Karpal’s Sedition Conviction is Bad News for Malaysia

February 22, 2014

Karpal’s Sedition Conviction is Bad News for Malaysia

by V Anbalagan, Assistant News Editor, The Malaysian Insider


karpal-singhDAP lawmaker Karpal Singh’s (pic, above) conviction for sedition reaffirms the return of authoritarianism and political persecution, a lawyers’ group said.

 So now giving one's legal opinion is deemed seditious! mj

So now giving one’s legal opinion is deemed seditious! mj

Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) Executive Director Eric Paulsen said this was apparent following the dismissal earlier this week of P. Uthayakumar’s appeal, also for sedition.

He said the return of authoritarianism and political persecution followed a brief lull during which Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak made a series of democratic reforms which turned out to be a rebranding exercise and ultimately, false.

“Karpal’s conviction has once again reaffirmed Najib’s false reformist credentials,” he said in a statement today.

Paulsen said Najib  had not only broken the promise he made on July 11, 2012, when he announced that the Sedition Act would be abolished but his administration has increasingly abused sedition charges against opposition leaders and dissidents like Tian Chua, Tamrin Ghafar, Haris Ibrahim, Safwan Anang, Adam Adli, Hishamuddin Rais and Suhaimi Shafie.

Najib  had not only broken the promise he made on July 11, 2012, when he announced that the Sedition Act would be abolished but his administration has increasingly abused sedition charges against opposition leaders and dissidents like Tian Chua, Tamrin Ghafar, Haris Ibrahim, Safwan Anang, Adam Adli, Hishamuddin Rais and Suhaimi Shafie..

Najib had not only broken the promise he made on July 11, 2012, when he announced that the Sedition Act would be abolished but his administration has increasingly abused sedition charges against opposition leaders and dissidents like Tian Chua, Tamrin Ghafar, Haris Ibrahim, Safwan Anang, Adam Adli, Hishamuddin Rais and Suhaimi Shafie..

“Sedition is an antiquated and undemocratic offence and most modern states have repealed or put it into disuse. It certainly has no place in a modern and democratic Malaysia that we aspire to be.”

Paulsen said the investigations and prosecutions were a waste of public funds. Police and the Attorney General’s Chambers’ resources would also have been better used to address real crimes.

“LFL, therefore, calls on the police and AG’s Chambers to conduct themselves in a professional, fair and independent manner and not to selectively and in bad faith target Opposition leaders and dissidents when government leaders and others connected to them like Datuk Ibrahim Ali, Datuk Zulkilfi Noordin, Ridhuan Tee Abdullah and Datuk Mohd Noor Abdullah have made more serious and offensive speeches but led to no repercussion or action.”

He said LFL was shocked by the High Court conviction of Karpal. He now faces imprisonment up to five years and disqualification as member of parliament.

“Making political or critical comments is not a crime and especially so in this case. Karpal was merely giving his legal opinion on the 2008 constitutional crisis in Perak and under no circumstances can it be described as seditious.”

He said while it was true freedom of speech was not absolute and there were accepted limitations like incitement to violence and hate speech, the threshold for freedom of expression, however, must be high.

Lawyer Amer Hamzah Arshad said politicians and those critical of the establishment had to deal the archaic law as it was still in the statute book.

“It is unfortunate the senior lawyer has been found guilty for merely stating the law and the facts to the public as there was a belief by certain quarters that the rulers enjoyed immunity and no legal action could be taken against them.”

He said an ordinary person would now feel fearful to express in public his legitimate views about the affairs of the state and leaders.

“This in a way will close the door for the authorities to gauge the true sentiment of the public. Fear will be used by the government as a  tool to maintain their grip on power.”

High Court judge Datuk Paduka Azman Abdullah today found Karpal guilty of uttering seditious words against the Sultan of Perak at the height of the constitutional crisis in 2009.

 Same case, same judge, different judgments -- only in the land of endless possibilities! mj

Same case, same judge, different judgments — only in the land of endless possibilities! mj

Sentence has been deferred to March 7 for Karpal’s defence team to prepare mitigation to obtain a lighter sentence.

On Tuesday, a High Court also upheld the jail sentence of two years and six months imposed on lawyer P. Uthayakumar by the Sessions Court for writing a letter of a seditious nature to former British prime minister Gordon Brown seven years ago. – February 21, 2014.

Innovation, the “Third Arrow” and US-Japan Relations

January 11, 2014

east-west-center-asia-pacific-bulletinNumber 246 | January 10, 2014


Innovation, the “Third Arrow” and US-Japan Relations

By Sean Connell

Sean Connell, Japan Studies Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington, explains that “It is valuable to consider the potential impacts these strategies have not only for Japan, but also their interconnectivity with the US economy at a time when both countries face intensifying global competitive pressure.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic revitalization policies have energized Japan over the past year, boosting both corporate and public confidence and lifting the Nikkei stock index to heights unseen in recent years. The Abe government’s three-pronged strategy of aggressive monetary policy, fiscal policy, and structural reforms aims to eliminate deflationary mindsets after two “lost decades” of economic stagnation, stimulate consumption and investment, and spur new growth. As part of its growth strategy, the Abe government brought Japan into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, presenting significant opportunities to strengthen Japan’s economic relationship with the United States.

A growing, prosperous Japan benefits the United States. Japan is the fourth-largest US export market, and US subsidiaries of Japanese companies employed more than 680,000 US workers in 2011. The two economies are increasingly integrated through trade, investment, and global supply chains. A TPP agreement will accelerate and further deepen integration by removing significant market access, regulatory, and other barriers in Japan to US exports. Moreover, the recent approval of US shale gas exports to Japan will make energy an increasing area of the bilateral economic partnership. The Abe government’s growth agenda shares with US domestic economic strategies the goal of spurring innovation to generate new productivity and growth engines. It is valuable to consider the potential impacts these strategies have not only for Japan, but also their interconnectivity with the US economy at a time when both countries face intensifying global competitive pressure. One consideration for policymakers is the matter of where engagement supports Japan’s growth strategies, and presents opportunities for bilateral cooperation in creating new industries and advancing related goals globally.

First, governments play key roles in facilitating conducive environments and policy frameworks for innovation, and in coordinating among various actors–including businesses, universities, non-governmental organizations, and entrepreneurs–from whose interactions innovations emerge. The Japan Revitalization Strategy announced in June 2013 indicates an active role for the Japanese government in advancing these proposals. This is important for enhancing basic research for which government support is vital, such as the proposed establishment of a Japanese version of the National Institutes of Health, along with university reforms. It will be essential to implement deep structural reforms, such as those required for TPP, electricity deregulation, and in labor and agriculture policy in order to overcome long-recognized constraints to productivity and Japan’s innovation ecosystem. The Abe government should, however, be careful to avoid actions that could inadvertently distort markets, including picking industry and standards champions, and consider appropriate exit strategies for government stimulus in order to allow competitive businesses and entrepreneurs to fully unleash innovative capabilities. These are issues with which the US also grapples, and that present useful opportunities for continued engagement and dialogue around best practices and policy solutions.

Second, coordination around innovation policy is increasingly important within the US-Japan relationship. Center stage for this is TPP, given the role trade and investment play in fostering innovation by encouraging competition and bringing new products, technologies, and ideas across borders. TPP presents opportunities to enhance key elements of innovation frameworks, including stronger intellectual property protections, greater alignment of standards-setting processes, opening market sectors closed to investment, removing localization barriers, improving transparency and eliminating regulatory impediments. Some of these issues remain challenges to foreign businesses in Japan, but on others Japan has strong rules and shared goals with the United States. This makes TPP an important venue for cooperation to ensure a high-standard agreement that encourages innovation in Japan, and fosters a more competitive environment across the Asia-Pacific region for Japanese and US innovations. The two governments are additionally exploring common issues in clean energy, the Internet economy, and other innovation-driven industries. These dialogues have increasingly incorporated both small and large businesses from both countries, positive for pragmatic discussions on policy, commercial developments, and areas of potential collaboration. Expanding this inclusive approach, and exploring untapped synergies across existing initiatives and institutional lines on cross-cutting innovation topics, could present beneficial opportunities. This includes in new growth areas, such as smart grid systems, health care technologies including regenerative medicine, and services for aging societies.

Third, innovation is borderless and requires a global orientation. Japan is world-leading in its innovation capabilities, but Japanese companies have stumbled in recent years in bringing these assets to global markets. Contributing factors have included business and organizational models, and an inward, domestic focus. The Abe administration’s growth strategy includes a comprehensive set of actions to address these and related challenges in Japan’s innovation ecosystem. These range from incentives for corporate governance reform and business organization, and encouraging more women and high-skilled foreign professionals in the workforce, to attracting foreign direct investment through special economic zones featuring bold regulatory reforms. Increased engagement with US partners, at multiple levels of government, the private sector, and civil society can support Japan as it moves forward with this agenda. For example, the two governments are discussing opportunities to facilitate more mergers and acquisitions into Japan, which could help introduce more global perspectives and get innovative Japanese goods, services, and ideas out to global markets. Leveraging the diverse networks of people and institutions across both countries already collaborating bilaterally and active in these areas could also contribute positively. Examples include entrepreneurial business competitions and women’s leadership programs such as those under the TOMODACHI initiative.

Building on this, stakeholder-driven initiatives could be valuable as models for collaboration in achieving these goals. For example, the International Institute for Carbon-Neutral Energy Research (I2CNER), a joint Kyushu University/University of Illinois institute funded by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, is emerging as a unique venue for US-Japan basic research collaboration. Initiated by researchers from both universities, I2CNER is not only developing innovative technologies, but also emerging as a laboratory for new practices in a Japanese university environment, including through introducing a US-style tenure system for researchers. A joint US-Japan smart grid demonstration project in Maui, which came on line in December 2013, is intended to develop a functioning smart grid system and business model that could be exported to other island or isolated communities. Additionally, Okinawa Prefecture and the State of Hawai’i have each taken the lead in opening ocean thermal energy conversion demonstration facilities and exchanging information to study the potential of this energy resource. These represent just a few examples of evolving opportunities for US-Japan cooperation at multiple levels in both countries, and which can serve as laboratories to explore in practical ways the two countries can pursue mutually beneficial innovation and growth objectives.

About the Author

Sean Connell is a Japan Studies Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington. He can be contacted via email at spconnell@gmail.com.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Damien Tomkins, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

For comments/responses on APB issues or article submissions, please contact washington@eastwestcenter.org.Honolulu, HI

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Inequality Is a Choice

October 15, 2013

ddm and kghWe wish all our Fellow Muslims at home and abroad Eid Mubarak. We pray for the good health and safety of all pilgrims performing the Haj in Mecca. May Allah Bless you and may there be peace and goodwill in our country. Let us rise above the current political mess, bigotry, and idiocy and work for a better future for Malaysia.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

Eid Mubarak

Inequality Is a Choice

J.E.StiglitzInequality and poverty among children are a special moral disgrace. They flout right-wing suggestions that poverty is a result of laziness and poor choices;  children can’t choose their parents… Some countries have made the choice to create more equitable economies: South Korea, where a half-century ago just one in 10 people attained a college degree, today has one of the world’s highest university completion rates.–Stiglitz

It’s well known by now that income and wealth inequality in most rich countries, especially the United States, have soared in recent decades and, tragically, worsened even more since the Great Recession. But what about the rest of the world? Is the gap between countries narrowing, as rising economic powers like China and India have lifted hundreds of millions of people from poverty? And within poor and middle-income countries, is inequality getting worse or better? Are we moving toward a more fair world, or a more unjust one?

These are complex questions, and new research by a World Bank economist named Branko Milanovic, along with other scholars, points the way to some answers.

Starting in the 18th century, the industrial revolution produced giant wealth for Europe and North America. Of course, inequality within these countries was appalling — think of the textile mills of Liverpool and Manchester, England, in the 1820s, and the tenements of the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the South Side of Chicago in the 1890s — but the gap between the rich and the rest, as a global phenomenon, widened even more, right up through about World War II. To this day, inequality between countries is far greater than inequality within countries.

But starting around the fall of Communism in the late 1980s, economic globalization accelerated and the gap between nations began to shrink. The period from 1988 to 2008 “might have witnessed the first decline in global inequality between world citizens since the Industrial Revolution,” Mr. Milanovic, who was born in the former Yugoslavia and is the author of “The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality,” wrote in a paper published last November. While the gap between some regions has markedly narrowed — namely, between Asia and the advanced economies of the West — huge gaps remain. Average global incomes, by country, have moved closer together over the last several decades, particularly on the strength of the growth of China and India. But overall equality across humanity, considered as individuals, has improved very little. (The Gini coefficient, a measurement of inequality, improved by just 1.4 points from 2002 to 2008.)

So while nations in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, as a whole, might be catching up with the West, the poor everywhere are left behind, even in places like China where they’ve benefited somewhat from rising living standards.

From 1988 to 2008, Mr. Milanovic found, people in the world’s top 1 percent saw their incomes increase by 60 percent, while those in the bottom 5 percent had no change in their income. And while median incomes have greatly improved in recent decades, there are still enormous imbalances: 8 percent of humanity takes home 50 percent of global income; the top 1 percent alone takes home 15 percent. Income gains have been greatest among the global elite — financial and corporate executives in rich countries — and the great “emerging middle classes” of China, India, Indonesia and Brazil.

Who lost out? Africans, some Latin Americans, and people in post-Communist Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, Mr. Milanovic found.

The United States provides a particularly grim example for the world. And because, in so many ways, America often “leads the world,” if others follow America’s example, it does not portend well for the future.

On the one hand, widening income and wealth inequality in America is part of a trend seen across the Western world. A 2011 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that income inequality first started to rise in the late ’70s and early ’80s in America and Britain (and also in Israel).

The trend became more widespread starting in the late ’80s. Within the last decade, income inequality grew even in traditionally egalitarian countries like Germany, Sweden and Denmark. With a few exceptions — France, Japan, Spain — the top 10 percent of earners in most advanced economies raced ahead, while the bottom 10 percent fell further behind.

But the trend was not universal, or inevitable. Over these same years, countries like Chile, Mexico, Greece, Turkey and Hungary managed to reduce (in some cases very high) income inequality significantly, suggesting that inequality is a product of political and not merely macroeconomic forces. It is not true that inequality is an inevitable byproduct of globalization, the free movement of labor, capital, goods and services, and technological change that favors better-skilled and better-educated employees.

Of the advanced economies, America has some of the worst disparities in incomes and opportunities, with devastating macroeconomic consequences. The gross domestic product of the United States has more than quadrupled in the last 40 years and nearly doubled in the last 25, but as is now well known, the benefits have gone to the top — and increasingly to the very, very top.

Last year, the top 1 percent of Americans took home 22 percent of the nation’s income; the top 0.1 percent, 11 percent. Ninety-five percent of all income gains since 2009 have gone to the top 1 percent. Recently released census figures show that median income in America hasn’t budged in almost a quarter-century. The typical American man makes less than he did 45 years ago (after adjusting for inflation); men who graduated from high school but don’t have four-year college degrees make almost 40 percent less than they did four decades ago.

American inequality began its upswing 30 years ago, along with tax decreases for the rich and the easing of regulations on the financial sector. That’s no coincidence. It has worsened as we have under-invested in our infrastructure, education and health care systems, and social safety nets. Rising inequality reinforces itself by corroding our political system and our democratic governance.

And Europe seems all too eager to follow America’s bad example. The embrace of austerity, from Britain to Germany, is leading to high unemployment, falling wages and increasing inequality. Officials like Angela Merkel, the newly re-elected German Chancellor, and Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank, argue that Europe’s problems are a result of a bloated welfare spending. But that line of thinking has only taken Europe into recession (and even depression). That things may have bottomed out — that the recession may be “officially” over — is little comfort to the 27 million out of a job in the E.U. On both sides of the Atlantic, the austerity fanatics say, march on: these are the bitter pills that we need to take to achieve prosperity. But prosperity for whom?

Excessive financialization — which helps explain Britain’s dubious status as the second-most-unequal country, after the United States, among the world’s most advanced economies — also helps explain the soaring inequality. In many countries, weak corporate governance and eroding social cohesion have led to increasing gaps between the pay of chief executives and that of ordinary workers — not yet approaching the 500-to-1 level for America’s biggest companies (as estimated by the International Labor Organization) but still greater than pre-recession levels. (Japan, which has curbed executive pay, is a notable exception.) American innovations in rent-seeking — enriching oneself not by making the size of the economic pie bigger but by manipulating the system to seize a larger slice — have gone global.

Asymmetric globalization has also exerted its toll around the globe. Mobile capital has demanded that workers make wage concessions and governments make tax concessions. The result is a race to the bottom. Wages and working conditions are being threatened. Pioneering firms like Apple, whose work relies on enormous advances in science and technology, many of them financed by government, have also shown great dexterity in avoiding taxes. They are willing to take, but not to give back.

Inequality and poverty among children are a special moral disgrace. They flout right-wing suggestions that poverty is a result of laziness and poor choices; children can’t choose their parents. In America, nearly one in four children lives in poverty; in Spain and Greece, about one in six; in Australia, Britain and Canada, more than one in 10. None of this is inevitable. Some countries have made the choice to create more equitable economies: South Korea, where a half-century ago just one in 10 people attained a college degree, today has one of the world’s highest university completion rates.

For these reasons, I see us entering a world divided not just between the haves and have-nots, but also between those countries that do nothing about it, and those that do. Some countries will be successful in creating shared prosperity — the only kind of prosperity that I believe is truly sustainable. Others will let inequality run amok. In these divided societies, the rich will hunker in gated communities, almost completely separated from the poor, whose lives will be almost unfathomable to them, and vice versa. I’ve visited societies that seem to have chosen this path. They are not places in which most of us would want to live, whether in their cloistered enclaves or their desperate shantytowns.


A State of Justice and Benevolence

August 18, 2013

Background of Ahmad Farouk Musa

Dr.Ahmad Farouk Musa and the organisation he leads, the Islamicdr-ahmad-farouk-musa Renaissance Front are at the forefront of promoting a vision of Islam that is progressive and democratic in Malaysia.

His day job is as an academician at the Monash University, Malaysian Campus. He is a trained cardiothoracic surgeon and an ardent researcher who had presented his work across Asia and Europe.

Apart from his academic and surgical world, he is actively involved in social work. He works for the promotion and establishment of civil society and has delivered talks related to Islam at universities and other Islamic centres in Malaysia. He had been involved in interfaith dialogues especially with regard to Christian-Muslim relations and also intra-faith dialogues especially the Shii-Sunni discourse.

He writes for a column at the Islamic Party (PAS) official organ Harakahdaily.net/en with the intention to reappraise the understanding of the Islamists and infuse progressive and democratic ideas. He also writes to other established web-portals such as Malaysiakini, The Malaysian Insider and Free Malaysia Today. He is also a steering committee member of BERSIH 2.0, a coalition promoting clean, free and fair elections.

He is the founder and Director of Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), an intellectual movement and a think tank focusing on youth empowerment and promotion of intellectual discourse and reformation. 

Below is the summary of his paper presented at theCompeting visions in the Muslim world conference.”

The Secular Democratic State: A State of Justice and Benevolence

by Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa, Islamic Renaissance Front (08-14-13)

One of the emerging trends that may influence the trajectory of contemporary political Islam is the intrusion of Literal Islam. Obviously this worrying trend could be seen more clearly with the Arab Spring although the literalists were not initially at the forefront. They advocate the revival of pristine Islam and the establishment of Islamic states based on Sharia laws. Other form of political systems or constitution are dismissed as un-Islamic and a manifestation of Western neo-colonialism.

Their thrust for political power can be felt as far as Maghribi in the West and stretches to Malaysia in the East. Although this project could be traced way back to the time of Islamism of the fundamentalist era, the idea was rejuvenated with the collapse of the many dictatorships during Arab Spring.

The whole fundamental percept of the Islamist project lies in the idea of God’s sovereignty. Any other forms of governments are basically human efforts to usurp the sovereignty of God by human. If two lines were to be drawn, a horizontal and a vertical, then the point of friction is when the two lines meet. People who believe in the strict definition of an Islamic state seek to interject their vertical relationship with God into the horizontal public spheres as a way of regulating human affairs.

The entire idea is based on the notion that a religion claims to be in possession of universal truth. The ideological rigidity often associated with this belief undermines tolerance, pluralism, and compromises all the crucial aspects of liberal democratic politics. And due to the pivotal status that Sharia occupies the economy of Islamic theological-legal discourse, hudud or divine punishment, has been elevated to the status of “holy grail” of many Islamist movements.

That is the main reason why there is a need for the separation of religion from politics. Religion is exclusionary because it sets up a boundary between believers and non-believers, whereas citizenship should not be based on adherence to God but rather on membership in a political society. And religion undermines the secular order in society that is needed to maintain a democratic peace. It basically seeks to collapse the distinction between the vertical and horizontal axis, and drags God from heavenly heights and injecting into the centre of public debate.

It must be stressed here that a call to establish a secular state is not similar in any ways to the call for secularising the society. A state should be secular in the sense that it is neutral to all the differing religious doctrines. It does not mean the exclusion of religion from the public life of a society. The misconception that it does, is one of the reasons many Muslims tend to be hostile towards the concept.

If Islam should still be seen to play a role in governance, then the main task is for it to be a guarantor of human dignity. It must ensure the physical safety of individual citizens, their rights to protect their family, the safety of their property, fairness in their profession and their full participation in civil society.

It should not be a catalyst for building an “ideological community”, to establish the so-called Islamic state, nor implementing Islamic laws and moral codes. Islam is no longer a solution to all problems or “al-Islam huwa al-hal”. Such a slogan is merely a plain rhetoric. The main focus should be on justice, equality and freedom.

The only way forward is to allow a space for intellectual discourse and to respect religious rights and freedom of conscience and expression. Islam and true religiosity could thrive better in a secular state that breaks down the monopoly of religious truth.  It is a space needed for a Muslim to live a life based on his own freewill and true conviction and not because of state’s imposition.

It must be pointed out that while religion is exclusionary, democracy is inclusive in nature, egalitarian and non-discriminatory. No man can monopolise to be speaking on behalf of God. The compatibility or incompatibility of a religion – including Islam – with democracy is not a matter of mere philosophical speculations, but of political struggle.

It is not as much the question of texts but more of the struggle of power between those who want a democratic religion and those who pursue an authoritarian version. And only in a secular democratic state, all citizens, believers no less than non-believers, and even believers from the various denominations, Sunni and Shii alike, will have the same basic reason to embrace the right to religious freedom. They will have total freedom from a government that wants to behave as an arbiter of religious truth or worse, a government that manifests its coercive power to impose religious authority and uniformity.


TPPA: Kudos to Prime Minister Najib

August 18, 2013

TPPA: Kudos to Prime Minister Najib

by BA Hamzah, DSDK

NajibKudos to Prime Minister Najib Razak for taking pre-emptive measures on the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). The Cabinet’s decision is a soft reminder to the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) to be more sensitive to the aspirations of the rakyat.MITI is accountable to the Cabinet, which in turn is answerable to the rakyat.

The Cabinet has set the litmus test for Malaysia joining the TPPA: favourable terms for those affected by the Treaty. The ball is now back in MITI’s court, which must now make sure the Treaty benefits Malaysians.

It would have been a different narrative if, for example, the MITI negotiators were to first consult some experts in trade and investment policy and the affected parties before taking on the “big boys”. [Five of the TPPA members have GNP per capita above US forty-thousand dollars; US$12,000 for Brazil and US$5,000 plus for Malaysia].

One trade expert that MITI should forthwith consult is the Cambridge- educated, former USM colleague and Penang- based columnist for The Star Martin Khor.

Had it held its belated “Open House” much earlier and long before Tun Mahathir and others criticised the TPPA, MITI would not have to go through this wrenching soul searching process. A few of us including my good friend and blogger, Dato’ Din Merican and I are concerned with MITI’s defensive style, which has inevitably dented its credibility. MITI should not behave like an ostrich burying its head in the sand.

Members of the public are not privy to the negotiations. While we put our trust in MITI, we also expect it to do rigorous homework. Now, we know that a comprehensive study has not been completed and that no cost-benefit study in two critical areas was conducted.

We can only hope that the results of these studies will be made public as the rakyat has every right to know what is in store for them. MITI is not empowered to act without the consent of Parliament, which represents us, the people.

Whether the MITI Open House on August 1 was an afterthought orDatuk-Seri-Mustapa-Mohamed otherwise, the session was a welcome opportunity to “exchange” views. Unfortunately the forum turned out to be an unusual exercise in public relations. At that session, MITI merely restated its position that everything was overboard. Of course, as expected, it promised to bring the expressed concerns for further discussion.

Knowing what we want is half of the picture. Getting what the Cabinet has mandated is a challenge that our negotiators must live up to. Will the “big boys” continue to listen to our pleas and woes? Is it not too little too late to renegotiate the terms when the clock has started ticking? What is the fate of million Malaysians whose livelihood depends on the state-owned–enterprises (SOEs) and small- and- medium enterprises (SMEs) once the TPPA comes into operation, for example?

Many thousand poor Malaysians suffering from cancer, AIDS and myeloid leukaemia who depend on cheaper generic drugs have reasons to smile after the Cabinet made a decision that it would not agree to any provision in the Treaty that limits access to affordable medicine and healthcare.

Under the TPPA rule on intellectual property right, only patented drugs are allowed. With regard to this, the Indians are more fortunate following a recent Supreme Court decision that rejected a patent for a cancer drug; the cheaper generic version costs only US$165; the would- be- patented drug costs US$2,666 a month!

Renegotiating issues like jurisdiction in the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, status of government procurement policies, status of state-owned enterprises, policies on financial services including capital controls, and the impact of intellectual property rights on the cost of medicine and healthcare, is, in my view, difficult at this late stage.

The multinationals are using the TPPA to rewrite the rules of international trade and financial services. The multinationals are determined to rein in the role of state enterprises and promotion of local small and medium private companies, which they allege have been blocking access to markets in Third World countries.

The role of the state as actor in international relations will likely to be eroded under the TPPA trade-imposed regime; the multinational companies have supplanted their role. The fear in some quarters that the state can no longer exercise sovereign immunity over certain trade -related issues is quite justified.

NajibWith the multinationals in the driver’s seat, anti-smoking pictures or slogans like “smoking is bad for your lungs”, “that second hand smoke kills” or “smoking leads to cancer” will no longer be allowed. Governments can be sued for displaying these slogans!

Whether PM Najib Razak will call- off the unpopular TPPA depends on many factors–external and domestic. Externally, withdrawing from the TPPA will not endear KL to Washington especially when Malaysia is hosting President Obama in October. Domestically, it depends on how much the Treaty will affect his chances of retaining UMNO Presidency in the upcoming UMNO General Assembly slated for October, too. On balance, however, when push comes to shove, the latter will have the final say.

On TPPA: MITI responds

August 14, 2013

COMMENT by BA Hamzah: Judging from the statements of prominentBA Hamzah cabinet Ministers over the TPPA it would seem that Malaysia is now more determined to be a member. More so after Tun Mahathir has openly criticised the treaty for its lack of transparency and unfavourable content.

The TPPA is likely to be debated at the forthcoming UMNO General Assembly in October alongside Pak Lah’s latest “The Awakening”. Don’t be surprised if a few were to thumb the table with late Barry Wain’s book on Mahathir: The Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohammad in Turbulent Times.

Anything under the sun is possible at an UMNO meeting including belacan that Malaysia, under the TPPA, can market to Brunei. Of the twelve, Brunei has the tiniest market. The population of Brunei is one third of Kuala Lumpur. What can we sell to Brunei except for belacan?

Malaysia’s membership of the TPPA is likely to be about UMNO politics as it is about free trade. Well it is not really free trade, as it also talks about financial services. Under the proposed TPPA, Malaysia can no longer introduce capital controls in the event of another Soros type currency speculation. The TPPA is also about state-owned–enterprises (SOEs) and small- and- medium enterprises (SMEs), which have been consciously developed over the years for specific reasons. These two will come under scrutiny.

One Minister has suggested that the TPPA would rein in corruption among Government officials. I have not figured out how this can be achieved, presumably through the proposed intervention in Government procurement policies. It will indeed be a miracle if the TPPA mechanism can rein in rampant corruption in Malaysia.

Without the SOEs, SMEs and Government contracts, not only Malays will suffer. Every one who depends on the Government for business will have to bite the bullet too. It may put an end to the New Economic Policy, which is supposed to favour the Bumiputeras.That’s not a bad outcome since it puts end to crony capitalism and political patronage. But it also means an end to the policy of restructuring the society, the other pillar of the NEP, to eradicate poverty irrespective of race.

Who drives the TPPA? MITI says the decision is by consensus, so it is on auto-pilot mode. Interesting!. Scratch the surface slightly, you will find that the train is auto-piloted by large American multinationals like the tobacco companies and pharmaceutical giants.

Forget about educating Malaysians on the hazards of smoking under the TPPA agreement. Displaying anti-smoking pictures or captions like “smoking is bad for your lungs”, “that second hand smoke kills” or “smoking leads to cancer” is unfair form of trade.

Under the TPPA, Big tobacco companies must be permitted to sell cigarettes, irrespective of the health hazard of smoking.It is OK if it kills people, as long as it fairly traded!

The impact on healthcare is going to be steep for Malaysians who cannot afford patented drugs. Under the TPPA rule on intellectual property rights, only original, patented drugs are allowed. Generics are not.

Imagine those suffering from AIDs and myeloid leukaemia, which need cheaper generics to stay alive.

The Supreme Court in India has done a service to the poor by recently rejecting a patent on a cancer drug that costs a US$2,600 a month. Now Indian drug makers can continue to sell the same drug for US$165 a month. Fortunately for Indians, India is not party to the TPPA.

On the surface, TPPA is designed to benefit the wealthy. The poor must continue to endure and suffer because of bad policies. MITI should have a  heart for the poor Malaysians suffering from cancer and myeloid leukaemia.

MITI should listen to the voices of the educated and well-informed members of the civil society too. It would seem that it is adamant in pushing the agenda. Whose agenda is it? Is a regime agenda? Or should MITI be more concerned with the poor rakyat who voted for the regime?

Fair representation is a key element in a functioning democratic system. Politicians are elected to represent the people and Government officials are mere civil servants whose primary duty is to serve the rakyat. In this particular case, MITI must put the interest of the common people above regime loyalty.

Regime comes and goes; the rakyat stay.

How much of the TPPA is about geopolitics? Plenty. Ten TPPA members are allies, near allies or client states of America: Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.This can probably explain why China is not invited. All eleven have FTAs with the US. Malaysia does not. 

Arguably, the TPPA augments the US military policy of pivoting to the East targeting at China. Since when has Malaysia moved into the US policy orbit of containing China, which is currently our largest trading partner?

The TPPA is a rich-man club, going by the GNP per capita. Except for Malaysia, Mexico, Peru and Vietnam, the GNP per capita of seven other countries are above forty-thousand US dollars; thirty eight thousand for New Zealand and twelve-thousand for Brazil.

Datuk-Seri-Mustapa-MohamedThe majority of Malaysian rakyat want Tok Pa (Dato Seri Mustapha Mohamed) and MITI to first resolve favourably the fate of small and medium scale enterprises, jurisdiction issue in the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, status of government procurement policies, status of state-owned enterprises, policies on financial services including capital controls, and deal with the impact of intellectual property rights on the cost of medicine and healthcare before moving ahead with the TPPA.

The rakyat will not accept any fait accompli decision. The days when the top can impose their will on ordinary Malaysians are over.

On TPPA: MITI responds

MITI-MalaysiaMPORTANT INITIATIVE: Country’s GDP set to improve, while its goods and services will reach a wider market, says MITI

THE Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), an initiative to establish a free trade agreement (FTA) between 12 countries – Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam – will see a market of 800 million people and combined gross domestic product (GDP) of US$27.5 trillion (RM89.1 trillion).

The agreement covers new elements such as competition, labour, environment, government procurement and intellectual property rights. The International Trade and Industry Ministry (Miti) has put together a Q&A (question and answer) to address public concerns and fears about the ongoing talks.

Here are the excerpts from Part One:

Question: What is the rationale of joining the TPPA negotiations?

Answer: The government views the TPPA as an important initiative as Malaysia seeks to expand market access opportunities, enhance its competitive advantage and build investor confidence. The comprehensive study conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) also identified several major economic benefits to Malaysia, including welfare gains of 1.46 per cent and higher wages for skilled and unskilled labour by 2020, in addition to improved GDP growth due to greater market access among member countries.

The successful conclusion of the TPPA will form a huge market of 800 million people with a combined GDP of US$27.5 trillion. This far surpasses Malaysia’s limited domestic market of 29.5 million people and a GDP of US$300 billion.

According to a simulation study done by the Peterson Institute of Economics in June last year, by 2025, Malaysia will benefit with an increase in gross national income by RM26.3 billion and increase in exports of RM41.7 billion.

Admittedly, the government is aware of the challenges and controversies surrounding the TPPA because unlike other FTAs, it is comprehensive and covers more areas of interest, which would naturally invite more public opinion and debate. The government appreciates all views expressed on the TPPA and will continue to engage the stakeholders and NGOs for inputs and feedback.

Question: What are the benefits of TPPA for Malaysia?

Answer: Consultations with various stakeholders prior to joining TPPA negotiations have revealed an increasing request from Malaysian companies for more open markets and trade facilitative measures. There are increasing numbers of Malaysian companies becoming global investors and they require a level of predictability that can be guaranteed effectively through binding agreements like FTAs.

Concurrently, there is also interest from foreign companies from non-TPPA countries that are exploring Malaysia as a base for their operations as the hope to enjoy the benefits of the TPPA. The combination of greater market access for Malaysian products and services under the TPPA and the continued inflow of foreign investments will create a powerful catalyst in driving Malaysia’s economic transformation agenda.

With TPPA, Malaysia will become an integral part of the greater economic integration within the Asia- Pacific region. It will also significantly enhance Malaysia’s engagement with important trading partners such as the US, Canada, Mexico and Peru. As a member of TPPA, Malaysia will also be able to increase it participation in the regional supply and value chains and facilitate access for Malaysian products and services into bigger markets.

Question: What are the challenges of the TPPA for Malaysia?

The government is aware of the many benefits and the challenges involved. For instance, government procurement is one of the new elements in TPP, which was never part of the FTAs that Malaysia has signed. This is one strategic area the government is negotiating cautiously, after taking into consideration feedback from stakeholders, particularly on the concern of safeguarding the interest of local enterprises and the Bumiputera commercial and industrial community.

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is another difficult area. One of the main concerns on IPR revolves around access to affordable medi-cine and healthcare as well as longer protection term which might delay manufacturing of generic drugs.

Malaysian negotiators will continue to negotiate an outcome that will give Malaysians access to affordable medicine and healthcare.

Question: What will happen if Malaysia does not join the TPPA?

Answer: The TPPA offers Malaysia an opportunity to be part of a consumer market with 800 million people. Abandoning the TPPA negotiations now would mean allowing other countries to set the terms of agreement without considering Malaysia’s interests and concerns. Acceding to the TPPA later would result in Malaysia having to accept the rules, disciplines, terms and conditions decided by others.

By not joining the TPPA, Malaysia would be at a disadvantage in terms of seeking bigger and better market access for its products and services. The impact of that disadvantage will be even more significant should countries like China, Indonesia and other competitors decide to join later.

Once realised, the TPPA will result in a huge consumer market for Malaysian goods and services. Market access to 800 million people is not an opportunity we can afford to miss, especially since we are an open economy highly dependent on international trade. In an increasingly competitive global environment, our absence will make Malaysia less attractive as an investment destination, compared with those that are TPPA members. As investors avoid Malaysia, this could result in fewer opportunities for job creation.

Question: Who is in charge of the TPPA negotiations?

Answer: The cabinet has mandated MITI to coordinate Malaysia’s participation in the TPPA negotiations. MITI acts as the chief negotiator but other ministries and agencies will lead the working groups for areas under their responsibility. (See Table 1).

With the mandate from the cabinet, the lead ministries and agencies involved are focused on safeguarding Malaysia’s best interest in the ongoing negotiations. Before every negotiating round, the cabinet is briefed on all issues, and for the necessary mandate to be given to all negotiators.

Question: Was there a lack of consultation in forming Malaysia’s position in TPPA?

Answer: The government admits more consultations could have been carried out. In this regard, MITI has made many statements assuring the public that consultations have been carried out by negotiators in their respective fields.

It had also organised a TPPA open day on August 1 to update the public and the media on issues surrounding TPPA, to clear misconceptions about it and to hear the public’s concerns about it.

MITI welcomes the establishment of a bipartisan caucus in Parliament. Its minister had met and briefed the caucus on developments and issues concerning the matter. The caucus provided constructive inputs to the government.

It must be noted that inputs and feedback from industry associations, interest groups and business chambers play a key role in the formation of Malaysia’s negotiating positions. To illustrate a point, Malaysia’s position in the negotiations on government procurement, led by the Finance Ministry, strongly reflects the concerns of stakeholders, the Bumiputera business community and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) as well as that the small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Malaysia has also maintained the rights of all states on matters related to land and water. On SOEs, Malaysia’s position is determined by the Finance Ministry and Khazanah Nasional Bhd.

The government will continue to engage all stakeholders. In addition to the open day, MITI met the Coalition to Act Against the TPPA Malaysia on August 6 and discussed ways to enhance engagement with stakeholders. Miti welcomes feedback and opinion from all parties regarding the TPPA.

Question: Why the secrecy in TPPA negotiations?

Answer: While the negotiating texts have never been made public as negotiations are ongoing, the government has and will continue to share its negotiating position with relevant stakeholders during the consultation sessions.

A level of confidentiality is required for two main reasons: (a) regulations and the evolving process of negotiations and rules surrounding TPPA oblige negotiators to maintain confidentiality of the negotiating texts and (b) negotiators advancing the interests of Malaysia, strategically do not want to publicly disclose their bargaining positions to ensure the best outcome during the negotiations.

Mindful of the public feedback, the Miti minister will put this issue on the agenda of the forthcoming TPP Ministerial Meeting in Brunei.

Question: Why rush TPPA by October this year?

Answer: As in all negotiations, there is a need to work towards a target date to conclude negotiations. It should be noted that the Trans Pacific Partnership Leaders Statement issued on November 12 2011, in Honolulu, clearly called on the negotiating teams to continue talks with other Asia-Pacific partners that have expressed interest in joining the TPPA in order to facilitate their future participation. TPPA leaders have set an October target for substantial conclusion of the negotiations.

However, this is not a definitive deadline for the conclusion of the TPPA as the parties involved are still negotiating on a number of sensitive issues. It is in Malaysia’s best interest that TPPA is concluded in a manner that benefits the people.

Question: Why is China not in the TPPA?

Answer: The position of all TPPA members is for this agreement to be a building block for the Free Trade Agreement of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP), which will encompass all the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) economies, of which China is also a member. Membership in TPPA is voluntary. Every APEC member, including China, is free to decide when to join TPPA.

China is a very important trading partner to Malaysia. As such, Malaysia certainly welcomes China into the TPPA.


8 Realities: Why the Malaysian Government should fund Higher Education

July 3, 2013

 MY COMMENT: This is a well written and thoughtful piece byDin Merican Anas Faizli. I thank him for sending it to me and with his permission I am sharing it with you. I personally believe that education of the right sort, that is one which recognises an individual’s natural aptitude, is an income enhancing and profitable undertaking. While I acknowledge the role of government as investor in education, I think it is up to us as individuals to decide whether we are prepared to go through the grind ourselves to get a degree or a professional/technical qualificaton at the tertiary level. Self development is a personal responsibility, not one for the state to decide.

That said, university education is not for everybody, that means we need to create polytechnics and technical institutes, as in the case of Germany, for those who have no aptitude for research and teaching.

Our industrialisation needs mechanics, techinicians, and nuts and bolts types, not just  researchers, academics, managers and bureaucrats. This is the real gap which our country must try to close. So, what our government can do is to allocate public funds for quality technical education for those who are unsuited for university education that Anas favours.–Din Merican

Anas8 Realities: Why the Malaysian Government should fund Higher Education

By Anas Alam Faizli

Education was institutionalized to formalize the process of knowledge acquisition and research in man’s quest for understanding. Earliest universities in the history of mankind namely Al-Azhar, Bologna, Oxford, Palencia, Cambridge and University of Naples (world’s first public university, 1224) have one thing in common; they were built by notable early world civilizations as institutions of research, discourse, learning, proliferation of knowledge and documentation. This contrasts largely from the role of universities today as institutions of human capital accreditation, qualification, and most unfortunately, business and profits.

Ibnu Khaldun, father of historiography, sociology and economics, in his work Prolegomenon (Muqaddimah) argued that the government would only gain strength and sovereignty through its citizens. This strength can only be sustained by wealth, which can only be acquired through human capital development (education), which in turn can only be achieved by justice and inclusiveness for all. Aristotle too proposed “Education should be one and the same for all.” A system that discriminates, in our case, based on household economic ability, can and will rile an unhealthy imbalance in the quality of the resulting labour force and society. These form the basis of our argument here.

 In America, the individual funds his higher education while many European countries have public-funded institutions of higher learning. The latter is the best for Malaysia. Our societal and economic progression (or digression) does not depend on any one factor, but on the interaction of economic, social and political factors over a long period of time. Let’s first look at some realities that we need to contend with to understand why the Malaysian government should fund higher education.

Reality #1: Society benefits from education

 We can never truly measure the immense positive externalities derived from an educated society. Outcomes of university education and research continuously found the progress of mankind. In developing Malaysia, higher education is an impetus for establishing a civic-minded society, highly skilled manpower and competitive value proposition for capital and production. Investing in education may cost the society tax Ringgits, but the consequences in failing to do so will be devastating. Walter W. McMahon (economist at University of Illinois) outlined the “private non-market benefits” for degree-holders. These include better personal health and improved cognitive development in their children. Alongside is the “social non-market benefits”, such as lower spending on prisons and greater political stability.

Reality #2: “Neither here nor there”

 Malaysia is neither here nor there, and education opportunity is a major contributing factor. Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labour and Professor at University of California@Berkeley, made a compelling argument that is very applicable to Malaysia. To attract jobs and capital, nations and states face two choices; one is to build a low-tax but low-wage “warehouse economy” competing on price, another is to compete on quality, by increasing taxes and regulation to invest in human capital for a highly productive workforce.

In Malaysia, wage growth caught up with productivity growth only up until the late 1990’s. Since 1996, we have been living in the “middle income trap”, stunted at the World Bank’s definition of upper middle income; neither high nor low income. In fact, for the past 10 years real wage growth has been negative. Having 77% of the Malaysian workforce with only SPM and below qualification is a structural barrier to us crossing over to the higher income group. The labour force is largely unskilled and unable to move their labour services up the value chain where higher salaries are paid.

Reality #3: Education is fundamental to a competitive value proposition

Another case for education is competitiveness for both FDI and outputs. On the FDI side, our factors of production, in this case labour, needs to be attractive enough. With a labour force that is neither highly skilled nor cheap, our value propositions dwarf next to the likes of Vietnam and Singapore. As a result, technology and automation service the lower-value processes replacing need for labour, while R&D and origination have not caught up due to lack of expertise. Malaysia has been the only country in the region facing net outflow in FDI since 2007.

 On the output side, our goal to move away from producing lower-value manufacturing and primary goods, into the higher-value services sector too have been held back by limited talent and capabilities. Lack of advanced education is one major factor causing this lack of competitiveness.

Reality #4: Efficiency driven economy versus Innovation driven economy

 A study released by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) categorizes Malaysia as an efficiency-driven economy, behind innovation-driven economies. We focus on improving existing processes, but we are not out there inventing new things where the big money is. Focusing on the latter is extremely important now more than ever for Malaysia, because we can no longer offer very cheap labour, land and factories to produce mass generic products competitively.

The number of researchers in Malaysia for each 1 million population is only 365 behind Japan’s 5,416 and South Korea’s 4,231. We are in dire need for more trained professionals and innovators, and we could have harvested them from talents that did not pursue tertiary education due to the lack of opportunities.

 Reality #5: Education is an investment

Like parents investing in their children’s future, the state must invest in the population for the future of the nation. An educated society is able to position themselves into higher standards of living characterized by higher income, production of high value goods and services, longer life expectancy, subscription to civic and moral values, political stability, existence of civil liberties and openness to change and development.

While highly developed nations like Denmark and the Netherlands invest 11.2% and 10.8% (respectively) of GDP in education, we invested only 4.8% last year (majority on infrastructure and emoluments!). To make matters worse, the education budget education is slashed from RM50 billion to RM37 billion this year! To get an idea of how counter-intuitive this is for a developing Malaysia, even Afghanistan (7.4%), Vietnam (7.2%) and Timor Leste (12.3%) spent more.

 Currently, about 80% of the bottom 40% income households are only-SPM qualified and below, while only 5% received higher education. The rest never made it to school at all. The reason is crystal clear; it is education that can lift households into higher income thus significantly reducing poverty and its consequences. If this group were to receive higher education, it is the state that ultimately benefits as social capital is returned from the household to the state in increased production and tax income. Social justice is served; while nobody is left discriminated or neglected from being given an opportunity to develop his or her own merits.

Reality #6: … with a Positive Net Return-on-Investment (ROI)

 Entertain this simple simulation: Consider a fresh graduate entering the workforce with a salary of RM2,500, working for 30 years with a modest increment of 5% a year. Upon retiring at the age of 55 years, he would have paid back at least RM290,000 to the government only in income taxes. Even after discounting, payback in taxes is significantly beyond the investment cost providing education.

 Reality #7: Education correlates with wealth and income

 Tertiary-educated individuals have an average of RM182,000 in wealth to their name, while SPM holders have only an average RM82,000 in net worth. Degree holders have at least 2.2 times the wealth of SPM leavers. But the tertiary education penetration rate for Malaysia stands at only 36.5%. This is only measured at point of enrolment (not completion)! Not only we are significantly behind “very high human development” nations’ average of 75%, we are also behind “high human development” nations’ average of 50%.

In contrast, 86% of Americans, 84% of Kiwis, 100% of Koreans, 99% of the British, 45% of Thais, and 38.4% of Turks are university-trained. As a result, the bulk of our workforce is unable to position themselves in higher-earning jobs. The bulk of our jobs involve the lower portions of the industry value chains. How are we then to move our economy into higher GNI territory, and inclusively move the majority of our population into higher income brackets? Current practice of relying on one-off mega construction projects will not ensure Malaysia move into high-income status, and stay there for the long run!

 Reality #8: Education will reduce income inequality

 Malaysia ranks as the third most unequal nation in Asia, based on a GINI coefficient of 0.4621 (World Bank). Using only GINI, a simple measure of dispersion between the richest and poorest in an economy, we can already see that there are structural problems with the kind of growth that we have been enjoying. A household that earns RM10,000 monthly and above is already considered the top 4% Malaysian households! 60% of the highest earning income households have at least one member that received tertiary-level education. But 60% of the lowest-earning households have only SPM-holders as their most qualified household member. Not coincidentally, only the top 20% income households in Malaysia have experienced substantial income growth. For the remaining 80% it has been moderate. The gap between the rich and poor has been consistently growing from year 1970 until today. Only non-discriminatory access to education for the bottom 40% will arrest the growth of this gap.

 America perceives that the benefits of tertiary-level education are enjoyed most by the individual himself, thus the individual funds his higher education. The Scandinavians believe that the government should pay for higher education. On one hand, we see a privately funded education system in America, and growing inequality between the relatively richer and poorer households. There is at least $902 billion (NY Federal Reserve) in total outstanding student loan debt in the United States today. In contrast, government-funded higher education Scandinavia ranks as most equal nations in the world. The apparent causal-effect relationship here is hard to dispel.

 We expect free access to education to allow inter-generational mobility and narrow this inequality gap. If we let economic disability become a prohibitive factor for education, relatively poorer households will never be lifted out of the low-income bracket.

 One graduate for every Malaysian family

 We need an education system that is inclusive, does not neglect academically-struggling yet vocationally-advantaged pupils, matches industry requirements, yet streams students into disciplines where they will excel most. Most importantly, the system must not allow students to find themselves at the point of entering the industry, handicapped with a student loan on their shoulders, only to realize that they are not employable.

Malaysia has progressed in many aspects by making primary and secondary education free. 100% of Malaysians finish at least primary 6 and 68% finish form 5. The current socio and economic condition in Malaysia now calls to make finishing form 5 legally compulsory and providing free and accessible tertiary education for all.

I  urge the government, non-governmental bodies, policy-makers, and lobby groups to move towards providing free tuition fees for higher education at all our public universities. Where public universities are unable to cater for surplus of qualified students, it is suggested that the same equivalent amount of tuition fee funding is to be provided for private universities in a staggered manner, so as to ensure education accessibility by all.

I also propose the target of one graduate in each of the 6.4 million Malaysian households to ensure inter-generational mobility; that is for at least one child of a self-subsistent fisherman or low-salaried factory worker to uplift the entire family into a higher income bracket. A graduate in each family will be the change-agent that ensures his generation improves the family; via a chain reaction multiplying effect, ultimately affecting the graduate’s surroundings.

Education is way too important for us to risk any mismanagement, oversight and underfunding. The generations that go through a robustly managed quality education system, or lack of them, will ultimately decide Malaysia’s direction and the society that we will live in. Only then we can fundamentally assure that our true north for a high income Malaysia is sustainable, inclusive and is enjoyed by all layers of society – not just for the Top 1%. Let us reflect what Nelson Mandela said for a better Malaysia! “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

 *Anas Alam Faizli is an oil and gas professional. He is pursuing a post-graduate doctorate and is the founding executive director of Teach For The Needs (TFTN).

 ** Data and figures are derived from EPU, DOSM, HIS 2009, HDR 2011, World databank and BNM. For details, please refer BLINDSPOT (http://www.facebook.com/blindspot.msia)

Rough-Edged Atomic Pioneer

May 29, 2013

NY Times: Books of The Times

Rough-Edged Atomic Pioneer

‘Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center,’ by Ray Monk

By Janet Maslin (05-27-13)

Ray Monk had begun work on his J. Robert Oppenheimer biography in 2005, when Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s “American Prometheus” was published. That book, billed as “the first full-scale biography” of Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist, gave Mr. Monk good reason to worry. It covers scientific, historical, moral, political and personal aspects of Oppenheimer’s life, conveying his arrogance, brilliance, self-destructiveness and lady-killing charisma. What gaps remained for Mr. Monk to fill?

R OpThe introduction to Mr. Monk’s “Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center” cites at least one of them: physics.

“One would never know from reading Bird and Sherwin’s book how much of Oppenheimer’s time and intellectual energy was taken up with thinking about mesons,” Mr. Monk writes sniffily, noting that the subatomic particle does not even appear in Bird and Sherwin’s index. Mr. Monk’s own book mentions “Thirty Years of Mesons,” a lecture delivered by Oppenheimer in 1966 to the American Physical Society. And according to his index, Mr. Monk gives the meson its due on at least 21 out of 695 pages.

This is a strange way for Mr. Monk to compete. He is a professor of philosophy, with excellent books about Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell to his credit. And he is not a great explicator of physics, merely a not-bad one. Would anyone seriously interested in Oppenheimer seek out a biography for this?: “What, really, is an electron? A particle? A wave? Could it possibly be both? Might it possibly be neither? How should one, if indeed one should at all, picture an electron and its movements?”

It’s also odd that Mr. Monk (right) adopts a vaguely atomic metaphor to describe Ray MonkOppenheimer’s life. His book appeared in England under the main title “In the Centre,” as if Oppenheimer were a nucleus and not a person. Time and again he hits that analogy hard, emphasizing the importance of logistics in Oppenheimer’s personal and intellectual life.

It’s true that he played the crucial role in secret atomic research conducted in Los Alamos, N.M., and that he would never escape central responsibility for creating the atomic bomb. But Mr. Monk takes a needlessly mechanistic approach to a man who has seemed much more interestingly human in other, keener studies.

This lengthy book does aspire to be more comprehensive than earlier volumes. Before Oppenheimer even makes his entrance into Mr. Monk’s narrative, much has been said about the German-Jewish tradition into which he was born, the privilege that allowed him to be so aloof and the Ethical Culture beliefs that shaped his family and education. Mr. Monk also writes at length about anti-Semitism and the kinds of Jews who practiced it, with Oppenheimer among them.

As part of his overall arrogance and superciliousness, Oppenheimer allowed himself to be treated as the antithesis of a Jewish stereotype. He grew from, in his own words, “an unctuous, repulsively good little boy” into such an urbane prodigy that Harvard never bothered to discriminate against him. A quota system applied to Jews in 1922, when Oppenheimer arrived there.

In the earlier, formative chapters, which are better than the book’s treks over the best-known, most public part of Oppenheimer’s adult life, Mr. Monk also illustrates how easily Oppenheimer’s snobbery trumped anybody else’s.

“Instead of 5,000 keen, intellectually alive, well-read young men who have come here to think out ideas and to learn the ideas of others,” he complained about his fellow Harvard students, “I find 5,000 tawdry yokels, yanked from fat farms and snoring small towns, to bellow at ball games.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Monk believes Oppenheimer was intimidated by the broad sophistication he found at Harvard and later Cambridge. Not until he arrived at Göttingen University in 1926, at the age of 22, did he feel free of academic elitism, in a place without “the weight of 700 years of tradition bearing down upon it.”

RO with EinsteinBy this point in his book, Mr. Monk has begun to explain quantum physics and drop the names of the heavyweights. Here is a book that ticks off the reactions of Einstein, Planck, Heisenberg, Born and Dirac to Schrödinger’s “wave mechanics,” and shows how remarkably smoothly Oppenheimer insinuated himself into those ranks.

The 1927 “On the Quantum Theory of Molecules” which he co-wrote with Max Born, may not have been one of Born’s greatest hits, but it became one of Oppenheimer’s better-known works. Without Mr. Monk, many readers interested in Oppenheimer’s life might not have known that at all.

Mr. Monk does a strong job of explaining how Oppenheimer, with unwanted assistance from Nazi Germany, helped shift the center of theoretical physics from Europe to California (he taught at both Berkeley and Caltech). That shift leads the book to Los Alamos during wartime, though it is notably more colorless than other accounts of the guarded community there. The familiarity continues through the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the conscience-searing effects on Oppenheimer of his breakthroughs in the science of mass destruction.

Mr. Monk gives very detailed accounts of F.B.I. surveillance of Oppenheimer and those around him. And he replays Oppenheimer’s familiar, contorted, much-dramatized testimony to the Atomic Energy Commission hearings in 1954, which stripped him of his security clearance and branded him a risk to national security.

The remainder of Mr. Monk’s book describes Oppenheimer’s relatively glamorous years leading the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., the ongoing debate about his reputation, and the growing infrequency of his appearances as a public figure. “Thirty Years of Mesons” notwithstanding, he withdrew into a life that is only sketchily explained here.

It is typical of Mr. Monk’s distanced view of his subject that he writes this, in conclusion, about Oppenheimer’s wife and two children: “Oppenheimer loved Kitty, Toni and Peter, but he was never able to be the reliably affectionate husband or father they needed him to be. The problems he had as a child forming close bonds with other people had remained with him throughout his life.” Though Oppenheimer left behind nearly 300 boxes of papers, Mr. Monk says they contain “remarkably little that gives away anything of an intimate nature.” That’s hard to believe. Other biographers have seen Oppenheimer at closer range, in living color.

A version of this review appeared in print on May 28, 2013, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: Rough-Edged Atomic Pioneer.


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.

A Tribute to Sir Patrick Moore

December 17, 2012

A Tribute to Sir Patrick Moore

by Professor Martin Barstow, University of Leicester (December 11, 2012)

Sir Patrick MooreGrowing up a the time of the Moon Landings, like many others I was inspired to become a scientist by Patrick through his coverage of Apollo and his appearances on Sky at Night. He already had a strong connection with the University when I joined the Physics and Astronomy Department and it was a thrill to meet him in person for the first time.

His support for our work has been tremendous over the years and he became a patron of our efforts to create the National Space Centre here in the Leicester (the planetarium is now named after him).

I was delighted when he was awarded the Distinguished Honorary Fellowship of the University in recognition of 50 years of Sky at Night together with his association with the University and was privileged to act as his host for the day. The weather was terrible, but Patrick insisted we walk to the De Montfort Hall. It was slow progress, as everyone we passed stopped to say hello and he took time for a personal word with all.

I always had an ambition to appear on Sky at Night as a young astronomer and, in recent years have had the good fortune to be involved in a number of programmes. Becoming part of Sky at Night is like joining an extended family, with Patrick being the glue that held it all together. He was one of nature’s gentlemen with time for everyone. His hospitality was generous and trips to his home at Selsey became events for my whole family.

When my daughter, Jo, was about to start a PhD working on Venus, Patrick remarked, “I wrote a book on that”. Several days later a copy of the book appeared with a personal message inscribed on the title page. My musician son, Nick, was allowed to try out the famous xylophone and caused some consternation for the BBC film crew when Patrick insisted on delaying a recording while he “dug out” some music for him.

We last saw Patrick in person at a wonderful evening in Selsey celebrating the 55 year anniversary of Sky at Night earlier this year. Many of the Sky at Night family were there and we closed the evening with a truly terrible, but enjoyable (to us at least), karaoke rendition of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. I am not sure what Brian May (another great friend of Patrick’s) would have thought of that.

I have many fond memories of Patrick that I will aways treasure. He was a great man and a great friend. I will miss him tremendously, but he will be missed by millions more.

Professor Martin Barstow, Head of the College of Science and Engineering

Anwar: A Visionary Leader?

September 25, 2012

Anwar: A Visionary Leader?

by Terence Netto

COMMENT Is Anwar Ibrahim an irresponsible rider of the zeitgeist, or is he a leader who has a feel for the law of unintended consequences and has manned himself nobly to face the formidable challenges of the path of bold reform he elected upon 14 years ago that is now poised for execution?

In other words, is he an opportunist thumping the tub with minimal concern for consequences, or is he a visionary leader with a matchless ability to convey high flown speculation in the accents of the street, a place now reverberating with the democratic spirit of the times leveraging on which would afford him the spotlight-grabbing presence of a global leader?

In sum, is he charlatan or statesman?NONETo be sure, the double-sidedness of this question that dogs Anwar has been the common lot of many a pivotal politician in eras past, with allies and adversaries, contemporaries and successors, journalists and historians, puzzled by what they see as enigmatic, contradictory, and even, hypocritical, strains to their character.

Today, by accepting the invitation to be the fifth speaker in the series called Royal Selangor Club Presidential Luncheon Talks, Anwar has chosen to saunter into a situation where he may well be subjected to sharp and unceremonious questioning from a sellout crowd on the penumbras to his political personality.

The 350 seats to the luncheon were taken up within three days of the posters publicising the event going up at the prestigious club. In contrast, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, the first invitee to the series that begun last January, had 184 takers; Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, the second invitee, had 148 takers; Musa Hitam, the third speaker, had 190; and Lim Guan Eng, the fifth, drew 275 diners.

Lim’s draw was the most creditable of the series until Anwar’s because dining rates for his talk were raised from RM50 for club members and RM70 for guests to RM80 and RM100 respectively – a marked increase that, apparently, did not have a diminishing effect on attendance.

The raised rates have been retained for Anwar’s talk which at its draw of 350 diners is a smash because he had asked for a September 6 date, but was told by the club that they needed more time to publicise the event.

In the event, the club did not need the extra time to herald the talk. It could have been held at Anwar’s request early date. Seats were sold out within 72 hours of the posters going up – and that was in the first week of September.

Tough questions expected

However, a brimming house is no guarantee of likeability for what the speaker is going to say and there could be a number of pesky questioners eager to have a go at Anwar who ought not to avail himself of the protection the talk’s moderator offered Najib when he faced a question about his willingness to accept the results of the 13th general election.

The moderator interposed in the question-and-answer session to absolve Najib of the need to reply although the question was perfectly in order because it was on a subject that speaker had threaded in his postprandial remarks.

The protocol on these occasions is that invited speakers should not be asked questions on matters they had not raised in their speech.lingam tape inquiry day 4 170108 mahathirOf course, nobody would expect Anwar to affect the Dr Mahathir Mohamad stance that the latter made famous at the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Lingam video controversy in January 2008.

That General Custer-like stand saw Mahathir claim that he was prepared to answer any questions within or outside the terms of reference of the inquiry, a typically pre-emptive position taken by the former prime minister to rock circling detractors back on their heels.

But that bombast fell flat when Mahathir trotted out the excuse of a not sufficiently retentive memory at the inquiry when he was pegged on lacunae in his conduct and that of his aides.

Anwar, an exponent of transparency and accountability in government, cannot rely on comparable subterfuge for his salvation before an audience that is likely to temper admiration with a healthy dose of skepticism.

The reference here to Mahathir is not without relevance, for it was at the Royal Selangor Club where Mahathir was first introduced to Anwar in 1971. It remains to be seen if Anwar would make that first encounter the subject of his talk today; it is a fit subject for dilation.

First impressions can be deceptive or they can be spot-on for a lifetime. By dwelling at length on his first impressions on Mahathir, Anwar can show what has learned over four intervening decades on the nature of fleeting and immediate impressions.

That way he would tell a lot on the moral thrust and empirical substance of his perceptual and analytical ability, which is important because Anwar would, if it comes to that, be Malaysia’s first PM of an avowedly intellectual bent.

On Perception, Human Mind and Decision Making

September 17, 2012

On Perception, Human Mind and Decision Making

by Khairie Hisyam Aliman@http://www.themalaysianinsider.com

One particularly memorable class I had in university was when a professor talked about marble stones and the metamorphic processes that create them, ending with an short account of when he was in Mecca.

As he laid eyes on the marble flooring near the Kaabah, his mind immediately analysed its properties and before he realised it he had a good idea of its parent rock’s geological qualities and history.

At the time, I was awestruck by the professor’s geological expertise and how it provides an additional lens through which he perceives the world, picking out details that another person could never guess at. Years later I find myself almost understanding what that might feel like — albeit with words and language instead of rocks.

Previously I wrote about sub-editors and how the nature of the work imparts lifelong habits, even after moving on to other jobs. While that is somewhat different from my professor’s knowledge and experience flavouring his perception of his surroundings, I feel both boils down to the same basic thing: our work defines a significant part of who we are. The knowledge and skills that we learn, acquire and master, once hardwired into our brain, inevitably influence how we interact with our world.

Inevitably, these bits and pieces that we keep adding to our great archive as we go through life will shape us as individuals. As we learn new things and discover, the way we perceive things around us evolves to reflect what we know and understand.

When I was in my teens transitioning from comic books to more text-heavy volumes by Raymond E. Feist and Terry Brooks, my perception of the books was rather simple. Both writers tell different stories, and that was all I saw. At the back of my mind I was vaguely aware of another aspect differentiating the authors that I could not seem to vocalise, like a forgotten word at the tip of your tongue that just won’t come out.

It was only when I learned to write professionally and grew aware of the concept of “writing style” that I realised — like a light switched on in a pitch-black room — that the authors structure their sentences differently, finally seeing the nuances that mark their respective voices.

From that point on I began paying attention to how different writers arrange their words, how different it is from how I would write it and what makes their personality shine through the dry ink on paper. Learning that one concept as a writer added an extra lens through which I read, and whenever I read I look through it without conscious effort.

I imagine it is the same with everyone, whatever you do for a living. What we know colours our perspective and, eventually, after accumulating enough knowledge or skill in something, that colouring stays permanently.

Our brain processes what we see and hear and touch based on what it knows, and the more we know in one field of expertise, the more it will be inclined to access that area of its archives first to give definition to what we perceive. It is the reason why an architect will look at a house and immediately ponder its design, whereas a realtor might see the same house and weigh its location and value.

Sometimes it makes me wonder: are those around me seeing things I do not? Perhaps they do. And perhaps I see little things that they miss, too. The thought of something I see clearly still holding mysteries that are in plain view to someone else fascinates me as much as it humbles me.

My professor sees the world through the eyes of a geologist. Whose eyes might you be looking through?

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.


The Science of Irrationality

A Nobelist explains our fondness for not thinking

by Jonah Lehrer

Here’s a simple arithmetic question: “A bat and ball cost $1.10. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

The vast majority of people respond quickly and confidently, insisting the ball costs 10 cents. This answer is both incredibly obvious and utterly wrong. (The correct answer is five cents for the ball and $1.05 for the bat.) What’s most impressive is that education doesn’t really help; more than 50% of students at Harvard, Princeton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology routinely give the incorrect answer.

Daniel Kahneman (left), a Nobel Laureate and professor of psychology at Princeton, has been asking questions like this for more than five decades. His disarmingly simple experiments have profoundly changed the way that we think about thinking.

While philosophers, economists and social scientists had assumed for centuries that human beings are rational agents, Mr. Kahneman and his scientific partner, the late Amos Tversky, demonstrated that we’re not nearly as rational as we like to believe.

When people face an uncertain situation, they don’t carefully evaluate the information or look up relevant statistics. Instead, their decisions depend on mental short cuts, which often lead them to make foolish decisions. The short cuts aren’t a faster way of doing the math; they’re a way of skipping the math altogether.

Although Mr. Kahneman is now widely recognized as one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, his research was dismissed for years. Mr. Kahneman recounts how one eminent American philosopher, after hearing about the work, quickly turned away, saying, “I am not interested in the psychology of stupidity.”

But the philosopher missed the point. The biases and blind-spots identified by Messrs. Kahneman and Tversky aren’t symptoms of stupidity. They’re an essential part of our humanity, the inescapable byproducts of a brain that evolution engineered over millions of years.

In Mr. Kahneman’s important new book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” his first work for a popular audience, he outlines the implications of this new model of cognition. What are the most important mental errors that we all make? And can they be overcome?

Consider the overconfidence bias, which drives many of our mistakes in decision-making. The best demonstration of the bias comes from the world of investing. Although many fund managers charge high fees to oversee stock portfolios, they routinely fail a basic test of skill: persistent achievement.

As Mr. Kahneman notes, the year-to-year correlation between the performance of the vast majority of funds is barely above zero, which suggests that most successful managers are banking on luck, not talent.

This shouldn’t be too surprising. The stock market is a case study in randomness, a system so complex that it’s impossible to predict. Nevertheless, professional investors routinely believe that they can see what others can’t. The end result is that they make far too many trades, with costly consequences.

And it’s not just investors who suffer from this mental flaw. The typical entrepreneur believes that he or she has a 60% chance of success, though less than 35% of small businesses survive more than five years. Meanwhile, CEOs who hold more company stock—taken here as a sign of self-confidence—also tend to make more irresponsible decisions, overpaying for acquisitions and engaging in misguided mergers.

Even consumers are hurt by this bias. A recent survey of American homeowners found that they expected, on average, to spend about $18,500 on remodelling their kitchens. The actual average cost? Nearly $39,000.

We like to see ourselves as a Promethean species, uniquely endowed with the gift of reason. But Mr. Kahneman’s simple experiments reveal a very different mind, stuffed full of habits that, in most situations, lead us astray. Though overconfidence may encourage us to take necessary risks—Mr. Kahneman calls it the “engine of capitalism”—it’s generally a dangerous (and expensive) illusion.

What’s even more upsetting is that these habits are virtually impossible to fix. As Mr. Kahneman himself admits, “My intuitive thinking is just as prone to overconfidence, extreme predictions and the planning fallacy as it was before I made a study of these issues.”

Even when we know why we stumble, we still find a way to fall. WSJ: Jonah Lehrer

Uniting Religion and Reason

July 25, 2012

Uniting Religion and Reason

by  Dr Mohd Farid M Shahran, Senior Fellow, IKIM@www.thestar.com.my

It is hardly possible for a civilisation to survive without being appreciative to rational inquiries and intellectual pursuits. For civilisation is nothing but the refinement of human life through rational investigation and experience.

THE incident of a couple attacking a Policeman with a sword in front of the Prime Minister’s Department was a front cover story recently. The man, who was shot and later on died, also claimed himself to be the Imam Mahdi.

While the real cause of the incident is still under investigation, immediate reaction was one of bewilderment for such an irrational act. Since the motive is seemingly religious, the deeper question is, could religion teach us to do such a thing?

To be religious is quite often thought to be anti-reason and dismissive of rational inquiries.The basic premise is two-fold. First, since religion is based on submission to the absolute will of God, less room is available for thinking and rational justification, and secondly, it is based on divine injunction which is beyond fault, hence, no rational explanation is needed.

The logical implication of this thinking is that what comes from religion will form its own truth, while what comes from reason will form another. Both of these are irreconcilable and contradictory. Ultimately, this thinking will lead to the situation where every endeavour, which is based on rational inquiry like science and philosophy, is contradictory to religion.

This is based on a few observations: First, Islam has proven itself to be a great civilisation for a long time. It is hardly possible to think of a civilisation that can survive, without being appreciative to rational inquiries and intellectual pursuits.

For civilisation is nothing but the refinement of every aspect of human life through rational investigation and human experience within any framework of a worldview.

In the case of Islam, although the development of its civilisation was inspired by the spirit of revelation and progressed within the framework of religious worldview with tawhid as the central theme, the gradual unfolding of its various civilisational aspects in history took place through diverse intellectual inquiries.

This is reflected in countless great intellectual works of Muslim scholars throughout the Golden Age of Islam. In addition, science and philosophy flourished in the Muslim world while translations by Muslim scholars of great works from the zenith of reason at that time, the Greek civilisation, were very much active.

Secondly, the Quran as the source of Islam is far from anti-reason.Replete with verses challenging human beings to use their reason, the Quran quite often ends some of its verses with phrases like “will you not use your reason?” and “so that you might use your reason” which are mainly directed at those who are inconsistent in their thinking and actions.

In the same spirit, the Quran does not ever portray people who are reasonable and contemplative as bad and vile. On the contrary, they are described as those who are on the right path and are close to God.

They are the ones who posses true insight (ulu al-absar), true heart (ulu al-bab), true intelligence (ulu al-nuha), all referring to different aspects of reason (‘aql).

One of the verses pronounces that those who reflect on the creation of heavens and earth will eventually come to the conclusion that such creations are neither made in vain nor without purpose, but rather are signs to higher divine meanings (Quran 3:191).

As a matter of fact, this verse has become one of the motivating factors in the development of science in Islam.

In a few instances in the Quran, God challenges those who do not want to accept the teachings of the Prophet and the truth of religion to provide their burhan to prove themselves right.

The term burhan, which later became a terminology in Islamic philosophy, refers to the demonstrative proof that is the highest level of rational proof based on self-evident premises.

Thirdly, some rational principles play important roles even in the understanding of revelations as explained by Muslim theologians.For example, before every Quranic verse can be fully understood, it must be qualified rationally for its metaphorical level, if it is specific or general, or if it comes in contradiction with other verses in terms of meaning.

Such are the rational principles which are the prerequisites in understanding revelation.

Following this, another important rational method developed in the study of the Quran, which is the allegorical interpretation in regard to the verses which seem contradictory in meaning.

Such a method derived from the premise that the Quran must be consistent and self contradictions should not arise. In other words, those who read the Quran must be reasonably sound so as to understand that some verses are not in contradiction with others.

Fourthly, in Islam both reason and religion are innate to human beings. Being an essential characteristic, every human being is endowed with reason, and for that matter, the human being is defined by philosophers as a thinking living being (al-hayawan al-natiq). The great Muslim thinker, al-Ghazali, defines reason as a natural disposition in man that differentiates him from other living beings.

As to religion, which in Islam is reflected in the concept of conscious and willing submission to one God (aslama) and true worship (ibadah), they are already inherent characteristics of every child who, according to a saying of the Prophet, is born into this world pure and sinless, hence has already submitted itself to God.

In fact, another Quranic verse reiterates that even all of the children of Adam have submitted themselves to God through their covenant with Him before coming to this world (Quran 7:172).

It is therefore hardly conceivable that both religion and reason, which are innate, can be contradictory in nature.

Public Security is a Worrying State, says Ex-IGP

July 13, 2012

Former IGP says Public Security is at a “Worrying State”

Former IGP Tan Sri Musa Hassan has accused the authorities of hiding facts from the public over the country’s crime rate, claiming that public security has now reached a “worrying stage”.

In an interview with The Malaysian Insider, Musa told the government that there was no need to mask crime figures, pointing out that if crime was not on the rise, top-ranking officials and ministers would not need to hire bodyguards.

“The public needs to know the truth, there is no need to hide when it comes to crime. When I was the IGP, I always spoke about rising crime,” he pointed out in the interview yesterday.Musa, who has served in the Royal Malaysian Police for over four decades, was the country’s IGP for four years from 2006 before he was succeeded by Tan Sri Ismail Omar on September 13, 2010.

Despite the recent spate of assaults, robberies and kidnappings, the Police, government efficiency unit Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU) and the Home Ministry have held on to statistics showing that the country’s crime rate has dipped considerably since initiatives under the Government Transformation Programme (GTP) were put in place two years ago.

PEMANDU’s “Reduce Crime NKRA” unit held a media briefing yesterday to allay public fears on the issue and released fresh statistics showing that the rate dropped again in the first five months of the year by 10.1 per cent.

It had previously released figures to show that index crime had dropped by 11.1 per cent from 2010 to last year while street crime dipped 39.7 per cent in the same period.

The agency even appealed to the media for assistance to help correct the public’s perception of crime, urging for more “balanced reporting”.But Musa appeared to dismiss the figures and suggested instead that the government appoint a third party to conduct an independent review of the country’s crime rate and produce its own statistics. “During my time, I asked Universiti Sains Malaysia to prepare crime statistics,” he said.

At yesterday’s PEMANDU briefing, unit director Eugene Teh cited several surveys conductedby foreign pollsters, which he said further supports the agency’s crime statistics. Among others, Teh pointed to the latest Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS) survey which showed that public fear of crime in Malaysia dropped 3.9 per cent from 58.5 per cent in December 2009 to 54.6 per cent in May this year.Musa suggested improvements in police operations as one of the measures to help reduce crime, saying the force could change its crime prevention methods to “intelligence procurement”.

“We need to get intel information first. If the information is good in terms of its procurement, and we work closely with foreign enforcers, then we would be able to ascertain the background of a person much earlier to monitor them.

“It is the same within our country… we need to monitor local gangsters and criminals,” he said.

The experienced former top cop added that a similar trend in rising crime was currently being felt in countries across the globe due to the economic crisis in Europe.

“Globalisation makes it hard for a country to prevent crime; it causes many foreigners, whose backgrounds we do not know, to enter our country… especially those from Nigeria. These are some of the reasons behind the rise in the crime rate here,” he said.

Despite the repeated assurances and statistics from the authorities, Malaysians, especially women, appear to be unconvinced and have grown more insecure when out on the streets.

Even the country’s expatriate community has weighed in on the issue and said they were increasingly fearful for their safety here, especially after the kidnapping of 12-year-old Dutch schoolboy Nayati Moodliar, who was snatched while walking to school earlier this year, hit global headlines.

In the latest high-profile crime to be reported, the mother of a Penang federal lawmaker was robbed at knife point in a pre-dawn home invasion in George Town.

Other cases which made headlines in recent weeks include an ATM robbery at a hypermarket that saw about RM1.2 million carted away, a carjacking and kidnapping of a Singaporean family in Johor and a Malacca clerk who died after she fell off her motorbike after being attacked by two men.

Following the string of ATM robberies, banks are also now mulling moving their ATMs located in malls, supermarkets, petrol and rail stations to alternative locations.

Let the Revolution in College Education Begin

May 16, 2012

NY Times: Come The Revolution (05-15-12)

Let the Revolution in College Education Begin

by Thomas L. Friedman

Andrew Ng is an associate professor of computer science at Stanford, and he has a rather charming way of explaining how the new interactive online education company that he cofounded, Coursera, hopes to revolutionize higher education by allowing students from all over the world to not only hear his lectures, but to do homework assignments, be graded, receive a certificate for completing the course and use that to get a better job or gain admission to a better school.

“I normally teach 400 students,” Ng explained, but last semester he taught 100,000 in an online course on machine learning. “To reach that many students before,” he said, “I would have had to teach my normal Stanford class for 250 years.”

Welcome to the college education revolution. Big breakthroughs happen when what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately necessary. The costs of getting a college degree have been rising faster than those of health care, so the need to provide low-cost, quality higher education is more acute than ever.

At the same time, in a knowledge economy, getting a higher-education degree is more vital than ever. And thanks to the spread of high-speed wireless technology, high-speed Internet, smartphones, Facebook, the cloud and tablet computers, the world has gone from connected to hyperconnected in just seven years. Finally, a generation that has grown up on these technologies is increasingly comfortable learning and interacting with professors through online platforms.

The combination of all these factors gave birth to Coursera.org, which launched on April 18, with the backing of Silicon Valley venture funds, as my colleague John Markoff first reported.

Private companies, like Phoenix, have been offering online degrees for a fee for years. And schools like M.I.T. and Stanford have been offering lectures for free online. Coursera is the next step: building an interactive platform that will allow the best schools in the world to not only offer a wide range of free course lectures online, but also a system of testing, grading, student-to-student help and awarding certificates of completion of a course for under $100. (Sounds like a good deal. Tuition at the real-life Stanford is over $40,000 a year.) Coursera is starting with 40 courses online — from computing to the humanities — offered by professors from Stanford, Princeton, Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania.

“The universities produce and own the content, and we are the platform that hosts and streams it,” explained Daphne Koller, a Stanford computer science professor who founded Coursera with Ng after seeing tens of thousands of students following their free Stanford lectures online. “We will also be working with employers to connect students — only with their consent — with job opportunities that are appropriate to their newly acquired skills.

So, for instance, a biomedical company looking for someone with programming and computational biology skills might ask us for students who did well in our courses on cloud computing and genomics. It is great for employers and employees — and it enables someone with a less traditional education to get the credentials to open up these opportunities.”

M.I.T., Harvard and private companies, like Udacity, are creating similar platforms. In five years this will be a huge industry. While the lectures are in English, students have been forming study groups in their own countries to help one another. The biggest enrollments are from the United States, Britain, Russia, India and Brazil. “One Iranian student e-mailed to say he found a way to download the class videos and was burning them onto CDs and circulating them,” Ng said last Thursday. “We just broke a million enrollments.”

To make learning easier, Coursera chops up its lectures into short segments and offers online quizzes, which can be auto-graded, to cover each new idea. It operates on the honor system but is building tools to reduce cheating.

In each course, students post questions in an online forum for all to see and then vote questions and answers up and down. “So the most helpful questions bubble to the top and the bad ones get voted down,” Ng said. “With 100,000 students, you can log every single question. It is a huge data mine.” Also, if a student has a question about that day’s lecture and it’s morning in Cairo but 3 a.m. at Stanford, no problem. “There is always someone up somewhere to answer your question” after you post it, he said. The median response time is 22 minutes.

These top-quality learning platforms could enable budget-strained community colleges in America to “flip” their classrooms. That is, download the world’s best lecturers on any subject and let their own professors concentrate on working face-to-face with students. Says Koller: “It will allow people who lack access to world-class learning — because of financial, geographic or time constraints — to have an opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families.”

When you consider how many problems around the world are attributable to the lack of education, that is very good news. Let the revolution begin.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on May 16, 2012, on page A25 of the New York edition with the headline: Come the Revolution.

Eusociality? A Review of Edward O Wilson’s The Social Conquest of Earth

May 12, 2012

New York Times Sunday Book Review

The Original Colonists
‘The Social Conquest of Earth,’ by Edward O. Wilson

by Paul Bloom (05-11-12)

This is not a humble book. Edward O. Wilson wants to answer the questions Paul Gauguin used as the title of one of his most famous paintings: “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” At the start, Wilson notes that religion is no help at all — “myth making could never discover the origin and meaning of humanity” — and contemporary philosophy is also irrelevant, having “long ago abandoned the foundational questions about human existence.”

The proper approach to answering these deep questions is the application of the methods of science, including archaeology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology. Also, we should study insects.

Insects? Wilson (right), now 82 and an emeritus professor in the department of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard, has long been a leading scholar on ants, having won one of his two Pulitzer Prizes for the 1990 book on the topic that he wrote with Bert Hölldobler. But he is better known for his work on humans.

His “Sociobiology: The New Synthesis,” a landmark attempt to use evolutionary theory to explain human behavior, was published in 1975. Those were strange times, and Wilson was smeared as a racist and fascist, attacked by some of his Harvard colleagues and doused with water at the podium of a major scientific conference. But Wilson’s days as a pariah are long over.

An evolutionary approach to psychology is now mainstream, and Wilson is broadly respected for his scientific accomplishments, his environmental activism, and the scope and productivity of his work, which includes an autobiography and a best-selling novel, ­“Anthill.”

In “The Social Conquest of Earth,” he explores the strange kinship between humans and some insects. Wilson calculates that one can stack up log-style all humans alive today into a cube that’s about a mile on each side, easily hidden in the Grand Canyon. And all the ants on earth would fit into a cube of similar size.

More important, humans and certain insects are the planet’s ­“eusocial” species — the only species that form communities that contain multiple generations and where, as part of a division of labor, community members sometimes perform altruistic acts for the benefit of others.

Wilson’s examples of insect eusociality are dazzling. The army ants of Africa march in columns of up to a million or more, devouring small animals that get in their way. Weaver ants “form chains of their own bodies in order to pull leaves and twigs together to create the walls of shelters. Others weave silk drawn from the spinnerets of their larvae to hold the walls in place.” Leafcutter ants “cut fragments from leaves, flowers and twigs, carry them to their nests and chew the material into a mulch, which they fertilize with their own feces. On this rich material, they grow their principal food, a fungus belonging to a species found nowhere else in nature. Their gardening is organized as an assembly line, with the material passed from one specialized caste to the next.”

There are obvious parallels with human practices like war and agriculture, but Wilson is also sensitive to the differ­ences. The social insects evolved more than 100 million years ago; their accomplishments come from “small brains and pure instinct”; and their lengthy evolution has led them to become vital elements of the biosphere.

In contrast, Homo sapiens evolved quite recently; we have language and culture; and the consequences of our relatively sudden domination have been mixed, to put it mildly: “The rest of the living world could not coevolve fast enough to accommodate the onslaught of a spectacular conqueror that seemed to come from nowhere, and it began to crumble from the pressure.”

This book offers a detailed reconstruction of what we know about the evolutionary histories of these two very different conquerors. Wilson’s careful and clear analysis reminds us that scientific accounts of our origins aren’t just more accurate than religious stories; they are also a lot more interesting.

But Wilson also makes some radical claims about the origins of our eusocial natures. For ants, he argues that workers are “robotic extensions of the mother’s genome,” so their eusociality is explained through the standard process of natural selection, in which single colonies are akin to single animals. But this won’t work for us; unlike insects, all humans compete for reproductive resources. So how did we get to be such social animals?

One solution is kin selection, as developed by William Hamilton and extended by Richard Dawkins in his discussion of “the selfish gene.” The idea is that from the perspective of the gene there is no hard-and-fast difference between an animal’s interest and the interest of its kin, and hence a gene that guides an animal to help its relatives could spread through the population even if this helping was costly to the animal itself.

The story, most likely apocryphal, goes that the biologist J. B. S. Haldane was asked if he would give his life to save his drowning brother, and he responded that he wouldn’t, but he would happily do it for two brothers or eight cousins. That’s the logic of kin selection.

Wilson was once a proponent of this view, but in a 2010 article in Nature, written with his Harvard colleagues Martin Nowak and Corina Tarnita, he argued against it — for insects and for humans. Their attack was controversial, to say the least, and there were outraged responses in a later issue of that journal, including one with 137 authors.

These critics charged that Wilson and his colleagues were ignoring the considerable explanatory accomplishments of kin selection theory and, from a theoretical standpoint, were mistaken in drawing a sharp distinction between kin selection (which they reject) and “standard natural selection theory” (which they accept).

Wilson’s favored alternative theory for the evolution of eusociality is group selection. The notion is that a gene for helping behavior can thrive even if it’s disadvantageous for the individual — so long as it gives the individual’s group an advantage over other groups. Darwin provided a nice example of this, imagining two tribes in conflict and noting that “if . . . the one tribe included a great number of courageous, sympathetic and faithful members, who were always ready to warn each other of danger, to aid and defend each other, this tribe would succeed better and conquer the other.”

Now, group selection has long been controversial; many scholars believe that while it is possible in principle, it is far weaker than standard within-group selection. Wilson himself says that eu­sociality is rare precisely because “group selection must be exceptionally powerful to relax the grip of individual selection.” But it might play some role in human evolution. The economist Samuel Bowles, for instance, has persuasively argued that the propensity to give one’s life in battle — the ultimate example of eusociality — might emerge because of the powerful advantage this gives to a warring community.

Wilson’s own theory is far too extreme, though. He adopts a Manichaean view of evolution, in which group selection is responsible for all of our virtues (“honor, virtue and duty”), while individual selection produces nothing but sin (“selfishness, cowardice and hypocrisy”). But it’s long been known that unrelated individuals can benefit from repeated cooperation with one another, so long as there are mechanisms in place to encourage reciprocity and punish betrayal.

There is now evidence — from computational modeling, observations of real-world human interactions and laboratory studies — showing that our altruistic and eusocial choices are sensitive to past interactions with individuals and that we are inclined to reward cooperators and punish cheats and free-riders. This evidence suggests that group conflict is not the sole force that has shaped human eusociality. Wilson must be familiar with this research, but doesn’t acknowledge how it complicates his account.

Sandwiched between his discussion of evolution and a concluding statement called “A New Enlightenment” is a series of chapters on language, culture, morality, religion and art. This section is intended to answer the “What are we?” question, but it is disappointing. Each chapter is only about a dozen pages and mainly summarizes the proposals of other scholars. While Wilson is never boring, there are few new insights here. The feeling you get recalls a remark once made by Roger Ebert about an artsy horror movie: there is foreboding and there is after boding, but no actual boding.

Wilson ends his chapter on morality with some ideas as to how evolutionary theory can inform our moral understanding. He argues that the papal ban on artificial contraception is based on a misunderstanding of evolution. Sex didn’t evolve just for reproduction; rather, “continuous and frequent intercourse . . . is genetically adaptive: it ensures that the woman and her child have help from the father.” Similarly, the condemnation of homosexuality is unreasonable because homosexuality is also likely to be a biological adaptation: “Homosexuality may give advantages to the group by special talents, unusual qualities of personality, and the specialized roles and professions it generates.”

Well, maybe, but Wilson never explains why these evolutionary hypotheses should influence our moral judgments. Suppose it turns out that he is mistaken and sex did evolve solely for reproduction. Would this show that non-procreative sex acts really are sins? Hardly.

Wilson goes on to claim that there are some ethical precepts that “all will agree should be opposed everywhere without exception,” and his list includes slavery and genocide. But actually the wrongness of these acts is a relatively recent discovery (the Bible, for instance, approves of both of them). And from the group selection view Wilson himself favors, an appetite for genocide — the destruction of one group by another — can be seen as the ultimate biological good. Our understanding that genocide is a monstrous act illustrates the limits of evolutionary theory as a grounding for morality.

I agree with Wilson that evolutionary theory has some relevance to how we should live our lives. But the connections are subtle, and here, at least, Wilson is too quick to dismiss philosophy and allied disciplines when it comes to answering the questions that matter the most.

Paul Bloom is a professor of psychology at Yale and the author of “How Pleasure Works.” He is writing a book about the development of morality.

A version of this review appeared in print on May 13, 2012, on page BR30 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: The Original Colonists.


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