BN runs ads to scare non-Muslims against voting for PR, while also running ads to scare Muslims against voting for PR.
BN runs ads to scare non-Muslims against voting for PR, while also running ads to scare Muslims against voting for PR.

Divide and rule is a strategy used by empires to control territories under subjugation. From the Wikipedia article:

Elements of this technique involve:

  • creating or encouraging divisions among the subjects to prevent alliances that could challenge the sovereign
  • aiding and promoting those who are willing to cooperate with the sovereign
  • fostering distrust and enmity between local rulers
  • encouraging meaningless expenditures that reduce the capability for political and military spending

Against a government which has no qualms instilling fear and suspicion among its people for a chance at staying in power, there is only one thing to do.

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“We swept the island”, said the lanky man in red and white, hanging up his mobile phone. “Even Koh Tsu Koon fell!”

We sat there in stunned silence on the wooden canteen benches. It had been a long day, but also the most exciting one in a long, long while. I made a mental note of the date: March 8, 2008.

It is sometimes hard to remember, but in the run-up to GE12, it was far from clear what was about to happen. It was, after all, the first elections to take place after the rise of social media and ubiquitous Internet. The MSM dedicated column upon column after the elections to tell us what we already knew: that, as Thomas Jefferson observed, democracy only functions when the electorate is informed – and we no longer needed the MSM to be informed. Print subscriptions of government-controlled papers have dropped consistently for years. We all know why.

What influences your vote? Some would say corruption. Ling Liong Sik’s claims that he didn’t understand the billion-ringgit contracts he was signing, or the intrepid investigative reporting from Global Witness on the plunder of Sarawak by Taib are recent examples.

Others will say that BN needs to lose for its own good. A change of government will put back power into the hands of the people and remind politicians that they serve at the pleasure of the rakyat. For far too long has BN treated itself as a reigning monarch, using public funds for its own purposes and doling out handouts according to its whims, as if the money did not come from the people in the first place.

There are also the more moderate voices who point out that Najib has been doing a decent job at the helm: the economy is on the uptick, there have been steps to abolish the most draconian laws, and BN has discarded half its old guard in a bid to rejuvenate. Even the most diehard DAP or PKR supporter has to admit to some doubt over how far their partnership will go; DAP and PKR are incompatible with PAS on a fundamental level.

And some among us grow weary of all the politicking. For all the fanfare when Pakatan and BN released their manifestos, there is precious little substance in them. If we were to take them at face value, it doesn’t matter which party you choose – both promise a veritable windfall of handouts for various demographics, with scant explanation as to where the money will come from. Pandering takes precedence over policy on both sides of the divide.

“The most important thing is not to celebrate. Don’t give them an excuse! Keep your heads down!” All nodded sagely, not needing an explanation as to who “they” were, or what they needed an “excuse” for.

I attended a talk recently given by Nurul Izzah, YB Lembah Pantai (which in light of the dissolution of Parliament should stand for, as she was quick to point out, Yang Bertanding) and Saifuddin Abdullah, YB Temerloh. A question put forward to both was whether we should still have racial parties, to which both gave the same diplomatic answer – in a democracy, race-based parties have a right to exist.

I didn’t feel that answered the question – whether race-based parties are allowed to exist (they obviously do) is a different discussion from whether they still should.

For decades UMNO has continued the British strategy of divide-and-rule: a tactic that weakens the nation for the benefit of its rulers. It is also incredibly inefficient – take how our government has made costly, confusing flipflops over whether to teach Maths and Science in English, or the quotas for public university admissions. When the specter of race pandering looms over every single decision, much less time is spent on policies that matter, on making the decisions Malaysia needs to succeed and to keep our streets safe. Because of this overhead, we now compare ourselves to African countries where we once ranked among the Asian tigers of South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore.

It is a pet peeve of mine how political parties treat allocations to vernacular and religious schools as showing support for one race or another. Singapore bit the bullet in unifying their education system decades ago and look where they are now. We would do our children a huge favour by focusing on building the best public education system possible, rather than wasting resources bribing demographic groups with vernacular schools. Our education system would have us see a Chinese child go to a Chinese primary school and a Chinese secondary school, and join the MCA. And then we wonder why people mock the 1Malaysia slogan! I’m no fan of religion either, but at least one has to choose to be a believer.

I firmly believe that our generation will be the one where Malaysia takes its first step into the zeitgeist of rationality. Mahathir claims that Malaysians are not ready to abandon race-based parties. He could not be more wrong – we are the closest we have ever been. A loss for BN automatically renders the already-flailing MCA and MIC irrelevant. MCA and MIC cannot survive as opposition parties; their main reason for existence is to keep an UMNO-led government in check (and to provide for their cronies). Without MCA and MIC, UMNO’s racism will be only more profound, and the success (or at least, the non-failure) of a Pakatan Rakyat coalition would only draw more attention to the divide. BN will eventually have to consolidate under one banner and allow direct membership.

This is the first step, and one within our grasp. It will leave our political landscape forever changed, for the better. Make no mistake, this is an election to remember. Your vote counts!

When was it that we first met? Sometime in college? I can’t remember. It’s like you’ve always been there.

I will remember how we spent nearly every night together. I lose count of the things you’ve shared with me. The constant discovery. How you were always there: patient, reliable. My friends think I’m smart – what they don’t know is half the time I’m just repeating something I learnt from you. I sang your praises to everyone who would listen (few did).

Over the years I tried other things. They were prettier, sexier. They dressed up better. But it was always your simplicity, your straightforwardness, that kept me coming back.

Yesterday you broke the news: you’re going away – for good. People don’t love you enough, you say. But I do, I scream inside, and I wish that were enough, but it isn’t.

You tell me to see someone else, and I’ve tried, but they just aren’t the same. The flow isn’t there. They don’t understand me as well, and they keep wanting me to do something new, out of my comfort zone. They all seem to want something from me. They don’t understand how one needs to escape to something stable and constant, away from crazy, fickle reality.

It’s hard to imagine life without you.

Goodbye, Google Reader :(

“Have you tried this app called Deezer? It’s really good! DiGi has finally brought internet radio to Malaysia.”
“Oh really?”
“Yah! It even lets you download your music offline if you make it into a playlist first! And it’s only USD5 a month!”
“HAR so expensive!”
*Proceeds to drive to Starbucks where he bought two java chips for nearly RM30.

“Have you tried this app!! It’s really good, it does your homework for you!”
“Wow really!”
“Yah and it irons your clothes too! Here’s the App Store link”
“Wah must pay USD0.99 ah!!! I jailbreak better. BRB off to Chatime today all drinks at RM4! There’ll be a lot of people so I have to brave the jam”
*huddles off with iPhone that cost RM2,000

I put it down to a strong culture of piracy and a strong culinary culture. Malaysians (and Singaporeans) could care less for the modern alternatives to piracy:

  1. Knowing that what you’re getting is malware-free
  2. The convenience of not having sift through warez sites and jailbreak procedures
  3. Taking advantage of the low, low prices because of the sheer number of users behind popular marketplaces
  4. GUILT-FREE ENTERTAINMENT

Meanwhile, we have no qualms braving jams and soaring prices (especially for beverages) for food.

On a related note, I find it useful to mentally calculate how much value an activity or product provides in terms of cost per entertainment hour. Much like the Big Mac index, this would vary from country to country. I think the most useful benchmark to use is the price of a cinema ticket.

Assuming the cost of a standard ticket being RM12 and an average movie being 2 hours long, my benchmark cost per entertainment hour is RM6.

Being that most apps provide hours of usefulness and Deezer can be listened to all day long, these score very high on the list!

* This post is not sponsored by DiGi or Deezer. Marketing person please take note!

pakatan_manifesto

An election manifesto was launched recently, promising more handouts, more blatant targeting of certain voter groups, and more racial pandering.

The sad thing is that the manifesto was Pakatan’s.

It’s an impressive bonanza on the surface – lower oil, electricity, and water prices. Minimum wage. Cheaper cars. Better tax rates. Handout upon handout to women, the military, and senior citizens.

But how is all this paid for, exactly? There is absolutely nothing in the manifesto that identifies something specific to cut. Pakatan has also said it will cut Petronas’ dividends to the government, which is worth some RM30bil. Yes, Pakatan has often claimed that stemming corruption will result in massive savings, and we are all for that. But there is no way of knowing how much we will save beforehand, and the list of goodies therefore smacks of the stunts we have seen from BN.

Pakatan also aims to abolish PTPTN, which has always been a very sore point with me. PTPTN’s interest rates are low compared to education loans elsewhere. Public universities are cheap. We would be better served first improving the qualities of the universities we have and streamlining the selection criteria instead of making them all free (I would love what the private colleges e.g. Taylor’s, Monash, etc have to say about this).

What disappoints me the most are the items in the manifesto that pander to race:

Uphold the national language, ensure the rights of mother-tongue languages, and improve the command of English

How exactly are all these supposed to be achieved at the same time? We tried to improve the command of English by teaching Math and Science in English a decade ago, and decided to uphold the national language instead a few years later. It didn’t work out. A solid and bold choice is needed – saying “we’ll take care of all languages” just ensures we are mediocre in all of them. I don’t recall any studies showing that Malaysians suffer for the lack of proficiency in Malay or Mandarin. This is pandering, plain and simple.

Additional assistance of RM300 per student each year for the 1,854 people’s religious schools, national-type Chinese and Tamil schools (SJK), private Chinese, Tamil, Iban, Kadazan and mission schools.

What happened to the clarion call of “need, not race”? Isn’t Pakatan doing exactly what we demonize BN for – giving handouts to specific races (or their corresponding schools)? It used to be a standing joke how BN would pop up every election, declare more allocation for Chinese and Tamil schools, and then demand support. Now Pakatan shows it isn’t going to be different.

Recognise the Unified Examination Certificate (Combined Chinese Schools) (UEC)

I will never understand why we have leaders who think that we will be able to raise children through primary and secondary school – then often through college – in Chinese (or Malay)-dominated environments, and then expect them to join in the Malaysian dream as adults. Will there be no leader who will stand up and state the obvious – that unity and tolerance will only come from a unified education system?

What we need is a government willing and daring to make the tough choices. Who will not pander to the lowest common demoninator (read: race and religion) for votes; who are willing to take a good hard look at our neighbours and acknowledge that we aren’t where we could be; and who can give the nation clarity and purpose. By these measures, this manifesto disappoints.

“If you could have any super power, what would it be?”

- This is a question that I’ve seen asked on Reddit many times and the threads have always been entertaining reads. It’s always interesting to see people project their fantasies, and there are hints of the influences behind each one: Comic book fans often choose flashy powers like pyrokinesis or flight. Sci-fi geeks go for teleportation or even the more well thought-out “atom manipulation”. And when I see someone say “the power to polymorph” I figure they’ve dabbled in Dungeons and Dragons at some point.

Me? It’s too hard to decide, but I know that I have recurring dreams about flying. I think it has something to do with that old tale of Icarus, or perhaps supressed wanderlust, or a craving for freedom. Teleportation would have more utility, but it would just be more liberating and fulfilling to take off into the air, wind in your face, and go wherever you want, ya’know?

Flying

Photo credit: quitecurious.com

But cynical, smartass me then typically wakes up and starts thinking about how flying would not be a possible evolutionary path for humans:

  • It would probably necessitate evolving more hollow bones, which in turn would make us weaker bipedals
  • The energy consumed with flying long distances would make it impractical
  • The logistics involved in tracking flying humans against aircraft would be a monumental task

:( So I guess I’ll have to keep it to my dreams for now.

 

 

 

I hope to one day sit with my children and laugh about days when people still believed in religion.

“And kids, in my day there were even people sentenced to death for questioning what everyone else believed in. Imagine that!’

Until then, I sigh at the contradictions in human nature: on one hand, we are a species that has sent men to the Moon, sequenced the human genome, and embarked on deep philosophical questions; on the other, we have laws that condemn men to death simply for reflecting on their religious beliefs.

Hishamuddin and Najib: make no mistake, the blood of Hamza Kashgari could be on your hands. And all for the sake of pandering to the religious right, because you have nothing else to offer.

Blasphemy has always been a victimless crime, a crime of conscience. If God exists he can jolly well punish heathens on his own.