The Stove of Consciousness

June 4, 2015

NOTE: Things can get pretty dull and numb in Malaysia. Day in day out we read about politics of opposing camps within UMNO and between Pakatan Rakyat and UMNO-Barisan National over the 1MDB financial scandal. The infantile mudslinging  antics will not get us anywhere.  Najib himself is playing games to remain in power. Governing takes a backstage right now. After all, loss of power can be disastrous for him and more so for his ambitious and greed driven spouse Rosmah Mansor, the self-styled FLOM.

For Najib Razak all options are now on the table. It is rumored  that since the country is a mess and paralyzed neck down, he may–to save himself being charged for corruption, conflicts of interest and abuses of power–declare a state of emergency, suspend Parliament and rule the country NOC-style like what his father Tun Razak did after the May 13, 1969  tragedy, albeit under different circumstances.

The government has stalled and no body is in charge. Usually, like in Japan, the Chief Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of the civil service takes control and the government functions. Unfortunately, in Malaysia, our Chief Secretary is busy with consoling the Prime Minister in stead of ensuring that  his civil servants do their work. Perhaps, he is preparing himself for the right time to abandon the incumbent captain and reach out to Najib’s successor. Carma.

We ourselves have become very agitated and frustrated since we have been pushing for change since 2008; yet we are no closer to the goal of removing the present lot of leaders from the seat of power.  So if I may suggest, let us just sit back , have tea tarik and relax at least for today.

What better way to find relief than to engage in some philosophical banter. Maybe, after reading about Rene Descartes and his stove, sanity can return and we will back to do battle. Let not fatigue make us abandon our mission to make our blessed country better. –Din Merican

The Stove of Consciousness

by Peter Hankins


I have been reading A.C. Grayling’s biography of Descartes: he advances the novel theory that Descartes was a spy. This is actually a rather shrewd suggestion which makes quite a lot of sense given Descartes’ wandering, secretive life.

On balance I think he probably wasn’t conducting secret espionage missions – it’s unlikely we’ll ever know for sure, of course – but I think it’s certainly an idea any future biographer will have to address.

I was interested, though, to see what Grayling made of the stove.  Descartes himself tells us that when held up in Germany by the advance of winter, he spent the day alone in a stove, and that was where his radical rebuilding of his own beliefs began.  This famous incident has the sort of place in the history of philosophy that the apple falling on Newton’s head has in the history of science: and it has been doubted and queried in a similar way. But Descartes seems pretty clear about it: “je demeurais tout le jour enfermé seul dans un poêle, où j’avais tout le loisir m’entretenir de mes pensées”.[I sat all day shut up alone in a stove, where I had ample opportunity to nurture my thoughts.]

Some say it must in fact have been a bread-oven or a similarly large affair: Descartes was not a large man and he was particularly averse to cold and disturbance, but it would surely have to have been a commodious stove for him to have been comfortable in there all day. Some say that Bavarian houses of the period had large stoves, and certainly in the baroque palaces of the region one can see vast ornate ones that look as if they might have had room for a diminutive French philosopher. Some commonsensical people say that “un poêle” must simply have meant a stove-heated room; and this is in fact the view which Grayling adopts firmly and without discussion.

Personally I’m inclined to take Descartes’ words at face value; but really the question of whether he really sat in a real stove misses the point. Why does Descartes, a rather secretive man, even mention the matter at all? It must be because, true or not, it has metaphorical significance; it gives us additional keys to Descartes’ meaning which we ought not to discard out of literal-mindedness. (Grayling, in fairness, is writing history, not philosophy.)

For one thing Descartes’ isolation in the stove functions as a sort of thought-experiment. He wants to be able to doubt everything, but it’s hard to dismiss the world as a set of illusions when it’s battering away at your senses: so suppose we were in a place that was warm, dark, and silent?  Second, it recalls Plato’s cave metaphor. Plato had his unfortunate exemplar chained in a cave where his only knowledge of the world outside came from flickering shadows on the wall; he wanted to suggest that what we take to be the real world is a similarly poor reflection of a majestic eternal reality. Descartes wants to work up a similar metaphor to a quite different conclusion, ultimately vindicating our senses and the physical world; perhaps this points up his rebellion against ancient authority. Third, in a way congenial to modern thinking and probably not unacceptable to Descartes, the isolation in the stove resembles and evokes the isolation of the brain in the skull.

The stove metaphor has other possible implications, but for us the most interesting thing is perhaps how it embodies and possibly helped to consolidate one of the most persistent metaphors about consciousness, one that has figured strongly in discussion for centuries, remains dominant, yet is really quite unwarranted. This is that consciousness is internal. We routinely talk about “the external world” when discussing mental experience. The external world is what the senses are supposed to tell us about, but sometimes fail to; it is distinct from an internal world where we receive the messages and where things like emotions and intentions have their existence. The impression of consciousness being inside looking out is strongly reinforced by the way the ears and the brain seem to feed straight into the brain: but we know that impression of being located in the head would be the same if human anatomy actually put the brain in the stomach, so long as the eyes and ears remained where they are. In fact our discussions would make just as much sense if we described consciousness as external and the physical world as internal (or consciousness as ‘above’ and the physical world as ‘below’ or vice versa).

If we take consciousness to be a neural process there is of course, a sense in which it is certainly in the brain; but only in the sense that my money is in the bank’s computer (though I can’t get it out with a hammer) or Pride and Prejudice is in the pages of that book over there (and not, after all, in my head). Strictly or properly, stories and totals don’t have the property of physical location, and nor, really, does consciousness

Does it matter if the metaphor is convenient? Well, it may well be that the traditional inside view encourages us to fall into certain errors. It has often been argued (and still is) for example that because we’re sometimes wrong about what we’re seeing or hearing, we must in fact only ever see an intermediate representation, never the  real world itself. I think this is a mistake, but it’s one that the internal/external view helps to make plausible.  It may well be, in my opinion, that habitually thinking of consciousness as having a simple physical location makes it more difficult for us to understand it properly.

So perhaps we ought to make a concerted effort to stop, but to be honest I think the metaphor is just too deeply rooted. At the end of the day you can take the thinker out of the stove, but you can’t take the stove out of the thinker.

Here are two responses on Peter Hankin’s Views of the Stove:

Scott Bakker says:

Coming out of the Continental tradition I was literally trained to regard the metaphorics of inside/outside as a conceptually bankrupt way to consider subjectivity. Moving onto Wittgenstein only reinforced this outlook. But I’m nowhere near so convinced anymore. Just for instance, how should we make sense of ‘shut ins’?

The stove, like the skull, is simply a convenient way to understand the flow of information. Hiding in a stove allowed Descartes to conceal information regarding his existence. Hiding in the skull, it seems fair to reason, allows consciousness to do the same more generally. You could say this is why we find neuroscience so flummoxing: it’s like hearing Descartes voice, then finding the stove empty when we throw the door open. An externalist approach to consciousness is simply one of the ways we can explain the ’empty stove problem.’ Descartes was never there in the first place! He’s actually a larger system that includes the kitchen, the village, what have you. My preferred approach is just to say that Descartes simply isn’t what we thought he was, that what we see locked up in our own stoves doesn’t exist.

Imagine if Descartes, like Plato’s prisoners, was *born* in his stove, then just ask the question of information flow. The most he could see (access) of himself in the stove would be cramped shadows, indeterminate shapes which would *have* to be his informatic baseline for ‘self,’ whereas through the cracks of the door he could see bright swathes of the external world. Now if he were placed opposite another stove and watched it open, would he recognize the high-fidelity, unbounded figure revealed as a version of himself?

Probably not, *especially* given his genius for rationalization. He can’t trust what he sees through the cracks, but these cramped shapes he knows with certainty – How could he not when they are all the information he has ever had?

I bake, therefore I am.

Nowadays I’m inclined to think the problem isn’t so much the metaphorics of inside/outside generally so much as the way they are posed. We just need to look at the inside/outside in the proper way.

Vijay Vikram says:

I do so agree with you about the internal vs external. It is a habit we inherited from Descartes. It is the mind/body problem.

Alternately, one may posit that internal and external are both aspects of a something we may call experience, awareness, dasein or manifestation or narrative or being or some such. Or to take it further, anything that shows up is, in effect, the world, the universe. And it shows up in what? Therein lies the paradox, for anything we may posit as a fundamental ground for manifestation– anything prior to manifestation– cannot be described since any description belongs to manifestation itself and so cannot be prior to manifestation. And the notion “prior to manifestation” is manifestation too. So, is there such a thing as “prior to manifestation” that could be a fundament for the world?

This issue is, however, a red herring. For the fundamental characteristic of the universe and of any particularity at all–is that it is. In other words, any and all of universe exhibits its fundamental character to us moment after moment, inescapably in the simple fact that it is–whether thought or thing or sense or feeling or objectivity or subjectivity and so on.

To put it more simply—-the fundamental character of the universe is ever and everywhere and always–patent.

This Side of Paradise

The only thing you need to know to understand the deepest metaphysical secrets is this: that for every outside there is an inside and for every inside there is an outside, and although they are different, they go together.– Alan Watts

Your inside is out and your outside is in.
 Your outside is in and your inside is out– The Beatles

Where do philosophers get their ideas? In the case of René Descartes, who is regarded as the founder of modern philosophy, he literally cooked them up. Once, in a bid to escape the cold, he had crawled into a large stove* and spent the day there. He was then 23 years old, en route to Ulm while serving in the Bavarian army. Alone with his thoughts, he began laying the intellectual groundwork for his famous cogito: “I think, therefore I am.”

This was not intended as a stand-alone statement but as the culmination of a chain of reasoning that began when he wondered what he could know for certain. He rejected everything he could know through his senses, since his senses could deceive him. Even his own body might be a mirage. But his thoughts were another matter. He could doubt just about everything, but he could not doubt his own doubts. And so the stuff he thought about when he was alone with his thoughts became the foundation for his existence.

Descartes concluded that mind and matter were two different “substances,” each occupying its own realm. The mind was immaterial, a “thinking thing” with no extension in space, whereas matter had extension but could not think. The two could causally interact, but it remained unclear how a mental event could affect a physical one, or vice-versa. As a byproduct of Cartesian dualism, Descartes had introduced a problem that has occupied philosophers ever since: the so-called mind-body problem.

The mind-body problem is not the only issue that arises when you give the mind a life of its own. Descartes had wondered whether his senses were playing tricks on him, conjuring up an external world that was actually a dream or the work of a demon. Addressing the same question, the 18th-century German philosopher Emmanuel Kant concluded that we can never truly know what lies outside ourselves, since our perceptions of the world are mediated by our senses. Even time and space, in Kant’s view, are not attributes of the eternal world but part of the perceptual framework through which we apprehend it. The notion that reality is to some degree in the mind rather than outside it is common currency not only among many modern philosophers but also among quantum physicists. As the physicist Erwin Schrödinger expressed it, “Mind has erected the objective outside world of the natural philosopher out of its own stuff.”

While Kant and others were raising doubts about the independent existence of the outside world, the Scottish philosopher David Hume was calling into question the “me” inside – the one entity that Descartes believed was beyond doubt. Looking within himself, Hume found no evidence of a single, simple and continuous self, only a bundle of perceptions in perpetual flux. He wrote, “I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception.” At no time was he able to catch a glimpse of the self that was supposedly having all these perceptions. In the theater of the mind, it would appear, the show is always on, but for all we know it may be playing to an empty house.

Kant and Hume between them had not only demolished Descartes’ neat certainties about the world, but they had effectively demolished the world itself, whether inside or out, depending on whom you asked. Not only was the self unknowable and perhaps illusory but so also was the world beyond the self. How could this be? Perhaps the problem stems from the notion that there is an “inside” and an “outside” to one’s experience. Like Descartes, alone with his thoughts inside a stove on a cold day in November, we imagine the thinking part of ourselves exists somewhere “in here” and everything else is “out there” in the world. We may arbitrarily assume “in here” is inside our bodies, but the part we can see is just as much “out there” as the chair we are sitting in or the tree outside our window. And the things that are “out there” may, in fact, be entirely contained within our consciousness, which is “in here.” So where do we draw the boundary between the two?

Make no mistake: it is we who draw the boundary. We cannot carve out a space for ourselves “inside” without simultaneously creating an “outside.” This bifurcation of consciousness occurs naturally at around age two with the development of an autonomous self. And although this process may occur naturally, it does not come without cost. The price we pay for acquiring a bit of personal space is that we now find ourselves on the outside of everything else. The psychic toll is dramatized in the biblical creation story, when Adam develops a will of his own and is expelled from Eden. So what would happen if we could once again experience life whole? We would find ourselves back in paradise, no longer on the outside looking in

*There is some dispute as to whether it was a stove or a room heated by a stove; however, the word Descartes used in relating the incident was poêle, or stove, in the original French: “Je demeurais tout le jour enfermé seul dans un poêle, où j’avais tout le loisir m’entretenir de mes pensées.” (“I sat all day shut up alone in a stove, where I had ample opportunity to nurture my thoughts.”) Regardless, it makes for a good story. 
Rene Descartes, Discourse on Method, 
Emmanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 
David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature,  
Genesis 3.

Malaysian Activists: Soldier on for Democracy, Freedom and Justice

June 1, 2015

Malaysian Activists: Soldier on for Democracy, Freedom and Justice

Tiananmen Square
Malaysian activists who appeared to suffer from political fatigue are told to embrace the never-give-up spirit in Hong Kong’s social movement. “What we should learn from Hong Kong activists? Persistence,” said political analyst Low Chee Chong at the ‘Remembering Tiananmen Square Massacre’ forum last night.

He related the emergence of Hong Kong’s social movement which was sparked by the infamous Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, where a Beijing student movement demanding for political reforms was brutally stamped out by Chinese troops.

According to Beijing, 200 were killed in the massacre, while the international media reported up to 3,000 deaths.

“The Hong Kongers commemorate the Tianamen massacre every year without fail. They have the July 1 rally as well as the recent 79-day Occupy movement,” said Low.

Likewise, Malaysians were inspired by politicians and activists who stood up against oppression, he added. The social movement here gained traction particularly after the 2008 general election, where hundreds of thousands of Malaysians poured into the streets of Kuala Lumpur to demand free and fair elections. However, the clamour for democracy seems to have died down after the 2013 general election.

Low, who is former PKR Deputy Treasurer, conceded that the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition has failed to live up to the people’s expectation.

But he argued Malaysians who want to see a two-party system should continue to back Pakatan as an alternative to the ruling BN.

“Bear in mind, political change is a long-term struggle. You will not see all your targets achieved at the various stages of the movement,” he said.

The ‘Remembering Tiananmen’ forum, which was attended by 300 people, saw Hong Kong student activist Joshua Wong and lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung sharing their experience on video after they were deported on arrival in Malaysia earlier this week.

Hong Kong teen’s advice

Wong, who rose to fame at the tender age of 14 for protesting against changes to the education system imposed by Beijing, urged Malaysians to continue to fight for democracy through his pre-recorded video message.

“While I am not familiar with Malaysian politics, I want to encourage you to continue to fight, (just like) Hong Kong is fighting to uphold its core values of justice and democracy,” said the ‘Umbrella revolution’ activist.

Malaysians can reclaim their democratic rights if they persist in their struggle despite facing suppression by the government, he said.

Wong also shared the difficulties faced by youth activists, which include the likelihood of being banned by local universities, defamed by pro-Beijing media and being rebuffed by the older generation, who prefer not to rock the boat.

Meanwhile, Wong Ji-yuet, a 17-year-old Hong Kong student activist, admitted they made some mistakes in the Occupy movement, dubbed the ‘Umbrella revolution’, which saw thousands of protesters setting up camps in the territory’s business district for weeks last year.

“We tend to go to the streets, but forget to go back to the community and do advocacy work. This needs to be strengthened,” said Ji-yuet, who is spokesperson for student movement Scholarism. Unlike Joshua and Leung, Ji-yuet was allowed to enter Malaysia to attend the forum.

Pakatan Rakyat and the Future of Malaysia’s Two Party Democracy

February 12, 2015

COMMENT: With Anwar Ibrahim back in Sungei BulohDin MericanY2 prison can Pakatan Rakyat coalition hold, given the strong and uncompromising stands taken by the secularist DAP and the theocratic PAS? That is the question. Without the glue that was responsible for making the Pakatan Rakyat coalition of PKR, PAS and DAP a reality, it is difficult to envisage an alternative force that can take over from the present regime that had held power since Independence. The spirit of 2008  that galvanized Malaysian voters has been extinguished. That is the sad truth.

I am personally not optimistic that a two-party system as presently constituted if PAS is obsessed with the hudud and DAP is uncompromisingly secular can be viable. So in the run up to the next General Elections, Pakatan Rakyat must get its act together and settle their ideological differences that can cause it to implode. A house that is deeply divided cannot stand.

UMNO-BN strategists knew the secret to weaken and eventually break up Pakatan Rakyat. They persecuted and put Anwar Ibrahim out of action, and continue to play the religion and race card to entice PAS to join their ranks in common cause. It is, therefore, naive to think that a two-party system as presently constituted can be a viable one.–Din Merican

Pakatan Rakyat and the Future of Malaysia’s 2-Party Democracy

by R B Bhattacharjee–The EDGE MALAYSIA

Malaysia's opposition leaders hold hands at the end of their People's Alliance conference in Shah AlamDAP’s Lim Guan Eng, Anwar Ibrahim and PAS’s  Hadi Awang

Although it has become common to acknowledge that a two party system has emerged in Malaysia following the unprecedented setbacks faced by the Barisan Nasional coalition in the 12th. and 13th. General Elections, recent events show that there is a long way to go before that concept can be said to have taken root in the country’s democratic system.

No doubt, the opposition parties had set aside their visceral differences to form an electoral pact in the run-up to the 12th general election in 2008. And following the surprise gains that they made in that election, Democratic Action Party (DAP), Pan Islamic Party  of Malaysia (PAS) and the People’s Justice Party (PKR) showed much promise as a new political force when they came together to form the Pakatan Rakyat coalition in order to establish the state governments in Selangor, Penang, Perak (at that time) and Kedah, besides Kelantan which  was already being administered by PAS.

Anwar-UbahThe Slogan for 2008 General Election

With five states under their control, it did seem for a while that Pakatan Rakyat was on its way to become an alternative  to the entrenched  political infrastructure created by Barisan Nasional.

Certainly, the groundswell of support for the opposition parties was an unmistakable sign that the people had become impatient to change the patronage of the ruling government for a new brand of politics that does not take voters for granted. At the same time, no politician worth his salt would be blind to the fact that voters would be looking for signs that the opposition coalition was intrinsically cohesive before they would be convinced about backing its bid to take power at the federal level.

Subsequently, it seemed that Pakatan Rakyat only needed to build on a common policy platform, grow its grassroots machinery, attract enough talent and avoid pitfalls that Barisan Nasional had fallen into to ultimately inherit the mantle of power from a political establishment that was showing serious of dysfunction.

Since the sea of change in voter sentiment in 2008, however, the Pakatan Rakyat grouping has come under severe strain on a number of fronts that collectively pose questions about its viability as an alternative federal government.

The well-aired conflict between DAP and PAS over the notion of Malaysia as an Islamic nation versus the supremacy of the secular Constitution is perhaps the most divisive of the issues that foreshadow the unmaking of Pakatan Rakyat. Not that the cluster of issues around this theme does not impact the Barisan Nasional too, but the dominant role of of UMNO in the coalition means that dissonance in the ruling coalition is very much muted by comparison.

The Islamic nation controversy illuminates the difficulties  confronting Pakatan Rakyat in its efforts to establish an inclusive political institution that can govern Malaysia’s diverse population without falling back on the self-defeating divide-and-rule paradigm that has become the default political culture particularly in recent years.

Hadi AwangPAS  is committed to Hudud

Far from clearing the way to build a race-blind, religious-blind society, DAP and PAS, which have been at loggerheads for decades over the establishment of a shariah-oriented administration, could only disagree to disagree on the matter in 2008 when it was expedient to announce the formation of Pakatan Rakyat as an emergent coalition bedecked with a string of states under its control.

Allah Issue SupportersThe Allah Issue

This is just not good enough, as demonstrated by their endless bickering over a slew of inter-ethnic and inter-religious issues that have bubbled up of late. Since the 12th general election in particular, the many difficulties between shariah and secular institutions show that the overlapping of theocratic and secular jurisdictions is an inherently problematic proposition.

So, it is almost inevitable that a political coalition that juxtaposes secularist and theocratic  parties will become undone when it comes to a crunch. This is clearly the story of Pakatan Rakyat’s journey until now.

To conceptualise a political system that can survive the competing pressures of secular and theological worldviews, there is effectively no alternative to the separation of religious and state powers. The lessons of history, from church-state relations of Medieval Europe to the record of contemporary Islamic states, are quite clear on this score.

This means that the Pakatan Rakyat parties have to embark on a voyage of discovery to chart new territory that circumvents potential whirlpools of conflict in a multicultural society. Only when it has mapped the extent of this new sphere can it present to voters a workable alternative model to the current one that puts one group against another in a perpetual cycle of acrimony.

It is necessarily a work in progress. explored one area at a time, with each emerging issue between individuals, institutions and society in a variety of combinations pointing to gaps that need fixing, rights that need acknowledgment and duties that must be performed.

To expect an overnight alliance forged  in the heat of an electoral triumph to withstand the assault  of a political establishment that has been in control over five decades is in itself wishful thinking. Perhaps, it may even entail a deconstruction of current political parties and coalitions to allow new thinking about contentious issues to emerge. This is a work to be undertaken for the long term, with the interests of the coming generations in mind.

The Pakatan Rakyat leadership council cannot be expected overnight to resolve such a fundamental issue  that goes to the heart of power relations, socio-cultural  pluralism and concepts such justice and equity, among other things. Rather, Pakatan Rakyat leaders may give themselves some breathing room if they merely acknowledge that their mixed marriage is on the rocks.

Selangor’s Political Quandary : How did we get there ?

January 29, 2014

Selangor’s Political Quandary: How did we get here?

by Nathaniel Tan@

In December 2013, a man named Zul Hilmi was beaten within an inch of his life while detained by the Penang police. He may be incapacitated for life. Last week, 6,000 migrants were rounded up by the authorities, only a quarter of which were found to be undocumented and arrested. Nobody knows how many were victims of abuse and shakedowns.

This year, prices of basic goods and utilities continue to skyrocket, further breaking the backs of Malaysia’s working classThe country is falling to pieces, and what dominates our headlines?

dsai14PKR’s internecine struggles. I wish we could ignore it wholesale, but being weak and human, it seems I too, will be adding my voice to this regretful din. It seems to me that the dreaded day has come – the day where sanity deserts us in favour of much less savoury pursuits, the day that the line is at last crossed.

It’s been an emotional week or so, but I shall do my best to leave that out of this article for now, which will likely be the first in a series. For today, let’s just take a relatively impassive look at the road that brought us here, and do our best to see what is going on for what it truly is. After the recap, perhaps we’ll be in a better position to do more detailed analyses.

I must confess, I have been out of the state government loop for all the months since I lost my job there, and out of the party loop for years. The following is based on what I read in the same news everyone else reads, and a little based on my personal observations of the movers and shakers in this game over the years.


Let’s begin with a chronology. The first shot in this latest round of conflict comes in the form of a Sin Chew Daily report last week, saying that the PKR Supreme Council has decided to replace Khalid Ibrahim as Menteri Besar of Selangor.(It has been a running joke that PKR supreme council meetings are perhaps the least secret meetings in the country. If you want some information to leak, that’s the best place to table it.)

The following day, PKR Secretary-General Saifuddin Nasution held a press conference saying: No such thing, Khalid continues as MB.A while after that, Sin Chew sends out a mass SMS blast to its subscribers, saying that Khalid has resigned as MB. This very quickly turns out to be untrue, and a glaring embarrassment for Sin Chew.

Fast forward a few days, and Joceline Tan of The Star publishes an article saying that KhalidJoceline-Tan will soon make way for Anwar Ibrahim to take over as MB. At this point it was becoming like the boy who cried wolf. Imagine my disappointment when we were eventually forced to admit that Tan was, for once, more or less right.

The rumours ceased being rumours the minute Lee Chin Cheh stepped down as Kajang state assemblyperson. Some 18 hours later, Khalid announces at a press conference that Anwar will indeed be PKR’s candidate for Kajang.

This was a turning point for PKR, it certainly was for me personally.I cannot possibly state with confidence what really led to this sequence of events. I can only speculate, based on my views regarding the balance of probabilities (a term I learnt thanks to the Teoh Beng Hock legal team).

Azmin Ali wants to be MB, there are few things as obvious. He took this pursuit to the point of launching an open rebellion after GE13. Despite his failure, Azmin retained all his posts. While most seem to be concerned about his removal as Selangor state development agency PKNS director, I think the question we should be asking is; how did he retain the post for so long?

Had the roles been reversed, I’m certain Khalid would have swiftly and surely met the political fate that awaits all those guilty of treason and mutiny.

The reason the punishment for treason is so strong is obvious, as who would tolerate keeping such blatantly disloyal people around, much less in power. Not being punished, Azmin simply continued his efforts.

People also like to describe what is happening as the Khalid-Azmin spat. I’m less certain however. If someone walks up to you in the middle of the road, and starts punching you in the face, are you having a spat?

Things started heating up this year because of the upcoming PKR elections.A long time ago I compared Azmin to Michael Corleone, the Godfather. (Spoiler alert: At the end of the first movie, Michael – who appeared weak and timid as the new Godfather – suddenly launches a brutal set of surprise attacks, in which he simultaneously eliminates all his competitors with extreme prejudice.)

At first, it felt like Azmin was trying to employ the same tactic.Along with the “If you can’t convince them, confuse them” media hullabaloo regarding Selangor, the controversy surrounding another of Azmin’s competitors, Nurul Izzah Anwar, also came to light around this time.

Malaysiakini article quotes devoted Azmin man Eekmal Ahmad as tweeting: “I don’t care who marries whom, who has a scandal with whom and why they were unfaithful. That is not my business.I have heard of this divorce issue awhile ago, and it is said that there is a third party. I don’t care about that. You live your life…”

If these words truly were as quoted, than they represent nothing more than disgusting, rank, hypocrisy. There is nothing more repellent than appearing to take the moral high ground while so blatantly spreading malicious gossip.

The question then becomes: Did the timing of these revelations indicate that this was yet another prong of the Godfather-style attack?

Conspiracy theories

Coming back to Selangor: Lee Chin Cheh was an Azmin-linked man who replaced the more independent-minded, well-regarded Lee Kim Sin in Kajang – one of the three seats in Selangor (the other two being Semenyih and Kota Damansara) in which I speculate Azmin’s politicking led to disastrous results.

Lee – to the best of my knowledge – is also the only man to be asked: Were you the one who made the leaks to Sin Chew? He vehemently denied the accusation.Lee was also ultimately the man who turned rumours into reality, with his resignation.

One could be forgiven for interpreting everything that happened up to this point as part of some Azmin-masterminded scheme.The twist comes when Anwar was in fact announced to be the candidate for Kajang.

This implies two possibilities. The first is that Azmin pushed for a compromise candidate,MB Khalid Ibrahim seeing that he could not unseat Khalid himself. Perhaps he hoped for a more pliant MB, who would be aligned to his interests.

While possible, I think the facts do not support this interpretation. Looking at the fallout, I believe that it is more likely that Azmin has always had his eyes on the throne, and has no intention of letting anyone besides himself occupy it.

Reading between the lines, I speculate that the truth is closer to the following. Anwar has begun to fear Azmin greatly, and is no longer confident of his own position. Instead of backing Khalid as an alternative to Azmin, it appears he is unwisely giving in to the endless complaints of PKR politicians about Khalid, who have never been satisfied with Khalid’s stubborn stance that principles trump political pragmatism.

(I can practically see said politicians – many of whom I have been honoured to consider friends – jumping up and down at such a characterisation. It saddens me, but be that as it may, we’ll save for another time the details about how it is only people in politics who have expressed serious dissatisfaction with Khalid.)

Anwar  along with many PKR liberals the rest of us love to love, has always seen little political capital to be gained from backing Khalid.

Azmin has a sizeable team of his own, which he maintains with an almost beautiful, strict adherence to the most traditional principles of feudal politics, but many people in PKR simply do not like or trust him either.

220px-Anwar_Ibrahim-editedSo, this team starts to think of a third alternative. Eventually, demonstrating the complete loss of perspective that infects far too many in the industry of politics, somebody says: How about Anwar for MB? (Is this a testament to his ability to make enticing promises about what will happen when he controls Selangor’s resources?

There are pages to be written about why this is a bad idea, but for now, let us say that this idea seems to check off enough boxes of enough people in PKR that the idea becomes a reality.

Of course, Anwar – the man who said he would step down after GE-13 if Pakatan Rakyat did not win – vehemently denies wanting to become MB. Clearly, there must be another reason why he now wants to add Kajang assemblyperson to his list of duties.

(It is difficult, and probably very ungracious of me, to write these things of a previous employer who came and stood outside the police station in solidarity when I was arrested many years ago – something I will always appreciate. I have held my tongue for many years, and have never been given sufficient cause to speak ill. Yet I regretfully cannot stay silent forever.)

In denial

Azmin-KhalidAzmin wastes no time in putting on his spin. He is quoted as saying: “Anwar Ibrahim contesting there will send a message to the public that we are serious about Selangor and will use the state as a launchpad for Putrajaya.”

It would appear that PKR was not serious about Selangor previously. (Also, I like how people assume Anwar will win – but perhaps this was the plan of the Azmin camp all along, to finish Anwar off for good.Alternatively, perhaps at some later point, someone else will argue that instead of taking over the post, Anwar is being put there just to provide a counterbalance to Azmin, and so on and so on.

I am reminded of the Prime Minister’s remarks about the reduction of kangkung prices.These are all perfect examples of politicians who are submerged so deep in the foulness of their schemes, that they have quite literally lost touch with reality.

That they would imagine Malaysia’s collective stupidity to have reached the level where we would be swayed by such obvious rubbish is a sign that things have gone too far.

It is nothing short of sad that it has come to this. I personally feel that what has happened is a challenge to our integrity and conscience. I feel that we are being tested, to see if those who have been loyal to the cause all this while would blindly follow these ‘leaders’ anywhere.

If that is what they are expecting, they have another think coming. Politicians like to believe in grey areas, and there is merit to that sometimes; but quite frankly, sometimes black is black, and white is white.

NATHANIEL TAN found writing this article difficult and sad. He does not believe it is 100 percent proper for members of the party to say such things, and has thus with a heavy heart started making the necessary remedies.

UMNO’s Saifuddin calls for removal of Election Commission Chief!

by Eileen Ng
JANUARY 14, 2014

 Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, speaking at a forum on electoral forum yesterday, says the Election Commission needs a new chairman who is not beholden to Barisan Nasional. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Nazir Sufari, January 14, 2014.

Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, speaking at a forum on electoral forum yesterday, says the Election Commission needs a new chairman who is not beholden to Barisan Nasional. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Nazir Sufari, January 14, 2014.

Umno’s Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah has joined the chorus calling for the removal of the Election Commission (EC) members, especially its chief, Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Yusof.

He said there was a need for a new EC chairman, who was impartial, in the wake of the public’s loss of confidence in the commission.

“We need someone who is passionate, independent and who does not say things on behalf of BN,” he said, referring to the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional. “You are not helping BN anyway,” he said at an electoral forum last night.

Newly elected chairperson of electoral reform coalition Bersih 2.0 Maria Chin Abdullah had called for the removal of all EC members, citing loss of confidence.

She had said a petition drive would be launched to be delivered to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

The statement came in the wake of an admission by former EC chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman that past redelineation exercises were designed to keep certain parties in power.

Abdul Rashid led the EC in managing six out of the 13 general elections, as well as four redelineation exercises.

Saifuddin, who is CEO of the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation, said a more independent EC would enable both BN and the opposition Pakatan Rakyat pact to come together to negotiate on the proposed redelineation exercise.

PKR strategic director Rafizi Ramli said the people had talked about reforming the EC for years and had even taken to the streets in support of electoral reforms.

He agreed that both Abdul Aziz and his deputy, Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar, needed to be removed but noted that there was a “total mobilisation” by BN in defence of the two officials.

Rafizi said the lack of response from Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to Abdul Rashid’s admission was a manifestation of how BN was retreating instead of going forward towards bipartisanship to strengthen democratic institutions.

On the redelineation exercise, the first-term Pandan MP said PKR’s stand was that it should be done on a basis that ensured equitability and fairness rather than the number of seats.

“Any change has to be structural in nature. The dissatisfaction is not in the number of seats but how the seats were gerrymandered in such a way that Parliament does not represent the voices on the ground.”

He said the matter could only be resolved if all political parties agreed on an acceptance variance on the size of constituencies and an assurance that minority interests would be looked after.

Meredith L Weiss, visiting associate professor in Southeast Asia Studies at John Hopkins University, suggested that there was a need to come up with a mechanism on campaign financing to enable the EC to monitor not just candidates’ spending during general elections but also those who are donating to their campaigns.

Social activist Hishammuddin Rais alleged that the EC was doing a “con job” and that Pakatan Rakyat or any other alternative force would never win the general election if the same structure was in place.

“We need to change this,” he said.

Bersih– Art Harun’s Final Thoughts

July 14, 2011

Bersih – My Final Thoughts

Wise men profits more from fools than fools from wise men; for the wise men shun the mistakes of fools, but fools do not imitate the successes of the wise.” – Cato the Elder (234 BC – 149 BC) from Plutarch, Lives.

In my opinion, the biggest mistake that the government had made in the Bersih issue was to isolate a large section of society from itself, anger them and convert them into  Bersih sympathisers and/or supporters.

At some point of time before the Bersih rally – in my opinion it was about the time Pak Samad Said was hauled to the Police station – the Bersih movement had transcended its electoral reform objective into a full scale platform for the people to vent their frustrations, disappointments, angst and anger to the government.

Sasterawan Negara, Dato A. Samad Said

 To put it crassly, from that point of time, Bersih became a platform for many people to show their middle finger to the government, for whatever personal reason(s) they may have.

All the government had to do in the early days of Bersih 2.0 was to deal with Bersih and its demands. The demands were not about the escalating inflation and price of household items; not about Teoh Beng Hock or Sarbani; not about corruption; not about electricity rate hike; not about Astro price hike; not about the police, MACC or whichever agency.

The demands were just about a fair and just election or what was perceived by Bersih as such. That was it. It was politically related but not politically motivated. (For the uninitiated, there is a difference between the two). The fact that some opposition political parties were in solidarity with Bersih did not demote Bersih into a political party with the inevitable and attendant political baggage. 

The premise of Bersih was an idea, a thought. The idea was our election process is not fair. The resulting conclusion from that idea was that our electoral process needs reform or at least a change. That was all.

Being an idea, or a thought, Bersih operates and infects the masses insidiously. It is in their head that the idea is planted. It is not in their behaviour. A Bersih sympathiser or supporter, with the said planted idea, would not act in a way an Al-Qaeda member would. He or she was not going to strap C4 around his or her body, go to the mall on a Sunday, and buy the proverbial ticket to heaven by blowing himself or herself up.

Planted with that idea, a Bersih sympathiser or supporter would try to convince others that that idea was correct. That idea will infest and continue to infest.

The wearing of yellow t-shirts with the word Bersih was just a way or means employed by carrier of such idea to make known that he or she subscribed to that idea to the open world.

The yellow t-shirts were not even a manifestation of the idea which he or she carried.  With or without the yellow t-shirts, the idea still infests their mind. Similarly, the colour of the t-shirts, did not matter. It could have been pink for all they cared but the idea stayed the same. 

The idea, as I said earlier, was that the election process is not fair and it needs reform. And so, this was what, allegorically, the government was facing about a month before the rally. There were some yellow mosquitoes flying around in some wet markets; shopping malls; seminar rooms and o the streets. That was it. Nothing more.

It was like the proverbial bloody fly in the car cockpit. Irritating, yes. Annoying, yes. Threatening, absolutely not.

And how exactly did the government react to these handful yellow mosquitoes? Well, it took out some really large and heavy cannons and shot the mosquitoes!

The government firstly denied that our election process was not fair. That was okay. Because by doing that, the government was actually trying to supplant an opposing idea. But what it did later was beyond rationale. Any strategist, political or otherwise, worth his or her salt,  would cringe in disbelief.

It went out seizing the yellow t-shirts. People who wore the offending attire were arrested. How did arresting people wearing yellow and seizing the yellow item assist in erasing the idea which Bersih had planted? The idea was in the head. That idea did not reside in the yellow t-shirts.  That was  the government reacting according to the proverbial “marahkan nyamuk kelambu dibakar” (loosely translated, angry with the mosquitoes, burn the mosquito net) way.

First, the public reaction was one of disbelief. Soon it became a joke. The government, the police, the Home Minister and all else who were perceived to be the instigator to the act of banning the colour yellow became a big joke.

The joke then became even a bigger joke. That was when the government and its machinery, direct and indirect, embarked into phase two of their “war propaganda”.

I have stated in The Doctor is Not In that an oppressor would cling to every “fact”, even manufactured ones, to justify its oppression. I quoted Umberto Eco, in “Turning Back The Clock” who said:

“In general, in order to maintain popular support for their decisions, dictatorships point the finger at a country, group, race, or secret society that is plotting against the people under the dictator. All forms of populism, even contemporary ones, try to obtain consensus by talking of a threat from abroad, or from internal groups.” (emphasis is mine).

How true is that? Umberto Eco could have been talking about Malaysia actually. Did he have a digital crystal ball or what?

Barely recovering from shaking our collective head over the arrest of people wearing yellow, the government went into ape mode. Bersih was infiltrated by communists. It was also funded by Christian groups. Some Ministers and the Ploice then said there were evidence that Bersih had certain “foreign elements” bent on creating havoc and overthrowing the government.

All classic wartime propaganda. But really, who was at war? Nobody except for the government.

Sticking with the “war” theme, the government’s well known, but the most laughable and idiotic shit stirrer, Perkasa and its leader, Ibrahim Ali, launched a counter movement and called themselves Gerak Aman (Peace Movement, in English), with Ibrahim Ali as its “war general.”

So, we had a peace movement with a war general. And a war general without any war to go to. He then promptly issued a really peaceful statement, ie, the Chinese had better stocked up food and not come out to the street on July 9th.

This was followed by some silat organisation declaring that it will “wage war” against Bersih participants. The next day this organisation appointed itself as the “3rd line of defence” of Malaysia, an appointment which was duly accorded official approval by none other than the Prime  Minister himself later.

At this point in time, the government’s handling of the Bersih issue had moved from disbelief-dom, to jokes-ville and now to a surreal and burlesque town. The government had then managed to anger the Bersih sympathisers and supporters; isolated the Christians and Chinese; and turned itself into some kind of a mixture of Robin Williams and Russell Brand (no insult meant to Katy Perry, of course).

Ambiga, the  Chairperson of Bersih was instantaneously declared as an enemy of Islam. Quite how Bersih’s electoral reform agenda became intertwined with race and faith is quite beyond many to conjure. But enemy of Islam she was. That managed to isolate the non-Muslims and even the  thinking Muslims form the government’s stance.

 So, after that, the pesky yellow mosquitoes problem had turned into a full scale stampede of biblical proportion, joined in by the elephants, lions, tigers, snakes and what have you. Congratulations.

The climax of all of these – the mother of all fcuk ups – to me, was the mounting of roadblocks during the morning peak hours from Wednesday the 6th of July onwards.

By this time, even the normal apathetic middle-class Malaysians who could not even be bothered to register themselves as voters became agitated and upset.

This apathetic middle-class are a very comfortable lot. They will not move their ass to do anything if that would mean bringing themselves out of their comfort zone. Finding the TV remote control is bringing themselves out of  their comfort zone, to these people. They will not be arsed to do anything until and unless they become uncomfortable.

And of course, being stuck in a traffic jam in their second-hand BMWs, Benz and whatever was uncomfortable to them. And they told themselves, enough with this crap. I am going to show my middle finger to the police!

By this time, almost the whole section of the urban society was isolated by the government. Even the civil servants who were late for work were thinking of joining the rally.

Speaking of the police, apart from being busy carrying guns and waving the traffic to pass by, they managed to find parangs and molotov cocktails at Sogo. There you  have it. Bersih was bent on creating havoc.

Why parangs? Why not guns and bombs? And to think about it, the molotov cocktails were made in plastic bottles. Who in their right mind would make molotov in plastic bottles, hullo? From which university did the guy graduate? Off campus? Online course?

Disbelief. Joke. Burlesque. Ridicule. Anger.

What a transformation. The easiest thing to do was to fight the idea that our election process needs reform. That was all that was needed. An idea is fought by firstly, showing that that idea is not quite correct. Or that it was not credible. Then neutralise that idea with a better and more acceptable idea.

An idea is not fought by arresting the people having that idea. Or by banning a colour depicting subscription to  that idea. Or by declaring the person heading the movement perpetuating that idea as anti-Islam. Or that it was Christian idea. Oh my God. Fail!

Now, let’s not talk about what happened during the rally. Suffice if I say that the people joining the rally were not the hooligans they were made out to be. We all could watch all the YouTube videos and decide for ourselves.

The thing which I want to comment about is this. If the government’s handling of Bersih before the rally was beyond belief in its irrationality and unreasonableness, its handling AFTER the rally is not any better, if not far worse.

The IGP became a laughing stock when he quickly announced that only 6000 people attended the rally. Then the Home Minister chipped in to say the police was fair and in fact very restrain in their approach on the 9th of July. The Prime Minister said the police were a picture of tranquillity and displayed a monk-like attitude towards the rally goers.

Ha ha and ha.

KL Police: No tear gas fired into the hospital !!

The Minister Liow denied teargas was fired into compound of Tung Shin. Chua Soi Lek, not be left out, chipped in to say the police had to teargas the hospital in order to protect the patients. And today, 11 doctors from that hospitals states their willingness to affirm affidavits under oath that the police did in fact shoot water and teargas into the compound of the hospital on July 9. They said the Police even entered into the buildings to search for rally goers. (the full report is here).

The Prime Minister had left for the UK. The mainstream media went ape-like in blaming Anwar and mocking his injury. This obsession with Anwar Ibrahim is actually quite irritating. let me tell you all something. Most rally goers did not give a hoot about Anwar that day. That day was not about Anwar. It was about their middle finger which they had wanted to point to some others.

The international press – which of course, in the government’s book, are always bias and out to pursue their secret agenda against our country – have not been kind to the government. Even the Jakarta Post editorial (Malaysia is rich but not free) was not flattering. Yesterday, Bloomberg’s William Pesek was scathing in his opinion. Pesek is an influential writer and Bloomberg is a reference  point for many foreign investors. (his article is here). So, what’s the plan here?

Someone died during the rally. Have we heard a word of sympathy or condolence from the government’s side? I have not. All we had was the usual defensive “don’t blame me” statements.

Are we human? Or have we stopped being human? Since when?