Archive for December, 2012

Lessons on being good consumers

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

SPEND WISELY: We don’t always have to keep up with the Joneses.

WHILE we know that investments by both the public and private sectors are instrumental to economic growth, we need to appreciate equally the role of consumption in sustaining aggregate demand.

As expected, the ratio of consumption in developed countries can be as high as 70 to 80 per cent of total demand while the percentage for developing countries tends to be lower, in the region of about 50 to 55 per cent. Contraction of aggregate demand is a cause of recession.

Malaysia’s share of consumption in aggregate demand has risen consequent upon a slowing investments demand and lately by a moderating external sector. Malaysian affinity for festivities, given our multiethnicity, makes private consumption a significant part of the macro economy.

Consumption has an important role to play; it provides market for local production while providing a significant share of total employment, especially in the distributive sectors.

In addition, it enables the workforce to enjoy the fruits of their labour and improves their quality of life, in particular, if their consumption is beyond basic essentials.

As such, authorities often defend living standards by having “safety-net” measures to ensure that the consumption of low income population is insulated from the full impact of recession. We must also be wary of conspicuous private consumption or rising consumption for purpose of keeping up with the Joneses, especially among the low-income population as they may be drawn to high indebtedness, given the easy access to credit in a country like ours.

Indeed, our easy access to credit cards and consumption loans has, perhaps, led to a high percentage of household debt of about 75 per cent of gross domestic product. Our policy to encourage home and car ownership is one factor contributing to this trend.

The authorities may be well advised to mount a campaign on good consumption habit, good credit culture and how to manage personal finances. Given that many of our workers do not earn high monthly incomes, such a campaign will make them spend prudently and be less exposed to pecuniary embarrassment.

Many people do not even know that one should not take loan, the servicing of which exceeds 25 to 30 per cent of total monthly income because the remainder of the income has to be committed to food, housing, travels, and other essential household expenses (all totalling about 50 to 60 per cent of total expenditures). The lower the income, the higher is the share of food and essentials.

by Tan Sri D. Sulaiman Mahbob.

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Surfing on riddles into the new year

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

THE “MAHABHARATA” : A classic Indian guide on how to live live.

A misfortune may sometimes turn out to be fortuitous. Incidents which are initially painful are sometimes the genesis of new pathways of thinking, even life.

I had an accident recently. That, of course, was bad. However, it afforded me the opportunity to reflect on life and its vicissitudes.

I also used the time available to get reacquainted with the Mahabharata, the world’s longest epic poem. I had read short English versions of it, twice, decades ago, but I had always wanted to read a longer version.

So, with time on my hands, I decided to read the Mahabharata translated by Kamala Subramaniam. The original is in Sanskrit. I hope, soon, to read the unabridged version of the story that was first told more than 2,500 years ago.

It is said that what is found in the Mahabharata can be found elsewhere, but what is not found in it cannot be found anywhere else.

Simply put, it is a narrative about two sets of royal cousins — the Pandavas and Kauravas — who go to war over land, and pride.

It has adventure, suspense, drama, humour, romance, battles, heroism, subterfuge, and everything else you can think of; and it is peopled by gods, demons, humans, animals and all sorts of beings.

There are discourses on a range of subjects, including the art of government, spirituality, morality, war, friendship, karma and duty.

The Mahabharata, like the Ramayana, continues to influence — at least to some extent — not just the Indian psyche, but that of many Asians.

I found the story, yet again, enthralling and educational and I would like to share a tiny part of it with you, for I am certain that we could all benefit immensely from it as we surf into 2013.

It is something worth pondering upon, and to use as a guide

I offer below a glimpse of the section known as the Yaksha Prasna — a question-and-answer session between the eldest Pandava brother Yudhisthira and a Yaksha or nature spirit (who later turns out to be Yama, the god of death and justice).

This is the context of the Yaksha Prasna: trudging through the forest during their exile, the five Pandava princes become thirsty. Yudhisthira sends one of his brothers, Nakula, to look for water. Nakula finds a lake, but as he is about to quench his thirst, a voice warns him not to drink the water without answering some riddles. The thirsty Nakula ignores the warning and begins to drink the water, and dies. The other three brothers arrive at the spot, one at a time, in search of their missing brother(s), and each drinks the water without heeding the warning.

by A. Kathirasen.

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The importance of Science

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

Ignorance helps polio kill children.

UP to at least a decade ago, Malaysian students, particularly those who went abroad to further their studies, fit the stereotype of the “typical” Asian student — annoyingly good at Mathematics and Science; the product of a school system that set a high standard for both subjects. This standard helped set the country on the way to having a reasonable percentage of engineers, doctors and scientists that it needed to be a progressive, developed nation. However, the same cannot be said for today, with findings from the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) showing a marked decline in Science between 2003 and last year. Set against international benchmarks, Malaysian students measured  low,  with only one per cent having an advanced understanding of the subject compared with top-ranked Singapore’s 40 per cent.

National pride aside, what does this decline on the nerd scale mean? For a country intent on achieving developed nation status by 2020, a drop in the standard of Science studies can have grave consequences. It could mean not having as many geo-engineers that we need to monitor our slopes and make sure they don’t collapse on us; mechanical engineers to ensure our dream of bringing the Internet superhighway to every village is realised; doctors and scientists to man the soon-to-be-set-up National Cancer Centre; chemists and forensic experts to help solve sophisticated crimes; or meteorologists to make sense of changing weather patterns. Science can help us advance and give us a better quality of life — one that, without imagination and knowledge, we might not even envisage being possible.

Having many doctors in the community and a population that is educated and with at least an acquaintanceship with science might also help prevent the kind of ignorance that resulted in the death of nine healthcare workers in Pakistan last week. The six women and three men, who were commissioned by the Pakistani Health Ministry to administer polio vaccinations in a United Nations-supported programme, were killed because their murderers not only did not understand that the vaccine could save the lives of millions of Pakistani children but they were also convinced that it was a Jewish conspiracy to sterilise the children. As a result, the programme has been halted temporarily, leaving Pakistan as one of only three countries in the world that still have endemic polio. The last presented case of polio in Malaysia, thankfully, was in 1991.

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Beware of fake drugs

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

KOTA KINABALU: Consumers have been told to be aware of unregistered medicines sold in the market.

These medicines which are not registered with the health authorities may be hazardous as they contain poison that could jeopardise one’s health.

As such they must know the difference between registered and unregistered medicines, said pharmacist M Gopi of the State Health Department during the recent “Know Your Medicine” campaign here.

According to him, there were many fake or illegal medicines in the market.

And he also said knowledge was still grossly lacking among Malaysians on the safe and right use of medicines in the country.

To address this, the campaign was held to impart information to the people on various issues related to health and medicines.

Gopi added that medicines which could be bought over the counter (drugs which one can buy without prescription) were marked with the letter ‘X’ while medicines that contained scheduled poisons are marked with letter ‘A’, traditional medicines marked with letter ‘T’ and health supplements marked with letter ‘N’.

Furthermore, he cautioned that when taking medication, one must know the medicine’s label such as its full name, expiry date and instruction for usage, among others.

And, users are advised to check with a pharmacist or doctor immediately if they experience unusual reaction after consuming the medicines.

For more information, they can visit

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Studying Poetry in the Classroom

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012
Many teachers of literature don’t like teaching poetry in the classroom, but if you add in some fun activities, the students will end up really liking the unit.
More often than not, if you ask literature teachers how they feel about poetry, they will tell you that they don’t like teaching it because the students don’t like learning about it. While it is true that many students balk at the mention of poetry, this is usually because the teachers try to teach it just like a book, without explaining things like word choice, form, or even what is going on in the poem. Adding some fun activities to a unit on poetry can really help students come up with their own understanding of poetry, and then they can bring that personal connection to the poems you read in class.

Teaching the Form

One of the most important things to teach when you are teaching poetry is about the form of the poem you are reading. Even free verse poems that seemingly lack a form have an art to them. Poetry is different from prose in that there are lines, and when the poet writes a poem, he or she pays careful attention to those lines. Very often, important phrases end at the line, or poets include important words at the end of the line. This can help draw attention to the words and phrases that are used in the poem, and can help illuminate the meaning of the poem.

Most Important Word

By asking students what they think the most important word in the poem is, you are asking them to think about the poet’s word choice. This is actually a very difficult question for students to answer because usually they want to choose a whole phrase. By asking them to pick one word, you are forcing them to look at the whole poem through a critical eye. If they are stuck and need help, you can always give them hints. Important words can be repeated over and over within the poem. Repetition is always a signal of an important word. Other important words can embody the entire theme or message of the poem, or can be a word that the students like the sound or meaning of. Most importantly, remind the students that, as long as they can explain their choice, there are no wrong answers.

Coffeehouse Readings

Always read poetry aloud in class. This can help students understand the poem better. Poetry was also meant to be read aloud. You can make this fun, too, by setting up your classroom like a coffeehouse poetry reading. Have the students snap their fingers after each reading, instead of clapping their hands. Add some lamps to create a coffeehouse feel when the lights are turned off, and put a fake microphone at the front of the room for students to stand up and read into. This will get the students listening and enjoying poetry just for the sound of it, which can lead to really great discussions about the content and how the poem was read.

Found Poems

Found poems are a great way to have students dive into writing their own poetry. For some students, writing a poem can be daunting if anything goes.

by Buzzle Staff.

Sex with children

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

The law needs to work with itself to protect underage girls.

TWO events that took place within two days of each other last month exemplify Malaysia’s official attitude regarding the welfare of girls. On Nov 19, the Penang High Court overturned a suspended sentence that the Sessions Court had handed down to  a 22-year-old electrician for the statutory rape of a 12-year-old girl. In sentencing the man to 10 years and six months’ imprisonment, High Court judge Datuk Seri Zakaria Sam said that young girls needed to be protected from manipulators like that man. He further said: “In statutory rape, consent is irrelevant. A female under the age of 16 is deemed incapable of giving consent under the law”.  And, in case there is any doubt over whether or not it is all right to have sex with an underage girl (it is not), the government is taking steps to amend the law to make custodial sentences mandatory for all convicted statutory rapists.

Two days before that, in Kedah, 12-year-old Nur Fazira Saad married her boyfriend, 19-year-old Mohd Fahmi Mohamed Alias. As a general rule, the minimum age for non-Muslims to marry is 18 years for both males and females, while the minimum age for Muslims is 18 for males and 16 for females. If a non-Muslim girl who is not yet 18 but not younger than 16 wanted to marry, she would need the permission of the chief minister or federal territories minister.

A Muslim girl under 16 may marry with the consent of the Syariah Court; and, unlike non-Muslim girls, there is no limit as to how young a Muslim girl can be.

In the case of Nur Fazira, the Kulim Syariah Court granted its approval on Nov 7, making the marriage legal under the law.

NST Editorial.

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Type 2 diabetes a new threat to young people in Malaysia

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

KUALA LUMPUR: A total of 300,000 young people in the country are suffering from Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM), according to endocrinologist Prof Datuk Dr Wan Mohamad Wan Bebakar of Universiti Sains Malaysia.

He said the number was expected to increase as the number of T2DM patients worldwide was also expected to increase from the current 230 million to 440 million by 2030.

He said the increase in the number also meant that the risks were higher for more young people to suffer from complications of diabetes.

“The fact is 20.8 per cent of the Malaysian people are suffering from T2DM right now, five per cent of whom are young people aged between 20 and 25 years.

“The percentage is clearly bigger than in the United States which only recorded two per cent of young people suffering from T2DM,” he said in a statement in conjunction with the launch of Kombiglyze Yze Xr, a new pill to treat T2DM.

Wan Mohamad said the pill had been widely used to treat T2DM in the United States where the patient would be prescribed to take one pill daily.

“The Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and can easily spread if not controlled. Within certain period of time, the patient will have to take various types of medicines to treat the disease and its complications,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sime Darby Healthcare endocrinology expert Prof Dr SP Chan said what made it worse was the fact that more than half of T2DM patients usually failed to keep their blood sugar levels under control.

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Niosh calls for change in driving attitude

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

KUALA LUMPUR: The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (Niosh) today called for a change in the attitude of impatience and ‘haste culture’ speeding and weaving in and out of traffic lanes, saying these were the major contributing factors to road accidents.

Its chairman, Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said in a statement that road safety campaigns, though necessary, would not work unless road users learnt to observe basic rules on safety and courtesy and changed their irresponsible and cavalier attitude while on the roads.

“There are people who have not learnt from the gruesome pictures of mangled vehicles, dead bodies, groaning victims and their grieving families.

“Niosh views with utmost concern the frequent reports of road accidents, fatalities and injuries which are not only tragic to the family involved but also a loss to the nation’s workforce,” he said.

Lee said it was alarming to note an increasing number of casualties and deaths arising from road accidents over the last few weeks.

On Friday, two factory workers died and 17 were injured when the bus they were travelling in collided with a car before it skidded and overturned in some shrubs at Km150.3 of the North-South Expressway in Nibong Tebal.

This accident happened in less than a week after the first accident which happened about 20 kilometres from the spot.

On Tuesday, a three-year-old boy was dragged almost 10 kilometres to his death underneath a passing vehicle after he was flung out of a crashed car driven by his father.

The accident happened at Km168 of the North-South Expressway near Bandar Baru. The toddler was thrown out of the car when his father tried to avoid hitting a dog.

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Of Facebook, debating and being inspired!

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

FACEBOOK is one word that needs no introduction. Ask students to group past and present tense verbs and you are likely to get blank stares but mention “Facebook” and they are all ears. That’s the power of Facebook.

The story I am about to tell however, is not about using Facebook in the classroom, but how it helped me to connect, gain inspiration and be proud… so proud in fact, that it moved me to tears.

This is how it all began. Every year, my school students will take part in the district level English Language Debate Competition.

Now, it is quite a daunting task to get teenagers to speak in front of a crowd let alone sacrifice their time for training sessions after school hours. They would rather use the time to chat online, watch the latest music video or attend tuition (the most popular excuse).

From arguing on the advantages of being on a debate team and the importance of learning to articulate arguments, I managed to get some students to join the school’s debate team.

Challenging steps

After the selection process and a few short debate sessions, the biggest challenge was getting all five of them to research, prepare their arguments before the training sessions and attend the training itself!

During the first session, I was shocked at the level of preparation this group of students had done, despite telling them what was needed.

I was hyperventilating and could have literally pulled off every strand of hair on my scalp. As this was their first debate, I guess I could not blame them entirely. So I showed them some debate videos and asked them to watch a few more at home.

A debate requires commitment, perseverance, diligence and time as one needs to do thorough research on the motion.

Extra hands were needed to prepare these students so that they will have what it takes when they get on stage. This heavy responsibility rested on both myself and my fellow colleague’s shoulders.

Sitting alone in the language lab after the team had left, I thought: “how was I to get them ready in three weeks?”

Saved by social media

Then, my mind and thoughts travelled back in time… reminiscing about this particular batch of students; how we almost won against a prestigious school and the determination and maturity that they had demonstrated.

I realised that I was still in touch with them through Facebook. Three of them are currently pursuing law.

So I went home and posted a message via Facebook; requesting them to find some time to help me coach these five newbies.

I didn’t get my hopes up though as I thought they would be busy with their university life.

To my pleasant surprise, all three were happy to help coach the team and do their bit for their alma mater. With dictionaries and laptops, we cracked our heads while working on their arguments.

As I watched these four teenagers: Puteri Eleni Megat Osman, Roeshan Celestine Gomez, Jeremy Lim and Siti Raihan Rosli, I felt so proud that these students were from my school.

I was even more delighted to see how they had grown intellectually and matured. They were also more committed and prepared. I was moved to tears.

Not only did they come to school for the training sessions but we also communicated via Facebook and the telephone.

You will be amazed at how high a teacher’s phone bill can be and it is not just mindless chatting but calls discussing school events, performances, listening to their arguments at 11pm or giving them tips or any fresh arguments that may have popped into my head at odd hours.

Puteri Eleni also set up our school debate team’s Facebook account and attended all the debate competitions to show her support.

Those former students of mine not only inspired this debate team but they also inspired me to continue this challenging journey of training and teaching others.

by Thanbeer Kaur Sekhon.

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What Is Negative Reinforcement

Friday, December 21st, 2012

Negative reinforcement is a term described by B. F. Skinner in his theory of operant conditioning. In negative reinforcement, a response or behavior is strengthened by stopping, removing or avoiding a negative outcome or aversive stimulus.

Aversive stimuli tend to involve some type of discomfort, either physical or psychological. Behaviors are negatively reinforced when they allow you to escape from aversive stimuli that are already present or allow you to completely avoid the aversive stimuli before they happen.

One of the best ways to remember negative reinforcement is to think of it as something being subtracted from the situation. When you look at it in this way, it may be easier to identify examples of negative reinforcement in the real-world.

Examples of Negative Reinforcement:

Learn more by looking at the following examples:

  • Before heading out for a day at the beach, you slather on sunscreen in order to avoid getting sunburned.
  • You decide to clean up your mess in the kitchen in order to avoid getting in a fight with your roommate.
  • On Monday morning, you leave the house early in order to avoid getting stuck in traffic and being late for class.

Can you identify the negative reinforcer in each of these examples? Sunburn, a fight with your roommate and being late for work are all negative outcomes that were avoided by performing a specific behavior. By eliminating these undesirable outcomes, the preventative behaviors become more likely to occur again in the future.

Negative Reinforcement versus Punishment:

One mistake that people often make is confusing negative reinforcement with punishment. Remember, however, that negative reinforcement involves the removal of a negative condition in order to strengthen a behavior. Punishment, on the other hand, involves either presenting or taking away a stimulus in order to weaken a behavior.

Consider the following example and determine whether you think it is an example of negative reinforcement or punishment:

Timmy is supposed to clean his room every Saturday morning. Last weekend, he went out to play with his friend without cleaning his room. As a result, his father made him spend the rest of the weekend doing other chores like cleaning out the garage, mowing the lawn and weeding the garden, in addition to cleaning his room.

If you said that this was an example of punishment, then you are correct. Because Timmy didn’t clean his room, his father assigned a punishment of having to do extra chores.

When Is Negative Reinforcement Most Effective?

Negative reinforcement can be an effective way to strengthen a desired behavior. However, it is most effective when reinforcers are presented immediately following a behavior. When a long period of time elapses between the behavior and the reinforcer, the response is likely to be weaker. In some cases, behaviors that occur in the intervening time between the initial action and the reinforcer are may also be inadvertently strengthened as well.

According to Wolfgang (2001), negative reinforcement should be used sparingly in classroom settings, while positive reinforcement should be emphasized. While negative reinforcement can produce immediate results, he suggests that it is best suited for short-term use.

by Kendra Cherry.

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