Monday, September 8, 2014

Joan Rivers: Brute Honesty

What is wrong being yourself?

If you find a reality that is an upfront to polite society and you find that you can make a living out of it, then it is not a bad thing. Nor is it a wrong thing.

Of course, polite society will say you are being caustic, acidic, sharp tongue, abrasive, etc.

But there is another section of society who is with you. And if you are popular with the general public - and as a result, you are successful - then that is really not a bad thing.

The truth is that it is really hard to be really nice and popular with everybody. There are people who are jealous and hate to see you do well. There is no need to obtain general acceptance.

I am probably spending too much time with people who want you to endear to them. There is so much hypocrisy when people pretend to be nice but in reality hate your guts. There is so much pretense that you do not know the reality.

Equally, I would probably not want to live in an environment where everybody shouts at you in your face all the time, and wish you ill or death.

The bottomline is the ultimate intention of the person. If you know that the person is ultimately kind, may not be nice, doesn't really mean the words used, but merely describing things the way she sees it without mincing words, and to be brutally honest, then I suppose one would not take offense, if the blunt words are not directed at you or are directed at someone else.

It is really a fine line. And only a master can walk that fine line and not fall.

Not everybody likes the jokes by Joan Rivers, but she was a master that brute honesty.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Independence & Nationalism

Between the 31st August and the 16th September, Malaysia have more than two weeks to contemplate what this so-called independence of ours means. Whose independence, who should have the upper hand - or are these entirely silly questions.

Independence is a claim on self-government by all the people in a certain geographical area. This is as opposed to the government of the local area by some foreign powers such as the UK or Japan, or Holland, France, US or China. Independence is the government of the local people by the local people, in the best way they see fit.

The 31st August is significant because some 57 years ago the UK government had graciously agreed to allow the local people of Malaya to determine their own destiny. The 16th September is significant because some 51 years ago, the UK government has graciously agreed to allow the local peoples of the now three entities of Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak to govern themselves and form a federation called Malaysia.

This idea of Malaysia was then as advanced as we have today of the idea of the European Union. The EU is a union at several levels. First, is the monetary union which uses the Euro among all EU members, except the UK. We have this in the ringgit. Second, there is the customs union where there are practically no barrier to trade among EU members. There is no barrier to trade among Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak. Third is the removal of barriers to intra-EU migration. This is now a big problem among EU member states where weakness in the control of non-EU immigration in a remote corner of the EU can cause havoc in other member states. There is now a growing call among EU member states to review this feature. What is meant as good solution to unemployment in some states and high wages in others - which it still is - is now a contentious issue in individual EU-member sovereign nations. The tendency to look at the good side while underestimating the problems is a major problem when sovereign states come together to create a larger economic bloc, often at the expense of politics.

The idea that Sabah and Sarawak can come together with Malaya is form a bigger bloc - ostensibly to fight a potential neighbourly military threat - is now being increasingly questioned by the educated group as to the implications on the economics as well as culture and religion.Independence does not appear, to them, to be a case for self-governance by the local peoples but the dominance of the majority on the large minorities in all spheres of life - politics, economics, religion, culture - the name of nationalism.

The real problem is, of course, the drive towards monoculture as the saving grace for nationalism masquerading as unity. This is a dubious proposition. Unity is always about cohesion, not uniformity. The constant struggle for survival and betterment is the driving force for the national strength - on as level a playing field as any humans can provide for their fellow human beings. It is not about complete domination of oneself over others, not the complete annihilation of others. It is the varying quality of the fertility of the ground that will define the structure of economic activities and social practices and general sense of well-being of different sections of society.

Taken to extreme, the inflictions of pain and death on others seem to be the way to new ways of life through bloody revolutions in some parts of the world, enabled no doubt by the arms industries of dysfunctional economies. Extreme ideology is an extremely potent and dangerous stuff.

The response to extremism is not extremism - no matter how righteous - but alertness by being always alert and to be ready to respond to counteract whenever there is a need to. In this, we need discipline and training and expertise. We do not have anymore the luxury to allow incompetence to take leadership position and leading all critical parts of the economy and society into disarray. We have got to wake up if this independence of ours is to have any value to us who live in this great nation.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Subsidies & Taxes

There are subsidies because there are taxes. Or, put it the other way round, because there are taxes, therefore there must also be subsidies. After all, there are the opposites of each other and both are needed to strike a balance.

Of course, the current debate in public in our part of the world is that there should be an increase in taxes and there should absolutely be no subsidies.

The major argument against subsidies is that subsidies lead to economic inefficiency. This is from the argument that the economy, left it itself, is efficient. Or, rather, will be efficient. This is not a statement of fact; it is a value judgement from laissez faire economics. The statement may be less incorrect if we were to say that subsidies, if improperly introduced and implemented, may leave to economic inefficiency or make the economy less efficient or more inefficient. We do not know that; we have to find out.

But the economy, as it is, is not without interference - not least, taxes from the government. Why is it not argued that because the government taxes people for working through the income tax, the income tax is making the economy less efficient by making people less inclined to work harder. There is also the tax on consumption and this discourages people from consuming because they have to give a portion of their little income to the government (and what is the government going to do with that extra revenue) which the people would have spent feeding their families.

There are also taxes on imports so that imports which we cannot produce ourselves will be more expensive - if the hope (?) that we can make those imports ourselves. The best example must be cars and we are paying good money to drive lousily-made local cars. Whereas, there are things that we have - for example, oil and gas, which we would put to good use ourselves are exported so that we, the producers of oil and gas, have to pay for oil and gas just like other people in the world who do not have oil and gas in their backyard.

If we study the direction of the various taxes, we can see that they are piled up haphazardly by the government as a form of getting more and more revenue because they have been advised by some mediocre economists that the best way for the government to stimulate (whatever this means) the economy is for the government to spend more and more. But taking more and more money from the general public for the government to spend does not encourage the people to want to invest in their future here. They want to get out of the way of the government before the government steamrolled them to death. The government seems to have a life of its own, and it will try to survive at the expense of the people.

There is a need for subsidies. Subsidies are needed in areas which protect the traditional livelihood of the society which defines our traditional culture. As the economy advances, it is inevitable that land and resource based activities will be unable to catch up technologically compared with the other sectors. But the traditional sectors are the food sectors, the agriculture, which are the soul of the society. We are not an island economy which is confined by its size to be super efficient in a small space. We are big enough to have sufficient space for every person who want to continue with our traditional activities. It is something else to argue whether things like cars are essential to the livelihood of society, or that they are mere toys which contribute to the ego of certain leaders of ours - and cars are now the bane of our society.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams: Comedy - Life Is Not A Joke

Robin Williams, being the greatest comedian the world has seen, may have been the saddest man on earth.

He joked about cocaine was God's way of saying that you had too much money. But success has a way of isolating one from the rest of mankind. And out of that loneliness, one becomes an individual. When an individual connects with every individual at the same time, it is as if he could connect with the whole world, even when the whole world is not at one with itself.

No comedian ever intends to be funny. The comedian merely presents the world as it is not what everybody sees it to be, and as a result the situation seems funny to everybody - but not to the comedian. The comedian is dead serious in making a point about the reality of the world, and that reality is disbelieved and hence the comedian seems funny to the audience. Being laughed at, the comedian takes a bow and happily accepts the cash as the applause and duly blow that cash on cocaine. It completes the cycle of the madness of the world, and when the laughing stops, the comedian does not seem that funny anymore. Comedy is dead serious, and life is not a joke.

The world relishes comedy because the world is a sad place. That we can all laugh despite the meaninglessness of everything is that laughter is the only sane response to nervousness, to uncertainty, to ignore, to not knowing what is going to come next. Bit by bit, things happen all the time, sometimes to us but most of the time to everywhere else. Things are happening all the time and we don't know what they are. That's when we try to make sense of life. And when we can't make any sense of the life, that is when we think that life is a joke.

But to go on living, we cannot think that life is a joke. The next level down is that we think that life is funny. And we laugh life off and after the laughter, we get on with the drudgery of life again. And that is called living life.

It is therefore moment by moment that we prod along and when the next moment does not come, that is the end of the game for us.

The blip then goes on elsewhere, and life goes on regardless of us.

RIP, Robin Williams.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Extremism & Its Shades

The current fashion in social networking is to attack the extremism of the current Israeli government which is ultra-right in the sense that it is strongly in defense of the existence of the Israeli state and will do everything it can to eliminate its enemies, real or perceived.

The real culprit, in this case, is the current Israeli government. If they change government, then it may be an entirely different kettle of fish - we do not know yet.

The perceived culprits, in so far as the current fashion of the social network is concerned, is now everything that is Israeli or Jewish. This is a very dangerous generalisation - so dangerous that it is, in fact, the biggest plague in the current flash of human civilisation. So now, everything Jewish or Jewish-related is under attack - even companies doing business in Israel.

I do not agree with the editor of a local newspaper who said for once the local extreme racist group has got it right by shouting abuse, burning the Israeli flag and then went home - for they did not do stupid things like some neitizens who abused local workers of a targeted company by the extreme anti-Isreali gang. It is extreme groups with their mentality in holding to their own special need for survival at the expense of others not of their kind that is the root of social troubles which may simply boil over at the right time for violence against fellow human beings not of their kind to take place.

We cannot support extremism of any kind or in any shade.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Unfortunate Victims Of Unforeseen Circumstances

Misfortune is when something bad happens to us when we least expected it. Death in itself is not wholly unexpected. All humans are mortal. When when death arrives at a moment when we thought there is the next moment, that is tragic. When death is unexpected and sudden, those who died might have felt it for a moment and it is gone. Their last thoughts may not be death, but something pleasant - like looking forward to a holiday in the tropics or meeting up with loved ones. Or, it could also equally be the thought of trying to cheat death, but scurrying along alleyways ducking bullets and bombs which are being indiscriminately rained on an area which the other side is trying to remove a perceived threat or danger.

But to the loved ones who know of the death, their pain and sorrow will stay with them for the rest of their lives. The living mourns for the dead - never the dead for the living. Suddenly, life is not about the material luxury of life, but life itself - the absence of which deprives the living the company of those who are no more with them in this world. The pains or sorrows of mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, wives and husbands, grandmothers and grandfathers - images we now unfortunately have to witness on prime time TV nowadays - is a constant daily assault on our inner peace and quiet, on our perception and understanding of what reality is all about, on our faith in the humanness of human beings, on the need for the good to fight evil, on the vulnerability of the good to turn into evil, on the great risk that we all suffer when we do not watch ourselves lest we unwittingly becomes the very monsters that we would have condemned at leisure.

The reality of the world is that it is both good and evil, it be both light and dark in this world of duality where the two poles can switch from one to the other before our very eyes without us ever knowing it when that switch is taking place. Everybody deludes himself or herself to be good, no matter how evil he or she may have become. Good and evil is a value that arise when we are dealing with fellow human beings or fellow living things. Life goes on by the very force of survival, the constant craving for existence, that the very thought of death is appalling - even when one personally wills death because of the unbearable bodily pain one may unfortunately have to suffer. Death is often a respite to life. Some wise man has said the only way to fight pain and suffering is to deny life raising its head in the first place. To banish the thought of life. To focus on the present. Life until there is no more. But for those who are alive, fight pain and suffering through wisdom, wisdom of the truth of realty, and accept reality for what it is - both the fortunate and unfortunate things.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Urban Poor: Homeless, Jobless & Loveless

The homeless is a problem for the Federal Government as they try to bring Malaysia up to the First World level while being irked by the presence of dirty hungry men and women in the streets of the Golden Triangle in Kuala Lumpur.

Economists are fully aware that the economic model of growth they build are rest squarely on the energies and ingenuity of the clever and able-bodied people. The rest falls by the wayside of mainstream economic development - the disadvantaged, the very young, the very old, the very sick, the uneducated, single parents, the physically handicapped, the mentally handicapped. While the best solution is to help as many of these people to find stable jobs, it is most likely that they may have already failed the conventional social system and hence are being left out in the cold and therefore are difficult to rehabilitate back into the mainstream. There is therefore a need for society to act to help these people, at least, as a means for society to save its own soul so that it can think of itself as a caring society.

This moral obligation of society to itself could have been easier in the good old days of monoculturalism - whatever that may mean, but surely it exists when the whole society sees itself as one. This sense of monoculturism seems to break down when a section of society is seen as alien, and it is mostly likely to be recent immigrants whom the so-called locals feel uncomfortable with because they are unfamiliar with them. It means that the moral obligation of society is unlikely to be stretched to include foreigners in the country.

The response of the government of the day to the homeless is to provide a home for these people to stay, and to keep them off the streets. This follows logically from the idea that all that the homeless needs is a home, so the government provides a shelter and nothing else. We have the welfare minister saying that they provide shelter but no food. This is being typically government servant mentally - they do the barest minimum and justify that they have done their job.

The response of the NGOs is to provide first food and then shelter, in that order of priority. The biggest curse for human beings and all living creatures is that the ingestion of nutrient is a daily requirement, failing which we die. I am always amazed by the persistence of life to cling on to life - this must be a tautology, for without the clinging on to life, there is no life, by definition. (It is only politics and religions that make heroes of death, for it is so counter-intuitive.)

The most stupid argument I have read so far is for the minister to suggest the NGOs go and feed their people in the welfare homes, and not in the streets.

The now more acceptable approach to solve social problems is for the government to consult the affected people and communities to find out what their problems are and to listen to what these people have to say about how they would like to have their problems solved. It is most likely that well-fed politicians will have a different perspective from those who unwillingly have to go hungry when their circumstances are outside their control. These people may want to have a sense of dignity and self-respect and that can only be got from a sense of control of their situation rather than be caught in bureaucracy.