Thursday, 21 March 2019

Machines to aid, not replace?

Lost in Space
"It does not compute!"
I heard that the human race is redundant. The race is useless. They are dispensable. They are more of a nuisance. Putting a small segment of the population aside, the majority can be done away. We need to propel the human race forward with its knowledge, advancement in sciences, development of the arts and exploring of the spaces beyond the confines of our Milky Way. The way we act, we tend to create animosity and thrive on separating ourselves under banners of race, religion, skin colour, social class and what not. Workers are not reliable. Like Neanderthals, we fight, squabble over trivialities influenced by our animalistic instincts. 

The world is changing, but the only thing that holds us down are people themselves. Despite the easy access to a plethora of information at their fingertips for them to peruse, judge and form their opinions, they opt to stay ignorant and behave like zombies, wandering aimlessly to the wand of their leaders. Maybe the overloading of data makes them dull.

For example, many of the jobs that we do are repetitive. It does not need much cognitive power to go on. Collecting cash at a toll booth, dispensing carpark tickets, ordering food and even preparing a standard legal document do not need people. With the correct algorithms, responsive, obedient, not-talking-back artificial intelligence (AI) can do the trick; minus the medical leaves, union strike and post-holiday absences from work!

Things are already moving that way. If you casual with your desire to learn a new skill, go to YouTube. If you need to learn the guitar, look for videos on that subject. If you want to buy a faulty part in your machinery, forgot the local hardware owner to source for you. If you know the model of your device, the components and their sellers are just literally a screen away. Have you heard of the guy who learned swimming through YouTube and completing his triathlon? It is true. Amazing.

Surely, humankind is not to take all these lying down. They naturally did not come to be crowned as the most successful species on Earth for nothing. In spite of the presence of bigger, more ferocious and older species, they have come out tops. A new working class will undoubtedly emerge as machine wreckers and AI hackers. Man will rebound.

Lest we not forget, our steadfast confidence in artificial intelligence in lifting us to the skies may have brought us down. As we await with bated breaths the investigation results of the ill-fated Boeing 737 Max flights, there is still a glimmer of hope in the duel between machine and Man.


Tuesday, 19 March 2019

A necessary evil?

Vice (2018)

Violence has always been justified to attain specific agendas. Naturam Godse justified the assassination of Gandhi by invoking the Gita. He substantiated his claim by highlighting Krishna's teachings to the cold-feet warrior in Arjuna to basically carry out the duties that he was born to the world. Unfortunately, not everybody knows the reason for their existence. Some births seem so wasted that one often wonders whether it was Nature's accident.

The Universe has had a lousy track record. Violence and destruction have been the mainstay, periodically jostling creations to another jumpstart.

Just like how a white lie is not considered wrong, violence for a bigger narrative seems totally justified. In the Crusade Wars, brutal killings of brothers defended as a necessary evil to uphold a divine decree. In the name of race and religion, Man continues to ponder and kill, making excuses as they go.
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This Oscar-nominated film tells about the life and times of Dick Cheney who was the Vice President during George W Bush's tenure as the President of the USA. In any other country, this movie would have been viewed as being anti-nationalist, portraying the country as an evil Empire run by greedy men who cared a damn about their own people, what more other countries or environment. Even though traditionally the Vice President is powerless, GW Bush got into politics because of his father and leadership was never his strong point. This reformed alcoholic was a lame duck President. Dick Cheney was the de facto President of the USA who pulled the strings of the administration and was the puppet master who turned the world upside down. 

Christian Bale in lead role.
From Batman to Old Man
Endorsing the unitary executive theory where the President control all the power of the Executive branch of the country, he is seen to have 'created' the turmoil that the world is in today. Starting in life as a Yale dropout with alcohol problems, he morphed with the help of his sweetheart and wife, Lynne, from being a linesman to get into the White House. He had gone in and out of the White House from the time of Nixon's administration. First working under the eccentric Donald Rumsfeld,  he endured repeated heart attacks and finally went into the private sector. He later became the running partner for GW Bush and had purportedly benefitted from the many fake or faulty intelligence that surfaced as justifications to walk into sovereign countries in the name of fighting terrorism. 


Saturday, 16 March 2019

Every birth should be wanted?

Capernaum (Capharnaüm, Arabic  کفرناحوم‎, Lebanon; 2018)
Story, Screenplay, Direction: Nadine Labaki

I remember a family in Penang which had so many children that even the family members never knew how many siblings they had. The mother had so many miscarriages, stillbirths and twins that she gave away that if she were in Stalin Russia, she would have been conferred the 'Order of Maternal Glory' award. The last time the siblings counted, the tally was 16. Despite growing like wildflowers on a shoestring budget provided by the single breadwinner of the family, they all achieved success in their own accord by adulthood. Nobody had arrested psychological development due to a lack of parental attention. 

It was a time when children were viewed as God's gift. Never mind if Man a lot to do with it to make it possible. The extended family concept of living ensured that everyone, especially the older ones, was cared. 

Soon with the changes in societal values, many realised that children were not God-sent but were Nature's way of revenge and testing your resilience. They were viewed as karma's gameplay.

This Oscar-nominated film is reminiscent of many of the ones churned out of Kollywood. Of hand, Pasi and Thulabaram come to mind. Not all God's gift is divine, prudent planning is essential. Restraint in overindulgence is a no-brainer.

In the Bible, Capernaum is the name of the village Jesus sojourned after his successful fight with the temptations of Satan in the Judean desert. People in Capernaum were the testimony to many of His teachings and witness to miraculous healings. In metaphysical terms, it refers to a place of comfort. Sarcastically, the filmmaker decided to name his flick such. The family is the place where most people find solace. In this movie, the family, specifically the heads of the family are depicted as the source of all evil, the propagator of problems. 
Order of Maternal Glory
Labaki, during one of her interviews, mentioned noticing many young children running around the streets of Beirut. Her prodding of these little people finally managed to showcase something alien to most of the net-serving First-World millennials. 

Zain, a 12-year-old boy, is in court suing his parents for his birth. In a flashback manner, his life story unfolds. Having no identification papers, no school to go to, staying in a debilitated rented room for a home, growing up with parents who had all the money for cigarettes and booze but not for the kids, Zain has to work odd jobs to support himself. He sometimes feels that he has to protect his younger sister who recently attained menarche. He tries to conceal her coming of age as he knows that his parents would quickly marry her to the shopkeeper who keeps eyeing her. Before he knows it, she is whizzed off by the shopkeeper, much to his resentment. He runs away from home to befriend an Ethiopian illegal immigrant, Rahil. She is a single mother with a lactating infant. The story progress with Zain babysitting for Rahil and caring for the child when she gets arrested. 

Zain later discovers that his sister died haemorrhaging due to complications of sexual intimacies. A raged Zain stabs the shopowner, his sister's husband, and ends in jail. Through a social worker, he sues his parents.  
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I remember during our childhood religious classes, we were reminded to celebrate our birthdays not by blowing candles, cutting cakes and feeding the neighbourhood, but by prostrating at the feet of both parents to show gratitude for our existence. Unfortunately, not everybody looks at their life as a blessing. A failed contraception, a deceiving partner, failure to contraception access, societal coercion, ignorance and more may be the reason for somebody's birth being unwelcomed. The birth of a child is the beginning of the series of maladies. Not to forget children who are not born in the pinkest health, in the fairest of skin tone or the preferred gender. In economically challenging times, another mouth to feed is another strain on the family dynamics. God forbid, a sick child adds many added to the husband-wife relationship.
For aeons, negative value has been placed on birth. Procreation has been viewed as dirty. Our presence, our leaving of carbon footprints have shown a detrimental effect on the environment. We have been said to be the product of the Original Sin. Many Christian sects and even Buddhism have expressed their anti-natalistic stance on this matter. Celibacy is viewed as a favourable path to achieve enlightenment. 

Economists, on the other hand, would accuse this of being a communist, a neo-conservative or a leftist agenda (pick your choice). There is a concerted effort by them to depopulate the Earth and replace people with complicated algorithms to create their perceived Utopia which is actually a living hell, lifeless planet only to cater for the few elitists. For economists, people are markets to sell their product to enrich themselves.

Suing his lawyer parents for his birth. Because of their self-centredness of wanting an imprint of the union, he has to endure the stress of livingon Earth.
Raphael Samuel

Suing his lawyer parents for his birth.
Just to fulfil his parents' self-centred
individual needs, he has to endure
the stresses of living a life on Earth.
The parents are quite happy for him
to file a case. If the Courts deem that
his case has its merits, they would
be glad to fight for their defence.

- a philosophy that argues that life is so full of misery that people should stop procreating immediately. 

Thursday, 14 March 2019

The hurtful zap of the keyboard

The social media wants us to believe that there is only One Truth, the one that we seem to be churning. The constant words of approval and barrage of 'likes' make us convinced that we are indeed God's gift to mankind, little geniuses, knowing the secrets of life and the rules of the Game.

In the comfort of the cocoon of our private spaces with the security of nods of yeomen who agree and add on in agreement to whatever we say, we go on a roll. 

The squeal of dissent is muffled and vilified by roars of mobs of netizens on our platform. What we fail to realise is that these disapproving netizens are equally loud in their own social backyard cheered correspondingly by loud spectators who agree with them. Together they glorify each other in the sweet melody of their echo chamber.

With the splurge of adrenaline spiralled by cheering of bystanders, the momentum to act and to react snowballs. Keyboard warriors with their fangs and steely knives call for blood. They scream for punitive or exemplary actions. 

Little does anyone realise that society already has its own check and balances to deal with issues that arise, but somehow this particular topic becomes a national crisis.

As the growl reaches deafening levels, sanity fails. The leaders, wanting to stay relevant are pushed, or try to steal the limelight, issue statements. Narcissistic politicians, thinking of their next elections, speak gibberish to pacify both sides of the warring factions.

The blinkers stay on. Nobody realises that every argument has two sides. The truth is always a spectrum. There are many ways to skin a cat. Nobody bothers about the collateral damage to the parties involved. When soil hits the ceiling, everyone moves on to tackle the next perceived crisis.

Many live in a uni-dimensional universe. We bask in the glory that we know everything, and there is no need to acquire anything new. It just makes it easy. Thinking is hard work.

(In the good old pre-digital days, we also had many individuals with warped views of the world. We just ignored them or accepted them as aberrations of Nature that make life colourful. There was no need to paint our unicolour brush on them. They still enjoyed their place in the sun just like we did. ) 

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

STPM: The last choice for non-bumiputras, the middle class

STPM: The last choice for non-bumiputras, the middle class

STPM: The last choice for non-bumiputras, the middle-class & the poor, and the challenge seeker?


Written by Sofea Chok Suat Ling, the associate news editor of New Straits Times. The article was originally published at New Straits Times. And, it was also republished at the blog for Pusat Sumber Bahagian Teknologi Pendidikan Negeri Sarawak on 12 July 2012.
It has been called “archaic”, “anachronistic” and “a remnant of the Stone Age”. It is also known as “the hardest exam in the world”. Given a choice between wading chest-deep through crocodile-infested waters and sitting the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia examination, most students say they would choose the former. Indeed, it has been pointed out that only the extremely masochistic or one whose life provides no other options will attempt STPM or journalism.
STPM is certainly not for the weak of heart and feeble of will. Many have sat it, with disastrous results. I was one of those who scraped through, despite being an (almost) straight-A scorer in Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia. It took several years to overcome the humiliation and post-apocalyptic fallout that came with an almost failing grade in Physics.
As a result of this cataclysmic episode, I have, until today, nothing but the deepest respect and admiration for STPM top scorers, especially those who make it look so easy, scoring 5As even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. They manage it despite being blind, wheelchair-bound, afflicted with lungs infection, or in the case of Ayah Pin’s son, being the offspring of a cult leader.
It is mercilessly tough, and this is why it is unsurprising that many students usually give Form Six a wide berth after SPM, preferring instead, if they have the means, to enrol for matriculation programmes offered by private colleges, or to take the A Levels.
These programs are perceived to be superior and better able to prepare students for university education.
Form Six student numbers have, thus, dwindled through the years, so much so that there was a proposal that it be abolished. Some schools have noted that up to 90 per cent of their students enrol in private colleges after SPM. Schools offering Form Six struggle to fill up classrooms.
Students cannot be blamed for choosing what they perceive as being a less arduous route. The programmes in private colleges use the modular or semester system and students feel it is easier for them to score good grades or pass rather than attempt STPM, which is based on one examination. One wrong move, or a queasy stomach on exam day, is capable of derailing two years of hard work.

one wrong move

The programs offered in private colleges also do away with non-essential subjects and prepare students directly for their intended careers.
The perception, therefore, is that Sixth Formers are the system’s leftovers or those who cannot afford private education or gain entry into matriculation programs. That is as good for their self-esteem as being the target of a school bully’s cruel jibes.
It was against this scenario that an announcement was made last week to re-brand Form Six to make it more attractive for SPM-leavers. It is not exactly a new endeavour as at least one other move to revitalize Form Six has been made in the past.
Some educationists believe, however, that the most pertinent question about STPM is not so much about its diminishing popularity but whether it should be there at all. Should it be scrapped together with matriculation, and a common entrance examination into public universities be introduced in their stead?

Schoolgirl Working in a Classroom

That there are two systems for university entry — STPM and matriculation — has been a source of discontentment for many years, more so since intake into public universities became merit-based in 2002.
Compared to 83,000 Form Six students in 2012, and according to NST’s report, there are only 41,987 students sat for STPM in the year 2015. That’s a drastic 50.58% drop in the number f students sitting for STPM.
Matriculation programmes, some say, give students an unfair advantage as they are “easier”.
They have different evaluation procedures: STPM is affiliated with the Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate; whereas matriculation is based on coursework, exams, and lecturer evaluation.
Some of the disgruntlement with matriculation, however, eased somewhat when entry requirements for matriculation colleges were relaxed to admit up to 10 per cent non-Bumiputera students. Just recently, too, Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) demanded additional seats for Indian students, and the numbers were increased to 1,500 from 500.
But it’s still there. Perhaps one way forward is for universities to work together to come up with a common entrance examination, like SAT (Standard Assessment Test) used in the United States.
Indeed, to put STPM and matriculation in one basket for comparison for places in public universities has long been described as iniquitous. We cannot compare them as they are essentially two different examinations.
Do you agree that STPM is Malaysian higher education system’s leftovers?
Or, do you think that it is a battleground for those who are not afraid of the extreme academic challenge?
What have you gained after you have read this?
Share your opinion now!
And, for all the former STPM students, what are your Sixth Form experiences? 
Whether you are a current Form 6 student, an alumnus, or someone who just studied Form 6 for a few months, all Malaysians would love to hear your own story!

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Don't judge a book by its cover!

Green Book (2018)

The moment you see the protagonist of the film, Tony Vallelonga, an out-of-job New York Italian nightclub bouncer, chuck a pair of drinking glasses into the bin all because two black plumbers drank from it, you know what the story is all about and which direction the movie would progress. Sure enough, it turned out just like what you predicted. What keeps you glued to the screen, however, is the dialogue between Tony and his new employer, Doc Don Shirley, an accomplished musician, who turned of to be black. The sort of coming-of-age film turns out to be an eye-opener for both parties. For Tony, to accept people of colour for their character and for Doc,  a realisation that even the whites go through hardship like the blacks. It was set in the heady times of 1962 when racial tension was a heated topic. There are numerous leg tapping songs of the era to transform viewers to a time when life was not (it never had been) had its own problems. Being politically correct was not one of them. 

Tony's job was to drive Doc around the notorious Deep South for his private concerts. Doc was a classical pianist performing at various public performances and exclusive private gigs. He played with two accompanying musicians. This forms the basis of the movie. Just before they embark on the life-changing journey, somebody hands Tony the 'Green Book' to ease his travel. 

A little bit info on the Green Book. A few years ago, its existence came to my knowledge via a podcast, ‘99% Invisible’. 

Ever since the Negroes were liberated after the 1860s, they started going places. With the building of roads in the 20th century and the discrimination against black travellers in public transportations, the drive was there for Blacks to drive and own cars. This, they soon realised, had its own problems. They could not check-in into any motels at will. Not all diners were willing to serve them. Using washrooms were also an issue. Even, getting the proper service station was a problem. Blacks had to travel with prepared food and portable potty. They could face physical harm in specific locations called 'sundown town'.

The 'Green Book' was the brainchild of a Victor H Green, a WW1 veteran mailman, who wanted  "to give the Negro traveller information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trip more enjoyable." Esso, a gas station of the Standard Oil, owned by the Rockefellers, decided to tap on this market. They franchised black Americans to run their stations and sold the ‘Green Book’.
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A feel-good movie that drives home the message of how wrong is it to stereotype someone. A person of a particular race is expected to act in a specific way. That person, if not responding in a pre-set manner is considered a sell-out by his own race. We cannot a person's educational level, socio-economic strata or social standing merely by his outward appearance. 

Friday, 8 March 2019

Correct the uncorrectable?

Russian Doll (Mini-Series S1; 2018)

For life on Earth to continue, there needs to be a balance between the forces of Apollo and Dionysus. There needs to be an equilibrium between chaos and order. 

In the format of 'Groundhog Day', the main character, Nadia, is caught in a loop where she dies and relives again and again on her 36th birthday. Nadia is a confused woman with no firm footing in life. She has a job, a software engineer, but she is also a foul-mouthed, hard-drinking, drug-sniffing lady who holds some unresolved issues from her childhood. It is always about childhood and traumatic upbringing. Caught in this quagmire of births and re-births, she tries to find the reasons for her trappings. During one of her deaths, she discovers another person, Alan, who is also ensnared in a similar loop. Alan, unlike Nadia, is a stickler for order. He is an insecure man who is trying to propose to his two-timing girlfriend.
Matryoshka Nesting Dolls
set of wooden dolls of decreasing
size placed one inside another

Together, they try to find an escape hatch from this cycle and correct their life for the better. 

That must be the allegory of life, that is if you believe in rebirths and in the existence of souls. That Inner Self, the Consciousness, the extension of the Universe or Agent Intellect is seeking to improve itself through births. It is for the 'realised' Soul to correct shortcomings and to 'elevate' himself to a higher realm. Maybe, just maybe, life would then be a better place. 

But then, we are simplifying things. We assume in the duality of things. Are good and bad are just one of the same spectrum? Sometimes it is kind to be unkind. What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. No pain, no gain.

So we are back to the same question. Why are we here and what are we supposed to do?