The bad thing about sitting on a Midwest Express 717 at La Guardia for four hours while the maintenance crew tries to fix a leaky sink (yeah, right) is that my iPod battery doesn't last for four hours and besides, I wanted to save it for the actual flight back from New York.
The good thing about the delay, or at least the silver lining, is that I was seated next to Mrs. Salleh, a democrat in the finest sense of the word on a cultural leadership exchange from Malaysia.
Mrs. Salleh is a member of an opposition political party in Malaysia. She said the government in her country is still very oppressive, although Malaysia is quite a modern country. For example, according to Mrs. Salleh the current government has ruled Malaysia for the past 50 years since it became independent. But the ruling government controls all media and social programs, and thus only members of the ruling party have access to the media during elections.
Elections aren't regularly scheduled as they are in the USofA. They are called on the spur of the moment often with only a couple of days notice if any. And by law (of the ruling party) "campaign season" is only nine days. So opposition parties have nine days to organize a campaign, promote their candidates and get the vote out -- all without access to mass media.
I listened to Mrs. Salleh describe her situation and mentally compared it to the US system. I told her that there are some aspects of her system that could benefit the US. Surprise elections for example. If the parties don't know when the elections will be, then there would be much less pre-election posturing.
I also like the idea of a limited election window. Nine days isn't long enough, but I think a six to eight week campaign window would go a long way to mitigate the adverse effects of shady campaign financing and help level the playing field for opposition candidates.
We talked more about her impression of the American electoral process. She was particularly amused by the amount of celebrity endorsements of political candidates. I shook my head when she brought it up and told her how annoying such endorsements are to those of us who actually try to understand issues and policies.
She chuckled when I called Hollywood celebrities "dancing monkeys" and characterized their fans as pop-culture sheep.
We discussed other issues, too (we had four hours fer cryin' out loud). I shared (after she asked) my opinion on the true reasons for the war in Iraq. She discussed the difficulty of finding food in New York that met the requirements of Halaal (I told her she'll be SOL in KC unless she can find a Halaal BBQ joint).
In the end, a Christian and a Muslim, a Westerner and an Easterner, a man and a woman, a Republican and a Democrat, had a pleasant conversation without resorting to name calling, insults, harsh language, etc. We both professed the good points and bad points about our respective cultures. It was a genuine exchange of ideas.
And she even gave me a high-five.
tagged: Iraq, Muslim, culture, Malaysia, democracy, election, opression