Thursday, March 4, 2010

Confessions of a Fence Sitter

From here on, I surrender my neutrality

Goh Keat Peng
March 4, 2010

Of all the places one can think of, the fence must be about the most uncomfortable place on earth to sit (or perch) on. To sit on the fence for a while may be alright but certainly not for long. Fences will poke and scratch us on the most tender parts of the human body. Sooner than later, you will find it better to get off the fence and take your rightful place on firm ground.

It is for me to decide to get myself off the fence. Getting off the fence constitutes a conscious decision on my part as an adult person where I wish to place myself, that is, on which side of the fence I wish to be on. That is a decision I make for myself. Nobody can or should do this on my behalf.

Likewise, it is for others to decide to stay on the fence or when to get themselves down from their respective fences and when they finally do, to decide which side of the fence will best reflect their own views about life. That is each person's human right, each person's freedom to choose when to get off and on which side they wish to place their feet.

As for me, in the present context wherein we as a nation have found ourselves in, quite clearly despite its very human imperfections, Pakatan Rakyat's stand on all the critically vital issues of grave national concern - press freedom, usage of the world 'Allah', the judiciary, ISA, local government, civil service, police, MACC, '1Malaysia', gender, religious, ethnic and cultural issues, elections laws and practices, economic policies, etc, most certainly reflects most closely my own political aspirations and vision for the nation.

I constantly remind myself (and am reminded) that as and when Pakatan forms the federal government, it may not (probably will not) be able to resolve fifty-plus years of abuse and anomaly. As is clearly evident at the state level, the civil service for one is not always cooperative or open to change and reform.

Be that as it may, I am satisfied that in the main, the Pakatan agenda for institutional change and reform is by far to be preferred than more of the same. Quite honestly, speaking for myself, despite the rhetoric, sloganeering and even good intentions on the part of some in the present administration, more of the same is not tenable and in my opinion, disastrous for the nation and its people.

Yes, in choosing to go with the Pakatan I could arguably be bluffed by them once they form the federal government. But you know what? For me, it is better to be bluffed once if it comes to that than to let the bluff of fifty plus years continue.

If anything, the Malaysia I see today is far worse than my Malaysia during my schooldays some forty-five years ago. The intensity of the abuse of the resources and the institutions of state is indescribable, unfathomable, despicable and contemptible.

No amount of semantics and spinning can make such vast scale wrongdoing become sensible or acceptable or good by any definition or yardstick.

A country of such rich resources, human and inanimate, could and should have made our nation world-class. My nation, Malaysia, has instead become a country of missed opportunities and unfulfilled triumph. If we the people allow things to go on as it is, our children and grandchildren will live in a terrible and horrible cultural environment of disrespect and intolerance in a climate of fear and distrust.

My prayer and aspiration is for the nation politically to evolve a two-party or coalition system of governance whereby there is no monopoly or iron-clad dominance of political power but that each side would be given a fair chance to compete thus making reform and desirable change a constant need within each of the parties and coalitions. Democratic elections is when either side has a fair and equal chance to win office.

Is this the smelly end of BN?

Therefore, today, when several individuals for reasons best known to themselves leave the party and badmouth the party, etc, I as a free individual person would like the world to know that I am here and now choosing to identify and state in an unequivocal manner my support and re-commitment to PKR and Pakatan.

I feel and think that Pakatan, for the grave political risks it has taken and the resolve it has, deserves my vote and my energies. I hope that for every departure, there will be many more arrivals to the cause of needed change.

From here on in my journey in life, I give up my non-partisan stance. I surrender my neutrality. That does not mean that I shall cease to be fair and reasonable to anyone regardless of his or her political association.

That does not mean that I shall just simply shout out abuse or whatever at anybody or rush to condemn persons or their roles and initiatives. That does not mean that I will be blind to wrong and silent to abuse wherever it is found. That does not mean I won't listen to or be corrected by persons on the other side of the political divide.

There is a cost to my decision, however, a price to pay. In making my choice, to be fair, I am hereby withdrawing my association from any group or body where political non-partisanship is necessary. As for me, I have made my choice.

Monday, March 1, 2010


Extracted from an essay, The Future of Najibonomics, by John Lee; posted at The Malaysian Insider on 1 March 2010...

The Barisan Nasional government is simply a ship of fools, content to lead us to disaster. They have no vision for the country, no idea of the massive challenges we face or any intention to face such challenges to begin with.

In terms of capital, it is no secret that net investments in Malaysia are dropping off a cliff. Until about halfway through the Abdullah Badawi administration, net investment on an annual basis was hovering somewhere near zero—that is to say, foreign investments coming in roughly equaled Malaysian investments going out.

To put this in more concrete terms, what this means is that foreigners are refusing to invest in Malaysia, and Malaysians insist on investing their money overseas.

A back of the envelope calculation suggests that last year, Malaysians invested almost as much money in the entire Australian property market alone as foreigners invested in the whole of Malaysia.

Investors, both Malaysian and foreign, have completely lost confidence in our country — nobody wants to put money in Malaysia, and so our savings are flowing out of the country, instead of being invested in local enterprise.

It’s no wonder people are losing faith in Malaysia. We have no plan to fix our fundamentals. Our school system discourages innovation in favour of accepting orders from above; our economic system stifles entrepreneurship in favour of corrupt rent-seeking.

Our prosperity is pump-primed by petroleum and forestry — when we run out of these resources, without any human capital or meaningful industrial enterprises, our economy will collapse.

John Lee is a third-year student of economics at Dartmouth College in the United States. He has been thinking aloud since 2005 at Read the entire essay here.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


Earthquakes and megacities –
a recipe for catastrophe

courtesy of National Geographic

WASHINGTON, Feb 28 – Megacities are something new on the planet. Earthquakes are something very old. The two are a lethal combination, as seen in the recent tragedy in Port-au-Prince, where more than 200,000 people perished — a catastrophe that scientists say is certain to be repeated somewhere, and probably soon, with death tolls that once again stagger the mind.

In 1800, there was just one city with more than a million people — Beijing. Now there are 381 urban areas with at least a million inhabitants. Urbanisation crossed a threshold last year when, for the first time, more people lived in city settings than rural ones.

About 403 million people live in cities that face significant seismic hazard, according to a recent study by seismologist Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado.

The next Big One could strike Tokyo, Istanbul, Tehran, Mexico City, New Delhi, Kathmandu or the two metropolises near California’s San Andreas Fault, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Or it could devastate Dhaka, Jakarta, Karachi, Manila, Cairo, Osaka, Lima or Bogota. The list goes on and on.

“You can name about 25 cities that are like Port-au-Prince. They’re not going to shake much but every 250 years (on average they will). So if you can name 25 of them, you’re going to have an event like this every 10 years,” said David Wald, a seismologist with the US Geological Survey.

In many vulnerable cities, people are effectively stacked on top of one another in buildings designed as if earthquakes don’t happen.

It is not the tremor that kills people in an earthquake but the buildings, routinely constructed on the cheap, using faulty designs and, in some cities, overseen by corrupt inspectors.

The difference between life and death is often a matter of how much sand went into the cement or how much steel into a supporting column. Earthquakes might be viewed as acts of God, but their lethality is often a function of masonry.

“In recent earthquakes, buildings have acted as weapons of mass destruction,” Bilham wrote in the journal Nature.

For years, earthquake scientists have shouted their warnings about the strong likelihood that a major quake would level an impoverished city and kill hundreds of thousands of people. They have said, for example, that Nepal’s Kathmandu, where masonry structures expanded so haphazardly that some eventually cantilever over narrow city streets, was every bit as vulnerable as the surrounding Himalayas are majestic. They have said that a million people could die in a major quake in Tehran, Iran.

What’s impossible, however, is knowing precisely which of these cities will be the next to crumble. Or when. For all practical purposes, scientists can’t predict earthquakes.

The theory of plate tectonics, largely developed since the 1960s, explains why earthquakes happen in general.

The major plates of the earth’s crust move constantly, creeping along at about the speed of fingernail growth. They rarely move smoothly past one another but are usually locked in place.

On a strike-slip fault of the type that ruptured in Haiti, strain builds on the fault line for decades or centuries. The fault in Haiti had not ruptured in 240 years.

An earthquake is a sudden, stress-relieving event. The fault is said to “break.” Scientists can map faults and estimate how much strain has accumulated since the last quake. What they can’t do is say that a given fault will break tomorrow or next year or 10 years from now. Any calculation of earthquake probabilities has a lot of slop in the numbers.

“The problem is, the slop is huge on a human time scale,” said Susan Hough, a seismologist with the US Geological Survey. “We’re wired to deal with the immediate. We’re not geared to plan and stress about things likely to happen in 30 years.”

Some large earthquakes have small precursors, called foreshocks, but others happen without warning. There is one famous case of earthquake prediction, in Haicheng, China, in 1975. A local official sounded the alarm after many foreshocks and reports of snakes emerging from hibernation. But that prediction was more akin to a hunch than a scientific argument. There have been countless, less publicised instances when predicted earthquakes did not materialize.

As Hough notes in her book “Predicting the Unpredictable,” the successful prediction of earthquakes was an official government mandate in Mao Zedong’s China, but no one foresaw the killer quake that took at least 240,000 lives in Tangshan in 1976.

Port-au-Prince had not been hit with a major quake since the days of French rule in the 18th century. Only in recent years have scientists mapped the fault that runs near the city.

“Just the beginning of work had been done. But enough was known that it could produce a big earthquake,” said Carol Prentice, a geologist with the US Geological Survey. “We knew it would be bad, but I didn’t imagine that it would be this bad.”

[Source: The Washington Post. Read the rest here.]