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.

Najib, UMNO Baru and 1MDB keep lying

June 30, 2015

Najib, UMNO Baru and 1MDB keep lying till the end of time

by Mariam

Ismail Sabri Yaakob warned that anyone who slanders Najib Abdul Razak and the government over 1MDB would be punished. This demonstrates two things: that Umno Baru promotes ministers to their level of incompetence, and that spending taxpayers’ money is easy, because it does not appear to belong to anyone in particular.

The irony is that it took former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, with his severely blemished past, to show that the only way UMNO Baru politicians assuage temptation (spending public funds) is by yielding.

Ismail, who is UMNO Baru supreme council member, reminded the rakyat to be wary of unsubstantiated sources such as Sarawak Report and The Edge, with their evil agendas. He said that those who discussed Najib’s involvement in the 1MDB scandal could be relying upon inaccurate information about the dealings between 1MDB and PetroSaudi.

Warning that stern action would be taken against Sarawak Report and The Edge for harming national interests, he said, “When the 1MDB issue erupted, many people believed in The Edge, which frequently reported biased news and was criticised for sabotaging the economy.”

Ismail, who is also the Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Minister, pleaded with Malaysians to have faith in the government, and said, “We should trust the government and the minister’s explanation…”. He urged the rakyat to ignore information garnered from social media or from bloggers and refer instead to the authorities for verification.

Asking the authorities to verify information is an impossibility and shows how naïve Ismail is to think he can fool the rakyat. Najib has dodged answering questions about 1MDB and helped extend the 1MDB scandal.

Integrity flies out the window, where party politics are concerned. Everyone has a price and Najib knows that UMNO Baru divisional heads are demanding, and expensive. Would Ismail like to verify the allegations about UMNO Baru heads receiving substantial contracts and fiscal rewards for showing their loyalty to Najib?

Veteran UMNO Baru politician Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah said, “These days UMNO Baru divisional leaders as well as parliamentary members earn up to RM50,000 a month, some even earn hundreds of thousands”.

He said that on March 8, over 160 UMNO Baru divisional leaders, including those who support Mahathir, had attended a meeting with Najib to show their allegiance to him.

‘No lah. Everything is above board!’

The typical response from the authorities, on whether this meeting took place, or that loyalty is accompanied by a price tag is this; “No! UMNO Baru politicians are clean and law-abiding. No one is above the law. We love Najib.”

The opposition MP for Petaling Jaya Utara, Tony Pua, claimed that the purchase of property by Mara in Melbourne is a covert attempt to save 1MDB. Do similar property purchases, by government-linked companies (GLCs), both in Malaysia and abroad, constitute a form of illegal kickback for corrupt officials?

We can predict the response; “No lah. Everything is above board! Mara is not corrupt.” Ahmad Maslan, the UMNO Baru Information Chief, announced that his party’s elections would be postponed till after the 14th general election (GE14), to strengthen the party and focus on the needs of the people. UMNO Baru secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor admitted that the postponement was because of an internal political crisis.

Critics claim otherwise and say that the delay is due to Najib needing more time to resolve the 1MDB crisis. Additionally, UMNO Baru has to resolve its in-fighting, and more importantly, Dr Mahathir’s relentless attacks on Najib. The authorities’ verification? “No. The postponement has nothing to do with 1MDB or Mahathir’s criticisms.”

PAS’ Pokok Sena MP, Mahfuz Omar wants Muslims to reject Najib’s ploy, to use RM20 million from Yayasan 1MDB to pay for the redevelopment of a mosque in Kampung Baru and turn it into a “national landmark”. Mahfuz accused Najib of using Muslims to “forgive 1MDB”, and that Najib wanted to “sanitise” 1MDB’s controversies by giving money to build mosques and helping to fund the pilgrimages of religious scholars to Mecca.

We can predict the response of the authorities to Mahfuz’s assertions, “No. It is not true that 1MDB’s funding for mosques is used to appeal to the Muslims. UMNO Baru is merely helping to protect Islam and promote the Malays.”

Ismail knows, and his knowledge is confirmed by the preceding examples, that trying to verify any facts with the authorities is a pointless exercise.

He may be interested to know that the rakyat’s list of queries is much longer and includes questions on who killed Altantuya Shaariibuu, the purchase of the Scorpene submarines, the National Feedlot Corporation (NFC), the cargo manifest of MH370, the RM24 million ring, the jailing of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on trumped-up charges, human trafficking, Taib Mahmud, Batang Kali, Memali, Kampung Medan, Mahathir and May 13.

UMNO Baru treats information, in one of the following ways – denial, pay-out, violence, threats of jail, lawsuits and silence. UMNO Baru politicians have spun so many webs of deceit, that they now believe their own lies. Naturally, they think that Najib and UMNO Baru can do no wrong.

UMNO Uses Whistleblower’s Arrest to Defend 1MDB

June 28, 2015

UMNO Uses Whistleblower’s Arrest to Defend 1MDB

by John Berthelsen

Xavier Justo

Malaysia’s political establishment is using the arrest of Xavier Justo in Thailand to try derail questions over the ill-starred 1Malaysia Development Bhd Fund that go far beyond whether the whistle-blowing Swiss national did or did not steal and doctor documents and pass them to Sarawak Report, a critical blog run by a British reporter.

The United Malays National Organization has mounted a full-court attack on Sarawak Report and the Malaysian financial publication The Edge, threatening to crack down on The Edge’s printing license and driving a campaign through allied bloggers, the UMNO-owned New Straits Times and other media.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak himself threatened action against Sarawak Report, which responded angrily that there was no wrongdoing. At the same time, there appears to be a move to tie Mahathir Mohamad, the nonagenarian former premier and 1MDB’s fiercest critic, to allegations that the case against 1MDB has been doctored. 

For months, 1MDB has been under significant pressure both from the political opposition and some members of Najib’s own UMNO to come up with answers over what has become of RMB42 billion [US$11.3 billion] in liabilities the state-funded investment company has accrued since it came into being six years ago. Some sources in Kuala Lumpur say as much as RMB25 billion may be unrecoverable. Najib and company officials have been scrambling to find funds to meet regular interest payments, some of which have been deferred, apparently for lack of funds to meet them.

Thais Nab Justo in Koh Samui

Justo was arrested by Thai police in the presence of reporters and photographers from the UMNO-owned New Straits Times to record the event and print a front-page story accusing the “heavily tattooed Justo” of a long series of sins including theft and attempting to blackmail officials of PetroSaudi International, a controversial oil exploration firm closely connected to 1Malaysia Development Bhd, whose problems are said to threaten Malaysia’s entire financial structure. 

“This shocking story had the country talking,” according to the New Straits Times. “Who is Xavier Andre Justo? How could such a sorry figure have ignited a major Malaysian political storm? What motivated this man, so disconnected from the nation of Malaysia, to launch such a callous attack on our people without a thought for the consequences? The answer appears to be cold, hard cash. Greed can be a route to riches, but it can also be a dangerous road to ruin, as Xavier Justo is learning the hard way. Now, he finds himself in a Thai jail awaiting prosecution on charges of attempting to blackmail and extort money from his former employers; with further charges to follow in the United Kingdom and Switzerland.”

Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi threatened to take action against Sarawak Report and The Edge, a leading financial and investment news publication, both of which for months have been breaking embarrassing stories on the parlous state of 1MDB’s finances and on the connections between flamboyant young financier Low Taek Jho and Najib. Jho Low, as he is known, and Najib were instrumental in establishing 1MDB in 2009. Najib remains as the fund’s chief financial advisor.

 Home Minister’s Threat

Zahid charged that The Edge and Sarawak Report had been “spinning the facts” over the state of 1MDB’s finances. The government is armed with colonial-era legislation under the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act to attempt to deny licenses to what it deems to be offending publications.  With Sarawak Report headquartered in the UK, however, Zahid’s threat remains an empty one.

Justo, who left PetroSaudi several years ago, somehow got back into the company’s computers to download 3 million emails that allege damaging information on the transactions with 1MDB and a company closely connected to Jho Low, as he is known.

There have been attempts to tie Justo’s revelations to Mahathir.  In a report by Malaysia Today, a blog also operated from the UK, Raja Petra Kamarudin said he had been told Sufi Yusof, Mahathir’s secretary, had made “a number of trips to Thailand over the past year to meet [Justo] and the Thai authorities are trying to establish this through immigration records.”

If the Thai authorities manage to establish that some of the documents and e-mails were, in fact doctored, Raja Petra wrote, “and that Sufi did make a few trips to Thailand to meet [Justo] and was aware of, or was a party to, this fraud, it is not going to look good for Dr Mahathir.

A Furious Brown  Answers

Clare Rewcastle Brown, the UK-based blogger who publishes the Sarawak Report, fired back with a furious 1,600 word riposte in which she threatened to sue for libel and defended on a case by case basis the documents that PetroSaudi officials alleged were doctored.

“Sarawak Report will be demanding satisfaction over these false allegations of ‘tampering,’” she wrote. “We suggest these misrepresentations are added to the list of potentially criminal activities by PetroSaudi, whose false charges on this point currently number amongst the allegations that have landed [Justo] in a jail in Bangkok.”

The blog, Brown said, “has closely researched the extremely serious and libelous allegations, which claim documents relating to our coverage of the PetroSaudi 1MDB joint venture were ‘tampered’ and ‘distorted’ in order to ‘creatively alter’ the truth. We can now prove that these allegations are demonstrably untrue, by examining the evidence on which they were based.

So, she wrote, “our message to those who have accused us is check your facts before you sound off your accusations and start to worry about libel suits, if you have defamed us or an innocent man who is now in jail. We can confirm that there is zero evidence brought forward so far to substantiate the claims of ‘distortion’ made over the past 48 hours by the New Straits Times and taken up by certain media, bloggers and UMNO politicians.”

Indeed, she charged, “the little evidence that has been provided by these parties can be shown to confirm the exact opposite, which is that there has been no tampering of documents. Even so, people who could also have made the very same checks have falsely alleged that Sarawak Report and the Edge newspaper lied and deliberately misled readers with ‘distorted’ information about 1MDB’s missing billions.”

The New Straits Times, she said, never bothered to substantiate “grave and libelous charges” by showing their readers the actual evidence.

“As Sarawak Report pointed out yesterday, we corroborate our claims, so why can’t they? The reason turns out to be that it is startlingly easy to show that the claim is completely untrue.”

Your Weekend Entertainment: Jim Reeves by The Mekong

June 6, 2015

Your Weekend Entertainment: Jim Reeves by The Mekong

FCC_ruben_iFCC in Phnom Penh

We have enough of comedy and big blunders by Chicken Najib aka Na-Jinx (National Jinx) to last a lifetime. But  we know that his show will go on until UMNO and its membership body decide that he must hit the highway. For now, our country will be relieved of all the bad vibes he and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, have gifted to us.  We should take it easy while the esteemed couple leave for Saudi Arabia at the invitation of  King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (Arabic: سلمان بن عبد العزيز آل سعود‎, Salmān bin ʻAbd al-ʻAzīz Āl Saʻūd) for the customary pre-Ramadhan Umrah in Mecca.

Our First Couple left our country this evening. One can imagine the fun and merriment on board their newly fitted executive Airbus plane in the company of their hangers on.They are probably congratulating Najib  for “outfoxing” Tun Dr. Mahathir and the NGOs at Putra World Trade Centre.

For those who are grounded at home, Dr. Kamsiah and I bring on the soothing baritone voice of country and western balladeer, Jim Reeves for your listening pleasure . Najib’s departure to Mecca provides a relief or sorts. Please relax and enjoy yourselves.–Dr. Kamsiah (in Kuala Lumpur) and Din Merican (in Phnom Penh by the Mekong).