Some updates

Yep, I’m now a columnist with theSun. Every Monday. The latest piece talks about education and racism, which alludes to the lack of multicultural unity as well as our own initiated racial segregation based on class and chasing merit.

But what do I know. I just write and read. 😛

Have a read on it here.


Taking religion to the skies?

A recent news piece highlighted yet again how far religion is used as a marketing tool – this time, learning to read the Koran in a private jet for RM33,000 an hour. 
Of course, those paying attention to social media may have seen yet another one – the ability to hire someone to read your personal prayer in Mecca – a doa valet. 
First off, how on earth are these people running a business without the interference of religious authorities is a mystery to me. 
I mean, here are the guys who have raided drag queen beauty pageants, hotels, bars, even restaurant during the fasting month of Ramadhan. 
It’s the same bunch who have a problem with “pretzel dogs” and even “root beer”.
And yet, plutocratic classes for learning the Koran and even a hired service for prayers is – acceptable, perhaps? Not as worrisome? 
Allowed with justified altruistic goals for heavenly benefit, maybe?
I’ve got to ask. How is it that the religious authorities, with a federal budget this year of RM880 million, are allowing such things to go through?
Don’t these things require necessary oversight from Jakim, if not state religious authorities?
Perhaps this is something Jakim should look into, any business which uses a religious connotation requires a license and oversight from Jakim itself. 
After all, they already do it with halal food products and sharia certified services like the KTM Komuter trains. 
Let’s face it, there are gullible Malay Malaysians who are falling for religious advertising of dubious services and products. 
And Islam, believe it or not, is in fact being used as a marketing tool by individuals trying to make a profit in the market. 
Thus, what can authorities and consumers do? Who can they report these con jobs to?
Of course, there is the Muslim Consumers Association, for one. They were the ones who asked for a ‘pig logo’ on the pig bristle brushes. 
But who is in charge and with the authority to take action against, let’s say, the mineral water company who advertises having the entire Koran read before its packing?
Or the chicken which advertises something similar? Or the eggs advertising that it comes from a single couple of cock and hen, and not a result of poultry promiscuity?
Shouldn’t we have a bill of law to take care of those using religion fraudulently?
And also, can we have a new law to punish the Malaysians who fall for all of these either out of stupidity or even desperation?
Perhaps an ankle bracelet and the need to attend mosques every night to actually learn the religion and not fall prey to totally warped advertising?
Either way, this needs to be dealt with swiftly and as a means to stop ruining a beautiful religion from total ridicule. 
If the Malaysian government is serious in its goal to have moral authority on its books, then these need to be dealt with swiftly. 

Federalising Penang is political

Federalising Penang is political
By Hafidz Baharom
To understand the recent idea to federalise Penang, I would have to take you back to the Malaysian timeline. 
It has nothing to do with “helping all races”. The move to federalise Penang is an old school Umno tactic to deny administering a state by the DAP. 
And it did not start with this new idea of making Penang a federal territory. 
It started, all the way back to 1969, all towards 1974. 
See, in the 1969 general election, the DAP almost took control of Selangor state, which led to the 13 May incident. 
I know, this has been played to death and even used for political ammo, but one of the larger effects was the need to keep Selangor under “Malay” (read:Umno) control. 
This was achieved by carving out Kuala Lumpur from Selangor by 1 February 1974, and making it a the first Federal Territory. 
Of course, they used the excuse of wanting to make it stand out in the world. 
And in August/September 1974, they held the first election after the state of emergency. Selangor no longer saw a DAP threat to run the state, since Kuala Lumpur and all its seats were no longer affecting who would run the state. 
What happened in Selangor, the federalising of territories, is what is being done to Penang even now, in order to stop the DAP from continuing its victory streak in Penang and running it as a state government. 
I’m actually surprised nobody has yet to bring it up. Maybe it’s the racist tinge of the issue, maybe it’s the reminder of May 13, or maybe it’s the fact that nobody wishes to see it as so. 
But there it is. 
There. I’ve said it. Back to your regularly scheduled programming. 

Is welfare a bribe? Then Selangor should lead by example

You would think this topic would be over by now, but apparently Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali just can’t let it go. 
He has come out and continued to say that the 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M) is a bribe, yet again. 
Let us consider what a bribe is, a payment of incentives in order for a favour – a quid pro quo, so to speak. 
What exactly is the government getting as a return for BR1M?
Votes? There isn’t exactly an ‘Akujanji undi BN’ clause in taking the cash handout. 
Plus, if this welfare plan is considered a bribe, then I suggest Selangor state end all its welfare programs on the same basis. 
The free 20 cubic metres of water, the schoolkids assistance, the single mother welfare assistance, the senior citizens assistance, and even the Selangor Foundation handout for college students. 
Heck, the Selangor state bribes parents in the state to the tune of RM1,500 just for giving birth through Tabung Warisan Anak Selangor (TAWAS), regardless if they’re children of millionaires or poverty stricken families. 

At the very least, BR1M is based on income. 
After all, aren’t these also bribes, since it guarantees popular support of Selangor citizens for their state government?

These aren’t bribes? Why?
Seems the pot calling the kettle black, in my personal opinion. 

Of course, Selangor state would probably point out that they do so only for the needy in their state and not for everyone. 

Well, the federal government dishes BR1M out to everyone while Selangor and Penang state governments are limited to their borders, because they are the federal government. 

If ever Pakatan Harapan wins the federal administration, then by all means do your own social experiments. 

Till then, perhaps Azmin should stop bribing the people of Selangor with welfare handouts whilst telling the federal government to stop BR1M. 

Also, perhaps tell his coalition colleagues in Penang to stop their welfare bribing as well?

Otherwise, it really seems hypocritical to accuse one side giving welfare as “bribery” while you do the same as “the people need aid to live”. 

Furthermore, allow me to remind everyone what the late Too Guru Nik Aziz said about accepting these so-called “bribes” and elections. 

“If they offer money, take the money. But when it comes to an election, cross the moon,” he said, mentioning the PAS logo. 

Whatever welfare plan any coalition dishes out is no guarantee for votes. Selangor had 1,017,403 BR1M recipients in 2016, as mentioned by Second Finance Minister Datuk Johari Abdul Ghani in October last year. 

What this shows is that there is a huge population in Selangor – even with all the welfare/bribery by the state government – are finding it tough to make ends meet, and registered for the aid. 

And bear in mind, they registered for it. It’s not like the federal government went to them and shoved it down their throats. 

In other words, these people in Selangor made the effort of filling the form and such to receive the aid. 

But would it translate to votes?

It didn’t in 2013. So why is Azmin and the Selangor Pakatan Harapan continually harping on providing welfare to those in dire need of it?

Make no mistake, I share Prof Jomo Kwame Sundaram’s views on BR1M. 

There are mishandlings in the delivery of such an aid plan, but those can be seen in any nation dishing out welfare. Kinks happen, and should be streamlined. 

But the politically vengeful stance of PKR, and in some cases Pakatan as a whole, reeks of putting politics before needs. It has to stop. 

A bit of empathy, when it comes to being loud

By Hafidz Baharom
Currently sitting at Coffea Coffee at The Curve, it is no doubt that Christmas season is in the air. 
Or at least, for some branches, blaring out Christmas carols even if the entire bar is empty seems to be the extent of the decor today. 
Meanwhile, buskers have set up shop right across, hoping to perhaps collect some cash to fund their passion in music. 
And this is where it gets oddly weird. For some reason, the band is singing while the bar manager looks disinterestedly miles away – while her establishment continues with the recorded Christmas carols at full blast, in a depressingly empty bar. 
Thus, here I am, stuck between the cacophony of a live band singing Malay songs, intermingled with the call to ‘don we now our gay apparel’. Slaneesh would be in awe at just how insane these two are battling it out like sonic chaos marines. 
So I tell the bar to do the one thing it can to alleviate the situation – lower their cheery, recorded, Christmas carol volume, to allow a live band to sing their hearts out for perhaps an average of RM65 for singing their lungs out. 
And now, the said manager is looking as if I suddenly became the grinch that ruined Christmas. 
Look, I’m all for the Christmas spirit, but I’m more appreciative of live music purely because ironically, I went to live music sessions by Reza Salleh at Laundry Bar ages ago during the ‘Moonshine’ sessions. 
Thus, for any band with a live gig, they deserve to be heard by a public audience without too much distortion. 
Now, I bring this up, to bring up another issue. 
Recently, the apartment complex I reside in had an item on their General Meeting which struck a nerve – the need to discuss the speaker volume for the residential surau. 
This rubbed the Muslim population the wrong way. But I didn’t even know what the issue was to begin with because the unit I rent faces a hillside. 
But I did what I usually do – sit down and had a hard think. Because I’ve been through a similar issue as well in my university days – which was a lot weirder than it is now. 
For those not in the know, UiTM Shah Alam doesn’t have a mosque. Instead, it has an ‘Islamic Centre’. Not sure what the rationale was in its namesake, or even if it was deliberate, but there you go. 
The Islamic Centre hosts the weekly mandatory Friday prayers, and also sounds the call to prayer at the allotted time, five times a day. 
All of these, are done by a person, not a recording. 
However, there came a point where this Centre decided to be extra pious and start playing recordings of someone reading the Koran at multiple hours of the day at full volume – even while students were attending classes, to the point of drowning out the voice of lecturers. 
It kept going on like this until our class had a lecturer who had had enough, called up someone from the Islamic centre and told them off, in full view of the class. 
And thus, the extra pious sessions of the Islamic centre came to an end. 
Such similar situations take place all around Malaysia, to be frank. 
It is one thing to blast the call to prayer out loud for everyone to gather and perform the demands of the faith, but it is totally another issue altogether to blast Koranic readings from a recording simply to – ‘keep the Koran close to our hearts’?
This is where Islam actually simplifies the decision. Yes, the call to prayer is mandatory. But playing a Koranic recording at odd hours of the day on the speakers?
Well, if people get pissed, then it is sinful because the actions create animosity against the religion itself by overstepping boundaries. 
There is no mandatory demand in Islam to indoctrinate entire communities at all hours with our religion through a recording of the Koran. 
And this was exactly the issue with the apartment complex I was staying in. It was once again another case of exercising mob privilege with thoughts of doing good without a thought to others outside the faith. 
So many still don’t get this point – there isn’t compulsion in Islam for you to decide to blare Koranic recordings full blast simply because you want Muslims to hear it and be touched by the beautiful phrases. 
Because by doing so, you are imposing on those of other faiths. That point will, of course, be lost on a thoughtless mob. 
Malaysians who so decide to follow a faith, whatever faith, should be allowed to do so. But if you believe your faith demands you to push the button on a radio for everyone to listen to, then you’re no better than this bar who insists on blaring Christmas carols for no other reason that it being December. 

What exactly are militant LGBTs?

By Hafidz Baharom

I find it quite awkward that there are still people who wish to frame the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community as being in cahoots with Bersih. 
Mostly because Bersih is a coalition for free and fair elections, but also because me being part of that community who has been dead set against this non-government entity is now being framed for supporting it.
Let me be direct – it wasn’t the entirety of the LGBT community that supported Bersih, and calling us militant is definitely one of the dumbest thing to accuse us of. 
I for sure made no secret of my disdain and cynicism for the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections, going so far as to call it nothing more than the annual street party similar to Mardi Gras without beads. 
The LGBT community, just like the gigantic heterosexual majority – is politically diverse, with conservatives, centrist and liberals. Which is why in the United States you have Log Cabin Republicans and also the LGBTs in the Democrats. 
There are those fighting for gay marriage, while there are those who would rather look at economic equality and equal opportunities in social mobility as a priority. 
We are not a single shade of colour, which is very appropriately portrayed through the pride flag as the community’s trademark symbol. 
Thus, who exactly are militants? And what exactly defines a “militant LGBT”?
Is it because they’re being outspoken and taking to the streets in protest?
If this defines it, then I would recommend branding the Red Shirts, the Black Shirts, Bersih, the Rohingya freedom supporters and all as also being militants. 
It is merely an application of the same standard on all, avoiding the concept of Orwellian “some are more equal than others”. 
Words carry weight, and branding the LGBT community as “militant” is the trying of planting the idea that somehow being gay makes someone the equivalent of an Isis suicide bomber. 
And I am sure that those who do so, are doing so with this in mind simply to throw off the scent of stink of rotting corruption from the multiple issues at hand. 
The fact remains that scapegoating the LGBT community has become a norm for the government and its supporters. 
We had Najib in 2012 branding us as “enemies of Islam”. 
We had Centhra trying to say that the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs (Comango) was fighting for LGBT rights during the United Nations hearing on human rights in 2013. 
And now, we are seeing the LGBT community becoming a punching bag for Bersih as well, simply because a bunch of people brought a banner with a Pride flag on it during Bersih. 
Personally, it stinks of desperation to portray what was nothing more than a low attendance a street party as an orgy of humongous proportions. 
Which is weird, since my job dictates me to make mountains out of molehills, and the actions of Centhra was laughable. 
Bersih didn’t gain any traction this year. In fact, fatigue is setting in. Centhra and its allies should have left it right alone. 
Instead, someone made an idiotic statement and continued to give Bersih the one thing it needed – oxygen in the press, so to speak – to keep its embers lit. 
Should have left it right alone to die a natural death instead of working your itchy fingers. 
If Centhra wanted to say Bersih was bad, there are so many great examples, primarily the idea of somehow not wanting to be at the table discussing political donations until Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak stepped down. 
This clearly shows that Bersih is not keen to work with both sides of the political divide and instead, would rather criticise rather than be part of one huge segment of the future solution for  issues on free and fair elections. 
Instead, somehow the LGBT community is “militant” for taking part in a protest.  
Trust me, the only thing a militant LGBT would do at most is probably a glitter bomb.

How will the “hudud bill” play out?

For those not in the know, there is a private members bill called RUU 355 currently brought up by the Islamic conservative party (PAS) in Malaysia’s parliament.

It raises the stature of the Sharia Court to be on the same level as the Malaysian civil courts with regards to the level of punishment it is able to dole out. 100 lashes, RM500,000 fine, and also 30 years in jail.

This bill, raised by PAS President Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, has now been deferred from being debated to the next parliamentary session in March 2017.

The bill has faced brickbats from both government and opposition lawmakers – in particular, the non-Muslim lawmakers whereas Muslim lawmakers have hedged themselves into being non-committal on direct answer to the point that Schrödinger would be proud.

Continue reading “How will the “hudud bill” play out?”

The Heat Malaysia column – Malaysia’s shrinking media scene 

A news piece in a local portal caught my eye, detailing the plight of the media sector, particularly journalists.
If you have yet to notice, there has definitely been a shrinking media industry in Malaysia. In fact, this trend will not be turning around anytime soon, and it did not start with The Malaysian Insider.
In fact, I believe this trend started in 2014, with The NutGraph shutting down.
The now defunct portal launched in 2008 went through the donation path, collecting RM41,503.83 by January 2010 to keep it running an entire year, after losing its investors. And then it was basically running on fumes for four years till it shut down.
We also saw the shutting down of The Heat (later The Heat Online), The Rakyat Post (and return), and also Malaysiakini’s business news portal, KiniBiz. The Heat Online was relaunched as The Heat Malaysia. What lies ahead?
On top of that, news channels for television also shrunk – which includes ABN News and also Bloomberg Malaysia.
At the same time, it seems that even the pro-government media are facing the same problem.
Case in point – Utusan Malaysia has gone on the record through the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) asking for its owners to let it go if payments are delayed.
There have also been rumours that even the official government media channels – Bernama, Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) and even listed Media Prima Bhd are having trouble retaining, let alone recruiting staff.
September 2016 saw even the English daily New Straits Times rumoured to be going fully digital.
Unfortunately, with the growing ability to cut out media as the middle guy in advertising through social media which is less (much less) of a cost centre, money is hard to come by.
There are models that work. I’m sure Astro is in fact keeping its Awani News in check. Other than that, only ones still keeping in the black thus far are The Star and Malaysiakini.
The latter due to its subscription based pay wall, the former due to being able to be funded largely through advertising.
But this is honestly a worldwide trend that even affects the US and even the UK.
In the US, paywalls are being erected in an effort to get people to pay for sustainable news organisations. The Boston Globe – made famous through Oscar winning movie Spotlight – has a five free stories a day limit before asking people to subscribe.
At the same time, you have the New York Times also moving towards subscriptions, while papers such as the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) have kept themselves exclusively by subscription only.
Meanwhile in the UK, The Independent decided to go fully digital as well and have stopped publishing paper. As much as it is a way for news agencies to “go green”, I doubt that this was the case.
So, how do other countries maintain a thriving media industry? Shall we look at Denmark for a bit?
According to their Ministry of Culture website, there is in fact a “main and supplementary scheme as well as a three-year transition fund for media that obtain less in total aid from the production aid scheme than under the previous distribution of aid scheme”.
How much is this, in total?
Oh, €52 million over a period of three years, but not amounting to more than 35 per cent of the editorial cost.
See, other parts of the world see media as an industry worth supporting in its infancy – which is why I don’t blame Malaysiakini getting funds from the Open Society Foundations (OSF).
Journalism and news aren’t cheap, but it ensures an informed public. An informed public makes informed decisions. Thus, it is branded the Fourth Estate – for its ability to influence the general public.
It should in fact be part of our culture to have a thriving media industry, but with no assistance from the government (in fact, our government is a hindrance), the media industry will continue languishing and remaining dependent on others for income – case in point, political parties in some cases.
And that makes it a culture of one-sided information that will eventually lead to disinformation and in the end – total bias and bad decisions.
The Danes rightfully point out: “Media policy is thus regarded as an integral part of Danish cultural policy.”
Malaysians need to ask themselves – what is our culture when it comes to media?

On superheroes, power and boundaries

The column below was rejected by The Heat Malaysia on the grounds that it is too sensitive for public consumption. Oh well.

Anyone who has read or watched the Spider-Man comics and movies would know the whole “with great power comes great responsibility” spiel by heart. But what most forget is the conflict of superheroes to set their own boundaries when wielding absolute or near absolute power – and how it relates in real life.

Those reading the comics would see this scenario in a few examples – Superman and the DC Universe in the Injustice series, Marvel’s Civil War arc, and even the situation with Marvel’s World War Hulk. These series do have some lessons imparted in real life.

Should government play a role in limiting the powers of superheroes, or leave them to self-regulation? In all these examples put forward, possibilities are highlighted, challenged and even show, in intimate detail, how it affects the rest of humanity and the citizenry of a nation. Continue reading “On superheroes, power and boundaries”

So, who got money from Soros in 2014?

While Bersih is now being defensive about accepting funds a rather long time ago from an association linked to Soros, DC Leaks actually highlighted something even more current. 

A spreadsheet from DC Leaks on Soros details a huge bunch of Southeast Asian NGOs which were listed out as finalists to get funding for 2014. 

Among the popular Malaysian non-government entities listed as finalists include Penang Institute, Malaysian Bar Council, Suaram, Komas, Citizen Journalists of Sabah, Lawyers For Liberty, C4 Malaysia and even Tenaganita. 

Oh, and not forgetting Kini.TV

I’ll let the press go ahead and ask if these finalists actually got any funds from the SEAI. 

More importantly, I don’t really care where civil societies and even political parties get their money from. 

But they should have been very, very transparent about it, especially as advocates of transparency.