Friday, July 31, 2009

Another test

Looks like there will be another test to find out if Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak's populist moves will win over some more votes to Barisan Nasional.
This morning, the PAS state assemblyman for Permatang Pasir in Penang, Datuk Mohd Hamdan Abdul Rahman, died at the National Heart Institute in Kuala Lumpur.
In the 2008 polls, Mohd Hamdan beat Umno's Ahmad Sahar Shuib by a majority of 5,433 votes.
In the recent by-election in Manek Urai in Kelantan, which was supposed to be a PAS stronghold, Barisan lost only by a very slim majority which showed that Najib's populist measures have worked to a certain extent.
Of course, the cunning move by Umno to split PAS by utilising the "Malay and Muslim unity" strategy paid dividends too. PAS leaders may not realise it, but they seem to be falling into a trap set by Umno because a weakened PAS benefits Umno.
Just when Mohd Hamdan's death was made known, Najib's government announced the launch of Permodalan Nasional Berhad's (PNB) Amanah Saham 1 Malaysia (AS1M) which goes on sale from Aug 5.
Malaysians aged 18 and above will be able to subscribe to the fund with a minimum investment of RM100.
For 30 days, bumiputeras can pick up 50% of the units while the Chinese can pick up 30%, Indians 15% and others 5%.
After the offer period is over, the remaining units will be offered to all.
On top of that 50,000 first-year students of local universities will receive 100 units each.
This is yet another populist move by Najib designed to win over the non-Malays who had deserted Barisan in the March 2008 general elections.
The results of the Permatang Pasir by-election will reveal for sure whether Pakatan Rakyat has lost some of its support to Najib's populist government.
If Barisan makes some inroads into Penang, it will be a slap in the faces of Pakatan's leaders because it is the home state of Pakatan's defacto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and DAP's secretary-general Lim Guan Eng is the Chief Minister.
Not only that but Permatang Pasir is one of the three state seats in the Permatang Pauh Parliamentary constituency where Anwar reigns as king.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Stop complaining!

Just a few days before the deputy president of a certain Barisan Nasional component party is supposed to appear before a disciplinary council to answer a complaint about him starring in a sex DVD, the complainant has withdrawn his complaint.
The complainant, a division chairman in Johor, had lodged his complaint on May 28 last year, but no action had been taken so far and according to reports, he said the political scenario had changed and there was no need to pursue the matter.
Whether the deputy president will still have to appear before the party's disciplinary council on Aug 4 is not known.
But now that there is no more complaint, is there still a case for him to answer?
And why did the complainant withdraw his complaint? The division chief told reporters that there was no pressure on him and it was his own decision to withdraw the complaint.
One finds that kind of political statement hard to believe.
Word is the big guns of the dominant party in Barisan are not too pleased with the goings-on in the component party especially when the ruling coalition is trying so very hard to win back the voters. Stay tuned...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Oh no, not again!

Ladies and gentlemen, in this corner we have the party president and in the other corner we have his deputy who has been ostracised.
His deputy is also famed for having the guts to admit that he was the person in a sex DVD that has the habit of popping up in strangers' postboxes every now and then.
It is sad that every now and then battles take place. When elephants fight, the ants get trampled on.
The first shots have been fired. Who gets hurt is anybody's guess. Who the winner will be is also anybody's guess, but as usual the incumbent has the advantage.
Ladies and gentlemen, get ready for fireworks as the battle for the presidency of a certain component party in Barisan Nasional has just officially begun.
Word is the supporters of the deputy will call for an EGM during which a vote of no confidence will be called for. Can he succeed?
Meanwhile, the president is trying to get the deputy disciplined and probably sacked. Can he succeed?
Just like one of those Hong Kong series, this will last many, many chapters. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Death fall

Najib's Government has just agreed to set up an inquest to find out what led to the death of Teoh Beng Hock, the political secretary to Sri Kembangan assemblyman Ean Yong Hian Wah.
A Royal Commission of Inquiry will also be set up look into the interrogation methods used by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) as well as whether any human rights had been violated. The police investigation report will also be made public.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak made the right decision because nobody would have believed the police or the MACC investigation reports.
Nobody will believe the authorities because of the circumstances leading to Teoh's death.
Everybody I asked has told me that there are only two possibilities - either Teoh committed suicide or someone killed him.
It has been announced that Teoh went to Plaza Masalam in Shah Alam where he was questioned by the Selangor MACC on the 14th floor. CCTV footage showed him entering the building last Wednesday and obviously he did not leave.
MACC officers said he was allowed to leave at 3.45am last Thursday morning. He was reportedly seen sleeping on a sofa at 6am by MACC officers. At 1.30pm, his body was found on a 5th floor ledge.
A post mortem revealed that he died around 8am to 9am.
What happened from 6am till 8am? Nobody knows.
How did a piece of the latch of a window on the 14th floor (where the MACC office is) break off and land near his body?
If Teoh had jumped to his death, how did he manage to climb up the window which has a chest-high opening?
If Teoh had been discharged from questioning - as a witness - why were his backpack, handphone and wallet still in the possession of the MACC?
Why would Teoh want to commit suicide when he was supposed to marry his fiancee who was pregnant with his child?
There are too many unanswered questions and the sceptical public would be even more sceptical of the answers that the police or MACC would come up with.
An inquiry by independent panellists would be the best solution as it would have some semblance of respectability.
Teoh's death is tragic in many ways.
Of course, Teoh's death itself - and the circumstances that led to his death - is shocking and tragic.
Another shocking tragedy is how quickly it became a Malay vs Chinese issue and even more shocking and tragic is how the Malay newspapers played up the issue and made it racial to the extent of accusing people of insulting Malay institutions like the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).
Since when has a Government department become a Malay institution? It is also tragic that the commentary was written by a relatively well-respected senior editor, and I am sure many of his non-Malay colleagues are puzzled by his stance.
The death of a person, regardless of race, in controversial circumstances has nothing to do with racial issues. The search for the truth has nothing to do with racial issues. The struggle for justice has nothing to do with racial issues.
It is tragic that Malaysia, which will turn 52 next month, is still divided by race and it is tragic that intelligent journalists are fanning emotions with illogical and ridiculous comments.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Can Malays master English?

I have always been of the opinion that the Malays suffer from some kind of mental block and inferiority complex.

This was something that former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad tried hard to correct but he failed. In the final days of his reign, Mahathir said his greatest failure was that he could not change the mindset of the Malays.

Yesterday, I was at a private hospital in Subang Jaya and met one of the best heart surgeons in Malaysia because my wife will be going for surgery to remove another tumour, likely to be benign, from her chest area. (For my wife's musings, surf to or click at the link below)

He was a Malay and a gentleman. He seemed to me very Old World, very learned, very courteous and spoke excellent English. Obviously he was trained overseas. He had a laptop and a PDA on his table - obviously he was connected to the Internet generation - and I noticed Chinese paintings on the wall of the consultation room.

I couldn't help thinking to myself that his parents or grandparents must have been farmers or fishermen. Yet he could rise from such a humble background to become one of the best heart specialists in town. His command of English was superb and he must have learnt his science - and maths - in English. If he can do it, why can't other Malays?

A Malay colleague told me that she felt the government had made the wrong decision on the issue of teaching of Science and Maths in English. She said, "Come on, all the knowledge is coming from the West. Just google anything on science and see how many Malay websites you get." How many research papers are written by Malay (or Indonesian) scientists? "Our children will suffer."

She is another example of a Malay who has mastered English - after all she is writing for an English newspaper. I don't think she's from a rich family who could afford to send her for training overseas or private schooling.

In my office, we have another senior Malay reporter who is now editing and rewriting articles and correcting the English of Chinese reporters.

That shows that Malays can be just as good in English as anyone of any other race. That's why I still maintain it is a mindset issue.

I was told that when the government announced that the teaching of science and maths would revert to Bahasa Malaysia and vernacular languages in 2012, lots of Malay students in schools, especially in rural areas, actually cheered and celebrated.

Sadly, there are many, many more Malays who need to change their mindset and overcome the hurdles in their thinking.

More crime news

Soon after friends read my post on how snatch thieves almost got away with my gold chain and jade crucifix, one of them e-mailed me that her friend had been robbed at a petrol station too.
She also said that she saw YouTube footage that showed a woman checking her engine with the bonnet open at a petrol station. The mistake she made was she had her handbag slung around her shoulder.
A petrol attendant was standing beside her but that did not deter the snatch thieves.
In a flash, a motorcyclist zoomed past her and the pillion rider snatched her handbag. The poor victim was flung several meters away and what injuries she suffered nobody knows.
And the petrol attendant? He was too stunned to do anything.
Some months ago, my neighbour's daughter returned from work at about 8pm. She opened the automatic gate with her remote control, drove into the porch and before she could even press the close button, a motorcyclist zoomed in, smashed the front passenger window with a hammer, grabbed her handbag which was on the seat and zoomed off.
It is believed that the snatch thief must have spotted the handbag on the front passenger seat when she stopped at a traffic light and he simply followed her home to commit the crime.
A colleague who had her handbag snatched outside her house told me she does not take her handbag or purse with her whenever she fills up at the petrol station.
"I just take along a little bit of money and one credit card. I keep my purse in the glove compartment most of the time," she said.
After the incident, my wife admonished me for being too careless. She pointed out that I have the nasty habit of counting money while walking towards the car after withdrawing the cash from an ATM.
She also pointed out that I tend to leave the car keys in the car when I alight to pick up something from a shop or stall or whatever.
At least I have done something right - I have trained my kids to lock the car doors whenever I alight to get something. The problem is the kids prefer to listen to Fly FM than to walk with me to buy laksa or chap fan (mixed rice).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Almost a snatch-theft victim

Barely half an hour ago two Chinese-looking men on a motorcycle tried to snatch my gold chain in broad daylight while I was filling up my car with petrol at the Shell station in Sea Park, Petaling Jaya.
There I was standing behind my car with my youngest son, seven, in the front passenger seat while the petrol was gushing into the tank. I noticed two men on a bike entering the station and moving past me quite slowly.
I thought they were looking for an empty pump to fill up. Then the motorcyclists made a U-turn, rode past me again at arm's length and just when I turned to look elsewhere, I saw a flurry of movement and I saw the pillion rider suddenly reaching out to grab something. I felt my gold chain snapping and I managed to catch it while it was falling.
The snatch thieves rode off as the pillion rider showed me his fist.
Everything took place so suddenly that I was unable to see the registration number plate (which is probably fake anyway) and the men wore crash helmets. I remembered them being burly and Chinese-looking.
Everything happened so quickly that the woman at the pump opposite me did not even know snatch thieves were at work just metres away from her. The man at another pump about five metres away did not even see anything.
Only a pump attendant, a nice Malay chap, saw the event and he walked up to me and asked what happened. He said he only saw the pillion rider suddenly reaching out to grab something. I showed him the snapped chain and jade crucifix that would have been the ill-gotten gains of the snatch thieves.

The snatch thieves did not get away with these.

He asked me if I had suffered any injury and I showed him my neck. He said he saw no wound, but when I reached home, I felt some pain and I think I suffered a slight scratch which I quickly treated with some antiseptic cream.
The snatch thief managed to escape with some of my skin.
But such things happen and life goes on....After filling up, I simply drove off. There was no point lodging a police report as it would just be another statistic.
My son was blissfully unaware of what had happened. Then again he is too young to understand such things - why men can do bad things, why we live in a fallen world, and why so many of use refuse to change our evil ways even when there is available for all a road to salvation.
Recently, a classmate e-mailed me YouTube clips of snatch thieves at work. In one of those footages, you can see a maid opening the gate for her employer who drove in and stopped at the porch. Before the man could alight and the maid could close the gate, several motorcyclists stopped and armed with parangs (machete) sprinted to the house, rammed into the gate flinging the poor maid several meters away and confronted the man who was still in his car.
After taking handphones and wallets from the man and whoever was in the house, they ran out, hopped onto motorcycles and zoomed off.
Everything took place in an instant. I doubt if any of the neighbours saw the incident which was captured by the CCTV in the house. I doubt if the victims would even recall how the robbers looked like or how many of them were involved.
In the other footage, you can see a car pulling up in front of a double-storey link house and some passengers alighting. Two men on a bike pass by slowly and they stop. the pillion rider gets off and runs towards the women who had alighted from the car, grabs a handbag and runs back to the bike, hops on it and they zoom off. The snatch thief takes all of maybe five seconds.
You can see that the victims are too stunned to do anything.
Sadly these are desperate times and there are lots of desperate people out there.

Points to remember: The next time you see two men on a bike hovering near you, be careful. Robberies can happen anywhere - outside your home or even at petrol stations at 11.20 in a bright, sunny morning. And don't wear a gold chain and a T-shirt because the round-neck exposes the chain. A collared shirt would make it more difficult for the snatch thieves to grab your chain.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Kowtowing to the Malay masses

The issue about teaching of Science and Maths in English is essentially about the Malay masses in the kampungs and the Chinese-speaking Chinese - rural and urban - clashing with the urban English-speaking elite of all races.
Though much has been written about how for the first time the Chinese had supported the Malays to call for the teaching of these two subjects in Malay and vernacular tongues, the reality is that the Malay masses were more influential in convincing the Government to make a flip-flop decision to revert to the old way of doing things. That champions of Malay culture and language from Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka led the calls made the Malay politicians sit up and take notice. The Government would have brushed off Chinese protests.
It is true that rural students of all races had not been doing well in these two subjects when English was used. It is also true that the divide between the rural students and urban ones had increased.
The reality is that even if Malay and vernacular languages are used, the divide between urban and rural students will still increase because the urban elite can afford to send their kids for tuition, extra English classes or to private schools.
The reality is also that Malaysian children - of all races from rural and urban areas - will suffer in the long term when Malay and vernacular languages are used to teach these subjects. Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is right as far as this issue is concerned.
This is because advancements in technology and science will still take place in the West - especially the United States and to some extent, the United Kingdom and Europe. The lingua franca of these quantum leaps in knowledge will be English.
That is why students in China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and other nations want to master English.
Let's get real - who will translate the latest technological terms and computer jargon into Malay? Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka? When these custodians of Malay language and culture encounter an English word or term with no Malay equivalent, which happens almost all the time where science and technology are concerned, they will simply spell them the Malay way or just absorb the entire English word or acronym into Bahasa Malaysia. For example, what are the Malay words for "Internet", "cyber", ""blog", "HTML" or "URL"? And these are just the simple terms.
I wonder how the great linguists at Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka would translate this sentence that I copied from some chemistry website - "The synthesis of polyhydroxylated indolizidines and pyrrolizidines belonging to the class of iminosugars, endowed with a vast and assorted biological activity, can be achieved in a straightforward manner by a general strategy consisting of a highly stereoselective 1,3-dipolar cycloaddition of polyhydroxylated pyrroline-N-oxides followed by simple transformations of the isoxazolidine adducts."
It would appear that the Government is caught in a bind - on one hand the top leaders (who are English educated, I believe) realise the importance of mastering the English language, which explains their repeated assurances that English would still be taught; on the other hand they have to appease the Malay masses.
There is a political reason - Umno has lost much of its appeal to the Malays as the results of the March 8 general election last year show so clearly. Thus they cannot afford to lose even more support by snubbing the champions of Malay culture and language.
On July 9, the government announced that science and mathematics will be taught in Bahasa Malaysia and vernacular languages, in stages, from 2012.
Take note of the year - not many people have noticed that the year 2012 is around when the next general elections would be called as the mandate of the current government ends in March 2013. Obviously the political strategists realised that starting the new policy in 2012 would deprive Pakatan Rakyat and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (if he's not in prison by then) the chance to attack Barisan Nasional on the language issue.
After all Anwar had already attacked Barisan on this issue in June when he urged for the return of Bahasa Melayu’s status as the supreme language, which included using it as the medium to teach Maths and Science in national schools and strengthening its usage in Chinese and Tamil schools.“This issue has become a controversy for far too long. We consider this policy a betrayal towards Bahasa Melayu as our official language,” he told a press conference.
As always, it will be our children who will have to suffer for such policies that are decided based on political reasons rather than practical ones.

Malaysia Airlines priced out

Marketing gurus would call this a classic case of a company being priced out of the market by not being competitve enough or not bothering to react to market changes.
In the United States, the Great Recession is wreaking havoc on the American economy and stockmarkets. Americans are broke. So what are airlines - already drowning in a sea of losses - supposed to do? Either drop prices to increase passenger load to ensure that operating the flight is financially viable or stop flying altogether.
Singapore Airlines opted for the first strategy whilst Malaysia Airlines went for the second method.
Yesterday's newspapers reported that MAS will suspend its thrice-weekly service from Kuala Lumpur to New York via Stockholm from October due to low demand.
The national carrier’s commercial director Datuk Rashid Khan said the last flight to New York from Kuala Lumpur would be on Sept 30 while the last flight from New York would be on Oct 1 and on Oct 2 from Stockholm.
“Demand has dropped due to the global economic crisis,” he said in a statement.
My sister who is married to a New Yorker was supposed to return to Kuala Lumpur around that time and I remembered during a Skype call recently that she told me she had already booked tickets.
Fearing that she would be stranded due to the flight cancellation, I e-mailed her the story about MAS cancelling flights from KL-New York.
She replied: "We are flying Singapore Airlines. They are having a special promotion whereby each ticket costs only US$720. I think MAS NY-KL costs almost twice as much....about US$1,300 - US$1,400.
That is why Mike is also coming with me for this trip as it's like 2 tickets for the price of one.
Maybe that's why MAS tickets are in such low demand.
That is also why we are coming back in October - that was the earliest we could get as all the NY-KL tickets on SIA were fully booked."
And we often wonder why SIA is the leading airline in the world....

Monday, July 6, 2009

Black or white (or yellow or brown)

"It don't matter if you're black or white..." - Michael Jackson, the late.

Someone told me the other day that Michael Jackson was a black guy who wanted to be white whilst Elvis Presley was a white man who desired to be black.

That got me thinking...
MJ's song Black Or White had a message about racism; the part about him wanting to be white was just a cruel joke even though there may have been some truth in it.
But the crux of the matter is that issues on race and racism are still in existence even today - even in US of A, that great bastion of democracy and freedom.
I remember when I visited some friends in Syracuse, New York State, the white guys kept reminding me to stay out of black areas.
They told me that in almost every city in the United States, there would be a poor part and the residents there would be black. That's where you have the drug dealers, the streetwalkers, the riffraff and, of course, a very high crime rate.
In other words, the bad part of town is always black.
I wanted to visit New York city and my friend's white neighbour, a former Long Islander, told me to keep to lower and mid-Manhattan, the safe parts where most of the tourist attractions are. If I were to head north, he told me not to step into Harlem because that's where the bad black guys hang around. I could go north up to 74th or 84th Steet - I can't remember which road - and that part of the Big Apple was still okay because it wasn't black.
The great nation called United States of America is still grappling with racism even though it now has a black president. I have not been to Washington DC but I was told that just several blocks from where the politicians release much hot air about race and other irrelevant stuff, the bad black boys hang out in the poor part of the city that no white politician would dare to venture to.
Back home in Malaysia, we are still grappling with racial issues more than five decades after Independence.
The newest Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has merely repackaged the ideals envisioned by the founding fathers of this nation into a theme labelled 1Malaysia.
Suddenly, 52 years after Bapa Malaysia Tunku Abdul Rahman had talked about peace and harmony amongst the Malays, Chinese and Indians and the numerous indigenous groups in Sabah and Sarawak, the great leaders of today's Malaysia have suddenly realised that they need to talk about peace and harmony among the various races. Suddenly it sounds like a broken record - we have heard it before.
Didn't Najib's dad, second Prime Minister Tun Razak talk about it circa 1974 when the newly-formed Barisan Nasional desperately needed to win back the votes of the non-Malays after the race riots of May 13 1969?
So now we have a father and son's commitment to repairing racial relations. Did the father succeed? Will the son fail? If the father succeeded, why is there the need for the son to blow the thick layer of dust from the concept and sell it to sceptical Malaysians again?
Now that the Prime Minister has placed the 1Malaysia concept at the top of his to-do list, his Ministers are suddenly parroting him. Then again that's what politicians do - follow the leader (for their own good).
They are mentioning the 1Malaysia theme in almost all their speeches as if racial harmony was not what Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Tan Cheng Lock and Tun Sambanthan carved in stone 52 years ago.
We shall see if Najib will follow up his words with deeds. We shall see if the old-new 1Malaysia concept will (as usual) be a lot of hot air.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Dying famous and young

Why is it that extremely famous and extremely talented people live extremely bizarre lives and die relatively young?
The death of Michael Jackson reminds me of the passing away of the other generation's great artiste - Elvis Presley.
There are similarities - both were great singers and had millions of fans around the world. Both died at the time of their lives when others of lesser pedigree would have reached their prime and started planning for retirement.
However, Elvis - who could thrust his hips like no other - was bloated and obese while MJ - who could moonwalk better than Neil Armstrong - was skin and bones and undernourished. Both were hooked on prescription drugs, but Michael had more plastic surgery done on him than most other Hollywood stars.
What is it about fame that it can turn a regular human being into some pathetic monstrosity? Despite the financial security of millions of dollars in their bank accounts and the luxurious comfort of their huge mansions, the chosen ones could not handle the pressures of extreme fame, the expectations of their fans and the fear of failure, and they collapsed in a messed-up heap of emotional distresss that no amount of money in the world could rebuild or repair.
If fame is indeed meaningless, why do hundreds of thousands of wannabes turn up for American Idol auditions every year dreaming of becoming the next Carrie Underwood or Adam Lambert?
During such times when someone as big as Michael Jackson dies in controversial circumstances involving millions in debts and lots of drugs, the media would go haywire with their reports and live coverage. This is one of the rare times when footage of a body covered with a sheet of white cloth on a stretcher being loaded into an ambulance is considered "Breaking News" on CNN.
It is also during such times that we realise how fragile life is and how meaningless it can be and take stock on the road ahead for each one of us and perhaps adjust our priorities spiritually to attain some semblance of inner peace and sense of achievement.
Perhaps we should aim to amass treasures in heaven that will not rust and thieves cannot steal from us while we are distracted in our relentless pursuit of fame.