How should we judge a government?

"If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing." - Malcolm X

In Malaysia, if you don't watch television or read newspapers, you are uninformed; but if you do, you are misinformed!

"Our government is like a baby's alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other. " - Ronald Reagan
Was he referring to Malaysia? Seems so apt...

Government fed by the people

Government fed by the people

Career options

Career options

Prevent bullying now!

Prevent bullying now!
If you're not going to speak up, how is the world supposed to know you exist?

MyCen News

Monday, April 28, 2008

Bulk of Balkis in The Sun...

I wrote my previous posting before reading Sun2surf, though the time of posting shown - mine 9.14am and theirs 9.17am might indicate otherwise. Anyway, I am glad the article touched on the notice for the EGM as well which shows my gut feeling without research can be correct. So, what better way to put it in proper perspective than to show their article?:

Neither law nor ethics in mind
Comment by R. Nadeswaran(http://www.blogger.com/email%20to:citizen-nades@thesundaily.com)

If in March 2007 I had "temporarily transferred" the LawCare Fund out, to ensure that the money would be spent for the welfare purposes intended, and because I was unsure whether (Datuk) Ambiga (Sreenivasan) might remove some of the names from the list of recipients, I would be (and should be) struck off by now. My face will also not suffer from dry skin, because people will spit at me wherever I go. Carry on insulting the intelligence of the people, if you must.
- Yeo Yang Poh (former President of the Bar Council)

THE above response to theSun’s front page report on the transfer of funds from Balkis to Bakti appeared in the Bar Council’s website last week. It puts the whole issue into context. In a nutshell, the movement of money from one account to another is illegal and the council has been quoted in The Star as saying that this could tantamount to criminal breach of trust.

But the spin doctors and certain sections of the media who are beholden to individuals and not the truth have joined the bandwagon in an attempt to exonerate Datin Seri Zaharah Kechik, the beleaguered wife of former Mentri Besar, Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Khir Toyo from any wrongdoing.

However one looks at it, the whole exercise appears to have been carried out hastily without cognisance of law and procedure; ethics and morals and above all, common sense.

Donations to Balkis are exempt from tax, a privilege that is enjoyed by a select few and the all-important criteria is: the exemption is given ONLY for non-political bodies. Therefore, Balkis, in the eyes of the law, is apolitical although its membership is made of elected women wakil rakyat and in the case of men, their wives. There is a category for associate members, restricted to women who had been politicians or whose husbands had been elected wakil rakyat. They have no voting rights. Therefore, the issue of it being an exclusive "Barisan Nasional" club does not arise and ad-hoc decisions cannot be made by Zaharah, whose position as president is by virtue of being the Mentri Besar’s wife.

The issue that comes into question is the dissolution of Balkis. Zaharah, in her capacity as the former president (emphasis is the writer’s), has no power of dissolution. According the Balkis’ constitution, it can only be dissolved by two-thirds of the members at a special meeting convened at the request of at least one-fifth of "ordinary members".

The constitution is clear on such special meetings and it states it must be held within 30 days of receiving notice of such a requisition. It goes on to say that the notice and agenda of the meeting must be sent out by the secretary to members giving them 14 days’ notice.

Let’s work backwards. If the meeting was held on March 11, the notice must have been given on Feb 25 – at the latest. But her husband, then the Mentri Besar, was going around campaigning on the lines of "Zero Opposition in Selangor"! Did Zaharah get a written requisition from one-fifth of the members on Feb 11 – when Parliament was not even dissolved? Unless of course, some wives knew that their husbands won’t be occupying the seats of power!

Therefore, in short, this whole exercise of dissolution is void because procedures were not followed. This has been confirmed by the Registrar of Societies, who in his letter dated April 14 to the (new) Selangor Mentri Besar, says: "After going through the application to dissolve Balkis, we discovered that the information provided is incomplete. I have sent a letter asking Balkis to provide additional information within 30 days."

So, legally, Balkis is not dissolved. Therefore, no individual or factions can take it upon herself or themselves to transfer any monies to any other person or organisation.

Even if they had the power, they have defied their own constitution which states that upon dissolution, all monies should be donated to the government or a similar fund approved by the Inland Revenue Board (IRB). So, the inevitable question is: When was an application made to the IRB and if given the go ahead, when did it come?

Again, on March 11, Zaharah was no longer the president. There’s no such thing as "caretaker president" in its constitution. The only consolation she can take is that she can apply for associate member which does not come with voting rights, which she has not done to date.

But Bakti, the national body, cannot be absolved of blame for this shameful episode. How could it have accepted the money and held it in a separate account without checking if Balkis’s dissolution had been carried out in accordance with the law?

According to documents sighted by theSun, a sitting judge credited as "Bakti’s legal advisor" opined that it is all right. But Datuk Param Cumaraswamy, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyer said that the judge’s conduct was "likely to cause a reasonable suspicion that the judge allowed his private interests to come into conflict with his judicial duties, which could amount to a breach of the Judge’s Code of Ethics 1994".

Do remember, two wrongs don’t make a right.

And by the way, Mr Yeo, a lot of people are not yet walking around with wet skin!

Updated: 09:14AM Mon, 28 Apr 2008

I balk at Balkis

According to my very old Oxford dictionary:

Balk: thwart, hinder; discourage. Jib, shy.
Jib: (of horse, etc.) stop and refuse to go on, move backwards or sideways instead;
(fig.) refuse to proceed in some action; jib at: show repugnance to (course, person)

What happened when state leaders lost at the elections? They transferred money in their charitable organisation to one at federal level. I wonder what they would do if they lost at federal level.

In Sunday Star, ex-Selangor MB, Khir Toyo said,

“Membership in the Wives of Selangor Assemblymen and MPs Welfare and Charity Organisation (Balkis) was open to everyone and not limited to the wives of Barisan Nasional elected representatives.”

“The RM9.9mil in the Balkis bank account transferred to the Association of Wives of Ministers and Deputy Ministers (Bakti), was done in accordance with the organisation’s constitution and accounted for, as the auditor had finalised the 2007 accounts,” he said.

Meanwhile, senior state executive councillor for Investment, Industry and Commerce Teresa Kok said Zahrah should not dodge the issue pertaining to the transfer of the RM9.9mil from the Balkis account.

In NST report, Elizabeth Wong, a Selangor state exco member, claimed the auditors were not consulted and the accounts for 2007 have yet to be finalised! Whose nose is getting longer? I wonder.

In her blog, Elizabeth posted this:

"But just after BN’s humiliating defeat, Balkis, which technically should not have been helmed by Mrs Khir Toyo as soon as the Parliament and the state assemblies were dissolved, decided to cut their losses, in the truest meaning of the word - ‘loss’.

They held an EGM 3 days after elections, shut down the organisation and transferred out a cool 10 mil from their banks (apparently advised by a sitting judge) into the pockets of the Federal version of their organisation - Bakti - since Federal government did not fall into the hands of Pakatan Rakyat (yet), while mulling a name change to … (drumroll) Balkis-BN."

"Putting aside for now, possible queries on the laundry service provided by Bakti; why would those lovely ladies, former members of Balkis, imagine the organisation’s monies were part of their personal piggy-bank, or that of BN’s? Weren’t they mere custodians?"

"This sure beats those BN state assemblymen who used up some RM 20 million plus-plus of their development fund annual allocation in the first 2 months. (I must admit I was luckier than most - the former state assemblyman of Bukit Lanjan left me RM 2 in the development fund account)."

According to The Star on Saturday, the Bar Council is of the opinion that Balki’s action could be tantamount to criminal breach of trust. Even lawyers cannot agree: sitting judge vs Bar Council. Wonder who is the sitting judge giving free advice.

A layman would be suspicious of such actions at lightning speed, wouldn’t you?

To me, I am puzzled how an EGM could be held within 3 days, unless they have already foreseen the loss of control of Selangor, or, as is quite common, the notice to do so (usually 21 days for companies, unlikely to be shorter even for a society unless provided in its constitution where a certain percentage agreed, and so on, just guessing), was backdated?

I have come to the conclusion that public statements cannot be taken at face value and their credibility rests with the person’s or party’s track record. I wish to know who are the liars eventually.

Federal actions speak louder than words... unfortunately.

‘Mega Setback’ screamed The Sunday Star. I actually welcomed the news.

It will further prove to the public that the Federal leaders are out to create problems for the opposition-held Penang, despite any denial. Actions speak louder than words.

Following Azalina's narrow-minded bypassing of opposition-held states in channelling of funds for tourism, we have a list of similar policies.

I heard over the radio, Noh Omar as Minister of Entrepreneur and Cooperative Development, mentioned about certain funds will be channelled through MARA.

I further read about Muhammad Taib’s policy against local elections in the villages giving the archaic excuse that the Malays are a minority in the urban areas and therefore could not be elected in the cities. Why worry about race if the leaders are chosen by fair elections? Why should Federal leaders worry over local problems, which should have been dealt with by the locals themselves?

These are examples of Umno leaders who still did not get it. Most people welcome the ‘better late than never’ but noble apology by Hishamuddin over the keris raising. We cannot help but wonder over his cousin, the PM-in-waiting’s long overdue apology over his more serious keris battle cry, as he is scheduled to assume the position as PM.

Coming back to Penang. To the critics of the Second bridge, monorail and PORR projects, I am sure they will welcome the news. To me, it is more a case of bad public relations for BN and it will encourage Guan Eng and his team to think of alternative solutions and aim towards self-reliance and frugality, which is second nature to oppositionists.

Recently, Anil Netto highlighted a report in The Star on the re-introduction of the tram service as a cheaper alternative. But then again, I just gathered that it requires Federal approval. All is not lost, as a re-look by new leaders at the existing bus and taxi services might solve most of the current problems.

As to the monorail and second bridge, the people of Penang will not miss facilities that do not exist, unlike the present bridge. In fact, the cronies are likely to be more disappointed over the delay than the people who can get used to the problems.

The Star
Thursday, 9 November 2006
by Emmeline Tan

Bring back trams

Keep the monorail out of George Town and bring back the trams for the sake of the environment and heritage.

Engineer Ric Francis, who has been in the tram industry for 38 years, said there were many pitfalls to the proposed RM1.2bil monorail system that would connect the entire Penang island.

“Once the huge monorail structures are built in George Town, the heritage buildings will be totally eclipsed.

“Trams on the other hand, provide a nice, quiet, scenic journey,” said Francis, co-author of Penang Trams, Trolleybuses and Railways – Municipal Transport History 1880s-1963.

Giving a lecture at the Penang Heritage Trust at Church Street recently, Francis said George Town Municipal electrical trams used from 1905 to 1936 reaped high profits until World War I when the supply of replacement parts was hampered.

He estimated that less than RM3.8mil (US$1mil) was needed to get an electrical tram system up and running in George Town.

“Old tramlines such as from Prangin Mall to Weld Quay still exists underneath the bitumen road and can be restored for use,” he said.

A 50m tramline was unearthed at the Chulia Street-Penang Road junction in 2004 during road works and was preserved by the Penang Municipal Council.

“There are many second- hand trams in other countries that are for purchase.”

Existing street poles could be used to support the one-cable electrical wiring for trams, he added.

“Trams are pollution-free and are being used in cities with narrow roads such as Amsterdam and Lisbon.

“There would not be the high cost of diesel to pay, and very little maintenance of parts compared to buses.”

Anil Netto in his blog, among other things, stated:

"To me, a tram system is much more cost-effective and aesthetically pleasing than a monorail network, especially for a heritage city like George Town and surrounding areas and even in Butterworth and Prai. The tram system could link up to a cross-channel light rail service alongside the Penang Bridge. Together with an expanded ferry service, an improved bus system, safe cycling paths and more pedestrian walkways, trams could transform Penang into a model city for sustainable public transport, besides enhancing George Town’s heritage setting and its quality of life."

Perhaps, this is worth looking into. Could be a blessing in disguise.

My little complaint is the old-fashioned parking system. As a visitor, it is terribly inconvenient when I am about to leave the island, I have to look for the parking attendant. Once, a car just held up vehicles while paying the attendant as it would have been inconvenient later. Please look into this simple matter.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Stock market: unfriendly to small timers

I have an uncanny sense of timing. Just yesterday, I was commenting to my friend about the new minimum brokerage fee of Rm40 which upsets my way of trading and in today’s Star, I read this article, “Are local brokerage fees too high?” You bet they are, to me, at least.

For the past few days I was ‘fishing’ by placing order to buy 20,000 shares at 0.16 when someone had keyed in at 0.155 and it was last done a day or two ago, at 0.17. It is a small company and the shares were very thinly traded because of the big disparity in prices of buyer and seller which indicated sellers were in no hurry and only those desperate enough would sell at the buyer’s price, which was what I was in for!

Anyway, I had this sudden realisation that someone could have thrown to me at my price but for only the minimum lot of 100 shares! This would cost me Rm16 for the shares and Rm40 for brokerage! OK, this is not realistic as the seller would not sell 100 shares and incur a loss. Even for 1,000 shares, it would cost me Rm160 for the shares and the brokerage works out at 25%! Whatever it is, an increase of 10 sen will only break even and in today’s market, even that seems difficult to come by.

At the start of the downturn in the stock market, I had been buying shares and seeing their prices going south. It used to be ok to buy one or two lots (old 1,000) and see how it goes before buying further. But with the new minimum brokerage fee, it is not feasible and I would say, serve them right if they have seen a reduction in business of 40%. Below is the article I am refering to:


Saturday April 26, 2008
Are local brokerage fees too high?
By LOONG TSE MIN and YVONNE TAN

PETALING JAYA: China's move to cut stamp duty on equity trading, which has boosted that country's stock market since Thursday, has raised questions as to why Malaysian brokerage fees remain so high.

A reader's letter to StarBiz yesterday made a plea to revert to the RM12 minimum brokerage from the current RM40 for stock market transactions via remisiers.

“For an average investor who buys 1,000 shares of an average stock priced at, say 50 sen a share, his purchase will be RM500 and the brokerage fee he pays is RM40.

“In this case, the brokerage is 8% of the principal amount.

“When he sells, he pays another RM40, which means he pays a total of about 16% in brokerage alone. How many counters can move in excess of 16% so that this investor can make a profit?” the reader asked.

Bursa Malaysia Bhd chief market operations Devanesan Evanson told StarBiz that the RM40 minimum brokerage fee was to incentivise remisiers and brokers to increase trading activity.

On whether it was affecting market liquidity, he said it (liquidity) was a product of sentiment and many other factors, such as global economic slowdown and rising oil prices.

“Investors who think the minimum brokerage fee is high are at liberty to trade using the Internet, where the fee is negotiable,” Devanesan said.

Effective Jan 1, commission rates for Internet trading and cash upfront transactions became fully negotiable but the minimum brokerage fee for all other transactions, including those through remisiers, was increased to RM40 from RM12.

However, TA Securities Holdings Bhd head of research Kaladher Govindan pointed out that the revised fee structure could have slowed revenue growth of Bursa Malaysia, going by the stock exchange's first quarter ended March 31 results which saw net profit falling 40% to RM42.1mil compared with the previous corresponding quarter.

He said the RM40 imposed “was a burden” to some retail investors and blamed it for dragging down trading volume.

Remisiers' Association of Malaysia president Sam Ng did not see the cheaper online trading fees luring clients away from remisiers.

In fact, he said online trading was a good supplementary tool to help remisiers reach out to “small-time” investors.

Remisiers could concentrate on larger institutional clients who drove the market, while allowing market participation from smaller investors, he said.

OSK Investment Bank head of operations Lim Ah Lay viewed the current brokerage fee as “competitive” regionally. Singapore's minimum fee, he said, was S$25.

“So far, we have not received any adverse feedback from the investing community on this,” he told StarBiz.

However, he noted that the public expected fees for online trades to be much lower.

As for the remisiers, the current rates were favourable, Lim said.

Asked about the ideal fee structure, he said: “We would prefer a fully negotiable rate structure but with a minimum rate to cover our firm's fixed overheads.”

The Securities Commission (SC), in reply to a StarBiz query, said: “The minimum handling fee of RM40 was requested by brokers and remisiers to reflect the real handling charges incurred by them. This was agreed upon only with the proviso that it does not apply to cash upfront and online trades.

“These trades are now fully negotiable and rates for Internet trades have already fallen well below the minimum of RM12, thus offering a lower cost option for investors.”

The SC added that the introduction of negotiable commission rates was part of a phased approach towards a more deregulated, competitive and vibrant stock market.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Bloggers: monkeys or wannabees?

Much credit had been given to bloggers for the political tsunami on March 8, 2008.
Before the 12th General Elections, bloggers have been described as monkeys, the latter might feel insulted as some experiments have shown that chimpanzees could do better than us in certain tasks.

Now we have ex-Chief Ministers and ex-Ministers, including the monkey-calling person, jumping onto the bandwagon of blogging to show that they are IT savvy too.

I think we have given bloggers too much credit for the political tsunami. Personally, I think the majority of bloggers are like me, writing digital diary, keeping record of anything that attracted our attention. But with the convenience of computers and the internet, articles and letters, pictures and even videos could be included, by those who are IT savvy.

Even those famous bloggers like Jeff Ooi, Haris Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang, Bernard Khoo, and Marina Mahathir, names that come to my mind, depend on online news portals like Malaysiakini and Malaysia Today to get the much needed publicity to be popular. I still remember when Jeff Ooi was taken off Malaysiakini when he joined DAP, many people forgot about his blogsite unless and until mentioned.

I think the bloggers, together with the well known online news portals, managed to provide information and news, which would otherwise be kept secret by the mainstream media which are controlled by the ruling political parties.

Malaysiakini, which is subscription based, provided much exposure during the campaign period by offering free news, initially for one week and then extended for another few days. Their Bahasa Malaysia version is provided free and this could have contributed to the dissemination of information to the Malay masses.

Raja Petra’s Malaysia Today is without doubt, very popular and influential as a result, because of its free service and his ‘no holds barred’ opinions which spared no one, explaining in plain language the provisions of our Constitution and other myths perpetuated by our powers that be for the past 50 years.

A. Asohan’s ‘Start a blog, save the world (or a party)’ in The Star got it right, especially describing bloggers as ‘a bunch of disparate individuals’. I cannot resist reproducing the whole article, half-expecting a warning for copyright infringement, something bloggers are guilty of most times:

Start a blog, save the world (or a party)
STRAY THOUGHTS
By A. ASOHAN

BLOGGERS ... blah, blah, blah. There, that got your attention, didn’t it?

Let me share a secret that some of us in the mainstream media (abbreviated “MSM” these days, usually with a certain degree of distaste and disapproval) have known for years, and which some government officials are only now beginning to realise.

If you want to see an article or statement get a lot of “airplay” (pardon the archaic term) on the Internet, just say something about bloggers or blogging. Then stand back and watch the fun.

Blogging has become synonymous with alternative media, even though the latter encompasses more than just the former.

And everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon. Politicians are now according the alternative media (more accurately, the alternative electronic media) more respect, and a fair degree of fear, too, than they are the MSM.

They want to engage bloggers, have tea with them, initiate dialogues, get their feedback, whatever.

Lessons have been learned, points taken. Or have they?

Going by what certain Barisan Nasional members have said since the March 8 polls, one has to wonder if they truly see the new landscape before them.

Members are being urged to start their own blogs to counter and correct the “tens of thousands” of Opposition blogs that are arrayed against Barisan’s mere handful.

These blogs would allow the coalition to reach out to those people that the MSM does not appeal to, most notably the young professionals, and get its message across.

The MSM has failed the ruling party, the new conventional wisdom goes, so the ruling party is now going to enlist the alternative media.

As a cranky and cynical journalist, it is my duty to burst this bubble. It’s not going to work. Not while you operate under a set of erroneous assumptions.

First, the blogging community isn’t a single enormous, amorphous entity that thinks alike. It’s a bunch of disparate individuals with their own ideas of what’s important and what’s true (to them). You can’t appeal to the community or engage it in its entirety. All you can do is, hopefully, identify some individuals who may be helpful to your cause and curry favour with them, with the caveat that these individuals can’t speak for the others ... who will keep on doing what they have been doing anyway. If you really want to engage bloggers, read their blogs and the comments posted by their readers. This will give you a good idea of what the concerns of the rakyat are, what they think of your statements, and what issues you need to address.

Also, there aren’t “tens of thousands” of Opposition blogs. Like you, the Opposition parties had only a handful, notably by the likes of Jeff Ooi, Lim Kit Siang, Tony Pua, Chegu Bard, and a few others.

All those others? They aren’t Opposition blogs. They’re the blogs of the people of Malaysia. You know ... the rakyat.

They are concerned individuals, giving their personal take on the issues that affect them. Some are insightful, others are biased; some question everything and everyone, others question everyone but a former prime minister; some are balanced and objective, others wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Just because they disagree with or criticise you does not make them “Opposition” blogs. Labelling them thus gives the impression that you’re not really listening to the people of Malaysia.

Finally, there is the Umno leader who said that the Opposition had the unfair advantage of the Internet and texting, while Barisan had only the MSM – print publications, radio, and TV. You know, media that reaches out to just about every Malaysian, as opposed to media that is reaching out to an ever-increasing but still comparatively small number of Malaysians. No wonder you lost so many seats, huh?
Here’s some news for you: The MSM was more than equal to the task of getting your message across to just about every Malaysian out there. Verily, wearily ... Malaysians got your message. They just didn’t buy it.

You want to counter all that criticism on the Net? Easy: don’t give people any ammunition. Don’t say stupid things, don’t release ill-conceived statements, don’t contradict yourself, don’t harp on issues that only you seem concerned about.

Malaysians are not stupid. They’ve never been stupid. They’ve always criticised. In the old days, they did it in barbershops, taxis, and at the mamak stalls. Now they do it on the Internet. Perhaps I’m being uncharacteristically optimistic but I think the Malaysian people have reached a new stage in their process of self-realisation.
They prefer progress to development; they want to enrich themselves rather than just gather wealth; they want to improve their quality of life, not just adopt the latest lifestyle; they want to be heard, not just be spoken to.

And here’s the kicker. If you really were adapting to the new media, nothing of what I’ve said above would be news to you. Bloggers have already covered this ground.

· A. Asohan, Editor, New Media, at The Star, is going to don a flame-retardant jacket now.

(I think there are some very good columnists in MSM who are their saving grace, covering up their lop-sided reporting, like Fong Po Kuan's picture and recently, that of Tian Chua, Dr. Ramasamy and another on the front page, when opposition had bad news.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Tracing my roots...

or what Raja Petra calls related through 'kena pee' which is translated from Cantonese 'Or liu tarn tou'.

We used to have a framed piece of glass with big Chinese characters painted on, which read ‘Thai Guan’ in Hokien and with small letters ‘ONG’ below them, which my dad had it hung outside our house to let people know our surname. I noticed this is still being done, in villages, by other surnames.

One of the things I took from our family house before we sold it a few years ago, was the picture, which I took back to PJ to clean it up. But the glass was so thin that before I could repaint the red portion, it fell onto the floor and broke into many pieces, which wasn’t a good omen I thought.

Today, as I was reading The Star while waiting for my spectacle frame to be changed, I was pleasantly surprised to read the story of our surname featured in Ziying’s Brush!

Anyway, the late afternoon wasn’t exactly a pleasant day to start with my errands of photocopying, buying papers (actually for my wife to read in the evening) and fresh milk for our English tea, an addiction acquired from our years in UK.

At the shop, the assistant could not copy despite having two copiers! Each time, the paper got jammed, probably because of using inferior paper. As she was attempting to do so, one of my glasses just fell on to the floor! Thinking it was because of a loose screw, I picked it up and took my specs off to try and put it back and then noticed it was broken as a result of metal fatigue! What next? Will I be able to find a similar frame and use back my lenses? How long will it take?

Fortunately, everything is so convenient in Batu Gajah. I walked past an optician’s shop to go to his father’s shop instead for something suitable for my age. He found a frame similar to mine and it could be done in half an hour. I bought a copy of The Star (late afternoon, there are some returned from the outskirts) and read the said article in a mamak shop. Sure enough, after half an hour, I went next door, and the boss was about to come out to call for me! A quick test and I was glad it was almost like the old one. As I came out of the shop, I heard crashing sound and saw three men fell off two motorbikes just before the new clock tower. Luckily, no serious injury and they went off. Bad vibes of the day? Was it my bad vibes?

Anyway, here is the article which is also meant for my children’s information:

Wednesday April 23, 2008
Dragon City

Taiyuan is one of the places where the surname Wang originated.
ZIYING'S BRUSH

IT IS not without reason that Shanxi’s 2,500-year-old municipality of Taiyuan is called Dragon City. Not only was it home to several emperors, the most famous of whom are the Tang dynasty’s great Li Shimin and China’s only woman emperor Wu Zetian, but its location smack in the middle of Shanxi makes it a natural choice as provincial capital. Taiyuan is also a centre of the province’s all-important coal and steel industries.

Interestingly, the very name of Li Shimin’s dynasty originated in Taiyuan. In the remote past, a state called Tang was located here and when Li’s father became emperor, he named his dynasty Tang in honour of his home district.

Perhaps less well-known is the fact that Taiyuan is deemed the ancestral source of the Wang clan.

Wang (Ong, Wong) is a common enough surname amongst people of Chinese ancestry all over the world. But last April, Xinhua News Agency reported that Wang, meaning “king”, has overtaken Li to become the most common in China, accounting for 7.25% of the population, or a staggering 95 million people. A subsequent report says in Beijing alone, more than 10% of the residents carry this name.

There are several sources of this ancient name whose origins date back 2,600 years. With few exceptions (such as minorities who adopted the name), the roots of the Wang clan can be traced to the royal family of the Zhou dynasty.

The most prolific branch appears to originate from Zi Qiao, the Crown Prince Jin of eastern Zhou. The story goes that this outspoken prince offended his father the king who demoted him to commoner and banished him. Prince Jin eventually settled in Taiyuan. After he died his son adopted Wang as the family name as he was already commonly addressed as such due to his royal lineage.

Over time the Wang clan spread to other parts of China. In Fujian a military commissioner named Wang Shenzhi even set up a short-lived kingdom called Min with the capital at Fuzhou after the collapse of the Tang dynasty.

In the 1990s the Shanxi government refurbished the 500-year-old mansion of a high ranking Ming dynasty official surnamed Wang and converted it into a memorial hall for Zi Qiao, so that his descendants from all over the world can have a place to gather to pay respects to their root ancestor.

Called the Jinxi Academy, the hall is situated on the grounds of Jinci, a memorial temple complex 25km from Taiyuan.

Jinci’s beginnings are so ancient nobody knows when it was first built but it is believed to have its origins in a 3,000-year-old memorial temple to Shuyu, the first duke of Tang in the western Zhou dynasty who was noted for his wisdom and good governance. After he died, his son re-named the territory Jin to honour the river that flowed through it, hence the memorial temple to his father is called Jinci. After 30 centuries this legacy is still alive in Shanxi whose short name “Jin” recalls the ancient state.

Behind Jinci’s imperial vermilion walls the extensive temple grounds seem like a palace garden in a Chinese landscape painting. A stream winds around “flying” bridges of white stone, grassy lawns and graceful pavilions, terraces and halls amidst tall willows and ancient cypresses. The oldest, a cypress called Zhoubo with leathery, weather-beaten bark, was planted 30 centuries ago and so tired it is almost reclining horizontally.

The oldest and most important edifice in Jinci is the imposing 1,000-year-old, 19m high Shengmudian or Saint Mother Hall which commemorates the mother of Shuyu. Topped with a double-layered roof of finest blue and yellow glazed tiles, Shengmudian is said to represent Song dynasty architecture at its finest.

Inside the stark, bare hall, 45 gorgeously moulded clay sculptures of Song palace ladies and court eunuchs stand against the walls waiting to serve the Saint Mother. The subtle expressions on their milk-white, refined faces reveal each individual’s mood, feelings and personality. A happy, confident beauty; a resigned dowager fallen from favour; a sad serving maid deep in reflection. Each lady has a unique hairdo and gesture and their flowing court garments, shawls and ribbons fall softly and naturally around their figures. Even after a thousand years, their original predominantly red, teal and midnight blue colouring is still evident.

Jinci’s extant halls, offerings pavilion, opera terrace, archways and other structures were constructed over a 1,000-year-period spanning four major dynasties. Regrettably, aside from the roofs, many of the buildings and sculptures need refurbishment.

Still, poets like the Tang dynasty’s Libai have sung its praises and even Emperor Li Shimin eulogised the architecture and scenery of the place in a tablet. Jinci is indisputably one of the most beautiful imperial temple complexes I have seen in China.

Jinci houses some of the finest temple sculptures in China.
A stream winds around Jinci Temple’s lovely gardens.


Ziying can be reached at ziyingster@gmail.com

Karim Raslan's take in his column 'Ceritalah' in The Star

Tuesday April 22, 2008

The Age of the Sledgehammer
Ceritalah By KARIM RASLAN

Umno leaders should learn from Asia's other once dominant parties who lost office but were able to reinvent themselves and regain power.

AS SOMEONE with a long family tradition linked to Umno and who counts many party leaders as my friends, the results of the last General Election were an enormous surprise.

I simply could not believe that PKR, PAS and DAP could manage the states they won.
Inspired by these concerns, I hit the road to interview the new political players. I had to find out for myself what they were like, to set my mind at ease.

While I had no idea what to expect, I must admit that the leaders of the new Pakatan Rakyat states have impressed me with their seriousness and integrity.

Even more remarkable was the company I found myself in when I ventured out of Damansara Heights into gritty Puchong. I ended up at a vast election thanksgiving dinner sitting around a table with Karpal Singh, Gobind Singh Deo, their respective wives and Theresa Kok.

What a difference one day's vote can make! I never thought that I would one day end up sandwiched by a coterie of DAP leaders.

But as the physically (though not caustically) weakened Karpal was wheeled in, and I saw the warmth and admiration with which he was greeted, I suddenly got a feeling of how grounded the leaders of the Pakatan are with Malaysians at large.

This is in contrast to my increasing disappointment with Umno and the Barisan Nasional. What are we to make of the backbiting, racialist chest beating and general turmoil that have beset the coalition since the last general election?

Frankly, I'm beginning to wish that the Barisan had lost on March 8. In being able to hold on to power, the ruling coalition is still deluding itself that it’s business as usual. It appears to feel that it can continue to rule without a total overhaul of its policies and guiding principles.

Umno leaders should be learning from Asia's other once-dominant parties who lost office but were able to reinvent themselves and regain the crucible of power. We all know the names that are being bandied about by pundits: Taiwan's Kuomintang, India's Congress Party of India and Indonesia's Golkar.

The Kuomintang in particular should have been a sterling example to Umno.

The parallels between the two parties are startling: both parties led their respective countries to nationhood. Both parties oversaw tremendous economic growth, but at the cost of spiralling corruption and autocratic leadership.

Finally, like Umno, the Kuomintang lost power in an election, but their defeat was as complete as Umno's should have been. In the 2000 presidential elections, nearly 50 years of Nationalist rule over Taiwan was broken and the party suffered the additional indignity of being routed in the 2001 Legislative Yuan polls.

The Nationalists, however, were able to look themselves in the mirror and do what needed to be done. The party took steps to dismantle the business empire it had acquired through decades of patronage.
The regrouped Nationalists broke many policy taboos that would have been unthinkable under Chiang Kai-Shek. They toned down their pro-reunification rhetoric with the mainland.

More importantly, the Kuomintang allowed the rise of young leaders like Ma-Ying Jeou, who subsequently led the party back to victory by retaking the presidency.

Umno, however, merely deals with the superficial. The substantive – namely, whether or not the party should pursue a more multi-racial future – is ignored, although several leaders like Razali Ibrahim and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin have tried to get it on the agenda.

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah has also surprised many by calling for Umno to become a “supra-ethnic, national party” that deals in a just manner with all Malaysians regardless of race, while still defending its “traditional vision”.

These leaders recognise that Umno has to make a strategic push either to the right, embracing a more Malay nationalist and Islamicist ethos, or to the left, to garner votes from the multi-racial “Middle Malaysia”.

To my mind a push to the right will be disastrous. Umno can never hope to defeat PAS on its territory. Moreover, in pursuing the nationalist and Islamicist vote, Umno would destroy its chances with the larger vote banks in “Middle Malaysia”.

Sadly, while Malaysia has changed, the party of Merdeka is still locked in a time warp, regurgitating screeds about Malay rights and power. What the party leaders don't seem to want to acknowledge is that their monopoly on the Malay vote is gone forever.

Essentially the community has become too diverse to be represented by one political party, and this is where the PKR and PAS have reaped the electoral harvest.

The burden of history and its own failings are preventing Umno from regaining the Malay, much less “Middle Malaysia”, vote – the world that slipped from its grasp on March 8.

Umno and its leadership are just not seeing the value of adopting a broader, non-communal approach.

The party is seemingly trapped in the stranglehold of arrogance and rent-seeking that cost it so many votes.

In light of this, one wonders if a defeat on the scale that the Kuomintang suffered will be the only thing that can truly shake up Umno.

Is it possible that the strong medicine the party needs to save itself is a good four or five years in the Opposition benches?

My little comment:
What do we expect when Rafidah said something like I have been MP for 28 years and I know all the answers to all the questions, so let others ask the questions? Isn't she redundant already?

Time to get out of narrow objectives

BN leaders’ responses to some Pakatan actions reflect their narrow objectives, which are now considered unpopular:

Keng Yaik, still unable let go of Gerakan’s politics, seemed like a sour grape in trying to prevent Kah Choon’s acceptance of directorship in Penang Development Corporation and InvestPenang. If only, he has the interests of the people of Penang at heart. Guan Eng’s magnanimity in offering the positions to a political rival was taken as DAP’s lack of suitable and capable candidates! I would take it as a sign of maturity and following the principles of meritocracy whenever possible. The two sentences may seem contradictory but Guan Eng could have easily appointed someone from his own party instead of having to face displeasure from those eyeing the positions.

Two well-written letters in Malaysiakini are reproduced for my own record:

Kah Choon's appointment 'out of the box'
Phang Thiam Apr 22, 08 4:40pm

I refer to the Malaysiakini report PDC: Keng Yaik wishes Kah Choon 'best of luck'.

I hail the appointment of former Gerakan deputy secretary-general, Lee Kah Choon by the Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng. This is an unprecedented move in Malaysia and I rejoice that Lim has the courage, foresight and vision to appoint the highly honourable and experienced Lee, particularly as chairperson of the InvestPenang, the PDC subsidiary tasked with wooing investment to Penang. That Lee took the bold step to resign from all posts in Gerakan to take responsibility for Gerakan's disastrous showing in the March 8 general election only goes to show how noble and honorable Lee is.

That he genuinely wants to contribute to Penang is without doubt. Now that this has been recognised by Pakatan Rakyat government in Penang, Lee has the opportunity to walk his talk of contributing to society is unlike what most politicians, particularly BN politicians, talk about but fail to do.

Lee's appointment is unprecedented and is yet another proof that Lim Guan Eng is not afraid to not follow the norm but has the courage to strive out for what he feels is best for the state and for Malaysians. He could easily have rewarded his supporters within the DAP or Pakatan Rakyat with such a juicy appointment. BN would have done that. Instead, Lim is bold and forthright enough to choose the best available person to spearhead Penang's development irrespective of gender or political affiliation. Is Lee the right person? Only time will tell.

But what is certain is that his appointment may mark the birth of a new political culture in Malaysia that transcends communal, gender, religious or political barriers. Only the best available and the most capable will do. Achieving the end result transcends other considerations. In this way, the state will benefit when the best and most capable person is tasked with important responsibilities. We know that projects will have the best chances of attaining success. Bailouts by the state will be unnecessary.

As Selangor Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim said, all he needs are 3-4 capable and action-oriented assistants to help him. Management is about dissecting the job, identifying the core success factors and needs and delegating and empowering competent managers to carry out their portion of the project. The success of any project is very much dependent on the capability, energy, passion and vision of the man tasked with the job. Is Lee the man? Can he do the job? Is he the best man for the job? Time will tell. Lim and the Pakatan Rakyat government think so. We have to give them the time, the support and the freedom to do so. Then we will judge.

For 22 years under Mahathir, such key and not-so-key posts were used to reward Umno, MCA, MIC and Gerakan division and branch heads for their loyalty or to buy their continued support for the president. This is wastage. The person appointed may not be adequate to the demands of the job and as Murphy said, a person is usually promoted to a level of incompetence. We can cite hundreds examples during Mahathir's 22 years. He propagated such a culture.

Well, I say reward them by all means but do not entrust them with the rakyat's future or welfare. When that appointed person proves incapable for the job, the project does not take off and the rakyat does not get the benefits of the investment. Worse, such projects fail and the government has to bail them out. I can cite countless examples.

I await anxiously to see more innovative and ‘out-of-box’, out-of-the-norm appointments and projects from the Pakatan Rakyat governments. They are becoming like a breath of fresh air compared to the 26 years of Mahathir-ism’s ‘thinking-in-the-box’ and power-sharing - or rather wealth-sharing - amongst the BN leaders.


Sore loser BN needs to get on with it
MW Chow Apr 22, 08 4:38pm

I refer to the Malaysiakini report PDC: Keng Yaik wishes Kah Choon 'best of luck'.

The time for politics is over, it's time to get on with the job. Pakatan Rakyat seems to understand this and seems to be offering positions to the most qualified people regardless of affiliation.

BN, meanwhile, take every opportunity available to take a 'below-the-belt' swipe at their rivals, play the ‘blame game’ and are generally in self-destruct mode, forgetting totally that they are there for one reason and one reason only - they have a mandate from the rakyat to run the country.

BN would rather see the rakyat suffer and the PR states disintegrate than to work with them for the good of all. It's pretty obvious right now... and pleease... don't make any more statements to convince the rakyat otherwise - action speaks louder than words. (In any case, the arrogance you are displaying right now shows that you are not even bothered with the right words, what more actions.)

So to all BN component party leaders, get back to work and show the rakyat why you should still be in power come the next general election. Because right now, you are doing a fine job of obliterating yourselves by showing how childish you are and how little the people who voted you in matter to you.

As a Malaysian, here's my dream: two non-racial parties fighting for our votes based on policies and issues affecting the rakyat as a whole. The 'loser' respects the rakyat’s wishes by pledging to coorperate with the 'winner' to implement projects for the rakyat, the winner display humility and does not take the rakyat for granted. BN or PR, it doesn't matter.

Right now, what we have is a 'sore' winner at federal level and five sore 'losers' at the state level. Win or lose it seems BN is sore, no grace, no humility. Get real.

Monday, April 21, 2008

They seem to belong to Chinese but they are not...

Now and again, we get a letter expressing envy because of the display of wealth by the non-Bumiputeras in Malaysia, like the one in Malaysiakini:

I'll be a second-class citizen any day...
by A Concerned Malaysian.

“If you give me a choice between being a second-class citizen and the so-called Malay privileges, I would certainly be proud to be placed under category of ‘second class citizen’.

In a beautiful country like Malaysia , being a second-class citizen is an honour, a class of its own and is normally associated with big luxury cars, owning/controlling all kind of businesses and conglomerates right from retail, wholesale up to the manufacturing activities and import and export.

There is no one in Malaysia to compete with you what more the so-called ‘first-class citizens’ who practically have zero economic power. To you second-class citizens, the sky is the limit.

You have got with you economic power and you also have a growing influences on the country’s political power.

One should ponder as to who owns and builds all the high-rise apartments and condominiums in this country for example?

Who owns and operates the manufacturing businesses, the hotels, the shopping complexes, the supermarkets, the distribution of goods and services and so many others?

The list is too long to mention here, you can see for yourself. So ponder all Malaysians before making up your minds on issues without first realising where we are.”

I think the writer, presumably a Malay, should consider the following points before jumping to conclusion:

Our iconic Petronas Twin Towers, as the name suggests, belong to our national oil company. So is the developer of our national pride, Putra Jaya, an ostentatious display which would humble the British, our former colonialists.

The many high rise developments we see in KL are mostly built, though not necessarily owned, by public listed companies which are owned in part by government linked corporations like Khazanah, PNB, EPF and so on. Being public listed companies, their shares are available for purchase by any member of the public.

Where there are private developers, many are second or third generations who benefited from the wisdom or foresight and thrift of their ancestors, who bought and kept landed properties, which have skyrocketed in price. How many of our present generation are willing to do the same? Land is a scarce commodity and it does not need a Ph D from London School of Economics to know that if we were to keep the properties we purchase today, it would multiply in value in 50 years’ time.

All development projects are subject to approval by local authorities, which are headed by Bumiputeras, from Mayors and District Officers to Chief Ministers of state, with the exception of Penang.

Similarly, all businesses are subject to approval by Bumiputera heads of department and if necessary, by the state and/or federal administrations.

A Concerned Malaysian should ask himself ‘why, why and why this is so?’ Why did those with authority approve them?

I would venture to suggest it was because they have the ability and confidence and submitted plans and proposals acceptable by the relevant authorities, though some might suggest some wheeling and dealing and corruption.

As to 'first class citizens' who have practically zero economic power, have you heard of Diam, Diam Daim and the reclusive what's his name who controls Tanjong Pelepas, MMC, etc. etc.?

As non-Bumiputeras, we have been subjected to unfair discriminations in education, scholarships, employment, business opportunities and even in house prices. All we are asking is fairness, nothing more, nothing less. Is that too much to ask?

Why penalise us because of cronies like Francis Yeoh, Ananda Krishnan and the late Lim Goh Tong?

Take it up with the political leaders with real power, who incidentally are mostly Malays anyway.

The recent elections have shown that the people are increasingly for fairness and equality, good governance and transparency. We should be able discuss all kinds of matters with openness instead of being shackled by the Sedition Act, Internal Security Act, Official Secrets Act and so on.

Am I rich? I do not own any landed property and my 1983 BMW 728i is without road tax, hoping to apply for classic car status but unable to meet the minimum two other cars owned by me which seems ludicrous, as I have the use of cars belonging to my wife and son.

Am I a racist? I dream of the day when we will be colour blind. Recently, my daughter told me of her good bonding with a little Zimbabwe boy, her colleague’s son. I joked that luckily he is not an adult and she was quick to remind me that she is colour blind. We are open to that if and when it happens.

So, while Dr. Mahathir has Mugabe as friend, we have Mufaro!

Cheng and Mufaro



Cheng made him a birthday cake

Saturday, April 19, 2008

SuaraAnum revisited

The last time I checked SuaraAnum site, I found my letter published in Issue 12 June 15, 2002, listed but cannot be opened, with a message “Oops! We can’t find that page.” by Freewebs. Perhaps, it was considered too sensitive then, which was 6 years ago, and even now?

The text was just based on common sense, prompted by then PM, Dr. Mahathir, who said something like “the opposition is finished”, yet treated like highly sensitive stuff?

Read and decide for yourself:

Race-based Politics is Anachronistic

At every communal-based party function, its leaders will invariably speak to fight for and protect its racial interests. These same leaders will change their rhetorics at national functions or at each other’s party functions. One moment, we will protect the special interests, another moment, we treat everyone equal, except that we treat one first among equals, with goodies in every corner. I once heard someone commented that to be a politician here, one has to be able to tell lies with a straight face. I would like to add that we also need to learn the local meanings of equality, democracy and freedom. I wonder when if ever we can get to see the end of communal-based politics and the beginning of universally accepted definitions of equality, democracy and freedom.

All the talk about unfairness in wealth distribution and education, for example, will not be necessary if there is redistribution based on genuine need. If wealth and educational opportunities were to be redistributed to those deserving cases, I am sure the majority will be Malays. I am certain everybody else will be happy because the system is fair. In the haste to create millionaires among the Malays, only a few were given the opportunities. Politics become the avenue to become rich – just look at the politicians and their relatives becoming super rich within a short period. It used to be stealthy corruption but now there is no need to hide as it is becoming a way of life. If you want to get rich quick, join the BN; if you want to fight for principles and do not mind being poor, join the opposition. I still remember what Lim Guan Eng said, “nepotism? Who wants this type of nepotism – eat curry rice (as in jail)?”

I find it revolting, the PM as an elder statesman, taunting the opposition at a stadium which was not allowed to the latter, with all-expenses paid audience. It is like playing football with one team wearing boots with a small goal mouth and another team bare-footed with a bigger goal mouth. Is there any pride in winning under such circumstances?

I feel vindicated when I read Dr. Azmi Sharom’s well-articulated article in The Star, who seems to share a particular viewpoint of mine expressed 6 years ago:

Thursday April 17, 2008
Under threat? What threat?
BRAVE NEW WORLD
By AZMI SHAROM

Since the recent general election, voices have risen up in a shrill warning cry that the Malays are now ‘under threat’. But perhaps the real threat is the threat to Umno hegemony.

AND so it begins. Race-based rhetoric has raised its ugly little head in response to a democratic process. Over 49% of the people of Malaysia have voted for parties that have rejected race-based affirmative action in favour of a needs-based platform.

It did not take very long for voices, both common and royal, to rise up in a shrill warning cry that the Malays are now “under threat”.

“Under threat” from what, may I ask? Let’s take a bit of time to look at this so-called “threat”. Firstly, Malays are given special protection under Article 153 of the Constitution.

Article 153 is titled “Reservation of quotas in respect of services, permits, etc, for Malays and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak”. Article 152 states that Malay is the National Language. The Supreme Head of the Federation, according to Article 32, is the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, a Malay ruler. This is the foundation of Malay “special privileges”.

None of the Pakatan Rakyat component parties, including the DAP, have said anything about removing Articles 153, 152 and 32. They remain safe and secure with no sign whatsoever of any sort of threat. Besides, in order to change it, you would need a two-thirds majority in the lower and upper houses of Parliament plus the support of the Conference of Rulers. The last time I checked, no one has a two-thirds majority in the Dewan Rakyat.

Secondly, due to simple demographics, it is unlikely that a totally non-Malay party is ever going to win absolute control of the government. Of the five state governments in the hands of the Pakatan, four are led by a Malay Mentri Besar.

Penang is an exception, but Penang has been led by non-Malays since the 60s. Why was there was no outcry before this?

Thirdly, the proposed doing-away with the NEP (or whatever it is called nowadays), I suppose, can be seen as a threat to the Malays.

But how it can be a threat is beyond me, because the replacement suggested by the Pakatan is not some sort of laissez-faire capitalist economy. Instead, it is an economic system with affirmative action promised to those in need.

If the Malays are the largest group of people in Malaysia who are in the most need, then they will get the most help. If they are not in the most need, then why on earth do they need help then? This is the point where I will get angry letters about how the NEP is needed; because in the business world – the real world which I know nothing about because I am just a lowly-academic trapped in my ivory tower – Malays are discriminated against by the Chinese. So we need a policy like the NEP to provide some balance.

I disagree.

If there are racist business policies being conducted against the Malays, then you face it head on with anti-discrimination laws.

If some person feels he is being discriminated against, no matter what his race, then let there be a law to help him, and let us punish the racists with a hefty fine or jail term.

You do not meet racism with racism; you challenge it by destroying all traces of it.

The problem with the NEP, as I see it, is that it breeds a mentality of entitlement based on race and not merit. This mentality seeps into governance, and it creates an atmosphere of mediocrity. One example of this is how the Constitution has been disregarded in relation to employment issues.

The Federal Constitution states that you can set quotas at the entry points of government services, for example, the civil service and public universities. However, this is counter-balanced by Article 136 that says all federal employees must be treated fairly regardless of race.

This means that once inside a service, everyone is to be treated equally based on merit. In such a situation, only the cream will rise to the top.

However, since the introduction of the NEP, the practice in government services has been to promote Malays mainly. This has in turn led to a drop in the number of non-Malay actors in the service of the public.

Taking my profession for example, the closeted unrealistic world of academia, I look down south and I see that 30% of the staff in the National University of Singapore Law School are Malaysians.

How come these clever fellows who are good enough to teach in a university that is among the top 20 in the world are not here in the land of their birth? Why are the blinking Singaporeans enjoying our talent? Is it because that talent is all non-Malay and they feel they have better opportunities there than here?

This is a complete waste, and in the end this loss of talent means a loss for the university, the country and the people of this country, including the Malay students who miss out on the best possible teachers.

Perhaps the real threat is the threat to Umno hegemony, in which case my answer to that is this: clean up your act, live up to your promises and listen to what the people are saying.

Make yourself electable by proving that you can create good government.

That is called democracy.

Dr Azmi Sharom is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

(I have highlighted the sentence referred to)

Don't under-estimate the guy who hangs out with musicians...

Yes, the drummer is the person referred to.

Drum beats can never be music to anyone’s ears but the tempo guides the rest of the musicians. However, drummers are also butts of jokes, similar to blondes and Irishmen:

What's the difference between a drummer and a drum machine?
You only have to punch the information into a drum machine once.

What's the best way to confuse a drummer?
Put a piece of sheet music in front of him.

What's the difference between a drummer and a savings bond?
One will mature and make money.

What did the drummer say to the band leader?
Do you want me to play too fast or too slow?

Did you hear about the bass player who locked his keys in the car?
He had to break the car window to get the drummer out.

But to quote Phua Chu Kang, “don’t ‘pray pray’ “with drummers…

as according to a Daily Telegraph (UK) report:

'Drummers are natural intellectuals'
By Gary Cleland

Drummers are better known for their beats than their brain power, but research has suggested that they might actually be natural intellectuals.

Scientists who asked volunteers to keep time with a drumstick before taking intelligence tests discovered that those with the best sense of rhythm also scored highest in the mental assessments.

Born smart? The late Keith Moon, drummer with The Who, could have had natural intellect

Prof Frederic Ullen, from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, concluded that there was a link between intelligence, good timing and the part of the brain used for problem-solving.

He said: "The rhythmic accuracy in brain activity that is observed when a person maintains a steady beat is also important to the problem-solving capacities measured with the intelligence tests."

For the study, Prof Ullen and Guy Madison, from Sweden's Umea University, asked 34 right-handed men aged between 19 and 49 to tap a drumstick at a variety of different intervals.

They were then given a psychometric test of 60 questions and problems.

Prof Ullen said: "We found that people with high general intelligence were also more stable on a very simple timing task.

"We also found that these participants had larger volumes of the white matter in the brain, which contains connections between brain regions."

Scans of the brain have shown that it uses a wide distribution of areas to listen to music.

The left side tends to process rhythm and pitch and the right looks after timbre and melody.

Incidentally, I was at Mahogany music shop in Amcorp Mall, PJ and saw a contraption that looks like parts of a scaffolding frame – black tubes on three sides held together by brackets. The only give-away was a foot pedal and a console on the left. When asked, the shop assistant said it is actually an electronic drums kit! I thought it was just a support for electronic drums kit which at least shows some round pads to show some semblance of drums. Anyway, she was willing to connect it to a nearby amplifier and I had a go at it. The most disappointing part was the hi-hats and cymbal, which could never give the ‘bounce’ of the real stuff. Its price has dropped from Rm6,000 plus to Rm4,200 but I would rather have the one with round pads (picture below) instead of bars (imagine the frame supporting the round pads but without those pads!) if I wish to have an electronic one.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

DAP's Save-Save culture

A few years ago, I attended a forum in Ipoh and had the opportunity to chat with Charles over a meal of Nga Choi Kai (boiled chicken with bean sprouts) hosted by MP, Kulasegaran. Others included Lim Kit Siang, Thomas Su, Teresa Kok and Richard Yeoh.

He was already known as the ‘Water man’ or rather an authority on water management and conservation and even then, I expected him to move from activist to politician. I think it is really good to have experts in various fields to be involved in managing our country.


MP: Seek Underground Water Instead of Building Dams
Chan Kok Leong Apr 15, 08 3:51pm, Malaysiakini
================================================
Klang parliamentarian Charles Santiago questioned the rational behind the Selangor government’s decision to continue with the Pahang-Selangor dam project.

Noting that the project would bring more harmful effects than benefits, the DAP politician said that Selangor should re-consider and look at other options.

“Instead of building a dam in Pahang, which will cause many environmental and ecological detriments, the Selangor state government should explore other options.

“And while there is no guarantee (as rainfall may reduce drastically due to global warming and climate change) that a dam in Pahang will provide a steady flow of raw water to Selangor, the effects of a permanent dam are irreversible,” said the 48-year-old political scientist when contacted today.

Instead of a dam, Selangor should explore the possibility of tapping into Perak’s underground water reserve, Santiago suggested.

Enough underground water

According to Santiago, who is a director of NGO Monitoring Sustainability of Globalisation (MSN), there is enough underground water in Batang Padang, Perak to solve the state’s water woes.

“According to our studies, the catchment is capable of providing some 2,000 million litres per day (mld).

“Furthermore, the Environmental Impact Assessment for the project overestimated Selangor’s needs. The report said that Selangor needed 3,000mld in 2001 but in reality the actual usage was only 2,647.6mld that year.

“Added to the fact that population growth in Selangor is only 1.6 percent as opposed to the report’s estimates of four percent growth per annum, Selangor should have adequate water,” said Santiago.

Besides the environmental damage, Santiago said that many orang asli who live in the area would also have to be relocated.

Higher cost to consumers

Not helpful either, he added, is the higher cost to consumers in Selangor.

“If they piped the water down from Perak, it would be cheaper as no mega infrastructures would need to be built,” he reasoned.

The Pahang-Selangor dam project is estimated to cost RM9 billion to construct.

“What the Selangor government should also do is to create more projects to conserve water, not build more mega dams. Climate change and global warming is a reality and people should be educated on its preciousness and not abuse it,” he added.

The Pahang-Selangor dam was mooted by the National Water Council to avert water crisis in Klang Valley in 2000. Under the plan, a 37.5km tunnel from Telemong Dam and Kelau Dam in Pahang to rivers in Selangor.

The tunnel which will go through the Main Range will enable 1,000mld of water to be piped into Selangor. Water, diverted into Selangor’s rivers, will be subsequently channeled into the Langat and Semenyih dam.

BN's Spend-Spend culture

Nades in The Sun:
Song and dance while others suffer
Besides, there’s an expenditure for shirts and uniform. Why should Joe Public pay for these people to strut around in tailor-made shirts? Please tell us why they deserve to be given even clothes!
R. Nadeswaran

ON Monday, the sports fraternity, police officers and government officials pored over details on the route the Olympic Torch will take when it arrives on our shores. Foremost on their minds was what to expect from protesters – sympathisers of Tibet and members of the controversial and much-maligned Falungong sect which is banned in China.

If I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t worry much about these groups. I would rather be frightened of Malaysians who have managed to get a copy of the annual report of the Women’s Sports and Fitness Foundation Malaysia (WSFFM), which discloses some sordid details.

Malaysians would rather protest against how their money has been mismanaged than bother about what’s going on in Tibet.

Financial statements published in annual reports never go into details, most of the time, being lumped one under sub-headings; but the foundation’s report for last year makes compelling reading. But before that, something on this organisation – WSFFM.

According to its website, the foundation is devoted to the empowerment of women through sports and fitness. The foundation, the website says, has pursued this goal from 1995 along with “our humble quest to enlighten women on the significance of sports and fitness as a national agenda”.

It also says (reproduced verbatim): The chairperson of WSFFM, Dato’ Seri Azalina Othman Said, is a leader with a distinction, inspiring and is truly sincere in making a difference in women’s life. It’s indeed an honor for the Foundation to have the first woman Minister of Youth and Sports as our Chairperson. Dato’ Seri Azalina has always advocated unity and women empowerment through sports. She has motivated and enabled girls and women to reach greater heights. The realizations of her vision and strategic plans have already begun and been proven.

But looking at the income and expenditure, one wonders whether these goals have been achieved. Let’s look at the income: The National Sports Council gave a grant of RM9.72 million and another RM1.5 million came from the Youth and Sports Ministry. There were two smaller amounts – RM200,000 from the Olivia Newton John concert and RM110,000 from Datuk Dina Rizal’s Sports Unite Sdn Bhd.

No one will complain about that. But when the page is turned and the expenditure is listed out, one cannot but be aghast over how the money had been used. Before even one sen is spent, the question that should be foremost on the minds of the people who are holding public money in trust should be: How will doing this help the sportswomen?

For purposes of easy reading and understanding of the issues involved, here’s where the bulk of the money went:
• Grants RM1.18 million
• Meals and Accommodation RM2.1 million
• Media and Advertising RM932,000
• Post and Production RM710,000
• Printing and Stationery RM710,000
• Rental of Equipment RM865,400
• Volunteers’ Allowances RM242,000
• Wages RM117,700
• Entertainment RM1.4 million
• Travelling and Transportation RM858,000

But before anyone argues that this foundation is a non-governmental organisation and the media has no right to question how it spends money, let it be said that this foundation received more than RM11 million in taxpayers’ funds. Every right-thinking Malaysian must ensure that it is spent prudently and for the benefit of the rakyat and not on self-seeking or syiok sendiri projects.

If meals, accommodation and entertainment accounted for 30% of the expenditure, then something is wrong with the system and no one cared for a basic principle called prudence.

Besides, there’s an expenditure for shirts and uniform. Why should Joe Public pay for these people to strut around in tailor-made shirts? Please tell us why they deserve to be given even clothes! Then there’re payments totalling RM250,000 as “gifts and condolences”. What the heck is this? Why is taxpayers’ money being used to buy such expensive gifts and messages of condolences?

And it cost RM100,000 for the “upkeep of temp(orary) secretariat. What? Then, there’s this payment of RM20,900 as “professional fee”. For what and to whom? What kind of professional services were rendered?

Who did they entertain for RM1.4 million or who did they pay that sum of money for to be entertained? Of course not Newton-John because she performed at Genting which donated RM200,000 from the ticket sales. So, where did our money go?

What could have been done with RM1.4 million? For a start, at least 1,000 of those who live below the poverty line could have received RM100 a month each in allowances for a year! At least 100 children with heart diseases could have gone for surgery without having to go on the streets with begging bowls.

And imagine a handful of people entertaining or being entertained while the poor eat kanji as their only meal or while children continue to suffer, unable to afford treatment. Is it justified?

If there’s nothing to hide, just open the books for public scrutiny. After all, our money was used. And to the National Sports Council: How did you approve such a sum of money for all these luxuries?

Don’t forget, the allocation for sports is not for entertainment, shirts or meals. And the director-general and the board members owe a responsibility to the taxpayers by telling us the truth, but nothing but the truth.

R. Nadeswaran says spending millions of taxpayers’ money on entertainment and food is unforgivable and those responsible should be named and shamed. He can be reached at: citizen-nades@thesundaily.com

It would be wise for Azalina to refute the allegation of extravagance when she was Youth & Sports Minister by providing details, unless she considers this beneath her and challenge Nades to stand for election!

Anyway, I visited the site and got the impression that it looks more like Azalina The Star site than a women organisation’s.

NST) PUTRAJAYA: The Anti-Corruption Agency will look into a minister's links with a non-governmental organisation that purportedly spent RM1.4 million of public funds on entertainment claims.

The minister is the chairperson of the NGO, which receives grants from the government.

An ACA source said the NGO's annual reports would be scrutinised, although this did not mean the agency was opening investigation papers.

"The ministry gives the NGO grants and it is its prerogative to spend the money. However, we will do a thorough check and look at their annual reports," the source said.

More information had to be gathered before deciding whether investigation papers would be opened, the officer added.ACA deputy director-general Datuk Abu Kassim said he would comment on the case after receiving more information from his officers.

In an immediate response, the Women's Sports and Fitness Foundation Malaysia (WSFFM) emailed to newspapers its explanation on its spending.

WSFFM said it organised the National Women Games last year, with the participation of 3,400 athletes and 600 officials.

It also hosted an international conference, attended by 289 participants, and various courses for 780 officials.

For the games, it provided free internal transport between the games village and competition venues, as well as meals for athletes and officials.

It also gave gifts of pillows, pillowcases, bedsheets and blankets to the athletes and officials. Each set was priced at RM44.

WSFFM explained that these were given as it would have cost the organisers RM60 per person per day to rent them at the games village.

T-shirts were also given to athletes, officials, volunteers, technical officers and others for easy identification.

On grants, it said RM30,000 was given to each of the 15 state sports council and to the national sports associations for organising the competitions.

The email also listed wages and allowances but no amount was given.

On the RM1.4 million entertainment bill, WSFFM said: "The precise definition of the term entertainment used in the accounts encompasses a broad range of expenses related to sports events, athletes and team management participating in the National Women Games 2007."

This included ceremonial events, opening and closing ceremonies, and prize-giving ceremonies.

"The WSFFM is able to justify every single expense and investment the government, Ministry of Youth and Sports and the National Sports Council provide to women and sports through us.

"There is no manipulation in our expenditure, no one has taken a single sen for personal gain and we have been very transparent to publish this for public consumption."

I am sure most people would like to know more than ‘able to justify every single expense’ as in whether there were cheaper alternatives, deliberate over-charging, or whether certain items were in fact necessary, and not just having vouchers to substantiate expense items which any purveyor can provide.

BN's Win-Win vs PR's Work-Work

We have heard enough of win-win solutions by BN which invariably resulted in benefits to the party or leaders and cronies but the taxpayers ended up paying exorbitant prices or having to pick up the costs of repairs or remedial action for sub-standard products or services.

BN Members of Parliament and ADUNs are known for their high living and most become property developers and company directors of big companies because of their close relationships with the government hierarchy.

Ministers and Chief Ministers become super rich because of the numerous opportunities to enrich themselves. There is no need for prior experience as the private sector entrepreneurs are more than willing to offer schemes for participation on a win-win basis.

On the other hand, Chief Minister of Penang, Lim Guan Eng quipped that what he lacked was experience in corruption when asked about the lack of experience in managing a state government. If not for security and state protocol or other reasons, I believe he would not mind living in a room in his father’s house.

DAP MPs and ADUNs are known for their hard work, frugal means and anti-corruption stance. A good example is Teresa Kok and she had put it well in her blog, amid accusations of her being ... greedy (?):

You have been criticised for contesting and winning both the Seputeh parliament and Kinrara state seat. You are also currently being seen as taking on too many posts and earning a substantial sum in allowances. What is your response?

You must understand why in the March elections I walked the extra mile to contest in a state seat. Nobody expected us to be in the government, to be honest. So when things happen in that way, then you have to look at the DAP line-up in the state assembly. You have to look at their background and you know there are so many new faces in politics.

The more qualified ones are in Parliament and I am one of the more senior politicians who is now a state rep. The choice (open to) the party to nominate exco members is in a way limited. You have to recognise this fact first. I read Malaysiakini and Dr Kua (Kia Soong)’s comments and felt it was very unfair to me and my colleagues.

Going back to why I contested in Kinrara - the seat was seen as difficult to win by DAP Selangor. There was no strong leader or candidate who wanted to contest in that seat.

So I was asked to use my reputation and my identity as a woman candidate to try to capture a state seat and strengthen the opposition force in the Selangor assembly. That was the intention. That made me walk the extra mile, spend extra money, hire extra people to help win that seat.

When we won, the party had to choose who would become state exco members. Look at the background of the four who were nominated - Teng Chang Khim, Ronnie Liu, Ean Yong Hian Wah and me - three of us are the more senior ones.
Now it came back to whether I should take the challenge or not. I’ve been in Parliament for two terms, I’m more senior in politics. I’m wearing two hats only - as state exco and MP. What I can do now is to work harder.

I need to work harder, spend more money and hire more assistants. Do you know how much is needed to maintain this office? I hire three staff-members. It costs me RM10,000 per month. My rental is RM1,000 plus, telephone bill RM1,000 plus, electricity comes up to RM600-700, and my three staff are paid RM2,000 plus.

The Kinrara side has three full-time staff now. With all these expenses you can imagine how much I spend in maintaining my service centres. When people say that I earn more it’s very unfair.

I am hoping that the opposition-run states are able to show excellent examples of good governance and transparency in state administration, which would benefit the nation in the long run. It would encourage more professional politicians instead of the usual self-serving ones. Only the genuine hard-working ones need apply.

Angels in training?




Monday, April 14, 2008

Prophets of doom and contradictions of sorts

At a wedding dinner, a relation who is a devout Buddhist, said Goddess of Mercy, Guan Yin, said (through a medium) that next year, the world will face shortage in food, as in people have money but cannot buy rice, wheat and so on.

A few days ago, my friend forwarded an article, which I have yet to open, on Nostradamus’s prediction that a deadly virus will wipe out the world’s population by 2032.

In Britain, the climatic change had resulted in no White Christmas but snow in Spring!
While Santa Claus couldn’t take the heat, probably down under in Australia or New Zealand (actually meant to post a nude Santa but couldn’t find it in my file), we have fallen or unwanted angel feeling demoralised.








Meanwhile, in Malaysia, we have predictions that today, Anwar will announce something dramatic, that a few days later, Abdullah will face party revolt, if not, Pakatan Rakyat will move a motion of no confidence, and so on and so forth.

What can we do but sit tight, tighten our belt, and brave the unexpected?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Discrimination against foreign spouses remain, unless...

you are of the right race, or well-connected with the powers that be. That's Malaysia - certain things remain unchanged yet many things can be arranged if you know who or how. Met a trader at the Sunday market with a wrist guard and when asked, he jokingly said because of the large amount of money he received 'under the table' which sprained his wrist!

Thirty years ago, a former classmate of mine came back to Malaysia from UK with her Thai husband. I was told he was given 24 hours to leave, not sure because of his nationality or the fact that he married a Malaysian or simply the immigration officer did not like his face! Since then, we have heard of foreign spouses who complained of having to visit the dreaded immigration department yearly, unable to work, and so on.

A close friend, ex-classmate since Stardard One, has a Thai wife. He worked in Malaysia as an accountant and put off by similar hassle, migrated to Australia. I wonder whether people like Marina Mahathir has to face similar problems, though I believe she is the type who would not make use of her connections. But it also depends on the perception of the people who dealt with her, whether they treated her preferentially.

I am prompted to write after reading the following letter spotted in Malaysia Today:

Life of a foreign spouse in Malaysia
Posted by Vineeth Menon
Wednesday, 09 April 2008

There is a huge group of us – spouses of Malaysian Citizens, languishing here in Malaysia primarily because of the treatment meted out by the Government which treats spouses almost as bad as illegal immigrants.

Would you believe that there are many of us here, for 12-20 years still on a dependent pass or an employment pass? We are Permanent Residents in waiting for years and even decades. For foreign spouses in Malaysia it becomes near impossible securing jobs, because the government fails to provide adequate measures of good governance for them. The law if any, is so grey that it varies in interpretation from immigration officer to officer.

Many of us even have to resort to merely doing volunteer service, though it is a necessity to be an income earner. Some of us lucky ones manage to get an employment pass on the spouse visa, however not many employers are prepared to employ a foreign spouse due to the tedious paperwork. Yes ofcourse only employers with a paid up capital of over RM200K can employ us. Many even exploit us and pay some measly sum as token salary. Believe us, it is faster to get an employment pass for our domestic maid, than for ourselves – the spouses of a Malaysian Citizen. When we wish to change jobs, there is a cooling off period to cool our heels for six months. Life in Malaysia is near traumatic for us and here's more..

We have to pay double charges in Government hospitals even when we are delivering Malaysian citizens. We have to pay fees of foreigners to study in Public University. Even when we visit KLCC Aquarium we pay tourist rates, while the rest of our family pay differently even though we are more Malaysian than most Malaysians!!

We have to carry our passports wherever we go, however students, workers and not mistakenly even domestic maids get an icard – such is the treatment for spouses of Malaysian Citizens. A housewife cannot even open an account in some of the Banks, we cannot deposit money through the ATM because our bank account is called an external account.

Oh wait, we forgot to mention the yearly visits to the Immigration – infact it is a joke of sorts amongst spouses, that the "Immigration Department is our Second Home!!"

Long waits, irrespective of infants in our hands, I have seen families travelling from various states to Putra Jaya just to get a spouse visa. By the way we have to be accompanied by our spouses to the Immigration department when the submission is being done, this process can take up to 6-7 hours, more often for submission and approval it takes several visits, never mind that the spouse has just given a declaration that we are still married in front of the commission of oaths.
Why is this section of people so neglected? We take care of our Malaysian families, the future Malaysian generation, yet we are a forgotten segment of Malaysian society.

Husbands of Malaysian women have it even worse, so also we understand that Chinese spouses are not even allowed to apply for PR status. I was told that I was really privileged to even be allowed to submit my document, being a non-chinese!!!
It was shocking to hear this from a civil servant!! Many have left the country in sheer frustration.

At one point, during my interview for PR status, I was asked to leave the room and the lady questioned my husband of 16 years "who was the one to initiate the PR process? was it your wife or yourself?" Is this relevant? When I have children in secondary school? One of the reasons we are told that the process is so lengthy is because of the mis-use by people, to gain PR status.
We are spouses of Malaysians, we are here at such a cost because our spouses do not want to reside in our home country even though prospects there are better. For this sense of patriotism what extent of trouble and hardship the Malaysian Government enforces on our families? Many of us are highly educated and are professionals, and we cannot even get jobs here, so why would we undergo so much hardship for so many years? Only for our families.

Only in Malaysia are we treated to such a circus. This is the 21st Century and will the Home Ministry seriously look into this matter as there are thousands who are waiting to get their Permanent Resident Status. Notwithstanding the stories we hear that in Sabah and Sarawak, many illegals and foreigners are given PR status very easily. If the Minister is only approving authority for PR, and only few approvals per month, and a few at a time, there are a few thousands still waiting, something is very wrong in the system then. We also know that priority is given by the Government for those applying for the more lucrative "Malaysia my Second Home"

In this is a global environment, where travel is so much easier and national boundaries are getting more seamless. The Home Ministry and Immigration should look into its policies and engage itself with more modern policies and practices that reflect good governance. It is only appropriate that spouses of Malaysians should be given fair status and have reasonable rules and regulations.

If the Minister wishes to reply here, I can say without hesitation that YM Raja Petra Kamarudin will publish the answer on this site, for this is a site that encourages debate, discussion and good governance.

From: Fifteen Years and still waiting for PR

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Desperate advertisers and a classic response...









This one beats them all:

We have weird advertisements as well as unusual replies. I am not sure about the authencity of the following letter passed round in the net, in response to an advertisement:

Madam:
I am an olden young uncle living only with myself in Bangaloru. Having seen your advertisement for marriage purposes, I decided to press myself on you and hope you will take me nicely.
I am a soiled son from inside Karnataka. I am nice and big, six foot tall and six inches long. My body is filled with hardness, as because I am working hardly. I am playing hardly also. Especially I like cricket and I am a good batter and I am fast baller. Whenever I come running in for balling, other batters start running. Everybody is scared of my rapid balls that bounce a lot.
I am very nice man. I am always laughing loudly at everyone. I am jolly. I am gay.Especially ladies, they are saying I am nice and soft. I am alwaysgiving respect to the ladies. I am always allowing ladies to get on top. That is how nice I am.
I am not having any bad habits. I am not drinking and I am not sucking tobacco or anything else. Every morning I am going to the gym and I am pumping like anything. Daily I am pumping and pumping. If you want, you can come and see how much I am pumping the dumb belles in the gym.
I am having a lot of money in my pants and my pants is always open for you. I am such a nice man, but still I am living with myself only. What to do? So I am taking things into my own hands everyday. That is why I am pressing myself on you, so that you will come in my house and take my things into your hand.

If you are marrying me madam, I am telling you, I will be loving you very hard every day. In fact, I will stop pumping dumb belles in the gym.
If you are not marrying me madam and not coming to me, I will press you and press you until you come. So I am placing my head between your nicely smelling feet and looking up with lots of hope.
I am waiting very badly for your reply and I am stiff with anticipation.
Expecting soon,
Yours and only yours
Ajit Gupchup