Friday, May 13, 2016

The Pakistani Spectator interviews Blogger Antares

Photo by Suzanne Lee Das

The Pakistani Spectator • Jun 25th, 2008

Would you please tell us something about you and your site?

I was born to a middle-class family in a small town called Batu Pahat. Began working at age 20 in advertising, became a Creative Director at 23, quit at 27 to become a freelance audiovisual producer and creative consultant, and soon devoted my energies entirely to theatre, music and writing. I was introduced to the Internet at 48 and immediately embraced the delightful possibilities of digital tech. Relocated from Kuala Lumpur to a forest reserve in 1992 to found an alternative community called Magick River. Soon became involved with an Orang Asli (aboriginal) community and environmental issues. Launched the Magick River website. A dam was built in the area in 2002 and the village went on the power grid - but it took another four years to get broadband access. One of the first things I did was to start the Magick River blog in December 2006.

Do you feel that you continue to grow in your writing the longer you write? Why is that important to you?

Like any other craft, writing improves with experience and regular practice. However, mastering the technical aspects of writing is hardly the most important issue. What’s truly meaningful to me is the process of developing clarity of thought - and simplicity and elegance of expression.

I’m wondering what some of your memorable experiences are with blogging?

Soon after I initiated the Magick River blog I realized the importance of building a readership. There were so many new things to learn: getting listed with Technorati and other blog directories, promoting the blog among friends, adding widgets and generally tweaking the blog template so that it would reflect my personality. For the first year I was happy to get approximately 300 hits a day but after the March 8th 2008 elections I began to focus more on Malaysian politics and that boosted traffic to nearly 12,000 hits a day for certain blogposts. That was a real thrill for me - like somebody earning thousands suddenly receiving a cheque for millions!

What do you do in order to keep up your communication with other bloggers?

I make it a point to read other blogposts pinged on Petaling Street (Malaysia’s blog aggregator) and often leave comments here and there. This encourages random visitors to my own blog who then leave comments and this is how the blog network grows. Once in a while there is sufficient resonance to begin emailing other bloggers and befriending them beyond the blogosphere.

What do you think is the most exciting or most innovative use of technology in politics right now?

The phenomenal growth of digital and microchip tech has made notebooks, palmtops, Blackberries, camera and video cellphones commonplace. At any given moment at any given place there will be somebody equipped to record an image or video footage or transmit a text message almost instantly. In effect, this is the era of citizen reporters whose enthusiasm for spreading info and news within overlapping networks makes it impossible for totalitarian control and suppression of information. For the first time since the Athenian experiment in democracy nearly 30 centuries ago, decentralized power is beginning to supersede the outgoing patriarchal, feudal, top-down forms of political power. I relish the fact that I am now able to live far from the madding crowd and yet - with affordable equipment like a laptop and digital videocam - I can become an autonomous multimedia production unit with satellite access to the rest of the planet. The proverbial Voice in the Wilderness can now be heard in the traditional centers of economic and cultural power, regardless of latitude or longitude. From my idyllic village in the Malaysian rainforest, I can broadcast my thoughts to people in London, Paris, New York, Moscow, Beijing, Ulan Bator... and, of course, Rawalpindi!

Do you think that these new technologies are effective in making people more responsive?

Certainly, and increasingly so. In the early days of the Internet, there was a greater divide between Actual and Virtual Reality. People would spend hours at their computers conversing with absent beings - and then take a break and connect with friends “in real life.” However, the line between actual and virtual appears to be blurring as we switch comfortably from chatting face-to-face to facebook chat or an SMS exchange. Indeed, the new digital interconnectivity makes it possible for an enterprising individual to organize a real-time street event using only a social networking tool like facebook.

What do you think sets Your site apart from others?

I go for substance, not style - and generally offer well-crafted blogposts with strong visual appeal. The subject matter I blog about is eclectic and ranges from musical and literary topics to hardcore politics and metaphysics, with a generous dose of humor and whimsicality.

If you could choose one characteristic you have that brought you success in life, what would it be?

My ability to empathize with, understand and love whatever and whoever I encounter. This has the effect of generating an attractive, rather than a repulsive, energy field - which helps in everything one does.

What was the happiest and gloomiest moment of your life?

It would take too much time and effort to scour my memory banks for interesting anecdotes - and in the end such experiences tend to be intensely personal and not something to be discussed out of context.

If you could pick a travel destination, anywhere in the world, with no worries about how it’s paid for - what would your top 3 choices be?

Machu Picchu, Egypt, and Central America.

What is your favorite book and why?

No particular favorite as such but I was profoundly inspired by The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology by José Argüelles (Bear & Co, 1986). The galactic scope of the book’s vision was a great relief to somebody like me who tends to feel claustrophobic when confronting petty and mundane issues.

What’s the first thing you notice about a person (whether you know them or not)?

Their energy field - whether it’s dormant or radiant.

Is there anyone from your past that once told you you couldn’t write?

Fortunately, no.

How can bloggers benefit from blogs financially?

I know bloggers who earn heaps by managing a dozen blogs all targeted at attracting traffic and generating income from advertising. But this isn’t my reason for blogging and my flirtation with Google Adsense has been shortlived. Nevertheless, the friendship and goodwill my blog has earned occasionally translates into financial support from those who have found inspiration from researching my blog archives (there are quite a few who spend as many as 9-12 hours browsing my blog on a single visit!)

Is it true that whoever has a successful blog has an awful lot of time on their hands?

Time is our most precious resource and it’s up to each of us how we utilize it. The majority of humans are still trapped in the old paradigm of trading their time for wages. I happen to be among the privileged who enjoys the freedom to use my time as I please. Since I resigned from my last full-time job in 1977, I have somehow managed to sustain myself and my family fairly comfortably without having to take on tasks that are unpleasant or ethically dubious.

What are your thoughts on corporate blogs and what do you think the biggest advantages and disadvantages are?

I avoid corporate blogs like the plague! Only individuals have something worthwhile to say. Corporations only have an image to sell.

What role can bloggers of the world play to make this world friendlier and less hostile?

When you’ve been blogging for a while you get exposed to a wide spectrum of opinions and temperaments - from the most refined to the coarsest of the coarse. This has the effect of acclimatizing you to shocking rudeness and even the most bizarre and grotesque prejudices. After a few heated exchanges on forums or via blog comments, you learn not to take things too personally - not to get wound up by a bunch of pixels on the screen. I’m sure this greatly helps in making bloggers more accepting and tolerant of different viewpoints. Bloggers learn to insult each other in a playful manner - without wanting to translate the aggro into violent behavior “in real life.” The only way to a peaceful world may be to allow humans to slug it out virtually with their conflicting opinions.

Is there one observation or column or post that has gotten the most powerful reaction from people?

The most vociferous discussion and feedback I ever got with any blogpost was on the burning topic of Malay Supremacy. Blogposts on the Altantuya murder case also tend to attract lots of attention.

What is your perception about Pakistan and its people?

The Pakistani people are beautiful, intelligent and capable - but, unfortunately, the masses appear to have been kept ignorant and easily misled through the exploitation of religious fervor by a succession of power-hungry politicians, mullahs and warlords. Sounds just like America, no?

Have you ever become stunned by the uniqueness of any blogger?

Indeed I have. Raja Petra Kamarudin (popularly known as RPK) happens to be among the best informed when it comes to local politics. His access to the “corridors of power” (by virtue, perhaps, of his being a prince of the Selangor royal household), combined with his rebellious spirit and sharp intellect, makes his political blogposts pure dynamite. That’s why his newsblog, Malaysia Today, occasionally records 1.7 million hits a day. [Unfortunately, this is no longer true... not after 2010 when RPK apparently did a 180-degree turn and began blogging on behalf of the Dark Side!]

What is the most striking difference between a developed country and a developing country?

Bread-and-butter issues tend to be less pronounced in a “developed” country where the majority are sufficiently comfortable to focus their attention on larger and broader ideas, particularly pertaining to questions of ethics and aesthetics. In so-called “developing countries” the emphasis tends to be on making money and building more visible infrastructure - therefore, abstract notions of justice, human rights, civil liberties, and cultural maturity become secondary… at least, until a sizeable educated middle class exists.

What is the future of blogging?

Personally, I’ll keep doing it till it gets boring. Then I’ll stop. Blogging has become such a global phenomenon because it gives the individual a sense of validity and value in a perplexingly complex world where traditional forms of socializing have become almost obsolete (in a congested city like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, for example, it takes so much effort to travel across town just to have coffee with a friend, so the answer is facebook chat and sending each other virtual drinks!)

You have also got a blogging life, how has it directly affected both your personal and professional life?

Once I began blogging the activity seemed to gradually take over most of my waking hours in that even when not actually writing a blogpost, I’m gathering data and thinking of ways to repackage it for my blog. In other words, I am now an extremely mature nerd. But, absent any more stimulating diversion, I’m quite happy to be exactly that. My “professional” life is fluid as I tend to venture into an assortment of activities, ranging from producing low-budget documentaries to giving talks on esoteric subjects and trying to get old manuscripts published.

What are your future plans?

I have never taken the future - or anything else - seriously. One step at a time, I take each day as it comes - and goes. In short, I prefer to live in the NOW. Of course, there are endless “projects” waiting to be actualized - for instance, releasing my musical output digitally (hours of music were recently rescued from analog oblivion) and clearing a space in my study for a digital recording studio. Man does not live on blogs alone.

Any message you want to give to the readers of The Pakistani Spectator?

When your head begins to ache with confusion, just follow your heart - that’s the road to joy and freedom!

[First posted 26 June 2008]

Portrait of a Malaysian Hero: Fan Yew Teng (1942-2010)

Fan Yew Teng in Cambridge, U.K., after a marathon land and sea journey through
India, Afghanistan, Iran and Yugoslavia to join his wife Noeleen (1975)

In December 2010 I was jolted by the news that Fan Yew Teng had succumbed to cancer in a Bangkok hospital. I hadn’t been in touch with the man since the mid-1980s, though I recall bumping into him a couple of times, either in theatre foyers or at public forums, but the last real conversation I had with Fan was perhaps when he commissioned me to do a campaign poster in 1984 for his Social Democratic Party which never saw the light of day, apparently because he couldn’t find a printer willing to do the job.

In retrospect the cartoons I did for the poster weren’t all that hot, but it was my first attempt at political cartooning and laid the groundwork for the drawings I did four years later for ADOI!

Fan Yew Teng, the public
intellectual, in 1980
Malaysians were terrified of Mahathir’s secret police – and for good reason. A certain amount of dissent was tolerated but whenever it cut too close to the bone or threatened to make an impact in the public psyche, the full force of the regime’s monolithic power would come into play, making life utterly miserable for anyone who dared speak truth to power openly.

Fan Yew Teng and Mahathir Mohamad are what you might call diametric opposites – not unlike Arthur Koestler’s Yogi and Commissar archetypes, the ultraviolet and infrared ends of the psycho-emotional spectrum. The Yogi, representing inner evolution, envisions a world where every single soul is enlightened, liberated and in a natural state of bliss; while the Commissar, representing external revolution, has wet dreams about lording it over a perfect mechanical anthill colony where every atom knows its proper place and nothing irregular goes unpunished.

The Yogi and Commissar polarity is more or less the same as the Christ-Caesar dichotomy. Is it possible for these polar opposites to align and merge? I would say it’s not only possible but absolute necessary if we are to survive as a tool-using species – however, the only way such a magical fusion can arise from the general confusion is if the Yogi or The Christ is accorded supreme and ultimate power, to be equitably shared with all strata of life and consciousness. What characterizes a true Yogi or Christ is the conscious renunciation of wielding power over others - and loving compassion for each and every expression of life, even apparent enemies.

The Commissar or Caesar types are what we might call younger souls - brash, ego-driven and reckless, but charged with a pragmatic dynamism that can and must be harnessed to loftier goals than crass power-over-others world domination. In the Pentagonian Hawk or Umno Warlord we see a classic example of Little Boys with Dangerous Toys whose playground brawls will inevitably bring about massive carnage and ruin.

Fan at a socialist convention in Paris, 1976
The Commissar or Caesar personality is a jealous, vengeful, spiteful, insecure and malicious Old Testament god who becomes utterly anal and aggressive when confronted with the prospect of having to share power. You can observe this behavior pattern among the Greek gods who were known to devour their own children rather than accept the possibility that one day their offspring will grow strong and take over.

Indeed, you don’t have to go so far back in time – only 18 years ago, Mahathir Mohamad did exactly that to his hand-picked successor Anwar Ibrahim. As usually happens when demented old gods devour their own progeny, the outcome is a gigantic bellyache, followed by violent convulsions, a great deal of vomiting and angry rivers of diarrhea destroying all that we deem decent and honorable.

Well, as one who embodied everything we deem “decent and honorable,” Fan quickly became marked as an “enemy of the state” – and the state took pains to crush Fan’s political aspirations and thwart his dream of an enlightened and liberated Malaysia.

Fan & Noeleen in Salzburg, Austria, 1976
Fan experienced this faceless form of bureaucratic intimidation repeatedly but remained defiant and undaunted. In the 1960s he became active in the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and took over editorship of The Educator, the union’s bulletin. He was among the organizers of the 1967 nation-wide teachers’ strike demanding fairer wages and benefits for this very important profession. The Ministry of Education tried to break his spirit and browbeat him into silence by transferring him to increasingly remote towns and villages. This only served to nudge Fan into full-time politics.

He joined the Democratic Action Party (DAP) in 1968 and was soon appointed Acting Secretary-General and editor of the party organ, The Rocket. In 1969, Fan was elected MP for Kampar and in 1974, for Menglembu. The home ministry used the archaic Sedition Act against Fan for publishing a speech by the Penang DAP Chairman. Although he was never formally disqualified as a Member of Parliament, Fan was deprived of his MP’s allowance, salary and even his pension.

Dynamic young editor of The Educator, bulletin of the National Union of Teachers, in the mid-1960s

Finding himself out of work with time on his hands in 1975, Fan withdrew his meager savings and embarked on an epic land and sea journey from Port Klang to join his wife Noeleen Heyzer in Cambridge via India, Afghanistan, Iran and Yugoslavia. Three years later Fan and Noeleen’s beautiful twin daughters, Lilianne and Pauline, were born.

In Cameron Highlands with twin girls Lilianne & Pauline, 1985
I remember Fan Yew Teng as an affable, contemplative, pipe-smoking man forced into politics by his own passion for noble ideals, social justice and democratic principles; but more so by his extraordinary compassion for all living things.

Fan, Noeleen & their girls in Bangkok

With Pauline in early 2010
Every time Fan came to visit he would invariably have a recently published book in hand as an offering. In the mid-1980s I wasn’t really attuned to local politics and found his books and socialist ideology a mite strident in style – but what he wrote about were certainly cogent issues and he was indeed prolific, churning out four books between 1988 and 1990: If We Love This Country, Oppressors and Apologists, The UMNO Drama: Power Struggles in Malaysia, and The Rape of Law. I believe his last book was published in 1999 – Anwar Saga: Malaysia on Trial. I would really love to get hold of these books, especially the last two titles, and I’m sure they are well worth re-issuing.

Anil Netto wrote a simple but profoundly moving introduction to the December 2010 issue of Aliran, which featured Fan Yew Teng on its cover:

With Lilianne, early 2010
Alas, how often do we only recognize true greatness in people after they are gone forever. Maybe we are destined to do this over and over again because it is only in the vacuum of loss that we can step back and grasp the full impact of a life lived to the full. How true – and even more so – that is in the case of the late Fan Yew Teng. During his memorial in Brickfields on 5 January, speaker after speaker peeled away so many layers of Fan’s multi-faceted personality. Politicians tried to straitjacket him but Fan refused to conform and crossed many real and artificial boundaries. He didn’t need the usual trappings of wealth and status to become a towering Malaysian. Unionist, political activist, dissident writer with his trusty typewriter, global citizen – Fan was well ahead of his time. Long before the Internet shrunk the world into a global village, he was already a global citizen campaigning against war and oppression around the world. Long before our era of climate change, Fan had embraced simplicity so that his carbon footprint was probably minimal. In fact, the environmental component of Fan’s Social Democratic Party manifesto in the 1980s was much more substantive than those of other contemporary parties.

Dr Kua Kia Soong
In a way, Fan has much in common with another cherished friend, Kua Kia Soong. Both perfectly fit the role of clear-minded, articulate public intellectuals lured into politics because they believed real change was possible, but only through dedicated involvement in the public arena.

Fan and Kua both found themselves joining the DAP – and both had personal issues with the party leadership, perhaps because they were first and foremost scholars and humanists, rather than streetfighters and demagogues - and both can be described as fiercely independent-minded individuals who can only toe any party line so far and no further.

Well, Fan Yew Teng has left us to take his place in the pantheon of cult heroes where he can hobnob with the likes of Martin Luther King, Che Guevara, Bob Marley, Rabindranath Tagore, Kahlil Gibran, Bertrand Russell, Frantz Fanon, Leo Tolstoy, and Teilhard de Chardin.

However, former ISA detainee Kua Kia Soong is alive and well and still actively involved in public affairs through the human rights NGO, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) and through his books - May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969, Questioning Arms Spending in Malaysia: From Altantuya to Zikorsky, Patriots and Pretenders - to name but a few recent ones.
In years to come Malaysians will gain some appreciation of what Fan Yew Teng contributed
to a higher quality of political consciousness

Fan’s widow, Noeleen Heyzer, continues to work through the UN empowering women around the region, while their gorgeous daughters Lilianne and Pauline – now grown into full-fledged incarnations of noble intellect, compassion, ethics and aesthetics – are poised to influence and shape the new world of freedom and joy that’s being born even as the ugly and abusive old world order crumbles.

Lilianne & Pauline: Fan Yew Teng and Noeleen's brilliant and beautiful genetic legacy

[First posted 7 December 2011, reposted 7 December 2013. 
Fan Yew Teng family photos courtesy of Lilianne & Pauline]

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Meet Lakshmi, Goddess with Dancing Bedroom Eyes...

[Brought to my immediate attention by Shreejeiyalachmee Appadorai]

[First posted 3 May 2009]