Blog Action Day: Human rights isn’t just a ‘Western’ thing

I was once chastised for my ‘Western’ thinking about human rights.

Well, excuse me, nobody sent me the memo about it being un-Asian to care about human rights. Human rights matters now, more than ever, in a world where the income and cultural divides seem ever starker.

Zenpencils has a neat graphic that gives a nice summary about what human rights is about.

But what is human rights to me? It’s acknowledging that all human beings are all entitled to the same, basic human rights defined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

Yet I live in a country that often ‘forgets’ about the declaration. On Monday, a judgement ruling that a certain word belonged only to a certain faith and was ‘not integral’ to another faith blatantly tramples over Article 18 of the declaration:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

So I care about human rights because I know too well what happens when people don’t care. When people trample all over the sensitivities of others without care for their rights.

Rights matter. Whether you’re from the West, the East, space, Narnia or The Shire. So it’s great that on Blog Action Day, bloggers all over the world will also be talking about the rights we all deserve, regardless of who or where we are.

Stupidity will kill you quicker than the doctors will

Facebook can reveal a lot about your friends.

Like the fact many of them are ardent believers in quackery.

Here’s a tip: when someone puts up a link from a site like, you know that person is someone you could possibly sell impossible cures or conspiracy theories to.

Case in point was when a friend mentioned someone having cancer. Then all the quack-believers came out, advocating for natural cures.

None of the natural cure champions had actually had cancer or known someone personally who had recovered merely from natural cures.

We do however have one famous case of a guy who tried to cure cancer with natural means, putting off potentially life-saving surgery. His name is Steve Jobs.

Who also happens to be dead now, just FYI.

The quacks of course insist it was the surgery that killed him when it is likely that if he hadn’t put off the surgery, he might have stuck around a little longer to keep wearing his trademark turtlenecks.

Incompetent and profit-crazy doctors do exist, yes. But the majority of them took the Hippocratic Oath with the genuine desire to save lives.

Take it from me, if you want solutions for your health talk to actual professionals. Don’t listen to that well-meaning friend who will try to convince you to switch to a raw food diet or take some miracle supplement.

Go to your friends for support and comfort through health trials. Just don’t go to them for health advice.


Please, try to understand us

Many of you Malaysians over in the Peninsula get quite offended when I quite bluntly tell you: “You don’t get it.” When it comes to Sabah, I mean.

Flag of the Malaysian state Sabah. Based on a ...
Sabah state flag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The truth is, you don’t. I am not saying it as an insult so those offended people in the corner over there, have a cookie and don’t take it personally.

Now, let me educate you a little.

Some of you compare Sabahan anger over some PKR rep unilaterally bestowing the title ‘Huguan Siou’ on Anwar Ibrahim to the furore over using “Allah”.

They are not the same thing.

Declaring Anwar ‘Huguan Siou’ is the equivalent of naming a foreign worker Sultan of Johor.

Or giving Justin Bieber a British knighthood.

‘Huguan Siou’ directly translated means ‘brave leader’. In the old days, a ‘Huguan Siou’ was the leader of a tribe’s warriors (pangazou), chosen by consensus and after much deliberation.

Those were the days when the tribes were constantly at war and headhunting was still practised. The Huguan Siou could not just be any man: On his shoulders lay the safety and the survival of the clan.

Over time, the tribes eventually became the collective we know now as KDM or Kadazan/Dusun/Murut formed by the three main tribes. The Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association (KDCA) is now the keeper and bestower of the title of Huguan Siou.

It is not a title given out lightly, or one that can be bought or sold, like Datukships in this country.

The first KDCA-selected Huguan Siou was the late Tun Fuad Stephens, Sabah’s first chief minister, who had been instrumental in the state becoming part of Malaysia.

He had an interesting lineage: he was half-British and half-Kadazan on his father’s side and half-Japanese and half-British on his mother’s. To top it all off, he was Muslim but chose not to abandon his father’s surname when he converted.

Stephens was living proof that Huguan Siou is not about racial purity, nor was it about faith. It was about leadership. And he had proven himself, many times over. No Sabah leader has yet managed to win over both the largely Christian KDM natives while also being accepted by the Muslim Sabahans that included the Bajaus, Suluk and small minorities among the KDM.

Then came Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan. He defied Berjaya and Haris Salleh’s excesses, choosing to run as an Independent candidate in Tambunan.

“Against all odds and despite massive threats, insinuations and “vote-buying” through on-the-spot approval of development projects and other private amenities, incumbent Datuk Seri Panglima Joseph Pairin Kitingan retained his State Assembly seat with an overwhelming majority of 3,048 votes.” – (Source: The Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) website)

He went on to form PBS, helming it to victory in four elections. BN for years tried to paint him as anti-Muslim, as well as trying to stir up racial and religious sentiment in the state. It was unacceptable to the federal government that a non-Muslim could defy the status quo and helm the state.

But then 1994 happened and the great frog exodus occured, when Pairin was betrayed by his own men in PBS. He has never recovered, eventually ‘surrendering’ and returning to the BN fold. And I fear his courage and will to fight has been sapped by years of enduring BN’s attacks on his leadership.

Dear Jonathan Yasin: You so easily confer ‘Huguan Siou’ to the man who was rumoured to have been behind the ‘frog’ incident? You happily give one of our highest honours to a man who turned a blind eye to Sabah’s poverty and hardships all the years he was still with BN?

But I don’t blame Anwar. It’s not like he asked for the title.

Still, PKR has to stop pretending it understands the state. This latest incident just proves it doesn’t. Work with local parties, stop fighting with them for seats.

The locals will not forget you made Azmin Ali Sabah PKR chief for a while.

You complain we treat you like outsiders, but the truth is it takes a local to ‘get’ how complicated we are. It is a different world in Sabah and unless someone is willing to spend years in the state, (which Azmin clearly wasn’t willing to do considering how little time he spent there), West Malaysian politicians can never hope to get traction.

Sabah and Sarawak, by the terms of the Malaysia agreement, have autonomous rights that make each state the equivalent of the whole Peninsula. We are not just ‘other states’.

We are equal but not the same. There are rights that we have, traditions that we keep that we ask you politely to respect or at least, allow us to explain to you.

It is obvious that PKR has a lot of listening to do.





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From a hater of my ‘We are all pendatang, Dr M’ column

I don’t usually publicise the fan/hatemail I get but this is special case.

It’s funny he calls me an ungrateful Malay because…Aku bukan Melayu-lah, tolol. Aku orang Sabah, faham? Tulis email pun macam budak baru masuk tadika.

Name: saiful
Email: [email protected]
Message: FUCK U ERNA

Time: Sunday January 27, 2013 at 1:02 am
IP Address:
Contact Form URL:
Sent by an unverified visitor to your site.

The price we will not pay

I was reminded yesterday of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A German Lutheran priest, he spoke out against the Nazi party from the start and he paid for it with his life.

There are too many champagne nationalists these days, I think. They talk about or campaign for things all from the safety and comfort of their homes or cafes. But big things require big sacrifices. And I’m not so sure the people who start all these armchair activism endeavours are prepared to give up more than the price of a latte.

What would I give up? Would I have the courage of Bonhoeffer to speak the truth, even if it would mean I could ultimately lose my life?

I’d like to think so but part of me wonders if I would, in the end, give in to my own cowardice.

So much for less writing…

The thing about being in the Malaysian media…it rarely gets boring.

Found time to write two “Side Views” pieces for TMI. “Side Views” is for viewpoints and opinion pieces outside TMI’s “Opinion” pages. The latter is usually reserved for TMI’s regular columnists.

Despite being one of the aforementioned regular columnists, there were some things that made more sense expressing on TMI than just, say, on the blog.

One was the embarrassing gaffe by the Ministry of Defence. What riled me was that some tried to defend the mistake. You do not “defend” something as laughable as the page was.

When you can’t defend the Ministry of Defence

Then the surprising Anwar Sodomy II acquittal happened. Wasn’t planning on writing about it but my super said, “Why not?” I concurred.

901: A day for cautious optimism

In other news, am amazed people still read my opinionated blather. I try.

Gotta be standing for something

It can be hard dealing with pigheaded people. But someone stubbornly set on an opinion is still better than someone who’s wishy-washy. You have to stand for something and figure out what you’re for and what you’re against.

Sometimes what angers you is a good clue about what makes you feel alive. And I figured out that it riles me up when people make excuses for poor use of language in the public sphere.

Use all the bad grammar you want on your blog or at home, but I have no patience for people justifying it on government websites. Have some standards for pity’s sake, Malaysia.

Dear HSBC: please support the arts

I heard that the local HSBC bank is pulling its arts funding. That is sad news for the industry, especially when it has and will always need all the support it can get.

Why is HSBC pulling the funding? Rumour has it that its CEO thinks funding the arts provides “no value”.

If this is true then I question said CEO’s “values”.

The arts is often shortchanged and seen as a poorer cousin of the sciences or the wealth creation monolith of finance and economics.

But there is value in the arts by what it gives in ways that cannot be quantified. If it were up to the bean counters, the aesthetics of buildings would never be taken into account when building them. We would go to work or live in grey buildings that all looked the same, give a floor or two because buildings would solely be created on functionality and cost-effectiveness.

HSBC is obviously too fixated on ROI.

“Funding the arts isn’t going to help us sell credit cards, loans or premier services.”

No, it probably won’t. There is no justification, monetary-wise to give money to the arts. Yet taking away arts funding isn’t going to help with the poor image banks and financial institutions have now thanks to the shaky global economy.

Banks take, and trade, on the needs of its customers. Using money held in trusts, banks routinely gamble on what they call “investments”, encouraging consumers to build debt so as to rake in hefty interest on said debt.

While people lose their homes or struggle to survive on credit, the top employees of banks like HSBC still make more money than the poorest of the poor will see in a lifetime.

So is it too much, HSBC, to ask that you give a little back to the community? Is it a lot to ask for what to you constitutes pennies to support creative expression and the things that make life better?

The sciences gives us tools, economics and finance gives us means, but the arts make life worth living.

Kevin Spacey makes a far more eloquent appeal in this video.

Part II: why the CPB is still a bad idea

I got a comment from an ex-intern of mine about the CPB and why it does not apply to all tech workers but only to those wanting to work on CNII (critical national information infrastructure) projects.

The thing is, Malaysia being as small as it is, IT companies may eventually find themselves working for or with a government-linked agency. There is no specific definition of what agency or department that is or is not deemed CNI.

Does this make things better? Not really. The bill is still poorly worded, very misleading and the worst case scenario still applies: if a fresh grad, non-tech certified and not registered, emails an idea to a friend about upgrading a government service, it is still TECHNICALLY against the law.


1. To bid for a contract, instead of going through one layer of bureaucracy, you add even more layers. You have to pay annual fee, get tested and adhere to some vague standard to be judged qualifed to work on government or CNNI-related projects. In other words, it’s a rather fancy way to legalise paying duit kopi.

2. The CPB board is minister-appointed. What’s to stop the MOSTI minister from appointing a crony?

3. Registered professionals not being able to practise outside their declared proficiency. Hello, IT people pick up skills as and when they go along. So everytime a professional learns a new skill, he/she needs to take another exam or show another certification to prove their competence? It doesn’t work that way, bub.

4. An agency to define what IT professionals are should be independent of the government. Self-regulation! The government has no right to declare that, say, a Microsoft-certified fresh grad is a professional while a self-taught Linux hack with no formal degree or certs isn’t. IT professionals should be judged by their peers and not have the government try to MAKE MONEY out of “certifying” IT professionals.

So my verdict? The bill is still an act of bodohness. But I’ll let my former intern Will have his say. You may or may not agree with either of our point of views but freedom of expression is important.

Hey former boss (referring to Erna :P )

TLDR: The only thing that really changes with this Act is that critical government services will now only be serviced by an exclusive club which restricts membership according to formal qualifications (and/or extensive proof of experience). Rest of IT not affected.

After speaking with one of the proponents of the bill, and re-reading the Bill – it turns out that this has been a huge misunderstanding. If you read it carefully, you will find that only “CNII” (Critical National Information Infrastructure) services requires one to be registered. I.e., if you’re in the IT industry, and you don’t provide IT services for the government in critical areas, you don’t need to even be aware of the existence of this act.

There are only two places in the document which talks about restrictions to non-registered persons. One says that non-registered persons shall not render the services of a registered person. The other says that only registered persons can render services for CNII related stuff.

The only remaining issue is less major – i.e. that the academics require that the word ‘professional’ to be reserved for those with formal qualifications / training or extensive proof of experience. Considering that this doesn’t affect freedoms in any major way, I’m fine with it.


Killing techies the Malaysian way

After the draconian Peaceful Assembly Bill, Malaysia is now trotting out the next Really Bad Idea: the Computing Professionals Bill 2011. You can read the draft bill here.

The gist of it is this: the plan is to create a Board of Computing Professionals and make it mandatory by law for all computing professionals to be registered with and certified by said board.

This board will decide whether you are a ‘properly’ qualified professional. There will of course be registration fees involved, payable yearly. And a proposed ‘fund’ created. Why does all this smell rather like a poorly disguised moneymaking scheme?

If you are NOT a registered member, you are prohibited from submitting “proposals,plans,designs,drawings,schemes,reports,studies or others to be determined by the Board to any person or authority in Malaysia”.

In other words, if I don’t register, it is technically illegal for me to even email ANY MALAYSIAN with even an IDEA for a tech-related project. It would be against the law for me to even sketch, on a napkin, my idea for a new app while having coffee with someone.

Want to know the hilarious part? The country with a bill nearly identical to ours is…Nigeria. So we’re taking a leaf out of their book? Brilliant, Malaysia, totally brilliant.

In countries like Australia, there are professional bodies like the Australian Computer Society. But enrollment is voluntary – in Malaysia, the powers that be are figuratively putting a gun to the head of every computing professional. “Register or you’ll be deemed doing business illegally.”

Why is this a big deal? The bill goes against the grain of everything tech stands for. It’s about innovation and the freedom to create; things this bill intends to snuff out. What’s to stop the country from deciding what kind of tech we’re allowed to create?

The bill even states that IT professionals are not allowed to participate in fields not within their expertise. So if I’m a registered systems analyst but taught myself to program in Rails in my spare time, it would be ILLEGAL for me to do some coding for a client unless I re-declare my skills.

As an IT grad and ex-tech worker, I learned first-hand that it isn’t paper qualifications that count as much as proven skills. I know programmers without degrees or any form of certification who are skilled, competent  and in most cases, entirely self-taught. After all, the biggest names in the global IT industry —Bill Gates, the late Steve Jobs, Michael Dell and Larry Ellison—dropped out of college.

Dear tech industry workers, I urge you to oppose the bill.

Oppose it because it seeks to force you to limit and narrowly define the scope of your talents.

Oppose it because the government is effectively trying to decide what you can or cannot work on and who you can work with.

Oppose it because unnecessary regulation like this will cripple, not enhance the already challenged industry.

Oppose it because this is a poorly thought out, badly put-together piece of bullcrap.

I’ll be damned if I’ll let the government insist I register with them and pay them money for the freedom to program, build websites and apps or propose tech-related ideas to my fellow Malaysians.

(Featured image courtesy of Funny Junk)