Tuesday, March 31, 2009

FaceBook Here I Come

I have resisted joining Facebook eversince it became a popular social networking platform over a year ago. What do a person of my age have in common with this community which I think is popular more for youths and maybe young couples who, after becoming separated from schoolmates want to re-establish contact? Furthermore I hardly expect my friends to be in FB, if you know what I mean. I don't suppose they are keen to be looking for their friends this way.

But my curiosity got the better of me, I thought, 'What's the harm?' So on March 21 at 6.45pm I became a member of the FB global community somewhere approaching 2,000,000. How nice if they give each member a unique number. Here's a nice article about the latest development of FB.

I now have 32 friends. Most of them far younger than me, a few of my age, so I am comforted that I am not weird or an outcast. I started slow, learning how to use its many features and today I was liberated to shoot many messages out. I am getting to feel the vast potential of FB. Maybe I will find someone I lost 40 years ago when we separated to study in different colleges. It will be fun to know that I can locate a lost classmate or relative this way. Putting up a clear picture of yourself is important, a current one will help although some may argue that if you want to seek a lost friend putting up an older photo stands a better chance.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

How We Spent Earth Hour

It was probably a good idea to choose 8.30-9.30pm to turn off the lights yesterday. First, it was after dinner for most people, then it was also time for family to sit down to watch TV and chatted about the day. Last night I reminded my family that we will observe EH and so we finished our food by 8pm and my wife helped clean up the dishes (my lower back still aches so I could not stand up for long to help her) and at 8.30pm sharp I switched off all the house lights, including the garage lights. It was fortunate that we have a street light just outside the front gate so the house was not in pitch darkness.

Over the next hour, we (my wife, daughter, son-in-law and I) together with granddaughter chatted and played in the living room. No TV, no air-conditioning, no candles, just words. I thought it was a great idea. Reminded me of the old days when we did not have the luxury of reliable electricity supplies and had sometimes to sit in darkness waiting for power to be restored. Last night it was deliberate for many of us who were aware and cared.

Well, we saved some token electricity, maybe 0.3kWH which is just 10 sen but that's not the idea. The purpose of participatiing is build the conviction of doing something really important to save our earth. Next year I will participate again. Maybe to also turn off the refrigerator as well.

Here are 2 pix grabbed from Star Online of KL skyline before and during EH2009.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Earth Hour 2009

In just 10 hours Malaysians are reminded to turn off their lights for one hour from 8.30pm local time to conserve electricity. Globally, people are asked to do the same at the same time in their respective time zone, so it is not like the whole world will darken simultaneously. Well, I will do my part to join the global community of environmental conservationists to reduce global warming through lowering of carbon emission from lower energy consumption.

HOWEVER, I believe this exercise is more of publicity and an awareness exercise than real energy reduction. One hour equates to a mere 0.0114% in a year, and most likely it will be just lights off but the air-conditioners, refrigerators, televisions are computers still running. These equipment consume electricity a lot more than lights many of which are already of the energy saving types. What about driving less? Talking less on the mobile? Eating less? Spending prudently?

The one hour lights off should be made into an annual event that encompass more energy saving methods. 2 days ago, Bali celebrated Nyepi, the Balinese Hindu new year on which life literally came to a stand still on the island. I think on that day Bali saved more electricity than the one hour EH2009 is promoting in the island, if everyone there subscribed, but it is a good start.

How about going back to living in the country and be less dependent on automobiles, air-conditioners and refrigerators? It will surely help save the world a lot more effectively.

The Big Screen

I seldom visit the cinemas because of the hassle involved. So what if the big screen and great sound effect gives me greater visual and audio pleasures? Only sometimes when the movies are nice or when I celebrate an occasion with my wife do we go to the cinema. Funny thing is mostly the crowd are made up of youngsters, or were we in the wrong hall? Or seniors seldom go to cinemas? We like comedy and animated cartoons better than serious ones. Mostly we prefer the comfort of our own home watching the TV programs and VCD/DVD collections we have and snacking on groundnuts. And the central equipment is the television of course rather than the big screen.

In 1999 we bought a 29" Samsung CRT television. In those days there were no plasma or LCD sets. Perhaps there were but not yet available in Malaysia, and the 29" was pretty decent and good enough for our living room. Last year the Samsung showed signs of stress and wear. I had it repaired but secretly longed for it to be replaced with an LCD. However the LCD technology was evolving and are very expensive. Full HD is 30% more expensive than HD Ready (which to me is a ploy to deceive buyers that they are getting a near HD performance) and I had always wanted to get a Full HD when I change TV set. And the kiasu (or cheapskate) inside me is waiting for the price to drop as it always will when any new product becomes widely accepted.

CRT televisions are on the way out, factories no longer produce these hunky tubes. Plus these tubes cannot go beyond certain size, size that LCD can easily deliver. Nowadays, customers want every thing close to commercial versions, so bigger is better for a TV, but at a smaller price. I waited, and waited. Recession knocked at our doorstep, demands fall, and true to expectation, the LCD TV price started tumbling. But I need a reason to change because I don't believe in dumping anything useable (most of the time, that is).

A few days ago the Samsung died on us. It refused to turn on and it was on a rainy day. Without a TV my wife cannot watch her favorite programs so I decided to visit our regular electrical appliance store in town. Ron, the owner, always give me a great price as we buy our electrical goods regularly from him. In the showroom his sales advisor showed us several models that were lined up like beach models, or pet dogs. My decision will be based partly on biaseness and partly on what we see and offered.

I was always inclined towards the Sharp Aquous as the premier LCD display. But somehow that afternoon the Aquous did not impress, but the Toshiba did, with its good look, features, display and of course, price. Ron gave me a good price, RM3700, for the 42RV500E, a 42" Full HD wall mounted set. A 42" Full HD unit would have set me back by RM4500 last year if I changed it then so waiting = saving. Good financial philosophy.

Back home I was quietly pleased because we now have a display 45% larger than before, much brighter (easier on old eyes like ours) and better sound system that can match my small home theatre system. And it hangs in my living room like a large poster. Nice, very nice indeed.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Holy Smoke! Holy Cow!

PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat said that ".. a cow which defecates in the middle of the road, (we) cannot take legal action against it because it has no brain and cannot think." was comparing it to Muslims who smoke knowing that it was against Islam are worst than cows because they have brains. The comparison is likely to draw protests as no person likes to be compared to animals as it is demeaning to do so. Yet Datuk Nik has a point in that thinking people ought to differentiate between right and wrong and in Islam smoking is forbidden here as well as in Indonesia.

But smoking is a habit that is hard to break even if a smoker knows it is wrong in his religion or bad for his health. A large number of Muslims here smoke for a variety of reasons and it will be an uphill task to convince them not to.

In a larger context I don't agree that smoking should be tied to a person's faith because it corrupts the body but not the soul. I am more concerned if that person cheat, steal, murder, fornicate, curse or destroy another person's family or reputation. Granted that smoking and drinking are sinful I believe that carried out in moderation such habits are not mortally wrong. However my grouse is the pollution and health hazard aspects of smoking to those who don't. I don't smoke and I am peeved when smokers light up in public places and I have to take cover elsewhere. Especially when they arrive after I am seated. In such situations I agree with Nik Aziz that these smokers are really cows without any consideration for others when they literally blow smoke into their faces!

I look forward to the anti-smoking law to cover a wider area including non-airconditioned eateries and recreation parks. Ideally no smoking should be permitted within 10 feet of any non-smokers. Mmm, it means I can eat my chicken rice or have my dinner in a food court in peace without being annoyed by smokers.

Bali Shuts Down ...

I read in the paper this morning that Bali shut down yesterday to observe the Balinese Hindu new year. Apparently the whole island went into freeze mode as shops, ports and even the airport closed to observe Nyepi, a day of reflection that is supposed to be free from any kind of work, play and for some, even talking or eating. Talk about strict adherence to tradition and religion! The only places that were opened were the hospitals. So even in following tradition, exemptions are giving to saving human lives.

This observation of the Day of Silence is usually followed by a day of parades to celebrate the ending of the old year but it has been cancelled on fear that it could degenerate into violence as the national elections are being called next month. Again, the authorities are taking precaution to prevent injuries and bloodshed which is really commendable.

Although the Balinese Hindus are a small minority in Indonesia, Nyepi is a national public holiday. Talk about respect for the minority that Malaysia can emulate!

I'm glad that our Bali holiday was not chosen to coincide with the Nyepi holiday or we would have to spend a day in the hotel doing nothing! But when I chose the period we will be there next month I did not realise that the last day of our stay, April 9, coincide with the election date. I hope it will be incident-free and that we will get to the airport with time left for our travel guide to go cast his vote.

Will blog the Bali holiday after we're done.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Abdullah Badawi's Final Speech

At the 59th UMNO general assembly today the outgoing president Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi blasted his party for "being intoxicated by our own achievements and we became complacent. We believed that we had become all-powerful. We have put our own positions within the party first."

This brings to mind the very popular phrase, "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely." This phrase arose as a quotation by John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton (1834–1902). The historian and moralist, who was otherwise known simply as Lord Acton, expressed this opinion in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887:

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

(Source: HERE)

It is no coincidence that UMNO has reached its lowest point today because it believed that it is unchallengeable, has no humility to recognise and confess its wrongs, and absolutely no willpower to change. The past 12 months saw no change although they talked a lot about it. Whether they will now change is very much in doubt.

It is in human nature to be selfish and greedy. It is what we call sin and sin resides in every human. To break our tendency to sin is to break our will; to break our will is to break the things that are precious to us. To every person it differs but only when that which we hold dearly to are taken away will we feel remorse and be contrite in our hearts. Only then can there be a real possibility for confession and change.

I am really sorry that I do not believe UMNO will change in its present state. Too much are at stake. It is like a person with his hands inside a cookie jar filled with gold coins. He will not let go even in the face of great threat because he has found something that he cannot let go.

There has been much appeals made to component parties like MCA, MIC, Gerakan and PPP to leave BN if they are disillusioned with the sorry state of BN under UMNO's leadership. Like a drowning man clutching his bag of gold, they just could not bear to leave because the stake of losing is too great. So together they will sink because if they leave it would have lightened the ship and give it a chance to go afloat and survive.

BN component parties must do serious soul searching. It may be cruel to abandon ship but in critical times it may be the right thing to do. Just like when the captain orders cargoes and fuel to be cast away to save the ship from sinking.

Are You the Boss Type?

People tend to think that bosses must be rich which is not true of course. There are bosses who laboured just to earn enough to feed their families. All bosses have problems in case you have any wrong ideas. It is universal that when you decide to build up a business you enter a ring where everybody wants you out. You have to be tough to stay inside. Unless you are sponsored or taking over an existing business, chances are you start from scratch. I started mine from scratch 20 years ago. It was like baking a cake and all the ingredients are laid out before me. It was challenging but satisfying except I wished the hard parts never happened. But the trials of any business help mature a businessman and develop wisdom and better judgment that will be required later on in his business.

There are many components in a business. A businessman has to juggle many issues on a daily basis, such as competition, cost overrun, quality problems and complaints, securing bank loans, facing claims, staff turnovers, legal issues, unpaid invoices, thefts, sabotage and meeting regulatory standards. If a business is successful it is a just reward for all the efforts put in but what if it fails? Any businessman runs the risk of bankruptcy but say that to someone who is dead set to start his own you will likely see a smile and a reply that it won't happen to him. Yes, behind every businessman is a rare quality called confidence.

So are you a boss type? If you are you'd probably want to go into business soon. Other essential qualities are humility, hunger for new knowledge, leadership and organizing skill. Most important of all is that you have a vision to get there and the courage and persistence to want to be successful. Do you want to be rich? Do you want to be in charge of your own life? If you answer yes, you can be your own boss. But watch out for the pitfalls.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My Reaction to Najib's Speech

I read the speech given by the deputy president of UMNO, Dato Seri Najib Abdul Razak, who is poised to succeed Dato Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as the next president this Friday. Last night he gave the traditional speech to the UMNO Wanita, Pemuda and Puteri wings. Here are my reactions to excerpts of his speech taken from HERE.

Najib: Obviously, there must have been a reason why a large number of the rakyat who once walked alongside Umno, have since changed their direction.

Comment: You already know the reasons why. You talked of change but more importanly to the rakyat is whether you can really walk the talk.

Najib: ... your collective duty as General Assembly delegates this year is the heaviest duty to have ever been borne by any delegation in the history of Umno.

Comment: The immediate issue is electing the right vice presidents to form the next echelon top leadership in UMNO that will influence the future direction for the nation. Unfortunately, candidates who are not fiery in their oratory skills or carry a moderate viewpoints will be seen as uncolorful or not 'Malay' enough to represent UMNO in the government.

Najib: The fact remains that Umno is still very much loved by the Malays. No one can deny this. It is because of this that they have voted to retain Umno as the biggest party with the most number of seats in the Dewan Rakyat even though a two-thirds majority was denied.

Comment: But many Malays have deserted UMNO for PAS and Keadilan because it has become self-serving instead of public centric. Being big means nothing if you become arrogant and insensitive. UMNO needs lots of soul searching and internal reform, not rebranding.

Najib: History has shown that in the 63 years it has been in existence, Umno has contributed greatly for the development of the nation and her people. Umno was a leading force in the successful fight for independence. Such was the monumental achievement when Umno carried the will of the people and the aspirations of the masses.

Comment: You must not rest on your laurels. Perhaps UMNO really started falling under the leadership of Tun Mahathir when as the nation become prosperous it thought that it had the right to own a big share of the national wealth unrightfully. The respect and love of the people, especially the Malays, were diminished, and in some cases, lost, when UMNO shut its ears to the rumbles of public dissent, even those from the Oppositions that you thought were out to discredit UMNO. Some practices of UMNO were clearly immoral, even against the teachings of Islam that it promoted so religiously.

Najib: In those heady days of seeking self rule, realising that independence cannot be meaningful if the Malays worked alone, the Umno leadership wisely laid the foundation for an enduring power-sharing formula amongst all the major races. To the fulfilment of that formula, Umno made great sacrifices in the first general election of 1955 when it agreed to allow Malay majority constituencies to be represented by non-Malay parties. That noble sacrifice has become Umno’s tradition and is still practised until today.

Comment: Why must it be that UMNO made great sacrifices in 1955? Wasn't the Alliance a partnership for the major races? You can continue to share power with MCA, MIC, Gerakan and other minority parties today but it is always with a 'You listen to me' kind of relationship. It seems that even what are guaranteed in the Federal Constitutions have to be begged.

Najib: Having said that, I must add that Umno members must have their feet on the ground, no matter what our achievements have been in the past. We cannot just remain nostalgic about past glory and fail to record new accomplishments and successes. The political landscape of this country has completely changed. To remain relevant, we have no choice but to move with the times.

Comment: You are absolutely right but why did your party failed to see the signs earlier but wait for the March 8, 2008 fallout? Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi made promises he could not deliver, or delivered unsatisfactorily. Will you be able to do better? Can you be brave enough carry out the reforms and stamp your authority all over UMNO and demand changes for the good of your party and nation? We will wait and see.

Najib: This is not to suggest that the struggles of the past are therefore no longer important. But it demands that we once again assume the role of the leaders of change in our effort to fulfil aspirations, especially those of the Malays.

Comment: I am puzzled why UMNO leaders made frequent reference to 'struggle' or 'perjuangan'. If I understand correctly, you struggle for freedom, which we have received 51 years ago. What is this 'struggle' you are referring to? Against the non-Malays? Against your own fears and weaknesses? You must confront these vague references and not use the term to exploit the feeling of those who are easily led.

Najib: Let us put Umno back on track. To do this we need leaders who are able and are themselves enablers, leaders who dare to change and are accepting of change; who dare to criticise and are willing to accept criticism.

Comment: First thing on your agenda is to invite Datuk Zaid Ibrahim back and offer him the Law Minister position again, invite Tengku Razaleigh into your cabinet or be one of your advisors. Next be bold to criticize Tun Dr Mahathir for his wrongs and tell him to stay off being a busybody. Stamp your own values in your new administration. Convince us that you mean what you said. Good leadership start from yourself.

Najib: For a simple example, let us look back at the elections of 1999, when the New Media first appeared as an influential forum. We took it lightly and paid very little heed to that development. Five years later in 2004, we still paid very little attention to the importance of the alternative media. We were lulled by the massive mandate given to us to the extent that we made no preparations for battle within the cyber sphere.

Comment: Please do not misunderstand that in the cybersphere you will surely win if you had gotten in earlier. The cybersphere allow truth (unfortunately also rumours, half truths, scandals, etc) to be shared that main line media blocked because they are politically aligned to Barisan Nasional. If BN had conducted its business transparently and professionally, the cybersphere will not have anything juicy to share. I believed that even if UMNO had been Internet savvy in 2004 they may not attract good readership of their websites and blogs because readers may have already distrusted what were written. The main problem is that over the years UMNO had become a distrusted party to many Malaysians who were looking for an alternative party ...

If you embrace the Internet as an alternative way to reach out to the rakyat, it will be accepted if the websites and blogs are responsibly administered. You must accept feedbacks in the right spirit, even if they are highly critical.

Najib: The training will not be held in five-star hotels only. It should also include stints in the jungles or the sea, not only to toughen up the trainees but also to foster greater camaraderie and brotherhood among Umno members and party leaders.

Comment: I don't believe this! 5-star hotels? Are lesser ranked hotels not good enough to house smaller trainings? Anyway, training itself will not change the mindset of the participants. You have to ask your members for what reasons they joined UMNO in the first place and what they hope to contribute or get out of the membership.

Najib: Clearly, the choice of these delegates cannot correctly reflect the preferences of more than three million grassroots members from across the nation. To my mind, the time has come for us to review the Constitution of Umno regarding this matter so that the selection of Umno leaders will be more inclusive of a greater number of Umno members from all levels. This move will be able to put to an end the problems of money politics and abuse of power. Maybe you could “take care” of 2,600 delegates but it would be hard to “take care” of 50,000 to 60,000 people.

Comment: Go ahead, better late than never. Undo whatever was introduced in the time of Tun M that really made UMNO what it is today. Better still, allow ordinary members to choose your president. Abolish the quota system from the next assembly, allow anyone with 2 nominations to run for any post and let democracy be seen to work in UMNO.

Najib: Umno holds sacred the position of the Federal Constitution as the supreme law of the land. The Malay rulers and the monarchy are an essential part of the Constitution. Even though in our system, the monarch reigns but does not rule, the state governments and the federal government rule in the name of the Malay rulers as the head above the executive arm of government.

Comment: You will draw lots of flakes here. By what that happened over the past 2 months do you sincerely believe what you said, or that the rakyat believed you? Ask if your own members supported what you did in Perak. The right hand knows what the left hand did.

Najib: Let us not waste any more time. Stop these pointless polemics. Put an end to the ridiculous politicising of this issue. Let us all roll up our sleeves and harness the strengths of this great nation so that we can ensure her continuous progress and prosperity.

Comment: You responded to the call to end the use of English as a medium for Maths and Science. I agree with you entirely. Likewise let us not be divided over our differences. Let every race co-exist, co-contribute and co-prosper. And let the Federal Constitutions be the reference book to settle every dispute arising between one Malaysian and another. We do not need another 50 years to stay as a Malaysia divided by petty issues and to let politics cause us to be classified differently.

Dato' Seri Najib, please start your leadership in UMNO, and soon as the next prime minister, as one whom we have misunderstood. Surprise us by your leadership skills and be the PM for all Malaysians.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Preserving Your Savings

I expect 8 out of 10 people to have lost money in the past year as a result of financial crises and now, lower income from savings and investments under the clouds of recession. For many of us, the returns from investments are lower or riskier and they may not cover the inflations that arose from the hike in fuel price last year. Although it has fallen drastically the chance that it will rise again is there. Pensioners are at most risks because they depend on interests and dividends earned to cover their living expenses and try not to touch the principals invested. Preserving our savings is becoming a challenge let alone increasing our wealth.

The reason we accumulate wealth is to protect our future from risks of uncertainties. We do that also to give our children a more secured lives. We assume that the future is less dependable than the present, and will be more expensive to survive especially on rising costs of healthcare. Throughout our working life we strove to save as much as we can to build assurance that in old age we will be comfortable, dignified and independent, and that our kids will have something from our savings, if that is possible.

The problem is that we have little control over the management of our savings. We place them in deposits, properties, stocks, derivatives, commodities, gold and other investments to hedge for gains. We are told that safer investments yield the lowest returns, and vice versa. And that our investment appetite must be tailored to one's risk inclination. Put in another way, investing is a legal form of gambling, putting real money in anticipation of reaping profits. You can make money, big or small. Or you can even lose your savings. In this equation is the financial climate that affects all investors who are mostly unaware of the approaching storms. I believe many of us never suspect the fallout of the subprime crisis that begun 2 years ago is going to be this bad. It is like a slow falling stack of building blocks that has gone too high to stay stable. We hope against hope that we won't be affected, or solution will come to minimize its impact. Many of us fail to get out in time, and became stuck with investments that plummeted in values. To realise or not is the big question.

To realise the investments means a real and immediate loss or diminished profits. To hold keeps the hope of reviving better values that may take years to achieve. In either case it is a tough choice for an average investor with few options and limited market information to decide on. Those without a steady income to pay for recurrent expenses will be forced to liquidate stocks even at huge losses. But those who can sustain the wait may be in for some recovery. In the mean time there is lost opportunity in investing when stock and property prices are low.

So far we are talking of those with savings. Those who failed to set aside for bad times and are living on credit and have suddenly lost their jobs are in dire straits. Not only don't they have food on the table to feed the family, they may even find the very roof and the car they have taken for granted taken away.

Good and bad times are cyclical and take turns to come. Being prepared for the worst is an absolute necessity. Plus prudence in living a lifestyle within one's means is a wise step to follow. It is OK to splurge in good times but be always wary that bad times rumbles in the approaching distance. Unless you are very rich and buffered for even the worst recession.

Mohd Nizar for Bukit Gantang

It is like Anwar Ibrahim for Permatang Pauh and the verdict is almost an assured landslide. Both AI and MN have carved out for themselves a larger than life personality as a result of perceived persecutions by the BN government on these two opposition politicians. AI leads the charge to battle Barisan Nasional to win the federal government, but what a reception he received last night at the ceramah (public talk) at Bukit Selambau where the FRU fired tear gas and canons with chemical laced water into the crowd (HERE). It looks like outright persecution and it will not go down well with the public, especially the voters in BS.

Nizar who was ousted as Menteri Besar (chief minister) of Perak last month by the Sultan of Perak fought against the illegal move as he claimed he did not resign nor was he removed by a majority vote in the state assembly meeting (the next must be held latest next month). Since the ouster, Nizar has become very popular among Perakians, as if he is a film star wherever he meets the people. Zambry, the newly appointed Menteri Besar must have felt overshadowed by and envious of Nizar. A court case challenging the legality of Zambry's appointment is being pursued at the Kuala Lumpur High Court soon. Elsewhere, speaker Sivakumar fights the 3 independent assemblymen who claimed they did not resign their state seats but merely resign from Pakatan Rakyat.

For now, the spotlight is on Nizar who rides on a sweeping public support wherever he goes. He is perceived as a performer and a scapegoat in the power grab of the Perak state government which he led for 11 months since March last year. Short of an unforseen development, Nizar will crumble BN's dream of regaining the trust of Perakians in Bukit Gantang (held previously by PAS, a component of PR) with a bigger majority. The April 7 by-election will be a welcoming gift for Najib Abdul Razak as he becomes the 6th prime minister of Malaysia.

Is the hands of God showing in this development in Perak? Is He telling the BN leadership that He is displeased with their high-handed actions? The following months will tell if Perak falls back to PR.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I Belong to the Top 7%

Not in term of wealth but among those who are above 60 years in Malaysia as reported HERE. Of these I wonder how many are mentally and physically active and how many are immobile, inactive or sickly? Maybe 5% are still in active service. Of these, what sort of activities are they engaged in? Traveling, playing the stock market, coffeeshop talks, gambling, exercising and gardening, caring for grandchildren, doing community service work, giving tuitions? Or in some cases, still working and not having the privilege to be retired? Staying active contribute to better mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health.

The senior population who are active can contribute to the well-being of society through their knowledge, experience, wisdom and connections. They are not too old to stop learning or offering themselves to public service. An excerpt from the interview of Tengku Razaleigh by Malaysiakini (full report HERE) reads:

Q: Any thought of retiring?

A: I'll retire if I grow old, some people say why I remain okay because I'm active, mentally active…

Q: So we will continue to see you fighting…

I'm not fighting, I'm offering myself… I'll continue to offer myself if people think that I'm still useful. I'll retire when I'm no longer able to move around or think properly. I think nobody should retire... You see all those people in Damansara, those who go to the masjid, they were all former KSN (chief state secretaries), they are all with walking sticks, and they are much younger than me…They are only 60 years old and with walking sticks. I said, ‘What's wrong with you?’ I can still go dancing…

I am younger than Tengku (who will be 72 soon) but I think he is physically and mentally fitter than I am. I admire the guy and I think he ought to be considered as the new prime minister. Certainly he has a lot more wisdom, charm and character than other candidates. It's a shame that in politics the good ones are often sidelined because they are more principled and cleverer.

If you know of a senior person who is talented but not sharing his skills, go talk him into giving back to society. You'll be doing both a great favour.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A 'New' Camry

Last night I got back my Camry which went into my regular mechanic's workshop for 5 days for decarbonizing the valves of the engine and changing the top gasket. This was necessitated by radiator water leak (read HERE). It was like giving this 9 year old car going on 10 a new heart. As I drove it back I could feel it purred. The engine is quieter, smoother, more powerful and hopefully more fuel efficient. In about a fortnight this 'baby' will be joined by a younger 'brother', the 2.4V. Side by side, you'd think that I'm a Camry freak. No, I just like the way they are gracefully designed and reliable. I always believe that design plays a very important part of a decision making process.

Friday, March 20, 2009

In His Majesty We Trust ...

Tunku Aziz, one of the prime movers in setting up Transparency International Malaysia, in happier times was regarded by Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi as "one man (who) was able to harness his personal passion and deep commitment to the values of ethics and integrity, give it a larger purpose and meaning, and turn it into a force to transform society for the better." Why then was he left out of the MACC Advisory Group? He is regarded as being too outspoken for comfort and, therefore, difficult to handle. (extract from Malaysian Insider).

Tunku is now the vice chairman of DAP, a component party of the Pakatan Rakyat.

The following article, reproduced from Malaysian Insider, is his response to the speech by Datuk Zaid Ibrahim 2 days ago that appealed to the Agung not to appoint Najib Abdul Razak as the next prime minister. It seems that there is now a great urgency by concerned citizens to stop this man from becoming the top civil servant of the land. The reasons were well stated and must be seriously considered. Taking a leaf from the United States recent appointments of the presidential team, the Malaysian government must also require its ministers and other key positions to undergo vetting of their personal lives before they are accepted into public office. I will add my voice to the calls by Datuk Zaid and Tunku Aziz and countless Malaysians to appeal to Najib, 'please step away and let another candidate be considered' and to the Agung, 'please exercise your wisdom for the greater good of the nation, our Negara Ku'

MARCH 20 — Zaid Ibrahim is one person I greatly admire because he, no matter what the subject is under discussion, is ready to take it on with courage and candour.

Zaid is his own man, beholden to no one as far as I know, and is not out there in the public domain to please his political masters because clearly he has none.

In my conversations with him over the last few months on a range of political issues, I have noticed, much to my surprise and delight, that he is apparently incapable of harbouring any malice, not even towards people who have acted malevolently against him.

Such is the measure of Zaid the man who now finds himself maliciously attacked on all sides by the besieged Umno/BN cabal because he had the moral and intellectual courage to suggest to His Majesty the Agong that a person such as Najib whose personal reputation is in complete tatters should be told in the nicest possible way where to get off the gravy train.

Significant numbers of Malaysians are of the opinion that he poses too great a risk to the country and he is the most unlikely person to be able to play a positive role in the rebranding of Malaysia.

This candidate for the highest political office in the land is not even prepared, so it seems, to subject himself to public scrutiny by suing all those who have maligned him and put his personal integrity into question. That would not only teach them a lesson of sorts, but also clear his name, once and for all, of all allegations of impropriety.

There are those among the Umno top brass who say that the Agong should not break with tradition. He should appoint the president of the dominant party in the coalition as the prime minister.

There is nothing wrong with being tradition-bound, but there is everything reprehensible about clinging to a practice that, on this occasion at any rate, could divide our people even more and degrade our country’s international standing. We — whether we like it or not — are not entirely on our own on this planet.

The Agong must fully take into account the sentiments on the ground because so much is at stake should he make an ill-informed decision. The Perak tragedy should be an example to all members of the ruling elite the consequence of arriving at a decision without heeding and ascertaining the true wishes of the people who are often dismissed as the “chattering masses” or even less flattering, “the great unwashed.”

I do, of course, realise that His Majesty would be hard pressed to select his next prime minister because the Umno pool of talent is all but empty, but as many agree, compared with Najib, anyone else would be a brilliant choice.

Umno should consider bringing back Tengku Razaleigh, whom they have put out to pasture, to restore public confidence in the next government. We expect Ku Li will be happy to help out as a duty to the country, as prime minister, ad interim, to give Umno the breathing space (even a lifeline perhaps) it needs badly to rehabilitate its crumbling image.

The nation at a time such as this could not be better served than by a man of his prestige, reputation and experience. In this, Malaysia’s hour of need, Ku Li will be just the tonic for a jaded, disenchanted and divided people.

It is a remedy worth trying. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by breaking with tradition. Umno should support Zaid Ibrahim’s idea because it provides a way out of its seemingly intractable problem of fast receding public confidence to govern honourably.

You cannot govern by abusing the law to compel and exact acquiescence from citizens who have woken up to the fact that they have rights to justice and truth.

His Majesty the Agong is being presented with a rare opportunity to show his subjects that the noble institution of the king is more than a mere decorative fixture in the elaborate scheme of ancient rituals and symbolisms at the disposal of the ruling party; the power of the king in our Constitutional arrangement is real and truly awesome if used wisely.

The power we have entrusted to our king must be exercised for the absolute good of the country and the people. The Agong understands the wishes of his people and will want to do the right thing by them. Daulat Tuanku.

Hay Day, Pay Day

We struggle to earn decent incomes only to find that between 15-20% of our hard earned cash are taken away by the government every year around this time when we working Malaysians prepare our income tax returns to the Inland Revenue Board or IRB. Between February and end April is the time normally set aside for individual taxpayers to submit their returns. Once submitted it is deemed assessed and tax become payable within 30 days*. Since 4 years ago we have been advised to get familiar on how to declare our tax accurately and truthfully. In other words, we were told to take responsibility of our fiscal responsibility to the government (but I wonder if it works the other way round!). Prior to that tax officers served as assessors, that is they calculate the amounts due from us and then we pay. Now that we have taken the role of self assessment, these officers have become auditors and they randomly open tax files to inspect if any taxpayers have under declared their tax dues. It is quite frightening to be visited by the tax people one day! Since we do not submit documentary proofs we have to archive them for at least 7 years as required by law in case we need to avail such evidence later.

Recently the newspapers have been advising tax payers how to pay less tax, legally. It seems many tax payers are unaware of their rights, or are even negligent or not smart enough to select the lower tax pathway that is allowed. For instance, married couples should apply for separate assessment if the wife's income is more than RM3000 in the year simply because her annual income will likely fall into the taxable bracket and that she qualifies for a higher personal allowance instead of receiving a lower wife's allowance if jointly assessed.

This annual ritual means one need to set aside enough money to pay any residual tax owing to the IRB. They can be quite strict if you pay late! But over-payment is not necessarily guaranteed a quick refund and you have to bear with the bureaucratic delays, if you know what I mean. Malaysian tax payers must be learn how to pay tax intelligently or get help from people who knows, especially in these recession years when money is tight.

* one smart move is to submit the tax return towards end of April to maximise delay till end of May. Over the past 4 years I have been submitting my returns online via the e-Filing programme. It was a breeze doing it but I must be careful that I have all the documents up to date and income and allowances double checked before I declare them.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Can Integrity Exist In Politics ?

It is sad to be reading so many cases of corrupt governments all over the world that disappoint their citizens who are forced to demonstrate their displeasures when they are denied democratic rights to change to the governments of their choice. From Europe to Africa, to Middle East and Asia and even in South America, disgruntled and angry people mobbed their governments against the forces of the police and military, risking limbs and lives, to fight for a just society and freedom to live in peace and harmony with each other.

I cannot understand what is it about politics that made it so difficult to run a country. It must be human greed for money and power. Perhaps I am a simple-minded person or I value truth and honesty above greed and deceit. Therein lie the reason why I cannot be a politician (I am not saying that all politicians are dishonest and without moral) because I am not good at lying or cheating (which I find to be a trademark to many politicians). Happily I am seeing many politicians of honour who decide that it is worth the while to defend democracy through their righteous behaviour. Politicians such as Hannah Yeoh, Elizabeth Wong, Teresa Kok and Zaid Ibrahim earn my respect and admiration for shining light into the dark tunnel of Malaysian political scene today. (Strange that I am picking more female politicians than men although they are in the minority. Does it means they are better or more trustworthy politicians?)

Choice. Normally, as a consumer you can decide where to buy, what to buy and when to buy. And what to pay. Consumer rights exist as long as you know how to exercise them. All consumers have choices to make so it is seldom a case when consumers complain of being cheated. The advice is almost always "Change" if you are not happy. Above all, compare and choose what is best for you.

However, voters are not as free to change government because government is not a commodity that we can pick up or put down as easily as a tomato or chicken wing. In Malaysia we have either the Barisan Nasional (BN) or the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) today to choose from. Which is really great because until last year we could only choose between BN and unaffiliated political parties and we always know who got to form the federal government. Consider that it has been a monotonous and boring 51 years! Suddenly, choice is now available!

The concept of political coalition was brilliant in Malaysia. When the major parties are at risk of losing power, just invite the smaller ones on board and reward their leaders with positions in the government, incentives and opportunities to make money. It is really hard to turn down the tempting offers. So the 'Close One Eye' culture took root and today it has become an accepted norm that permeate even the civil service and police. This COE concept has made many close both eyes and blinded many politicians to their role as guardians of society. Being recipients of incentives and rewards made them accessory to wrongdoings that are destroying what we love about our country - unity and prosperity.

Can integrity exist in politics? Absolutely! In my mind, politics is an honorable profession that has been corrupted by selfish politicians who gave politics a bad name. Committed and conscientious people should take up politics if they believe they can bring back this honour. In Pakatan Rakyat we are seeing hardworking politicians trying their best to bring respect and honour to this public service. The Yang Berhormat has become Yang Berkhidmat to those who give of their lives not to make money or cheat but to prosper the people they serve. It is possible for Malaysia to be governed by politicians who care about our health, happiness and harmony with each other. It is possible to hope for such a change because the power stay in our hands. And I pray for more dedicated people to rise up to this calling to serve the country through politics!

Do we vote for the person or the party? This is a dilemma many voters faced before. I think, based on the outcome of March 8, 2008 election when many good and hardworking politicians lost their seats because the voters voted against their parties, it is clear that we must vote the party instead of the candidates no matter how much you like him or her, and send the signal to all good and morally upright politicians to join political parties that care for the rakyat instead of themselves.

Several by-elections are coming up soon. One or two more may be on the card, who knows. Voters in these constituencies carry a tremendous power to invoke change for a better future. Unless this message is matched by a desirable response from the government to show that they hear us loud and clear, then send another message when we collectively vote nationally in 3-4 years time. Malaysia deserves a better political leadership. We cannot afford to be governed by politicians who prosper themselves rather than help the citizens.

Ummm... No

Q: Have you done your homework?
A: Ummm... No, I haven't

Q: Did you clean up the room as I told you to?
A: Ummm... No, I did not.

Q: How well did you do in your school exam?
A: Ummm... No, I don't think I will pass.

Q: Why are you so negative in your replies?
A: Ummm... No, who said so? I was just being truthful.

Q: Just like your father, aren't you?
A: Ummm... No, he's in UMNO but I don't know if I will join him unless they take in dropouts like me.

Laugh with Cartoons

Do you know of anyone who does not love cartoons? Inside each one of us is a child who wants to laugh through life and pock fun at silly characters. Cartoons are the work of human imagination and they will always be in demand because they take us into worlds of craziness and stupidity. Cartoonists cannot be criticized for unreal storylines or ridiculous behaviours. It is in these unhuman realms that we find sanity. We can be excused for believing stuffs that cartoon characters do because they help us get by with good humour. I have never seen a bad cartoon that teach violence (we need to see cartoon characters not as humans but figments of our imaginations) or immorality. Cartoon are not to be taken seriously but as an aid to passing time and lightening our spirit.

I still enjoy cartoons, especially the evergreens like Tom and Jerry and Popeye. Modern cartoons cannot rival them even if their quality are better due to newer techniques employed. I don't really enjoy cartoon that try to teach values or history. I'd rather such be taught in documentaries or children's programs. But I like cartoons that make me a child again. Inside me reside a younger me that time will not age who will always be accessible by what's funny on the screen or in comic books.

Corruption and Money Politics

Another person I greatly respect is Tengku Razaleigh who received just one measly vote for the Presidency of UMNO in the forthcoming party election next week. Under its quota law that a presidential candidate must secure at least 30% of the total delegates, i.e at least 59 out of 191 delegates, Razaleigh was disqualified and Najib Abdul Razak won unopposed, the man whom many fear will destroy the nation if he succeeds in becoming the next Prime Minister which is scheduled to take place early April. In my previous post Datuk Zaid Ibrahim spoke gravely about the future we shall inherit if Najib ascends the throne. This post is about how Razaleigh understands the role and responsibility of the UMNO Disciplinary Board in dispensing its punishment on those found guilty. Where does it stop? Please read on HERE.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

If Truth Be Told

Out of the anger and frustrations expressed by thousands of Malaysians over the way our politicians have conducted themselves over the past one year since the incumbent federal government led by Barisan Nasional lost its 2/3 majority and 5 states to Pakatan Rakyat, the opposition, BN has backslidded into self preservation and arrogance instead of attempting to rebuild their coalition and heal the nation. Many of us managed to use hate words because we don't know how else. We feel frustrated and angry at our hopelessness and helplessness as events unfurled towards a dangerous level. A saviour stood in our midst, not one who can be our national leader yet, but someone bold enough to articulate accurately what we all felt these months. Here is his speech copied from Malaysiakini (18th March 2009) that expressed the collective emotions of caring Malaysians. Read it entirely to know how we feel. May God have mercy on Malaysia.

If truth be told, Najib can't be PM
Zaid Ibrahim Mar 18, 09 1:51pm
The following is the hard-hitting speech by former law minister Zaid Ibrahim at the Royal Rotary Club of Kuala Lumpur today.

This is the second time I have been invited to address a Rotary Club. Thank you for the honour. Given the times we live in, perhaps it might be appropriate for me to speak about the leadership transition that has been foisted upon us Malaysians.

I say ‘foisted’ because neither me nor anyone in this room had any role or say in the choice of the person who will lead Malaysia next. We were mere bystanders in a political chess game. And yet the transition is a subject of great consequence to the nation, one I would say is of great national interest.

Leadership is definitive; the individual who assumes the mantle of leadership of this nation, whomever that may be, is one who for better or worse will leave his mark on us. His will be the hand who guides us to greater success, or possibly gut-wrenching disaster.

Save for the dawn of Merdeka, never in the history of this country has the choice of prime minister been so crucial: Malaysia is in crisis. We are facing tremendous economic challenges with unavoidably harsh socio-political consequences. Our much undermined democracy is once again being assailed by those who would prefer a more autocratic form of governance.

Our public institutions are hollowed out caricatures, unable to distinguish vested party interests from national ones, unable to offer the man in the street refuge from the powerful and connected. Our social fabric that took us from colony to an independent nation and on through the obstacles of nation building has reached a point where it sometimes feel like we are hanging on by a thread. This is the Malaysia we live in.

PM’s resignation ill-fated

This is the Malaysia which Abdullah Ahmad Badawi leaves behind. Our prime minister will resign later this month - an ill-fated decision. I say ill-fated not because he has been a great prime minister and we would lose irreplaceable leadership, that is regrettably not the case as all things said and done, Abdullah could have done much more for Malaysia.

Rather, I say that his resignation is ill-fated because his departure will expose the country to forces which may take us down the road of perdition faster than ever. Much has been said of Pak Lah being a weak leader. However, what his critics have not adequately addressed are the consequences of replacing him as prime minister with the anticipated incoming president of Umno, Najib (Abdul) Razak.

It is an undeniable truth that the average Malaysian is anxious about the anticipated transition. Many would prefer it did not happen.

There are two reasons why this is so. The first has to do with the reasoning underlying Umno's demand for the transition itself. The second has to do with Najib personally.

We must recall that after the 2008 general election - a great success for the nation but a fiasco for Umno – one of the chief complaints by the powers-that-be within Umno was that Abdullah’s feeble leadership led to the concept of Ketuanan Melayu being challenged and ultimately undermined.

His critics also lashed out at him for the latitude given to civil society, a move which they believed weakened a key aspect of Umno's political leverage. It followed in Umno's mind that in order to regain lost ground, it was necessary to reassert its ideology with greater strength.

There was nostalgia for Mahathir's heavy-handed style of leadership and a return to the times when the party cowed many into subservience and submission.The conservatives in Umno yearned for a return to Mahathirism, hoping that it would become a cornerstone of the leadership transition plan. There has been much speculation and punditry on whether a return to the Mahathir era would be good for Malaysia.

Difference between then and now

Let me offer some of my own insight to this debate. The major difference between then and now is this: in most instances, Mahathir was harsh and dictatorial if he believed it was good for the country. But an authoritarian style of government under anyone else would be dictated by the need for self preservation and very little about the country’s interest.

The evidence is all around us. After March 8, (2008) when the prime minister ceased being the home minister, the threats of reprisal have escalated and a climate of fear re-cultivated. The detention of Raja Petra Kamarudin, Teresa Kok and Tan Hoong Cheng exemplify this turn for the worse, this appetite to use the sledgehammer.

The shameful power grab in Perak and wanton disregard for public opinion over how BN wrested control of the silver state make many people shudder at the prospect of a return to the dark days. If that was not depressing enough, we have had to bear witness to the police and the newly-minted Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) displaying their allegiance and support to the BN when all we needed and craved for were honest brokers.

It stands to reason that in the mind of the average Malaysian, having suffered a significant loss last March, Umno is on a rampage to regain what it lost by any method available and the man who is expected to lead it to victory is the man who succeeds Abdullah: Najib (Abdul) Razak.

A prime minister must have the confidence of the majority of the rakyat. In order for this to be the case, his integrity must be beyond question; not only must he be such a person character, he must be seen to be such a person. The office of prime minister is one of great trust, he who holds that office cradles the nation in his palms.

For this to be the case, there cannot be anything in the mind of the greater public that, correctly or otherwise, associates him with matters of criminality, wrongful action, improper conduct or abuses of power. In short, he must be beyond reproach in his dealings both official and private.

Without intending any accusation, it is regrettable that in the collective mind of the rakyat, Najib is not such a person. If a referendum were to be conducted on the subject or if the prime minister was to be elected directly by the rakyat, I do not think Najib would succeed. The reason for this is obvious: the rakyat has doubts, fuelled by the unanswered allegations against him and his unwillingness to confront these allegations.

It is not a mere trifle in the minds of the rakyat that despite a direct challenge from a member of parliament in the august House recently, the deputy prime minister remained silent, not even denying the implicit accusation made against him and demanding that it be repeated outside the chamber in the tried and tested method of refutation employed by parliamentarians throughout the world.

It has not assisted the cause of the incoming prime minister that the MP concerned was suspended for a year on a motion tabled by a fellow minister without the member having been afforded an opportunity to defend his position.

Evidence of SMS text-messages

Consider this. Commissions were paid to an agent for the procurement of submarines through the Defence Ministry, Najib (then) being the defence minister. It is unthinkable that he had no knowledge that the agent was his adviser and aide, Abdul Razak Baginda. The commission paid out was exceedingly large, in excess of RM400 million.

The defence minister was dutybound to direct enquiries to see if there had been any impropriety in the way the contracts were awarded when news of the commission surfaced; after all the price of the submarines would be considerably lower without the need for such commissions.

Taxpayers, you and I, have paid for those submarines at a price that in all probability factored in the commission. Taxpayers are yet to be told of an inquiry let alone the result of such an inquiry.

Consider the Altantuya Shaariibuu affair. A young woman was brutally murdered, her corpse destroyed by explosives.

These explosives are not the usual type of explosives, yet no inquiry was held to determine how they were available to these killers. Those accused of her murder are police officers serving in the Unit Tindakan Khas, a highly specialised unit who amongst other things serve as bodyguards to the prime minister and the deputy prime minister.

Amidst evidence that the accused were employed to protect the PM and the DPM, they were directed to (Abdul) Razak Baginda through the aide of the deputy prime minister. Amongst other things, we have heard of the senior investigating officer admitting that the deputy prime minister was an important witness and yet no statement was taken.

It is not unreasonable to think that this is irregular, more so when evidence of SMS text-messages from the deputy prime minister concerning material matters have surfaced. The text-messages cannot be ignored, proverbially swept under the carpet.

Even if they do not establish - or are not capable of establishing - any culpability on the part of Najib, these issues must be addressed.

The air must be cleared, it is thick with accusations and doubts which can only undermine the office of the prime minister if he were to assume it. The deputy prime minister's cause has not been aided by the fact that charges were preferred against (Abdul) Razak Baginda only after public outcry, the manner in which the prosecution was conducted and the decision of the High Court acquitting (Abdul) Razak Baginda not having been appealed.

Power grab an unmitigated disaster

The Perak affair was an unmitigated disaster for the nation. It is no secret that Najib led the charge there and is still overseeing matters.

In the minds of Malaysians, Perak is synonymous with the deputy prime minister. They now equate him with the high-handed tactics that were employed to seize power, tactics that included the disappearances of the three crucial assemblypersons and the blockading of the legislative assembly by the police.

In doing so, they equate the DPM with the hijacking of democracy, the only persons saying otherwise being those persons who have associations with Umno. In their minds, no responsible leader would allow for the undermining of the institutions of state and the constitution of this nation.

They ask, rightly so, whether this is the kind of leadership that Malaysians can expect from Najib when he becomes the prime minister.

With all of this, and more, how are we not to feel anxious? How are we to sleep peacefully at night? I know that I cannot. The situation is desperate and the air is pregnant with tension. We need the state of affairs to be resolved in a way that is in the best interests of the nation and the rakyat.

To an extent, this is a matter for the Barisan Nasional. I urge its members to put politics aside and think things through. We all want a better future, a safer and more prosperous life for our children, all of them, a Malaysia where our children can reach for the stars with the certainty that there is nothing to stop them from being the Malaysians they want to be.

Let the king be kingmaker

I do not believe that the Barisan Nasional will do what is necessary. Politics has a tendency of making those who embrace it cynical. The answer lies elsewhere, with His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

In this case, His Majesty plays the role of ‘kingmaker’. The discretion to appoint the prime minister who succeeds Abdullah lies with His Majesty. Though His Majesty is required under the constitution to appoint the person who commands the confidence of the majority of the members of parliament, it is a matter for His Majesty's judgment. Never before has such a heavy burden being laid on His Majesty to make a brave and correct choice.

For King and country, I urge His Majesty to take into consideration the prerequisites to appointment and the concerns of the rakyat. There is no constitutional obligation on His Majesty to appoint the president of Umno as the prime minister. There are still well qualified members of parliament from Umno who can be appointed PM to bring us back from the brink.

Malaysia needs someone who the rakyat can throw their weight behind without reservation. Someone they can trust and respect. Someone who has no scandal to distract him and thereby gain respect from the international community.

These are difficult times and be prepared for worst times to visit us. Malaysia needs a leader who will unite the country in the face of the adversity. Divided, we are weak. I am loath to say it, but for the reasons I have set out am compelled to say that Najib will most certainly divide us and in doing so, will nudge us closer to the edge.

Some of you may say that all efforts to promote the national interest are at this stage an exercise in futility. If truth be told, I am tempted to slip into cynical hopelessness too. I am fighting the temptation to give up for one simple reason: Malaysia and all that it represents. This is a blessed country, a country too valuable for us to turn our backs on.

It's A Wonderful Life

After being laid down for 5 days I feel sufficiently well this morning to go to office. Ahh, what at joy to be able to relax in my office, attending to my administrative work and reading interesting blogs. While I rested at home I read my Reader's Digest Large Print which comes all the way from the States. Previously I subscribed to the Asian edition which carry articles more relevant to readers in this region. However, the RDLP while being more for the American readers do carry interesting articles that we can all enjoy. An article from the February 2009 issue with the captioned title reminds me to look at things a lot more positively. Perhaps out of sheer ignorance of how our ancestors lived we tend to complain within the scope of what we do not have today rather than what we take for granted. Here's a brief summary of how blessed we are today.

1. Free Time
We have more than 5 hours per day now, research shows, an hour more than in 1965 and 4 hours more than the 19th century when people worked 60 hours a week. If we are busy that's because we do other things besides work and it is projected that by 2050, in the industrialized world, the average work week will be just 27 hours leaving the lucky folks then a lot more time to enjoy life..

2. Peace
More people live in peace now although we read about wars and terrorism. War casualties have declined and today it is comparable to risks of driving a car.

3. Roomier Living
This applies to America. Americans now live in bigger houses. 50 years ago a typical house was just 1000 sq. ft with 2 bedrooms and a bath. Today two-thirds of Americans own houses that are 2200 sq. ft large with 3 bedrooms and 2.5 baths.

4. Literacy
40 years ago less than half of the world population were literate and people then could not afford books and encyclopedia. Today 80% can read with 22% having access to the Internet with its wide range of online books and reference resources like Wikipedia.

5. Food, Food, Food
King Louis XVI of France would be envious of what we eat today. There are more food now than ever although we hear of occasional food shortages. Hunger is no longer a global concern. Obesity is the real worry today.

6. Wide Wide Space
People get to enjoy more open space as better roads and cheaper cars made traveling more accessible and affordable.

7. Cars Everywhere
Cars are blamed for polluting the air but today's engines are a lot less polluting than those built in 1970, but the steep increase of car ownership made this a serious problem though. Still, more efficient engines keep the smog level in the air manageable. Safety has improved tremendously and engine reliability ensures rare breakdowns.

8. The Age of Television
Today's television offerings are enough to drown an average home viewer with unbelievable choices. From todlers to housebound seniors there are programs to fit their needs and occupy their time.

9. A Safer World
The number of nuclear warheads today is only 10% of what used to exist during the Cold War between USSR and USA.

10. Memories
There are so many ways to help us remember more and longer. Memory drugs, digital technology, Internet and of course blogs all help us extend what we remember, doing it more graphically, interestingly and perhaps eternally even after we have gone to the dust.

It is truly wonderful that we are living in the age of possibilities and abundance. Considering the aforesaid advantages of living today, it is really amazing to hear anyone complaining that life is hard. Oh yes, I must add to the above a Better Healthcare and Global Connectivity.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Last Friday morning my lower back again twitched for no apparent reason while I stooped over the washbasin to brush my teeth. I knew right away that I will be physically restricted for the next few days, perhaps even a week, as past experience shows. I've been having this problem on an average of 2-3 times a year. I remember the one I had in January last year was particularly bad that kept me down for over a week. In that state I have to be wearing my lumbar brace, lie or sit down as much as I can, and if I have to walk short distances, walk stooped so as not to injure my lower back. Of course I have to avoid carrying my grand daughter who is used to her daily routine of being carried up to see the neighbor's kittens across the wall. I was told that once your back started giving you trouble it will recur again and again, so what happened last Friday was not totally unexpected so I accepted it without a fuss. I am learning to accepte this as part of ageing but my family feels I need to be physically active, like morning walks, to minimise such recurrences. I need that discipline as well as the companionship of my wife. My main concern is that if it should happen just before a busy week ahead, or during a holiday? I hate to imagine the disruption it will cause me and my family.

Investigating why and how this back problem could have arisen, I thought back to the day before the incident when I gave a talk and had to stand for over an hour. My back was subjected to strain then and I think it 'protested' on Friday. I have to learn to be more careful and watchful if I want to have a productive senior life, which leads me to the issues captioned. Giving my back rest is paramount to avoid this problem.

Over the past 4 days when I was restricted to my house I felt the pain of boredom that many senior people without a variety of daily routine feels. On a regular weekday my routine revolves around my internet sessions of emails and blogs, television, running errands, helping out with my grand daughter who my wife and I babysit, and going to office for half a day. Weekends I have church to go, marketing to attend and a trip to the recreation park near my house. And my dog needs regular bath and my garden some pruning and weeding. Being physically out means anything physical are forbidden, so I have to postpone them. I feel my routine disrupted and time passes rather slowly. I am starring into a possible scenario in a few years that I hope to delay, which is of lack of physical mobility and poorer eyesight, of how to plan my time usage daily to keep myself productive and engaged without feeling bored.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Humble Pill Box

Probably only the senior folks are familiar with this small plastic container that helps them remember to take their medicine wherever they are, be they at home or traveling. The pill boxes come in different shapes, sizes, colors and are designed to hold daily, weekly or even fortnightly supplies of essential medicine to be taken on regular basis, usually daily or bi-daily. If we just take one type of medication it will be unnecessary to use a pill box but if two or more pills are involved probably it is a good idea to use it since it is more convenient to carry, say, a week's supply in one box rather than strips of several medicine that can get misplaced. Sometimes only half a pill is required so scoring them and putting them in the box help the user remember the dosage.

Getting use to the pill box requires some discipline and organizing. Some folks just cannot refill the box regularly and leave to memory on what and when to take but I find it both fun and useful to depend on the box to keep me alert of my daily medicine intake. Using the pill box helps me remember when to take my medicine and if I had already taken them since the box is partitioned on days of the week.

Both my wife and I use the pill boxes, I use both actually, one for the morning and the other for the evening. We use the boxes to keep our daily intake of health supplements like calcium, glucosamine and multivitamins and essential drugs like anti-hypertensive pills, tyroxine and lovastatin. At every breakfast we would bring out the boxes and wash down our daily dosage with our beverage. My routine is to replenish the boxes every Sunday evening after dinner when I have exhausted the last daily dosage for the week.

I often feel how fast time flies each time I refill. One week just disappears like that! It helps me appreciate my time more than ever. Another thing: I am able to track my stock of medical supplies, and when it is time to revisit my doctor. It also keeps my memory intact as to what medicine we take. So far I am very pleased with this routine. Each time my wife and I go traveling or away from home, the very first thought is to pack up the boxes and extra strips of medicine if the visit last more than a week. This is more important than forgetting our toothbrushes or reading glasses.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Number Magic

Many Chinese, and to some extent Indians and Malays, in Malaysia are attracted to the magic of numbers in their lives. To many, it is not so much that the numbers by themselves are magical, but rather they represent fortune, harmony, happiness, joy and other quality virtues of life. If being tied to good numbers is a choice, many of us do not mind paying for such numbers. So it was about 20 years ago that the government in general and the Transport Ministry in particular noticed that many Chinese vehicle owners 'fought' over some very nice numbers when they registered their new vehicles. So the ministry decided that such popular numbers be sold on a tender basis, the highest bidders get to own them. It helps the ministry earn extra income to perhaps finance the activities of their sports clubs and staff welfare work. The same approach was taken by the Telekom when subscribers want choice telephone numbers. To those who paid for them, it was considered a form of investment. Granted that these numbers do not generate visible income, they do however help family, friends and business associates remember the numbers more easily. Of course the main criterion is that the numbers are 'good' numbers, which you may ask, how are they defined?

The Cantonese clan of the Chinese population here love to associate meaning to words sharing the same sound. For example, during the Chinese New Year, 'kam' which is Cantonese for orange is a must because it sounds like 'gold'. Pineapple is also very popular because it is pronounced as 'wong lai' which also means 'fortunes coming'. Similar among the business community, new year meals are often accompanied by a dish called Yee Sang which is a salad served with raw fish sliced very thinly and seasoned with lime/lemon juice. Yee Sang means 'live fish' as well as 'live business'. Spoken in reverse it is Sang Yee, exactly the meaning of 'business' in Cantonese. So when diners toss the Yee Sang high, it literally imply tossing the business to greater heights. This Cantonese tradition has influenced other communities so much so that it has become a popular attraction to tourists who are unfamiliar with its meaning.

The shared sound of different words is carried over to numbers. In Cantonese, '2' sounds like 'prosperity', '3' sounds like 'alive', '4' sounds like 'die', '6' sounds like 'happiness' and '8' sounds like 'wealth'. Of course Chinese do not like '4' to be in any number associated with them as it is bad luck. Paired or triplets are very popular, such as 1118, 2288 or 6868. Fortunately the Malays like the sound of '4' which is 'empat' sounding like 'dapat' or 'get'.

Following my decision to get a new Camry 2.4V that I blogged EARLIER I also decided to get a good number to go along with it. After all I will be spending a good number of years with it so I might as well have a nice number for it, much like choosing a good name for a baby. I am not particularly crazy over numbers like 8888 that will fetch a very high tender price but rather a nice sounding one will do. To leave it to chance is also not my style. Imagine having the new car registered under 1144 which means 'die every day'!

Yesterday the Toyota sales advisor hooked me to a runner (he runs errands like going to the road transport department or banks for the company) to check the numbers availability. I gave him several numbers to check: 6228, 6828, 6288, 6868, 8268, 8628, 8328, 8138, 8180, 8118, 8228, 8368, 8818 and 8838. I was dismayed that only two were available, the rest had been booked! I could not believe my ears since we are supposed to be in recession and auto sales are falling! But leave it to the Chinese to book the good numbers, even if they are not for cars but motorcycles!

I decided on a number (can't tell you which) that is closely associated with my present car. I was told that the reservation is for 1 month but extendable if the new car arrival is delayed.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Disappearing Radiator Water Part 2

3 weeks ago I blogged THIS and concluded that the gasket was intact. I drove around happily, glancing at the temperature gauge periodically to see it did not creep up worryingly. Most mornings I would lift the car's bonnet to inspect the radiator reserve tank and was reassured that the water level there did not drop. I did not open the radiator cap to check if the water inside had dried ... mistake!

I drove to work about noon today taking the highway. Unless I have errands to run in town I would take the highway as my default route. As usual I checked the radiator water tank to be at the marked level. About a kilometer from the Port Dickson exit toll my eyes strayed to the temperature gauge and I was horrified to see the needle had crept to the top and hovering on the red zone. Quickly my mind assess the situation: is the radiator really overheating? was the meter faulty? did the engine sound smooth? I prayed to God for wisdom to handle this situation right. If I handled it wrong I could be in for a long day, and a very expensive engine overhaul. As a seasoned driver with more than 40 years driving record I have to make a fairly accurate decision.

I stopped my car on the emergency lane some 200 meters before the PD exit junction. I parked on the edge of the broadest section of the emergency lane with good rear visibility so overtaking vehicles can see my stationary car from a good distance. I don't want any accident to happen. I turned on my emergency indicator lights, switched off the engine, came down and lifted my bonnet. I was expecting either a cracked radiator cap, or blown cover of the reserve tank, but none of these greeted me. The engine felt normal, not overheating or smelly of burnt gasket or plastic. I restarted the engine and checked if the cooling fans for the radiator were working. They were so it was not an electrical or thermostat control fault. I had two choices: proceed to the office some 6 kilometers away assuming the temperature gauge is faulty, or exit the toll to have my former auto mechanic check the cause of the problem. I decided the latter. I guess it was a decision guided by God who had on many previous occasions saved me from such auto problems.

I arrived Ming Shang workshop and narrated the problem to Ah Sang, one of the 2 partners. He nodded knowingly and said to leave the engine to cool before he can open the radiator cap. One thing I learned in my years of driving is NEVER EVER open the radiator cap of a hot engine. The hot radiator water that flash out can scald you for life! As it was lunchtime we had our meals and later when the engine had cooled down sufficiently, Ah Sang opened the cap to find the top of the radiator without any water. So why was the reserve tank still full, wasn't it an indication that the radiator was filled with water? The answer was NO, it is just a buffering tank to receive any overflow as well as refill the radiator. To really know if the radiator water level is high I have to open the cap every morning to check before starting the engine. It was an advice I am ashamed not to know but better late than never.

Ah Sang fitted a test radiator cap connected to a pressure pump and gauge to the radiator after he had filled it with water. He then pumped up the pressure to 15PSI and waited to see if the pressure drops as well as check for signs of water leaks from either the radiator grille or the water hoses. Over the next 15 minutes we saw the pressure dropped to 12PSI and expected to see leaks. No leak was seen and the verdict was:

The water gasket had broken and water leaked into the engine compartment rather than externally. I then posed the question to Ah Sang, then why wasn't the engine oil emulsified and milky? His reply was reassuring: the leak was very minor and gradual and the water had vaporized and discharged into the exhaust passage. The car can still be driven but the water level of the radiator must be checked daily, and topped up if necessary.

I have found the cause of the disappearance of the radiator water. It was a great relief as I cannot afford a problematic car on the road when I need to use it for long distance driving next month. Next Monday it will be in Ming Shang to replace its gaskets.

Monday, March 09, 2009

400 Posts Reached

Today I made my 400th post since I began this blog over 6 months ago on 14th August 2008. I am glad to make this my leading blog in my stable. However my reach to global viewers is still disappointing. I need to promote it more. However I am pleased that readers from over 35 countries have visited it.

What Pleases God Most?

An interesting question posed by my pastor yesterday. My first reaction was 'obedience'. God will surely want me to be obedient, to obey all His laws and His will. After all if I am obedient I will not sin. It seemed like a very elementary question with an obvious answer. Then I thought, 'Maybe God wants me to praise and worship Him day in and day out. This will surely please Him all the more'.

Before I could think further, the answer was flashed on the LCD screen. FAITH. What? Is this what God is pleased about, that we just have faith in Him? The rest of the sermon, based on Romans 4: 13-25, added substance to why this is so. Centred on the faith of Abraham who believed in God's command and promise, his lineage gave birth to Jesus Christ, the source of Christianity the route to eternal salvation as promised by Jesus Christ. In other words, if not for Abraham's faith there would not be Christianity today. My family and I are Christians because of Abraham's faith. Of course you can challenge this argument, that God can use other humans to have Christ born from if Abraham did not believe God can give him a son in old age. But the story is not about that, but about the God whom if we believe we must also extend that belief with faith that he can do all things.

Thinking further, I find that when our faith in God is strong, many good behaviours will come forth in our life, such as a more committed prayer life, love for God, family and the disadvantaged people in the world, and a desire to follow the ways of Christ and stay away from sin and other immoral habits, and strength to withstand trials and sorrows.

Faith is the strong foundation of our relationship with God. Hope is the goal we anticipate but Love, which is written in 1 Corinthians 13:13 to be the greatest of these three, is the binding force that sustains our faith to God and people we cared about.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Pakatan Rakyat Celebrates ...

This afternoon the Pakatan Rakyat or the Peoples Alliance, the formidable opposition to the Barisan Nasional or BN, the ruling government of Malaysia, celebrates the anniversary of its coup on 8th March 2008 general election, winning 5 states and robbing BN of its 2/3 majority. Below is the opening address from its de facto leader, Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Annual National Address by Anwar Ibrahim

We gather today not only to celebrate an auspicious anniversary, but to hail the triumph of an idea, an idea so sublime that people throughout history were willing to give their lives for it.

Its force was so great that we have to be reminded by Victor Hugo of its strength. This great French writer said: “Greater than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come.”

On March 8th last year, an idea with the force of a tsunami landed by way of the ballot box in Malaysia.

This idea was that the people are sovereign, that they are the masters of their political destiny. Their destiny is not decided by autocrats or elites; plutocracies and a controlled media; neither the army, the police, nor by corrupt judges.

Their fate is decided by the free exercise of their choice registered through the power of their vote.

To read the entire speech, click HERE.

Comment: Against the evil-doing of BN, PR appears like a shining star. If Anwar Ibrahim is to be believed, PR will be able to wrestle control of the parliament come next general election. However, it must continue to display integrity and solidarity of vision among its coalition partners to earn the respect and trust of the well educated voters.

The Leaning Tower of BN

I was not a political creature until after March 8 last year. Even then I had high hopes that BN after its thrashing defeat (although it won a simple majority to run the federal government but lost 5 state governments [Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangot, Kelantan]) will fall on its knees and ask for the people's forgiveness and begin an earnest programme of reformation and transformation. For the first 2 months after that fateful date, there were much confusion and finger pointing as to who should be blamed for the fiasco (some said the prime minister Abdullah Badawi, other said all component parties of BN are collectively responsible, while others more specifically blamed UMNO as the biggest culprit of the BN's fall). In the months thereafter we never hear of any concrete attempts to change the political culture of BN to attune itself to what the voters were complaining all these years. Briefly we were sick and tired of the racial hatred spewed by some extreme UMNO members which included challenging the non-Malay citizens to migrate if they are unhappy staying here and for challenging the 'Ketuanan Melayu' or 'Malay Supremacy', of the abuse of power and corruption of public funds, inequality of treatment of Malaysian nationals and civil service, judiciary, police, elections commission, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and BN controlled government linked corporations that are headed by BN selected chairmen and CEOs for not being independent and neutral but pro-BN. We felt threatened by the rapid deterioration of religious intolerance by the UMNO Muslims towards people of other faiths. Any disagreement with them is taken as a challenge against Islam and Malay supremacy. Public discussions on sensitive matters are violently objected by demonstrations that the government is forced to accede to these factions. Government linked newspapers also played up sentiments of race relation and religion as if all non-BN parties are against Ketuanan Melayu and Islam, and now, the Sultans as well. We hated all these because they can lit a fire in a highly charged political environment. Honestly, post March 8, 2008, things got worse instead of better.

Today, on the first anniversary of the tottering of BN when a very strong signal was sent to them that we cannot accept their present style and culture of managing the nation, we did not see any positive change. The usurping of the government of Perak last month clearly indicate BN's high handed method and very dictatorial way of controlling what it wants with disregard to the rule of law and the people's wish. If a survey is carried out today on all eligible voters as in March last year, it is highly probably that BN will lose the federal government now.

All eyes are now on the coming by-elections on April 7 in Bukit Gantang, Bukit Selambau and Batang Ai. They are also on the power transition end of the month when Najib Razak is 'expected' to take over the mantle from Abdullah Badawi. Strangely recent days saw a new interest in the Altantuya murder case that is still being probed. Will new damning evidence be leaked to the press? Will it affect the ascension plan of Najib? I have predicted March to be a very interesting month in Malaysia's political arena. There is no clear winner yet.

Whatever the outcome, it will be sure that the people's mandate will determine the next federal government by 2012/2013 at the 13th general election, unless the country is placed under emergency rule and key opposition leaders are locked up under the Internal Security Act. It is a frightening scenario to see that I pray will not happen. I hope that some BN leaders are not driven into insane actions and destroy the nation's future. We are supposed to be a developed nation in 11 years.

The Tower of Pisa stands still, but will the Tower of BN falls first?


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