Malaysia and Israel– A strange relationship

October 12, 2015

Malaysia and Israel– A strange relationship

COMMENT: When my wife, Dr Kamsiah  and I landed at JFK International Airport, New York in din-merican-and-dr-kamsiah1 some time in June 2013, the Immigration officer at the counter looked at me as if I was an alien carrying a Malaysian passport.

He asked me pointedly why I was not allowed to go to Israel when I could come to the United States whose citizens in general support their Government’s policy towards the Jewish state since 1948 when President Harry S. Truman recognised the state of Israel.

The Immigration Officer was amused when I said that Malaysia was an exceptional nation, because unlike his country, Malaysian politicians in government did strange things for the gallery while they talked and wrote to Israel leaders behind our backs. We also did business with Israelis, albiet through proxies. The potential for mutually beneficial commercial relations between our two countries remain untapped.

It is time we stop saying that “Malaysia would consider beginning relations with Israel only when a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian people is successfully concluded.” Let us be pragmatic and practical, and end this ban imposed on us by our government.

I had many good Israeli and Jewish classmates when I was studying in the United States and admired them for their academic brilliance, hard work and dedication. We studied, had meals  and attended fraternity parties together. We can learn a lot from Israel because it is a nation of knowledge entrepreneurs, outstanding scientists and researchers, and technologists.

Israel Start-Up NationBy having diplomatic relations, we are not abandoning our Palestinian brothers. In stead, we can help the peace process between Palestine and Israel along. Right now, we cannot do so because we are seen to be taking sides.

Let us move forward and accept the reality that Israel is not going to disappear from the face of the earth. Like the Palestinians they have the right to exist as a viable nation. War is not an option. Let us end this culture of violence. Peace is the way forward. I am in favour of establishing our Embassy in Tel Aviv so that we can begin a new era in relations between Israel and ourselves. –Din Merican

On Israel: A new foreign policy direction?

by Azrul Mohd Khalib

Every Malaysian who has ever owned a passport would have noticed a line of text printed at the very front of the travel document: “This passport is valid for all countries except Israel.” Malaysia is the only country in the world whose passports contain such an exclusion. The official anti-Israel position is very clear.

The Malaysian Government’s existing foreign policy does not recognise the state of Israel, has no diplomatic ties and prohibits any access or travel by Malaysians to the country. This prohibition also covers any sort of economic ties with the Jewish state.

A statement on Wisma Putra’s website states that “Malaysia would consider beginning relations with Israel only when a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian people is successfully concluded.”

Najib and Israeli PMTherefore it was interesting to note the call for a “dawn of a much needed revised relationship between Muslims and Jews” in Prime Minister Najib Razak’s recent speech to the UN General Assembly. This coming soon after an increase in violence and tensions in recent weeks over the al-Aqsa mosque and confrontations between Israeli security forces and Palestinian youths.

Such a tenor is a significant deviation from the usual script used by Arab leaders, OIC member states and even the Prime Minister himself when responding to the ongoing cycle of unrest and violence of the Palestine-Israel conflict.

It was significant enough that the speech was picked up and remarked upon by The Times of Israel, a web based English language newspaper which declares itself independent and not attached or affiliated with any political party. The paper stated that “it was notable for a Malaysian leader to speak positively about Judaism and to recognise Israel as a legitimate interlocutor.”

Just a few years ago, Malaysia had called for Israel to be taken to the International Criminal Court over the 2010 Gaza flotilla raid. There are a number of Malaysian NGOs which receive direct and indirect public funding from the government such as Viva Palestina Malaysia, Aman Palestin, and Aqsa Syarif which are very active in advocating the Palestinian cause to the Malaysian public with extensive awareness campaigns on the alleged injustices and atrocities of the Israeli government.

A large number of Muslim NGOs continue to feature Palestinian suffering to cultivate public sympathy and fundraising for humanitarian assistance. Often the language used in these campaigns is anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic.

Anti-Jewish statements regularly feature during Friday sermons. Just last week, more than 1,000 people gathered in front of the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur to protest against Israel over the recent Al-Aqsa mosque violence.

The demonising of politicians as being pro-Israel and Jewish-friendly has also been used by both the Government and Opposition time and again to discredit and smear their foes politically.

There has been so much ado about the photograph of the Prime Minister bumping into Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in the corridors of the UN HQ, you would have thought that Najib had high-fived Satan himself. Maybe some even felt that he had to be purified (samak) somehow. Let’s take a deep breath and relax.

It is interesting to note that while all the above is true, the reality could be significantly different. We have short and selective memories when it comes to Israel. Ideology, rhetoric and our only human reaction that we have to the seemingly never-ending violence and suffering of the Palestinian people continue to colour our perception of the Jewish state and its people.

Not many realise that Israel had actually voted in favour of Malaya’s membership into the United Nations back in 1957. There had been direct communication with both David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir by past Malaysian leaders.

On a number of occasions, the Malaysian government seriously considered establishing formal diplomatic relations, particularly after Oslo. The current positioning vis-à-vis Israel stems from the sense of Islamic solidarity with the Arab countries and being a part of the Muslim ummah.

To this day though, formal diplomatic ties have not been established and there exists a ban on direct commerce with Israel since 1974. There is, nevertheless, an increasing flow of import and export trade between Malaysia and Israel worth hundreds of millions annually. Though conducted discreetly and often transacted through intermediate countries such as Thailand and Singapore, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics records show that in 2013, the total trade between Malaysia and Israel reached US$1.529 billion, almost double from the previous year.

PM Najib spoke of the need for forward-thinking leaders to put their people’s interests first and seems to have extended an olive leaf to the Israel government in his speech. Is Malaysia interested in playing a role in addressing and ending the violence and aggression in the Palestinian territories? In 2013, Najib visited the Gaza Strip and met with representatives of the Hamas government.  Does Najib see himself as a possible honest broker to bring in this new dawn between Muslims and the Jewish people?

Will we see Malaysia embracing pragmatic diplomacy in its dealings with Israel as part of this gambit and foray into the quagmire that is the Palestine–Israel conflict?

Remembering the Asian Statesman: Lee Kuan Yew

October 10, 2015

Remembering the Asian Statesman: Lee Kuan Yew

Farewell, Mr. Lee Kuan YewA little bit of history will not harm anyone. That sounds trite. I feel that history is about repeat itself, particularly in Malaysia. It would appear that we seem to forget its lessons. Why? Simply it is because our leadership and public officials and pundits are not grounded in reality.

Our Prime Minister, Najib Razak, is unable to deal with our national problems, preferring to delude himself with his spins and lies, and recklessly clinging to power with the support of his fawning public officials, and doing all he can to prolong his hold on power and postponing the inevitable.

Today, Najib Tun Razak, is the most unpopular (and hen pecked too) Prime Minister in our country’s history and has to resort to draconian laws and repressive measures to silence his critics in civil society. I wonder how long he can continue to stay in his job when our economy is slowing down and when will UMNO Malays  wake up to realise that their President can longer lead our country.–Din Merican

Malaysia: China’s Intervention is MCA’s Impotence and Najib’s Incompetence

September 30, 2015

Malaysia: China’s Intervention is MCA’s Impotence and Najib’s Incompetence

by Asiasentinel Correspondent

The implications of a September. 25 visit by Huang Huikang, China’s Ambassador, to the epicenter of the Chinese community in Kuala Lumpur to cool off rising racial tensions are spreading and manifold, with what observers regard as troubling international overtones.

Domestically, the affair has demonstrated the impotence of the Malaysian Chinese Association, the biggest ethnic Chinese party in the ruling national coalition and showcased government fumbling as well.

According to some observers, it is also a demonstration to the region that China, a rising and restless superpower, will not hesitate to act to protect the interests of ethnic Chinese, wherever they happen to be – nationals or not. China is Malaysia’s second-largest trading partner and could be its biggest if goods transshipped through Singapore are counted.

Huang told local reporters that “with regard to the infringement on China’s national interests, violations of legal rights and interests of Chinese citizens and businesses which may damage the friendly relationship between China and the host country, we will not sit by idly.” 

Beijing Says It’s Fine with Us

While that might be regarded as a freelance, impulsive action by an envoy worried about the welfare of members of his race, he was later backed up with a statement from Beijing, an indication that the step was hardly impulsive.

While China has long practiced – officially at least – the “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence” consisting of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence,” those principles are increasingly strained in the South China Sea with Beijing’s island-building campaign which is intruding on the exclusive economic zones of the Philippines, Vietnam and potentially Indonesia.

Huang’s action, although relatively mild and minor, is being regarded by critics as a disturbing example of the new assertiveness that was demonstrated on a larger scale and a larger stage on Sept. 24 in New York, when President Xi Jinping told the United Nations that China will contribute 8,000 troops for a UN peacekeeping standby force, giving it a dramatic new role as one of the largest forces in UN peacekeeping efforts.

berthelsen huang 092915

Just a week ago, China joined Malaysia for the first Association of Southeast Asian Nations joint military exercise, sending 1,000 Chinese troops. There has also been a rising Chinese economic presence, with the Guangdong provincial government announcing recently that it intended to develop Melaka, now a sleepy coastal town, into a seaport to rival Singapore and build a series of industrial parks.

Malaysian Government Waffles, Fumbles

wisma_putraWisma Putra

The upshot of Huang’s trip also left  the Malaysian government looking rudderless and confused in the face of what many considered an unwarranted interference in domestic politics by the ambassador. First, the foreign ministry announced it had summoned the envoy. Then Huang said he hadn’t heard from anybody. 

Then it turned out that Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister Hamzah Zainudin, serving as deputy foreign minister to Anifah Aman, who is traveling with Najib in New York, didn’t have the authority under rules of protocol, to summon an ambassador. Eventually Huang did go to the foreign ministry but the results of the meeting remained a mystery.

Anifah eventually issued a statement calling attention to what he termed “meddling”—not by the Chinese, but by several other Malaysian cabinet ministers who “had “taken action and made statements to the press” without consulting him. The handling of the issue has left the government – with its Prime Minister absent to take charge – without the opportunity to make a clear statement about its sovereignty.

“There was a bit of confusion there, they talk about protocol not being followed. But there is always confusion when you summon a big power like China,” said Zaid Ibrahim, a prominent Malay lawyer-turned-politician and independent voice.  “They could have handled it better. But on a country like China, you can’t blame them for that. They are probably unsure of what to do, to handle confusing signals.” 

Asked if the Malaysians were intimidated by China, he responded: “Everybody’s intimidated by China.”

Race Tension Drew Ambassador

Tan-Sri-Mohd Ali RastamRed Shirt Racism

Racial tension, always a factor in the Malaysian political discourse, had been in Malaysia spiraling upwards since a Sept. 16 rally by ethnic Malays bused in from the countryside and who, it later transpired, were paid to be there, possibly by forces close to the embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has been fighting to keep his job in the face of multiple scandals.

So-called Red Shirt thugs began increasing the pressure on Chinese merchants and hawkers on Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur’s most densely-packed Chinese area. An UMNO division chief named Jamal Md Yunos threatened a march into Petaling Street, ostensibly to root out fake goods, but was clearly aimed at intimidating the Chinese. At that point, Huang appeared for a stroll along the street, passing out mooncakes in honor of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Najib at 58th MCA GAMCA failed to act

The subsequent events may well have driven the final nail into the coffin of the flailing Malaysian Chinese Association, the ethnic Chinese component of the race-based national ruling coalition led by the United Malays National Organization. According to a source with ties to the community, the hawkers and traders in the area repeatedly appealed to the MCA to take action to stop the threats of violence, to be met with confusion on the part of party leaders.  Some argued that it was time for the MCA to cut ties with the Barisan Nasional and Najib because of his financial and political support of the Red Shirts.

Faced with paralysis on the part of the party, the source said, the traders went to the Chinese embassy to ask for help, which resulted in Huang’s controversial walk through the area. Although subsequently Malay supremacists have threatened additional marches, there has been no action.  But the dithering by the MCA, long the traditional political home of the Chinese petty merchant community, is expected to cause continuing erosion towards the more assertive Democratic Action Party.

Robert M. Pirsig: Zen and Lila

August 4, 2015

Robert  M. Pirsig: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Lila

Reviewed by James Tiptree Jr (2006)

Pirsig's ZenYes, I’ve finally read the book with one of the best titles in philosophy, after several years of having it queued, and after introducing my parents to it some time before I managed to read it myself. One of the reasons why I put it off was a worry that it would be too dense or circuitous for my mood, but it is instead quite readable and firmly grounded in a Western rational mode of idea exploration, even though it touches on some Eastern religious concepts. I think publishers do this book a disfavor now by playing up the mystic overtones and releasing it under imprints like “Bantam New Age,” although that was probably a great way to sell books a few years ago.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is told at three levels, two-thirds memoir and one-third philosophy. The philosophy is told as internal musings intermixed with a biography of Phaedrus, the person who originally developed the ideas put forth in the book. These internal musings happen during a motorcycle trip across the country taken by Pirsig and his son (at first also accompanied by two friends). The exact relationship between Phaedrus and Pirsig is part of the narrative, so forgive me for being coy about it.

Pirsig uses the cross-country trip partly as a framing device, and for that it is adequate but not particularly notable. If the book were more constructed, I would expect more thematic links between the trip and the philosophical discussion; that’s hit and miss and at times doesn’t match well. But this is a real trip, a real memory, and what it loses in thematic structure it more than makes up by humanizing Pirsig, providing an emotional context for the philosophy. The core of Pirsig’s theme is the unification of holistic, subjective perspective with analytical, objective perspective. Putting an emotional context behind his personal philosophy not only makes it easier to understand his motivations but also provides an immediate practical example of the application of the theory.

The trip also drives the story forward, providing an element of pacing that’s missing from pure philosophy, but most of the suspense comes from Phaedrus’s story. As strong as the philosophy is, Phaedrus was the most engrossing part of the book for me. His mixture of maverick obsessiveness, frightening mental disconnection, disrespect for accepted academic authority, and creative approaches to both philosophy and teaching make him an excellent tragic hero. One keeps turning the pages to find out what happens next, and in the process, despite some awkward early narrative self-consciousness, is drawn into the discussion of philosophy that dominates and saturates Phaedrus’s life.

By traditional standards, this is more a popular philosophy book in structure than a serious philosophical treatise. The philosophy is introduced slowly and idiosyncratically, it is mixed in with memoir and biography, and it’s presented with deeply personal arguments rather than objective appeals. That, of course, is much of the point. Pirsig’s focus is on finding a way to integrate the holistic, subjective, emotional view we all have of the world, the knee-jerk reaction that drives our immediate reactions and intuitive satisfaction, with classic Western philosophy. The focus of that reconciliation is Quality, in the sense we mean when we describe an object as “high quality.” Slowly building his conception of Quality and linking it to both subjective artistic appreciation and suitability for purpose, he equates our concept of Quality with what others have called Zen, or Tao, or flow (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work came after Zen and I wonder what Pirsig thinks of it). From that, he builds an approach to unifying subjective and objective appreciations of quality.

Writing in 1974, Pirsig was addressing a culture that has since substantially changed. At the time, much anti-establishment rebellion rolled technology in with the rest of the power of the establishment and thought of technology as inherently dehumanizing. Since the advent of personal computers, the shift towards an information economy, and literary movements such as Cyberpunk that reclaimed technology for the outcast, progressive, and rebellious have changed the landscape, and the attitudes Pirsig discusses sound a bit quaint. After all, I work in an industry (software development) where work combines science and art, where subjective style is seen as important as objective capability. Still, that adoption of Pirsig’s core goal just supports its importance, and his explanation leads to an excellent analysis of how to merge the two in one’s thinking. Also, the subjective, holistic rejection of reductionism and objectivity is still visible today in religious worries about secular science, and Pirsig’s ideas on bridging apply as well there with a slight recasting.

Zen may have the attitude of popular psychology, but it’s refreshingly devoid of preachy conversion, superficial surveys, or facile answers to everything you need to know for life. Pirsig may be using an informal tone, but he is trying to say something original and powerful, and while I’m not a sufficiently serious student of philosophy to comment on his originality, he seems to succeed. His iconoclastic approach did bother me in places, though, the most notable being his initial presentation of quality as a third co-equal aspect next to subjective and objective experience. He introduces this by saying that Phaedrus was, to his knowledge, the first person in Western tradition to avoid subjectivity and objectivity and take a third path, and then presents an interrelationship that bears significant similarity to Trinitarian doctrine that stood at the center of Western theology for a thousand years. Yes, he did say “to his knowledge” and comments later that Phaedrus was in some respects a poor scholar, but that’s a big one to miss. The parallels between quality as the interaction between object and subject that gives each independent existence and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as the manifest love between God the Father (subject) and Jesus Christ (object) that gives the Trinity distinct individual existence are startling, and I would think hard to miss for a student of philosophy.

There are a few other problems like this. Pirsig covers the link between Quality and Tao, but misses the close similarities between his description of Quality and the descriptions of God in the mystical branches of both Christianity and Islam. Quality as the indescribable that exists before description matches closely with the conception of Allah in Sufism. And the weakest part of Pirsig’s argument for me, perhaps because of my knowledge of Trinitarian doctrine, is the argument that, since quality must exist as interaction between subject and object to allow either to exist, quality is somehow above or more fundamental than either. I would argue that it’s equally valid to say that quality could not exist without both subject and object to interact; it seems more natural to me to argue for a balanced trinary system than to put forward quality as a monism.

Quibbles aside, though, this is excellent, thought-provoking material. Even if Pirsig’s focus neglects comparisons and ties to other significant philosophical systems, the existence of such parallels is evidence that there’s something here. This sort of attempt to reconcile Tao with reductionism is valuable, worthwhile reading for me; that is a combination that I work with on a daily basis, and Pirsig gave me quite a bit to think about. And the book works at all three levels it attempts, adding two satisfying stories to its philosophical exploration and balancing weaker spots of one against stronger passages of another.

This has the readability of popular psychology but not the shallowness, and if you’ve been putting it off because you were worried it was going to be too mystical, too difficult, or too proselytizing, worry no longer. Pirsig kept me interested, made me think, didn’t talk down to me, and didn’t annoy me, and higher praise for philosophy is rare.



Lila is a sequel of sorts to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It’s probably possible to read it on its own, but Pirsig introduces his notion of Quality at some length in Zen and Lila is more approachable with that background.

One of the beauties of Zen as a book is that it works on multiple levels and creates a coherent whole that’s superior to just its philosophy or just its narrative. It’s the story of a man re-establishing contact with his son, a story of mental illness and the life of a iconoclastic scholar, and a philosophical meditation. Where the philosophy is weak, the book is still strong in its portrayal of the author as a character and in its story of the intellectual life of one person.

Pirsig is clearly going for a similar effect in Lila, but it’s not as successful. The philosophical discussion here is mixed with the story of a boat trip down the Hudson River and about a mentally ill former prostitute named Lila who the author picks up along the way. This to some degree provides grounding for the discussion in the book (most effectively around the question of whether Lila has Quality and what that might mean), but it doesn’t click the way that Zen did, and the style seems more affected. Pirsig writes about himself, but in the third person and calls himself Phaedrus. Some sections of the book are told supposedly from the perspective of other characters (Lila or one of her friends), which would work in a novel but which feels very strange in an account that seems like it’s supposed to be non-fiction. The narrative thread of this book is part novel and part true story in a way that made me rather uncomfortable; either it’s fictional, in which case the embedding of clearly realistic details feels a bit deceptive and Phaedrus is inadequately differentiated from the author, or it’s intended to be non-fictional, in which case writing bits from the perspectives of other characters seems arrogant and a bit dishonest (particularly since those parts always reinforce and never contradict Pirsig’s, or Phaedrus’s, interpretation of events). The effect feels more constructed and less real than Zen.

This, though, is a smaller part of the book. Most of the book is devoted to the construction of a metaphysics of Quality, an analysis of the world, its purpose, its classifications, and the values and morals that it gives rise to. More so than in the previous book Pirsig directly tackles the question of what his philosophy means for human morality and human behavior. In his usual style, he presents this as a discursive ramble, and in the process shows a great deal of his thinking process and his intellectual approach to the world. His presentation of Quality as the best method of understanding the universe starts as proof by assertion and constant repetition, but if one sticks with the book, he does slowly build a justification and defense for his position and provides interesting bits of analysis that I found valuable even if I didn’t buy his overall framework.

Pirsig’s basic theory goes something like this: Traditional philosophy is focused on subjects and objects, which is too limited of a view. Quality or value is a property of the interaction between subject and object and is more fundamental than either; subjects and objects only attain existence through interaction, and that interaction therefore comes first. Quality, the valuing of one thing over another or a sense that one state is better than another, is therefore the fundamental principle of the universe on which everything else is built. He divides these values into four sets of static patterns (inorganic, biological, social, and intellectual) that form the basic structure of the world and of human society, and into something that he calls Dynamic Quality, which is the force of change or breaking down of static patterns and is identified with religious mysticism, society-changing technological development, cutting edge science, or life-changing personal growth.

Pirsig never convinced me that this structuring of the universe is ideal or better than any other perspective, but he did convince me that it’s useful in some contexts. I think some of his clearest insights are in the interaction between static and dynamic quality, in the observation that static patterns of quality can be stifling and destructive and dynamic change is necessary and important, but that dynamic change by itself is fleeting and unsustainable and there must always be a balance between dynamic change and static patterns. Social and personal advancement is therefore a ratcheting process of dynamic change and then consolidation of gains by the creation of new static patterns. I already felt, from other readings, that mysticism is poorly understood and therefore frequently misunderstood or ignored in Western Christian philosophy; Pirsig’s unusual approach to mysticism is, I think, clearer and more easily digestible than the religious explanations I’ve more often heard and therefore valuable as another way of describing a technique and mindset that’s quite difficult to describe adequately.

I do, however, have some serious problems with Pirsig’s basic arguments, going all the way back to his contention that Quality is fundamental to the universe. One example he uses repeatedly is that of a man sitting on a hot stove. His argument is that the low quality of that situation is an immediate and fundamental perception, and that rational analysis and even separation of identity between oneself and the stove comes behind the immediate recognition of a low-quality situation. There’s something to this, but where he sees a truth about the construction of the universe, I see a bypassing of intellectual thought processes by biological instinct. I’m much more willing to believe the man has a pre-conscious negative reaction to sitting on a hot stove becuase of pain receptors triggering an instinctual response that happens faster than higher brain processing. In other words, this example doesn’t, to me, show that quality is a more fundamental aspect of the universe than the stove or the man; it shows me that we have biological overrides that trigger before intellectual models. That doesn’t make the biological model more true than the intellectual model.

The end result of Pirsig’s privileging of values over objects is a metaphysics that deals directly with the ranking of values and the contention that the universe is fundamentally moral. Pirsig recasts physical laws as inorganic static patterns of value and the behavior of biological organisms as organic static patterns of value, while making an interesting argument that higher-level patterns (like biological patterns or human social patterns) are not simply emergent behavior from inorganic static patterns (phyiscal laws). Rather, he argues that each lower-level static pattern is set up in such a way as to support many possible higher-level patterns and the higher-level patterns attain a life and existence of their own that cannot be derived directly from lower-level patterns. His comparison is to a computer: the word processor program is in some sense a manifestation of the physical laws governing the operation of the computer hardware, but this isn’t true in any useful sense. One cannot reasonably discover the program from an inspection of the physical laws governing the operation of the computer; it is an entity of its own that relies on the hardware to exist and run, but which is not obviously derived from it. I found this perspective intriguing and not obviously refutable.

His next leap, though, gets him into the most trouble that he has in this book. Based on this model, he proposes a very absolute model of morality where moral actions are dominance of higher-evolved patterns over less-evolved patterns and immoral actions are the reverse. In other words, it’s moral for biological patterns to dominate inorganic patterns, moral for human social patterns to dominate biological patterns, and moral for intellectual patterns to dominate human social patterns. Above all of this, he places dynamic quality as the most important, since dynamic quality is creativity, change, and growth, and therefore no static pattern should have the right to suppress dynamic quality. In places this works; in places, I think it fails badly. For one, it reduces too easily to an order of being in which humans dominate the planet because we’re more evolved and we therefore have an absolute moral right to use any inorganic or lower biological pattern to our own purposes, leaving no justification for environmentalism other than purely pragmatic human concerns. I think this is an odd miss; even if he completely disagrees with environmental ethics, I wanted to see him address them, and explain why, then, so many of us have a strong notion of stewardship and obligation to protecting lower biological patterns that goes beyond simple practical maintenance of our social and intellectual lives.

He draws a few other conclusions from this absolute morality that I found disturbing. For example, he considers social control of biology to be moral and even makes the very incorrect claim that social control over biology is always through force and makes an ancillary argument that attempts to deal with crime through anything other than force are doomed. Despite a lot of discussion of the good and bad of Victorian morality in other parts of the book, he seems to completely miss issues of desperation, poverty, and class here and simply writes off violent crime as a biological pattern of survival of the strongest. This same simplification happens elsewhere: he calls democracy an intellectual pattern and therefore says that it’s moral to have democracy control and be able to change social structures because those are less-evolved social patterns, which ignores a great deal of complexity behind the curtain of democracy and could easily be perverted into a justification for a foreign policy of “spreading democracy.” In general, I found the distinction between social patterns (less evolved) and intellectual patterns (more evolved) less than clear and had the impression that Pirsig occasionally called things he liked intellectual patterns and things he didn’t like social patterns so that the morality worked out according to his personal preferences.

These appear to be serious systemic flaws, but I don’t want to give the impression that this destroys Pirsig’s entire work. I’m very suspicious of systems of metaphysics that purport to explain everything; I expect to find flaws and uncovered territory in all of them. Pirsig’s system tackles problems from an angle that I’d not considered in detail before, and while I think he’s on firmer ground when contrasting dynamic and static quality, some of his rankings of static patterns are useful as an intellectual tool. His discussion of how celebrity functions within social patterns of value, for instance, I found intriguing, and his application of this intellectual framework to the problem of Lila’s mental illness brought the high-flying concepts down to earth in a very compelling model of mental illness and mental turmoil.

I would describe Pirsig, both here and in Zen, as thought-provoking rather than enlightening. He doesn’t provide me with a way of looking at the universe that clicks for me, but he does make me think about how I model the universe and why and provides new angles from which to consider the problem. And, most successfully, he provides in Lila a detailed examination of his personal thought processes and the ways in which he resolved these questions for himself. As a philosophical treatise, Lila is readable and approachable but not convincing; as insight into another person’s thought processes and a different view of the world, I found it compelling. I kept turning the pages, not because the nature of the universe was becoming clear, but because Pirsig is a fascinating person about whom I enjoyed learning more. This isn’t as good of a book as Zen, but if you enjoyed Zen and want to read more of Pirsig’s thought processes, I recommend it.

Malaysia: Muhyiddin pays the price for misplaced Loyalty

July 29, 2015

Malaysia: Muhyiddin pays the price for misplaced Loyalty

by Scott

KUALA LUMPUR 29 NOVEMBER 2012 - PRESIDEN UMNO, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak tersenyum melihat Timbalan Presiden UMNO, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin yang mempamerkan sepanduk `Saya Sayangkan PM' semasa Majlis Perasmian Perhimpunan Agung UMNO 2012 di Dewan Merdeka PWTC di sini hari ini. Gambar: MOHD NAIM AZIZ Pemberita: TEAM UMNO UTUSAN/KOSMO!Outfoxed by the Boss

And so the curtain comes down on Muhyiddin Yassin. Prime Minister Najib Razak’s decision to replace him with Zahid Hamidi comes as an act of retaliation for his aggressive speech to the Cheras division of UMNO, in which he disclosed that not only had he advised Najib to resign from the 1MDB Advisory Board, but also that none of the cabinet ministers had the faintest idea of what was going on in the scandal-ridden government-owned company.

Actually, a cabinet reshuffle has been an oft-whispered rumour for quite some time now. Najib has been looking to consolidate his power by surrounding himself with loyalists who will not question his actions and will defend him from the attacks of former PM Mahathir Mohamad and from the rakyat’s anger, particularly over the high cost of living.

Pundits had long suspected that Muhyiddin had his own agenda. Even before Sunday’s fate-sealing speech, he had already given less than subtle indications of his dissatisfaction with the way the 1MDB issue was being handled. At the height of Mahathir’s attacks on Najib, when it seemed like he was about to jump ship and pledge allegiance to the elder statesman, many were the voices that egged him on. Whether he expected to be sacked, or indeed was waiting to be sacked, only he can tell. But it is unlikely that he expected it to happen so suddenly.

What was underestimated was just how hard Najib would cling to power. Despite the scandals, despite the exposes, the Prime Minister has struck a stubborn, confrontational stance that is at odds with his famous silence.

After postponing the UMNO party elections, Najib probably sees his removal of dissent from his cabinet as the culmination of his master plan to leave his authority unchallenged, at least till the 14th general election, which must be held by 2018. He has chosen to surround himself with loyalists who have been defending him against attacks over the 1MDB scandal. So now we can no longer expect dissent from within the cabinet, at least not in public. It appears that there will no longer be any check and balance or any offer of a different perspective to Najib as he attempts to play the dangerous game of managing the 1MDB scandal while trying to pacify the rakyat, who are restless not only over the rising cost of living but also over his decision to brook no dissent from the media and from UMNO itself.

The real question now is how the Malay community will accept all this. The Malays have seldom taken kindly to the removal of one of their leaders in so stark a manner over a political dispute. The last time a Deputy Prime Minister was forced out abruptly, the Reformasi movement was born. Furthermore, it’s not as if the Malays don’t know a weakened leader when they see one. Najib’s move for political survival sends the message that he is not only ruthless, but also desperate to improve his situation. And desperation is weakness.

Najib’s latest actions are not those of a cold mastermind, but the flailing of a desperate man who realises the waters have risen so high that he is close to drowning. Nevertheless, his sacking of Muhyiddin does look like a sound political move given the disorganisation of the opposition and the lack of a unified front for the movement to oust him. But it is sound only for the time being, and probably a short time. Continuing in this high-handed manner will not do him any good in the way of gaining support from the rakyat. In fact, he is mistaken if he thinks that his reshuffled cabinet will be seen by the rakyat as more competent than the previous one.

Najib may have won the battle for now. He has wiped out dissent in his cabinet, fortified his position as Prime Minister, and taken steps to ensure he cannot be removed from office outside of a no-confidence vote in Parliament. He has used all the tools at his disposal in a way reminiscent of Mahathir, albeit with much less finesse. But he has a long way to go, and with this latest move, he may have given the anti-Najib movement something that it desperately needs – a figure to rally around who can step in to replace him.

Should Najib resign?

July 11, 2015

Should Najib resign?

by Hafidz Baharom

Personally, yes. He has tarnished the office of Prime minister with his continued failure in doing the one thing he had to do: lead. And quite frankly, I would rather he do so before succumbing to his “media triggered” depression, letting this country fall further into economic ruin and then promoting a “Twinkie defence”. Or, before he calls for martial law.

Najib must resignSo respectfully, it is time to clock out, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. And I’ll tell you why? In fact, I’ll write it out. The recent exposé by The Wall Street Journal has eroded whatever little confidence I have in the Prime Minister’s government, but I doubt his die-hard fans are quite in that position yet.

These are probably the same people who think the Titanic was an unsinkable ship that did not sink. Or to use Monty Python, still believe the parrot isn’t dead and is just “pining for the fjords”. Malaysians are a sarcastic and humorous people who have recently been able to channel this – directly or indirectly – through social media.

And with the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) public relations quagmire and the currently happening probe into how the Prime Minister had millions (or billions) placed into his personal accounts, the authorities have taken measures to try and keep this “parrot” alive through any means necessary.

Let us look at what is being suggested by these – for a lack of a better word – morons. First we have the conspiracy theorists, which include the Prime Minister himself. Initially, he had accused former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad of conspiring against him with the foreign press. When this was too ridiculous for the press to buy, or even the general public, he moved on to saying that the Dow Jones was conspiring to topple his government.

While there is a task force which is investigating these allegations, our Attorney-General found it necessary to task the police to look for who leaked the documents, even without first confirming that these documents were real or faked.

You read right. Insofar as the scandal has surfaced, the documents have been branded as “tampered documents” without any proof or revelation of the authentic ones from the parties involved. Why? Is it because the documents are classified under the Official Secrets Act, perhaps? And yet, a task force was established to investigate these allegations by an American newspaper based on these documents, and the Prime Minister is mulling action against the paper.

Personally, I would like to see this in court simply to see our Prime Minister take the stand and have the government prove that the documents released were  not real, untampered and untrue. It would allow the Sarawak Report, The Edge and The Malaysian Insider to then sue the Malaysian government for defamation and be vindicated.

Also, since the Journal is not published in Malaysia, it is outside the jurisdiction of the Royal Malaysian Police. In fact, can the Police actually take action against the Journal in any way or form since it is published and read online?

I sincerely doubt it. I’m guessing it is the same reason both Raja Petra Kamaruddin’s Malaysia Today and Clare Rewcastle Brown’s Sarawak Report are based beyond our borders. Perhaps our internet regulator will consider adding both websites in their Green Wall list – a list of websites inaccessible to the Malaysian public.

Speaking of which, we had a regulator weigh in saying that spreading false news on 1MDB was punishable by law. The Malaysian Commission for Multimedia and Communication (MCMC) found it necessary to even post this on Facebook.

Pro-government supporters are even considering the shutdown of the social network for nothing more than allowing Malaysians their right in expressing their views in the most hilarious and sarcastic ways possible – something that was guaranteed when we were granted Multimedia Supper-corridor (MSC) status.

Even going so far as to say it would make Malaysians more “productive”. Perhaps they would be so kind to practice what they preach and do so themselves, to set examples for the rest of us.

Of course, the typical UMNO leaders have also weighed in by saying that this is a foreign, Jewish conspiracy, but that is so overplayed by this government and its supporters that it rings on deaf ears. And then we have a leader of a bank who insisted on voicing his dissatisfaction and questioning the authenticity of the documents on social media, being shared by pro-government factions and being proven wrong. Sadly, his recant was not shared with the same enthusiasm as his calling the Journal stupid.

And he’s now being investigated by his employers, a move that I also do not support. We must not stifle anyone’s ability to express their thoughts on social media, and we should know where to draw the line between our individual and our jobs in the realm of social networks. For many reasons, this has been blurred drastically in the last decade when employers, the authorities and even insurance companies decided it a valid source of information.Even journalism has taken entries on Facebook as a source of news, as experienced by a fellow The Malaysian Insider columnist.

But all this makes it necessary for us to question a few things. Primarily, our government has embarrassed itself through its inability to follow up on former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s promise for reform towards transparency, especially in the case of 1MDB.

Instead of allowing Malaysians and its stakeholders to openly view the wheeling and dealings of this company under the Ministry of Finance, the company chose to shun the press to the point of refusing to even allow reporters covering them from viewing their pitch at property events.

Even the Pime Minister himself destroyed his credibility in the court of public opinion. From being too fast on the draw during Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s guilty verdict, his “golf diplomacy” trip to Hawaii during the worst flood since 1971, the insistence on flying to the Middle East during earthquakes in Sabah, yet the quick draw ability to comment on “gay parades” and 24-hour eateries callously shows his failure in setting priorities for a country.

Adding on to this was his no-show from the ironically named “Nothing2Hide” closed door forum, his insistence on continued sniping instead of a face to face session with Mahathir, the MARA scandal and even the continued hiring of people to help his faltering public image.

Goons in Malaysia's CabinetAll I can say is, this government was led by an ineffecive leader and an even worse a Cabinet that has led to the exhaustion of their political capital built up in the past 60 years, all spent up in the last decade. But don’t take my word for it. Let us wait for Merdeka Center to conduct their poll. Better yet, take a look at the Edelman Trust Barometer. In 2012, the Malaysian government scored 52%. In 2015, that number went down to 45%.

Erosion of trust, inability to defend the nation, an ineffective cabinet of dunces, a public persona of ridicule and allegations of underhanded dealings and nepotism, and more importantly, bankrupting the ruling party’s political capital, all of which have been highlighted by both government and alternative media.