Atchafalaya Swamp

Friday, July 27, 2007

Tagged for Malaysia's 50th Independence

Last night, while I laid my tired and battered body down in my bunk I heard the familiar beep from my Nokia. It was an SMS from Kak Ena (of 1450 Sudin Avenue) . What a nice surprise . . . I'm on a swamp barge you see, but never too far away from a Telkomsel base station so I'm able to send and receive SMS's. I had not cleaned my teeth yet, so it was a good excuse to indulge the remaining few sticks of my Made-In-Malaysia Dunhill gaspers (Duty Free, of course). Whether in the hot and arid bushes of Sudan, or the freezing winters of Niigata on the north coast of Honshu - I will ONLY smoke Made-In-Malaysia Dunhills. That goes to show what a patriotic Malaysian I am. I quickly headed out to the bow of the ship.

Her message simply said, 'Brother, I hv tagged u. Cheers'

'Hmmm,' I thought at the time, 'We'll I'll just have to wait and see what this all about tomorrow...'

My work PC with the satellite link sits in my work container outside of the accomodation area. Since it was also raining I'm not about to put on my workclothes, boots and hard-hat just to get to my "office". Besides, the cloud cover usually severs my satellite link anyway ... so I went inside to lay my body down again. . .

Ohmigosh, so now I discovered that she saw fit to nominate me as post #4. Thank you, Kak Ena, although I had sms'd back to say that I don't think I'm deserving of such accolades. But whom am I to argue, eh? Especially with Kak Ena?

So that's how my most recent post , becomes part of a "Dedication" to our nation’s 50th Merdeka.

Yo Galadriel , so I'm tagging you, Sis. So, you're #3. Now go and choose your victim carefully, 'o Merdeka girl!

Happy Brithday, Merdeka Girl Galadriel . . . Happy 50th Birthday, Malaysia!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

50 Posts to Independence # 4

The Dumbing Down of the Malaysian Electorate

Undi lah untuk aku, bangang

THE ELECTION IS LOOMING close - that much is certain. What is worrying is that the "dumbing down" has begun.

So how do you dumb down the electorate? Why, by controlling what they see, read and hear. The less the voters know, the more "ill-informed" they will be, and this is what some quarters would like to see happen. The media that is already "under-control" will thus be free to put a spin on everything.

Why fear the bogeyman?

So this is where the bogeyman comes in. And the bogeyman is RPK.

Speaking of the bogeyman, if I may digress, I googled the word and what I read tickled me, no thanks to part ancestry on my paternal side. I quote Micha F. Lindemans from the online Encyclopedia Mythica :

Bogeymen possibly come from the "bugis," who were pirates from Indonesia and Malaysia. English and French sailors brought the tales home and anglicized it, telling their children "If you're bad, the bugisman will come and get you!" Eventually, bugis got changed to bogey. (Ryan Tuccinardi)

RPK, as a couple of million of us Malaysians know, is an Anak Raja Bugis (hmmm, the acronym ARB would clash would somebody else's who's in the spotlight too, albeit for very different "crimes"). So, some generations back harried mothers in Scotland and England were using the spectre of this mythical malevolent creature to "scare" their children. In Malay / Indonesian mythology the equivalent would be momok. For the sake of lingual uniformity lets just call our bogeyman, momok.

In the eyes of the ruling party, RPK is indeed the momok. But this particular momok was roaming free all along until someone decided that the general election was near and that the ghosts need to be sequestered. Hey, put that Gin back in the Bottle. Maybe the Scottish mums generations ago and our own beloved mothers were right: If you are bad, the bogeyman will get you. But the warnings of yore was, understandably, meant for children only. Now, by the same logic, you mean to tell me that the ruling politicians in UMNO should fear this momok too? Why? Is it because they are "bad"?

So let us go back to the "dumbing down" premise. Control the flow the information (read: thrash the "negative" articles or websites) and you control the voters. Theres no need for those walking the Corridors of Power to over-react. No worries, man. The voters are inherently dumb, and the politicians, in their hearts of hearts, thinks this is true. Likewise, the feeling is probably mutual: the voters think their politicians are dumb too.

How so?

The Irrational Voter

Bryan Caplan, a professor of economics at George Mason University, in his book "The Myth of the Rational Voter", claims, 'In a democracy voters systematically favor irrational policies', adding, 'rational politicians give them what they (irrationally) want.'

Caplan is of course talking about the American electorate. But the voters in the Third World and developing countries are no less dumber too. So we can assume that his theories apply in equal measure here, since we also purport to be a democracy.

Caplan says that 'ignorant voters do not vote randomly'. He went on to theorize the "Four Biases" that makes voters 'demand policies that actually makes themselves worse off'. I like this one: Looks like voters love shooting themselves in the foot.

Caplan's four biases being:

  1. In a complex world voters are naturally ignorant about most things. The first is voters don't undertand how the pursuit of profits can lead to public benefits: therefore voters have an "anti-market bias".

  2. Foreigners (kaum pendatangs) are often being made scapegoats to all social ills: hence the "anti-foreign bias". Sounds familiar? Migrants bring benefits to a country you will agree, yes? Please remember your ancestors were once in this category too.

  3. Voters think that prosperity equates with employment when in reality a nation's "output" or production is what really counts. Caplan calls this "make-work bias". To illustrate, I quite a joke that is popular among economists: A western economist visits China during the time of Chairman Mao. He sees thousands of workers building a huge dam with shovels. He asks the mandor: "Why don't they use a mechanical digger?" "That would put people out of work," replies the mandor. "Oh," says the economist, "if it's jobs you want, then take away their shovels and give them spoons". Of course, for the individual worker it makes good sense to be employed in such a fashion. But the nation, in general, "loses". So it's how a nations' resources are best utilized (production) rather than (pardon the pun) spoonfeeding the masses that will contribute to their economic well being.

  4. Caplan calls the final one "pessimism bias". Meaning, voters will always think that they're worse-off than they really are. They fallaciously think that economic conditions are bad by merely looking at prices of petrol, cigarrettes or the Mamak's roti canai. Naturally, this "pessimism bias" is likely to be exploited by the opposition: Vote for me, and things will get better. But will they?

Anyway, I'm neither an economist nor a journalist. I was just quoting excerpts from Caplan's book which is currently a hit among economists.

I'm almost inclined to think that if Caplan's premises are indeed true, democracy as practiced here, there and everywhere is indeed flawed. Simply because we cannot expect every voter to fully grasp the intricacies of economics and politics. Same goes to the politicians too: they can't be expected to be well-informed. So we're all Dumb and getting Dumber.

So I say to the powers that be, no worries. Just feed the electorate what they want to hear and you have won already. No need to unnecessarily spend the people's money creating anti-blogging comittees and such, just for this one lone Momok.

Unless...unless, of course that the politicians fear that the electorate is smart and getting smarter? (God forbid!)

So it's not the momok they're afraid of after all. One momok alone cannot make anyone fall from the Corridors of Power. One momok alone cannot make a difference; after all, the momok controls just one vote - his own.

So now we have it: What the politicians really fear is the voters themselves. Like Caplan's book describes, just tell the voters what they want to hear. Easy peasy. Are voters "feared" because they do not trust their politicians anymore? Is this the reason to clamp down on bloggers - which, by the way, the DPM has subsequently denied?

The element of trust between voters and their politicians is fast receding, and bloggers like RPK, Jeff Ooi, Rocky and the like are to be blamed for helping breach this tenuous link? How so? These uber-bloggers are simply doing their duty exposing the misdeeds of those walking the Corridors of Power.

Is this the reason for the government's unhealthy preoccupation to reign in the momok, or momoks?

The Scottish mums of bygone days were probably right: The bogeyman might get you after all, but only if you happen to be bad.

If you're good, why worry?

[See also The Star Report, "No Crackdown On Bloggers" - http://star-techcentral.com/tech/story.asp?file=/2007/7/24/technology/20070724113208&sec=technology]


I dedicate the post above as my small contribution to Poetic Justice -- 50 Posts to Independence , a project that Nizam Bashir had initiated.

My headache now is who to choose as my "victim". So many deserving Malaysians out there who blog . . . but one of my closest (girl) friends immediately comes to mind. She is, without a doubt, a true Malaysian. I've never met anyone so as "socially conscious" as her. Listen to me. Just get on to her site and you know what I'm talking about. What's more - her birthday conveniently falls on August the 31st!

So I bring you #3 ... Galadriel!

Here are the rest of the "more deserving" entries:

50, 49, 48, 47, 46, 45, 44, 43, 42, 41, 40, 39, 38, 37, 36, 35, 34, 33, 32,31, 30, 29, 28, 27, 26, 25, 24, 23, 22, 21, 20, 19, 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7 , 6, 5, and me at # 4.

Happy 50th Birthday, Malaysia!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Your Own Special Way

Requiem For Dalilah

Dear Friends,

It is with great sadness to hear Dalilah mourn the loss of her mother-in-law, Allahyarhamah Mahyar Binti Ismail, who was called to Allah S.W.T. in Johor Bahru sometime last Saturday afternoon, 14 July 2007.

I would like to extend my Takziah and condolences to her husband Mambang Hijau, and may God give both wife and husband strength to weather the storms ahead.

I am particularly fond of Dalilah; for God has "tested" her more. More than other lesser mortals like the rest of us, for sure. Dalilah has battled cancer, undergone mastectomy and faced other heart-wrenching moments in the course of treatment and in her personal life as well.

If there is any thing I learned in the blogosphere, is that it is entirely possible to feel emphaty, and share someone else's pain.

The blogosphere, in the Malaysian experience at least, has brought to the mainstream other strong women who have decided to blog, and thus share their experiences with us.

Recent bloggers like Miss Yvonne Foong, who opened our eyes to the extremely rare and incurable genetic disorder called Neurofibromatosis (NF) Type 2, comes to mind. For that we have Blogger Zorro (or Unker Bernard as I like to call him) to thank for bringing Yvonne to us.

Female bloggers like Pi Bani, Yvonne, E a.k.a. Acciaccatura, Daphne Ling - and of course - Dalilah Raden Galoh, are at the forefront - often sharing and highlighting other unfortunate souls that needs attention and assistance. Needless to say, if not for these bloggers, we will never know of the plights of these other unfortunates.

I take my hat off to these strong women, who, in the face of their own adversity, find it in themselves to help others.

A modern parable, and a lesson to us all.

Thank you my sisters, for touching our lives.

And in your own special way, make this cruel wide world, a better place for us all.

Go far enough and you will reach
A place where the sea runs underneath
We'll see our shadow, high in the sky
Dying away in the night...

I've sailed the world for seven years
And left all I love behind in tears
Oh, won't you come here, wherever you are
I've been all alone long enough...


You, you have your own special way
Of holding my hand
keep it way 'bove the water
Don't ever let go - Oh no, no, no

You, you have your own special way
Of turning the world so it's facing
The way that I'm going.

Don't ever.. Don't ever stop...

Whose seen the wind not you or I?
But when the ship moves she's passing by
Between you and me, I really don't think
She knows where she's going at all...

You, you have your own special way
Of carrying me twice round the world
Never closer to home than the day
The day I started...You

You have your own special way
Hold onto my hand keep it way 'bove the water
Don't ever let go no, no, no...

What mean the dreams night after night?
The man in the moon's a blinding light
Won't you come out whoever you are
You've followed me quiet long enough...

You, you have your own special way,
Of holding my hand,
Don't ever let go

You, you have your own special way,
Of turning the world so it's facing
The way that I'm going,

Don't ever,

Don't ever leave me...

Words/Music: M.Rutherford
Vocals: P.Collins

from Genesis' "Wind & Wuthering" (1977)
©Hit & Run Music (Banks/Collins/Hackett/Rutherford)

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Mat Salo's Sometimes Weekly Indo Reports

Birth of a new sport: Malaysia Bashing

Oh let’ see.

[Flipping through yesterday’s The Jakarta Post’s July 7, 2007 issue]

Hmmm, more “Malaysia-bashing”, so what else is new?

Perhaps Malaysia deserved to be bashed. . .

Luthfi Assyaukanie’s analysis, entitled “The growing discrimination against minorities in Malaysia” is strongly critical of Malaysia’s policies. Luthfi is a research fellow at the Freedom Institute, Jakarta, and a lot of his “research” was apparently garnered by trawling through RPK’s Malaysia Today. So Luthfi is an unabashed “Malaysia Watcher”, which in my opinion, is a good thing. It’s always interesting to know what our neighbors think of us – whether our dirty laundry hanging in the clothesline offends them.

His main target is Badawi’s Islam Hadhari, with Luthfi stressing the concept to be flawed, and preceded to shred two of the “Ten principles of Islam Hadhari”, namely:

  • Freedom and independence for the people

  • Protection of the rights of minority groups

Luthfi stated various recent examples to back his argument, and include “the conversion issues”: Muslim woman married to a Hindu, arrested and sent for rehabilitation and R. Subashini’s case whose husband converted to Islam. The latter failed to get a Civil Court custodial hearing and was forced to go to Sharia court. The no-brainer was, of course, Madam Subashini losing custody of her children. To her, seeking recourse in a Sharia court is akin to putting a kitten in a dog kennel.

Then there was Lina Joy, which in Luthfi’s said was a “contradiction that is Islam Hadhari”. And so on.

He also quoted Anwar Ibrahim, who claimed disappointment over the cancellation of the inter-faith conference last May, and said, 'A dialogue would enable us to quell the tensions that arise from our differences'. Luthfi echoed Anwar’s sentiment stating, ‘the last minute cancellation . . . itself a manifestation of the paradox of the oft-campaigned “Islam Hadhari”’.

Wow, this is all heady stuff. On the one hand, Luthfi appeared to be right. But are they, really?

But for Luthfi’s essay to appear on the influential editorial page of Indonesia’s premier English broadsheet means Badawi’s Islam Hadhari is being watched very closely by its neighbor Indonesia, which may or may not spell anything on the diplomatic front.

But with “sensational” news that was played up in the Indonesian press recently, in particular the maltreatment of its Tee-Kay-Weys (TKW – Tenaga Kerja Wanita – maids, to you and me) - Malaysia seems to be fair game for the sport of “Malaysia Bashing”.

So how my fellow citizens in Bolaysia, are we “fair game”?

[Please also see a related story in Kak Ena's recent blog]

Pak Obama, warga Indonesia?

On a lighter note, I was much taken with today’s Sunday Edition of
The Jakarta Post. In it was a story by an American journalist bent on discovering U.S. presidential hopeful Barack Obama’s Indonesian past.

Senator Obama’s colorful C.V. included a four year stint in Menteng, Indonesia, where the Senator once lived in a modest house with a single-mother parent (and an absent father) and attended grade school there.

The reporter had also tracked down Senator Obama’s one-time teacher, a certain “Ibu Is”, and also met one of the potential U.S. president’s classmate.

Ibu Is had brought the reporter Trish Anderton into Fransiskus Assisi’s grade school office, where the register listed the US Senator as “Barry Soetoro”.

To quote Miss Anderton:

'Barack Obama was born to a white American mother and a black Kenyan father. The couple split up when he was two years old. Then his mother fell in love with an Indonesian named Lolo Soetoro. She married him and moved with Obama to Jakarta in 1967.

Obama wasn't shielded in an expat bubble. He played with Indonesian kids and went to Indonesian schools. But his mother's marriage failed, and Obama moved to Hawaii to live with his grandparents. He grew up to become a community organizer and eventually a Democratic senator and presidential hopeful'.

My, my, somewhere among the ¼ billion is an Indonesian with the name Lolo Soetoro, and whether he will ever come out to claim his stake on the Senator is anybody’s guess. He was once , after all, Obama’s “father”. Perhaps Mr. Lolo has passed on, but it will indeed be interesting if Senator Obama ever gets to be President of The United States.

You can bet that all kinds of people would come out of the woodwork here in Indonesia, claiming a “connection” to the Most Powerful Man on Earth.

Oh Senator, gi mana Pak?

The Iconic Pak Zainudin

Yesterday, Pak Zizou, former Les Blues skipper and three-time FIFA Player of the Year, descended by chopper to the remote village of Cisaat, Subang, West Java. Cisaat is about a four hour drive from Jakarta.

Zizou is in town as part of his United Nations Development Program’s involvement as a Goodwill Ambassador. A coaching clinic was held for Cisaat’s lucky elementary school students. Frank Riboud, the French Danone Groupe President was also shown in the papers to be kicking the ball, amidst the backdrop of dairy cows and jilbab-clad schoolgirls.

According to the
story, the organizers claimed that “the village will become a model milk-producing village”. Groupe Danone is financing the project. Anybody who has been to Indonesia and drank it’s most popular bottled water “Aqua” already knows that Danone owns "Aqua".

Sometime earlier this morning, Indonesian TV news carried footage of “Pak Zainudin” playing “Futsal on the Street” on Jalan Jend. Sudirman. No doubt sponsored by Danone as well.

Syabas Pak Zainudin!

More news on the former Juventus' and Real Madrid's playmaker here.


Mat Salo, with the roving eye, was appointed Bolaysia's "Roving Ambassador" to Balikpapan recently. A chance meeting with Mejar Mahzan, Malaysia's Military Liason Officer there precipitated the event. Kapten Mohd. Faizal of Samarinda's Malaysian Military Liason Office was also present to commemorate and bear witness to the occasion.

What the hell did Mat Salo get himself into this time?

Part of his duties include getting a list of all known Warga Bolaysia who are residents of this oil-town. The reason, according to the Mejar, in case "something happens" - like war due to situation of the disputed territories in the Ambalaat region, for instance. Or to repatriate mortal remains. Let's not go there, oh puhleeeze.

Contrary to popular opinion, he does not get paid for this thankless appointment. Nor is he privy to lucrative MINDEF contracts.

Apparently, some years back, an M.O.U. was signed between the two countries to foster good military relations by providing corresponding liason offices in Borneo. In Kuching, an Indonesian Military Liason Officer with the rank of Major is also provided a car and suitable premises to host Indonesia's Liason Office.

The funny thing was, when Mejar Mahzan and Mat Salo first met, the Mejar spoke in the Indonesian dialect and Mat Salo had no choice but to reply in-kind. It was only after Mat Salo had identified himself properly did the slang of the Air Tawar, Perak native changed.

Doesn't MS look like a native Bolaysian anymore? Well, this is news, indeed.

There are no consulates in either Balikpapan or Samarinda and the only consulate is in Pontianak, an eight hour drive south of Kuching, Sarawak. But "Ponti" might as well be in Timbuktu, as there are no direct flights there. Not from Balikpapan anyway. Pontianak is also inacessible by road from Balikpapan, and I read somewhere that the 4WD Petronas Nusantara expedition took three days to get from Pontianak to here.

I understand the expedition also required the use of pontoons and ferries. And a whole lot of money too.