Book Review: Ayn Rand’s ” Ïdeal”

August 12, 2015

Review: Ayn Rand’s ‘Ideal’ Presents a Protagonist Familiar in Her Superiority

We will sue you, Sarawak Report tells Minister Rahman Dahlan

July 22, 2015

We will sue you, Sarawak Report tells Minister Rahman Dahlan

by FMT Reporters

Editor takes particular offence to Abdul Rahman Dahlan labelling her “scum”.

Dr Mahathir and C BrownSarawak Report yesterday vowed legal action against Barisan Nasional’s strategic Communications Director Abdul Rahman Dahlan, New Straits Times and other publications which have deliberately promoted falsehoods designed to damage its credibility.

It also promised to invoke the criminal process against Lester Melanyi for what it claims was a “vicious criminal libel”. “Usually, we rely on the facts to make our case against detractors and allow readers to decide by comparing those facts with the criticisms against us,” it said in a statement posted on its website which is now hosted on a different URL.

“However, over the past days, certain characters who claim to represent the government and their friendly media outlets have gone too far. They have paraded a sick and discredited individual, who has poured out strings of lies, which none of them have sought to check out, in order to claim this as ‘proof’ that our research was all ‘forged’.”

The whistleblower website claimed that it would normally consider Lester’s concocted story to be “entertaining for being so ridiculous” given the mass of evidence which it says supports all that it has written.

Rahman-Dahlan-Clare-Rewcastle-Brown“But ministers have now used this character and these ludicrous libels as an excuse to order an internet ban on Sarawak Report,” it lamented.

Editor Clare Rewcastle Brown took particular offence with Abdul Rahman for “outrageously” libeling her, in particular by calling her “scum” and labeling the portal’s research as “blatant lies”.

“(Abdul Rahman) has not produced a single shred of evidence that would lead anyone to believe the ravings of the mentally unbalanced bankrupt, Lester Melanyi,” she claimed.

“We therefore accuse (him) of criminal libel, motivated by malicious intent. Despite deciding not to sue Lester, Brown warned “him and anyone who continues to promote his present and future made up stories” of future legal action if they persist.

Culture–The Social Glue and Identity

July 7, 2015

Culture–The Social Glue and Identity

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

culture-and-exportingEvery group of humans whether dwelling in the same cave or working for the same corporation must share some common goals, values, and worldview, as well as everyday routine practices. This is what culture means; it is the social glue that binds the members together and differentiates them from others. Far from being society’s oppressor, culture is its savior.

The human baby is not born a carnivorous hunter or a vegetarian ascetic anymore than it is born an Aryan or Chinese. The baby may have Aryan characteristics (sharp nose, blond hair, and blue eyes) or that of a Chinese (moon face, jet black hair, and epicanthic folds) but those features do not make what it will be. Whether that baby will turn out to be a proud bearer of a swastika or marches the streets waving Mao’s Little Red Book depends upon the culture in which it has been raised.

Tune to BBC News. If you close your eyes you would assume the announcer to be a lithe English lassie. Look at the screen and your preconceived images would be shattered for behind that flawless British voice might be a lady of African descent or a Semitic-looking Arab woman, minus the purdah of course.

The process by which a group instills its collective ways and values upon its new members – acculturation – is by nature conservative, to uphold prevailing norms and standards. The dark-skinned BBC announcer could not possibly sound so elegantly authoritative had she been brought up in Southside Chicago or a Soweto township.

I had a childhood friend back in the old village. Born as I was during the terrible deprivation of the Japanese Occupation, his family, like so many poor Chinese families in rural Malaysia at that time, was forced to give him up. Growing up in his adopted Malay family, he was no different from the rest of us. I was not even aware that he was adopted despite his obvious non-Malay features.

Later as a teenager he became extremely chauvinistic, espousing fanatical sentiments of Malay nationalism. Even that did not trigger any irony on my part. On one occasion he was particularly virulent in his denunciations of the immigrants while within hearing distance of my parents. When he was gone my father laughed, remarking that someone ought to hold a mirror to my friend’s face whenever he was indulging in his racial demagoguery. Only then did it register on me that he was Chinese looking. The incongruity of his being a Malay supremacist.

My digressing short story here must have an uplifting ending. My friend did indeed outgrow his adolescent delusions and become a successful businessman with a multiracial and international clientele. Today he is the paragon of the liberal, progressive Malay, the ones the PERKASA (the acronym of a Malay ultra right-wing group) types love to hate.

Just as my friend’s upbringing (his acculturation) turned him into an insular, chauvinistic nationalist, his later vocation reformed him into an open, worldly businessman. Later, I will pursue this unappreciated but important role of trade and commerce in liberating minds.

The Dayak WarriorCulture provides the backdrop for much of our learning and experiences, as well as the environmental (both physical and social) stimuli that our brain is exposed to. These are what shape our view of reality, or in the language of neuroscience, the subsequent patterns of neural networks. Culture conserves the values and norms of that society and transmits them unchanged to the next generation.

Culture is also internally consistent even though to outsiders some of its norms and practices may appear destructive or non-productive. To the Mafia of southern Italy, being violent and vengeful are valued traits, to maintain family ‘honor.’ In not-so-ancient China members of the triad maintained their strict code of silence through uncompromising and merciless enforcement; the price for breaching being gruesome death. Then there are the “honor killing” of the Pashtuns and the self-immolation suttee where a widowed Indian would throw herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.

Those destructive acts must have served some purpose otherwise the culture would have abandoned them long ago. The Chinese code of silence was perhaps a protective reaction to the brutish local warlords, while “honor killing” and suttee were meant to demonstrate the supreme value of family honor and marital fidelity. In that culture a widowed woman would be treated so harshly and discriminated against so mercilessly that she would be driven to prostitution or home wrecking.

To someone from a culture where infidelity is the norm (if we can believe Hollywood movies and the scandals involving Bill Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger), suttee and honor killing seem barbaric and way out of proportion.

Likewise hudud’s stoning to death for adultery; to Muslims it reflects the sanctity of marriage and the high premium we place on marital fidelity. Humans being human, the culture does provide an outlet to minimize the possibility of imposing this harsh penalty; thus multiple wives or even “temporary” ones. The ancient Chinese accepted concubines.

As an aside, despite hudud’s current notoriety, it is well to remember that during the four centuries of Ottoman rule, the actual number of cases of “stoning to death” was only one. Compare that to the number of deaths through suttee burning and gentleman’s duel.

The Anglo Saxons’ “duel unto death” is on the same plane as suttee and honor killing; the difference merely in means and methods. The underlying principle and end result are the same – a matter of “honor” and the senseless taking of a life respectively. It illuminates my point that culture is internally consistent. It is futile for anyone, especially outsiders, to pick and choose a particular element of a culture and pronounce it regressive or uncivilized. The true and only meaningful test of a culture is how it prepares its people to stresses and changes, especially when those are sudden and dramatic, or imposed from the outside.

Dato A Samad Said: An Apotheosis of sorts for DAP

June 14, 2015

Dato A Samad Said: An Apotheosis of sorts for DAP

by Terence

The spoken word is a difficult thing for a literary person: his thoughts become feeble in the utterance. But on a page, they are like a pebble dropped into a pond, the expanding, concentric circle of consciousness it makes ramify and merge.

If these thoughts begin in delight and end in wisdom, you have a work of art. Even if Samad Said does not say much today, observers will recognise in his joining the DAP an apotheosis of sorts.–Terence Netto on A Samad Said

COMMENT: The DAP has hit paydirt. It has long looked in vain for prominent Malays to join the party, to dispel the perception that it is adverse to Malay interests and Muslim religion.

a-samas-said-puisi-a Today, deep in the Malay heartland – in Gua Musang, Kelantan, no less – it will unveil a pearl of a new member in National Literary Laureate A Samad Said.

A bewhiskered, brooding, perambulating presence in the streets of Kuala Lumpur that are noted for artistic predilections, Samad was a literati who was known to the ordinary people long before he morphed into a civil rights activist with polls reform advocacy group, Bersih.

Only those familiar with his literary work would have inferred that the man with the flowing white hair, beard and steady gait was making some kind of statement all those years he walked those artistic corridors, one that was the more striking for being unsaid.

Even when he took a prominent position in Bersih, he did not say much, relying on his presence to do the talking.

A lot of talking it did.

Once, in the course of a Bersih-organised protest march, he got on to a LRT coach in Bangsar to spontaneous applause from the passengers already inside: it was confirmation that the quiet pensive presence of yore had accrued to formidably recognisable stature.

He is unlikely to say much in Gua Musang today (June 13)when DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and party adviser Lim Kit Siang announce his enlistment with the DAP.

The spoken word is a difficult thing for a literary person: his thoughts become feeble in the utterance. But on a page, they are like a pebble dropped into a pond, the expanding, concentric circle of consciousness it makes ramify and merge.

The DAP ought to be congratulated on having pulled off a coup in enlisting Samad Said. What it should do now is to borrow a leaf from his book: emulate his deportment – go easy on the swagger and assertion and try subtlety and indirection. These are the arts of the Malay world. The DAP is fortunate now to have in its ranks someone to tutor them in those skills.

If these thoughts begin in delight and end in wisdom, you have a work of art. Even if Samad Said does not say much today, observers will recognise in his joining the DAP an apotheosis of sorts.–Terence Netto

The ASAS 50 literary movement, launched in Singapore in 1950s, of which he was a member, believed in using art to change the consciousness of the people.

Its doyen was Singapore-born A Samad Ismail, pan-Malaya’s greatest journalist in both Malay and English in the 1950s and 60s.

We are indebted to the journalist and blogger A Kadir Jasin for pointing out that we err when we call Samad Said ‘Pak Samad’. Kadir noted that that appellation is reserved to Samad Ismail (1924-2008) who for some reason did not like Samad Said but did not do anything to obstruct the promotion of his younger confrere to the post of Berita Harian(BH) editor in the early 1970s when ‘Pak Samad’ became managing editor of the New Straits Times Press which owned BH.

Grand tradition

The gesture was in the grand tradition of the Malay newspaper arts. Ishak Haji Muhammad (Pak Sako) had stepped aside for Abdul Rahim Kajai in the early 1940s as editor of Berita Malai, owned by the Japanese who had wanted that paper to be the leading one for Malays during the war.

The actual Pak Samad had early in his career learned the necessity of putting aside personal dislikes for the interests of the group.

Samad Said, or Abang Said as Kadir has pointed out, was lower in the literary pecking order to Pak Samad despite having at least one novel ‘Salina’ that is considered to be better than anything that Pak Samad, another literary laureate, had produced.

But today, in joining the DAP, he would have taken a step more momentous to the future of the country than any taken by Pak Samad for reason of what the move represents – a breaking of the logjam of race and religion around which Malaysia’s politics so obsessively revolves.

For someone as prominent in the world of Malay letters as Samad Said to join the DAP is a slap in the face of PAS, which he could have joined like that other award-winning Malay literati Shahnon Ahmad, and it also represents a kick in the shins of PKR where he has more friends.

The Islamic party is suffused with myopia and hallucination and the Malay-dominated PKR is stuck in a race-groove.

The DAP ought to be congratulated on having pulled off a coup inNetto T enlisting Samad Said. What it should do now is to borrow a leaf from his book: emulate his deportment – go easy on the swagger and assertion and try subtlety and indirection. These are the arts of the Malay world. The DAP is fortunate now to have in its ranks someone to tutor them in those skills.

Hang Tuah and the Hangs remain in the Malay Psyche, says Author Kassim Ahmad

June 5, 2015

Author Kassim Ahmad responds: Hang Tuah and the Hangs remain in the Malay Psyche

by Kassim Ahmad*

Kassim on Hang TuahI am writing on this topic in response to Prof. Khoo Kay Kim’s belated findings on Hang Tuah and his four comrades of the famed 15th century  Malay Malacca Sultanate and my friend Mr. Din Merican’s slightly cynical article, “Hang Tuah dan Hang Apa Lagi” in his blog.


The good professor’s findings were that Hang Tuah and his four comrades were not real, but merely myths. What surprised me is that the story of Hang Tuah (Hikayat Hang Tuah) has been there for more than 300 years, and my two friends just discovered that it was a mythology. Therefore, generation of Malays have been fooled. For a moment we looked stupid.

I said, “For a moment,” on purpose. Because I quickly realized that what we call this real world is also a myth.  There have been many myths, and they are as old as the world.  Mythologies abound in the ancient world, in Babylon, Mesopotamia,  In Egypt, India, China, even in ancient Greece where the rationalism of Socrates and Aristotle first took root.

laksamana-melayu MahathirThe 21st Century Hang Jebat–Is he a myth too?

We are told that all the prophets brought the religion of monotheism at their different phases, culminating with the last Prophet Muhammad. Yet we know that every time, 300 years after each prophet, the strict monotheism of Abraham, Moses and Jesus, and even Muhammad, became soiled by elements of polytheism. The monotheism of Moses became the religion of Judaism, of Jesus the religion of Christianity, and of Muhammad the religions of “the People of the Tradition” (Ahlil Sunnah Wal-Jama’ah).

That was during the pre-scientific pre-modern era. With the advent of Muhammad, the human species entered the modern scientific era.

The Malay Malacca Sultanate of the 15th century with its Hang Tuah and his comrades emerged in the modern era. Whether Hang Tuah and his comrades did really exist or not is not really a relevant question to raise.

What is relevant and important is to note is that they and their exploits have entered into the lives of Pak Kassimgenerations of Malays in the wider Malay World. This fact is manifested in many forms: road names, names of warships and in many literary and cultural forms. They live in the psyche of the Malay people. This is not a myth. It is a reality.

*KASSIM AHMAD, author of Hikayat Hang Tuah, respected public intellectual and scholar from Kedah Darul Aman, is a Malaysian freelance writer. His website is

‘The Daemon Knows,’ by Harold Bloom

May 27, 2015

Phnom Penh

NY TIMES Sunday Book Review

‘The Daemon Knows,’ by Harold Bloom

Read Bloom, and you may be led to suppose it so. “Walt Whitman,” he writes, “overwhelms me, possesses me, as only a few others — Dante, Shakespeare, ­Milton — consistently flood my entire being. . . . Without vision, criticism perishes.” And: “I rejoice at all strong ­transports of sublimity.” And again: “True criticism recognizes itself as a mode of memoir.” And finally, emphatically: “I believe there is no critical method except yourself.” It is through intoxicating meditations such as these that Bloom has come to his ­formulation of the American Sublime, and from this to his revelation of the daemon: the very Higgs boson of the sublime. Bloom’s beguiling daemon can be construed as the god ­within; he is sire to the exaltations of apotheosis, shamanism, Gnosticism, Orphism, Hermeticism and, closer to home, ­Emerson’s “Self-Reliance.” He is made manifest through the voice of poets and in the chants of those weavers of tales, like Melville and Faulkner, who are kin to ­poets.

Harold BloomDaemon Knows,” the enigmatic title of Bloom’s newest work of oracular criticism, is strangely intransitive. What is it that the daemon knows? We are meant to understand that the daemon is an incarnation of an intuition beyond ordinary apperception, and that this knowing lies in the halo of feeling that glows out of the language of poetry. “To ask the question concerning the daemon is to seek an origin of inspiration,” Bloom asserts, and his teacherly aim is to pose the question in close readings of 12 daemon-possessed writers whom he interrogates in pairs: Whitman with Melville, Emerson with Dickinson, Hawthorne with Henry James, Mark Twain with Frost, Stevens with T. S. Eliot, Faulkner with Hart Crane. He might well have chosen 12 others, he tells us, reciting still another blizzard of American luminaries, but dismisses the possibility “because these [chosen] writers represent our incessant effort to transcend the human without forsaking humanism.” (A question Bloom does not put — we will approach it shortly — is whether shamanism, Orphism, Gnosticism, Hermeticism and all the other mystical isms, including the idea of the daemon, do in fact cling to humanism.)

For Bloom, the origin of inspiration is dual: the daemon who ignites it from within, and the genealogical force that pursues it from without. The bloodline infusion of literary precursors has long been a ­leitmotif for Bloom, from the academic implosion of “The Anxiety of Influence” more than 40 years ago to the more recent “The Anatomy of Influence.” Here he ­invokes the primacy of Emerson as germinating ancestor:

“For me, Emerson is the fountain of the American will to know the self and its drive for sublimity. The American ­poets who (to me) matter most are all Emersonians of one kind or another: Walt ­Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, John Ashbery, A. R. Ammons, Elizabeth Bishop, May Swenson, Henri Cole. Our greatest creators of prose fiction were not Emersonians, yet the protagonists of Hawthorne, Melville and Henry James frequently are beyond our understanding if we do not see Hester Prynne, Captain Ahab and Isabel Archer as self-reliant questers.”

Though Bloom’s persuasive family trees are many-branched, the power of influential predecessors nevertheless stands apart from daemonic possession. According to Bloom, the daemon — “pure energy, free of morality” — is far more intrinsic than thematic affinity. However ­aggressively their passions invade, it is not Whitman alone who gives birth to Melville, or Emerson to Dickinson, or Hawthorne to James, or Mark Twain to Frost; and certainly it is not the lurid Faulkner, all on his own, who rivals the clay that will become Hart Crane. Literary heritage is half; the rest is the daemon. “ ‘Moby-Dick,’ ” Bloom sums up, “is at the center of this American heretical scripture, our worship of the god within, which pragmatically means of the daemon who knows how it is done.” But there is yet another pragmatic demonstration to be urged and elaborated. “Hart Crane’s daemon,” he adds, “knows how it is done and creates an epic of Pindaric odes, lyrics, meditations and supernal longings without precedent.”Without precedent: Surely this is the earliest key, in Bloom’s scheme, to the daemon’s magickings.

Theme and tone and voice may have authorial ancestors; what we call inspiration has none. Turning to one of his two commanding ­touchstones (the other is Whitman), Bloom cites Emerson: “This is that which the strong genius works upon; the region of destiny, of aspiration, of the unknown. . . . Far the best part, I repeat, of every mind is not that which he knows, but that which hovers in gleams, suggestions, tantalizing unpossessed before him.” So when Bloom tells us there can be no critical method other than the critic himself — meaning Bloom — we should not take it as blowhard hyperbole. With Emerson, he intends to pry open the unpossessed and to possess it, and to lead the reader to possess it too: a critical principle rooted in ampleness and generosity.

In this way, the illustrative excerpts Bloom selects from the work of his hallowed dozen are more than concentrated wine tastings; they are libraries in little. In considering Hawthorne, he discusses — in full — “Wakefield” and “Feathertop,” two lesser-known stories, as well as “The Blithedale Romance,”  “The Marble Faun” and the canonical “The Scarlet Letter” and “The House of the Seven Gables.” In his descant on James, Bloom supplies entire scenes from “The Portrait of a Lady,”  “The Bostonians” and “The Wings of the Dove,” in addition to long passages of “The Jolly Corner.” And in crisscrossing from Hawthorne to James and back again, he leaves nothing and no one unconnected. “Where indeed in American fiction,” he asks, “could there be a ­woman loftier, purer, as beautiful and as wise as Hester Prynne? Isabel Archer is the only likely candidate,” though he goes on to lament her choice of the “odious ­Osmond.” For Bloom, Moby-Dick consorts with Huck Finn, and Emily Dickinson with ­Shakespeare, while Whitman underlies, or agitates, Stevens, Hart Crane and, surprisingly, T. S. Eliot.

Of all Bloom’s couplings, Stevens and Eliot are the oddest and the crankiest. ­Despite the unexpected common link with Whitman, the juxtaposition is puzzling. Bloom’s veneration of Stevens, ­sometimes “moved almost to tears,” is unstinting. “From start to end, his work is a solar litany,” he confesses. “Stevens has helped me to live my life.” Yet nearly in the same breath Bloom is overt, even irascible, in his distaste for Eliot, partly in repudiation of “his virulent anti-Semitism, in the age of Hitler’s death camps,” but also because of his clericalism: “Is it my personal prejudice only that finds no aesthetic value whatsoever in the devotional verse of T. S. Eliot? . . . His dogmatism, dislike of women, debasement of ordinary human ­existence make me furious.” In the same dismissive vein, he disposes of Ezra Pound: “I at last weary of his sprawl and squalor.” Nowhere else in this celebratory volume can such a tone — of anger and disgust — be found. Not even in Bloom’s dispute with what he zealously dubs “the School of Resentment” (the politicization of literary studies) is he so vehement as here.

Still, emotive disclosures are not foreign to this critic’s temperament. He has, after all, already told us that criticism can be a form of memoir. “I am an experiential and personalizing literary critic,” he explains, “which certainly rouses up enmity, but I go on believing that poems matter only if we matter.” Out of this credo grows a confiding intimacy: “The obscure being I could call Bloom’s daemon has known how it is done, and I have not. His true name (has he one?) I cannot discover, but I am grateful to him for teaching the classes, writing the books, enduring the mishaps and illnesses, and nurturing the fictions of continuity that sustain my 85th year.” A touching reminder of the nature of the human quotidian, its riches and its vicissitudes, its ­successes and its losses: tangled mortal life itself, pulsing onward in the daylight world of reality. But is this what Bloom’s exalted 12 have taught of how the daemon, that rhapsodic creature of “pure energy, free of morality,” is purposed? The daemon who is trance, who is the mystical whiteness of the white whale, who is harp and altar of Hart Crane’s bridge, and who enters solely into seers and poets? Can the daemon’s lover — who is Bloom — harbor the daemon in himself? Or, to put it otherwise: May the professor of poetry don the poet’s mantle?

Meanwhile, the daemon knows, and Bloom knows too, who are his most ­dedicated antagonists. They are those verifiable humanists, the rabbis who repudiate the kabbalists, who refute the seductions of Orphists and Gnostics, who deny the dervishing god within and linger still in that perilous garden where mortals dare to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and daemons of the sublime are passing incantatory delusions.

Well, never mind — at least while Bloom’s enrapturing book is radiant in your hand. The daemon knows, and Bloom knows too, that in Eden, birthplace of the moral edict and the sober deed, there ­never was a poet.

Literary Greatness and the American Sublime
By Harold Bloom

524 pp. Spiegel & Grau. $35.

Cynthia Ozick’s most recent book is the novel “Foreign Bodies.” Her new collection, “Critics, Monsters, Fanatics, and Other Literary ­Essays,” will be published next year.

A version of this review appears in print on May 24, 2015, on page BR1 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: Shared Visions.