Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Heuristic...

Meteorology Glossary: Heuristic - In artificial intelligence, a rule of thumb, generally based on expert experience or common sense rather than an underlying theory or mathematical model, that can be incorporated in a knowledge base and used to guide a problem-solving process. Most procedures used by human weather forecasters are heuristic, as are many pattern-recognition techniques in radar and satellite meteorology.

Wikipedia: Heuristic (hyu-ˈris-tik) is a method to help solve a problem, commonly an informal method. It is particularly used to rapidly come to a solution that is reasonably close to the best possible answer, or 'optimal solution'. Heuristics are "rules of thumb", educated guesses, intuitive judgments or simply common sense. In more precise terms, heuristics stand for strategies using readily accessible, though loosely applicable, information to control problem-solving in human beings and machines.

Hence, I think we should strive to approach life heuristically but we should also always recognise that heuristicism is a practice of common sense which is sometimes not as commonly possessed as we would like it to be... so, how heuristic are you?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

ISA Ain't That Bad... Really...

Wah... another gem today:

The Government hopes to be able to bring home two Malaysians held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp when Barack Obama takes over as president of the United States in January. Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim said the US had all this while, ignored a ministry request for detainees Mohd Farik Amin and Mohammed Nazir Lep, suspected to be terrorists, to be allowed to face the penalty back in Malaysia. “No charges have been brought against them, and this is worse than the ISA (Internal Security Act),” he said yesterday after the presentation of the South-East Asia Write Award 2008 winner here. - The Star, 18th Nov 2008

So what now? Bring them back to Malaysia and we'll show them, in true Boleh spirit, that ISA detention is better than being locked up in Gitmo?? Ok, Ok... so we won't charge them either... and we'll feed them HALAL dog food costing tax payers RM4.00 (US$1.11) per day.

Whas that you say? Oh, they'll be allowed to face charges once they get back. I see. So what about those still remanded under ISA? Should we send them to Gitmo??

And what does this mean anyway? That it's an official acknowledgement that ISA is bad... just not as bad as Gitmo? Is it like saying "yeah, my pot's black but your kettle's bigger and blacker than mine"???

What's wrong with the people who are allowed to officially open their mouths on behalf of a government which is already disgraceful beyond belief??

Footnote: Isn't it Ironic that Rais Yatim should be speaking about prisoner abuses and the ISA at a regional writing award ceremony? Wonder if awards were allowed to be given to people who write about the ISA...

Friday, November 07, 2008

Wither Boleh-man?

Yesterday's post was ended with a rhetoric; where is Malaysia's Boleh-man?

Today, the editor of Malaysia Today, Raja Petra Kamarudin, was released from ISA detention by the High Court after successfully submitting a habeas corpus application for wrongful detention.

Now, I don't know about the rest of the country, but I think today is a momentous day for Malaysia. Just as it was a day that change arrived in America two days ago, today we saw an unprecedented moral victory for those who are fighting to have the draconian ISA laws thrown out the window. Change has come to Malaysia too.

And yet, while I logged on to what must be one of the biggest social evolutions in web history, called Facebook, I felt like I was a part of a minority who thought RPK's release was a major occasion.

Two days ago, the world watched with bated breath as Obama racked up the electoral votes towards the magical 270 mark. And when it was reached, every single buddy who updated their Facebook status had a reference to Obama for a full six hours after; majority of those buddies are not American, nor were they in America at that time.

Today, upon receiving the news of RPK's release, there were less than a handful (only three references to be exact) in the last two hours to RPK. Ok, maybe the news hasn't gotten around yet and many still don't know. The Star released the news on its front page but I guess it didn't make it on to CNN or Al-Jazeera as yet. The fact remains that people were more aware of what was happening halfway around the world than they are in their own home. Obama wins a victory and people are moved enough to say it on Facebook. RPK is released from wrongful detention and life seemingly goes on as normal.

So, where is Boleh-man? If I had to pick a candidate right now, I would nominate RPK as Malaysia's Boleh-man. But does he even matter?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Boleh ke?

It is possible for anyone from a minority group to be a nation’s leader, even in Malaysia, says Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi.

“It is up to the people to decide, just as the Americans had done through the democratic process,” he said while extending his congratulations to Senator Barack Obama.

Reporters had asked him in the Parliament lobby yesterday if it were possible for a person from a minority group to become Prime Minister in Malaysia.

Erm... does Emperor LaLa think he's living in Utopia...?

Aside from the PM, a number of other people including one minister, two (one rumoured, one potential) PM candidates, one ex-PM, have all jumped on the bandwagon to make statements of hope for Iraq, better times, better relations, etc, BUT ALL OF THEM conveniently avoiding reference to the precedent set by Obama of being the first black man elected to the White House.

Even Lim Guan Eng, Chief Minister of opposition and minority Chinese-led Penang, managed a neutral comment; "Americans had made an “inspiring” choice in picking Obama".

Ironically, I think it might be PAS who made a cross-cultural reference to the US elections results; Its spiritual adviser Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat reasoned that Obama’s victory was a “victory of sorts” for Islam because Islam did not differentiate between race or creed. “That is why Obama’s victory is groundbreaking. It also proves there is no such thing as the superior race of the Caucasian. Everybody shares equality in Islam,” he said.

At first read, I didn't see the point he was trying to make... seeing how Obama is not Muslim. But then, I mulled it over and concluded that regardless of the skew in his statement, it was he and the PM who were the only two who ventured into, even if it merely brushed the surface, any reference of a topic that is deemed so sensitive that no one dares publicly speak about it, no matter how obvious the implication may be to the Malaysian context.

Martin Luther King, Jr dreamt of a land where men will not argue that the color of his skin determines the content of his character. The best man, woman or dog for the job. And yesterday, it became very real. In America. But Martin Luther King was an American with a dream for America. Where is Malaysia's Boleh-Man?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Paris, 25th Oct – Day 3

I think I have walked my feet off already. Yes, I did say that all of Paris was walk-able… but when I’m cramming a walking tour of the entire city in two days, it does wear down the feet, knees and back. To give you a feel, take a look at the map below:


Day 1 is in blue. I arrived late and was totally disoriented so I did not venture far. Day 2 is in green and was concentrated around the centre of Paris, which are the two large islands in the middle of the Seine River, according to Google Maps. Day 3 was in red and was a LOT of walking, with the exception of an interruption in the walk when I took a metro from Victor Hugo to Montmatre and continued walking there.

I had quickly learnt that maps in English are of no great help when you are walking the streets of Paris. At a business meeting earlier in the week, a Parisien had told me to sod the map; get lost in Paris and you’ll appreciate it much more. It has been the single best piece of advice anyone has given to me about this city yet. Hence, you will see the meandering routes through neighbourhoods I had no idea were there because they are not on tourist maps. I simply wandered and gravitated towards pockets of activity and believe me, the whole city is full of life and activity. It’s even nicer that streets are off the beaten tourist track and thus, you won’t see tour buses dumping their load of non-French speakers.

Westward along the Seine: This must be where doggie heaven is… there an abundance of pet shops along the river bank… yeah…

Jardin des Tuileries: Gardens and parks in Paris are never short on space and this one is no different. Situated directly across the road from the pyramids in the yard of the Louvre, it houses strange, modern art installations… like a neatly arranged stockade of grain bags which were starting to sprout and looked like it was either waiting to head for a famine-struck African nation or they were expecting to call in the military for war games. Either way, I think I am not that way inclined… I mean arty-fartily…

Champs Elysees: It’s a gorgeous boulevard. Even more so when adorned with autumn colours.

Marche Ave du President Wilson: Finally! A market and in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower too. I love walking fresh markets in Europe. Always makes me fill with inspiration to whip up a dish because everything is so fresh and appetizing.

The Eiffel Tower & Trocadero: I packed myself a seafood paella from the market and sat on a park bench outside the Trocadero, facing the Eiffel Tower. It was a lovely fourteen degrees out, making it a perfect lunch.

Sacré-Cœur Basilica: One wouldn’t quite expect the neighbourhood surrounding a church to be kitsch but entire area of Monmartre seems to abound with shops that sell all types of trinkets and odds and ends to tourists who can’t seem to get enough of it. The streets leading up to the highest point in Paris are narrow and crowded with casual tourists, those who have come on some sort of pilgrimage and locals who go there just to hang out. It has a beautiful vista of the city and on a clear day, one would be able to see the edges of the city all around.

The interior of the basilica is magnificent with the reverence that is paid to it by all visitors alike. I noticed how people from all walks of life took off their hats and reduced conversations to hushed tones and no one took photographs, although there was only a tiny, little notice at the entrance. But in all its magnificence, I could oddly feel little piety, for want of a better term, inside the basilica. I think I felt more of it inside Notre Dame.

Trivia: The Sacré-Coeur Basilica is built of Château-Landon stone, a type of frost-resistant limestone that constantly weathers out its calcite, so that it bleaches with age and effortlessly remains chalky white.

Lafayette & Strasbourg St. Denis: I wandered a lot today. And the result of my wanderings led me to accidentally bump into areas which are obviously local favourites like Lafayette and Strasbourg St. Denis today, St Germain and Quartier Latine yesterday and Rambateau on my very first night in the city.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Paris Virgin No More...

Paris, 24th Oct - Day 2

Revolution Walk – A darn good investment. Context Tours is highly recommended for those who don’t mind walking and have a strong interest in European history.

Our fearless leader (or docent) for this walk and talk on the lengthy subject of the French Revolution, was a young American woman named Patricia who came to Paris to study this part of France’s illustrious history. The tour was almost three hours long and took us to four main locations; Bastille, the Carnavalet Museum, Hotel de Ville and the Napoleon victory monument.

Today, the Bastille is a traffic roundabout with a monument in its centre to commemorate the revolutionaries who lost their lives in the three-day revolution. But a very long time ago, the Bastille was a garrison where political prisoners were held at the King’s (dis)pleasure. In the first revolution during the reign of King Louis XVI, hubby to Marie Antoinette, the building was destroyed by rioting peasant masses.

Trivia: Did you know that there are no cobblestone walkways to be found in Paris around areas that are notoriously known to cradle revolutions? Those entrusted with keeping law and public order decided to rip every cobblestones out of the ground before another rioting peasant did the same, only to hurl them back at the cops.

From Bastille, we walked through the winding alleys of the Marais (French for swamp, because that was what it was before, a very long time ago) to the Musée Carnavalet, which houses ‘the history of Paris’ in two buildings that were affluent, private residences a very long time ago.

We spent the most time at the museum where the docent used every painting and artifact to tell the story of every revolution that has taken place. I think there has been four in total and every time one happened, the result of it was a new republic. Today, France is in what it calls the Fourth Republic. However, history has proven that every 100 years or so, the French do fancy a good ol' revolt… so stay tuned and watch this space.

After the museum, our docent led us to the Hotel de Ville, as it stands today. A very long time ago, the building and the huge square in front of it was used as the Town Square where guillotine executions took place, including that of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Trivia: Did you know that the guillotine was the standard method of execution in France until it was recently abolished in 1981? The guillotine was accepted as the ‘equal’ method of execution as opposed to different types of execution accorded by social status. Since the revolutionaries fought for equality for the lower classes, a guillotine execution was considered an equal death for all.

Finally, we ended the tour at Napoleon’s erection, a monument in praise of himself and his victories. ‘Napoleon Complex’ immediately comes to mind…

Jip’s Café: You haven’t seen eclectic until you’ve been to Jip’s. It serves up your choice of Cuban, African or Spanish cuisine… I ordered the daily special, Plat du Jour, and honestly had no idea what it was about but what a surprise it turned out to be! The main was grilled white fish, which sat atop a stewed compote of onions and cabbage… talk about creating energy from wind and natural gas. On the side, were slices of grilled bananas and the most delicious sweet potatoes I have ever tasted. Since I roughly know what to expect from Spanish and a little bit about Cuban, I’m guessing this dish could only be classified under African…

Notre Dame: There are lots of tourists in Paris at this time of the year. I actually noticed that there was a lot of American-ese spoken around me as I waited in line to climb the towers and meet the gargoyles. The view from atop Notre Dame was a spectacular 360˚ view of the city, which was a good thing because I could then look at Paris and realize the true scale of the two tourist maps I was holding.

Here is the good news; most everything that one might want to see and do in Paris on a first visit is within walking distance. It might take an hour to walk the entire orientation of the Seine River. But here’s the next bit of good news… it is impossible to be bored when walking in Paris. Especially in autumn.

The Pantheon: A very long time ago (you can tell by now, that I am useless with dates), the Pantheon used to be a church dedicated to St Genevieve, patron saint of Paris. It now houses the tombs of great men and women of the revolution; Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Alexandre Dumas, Marie Curie and Voltaire, to name but a few.

Jardin du Luxembourg: A very pretty garden which belongs to the Luxembourg Palace, in the corner of the grounds. The garden is now a public park and is lovely in autumn.

St. Germain: A lively neighborhood on the right bank (rive gauche) of the Seine. Paris is a city where you can choose to eat food from any part of the world on any given day; from Tibetan to Mexican, from African to Mongolian. And St Germain is the place to be if your affliction is gastronomical wanderlust.

The Louvre: I went, I saw, I took the pictures. The glass pyramids made famous by Tom Hanks and The Da Vinci Code and had everyone in the square looking for the Rose Line. I am not a big appreciator of art, so I shall tick off the Louvre as done and spend my time tomorrow wandering other streets in this pretty, awesome city doing other things.



Friday, October 24, 2008

Paris Virgin on the Loose...

2008 for me, would be marked by the significance of my first visit to Paris... here's a taste:

Paris, 23rd Oct – Day 1

No matter how many times you might have heard this before, I still feel the need to state the obvious; Paris is a truly English-unfriendly place. Aside from a general dislike for Englishmen, the French don’t like English-speakers of any other nationality either. Nor do they weakly attempt to communicate in the language; and when they do, it is with disdain.


RER. The metro was my planned route into Paris from the airport. It took me a long while of reading signs and deciphering some French phrases before I got on the right train.

Hotel Agora. A stroke of genius, if I may say so myself. I had scoured the net and settled on this hotel because of its proximity to the RER stop of Chatelet de Halles, a convenient stop that was at the centre of Paris with close proximity to just about everything I would want to see on foot. Further research into the Hotel’s location reinforced the notion that it was a good pick… it was on a street full of cafés and pedestrians. And I was so spot-on right.

Funny thing about the hotel tho; some things are tiny… The elevator that guests can use to reach the upper floors, presumably necessary when one has heavy luggage to tote, is a 2½ feet by 2½ square shoe box. Let me put it another way. The only way I could fit my hard case bag was if I had stood it upright and I sat on top of it, otherwise the bag and I could not go up the same lift together… the shower stall in the room was the same size except this time I thankfully didn’t have to deal with luggage in a confined space as well. Having said that, it was still a challenge to soap my toes because I couldn’t bend over to do it. But that really is all I have to say about the hotel that slants negatively.


Oh and the staff spoke English, just as the brochures said they would, but I'm beginning to think that the disdain that they spoke it with might have been taught to them as a default method of expression that went with the language... or something...

Food. A good and hearty, hot and spicy Turkish kebab in 12 degree-temperature on a Paris sidewalk café had hit a spot. Ok, ok… so it isn’t quite close to French cuisine, but I already had my fill of Franco-Italian, pseudo-fine-dine three nights running in Monte Carlo and thought a break from routine would be nice. ;-) Besides, I had noticed that there are probably equal, if not more, foreign type restaurants than there were French ones in the section of Paris that I was in, so it isn’t really unusual or exotic to have an unpatriotic dinner.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Excruciating...

Like a seed of a thorny bush of blood red roses
planted inside a fertile heart.


No, like a blinding shot through the head
like a an unbearable migraine.


No, like a finger being slammed in a door
reduced to a crushed and bloody pulp.


No, like a tumour that spreads like a plague
invading every crevice of being.


Or like a needle driven into flesh
under the nail.

And for this pain, there is no remedy but time.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hopefully, It's Malignant...

... I am struggling to come to terms with this scenario; a friend is in hospital having been admitted last week because doctors could not detect the cause of her 10-day-old fever. One test led to another because upon checking the results of her first test, they found other things to run more tests on. Those results came back and they found yet more things... repeat process...

She's been through at least four tests in in almost as many days now. The initial dread was the possibility of a deadly lung tumour. At this stage, the doctor had said that the suspicious nodules found in the lungs could be the cause of a growth elsewhere. That meant more tests. Whoopee. The interminable waiting game to be dealt one's fate is something else I will leave for another day to write about.

Meanwhile, what started out as a dreadful fear for the worst (and the bundle of emotions that went along with it), was dispelled a couple of tests later which confirmed that there is indeed a cyst in her ovaries... there was relief all round. And there was immediate hope all round that it was malignant.

And that's what I'm struggling with.

Most women would have immediately lapsed into the 'dreadful fear' stage that my friend was in if they were being told of a benign growth in the ovaries, let along a malignant one. But my friend is relieved. Because this means that lung tumours can be ruled out. Lesser of the two evils, I guess.

Mind you, this result is still not conclusive. If yet further tests indicate that the cyst in the ovaries is/are benign, they're back to square one... what's causing the lung anomalies? I think that means it's back to dread...


Footnote: I've received heartening news that all tests have proven negative and the respective specialists for problem related to lung, ovary and cancer in general, will consult on the next course of action. In other words, more waiting. But the person who bore the positive news capped it off by saying, "we're not yet out of the woods, but we are out of the big, bad rainforest."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mission Accomplished... And I'm a Sea Slug...

... Ok, so it took two attempts when most normal people need only try once... but who cares now? I finally completed my Open Water certification, I made two subsequent dives without hanging on to my instructor's apron strings and now, I can't wait to do more.

My qualifying dive with my instructor was a very eventful one. Apart from the fact that I still had to overcome the demon of removing and replacing my mask with my eyes wide shut, I also had an innate tendency to breathe through my nose (a very bad combination, I assure you). It took a while to psyche myself up because this time, Han (my friendly slave driver) took me down to 18m... there was no escape and no entertaining the thought of surfacing "in case of an emergency". Seriously tho, Han knows how to work people's motivations and inhibitions while never losing their trust in him and I do recommend him to anyone who is thinking of taking up diving instruction.

Anyway, so I composed and psyched myself up and used a lot more air than I really should have but I did it in the end. Off came the mask and I fumbled to get back on again since I couldn't see what the hell I was doing, cleared the mask and coughed out half a breathful of sea water and that was it. Done... he shook my hand, offered me congratulations and that literally, was it. 5 minutes was all it took... in other words, I was a mere 5 minutes short of being certified the last time around...!

So, the rest of the time was spent on what Han calls jalan-jalan. And the extraordinary events were just beginning. Now, please keep in mind that this was my 4th real dive. The first two were in confined water where there were nothing more than schools of ikan bilis to look at. I was new to the underwater world and looking like a total klutz, no different from a child learning to walk, my concentration was merely to keep up with Han and to not touch the bottom. And aside from ikan bilis and a lot of sandy bottoms, I had no idea what wealth of creatures there were around me.

We were about 10 minutes into the jalan when Han stopped to look at something at the sandy bottom. He took out his dive knife and probed among the sea grass at something that looked like a chip of wood... and then he got excited. He looked around him and there were literally hundreds of them. He kept pointing at them, playing with them, attempting to make them 'dance' in the water and in spite of being under 18m of water, he looked like a little boy in a candy shop and I really had no idea why he was so thrilled since these wood chips were all over the sea floor. After a while, I thought it might be because these little wood chips were all bonking one another... it was wood chip mating season and perhaps Han liked watching marine creature porn.... I shrugged.

It wasn't until we surfaced that he threw off his mask and squealed, "Ju, this is your lucky day!" and I thought, "yeah, lucky that I didn't drown in 18m of water without my mask on..." He explained that those little bonking brown wood chips were actually nudibranches.

"Ooooh, ok... I've heard of those and now I know what they look like" but he went on to say that although he had seen that particular nudibranch in Indonesian waters before, he has never ever seen it anywhere on Perhentian Island. In other words, it was a rare nudi to be spotted where we were.

So ok, great. But the occasion was to get even more auspicious. At a dive briefing after getting back on land and one cold shower later, Han plonks a voluminous encyclopedia of nudibranches on the table and opens it to a page full of brown looking wood chip-like nudibranches. "It's got your name". That's all he said. I looked at where his finger was pointed and there it was... a picture of the same brown chip-like creature which we had seen just an hour before and the name below it: Juliana Sea Hare (Aplysia Juliana). "It's your lucky day," Han said again in affirmation.

I got home and told the world about this via Facebook and was quite amazed at how many people were envious that I had seen not just A sea hare, but hundreds of bonking ones. Some said that they had never had an opportunity to ever spot a sea hare and some said they had only the benefit of rare sightings of one at a time.

It was now becoming clear that something which almost completely passed me by as a non-event was indeed to be the high point of my trip. And I think it's realizing that it isn't about actually getting my certification that was the achievement but that it merely allows me to now stand on the threshold of many such great sightings and personal discoveries that still lie ahead. And I will never be as blind and assuming again in my new under water world.

I now burst with anticipation and almost cannot wait for my next dive.

Friday, September 05, 2008

To Moderate, or To Be Moderate? Therein Lies the Rub...

Back in March, there was a uproar on a mailing list that I am subscribed to, one that was for the benefit of the old girls' alumni of Assunta Secondary School, my old alma mater. It was generally to do with freedom of expression on the mailing list that was related to Malaysian politics. Remember... it was March in Malaysia, when we were on the verge of a landmark General Elections.

I was of the view that the list was really a high-school alumni mailing list and its content and contributions should remain apolitical and religiously neutral simply because of the thousands of alumni members are have eventually embraced diverse political views and is, of course, multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious. To share ideas, thoughts and prayers with each other is one thing. But when it starts to border on advocacy where some are more vocal in imposing their views than others, it becomes more sensitive. Especially in the realm of politics and religion.

I have my politcal views and my stand on religion and both are things that I am comfortable with. But I feel no need to impose it on others. I will 'share' my views if they are sought, but I don't feel it my place to tell others that the way I lead my life and the things that I believe in are the right ways for others to follow. Hence, I am understandbly irked when someone does the same to me. You know... do unto others etc...

And then there is the paradox; while the 'leader figures' in the alumni opine that there should be freedom in expression of (their) thought, they are also of the opinion that the list should be moderated. And it is. Hence, there are some self-appointed arch-angels who will vet through all messages before the mere mortals get to read it.

That was in March. And it hasn't changed. Just this last week, the subject was broached again and I felt it necessary to make a comment. Here it is, in reply to someone else on the list with a similar view:

Ju-Lee,

I will have to agree with you on this. I've said this before on this list back in March (and I think we also both said the exact same thing even back then) that this is an alumni mailing list and not a political one. But back then, that line of reasoning faded into the sunset when it was argued with this is a place to 'share ideas', 'free country, free speech', etc.

I continued that discussion offline with some other friends and here is one of the most interesting thoughts that emerged; the members of this list are ex-Assuntarians. Of these past pupils, some of the illustrious daughters have have found themselves in political limelight. Among them are Nurul Izzah who is an MP under the PKR banner and another is Wanita MIC Chief, P. Komala Devi, the BN candidate of Kapar parliamentary seat back in the March 8th elections. Nurul Izzah needs no introduction. And for the benefit of those who can't recall, Komala was feted in the same breath alongside Sister Enda and Datin Seri Jeanne when they all received awards from the Sultan of Selangor back in December.

Here's a hypothetical scenario: imagine it is the month of March 2008. Malaysia is preparing for a general election that would eventually sweep the nation off its feet. Supposing this was a free forum to say what we want to say without fear of reprisals and censure, it would thus be completely allowable for Nurul Izzah and Komala to wage their election campaign battles on this very mailing list, if it had so suited their strategy. And I imagine that as the campaign got more lively, many would have opinions of their own to post, as many vocal Assuntarians would, and there would have likely been an unprecedented number of daily posts with the number going up and up until the excitement died down. I can certainly imagine the moderators' job would have become a full-time task!

This imaginary scenario would have been possible, but would it have been right? I asked the same question back in March, and up til today, I still don't know the answer. My quandry is that I am FOR the argument of freedom to express oneself on ANY list. And yet, I am also AGAINST the notion that the free speech on a secondary school alumni mailing list should include political and/or religious advocacy. The toughest part of this is where to draw the lines. Have it moderated? It sounds like a monumental responsibility, preferably for someone with a neutral head screwed on tightly:

Word Definition: Moderation (noun) - the quality of being moderate; restraint; avoidance of extremes or excesses; temperance.


On Wikipedia, a more comprehensive and contextual explanation of the term include (among others): A moderator may remove unsuitable contributions from a website forum or IRC channel they represent, in accordance with their moderation system.

Interestingly, in that same Wiki entry, there was also a depiction of moderation in an ancient Greek social context: Moderation is also a principle of life. In ancient Greece, the temple of Apollo at Delphi bore the inscription Meden Agan - 'Nothing in excess'. Doing something "in moderation" means not doing it excessively. For instance, someone who moderates their food consumption tries to eat all food groups, but limits their intake of those that may cause deleterious effects to harmless levels. Similarly in Christianity, moderationism is the position that drinking alcoholic beverages temperately is permissible, though drunkenness is forbidden. Moderation is a characteristic of the Swedish national psyche, more specifically described by the Swedish synonym lagom.

So, should there be moderation if one is to support the idea of freedom of expression and non-censorship of thoughts and ideas? It's a paradox, isn't it?

Oh and by the way, there was a point where I had received notices about Sister Enda's supposed political leanings on Facebook with invitations to join social advocacy groups but I see that Sister has now reverted to a neutral stand on the social network. I'm used to having Sister Enda's voice in my head (planted there at the tender age of 13) teaching virtues such as recognizing right from wrong and striving generally to be better human beings. That voice has never said how I should live out those virtues. Hence, to receive notices that Sister Enda is into social activism was rather disturbing.

Nuff said... bring on the mud...


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

How Interesting It Would Be...

... if we had a Prime Minister running the country from county jail...

It was just a funny thought that occurred to me today after reading all the sms alerts, news sites and blogs on the latest appalling state of Malaysian politics. Here are three pieces of news I digested today; (1) the Prime Minister and his Deputy have been accused of corruption by their own UMNO party members from the PJ branch and the accusation is being investigated by the ACA, (2) More said on RPK's site about the unfortunate posthumous celebrity that is Altantuya Shaariibuu and her clandestine links to the DPM and (3) Anwar Ibrahim will formally have sodomy charges brought against him.

Now, think about this...

The DPM is already in a precarious position for the numerous claims of his involvement in the Mongolian murder case. If he is proven to be involved, he could go to jail.

No surprise that Anwar will be brought to court and as a result, there is a real possibility that he could be thrown back into jail.

The Prime Minister is now also being dragged into the fray on accusations of corruption. Last I checked, corruption is a crime and as such, the PM could go to jail.

What I do not know for sure is whether the man or woman who is put in office as Prime Minister is allowed to run the country from behind bars (I do know, however, that it would be rather inconvenient to kiss babies through those bars).

But there you have it. A strange possibility that one, two or all three of them could be thrown in jail. And ALL of them have aspirations to run the country (in the PM's case, I think it remains on his post-honeymoon to-do list since I don't seem to see him actively running it now, imho).

As Alice said in Wonderland, 'curiouser and curiouser!'

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mission Unaccomplished... well, kinda...

I finally bit the bullet and did it... I went to Perhentian Island with the aim of securing a license as an Open Water Diver. But my nerves had other ideas. Literally.

The story starts about a year back, when I was diagnosed with Cervical Spondylosis:


Cervical spondylosis is a general term for age-related wear and tear affecting the joints in your neck. Also known as cervical osteoarthritis, this condition usually appears in men and women older than 40 and progresses with age. Although cervical spondylosis affects both sexes equally, men usually develop it at an earlier age than women do. -- MayoClinic.com


The result of my affliction are very confused nerves and an extremely knotted neck. Since the diagnosis, I have diligently strengthened the neck muscles with a morning ritual of neck stretches that relaxes me so much, I normally feel like crawling back into bed for a snooze. Hence, I had not given it a first thought, let alone a second, on how it would affect me on a dive adventure.

So, off I went to Perhentian (with mother in tow... a tale that I will leave for another day) and went through the first day with a breeze. On the second morning, it caught up with me. Although I didn't know it at the time, lugging 25kg worth of equipment strapped to my back would have a consequence that finally bear some painful results. Not sure of what I had done to trigger it, I had an excruciating pain shoot through my head like a bullet and if were indeed a bullet, I swear it would have gone through the roof of the head. This happened underwater and when I surfaced, I just about threw up everything except the tail ends of my intestines...


The symptoms were consistent with that of a migraine attack but the difference was that it did not last as long. I was ok after a chuck and a rest and continued again with another dive with no more problems for the rest of the day. Day 3 was a carbon copy of Day 2; it happened again in the morning and by evening I was good enough to continue with the best experience I have had yet with diving... I saw Nemo at home in a spot called Tukas Dalam and that was one modest mission accomplished.

Last day rolls around and I pass theory with flying colours. Time for the final dive and just TWO more skills to perform. We went out to Shark Point, I jumped off the boat first, gear and all. And while I waited for the rest, out of the clear blue sky, it happened again. And this time it was so bad that I knew I had to abort any further thought of diving for the rest of my last day on the island.

With two skills still incomplete, I am a certified Scuba Diver but not yet good enough to dive in Open Water. Now, I know what being caught in limbo means.

After consulting the doctor who first spotted my Spondylosis, my conclusion is that this blog entry is not yet ended. I shall have another one to write come September. But for now, I shall let Spondylosis rest in limbo.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Drilling the Molehill for Some Oil

Letter from my alter ego to the Editor of The Star, posted on 24th June 2008 but to date, remains unpublished:

It did get published!
Here is the link until it gets removed. And am upset they didn't use my nama samaran!

Dear Editor,

I think PDAM (Petrol Dealers' Association of Malaysia) is making a mountain out of a molehill. Frankly, my first reaction upon reading the SMS alert and then the full reports on The Star Online was “oh dear, another one jumping on the crude oil bandwagon.” Disclaimer: I do not work for a credit card company. Therefore, I stand to gain nothing commercially from supporting the continued use of credit cards at the petrol pump. I am, however, a reluctant credit card user because I use it sparingly except when it comes to filling up at a petrol kiosk.

I use my credit card exclusively at petrol stations because it allows me the convenience of filling up with the least amount of hassle. It saves me an additional trip to the ATM to withdraw cash for the transaction. Which truncates the added danger of losing greater amounts of money should I be mugged (because no one can be too careful in today’s society, can they?). A credit card transaction also makes it transparent and accountable on which all details are automatically recorded and printed. It also makes it easier to reference in case of a dispute. Now, in this day and age of wonderful technology, why would PDAM want to go back to the techno-stone age? For a couple of sen?

Let’s also not forget that credit cards encourage greater spending (which explains my reluctance as a user) at the pump and at the convenience stores that have become ubiquitous at stations. Doesn’t this translate to higher consumer spend at PDAM outlets? Not to mention the convenience of filling a full tank as opposed to being limited to the amount of cash that one has at that point in time. Credit cards now have a built in convenience of loyalty programmes which drives customers back to certain brands petrol only, ensuring repeated and continued patronage.

And it can’t be that just because petrol prices have gone up, that their profit margins are disproportionately affected? I might be wrong on this but I can’t imagine their margins being so absurdly illogical or they might as well just give up the business, right? After all, who can afford to live on fresh air and sunshine these days?

It doesn’t take a genius to conclude this; the propensity of a credit card user to spend more at any petrol station is higher than a cash-only user. And credit card companies are trying to find yet other ways to drive consumers to buy more petrol on plastic. I would imagine that among those who will benefit greatly from all these efforts are the retailers who sell the petrol to these hungry consumers. Surely, that additional 0.8 sen per liter that they must now bear is a small price to sacrifice?

My two-sen worth.

J Lo

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A Question of Mortality

I was at a friend's memoriam the other day. It wasn't a run-of-the-mill memoriam. It was at a pub and if the pub had a pool table, it would have been perfect... "Jen would approve" was the general sentiment. Jen was a year older and had passed on, mercifully, in her sleep. She simply went to bed and never woke up. And i thought to myself, "She was very lucky" and silently hoped the same mercy to be shown to me when my number is up. Which is when? Anyone's guess... When was my last med check? Hmm... better get the house gate painted for ma...

Today, another "friend" had left our midst. I did not know Toni well and had only occasion to speak with her via email. I have never even met her. But we were connected by association through events and common friends. Contemporaries. Peers. One of us.

And really, this time, the issue of questioning one's mortality was more apparent than ever. At the pub-hurray in Jen's memory earlier, a friend made a passing remark about how we have crossed the threshold into another age; when younger, it seemed to be "old" people who passed on. Grandparents, Uncles and Aunts, grandparents of friends... it was Jen's passing that first brought on the dawn of a new age. One that saw us mourning our own peers. People we knew and we had contact with. People who touched our lives and made some kind of impact. It wasn't about their grandparents anymore. It was about they themselves. It was about us. And ultimately, it was about me. Amongst us.

And it was Toni's passing that brought on the reinforcement that it wasn't a fleeting thing. If mourning the death of each friend is to bring on an introspective reflection of sorts, we had better start getting used to it. It is as if crossing age 40 was a physical act of moving into a new era.

As a child, I never understood the concept of death. As a teen, I experienced for myself the pain of its loss when all four of my grandparents died in succession. In my twenties, death was real but it was far away. Going into thirties, I wondered why the older ones talked about death and always relished in its morbidity. Now at forty, I realise that it isn't about relishing, nor is it about morbidity. It is a means for us to deal with its reality and the relish is in what that self-reflection compels us to observe, do and think because of it.

My mortality is temporary. But morbid, it is not.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Electoral Hangover

The elections are over and the dust is settling. Malaysia’s 12th General Elections saw a night of celebration and an opposition being drunk on promises of a new era, along with a ruling coalition who wished that they could sorrowfully drink themselves blind, coupled with a spectacular show of fireworks in famous defeats and some unbelievable victories. But now, I’m sure everyone’s quite hung-over and I shall leave the analysis of results to experts, of which I am not one.


Instead, I’d prefer to write about what I have learnt from these elections:


My vote really does count! It’s always been a familiar reminder but one that has never really meant much to me because no matter how many times I voted for my candidate of choice, he/she always lost! My surprise was not in how well the opposition performed this time but how many people I personally knew of, who took the time and effort to cast their ballot this time around. And this time, the popular voice prevailed. With voter turn out in the average 70s percentage, all those many voices made one clear statement.


What is the statement? Deduced from conversations over a latte or two, I think that many urbanites (or if you prefer, the more developed states) have opted for a change. And it wasn’t about the candidates. It was, as said by M Kayveas, about the badge that they wore. Latte drinkers in Bukit Bandaraya and Lembah Pantai are fond of Sharizat Jalil but many opted to vote against the “dacing”. Instead, voters opted for a 27-year old novice over a seasoned media-vixen, they turned the tide for a man who has been trying for the past 4 elections to beat Samy Vellu and even a guy who couldn’t campaign for his own cause because he is currently held behind bars on allegations of endangering national security.


And why was that? Because the “dacing” government has long deluded itself into thinking that the people are quite ok with the status quo. They have a narrow view of what the state of the general populace think of BN’s governance, the state of the economy, the state of security and the people’s opinions on social issues. They thought that by policing the press and allowing you hear what they want you to hear, they’d be ok. But it seems that they have been doing all the talking and none of the listening. They continued to shake hands and kiss babies while ignoring the youth and the burden of rising costs. They seemed to have thought that the country was doing really well but the people just didn't know it. Well, whatever. The people wanted a change nonetheless and now they have it.


So, how will this turn out in the next five years? It’s anyone’s guess, really. I think we’re not yet on the dawn of a new era. I think it's just past midnight and we still have five years to go before we can say for sure if we are on the brink of a new dawn. The opposition leaders have asked for a mandate to run things differently and now, for the first time in history, they have what they asked for. I can only hope that they deliver everything that they have promised. And at the end of their five year term, we’ll know if the change is for the better and here to stay. I hope so...