DYMM Tuanku Sultan Kedah Darul Aman has died

September 11, 2017

DYMM Tuanku Sultan Kedah Darul Aman has died

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His Majesty Tuanku Sultan of Kedah Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah (pic above) has passed away today at the age of 90.

Sultan Tuanku Abdul Halim was the only Sultan to serve as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong twice, from 1970 to 1975 and 2011 to 2016. His second tenure ended on December 12 last year.

As loyal subject of His Majesty and a Kedahan, I mourn His Majesty’s passing and wish to extend Dr. Kamsiah Haider’s  and my  heartfelt condolences to members of the Keadah Royal Family. His Majesty was a kind and compassionate ruler. –Din Merican, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.



A Fitting Tribute to a Humanitarian and an Exemplary Malaysian Muslim–Thasleem Ibrahim

August 25, 2017

A Fitting Tribute to a Humanitarian and an Exemplary Malaysian Muslim–Thasleem Ibrahim

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

Image result for Man is a Measure of All Things Quote
Image result for Man is a Measure of All Things Quote


On Dato’ Thasleem Mohamed Ibrahim

The best way to honour his memory is for the activists in the community to do away with the infighting and deep divisions that have plagued their work and to come together to continue the struggle for the downtrodden, exploited and subjugated among them and in the other communities–Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

The passing of Thasleem Ibrahim leaves a big void in the NGO sector. It also takes away a luminary from the much smaller world of the true sons of our soil and Malaysian patriots willing to act according to the dictates of their conscience and to stand up for justice, a better country and the rights of the marginalized and oppressed – not simply in words but also in deed.

A man of strong values, Thasleem’s record of compassion, charity and activism is unique amongst Malaysians.

Eschewing the fanfare which good Samaritans and benefactors often look for, he has quietly funded studies for over 60 hafiz (Quran memorisers) in the last 20 years. He has also adopted Tamil schools since 1995 with more than 15,000 children benefiting from his financial support; and, in his own home, he and his wife have been adoptive parents to 16 children from various backgrounds – Hindus, Christians, Malays, and Indian Muslims. Few Malaysians can match him in his humanitarianism and his personal mission to share his worldly acquisitions with those less fortunate.

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 Dato’ Thasleem Mohamed Ibrahim

Two personal traits of Thasleem stand out for me during the time that he and his National Indian Rights Action (NIAT) and Jihad for Justice groupings worked with the Center for Policy Initiatives and Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia on the controversial educational issues of the day from 2008- 2014 before he was compelled to take a less active role due to ill health.

The first is that while Thasleem took his religious faith and values seriously and he tried to live them in his activist work, he never saw the need to draw attention to his commitment to Islam or to talk much about the beauty or superiority of the religion. On the contrary what roused his anger and his response – often articulated in public rebuke – were extremists and hypocrites making use of Islam and those peddling the ideology of religious dominance.

The second was his fearlessness in taking up politically incorrect and unpopular issues which he really had no stake in. Thasleem was a retired businessman, not a historian, academic or educationist. But his concern was for truth, good sense and sensibleness to prevail. In the campaign against the use of Interlok as a school text and on the need for a true Malaysian history to be taught to our young population, he openly criticized the motives and dishonest educational values of the ruling politicians and their apparatchik which had necessitated the reform movement he helped to lead.

Thasleem has left those of us who aspire to a better Malaysia too early. He would have wanted more time. But he was also always fully aware that the torch burning for justice and truth is only faintly lit and is easily extinguished should patriotic and level-headed Malaysians remain silent and do nothing or remain on the sidelines. This is especially true for the case of marginalized Tamils and Indians whose welfare and cause he was most committed to, and where he was concerned with the little progress achieved.

The best way to honour his memory is for the activists in the community to do away with the infighting and deep divisions that have plagued their work and to come together to continue the struggle for the downtrodden, exploited and subjugated among them and in the other communities.

Remembering Jerry Lewis

August 22, 2017

Remembering Jerry Lewis

The iconic actor, singer, director, and entertainer passed away at the age of 91.


Jerry Lewis, one of Hollywood’s most iconic and influential comedians with a decades-long legacy as an actor, writer, singer, director, and humanitarian, died on Sunday morning in Las Vegas at the age of 91. Beloved beginning in the late 1940s as a broad family entertainer with an unparalleled gift for physical comedy, Lewis was many things to many people over his 70-plus years in the industry. He was the zany instigator alongside Dean Martin’s straight man in their legendary comedy duo; he was a slapstick film star who pumped out movies dismissed by some as the lowest common denominator and embraced by others as high art; and he was a famously mercurial and acidic celebrity who devoted much of his star power to raising money for children suffering from muscular dystrophy.

Over his long career, Lewis never stopped working, even as his on-screen appearances dwindled. He sold out shows at the age of 90, and never lost grip of his specific, irascible sense of humor (as evidenced by this marvelously uncomfortable interview he gave The Hollywood Reporter last December). His star was at its apex in the ’50s and ’60s, but he did some of his most fascinating work in his later years, while many of his films, dismissed at the time as fluff, are now admired for the total artistic control Lewis exerted over them.

Born in 1926 and raised in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Russian Jewish parents who both worked as entertainers in the Catskills, Lewis dropped out of high school in the tenth grade and began working as a comedian. In 1946, he formed a partnership with the 29-year-old nightclub singer Dean Martin and the two merged their acts, with Lewis performing elaborate physical-comedy skits alongside the crooning Martin, the former’s disheveled mania playing off the latter’s cool-guy attitude.

Their “sex and slapstick” routine, in which Lewis was the wisecracking id and Martin the smooth-talking ego, quickly got a radio show. They then made several appearances on television before jumping to Hollywood, starring in comedies like That’s My Boy, Sailor Beware, Jumping Jacks, The Caddy, Scared Stiff, and many more—17 in all, all released between 1949 and 1956. Almost as fast as they had risen to fame, Martin and Lewis broke up, ending their partnership in 1956 after years of creative strain, with Lewis reportedly looking to make more adventurous work, and Martin resentful of his increasingly diminished roles, and his partner’s controlling nature as an artist.

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Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis

Lewis felt betrayed by the split, and though the two appeared together a few times on television, they didn’t fully reconcile until the late 1980s. Lewis occasionally spoke of his regret at the split—in that 2016 interview, referencing the time “when my partner was alive” as the happiest of his career. But he forged on as a solo act, making a string of films in the late ’50s with director Frank Tashlin (a Warner Bros. animator with a similar sensibility to Lewis) before taking on his directorial debut, 1960’s The Bellboy. A practically plotless, nearly dialogue-free ode to the slapstick heroes of Lewis’s youth like Laurel and Hardy, the film was a hit, and the beginning of Lewis’s most successful period as a filmmaker, one still revered (especially in France, where his reputation as a great auteur is unquestioned) as a landmark for movie comedies.

These films included The Ladies Man (1961), where he played a clumsy dweeb working at a ladies’ boarding house, and The Family Jewels (1965), in which he played seven roles. But the era is probably best remembered for The Nutty Professor (1963), a take on the Jekyll-Hyde story in which he plays the shy scientist Julius Kelp and his suave alter-ego Buddy Love. Lewis had taken the bifurcated comic chemistry of his Martin-and-Lewis act and put it into one body; the result is still extraordinary to watch. But as the studio system began to change in the late ’60s and the darker New Hollywood era began with the release of films like Bonnie and Clyde, Lewis struggled to adapt, with his broader material finding less and less of an audience. Lewis played off his public image in dark and fascinating ways.

His infamous attempt at a serious film about the business of clowning, the 1972 Holocaust drama The Day the Clown Cried (in which he played a washed-up clown who entertains Jewish children in Auschwitz), was such a disaster that it was never released and was tied up in an abyss of litigation for decades afterwards. Lewis would mock the effort himself, once saying, “I was embarrassed. I was ashamed of the work, and I was grateful that I had the power to contain it all, and never let anyone see it.

It was bad, bad, bad. … But I can tell you how it ends.” However, it became part of the legend of his diminished career in the ’70s, as he struggled to adapt to a grimmer, more subversive comedy world.

He returned to the big screen in 1981 with Hardly Working, which was a hit despite poor reviews; his next appearance, in Martin Scorsese’s 1983 satire The King of Comedy was much more acclaimed. As a famed talk-show host kidnapped by a disturbed fan (played by Robert De Niro), Lewis played off his public image in dark and fascinating ways, turning in the best performance of his later career—though the film was initially a box-office bomb before its reputation quickly grew. After that, he mostly made cameo appearances in television and film, as well as making his Broadway debut in Damn Yankees in 1995.

Through all his career highs and lows, Lewis was also a spokesperson for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, hosting an annual Labor Day weekend telethon to raise money for the cause of “Jerry’s Kids.” Over 44 years, he helped raise some $2 billion for the organization before he stopped hosting in 2010, the telethons’ effectiveness having been blunted by the internet age. Though unheralded by such organizations in the prime of his career, Lewis has been honored with the Academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, a star on the Walk of Fame, a special tribute by the Cannes Film Festival, and France’s Legion of Honor as well as countless other lifetime achievement awards. He had six sons with his first wife Patti Palmer (whom he divorced in 1980), one of whom, Joseph, died in 2009; he is also survived by his second wife SanDee Pitnick and their daughter Danielle.

Edward Said–A Tribute

August 12, 2017

Edward Said–A Tribute

by A.C. Grayling

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Edward Said (pic above) was a much interviewed man, partly because he stood in a unique cross-cultural place at a painful historical juncture, and could speak about it with intelligence and eloquence,thus attracting the persistent attention of journalists and fellow intellectuals, and partly because he agreed so often to be interviewed , doubtless out of the intellectual’s need for expression, but almost  certainly also because there was more than a tincture of vanity in that handsome man who derived so much from so many places–Palestine, the Western literary tradition, the East, America, the British public school tradition,the Arab world, the East Coast Ivy League tradition, Cairo, Jerusalem,New York, well lit European television studios, the border with Israel at whose fence he could throw stones–because he claim to belong to none of them though benefiting massively from them all.

The many interviews he gave between them beautifully manifest these paradoxical  self-positionings and deep ambiguities, and in the process offer a portrait–all the more striking for being so unselfconsciously self-conscious–of a vitally interesting individual. A volume collecting his interviews was ready for publication shortly before his lamented death, and he therefore read it;  one wonders whether he saw how chameleon-like he was, taking on colours of the side from which his interviewers  came: an Arab for Arabs, a ‘colonial’ when talking to other ‘colonials’ (for example the Indian editor of the volume), and a culturally conservative four-square Western-educated intellectual for Western academic colleagues. He even went so far as to say to Israel’s Ha’aretz magazine, “I’m the last Jewish intellectual…I’m a Jewish-Palestinian.”

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He was, of course, nothing of the sort, and not much of the other thing either. Born a Protestant Christian in West Jerusalem of wealthy Christian Arab parents, he spent his early life in Cairo being educated at a famous English public school there along with later King Hussein of Jordan and the famous bridge player-actor Omar Sharif, and then went to university in America. After taking his PhD in English Literature he joined the faculty of Columbia University in the early 1960s, and New York remained his home until his death in 2003.

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Although his chosen milieu was American academia, the accident of his origins gave him a stake in the tragedy of the Middle East, and he became an indefatigable and powerful advocate of the Palestinian cause. Fame came with his book Orientalism , whose argument is that Europeans deal with the Orient through a process of colonisation premised on the Orient as ‘Other’ expressed in many ways, from literature and art to scholarship and thence colonial bureaucracy. He saw the Occident-Orient relationship as deriving  not in fact from alienation but from historical closeness, although at its fullest it takes the form of power, dominance, and varying degrees of hegemony in Gramsci’s of ‘cultural domination’. This important idea, and its extension into Said’s views about the relation of culture and imperialism generally, is discussed repeatedly and from a variety of angles in the interviews he gave, which between them therefore constitute a work in itself, and an excellent introduction to hie thought.

For all that Said was a campaigner for Palestine and enemy of Zionism in unequivocal terms (he disliked Martin Luther King Jr. and King was pro-Israel), he was otherwise a small conservative in cultural terms. Despite everything he said about Orientalism, his most abiding loyalty was to Western High Culture ( he loved serious music and opera, and wrote about it frequently) and the literature of the English tongue. Claiming that even Jane Austen embodies the imperialising thrust of English literature–Mansfield Park is paid for by a slave plantation in Antigua, a passingly mentioned item which for Said, as for the many engaged in the industry of ‘postcolonial literary studies’, is an endless resource–Said  was able to be a prophet among avant-garde lit.-crit. fraternity, and yet at the same time he came early to despise them.

“One thing that everyone can agree with Said about–and it is  a point he often  and eloquently made–is that academy should not be disengaged from the real world and especially the injustices it contains. His own life is a monument to that conviction, and deserves praise for it”.–A.C. Grayling

Refreshingly, he was sometimes dismissive of ‘literary theory’ and the jargon-laden ‘auto-tinkering’ of the academy,  in which literary criticism  is a cheap form of philosophy done by waving banners  with ‘Derrida’ and ‘Heidegger’ on them, resulting in salaried logorrhoea, a thick stream of indecipherable nonsense that has spewed, like outfall from a main sewer, into an intellectually polluted sea of futility.

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But interviews with him show  that he never quite escaped the grip of this intellectual disease. When speaking to fellow lit.-crit. academics he falls easily into the jargon: ‘As (Michel) Foucault said…As  (Jacques) Derrida said…’is the familiar refrain, and, like his colleagues he misquotes  and misrepresents (as when he shows unfamiliarity with what for example (Thomas) Hobbes and (Karl) Popper really meant, though airily invoking their names in that lit.-crt.way, which is like a verbal twic or twitch: ‘…as Popper said…’)

As just one of many  ambiguities that cluster around Said’s intellectual persona,though, his divided attitude  to his academic discipline is understandable enough. Often pressed in interviews on  the question of how he can regard (Jane) Austen and (Joseph) Conrad as great writers and their works as great literature while at the same time viewing them as imperialist producers of texts not merely expressing but embodying the very process of colonisation and therefore diminishment of the Other, Said had to navigate carefully between emphasising  now on one side of the dilemma and now the other, trying to show that a work can be great literature even if it is, because it is of its time and place, an instrument of a form of harm. To perceptions which catch less shiftingly grey nuances, this seems like having a cake and eating it; much of what Said tried to do in interviews was to show how that can be done.

One thing that everyone can agree with Said about–and it is  a point he often  and eloquently made–is that academy should not be disengaged from the real world and especially the injustices it contains. His own life is a monument to that conviction, and deserves praise for it.

Source: A.C. Grayling, The Heart of Things: Applying Philosophy to the 21st Century (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005), Edward Said, 1935-2003, pp 226-229

Adieu, Glen Campbell

August 11, 2017

Adieu, Glen Campbell

The country singer Glen Campbell passed away on Tuesday afternoon (August 8), following a difficult six-year bout with Alzheimer’s disease. He was eighty-one, and is survived by his wife and eight children. Campbell is probably best known for “Rhinestone Cowboy,” a song he recorded in 1975, though he released sixty full-length studio albums over the course of a fifty-year career, sending some eighty-two singles up the Billboard charts, which makes it feel foolish to reduce his discography now, to divine some quintessential text. He sang in a clear, slightly pinched voice that was particularly well-suited to songs of compromise—anything that betrayed all the strange negotiations we allow in order to move deeper into the lives we want: “There’s been a load of compromisin’ on the road to my horizon, but I’m gonna be where the lights are shinin’ on me.”

Campbell was born in 1936, near Billstown, Arkansas, the seventh son of a sharecropper. He moved to Los Angeles in 1958, when he was twenty-two, and found work as a session guitarist—that’s Campbell doing those soft little strums on Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night,” and playing the charged, galloping riff that opens the Monkees’ “Mary, Mary.” He briefly joined the instrumental rock group the Champs, who’d had some success, in 1958, with “Tequila,” still one of the best encapsulations of the portentous elation brought on by ice-cold margaritas. But Campbell wanted to lead his own band. In the early nineteen-sixties, he fell in step with the drummer Hal Blaine and the keyboardist Leon Russell; they assumed some outlaw bluster and called themselves the Wrecking Crew. Campbell signed a deal with Capitol Records in 1962, though it wasn’t until 1967, when he, Blaine, and Russell recorded a cover of John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind,” that he had his first hit single. It’s a wistful song about freedom, memory, and the (perhaps dubious) idea that if you truly love something, you shouldn’t ask anything of it—especially not monogamy. (In 1980, after Campbell’s third divorce, he told an interviewer, “Perhaps I’ve found the secret for an unhappy private life. Every three years I go and marry a girl who doesn’t love me, and then she proceeds to take all my money.”)

Campbell had an easy air about him, though. He appeared courteous in an old-fashioned way, yet still vaguely mischievous, as if he might call you ma’am but would wink at you as you left the room. At the end of the sixties, Campbell starred in two films based on novels by Charles Portis: “True Grit,” in 1969, and “Norwood,” in 1970. He’s a sweet, beguiling presence onscreen—demure and Southern, even when he’s casually plonking his spurs down on the dinner table or calling one of his companions “a squirrel-headed bastard.” More musical hits followed: “Wichita Lineman,” in 1968, “Galveston,” in 1969, “Southern Nights,” in 1977. He hosted his own variety show, “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour,” which débuted on CBS in January, 1969. Surveying his successes, one gets the sense that careers like this don’t happen anymore, or at least not in the same way. To trust a singer to carry you through several decades—stretches as musically and politically diverse as the sixties into the seventies into the eighties and nineties—requires a particular kind of allegiance. Campbell may not have demanded it, but he received it.

Campbell continued recording even after his diagnosis. There is a dark humor to the later work—he titled his final album, released this past June, “Adios” (it was preceded by a so-called “Goodbye Tour”). His dexterity with a guitar—he is an agile, artful picker—never seemed to wane. Nor did his voice. His cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin,” which he recorded in late 2012, is remarkably nimble.

I met Campbell once, at the Nashville airport. All of my belongings (including my laptop, which contained an early and otherwise unsaved draft of a magazine feature I’d spent months reporting) had recently been stolen from my rental car. It was parked in a garage downtown; one of its rear windows had been smashed in with a rock. During the ensuing hubbub—phoning the cops, explaining the compromised state of my Kia Sephia to the rental-car agency—my flight back to New York City had departed without me. I was consoling myself by drinking a great deal of beer at an outpost of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, the famed Broadway honky-tonk. This must have been in 2009. I looked up and saw Campbell wandering around with his wife, Kim Woolen. (They’d met on a blind date—he took her to dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria, with his parents, and then to a James Taylor concert.) Campbell hadn’t been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s yet, not in any official capacity, but it was clear, even then, that he wasn’t quite himself—that certain ideas or bits of language were receding, drifting out of reach, like paper boats fluttering across a pond.

I approached and brazenly asked for a photograph—I suppose I felt like I had little left to lose in Nashville that afternoon. They were so gracious. You know, it wasn’t that bad, losing my stuff and missing my flight. There would be more stuff, more flights. He threw a big arm around me and we grinned.

A Tribute to Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani– A Beautiful Mind and a Gentle Soul

July 19, 2017

A Tribute to Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani– A Beautiful Mind and a Gentle Soul