Embrace Teddy Roosevelt’s Conservatism


September 14, 2014

Embrace Teddy Roosevelt’s Conservatism: Equalize Opportunity

by David Skelton@www.theguardian.com

teddy_roosevelt“I wish to preach … the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labour and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes … to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.” That was how Theodore Roosevelt, never one for understatement, but arguably America’s greatest president, summed up his creed. And his was a life that was never boring – a war hero during the Spanish-American war, a perpetual man of action – he shook up the then-stuffy business of American politics with his relentless spirit. And politicians in 2014 should consider the powerful message that was at the heart of his politics.

Conservatives, in particular, should learn from a man who was able to show that conservatism could broaden its appeal and not be seen as the plaything of the rich. As British Tories consider how to break beyond their heartland they should look to Teddy Roosevelt, a conservative who claimed the progressive mantle as his own.

His message was one that successfully broadened the appeal of the Republican party, exiling the Democrats to their then “solid south” and winning more electoral college votes than any president before him. His was a conservatism that unapologetically represented enterprise, small business owners and workers. It was a conservatism that took on vested interests and legislated in the interests of ordinary voters, with measures such as the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act.

This was a man who believed instinctively that prosperity came from “thrift, business energy and enterprise”, but didn’t believe that being conservative should mean unthinkingly defending big business or monopolies. In his words: “We wish to shape conditions so that a greater number of the small men who are decent, industrious and energetic shall be able to succeed, and so that the big man who is dishonest should not be allowed to succeed at all.” He argued that monopolies meant higher prices for consumers, lower wages for workers and shut out the small businessmen and innovation that create prosperity.

Roosevelt was right that Conservatives should be prepared to act where market failure occurs and stand upcameron-radical against vested interests in both the private and public sector. Those who argue such an approach is unconservative would also find disagreement from other conservative icons. Adam Smith argued: “The monopolists … sell their commodities much above the natural price … and raise their emoluments … greatly above their natural rate.” Edmund Burke stood strongly against the monopoly power of the East India Company. Little wonder that Roosevelt described himself as “the true friend of property, the true conservative”.

Conservatives should be strong defenders of the power of capitalism to create prosperity and social progress, but they should remember that the free market and big business aren’t the same thing. Conservatives should create the right environment for start-ups and entrepreneurs. But supporting free enterprise isn’t the same as supporting the water monopolies, who, as Rob Halfon has pointed out, saw director’s salaries increase by between 37% and 171% over the past five years, while bills increased by up to 37%. They should be prepared to speak up about anti-consumer behaviour, whether it be over food packaging, bank charges or excessive utility prices.

It’s important that a regulatory environment is created in which encouraging competition, rather than concentration of power, is taken seriously, and monopolies aren’t allowed to abuse their dominant market position. The creation of a powerful, cross-departmental secretary of state for consumer protection would also help tackle rip-off practices. Polling last year also showed that a Conservative party that clamped down on big business that ripped off its customers would be an important way of showing that Conservatives weren’t just for the rich and powerful.

Roosevelt was a strong believer in capitalism as an engine for growth and a capitalism that works for everybody in society. His was “an economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best there is in him”. For him, “the essence of the struggle is to equalise opportunity, destroy privilege and give to the life and citizenship of every possible individual the highest possible value both to himself and to the commonwealth”.

Conservatives should firmly position themselves as the party that is the relentless champion of opportunity and the enemy of the closed shop, with education reform, improved childcare in the poorest areas and a strong vocational offer at its heart.

It’s pretty clear that the low paid and many parts in the north and Scotland didn’t benefit from the economic growth under Tony Blair. Between 2003 and 2008, GDP increased by over 11%, but real wages stagnated at best and wages have failed to keep up with prices for more than a decade. Roosevelt argued that “no man can be a good citizen unless he has a wage more than sufficient to cover the bare cost of living”. He was an early advocate of a minimum wage – understanding that such an idea was entirely consistent with conservatism and making the free market work for everyone. Conservatives shouldn’t be afraid of looking at ways of increasing the minimum wage, which has failed to keep up with prices in recent years, whilst reforming employers’ taxes to minimise the impact on job creation.

Teddy Roosevelt stood for the “square deal” and so should today’s Conservatives. A square deal for the small businessman and the entrepreneur, for the young person who deserves to make the most of their potential, for the consumer and the low paid. Modern conservatism must be compassionate and should be about removing barriers to opportunity, tackling vested interests in both the public and private sectors and promoting a free market that creates prosperity for all. Today’s Tories should hold up Teddy Roosevelt as a guiding light.

Literature moving into obscurity


June 15, 2014

Literature moving into obscurity

by Bhavani Krishna Iyer*@www.thesundaily.com

http://www.thesundaily.my/node/256005

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: letters@thesundaily.com

How about a little Poem for this Occasion–May 23, 2014


May 23, 2014

How about a little Poem for the Occasion–May 23, 2014

tennysonporI could have posted Milton’s Paradise Lost, an epic poem which I read at Sixth Form at the Penang Free School (1958). It was heavy stuff, way back then and too  long for my purpose here. Yet Milton’s is a must read for those who want to learn English seriously. Also try Chaucer’s Canterburry Tales and Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations.

But  for this occasion, let me revisit Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses, which I posted on my blog some years  ago. I think it is an appropriate piece of poetry for my special day. I dedicate it to the memory of my late mother, Hajjah Fatimah Merican, Christie Netto and the forgotten men and women of their generation.–Din Merican

Ulysses

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea:

I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honor’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life.  Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains:  But every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bounds of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachos,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle-
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.

Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone.  He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port, the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas.  My mariners,
Souls that have tol’d and wrought, and thought with me-
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads – you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all:  but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes:  the slow moon climbs:  the deep
Moans round with many voices.  Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved heaven and earth; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

     Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Fellow Malaysians, May The Force be with You Always

Birthday Greetings from my friend Terence Netto


May 22, 2014

Din and KamsiahI am deeply  moved by an e-mail message I received a few moments ago from a soulmate in literature, Terence Netto and thank him  warmly for his very kind wishes to mark my 75th Birthday, which falls tomorrow, May 23.

It is indeed a great honour to share the same date as his late father, Christie Netto, whose centenary it will be tomorrow. Two Germinians, a quarter of century apart, Christie and I share a common passion which is the love of reading and literature.

Terence had an excellent role model in his father, and I had an equally wonderful one in my late mother, Hajjah Fatimah Merican. Both he and I were indeed fortunate to have  such unselfish mentors.

Our parents –my mother and his father– did not leave behind great wealth.  But in their separate ways, they exposed us to great literature and taught us the value of reading.

Yes, I love to read history and literary works of antiquity through which I began to appreciate the nobility of a Hamlet and the idealism of a Brutus and despise  the toxic qualities of Iago, the greed of a Shylock and the machinations and temptations of a Lady Macbeth.

So my friend, Terence, allow me to post a poem by William Wordsworth in honour of the long departed Christie Netto. He did his duty for our country. And so did my beloved mother.You and I will now go on, never to quit because we still have plenty to do before we sleep.

My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold (Rainbow)

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

Let also us celebrate this auspicious day with this tune by Sammy Davies Jr.–Din Merican

Birthday Greetings from my friend, Terence Netto

Dear Din,

My fond greetings to you on attaining the milestone of three score and 15 years.Ever since I came to know you seven years ago and got to know that your birthday falls on May 23, I have felt a special kinship for you. It is because the date is also the birthday of my father whose centenary is today which makes this day extra special to me.

It is apposite that I should greet you on this day when I feel a deep sense of gratitude to my dad. For without his urging me to read from a young age I doubt I could have forged a friendship with you that I am certain would last for the duration of our remaining years, you being a ripe 75 and I, a mere 14 years to the rear.

You and I have had many occasions when we shared our delight in the stuff we had read in our days of youth and maturity. That reading may not have covered the compendium of what Matthew Arnold meant by the “best that has been said and thought” in this world, but any range that has within its compass a dollop of Shakespeare, a draught of Tolstoy and a distillate of Gibbon would suffice for  the delights that we have shared whenever we met.

 From my father, Christie Netto, I acquired the sheer joy of felicitous statement which led me to devour literary and political stuff, especially when these have been singingly rendered. Combined with the fortune of having a good English teacher in the late Bernard Khoo Teng Swee (whom your website commemorated last week) and the fortuitous friendship of (also departed) fellow journalist, Shaik Osman Majid (who like you had Penang Free School as his alma mater), I learned to read, remember and store my mind with the stuff that will always be a joy forever.

 So on this day when you mark your 75th birthday, I take a special delight in greeting you and in remembering my father to whom I owe such a lot. If in the “brief candle” of our life the knowledge of how this world works and of how human beings are constituted could be available to us, it is almost certain such powers would only be acquired through comprehension of the great works of literary and philosophic merit.

It has been no small pleasure that through the mentoring of Christie, a humble accounts clerk who knew Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Marx, Netto junior acquired some of the wherewithal that must have made him, I figure, a companion of some value to Din Merican to whom the Latin greeting – Ad multos annos – is most appropriate on this auspicious day.

 

 

 

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.

The Abdullah recrudescence


September 19, 2013

The Abdullah recrudescence

by Terence Netto (09-16-13)  @http://www.malaysiakini.com

badawi yearsAn upswing in the hitherto low ratings of the premiership of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi seems to be taking place.

The stock of Malaysia’s fifth Prime Minister was low when he was compelled to give up office in April 2009 in the face of electoral shocks to Umno-BN in Election 2008.

It was a vertiginous fall, after a mere 48 months, from the results of Election 2004 when Abdullah, cresting on the wave of national expectations of political reform and institutional revival after 22 years of the Dr Mahathir Mohamad imperium, led his coalition to an impressive 64 percent take of the popular vote.

Four years later, as a result of his backpedaling on critical areas, like reform of the Police force and the fight against graft, Abdullah saw his popularity nosedive from its heady electoral perch of 2004 to the doldrums of Election 2008.

A year on from that stinging setback – months spent in a forlorn bid to stave off the inevitable – Abdullah bowed and accepted the end of his season at the top.

Perhaps the only consolation of his retreat was the grace with which he brought if off, it being a mark of statesmanship that a leader yields gracefully what he has no longer the power to withhold.

Now, a little over four years from Abdullah’s valedictory graces, there is an uptick in his ratings.  For sure, a leader’s ratings on those fairly bogus scales of history can flicker around like a speedometer gone wrong.

This is because not only are leaders judged on what they have done and what they have failed to do there is also the question of the vagaries of history.

The forces that influence the historical standing of leaders – shifts in popular opinion, the emergence of consciousness of some ideal or necessity, demographic changes – operate on levels of complexity one can only perceive, and that too vaguely, some time after they have occurred.

Maintaining a certain restraint

Abetting the Abdullah recrudescence is his relative quiet in comparison with the noisily captious ways of his predecessor. It’s de rigueur for retired leaders to maintain a certain restraint when commenting on current affairs.

It’s not that they are debarred from commenting on current goings-on: awareness that vision is always 20/20 in hindsight properly restraints the impulse to hold forth archly on current affairs.

Abdullah has abided by this restraint and only commented when there was a need to or when such comments as he made did not obtrude on the prevailing debates.

The retired Mahathir, by contrast, was an albatross around Abdullah’s neck Dr Mand is a millstone around present Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s.

[The] ‘Awakening’, a book of retrospectives and assessments of Abdullah’s tenure, published last month, has been well-timed to call attention to moves he made during his tenure –  checking fiscal irresponsibility, opening space for dissent, and attempting to restore judicial independence – which stand him in good stead compared to the track record of his predecessor and that of his successor.

Again here, the contrast with the memoirs of Mahathir, ‘A Doctor in the House’, a tawdry exercise in obfuscation, was stark. Mahathir is the more prolific writer, having written tracts early in his career and even during his time as Premier, but his aims in his memoir were abjectly self-serving. His book deserves the oblivion it quickly attained.

Which brings us to the factor that judicious observers would be apt to cite as the most likely to figure in the revised estimates of the premiership of Abdullah Badawi.

This was his attempt to restore independence to the judiciary, an institution that suffered the debilitation Mahathir visited it through the impeachment of Lord President Salleh Abbas in 1988 and promotion of mediocrities to the bench.

Mahadev Shankar,This plus point about Abdullah’s tenure was made by no less a judicial luminary than Mahadev Shankar, the retired Court of Appeal judge, who presided at the launch of ‘Awakening’ in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

At the launch, Shankar cited the acquittal of Anwar Ibrahim on appeal of the guilty verdict in the first sodomy charge preferred against him in 1999 in validation of his opinion that Abdullah freed the judiciary to do the thing they were appointed to do.

Shankar deployed the inelegant term “scrotal gumption” to describe the decision of judges who sat on the acquitting panel.

It may have taken “scrotal gumption” for the judges to acquit Anwar on the charge which many felt at the time it was levelled – and more so in retrospect – to have been trumped up.  For Abdullah, however, it must have been plain decency that prompted his exercise in judicial restoration.

That exercise is by no means complete but that he commenced it at all is stupendous and explains the man’s reviving historical fortunes.