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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Anwar is a US tool? Malaysian election fever

Dr Chandra: He will change foreign policy

PETALING JAYA: Bilateral relations between Malaysia and China will be jeapordised if Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim becomes the next prime minister.

Former PKR deputy president Dr Chandra Muzaffar said Anwar, who has always been considered a US ally would surely change Malaysia's foreign policy towards China due to his close ties with the US.

“Even Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is considered as only a friend' of the US, not an ally.

“It is because Najib is consistently forging close ties with the Chinese government,” he said yesterday.

Dr Chandra explained that Najib had always maintained close bilateral ties with China, especially in terms of the country's foreign policy.

“The conservative lobbyists in the US are not happy with Najib's attempts to strengthen ties with China,” he said.

Dr Chandra also highlighted that Anwar was among the members of an international delegation, who opposed the Olympics being held in Beijing in 2008.

“Prior to 2008, Anwar joined campaigners from the US and other countries, opposing China from staging the games,” he said.

Meanwhile, at a forum organised by the Majlis Perundingan Melayu (MPM Malay Consultative Council) last Friday, Dr Chandra, urged the Chinese not to allow themselves to be tricked by Anwar who was not honest in fighting for the community.

“If the Chinese are still hoping that Anwar will fight for their cause that would be their biggest mistake.

“Anwar is a US tool, and if he becomes the Prime Minister, the good relationship between Malaysia and China will be over,” he said.

The Star/Asia News Network

Small town, big names in Bentong war part 2, Malaysian election fever

Felda scheme with a potent voice

Meeting the people: Liow speaking during an NGO dinner in Bentong.
Lurah Bilut stands tall as the nation’s first Felda scheme, pioneered by settlers from all races from different parts of the country.

LURAH BILUT is just about 19km away from Bentong. It is a huge piece of fertile land located near Sungai Bilut and the Kelau forest reserve.

It is safe to say that most Malaysians, especially those staying in the cities, have never heard of this place and have no reason to come here.

But Lurah Bilut is not only the first Felda scheme in the country but one that was pioneered by settlers from all races after independence.

In this 12,920-acre (5,228ha) enclave, located within the Bentong parliamentary constituency, there are Malays, Chinese, Indians and the Orang Asli, and their children can go to either the national school or the national-type schools where the medium is in Chinese or Tamil.

The scheme was opened in 1957 and each settler was given 10 acres (4ha) of land. According to records, the first batch of settlers who entered the scheme on Aug 2, 1959, was from Datuk Keramat, Kuala Lumpur. They were brought into the area by bus and were shocked to find themselves in a jungle.

One Chinese settler, who arrived here in 1959 from Negri Sembilan with just his clothes on his back, was given tools to hack away at the dense growth, according to one report. There is one road here called Jalan Pulau Pinang, because the settlers came from Penang.

As with everything that is new and untested, the settlers had to be imbued with a sense of adventure. Certainly they could not foresee the success that Felda would turn out to be eventually. Thus these early settlers in Lurah Bilut came to be known as the Pioneering Bulls and have become some kind of a legend in this Felda scheme.

Felda was set up to eradicate rural poverty through the use of effective agricultural methods to cultivate cash crops such as rubber and oil palm. In recent years, there has also been special emphasis on diversification to deal with the fluctuations in commodity prices.

On my visit to this Felda scheme, it was clear that many were eager to share their experiences with me. There is a sense of pride over what has taken place here.

Strategising: Wong meeting with his team of campaigners at his service centre in Bentong. Strategising: Wong meeting with his team of campaigners at his service centre in Bentong.
I am sitting at a restaurant opposite the Lurah Bilut Chinese school where the Barisan Nasional campaigners are having their lunch break.

A vegetarian meal has been prepared for incumbent MP Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai and as he sat down at the table, the MCA deputy president invited those at the table to share his vegetarian dishes.

But many jokingly told him that they would take his share of meat instead, a joke which he has heard many times.

The Bentong parliamentary seat which Liow won with a 12,585 majority when he polled 51,340 votes against his PKR opponent R. Ponusamy’s 12,585 votes is regarded as a safe seat for the Barisan Nasional.

The current electorate of 62,400 voters comprise 43.9% Chinese, 44.6% Malays, 9.4% Indians, 0.5% Orang Asl and the rest, others.

Liow is expected to deliver this seat to the BN but no one is taking any chances this time because of the perception that the Chinese sentiments against the BN are very strong, even in Bentong where they have always been traditionally pro-BN.

Even the Bilut state seat, held by the MCA, is under threat from the Pakatan Rakyat. Liow has to work extra hard to campaign for 36-year-old Leong Kim Soon, who is contesting this seat. Leong’s grand uncle is the late Tan Sri Chan Siang Sun, who was the legendary MP for Bentong.

Leong, who is the political secretary to Liow, is facing DAP’s Chow Yu Hui.

In this rural setting, the two have gone from door to door, under the hot afternoon sun, to shake the hands of every voter.

Said a campaigner: “This is a crucial area as it is racially mixed and we want to cover as much ground as possible.”

Unlike the Felda schemes in Johor, especially, where Pakatan Rakyat candidates are literally chased away by the settlers, the PR workers have been able to put up their flags and banners, an indication that a fight is at hand.

In the Bentong town centre, Liow’s challenger is Wong Tack, who made a name for himself as the anti-Lynas campaigner. In his green T-shirt, Wong was raising environment issues but his credentials have taken a knock after he was exposed as the owner of a 1,000-acre (404ha) oil palm estate in Sabah.

Wong also had to fend off the revelation that he held Canadian permanent residence status, explaining that it was cancelled by the Canadian authorities because he did not go back to the country.

But the BN campaigners have been hammering on that issue, questioning why there was a need for him to collect donations at every ceramah when he is pretty well off financially.

They asked how many of the voters, especially settlers, could even dream of owning 1,000 acres of land and if they knew how much money had been collected so far.

But Wong seems undeterred by these issues, saying he was well-prepared to challenge Liow for Bentong,

and also Mentri Besar Datuk Adnan Yaacob, who is contesting in the Pelangai state seat, under Bentong.
Wong’s campaigners, mostly youngsters, are visibly seen in town, especially at the market, where they aggressively tell voters to go for change.

One Universiti Malaya student said she had volunteered to canvass votes for Wong because she had been actively involved in the anti-Lynas campaign.

“My belief in him remains the same. I will still support him and the DAP, nothing will change my stand,’’ the third-year student said. She said her parents knew that she was campaigning and wholeheartedly supported her.

Her friends, many eager to express their views, said they were using their own expenses to stay in Bentong.

At the Bentong Jaya coffeeshop, the discussions focus on the sentiments of the Chinese, swayed by DAP’s talk that Pakatan Rakyat would take over the Federal Government. Only a few were cautiously warning about the implications of the Chinese voting themselves out of the government.

A businessman from Kuala Lumpur said he had been trying to explain to some Chinese voters that while their sentiments are pro-Pakatan, the majority of Malays would be backing Barisan.

“The huge crowd at DAP ceramah can be deceiving because the Malay style of campaigning, in Felda areas, is to have small get-together sessions, prayers at the suraus and house to house visits. As these are not visible, the Chinese think the huge crowd means PR would take over,” he said.

In Bentong, the local dialect is Kwong Sai, which originates from Guangxi province in southern China. As we continued with our drinks, the locals at the neighbouring tables were listening attentively.

The politicians and campaigners have been doing all the talking so far but come May 5, the voters will be doing the talking via the ballot box. The stand of the majority in Bentong would be known then.

On the GE13 Beat

Related posts:
Small town, big names in Bentong war, Malaysian election fever 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Small town, big names in Bentong war, Malaysian election fever

Politics up close and personal in a small town is different even if the candidates are major players at the national stage.

TIADA tingkap RM57.25, ada tingkap RM76.35 (without window it is RM57.25, with window it is RM76.35),” said a Hotel Kristal receptionist over the phone.

The difference was RM19.10. I decided to splurge and go for “ada tingkap”.

I wanted a room with a view for my quick stay at Bentong town in Pahang on Friday. The eve of a weekend presented a window of opportunity for me to get out of Greater Kuala Lumpur.

Since nomination day I’ve attended poli­ti­­­cal activities in the MP seats of Lembah Pantai, Serdang and Putrajaya and I wanted a change in political scenery.

Bentong was tempting as it is a hot seat. Incumbent MP and MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai is facing fiery environmentalist Wong Tack of the DAP, who had threatened to burn the Lynas plant.

I also wanted a taste of politics in a sm­­all town and the famous ABC (ais batu campur) in Kow Po Coffee Shop.

Plus, I wanted to contribute to Star Online’s Storify timeline. (Storify users, in the words of, tell stories by collecting updates from social networks, amplifying the voices that matter to create a new story format that is interactive, dynamic and social.)

On that day, The Star was covering the campaign trail of Liow and Wong via Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

After an 80-minute, 85km-drive from Subang Jaya, I arrived in the quaint town of Bentong, once a mining town, at around 3.30pm.

Here’s how I judge a town. “Wah, got KFC! Wah, got 7-Eleven! Wah, got Secret Recipe! Wah, got HSBC!,” I told my wife as I drove around the town which was like a big roundabout.

“Wah, no McDonalds!,” I told her. It seemed if you lived in Bentong, you had to drive 37km to Genting Sempat, on the foothill of Genting Highlands (and also part of the Bentong parliamentary constituency), if you had a McAttack.

One of the best hotels in town is Hotel Kristal. I checked in and quickly checked out my “ada tingkap” room. The view was that of a rather narrow Bentong River, the back of KFC and Barisan Nasional flags. It was worth the extra RM19.10.

Across the Bentong River and about a few kilometres from Hotel Kristal is Kampung Baru Perting, a Chinese new village, which is a DAP stronghold. I drove there as a candidate running for the Bentong seat was campaigning door-to-door.

It was drizzling. After a five-minute drive around the village, I spotted two dozen people carrying blue Barisan umbrellas. Must be Liow Tiong Lai, I told myself.

The 52-year-old politician has been the Bentong MP since 1999. Liow was working his way through a row of wooden and concrete houses together with his mentor Tan Sri Lim Ah Lek, a former Bentong MP and MCA deputy president.

I took their photograph and tweeted (when the Internet signal was strong enough) it.

The silver-haired 70-year-old retired politician, according to my colleague T. Avinesh­waran, was amazing as he remembered almost all of the residents’ names.

Earlier, at 11am, Liow’s opponent Wong Tack had a press conference at the DAP office in Bentong town. At that time I was still in Petaling Jaya. But, via the Storify time­­line curated by Michelle Tam, I felt as if I was in Bentong town covering it.

One of the questions asked of the politi­cian, who made a name for the anti-Lynas campaign, was on the revelation over the Inter­­­­­­­­­­­­­­net that he owned large tract of oil palm plantation in Sabah.

In a video uploaded by Avineshwaran on YouTube immediately after his press conference, Wong said those who questioned his environmental credentials should call Datuk Masidi Manjun, Sabah’s Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister, to ask about his contribution to environmental conservation in Sabah.

Tashny Sukumaran, my colleague, tweeted: “@wong_tack asked that @liowtionglai call @MasidiM to ask about his contributions to environmental conservation in Sabah. #bentong #ge13” and Masidi replied on Twitter: “let them fight their own battle like a gentleman #ge13”.

That’s the beauty of social media. The response is immediate and public.

Done with the Liow door-to-door campaigning, I decided to follow my rule #72 of covering a campaign trail – patronise a famous eatery in the town you are in.

I drove to Kow Po Coffee Shop. I managed to chat with the 80-year-old Tan Kow Po and his 48-year-old son, Michael. In 1969, Kow Po established the ABC and ice cream parlour at the same premises which it still occupies now.

Kow Po gave me the low-down on the political scenario in his hometown, Bentong.

At first I could not understand which party he was referring to as he used gestures to describe them.

Finally, I understood that when he made a quick stab with his index finger it meant DAP’s rocket and an O-sign repre­­sen­­­­­­­ted PAS’ moon.

If I was to understand the nuances of the ice cream maker’s political observations, I think he meant: be careful of voting based on the flavour of the month.

 One Man’s Meat by PHILIP GOLINGAI

Related posts:
Malaysian election time: swinging change towards transformation?
Growing trees with deep roots, rightways to Malaysian election 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Growing trees with deep roots, rightways to Malaysian election

To make things happen for the betterment of our society, we should look into long-term goals instead of short-term achievements. It’s like planting a tree in your garden with a seedling. The tree planted the right way will take time to grow, but its roots will run deep and strong, providing shade for the generations to come. 

ONE of the experiments I remember to this day from primary school is the one where we placed green peas on cotton wool in a container and created a number of conditions to observe how plants grow.

The container kept under the most ideal conditions – enough water and exposure to sunlight – had the little bean sprouts shooting up in a matter of days.

I was more amazed at the fact that a little seed could transform into a seedling right before my very eyes.

In my innocence, I even suggested to my father that we should plant a durian seed in our garden and wait for the tree to grow so we do not have to buy durians anymore.

Of course, as we all know, in life, many things do not just happen overnight.

As a dear friend from Ipoh puts it, “the people who labour, whether sowing, planting or tending, rarely get to see the fruits of their own labour.”

All too often, others will be the beneficiaries, just as we too benefit from the labour of others.

Another dear friend, probably one of the longest surviving leukaemia patients in the country, has subjected herself to many clinical trials, both in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

She is told, at the very beginning, that there are no guarantees, but she takes everything in stride in the belief that even if the drug does not work for her now, it may work for others in the future once the shortcomings are put right.

What about us in our daily lives? Don’t you agree that we are sometimes just too impatient with wanting instant results even when we know that we are asking for the impossible?

I believe that the only constant in life is change, but what do we do to make change happen?

I know of many people who quietly labour to make changes, one step at a time, even when they have to go through the despair of wondering if all the hard work put in will ever bear fruit.

They are not the people who are vocal, and are able to articulate their viewpoints through a wide variety of platforms. Instead they are too busy just getting the work done.

The advocates for the disabled, for example, have many battles to fight. I know they cringe in despair each time a step forward is followed by two steps backwards.

But those who stay on are the ones who believe that it is good enough to be faithful to one’s own conscience and convictions, and eventually things do happen. They do not march to the applause of men, but are guided by doing what is right.

Sometimes, I think our politicians have much to learn about long-term goals as compared to short-term achievements. I have been to a number of ceramah already and I do wonder if those seeking to be elected truly understand what the future is really all about.

How do they see this nation of ours move forward? How do they help us become better people, so that together, we become a better nation?

No doubt, those who eventually come to power have the means to make certain things happen for the betterment of our society.

But it is the people themselves who truly make the difference. Our involvement goes beyond the vote. It must be translated into day-to-day action, oftentimes by being sensitive to the needs of others more than our own.

It’s like planting a tree in your garden with a seedling that you can pick up from the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) in Kepong rather than just buying a ready tree to place in the garden.

The tree planted the right way will take time to grow, but its roots will run deep and strong. The instant tree will give you instant gratification but it will be the first to collapse in a thunderstorm. But the tree that you gently nurture will surely provide shade for the generations to come.

Sunday Starters
> Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin ( is waiting to join his friend at his durian orchard, a labour of love that is bearing fruit after many years.


马工作团队 - Love Is In The Air

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Enter Android in the smartphone operating system titans

In the clash of the smartphone operating system titans, we take a look at what Google has brought to the table.

BRINGING IT: A Google Android figurine sits on a welcome desk at the new Google office in Toronto. - Reuters
FANCY having a Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, or Jellybean?

While the list above seems like a mouth-watering spread of sinful desserts, it can refer to something else in the technological world today.

For the uninitiated, those are also the names of the different update versions of the Android smartphone operating system (OS).

Before we touch on the topic of Android, let's first start with smartphones and how they have become an integral part of our lives in this day and age.

It wasn't too long ago when the sheer mention of the word 'smartphone' brought to mind an image of a busy businessman holding a personal digital assistant (PDA) phone to check and send work e-mail messages on the fly.

Aside from businessmen and those with deep pockets, it was uncommon to see an average consumer owning a smartphone. Among my peers during my time as a student, anyone who owned a smartphone was deemed to be a rich spoilt brat.

Fast forward to today, the advancements of technology has made it so much easier to own a smartphone.

What is a smartphone? By Oxford dictionary's definition, a smartphone is a mobile phone that is able to perform many of the functions of a computer, typically having a relatively large screen and an operating system capable of running general-purpose applications.

The early smartphones came into existence in the 1990s, although the early incarnations of smartphones were basically mobile phones incorporating PDA (personal digital assistant) features, and not necessarily with large screens.

Throughout the years, there have been various operating systems supporting the vast multitude of smartphones that have reached the hands of consumers. Among the operating systems that we have come to know and love are Symbian, Palm OS, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Android and iOS.

As the title suggests, this column will be all about Google's Android operating system.

Meteoric rise

The first ever smartphone sold running on the Android operating system was the HTC Dream, which was released in 2008.

Since then, Android has come a long way, climbing up the ranks and capturing the biggest share of the pie in the smartphone operating system market. Aside from smartphones, the operating system is also widely used on tablet computers.

With a whole plethora of Android devices being unleashed into the market, the operating system from Google overtook long-time leaders Symbian at the end of 2010 to be the world's most widely used smartphone operating system, according to online sources.

It is growing at an estimated 1.5 million activations per day. This means that everyday, 1.5 million Android devices are powered on by consumers for the first time. Android leads the smartphone OS world, with a market share of 75% during the third quarter of 2012.

Being a product of Google, Android smartphones come readily available with a staple of Google applications (apps), such as Gmail, Google Maps, Google Calendar, Google+ and Google Chrome browser.

Interestingly, every update version of the operating system is named after a form of dessert, and in alphabetical order. The first system version was named Donut (1.6), followed by Eclair (2.0 - 2.1), Froyo (2.2), Gingerbread (2.3), Honeycomb (3.1 - 3.2), Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0), and Jellybean (4.1 - 4.2).

Unlike the other main operating systems in the smartphone market, Google has made its Linux-based OS open source. This means that the software can be freely distributed and modified by device manufacturers, wireless carriers and developers.

This move has successfully attracted a large community of app developers, as can be proven by the whopping 800,000 apps available for download on the Google Play store as of January.

In October 2012, the Google Play store celebrated a milestone of 25 billion app downloads.

Tailor made

Android has become a favourite choice for manufacturers as it is easy to adopt and implement, rather than having to develop a whole new operating system from scratch. We can find this operating system from Google being adopted by a diverse range of manufacturers, ranging from big brand names such as Samsung, HTC, Motorola, Sony Ericsson and LG to smaller, upstart Chinese companies.

However, not every Android smartphone provides the same experience. Different hardware manufacturers have different "skins" or add-ons, above the base Android software, to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack. Samsung's Touchwiz user interface and HTC's Sense user interface are examples of the types of "flavoured" Android offerings by other manufacturers.

Google also collaborates with different hardware manufacturers to release their flagship Android smartphones under the Google Nexus line. The Nexus phones provide the original "vanilla" Android experience for users and are the first to receive the latest Android version updates.

Because of this diversity, we can find Android smartphones for every segment of the market. Aside from the pricier high-end smartphones, there is also a wide selection of mid- to low-end Android smartphones which are more affordable, hence making it easier for more consumers to own a smartphone.

Android has been so popular that we are seeing it in more and more electronic products and not just smartphones or tablets. There are even manufacturers who are starting to incorporate Android into their microwave ovens!

Among the advantages of the Android operating system are its ability to multitask, the huge amount of options for devices, the notification bar, homescreen widgets, and the connectivity to the Google brand. The advantages and disadvantages of the operating system will be delved into in future editions of this weekly column which will appear on

This weekly column will be a medium to share about everything Android. Expect to read about news on the operating system updates, app reviews or the new devices running on Google's operating system. Stay tuned!

(Donovan is a full-time auditor and big-time gadget lover who discovered the wonders of the Android world after a chance encounter with Samsung's Galaxy S back in October 2010.)
Related post:
Chinese smartphone innovators shrug off Android dominance.

Making monkeys out of markets

IT'S now official. Even monkeys can beat the stock market index. Cass Business School researchers in London simulated 10 million portfolios of US stocks selected at random. They found that a US$100 invested at the beginning of 1968 would have yielded US$5,000 by the end of 2011, but half the monkey (computer-simulated) portfolios managed US$8,700, one quarter made more than US$9,100 and 10% made more than US$9,500.

So, does the market beat all the professionals if monkeys beat the market?

There is a real lesson here for investors. I had a great debate with a good friend last month regarding the benefits of investing in a world where fast trading algorithms (using super fast computers to detect market opportunities to buy, sell or short stocks make it hard even for traditional asset managers to compete. So what chance is there for retail investors? My friend decided to get out of trading stocks.

Investing has been such complicated business because there are just too many variables to handle. Gone are the days when you think you can understand how markets perform. The rules of the game changed when policymakers began intervening through unconventional monetary policy and politics become part of the equation.

You would have thought logically that growth economies should produce growth stocks. The BRICS economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) met in Durban at the end of March. These five countries accounted for over half of total global growth since 2001, but their stock markets have not done that well. Since its peak in 2007, the BRICS index is down 37%.

Chinese retail investors have declined in number, based on the number of accounts closed. The A share index is down 31% since its peak in 2009, and the Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa stock market indices are all in negative territory since the beginning of this year. On the other hand, both the US and Japan are sluggish in growth and their stock markets performed 11.1% and 20% respectively since the beginning of this year.

Despite being overall in crisis and negative growth, even the European stock market performed in positive territory, mainly due to better performance in Germany and France. There are globally diversified companies in these economies that can outperform despite the slowdown in the European economy.

The real problem is that negative real interest rates around the world are truly destroying the ability of investors to judge what is the right asset to invest in. Markets are clearly bubbly when emerging market investors start investing in taxi licenses.

Accordingly to a Bloomberg report, Turkish taxi licenses today trade for US$580,000 each. My Hong Kong taxi driver was complaining to me that a Hong Kong taxi license was trading over HK$7mil (just under US$900,000) and yielding next to nothing.

It made no sense to him as a taxi driver himself to be an owner. This reminded me that in 1996, golf club membership was being touted as the best investment ever, with the 1997 Asian financial crisis wiping out all gains thereafter.

So what should an honest, no-inside information retail investor do? I guess the old-fashioned advice to invest in diversified and value stocks and maintaining ample liquidity is still sound. Global bonds have done well since the financial crisis due to the massive quantitative easing.

Even those who have speculated on Greek bonds when they were yielding more than 20% have done well. But it is difficult to argue that ten year US Treasuries and German Bunds at under 2% per annum represent no risk. Certainly, Japanese 10 year bonds at 0.55% per annum, when the official inflation target is 2% per annum, must carry considerable interest rate risks.

Over the long-term, there is no question that investing in one's own home has been good investment. This is officially supported leveraged investment, since most mortgages still require not more than 30% down payment for the first home. The fact that there is a growing middle-class in most emerging Asia means that demand for housing is still on the increase, but given such low interest rates, it is hard to imagine how much further can house prices rise relative to the affordability index.

My own inclination is to go for high yield, solid growth companies that are globally diversified. You basically invested in the region that you are most familiar with, and in companies that demonstrate good governance and know what they are doing. The average price/earnings ratio of Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand markets are still below those of the US (17.7). China A share has a PE ratio of only 8.1 and a yield of 3.7%.

Of course, the art of investing depends completely on the investor's risk appetite, age and liquidity requirements. If you are fully invested in illiquid assets or in illiquid markets, you cannot get out even though the returns look good. Property markets are notoriously easy to get into and difficult to cash out, especially in the smaller markets. Bond investments may look good on paper, but when you want to exit, the selling price may be lower than what you think you can get, especially for retail investors.

Knowing that even monkeys can beat the market gives one food for thought. You can do better, but you must invest the time and energy to think through what you are investing in, what risk you are taking and what you want to achieve. My friend in Australia had no formal training in investments, decided that she could outperform the market, relied on her instinct and own research into companies and is now doing pretty well on her own.

Even monkeys know how to survive, so don't look down on monkeys.

Tan Sri Andrew Sheng is president of the Fung Global Institute. He was recently named by Time magazine as one of 100 most influential people in the world.

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Financial crises a result of governance failures 
: Who invented bank deposit insurance? 
New economic thinking 
The year of shame 2012' get any worse in 2013? 
The rotten heart of capitalism: interest rate-fixing   

Friday, April 26, 2013

Should Malaysians vote for the racist ?

Zulkifli Nordin - PERKASA

condemns Chinese and Indians as "pendatang haram". Where are his roots ? Java, Sumatra, Sulawesi or from heaven ? Dare he traces his roots ! After all he is also a "pendatang haram ?

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I am the most winnable candidate in Malaysian election

Malaysian election time: swinging change towards transformation?

The political choice for Malaysians is not whether to embrace change, but which kind of change they prefer.

IN life, change is said to be the only constant. In politics change is a given, even mandatory.

If a governing system does not change its style or policies the way people want, then the system itself may be changed. Such change may be democratic or autocratic, evolutionary or revolutionary, peaceful or violent.

Much will depend on the type and degree of change. Who will be affected by that change, and in what ways?

Will the promised changes be what people had been led to expect? What other changes are likely as a consequence?

Will the pros outweigh the cons of those changes? And if the people find the actual changes not to their liking, will those changes be reversible?

Such questions often arise at general elections. Malaysia’s coming 13th general election seems to have unearthed more of these questions than any other election in the country’s history.

This comes partly as a residue of the 2008 general election. In that “political tsunami”, more seats in the Federal Parliament changed over into Opposition hands than ever before.

At the time, many voters who opted for the Opposition had not actually wanted to change the Federal Government. They merely wanted to teach Barisan Nasional a lesson for non-delivery and general indifference since 2004.

Voters did so by clearly denying Barisan its two-thirds majority. This had come right after the 2004 general election, which had won Barisan 63.9% of the popular vote (more, if Barisan had contested all constituencies).

So in 2008, Barisan scored only 50.3%, an all-time low. The previous low count was in 1999, which saw Barisan win only 56.5% of the popular vote.

Will the general election this year see a swing of support back to Barisan as it hopes, or a further boost for the Opposition as it imagines? Will there be a pendulum effect in favour of Barisan, or a slide favouring Pakatan Rakyat?

As soon as Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak assumed the premiership in April 2009, he had seen the writing on the wall.

He opted for a major overhaul of policy and mindsets with the emphasis on transformation (change).

This spanned an Economic Transformation Programme that aimed for merit over entitlement, the Performance and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) within the Prime Minister’s Department introducing Key Performance Indicators, a change in national attitudes with 1Malaysia, focused aspirations towards a high-income nation and even abolition of repressive laws like the ISA.

The changes came thick and fast, including some that none had thought possible. The pace of changes exceeded anything that any Federal or State Government had seen before.

Even a movement like Hindraf, born in the crucible of street protests and energised by hunger strikes, came to deal with Najib’s Barisan.

Hindraf leaders P. Waythamoorthy and N. Ganesan had discussed their concerns and bargained with Pakatan and Barisan leaders, and opted to work with Najib.

Najib himself, coming into office in his mid-50s and the son of a former prime minister, personified change. One after another, Barisan stalwarts like Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik, Datuk Seri Samy Vellu and Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz quit the scene, following Tun Dr Mahathir’s lead.

Unlike this older generation, Najib engaged openly and repeatedly with the younger generation. Young adults are typically seen as energetic, idealistic and hungry for change.

The obvious subtext was that voters need not opt for a change in government, since the government itself had already launched a comprehensive programme of change. This approach seemed to coincide with the mood of the time.

The 13th general election will see 2.9 million new voters, out of a grand total of 13.1 million nationwide. That represents just over 22% of the country’s electorate.

Some of those new, mostly younger voters may not seek that much change. Many will want more of the changes they have seen, sticking with Barisan, while others may still want a change in the system itself by opting for Pakatan.

A divided Hindraf embodies this difference in approach. In seeking change, should one ride the wave of change in securing more changes, or switch to a competing outfit atop a platform of change?

Which is more important, adding to the momentum of change that had already begun, or opting for the promise of change? Each individual and group will have to make that crucial choice come next Sunday.

On nomination day, Barisan unveiled another surprise: the high proportion of fresh young candidates. In states like Penang, the percentage of new faces reached 70%.

In contrast, Pakatan parties are still led mostly by older people: Lim Kit Siang, Karpal Singh, Nik Aziz and Hadi Awang, with Anwar himself six years older than Najib.

Will the many young voters, seeking change, end up voting for the oldest political leaders in the country?

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

DAP's Tiger roars, Malaysian election fevers!

DAP national chairman Karpal Singh, the ‘Tiger of Jelutong’, is now roaring his way into the people’s hearts this general election.

For the first time, he has incorporated his famous tiger trademark into his election campaign by having his campaign vehicles emblazoned with his image beside the image of a tiger.

The 72-year-old lawyer, who earned the nickname following a dispute with former MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu in Parlia-ment in 1982, said he was sure the tiger would bring good luck to him and Pakatan Rakyat.

He also did not mind retelling the story behind the nickname to reporters during a meeting-the- people session at the market in Jalan Gangsa yesterday.

“During an argument with Samy Vellu, he called himself a lion while he called me a tiger.

“But I’m a lion as Singh means lion in Punjabi. And lion is ‘singa’ in Bahasa Malaysia,” he added.

“But then I said to him: ‘Never mind, you be the lion and I’ll be the tiger. There are no lions in the country.

“So the name started from there,” he said with a chuckle.

Karpal Singh, who is defending his Bukit Gelugor parliamentary seat, said a supporter, S. Mahendran, had taken the campaign vehicles — a multi-purpose vehicle and a jeep — to the shop to have the images pasted on them.

He added that he would ensure that tigers, an endangered species, would be protected as any attack on a tiger was an attack on him.

“The vehicles bearing the tiger images received a positive response from the public who would take photographs of them,” he said.

He has also called himself the ‘Tiger General’ in Bukit Gelugor which he said was the only constituency in the country to have four lawyers in the parliamentary and state seats.

“Four lawyers — we are like ge-nerals. And I am the ‘Tiger General’,” he said.

DAP candidates for the three state seats are incumbents R.S.N. Rayer (Seri Delima), Wong Hon Wai (Air Itam) and Yeoh Soon Hin (Paya Terubong).

Karpal Singh won the Jelutong parliamentary seat in 1978 and held the seat for more than 20 years until losing it in 1999.

The Bukit Gelugor constituency was once part of the Jelutong parliamentary constituency until the mid-1990s.

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The powerful political marketing: hate and love emotions in Malaysian election?

The peddling of hate has been proven to be very effective in political marketing, especially when people are trapped in certain mindsets that determine their views.

SATURDAY, April 20, was a special day for about 80 of my ex-schoolmates and I, most of whom have known each other since starting out in primary school 51 years ago.

No, politics had nothing to do it. Nomination Day just happened to fall on our old boys’ reunion, planned months earlier.

But there was no relief from the pervasive political talk amidst the camaraderie and merriment.

Even the chef at the golf resort in Malacca where the gathering of the 58-year-olds were held, could not resist trying to campaign for the side he was supporting.

To my disbelief, the man who had only recently returned home after working in Germany for many years asked me point blank: “Who are you voting for, ah?”

With the whole country gripped by election fever and emotions running at all time highs, such manners can be expected before we cast our ballots for the mother of all political battles on May 5.

A day after the bash, as we were recovering from the after effects of the revelry, a friend who has seen the ups and downs of business shared his experiences in the insurance and multi-level marketing industries before heading back home.

Recalling his lucrative days of running a thriving insurance agency, he said the art of selling policies mostly relied on playing on the emotions of potential clients.

His formula was simple: Give 98% focus on emotions, 1% on product knowledge and 1% for other needed explanations to convince, including “convenient untruths”.

We soon ended up comparing the similarities of tactics used in the realm of politics.

An election, after all, is the final closing move in the marketing of political emotions to sway voters to one side or the other.

Emotions are mental reactions experienced as strong feelings directed toward a specific object, persons or situations.

The word can be traced to its Latin roots of movere (to move). Emotions move people to act in a certain way.

Like in the case of marketing products or services, three types of appeals – logical, ethical and emotional – are put across to political “customers”.

By right, the logical route based on reasoning should be the most appealing but is used the least, except in cases of party manifestos and presentation of performance “report cards”.

The simple reason for this is people don’t make rational decisions based on detailed information, careful analysis or conscious thought.

The ethical appeal is usually used in campaign messages to raise the profile of certain personalities and expose the unsuitability of others by disparaging them.

In business, the emotional appeal involves using greed, fear, envy, pride and shame, but in politics, it is the harnessing of primary emotions – happiness, surprise, sadness, anger, disgust and fear, in addition to the most potent one, hate.

The peddling of hate has been proven to be very effective in political marketing, especially when people are trapped in certain mindsets that determine their views and decision-making.

In Malaysia, like elsewhere, political support is conditioned by up­bringing based on ethnicity, location (urban or rural), level of education or wealth and the shared belief of family members or friends.

Tragically, since the last general election, hate has been stoked steadily to the point where reason has little chance or participation in civil discourse.

Hate has become the norm in our political engagement, especially in cyber space, with our Hollywood icon Datuk Seri Michelle Yeoh as the latest hapless victim.

The 49-year-old actress was called “a traitor” to the Chinese race, running dog and pinned with other unpalatable labels by partisan cyber bullies just for attending a dinner in Port Klang organised by a group of Selangor Chinese businessmen in support of Barisan Nasional last week.

Two months ago, a young female Facebook user, who posted a YouTube video pledging support for one side, ended up being insulted with all sorts of derogatory names and even threatened with rape.

Don’t Malaysians have a choice or the right to support whoever they want anymore?

These days, one cannot log into Facebook without being drawn into some form of partisan political conversation.

Too much energy appears to be focused on emotionally-charged rants and sharing them with people who might not necessarily agree.

Instead of “de-friending” these people, I have taken to hiding posts that are deemed to be unworthy of sharing.

I read somewhere that this would automatically prompt Facebook to weed out posts from such people. It has not happened yet, though.

Hate is also being spread via e-mail and through SMSes and WhatsApp on mobile phones.

Like many others, I have been getting an endless stream of political messages designed to influence my vote, over the past month.

Enough already, please. In any case, my mind has already been made up. It was done some time ago, too.

> Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan values these words by Gautama Buddha: Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Japan glorifies war criminals in annual visits toYasukuni Shrine!

Japan's frictions between neighbors have resurfaced after a group of 168 Japanese lawmakers on Tuesday paid their respects at the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which glorifies war-dead including those guilty of atrocities. It was the first time in eight years that a group of over 100 Japanese politicians visited the shrine. On the same day, a fleet of Chinese marine surveillance vessels drove Japanese boats out of waters surrounding the Diaoyu Islands, thwarting the provocative attempts of around 80 Japanese right wingers.

The South Korean government has issued a strongly worded complaint over the Japanese politicians' visit to the shrine. China and South Korea have shown their shared outrage over the Yasukuni Shrine issue, but Japan seems to have disregarded this.

There are not many extreme right wingers in Japan, but Japanese society has still been tilting further toward right-wing views.

These days, provocations have been coming from Japan's deputy prime minister, a group of over 100 lawmakers and the right wingers creating waves over the Diaoyu Islands issue.

The Chinese government is taking the lead in dealing with Japan. However, it has little leverage when dealing with various forces within Japan. This reality cannot be changed in the near future. This means the Chinese government's stance has to be tough. Chinese marine surveillance vessels have done a pretty good job on this occasion. Since the Diaoyu crisis broke out last year, the tough resistance of the Chinese government against Japan has made it the main force in safeguarding the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands.

The latest situation involving the Diaoyu Islands has demonstrated the contrast in terms of strength between China and Japan as well as the changing East Asia strategic arena.

The Yasukuni Shrine visits are evidence of Japan's reluctance to accept reality. Japanese society is becoming increasingly radical, but continues to take a careful approach in maritime conflicts with China.

Japan lacks a clear strategy in East Asia. Encountering China's rise, it hasn't formed a policy that helps it maximize its interests, and instead shows resentment and anxiety. Its alliance with the US cannot help it solve its own strategic dilemma.

The gradual decline in Japan's power is the reason for its lack of confidence.

Japan is like a marijuana smoker, who enjoys the excitement of the moment but is ultimately damaging itself at the same time. Japan will fall by itself. China doesn't need to launch fierce counterattacks. Instead, it can just express its firm stance to make Japan feel scared. 

China needs to create diplomatic leverage over Japan, which could help it express its determination when dealing with issues related to sovereignty and historical matters, and bring the Sino-Japanese conflict under control. - Global Times

Japan shrine visit angers South Korea

Taro Aso, Japan's deputy prime minister and finance minister, bows at the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo. Photograph: AFP/Getty

South Korea has abruptly cancelled a trip to Tokyo by its foreign minister in protest at visits to a controversial war shrine over the weekend by Japanese cabinet ministers, including the deputy prime minister.

Visits to the Yasukuni shrine – which honours 14 class-A war criminals among 2.5 million other Japanese war dead – have traditionally angered China and South Korea, which view the site as a symbol of Japanese militarism.

Four ministers in the conservative administration of Shinzo Abe paid visits to the shrine, including his finance minister, Taro Aso.

The separate visits, to mark the beginning of the shrine's annual spring festival, come amid tensions with China over a longstanding territorial dispute in the East China sea.

Beijing did not immediately respond but South Korea said on Monday that its foreign minister, Yun Byung-se, would not be making a two-day visit to Tokyo due to begin this Friday.

"Amid this kind of atmosphere our stance is that it will be difficult to hold a productive discussion and Yun decided not to visit to Japan this time," an unnamed South Korean official told the Yonhap news agency.

Abe did not visit the shrine but sent a decorative branch of a cypress tree as a ritual offering, with his name and title written beneath, according to media reports.

China is unlikely to overlook the visit while the two rivals continue to stake rival claims to the Senkaku islands, known as the Diaoyu in China.

For many in China and South Korea, visits to Yasukuni in central Tokyo are proof that Japan's modern leaders have yet to atone for their country's military misadventures on the Asian mainland in the first half of the 20th century.

Despite his nationalist leanings Abe did not visit during his previous year-long premiership from 2006 to avoid inflaming opinion in Beijing and Seoul.

He later said he regretted the decision and with his popularity ratings high at home speculation is mounting that he may be less willing to consider sensibilities in China and South Korea, particularly if his party wins key upper house elections in July, giving it control of both Diet chambers.

Aso, who also serves as deputy prime minister, has a reputation for angering Japan's neighbours; in 2003, he praised the country's 1910-1945 colonisation of the Korean peninsula and has refused to apologise for his family firm's past use of Korean forced labourers and allied prisoners of war.

Aso, a former prime minister, wants class-A war criminals "delisted" from Yasukuni, thereby removing the biggest obstacle to members of the imperial family resuming their annual visits.

On Sunday, he bowed in the Shinto shrine's worship hall and left without speaking to reporters.

The other visitors included Keiji Furuya, a state minister in charge of resolving the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea during the cold war. "It is natural for a lawmaker to offer heartfelt condolences for spirits of the war dead who sacrificed their lives for the nation," he said.

Abe visited the shrine in 2012 while leader of the then main opposition Liberal Democratic party, drawing criticism from China.

In late March, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the objections over Yasukuni centred on a desire for Japan to "face up to and reflect on its history of aggression and respect the feelings of people from the victimised countries, including China". -


Right candidates for the picking in Malaysian election fights

Fine, young candidates for the picking -They may be greenhorns in this general election but two winsome contenders have caught our aunty’s interest with their winning ways.

BY now, we know it’s a very crowded field of GE13 candidates. But in the end, what really matters to me is who is vying for my vote in my kawasan.

So I checked the list and from the lot, two first-timers, both women, piqued my interest.

First off is Chew Hoong Ling, who is pitted against Tony Pua, the incumbent in the Petaling Jaya Utara parliamentary seat.

Chew shot to fame when she donated part of her liver to a stranger, a 13-year-old girl suffering from liver cancer, four years ago.

Chew’s amazingly selfless act earned her much admiration. That much I knew about her but little else.

So when her candidacy in my constituency was announced, I decided to find out more.

I couldn’t quite remember what she looked like so I checked out her pictures online.

At 33, she is young and quite tele­genic – important since the world is full of phone cameras.

According to news reports, Chew was born in Kuala Lumpur and she holds a BSc (Hons) degree in information systems from a UK university.

From her blog, I further learned she is a professional emcee and social entrepreneur.

She also describes herself as a property investor, author, radio deejay and former RTM1 presenter.

So she has the gift of the gab, a talent an effective politician should have. Not only that, she is fluent in English, Malay and Mandarin.

But what will she talk about? More importantly, will she talk sense?

Again, I am encouraged by her range of interests that seems rooted in genuine passion. Her support for organ donation, for example, started when she was a teenager.

She is also interested in single mothers because she met such people while helping out at her mother’s reflexology centre.

She wants to promote skills training for school leavers because she saw how her cousins struggled to find work after they dropped out.

She also appears to be a good neighbour and serves as the secretary of the Section 21, Petaling Jaya Rukun Tetangga.

If these are her causes, I will therefore expect her to speak knowledgeably on them. I hope she will focus on what she believes are important for us in her constituency and for the rest of the country. I want to see if she can convince me she will fight for those beliefs in Parliament.

What intrigues me is Chew is a BN candidate but she also took part in Bersih 3.0 because she says she believes in free and fair elections.

Do I detect a streak of independence in this feisty young woman? That would be something I appre­ciate in my MP.

Next is Yeo Bee Yin, the DAP candidate for the Kampung Tunku state assembly seat. She’s 30 and from Segamat, Johor.

This young lady has impressive academic credentials. As she tells it in her blog, after her secondary school education (SMJK Seg Hwa), she studied Chemical Engineering in Universiti Teknologi Petronas under a Petronas scholarship.

She topped her class, graduating with first class honours in 2006.

Yeo got a job with an international oil and gas company which sent her to work as a field engineer in Turkmenistan.

She made such good money that she was able to pay off her Petronas 10-year bond in just a few months.

But it was a six-month internship in Germany when she was still an undergraduate that started her political awakening.

“Before coming to Germany, as a top student, I thought I knew a lot. After I came here, I realised how little I knew about the world. I began to question why in Malaysia … we (have not) been taught to think critically and objectively,” she writes.

But, caught up with her high-paying job, she says, “Life was great, I worked hard, played hard ... I became terribly self-centred”.

Then came March 8, 2008, and “when I opened The Star Online and saw the news on the political tsunami, I realised how I still loved and cared about my country.”

That was the moment she decided she wanted to contribute and not view her country as an outsider.

Still, coming home had to wait as she had won a Gates Cambridge Scholarship to do her Masters in Advanced Chemical Engineering at Cambridge University – a life-long dream.

At 29, she returned home to take up politics, much to her mother’s dismay. And what does she want to achieve?

“I hope that … Malaysia can be a land of opportunities and equality for our children … a land where, no matter how big and what your dreams are, they can be fulfilled here.”

She also says she is passionate about issues related to the environment and sustainability, young people, women and family.

So now I have before me two fine young women from opposing sides who are after my vote.

I like that. I like the fact that there are strong, intelligent, highly educated and motivated young people who are entering politics because they are passionate about their country. I like it because with such candidates, it means we voters have real choices to make this GE13.

So Aunty, So What? By JUNE H.L.WONG

It’s ceramah time! The writer plans to attend as many as possible with her first-time voter daughters and hopes the weather will cooperate. Feedback welcome: email

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I am the most winnable candidate in Malaysian election

PETALING JAYA: Sacked DAP leader Jenice Lee who is defending her Teratai state seat as an Independent claimed that she is the most “winnable” candidate in the contest.

Despite going up against four others as well as one DAP comrade, she claimed that the support from those who showed up to cheer her on during Nomination Day was a lot more than the DAP candidate.

“Show me which DAP branch here does not support me. All of them proposed my name for candidacy to the party. This only shows that the leadership refuses to listen to the grassroots,” she said in an emotionally-charged interview on's GE13: The Showdown with journalist Regina Lee.

She said that she was not sorry about contesting as an Independent, citing a conspiracy and tales of sabotage by her own party.

Hitting out at “certain quarters” which included a top party leader, Lee claimed that her popularity triggered the “conspiracy” to sideline her.

She also claimed that her party members made all sorts of allegations against her.

Fighting spirit: Lee (right) answering a question during the interview at Menara Star in Petaling Jaya.
“They claimed that I abused funds and even resorted to personal attacks, claiming that I was having affairs with many men,” she said.

If the party was serious about investigating those allegations, she said they should have acted when the rumours surfaced in 2011.

She also claimed that she was sidelined due to “jealousy”.

“In the Selangor party elections in 2010, I received the highest number of votes and I'm one of the most popular faces in the party,” she said.

Despite her “popularity”, she lost in the race for the Selangor DAP Socialist Youth chief post to her former assistant last year.

Despite the claims of sabotage, she said she would attempt to rejoin the DAP if she wins the elections and even if she does not, she considers herself to be Pakatan Rakyat-friendly.

“My heart and soul is still with DAP and it is a good party, but there is just this small group of leaders practising cronyism.

“I think I have what it takes to fix this,” she said.

 - The Star/Asia News Network

Monday, April 22, 2013

China, U.S. trade barbs on human rights

Americans do not enjoy a genuinely equal right to vote

China slammed the human rights record of the United States in response to Washington's report on rights around the world, saying that U.S. military operations have infringed on rights abroad and that political donations at home have thwarted the country's democracy.

The report released Sunday in China — which defines human rights primarily in terms of improving living conditions for its 1.3 billion people- also cited gun violence in the U.S. among its examples of human rights violations, saying it was a serious threat to the lives and safety of America's citizens.

The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2012 said the U.S. government continues to strengthen the monitoring of its people and that political donations to election campaigns have undue influence on U.S. policy.

"American citizens do not enjoy a genuinely equal right to vote," the report said, citing a decreased turnout in the 2012 presidential election and a voting rate of 57.5 percent.

The report from the information office of the State Council, or China's Cabinet, which mostly cited media reports, said there was serious sex, racial and religious discrimination in the U.S. and that the country had seriously infringed on the human rights of other nations through its military operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.

The U.S.'s annual global human rights report issued Friday by the State Department said China had imposed new registration requirements to prevent groups from emerging that might challenge government authority. It said Chinese government efforts to silence and intimidate political activists and public interest lawyers continued to increase, and that authorities use extralegal measures such as enforced disappearance to prevent the public voicing of independent opinions.

It also said there was discrimination against women, minorities and people with disabilities, and people trafficking, the use of forced labor, forced sterilization and widespread corruption.

China's government maintains strict controls over free speech, religion and political activity — restrictions that the U.S. considers human rights violations.- AP

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Danger of the single story

SOMETIMES (most of the time) it’s probably wiser to resist commenting on Facebook posts.

In the last week or two there have been posts, written by two Facebook friends, about women who admit to regretting having children. You can imagine the responses, including to my comments saying that I can relate to such feelings. It’s just not the done thing to admit that parenthood may not be the smartest choice you’ve made.

We go on about how it’s OK to make mistakes, but heaven forbid that the mistakes should be baby-shaped. I may be wrong but it also feels like that it’s especially shocking if a woman says that she’s doesn’t like being or doesn’t want to be a mother.

Why, she might as well be admitting to infanticide.

Why am I bringing this up in a column about books for children and teens? It’s because I think books play a part in shaping the way society views girls and the women they grow up to be. For girls, it’s hard to avoid the traditional stereotypes of women as mothers and wives.

Look, even kick-ass Katniss in The Hunger Games Trilogy ends up with a partner and a child. And most of my favourite fictional female characters become wives, or at very least, fall in love by the final page of their stories.

Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with falling in love, marrying and having children, but I am saying that authors should portray alternative routes to a happy and fulfilled life. I’m trying hard to think of fictional heroines who skip happily into the sunset, alone and joyful, but right now I can only think of Tove Jansson’s Little My, Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking, and two nannies: Mary Poppins, the titular character from P.L. Travers’ books, and Nurse Matilda from the trilogy by Christianna Brand.

All four are decidedly unconventional females, but My and Pippi are just children, while Mary and Matilda, although unmarried and childless, are still given the traditionally female role of care-giver.

Even my beloved harum scarum Jo March (from Little Women) becomes totally domesticated, marrying an older man (in Good Wives), running a school and playing mother to a whole brood of children (in Little Men and Jo’s Boys) and committing the unforgivable sin of keeping an ex-student and her niece, Bess, apart because she feels the working-class lad is not a suitable match for the prissy young lady.

There is Nan, a young girl in Little Men, who remains unmarried and goes to medical school, but characters like her are rare and don’t get much space on the page.

New fiction continues to be full of female characters who spend a great deal of time wondering when their prince will come. Codename Verity is a recent exception, but the girls in that book seemed more interested in one another than in men. It’s as if lesbians are the only women who might safely avoid being married with children.

In fact, as I’ve mentioned earlier, young women who don’t desire motherhood and marriage are often viewed as freaks. It’s unlikely the authors of young adult and children’s fiction think this way, but they are, by and large, products of a world still very much fixed in its ideas of gender and gender roles. Also, romance (and sex) sells.

The problem is, of course, what Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie calls the “danger of the single story”: if just one version of something – a people, a culture, a religion, etc – is portrayed then it soon becomes the only version that is believed and accepted and taken for granted as the truth. The “danger of the single story” is that it creates and reinforces stereotypes.

So, in terms of describing what girls want, it just supports the already firm belief that we are naturally maternal creatures who crave the love of a good man (or any man, really) and the cosy feeling of a child at our breast ... or simply being asked to the prom and being kissed by the time we’re 16.

I’ve just thought of a female character who resists the conventions of marriage and motherhood to go to university: Mattie Gorkey from Jennifer Donelly’s A Gathering Light is more interested in reading than dating. For Mattie, words are the key to a new life and to freedom. I wish there were more female characters like Mattie.

Also, more female characters who have more interesting things to think about than romance; female characters who grow up and don’t get married and are happy; female characters who choose to be childless and never regret it. These women exist, we know they do, they just need to appear more in books, that’s all.

Tots to Teens

>Daphne Lee is a writer, editor, book reviewer and teacher. She runs a Facebook group, called The Places You Will Go, for lovers of all kinds of literature. Write to her at

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Life like video games?

Video games may be considered adolescent, but imagine if our lives were like video games where you constantly get rewarded for small accomplishments? Great, no?

ALWAYS looking to validate my gaming addiction, I checked out TED talks – everyone’s go-to source for out-of-the-box, forward-thinking smart talk to drop at dinner parties – to see if I could find any ammunition.

As usual TED talks didn’t disappoint.

A speaker named Jane McGonigal, an American game designer (and a woman as well, meaning she gets her choice of gaming geeks), not only argues that video games are good, but goes as far as to advocate spending more hours playing video games because that will make the world a better place.

That’s definitely an argument that I can get behind.

McGonigal argues that games like World Of Warcraft encourage users to tackle seemingly insurmountable tasks, and not only do players accept these epic mission but they work hard to achieve it. She then hits us with the crazy-sounding stat that collectively we have (some of us more than others) spent 5.93 million years playing World Of Warcraft.

Did you know that homo sapiens have spent a total of 5.93 million years alone playing World of Warcraft? Makes you wonder what Darwin would have thought of this feat

McGonigal then puts that in perspective by saying 5.93 million years ago, humans stood on two legs for the first time.

Playing video games for the same amount of time that it takes a species of primate to go from dwelling in trees and dining on insects to building metal mega-cities and flirting with space travel really does put things into perspective. Yeah, suddenly that seems like a heck of a lot of wasted time on gaming.

But McGonigal is undaunted, saying the amount of time a person spends on video games by the time they are 20 years old is 10,000 hours, the same amount of time that that person will have spent in school – and also, incidentally, the same amount of time author Malcolm Gladwell cites as necessary for someone to become really good at something. To quote rapper Macklemore, who was basically quoting Gladwell, “The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint; the greats were great because they painted a lot.”

Well, McGonigal is saying we’re playing a lot of games, but what is it exactly that we’re getting good at?

She’s not quite sure but she knows gamers are Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals. Yeah, SEHI is the acronym for that. That doesn’t really roll off the tongue.

She then goes on to conclude, somewhat uninspiringly, that if we could only create educational games we could start to harness some of the millions of years we’ve wasted on games.

Yeah. Except McGonigal forgot that educational games are pretty much terrible across the board.

It may seem like I’m denigrating McGonigal’s talk but what I really found interesting was the idea that we are in a period of mass exodus into gaming. There are 500 million gamers in the world, and this number is only growing.

McGonigal talks a bit on why games are so inviting, basically saying that it’s because reality sucks. She’s right.

In games, at any moment you could gain any number of seemingly random achievements.

Your characters can gain in skills any time. Maybe you’re attacking zombies, and suddenly get a +1 strength. Jumping over barrels, +1 agility. Read a science book, +1 science. Basically video games give us a ton of positive feedback. What if life was like that, McGonigal quips. The crowd laughs.

But seriously, what if life was like that?

What if when I submitted this article, I received the 60th Article Submitted but only 4th prior to the Official Deadline Achievement? What if we could get the Constant Bus Rider achievement for taking the bus for the 100th time? What if at work we didn’t get rewarded for huge seemingly unachievable goals but for small daily completed tasks?

Wouldn’t it feel great to field a call from an irate customer, hang up, and get the 50th Complainer Customer Achievement? At least it’d put a positive spin on an experience that is otherwise fairly unpleasant.

With smartphones and their ability to track our movements and activities, it’s not very far-fetched to think that this sort of reward system could become possible sometime in the near future, while employers would probably be able to implement some sort of reward system right now. Not that I want this kind of reward system to be used by corporations to manipulate people into work, but it’s sort of inevitable, isn’t it?

It works so well in video games to hook people.

The entire idea of “gamifying” life may sound nuts but if we’ve spent 5.93 million years playing video games, games are doing something right. Maybe it’s time for life to imitate art.

And if this idea sounds like something that would come from a Super Empowered Hopeful Individual, then maybe McGonigal is on to something.

Big Smile No Teeth
> Jason Godfrey can be seen hosting The Link on Life Inspired (Astro B.yond Ch 728). Write to him at

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