Sunday, October 30, 2011

Today's New Craze- 4 Fs

It appears to me that we in this country (and perhaps others too) face four new craze starting with the letter 'F' - Football. Facebook , Festivities (music, concert, shows) and Films. Of course you can add many others including Food, Fooling around etc. The items may not be new but the fervor and power of attraction are, especially among the younger people.

Negri 9 has just emerged as the Malaysian football champion, a position erstwhile held by Trengganu. It just goes to show that you cannot hope to remain at the top all the time. A little mistake and the position may change. You cannot be complacent and rely on feedback from your fans only. Of course you can regain the position later but lost time can change a lot of things.

The craze for football seems obvious today with the World League, the European League and the Malaysian League becoming the talk of the town. Whether you are in the shopping complex, at bus stops, coffee shops and even in the mosque you can here people talking about football. The National and State footballers are heroes, their names being more popular than some of the less-known political leaders, even among Cabinet members. Let alone World Cup heroes like Pele, Maradona, Becham and Ronaldo. Our football fans seem to know them better than their neighbors. Even children begin to know their names faster than the alphabet. While other sports are also gaining popularity, football seems to have a greater following. At the international level the stars are being traded and bought over for millions by rich clubs, We haven't come to that stage in Malaysia but the price money seems to be going up all the time. And the fans seem to get wilder and more aggressive as the price of tickets go up.

Facebook is of course taking the world by its ears. Almost every computer user (and who is not today?) has his own Wall in FB. Several hours are spent each day chatting or communicating on FB. The world has suddenly shrunk since even friends on the other side of the globe can be contacted almost instantaneously accompanied by live pictures if you like through Skype and video link.
Parents are getting worried to see their children spending more time on the FB than on their studies, husbands and wives getting worried for their partners now could say whatever they want to whoever they want without becoming embarrassed or causing any embarrassment. Some even enjoy reading saucy and weird chats on FB. It can be more fun than watching commercialized soaps on the tube.

Festivities like concerts, music and other live shows on TV and radio have, of course, been popular for decades. A day without listening to some music could be as dry as salad without the sauce. But technology had enabled youngsters to walk (or even drive) around with their ears plugged to a thumbnail pod which contains hundreds in not thousands of music and songs. They seemed lost to the world, sometimes dancing around to the tune even while walking in the street. Otherwise they would be talking into a handphone. People looking from afar would think they are crazy talking to or dancing with unseen partners. Don't try to talk to them when they are not looking at you or you get riled up as do some parents when they ask their children to do something but getting no response whatever because his or her ears are plugged.

As regard films, there is now a great devotion to fantasy films including sci-fi and ghost stories. Triggered by the Harry Porter and Lord of the Ring series followed by the Avatar, real-life stories however interesting and dramatic don't sell anymore. Malay ghost films and pseudo=science fiction with CGIs now conquer the theatres projecting box office returns to double digit millions. Very encouraging but for the fact that they take the young away from realities and into the fantasy world. Ghost stories make fun of the dead and trade on cheap scares. When are the youths and other citizens of the country to be fed with human epics and dramas that develops the soul and character. The malay dramas on TV seem to have no other theme but greed for wealth, husbands' infidelity and adolescent love affairs, That's beside ghost stories as well.

So, where is the focus of the Malaysians, especially the young ones, in terms of striving for progress in life? Is football, Facebook, festivities and films going to be the major concern and attraction or other things that will affect the country's future. Many children today see the sports ( football, badminton, golf, cycling, etc as a desirable future career while becoming a pop singer or filmstar is
a constant dream. Even youths in the rural areas are not interested in producing rubber, oil palm, and planting rice anymore even when the income is most promising. The urban ones with university education are of course interested to become corporate executive without any experience whatever in business and trade. Who then are going to fill in the ranks of entrepreneur apprentice and small businessmen to help propel the country to become a high income nation? The politicians? The professionals?
The technical and blue collar workers?

Perhaps a new human drama is unfolding right in front of our very eyes. But are we focusing on the right thing?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Happy Deepavali and the God of War

After Hariya Aidilfitri comes Deepavali which is today, to be followed by Hariraya Aidiladha (haji) and then Christmas. Yes, Malaysia is rich in festives days. Happy Deepavali to all my friends who celebrate the occasion and a happy holiday to all others who will surely join them with a feast of muruku and other delicacies.

The celebration for Deepavali will of course be more at home than at Batu Cave as in the case of Thaipusam. I csn already see my neighbor's residence being lighted up since last night. I met my neighbor's wife Sunita on coming from prayer last night and she was pretty upset. Some stray cats had made a mass out of her beautifully colored rice arrangement ( called kolam) and she had to redo it all over again. Thank God i did not let my cat, Joened, lose last night. In fact we never allowed him to come out of the house because the last one we had called Awan, just disappeared after coming out in the morning to follow me to the madrasah a short distance away from our house. We never found him again even after a thorough search of the neighborhood. May God bless him.

It's funny how a pet cat that we love can just disappear like Awan, when several stray cats can be seen loitering and litering around in our neighborhood. Before Awan we also lost a cat which my daughter brought all the way from the Netherland as a beloved pet. She came out of the house for only a very brief period after getting used to our home. It was impossible for her to have walked away any distance at all for she was very timid and cautious of the new surrounding. Some of the stray cats we see around were so noisy amd quareellous that we sometime wished forbthem to dissappear, but they never did.

Batu Cave will not miss out in the celebration anyway for an open house reception will be held there to be attended by the PM, DPM and the other bigwigs of Barisan. It is expected that some 15,000 people will throng the sacred place now dubbed as the Mecca of Hinduism with the efigy of Lord Murugan, the Hindu God of War , reputed to be the largest in the world, guarding the place. It is also said that Batu Cave has become the highest training ground for all Hindu priests ( samis). The place that used to be a tourist attraction spot has now assumed a sacred mentle. Millions of Hindus will flock there during Thaipusam. There are all the signs that the township around the area wiil soon grow into another metroplitan area like Setapak.

Well, the open house reception in Batu Cave seems set to become as hectic and populous as the Thaipusam celebration. Batu Cave under the guardianship of Lord Murugan may yet become the centre of world Hiduism, giving Malaysia a new spot in world history. Happy Deepavali to all Malaysians.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Raising Age of Retirement to 60

Government had all the good intentions for raising the retirement age to 60 in the public service. It's to retain the services of the well trained and experienced personnel for yet a few more years while the younger ones get their exposure and training. It would also keep able bodied employees to go on working without the having to search for a new job to make ends meet. It would also ensure that experienced workers do not have to leave the service in great numbers leaving greenhorns to handle the job.

BUT the younger people who are searching for employment must necessarily be disturbed. Though government had promised that the creation of new job opportunities will not be jeopardized by the extension in retirement age, it will be the managers who are left to keep the door for new employment open. If they decide to shut the door for a while to take stock of their existing employees, the impact will be strongly felt in the job market, and there's nothing that the government can do to reduce its backlash on the good intention of the policy. The government is certainly putting its future in the hands of the managers.

One obvious response is now seen, from the Public Services itself. It is learnt that the Public Service will not conduct any new recruitment as a result of the extension in retirement age. All existing vacancies will not be filled in. For how long, no one knows. But the universities, the institutions of higher studies and the schools are going to pour out more and more young men and women into the job market. The government being the most important employer in the country would be asking for trouble if the public service closes its door to new recruitment as a result of the newly announced policy.

More importantly, the private sector might follow the Public Service lead. It might also decide to close its door to new recruitment since the attrition rate of existing employees will suddenly take a plunge. Where, therefore, will the new entrants into the labor force go to find jobs? The Public Service should never have frozen efforts to take in new recruits to fill in existing vacancies. It will totally destroy the good intentions of the new government policy. Unless government has other plans to employ the new entrants to the labor force, the action of the Public Service will turn the new policy into a bane.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Religious Pride......

While we don't have an open war between religion now, there certainly are feuds and enmity between religious groups. When the groups represent different races or nationalities, then the enmity assumes a more serious nature. But thank God, the feuds or clashes so far remain covert and do not flare up into an open war.

More difficult to understand are the clashes and enmity between groups professing the same religion in the same or different countries. In this age of keen competition for survival and progress, one would expect that people professing the same religion would stick together and help each other to establish and strengthen their religious belief (if not to do some proselytizing work). But no, we have many clashes within the same religion because of different sects within the religion. Prophet Mohamed (SAW) said that Christianity would break up into 72 sects while Islam will break up into 73. That presages the clashes that would come about ultimately.

But do all those following a certain sect in one religion know exactly where they differ from the beliefs of the other sects? Or do they just allow themselves to be dragged into a certain sect because of PARENTAL UPBRINGING AND NATIONAL or COMMUNAL IDENTITY? What's amazing is that we don't quite see these differences in everyday life, especially when one's religious belief is considered as a private matter and the rituals involved do not take a prominent aspect of everyday life. If the differences remain unobvious and unobtrusive, there is no reason why they should interfere in the daily life of the various groups following different sects in the same religion, and cause them to clash with each other.

But we do see such enmity and clashes as much as clashes between the followers of different religion. Is it really because of the different teachings or because of the RELIGIOUS PRIDE each group exhibits? Each sect or
school of thought in a religion often considers itself more righteous and sanctified than the others, leading to mutual aversion. In Malaysia the enmity is not even caused by a difference in the school of thoughts or 'mazhab" but by political affiliation. But the aversion for each other has led to various disagreement on matters of religion itself, dividing the Muslims into two different camps - not because of religion but because of politics.

There's yet another divisive factor at work which comes under the category of RELIGIOUS PRIDE. That is the "hollier than thou" attitude of the ulamaks, imams and even Hajis and Lebais in their interaction with the ordinary members of the public, be they Muslims or non Muslims. They have distinguished themselves by their dress. While that does not bother the ordinary man anymore, they often assume that the ordinary man is stupid, ungrateful to Allah, and very irreligious, especially in the Friday sermons (khutbah). They preach to others as if they are beyond any religious reproach while the religious pride they exhibit is enough to be called 'riak.' May Allah forgive them all.

What is important is to note that this RELIGIOUS PRIDE; could be more damaging to the unity of the people of the world with different religious beliefs, and the ummah although under one religion i.e. Islam, than the differences in religion and religious faiths itself. Different religion and even different sects under the same religion do no seem to divide people more than the RELIGIOUS PRIDE that people, especially religious leaders, exhibit among themselves and their followers.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Peoples' Budget 2013.

Everyone seems jubilant over the 2013 budget as announced by the PM. There are goodies for everyone ranging from a one-off cash payment to a shake-up of the pay schemes with enhanced annual increment or bonus. Families with an income of less than RM 3000 pm will get a subsidy of sort. Even pensioners will get a 2% increase of their pension wef 2013.

Yes, all seem to be very rosy. A propect of some 4% growth in the economy is very encouraging, to be viewed with an awareness of a 4% deficit in the budget. The cash handouts and annual increases are all offerred to offset the increase in the price of foodstuff and other essentials, which however had not been examined in details. The fear is that unless something is done to stop the spiralling price of essential goods, the increse in the income of government servants will trigger an immediate increase in the price of foodstuff. Just watch what will happen to the price of roti canai, teh tarik and nasi lemak. When the price does not icrease, the amount of the serving will decrease. You csn call that the " diminishing food value " principle.

But thank God, no food shortage is envisaged despite the bad weather and the flood that's causing a lot of d amage to our ricefield and food or fish farms. While lots of funds seem to be earmarked for creativity and innovation in the field of management and industrial production, no subtantive amount of funds seems to be set aside for increases in the productivity of our food farms. Shouldn't the ricefield which yielded the highest product per acre be rewarded or the fish farm which produced the highest tonnage of fish per pond? How about the tailor who sewed tne highest number of clothes or the carpenter who made the most number of tables, chairs or whatever is the measure of productivity used. Why do we only reward the badminton player with the highest number of games won, the footballer with the highest numer of goals scored or the golfer with the lowest numer of strokes per game?

The most obvious neglect as far as I am concerned is the lack of incentive payment promised to researchers, writers and national chroniclers in this country. These are the people who will ruduce to writing the greatness and the achievement of the people and the nation, writings that will benread by posterity and eill enrich the literature of the country. Are we happy with just government brochures, promotion leaflets and coffee-books to record the growth and achievement of our nation? We need great research and literary work, memoirs and biographies, books on general knowledge anf fictions to fill our literary vacuum and libraries now full of foreign materials. We need to develop our own repotoire of literary works and it's not going to emerge if left to ithe ncentive offered by the current market demand for local works. In the olden days the Royal Houses and Palace Courts commissioned scholars to write. Who takes on that responsibility now if not the government. Leaving the task to an Agency designed to promote the use of Bahasa is not enough, nor has it achieved more than provide text books for the schools in Bahasa.

I think we need some kind of a speciwl fund to sponsor, finance and reward scholars and writers to produce works that are not for quick sale and cheap publication. If the rewards for our football, badminton, golf, and other sports stars can run into hundreds of thousand, couldn't the goverment pay as much for research and literary works that will remsin for posterity and become a contribution to the intellectual achievement of the nation? Yes, the budget gave a priotity emphasis on developing huan capital. Does that include the developing and nurturing of writers for the nation. I wonder.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A New Promise of Freedom in Malaysia

The Prime Minister and the papers have said it bold and clear that the ISA would be repealed. Thus the thorn in the neck of everyone who believes in basic human freedom unless limited by the process of law, can now jump up and down with joy. More, the Prime Minister announced that those detained under the ISA would be released immediately after the ISA is repealed. Some 150 detainees will be released and some 200 warrant of arrest will be withdrawn.

Though two new Acts will be instituted to ensure that national security and political stability would not be compromised, they would be subject to the normal legal processes - no detention without being charged in court.

That the government is willing to curtail its existing power to accommodate the wishes of the people (the rakyat), is a noble gesture indeed. I suppose many political activists who have this far thrived on castigating the government because of the ISA will now be without a 'bone to pick" as the saying goes. But I'm sure they will find something else to hold against the government, perhaps the question of extending help to the poor and disadvantaged groups, not automatically giving scholarships to students with outstanding examination results (although they are the sons and daughters of well-to-do people) in favor of students from impoverished families, extending loans and assistance to bumiputera businessmen who are just beginning to learn the ropes, and perhaps the popular salvo of criticisms on the the special position of the Malays in their own country.

The opposition must of course continue to criticize the government or else lose their popularity. But what all Malaysians hope for is that the criticisms will be on obvious and palpable error of judgement or choice of alternatives which clearly affects the lives of the rakyat. The opposition would be in a position to disclose what are swept under the carpet but only only in as far as how they affect the decisions taken and the policies adopted. Disclosing personal matters for the purpose of character assassination or
lowering the dignity of a man is of course a contemptuous thing, be it done between political enemies or party members competing for a position in the party. Much of the running feuds in the papers seem to involve this kind of issue to the neglect of more important policy matters.

The rakyat now waits for the revelation of the 2012 budget. This would unquestionably be one that presages the election and therefore would project many of the government's future policies and lines of action. If, after the repeal of the ISA, the government can address some of the real outstanding issues that face the public now, it will stand a very good chance of retaining power and perhaps improving its majority in Parliament. Some of these involve the sharp rise in the cost of living and inflation. Even products usually considered as plentiful in Malaysia seem to have made a jump in their prices. Why oh why? Is the mechanism for regulating supply and demand defective? Without some improvement in this area any increase in salary and allowance of the civil servants will not mean much to them.

But if the 2012 budget fails to address the concerns that are uppermost in the minds of the public, the impact of the abolition of ISA might be watered down. What more if the new Acts impose some stringent rules that reduce personal freedom again. Let's wait and see.