November 2010 Archives

Faith Makes Anything Possible

I just saw someone update this on their Facebook: "Faith makes anything possible".

It sure does.

It made the terrorists who flew into the WTC on 9/11 believe that they would have scores of virgins attending to their every need in Heaven.

It made David Koresh believe that he was Jesus. We all know how that turned out.

It makes women believe that their bomohs can make them pretty and young again. They have "faith" in the bomoh's power, so much so that they'll sleep with the bomoh then blame him for raping them.

It made Anwar think he could actually make good on his Sept 16 promise in 2008.

It makes parents everywhere believe that Happy Meals are actually good for their kids.

Faith does a lot of things, yes, it makes a lot of things possible. But be careful for what you wish for, and, certainly, what you have faith in.

Education is not in the schools, it's in the tuition centers

Praba's latest article is a very good analysis of everything that is wrong with our education system, a topic that is very close to my heart. He contends that the key to the success of many of our students lies in the education that they receive in the tuition centers; schools are schools, but the tuition centers is where real performance is tuned.

Teachers in schools are teaching less and less, some "save" their best efforts for the part-time jobs as tuition center teachers (who pay them so much more). Students are not learning, it is more like they are being programmed with the answers. Memorization will get you an "A", but it isn't going to teach you how to speak English as the thousands of "A" English students each year will prove.

Looking at it all, what's the point of even going to school? If 30 hours of school a week can be condensed into 6-10 hours of tuition, why not just send kids to tuition, and give them the rest of the time to develop their other skills and talents? The kids who skip school, aren't missing much, are they? Perhaps they are the smarter ones, who know how to better spend their time instead and go to tuition in the evenings for a couple of hours to receive their "real" education.

What a damning verdict on the Ministry of Education. How did it come to this? Shameful.

No wonder parents who can afford it prefer to send their children to private schools such as Tenby's, where teachers are motivated, well paid, the curriculum is designed for learning and development rather than memorization and regurgitation. Great for the kids who go to this school, but this creates an education apartheid in the society. Kids exposed to smart learning tend to become smart themselves, kids exposed to government schools tend to become exactly what the system wants of them.

You'll have your exceptions, of course. Those smart kids that will do well no matter where you place them. The super hero stories of the straight "A"s student who never attended a single hour of tuition. The ones who came from Government school and went on to Oxford and Harvard. Of course, you'll always have exceptions. But the success of a system cannot be judged based on the exceptional efforts of the exceptional few. The success of a nation cannot be built on the backs of these handful of winners, not in the real world, where more often than not, these brilliant minds leave the country for better pastures and opportunities the moment they are able to.

It all comes down to where we want to go, and how we're doing it. If education success in Malaysia passes for how much tuition we can attend, how well we can memorize the targeted facts and figures these centers give us for us to score an "A" in the exams, then we're definitely doing it wrong, and we're definitely headed for more of the same. Mediocrity.

PKR polls: a tale of good intentions

Parti Keadilan Rakyat

Image via Wikipedia

You know, even in hindsight, it was a pretty good marketing gambit: PKR is walking the talk, we are the beacons of democracy in Malaysia, let's hold free and fair party elections. Let's give every one a vote to choose their leaders, from the top of the pyramid right down to the local party machinisms. What a great bunch of visionaries we are. 

Its all gone pear shaped since, unfortunately. Allegations of vote rigging, improper ballot handling and a nagging suspicion that the whole purpose of the elections was to reinforce the charade that PKR was "not UMNO". In the perfect irony, the elections have shown everyone that PKR and UMNO are actually very much alike. From the heights of GE12 in 2008, the darling of the electorate every one expected to make further inroads in GE13 is now being spoken of in cautious tones. The turnaround is almost complete, and instead of GE13 being the litmus test of BN's rule (as it should be), the people are now wondering instead if it would be better to use the next elections to show their displeasure at how poorly PR in general and PKR in particular have performed.

How the tide has changed.

A long time supporter, Raja Petra, is taking daily pot-shots at PKR, and Anwar in particular. His reasoning is, he helped create Anwar's career, he certainly has the right to say something when he sees something he doesn't agree with. He's right. Do we begrudge our parents for scolding us when we make mistakes? Of course, we don't. 

Not just Zaid Ibrahim, but other senior members of PKR's hierarchy are telling the tale of two cities. The chairman of PKR's disciplinary committee, Animah Ferrar, has called for the whole elections to be called off and redone. What a damning verdict on the impropriety only an insider can see. 

The PKR fanboys will doubtless argue that PKR is a new party, learning the ropes. Infected with Trojan Horses, it needs time to weed out the rot and to set the ship right, exactly what the elections are supposed to do.

But this just stinks to me, very much, "if you're not with me, you're against me" type of mentality. When Zaid Ibrahim spoke out against the ISA, and left the Cabinet on principle, PKR welcomed him as a brother at arms. The moment he turned on them, he is a Trojan Horse. The same has been labelled on RPK, of all people. It's inconceivable that a man who has been fighting the good fight for the better part of 30 years, spending time in Kamunting, and being forced to live in exile from his motherland, is a "trojan horse" as has been suggested after his recent spate of damning writeups. 

PKR, wake up, just because people say bad things about you, doesn't mean that they hate you or are trying to bring you down. That's exactly the sort of attitude that will breed a generation of yes-men and yes-sirs, exactly the type of people that we don't want to lead our country. 

I've never been fully convinced of PKR's cause, now even less so than before, though i have been impressed with several of its leaders such as the magnificent Nurul Izzah and even my own MP. It's a real paradox for people like me. Dislike the party but like (some) the leaders. How can i split my vote between the two? 

What a shame, a wasteful shame.

Zaid quits

It comes to no surprise to anybody, least of all those of us who have been tracking this man's passage through first, UMNO, and now, PKR. It must be a pretty unique experience as far as political resumes go: from Cabinet minister to outcast, to PKR upper echelon then to outcast again.

To the reasonable mind, it does seem like the problem lies with Zaid Ibrahim and not with the parties he has joined and been subsequently ejected from. If the tiger goes to the Lamb Club and is told to leave, then the tiger goes to the Goat Club and is told to leave, is it a problem of the Lambs and the Goats or is it a problem of the tiger? Maybe the tiger is just someone no one likes to have around, regardless of their political affinity. That really takes some doing. Usually, a person UMNO hates is welcomed by PKR, and vice versa. But to get everyone to hate you? That really takes some talent.

Not looking down at the man, not at all. The Volume of Interactions has applauded many of the things Zaid has said and done recently, and i do admire him for his courage to say the things that needed saying, damn the guns.

Where does he go from here? To form his own party is the general consensus; if that does happen, it'll be interesting to see if he'll be able to claim any success with that route. Or will see yet another ejection? Tossed out of UMNO, PKR and his own party? Now that would be an achievement.

Freedom of religion, really?

One of the things that has always nagged me about my religion, Islam, is the contradiction of there being "no compulsion in religion" and the fact that Muslims essentially have no religious freedom.

Muslims cannot choose to not be Muslims, that's called apostasy and is punishable by death under hudud laws. I can understand the value of this law, especially given the context in which it originates. During the time of the Prophet, during the period when he was struggling against the treachery of Islam's enemies in Mecca and Medina, it would have been convenient for an enemy to claim to be a Muslim to escape punishment or find succor and shelter, only to recant and revert to their original faith once in the clear. Certainly, this couldn't be allowed, and the punishment had to provide a suitable deterrent.

But in modern times, it does seem that the locus for this law no longer exists; in many cases, criminals would want to deny their Islamicity in order to escape severe punishment! How times have changed. The problem is that the religious laws haven't.

For Muslims who convert to Islam, you'll find that very few cases of apostasy exist. The problem doesn't lie there -- these Muslims have either because of needs for marriage, or because they have studied the religion and love it and accept it, tend to be very loyal to the faith. They have a reason, often a very good one, to be a Muslim, and this gives their choice a sense of balance and purpose.

But, the majority of Muslims in the world today are Muslims by birth. By definition, this means that they were not given the choice of their religion, they were born Muslims, and told by their parents (and society), you are a Muslim, accept it. 

Choice is an interesting thing. It only exists if you have options with the implication that you can choose one of several paths. But what choice does a born Muslim have except accept his religion or be executed for apostasy? That's part of the problem. Most of us never chose to be Muslims, but that's what we are. In this sense, it seems that our religion treats non-Muslims better than it treats us: at least the Quran forbids us to compel or force a Jew or a Christian to become a Muslim. But it forces all born Muslims to be Muslims.

This is all very relevant to the current case of the boy who was caned for bringing non-halal food to school. Was he a Muslim? His mother says no, but by virtue of his birth to an allegedly Muslim father, perhaps he doesn't have a choice. Does the boy even know that he is a Muslim? For that matter, does the father?

For the teacher who caned him, and now our politicians who are debating his case, this is the mess that happens when you try to regulate religion. It's alright to regulate the practice of the religion, the JAKIMs, the JAIS' -- but when you start to try to tell people what they are or what they should be without asking them first, or giving them a choice in the matter, then that's little better than religious tyrannism.

10% more straight "A"s in UPSR - so what?

The UPSR results came in today, and it seems like our students are getting smarter.

PUTRAJAYA: A total of 48,327 or 10.02% of 482,334 UPSR candidates this year obtained all As.

The percentage is higher than the 9.51% recorded last year.

Education director-general Datuk Abdul Ghafar Mahmud said this was the best achievement in four years based on the national average grade, the index used in measuring the achievement of school examination candidates nationwide.

The cynic in me can't help but wonder whether our students have gotten better or is it because the exams were easier.

Sure looks good in an election year ahead to be able to claim that the Government is doing a good job in the Ministry of Education.

Mixing God and Politics is a terrible idea

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All due respect to the people who believe in the politics of PAS, but in modern society, i've always believed that mixing politics and religion is a fool's errand.

Worse still, using religion to gain political power, and the reverse, is just plain bad business.

Shame on you Shafie Apdal.

The problem with democracy

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Is that it assumes that everyone is making an informed choice. It assumes, also, that the people making those choices are of perfect rational mind, and are able to decide to do what's best for themselves. Of course, no society is comprised exclusively of people who meet these characteristics, but what we do find are democracies, such as the US, Britain, Germany and Japan, where the majority of people do. Therefore, there is almost a democracy within a democracy (like a dream within a dream). The majority of citizens are able to cast their votes with their best interests at heart, and the majority of these votes will determine the power of the next Government.

But, unfortunately, not all democracies work so well. We have countries such as ours, Malaysia, where arguably, many of our voters do not have the capacity to arrive at their electoral decision with reasons beyond the simple giving of gifts and well-disguised bribes; i can't say whether its the majority or not, but i suspect its pretty widespread; certainly Batu Sapi is dominated by many who will vote thusly.

This is not to say that only the poor and uneducated are susceptible to such ploys, the sad truth is that even the rich (perhaps, especially the rich) and educated cast their votes for very questionable reasons. "My parents voted BN, so will i, because i'm middle income just like my parents were, my life is ok, i've got a nice car, a home, my kids are well looked after, and i have a stable job. I have no real ambition to rock the boat. Why should i?"

The appeal of something better doesn't necessarily appeal to them; perhaps because they are not convinced that they will get something better in Government by voting the Opposition. The saying, "a bird in hand is better than two in a bush" amply describes how many feel towards the advances and promises of Pakatan Rakyat. 

The concept of change for the sake of change is very alien to Malaysians (and to Asians in general if Kishore Mahbubani is to be believed). The large voter support for PR we see today stems from voters who have been slighted personally by the ruling BN in some way or form over the years; those that have not been directly (this is open to debate) affected, are unlikely to jump on the bandwagon just for the sake of getting on. Unfortunately for PR, this group's numbers are quite large among the poor (who like the residents of Batu Sapi, don't really want something "better") and among segments of the middle class who despite the shaking of their heads at the corruption of BN, have no real desire to change because to them, their lives are "ok". 

Some may argue that this isn't the problem with democracy, rather this is it's strength. The country gets the Government is deserves - if you don't vote, or if you vote wrongly and the country takes a turn for the worse, then you only have yourself to blame. Democracy gives us choices, and we have to live with those choices. If we make a mistake, we only need to wait 3-4 years to correct it at the next polls. That's some consolation, i suppose. 

Vote wisely come GE13, 4 years can be a long time.

Legally Buying Batu Sapi Votes

Anwar Ibrahim

Image via Wikipedia

Should we be surprised when BN flexes its muscles, calls in the PM, and promises a large pot of gold to the electorate in return for its continued support? Perhaps not. It happens regularly in democratic politics, certainly in the brand of democracy we have here. Batu Sapi isn't the first, nor will it be the last not by a long shot. 

But it's worth examining the morality of it all -- are politicians allowed to make promises to the electorate? Yes, they are. And if you happen to belong to the ruling party, and happen to hold the purse strings to the Treasury to make good on such promises, well, more power to you and good for the electorate. 

Let's not be naive. Politicians make promises every day, and you can bet a brass farthing against a silver dollar, should the shoe be on the other foot, and Putrajaya was controlled by PR, they would do they same too.

Some might say the electorate is being held for ransom. The knee-jerk reaction to this would be to agree -- BN is basically using Federal money to make electoral promises, with the unwritten threat that should the vote fall the wrong way, then the pot of gold may very well be withdrawn or "delayed" indefinitely. As abhorrent as this may seem, it still is no less than what politicians of every party will do if they had the choice.

Selangor state government pays for my water bill every month. I thank them graciously. While no one has said so anywhere, it's implied that such good fortune will continue only if my support for PR continues; the BN governments surely did nothing as good as that for me, even though they had the means to do so. Should PR come to power at a Federal level, you can bet the scale of the goodies will be even larger.

Didn't Anwar Ibrahim allude to promises of greater fuel subsidies in 2008? Yes, he did. Put PR in power, and we'll be able to provide even cheaper fuel. Everyone plays this game, you don't come to power unless you've mastered it.

The best players are those who are able to make the most compelling promises on the issues that matter the most to the most number of people. BN is betting that the roads is a key issue for the people of Batu Sapi, we'll see shortly if their bet was correct.

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from November 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

October 2010 is the previous archive.

December 2010 is the next archive.

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