Be Wary of Spin Doctors


July 14, 2017–The Bastille Day

In the Run up to GE-14: Be Wary of Spin Doctors

by R. Nadeswaran@www,malaysiakini.com

COMMENT | In 1984, British journalist Henry Porter published a book outlining the excesses of what used to be Fleet Street newspapers. He chastised them for their lack of concern for simple matters such as the truth.

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Smart and Decent  Malaysians say Prime Minister Najib Razak, is a Crook

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Golf Buddy Tan Kay Hock thinks Prime Najib Razak is the best Prime Minister Malaysia ever had.

It was written in an era before the advent of the mobile phone which became a necessary tool for journalists to survive. And if not for this gadget, the world would not have knowledge of the phone-tapping technology which journalists in the red-tops in England used (illegally) and made headlines worldwide.

It was also an era when the term “fake news” was unheard of and when we scribes prepared our stories on the Olivetti or Remington typewriters on several sheets of carbon paper in between specially-cut A4-sized newsprint.

In one chapter, Porter describes how a Daily Telegraph journalist created a fictitious character with a military background living in Gloucester, through which he expressed right-wing views. Even when it became apparent that he did not exist, the newspaper reported that “Raphael Duvant died when lightning struck his metal leg while he was umpiring a cricket match.”

In a way of sorts, Duvant or a number of Duvant clones have been resurrected right here in Malaysia to be the new darlings of political parties who seek to embrace the new media.

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R. Nadeswaran–Malaysia’s Foremost and Gutsy Investigative Journalist

Nothing wrong with that, except that these specially-created Duvants claim to have been given access to all meetings. Even when two opposition leaders are having a cuppa, he or she can sit and record every word they utter. Their ears are so powerful that they can generate first-person accounts describing the words whispered between sheets in someone’s bedroom.

But their mind-reading capabilities must take the cake. They can conjure what someone is planning to do and even have knowledge of the inner secrets that circulate in the minds of third parties. This is no ordinary boast. In their writings, they appear to give the impression that they have front row seats.

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They cannot be expected to be factual, reliable and truthful since they are owned by UMNO and Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA)

The mainstream media is popularising these non-existent characters by quoting them extensively to give them an aura of legitimacy and authority without even knowing their identity.

Yes, everyone is in the pre-election mode or to put it more bluntly, survival mode. The affairs of 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) and the court filings of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) are indeed part of it. Praise the former, demonise the latter and you are guaranteed to be in the news.

During the last general election, I took umbrage with the newspapers publishing full-page advertisements, making all kinds of claims against the opposition without any substantiation.

The riposte was not unexpected. Instead of addressing the issue, Vincent Lee, the then Executive Vice-chairperson of the Star Publications group replied: “I am disappointed with him (Nadeswaran) because when I was President of the 4As, I sided with him when he took on the issue of corruption in the outdoor advertising industry. At that time, I received death threats after speaking up against illegal billboards in the Klang Valley.

“After a year, the situation has remained unchanged. However, he has moved on from his anti-corruption stand to talking about advertising, but his own newspaper has accepted and carried the same advertisement.”

But writing about advertising is not exclusive to anyone, and I responded thus: “The fact is that although the management of theSun (my employers at that time) may not see an issue in the same light as the writer, it sees it as expressions of opinion. It may not necessarily reflect the stance of the newspaper. The publication of such articles does not mean that the newspaper endorses my views.

“It was in a plain and simple language that journalists have no control over newspaper operations and the final decision on content – advertising and editorial are left to the management.”

I then posed a vital question: “The outburst in cyberspace reflects the anger of ordinary Malaysians who view such audacious campaigns as insulting their intelligence. On a similar note, will the same newspapers publish an advertisement paid for by well-minded citizens which reads: ‘Can you trust a party which is led by a crook?’

“This question can only be answered by none other than owners of publishing houses who have accepted and consented to publish those questionable and code-breaking advertisements.”

In dire straits

This time around, the election campaign will be dominated once again by the media – but with a difference. The worms that have crawled out of the woodwork will get their five minutes of fame, albeit writing under pen names or pseudonyms.

How else to explain government mouthpieces taking the stand that the 1MDB is a non-issue? Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s stance that 1MDB has contributed to the people in many ways which they are unaware of, has further added to the continued parroting of praises of the state sovereign fund which is in dire straits.

Yes, the company has financed haj pilgrims, built houses and sponsored students’ education but at what cost to the nation and its people? Committing the taxpayer to several billion ringgit in debt and giving away a few million makes little sense because it is akin to robbing the bank to feed the needy.

As this article is being written, news has just filtered of yet another episode in the 1MDB saga. Former Singapore banker Yeo Jiawei, who is serving the longest jail term in Singapore’s probes linked to 1MDB, has admitted to charges including money laundering.

Yeo, who also pleaded guilty to cheating his former employer, agreed to help with Singapore’s money-laundering investigation, which prosecutors described as the largest in the country’s history. He was sentenced to 54 months in jail. He was handed a 30-month term last December on charges of trying to tamper with witnesses in the probe.

Yeo’s admission of guilt came after the Monetary Authority of Singapore wrapped up a two-year probe into flows related to the 1MDB. Prosecutors named him as a central figure linked to Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, who was identified by Singapore police as a “key person of interest” in their probe. Low has also been described by DOJ investigators as the controller of a plan to steal billions from 1MDB.

According to international news organisations of repute, 1MDB is at the heart of several money-laundering and corruption probes across the globe.

Against such a background and given that the people in Putrajaya and their spin doctors can make black look white and vice versa, would anyone be surprised if any of these worms would come out with this incredulous statement: “Singapore and other countries are deliberately carrying out investigations and taking action to discredit Malaysia and its leaders because they are jealous of our success and that 1MDB has been able to help people in times of need?”

I wouldn’t be, but would you?

Last words:  When comparing state sovereign wealth funds, Singapore’s Temasek Holdings on Tuesday announced that its global portfolio is worth US$197 billion (about RM850 billion). Can someone tell us what 1MDB has to show besides a large amount of borrowing and crooked deals?

R NADESWARAN is an award-winning veteran journalist who writes on bread and butter issues with one agenda – a better quality of life for all Malaysians irrespective of colour, creed or religion. He can be reached at citizen.nades22@gmail.com.

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Malaysia: Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is a Statesman and a Patriot


July 11, 2017

COMMENT: As I see it, there are two sides of Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. He is a technocrat-manager, and he is also a politician. It is easy to get your wires crossed when you judge him. I experienced this cognitive dissonance every time I commented on him, and painfully too. As a person, the Tun is gentle, kind and considerate. As a politico, he can be as tough and unbending as a nail of reinforced steel.

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Tun Dr. Mahathir –Technocrat-Manager and Politician and Prime Minister

I am familiar with the man as a technocrat-manager because I had the privilege of working for him directly in 1970s.  I also had worked for Tun Ghazalie Shafie (Wisma Putra), Tun Ismail Bin Mohamed Ali (Bank Negara Malaysia and later when he became successor to Tun Tan), and Tun Tan Siew Sin and Tunku Ahmad Yahaya (Sime Darby Group ) in 1960s-1990s.

What do these outstanding personalities have in common? To me, they were thoroughly professional, smart, decisive and demanding bosses who did not suffer fools easily. More importantly, they judged me for my work and fidelity to the institution, not for my loyalty to them, or capacity to flatter them. In fact, I was afraid to even compliment them for fear of being misconstrued. Of course, they all had their strengths and failings, but there was no doubt in my mind that they were patriots who served Malaysia with distinction. They led by example, and had a great impact on my professional career.

Then there is Tun Dr.Mahathir, the politician, the Senator, Member of Parliament (Kubang Pasu) and Prime Minister of Malaysia (for 22 odd years). I knew him when I was growing up in Alor Setar, Kedah too. But I have great difficulty in understanding his decisions and actions, although I understood and accepted his Vision 2020,  Look East Policy and other economic and social policies.

Up to a point, I was even willing to accept his rationale for wanting power. I remember him saying that he needed the power to get things done. Indeed, he got the power he wanted and he certainly got things done. Look around and you can see for yourself his many accomplishments. He has left an indelible mark on our national landscape.

I know that Prime Minister Najib Razak is trying to erase them.  I heard from my friends when my wife Dr. Kamsiah and I visited Langkawi recently that Najib’s cronies were trying to eliminate some landmarks of the Mahathir era in Kuah. How  low and immature one can get.

Unfortunately, the Tun had too much power. With unchecked powers, he systematically brought all institutions of governance under the control of a powerful Executive Branch, a legacy he left to the present Prime Minister Najib Razak to fully exploit.  Now, it is next to impossible to replace the incumbent Prime Minister for corruption and abuses of power. Even national elections can be rigged.

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 I can change my mind too. When Tun Dr. Mahathir put his Deputy Prime Minister Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim in jail on trumped up charges of sodomy in 1998, I had a change of heart and  became critical of his political leadership.  I even wrote what I thought of Tun Dr. Mahathir the Politician in Tom Plate’s book’s Conversations with Mahathir Mohamad. I have remained steadfast to my views on the Political Mahathir.

But I will never stoop so low as to condemn our Fourth Prime Minister and deny him his place in our national history. He is a truly outstanding statesmen and role model for Malaysians of my generation, especially those from Kedah.  He belongs with Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, a fellow Kedahan, in my pantheon of heroes. –Din Merican

Malaysia: Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is a Statesman and a Patriot

by Rais Hussin@www.malaysiakini.com

It was John Maynard Keynes who said: “When the facts change, I change my view”. The philosophy served him well.

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Keynes could see ahead of time. When France and its allies punished Germany with reparations after World War I, Keynes knew that Germany would rise again to seek its revenge. He even wrote The Economic Consequences of the Peace [The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919) is a book written and published by John Maynard Keynes.[1] Keynes attended the Paris Peace Conference, 1919 as a delegate of the British Treasury and argued for a much more generous peace. It was a best-seller throughout the world and was critical in establishing a general opinion that the Versailles Treaty was a “Carthaginian peace“. It helped to consolidate American public opinion against the treaty and involvement in the League of Nations. The perception by much of the British public that Germany had been treated unfairly in turn was a crucial factor in public support for appeasement. The success of the book established Keynes’ reputation as a leading economist especially on the left. When Keynes was a key player in establishing the Bretton Woods system in 1944, he remembered the lessons from Versailles as well as the Great Depression. The Marshall Plan, after the Second World War, was a similar system to that proposed by Keynes in The Economic Consequences of the Peace.–wikipedia]

True enough, within a short generation of 20 years after the conclusion of the Versailles Treaty in 1919, Nazi was led by Hitler, wrecking damage on the whole of Europe. Did Keynes insist on more revenge against Germany? No. True to form when the facts change, he changed his opinion.

After Second World War, Keynes was among the few to insist that Germany has to be integrated into Europe to keep the whole region safe.

Statesmanship is about peering into the future. Under Dr Mahathir Mohamad, well before Malaysia knew what was Vision 2020, he had spoken at the Malaysian Business Council in 1990 on the importance of creating a country that was morally and economically strong.

In contrast, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak has run the ship aground with allegedly the brazen RM44 billion mismanagement, of which the likes of Khairul Azwan, the Umno Youth vice-chief, is still in denial. It is as if 1MDB is “Pi Mai Pi Mai Tang Tu” (Come and go, come and go, and it’s OK too).

Well, too bad for Najib. Mahathir did not earn his “Tunship” by sheer ingratiation. If he did, the award would have been withdrawn given the government’s accusations that he has sold the country down the river with a wave and a bye.

Between 1981 and 2002, a full 22 years, Malaysia was the only one to have grown by leaps and bounds. Even at the height of the Asian financial crisis in 1999, Malaysia never so much as ask for a single dollar from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Yet, had IMF come into the picture, the bumiputera economic program, right down to how the government payroll would be spent, would come under the scrutiny of IMF.

Almost overnight, the sovereignty and independence of Malaysia were saved, which is more than any Malaysians can ask for from their leader.

In contrast, at the height of the Global Economic Recession in 2009, what Najib did was well-nigh irresponsible. Instead of building our country’s human capital, allegedly some RM44 billion or more, were borrowed and squandered, saddling Malaysia with even more debt.

Khairul Azwan–The Super Ampu Najib character

Khairul Azwan (photo), being a junior politician, some believe juvenile too, can only claim that Mahathir is not worthy of the title of being called a statesman. If not Mahathir, then who?

‘Upset Mahathir can support Anwar again’

Khairul Azwan is upset that Mahathir can support Anwar Ibrahim again. Well, when the facts change, Mahathir’s opinion too. And the facts that have changed are these: Najib has allegedly mismanaged the funds that were leveraged on the name of 1MDB, and avoided coming head to head with Mahathir for a public debate. If there is nothing to hide, Najib must debate with Mahathir.

In avoiding the need to face Mahathir head on, the likes of Khairul Azwan have had to step to the fore to defend the Prime Minister. But how can Khairul Azwan even suit the role granted that most Malaysian had never heard of his name until today?

Is he crying out to attract attention? Like he did when he lodged a police report against three impeccable “Tan Sris” that include Zeti Akhtar Aziz, Abdul Gani Patail and Abu Kassim Mohamed for attention. And attention he got when he was instantaneously rewarded with a senatorship by Najib.

Is he now crying for attention so that he will be given a parliamentary or state seats to contest? Is he eyeing a ministerial position or who knows, the coveted Menteri Besar post of Perak? Khairul Azwan knows loyalty to Najib has instant rewards or remuneration.

He had experienced it first-hand. Time to accentuate his loyalty to Najib for instant rewards while negating the interest of the people or the nation?


RAIS HUSSIN is a supreme council member of Parti Peribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu). He also heads the Policy and Strategy Bureau of Bersatu.

With Old Age comes Healthy Dose of Wisdom and Skepticism


July 5, 2017

With Old Age comes Healthy Dose of Wisdom  and Skepticism

By Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

One of the pitifully few consolations of old age is supposed to be that, as the Old Testament Book of Job puts it, ‘with the ancient is wisdom; and in the length of days understanding.’

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But with every passing day I find myself less convinced of this, and increasingly if regretfully inclined to the contrary view that, as the late, great American skeptic and critic H L Mencken so aptly expressed it, “the older I grow, the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.”

In fact, if there’s one lesson that life has taught me, it’s to distrust all doctrines, dogmas, ideologies and other such alleged “truths”.

Especially those “truths” whose proponents, or rather propagandists, are most at pains to threaten dire penalties for those daring to doubt or outright disbelieve them.

Thus the older I get the more inclined I am to dismiss such typical examples of intellectual bullying as “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Bible, Psalms 11:10) and “He that doubteth is damned” (Bible, Romans 14:23) in favour of the proverbial Ancient Greek proposition that “wonder is the beginning of wisdom” and the observation by Miguel De Unamuno (1864-1936) that “life is doubt, and faith, without doubt, is nothing but death.”

In all conscience, however, as long as I’m arguing here for doubt, wonder, questioning, skepticism or whatever as the path to wisdom, I have to admit to awareness of De Unamuno’s wry remark that “a lot of good arguments are spoiled by some fool who knows what he is talking about.”

And since surely some foolish Malaysiakini reader who knows what he (or she) is talking about is already on the point of reminding me that as desirable as doubt might be in principle, it can also be dangerous or even deadly in practice, I might as well get in first.

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Starting with conceding that, yes, just as disrespect of or doubt in the supposed gods of ancient Athens proved fatal to the philosopher Socrates, and doubt in the biblically-proclaimed relationship between the earth and the sun decidedly dangerous to Galileo, doubt in allegedly “sacred” and indeed “divinely-inspired” books can prove a death sentence in many theocracies and other “religious”-majority countries today.

It is also clearly far from safe for the inhabitants of a great many nations to demonstrate a lack of faith in their rulers. For citizens of China, for example, to cast doubt on their fake “people’s” Communist Party; for Russians to question the probity of Putin’s corrupt oligarchy; or for Malaysians to express too strident doubts about the billions missing from 1Malaysia Development Berhad or the massive “donation” Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his cronies dubiously claim he received from some mysterious rich Arab.

In fact, to show a lack of faith in the virtues of Najib and his accomplices in the UMNO-BN regime is considered virtually tantamount to doubting Allah, by whom, it is regularly claimed, they have been chosen to rule.

Just as millions of US citizens paradoxically claiming complete faith in both of what to many of us are the conflicting creeds of Christianity and Capitalism have chosen to have their nation presided over by the preposterous, pathologically lying Donald Trump, who deems any doubts about him and his stupid tweets as “fake news”.

In short, as much as I hate to have to admit it, doubt isn’t always politic or even possible, and even when entirely possible, as in the relatively free and just society I’m fortunate enough to live in, it can be a decidedly mixed blessing.

When combined with sufficient effort, thought and sustained tolerance for the discomfort of uncertainty, doubt or skepticism can lead to wisdom, but unfortunately, it all too often gets subverted by the all-too-human tendency to wishful thinking, and thus results in nothing but wishdom.

For example, doubts by the disaffected, disadvantaged or outright desperate about the fairness and effectiveness of political institutions can lead, as we currently see to our collective dismay, not the greater wisdom of all concerned, but the kind of woeful wishdom that gives rise to a dangerous nitwit like Donald Trump as in the US, a Rodrigo Duterte as in the Philippines, and similar idiots elsewhere.

Doubts on the part of a spectrum of the populace ranging from the confused through the irrational to the utterly cuckoo about such creatively self-questioning institutions as medicine, science and technology result not necessarily in greater public wisdom, but in many cases entirely evidence-free faith in any of a virtually infinite clutter of weird and wonderful wishdoms including, to cite just a small sample of such superstitions and paranormalities, angels, anti-fluoridation, astral travel, astrology, aura-reading, breatharianism, clairvoyance, climate-change denial, colonic irrigation, druidism, ghosts, fairies, iridology, naturopathy, palmistry, pixies, psychic surgery, satanism, spiritualism, sprites, telekinesis, trolls and UFOlogy.

And given that all of us are liable to have grave doubts about the idea of what appears to be the inevitability of our deaths, it’s hardly surprising that we’ve achieved very few wisdoms, at least that I’m personally aware of, on the subject.

Plenty of witticisms, admittedly, two of my favourites among these being Woody Allen’s “I” m not afraid of dying; I just don’t want to be there when it happens’ and Bob Monkhouse’s “I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my father did; not screaming and crying like his passengers.”

But mostly we deal with death not through the wisdom of laughing in the face of its ultimate reality, or but with the laughable wishdom of an “immortal” soul that somehow either eternally survives in some “other” world, or keeps being “reincarnated” in this world in a series of different bodies. And in case our faith in such far-fetched nonsense fails, we can always pin our hopes on cryogenics.

In conclusion, in all honesty, I feel obliged to confess that, despite my carefully-cultivated skepticism and considerable thought I’ve yet to achieve even the degree of wisdom of which Socrates famously boasted in claiming that he was wiser than all his fellow ignoramuses in Athens, as unlike them at least he knew he knew nothing.

And in any event, I can’t help suspecting that even the very desire to achieve wisdom is probably nothing more than yet another symptom of the insatiable human appetite for self-deception, or in other words wishdom.

The Power of Writing Regained


June 11, 2017

The Power of Writing Regained

by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

After confessing in my column last week that depression was threatening to rob me of what I’ve long relied on as my last-ditch defence against the total disempowerment of despair – the power of writing – this week I have to admit that it didn’t help very much.

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It certainly didn’t do anything to dispel my lack of faith in the biblical alleged wisdom that “confession is good for the soul”, if only for the sole reason that I’m incurably skeptical about the existence of any such metaphysical entity.

But my confession was apparently cathartic or otherwise psychologically beneficial enough to my spirits as to restore my powers of written speech.

And kind comments on the ensuing column from two perennially-supportive pseudonymous Malaysiakini readers, JesuisAnwar and HaveAGreatDay, whoever they actually are, have greatly sustained my spirits since. So much so as to inspire me to the thought that it may not be depression per se that has been threatening to leave me lost for words all this while, but disappointment.

Disappointment at how little I feel I’ve achieved, both quantitatively and qualitatively, in my by now quite lengthy lifetime, and also at my apparent inability to redress these deficiencies, or at least make the most of the rapidly-dwindling time I have left to do so before death.

Or, to put this another way, I’m both metaphorically and literally dying to write as many and as meaningful words as possible before I reach my final full stop.

Unhappily, however, to return to the subject of disappointment for a moment, I’ve left so many of life’s fundamental questions so unnoticed, unexamined and unwritten-about, that I’m virtually dumbstruck with confusion as to which of them is most worth spending, my or indeed anybody’s last words on.

So rather than striving to have my final say on them all at once, as I’ve been so unproductively doing in my panic to meet my final, indeed terminal deadline, I’d better get myself focused, and fast.

By being smart enough, for a start, to think of my remaining writing time not simply in terms of how to best to “spend” it, as I see I thoughtlessly did two paragraphs ago, but how to invest it most intelligently on worthwhile topics or at least avoid squandering much if any more of it on trivia and trash.

Like, to cite the most vivid example of the latter types of topic than I can think of, in light of the almost 500,000 words I’ve wasted on them in this Malaysiakini column over the past 11 years, the corrupt, incompetent and ruthlessly truthless members and countless crimes and other misdeeds of Malaysia’s miserable, ever-misruling UMNO-BN regime.

Not that I’m promising to never mention them again, you understand, as long as Malaysiakini keeps generously granting me space on its site. But in future, I intend to mention this gruesome gang and all the world’s many other similarly blundering, plundering and people-repressing regimes only, if possible, in the context of or in relation to issues that are far more fundamentally interesting and important.

Like power, for instance, whose multitudinous and endlessly paradoxical manifestations are as all-pervasive in human lives and affairs as they are everywhere else in what we call the universe, and yet seems to me generally poorly comprehended or even perceived.

And like truth, which mankind seems to have spent its long history striving on the one hand to define, seek and discover, and on the other hand, and often simultaneously, seeking with equal if not greater determination, to ignore, avoid, contradict or deny.

In the process so apparently totally losing sight of the many and various meanings, purposes and perversions of truth as to seriously entertain the ludicrously ahistorical proposition that, because we can all post opinions on the net and the US has elected a lying pest like Donald Trump, we’ve reached the age of “post-truth”.

Another perennially pressing topic for as many last words as possible, of course, is the one that had inspired the ancient ethical philosophers, Western and Eastern alike, to ask “how should life be lived?”

But here the kind of confusion that’s been leaving me lost for last words starts to kick back in again. Because it’s impossible to consider and discuss ethics without consideration of truth and power, as well as what it means to be successfully and fully ‘human’.

A thought that brings me to what seems to me to be the ultimate topic for my or any other human who’s on a mission to make the most of his or her wits and words, last or otherwise: the exhortation carved in stone outside the Temple of Apollo at Delphi to “know thyself”.

This, of course, in light of the unfathomable complexities of and confusions and conflicts between our animal instincts and human intellects and conscious and unconscious minds, is paradoxically impossible.

In fact, as Socrates, my favourite philosopher, demonstrated to his own satisfaction and the outrage of his fellow Athenians, who for his pains condemned him to death for blasphemy and misleading the youth of the city, that nobody really knows anything.

And over a thousand years later, Frenchman René Descartes similarly set out to challenge every belief he had for which he could find insufficient support, and found that the only one he was left with was, as he famously expressed it in Latin, Cogito, Ergo Sum, or “I think, therefore I am”.

However skeptical about my own and others’ beliefs that I am, I certainly don’t kid myself that I’m in Socrates’ or Descartes’ class. But I’d most certainly consider my life far from wasted if I could come up with enough sensible and sincere last words to finally feel satisfied at the end with an epitaph along the lines of “I wrote, therefore I was”.


DEAN JOHNS, after many years in Asia, currently lives with his Malaysian-born wife and daughter in Sydney, where he coaches and mentors writers and authors and practises as a writing therapist. Published books of his columns for Malaysiakini include ‘Mad about Malaysia’, ‘Even Madder about Malaysia’, ‘Missing Malaysia’, ‘1Malaysia.con’ and ‘Malaysia Mania’.

Legendary Motorcycle Author Robert Pirsig Dies Aged 88


June 8, 2017

COMMENT: What do Farouk A. Peru, a much younger man at least a few decades apart chronologically speaking, and I (78 years old last May) have in common? Well for starters, we are Facebook pals; we  love to read and pen our thoughts in print; we appreciate culture and the arts and all things of beauty; we are unafraid to express our views openly and critically; we are Muslims; we are Malaysians and we enjoyed reading ZEN.

We admire Singapore’s Pak Othman  Wok, and Robert Prisig who wrote Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (first published  in 1974 and that was when I read it). Both men have since died, and May God Bless their souls.

I stumbled upon Farouk’s article  on Prisig’s magnum opus and also learned of his passing in The Malay Mail this evening (see below).

Like Farouk, I recommend the Zen book (which is subtitled An Inquiry into Values) to my young readers. It is tough reading at first, but it gets easier as you go along with the help of a good English dictionary. But to assist you, I would recommend The Guide Book  To ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE by Ronald L. DiSanto, Ph.d and Thomas J. Steele, S.J., Ph.d (New York: William Morrow, 1990). I congratulate Farouk for reading the book and for his article.–Din Merican

Legendary Motorcycle Author Robert Pirsig Dies Aged 88

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance author Robert Pirsig has died at the age of 88. Pairing motorcycles with philosophy, Pirsig was responsible for inspiring countless motorcycle journeys and road trips.

The book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” sits on bookshelves all over the world. It’s by no means a book about Zen, nor is it a book that tackles the mechanics of motorcycles – it’s a story about a father and son journey aboard a motorcycle that takes them across the western United States. It’s not necessarily a road trip book either. In fact, it’s hard to classify exactly what the book is, but that doesn’t matter – and that’s the beauty of it. It was a book that appealed (and still appeals) to audiences over the world, and is an essential book for any motorcyclist. If you’ve ever been drawn to the road, you and Pirsig would have a lot in common.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence authot Robert Persig

Robert Pirsig: 1928 – 2017

An announcement by Peter Hubbard, the Executive Editor of William Morrow & Co, recently announced the death of one of our favorite authors. Robert Persig passed away on April 24th 2017, “after a period of ill health.”

Zen was first published back in 1974. Pirsig had been rejected by more than 100 publishers before the iconic, semi-autobiographical book ever hit the stores. Despite the difficulty finding a publisher, Zen became a best seller. Pirsig described the nature of the book as an effort to “set out to resolve the conflict between classic values that create machinery, such as a motorcycle, and romantic values, such as experiencing the beauty of a country road.”

Robert and Chris Pirsig

Born in Minneapolis, Robert Pirsig was very well educated and went on to earn a degree in Philosophy, working as a technical writer and English teacher before suffering from mental illness. His battle with mental illness resulted in a motorcycle trip with this son Christopher in 1968 through the western United States, which would become the inspiration for his story.

The preface to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is the best way to sum up his iconic book: “What follows is based on actual occurrences. Although much has been changed for rhetorical purposes, it must be regarded in its essence as fact. However, it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.”

Robert Pirsig and his motorcycle

If you haven’t read it, we urge you to pick up a copy and enjoy Pirsig’s journey along with him and his son. It’s a great American story and should be celebrated – and a fantastic read for all of those who appreciate the liberty and freedom associated with the open road.

Here’s to you Robert Pirsig, and thanks for your wonderful insights. You will be missed.

Robert Pirsig

“The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn’t any other test. If the machine produces tranquility, it’s right. If it disturbs you, it’s wrong, until either the machine or your mind is changed.” – Robert Pirsig 1928 – 2017

Read Robert Prisig’s ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENCE

By Farouk A. Peru (April 28, 2017)

Not one but two writers whose works made an impact on me died. It seems that 2017 is doing to authors what 2016 did to artistes! I had written about the death of Othman Wok and now I find out Robert Pirsig has died.

Often at times, authors or film-makers are defined by a single work but that work is a true magnum opus. They never again replicate the sheer tremor of these works but they do not have to. The deed is done; they have imprinted their names in the annals of literary history.

In the case of Robert Pirsig, that work is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (henceforth, Zen, first published in 1974 ). This narrative has been available in Malaysian bookshops since my own childhood, as I remember.  However, it was only in the early 90s when I picked up my first copy. It was after my SRP and the bookshop was the MPH in Section 14 which has long since closed down.

It was in the New Age/spirituality/philosophy section and I needed something completely different from the boring schoolwork I had been ingesting since the beginning of 1991.

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Zen was not about actual Zen (the Buddhist originated tradition), as I found out on the bus home. Rather it was about a journey undertaken across the American north from Minnesota to California by the unnamed narrator and his son, accompanied by their friends for the first half of their journey.

It was set in the 60s or early 70s. What attracted me to it at first was the journey itself. I loved narratives of long-forgotten places. America, being the gigantic nation that it is, has plenty of places which are unknown even to Americans themselves.

One could liken the geography and culture to the milieu found in Annie Proulx’s works and the visuals akin to the film Brokeback Mountain. Of course, the tagline of Zen being “An Inquiry into Values”, one would rightly expect a philosophical discussion.

One would not be disappointed either but Pirsig delivers it so surreptitiously that readers would feel as if they had “gone under” in surgery and woken up with some philosophical knowledge!

Pirsig ingeniously used the literary device of a third person, thought to be the alter ego of the narrator. He named him Phaedrus who, like the Phaedrus coined by Plato in his dialogues, was an interlocutor, midwifing the truth for readers through his own experiences.

Phaedrus had mental health issues like Pirsig himself but was a child prodigy. These similarities are obviously telling us who Phaedrus represents.

Rereading this book in 2014 (I had found a milestone edition with an introduction by Pirsig himself), I found that Pirsig may have oversimplified philosophy just a little.  His East/West dichotomy saying Eastern is more intuitive and the West more rational had become too simplistic for my liking. Perhaps if he meant dominant trends in each tradition, I would have been more amenable to his view.

To me, philosophy as a subject cannot be extricated into several self-containing traditions. Rather it is a complex network of ideas which feed off its own nodes which we may not even be aware of.  Plato, for example, may have derived his ideas from Egyptian thought, thus undermining the very idea of Western philosophy!

Be that as it may, I would still highly recommend Zen to anyone who is looking for a digestible story while at the same time expand his philosophical mind. The book has, after all, sold five million copies. No small feat for a manuscript rejected 121 times before finally getting published!

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

 http://www.themalaymailonline.com/opinion/farouk-a.-peru/article/why-you-should-read-zen-and-the-art-of-motorcycle-maintenance#sthash.5FDvKLu7.dpuf

The Paradoxes of Power–On Being Brutally Frank


June 7, 2017

The Paradoxes of Power–On Being Brutally Frank

by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

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Having struggled against what Winston Churchill famously deplored as the ‘black dog’ of depression through most of my life, I’d kind of hoped to have it trained or even totally tamed by now.

But as I head into old age, I find it’s hounding me more relentlessly than ever. So relentlessly, in fact, as to threaten to rob me of the very weapon I’ve long relied on as my last-ditch defence against its deadly aggression, writing.

Thank goodness, however, the thought of being both mentally and verbally dumbstruck by depression paradoxically strikes me as just too depressingly disempowering for words.

Especially in light of my recent realisation in the course of university studies I’ve embarked on as an adjunct to writing in my counter-attack against terminal depression, that so much remains to be thought and written about power in its every manifestation from the multifarious and mostly still mysterious forces that drive and/or comprise the entire universe, to the combination of physical, mental and verbal powers that make us humans the most powerful of all currently-known animals.

Except, of course, for all those ‘lesser’ creatures with the power to either keep us alive, like the ‘good’ micro-organisms in our digestive systems do, or else, as in the cases of so many viruses and virtually countless other so called ‘germs’, to kill us off in great numbers.

In short, the human race is paradoxically both the most powerful living force on Earth, and powerless to exist without lots of apparently less-powerful animals, not to mention without continuing supplies of the planet’s vegetables, minerals,drinkable water and breathable air.

A situation that seems to me well within most people’s intellectual powers to appreciate and act on. But unfortunately the power of the human mind is paradoxical to such an extreme degree as to be little if anything short of pathological, as demonstrated by our numerous environmental, economic and political atrocities.

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Knowledge may well be power, as Francis Bacon declared, but the first false lesson that most of us learn, in our ignorant, impotent infancy, is that our very helplessness or total lack of power paradoxically makes us all-powerful in our demands on those around us.

And though life rudely disabuses us of this illusion by the time we’ve achieved the power to walk and talk, we’re so enraged by the realisation that we’re not, after all, all-powerful, that we throw tantrums characteristic of the stage commonly known as the ‘terrible twos’.

Next thing we know, the process called ‘education’ apparently imbuing us with the alleged power of knowledge, but at the same time disempowering us in our ability to distinguish mathematics-style fact from historical and other versions of opinion or outright fantasy like religion, all the while subjecting us to a regime of discipline designed to turn us into just-powerful- enough-to- be-useful citizens, or what French intellectual-academic Michel Foucault (1926-84) called ‘docile bodies’.

Docile bodies are, of course, precisely the kind of workers, consumers and subjects most desired by exploitative economic so-called elites and repressive, self-serving political regimes.

And thus, for those of us aspiring to sufficient power to live our lives to their full potential, it’s vital to be able to perceive the power dynamics of our society if we’re not to become passive victims of it.

For this reason I’m a great fan of Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002), the renowned French sociologist, anthropologist and educationalist who investigated the possibility for people to grow outward and upward from their ‘habitus’ (environment of birth and upbringing) through the achievement of a share of not just economic, but also social, cultural and other forms of ‘capital’, a term he equated with power.

And even more helpful, at least to me, are the various forms or vectors of power that Proctor (2002), Cattaneo 2010) and others have identified as indicators of the dynamics of power in any given situation.

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In Malaysia, for example, it’s abundantly clear that the UMNO-BN regime perceives itself as having ‘power over’ rather than, as it piously pretends, ‘power with’ the people. In fact it plainly has ‘power for’ its own members, cronies and supporters.

And that it shamelessly employs its ‘historic power’ (which in UMNO-BN’s case includes the power to rewrite history in its favour), and not only its ‘role power’ (witness its obsession with grandiose titles and ‘honours’), but also its ‘religious power’.

Though frankly this last is a debatable blessing, as the persistent claims by current Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his Deputy that they’ve been chosen by Allah could be interpreted as either chosen to lead the people or sent as a curse to mislead and bleed them.

But in any event, in their determination to cling to their ‘power over’ the people, they leave no stone unturned in their efforts to strictly limit Malaysians’ ‘freedom to’ oppose, criticize or achieve legal protection against or redress from them, and ‘freedom from’ repressive laws and constant surveillance.

All of which goes to explain that obviously one of the reasons I’m feeling more depressed than usual right now is that I’m still failing to help rid Malaysia of these crooks despite writing almost 500 columns over the past 11 years, or in other words doing everything within my power to do so.

And besides the disempowerment of disappointment, there’s also  the fact that advancing age is inevitably robbing me of muscle-power, staying-power and every other kind of power you can think of, except, I fondly if possibly mistakenly hope, brain-power.

Unlike the ancient Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who, though he still appears both mentally and physically hale and hearty, seems to have progressed, or rather regressed all the way through his second childhood back to his second bout of infancy, complete with its paradoxical illusion of omnipotence.

Meanwhile Mahathir’s and my relative junior, Najib, is still fighting hard to stave-off the ultimate power paradox proposed by G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831), the so-called Master-Slave Dialectic.

In many peoples’ opinion, Najib turned from his own Master to Rosmah’s Slave long ago. And soon, if only the US Department of Justice would get its act together, we all look forward to his dialectic or even electoral transformation from high-flyer to felon.