Wednesday, September 13, 2006

What You Already Know

I intended to go to the SUHAKAM conference on Human Rights and Culture last Saturday, but all manner of things conspired against me (an overheating car, a dearth of taxis, a rainstorm pretending to be a typhoon). Writer/Playwright Kee Thuan Chye sent me the text of his speech though, and I thought you would like to see it, since it underlines many of the issues I've raised on this blog.

As he says, there's really nothing here you didn't know already. Just that sometimes it's necessary to say it in big enough forums.

Freedom of Expression and Culture in Malaysia: Telling You What You Already Know

By Kee Thuan Chye

Let’s start with a number of disclaimers. First, I’m here as an individual and not as a representative of any organisation.

Second, I’ll be talking about freedom of expression and culture, specifically relating to the performing arts in Malaysia.

Third, there’s nothing I would tell you that you don’t already know. You know, I’m sure, that there are major constraints to what can be articulated in the arts. You know that there is censorship.

You know about the actions taken by the authorities on recent films and plays. The most famous must be the one on The Last Communist, a film written and directed by Amir Muhammad.
I haven’t seen the film, thanks to the Home Ministry. What I’m going to tell you about it is based on reports and it won’t touch on the film’s merit or its content.

According to reports, the film is a documentary that road-maps the small towns where Chin Peng, the leader of the long-defunct Malayan Communist Party, lived and fought against the British. It was originally passed by the Censor Board – without, it has to be said, any cuts. In fact, Special Branch officers were given a screening of it. That was something never done before but hey, why not, to be on the safe side? After all, Malaysian artists have always worried about what Special Branch might think – and the consequences of their thinking. So, before Special Branch comes after you, better forestall it. Get their approval first. Speaking as an artist, I’d say that’s pathetic. But what to do? That’s how it is. Special Branch can make or break you – and I’m not joking. I speak from personal experience.

In 1986, I was the actor in a one-man play called The Coffin Is Too Big for the Hole. Wow! That was 20 years ago. It was a Singapore play. It was a story about a man who had problems burying his grandfather. You see, all funeral plots had to be of standard size but his grandfather’s coffin was of the traditional Chinese type, which means huge. It was bigger than the standard-sized plots. So the grandson had to find a way to convince the authorities to make an exception. Not a play to upset anyone, wouldn’t you say? But you know of course that for plays to be staged in this country, a permit has to be obtained. In KL, City Hall grants it but City Hall must have the approval from Special Branch first. OK, fine, maybe the authorities think policemen are the most cultured people. How dare we dispute that?

The producer of The Coffin Is Too Big for the Hole did all the required stuff – submitted the application together with a copy of the playscript. Meanwhile, we carried on rehearsing the play. After more than two months, we were due to open but there was still no word about the permit. We panicked. Money, time and effort had been put into the project. Opening day came. Still no permit. We panicked even more. Our producer went to see City Hall that afternoon. Guess what? Sorry, no permit. And no reason given. What? We were going to open in a few hours and no permit? That night, people who came to see it had to be turned away.

So, you see, never screw around with Special Branch. No, that’s not right. We didn’t even screw around. We did all the necessary things. We followed the proper procedure. And yet.

So, the Censor Board probably did the right – albeit pathetic – thing by arranging a special screening of The Last Communist for Special Branch. And guess what? The cops thought it was okay. One of them said that people might even be bored watching it.

So, the Censor Board passed it. And then, two weeks before it was to open at the cinema, something happened. A Malay newspaper published a series of articles denouncing the film as a glorification of Communism. One of its editorials advised Amir to document the lives of Malay heroes instead. And the beauty of it is, according to Amir, none of the journalists had seen the film or asked to see it. Neither had the historians or politicians they interviewed for those articles. They hadn’t seen it but they had a lot to say about it. And these are intellectuals or at least thinking people. How do we make sense of that? Well, as they say, Malaysia Boleh. We can do anything. We can bend the rules, we can change them at any time. We can talk about things we don’t know anything about. And we’re all right, Mat!

After the attack by the Malay newspaper, the Home Ministry retracted the Censor Board’s approval. The Ministry said it did so because there was a public protest. But there was a public protest too when the approval was retracted. Groups of people spoke out against it. But, a la, they don’t count lah.
Even the Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage felt the film should not be banned. He said the film was not offensive. It was not about the struggle of Chin Peng. Chin Peng doesn’t even appear in the movie, not even a photograph of him. To prove his point, the Minister arranged for a special screening of the film and invited Members of Parliament to view it. Some came. Many felt afterwards there was nothing at all to all the hoo-ha that had been generated. But that didn’t change the Home Minister’s mind. The ban stayed.

Apparently, there’s more to this episode. In an interview with The Star, the Home Minister revealed that he exercised his powers to ban the movie partly because the timing of its release was not right. Why? Because it was a week apart from the celebration of Umno’s 60th anniversary.

Ah, Umno. No wonder. This also explains why the Minister made the statement at one point that the movie had to get approval from the Umno Supreme Council, not the Cabinet. This of course is not right. How can the Umno Supreme Council decide on a matter that concerns the Film Censorship Act? Even the Minister of Culture thought it was not appropriate. It should be the Government that decides, not the Umno Supreme Council. I’m sure you know that too.

Interestingly enough, Umno Youth had also been in on the act – one year earlier. The organisation protested against the making of the film even before it was shot. I don’t know about you, but I find that shocking. Why has it come to pass that politicians are interfering in the making of culture?
I have dwelt at length on this issue of the banning of The Last Communist because I think it says a lot about the kind of society we have become. We are obviously insecure, obviously paranoid, and, far worse, obviously confused. And yet we are supposed to be embarking on an exciting journey towards developed nation status by the year 2020.

We have seen from this example the narrow agendas and petty fears of politicians and journalists. If you bring in the examples of the films Sepet and Gubra, both written and directed by Yasmin Ahmad, films that have been reviled for non-artistic reasons, you will meet another set of people who haven’t realized that the world is bigger than their coconut shell – I’m talking about racists and religious extremists.

The all-important question, however, is this – do they represent the majority of Malaysians? But then what do we mean when we say “Malaysians”? And that’s when it gets very complicated. Because I know and you know that there are Malaysians who are considered more Malaysian than other Malaysians. And when it comes to the crunch, the Malaysians who are considered more Malaysian tend to have more say. And even if only a handful of them were to express unhappiness over an issue, chances are they would be given attention disproportionate to their numbers. Right or not?

That explains the banning of The Last Communist. That also explains the closing down of the KakiKino Film Club that was screening foreign art films at Finas – until a member of the public complained that it was showing pornography. Actually, these foreign art films sometimes contain scenes of nudity but that’s as pornographic as the nude women in classic Renaissance paintings. These paintings, by the way, are proudly exhibited in famous museums and art galleries throughout the world but you probably know what our censors do with them when they appear in magazines. They take out their marker pens and blot out the parts that get them wild – either with moral indignation or delight. I’m not sure which. But they’re vandals all the same.

Let me now tell you about The Vagina Monologues and its fate in Malaysia. The Vagina Monologues is a critically acclaimed feminist play written by American playwright Eve Ensler that speaks out on issues important to women, such as rape and violence against them. In 2002, two theatre groups in KL collaborated on a performance of it that ran for 5 shows. They managed to secure a permit for it from City Hall. Encouraged by the success of the show, the producers decided to extend the run. But this time, when they applied for a permit, did they get it? No. Why? Because when a scholars’ association in Kedah read about the workshop in the newspapers, they filed a complaint against it. An objection raised by people all the way from Kedah, who had not even seen the play. Does that sound familiar? It seems to have become a Malaysian habit to denounce something one has not seen, hasn’t it?

The Black American writer James Baldwin once wrote: “Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” Replace the word “justice” with “culture” and that observation is just as apt. We Malaysians are truly in the grip of the tyranny of a minority. This minority is dictating what we can see and do.

The movie Sepet presents the multicultural reality in our society by showing slices of Malaysian life and centering on the love between a Chinese boy and a Malay girl, but in Parliament no less, an MP no less, with the titles “Datuk” and “Dr” no less, said that the film did not reflect national identity. He criticized the movie for its “rojak language” and “inappropriate scenes”, one of which is of a young man in his underwear. Do we Malaysians not speak “rojak language” in our everyday life, throwing in Bazaar Malay, English, Tamil, Mandarin, Cantonese, Iban and so on? And don’t some of us sometimes go about in our underwear at home?

A more important question – what does that MP mean by “national identity”? Well, I think you know the answer to that question.

I suppose the MP would also concur with the Malay press for denouncing Sepet also because it has a scene in which the Malay girl meets the boy in a Chinese coffee shop which has a stall selling pork rice. Isn’t it enough that the Malay girl doesn’t eat the pork rice? Is there a law that says she can’t step into such a coffeeshop? And if she did, “national identity” would be in serious jeopardy? Relek la.

Really, what we already know from this is that there are people who do not want to embrace pluralism, multiculturalism, and the idea of Bangsa Malaysia. Well, that’s fine. If that’s how it is with them, they’re free to adhere to their own beliefs. It gets to be a problem, however, when they try to make their beliefs prevail over the activities of others who don’t share these beliefs. That is a blatant infringement of human rights. The repercussions of this have a great negative effect on the arts. Because the arts foster what is positive and life-affirming and progressive and democratic.

And it’s not only the arts that have been short-changed by this tyrannical minority. As you know, we now cannot discuss Article 11 of the Constitution. The Constitution, mind you. That piece of writing on which our whole nation is founded. And the gag order comes from no less than the Chief Executive Officer of Malaysia. Because, he says, such discussion can cause tension in our society. OK, as authority-fearing Malaysians, we won’t say that such an order goes against the spirit of Article 10 of that same Constitution, the Article 10 which guarantees freedom of expression. We won’t say that. But then, if we think hard about it, isn’t the Government sending out confusing signals? We are all Malaysians but the Government does not seem to treat us equally. We are a democracy and yet not so. We are mature people and yet we cannot participate in mature discussions. Is it because one sector is not mature enough? Well, the Government is then continuing to pamper a spoilt child, a child who is given to ranting and raving, throwing tantrums, threatening to erupt in violence. Shouldn’t the Government lead them to the mature path, teach them tolerance and rational understanding? We are in a globalised world. We are going towards Vision 2020. At the very least, the Government could tell them, “Look. If you don’t agree with this and that but most others do, just respect what the majority wants. Respect the rule of law, the principles of the Constitution. Don’t create a fuss, don’t act like samseng. If you resort to violence, we’ll have to take action against you as stipulated by the law.”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the simple logic in that. But perhaps a rocket scientist would point out that if the Government actually did that, it might not continue to be the Government. And that’s the rub. Nobody wants to bell the cat. And yet this minority that behaves in such an unreasonable and unruly way needs to be pulled up before it gets totally unmanageable. It’s already getting away with posting death threats on the Internet against one of the organisers of the Article 11 forums. What happens if at some time in the near future it gets away with murder?

I have been in the arts for 30 years and I’m appalled that instead of improving, the situation has got worse for artists. The restrictions are still there. Sixteen years ago, I directed a play called Madame Mao’s Memories that was about Jiang Qing and not at all about Communism, but it was not given a permit. That same paranoia is still here today. In 2004, the play Election Day by Huzir Sulaiman was rejected by City Hall because it contained the names of real people like Dr Mahathir, Anwar Ibrahim, the lawyer Sivarasa, etc. Even the mention of Guardian Pharmacy was not allowed. Why that was so is anybody’s guess. Now, apart from these unfathomable restrictions, we artists also have to put up with the new insidious phenomenon of not offending the sensibilities of the tyrannical minority – because all it takes is a complaint from them to shut down our show.

But why pick on the arts? It’s not a danger to public safety – or national security. A play or a film is not going to cause the audience to run amok, start a revolution. The reach is small, minuscule, compared to the exposure politicians get on national television. That’s the real theatre now. The big stage is the political stage, where an event can be telecast live to millions of people and made larger than life. Reality is being theatricalised by the politicians in power every day. They are the big-time actors, their PR consultants are the mega stage managers. They know how to use the medium to theatrical effect. The brandishing of a keris and its threatening implications are beamed to millions of homes to ram a message through. If any censoring is required, it should be for something as racially divisive as that. Instead, it was allowed to be a dramatic act on a big scale. No theatre company could have that kind of luxury or be able to afford such coverage. And yet puny theatre companies can have their productions closed down because some member of the public makes a complaint. When huge numbers of the public complained about that keris drama, they were told to be silent.

The Prime Minister says we are a nation with First Class infrastructure and Third World mentality when referring to our poor maintenance of public facilities. Perhaps he should extend it to mean the mindset of Malaysians who disrupt activities, including cultural ones, because they feel that their beliefs are under threat.

It is the arts that are under threat. And there is precious little that artists can do to defend their rights. Not while the Government and the people give in to tyranny. Recently, we celebrated our Independence Day, symbol of our freedom. But are we really free? Are we free from fear, free from ignorance, free from prejudice?

I don’t think I need to tell you the answer. You already know it.


lil ms d said...

was in kt when i received the note. cheee. it would have been good. asked chye if they'll repeat it but he said no...

it IS frightening isn't it? here we're talking about the censorship of the arts and ideas. what about real life?

i was just telling a gal pal that maybe one day women like us would be impaled on a stake. i keep thinking of my nephew, niece and kids in malaysia. what will happen to them when they get older? more books banned... movies/theatre... soon even playtime!

then again i could be paranoid...

The Eternal Wanderer said...

Dang, Mr KTC is really good! One of the most powerful speeches delivered by a local personality I've ever read! Hopefully the people that mattered heard of what he has to say.

It's sad that nobody in the media did much to publicise the event and highlight this speech by Mr Kee. Then again, could it be the powers that be in the Govt had it censured?? Oooh...the censorship creature rears its ugly head yet again!

Mine if I post this speech at my blog? This is a keeper!

The Eternal Wanderer said...

Gah! *Mine* should be Mind Typing faster than I was thinking...

bibliobibuli said...

ms d - maybe you aren't paranoid

eternal wanderer - yes, do pass it on. he more folks it reaches the better

Greenbottle said...

Thank you sharon for posting this beautiful piece by KTC. …I’m not trying to be a contrarian or being a devil’s advocate for I’m all for freedom of expression as much as anyone else here…but I like to understand both sides of the arguments…the sad fact is ; all countries do practice censorship: it is only a matter of degrees and where they draw the line that separate one country from another…

About a year ago there was a film “the hamburg cell” that according to critics portray the human side of Muhammad atta and the other gang of 911 hijackers and this was not released and suppressed in many countries including USA…not exactly an overt censorship but close...another example, US government support to NEA (national endowment of art) was drastically slashed in some years due to pressure from conservative groups that are not happy with NEA giving grants to controversial artists…

I think if anybody right now is to make a film to commemorate september eleven showing the positive side of osama ben laden george w will not be too happy and I would be surprised if this will be released in the US…

I remember sometimes back there was a big scandal in the US art community when an artist exhibited an upside down cross plonked in a bucket of urine…

The point I’m trying to make is that when artists try to push the boundary they must also understand that there are attendant risks involved , censorship being the obvious one…and we must understand what is perfectly acceptable to one group may not be to the next…I’m very happy to see the a film showing the good side of osama but to many this would be a violation of human decency and in a very bad taste…

There is a lot of truth in the argument of some people that despite the severe constraints faced by the filmmakers in iran, these artists still managed to produce some of the most critically acclaimed films…so I guess the challenge to art community here be they film makers, writers or whatever is to come up with the most brilliant works so much so that even the censors will be ashamed to touch them…

If ‘the last communist’ is such a brilliant piece that are recognized in cannes or other respected film festivals , I and many others are willing to go and make a demonstration in front of the parliament house …

Anonymous said...

I can do this stuff too. As time goes by, you know what "sells", and this sells in spades. The reality I think, is that people censor other people too. The same people that are so uptight about censorship sometimes will not hesitate to censor someone whose opinions they do not like, even thought hey may not be breaking any laws. I _do_ wish the government didn't censor things, but the thing is that a people get the government they deserve, because they're the voters who voted them in. And I know for a fact that some Malaysians like to censor (or at least censure) you for saying things they don't like to hear, but is nevertheless true.

Amir Muhammad can't have not known they would make a fuss about the title. He can't have not known that the fuss would mean extra publicity for the film. Having a controversial title is cheap publicity isn't it ? I think everyone knows that.. it's memorable, and has that "rebel" edge that some independent film-makers go for.

If anyone truly believes in anarchy of opinion, he (or she) should not censor (or censure) anyone with a valid opinion.

People who believe that stuff shouldn't be censored should not censor (or censure) anyone themselves, or exploit the censorship mechanism for free publicity. Until this happens, it would be very difficult to make the case that Malaysians actually don't like censorship. How can they not like it if they're doing it themselves ?

Why is it no one talks about individual censorship by blog writers, forum moderators etc. Why is that ?

Also, there's a way to get around censorship, put your work online. No censorship there. Mature discussions take place there all the time (except and unless they're censored by blog writers, forum moderators etc.) Personally, I find that a lot of the local people who are online tend to be immature in that they are unable to accept that other people might hold opinions that seem disgusting to them.

But then again where do you draw the line ? if you don't censor then you might get hate speech, by not removing it you're tacitly agreeing with it. But you can't remove it because that would be censorship. That's another problem that doesn't seem to have a solution.

I think Mr Kee is wrong in saying that we can't have a mature discussion. There are mature discussions on the online forums all the time. If he wants a mature discussion I'd invite him to join any of the forums that have sprung up online. Also if any artist wants to be truly free, they can put their work online. That's a global stage.

Is all censorship wrong ? if it's not, where do we draw the line ? I wish I knew. I hate censorship, but I can see the need for it (unfortunately) because well, otherwise you'd be in tacit agreement, and that's not a good place to be I think.

What's the solution to this, anyone ?

Jen said...

Hi Sharon,
I'm a lurker here :) and don't usually comment, but I just had to reply to the comment by greenbottle, starting with a great big

"all countries do practise censorship" does not justify censorship ... that is just like the schoolkid saying "But everyone cheats!" or the politician saying "But everyone takes bribes!"

Why can't we be leaders and show the world a better way?

Anonymous said...

Why ? several reasons I think. Okay suppose someone makes a film glorifying Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden. Sure they could allow it, but think of the repercussions. The US and the UK might declare us enemies and supporters of terrorism. And then what ? that's the problem we have to solve.

Unless we can solve that problem, it's hard to say we can approve of everything. I'm sure we want to, but we don't live in this world ourselves, so we have to be mindful of others' sensitivities. I'm not sure I like that, but I can't see a way out.

One possible way is to release it online, then you have a global audience. The MSC bill of guarantees will guarantee you freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech is good, but how do we deal with the consequences ? we have to solve that problem first before we can promise anything.

Until we find a solution for that, I can't see a way clear for free speech.

lil ms d said...

you know sharon, one reason why i keep coming to this blog is to read the comments by your readers. great stuff!

anon is right; perhaps ktc can organise another talk, and we can have that discussion? i think it's a shame it can't be repeated.

sharon, what time is your flight?! need to know then we can go together-gether!

bibliobibuli said...

greenbottle - you enjoy playing devil's advocate *LOL* and no harm in that ... we need to debate the limits of our freedom

as you say, every society practices censorship

i wouldn't be too happy to find "bomb-making for dummies" or "teach yourself suicide-bombing" in my local MPH or Times

what i would say is that the government of any country which calls itself a democracy has to be answerable to its public. where the line between what is acceptable or not acceptable should be drawn should be a matter for public debate ...

okay, in previous posts I've talked about censoprship as it applies to books. books are banned and "restricted" here, without reasons being given. with no public debate. with no avenue for appeal being given, and in a way that makes such decisions seem arbitrary and baseless

and that quite frankly just makes the powers that be look bloody stupid!

same goes for theatre as KTC illustrates so well.

now common-sense should tell you that creativity cannot flourish in this climate. not in film. not in theatre. not in literature.

bibliobibuli said...

jen - hi, i love to meet my lurkers! nicely argued. take that on board too, greenbottle!

anoymous - good arguments and thanks for them.

there is, to begin with, a world of difference between art and propaganda. maybe the powers that be don't understand just what the function of art is or what it's for? maybe politicians and civil servants should take a course?

freedom of speech is good. we've managed to it to a large degree in the UK with nothing too terrible happening thus far. (this is one of the things that still make me proud to be a brit.) when it's threatened, we fight.

sensitivities are what people hide behind when they can't face valid criticism. (now that's a devils advocate statement!)

it's actually hard to argue this in vague generalities. we should be using specific instances of books films plays to hang our arguments on.

wouldn't it be nice to have a TV debate on this BBC style!

KTC has opened a can of worms!

ms d - will call you in a while re. the flights

yeah the comments are exciting. how nice to have a real life discussion though with all the devil's advocates present!

Jane Sunshine said...

Bravo. KTC tell us what we all know but don't know how to voice out. I don't really know whether Amir Muhammad's film is good or bad, I just want to be able to have the freedom to go watch it.

I remember waiting to go for the Vagina Monologues in KL when it was cancelled. As a young woman, I was confused. Was vagina such a terrible word that we had to ban it? I remember writing a letter to City Hall saying that I would like a reason for the decision ( this is what law school does to you). But never got one. Year's later, I catch the same play in Warwick and even buy the book (at the Gay and Lesbian Bookshop near the British Museum). I still don't know why the play was banned.

Hell, I still don't know why communism, gays and french films are bad. Having exposed my self to all this and more in a foreign country, I must now be very corrupt.

I would urge Kee Thuan Chye to publish this widely so that more Malaysians can have access to it. The German realist philosopher Habermas argued that political movements can be brought by civil society (that's us) sitting in a coffee shop and discussing change. If more Malaysians demanded change, then the powers that be must surely listen?

The Visitor said...

hello, Greenbottle.

brilliant works don't get banned or censored meh? when has censorship ever been affected by the quality of a work?

and also, the whole "Iranian filmmakers can do it" argument is the most naive thing everyone's been throwing around.

Iranian film guidelines are CLEAR and PRECISE. ours aren't.

Anonymous said...

"freedom of speech is good. we've managed to it to a large degree in the UK with nothing too terrible happening thus far."

Just only came across a news article about a grandma in the UK being fined for swearing. Everyone's right, there should be a national censorship policy, but that's gotta be pretty hard to define.

bibliobibuli said...

it's hard to say anything about the granny story without all the facts in front of us ... but in any society there are laws regarding liable and public nuisance etc.

here we were discussing censorship of the arts ... and things are very much freer in the UK, although that freedom does still have to be fought for in some instances. which instances? take a look at the English PEN website

here censorship is arbitrary, often downright silly and worst of all, there is no channel for public appeal.

guidelines would be good. but better still guidelines that could be publicly debated.

Anonymous said...

Well public debate does exist I guess (online anyway.) Criminalizing swearing does have an effect on the arts, after all shows are performed in public, if you can't swear on a street corner you can't swear on stage. Every society has censorship, what we can't agree on is where to draw the line.

bibliobibuli said...

i don't agree malaysians can't agree

at the moment any decision about where lines should be drawn are subverted by authorities claiming they know best ... before the public have a say (online or off)

even if debate is online, how many politicians take it seriously??

Anonymous said...

Well I do. I've seen letters to editors claiming that shows I think are perfectly innocent are "violent" or "pornographic". I've also seen what I would consider hate speech, but it seems it's okay by some people.

Anyway if one looks at the online forums, one would see quite clearly that no one agrees on anything in there. In the end it's not as if you can convince anyone to do anything, it's an ego thing I guess.

"It gets to be a problem, however, when they try to make their beliefs prevail over the activities of others who don’t share these beliefs."

See that's the problem in a nutshell. Mr Kee wants us to share his beliefs, yet he says it gets to be a problem when others try to do the same. Believe it or not, there are people here who are very liberal, and other people here who are very conservative. I want the government to draw the line where _I_ want it drawn, Mr Kee wants it where _he_ wants it drawn, liberals want it further out, and conservatives want it further in. We can't agree.

The government can't seek everyone's approval because there are simply too many people. I mean that's why they have representatives right ? so we elect them and hope they do the job properly. And if anyone doesn't, it's his (or her) prerogative to gather enough of a majority to change it. That, I think is what democracy means.

"And even if only a handful of them were to express unhappiness over an issue, chances are they would be given attention disproportionate to their numbers. Right or not?"

He's very right. The vocal minority shape policy in this country because the rest are only interested in having a good life + lots of money and security. As long as they get to enjoy life they're happy. So how do you change that ? how do you say "take time off from your eighteen-hour workday and campaign for free speech" ? I don't know. I wish I knew the answer though. For most people, they're paranoid about money, and there's a sense that the good times we have now can't last forever. So it's like "let's make hay while the sun shines" -- this is why people are working really hard now, because salaries are high, inflation is low, and people are wondering when the other shoe will drop.

That is the problem, but what is the solution ? I have no idea.

I think some of them do take it seriously. I've seen stuff I wrote online being used in Parliament. Of course they're not the same words, but the concept is similar. So yeah, I guess maybe they do. Don't you think the new book proposals might have had something to do with a government official reading your blog ?