A Round-Up in Joceline Tan’s Style: A Crazy Week in Malaysian Politics

July 12, 2015


Political Round-Up in Joceline Tan’s Style:  A Crazy Week in Malaysian Politics


ON the evening before the explosive Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was hosting a buka puasa function for the media fraternity in Shah Alam. The venue was the sprawling complex of the Karangkraf Media Group that publishes the Malay daily Sinar Harian. It even has its own mosque.

Najib-Razak-Forbes-Malaysia-27th-Richest1The Kelantan-born Karangkraf Chairman and CEO Datuk Hussamuddin Yaacub is a naturally energetic and bubbly person but his adrenaline was on overdrive as he waited for the Prime Minister to arrive. Najib, in contrast, was a picture of calm – all smiles, rosy-cheeked, slimmed-down and dressed in a milky green baju Melayu. He was in a relaxed mood and it looked like all was well in the world around him.

In hindsight, that evening was the calm before the storm. And what a storm it has been.Despite a number of discrepancies, the WSJ report has opened a can of worms – billion ringgit transactions, private bank accounts and allegations of impropriety. To borrow a street term, it seemed like something foul had hit the fan.

Najib’s team has scrambled to answer some of the questions raised and to do damage control. His lawyers have given the United States-based publication 14 days to respond, failing which they intend to “exhaust all legal avenues and remedies”.

A special task force comprising four of the biggest names in government has been set up to investigate the allegations. Najib has stressed that the truth will prevail in the investigations. At the same time, there has been an overload of speculation, rumours and misinformation.

WSJ Task ForceBehaving like Circus Clowns: Credibility Zero

A pro-opposition news portal wrongly claimed that the accounts frozen by a high-powered task force set up to look into the 1MDB-related funds belonged to Najib. There was even a WhatsApp message going around and claiming that convicted murderer Sirul Azhar would be giving an interview in Australia to name the murderer of the dead Mongolian Altantuya Shaariibuu. It was a hoax.

The son of the former AmBank founder Hussain Ahmad Najadi, who was shot dead two years ago, also jumped on the bandwagon, telling the notorious Sarawak Report that his father died for reporting corruption in the bank.

Sarawak Report released a 2009 picture of Najib and his family posing with PetroSaudi owner Prince Saudi and the infamous Jho Low. The purpose was to illustrate the 1MDB deal with PetroSaudi. But the one that took the cake was DAP leader Lim Kit Siang calling for a Royal Commission of Inquiry to be set up and headed by Dr Mahathir.

Lim is getting famous for his bizarre ideas. Dr Mahathir wants Najib out, he has been hounding Najib non-stop on the 1MDB issue and now Lim wants Dr Mahathir to head an RCI on Najib and 1MDB.  Lim, famous for accusing the government of running kangaroo courts, is basically suggesting that the accuser become the prosecutor as well as judge and executioner.

The UMNO bloggers retaliated with a picture of Sarawak Report founder Clare Rewcastle Brown and Datuk Khairuddin Hassan in what looked like a London hotel. Their aim was to link the Sarawak Report with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad because Khairuddin is seen as an operative of the former Premier.

There was evidently a fierce psywar coming from both sides to own the public opinion space. GP Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar had his hands full refuting some of the nonsense on social media. He looked like he could not decide whether to laugh or cry when someone asked whether it was true that he was going to arrest Dr Mahathir.It was as if the circus had come to town.

The storm is not over yet and the issue is still making front-page headlines in all the newspapers.“Everything is moving so fast. UMNO is not in turmoil but there is a lot of confusion among our members especially about why Tun Mahathir has gone so far,” said UMNO orator and Kok Lanas assemblyman Datuk Alwi Che Ahmad.

There is no denying that Najib is under pressure. It is no longer a secret that there are now allegations that UMNO Deputy President Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is on the same page as Dr Mahathir and that he is hungry to take over from Najib.

Utusan Malaysia carried a big picture of him in the role of imam for maghrib prayers after breaking fast with the media earlier this week. It was a very powerful image, and he was sending a strong message to his party. Muhyiddin has one little problem though – the Umno ground does not seem to be moving with him despite several endorsements from Dr Mahathir. The reason could also be that UMNO members do not appreciate Dr Mahathir forcing his will on the party again. But who knows, things may change in the months to come.

Najib is politically wounded and there is talk that some UMNO leaders want him to go on leave. But, on the whole, the party is still with him. “It’s the Malay culture, there is sympathy for what Najib is going through. Many of us don’t like it that the attack is coming from outside the country,” said Kapar UMNO Chief Datuk Faizal Abdullah.

Khairy JamaluddinPuts in Political Future in Najib’s Hands

Najib received a much needed boost from his Cabinet on Wednesday. Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said that after listening to the Prime Minister’s explanation, the Cabinet wants the law to take its course and wait for the outcome of the investigations into the 1MDB funds.

The implication is that the Cabinet is standing by Najib and will not pressure him to step down. The ministers joined Najib after the Cabinet meeting as he officiated the induction of young interns joining the offices of Cabinet Ministers. It was what journalists would call a “photo-op” (photo oppor­tunity) and the fraternal scene was clearly not accidental.

Innocent until proven guilty

The Cabinet backing, said a political insider, is necessary and expected. “At that level, they have to go on facts. The Cabinet cannot make decisions based on what appears in a news report or on sentiments. This is not like the UMNO Supreme Council which can decided based on political interests or sentiments. The investigation is ongoing, they have to presume innocence until and unless proven otherwise,” said the insider.

Najib’s survival as Prime Minister is dependent on the outcome of the investigations. The high-powered task force comprising the head of the police force, Bank Negara, Attorney-General’s Office and MACC has moved to centre stage and a lot is expected of them. They will have to ask the relevant questions like where the money in the accounts being investigated came from, whose money was it and where did the money go? These are thorny questions and the taskforce has to provide some answers.

Najib’s personal image, said the above political insider, is at a critical level, and his standing as a leader may not be the same again. This is not an overnight thing. It has been building up over the last few years – stories, true and untrue about his wife and their lifestyle. They could have nipped it in the bud but they did not do enough, and the stories just grew more outlandish and exaggerated.

Najib has become too easy a target of smear attacks, and there will come a time when his party feels they are fighting too many fires set off around him. The Barisan Nasional side seems frozen, unsure how to react to what is happening.

Pakatan Rakyat in Disarray

Pakatan Rakyat or whatever remains of it, is not doing much better. “Instead of jumping the gun and demanding that Najib resign, the opposition could have been more professional and suggest the scope of the investigation to help the public understand it better. They would have been seen as a coalition serious about taking over instead of just out to play politics and score political points. There are too many half-past-six politicians on both sides,” said the above insider.

They would have been seen as a coalition serious about taking over instead of just out to play politics and score political points. There are too many half-past-six politicians on both sides,” said the above insider.

The 1MDB issue is full of cautionary tales for ambitious politicians out there. Politicians in the age of social media will be judged on what they do, what they do not do as well as what their wives and children get up to. It is an era without secrets.

Pakatan Rakyat or whatever remains of it, is not doing much better. Instead of jumping the gun and demanding that Najib resign, the opposition could have been more professional and suggest the scope of the investigation to help the public understand it better.

The 1MDB issue is full of cautionary tales for ambitious politicians out there. Politicians in the age of social media will be judged on what they do, what they do not do as well as what their wives and children get up to. It is an era without secrets. As many in UMNO have pointed out, the Brutus from within is always more deadly than the enemy outside. The maximum damage always comes from attacks by those inside.

Dr Mahathir, said Alwi, opened the door to the attacks. History will see him playing a pivotal role in the rise and fall of his successors. He is like the striker in a football match but he may have kicked the ball into his own net again.“Tun Mahathir wanted to evict the owner of the house but now everything is catching fire,” said Alwi.

Najib’s survival and reputation is in the balance and it is crucial for the task force to quickly finish its investigation and reach a conclusion.


The Eminent Task Force on WSJ Allegations Froze a different set of bank accounts

July 8, 2015

COMMENT: Are you surprised? I am not. As I said in an earlier posting, these publicDin MericanX servants are Najib’s Men and Woman.  They are partisan and cannot be independent. If they are, they will not be chosen. They cannot be stupid. How can a group of professionals make a mistake like this one. Obviously, they are trying to protect their boss and give him to time to do some cover-up.

Soon we will learn that the documents as released by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) do not exist or have gone missing. Well, if Altantuya’s immigration records can disappear, what else Najib’s men cannot think of next.

It would appear that this investigation has started on a wrong footing and it is likely in my opinion going to be another sham. Our public officials cannot be relied upon to do the right thing. If you cannot trust our government and the people in power and officials who work for them, Malaysia is a disgrace in the eyes of the world. Our system of governance is kaput.–Din Merican 

The Eminent Task Force on WSJ Allegations Froze  a different set of bank accounts


WSJ Task ForceThe Eminent Task Force: A-G Gani Patail,  BNM GovernorZeti, IGP Khalid Abu Bakar, and MACC Abu Kassim

The accounts frozen by the special task force investigating the alleged US$700 million (RM2.67 billion) money trail from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) into Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s personal accounts are not the same accounts that the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) had reported on in its exclusive report.

The WSJ in reporting on the freeze of six accounts today, cited a source close to the investigations that the accounts affected “were different from those described in the Journal report last week”.

In addition to the six accounts frozen, documents linked to 17 bank accounts in two banks were also seized by the task force, which comprises the Attorney-General’s Chambers, Bank Negara, police and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

The task force’s statement today, however, did not name the banks where the frozen accounts were, nor did it say whether any of them belonged to Najib.

However, sources later today confirmed with The Malaysian Insider that three of the frozen accounts were Najib’s, and were with AmBank and Affin Bank.

The move by the investigating task force follows WSJ’s report last Friday that US$700 million had moved through different companies linked to 1MDB before they money was deposited in two accounts belonging to Najib at AmPrivate Bank in Kuala Lumpur.

The largest sum of US$681 million had allegedly been transferred to Najib’s accounts in March 2013, two months before the general election was held.

The WSJ today also released redacted documents that showed the purported transfer of funds to Najib’s accounts to support its report.

These documents included instructions for telegraphic transfers, charts that showed the alleged flow of money, remittance form and cash deposit authorisation letter by Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil, Director of Finance Ministry-owned company SRC International Sdn Bhd, to the branch manager of AmIslamic Bank Bhd.

SRC was also one of the companies involved in the flow of money outlined by the WSJ, which had reported based on documents obtained from the Malaysian government’s investigation.

Najib is also finance minister and chairman of 1MDB’s advisory board, and is now facing his toughest challenge as prime minister over 1MDB which has been criticised for its opaque dealings and massive RM42 billion debt incurred in just six years of operations.

He has denied taking any funds for personal gain but has otherwise not shed any light on the alleged transfers.

Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman’s Open Letter to the NY Times

Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman’s Open Letter to the NY Times Editor

COMMENT: Thomas Fuller’s article and interview with Tun Dr Din MericanXMahathir Mohamad which appeared in the New York Times ( June 17, 2015) have received a response from Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Dato’ Sri Anifah Aman.

It is a reasonable reaction. Minister Aman is expressing concern about the effects of the article and Dr. Mahathir’s interview on Malaysia’s image and Prime Minister’s reputation at home and abroad. As usual, our government’s response has come a little too late.

Furthermore, the Foreign Minister’s Open letter has not added any new material to what is already in the public domain. He merely rehashed them and attacked the former Prime Minister for raising valid issues about the 1MDB scandal.

Damage done to the Prime Minister in the eyes of Malaysians at home and the international community except for his loyal friend, US President Barack Obama, is irreversible. 1MDB scandal has gone out of control because the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, its Chairman Lodin Wok Kamaruddin and Directors, and its Chief Executive Officer Arul Kanda Kandasamy failed to respond clearly and honestly when the matter came to light.

In stead, the Malaysian public were given a merry-go-round with misleading and contradictory answers about the financial affairs  of this sovereign fund. In their arrogance, they assume that we can accept their version as the gospel truth and that we are timid and stupid.What happened to the RM42 billion loan remains answered.

Our attention is being diverted to the politics of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee headed by MP Nur Jazlan and the Opposition, and the antics and tactics of  Mr. Arul and his associates, the Auditor-General, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and the Inspector-General of Police with occasional interventions by the Prime Minister, his Deputy Prime Minister and senior ministers in his Cabinet.

In order to put Foreign Minister’s Open Letter in the right context, please read this:



Tun Dr MahathirWe may disagree with the Tun’s approach, but in fairness to our former Prime Minister, he had raised them with the Prime Minister in private meetings but he never received any satisfactory response. Tun Dr. Mahathir is consummate politician, no doubt; but in this matter many Malaysians share his concern about 1MDB’s huge debt in the event of a taxpayer or GLC funded bailout or loan default with macro implications on the national economy and our financial and banking system.–Din Merican

The Foreign Minister’s Open Letter as reproduced from : http://www.nst.com.my/node/88855

anifah_amanUNMalaysia’s Foreign Minister Dato’ Sri Anifah Aman

It is regrettable to see Tun Mahathir seeking to undermine his own country in the international media as part of a personal political vendetta.

It is irresponsible of any citizen, let alone a former Prime Minister, to spread lies and distortions about state owned companies – saying for example that RM42 bn is missing from 1MDB to create public anxiety, when in fact these are audited debts backed by RM51 billion in assets. These reckless claims have affected market sentiment towards Malaysia.

Furthermore, it is telling that he continues to mount his attacks, rather than wait for the findings of the enquiries currently being undertaken by Malaysia’s central bank, Auditor General, and parliament’s bipartisan Public Accounts Committee. This shows that Tun Mahathir is not interested in answers from the appropriate lawful authorities. Rather, he is just using 1MDB as an excuse to topple the serving prime minister, Najib Tun Razak.

And all because his personal demands, as Tun Mahathir himself has acknowledged, are not being met. Prime Minister Najib, as Malaysia’s democratically elected leader, will do what he thinks is right for the nation, and will not allow rule by proxy.

Tun Mahathir told the New York Times that UMNO “lacks vision and talented people”, that it “has become a repository of patronage-seeking politicians”, and that members “try to keep out people who are more intelligent than themselves”. But it is Tun Mahathir who led the party for 22 years.

It was he that, during his time, worked to cultivate ‘yes men’ and entrench his position – even introducing a quota system for the UMNO presidency to prevent challengers – rather than bringing in talent and strengthening the party. It is Prime Minister Najib who democratised the party constitution to make it far easier to challenge him for his job.‎

For Tun Mahathir to accuse Prime Minister Najib of acts “verging on criminal” is simply outrageous, and entirely false. It is a measure of the reforms put in place under Prime Minister Najib’s administration that Tun Mahathir has the freedom to be so vocally critical of the party and government he once led.‎

But Tun Mahathir is abusing that freedom, and his privileged standing as a former Prime Minister, to indulge in reckless and baseless personal smears against Prime Minister Najib and his family. Most Malaysians would rather see Tun Mahathir retire gracefully than continue to damage the standing of his own country for personal political gain.

Y.B. Dato’ Sri Anifah bin Haji Aman
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia

The Sabah Earthquake- have we forgotten to mourn together as a nation?

June 7, 2015

The Sabah Earthquake- have we forgotten to mourn together as a nation?

by Din Merican

dato-din-mericanOn September 16, 1963, 4 countries came together to form a new nation called the Federation of Malaysia. The 4 countries were Malaya (which was itself a federation of several states), Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore. On August 9, 1965, Singapore declared her independence after she was expelled from of Malaysia leaving only 3 countries in the Federation.

Since her departure, Singapore has charted her own destiny and become the powerful and important city state financial centre that it is today. When her founder, Lee Kuan Yew died recently, the world stood at attention in respect of the man that had made Singapore what it is- a successful nation where everything works excellently.

The same success story could not be told of the 3 countries left in Malaysia. ‎Economic blackmails by the Federal government under Barisan Nasional in order to have political dominance over the state governments became the way business is done.

In the end, the development of the states were sabotaged by the very central government that the people elected to bring them prosperity. It became worse when several states came under opposition rule.

Outright sabotage of these states’ development which were hostile, while outright bribery of the states that supported the central government. That is how Sabah and Sarawak have become to be regarded as the electoral fixed deposit boxes by the central government politicians in Malaya.

Thus, the resentment towards Orang Malaya continues in these two states. In the end, the politicians of these states too played the political blackmail game and demanded political bribes, sometimes for their states, but most times for themselves, as a condition for supporting the BN central government.

That is the sorry state of affairs we have today which is unashamedly declared by PM Najib in Sarawak recently when he said that he and his wife can sleep on the same pillow because the people of Sarawak support him.

Sabah has been infiltrated many times by Filipino bandits. In the recent Lahad Datu epsiode, Sabah was even invaded‎ leading to the formation of Esscom which is supposed to ensure that the borders of Sabah, being the national borders of Malaysia will never be invaded again. But that was just an empty promise. Since then, more kidnappings have happened and Sabah remain ever exposed to invaders with the central government and military unable to do anything. Therein lies the broken promises that the Federation and the Federal Government made to Sabah which was never fulfilled.

The Federal Government could not and did not provide safety, peace and security to Sabah from foreign invaders. Sabah might as well have been part of the Philippines with such frequent incursions breaching it’s state borders. The Federal Government failed in that basic duty that it owed to a country in the Federation.

Najib's Saudi trip

That is not all. The terrible disease that has struck our nation is symptomatic when Sabah ‎suffered an earthquake just a few days ago. This was a natural disaster. There were deaths. The state is in mourning, but the Prime Minister did not go to Sabah. He has instead gone to Saudi Arabia to perform his umrah. Which is more important?

Yesterday was the Yang DiPertuan Agong’s birthday. There were celebrations and conferment of awards. Did the federal government and its ministers not think of the grief of Sabah? The Agong ‘s speech drafted by the federal government did not even mention Sabah’s disaster. A more appropriate action would be to cancel these celebrations and conferment of awards. But we did not do that.

If Sabah is an integral part of Malaysia, should we not abort all these ceremonies. Or have we simply forgotten to mourn together as a‎ nation?

The Sabah Deal

The Stove of Consciousness

June 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

The Stove of Consciousness


by Peter Hankins


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Bakker says:

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

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

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

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

I bake, therefore I am.

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

Vijay Vikram says:

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

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

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

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

This Side of Paradise


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Good News for Najib

June 3, 2015

Obama learns more about Malaysian Politics –Not Good News for Najib

by John R. Mallot at http://www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT: On June 1, US President Barack Obama met a number of young leaders fromjohn malott Southeast Asia at the White House. At the end of his prepared remarks, he asked for questions. And first at bat was Malaysia’s own Yeo Bee Yin, a member of the Selangor State Assembly.

Yeo asked him, “What is your view on democracy in Malaysia, with the recent jailing of Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition leader, and the crackdown on the opposition?” Malaysiakini’s report on Obama’s response to Yeo’s question said that the President was “beating around the bush,” and that he continued “to shy away from criticising the Malaysian government” for jailing Anwar. For her part, Yeo astutely told Malaysiakini that Obama’s response was “perhaps diplomatically and politically correct.

However, as a nation that prides itself on its democracy, I did hope that the President would speak more strongly against such abuse of power.” The transcript of the president’s remarks has now been released. So we can read exactly what Obama said during his 90-minute meeting with these young Southeast Asian leaders, not just about Anwar and Malaysia, but also about democracy, human rights, religious and racial equality, and good governance in Southeast Asia as a whole.

As a former diplomat whose job was to study official statements word by word – and as a former ambassador to Malaysia, where you always had to read between the lines in the government-controlled newspapers to discern the truth – I have taken a look at what Obama had to say. And it is not good news for Obama’s golfing buddy, Najib Razak.

First, Obama said that “Malaysia has a history of democracy that has to be preserved.”  To use the words, “has to be preserved” means that he recognises that Malaysia’s democracy is now in jeopardy. And indeed, it is.

Second, Obama said that “democracy is not just about holding elections.” He said it is also about “how open, transparent, and accountable the government is between elections.” But as we all know, UMNO’s leaders arrogantly say that once elected, they can do whatever they want for the next five years. (And as we all know, the elections that brought them to power in the first place were neither free nor fair.)

Educating Obama


Third, Obama said that to make democracy work, it is essential to have freedom of speech, freedom of the press, an independent judiciary, and the right to assemble peacefully. Najib’s Malaysia fails strongly on all these counts.

Fourth, Obama said that people must have the right to say what they think. He cited George Washington and the criticism he endured and said you must respect the rights of people who disagree with you, no matter what they say. Yet in Najib’s Malaysia, people who disagree will be arrested, jailed, and charged with sedition.

Fifth, Obama said that one of the most important principles for him has always been to treat everyone fairly. Obama said, “The one thing I know is that countries that divide themselves on racial or religious lines, they do not succeed… That’s rule number one… I think one of the most important things is to put an end to discrimination against people because of what they look like or what their faith is.” Yet Najib and UMNO are desperately trying to stay in power by appealing to the basest and most racist and religious instincts of the voters.

So what does all this mean? It shows that Obama finally has shown that he has some understanding of the real situation in Malaysia. Hopefully Obama will no longer “drink Najib’s Kool-Aid.” But Obama is not there yet. I fear that he still is giving Najib the benefit of the doubt. We all have to “educate” him and help him understand the truth about Najib and the regime that he leads.

I think the key task now is for the Malaysian people – and for friends of Malaysia in the US – to hold Obama’s feet to the fire. To educate him. To show him that the Najib regime does not live up to the standards of democracy, political freedom, and racial and religious quality that Obama espoused so well in his meeting with the young ASEAN leaders.

JOHN R MALOTT is former United States Ambassador to Malaysia. He resides Alexandria. VA, just across the Potomac from Washington D.C. He maintains a keen interest in ASEAN, especially Malaysia and Vietnam and Japan