Archive for the ‘New Year Resolutions’ Category

The new year, the new me

Saturday, January 6th, 2018
The concept of Malaysian rubber time is legendary. Being ‘on the way’ or ‘stuck in traffic’ when we should have arrived at an appointed time and place is not one of our most endearing qualities. FILE PIC

THE new year is almost a week old today. So, it is safe to say that most resolutions so fervently made under the fireworks last Sunday have gone out the proverbial window by now.

I heard some pretty outrageous resolutions being made. “I won’t talk for a year”, or “I won’t go shopping”, with my favourite being “I won’t use social media until the end of 2018” — posted online of course. Albeit, to imagine and, in some cases, a welcome effort, it is hardly surprising that these rash promises haven’t survived the first week of the new year.

More traditional resolves, like healthy eating, gym visits and quitting cigarettes, will hopefully outlive the first month. But, we all know that they, too, will eventually go the way most resolutions go.

It would seem that all these attempts at betterment have one thing in common. Well, two actually, if you count their obvious transiency. They are all centred on ourselves. We want to become more healthy, more happy, more prosperous, more zen. Maybe, herein lays the cause of our failure to uphold our lofty goals. What if, instead of attempting to better our own lives, we pledged to better everyone else’s life? Which, come to think of it, would result in improving our own lives by proxy.

No need for big announcements and ridiculous declarations. We only need to promise ourselves to try and be more considerate towards others. It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

Let’s look at Japan, one of the world’s most courteous societies, for inspiration. The Japanese believe, and teach their children that, only a polite society can prosper. But, what does politeness really mean? Bowing your head and acting all humble and demure? Not exactly.

The Oxford Dictionary defines politeness as “having or showing behaviour that is respectful or considerate of other people”. A considerate society will readily embrace an inconvenience to the majority to help a few.

Like Malaysian pavements, Japanese sidewalks feature tactile paving as a navigation aid to visually impaired pedestrians. While these grooves can be a nuisance to many; prams, trolleys, bicycles to name but some, and expensive for town councils to install and maintain, they serve a few, more vulnerable members of society.

Unlike in Japan, however, parked bikes, plastic road dividers or generic refuse often obstruct tactile paving in Malaysia.

Enter a restaurant in Malaysia. Where do women place their handbags, and men leave their man-bags? Either on the floor, so very unhygienic, or on a free seat, so very inconsiderate. In a Japanese eatery, you find baskets provided for your shopping bag or personal effects.

The art of being caring consists not only in providing help for the ones in need of assistance. It also means anticipating possible rude behaviour and affording one the opportunity not to act on it. Did you know that the word polite originates in the Latin politus, to smoothen, to polish? Making life smoother for another, a stranger, makes life easier for everyone. As in queuing for a service or waiting for the elevator, the light-rail transit, a taxicab.

Speaking of cabs, why do Japanese cabs feature white seat covers? And, why do the drivers wear white gloves? To demonstrate their effort to provide a clean environment for their passengers. In Malaysia, we take our shoes off before we enter someone’s home in the same attempt to demonstrate our respect for our host’s clean home, but there are some who don’t show much consideration for public clean spaces when they dispose of their trash right out of their car windows.

I don’t know if Japanese people are very punctual, but the concept of Malaysian rubber time is legendary. Being “on the way” or “stuck in traffic” when we should have arrived at an appointed time and place is not one of our most endearing qualities. It is neither considerate nor polite; it is certainly not caring for the convenience of others.

Instead of pledging not to shop this year, which in turn offers us a great excuse not to go to the gym, for lack of proper attire, we could try and be more aware of the need of others. We could try and smooth other people’s lives, help others avoid unpleasant surprises.


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Critical trends to watch in 2018

Monday, January 1st, 2018

ANOTHER new year has dawned, and it’s time to preview what to expect in 2018.

The most obvious topic would be to anticipate how Donald Trump, the most unorthodox of American presidents, would continue to upset the world order. But more about that later.

Just as importantly as politics, we are now in the midst of several social trends that have important long-term effects. Some are on the verge of reaching a tipping point, where a trend becomes a critical and sometimes irreversible event. We may see some of that in 2018.

Who would have expected that 2017 would end with such an upsurge of the movement against sexual harassment? Like a tidal wave it swept away Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, film star Kevin Spacey, TV interviewer Charlie Rose and many other icons.

Another issue that has been brewing is the rapid growth and effects of digital technology. Those enjoying the benefits of the smartphone, Google search, WhatsApp, Uber and online shopping usually sing its praises.

But the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” is like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It has many benefits but also serious downsides, and the debate is now picking up.

First, automation with artificial intelligence can make many jobs redundant. Uber displaced taxis, and will soon displace its drivers with driver-less cars.

The global alarm over job losses is resonating at home. An International Labour Organisation report warning that 54% of jobs in Malaysia are at high risk of being displaced by technology in the next 20 years was cited by Khazanah Research Institute in its own study last April. TalentCorp has estimated that 43% of jobs in Malaysia may potentially be lost to automation.

Second is a recent chorus of warnings, including by some of digital technology’s creators, that addiction and frequent use of the smartphone are making humans less intelligent and socially deficient.

Third is the loss of privacy as personal data collected from Internet use is collected by tech companies like Facebook and sold to advertisers.

Fourth is the threat of cyber-fraud and cyber-warfare as data from hacked devices can be used to empty bank accounts, steal information from governments and companies, and as part of warfare.

Fifth is the worsening of inequality and the digital divide as those countries and people with little access to digital devices, including small businesses, will be left behind.

The usual response to these points is that people and governments must be prepared to get the benefits and counter the ill effects. For example, laid-off workers should be retrained, companies taught to use e-commerce, and a tax can be imposed on using robots (an idea supported by Bill Gates).

But the technologies are moving ahead faster than policy makers’ capacity to keep track and come up with policies and regulations. Expect this debate to move from conference rooms to the public arena in 2018, as more technologies are introduced and more effects become evident.

On climate change, scientists frustrated by the lack of action will continue to raise the alarm that the situation is far worse than earlier predicted.

In fact, the tipping point may well have been reached already. On Dec 20, the United Nations stated that the Arctic has been forever changed by the rapidly warming climate. The Arctic continued in 2017 to warm at double the rate of the global temperature increase, resulting in the loss of sea ice.

These past three years have been the warmest on record. The target of limiting temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, a benchmark just two years ago by the UN’s top scientific climate panel and the Paris Agreement, seems outdated and a new target of 1.5°C could be adopted in 2018.

But it is much harder to meet this new target. Will political leaders and the public rise to the challenge, or will 2018 see a wider disconnect between what needs to be done, and a lack of the needed urgent response?

Another issue reaching tipping point is the continuing rise of antibiotic resistance, with bacteria mutating to render antibiotics increasingly ineffective to treat many diseases. There are global and national efforts to contain this crisis, but not enough, and there is little time left to act before millions die from once-treatable ailments.

Finally, back to Trump. His style and policies have been disruptive to the domestic and global order, but last year he seemed unconcerned about criticisms on this. So we can expect more of the same or even more shocking measures in 2018.

by Martin Khor
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What 2018 holds

Sunday, December 31st, 2017

PROFESSIONAL forecasters like to say that making predictions is difficult, particularly about the future. As we reach the end of 2017, however, here are some of the key themes — and questions — that look set to shape global events next year.

WILL Mueller’s Russia investigation mark the end of Trump’s presidency?

President Donald Trump didn’t expect to be TIME’s “Man of the Year” for 2017, but 2018 could be the year that we get a clearer idea of the legacy he will leave.

First, it should become clear just how much mileage prosecutor Robert Mueller’s probe into alleged collusion with Russia in the 2016 election really has. Further arrests of high-profile figures might signal that investigators have acquired useful information from key individuals now helping them with their inquiries, particularly former national security adviser Mike Flynn and Trump aide George Papadopoulos. So far we have plenty of rumour, but precious little detail.

The real question is whether Mueller can pin evidence of a conspiracy on Trump. If the prosecutor can’t reach Trump himself, some of Trump’s Russia problems may begin to ease.

If, however, it becomes clear the president or those near him have attempted to pervert the course of justice, then the situation will change abruptly.

US political experts are virtually unanimous in their belief that Republicans will not impeach Trump in 2018, but that calculus may shift if the Democrats manage to capitalise on Republicans’ unpopularity in the November mid-terms and take control of either the Senate or the House.

WILL Trump or North Korea risk moving beyond bluster and posturing to military action?

In many ways, the likely trajectory of events surrounding North Korea is easier to predict. Based on events so far, it seems almost certain Kim Jong-un will continue to test increasingly powerful bombs and rockets. As Pyongyang’s ability to strike the US mainland increases, Washington will get increasingly aggressive — but likely will still remain reluctant to launch any kind of strike that could trigger a devastating conflagration.

There remain several wildcards in play, however. The most obvious is whether Trump might ignore the cautionary noises coming from the Pentagon and beyond and attempt to decapitate Kim’s regime and weapons programme militarily.

For now, both Japan and South Korea remain extremely cautious about the idea of a unilateral US strike, with South Korea repeatedly stating that it would wish to veto any such action.

Washington’s longstanding alliance with South Korea means that Trump should — in theory, at least — get Seoul’s consent before trying to shoot down a North Korean test missile using regional ground-based interceptors.

Such a strategy would be high risk — Washington’s credibility would suffer if the interceptor rocket missed its target.

Aside from the nuclear threat, don’t discount Pyongyang’s growing cyber capabilities.

Its suspected efforts to penetrate the US electric grid could escalate into crippling attacks on critical infrastructure.

Keep an eye on Russia and China too. So far, Moscow has been broadly supportive of Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions while Beijing has been much more cautious. A shift in either position might well influence Kim’s thinking.

Whatever happens, expect more posturing and more sanctions.

WILL Europe’s multiple crises reach crunch point?

This has been a volatile year for Europe. After the shock of the Brexit vote in 2016, France and the Netherlands fended off electoral challenges from the far-right. However, Chancellor Angela Merkel emerged from Germany’s October election with diminished support and a struggle to form a viable coalition government. That means the country may have to go back to the polls next year.

The surprisingly strong performance of pro-Catalan independence parties in December elections means domestic tensions within Spain will remain on the table next year, with a new independence referendum looking increasingly likely.

The problem is none of the strains within the continent have gone away — frustration with government policies on migration, the ongoing struggle to keep the single currency bloc and, of course, the ongoing trauma of how to make Brexit work.

The latter issue will escalate in importance throughout the year, as British and EU negotiators attempt to transform December’s preliminary agreement into a workable deal before Britain leaves the union in March 2019.

That progress will inevitably hit problems, and if it breaks down entirely a new UK election — or even another referendum — remain plausible.

The far-right hasn’t gone away either. The results of local and national elections in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Holland, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy and Sweden will all be watched for signs that populists are gaining ground.

WILL new conflicts erupt as America’s Mideast influence slips?

For all the sound and fury following Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, 2018 will likely see America ever less at the heart of events in the region.

US forces will continue to mop up remnants of Islamic State and other militant groups, but Washington will increasingly take a backseat to regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Iran when it comes to driving events.

With Teheran seeming to have strengthened its influence in Iraq and Syria this year, expect Sunni Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies to push back ever harder against their Shia rival.

The war in Yemen will likely remain the bloodiest theatre, a humanitarian catastrophe largely invisible from the outside world. In addition, some analysts already believe Riyadh is already quietly encouraging Israel to consider another war in Lebanon to push back Iran’s Hezbollah proxies.

Another story worth watching will be the push by Kurdish groups for great influence within Turkey, Syria and particularly Iraq, where strains have become particularly severe since September’s independence referendum.

(from left) Donald Trump and Xi Jinping

WILL 2018 see growing challenges to authority in Russia and China?

On balance, 2017 was a good year for the leaders in Moscow and Beijing. While the West remained mired in domestic clinical crisis, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin have never looked more in control.

Beneath the surface, however, those assumptions are already being tested.

Russia saw a string of anti-government and anti-corruption protests throughout 2017, and Putin will no doubt be hoping to avoid a repeat next year of one of the few prospects that could complicate the presidential election he seems certain to win. Turnout may be reduced, however — challenger and anti-corruption campaign Alexei Navalny called for a boycott this week after he was banned from running against Putin.

In China, Xi secured his position as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao at the quinquennial Communist Party Congress in September. There too, however, there are signs of quietly mounting discontent and protest, particularly in Hong Kong.


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2018 a good year for Malaysian economy

Saturday, December 30th, 2017
The government is set for the future beyond 2020 with the Transformasi Nasional 2050 (TN50) vision. TN50 will prepare Malaysians, especially the youth, for future challenges such as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, an ageing society, the era of robots, climate change and the digital economy. FILE PIC

BACK in 2015, many had predicted that the Malaysian economy would dip into recession by 2018, or even earlier. Perhaps, this was based on historical data which suggests that the economy tends to plunge into a recession every seven to 10 years.

The last time the economy experienced a recession was in 2009, when gross domestic product (GDP) contracted to 1.5 per cent. There were other recessions prior to this, one in 1998, and another in 1985. The depth of the recession was more significant in 1998 when GDP took a dive to negative 7.4 per cent. In 1985, GDP contracted to 0.9 per cent.

Given this background, what is the prospect for the Malaysian economy next year?

Clearly, there is no indication whatsoever that the economy is on the path of recession or crisis. On the contrary, there is evidence emerging that suggests the economy is on course to become a high-income nation by 2020.

The World Bank, based on simulations, predicted that we are on track to achieve the target. In fact, according to Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER) analysis, Malaysia may even arrive at the high-income status as early as the first quarter of 2018.

The consensus forecast for Malaysian economic growth in 2018 is within the range of 5.5 to 5.8 per cent, with the prospect of stable inflation and low unemployment. There is evidence to suggest that the overall wellbeing of the people has improved steadily as incomes edged higher, especially for the bottom 40 (B40) group. Data shows that the education system is improving, number of jobs growing, income and regional inequalities are being reduced, and public transportation is becoming better over time. And, this trend is set to continue next year for reasons which I will elaborate.

For the first time since the great recession, the world economy is in a somewhat positive mood. It is projected to grow at more than 2.5 per cent next year. Interestingly, both developed and emerging economies are forecast to perform better next year.

The United States and the rest of Europe are expected to turn in an average growth rate of two per cent in 2018 while China, despite its slower than expected growth rate, is still a major force, with an economic trajectory of around 6.7 per cent next year. And without a doubt, the recently unveiled 2018 Budget, touted as the “mother of all budgets”, will further boost the Malaysian economy as we approach 2018, especially the people part.

The 14th General Election (GE-14) will be the central issue next year. While the government has a clear economic plan, a policy direction and a vision, the opposition has merely an incoherent economic wishlist: to abolish the Goods and Services Tax (GST), to have free education and to reduce the civil service. These are not economic plans, they represent an economic wishlist. Contrast it with the government’s Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), which is set to turn the country into a high-income, inclusive, and sustainable economy by 2020.

Instead of reverting to the past, the government is set for the future beyond 2020 with the Transformasi Nasional 2050 (TN50) vision. TN50 will prepare Malaysians, especially the youth, for future challenges such as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0), an ageing society, the era of robots, climate change and the digital economy.

Indeed, with the launch of the Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ) this year, 60,000 high-income jobs are expected to be created primarily for the youth.

From the perspective of financial management of the country, the prospect for 2018 is promising.

Our international reserves now stand at US$102.2 billion (RM416.97 billion), which is sufficient to finance 7.5 months of retained imports and 1.1 times short-term external debt.

This compares starkly with 1998, when our reserves stood at a mere US$20 billion, sufficient to finance just 2.6 months of retained imports.

As for the prospect of the ringgit strengthening, we can see that the Malaysian currency is now performing well at RM4.08 against the US dollar compared with 1998 when it was at RM4.88.

Other indicators, such as the inflow of foreign direct investments (FDIs) and trade activities are also expected to improve. This is due to major investments in public transportation infrastructure and strong bilateral ties with important economies such as China, the US, Saudi Arabia, India, and Japan.

The 14 Malaysia-China business memoranda of understanding (MoU) and the 31 Malaysia-India business MoUs for instance, are expected to bring about RM302.4 billion worth of investments into Malaysia.

Multi-regional economic links such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership are also set to take effect in 2018.


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A theory for New Year’s resolutions

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

If you want to improve yourself, a nudge in the right direction can start with the right intentions.

IT is the year-end. Perhaps we need to reflect on how much we have achieved in 2017 and what our new year’s resolution for 2018 is. Do we feel like we have not accomplished much this year?

Research by Richard H. Thaler, the recipient of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Economics, offers an answer as to why New Year’s resolutions can be hard to keep.

By using a planner-doer model, his analysis on behavioural changes explains that short-term temptation is often a reason for the failure of our long-term plans such as saving for retirement or leading a healthier lifestyle.

By exploring the consequences of the lack of self-control, along with other factors (limited rationality and social preferences), he has shown how these human traits systematically affect individual decisions as well as market outcomes.

Through his applied work, Thaler has also demonstrated how nud­ging may help people to exercise better self-control in achieving their goals.

In simple words, a nudge refers to an indirect positive reinforcement used to influence the motives, incentives and decision-making of groups or individuals.

There are generally two types of policies to influence people’s beha­viour – either a punishment for not doing something or a reward for doing something.

While the punishment policy may not always work, the issue with the reward policy is that it may not be sustainable. Thus, a nudge comes as the next alternative.

The nudging concept has been widely applied in the context of behavioural changes within the financial market, particularly in savings and investments sectors. An example of a successful nudge is the practice of default option in the UK pension policy.

In order to increase the low pension savings rates among private sector workers, the UK government has mandated every employer to es­­tablish an automatic enrolment scheme.

All workers are automatically placed into a company’s scheme, and every contribution is deducted from their payroll, unless they formally request to be exempted.

The assumption for this nudge theory is that many people want to save for retirement but keep putting it off.

Therefore, auto enrolment fulfils the savings needs at their conve­nience. The move in 2012 resulted in a significant increase in active contributions to the private sector pension schemes.

Thaler says the nudge concept is not his invention, arguing that religions have been nudging human beings for many years.

It is interesting to see how Tha­ler’s propositions on the psychological effect on an individual’s decisions bear some similarities with the concepts postulated by Al-Gha­zali, a Muslim philosopher and theo­logian who lived hundreds of years ago.

Adimarwan has eloquently summarised the similarities in the works of Al-Ghazali and Thaler.

For instance, according to Thaler, humans tend to act based on their li­­mited rationality due to their short-­­term, direct and limited knowledge.

In the book Mizan al-Amal (Ba­­lance of Action), Al-Ghazali des­cribed this situation as a lack of wisdom. While Thaler attributed man’s irrational behaviour to an acquiescence to social preferences, Al-Ghazali portrayed it in the context of social justice.

Thaler’s explanation on the lack of self-control, which refers to one’s sense of tension between long-term planning and short-term doing, resembles Al-Ghazali’s expression of courage and moderation for every decision.

Nudging is claimed to be more effective – or at least equally so – than direct instruction, legislation or enforcement. It is also consider­ed to be a cost-effective approach to nudge people towards desired choices.

by Suzana Md Samsudi
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What 2018 holds for us

Friday, December 15th, 2017
It has been an eventful 2017, of course, capped by the nation celebrating its 60th Merdeka anniversary. But 2018 should prove to be even more so. FILE PIC

IT is that time of year again when we look back on what the year about to pass had been like and, more importantly, look forward to what the year ahead holds.

It has been an eventful 2017, of course, capped by the nation celebrating its 60th Merdeka anniversary. But 2018 should prove to be even more so.

Perhaps the most significant milestone for Malaysia next year is the fact that we will finally be crossing the internationally-accepted threshold for a nation with high-income status.

Now, there will be those among us — perhaps the perpetual naysayers — who will grudgingly assert that high-income status notwithstanding, we are always not living up to our full potential.

To be sure, there has always been room for improvement and that remains probably even truer with the formal attaining of high-income nation status.

But can we all, for at least one moment, pause to celebrate this signal achievement?

The half-full, half-empty glass analogy, after all, posits two possible outcomes. We are thankfully on the uptrend economically, but we could just as easily have been on the downtrend the past 60 years. Many other nations — the vast majority in the developing world, in fact — have been on the downtrend in the same past half or so century.

Malaysia is thus, in rather elite and exclusive company and a bit of self-congratulation is most certainly in order.

It is observed, after all, that the select few nations that have made most remarkable headway towards high-income status in recent decades are ethnically rather homogeneous nations.

This surely makes it much easier politically for them to be collectively single-minded in pursuit of worthwhile national objectives. Hong Kong and Singapore, on the other hand, are city-states with no urban-rural cleavages to stymie their populations from building and, most crucially, implementing a national consensus.

While overall success, such as what we have now attained, naturally, has its own self-propelling forward momentum to push Malaysia further ahead, our own rather unique political circumstances may still pose challenges yet.

It is, therefore, no surprise that many (Malaysians themselves included, of course) will watch the nation very keenly next year for one reason: our 14th General Elections (GE14).

We have shown that we are perhaps uniquely qualified to lead a hugely heterogeneous nation forward economically. Having done so, the next most important task confronting Malaysians must surely be to adapt politically.

Recent political developments in democracies in Western countries, however, belie such long-held accepted wisdom, especially when durable over-arching national narratives suddenly come into sharp dispute, undercutting the very basic political consensus such democracies had been built upon.

In addition, political populism — always the evil cousin of democratic politics — tends to rear its ugly head most especially during politically-unsettled times. These seem to be the twin challenges confronting Malaysia next year.

Most fundamentally, is the national political consensus that undergirds all that we have achieved for the past 60 years under threat and, if so, is there an alternative consensus that can garner an equal or even greater majority support of Malaysians?

Have Malaysians grown in political and economic maturity in these intervening decades, such that they can more comfortably transcend identity politics, going forward?

Or will such politics lay dormant for a while, only to return with some vengeance later, as it has in Western democracies today?

What about populist political grandstanding? As GE14 approaches, the populist drumbeat is already evident.

The opposition has called for a repeal of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) so painstakingly put in place, and just when we have already made the necessary and painful adjustments to what experts accept is a needed economic modernisation move.

Equally populist are calls to reinstate government subsidies, particularly when there is even a small uptick in fuel prices. We had fortuitously dodged a bullet with the removal of fuel subsidies at a time when global energy prices had been depressed.

By John Teo.

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Lifting the veil on the ego

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

GONG Xi Fa Cai, everyone. And, if you are a Hokkien from Penang (or Klang), Keong Hee Huat Chye to you. It’s a time for festivities.

The Chinese New Year holidays are over, but the celebrations are going on and on. It’s “everybody’s birthday” today, the Pai Thnee Kong or Jade Emperor’s feast is set for tomorrow night, and then to top it all off, there’s Chap Goh Meh on Feb 11.

Of course, between the first two and the last, there’s that other big celebration in Penang – Thaipusam.

The Year of the Rooster is a rather special one for Thaipusam celebrations. After all, the presiding deity of the event, Lord Muruga has the rooster as his coat of arms.

Mythology has it that Muruga’s mother, the Goddess Sakthi gave him the vel (a spear) before his quest to defeat the demon Sura­padman. En route, he killed the demon’s brothers Tarakasura and Simhamukha. Then, it was down to Surapadman. The warrior god had him beaten, but the demon transformed himself into a mango tree.

The youthful god then threw his vel at the tree, tearing it into two.

Defeated, Surapadman gave up with the two parts of the tree becoming a peacock and a rooster.

The peacock became Lord Muruga’s vehicle and the rooster his coat of arms, seen on his flag.

This story is also about the sub­duing of ego. The peacock and rooster – animals that preen, strut and crow – are but manifestations of mankind’s ego.

This year, at least in Penang, we see those egos in a battle over what should be Lord Muruga’s vehicle.

Two sides, both adamant that they are right, are at loggerheads over the chariot procession.

A festive event that has been a highlight of Penang’s tourism calendar for decades, has now become an acrimonious one.

On the one side are the chettiars, who have been organising the procession for more than a century.

On the other, the Penang Hindu Endowment Board, led by Deputy Chief Minister Dr P. Ramasamy, which is introducing its new chariot carrying the vel.

Friends in Penang now talk of the golden chariot versus the silver chariot and Ramasamy’s chariot vs the Chettiars’ chariot.

They joke about the champion (gold) chariot and the runner-up (silver) chariot and hope there will be no third-placed (bronze) chariot joining the podium soon.

The question though is: “Which is Lord Muruga’s chariot?”

In the clash of personalities, egos and personal pride, the main reason behind the festival seems to have been forgotten.

The anger spilling over on social media is strong. Good people and good friends are using nasty words against one another, words they have never been known to utter.

People are trying to drag others through the mud, making allegations of all sorts. It is happening on both sides. And it’s ugly.

Me, I stand by my assertion that all this is more about the money that is poured into the festival by the devotees than piety and faith.

Both sides have their eyes on the kitty. The board (or at least its representatives) have been tarring the chettiars and telling devotees not to give their money to “these outsiders from India”. That’s a strange cry from Malaysian Indians.

The chettiars, for their part, are not coming clean on their accounts.

They claim it is all audited and accounted for, but why not take the moral higher ground and make it all public?


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Feng Shui master: 2017 the year of new opportunities

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

KUALA LUMPUR: 2017, the year of the ‘fire Rooster’ in the Chinese zodiac is dubbed as the “Year of New Opportunities”, says a feng shui master.

Kenny Hoo said based on the annual ‘Ba Zi’ and ‘Gua’ in feng Shui, there would be light at the end of the tunnel and a lot of good opportunities this year.

“Basically, there will be challenges in various fields during the first quarter of the year; however there will be signs of improvement after that,” he told Bernama during a Chinese New Year dinner organised by AkzoNobel here.

Hoo said 2017 would be a good year for business players to plan ahead with greater innovation and creativity for their greater advancement.

“There will be more new and innovative business opportunities emerging this year. Wise selection of business partners can bring about unprecedented returns in the mid to long term.

“However, for those who cannot withstand the wave of changes and challenges, they will be easily wiped off from the market space,” he cautioned.

Hoo said ‘water’ is the key element for 2017 as shown in the annual Ba Zi chart, which is the mediating factor to bring about agreement or reconciliation for better harmony and prosperity.

“Water is synonymous with blue, hence Blue is the colour of 2017.

Incorporating more blue into your home or workspaces, or using blue items such as daily wear and furniture will boost one’s luck and energy level,” he said.

In regard to the 12 Chinese Zodiacs, Hoo said 2017 would be “a lovely and romantic year” for those born in the year of the Rat, Monkey and Dragon.

“There will be lots of couples lining up for marriage, moving into new houses and having babies… Painting some Red or Purple colour in the southeast sector of their house can further enhance the baby luck for married couples.

“It will be a more fruitful year for them too as obstacles and challenges in 2017 will be resolved with help from good noble persons,” he said.

However, Hoo said, the three zodiacs must take extra care in health, particularly with regard to the digestive, respiratory system, liver and eyesight, in the months of February and August.

He said those born in the year of the Snake, Rooster and Ox, would also have lots of advancement academically this year but must be extra careful in personal safety when travelling in March, September and December.

“For Rooster – they must particularly take care of their health and are highly encouraged to go for regular checkup this year,” he said.

2017 will be a busy year for those born in the year of the Boar (pig), Rabbit and Goat as there will be more travelling; thus they must be extra careful while on the road in the months of March, May and September.

“There will be higher chance for them in property transactions, move to new houses or office space in 2017; minor renovations such as repainting the existing house or office can enhance health and wealth luck,” said Hoo.

For the Tiger, Horse and Dog, this year will be fruitful and prosperous as they will have greater wealth and better luck, especially when it comes to love, relationship, wealth and career advancement.

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2017 – expect a bumpy year

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

This will be a year like no other, as there will be a thunderous clash of policies, economies and politics worldwide. We should prepare for the challenges ahead and not be only spectators.

THE new year has dawned. Everyone agrees 2017 will be very interesting.

It will also be most problematic. From politics to economics and finance, we’ll be on a roller-coaster ride.

With his extreme views and bulldozing style, President-elect Donald Trump is set to create an upheaval, if not revolution, in the United States and the world.

He is installing an oil company chief as the Secretary of State, investment bankers in key finance positions, climate sceptics and anti-environmentalists in environmental and energy agencies and an extreme rightwing internet media mogul as his chief strategist.

US-China relations, the most im­­por­­tant for global stability, could change from big-power co-existen­ce, with a careful combination of competition and cooperation, to outright crisis.

Trump, through his phone call with the Taiwanese president and after, signalled he could withdraw the longstanding US adherence to the One China policy and instead use Taiwan as a negotiating card in overall relations with China. The Chinese perceive this as an extreme provocation.

He has appointed as head of the new National Trade Council an economist known for his many books demonising China, including Death by China: Confronting the Dragon.

Trump seems intent on doing an about-turn on US trade policies. Measures being considered include a 45% duty on Chinese products, extra duties and taxes on American companies located abroad, and even a 10% tariff on all imports.

Thus 2017 will see protectionism rise in the United States, the extent still unknown. That is bad news for many developing countries whose economies have grown on the back of exports and international investments.

Europe in 2017 will also be pre­occupied with its own regional problems. The Brexit shock of 2016 will continue to reverberate and other countries facing elections will be less open to the world and become more inward-looking.

As protectionism, xenophobia and narrow nationalism grow in Western societies, Asian countries should devise development strategies based more on domestic and regional demand and investments.

2017 may be the year when resource-rich China, with its deve­lopment banks and its Belt and Road Initiative, fills in the economic void created by Western trade and investment protectionism.

But this may not be sufficient to prevent a finance shock in many developing countries now beginning to suffer a reversal of capital flowing back to the United States, attracted by the prospect of higher interest rates and economic growth.

In 2017 Malaysia will be among the countries most vulnerable to this, due to the large foreign ownership of local bonds and shares.

As capital flows out and the currency depreciates further, the affected countries’ companies will have to pay more for servicing loans contracted in foreign currencies and imported machinery and parts, while consumers grumble about the rising cost of living.

On the positive side, exporters will earn more in local currency terms and tourism will increase, but this may not be enough to offset the negative effects.

Thus 2017 will not be kind to the economy, business and the pockets of the common man and woman. It might even spark a new financial crisis.


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Make 2017 what you want it to be

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

EXCEPT for time travellers and the extraordinarily gifted seers among us, we do not know what exactly will happen in 2017. And so, there are two basic choices as we greet the New Year – be hopeful or feel hopeless.

We have to decide between anticipation and dread, between getting ready to work for worthwhile victories over the next 12 months and giving up before the game has even begun.

It is a no-brainer, and yet, some of us still prefer pessimism. Then again, given the kind of year 2016 was, the gloomy outlook is understandable.

The world news seemed like an endless barrage of terrorist attacks, civil wars, natural disasters, divisive debates on prejudice and extremism, listless economic developments, sabre-rattling, farewells to beloved heroes, and the rise of insular and populist politics.

For us in Malaysia, it was hard to shake off the perception that we were spending way too much time and effort on politicking, hate-mongering, the blame game, hand-wringing over our economic direction, and misinformation.

We fell into the trap of allowing the negatives to drown out the positives. We often focused on what went wrong and rarely acknowledged the things that we did well.

Yes, there have been moments when national pride mightily lifted our spirits, such as during the Rio Olympics and Paralympics, but it did not take long for our attention to swivel back to the issues and actions that discomforted us.

But 2016 is over. There is no reason to repeat its harshness and dissonance. None of us enjoy being sapped of confidence and trust.

When we bring bad vibes into the new year, how is it reasonable to expect something pleasant in return?

Bear in mind that in business and the economy, how we collectively feel about what lies ahead can be highly influential.

If we are convinced that we are heading into a rough stretch, many of us will postpone projects and purchases. As a result, we consume and invest less, and that will slow down our economic growth. In other words, we help fulfil our prophecy.

And here is another example of anxiety turning into reality. A country’s political journey takes its cue from the mood of the population.

Leaders need popular support, and that does not come easily if the leaders are insensitive to the issues that are uppermost in the minds of the people.

But this knowledge alone is not enough; the leaders have to respond accordingly, which often means erasing doubts and blunting fears. The best leaders do this without sacrificing the greater good. The less capable ones often opt for short-term solutions that may in the end do more harm than good.

We certainly do not have to go down this path. We are a nation with unique and proud achievements. We have worked hard and endured plenty. We have come far and we dream of more to come.

The Star Says.

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