Category Archives: Politics

The Shock of Harry Potter

So perhaps the title is a little bit misleading. But I am in shock, and it has something to do with Harry Potter.

Just two hours ago, I attended a conference on gender and politics in central London. It was held at the Australia House (home of the *surprise surprise* Australian High Commission), opposite LSE. The building itself was imposing enough, with its large cast iron and gold gates, cold, imposing granite and marble floors, high ceilings, chandeliers, and Victorian drapes. Adding to the impressiveness and *slightly* intimidating facade of the House was the fact that the Exhibition Hall was occupied by parliamentarians from all over the world, overachieving students and successful men and women from politics and the like.

There was inspiration at every corner during the conference. A nice lady who introduced herself as a politician (nice politicians do exist) came to say hi and made me a very happy camper.

What’s a lowly undergrad even doing there? I’m still wondering about that myself. But that’s a story for another day. Or, if you know why, do share your thoughts with me.

But returning to the building. Remember I mentioned it was large and imposing? It was also cold. And I was slightly fearful of the chandeliers falling on me. Especially when it was my turn to get up on stage to deliver my presentation. Nonetheless. I return home, set myself loose on the internet and decided to google images of Australia House. What I found was this:

This is Gringotts.

The Exhibition Hall was home to Gringotts Wizarding Bank. From Harry Potter. *This photo has OBVIOUSLY been CGI-ed but you get my drift*

I was in Gringotts. I ate dinner there. I stood at the [slightly less elevated] podium where Griphook (was that his name?) took Harry Potter’s key.

The week could not have been crazier. Scratch that. This April I thought life could not have been crazier. But obviously I was wrong. These moments definitely make me treasure my life and opportunities so much more.

I’m still stunned. Maybe the effect will wear off tomorrow.

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Filed under Musings, Politics

Help! They’re coming for me!

Beware of Images (bewareofimages.com) created a poster poking fun at intolerance and the anti-LGTBQ sentiment.

Sometimes, discussing “controversial” issues becomes too difficult. But regardless of whether you agree or disagree about gay marriage or homosexuality (in the U.S. and around the world) – which many people do, on different grounds –  the first step is to recognise that queer people walk amongst us. They pay their taxes, they go to your schools, they pay for insurance. They shop, they eat, they vote. They breathe the same air, drive the same cars. They contribute to the economy, they build a future for their children. They are doctors, they are soldiers, they are politicians, they are students, they are your daughters and sons.

They are all human beings. Just like you. If you believe in equality, in democracy and human rights, then there is no reason to be homophobic. Can you detect you’re in the presence of someone queer? Not particularly. Can you feel your society crumbling before your eyes because of homosexuality? No. Does it hurt you physically to be around queers? No.

Bill Clinton (in his address to the Democratic National Convention 2012) made it very clear that discrimination hurts human growth. The way forward in any society is the development and investment of human capital. Discrimination and intolerance limits the number of people and innovators who can contribute to growth. Human capital is almost the single most important investment any corporate, community and governing body can make. Develop your human capital and see your society grow.

At this juncture, it doesn’t matter if you “like” or “understand” the LGBTQ community. Much like women’s rights, the right to be with who you love is a human right. And if you are decent human being, you should respect human rights. Homophobia (as a major issue) is the racism of the 2000s. Just as we eradicate racism on basis of human rights, we should eradicate homophobia on the fundamentals of human rights.

You don’t have to be gay, bisexual, lesbian, transexual or queer to respect the LGBTQ community. You just have to respect each person’s fundamental rights. You can be a Christian. You can be a Buddhist. You can be a Muslim. It doesn’t matter.

You just have to be a decent human being.

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Filed under Economics, Movies, Politics

Neither Chinese nor Indian

http://www.loyarburok.com/2011/06/22/neither-chinese-nor-indian/?doing_wp_cron

Malaysians are a confused bunch. And it’s not always their fault. But here’s an interesting piece from LoyarBurok – literally translated into Bad Lawyer – on being a born to a bi-racial family and identifying at both Indian and Chinese at the same time.

The racial and identity politics of Malaysia are extremely fascinating, and would certainly wet any anthropologist’s appetite. Similiar to the black-white binary assigned to many bi-racial children born to both black and white parents, bi-racial Malaysians suffer the same fate. For Chinese Indians (affectionately called Chindians), the dichotomy is especially jarring, mostly due to the ethnic and religious identification necessary on official documents in Malaysia.

Issues such as these reveal not only the racial divisions within the country, but also the assumptions surrounding race and identity. Nonetheless, it does open up possibilities about inter-racial marriage within Malaysian society.

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Filed under Malaysia, Politics

Les Marseilles

The appointment of Christine Lagarde has brought many questions to the proverbial discussion table. (No, she is not just a scary French lady) They range from whether or not she will be able to maintain neutrality while dealing with the financial crises of the world to the effect of her appointment on women in positions of power.

Let’s take this one at a time.

Elle est française (She is French)

A primary characteristic that everyone notices is the fact that she is French. Why is this important? It is relevant when one reviews the history of IMF directors. Of the 11 Managing Directors that have headed the IMF since 1951, Lagarde is the 4th Frenchman to rise to the job. She follows on the heels of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a Socialist Party leader who had to resign his position when he was arrested in New York for alleged rape and sexual harassment.

The question that all commentators are obsessed about is: Can Lagarde maintain a stable world financial order without providing preferential treatment to European economies? Anyone with an ounce of political knowledge knows that the economics of Greece, Portugal and Ireland have sunk the prospects of a quick European economic recovery. However, the camera is now focused upon Spain and Italy, both of which are struggling with sovereign debt problems, and in Italy’s case, an unstable political situation to boot. The fear is, if Italy  and the European Central Bank (ECB) were to throw in the towel and request a bailout from the IMF, the IMF will be lenient about the terms of the bailout. This is an issue that especially incenses developing economies, who have – for the past 4 decades – received extremely harsh bailout structures from the IMF in the form of Structural Adjustment Policies. So, is it possible for Lagarde and the IMF to maintain neutrality and enforce strict bailout structures upon European economies? The political evidence does not show an optimistic outcome.

Why? Point one: European nations and the U.S.A. head much of the management of the IMF. Politically and economically, it is in their best interests to secure and maintain a stable European economy. Unless Europe and U.S.A are ready to secede some political power to Africa and Asia, it is unlikely that the same policies that were applied to Africa and Asia would be applied to Europe. Point two: The Euro needs to survive. Simply put, the EU has invested too much of its resources to defend and protect the Euro from collapse thus far. It is now the dominating currency in most of Europe – with the exception of Northern and Eastern Europe. The Cold War concept of mutually assured destruction applies here. If the IMF does not save the European economies, it goes down with them. Especially if it’s Spain.

Lagarde as a woman

Besides being the 4th Frenchman, Lagarde is also the first woman to ever head the IMF. Though she might have been the best person for the job, one cannot ignore her gender in a sea of men – honestly, how can you, when it’s the ratio of testosterone : estrogen dominance is 24:1. This trend follows a long and complicated history of women’s rights, education, career opportunities and social structures. In the context of the IMF, Lagarde is thus far, European first, female second. This is unsurprising, considering her lack of active political participation in ‘championing’ women’s rights. Sure, this can easily descend into a discussion about how female leaders should deal with their position of power, but we’d have to cover everything from suffragettes to second-wave feminism.

Should Lagarde’s appointment read as a prophecy for greater leadership roles for women? Maybe. Perhaps she will set a benchmark where women are empowered to achieve whatever great visions of leadership they might have. After all, if the Motley Fool crew and Louann Lofton are right, women are better at finance. And finance runs the world, no?

Note: Motley Fool and Louann Lofton co-authored “Warren Buffet Invests Like a Girl – and why you should too”

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Filed under Economics, Politics

Making… sense?

As a young Malaysian living abroad, I must bashfully admit that I rarely read Malaysian news.

Perhaps it’s the typical college-student laziness, or the liberal arts hippie apathy, or the lack of interest in childish politicians screaming down each others’ throats, or the lack of respect for Malaysian news in general or the lack of time during the semester. Personally, I like the last excuse. Mostly because it’s the one external factor that defines my life, and one that I don’t really have to explain.

And so, in my lack of awareness, a friend directs me to read an online news site called, ‘The Malaysian Insider’. And the first article I click on? This, about contractors in Malaysia. While the article tried to tackle the possibility of corruption in awarding contracts, it was the last paragraph that caught my attention:

The Najib administration announced yesterday it will raise electricity prices by an average of 7.1 per cent from June 1.

The price charged by Petronas to power companies for the natural gas will rise to RM13.70 per mmBtu from RM10.70, and go up by RM3.00 every month until December 2015, after which market rates apply. (My emphasis)

That for me, is shocking, given the history that Malaysia has with petrol subsidies and the less-than-desirable $3300 average per capita income. (See NationMaster) While it may seem to ease the financial burden of subsidies and debt, what would it do to the general public? The first issue that comes to mind is how the citizens will have to deal  –  socio-economically. How will this price hike be translated into consumer prices? Will consumers be able to keep up with the (presumed) price hikes? What is the government doing to ensure consumers will still be able to afford energy price increase?

Then, there’s the question of what the market rates entail. I wonder if Malaysia’s economic system is  sophisticated enough to deal with energy price fluctuations. In keeping with political tradition, I also wonder if our political system is mature enough to handle the changes without significant damage to the populace – since it would seem that idealogically, our government takes on the role of the caretaker of the people.

So what exactly is being done? Time for me to go back to the Malaysian press – and find out.

 

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Filed under Politics