10 December 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at
http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.
Wednesday December 3, 2008
Bogged down by negativity

We need to change our culture from a disabling one to an enabling one. But, first, we need to change those in charge of reform.

When you have children growing up, part of the challenges of parenthood is to ensure that they make their way safely in the world without being so protected that they can never be independent.

While we warn them of the many dangers out there, we also want them to be curious and creative so that they may learn to be innovative.

Incurious people or those unwilling to take risks never made great scientific discoveries or found solutions to the world’s problems.

To do that, they must have the freedom to think and to explore the world around them. They must live in an environment that nurtures that curiosity rather than suppresses it, that allows expressions of ideas rather than beats them down.

When I look around our current environment, I wonder how we are ever going to produce that kind of citizen. Every day, we are told about the great many things we cannot do, rather than what we can do.

Our emphasis is to take the same old course in life, to keep our heads down and ask no question. We think of those who see things differently, who ask awkward questions and will not take no for an answer, as aberrations, rebels or sometimes even apostates.

When Barack Obama made his victory speech, his simple message of “Yes We Can” struck a chord even with non-Americans. It was a message that was positive and full of hope. Yet some leaders are not trying to fill us with that optimism, that while times are hard we can still overcome it if we work together.

Instead, we see petty issues being made gargantuan and a constant negativism being touted. The good and the upright are the ones who sit obediently and demand nothing while the evil and the lost are those who demand answers to life’s problems and reject simplistic ones. Everything is a big no-no; life feels like a giant minefield we have to navigate, lest one wrong move results in us being blown to pieces.

How do we innovate if we constantly have to think of whether our souls can survive? What new things can we discover if we’re constantly told to take no risk?

How do we solve the big problems of the world when we are constantly being distracted by minutiae?

The polio vaccine would never have been found if Dr Jonas Salk had not discovered that injecting someone with dead poliomyelitis viruses would cause the body to produce antibodies against it.

The result of this discovery is that thousands of people all over the world were saved from this crippling disease. A few years later Dr Albert Sabin discovered the non-invasive form of immunisation by giving children polio drops.

These types of discoveries would not have happened if these two people had not used their brains to find creative solutions. But imagine if someone had told them that they needed to get dispensation from some religious authority first or they lived in an environment where thinking of new ways to solve a problem was discouraged?

Despite 50 years of efficacy, as late as 2003, some Nigerian Muslim authorities saw it fit to make unfounded claims about the polio drops, resulting in this easily eradicable disease spreading to 12 new countries within 18 months.

How do we expect our children to find the next big thing, perhaps a cure for AIDS, when they live in such an un-nurturing environment? When the mainstays of policy are not sound and rational research but personal whims and fancies which brook no dissent from anyone else?

Perhaps that is the real reason behind our inertia regarding reforming our education system. Why should we change it to one that makes our children think, because then they will ask even more awkward questions.

Perhaps we realise that in order to reform our education system, we have to first reform those of us who are in charge of that reformation.

And those people are notoriously unwilling to do so because once that is done, it will be like opening Pandora’s Box.

Imagine, suddenly lots and lots of young people will be asking endless questions! And we might not be able to answer them, or worse, tell them they should not be asking such questions at all.

Yet, among a thousand annoying questions, there might be one really brilliant one that lets us think in a new way. By not allowing the many, we may never find that one that can change our lives for the better. What a loss that would be!

We need to change our culture from a disabling one to an enabling one. But it won’t happen if we allow the negativists to rule.

20 November 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.
Wednesday November 19, 2008
Open the minds of the young

For there to be an intellectual renaissance at university level, we must have students whose minds have been primed from young to be open to new ideas.

YEARS ago when my daughter was getting her UPSR results, I waited at home chewing my nails. She had refused to let me accompany her to school for the results so I had to wait, hardly able to breathe, at home.

Luckily she had a happy score to give me and we all celebrated afterwards.

As I scanned photos of anxious parents waiting, I recall that time and sympathise. No matter what anyone says about how standards are slipping, you still worry for your children and want them to successfully get over this hurdle.

It is only when you do not have children going through this process, that you begin to look at our exam-oriented education system with a more dispassionate eye.

We groan and moan about how our kids are only learning to pass exams and nothing else, yet every year we exult in the numbers of As our kids get.

Each exam cycle, we reinforce the importance of As even while we complain about how our children are automatons who are unable to think creatively or apply whatever they learnt.

The other week our Deputy Prime Minister called for “an intellectual renaissance to open up and liberate the minds of students”, stating that this should start in universities.

While I agree that we should certainly have such a renaissance, surely starting at university level is just way too late.

How do you undo twelve years of robotic learning and the total suppression of curiosity and enquiry?

For there to be an intellectual renaissance at university level, you must have students whose minds have been primed from young to be open to new ideas.

Yet in both primary and secondary school, children are generally not encouraged to ask too many questions or to use their own initiative to find answers that they need.

The sole purpose of school is to get through the syllabus and to be ready for exams. How do you have an intellectual renaissance (which means “rebirth”) when you have not given birth to it, nor nurtured it in the first place?

We complain about the quality of graduates that our universities are producing and how unemployable they are. But did this unemployability start in university or even sooner?

If you come to university without the necessary skills to cope with whatever “intellectual” acumen you are supposed to pick up there, can three years bring you up to speed?

Last August, I had the opportunity to visit a wonderful project called the Asian University for Women (AUW) in Chittagong, Bangladesh.

Set up to provide tertiary education to young women from poor families around Asia, the AUW aims to produce women leaders who will go back and become assets to their own countries.

New students do not go straight to university courses. Instead they begin at the Access Academy where they are taught four subjects; English, Mathematics, Computer skills and Critical Thinking.

When I met them, the first batch of students had been there only four months. But they spoke excellent English and were able to give highly sophisticated presentations using computer and video­making skills.

They could articulate what they wanted for their own futures. The Cambodian girls, for instance, were envisioning what they themselves might do for their country were they to take over the helms of government.

These girls came from even less-advantaged backgrounds than many of our own back home. Yet their confidence was impressive.

One student even wrote to me to correct something I had written afterwards. You just know that these girls are going to become something one day.

So why can’t we do the same thing? Why can’t we spend time and money to prepare our students for that intellectual “renaissance” by teaching them what they really need? Critical thinking particularly is something they could all use.

Of course for them to be able to use their skills effectively at university, you need university environments that are open, liberated and conducive to debate and discussion. Otherwise university is simply an extension of school. And we’ve seen what that produces.

As the AUW has shown, English is an important skill that every potential leader needs. I am heartened to see that most UPSR students answered their Maths and Science papers in English. Hopefully, that would discourage any move to reverse the policy.

Indeed it should be reason to extend the policy to include other subjects or at least to have innovative programmes to improve English proficiency.

All parents want their children to have a good education. I doubt any parent would be selfish enough to seriously disadvantage their child for merely political reasons.

If that happens, I fear the day when students graduating from a new university in Bangladesh would be more employable than any from ours.

05 November 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at
http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.
Wednesday November 5, 2008
Energised and empowered

Even if we don’t have all the religious knowledge, we still have a conscience. And it tells what is right and what is wrong.

EARLIER this year I attended a workshop by two female Indonesian Islamic scholars. It is rare that I would leave such a workshop feeling good but this one left me feeling energised and empowered.

These two women undoubtedly had all the religious educational credentials. They knew their Quran and hadiths thoroughly.

But what was different was that they were able to apply their knowledge to real-life situations and were able to see how misinterpretations can lead to injustices, the very opposite of what Islam intends.

In the course of the workshop, they were asked about the frequent criticism thrown at people like me who are critical of religious scholars who pronounce unjust edicts. Apparently, I am not allowed to criticize because I never studied at a religious institution, am female and don’t cover my head.

The two women scholars had a very simple answer to that: even if we don’t have all the knowledge, we still have a conscience. So if something feels wrong, it probably is.

We are all given a conscience which acts like an internal compass, which tells us what is right and what is wrong. Regardless of what religion we profess, our conscience tells us the same things. This is why nobody can say that killing is ever right, for instance.

Thus, when certain people claim that women hold a lesser position in the eyes of God, you know in your heart that that cannot be right.

Similarly, with other claims that just don’t sit right in your conscience, the ones that ensure that certain people are discriminated against, or are just unfair; you know that they cannot possibly be right in a religion that places justice and equality front and centre.

Of late, there have been several religious issues that have been greeted with howls of protest by people of conscience. Yet there are others who say that such pronouncements must never be questioned because ‘highly intelligent and expert’ people make them.

How one knows this is questionable, since the process of passing fatwas is hardly transparent.

When questioned why there are no fatwas on corruption and other contemporary blights on society, the response is that these things are in the Quran and ‘everyone’ already knows they are haram. If that were so, then why is it that corruption is so rampant?

I accept that fatwas are to clarify things that are unclear. But that unclear nature means that it is open to interpretation that, in turn, is subject to human fallibility.

Contemporary issues that did not exist in the time of Prophet Mohamed are not mentioned in the Quran. Therefore, modern religious scholars have to transpose Quranic guidance onto these issues, a process that is fraught with danger, not least because contemporary issues are often complicated and require sophisticated research.

You have to wonder about priorities, however. What endangers a society more; corrupt citizens and leaders or yoga practitioners and females who dress in a masculine fashion?

Yet there are so many of us who are unwilling to trust our own conscience and would prefer to trust the robed and the turbaned to make rulings on things which we should be able to judge on our own.

We do have choices, and we make our choices by listening to our conscience. Yet there are so many who say that we should not question any such rulings, even when our conscience tells us that they cannot be just.

We never seem to wonder why is it there are no positive fatwas at all, those that tell us that we can do something rather than forbidding us. It does not take much thought to simply forbid every contemporary challenge; it takes much more intelligence to encourage people to move forward and face them by themselves.

Sometimes it seems that we believe ourselves to be babies who constantly need our hands to be held so that we don’t fall. Yet it is when we fall that we learn how to stabilise ourselves and learn to walk properly.

At the moment, we can hardly breathe for fear of finding ourselves on the path to hell. What a great atmosphere to grow in.

If we need fatwas to clarify, then perhaps we should have the National Fatwa Council make a ruling on the following: And if ye fear that ye will not deal fairly by the orphans, marry of the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four; and if ye fear that ye cannot do justice (to so many) then one (only) or (the captives) that your right hands possess. Thus it is more likely that ye will not do injustice. (Surah An-Nisa 4:3)

28 October 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.
Wednesday October 22, 2008
Banning won’t solve anything

Wise leaders should know that when people are united by a common cause in their heads, it is very hard to dislodge this idea. Banning something or an organisation will not change their minds.

One of those “truisms” that parents have to contend with is that if you tell your kids not to do something, chances are that’s exactly what they will do.

Which makes life hard for parents trying to protect their children from harm but nevertheless necessitates some creativity in finding ways to get the message across in the right way.

I think sometimes governing a country works in the same way. If you tell people not to do something, they are not really going to listen unless you have credibility.

That comes with being able to give persuasive reasons why something must not or cannot be done, as well as what would happen if they did do it.

I don’t think that banning anything works. For one thing, it is a shortcut for not explaining the reasons why banning happens and for another it shows a lack of creativity in trying to get people to understand.

In our country, we happen to like banning books.

Most of the time we are given no real reason why certain books are banned other than that they are likely to “cause confusion”. Why exactly that is, we are not told.

Hence, people find one way or another to find these books elsewhere and to smuggle them into the country. If nothing else, the reason why they do this is just to find out what exactly is in these books that would cause them to be banned.

I’ve read a few banned books and thus far, I cannot see anything that anyone who is educated and well-read would object to in them.

The same thing happens with organisations.

After Sept 11, the United States banned anything to do with al-Qaeda. Anyone who had even the remotest of links with the organisation (or even less than remote) had no chance of ever getting a visa to visit America.

In fact, very few countries in the world, including Muslim ones, would welcome al-Qaeda within their borders.

Yet it lives on, precisely because it is not an organisation built like other organisations with formal structures. It simply exists because of the commonality of ideas (and grouses) among its “members”.

The same can be said of other organisations that come together because of a common grievance or cause. They may have nothing to do with any form of terrorism and their leaders may have dubious reputations.

But once the idea behind it has taken off, there is no way of banning it on a legal basis. Membership exists only in people’s heads, not on any piece of paper.

Wise leaders should know that when people are united by a common cause in their heads, it is very hard to dislodge this idea.

In the 50s, once the idea of independence had lodged in the heads of the people of Malaya, it was very hard to get rid of it.

The road to independence became inevitable and whatever was in people’s heads soon translated into legal papers.

The British saw the futility of insisting on keeping the colonies under their thumb.

As a result, they let them go mostly peacefully and relations have remained generally good until today and benefited all sides.

Colonial powers that have resisted independence movements elsewhere have found themselves in very expensive wars to keep their colonies, to the benefit of no one.

We should learn to differentiate between structured organisations that we can see and deal with, and the more difficult organisations that only exist in people’s minds. We can bring all sorts of punitive measures on the former but virtually nothing on the latter.

We cannot go around asking people what is in their heads because they will never trust us enough to tell us the truth. So they may all say they do not belong to an organisation but instead remain true to the idea.

To win that battle, it is important to recognise why such ideas even take root. Perhaps they have a germ of justification. Perhaps what they were complaining about has some basis.

When we wanted independence, the British understood that there was a basis for it. While Americans these days are wanting out of Iraq, not recognising that fact can be detrimental to people wanting to lead them.

To simply dismiss such ideas as being totally without basis, that people’s grouses are just imagined, is stupid and dangerous.

Like our teenaged children, there is no better guarantee to keep an idea fertilised and ever-growing than by insisting that they are imaginary and therefore not worth anyone’s time.

Today’s parents are told to respect our children’s grouses and to listen properly in order to gain their trust and find some solution that suits all sides. Surely governments should do the same?

28 September 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.
Wednesday October 8, 2008
Up close with the contenders

The US Presidential debates give voters the opportunity to closely watch the candidates in action and really get to know what they are like.

I’M SURE many Malaysians have been watching some politicians with great interest on TV and in the newspapers lately. No, I don’t mean Malaysian politicians but American ones.

As the race in the US Presidential elections enters its final stages, I find the whole process riveting. We may argue whether it is truly democratic or not, given that voter turnout is often far lower than ours, but it’s still fascinating to watch.

This has already been a historical election because, for the first time ever, an African-American has a serious chance of being President of the United States, something unimaginable less than a decade ago.

But if he loses, some history will be made because they will have a woman as Vice-President, and only one heartbeat away from being President as well.

But it is the whole process of electing the president that is fascinating. Complicated it may be, but it doesn’t matter if it works.

It does give the choice of who gets nominated right down to the individual member of each party as caucuses of party members all over the country decide the nominations. Without getting their blessings, there is no way of becoming a candidate on either party ticket.

Anima ted: Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin responding to cheers at a St Louis rally last week. The candidates reveal a lot through their expressions and gestures. — AFP

Then when party candidates are nominated, they go through a gruelling campaign period where you really get to know what they are like, or at least what their spinmeisters would like you to know.

It all costs a lot of money no doubt but it gives the voter plenty of information on what the candidates’ policies, priorities and values are, as well as the trivialities about their families and background.

On their websites, you can read where each candidate stands on just about everything from the economy to religion to women to sex education.

In the past week, the Presidential debates have begun on TV. Set up by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, there will be three Presidential debates and one Vice-Presidential debate. Two have already been aired live and another two will be coming up soon.

I watched almost all of the first Presidential debate between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain.

It amazes me that two people can debate so civilly in such an important arena, aware that millions of people €“ not just Americans €“ are watching them. Undoubtedly they were prepared fully for this, almost scripted, but still things can go enormously wrong on live TV.

I like the format where questions are put to each candidate and then they can rebut each other for a stated length of time before moving on to another topic. You get to cover a lot of ground that way.

The Vice-Presidential debate was more controlled, apparently because the Republicans were afraid that their candidate might trip up. It did not have much in the way of substance, but I found it interesting that while the Republicans stressed experience as their Presidential candidate’s best quality, they then underscored the opposite for their Vice-Presidential candidate.

What I valued most about the debates was the opportunity to really watch the candidates in action and see whether they reveal more through their body language, expressions and gestures than they intended.

Leaders tend to look like leaders, and people do sometimes choose them by instinct. In my book, Obama looked much more presidential and that no doubt helped to up his ratings.

I wish we had such debates here. I know we had some recently but they were after the elections so they made little difference. We should have a commission on debates at election time. Like the US one, all parties should be part of it, decide on the format and when to air them.

We should have one by heads of parties, deputy heads and the candidates most likely to take on particular portfolios, such as finance. I’d love to be able to compare candidates (or rather parties) on women’s issues or human rights or the price of eggs. It would be so nice to be able to have an informed choice for a change.

But most of all, I’d love to be able to decide whether I can trust my country to someone by seeing how they respond and react to ‘live’ questioning.

I’d like to be able to look into their eyes and see if I can spot unease or deviousness, watch if their hands flutter nervously or if they display other signs of being uncomfortable.

I’d like to see if they can think on their feet and not get caught out by a sneaky question. It would also be great if we had moderators who didn’t feel obliged to be too polite.

Mostly the debates would show up calibre. Which is what we truly need now.

24 September 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at
http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.
Wednesday September 24, 2008
We are the leaders we choose

We need skills to select what is correct and feasible. A good leader will learn from a bad decision and not repeat it, nor ignore problems in the hope that they go away.

OUR choices in life are based on the knowledge we have. When we know little, then we make our choices based on that narrow field of knowledge.

For instance, when I was a child, all my friends and I could think of for our future careers were the usual: doctor, lawyer, teacher, maybe stewardess. None of us knew that such occupations as graphic designer or software engineer or even chief executive officer existed. Of course that was partly because there was not yet a need for such things. Furthermore, at the time, we were still limited by what we thought women could do, despite believing that women could do anything.

But our options are not just about having information but also in our ability to sieve through that information well. For instance, nowadays if we are ill, we will trawl through the Internet to find out more about our symptoms and to ascertain what treatments we should get.

But there is so much information out there that it is easy to be confused.

So we need skills to select what is correct and feasible. And if we are truly smart, we will not rely on just the Internet but use it to point towards people who can tell us more.

It is easy to think of individuals behaving in a particular way depending on what information they have. But do collections of individuals such as organisations or even governments act differently?

Ideally, such groups make decisions based on a consensus among them.

But there is always a leader and the leader often influences the rest of the members to make a decision that he or she prefers. It would be hard for a leader to lead if he or she doesn’t like the decision so there has to be a lot of negotiations before a compromise solution is arrived at.

But what if the leader is no good? What if the leader has limited access to information, relying only on what people tell him and then making decisions based on that? What if the information he gets is all wrong?

There is a good way for a leader to know whether he or she got the wrong information and then made the wrong decision. If they notice that people generally react badly, then the decision is probably wrong.

Sometimes people react badly to a good decision because they can’t understand why that decision was made. But then the leader must explain clearly why such an action needs to be taken.

Unfortunately, sometimes we have leaders who don’t notice or do not know that people are reacting badly.

Or, they might be told that people react badly because they are not so smart.

This gives the leader the idea that they must be correct so they repeat the same mistakes over and over again. People get angrier and angrier, yet the leader seems to think that everything is going fine.

What is worse is when a leader simply does not lead. He is slow to respond to any issue that comes up believing it to be minor and which would simply go away if he ignores it. But like the AIDS epidemic for example, denial or ignorance only helps it spread because nothing will be done to prevent it.

Then when it becomes too big a problem, instead of calmly assessing the issue and then deciding what to do, the leader strikes out with punitive measures. And then literally, strikes out.

Most people will accept any decision a leader makes as long as he can reasonably justify it. But what they won’t accept is when not only is the leader unable to justify the action but also gives reasons that insult the intelligence of people. And it’s never a good idea to insult people you owe your position to.

Thus we find ourselves in a position where we have to watch in horror as mistake after mistake is made. It is a bit like watching a car accident happening and feeling powerless to stop it. Except that it takes a while to realise that in fact you can stop it, and if you don’t, the victim of the accident will actually be you.

It is often said that we are the leaders we choose. The people we put in power are a reflection of ourselves, only better.

So what does it say when the people we put in give a poor image of ourselves? That somehow we are a nation of bumbling fools, stumbling from crisis to crisis without knowing what to do?

“Leadership is based on inspiration, not domination; on cooperation, not intimidation,” said someone called William Arthur Wood.

11 September 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.
Wednesday September 10, 2008
Let the human in us not be coloured

When we talk about race, we talk about groups of people, but on a day-to-day basis, it is not race that matters but the human being that we are dealing with.

WHEN I was a student in the UK, one of the most hated politicians then was Enoch Powell who was constantly railing against immigration in Britain, claiming that it would alter the British “character”.

Powell was so strident with his views – expressing them in his now infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech – that his own Conservative Party, despite years of service that had enabled the party to win elections, eventually sacked him.

This was in a country that values freedom of speech. Yet the party felt that someone as extreme as Powell could not be a member any more, not if it wanted to move forward in an inevitably changing nation. He could say what he wanted, but outside the party.

We, too, have been known to sack people whose views did not comply with what the heads of the party regarded as theirs. This is not the same as censoring them, only that they had to do it outside. Thus the dignity of the party remains intact, not tainted by what they regarded as aberrations.

No doubt, sometimes regarding people as aberrations may be unjust because in fact they represent views that simply differ from the norm.

But dealing with such issues clearly gives everyone else an idea of what the norms and aberration are. Not dealing with it creates confusion and raises the possibility that maybe the aberration is not one at all, but in fact just the public expression of the norm.

We fought so long not to stereotype our people according to race by increasing educational and economic opportunities. Yet we still see it happening.

In local schools, children are pushed into certain sports not by ability but purely by race. Thus, Punjabis must play hockey and not chess, Malays must play football and not tennis, while Chinese must only play badminton.

Is it any wonder that they don’t excel in any sport? You have to wonder where the powers-that-be in that school got their ideas from, Mein Kampf?

When we talk about race, we make the mistake of lumping together a whole bunch of human beings, with all their individual quirks, whims and fancies, into what we think is a cohesive body. But it is not. If anything, sometimes race is the most tenuous thing that holds us together.

I may have told this story before. A long time ago, as I rushed through a crowded London Underground, an old Jewish man stopped me. Taking his handkerchief out, he insisted that there was something on my jacket.

It took me a while to understand that the man had seen someone spit on me and was now offering his handkerchief to clean the spittle off.

It was then that I became aware of the awful silent insidiousness of racism, that someone could have displayed such hatred on a total stranger, based entirely on colour of skin. In a way, I should be thankful it was only spit and not something worse.

On the other hand, the same incident made me realise that while there is evil, there can also be much good. I was also a stranger to the old man but he saw me as a human being entitled to respect and dignity.

Thus he empathised with the injustice that was done to me and sought to restore my dignity by offering his handkerchief for me to clean up.

He asked for nothing in return and indeed disappeared into the crowds soon after with not a word more.

When we talk about race, we talk about groups of people, a homogenous faceless group defined by general characteristics that we think of as applicable to all of them. But on a day-to-day basis, it is not the race that matters but the human being that we are dealing with.

I had one of those telemarketing calls offering free medical check-ups the other day. Disturbed by it, I started to question the caller for details.

The woman was undoubtedly of the same race as me. But the sheer rudeness and unprofessionalism of her responses showed that she had no respect whatsoever, neither for the person she was calling nor for her own company or job.

Did it matter what race she was? No, what mattered was that she was unable to make a connection with another human being, even when she claimed to be offering something ostensibly good for me.

Given a choice between these two people, I would sooner take the old man to tea than this woman. He and I have a common respect for human beings that she did not, despite our common ethnicity. Was he the aberration or she?

Since I believe that it is human to be kind, I prefer to believe she is.

02 September 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at
http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.

Wednesday August 27, 2008
A matter of perspective

What we regard as poor in Malaysia would be very rich in Bangladesh. Yet in some ways, their poverty has made them much more innovative than us richer Malaysians.

IT was a moment when I became aware of perspective. I was in Bangladesh talking to the staff of BRAC, the world’s largest NGO that does tremendous work in alleviating poverty.

They asked me what our poverty line was and I replied, relying on memory that it was about US$200 per month.

“Per month?” they asked, “that’s our per capita income!”

In fact, both of us were a bit off the mark. Our poverty level is at about US$218 while Bangladesh’s per capita income is now US$599 (although I have also found a source that says US$1,400).

But the point is, our monthly poverty level is way above their per capita income (ours is at US$14,400). That is an indication of how relative poverty is when you compare different countries. What we regard as poor here would be very rich indeed over there.

This was evident in a field trip I made to a village outside Dhaka to visit women members of the Grameen Bank microcredit project. Over the past 20 years, these women were able to set up small businesses that in turn enabled them to raise their living standards, own property and become more self-confident.

But to understand how their lives have improved, we have to understand what they started with. They started with virtually nothing: no property, no clean water, no opportunity to generate any income nor send their children to school. Now, through the loans they obtained from Grameen Bank and other microcredit facilities, all these have come true for them.

But if Malaysians were to visit them, they would still think these women were poor.

They may have TVs, fridges and mobile phones but they still live in homes with only two rooms, one of which is a bedroom-cum-kitchen. They may own a fleet of rickshaws but no cars. They still buy provisions from the little village grocery shop, not from any hypermarkets. Their children still run around the village in bare feet.

I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. While I would certainly wish for better health and nutrition standards for all poor Bangladeshis, these initiatives and many others that I saw there have made genuine improvements in their lives.

I visited a school for slum kids that has done so well that these kids regularly best their richer schoolmates when they join the mainstream school system.

I visited a safe motherhood clinic that has done much to cut down on maternal and infant mortality in the slums. In many ways, they are doing what we did in the early years after independence.

Yet in some ways, the poverty has made Bangladeshis much more innovative than us richer Malaysians. They have a genuine Nobel laureate in Prof Mohamad Yunus and Grameen Bank for the sheer simple ingenuity of microcredit. We don’t.

Their people may be poor but not lacking in entrepreneurial spirit. Who hasn’t heard of the Telephone Ladies, village women who found a way of making money through the hiring of time on their mobile phones? Or the enterprising villager I saw who installed a satellite dish and is providing cable TV to her fellow villagers?

When people need to survive, they become resourceful and inventive. Sometimes I think that is what we are lacking here; perhaps because we are generally comfortable, price hikes notwithstanding.

The existence of so many NGOs doing excellent work among the poor in Bangladesh may point to a failure of government to provide the basics but it also illustrates a lively grassroots movement, dedicated to empowering the poor and marginalised.

Indeed, it was interesting to me that everyone, from government right down to poor villagers, is not reticent about using the word “empowerment” and means it as well. Here, it is treated as if it’s full of germs.

In Malaysia, we expect the Government to provide everything. It is rightly the Government’s responsibility to provide us with good education, healthcare, infrastructure, law and order. But, sometimes I think this has created a dependency on government that stifles creativity and innovation.

Beyond the basics, how do we help and support the marginalised, the disenfranchised, the disabled, the uneducated and the impoverished? We seem to think that throwing money at them is all it takes.

When was the last time we heard a Minister talk about empowering anyone? Instead, almost always somebody else is blamed for problems: parents, teachers, women, the Opposition, foreigners.

In the past, Malaysians used to go to Dhaka to study at university there. These days Bangladeshis come here to work, mostly as menial labourers.

It’s an abject lesson in not taking development for granted and how, through poor leadership, it can be lost overnight. We should heed that lesson.

Happy Merdeka!

29 August 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.

Wednesday August 13, 2008
News break of a different kind
In the developed world, where information assaults you everywhere, it comes as a relief that the recent headline events unfolding in Malaysia hardly merits a mention.

YOU would think that in these days of information overload, you’d have to hide in a cave somewhere remote in order to escape any news about our beloved Malaysia.

But in fact I did not have to do that at all when I was on a break recently.

I was in the middle of the developed world, where information is hardly difficult to come by, where it almost assaults you from everywhere.

You have TV, newspapers, advertising billboards flashing you news almost wherever you go. There is no escape.

But where did Malaysia figure in all this? Nowhere. Which may come as a relief to most of us, given the general unsavoriness of recent events.

On the other hand, it may mean that there is simply no news about our country worth reporting on.

What we might consider a disaster of a country right now isn’t bad news enough to warrant a mention at all in Western newspapers. There might be some who ask why we should care at all.

Indeed, we are certainly well covered in our neighbours’ papers. But is any of it positive?

Is the tone one of envy at our successes or general smirking at our rapid decline?

No doubt it was a week in which trying to get any column space or airtime was particularly difficult.

The two biggest stories in the week I was away were Obama’s rockstar-like tour of Europe and the capture of Radovan Karadjic, the Butcher of Bosnia.

One good guy and one bad guy are a bit hard to beat.

Almost a quarter of a million people turned up to listen to Obama when he spoke in Berlin, most of whom would never be able to vote for him.

Yet they looked like they wished they could.

The Americans know how to stage these things very well, building a catwalk in front of the Victory Column and working out all the best camera angles.

It almost became immaterial what he had to say; it was the image of Obama in front of that sea of people that was the message that his campaign team wanted to send back home: our boy is not only cool at home, he’s also cool overseas.

Why, no less than the President of France has pretty much endorsed him as his counterpart before a single American vote has been cast.

Indeed, before Obama has even been officially nominated as the Democratic candidate.

The Americans know everything about image building; we should learn a thing or two from them.

Also keeping foreign relations in mind was the Serbian government that suddenly “found” Radovan Karadjic after 13 years.

It turns out that all the while he had been in Belgrade, posing as a long-haired bearded alternative medicine practitioner, a species of folk normally associated with peace and calm, not the wholesale butchering of hundreds of thousands of people on the basis of their religion.

The reason he was finally captured was not because the new Serbian government had a sudden attack of conscience but because they wanted to curry favour with the European Union in order to join their august company.

Still it was nice to know that Karadjic won't be laying his “healing” hands on anyone anymore.

Meanwhile, Obama was doing some laying of hands of his own.

I watched him live on TV answering questions at something called the Unity Summit, a rather odd name for a conference of every type of journalist in the US, except white ones. But I must say he deftly answered some very tough questions.

The representative of the National Association of Native American Journalists asked if he was going to apologise to Native Americans for past wrongs perpetrated by the US government since the Australian and Canadian prime ministers had apologised to their own indigenous people.

He answered it pretty adroitly

by saying it’s better to raise their living standards and increase

their opportunities for advance-

ment than just to apologise for the past.

It made me wonder if we had a National Association of Orang Asli and Other Indigenous Malaysian Journalists to ask the same question of our leaders.

He handled the representatives of the National Associations of Hispanic, Asian-American and Muslim Journalists (“When are you going to visit a mosque, Senator?”) in similar vein.

It was interesting, insightful into his character, and quite entertaining.

Also, impressive, when you consider that he just got off the plane after a whirlwind tour of Europe.

Then I get home to a country where you have to wonder if even this mainstream newspaper was being ironic when they headlined a story on how some students had questioned our PM by saying they had “grilled” him.

And yes, it was the editors who had put the word “grilled” within single quote marks.

17 July 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at
http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.
Wednesday July 16, 2008
In the name of their fathers
The recent announcement that Muslim adopted children must use the names of their biological male parent and not that of their adoptive fathers, as previously allowed, is causing anguish to many an adoptive parent as well as

I wonder what is it about us as a society these days when common sense has now become less commonplace?

Once upon a time we trusted ourselves, in our instincts and in our own values to do the right thing. We empathised with those in unfortunate circumstances and did our best to mitigate their situations.

These days people trust their natural instincts less, preferring to refer to others who tell us they are in authority.

We abdicate the responsibility to think and instead ask for guidance from others and follow that advice even when sometimes instinctively we know that the advice is unfair and incorrect.

A fine example is the recent announcement by the Home Minister that Muslim adopted children must use the names of their biological fathers and not the names of their adoptive fathers, as previously allowed.

Ostensibly, this was to fall in line with a fatwa made eight years ago but whether this solves problems or creates them seems to not be considered at all.

In the first place, the assumption seems to be that adoptive parents always know who the father of their adopted children are. But since babies are often adopted from unwed mothers, the fathers are not always known.

What if the babies are the result of liaisons with foreign fathers who gave false names? What if the babies are the result of rape?

Sometimes babies are adopted from a different race. If Baby A was originally Chinese or Indian and not born Muslim, do they then have to be known as Baby A Tan or Baby B Ramasamy?

Some have argued that the reason for keeping adopted children’s original names is so that they will not accidentally marry their own siblings.

Perhaps there was a risk of this in the days when people did not travel much outside their own communities or tribes.

This is possibly why the Chinese advise against marriage between two people with the same surnames. But with more than two billion Chinese sharing many common surnames, the chances that a Tan from one end of the country being related to a Tan from the other end of the country has become remote.

But if the logic is that you should take your father’s name so that you won’t marry any of your father’s other children, then what protection would you have against marrying one of your mother’s other children (by a man other than your father) that she might also have given away?

Furthermore, the converse logic is also problematic. If you don’t share the same surname as your adoptive siblings, then presumably you can marry them, even if you have grown up with them all your life.

Biologically this may be all right but socially and morally, would this still not be regarded as incestuous?

Woody Allen was neither biologically or even ethnically related to Soon-Yi Previn, yet people still found the liaison between them repugnant because she was his wife’s adopted daughter.

As the sister of several adopted siblings, I know at close hand the problems associated with both having the same as well as different surnames.

All my adopted siblings knew their status from childhood but the problem came from outside the family, not within. People did not treat them the same as us biological children even though they have the same surname.

In some cases, they simply disbelieved their relationship because of the different surnames. Perhaps it is because we are not an ordinary family but I imagine that even in ordinary families, you can still have this problem.

Besides, in Malay families, we do not have surnames. Not every “bin Ali” is related to every other “bin Ali”. You would have to trace back each person several generations on both sides of the family in order to be certain they are or are not related.

How is that possible with adopted children, especially orphans or abandoned children?

This new policy is one that is causing anguish to many an adoptive parent. Adoption has often meant a better life for many orphans. Couples adopt so that they can provide a loving home to children who would otherwise have never known a family.

I know some couples who've adopted children who turned out to be hearing-disabled and they have done everything they can to ensure that their children lead as normal a life as possible.

Already this policy is causing people to hesitate before they adopt. Many others are concerned about the emotional turmoil that public knowledge of their non-biological child’s status will cause, as opposed to private acceptance within the family.

One has to wonder who exactly is to benefit from this new law? It is certainly not the adopted child.

09 July 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.
Wednesday July 2, 2008
Toxic shock syndrome
Anyone who has an opinion finds a counter-opinion. Neither is necessarily founded on truth.

JUST when we thought the atmosphere in our beloved country was toxic enough, it just got even worse.

I don’t know if anyone finds politics and politicians in our country as tiresome as I do these days.

And I mean those of every stripe and shade. Somehow none of them seem capable of behaving like normal people with normal instincts.

Everything is seen and done through a political lens.

Which is fine except that that’s not the way most normal people think.

The worst thing is that after a while, they start infecting others and even ordinary people start thinking the same way.

So people start looking at things through a distorted lens without even realising it.

For instance, it seems an automatic reaction for politicians to regard everything their opponents do as wrong, regardless of what it is.

So even if it is something good for the people, their opponents will impute some sinister agenda to it.

I would be happy to receive anything that makes my life easier from anyone, and I really don’t care to be told that it really isn’t good for me without a convincing argument why.

But how silly has the situation become that even their supporters start thinking the same way, even when their own lives are affected by what their leaders do.

On the other hand, politicians also are quick to defend whatever their own colleagues do as good, regardless of what it is.

If what their colleagues do is totally unconscionable, at the most they will react slowly and gently.

A case in point would be the bocor case last year, when after a rather long time, a non-apology was offered after much persuasion by their own party mates.

This type of attitude seems to have seeped into other people, too.

Double standards seem to prevail.

For instance, the same people who call

for justice to be blind seem to not want to apply this same standard to those they don’t like.

One would think that to prove that justice is indeed non-discriminatory, one would bend over backwards to insist on justice for those one has no great love for.

Instead there is a scramble to take every little bit of gossip or opinion as true.

Yet, if the same were directed at those they like, the response would be that these were “scurrilous” and “politically motivated.”

What sort of example are we setting for the general public with this?

Nowadays everyone sees so many plots and counterplots in everything that the atmosphere has become truly toxic.

Anyone who has an opinion finds a counter-opinion. Neither is necessarily founded on truth.

So there is no advance towards any sort of resolution.

Everyone seems to find it shameful not to have an opinion, even if it is not founded on anything they actually know.

There is no pausing to reflect and consider. To try and learn more so that one can give a measured response to anything.

Even ministers give knee-jerk personal opinions in unbecoming ways.

Small wonder that everyone else feels that they can make foolish unconsidered statements as well.

Not that the media is of any help. News today is simply a string of sound bites.

You get the impression that reporters ask for only three words of reactions rather than a proper explanation of what anyone thinks of any issue.

Responses do depend on the questions being asked as well, and in my experience many of the questions do not go beyond “What do you say to what so-and-so said?”

Unfortunately, politicians lap up the opportunity to show how glib they are.

Perhaps it goes back again to our general attitude towards information.

We want it quickly and in small bits. We don’t want long studied explanations about anything and then have to think about them.

Rumours, gossip and hearsay are what we want to believe.

Unfortunately there are many purveyors of these.

Maybe we should just boycott politicians and politics for a while. Or demand that they behave like normal people and concentrate on real issues.

People are trying to figure out how to feed their families.

That is the most important issue of all. Hungry people are neither patient nor good-tempered.

Nothing except good policies to manage this issue is going to matter.

23 June 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at
http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.

Wednesday June 18, 2008
You walk the talk first

The Government wants us to change our lifestyles to cope with inflation. It is easier said than done since most people were having it difficult even before the hikes. The Government must first set an example by doing things it should have done long ago.

WITH the recent hike in fuel prices and the Government’s exhortations for us to change our lifestyles in order to cope, may I provide here some suggestions for the Government and those who work for it to “share our burden”.

1. Stop having meetings, especially out at resorts, far enough away to be able to claim transport allowances. Have online meetings instead or teleconferences. Use Skype or chat.

2. No need to order special pens, bags, T-shirts, notepads and other goodies for those same meetings.

3. No need to order kuih for mid-morning or teatime meetings in government offices, or nasi briyani lunches for those meetings that happen to end just at lunchtime.

4. Cancel all trips for government servants to conferences overseas unless they return with full reports of what they did there, who they met and what they learnt and how they mean to apply what they learnt at home. Ask them to do presentations to colleagues who did not get to go, on the most interesting and important papers that they read.

5. Scrutinise invoices for contracts to make sure they are truly reflective of what those projects or supplies cost.

6. Stop elaborate launches for government programmes. In particular, stop the buying of souvenirs, special batik shirts, corsages, bouquets and caps.

7. Make all civil servants and politicians travel economy class. That means really travelling at the back of the plane and not buying full fare economy class tickets that allow them to be upgraded to Business Class.

8. Stop having the full complement of police escorts to cut down on petrol costs. If they need to be somewhere by a certain time, start earlier like the rest of us. Wouldn’t be a bad thing for them to also experience a traffic jam.

9. Once a week (or more), have ministers use public transport so they know what everyone else has to suffer. This might provide them with the incentive to improve them.

10. Once a week, let ministers go to a market to buy food for their families with instructions to not spend more than RM100.

11. Get ministers to carpool. They might get more work done just by being able to talk to each other to see what can be coordinated between their ministries. For instance, the Ministers of Health and Women could discuss what to do about women’s health issues in the car on the way to work. Maybe have a secretary to travel in the front seat to take down notes on what was discussed. By the time they get to their offices, things can get implemented.

12. Once a month, get civil servants to work with one disadvantaged group in order to be better able to appreciate their problems. It could be blind people one month, hearing disabled people the next, orang asli the following month and people living with HIV/AIDS after that.

We could start buddy systems which pair one civil servant with one disadvantaged person and at the end of it, ask each pair to make recommendations on how to make life better for each other. This might get rid of the problem of desk jockeys, people who never stray very far from their desks yet make policies for people they know nothing about.

13. Have PA systems that shout out the name of the officers who have to serve people at government offices so that people get the services they came for and don’t have to keep coming back just because the officer was out having coffee.

No counter should be left unmanned for more than five minutes before the officer is paged to go back to their stations. This should cut down waiting time for the public and save them transport costs in having to keep returning just to get one thing done.

14. Government officers who lose people’s files should be fined and have their names publicised for being careless and causing inconvenience to the public. Instead of making the public travel to their offices several times to deal with their problems, they should travel to go see their client and deal with it right there and then.

And every officer who goes out of the office should be given a reasonable time to get his work done after which he is expected back in office so he doesn't waste time doing something else.

15. And newspapers should save paper by reporting real news rather than non-news that they carry, particularly nonsensical utterances by politicians.

As they say, we need to do this all together in order to make a difference. So if the Government and politicians make these lifestyle changes, I will do my part and change mine.

11 June 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at
http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.

Wednesday June 4, 2008
Looking beyond the white blouse

There are many different ways of thinking about the same thing, and if we insist that our way is best, we need to defend it with sound arguments.

I would nominate for “Small Mind of the Year” the announcement by a female student that our schoolgirls’ uniforms are too transparent, and therefore would lead to them being raped, have unwanted babies and all sorts of evil things.

I’m surprised they didn’t mention that these white blouses would also make them corrupt and power-hungry.

It’s nice that a student association is taking an interest in issues. But one would have thought it would complain about the general state of education in this country, rather than school uniforms.

In France, students are taking to the streets to protest against the poor quality of the education in the state schools.

It would be far more impressive if our students complained about the same. After all, they must wonder why they cannot get jobs after studying. Or do they blame it on the alleged state of undress of other people as well?

Perhaps complaining about the education system would reveal that this is why they have become so small-minded.

Instead of breeding big brains with the capacity to think issues out clearly and then hold their ground with solid arguments, we get grey matter that has been squeezed into tiny boxes by an education system that lauds small minds and thinks brains that think expansively are dangerous.

The easiest and cheapest counter-attack is however to use the “freedom of speech” argument, where hole-ridden proposals are recast as opinion, never mind how silly. But these are the same people who would never allow anyone with contrary opinions the same freedom to speak.

It’s an argument that took the Education Ministry rather too long to put down.

And nobody seems to have noticed that neither Minister nor Special Adviser on Women said anything either.

When there are statements like these, nobody should be so polite as to not simply say that it’s silly. Why should we be afraid of offending people who patently have not thought things through?

But we allow it for only one reason: they mentioned religion. Instantly this puts such dubious arguments out of bounds. I have heard people claim that drinking hot water is haram.

If someone proposes a ban on anyone drinking hot water because it is not allowed by a certain religion, do we simply let it pass?

Once upon a time, someone said that it was impossible to land on the moon. If someone still says that today, do we still treat it with reverence?

We see small-mindedness everywhere, with simplistic arguments and solutions to everything. Nobody seems to want to do the hard work of bolstering arguments with hard facts and evidence.

We seem to be proud of not using our brains, as if it’s an organ that is meant just for show. Never mind that in some people, once they open their mouth, the size of the brain becomes evident.

The assumption is often made that the smallness of mind is in direct proportion to the amount of education the person has. But we often see so-called educated people displaying the same narrowness of thinking.

Perhaps it is a factor on how much exposure someone has. I think we should take someone like those who say things like “clothes cause rape” and put them in forums where they have to defend their arguments.

If their arguments can actually stand up to the test, then they’re worth talking about. But how much should I bet that they won’t take up the offer?

I once witnessed the total shock someone with a dubious argument received when he was invited to defend his policies at an international forum overseas. He was so confident he was correct; it did not occur to him that there would be counter-arguments.

Left unable to defend himself, he started to blame others and the organisers for “setting him up”. This is what happens when one lives in an environment where small-mindedness is encouraged, where debate and discussion is discouraged.

If we truly want to develop, we need to teach our children that there is a big world out there; and to be part of that world, we need to learn how to think differently.

We need to realise that there are many different ways of thinking about the same thing, and if we insist that our way is best, we need to defend it with sound arguments, not retreat into the realm of opinion.

Even opinions must have a sound basis, not plucked from the air.

11 May 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at
http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.

Wednesday May 7, 2008
A knee-jerk response, again

The world is too dangerous, therefore women should be kept at home to be safe. Such logic smacks of a patriarchal attitude that is so prevalent in our society; that women cannot fend for themselves and need to be ‘protected’.

IN MY last column I wrote about the need to revamp entire political structures to incorporate more women into decision-making structures. There was absolutely no reaction whatsoever. It might have been too shocking a suggestion, despite the fact that half of our population are women.

The idea of putting women in true leadership positions, where they lead all Malaysians, not just women, must have seemed too radical to even contemplate.

This week we find ourselves with the very reason why this must happen.

In response to the recent spate of young women being caught overseas for smuggling drugs, the Foreign Minister, along with the Home Minister, intended to propose to the Cabinet that all women travelling alone must get their families’ consent.

(The Foreign Minister subsequently clarified the proposal was only meant for those below 21 years old. However, the Prime Minister has shot the idea down. – Editor)

It is extremely revealing that neither minister saw fit to consult the Women, Family and Community Development Minister on this issue.

Is this because they forgot there is such a minister? Do they view the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry as some junior inconsequential ministry that cannot make “important” decisions like this? Small wonder women have not gotten very far at all.

This “brilliant” proposal requiring women travelling alone to get consent before they do so brings up many questions.

Say this was, by the biggest stretch of the imagination, an appropriate thing to do, how would anyone implement it? Would Immigration officers be required to check that each young woman travelling has a letter of consent?

With our new smart passports, we don’t even talk to any Immigration officer. Will we now see women forced to forgo the machines and queue up instead?

At heart it smacks of a patriarchal attitude that is so prevalent in our society; that women cannot fend for themselves and need to be “protected”. But that protection entails curbing women’s freedom for “their own good”.

That was exactly the logic the Taliban used to keep women at home. The world is just too dangerous. Therefore women should be kept at home to be safe, even though this curbs their access to education, employment and even healthcare.

It’s the same mentality that says that women should be told to cover up so that they won’t get raped, or not carry handbags so that those won’t be snatched. Or that books should be banned so that people don’t get ideas that “may” be dangerous.

It’s a mentality that accepts that the world is a bad place and, worse still, nothing can be done about it. Criminals roam free so people must curb their own freedoms so that they would never get in the way of these bad people. Men are inclined to rape, so women must never provoke them.

Funnily enough, nobody suggests that for the protection of women, men should be locked up since they make up the majority of rapists, bag snatchers, thieves and murderers. This is a real indictment of the police since we seem to accept that they are incapable of doing their jobs.

This mentality pervades all levels of society in every way. We have so little confidence in our own people that we imagine that at the slightest opportunity, they will, in a very childlike way, become influenced.

I attended a forum on the banning of books and heard one person say that we should not allow certain books to be sold because our children might read them.

I had to wonder whether he meant orphaned children with no parents or any responsible adult to guide them or all children. Why do we forget about our own responsibilities to teach our children the right values so that they can judge for themselves?

Sometimes I think we don’t want to do the right thing because it is too hard. Educating people to be more savvy about the people they meet, to be more alert when they travel, to be more critical about what they read are all the tools we need to protect our people, including women and children.

But it’s not easy and it takes time before we see the results. Still, that doesn’t mean we should not do it. Just because we still have car accidents does not mean we should stop road safety campaigns; nor should we ban cars.

Our officials can avoid these types of silly proposals if only they thought of consulting people and getting realistic feedback.

They should consult a wide range of people and then weigh what should be done. They should look at empirical data and see which groups of people are particularly vulnerable. Then, and only then, should they respond.

If an alarming number of women are being duped into criminal activity, then we should be educating women about it with suggestions on how to avoid this folly. Sensational stories in the newspapers alone won’t do it.

27 April 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at
http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.

Wednesday April 23, 2008
Glass ceilings of reinforced concrete

Separation by gender and age are these days outdated to say the least. It leads to ghettoizing of concerns, rather than mainstreaming them.

GIVEN the grumbling and rumbling among many women in the last general election about the number of female candidates, perhaps it is now time to think in ways more in keeping with the times.

The fact remains that while there are separated groups of people representing different interests in the main political parties in government, there can never be a truly fair way of selecting candidates.

In many countries in the world these days, political parties are not, like they are in some of ours, divided into Main, Wanita and Youth divisions. Nor are these divisions even further divided into Puteri and Putera divisions.

These separations by gender and age are these days outdated to say the least. It leads to ghettoizing of concerns, rather than mainstreaming them.

For instance, as long as women’s concerns are debated only within Wanita circles, they will remain forever isolated and marginalised. Rarely will they become mainstreamed in debates in the main body of the party.

That special slots have to be given to these concerns in this day and age smacks of condescension, as if women’s issues are unimportant and not also national concerns.

The way it currently works is that women are given seats on supreme councils only by virtue of holding a post within their own wings. Generally, that means they have to be heads of their wings. This means that the representation of women on supreme councils will never exceed two or three at best.

What this ensures is that these women will never feel able to voice out the issues that are important to their women constituents, even though women make up a substantial proportion of overall membership numbers.

When one is a minority on important decision-making bodies, one tends to be meek on gender issues because there is rarely much space allowed to discuss them.

The feeling is that one is entering a boys’ club and therefore must play by boys’ rules. And talking about the plight of women who are discriminated against in the courts by male judges, for instance, doesn’t play well in that club.

The solution would be to do away with these reserved spots for women heads and allow for any woman member to stand for elections for any post directly. Not only will this allow more talent into the pool but will also reflect a party more in sync with the world.

What’s more, because there are more women members, the chances of women winning these seats are higher. Even better, the men will also have to woo the women’s votes and therefore have to display some concern for women’s issues.

We should no longer tolerate the type of gender and age apartheid that occurs in our main political parties. The separation of members by age is even more laughable than the gender one, especially since definitions of youth are elastic to say the least.

While young people may need more experience to lead, that’s not to say that the young have no leadership qualities. And why not have a woman leading all the youth members? Or indeed, the entire party?

When our politicians interact with other politicians from elsewhere, they often find themselves facing very different set-ups. The male president of the party may find himself meeting with his counterpart from another country; but who may be female and young.

Does that make discussions any less important or different? If other people are putting their best people up front, why can’t we do the same? And who’s to say that our best leaders are necessarily men?

At the moment, the way our political parties are set up, they are not only unattractive to the young but also to the most dynamic types of women. We already have glass ceilings in the workplace, but in political parties the ceilings are made of reinforced concrete if you are female.

Just look at the recent discussions as to who might stand for presidential and vice-presidential posts. Not a single female name among them. Does it really say anywhere that women are excluded from these posts?

If our largest political parties truly want to reinvent themselves and attract the young, they have to re-look at their own structures.

They have to erase the lines that separate their members by gender and age and focus on talent. Only then will they bear some resemblance to real life, where every day women are breaking new ground in many different occupations.

We have women nowadays who are heading central banks, securities commissions and supervising the building of large buildings, leading men and women.

Yet, if they were members of these political parties, they can only lead their own sex and no more. How ironic!

13 April 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at
http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.

Wednesday April 9, 2008
Living in denial

Denial is a dangerous trait to have because it blinds us to problems we need to confront in order to solve them

ALL the years I spent working on the AIDS issue, one of the biggest problems we faced in many countries including our own was denial. When countries deny that they even had a problem, or when, if they had a problem, it was not big enough to warrant serious attention, then national responses have nowhere to begin.

Indeed many of the countries that have some of the worst epidemics today started off being in denial, and then had to face facts once they became literally “in their faces”.

Denial is a dangerous trait to have because it blinds us to problems we need to confront in order to solve them. We act as if everything is fine and dandy and there is no need to find creative solutions to anything.

As a result, the problems continue to fester until one day they burst out into the open. Just like the AIDS epidemic, by the time that happens, the problem is hard to contain anymore and people who need not have suffered, do.

Denial is often also the first response of people who have been told they have a grave, maybe fatal, illness. They can’t believe it is happening to them so they try and put it out of their minds and refuse to get treatment.

The subsequent delay thus results in their illness becoming more advanced and treatment becoming more difficult, even ineffective. Then there is no use for regrets and “if onlys”.

I read some of the statements made by some of our current leaders these days and it reminds me of those struggles to get governments to understand the AIDS problems.

People at the top presume to understand what people at the lowest strata of society experience even when they live vastly disparate lives. They believe that everyone’s experience is the same as theirs.

Thus when some people are happy they have gotten some high-salaried job, they believe that everyone else is happy too, quite forgetting that others did not get that same job.

They also think that when they ask people if they are happy, they are going to get a response that is wholly truthful. Why should anyone tell the truth to someone who so obviously has no empathy with him or her?

I cannot help but see symptoms of denial in some of the so-called analyses of the last elections’ results. There is no better indication of this than when blame is placed on individuals who do not agree with them, rather than on self-reflection.

The most courageous admission to make is “we screwed up” but deniers rarely ever do this. That’s also because denial is a form of cowardice.

To face problems squarely and to admit that you yourself may be at fault is courageous. To then deal with the problems realistically and intelligently takes even more courage.

And courage is exactly what we need right now, not the fear factor. Our people have shown what courage they have, by leaping into the unknown and voting in people whose abilities they only suspect but do not know for sure. They deserve in return to be treated with respect, to be led courageously.

I used to bemoan the constant sacrifice of realistic and correct policies on HIV on the altar of political expediency. Nobody had the courage to do the right thing because they thought it would cost them their popularity, especially at the polls. As if saving lives could ever be an unpopular thing to do.

I see the same thing happening with almost everything these days but most especially in the political field.

The difference is that the politically expedient thing to do is to take those steps out of denial. Instead we find denial after denial, blindness after wilful blindness, deafness after deepening deafness.

How nice to live in a world where we see nothing and hear nothing, where we live in splendid isolation. How comforting to see obvious losses as wins, to see obsequiousness as respect. If only all of us could live such cocooned lives.

29 March 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.

Wednesday March 26, 2008
Diversity, not race, our strength

I HAD two jaw dropping experiences this past week. The first was while viewing a video of an aspiring YB facing a group of citizens concerned about unfettered development in their area.

The potential YB not only refused to answer the questions directly but instead displayed a performance so outstandingly arrogant that you had to conclude that he did not really want to be elected. It was an abject lesson in how to lose an election.

Then I saw a report in a Chinese newspaper on how the newly appointed MB of Perak had stunned a Chinese crowd in Ipoh by speaking to them in Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Tamil, English and Malay.

It may well have been no more than words of greeting but still, the very idea of a Malay politician speaking to a Chinese audience in their own language and dialects is novelty enough these days to be impressive.

Our recent elections has been a jaw dropping experience overall. Perhaps that is only because we are not used to these things that we find them unusual and curious.

As with anything else, there may soon come a day when seeing politicians and other public figures “cross over” racial lines becomes something very normal and no longer anything to remark on.

Perhaps the day when vertical thinking along racial lines is nearer than we dreamt.

I had the opportunity to listen for the second time to Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of Renault and Nissan, the other night on how diversity should be viewed as a strength.

He said he was impressed with Malaysia because it was obvious that our success comes from our natural ethnic diversity.

Coming from a diverse background himself and successfully managing two very different car companies with very different cultures, Ghosn knows what he is talking about.

The important thing, he said, is to acknowledge and respect people’s separate identities and view that as a strength that can be tapped for success. These days, smart global companies don’t impose one type of management style all over the world but adapt to each cultural situation.

If only he knew how hard it is to convince our own people of this. People in political power still think that championing racial rights is their only raison d’etr.

Yet the elections have shown that people vote across racial lines because they are more concerned about pressing issues that affect everyone. They thought that people who used the racial rights argument were waving an old tattered banner, out of a lack of ideas.

To be sure, some issues affect some communities more than others. But these are not genetic; they are related to the circumstances that some members of these communities find themselves in.

The challenge is to alter those circumstances in a way that the communities themselves can find their way out of these problems.

We yearn these days for leaders with new ideas. We want to be given hope for the future, not revisit the same old problems over and over again. Not that we want history ignored because we need to know where to start from but we do want to see that shiny path ahead of us clearly and within reach.

I read the extraordinary speech made by US Presidential hopeful Barack Obama in Philadelphia where he tackled the problem of race.

In reviewing America’s history with race, he said: “I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.”

Some of the issues that have concerned Americans have also concerned us, and the lack of unity is one of them.

To this, Obama responded by acknowledging his mixed ethnic background and saying, “It is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.”

And indeed Democratic voters agreed with him and voted for him even in states that had seemed prejudiced against black men.

The same thing happened in our country. Unfortunately, race politics has not really died down yet, and some people reacted as if ethnic cleansing had just taken place.

Where is our own Obama to lead us into our future, with faith and hope? Have we heard yet one speech of optimism recently that inspires and unites us all?

21 March 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.

Wednesday March 12, 2008
The voters have spoken

If politicians should learn one lesson from these elections, it is that humility is the keyword, both for winners and losers.

FOR many it was like the proverbial saying, being caught between a rock and a hard place.

Vote the despicable but familiar, or take the leap into the unknown and vote for the other side. In the end, many decided to chance it.

Going by the various confessions that I have been hearing, many older people – those who have voted in every election and who have voted for the party in power each time – decided that they would try something new this year.

For some, it was an emotional decision, for others it was easy. But all felt they had to do it because they could not take it anymore.

To vote in a government that simply seemed out of touch was un-bearable.

Many said they were simply fed up. They wanted to teach the Government a lesson.

So they just went for it with a vengeance and spared few, felling even those who had been good MPs, and electing untested candidates with few credentials.

Perhaps they had taken a leaf from other countries where unpopular governments had been summarily dismissed.

Of course, being Malaysian, we always have an out clause.

We change most things but not everything. So we left a familiar Government but just made it substantially weaker.

But in four states, and Kuala Lumpur, we decided to try out entirely new administrations.

To bagi chance, as many put it.

It’s a chance for them as well as for us, so that next time round, we can truly make an informed choice and get to compare apples with apples.

But, to see the types of excuses being given by those who lost, one would think that the lesson of this election has simply gone over their heads.

It is everyone else’s fault but theirs.

One even blamed the very voters he had so assiduously courted before.

Others still believe that despite the debacle, people still want them and they should continue.

It’s a bit like a spouse who doesn’t believe the marriage has broken down even when he or she is served the divorce papers.

In the face of denial such as this, there is no room for subtlety.

As polite as we are normally, this is not the time for it when unwanted people just don’t understand.

We should come out and say, “We didn’t vote for you because we don’t like you, that’s all there is to it.”

And even if we didn’t personally reject you because we couldn’t vote in your constituency, the fact that we rejected your cohorts elsewhere is a clear enough signal that we want you out, too.

It’s about that concept known as accountability.

How often do we read of major corporate executives who had to resign because they lost their companies millions and billions of dollars?

Or politicians elsewhere who had to step down because of some major scandal?

Someone has to take responsibility for not performing.

And what else is a general election but a report card on performance, which in this case, (the Government) gained a D, if not an outright F?

What’s more, it takes a courageous and noble man to take responsibility.

By refusing to acknowledge responsibility, our former and current leaders are showing not only arrogance but also cowardice.

They believe that by staying in office, they will be protected from possible demands for answers to tricky questions.

And why should they not believe that, when they have done the same to others?

So staying in office is not an act of responsibility, but one of weakness and cowardice.

It is also an act of wilful blindness and deafness.

To wear eyeshades and earplugs is only a temporary measure to block out the growing mumblings among the electorate that their will is only being partially obeyed.

If this continues, then they will make that will known in the not-too-distant future by punishing those who ignored their message.

That will be even more humiliating. So while the opportunity exists for an honourable withdrawal, it should be taken.

Not to say that those who won should feel too triumphant.

If politicians should learn one lesson from these elections, it is that hubris has no place in their make-up.

Humility is the keyword, both for winners and losers.

The thing about arrogance is that, by nature, it cannot be hidden.

The public is not as blind as the arrogant would like to believe.

Nor is the public unable to detect a lack of sincerity and genuineness.

I watched one politician emphatically calling for respect for her opponent at all her ceramah, only to be summarily booted out last Saturday.

The major lesson is that power rightfully rests with the people.

It’s all in that little piece of paper every five years.