Monday, July 30, 2012

The Sabah Factor

The latest news is two lawmakers from the government bench have resigned. They are from the state of Sabah popularly referred to as the Land Below the Wind which the prime minister once cockily called it its 'fixed deposit' state. If I were a Sabahan I'll be terribly insulted. How dare a prime minister assume the state will always stay under its power and control? Apparently not judging by current mood and undercurrent that is being felt.

Sabah is notorious as the state with the largest number of illegal legalized migrants, mostly from Mindanao, the southern predominantly Muslim populated island of the Philippines which is very close to it. Sabahans felt terrorized and intruded by outsiders who are given citizenships and stand equally with the indigenous people who toiled the land for generations. Why are foreigners of this group given accelerated and privileged citizenship? The locals are getting frustrated over the silence and inaction to deal with their complaints. Such frustrations have gone up from the people level to local politicians who love and worry over the future of their state. If this crack continues to widen there is no denying more people will fall into it and start a momentum that no one can contain.

The heavily speculated general election which I believe gamblers are betting on is being shifted forward. The prime minister is looking for a narrowing window of opportunity to call a snap election. It used to be June, then shifted to July and again to September. With the resignations the government has to begin damage control to regain the Sabahans trust. It will take time, and more money. It is always money and I think after the 13th general election is finally over, an audit of unauthorized spending by the prime minister will make it the most expensive election. How are other Malaysians watching and thinking? Perhaps we may see another factor looming. The Sarawak factor maybe?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

How Safe is Our Country?

I have been getting many forwarded emails carrying news or stories of snatch theft victims being accosted sometimes in daylight in car parks and on road sides. They are lucky to be alive. These stories are all current based on the dates stated but it can be doctored of course. Even if I believe half of what I read the sudden increase of bold robberies is a cause of concern to every peace loving resident of our nation. I don't think these stories were fabricated to snipe at the police or the Home ministry for failing to nip growing crime especially in the cities. Government linked papers too report such news of homes burgled. Fortunately few ended in injuries or death. My point is we, or rather our law enforcement agencies, have lost grounds in staying ahead of criminals. Maybe the same can be said even of developed nations but it is no excuse or reason to think we are no worst off and therefore lower our guard.

Criminals treat what they do as a career, and plan how to succeed in their outings. It used to be primitive attempts to grab and run. Now they work in pairs or more, track their victims and calculate the risk versus reward before striking. Only amateurs lose but as they learn from their failures and mistakes their subsequent attempts will be more successful. We fall victims because we think we won't be hit. Robbers love victims who are over confident, or stupidly cocky. They deserve what they lose.

We probably won't get back the safe life we were used to. We can no longer leave our gate or front door opened. In fact, even if we are at home it is advisable to always lock them. That way you are in control of who can or cannot enter your house. We also cannot move about freely and unprepared for any likely attack. This means we have to regulate how we move and when we move. It is crazy we have to plan our movements to protect ourselves. We are also advised to be armed with something - pepper spray, whistle, a sharp object for self defense, or perhaps learn how to avoid getting injured, or raped. More families are keeping guard dogs, instal surveillance cameras and alarm system. Parents are taking lessons themselves and teaching their children to avoid falling victims to cheats and molesters.

There never seem to be enough policemen around. When you need them most they were doing something else. And criminals nowadays are not afraid of the police. In fact I think they think they can outthink and outsmart them. I believe our police force is realizing they are not able to contain crime let alone reduce it. And this is worrying. It means we have to police our own safety from now on.

Even in the United States when it is legal to own firearms to defend against criminals we read of mass killings by psychotic killers because guns can be purchased over the counter. How do we keep ourselves safe from becoming victimized? One way is stay in a 'clean' neighborhood. You define what is 'clean' but basically it means if you trust your neighbors and their visitors. Another way is stay clear of potentially dangerous situations, like moving alone, in the dark or dressing to attract. Thirdly is don't flaunt your wealth unless you have bodyguards.

We may not have reached the level of heightened suspicion towards every stranger we see or meet, that we keep our doors bolted and stay indoor most of the time. Sadly we are living in evil time and so we must live protectively. I am not pessimistic that we cannot overcome and make our nation safer to live and work. It will take much efforts by both our police and ourselves to outsmart the criminals.

In THIS related news report more and more Malaysians are going after CCTVs as a way to deter and detect intruders. This is the latest self help method to provide peace of mind that subscribers can have some measure of control after many have become disillusioned with the effectiveness of security guards. Unfortunately a CCTV only record movements but cannot apprehend any intruders. If we assume a monthly installation of 5000 CCTV units Malaysia may be the world's most insecure nation. But frankly many families install them less for tracking intruders than to track their foreign maids at home.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Why Would Anyone Object to a Tax Cut?

Answer: Those who stand to lose.

Recently an opposition lawmaker made an outrageous promise. He promised should the opposition take over the next government it will slash import and excise duties of vehicles. That is sweet music to sane Malaysians who are or have paid exorbitant duties to the government every time they buy a new vehicle. As a rough estimate, half of the price paid is duty so why shouldn't everyone rejoice? Yesterday two groups came forward with their reasoning why this tax cut is bad. The first group, a business council with a particular political bias, claimed this tax cut will surely be balanced by a tax increase somewhere so tax payers should not jump for joy. The opposition leader said the loss in duties collection will be about RM8 billion per annum. It is a mind boggling sum for salary earners but if you have been following the news on how the government, or rather the prime minister, is dishing out cash incentives to woo voters, which are unbudgetted and hence not authorized by parliament, and in my interpretation illegal use of public funds for political purposes, you will realize RM8 billion can be easily 'recovered' by not frivolously spending irresponsibly. And more importantly, plugging corruption money will more than cover this tax reduction. I therefore disagree and don't expect new taxes to 'balance' the promised tax cut.

Another group is even more incredulous. It claimed, and I agree, that making cars cheaper will drive the Proton national car out of business as Malaysians prefer foreign made cars. I raise both my hands to this logic, but why defend an inefficient and loss making project? Why continue to defend and support mediocrity? Where is the competitive spirit to make Proton a world class vehicle instead of a laughing stock? Ask around, most buyers are taxi companies and lower income group families. They buy because it is cheap but not necessarily cheap to maintain but that is another story. The argument that Proton employees will be out of job should make you either sob your heart out for their well being or say it isn't my problem you never grow out of your 27 years babyhood but continue to suckle the government's breasts. Do you pamper a dying company or push them to be independent? A buyout may actually do good. Forget about national pride. It won't feed the family. So I won't subcribe to this line of logic at all. I am a fervent supporter of meritocracy not mediocrity although they can be confused by their almost similar pronunciation.

Instead I'll go for economic boost as reported HERE. It makes sense. If I pay RM100,000 now to buy a new car but under the new government pay say RM60,000 I save by not spending or taking a RM40,000 loan. The banks won't be happy as they suddenly lose a huge borrower pool. The insurance companies won't like it since premium collections will be drastically reduced which translate to lower profits. Used car dealers will be shocked as they suffer huge losses from stocks of old cars they hold. But car owners suddenly have cash they can spend elsewhere. So what is bad news for one business sector is good news for others. More money for education, for better family life, even upping personal insurance covers. To some they will save more for old age. Overall cutting tax, be it on cars or on consumption, will make Malaysians richer by keeping more cash at home. So this blows the high income nation promise by the prime minister. The answer is to keep income growing at a steady rate so as not to blow the industry that drives the nation economic health but shave taxes and plug leakages to enable the average Malaysian their right to better manage their income and expenditures.

I believe the tax cut on motor vehicles is the beginning of other forms of good stewardship to make Malaysians proud to be one, and also make those working overseas to rethink about staying away.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Prints or Albums?

Traditionally pictures captured in cameras, filmed or digital, are by default printed on photo papers and either slotted inside pocketed albums or framed for wall displays. I've used both methods to store and display. Lately I discovered a new way of presenting my image memories on a themed basis in either self designed or custom template albums produced collaboratively with professional printing houses. In the recent week I did both - printed some 150 photos of 4R size from what I think are the best of family and holiday photos taken over the past 2-3 years, as well as created a special moments album which I choose the pictures, design the layout using a software provided by the printing service, upload the finished work to its server, pay (actually prepaid) and await the completed album to arrive in my mailbox.

For comparison, I paid RM75 for the 150 prints which qualified me for a free 8R print of my choice. But I paid just RM39 for an 8R size custom designed album containing some 130 pictures of varying sizes. The album was done on 40 pages of 150gsm art paper with protective gloss lamination and gloss 260gsm art card similarly laminated for the covers. It works out cheaper than the 'boring' 4R prints and set my mind to henceforth go for themed albums in future. Not only are they prettier they store better too and give a better impression to friends and relatives who view them. Of course the owner must participate in this work of art and is not for those disinterested in graphics design or not computer savvy.

Note: the RM39 price was a very special promotion I paid. The printing service received an overhelming order of over 3000 albums in the 2 weeks it was offered on Groupon.my. I received my album yesterday, as promised exactly 6 days after I submitted my work. The album is small enough to carry around, just about the size of my iPad. Quality is very good. The next time a similar offer comes on I'll be sure to order one or more albums.

Living in the Shadow of ...

It is said that only the living have shadows. I read somewhere that if a person throws no shadow around him he is no human, he is a ghost. How scary to be confronted by such a situation. But how do we feel about living in someone else's shadow? Or under the shadow of something? Most likely we will respond in the affirmative if we associate shadow as an escape from heat, threat or being discovered.

There are different impacts on our lives from being shadowed by different objects. One observation I like to make, powerful leaders dislike shadows. Instead they like to over-shadow others. By the reverse observation followers should then enjoy being in the shadow of their leader. But I hold the view that always living in the shadow is bad. It is literally comfortable. On a bright and sunny day we stay indoor or under a huge tree to avoid sunburn. It is the sane and smart thing to do but doctors always tell us to get out into the sun once in awhile to enable our bodies to produce vitamin D which help in better absorption of calcium into our bones. Think of our forefathers who work outdoor and often under the sun and we envy their strong bodies and stronger resistance to diseases. They don't use sunblock cream and skin cancer is unheard of. Spending time picnicking outdoor is a healthy way to live.

Back to leaders. Good leaders doesn't demand their followers or subordinates to always listen to them, i.e. be shadowed. They insist their people to get into the open and build their own sun instead, i.e. cast a shadow. If you have no shadow you may just be the ghost you don't want to be, ineffectual and always depending never growing to be useful. Also, people who always live under shadows tend to prefer the dark. It gets comfortable but it also create opportunities to escape into another world, that which lure them into unhealthy habits. That is why many evil deeds are committed in the dark, at night, in the shadows of buildings, inside vacant warehouses, in the bushes.

Our world was created to have light and darkness. They represent work and rest, symbolizes good and evil and alternate over and over. While it is light we seek shadows of our homes and offices but when it is dark do we seek the lights from the moon and stars? No, we seek our invented lights, thanking Thomas Edison for his marvelous idea of an electric lamp.

How are shadows formed? A child can answer that. You need a light source upon an object which block its rays and cause a shadow to be casted. So a shadow is the outcome from two sources, a light and an obstacle. An obstacle can produce a good or a bad shadow. I'd say a tree is a good obstacle for it provide shades and coolness besides yielding fruits and fresh air in the morning. I'd also say city skyscrapers are bad obstacles for they encourage unhealthy lifestyle and work cultures. Have you heard the term 'to shadow someone'? It is used on private investigators or spies and connotes the art of breaking into the privacy of others, whose privacy may perhaps be in dubious shadows too.

Which is more powerful? The light or the obstacle/object that blocks it? It doesn't need an answer for without light there is no shadow. Without shadow life eventually cease to exist. In the day the sun excel because it is the burning planet that emits light to the earth. We are alive because we have the companionship of the sun. But at night when the sun rests (it is a lie we tell our children so they can go to bed) the moon excels over it. Not literally for all the moon does is stand in the way between the never resting sun and the spinning earth. The moon excels over the sun because it 'takes the heat' literally from us. Because it doesn't emit light we sees its glow because of the surrounding sunlight that escapes its total blockage. But for some 10-12 hours every night we sigh a relief that we can take a rest from a restless day.

We cannot live in the light always. Shadows are needed to escape to but never to stay forever. Shadows are like pitstops of our lives. We go there for repairs and refills and get back into the race again. For there will be one long shadow awaiting each one of us one day, when the lid closes in over our face. But for now be both light to shine hope and love and shadow to provide comfort and protection. In a real sense we all are light and obstacles. It is up to us to decide when to be which, and that may require some conscious effort on our part. I hope that I have been both to my readers in this post.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Prove I Am A Dictator

Former PM Dr Mahathir opened a can of worms and ate it when he challenged his blog readers to prove he was a dictator during his 22 years reign as Malaysia's longest serving prime minister. His blog attracted hundreds of replies, overwhelmingly affirming that view. Just looking at his picture and analyzing his face it is easy to conclude he doesn't have a kindly look. In fact his face show a lot of arrogance and even cruelty that does not endear his readers. An aging politician, someone who should now have risen to the stature of statesman, Dr M is fighting a negative public image that is haunting him. Perhaps there are more skeletons in his closets that he wishes to hide. The more he speak, the more he continue to manipulate or sway the political views of the nation, and make unsavory and divisive remarks that hurt racial relationship, the more he is hated for what he is, and confirm what he was. A leopard never loses its spots, so neither a man his personality and intrinsic values. By his actions and words, a man is judged. The ordinary Malaysians today are his judge and I'd like to quote this comment by Dan from Dr M's blog which perhaps represents the consensus of many kind but hurt citizens who once thought they had the best prime minister, vocal and visionary, but now realized how wrong they had been misled, even cheated of their future of living in an united nation.

"Whereas the dictators you named had all blatantly used military might to cement their reign, you were smart enough to give us the illusion of a democracy , while holding on to the reigns of power as tightly as them. You may not have used physical guns and armies, but for many years you ruled without anyone being able to oppose you. In the political arena, you invoked the ISA, you made the judiciary and the police subservient to your will, as well as removing the freedom of the press. To elaborate on that point, you removed the judges, and replaced them with your own, to pass down your own judgement with their hands. You controlled the police, to selectively enforce laws in your favour, and to turn a blind eye when it suited you. You controlled the press, as is clearly shown to this day to blatantly favor the BN coalition, it is obvious that they are not being objective anymore.

It was only the emergence of the internet that is saving us from the legacy of your tyranny. The internet cannot be controlled, it cannot be owned, or manipulated wholly to your whims as it is a free open resource. It is only through the internet that Malaysians are free to express their views, to report their accounts on the going-ons, to compare with newspaper reports to discern fact from fiction.

Growing up as a schoolboy, I was brainwashed to look up to you, but as I grew older, as I read about the true history of Malaysia, that would never be taught in school, I read and learned of all the ugly things you did. The manipulation of Tunku Abdul Rahman, fear-mongering the Malays into fighting with the Chinese, the division and conquering of our nation, just to name a few. You can no longer scare the people, they are too tired to be scared, too poor to be scared, we have nothing left to lose.

All your life you have tried to keep us divided, to keep us fighting amongst each other, to work counter to building a common national identity among the people, to sabotage any hint of patriotism we might foster. Even with such a low sense of patriotism in the Malaysians today, Malaysians are rising up to end the unfair tyranny of BN. This is testament to how much you have pushed the people. That is why you are a dictator. You destroyed Malaysia for your personal gain instead of building us up. You traded away our futures for your present paradise. Your political opponents didn't give you that name, the people did."

Friday, July 13, 2012

Tracking Thoughts and Memories

Most people I know never keep a diary. They'd say what for? Or no time. And sadly they miss the opportunity to remember. Yes, remembering is a fading ability and the brain is hugely unreliable because it tends to mix up thoughts and corrupt them. It takes another person's memory of the same event to confirm or correct them. But this approach is also flawed.

Not so with keeping diaries. I'm not sure about young people nowadays, if there are surveys done in schools on how many students are in the habit of writing a diary or more. Mostly I'd guess very few as writing down our thoughts is considered 'old fashioned'. But I'm a fan of it and I'm glad it is my past time in my retirement years. Admittedly I didn't keep any diaries from my school days and has been my regret till today. How wonderful if I did for I'd be digging into my real past to read about the real me. But I'm glad I still keep a box of letters I wrote to my girlfriend who's now my wife more than 40 years ago. She didn't throw them away but pass to me after we got married. I'd be sure to read them one by one later.

What about photo albums? Right up to the year 2000 when I bought my first digital camera, and a few more years later, I was faithfully taking pictures and printing them into more than a hundred family albums. I labeled them lovingly and guard them jealously from harm. Occasionally I'd reach out for them to recall or refresh my memories. Like recalling when it was I last met up with my good friend Aaron before we reconnected in Auckland last month, I found a valuable old photo that brought that moment back to life.

Since around 2005 I stopped printing photos in bulk. Instead I'd pick those nicer and more memorable ones so my albums are growing much slower now. However they are replaced by digital albums and slideshows on my devices. The last few years really change the way I manage my image memories.

I only seriously start diary writing about 15 years ago and never stop ever since. Changing softwares to fit my needs in as recent as less than 2 years ago I opted for mobile journalizing after the iPad changed my lifestyle. Today I found a nice app called MyMemoir that allows me to keep as many as 9 journals at one go. Once done a journal can be published as an e-Book to be shared with loved ones and friends.

It is good to keep diaries, and they include blogs as well. After we're done for on earth whatever left of our existence is no longer physical but on records. Do write because it also help organize and keep the minds alert and active.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Sharing Our Celebrations

We're officially into the second half of the year today but we've long ago crossed over into the second half of our lives on earth. Later this month my father-in-law who will be 95 is silently asking when he will step off into the great beyond. My mother, who will grow older by another year next month, is probably wishfully thinking the same. I will think likewise too one day but today my thoughts are on the joy my latest grandchildren are bringing us. They are too young to realize their impact on our happiness index but this post documents their importance to us. Today in church we sponsor the breakfast so the congregation can share in our celebration. Joshua is over 2 months old, and Sharon a month younger. Last night when we skyped, Joshua appear much more matured than when we last held him on May 14 morning before we left for the airport to fly home. In a fortnight we'll experience a similar emptiness when Sharon leaves us to be cared for by her paternal grandmother. We will see her less, but probably more than Joshua, who we can catch up regularly through Skype.

So today's home photo shoot session was special. It is our first family photography since Sharon's birth and we want it documented so she will remember today. Today is also her very first day in church. She was however too little to qualify as a new visitor. During the breakfast many church members remarked on her beauty and serenity. She slept through the din of nearby conversations.

The photo session was a test of patience. We couldn't get all three kids to be calm, attentive and cooperative simultaneously. But after 100+ shots I managed to identify almost half good ones worthy to get into special family albums. I remembered how easy it was on May 13 when Joshua was professionally photographed in a studio. The cameraman and his assistant who clowned over the 4 kids got their attention and cooperation much better than I did.

Why do we do these things if not because we rejoice in our blessings? Indeed we can only feel gratitude for the joy each of our 6 grandchildren provided us individually. As I survey the growing children of some of our church members sitting next to me this morning, I wondered if the years will speed by so fast as the recent months that we see our 6 grandkids become teens in a flash. Time is a dimension we treat with opposing feelings. We want to stay young to live longer, yet we want to grow older to see our grandkids become capable and responsible people we will all be proud of. I'm sure my wife agrees wholeheartedly.

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