Uzbeki beki stan stan

“Someone Should Do Something…?” *

In Joe Raimondi on August 27, 2012 at 5:21 pm

* see Russell Brand for more on the title

Reading William Easterly’s The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done so Much Ill and so Little Good (2006), I came across the following paragraph (quoted in full), regarding Western aid agencies’ AIDS prevention-treatment efforts over the past three decades:

AIDS treatment is another example of the SIBD syndrome – rich-country politicians want to convince rich-country voters that ‘something is being done’ (SIBD) about the tragic problem of AIDS in Africa. It is easier to achieve SIBD catharsis if politicians and aid officials treat people who are already sick, than it is to persuade people with multiple sexual partners to use condoms to prevent many more people from getting the disease. Alas, the poor’s interests are sacrificed to political convenience. When the U.S. congress passed Bush’s fifteen-billion dollar AIDS program (known as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR) in May 2003, it placed a restriction that no more than 20 percent of the funds be spent on prevention, while 55 percent was allocated for treatment. (225)

SIBD syndrome, on some level, conveys a focus on treatment rather than prevention, which in turn suggests that the underlying causes of the problem are not addressed. At the governmental or organizational level, this translates into an emphasis on AIDS treatment rather than prevention: the symptoms are being addressed, but the root causes perpetuate. As noted, a fairly recent example is Bush’s PEPFAR program, which allocates funding for prevention and treatment at 20 percent and 55 percent, respectively. The sub-title of the chapter to which this passage belongs? “Path of Least Resistance.”

There’s a compelling economic component to arguments about treatment versus prevention (although Easterly acknowledges that “this past negligence is not an argument for or against any particular direction of action today – we must move forward from where we are now”): money spent on prevention is less costly and significantly more efficient. This is in no small part because it addresses the root causes of the problem (i.e. condom promotion)

He continues:

Why do we have a well-publicized Treatment Access Coalition when there is no Prevention Access Coalition? Why didn’t the WHO have a ‘3 by 5’ campaign intended to prevent three million new cases of AIDS by the end of 2005? The activists have been only too successful in focusing attention on treatment instead of prevention. A Lexis-Nexis search of articles on AIDS in Africa in The Economist over the previous two years found eighty-eight articles that mentioned ‘treatment’ but only twenty-two that mentioned ‘prevention.’ (226)

In terms of costs, the difference between treatment and prevention is striking: “overall, the World Bank estimates the cost per year for a variety of health interventions like these [i.e. voluntary testing] to range from five to forty dollars, compared with the fifteen-hundred-dollar cost of prolonging the life of an AIDS patient by a year with antiretroviral treatment” (223).

When figures like these are thrown around, we have to remember that sometimes the deceptively low cost obfuscates more complex, long-term issues, or hidden costs. This applies to both shockingly “cheap” figures for prevention as well as treatment. One example are first-line therapy drugs (an AIDS treatment) at $304 per year, which work for about as long before the virus builds up resistance. A more comprehensive figure, quoted by Easterly, is about $1,500 “per year per patient for delivering treatment to prolong the life of an AIDS patient by one year” (222)

SIBD syndrome seems to be linked to a focus on the treatment of AIDS rather than its prevention, for a variety of reasons (i.e. certain prevention/intervention mechanisms may be controversial for religious reasons in some parts of the African continent). Putting the focus on prevention, however, lends credence to one of Easterly’s primary points: the need to move away from Big Plans for Big Problems, and towards focused, efficient, piecemeal solutions that take account of context and local voices.


The Politics of Pleasure and Distraction

In Rajiv Gopie on August 18, 2012 at 3:01 pm

What do the Olympics, Paul Ryan’s abs and gay marriage have in common? No it’s not that they are all great trivia but rather that they have been the central focus of much of the mainstream media for the past month. As the world burns and economies continue limbering, driven only by the dying gasps of industry across Europe and America, the political class along with the easily amused media have pulled their ace: distraction and pleasure. Wine and Games for the people!

Admittedly the Olympics celebrate the best that money can buy…… I mean “the human spirit,” as long as those humans are well paid professionals and good little ambassadors for their respective sponsors. As far as London 2012 was concerned, the events turned out well, the UK people….. well Londoners were temporarily distracted, not nearly as much by the games more than the fact that many had deserted the capital city and the country for warmer climates. Bumbling Boris Johnson was made a star and the much maligned David Cameron, was left alone for a few days to enjoy his vacation. Across the pond Paul Ryan’s abs are making waves and the left wingers have been blinded by the shimmer of his flat stomach, even the Huffington Post seems flattered. Gay marriage continues to be the lurking spectre that has the right hot and bothered, how dare two consenting adults dare to affirm their commitment to each other in the eyes of the state and their loved ones. It is an abomination… we cannot let people have their right to life and equality, this is America!

The political class can teach Hollywood a thing or two about good entertainment. Most people, and more so the media, have fallen for it. In the midst of a presidential campaign which has money pouring in like never before the best thing that they can do is speculate on the number of crunches Paul Ryan can do. This is the guy who had and probably still has posters of Ayn Rand and is committed to axing a large number of social programmes in the USA and his abs are focused on. The UK is dying, the seat of the largest empire the world has ever known is crumbling into ruin and as millions struggle to find a job and many millions more eke out a living; all glory is given to the Olympics, where corporatism ruled supreme and glowed more than the sacred flame.  Miserably poor states in the USA, struggling under unemployment and low productivity, are all being distracted by their Republican masters who use gay marriage to rile up the masses. It does not matter that we cannot run the state, it does not matter if you have lost your jobs, as long as we can stop those damn gays from marrying then God will provide, when we get to heaven our cups will overflow, never mind the journey from now until heaven may see you living in squalor and handouts.  And once again the people fall for it hook line and sinker.

There are innumerable political, social, cultural and religious research programs into why people care about cultural issues and non-issues over the ones that have the ability to affect them, such as the economy. All those amount to is academic fluff, I say the masses are too easy to distract and the media is not helping. The media in the UK and the USA both left and right should be focusing on grilling the respective opposing candidates and politicians to have them on their toes. They should be focusing on the issues and informing the public. A little distraction is good but it does not have to come at the expense of the national interest. Is it too much in 2012 to ask the media, the politicians and the people to multitask?

-Rajiv Gopie

The ‘black out’ – a view from The Great Wen

In Meor Alif on August 18, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Section 114A of the Evidence Act 1950 reads as follows;


(1) A person whose name, photograph or pseudonym appears on any publication depicting himself as the owner, host, administrator, editor or sub-editor, or who in any manner facilitates to publish or re-publish the publication is presumed to have published or re-published the contents of the publication unless the contrary is proved. 

(2) A person who is registered with a network service provider as a subscriber of a network service on which any publication originates from is presumed to be the person who published or re-published the publication unless the contrary is proved.

(3) Any person who has in his custody or control any computer on which any publication originates from is presumed to have published or re-published the content of the publication unless the contrary is proved.

(4) For the purpose of this section—

(a) “network service” and “network service provider” have the meaning assigned to them in section 6 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 [Act 588]; and

(b) “publication” means a statement or a representation, whether in written, printed, pictorial, film, graphical, acoustic or other form displayed on the screen of a computer.”.


The Centre for Independent Journalism claims that;

Applying to both civil and criminal cases in which allegedly illicit content is published on a webpage, Section 114A presumes that the following groups or individuals are guilty of publishing the content in question:

(1)Those who own, administrate, or edit websites open to public contributors, such as online forums or blogs;

(2)Those who provide webhosting or Internet services to the webpage in question; and

(3)Those who own the computer or mobile device on which the content in question was published.

And finally you will read tweets from the usual suspects, agreeing across party lines, that the law has to change, or at the very least a review of the law is argued to be in order.

While thousands of Malaysians wait anxiously for the other shoe to drop – as is always the case with bad news in the country that it sometimes seem to pile up – a few basic questions appear to have gone over the heads of almost everyone, myself included (self-incrimination for the sake of fairness).

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s not for one minute pretend that the Malaysian “web space” or “internet realm” or whatever the term is to describe the collective imagined spatial territory which constitutes Malaysia’s web usage is the bastion of intelligent discourse and a sort of noble fourth estate that needs to be revered with every written sentence  – It’s not. It’s the internet, it doesn’t have to be, it’s okay if it’s otherwise and if anything, the World Wide Web is first and foremost the space for modern day anarchy where anything goes.

The truth is Malaysians use the internet most of the time to access services. The Alexa rankings will show you that at least 6 out of the top 20 most frequented sites in Malaysia consists of bidding and trading sites like Mudah, Cari, Lowyat.NET and the likes. Maybank2u and CIMBclicks also feature in within that lists taking up another two spots in the rankings, and finally to what can only be described as the surprise of the century, Facebook is the most frequented site in the country. Nowhere will you find the name of any well-known conglomerate news sites, not until number 56 at least where BBC News Online is ranked, and CNN interactive at number 156. This last piece  of observation is of course in no way saying that local news companies are completely unreliable, some of them are great (I think you know which ones I’m talking about – although I’m quite surprised at how some of them ranked), but this snapshot is just meant to put a little perspective into our overall surfing habits.

In any case, the point is; let’s not pretend like we use our internet to rid the world of misinformation, one bad idea at a time.

But just because we don’t use our rights, or we don’t use it the right way (if such a concept even exists) it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t possess the said right altogether. If one were to miss, for whatever reason, voting day in this coming election (whenever that is) and missed the balloting process completely, it doesn’t mean that his or her right to vote should be revoked on the grounds that “he or she isn’t using it anyway”.

Similarly, say what you want about how Malaysians use their internet, but just because most prefer to drown in right wing conservatism or look up the latest on unadulterated local celebrity news, one shouldn’t mistake this as a sign of collective consent to intimately molest our common sense and the laws that protect our internet usage in the way it has been these past few days.

And yes, a lot of us are apathetic to high-brow, snooty, philosophical discussions on justice and equality – I personally reckon that there is nothing wrong with that (other than free loading on those willing to put their reputation on the line to protect your safety as an internet user of course). But even if we are apathetic, I am sure that the thought of knowing that a right exists and it is waiting to be seized is more comforting than the thought of having to argue for one where none exists.

Now back to the basic questions I was talking about earlier.

Well for one, how in the world did we get here? To wake up one morning and realise that we are now only that much closer to having to learn Newspeak isn’t exactly a good indication of how self-aware we all are with regards to what goes on around us. That a law was passed and it was incidentally one of the most freedom encroaching legislation of our generation and we hardly flinched an inch in April only to react retrospectively right now is beyond ludicrous.

Which begs the question of, how did this law passed through parliament? And even if there were opposition to it, why did it feel more like a whimper than a bang? Which office wrote or proposed this amendment? You would think that political careers can be made around opposing such an indefensible policy – Labour or Tory, Government or Opposition – regardless.

I am sure you might be correct in smugly saying that this isn’t the time to point fingers.

Well, to be honest, it is actually, and it should be pointed all around, myself included – this is our fault. How a whole country allowed its collective freedom to express get undercut so easily is a sure sign of carelessness. True, it might be other factors too, like dubiousness at the highest level of politics, or insensitivity and mis-prioritisation of issues to oppose by those sitting across the floor in Jalan Parlimen, being two equally plausible explanations to how we got here, but all of it shouldn’t detract from the fact that most of us didn’t know, didn’t care to know and subsequently just allowed for “it” to happen. This is a country that boasts having 14569 lawyers and enough civil society groups to make something out of something if they wanted to. We were careless, let’s face it, we were.

To make matters worse, the issue of 114A runs the risk of having a very short shelf life just like every other thing on the internet which quickly combusts into fad like a dangerous chemical reaction one day, then as quickly as it combusts – fizzles into nothingness, out of sight and out of the public mind.

The final Jenga piece is of course the comfort we conveniently find in hindsight. Review isn’t the same as not enacting a law. Returning what shouldn’t have been taken is not the same as not taking it in the first place. Accidental as it may have been, and to be completely fair accidents do happen, each and every one of us, regardless of socio-economic background or political leaning (notice I didn’t use the usual categorisation in Malaysia of race or religion) must be very careful in tip-toeing around the issues of fundamental freedoms – one wrong step and the date tomorrow will read 17/08/1984.

This my friends, has been the classic case of “you snooze, you lose”.

Meor Alif

*This article was originally posted on wewriteaboutthings.