‘We need new blood’

Cheras UMNO Division head Syed Ali Alhabshee, one of the more vocalSyed Ali critics of Shahrizat from within the party, commented today: “I can only say congratulations. It is the Prime Minister’s right to appoint her as special adviser.

“We’ll just see what’s going to happen. However, I hope that she will welcome new faces to contest against her in the upcoming party election.”

Syed Ali also said he hoped to see a lively contest for post of Wanita chief.“We need new blood and a new image for the party,” he said. “We do not want people to keep calling the movement Wanita Lembu.”

While reports have mentioned about Shahrizat’s new role, she herself has kept mum when asked to confirm the appointment.

Likewise, at the Malaysian Treasury’s (Finance Ministry) Hari Raya celebration yesterday, Najib said there would be no announcement on the matter yet.

Rohani Abdul KarimHowever, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Rohani Abdul Karim today said that Shahrizat was not an adviser to the ministry, which means her role would only be to advise the Prime Minister on women issues.

Shahrizat’s tenure as the Minister in charge of women’s affair came to an end following the NFC scandal. She did not contest in the last general election and is now expected to face a tough fight for the Wanita UMNO Chief’s position in the coming party elections.


Wawancara Bersama Dr. Bakri Musa (Bahagian 8)

March 11, 2013

Wawancara Bersama Dr. Bakri Musa (Bahagian 8): Pendidikan untuk Malaysia

Suaris: Dr banyak menulis dan membentangkan kertas kerja mengenai pendidikan yang sebaiknya untuk Malaysia. Adakah dasar dan sistem hari ini mampu membawa orang Melayu mengharungi gelombang masa depan? Apakah yang perlu diperbaiki, diatasi atau diganti?

Dr Bakri: Ternyata dasar dan sistem pendidikan sekarang tidak mampu Bakri Musamembawa anak-anak, khasnya anak Melayu, menghadapi masa depan. Rakyat tidak puas hati walaupun berkali-kali kerajaan buat kertas putih dan cetak biru (“blueprint”) untuk “mentransformasikan” sekolah dan universiti kita. Semuanya tidak berkesan. Di sini saya maksudkan aliran awam; pihak swasta cemerlang, tetapi tidak ramai penuntut Melayu di antaranya.

Tanda jelas pendidikan awam kita tidak mengagumkan ialah pertumbuhan cergas sekolah antarabangsa dan kolej serta universiti swasta. Di Alberta, Canada, sekolah dan universiti awam mereka handal. Oleh sebab itu saluran pendidikan swasta tidak laku. Begitu juga di Singapura. Pertumbuhan sekolah dan universiti swasta yang rancak di Malaysia bukan tanda sektor pendidikan kita beres dan subur, tetapi sebaliknya.

Pramoedya Ananta Toer menulis dalam novelnya Bumi Manusia, “seorang terpelajar harus sudah berbuat adil sejak dalam fikiran apalagi dalam perbuatan.” Itulah tujuan pelajaran, untuk mendidik rakyat yang adil. Pendidikan Islam bertujuan membina makhluk yang soleh. Istilah “soleh” saya ertikan “berguna atau memberi manfaat kepada masyarakat.” Rakyat yang adil dan soleh, itu tujuan pendidikan.

Bagi masyarakat berbagai kaum dan budaya seperti Malaysia, saya tambah atau beratkan satu lagi tujuan, iaitu meningkatkan persefahaman antara kaum supaya kita lebih berfikir sebagai satu dan tidak lagi terikat kepada prasangka kaum kita. Tanpa tujuan ini, kita mungkin menjadi saperti penduduk Northern Ireland, berpendidikan tinggi tetapi bermusuhan antara satu dengan lain. Di sana kaum Katholik dan Protestan tidak habis-habis bermusuhan.

Betul pada intinya seorang yang “adil dan soleh” tidak akan membuat demikian, jadi tujuan kedua ini mungkin berulang atau termasuk dalam kandungan “adil dan soleh.” Walaubagaimanapun kita mesti beratkan sudut ini.

Falsafah pendidikan mesti menyifatkan murid sebagai pisau untuk diasah atau tajamkan. Tetapi sekarang kita sifatkan mereka sebagai tong kosong yang mesti disumbat dengan fakta, maklumat, dan propoganda.

Fikirkan, di tangan pakar bedah, pisau tajam ialah alat memyembuh barah; di tangan ahli seni pahat, (untuk) mereka patung kayu yang indah. Sebaliknya, di tangan penyangak pisau menjadi senjata membunuh. Itu mustahaknya tujuan adil dan soleh dalam pendidikan.

Dengan tong yang diisi, apa yang mungkin kita dapatkan balik hanya apa yang telah disumbat. Itu sahaja! Itu pun bukan semuanya sebab banyak yang terlekat atau bocor keluar di bawah.

Munshi Abdullah menulis, di antara mereka yang berguru dan mereka yang meniru, jauh bezanya. Seorang yang berguru, dan berguru cemerlang, tidak terhad pencapaiannya. Mereka yang pandai meniru terhad hanya kepada menghafizkan apa yang diberi atau diajar. Itu sahaja, seumpama burung nuri.

Pendidikan tidak menjamin kita semua menjadi pemimpin, hanya mengajar pemimpin mana yang patut diikuti (education can’t make us all leaders, but it can teach us which leader to follow). Itu (yang disebut) Horace Mann, pendidik Amerika terkemuka. Dia menambah, tidak ada ciptaan insan yang lebih hebat lagi untuk menyamakan keadaan manusia (education … beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of the conditions of men ..)

Di dunia ini, yang paling bertuah atau beruntung ialah mereka yang fasih dalam dua (atau lebih) bahasa, dan satu daripadanya ialah Bahasa Inggeris (BI). Itu sebabnya Negara China, Jepun dan Korea Selatan berlumba mengajar penuntut mereka BI. Yang paling rugi atau lemah ialah mereka yang hanya tahu satu bahasa sahaja, dan bahasa itu lain daripada BI. (manakala berada) di tengah-tengah terletak mereka yang fasih hanya dalam BI. Mengapa BI dan bukan Mandarin atau Swahili yang penting dalam dunia sekarang saya tidak tahu. Sepatutnya Mandarin sebab bahasa itu yang paling ramai pengunanya. Pada satu masa dahulu, bahasa Latin. Mungkin pada masa depan dengan kehandalan kemajuan negara China, Mandarin akan menjadi bahasa pilihan.

Kebanyakan orang Melayu fasih hanya dalam satu bahasa sahaja, dan bahasa itu bukan BI. Kaum bukan Melayu di Malaysia fasih dalam dua atau tiga bahasa: BI, BM(Bahasa Malaysia) dan bahasa ibunda. Itu sebabnya mereka maju, dan bukan atas alasan keistemewaan budaya atau bangsa mereka. Cina yang fasih dengan Hakka atau Hokkien sahaja terhad ke pasar minggu dan gerai atau kedai. Dengan cara pendidikan yang bijak, murid Melayu pun boleh juga fasih dalam tiga bahasa, BI, BM, dan Bahasa Arab.

Mengikut kajian neuroscience, banyak tambahan keistimewaan otak kepada mereka yang fasih dalam berbagai bahasa, antaranya kebolehan berfikir “luar kotak” dan dari berbagai sudut. Itu sebabnya universiti terkemuka Amerika memestikan mahasiswa mereka fasih dalam dua bahasa.

Selain daripada bertujuan berkebolehan dua (atau tiga) bahasa, sistem pendidikan kita mestilah beralasan kukuh atas sains dan ilmu hisab, serta mengalakkan murid berfikir. Sains membolehkan kita memahami alam di sekitar serta di dalam (diri) kita. Sains ialah kajian “Quran Kedua” yang dimaksudkan oleh Hamka. Ilmu hisab pula, tanpa kemahiran dalam mata pelajaran itu, kita tidak boleh berfikir dengan tepat, hanya agak- agak sahaja. Dan tanpa berkebolehan berfikir sendiri, rakyat akan jadi Pak Turut dan senang dipengaruhi.

Had sekolah patut dipanjangkan selama 13 tahun untuk semua, dengan empat mata pelajaran asas – BI, BM, Sains, dan Ilmu Hisab – dimestikan setiap hari dan setiap tahun. Mata pelajaran lain dipilih oleh sekolah dan pelajar. Saya tidak kira apa bahasa pengantar, sama ada BM, Swahili, atau Mandarin. Di Amerika sekarang sudah jadi kebiasaan untuk semua bersekolah 15 tahun, prasekolah ke darjah 12 (13 tahun) dan dua tahun kolej.

Saya mencadangkan pada tahun 10 hingga 13 (sekolah tinggi) penuntut disalurkan kepada tiga jurusan –akademik (untuk bakal mahasiswa), biasa (untuk bakal askar, kerani dan jururawat), dan vokasional, untuk melatih pembuat perabut, juru mekanik, dan tukang jahit. Murid boleh menukar saluran hanya semasa Tahun 10 dan 11. Ini cara Jerman, tetapi di sana saluran itu dimulai lebih awal lagi, pada tahun lima.

Selain daripada itu saya (cadangkan supaya) tambahkan peruntukan kepada sekolah yang mempunyai (komposisi) murid yang mencerminkan masyarakat Malaysia. Saya tidak memaksa tiap- tiap sekolah mengambil beberapa peratus murid Melayu, Cina dan sebagainya, tetapi sekolah yang berjaya mendapat murid berbilang kaum akan dihadiahkan dengan meningkatkan peruntukan wang, guru dan kelebihan lain, tidak kira apa bahasa pengantarnya. Begitu juga, saya akan melebihkan peruntukan untuk sekolah di mana muridnya terkumpul daripada keluarga miskin, seperti di luar bandar.

Saya tidak hapuskan sekolah terhad kepada satu kaum. Jauh sekali! Hanya sekolah tersebut jangan harap mendapat bantuan satu sen pun dari kerajaan. Tentang agama, itu patut di ajar hanya sebagai satu mata pelajaran sahaja dan bukan memenuhi seluruh masa atau sukatan pelajaran. Sekolah agama mesti mengajar empat mata pelajaran asas yang saya sebutkan dahulu (BI, BM, Sains, dan Ilmu Hisab). Saya tidak kira apa bahasa pengantar sekolah agama, samada Arab, BM, Mandarin (seperti di Negara China), atau B.I (seperti di Amerika). Sekolah agama Kristian di Amerika ramai penuntut bukan Kristian termasuk Islam oleh sebab mutu akademiknya tinggi.

Kalau sekolah agama Malaysia tinggi tarafnya, mungkin ibu bapa bukan Islam akan menghantar anak mereka. Tengoklah dahulu, Tun Razak dan Hussein Onn hantar anak mereka ke sekolah “mission” (satu jenis sekolah agama) Kristian!

Kelemahan yang nyata di antara murid Melayu ialah kemorosotan taraf BI. Saya anak kampung, ibu bapa saya tidak tahu langsung BI, dan bahasa itu jarang digunakan di sekitar alam saya semasa kecil. Tambahan pula saya bersekolah semasa negeri dijajah. Tetapi saya fasih dalam BI. Sepatutnya sekarang kita sudah merdeka, pimpinan negeri dalam tangan Melayu, kemudahan untuk murid Melayu untuk belajar BI semestinya lebih senang bila dibandingkan dengan masa dulu. Tetapi sebaliknya yang berlaku!

Apa sebab? Masyarakat dan pemimpin kita tidak memberatkan hal itu. Mereka menyifatkan mengalakkan BI bermakna kita tidak “memartabatkan” atau cinta bahasa kita. Itu kesilapan terbesar.

Oleh sebab taraf BI di (kalangan) murid kampung sudah jauh merosot, saya cadangkan mengadakan “immersion schools” mengunakan hanya BI selama sekurang kurangnya lima tahun dari prasekolah hingga ke darjah empat atau lima. Bahasa lain termasuk BM tidak diajar. Oleh sebab BM digunakan di sekitar luar sekolah dan di rumah, tidak mungkin murid akan lupa bertutur dalam itu.

Saya mensyaratkan satu sahaja. Iaitu murid dihadkan kepada mereka yang bahasa ibunda ialah BM, bahasa itu biasa digunakan di rumah serta sekitar, atau murid itu sudah fasih bertutur dalam BM.

Kalau seorang murid Cina sudah pandai bertutur dalam BM (seperti Cina Baba misalnya) mereka boleh masuk sekolah “English immersion.” Kita mesti mengadakan Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (Inggeris), di mana bahasa penghantar ialah BI, di kawasan kampung Melayu.

Bakri on EducationSatu cara lagi untuk meninggikan taraf BI antara murid Melayu ialah dengan menubuhkan Sekolah Agama yang menggunakan BI sebagai bahasa pengantar, seperti di Amerika. Sudah tentunya murid di sekolah itu akan fasih dalam BI, BM dan Bahasa Arab!

Itu dengan ringkasnya cadangan saya untuk membaiki, mengatasi atau mengganti sistem pendidikan kita. Saya kembangkan dengan lebih mendalam lagi melalui buku saya, An Education System Worthy of Malaysia (2003).

Untuk menutup (wawancara ini), saya bentangkan tiga unsur asas. Pertama, ibu bapa sahaja yang tahu apa yang baik untuk anak mereka. Maknanya, kita tidak boleh paksa ibu bapa menghantar anak mereka ke sekolah ini atau itu. Pilihan itu semestinya terletak di tangan ibu bapa, dan hanya kepada mereka dan bukan pemimpin politik atau pegawai pendidikan.

Kedua, mengikut kebijakan bekas Canselor German Willy Brandt, hanyaEducation_for_all_UNESCO satu sahaja bahasa rasmi di dunia ini, iaitu bahasa pelanggan kita. Kata Brandt, kalau saya ingin menjual, saya mesti menggunakan bahasa bakal pembeli.

Kalau saya membeli dari kau, kau mesti gunakan bahasa saya (Jerman)! Kalau kita ingin menjual lebih banyak lagi getah dan kelapa sawit kepada negara China dan Amerika, kita patut belajar bahasa mereka!

Ketiga, dan pandangan ini khas untuk orang Melayu sahaja, kita mesti ingat atas perbezaannya penting antara memajukan Bahasa Melayu dan memarakan Bangsa Melayu. BM boleh maju tetapi itu tidak bermakna Bangsa Melayu akan turut bersama. Tetapi kalau Bangsa Melayu maju, semestinya bahasa kita akan turut bersama.

Lebih penting ialah sebaliknya, iaitu jika Bangsa Melayu bangsat, tidak ramai yang ingin belajar BM. Itu termasuk orang Melayu sendiri. Lima puluh tahun dahulu negara China bangsat; tidak ramai berminat belajar Mandarin. Sekarang Negara China sudah maju, Mandarin ialah bahasa kedua yang sangat diminati oleh pelajar Amerika.

Former UMNO Treasurer sued for cheating, deceit and forging documents

February 27, 2013

Former UMNO Treasurer sued for cheating, deceit and forging documents

by Hafiz Yatim@

Sixty British investors through Fiscal Capital Sdn Bhd have filed a RM12 million suit against a firm owned by former UMNO Treasurer Abdul Azim Mohd Zabidi for cheating, deceit and forging documents in the purchase of six telecommunication switches.

The investors had approached the Chambers of Kamarul Hisham and Hasnal Rezua and had filed the suit on February 20 at the Kuala Lumpur High Court. Ampang MP Zuraida Kamaruddin, in a press conference today, said the investors had lodged a police report on October 5, 2011, but they complained that action had been slow.

She claimed that they only started investigations last month. Zuraida said the matter had been brought to the attention of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and also Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister Mukhriz Mahathir while they were in the United Kingdom, but there had been no progress.

Lawyer Kamarul Hisham Kamaruddin said the matter has been fixed for case management on March 21.NONE He, along with partner Hasnal Rezua Merican, said the Police have sent the case to the Attorney-General’s Chambers but he got to know that the A-G had returned the papers to the Police.

“We cannot understand the slowness of the authorities’ action despite a police report having been lodged more than a year ago. Following this, our clients have asked us to come out to exert pressure,” he said.

The investors, through Fiscal City Sdn Bhd, named Doxport Technology (M) Sdn Bhd, and its directors Abdul Azim (left), Gurmeet Kaur and Sivalingam Techinamoorthy as defendants. Abdul Azim is also the chairperson of Doxport Technology.

Complaint to House of Lords

The victims had also complained to British politicians including Lord Ahmed of Rotherham, who will bring this matter up at the House of Lords next month.

Lord Ahmed, who was not present, said in a statement that a number of British MPs have been aware of the background to this unsettling case for several years, where British citizens and investors have made serious allegations involving misappropriation of funds.

“I have personally raised this issue with senior members of the Malaysian government. As the investors have stated to me, their demand is non-malicious and plain. They are seeking natural justice to take its course and any alleged perpetrators brought to book,” he said.

“I appeal to the executive and its representatives to continue to support and facilitate the due process, which is in the interest of Malaysia’s international reputation as a reliable hub for inward investment and trade,” he said.

Statement of claim

According to Hasnal, the investors had invested US$4 million (RM12 million) since 2008, to purchase the switches and have a stake in Doxport Technology.

The plaintiffs claimed that they had paid RM6.9 million for the purchase of the switches and another RM5.8 million to purchase the stake. The six switches were then purchased and placed in Phnom Penh, Hanoi, Saigon, Singapore, Manila and Hong Kong.

They claimed that since the switches were in operation it had generated revenue and that the investors should have received the return for their investments, for helping purchase the switches.

The investors claimed Doxport Technology had made false representations, based on fraudulent documents. They approached Lord Ahmed and also the British High Commission over Doxport’s failed business.

The plaintiffs further claimed that the defendants had made a misrepresentation to them resulting in them to suffer further economic losses.

Hence, the defendants are seeking RM6.9 million which they had fork out to purchase the switches and another RM5.8 million for the stake in the company along with general, aggravated and exemplary damages.

Poetry, You and Me

February 11, 2013

Poetry,You and Me

“Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.”-T.S. Eliot

Let us use this CNY period to listen to some poetry and reflect on where we are all heading. Bean. are waiting to take that ride on the Kerbau on a journey to a faraway place beyond the crimson sky. Poetry can be fascinating yet amusing.But it is certainly better than politics.–Din Merican

Cong Xi Fa Cai to all our Mandarin friends

February 8, 2013

Cong Xi Fa Cai–The Year of the Snake

Cong Xi Fa Cai--2013

We wish all Mandarin friends and associates at home here in Malaysia and around the world Cong Xi Fa Cai. All the best and let us make the world a better and more peaceful place.

Although Asian astrologists have not given 2013 a thumps up, we of the human race must persevere to make it a good one. To some extent, we are masters of our fate.

For us in Malaysia, 2013 is an election year since rumours in Kuala Lumpur have it that GE-13 will be held at the end of March. The campaign season which began in 2009 with our country on auto-pilot since has entered its final phase.

We await to read the manifestos of both UMNO-Barisan and Pakatan Rakyat and scrutinize their list of candidates for the national and state elections. Please decide wisely and choose a government that genuinely listens to, and serves us well.

GE-13 promises to be a hotly contested one. But that is normal in adversarial politics. But once elections are over and the outcome is known, we must accept the newly mandated government and work to support it, holding it fully accountable for its decisions and actions. That is democracy and good citizenship.

Dr Kamsiah and I want a government that fights corruption, uses our money to benefit the entire nation, and makes our streets, work places, schools, shopping malls, and our homes safe. We need competent and honest Ministers in the new Cabinet who are imbued with some idealism and the will to do what is right and do it right to take the country towards its goal of becoming a developed nation by 2020.

In the Year of the Snake which is supposed to be a very challenging one, let us start thinking we are Malaysians, not “pendatangs” and “kafirs” on the one side and “sons (and daughters) of the soil” and  believers on the other. Let us act as proud,  hardworking, honest and self-reliant people. We can accomplish great tasks and overcome challenges, only if we do it together.  A House divided cannot stand. All the best to you. Cong Xi Fa Cai–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

The “gut instinct” in Politics is dead.

January 15, 2013

The “Gut Instinct” in Politics is dead.

by Karim Raslan@

Professional politicians know they need to approach voters with the same razor-like focus employed by Nestle, Coca-cola and Unilever as they chart their sales strategies.

THIS year, 2013, will be an election year. The nation’s thirteenth polls have been the most eagerly anticipated in living memory. Indeed, it is as if we have been waiting for this contest ever since March 8, 2008.

Najib-UMNOIt has been an agonising five years, as the advantage has shifted between the two relatively evenly-matched coalitions.There have been moments, sometimes even months (such as the past three months) when Barisan Nasional had seized the momentum. At other times, Pakatan Rakyat had been dominant.

Needless to say however, unexpected “black swan” type events have emerged seemingly from nowhere, time and again over the past five years to derail any sides’ long-term advantage.

Still, the recent US presidential elections and Barack Obama’s dramatic victory are a very good indication of emerging global electoral trends.First and foremost is the extent to which “gut instinct” – the raison d’être of columnists such as myself, has been eclipsed by polling, data-gathering and analysis.

Massive computing power means we have to check and double-check our hypotheses. “Gut instinct” is for the amateurs. Professional politicians know they need to approach voters with the same razor-like focus employed by Nestle, Coca Cola and Unilever as they chart their sales strategies.

Technology has been a game-changer all round. The “air war” – the mass, blanketing of TV with political advertising has been superseded by the “ground game” – coordinated, grassroots campaigning that reaches out, energises and mobilises voters individually.

Increasingly, strategists have begun to realise that TV advertising is an extremely blunt and, at times, ineffective tool. Other tactics – posters, fliers and mass e-mails – also have limited impact.

In Malaysia, the increasing penetration of smart phone devices (promoted by the Barisan Administration) has given voters a powerful tool. With an Internet-enabled device in hand, individuals can check, personally and immediately, the veracity of any political pronouncements.

Indeed, the information era has started to make free-to-air television obsolete as a propaganda machine. At the same time, the idea of there being just one “Malay” voice or identity is beginning to fracture. Once again, technology is hastening this challenge as people discover that there are many Malay “identities”. This will free people to explore regional, cultural and linguistic differences, as separate Bajau, Bugis and Illanun traditions, for example, gather in strength.

The result will be a less monolithic Malay society. Instead, individuals will realise that they have choices: some will be more formally religious; some will be drawn to spiritualism and Sufism, whereas others will be more focused on lifestyle choices – environmentalism, health, sports, high culture and the arts.

There will, of course, be many who feel that liberalism and cosmopolitanism are not at odds with Malay culture. Whatever the case, social media has provided a critical platform for all these communities to emerge, interface, survive and flourish.

The Obama campaign harnessed these same trends to spectacular effect.His strategists Obamarealised that the Republicans (and especially their Tea Party faction) were wedded to “gut instinct” and divisively racist rhetoric.

They recognised underlying demographic trends that showed American communities becoming more diverse and plural. Utilising the President’s vast resources, Obama’s team created an unparalleled nationwide organisation to reach out to potential voters through their friends and local networks, tapping into places where people congregated such as barber shops and cafes.

As they created this alliance of shared interests, Obama the “Great Uniter” was able to knit together a rainbow coalition of diverse communities – Hispanic, African-American, the young and highly-educated, thereby balancing out the once-dominant power of white Caucasian males.

This has been a powerful formula. It also allowed his campaign to regain momentum despite the very obvious economic failings of his first term.

Anwar and Pakatan MPsSure, America is not Malaysia. Not all examples are transferable. However, technology is the same the world over and technology is “freeing up” the individual. It is also providing politicians with the tools to be more professional and scientific.

This is something we have to keep in mind as we head to the polls. As I said, the “gut instinct” in politics is dead.

What Value Our Degrees, asks Citizen Nades

January 10, 2013

What Value Our Degrees, asks Citizen Nades

byNades R. Nadeswaran (01-08-13)@

Citizen is a special status held by the people who have the right to be in a country. For example, people deserved to choose their own life such as individual freedom, freedom of workship, and citizenship through marriage. It was the important thing to be the advanced country and also decrease the poor people. Moreover, Malaysia is a wonderful city. People have to choose their own minister to be right choosed after ‘Pilihan Raya’. In Malaysia also they have no age limits to their want to get studies. It was a good thing to us and also to be the advanced city in 2020. Malaysia also have their own systems and also rules.

Malaysian Constitution is the most important things in Malaysia it is because Malaysia was the most beautiful country. Besides, the Yang DiPertuan Agong has the highest positions according to the constitution. Other than that, people in this country deserved to choose their own choice for example their Prime Minister. It is shown that Malaysian was a great city than others. In Malaysia also they have no war it is because Malaysia was a calm country. Moreover, Malaysia also trying to together with the other country to move forward to be the advanced city in the eyes of the world.

NO, the above are not the work of some foreign students trying to learn English. Neither are they of primary school pupils attempting their Standard Three English language test. No, they have not been edited and are reproduced as they were written and submitted.

The creators of the above are final year students of a multiple award-winning university. These are excerpts of their essay on Malaysian studies. Despite the poor language and content, they will be “passed” by the university and perhaps given an “A” for their efforts.

Will these students be able to word a job application? Will they be able to go through a job interview? Will employers want to give jobs to this category of students who cannot string two sentences without five mistakes? Will these students be prepared to face the outside world?

Later this year, they will “graduate” complete with gowns and mortars in front of proud parents and relatives. They will receive scrolls from a VVIP and pay a small fortune for the ceremony and photographs. They will join the thousands of young men and women who would fall under the category of unemployed or unemployable graduates. But the scroll is not worth the paper it is printed on.

In short, they are the end-products of production lines that have been set up to churn out graduates, irrespective of their skills, knowledge or ability. To enable these production lines to function, a whole load of people get licences or permits to set up “tertiary institutions”. There is no quality control and the end result is that some of them are absolutely useless and make money from the National Higher Education Loan (PTPTN).

As the government continues to provide more funds for education under the PTPTN scheme, more young people look forward to a tertiary education and a degree. But in the eagerness to create more graduates, some universities are closing an eye to the weaknesses and shortcomings of students.

In 1997, the PTPTN scheme was launched at a time when private colleges were starting toA Student bloom, and foreign universities such as Monash University and Nottingham University were invited to set up their campuses in Malaysia. The PTPTN was supposed to be a rolling fund to provide loans to students who could not afford tertiary education.

Today, the PTPTN scheme, as one observer remarked, is no different from or maybe worse than the “sub-prime” loan scandal in the US.You lend money to people (children) who are “not qualified” to “buy” a degree that is worth very little, on the belief that the value of the degree will keep increasing. When the value appreciates and there is a regular income, the loan can be settled and therefore everybody will be happy.

But the bitter truth is that the degree is not a guarantee of regular income and hence the loan defaulters. Under these circumstances, will the government be able to recover the loans or will they be written off?

R. Nadeswaran has met several “graduates” who cannot hold a simple conversation. –

Orwell’s Politics and the English Language (1946)

December 11, 2012

George OrwellIn recent years, we Malaysians have been subjected to manipulation, lies, spin and downright dishonesty. I thought this classic piece by George Orwell is a timely reminder that we can be taken from reality into dreamland by propagandists and spinmeisters. We read bad writing and that affects our thinking and actions.

The tools available to political writers today allow them to detach politics from reality on a daily basis. Big Brother is watching over us, making sure that we have our regular dosage of humbug on television and in the mainstream media.

As Mr. Orwell puts it, “…modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy.We do not have to think.–Din Merican

Politics and the English Language

by George Orwell (1946)

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have politicalOrwell's 1984 and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.

These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad — I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen — but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:

1. I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien [sic] to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.

Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression)

2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder.

Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossia)

3. On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?

Essay on psychology in Politics (New York)

4. All the ‘best people’ from the gentlemen’s clubs, and all the frantic fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.

Communist pamphlet

5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion’s roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream — as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as ‘standard English’. When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o’clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma’amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!

Letter in Tribune

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose-construction is habitually dodged.

DYING METAPHORS. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles’ heel, swan song, hotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a ‘rift’, for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

OPERATORS OR VERBAL FALSE LIMBS. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are render inoperative, militate against, make contact with, be subjected to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part (role) in, make itself felt, take effect, exhibit a tendency to, serve the purpose of, etc., etc. The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as break, stop, spoil, mend, kill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose verb such as prove, serve, form, play, render. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard to, the fact that, by dint of, in view of, in the interests of, on the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved by anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desired, cannot be left out of account, a development to be expected in the near future, deserving of serious consideration, brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on and so forth.

PRETENTIOUS DICTION. Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate, are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgements. Adjectives like epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable, are used to dignify the sordid process of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic colour, its characteristic words being: realm, throne, chariot, mailed fist, trident, sword, shield, buckler, banner, jackboot, clarion. Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac, ancien regime, deus ex machina, mutatis mutandis, status quo, gleichschaltung, weltanschauung, are used to give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations i. e., e. g. and etc., there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in the English language. Bad writers, and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, subaqueous, and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon numbers(1). The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing (hyena, hangman, cannibal, petty bourgeois, these gentry, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, White Guard, etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the size formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (deregionalize, impermissible, extramarital, non-fragmentary and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one’s meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.

MEANINGLESS WORDS. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning(2). Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, ‘The outstanding feature of Mr. X’s work is its living quality’, while another writes, ‘The immediately striking thing about Mr. X’s work is its peculiar deadness’, the reader accepts this as a simple difference opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’. The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Petain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.

Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

This is a parody, but not a very gross one. Exhibit (3) above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English. It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations — race, battle, bread — dissolve into the vague phrases ‘success or failure in competitive activities’. This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing — no one capable of using phrases like ‘objective considerations of contemporary phenomena’ — would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase (‘time and chance’) that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its ninety syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes.

He thinksAs I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier — even quicker, once you have the habit — to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think. If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don’t have to hunt about for the words; you also don’t have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious. When you are composing in a hurry — when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech — it is natural to fall into a pretentious, Latinized style. Tags like a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind or a conclusion to which all of us would readily assent will save many a sentence from coming down with a bump. By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash — as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot — it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking. Look again at the examples I gave at the beginning of this essay. Professor Laski (1) uses five negatives in fifty three words. One of these is superfluous, making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip — alien for akin — making further nonsense, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness. Professor Hogben (2) plays ducks and drakes with a battery which is able to write prescriptions, and, while disapproving of the everyday phrase put up with, is unwilling to look egregious up in the dictionary and see what it means; (3), if one takes an uncharitable attitude towards it, is simply meaningless: probably one could work out its intended meaning by reading the whole of the article in which it occurs. In (4), the writer knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea leaves blocking a sink. In (5), words and meaning have almost parted company. People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning — they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another — but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. The will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.

Orwell2In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a ‘party line’. Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder — one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved, as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political conformity.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, ‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so’. Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

‘While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.’

The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find — this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify — that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one’s elbow. Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against. By this morning’s post I have received a pamphlet dealing with conditions in Germany. The author tells me that he ‘felt impelled’ to write it. I open it at random, and here is almost the first sentence I see: ‘[The Allies] have an opportunity not only of achieving a radical transformation of Germany’s social and political structure in such a way as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the same time of laying the foundations of a co-operative and unified Europe.’ You see, he ‘feels impelled’ to write — feels, presumably, that he has something new to say — and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.

Applause-ClapI said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this would argue, if they produced an argument at all, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words and constructions. So far as the general tone or spirit of a language goes, this may be true, but it is not true in detail. Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority. Two recent examples were explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned, which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists. There is a long list of flyblown metaphors which could similarly be got rid of if enough people would interest themselves in the job; and it should also be possible to laugh the not un- formation out of existence(3), to reduce the amount of Latin and Greek in the average sentence, to drive out foreign phrases and strayed scientific words, and, in general, to make pretentiousness unfashionable. But all these are minor points. The defence of the English language implies more than this, and perhaps it is best to start by saying what it does not imply.

To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a ‘standard English’ which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one’s meaning clear, or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a ‘good prose style’. On the other hand, it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial. Nor does it even imply in every case preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one, though it does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one’s meaning. What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualising you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose — not simply accept — the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one’s words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally. But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.

I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don’t know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin where it belongs.


1) An interesting illustration of this is the way in which the English flower names which were in use till very recently are being ousted by Greek ones, snapdragon becoming antirrhinum, forget-me-not becoming myosotis, etc. It is hard to see any practical reason for this change of fashion: it is probably due to an instinctive turning-awayfrom the more homely word and a vague feeling that the Greek word is scientific.

2) Example: ‘Comfort’s catholicity of perception and image, strangely Whitmanesque in range, almost the exact opposite in aesthetic compulsion, continues to evoke that trembling atmospheric accumulative hinting at a cruel, an inexorably serene timelessness… Wrey Gardiner scores by aiming at simple bull’s-eyes with precision. Only they are not so simple, and through this contented sadness runs more than the surface bitter-sweet of resignation’. (Poetry Quarterly.

3) One can cure oneself of the not un- formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field.



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