The need for Mr. Spock in an Age of Madness


March 2, 2015

The need for Mr. Spock in an Age of Madness

A Tribute by Dr. Farish Noor@www.nst.com.my

Leonard-Nimoy-image-2 AN ICON: Nimoy’s Mr Spock was a role model for humanity and a voice of logic and reason

THIS week, I would like, if I may, to write about something rather differ­ent from what I usually write about. Regular readers would know that this writer has focused more on issues of re­gional politics in the past.

The pass­ing of actor Leonard Nimoy has struck a chord with many who grew up in the 1960s-80s, and who are familiar with the TV series, Star Trek. Among the characters of the series, the character that Nimoy played – Mr Spock the scientist ­was perhaps the most familiar and iconic. For youngsters like myself who were at school then and who were hooked on the series, he was an icon and role model for book-de­vouring nerds and geeks who enjoyed the sciences and were fasci­nated by the charms of modernity.

Actor Leonard NimoyMr. Leonard Nimoy

While tributes to Nimoy the actor have come from all over the world, it is interesting to note that he was, and remains, in the eyes of many the same figure as Mr Spock whom he played. There is, however, one as­pect to the character of Spock that particularly deserves mention today, in the context of the troubled times we live in where irrational sectarian violence is rife across the world: Spock was a man of science and in the series Star Trek he was often presented as the contrarian voice to the more emotional Captain Kirk.

Indeed, the legacy of Mr Spock’s character is precisely that: That he was a man of reason, science and cool temper, in contrast to the vi­olent characters that often appeared in the many episodes of the series. We need to place him in the context of the times, and note that Star Trek appeared at the height of the Cold War where fear and animosity on both sides of the iron curtain was also high.

Star-Trek-001The Original Cast of Star Trek

At a time when Hollywood TV series often featured men of vi­olence and brutish action, his was perhaps one of the very few char­acters that constantly professed the opposite: A belief in the power of logic and reason, and the hope that science would uplift the lot of hu­man beings. In contrast to the cow­boy and war films being made then, it is astounding that Star Trek became a hit, and the character of Spock a popular hero.

In so many respects the figure of Mr Spock offered an alternative model of masculinity that was in stark contrast to the male stereo­type of that age. Eschewing vi­olence and irrationality, his char­acter placed his faith in the ability’ of reason and logic to discover truths and to enlighten the igno­rant. In total contrast to the image of the man of violence being pop­ularised elsewhere, his image of­fered a reversed interpretation of what masculinity could and should be like.

Today, we live in a world where religious and political sectarian vi­olence has led to terror attacks, indiscriminate killing of civilians and hostages, the burning of li­braries and the wanton destruction of relics and monuments of the past. All of this violence has been justified in the name of political ideologies or religions, by people who profess belief in things they may not even understand. If one were to take a snapshot of the age we live in today, one might conclude that we do indeed live in an age of madness and unreason.

Bust_of_Mahatma_Gandhi,_Saughton_Park,_Edinburgh_(1997)Mahatma Gandhi

Now, more than ever, we need role models and heroes of non­violent nature who can point to an alternative vision of the future that is more enlightened and tolerant of everyone. Now is the time when the world needs a Spock-like vision of a common humanity united in ra­tional thinking, fair and balanced discourse and objective analysis. Sadly, popular media today has in­stead fed us with a steady stream of popular nonsense, and no film to­day would be complete without some monster, alien, zombie, ter­rorist or murderer on the loose.

The passing of Leonard Nimoy was not merely the passing of an actor, but of a character who managed to get a generation to pause and think. Now is when we need such models most, and now is when reason has to be seen as an act of valour.

Farish Noor is an Associate Professor and Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and Visiting Fellow at ISIS Malaysia

 

 

Book Review: ‘The Innovators,’ by Walter Isaacson


October 4, 2014

Sunday Book Review

Geek Squad

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/05/books/review/the-innovators-by-walter-isaacson.html?ref=review

Innovators--Book

‘The Innovators,’ by Walter Isaacson

Brasil 2014, Football and Germany


July 14, 2014

Brasil 2014, Football and Germany

by Josh Hong@www.malaysiakini.com

Germany's players lifts the World Cup trophyI once saw a picture at the German National Museum of Contemporary History in Bonn, the capital of the former West Germany. Dated July 4, 1954, it depicted a group of men with broken teeth, crutches and in worn-out clothes shouting for joy over West Germany’s victory at the FIFA World Cup Final.

The West Germans had just barely recovered from the horrific World War II, and Hungary had been widely tipped to win the title. Still, West Germany went on to claim the crown as a dark horse, and the game is known historically as ‘Das Wunder von Bern’ (‘the Miracle of Bern’; Bern is the Swiss capital where the final was held).

The 1954 World Cup was particularly meaningful to West Germany for several reasons: it was the first time that Das Lied Der Deutschen (the Song of the Germans) was played at an international sporting event since the end of WWII, signifying the return of the country into the world community, while defeating the then communist-ruled Hungary was hailed as an ideological triumph.

Two decades later, West Germany was showered with greater global recognition when it hosted the 1974 World Cup and was crowned champion. If 1954 symbolised West Germany’s international acceptance, 1974 probably took on a greater significance in that the country demonstrated proudly to the world its reemergence as an economic power, rising from the ashes of the catastrophic Nazi regime (which hosted the 1936 Olympics in Berlin), preceded also by the 1972 Olympics.

It was most ironic that, while Britain and France, the two WWII victors, were mired in incessant labour strikes as industrial production came to a virtual halt, West Germany’s economic development and standard of living continued to improve by leaps and bounds.

Then came the eventful autumn of 1989, when the Eastern Blocs were on the verge of drastic revolution. Berlin Wall, 1989Many East Germans drove their Trabants right up to the Berlin Wall and demanded that the gates be opened.

When their calls went unanswered, they took out sledgehammers and chisels and started dismantling the wall themselves, and the (in)famous wall did come tumbling down within weeks. Welcoming the Ossis was not only the far advanced Volkswagen produced by the Wessis, but also the abundantly available commodities in the shops in West Berlin.

When West Germany beat Argentina to claim the World Cup title on  July 8, 1990, East German fans erupted in euphoria publicly for the first time. Three months later, East and West Germany became history.

Rebranding the country

When the reunified Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup, the German government at the time made use of the opportunity to rebrand the country as a Land of Ideas (Land der Ideen), seeking to promote to the world Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Beethoven, philosopher Jürgen Habermas and many other modern achievements alongside football.

It represented a conscious effort on the part of the Germans to remind the international community that, having faced up to historical issues squarely, it was time that Germany should be free to celebrate its achievements for and contributions to the world.

The reunified Germany failed to win the World Cup in 2006, but many a European country was impressed with a new Germany that was not only confident and forward-looking, but also warm and hospitable, so much so that the British tabloids, usually relishing in insulting Germany with WWII references, toned down their wording and English fans could be seen waving the German flag during the semi-final between Germany and Argentina.

Now that Germany has once again made it to the final, the question whether the reunified country will win a historic World Cup is again in the mind of many, for a win on this coming Sunday (Brazilian time) would go a long way in affirming Germany’s coming of age, and I wish them all the best.

After all, no other competition arouses one’s nationalistic sentiment and sharpens political differences more than football – with the exception of an actual war. Seen in this light, what Germany destroyed last Tuesday was not just Brazil’s world status as a land of football, but it’s very national identity as well.

For historical reasons, the Germans are not used to overt symbols of nationalism, but it does not mean they should tolerate idiotic insults such as Bung Mokhtar’s ‘Hitler tweet’ in the wake of Germany’s thumping victory over Brazil. It is outrageous because no other countries have demonstrated so much goodwill and sincerity in dealing with historical baggage as Germany, especially when the country has shown no signs of relenting in pursuing justice for the victims.

Bung Mokhtar’s brainless tweet is more than a personal gaffe because it exposes the quality (or the lack thereof) of UMNO politicians. The fact that he continues to be a wakil rakyat is an utter shame to Malaysia.

NOTE: Germany defeated Argentina 1-0 in extra time on Sunday July 13, 2014 in Rio . It was thriller. witnessed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and a strong contingent of German fans while the rest of the world witnessed a spectacle of great sportsmanship and fine football. –Din Merican
________________
JOSH HONG studied politics at London Metropolitan University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. A keen watcher of domestic and international politics, he longs for a day when Malaysians will learn and master the art of self-mockery, and enjoy life to the full in spite of politicians.

Gotta’ keep on learning


July 13, 2014

Schumpeternomics: Gotta’ keep on learning

by (Tan Sri) Dr. Lin See-Yan@www.thestar.com.my (07-12-14)

Lin See-YanI JUST returned from the summer meeting of the board of governors (on which I am a long-standing member) and the board of trustees of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) in Makati, Manila. It celebrated its 45th anniversary…

To mark the occasion, AIM held its second Asian Business Conference against the backdrop of an emerging ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 2015. It was well attended by a wide cross-section of Asian businesses, research institutes and universities, under the banner: “2015 Approaching: Priming for ASEAN Integration.”

I spoke at the strategic session on banking and finance with particular focus on the need for Asia (and indeed ASEAN) to keep on innovating to create a truly learning society, in order to maintain its competitive edge and remain relevant in an increasingly hostile and uncertain world. To survive, we just gotta’ keep on learning!

Technological progress

I learned early as a Harvard graduate student in the 1970s from no less than Nobel laureate Robert Solow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) down the Charles, that rising output and incomes can only come about in a sustained way from technological progress (TP), not from mere capital accumulation. Put simply, Solow repeatedly emphasised that TP comes from learning how to do things better; indeed, there’s always a better way.

As a practising banker and economist at Bank Negara after my PhD, I quickly undertstood that much of the productivity increases we see come from small incremental changes – they all add-up, other than the lumpy gains arising from dramatic discoveries or from unpredictable phenomena. It all starts with nurturing our education system and the process of its development to ensure youths are properly educated, not just in terms of literary, quantitative and scientific skills, but also with the right moral values and civic outlook.

Broadly, along what Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz (pic) has been advocating – it always makes goodJ Stiglitz sense “to focus attention on how societies learn, and what can be done to promote learning, including learning how to learn.”

Innovation and creative destruction

The seeds of the critical role of innovation in economic growth were first planted about a century ago by Harvard economist and political and social scientist Joseph Schumpeter, a contemporary of John M. Keynes. His economics (hence, Schumpeternomics) is based on the ability and capability of the market economy to innovate on its own.

I recall reading his 1939 book Business Cycle: A Theoretical, Historical and Statistical analysis of the Capitalist Process, where he wrote “Without innovations, no entrepreneurs; without entrepreneurial achievement, no capitalist returns and no capitalist propulsion. The atmosphere of industrial revolutions – of “progress” – is the only one in which capitalism can survive.”

So, Schumpeter went about challenging conventional wisdom in three areas: (i) misplaced focus on competitive markets. He contended that what matters was “competition for the markets, not competition in the markets,” as rightly pointed out by Stiglitz. It is competition for the markets that drives innovation. Sure, this can (and do) result in the rise of monopolies; still this would lead to improved living standards over the long haul (eg. Microsoft, Nokia – acquired in 2013 by Microsoft). (ii) undue focus on short-run efficiency which can be detrimental to innovation over the long-term – classic example is helping “infant industries” learn.

But governments should not be in the game of picking winners; the market can do this better (witness Obama’s failed “clean energy” projects or Malaysia’s wasteful car-maker Proton). Sure, there are exceptions where government invests in research that has since led to development of the Internet and discovery of DNA with enormous social benefits.

Schumpeter

(iii) Innovation leads to creative destruction – it can (and do) wipe out inefficient industries and jobs. The Internet has turned businesses from newspapers to music to book retailing upside down. In their place, more efficient businesses have popped up. In his biography of Schumpeter – Prophet of Innovation, Thomas McCraw wrote: “Schumpeter’s signature legacy is his insight that innovation in the form of creative destruction is the driving force not only of capitalism but of material progress in general. Almost all businesses, no matter how strong they seem to be at a given moment, ultimately fail – and almost always because they failed to innovate. Competitors are relentlessly striving to overtake the leader, no matter how big the lead. Responsible business people know that they ignore this lesson at their peril.”

In 1983, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Schumpeter and Keynes, Peter F. Drucker proclaimed at Forbes that it was Schumpeter, not Keynes, who provided the best guide to the rapid economic changes engulfing the world, according to McCraw.

Higher education

The business of higher education has changed little since Plato and Aristotle taught at the Athenian Lyceum. With government patronage and support, close to 4 million Americans and 5 million Europeans will graduate this summer. Emerging nations’ universities are expanding even faster. I was told in Shanghai last month that China has added 30 million university places in the past 20 years.

Indeed, I do see a revolution coming for three main disruptive reasons:

  •  Rising costs – Baumol’s disease has set in, i.e. soaring costs reflecting high labour intensity with stagnant productivity; for the past two decades, costs have risen 1.6 percentage points above inflation annually.
  •  Changing demand – a recent Oxford study contended that 47% of occupations are now at risk of being automated and as innovation wipes out jobs and drastically change others, vast numbers will be needing continuing education.
  • Fast moving TP will change the way education is packaged, taught and delivered. MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) today offers university students a chance to learn from the world’s best and get a degree for a fraction of today’s cost. Harvard Business School will soon offer an online “pre-MBA” for US$1,500 (RM4,778)! The reinvention of universities will certainly benefit many more than it hurts. Elites like Harvard, MIT and Stanford will gain from this creative destruction process. Education is now a global digital market.

What then, are we to do

Corporate giants come and go in a competitive economy. Microsoft and Nokia used to rule the digital world. Now they don’t. No monopoly is permanent, unless enforced by government, which as everyone knows hardly changes, even as the rest of the world passes it by. In the United States, it is reported that the administration wants to prevent Apple’s iTunes and AppStore from abusing the network “lock-in” created by Apple’s tech ecosystem. But the judge has since ruled that “I want Apple to have the flexibility to innovate.” That’s something, isn’t it?

economics-poster-smallMy professor at Harvard, Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow, used to extol about the importance of learning by doing. So, those who want to innovate, let them just do it – hopefully with no government intervention even though there is a compelling “infant” argument for industrial protection, which can be a double-edged sword when it comes to learning and innovating.

Most of the time, the infant seldom grows up. But reinventing the ancient institution of higher learning will not be easy. EdX, a non-profit MOOC founded (and funded) in May 2012 by Harvard and MIT, is now a consortium of 28 institutions worldwide. No one knows how big the online market will eventually be. It’s more akin to online airline-booking services – expanding the market by improving the customer experience.

Still, innovation at MOOC will definitely reduce the cost of higher education, grow market size but with widespread creative destruction collateral damage, and turn inefficient universities on their heads. MOOC estimates that university employment can fall by as much as 30% and 700-800 institutions can shut-down. The rest have to reinvent themselves to survive. Our learning society will change forever, whether we like it or not.

Former banker, Dr. Lin See-Yan is a Harvard educated economist and a British chartered scientist who writes on economic and financial issues. Feedback is most welcome; email: starbizweek@thestar.com.my. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Arshad Ayub: Liberator of the Malay Psyche


January 4, 2013

Arshad Ayub: Liberator of the Malay Psyche

by Dr A. Murad Merican@http://www.nst.com.my

Tan Sri Arshad Ayub with FriendsTan Sri Arshad Ayub and Friends

WHEN Tan Sri Arshad Ayub visited Ohio University at Athens, Ohio, on June 23, 1970, he made known his interest in establishing a journalism and communications programme at the then Institut Teknologi Mara (ITM). The early syllabus was based on language, liberal arts and professional specialisation.

Even before he visited Ohio’s College of Communication and its School of Journalism, Tan Sri Arshad had advocated the teaching of journalism in Malaysian higher education as far back as the mid-1960s.

Graduates from what began as the School of Mass Communication (popularly known in Bahasa Melayu as Kajian Sebaran Am) and now the Faculty of Communication and Media Studies, should realise that their intellectual “father” is Tan Sri Arshad Ayub.

This dawned upon me while researching the beginnings of journalism education in Malaysia some years ago at Universiti Teknologi Mara archives. I met Tan Sri Arshad on several occasions. Once, we were on the same panel on the topic of education in Malaysia, and the other, having the honour of the man chairing a session in a seminar where I delivered a paper on life-long learning.

Many know of Tan Sri Arshad as a pioneering educationist. He was instrumental in ITM’s growth. He was a paradigm basher. He opened up minds, identities and values. Many know him as a task master.

But perhaps not many know him as an early advocate of the liberal arts and the humanities in Malaysian higher education. He introduced Russian, French and Arabic. Mandarin was made compulsory for business courses, and Tamil for plantation management. Then there was Logic, Literature, and History.

In one of his speeches some years back, Tan Sri Arshad stated that education is not a special copyright of any one individual organisation. It knows no boundaries. And there was no boundary when he was nurturing ITM back then. He was given a free hand to plant the seeds of education for the rural Malay: “The ‘how-to’ was entirely up to me.”

With the trust and vision for the future of the Malays given to him by Tun Abdul Tun Abdul RazakRazak, Arshad’s slogan for action was: “Just do it.” There was not enough time to think of a formal education system as it evolved. He reflected that the expansion was “too rapid that thoughts for a real system came after the deed”.

He attributed the brilliance in the vision of social engineering to Tun Razak. Tan Sri Arshad was not only the strategist, but also the thinker. He once recalled Tun Razak’s message in the first issue of Utusan Pelajar, an Utusan Melayu publication in 1970. Tun Razak stated that “The present young Malaysian must be developed into a scientific race.” The words “scientific race” caught Tan Sri Arshad’s attention.

Tan Sri Arshad takes the term “scientific” to mean “educated” — middle-class professionals and entrepreneurs that could transport Malays into more viable occupations in the private sector.

“Scientific” could also mean that it was “incumbent on us to change mind sets” — from accepting a general education system to a more precise and analytical one that can help develop the country’s resource with its nation building interest at heart.

To change mind sets, Tan Sri Arshad developed strategic alliances with foreign universities and funding bodies in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Human capital assistance came from the participation of Australian Services Abroad, the US Peace Corp, British Volunteers and the Canadian University Service Oragnisation.

Courses like accountancy, architecture, business administration and management, engineering, hotel catering and management, library science, and mass communication were initiated — the first of such courses offered in Malaysia at that time.

Tan Sri Arshad was a pioneer in the “twinning” concept — a process in capacity building. His long and illustrious career as a public servant deserves an appropriate recognition, as suggested by Azman Ujang (Letters, NST, Jan 1). He pioneered the pragmatic “hands on” approach to meet industry, manpower needs and economic advancement of the nation. At the same time, he was the first to introduce the concept of the humanities in Malaysian university education.

The little known journal ITM Quarterly, published in the early 1970s, contains some invaluable discourse in the intertwining nature of education in nation building, Arshad’s vision in the development of higher education in Malaysia and his ideal of the student as the new Malay intellectual.

Tan Sri Arshad Ayub liberated the Malay psyche.

Khairy has a brilliant idea: to take Umno into the schools ?


Schools not for political indoctrination of children

by Ravinder Singh

December 16, 2013

If petroleum ringgit was your business, what would you do when your traditional oil wells, once taught of as being bottomless, start drying up after decades of exploitation?

What's next ? Exploitation of the young minds?

What’s next ? Exploitation of the young minds?

With a few wells in West Malaysia having dried up, and the writing on the wall showing that the once rich Barisan Nasional (BN) electoral oil wells in Sabah and Sarawak are also drying up, Umno has to look for new oil wells to exploit to keep itself in business. With this in mind, the brilliant young Khairy had a brilliant idea last week at the Umno assembly – take Umno into the schools!

The proposal is not about teaching children about democracy and the principles of the separation of powers, about good governance, about the way laws are promulgated, debated and passed, etc.

The proposal, if I understood Khairy correctly, is to take Umno into the schools. Yes or NO ?

The proposal, if I understood Khairy correctly, is to take Umno into the schools. Yes or NO ?

The proposal, if I understood Khairy correctly, is to take Umno into the schools.

This means all other non-BN political parties will be barred from entering schools. This has been going on, where elected representatives from non-BN parties have been shown the school gate in the past. So the school children will become the “anak angkat”, or step-children, of Umno and the other BN parties.

Thus the schools are seen as the perfect catchment area for campaigning on an on-going basis. No need to go into the kampongs or house to house. Get the children when they are vulnerable. Brainwash them with ‘history’ such as depicted in Tanda Putra (which will become standard teaching aid). Scare them into believing that they have a moral (and perhaps religious) duty to support the hands that feed them, or give them free education.

Political lectures could become the order of the day where these are prepared by the political parties and sent to schools via the education ministry to be read at school assemblies like Jakim’s Friday sermons for mosques. In mathematics, the meaning of “approximately” will be changed to that of the EC’s.

The calculation is excellent. If this is started in 2014 with 17-year old form 5 children, they will be 21 in four years, the expected GE 14 year, i.e. 2018. Who knows, the next move may be to reduce the voting age to 18, to tap the rich fields of a few million schools leavers a year. The brainwashing can then start with Form 2 children, giving them four years of Umno/BN medicine.

I may be dreaming, but with the EC’s own revelations of how elections are numbers games, how gerrymandering is halal to ensure that the Malays (certain Malays) remain in power all the time and Najib’s badminton games, anything is possible to keep the numbers game going. It is even said that politics is the game of the impossible. Yes, sure, our EC is an expert at legitimising even what the 13th Schedule of the Federal Constitution prohibits. Yes, there will be endless possibilities in schools.

The motive (remember, it was not required in the Altantuya case!) of Khairy’s proposal is to ensure the continuity of the government that has been winning elections through fraudulent means since 1984. The last two elections showed that the numbers game did not go according to plans and strategies. Hence, with the grim prospect of further failure of the old games, new strategies have to be thought of and implemented. Thus was born the idea of taking UMNO into schools in Khairy’s fertile mind.

Politicians, even from the opposition, may not see anything wrong with this as they too would like to exploit the young minds if they could. But educationists should be able to see through the mischief behind the proposal. School children should not be made political pawns of any political party.

Even without direct politics in schools, they are doing so badly in the kind of education and character development of their charges. There is already racial polarization and racism in schools. Politics will only add fuel to this.

When concerns were raised, Khairy conveniently said he will leave it to the experts in the education ministry to decide whether to introduce politics into schools. This is merely a red-herring. Who is the education minister if not an UMNO man? Will any ministry official dare tell his or her political masters that politics should be left out of schools even if they are not in favour of the idea?  Have we not seen how the wishes of the political masters become orders of the day for civil servants to carry out, for they are not supposed to bite the hand that feeds them?

What's your stand on this NUTP ?

What’s your stand on this NUTP ?

Thus it was very disappointing to read that the NUTP, the largest teachers’ union in the country, did not see anything wrong with the idea. This on-the-spur response was not well thought out. This is a case where there is “udang sebalik batu” – i.e. a hidden agenda. This must be seen for what it is – a scheme to create new fixed deposits of voters by catching them young while still in school and under the control of the schools and the education ministry.

Politics is not for children. What the politicians do can be in total variance to what children are taught in Agama and Moral lessons. Let them reach adulthood and acquire HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) before delving into politics. School children must never be made the “anak angkat” of any political party. – December 16, 2013.

*Ravinder Singh reads The Malaysian Insider.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.