Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Stuck in the middle ages of the 21st century

Malaysia's Crisis of Faith
TIME Wednesday, May. 30, 2007


In what has been dubbed a blow to Malaysia 's religious freedom, the country's highest court on Wednesday denied an appeal by Christian convert Lina Joy to make her switch from Islam recognized by law. A multi-ethnic state comprised largely of Muslim Malays, Christian and Buddhist Chinese, and Hindu and Sikh Indians, Malaysia has long prided itself on its diversity of faiths. To safeguard this religious heterogeneity, the country's constitution sets out a dual-track legal system in which Muslims are bound by Shari'a law for issues such as marriage, property and death, while members of other faiths follow civil law.

But the parallel system has occasionally faced snags. Joy is a Malay originally known as Azlina Jailani, and by Malaysian law her ethnicity automatically makes her a Muslim subject to Shari'a law. In order to make her 1990 conversion to Christianity legal, she needed permission from the Shari'a courts, which consider a renunciation of Islam a major offense. But, since she is still classified as a Muslim by the state, Joy was not allowed to have her case heard by the civil courts. Her six-year-long campaign to convince the civil system to legalize her conversion failed, prompting her appeal to the Federal Court, after the Court of Appeal rejected her claim in September 2005.

On Wednesday, the Court announced that it had no jurisdiction over the case since it was under the purview of Shari'a law, effectively punting on any attempt to clear up the gray space that exists between Malaysia 's two legal systems. The ruling was greeted by shouts of "God is great" from many in the assembled crowd outside the Palace of Justice in Kuala Lumpur . More secular observers were far less jubilant. "I see this case not just as a question of religious preference but one of a potential dismantling of Malaysia's democracy, which is based on a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state," warned Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, a member of Joy's legal team, before the verdict was announced. "I fear the political process in Malaysia is overtaking the legal process."
The Joy verdict, which will likely become a precedent for several other pending conversion cases, is seen by many in Malaysia as evidence of how religious politics are cleaving the nation, with a creeping Islamization undermining the rights of both non-Muslims and more moderate adherents to Islam. Last November, at a party conference for the Muslim-dominated United Malays National Organization ruling party, one delegate vowed he would be willing to "bathe in blood" to defend his ethnicity — and, by extension, his religion. In several Malaysian states, forsaking Islam is a crime punishable by prison time.
Earlier this week, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who in December acknowledged that race relations in his homeland were "fragile," hosted the World Islamic Economic Forum in Kuala Lumpur . In an era where Islam is so often partnered with extremism and autocratic governance, Malaysia was held up at the annual conference as a model of a moderate Muslim nation committed to safeguarding the rights of its diverse population. But the Federal Court's verdict on Joy's case, which represented her last legal recourse, may undercut that reputation. After all, what is religious freedom if a 42-year-old Malay woman isn't allowed to follow the faith of her choosing?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Of JJ (not the DJ of and Zam (not Alakazam)

Aiyah, RPK, same old story lah. Takde cerita baru ke? You sound like an old, stuck record. Nothing new. No surprise lah. This is Malaysia, what do you expect? More of the same thing. Boring lah. You think what you write here will change anything?

Of late, those appear to be the typical responses from Malaysia Today’s readers. Malaysians are already immune to stories of corruption, abuse of power, power struggles, political intrigue, etc. Malaysians are no longer shocked, surprised or interested in stories about the transgressions of those who walk through the corridors of power. That’s fine with me of course. That makes my life easier, not to mention less dangerous. Today, though it is 13 May 2007 and the anniversary of that most infamous black mark in Malaysia’s history, we shall not talk about matters that are important. Instead, we shall focus on stories about the impending marriage of the Regent of Perak and what colour bridal gown the bride would be wearing. We shall discuss what the Perak consort-to-be’s favourite food is and whether she likes cats. We shall delve into Siti Nurhaliza’s favourite magazine and what she does in her free time. Hopefully, Malaysia Today’s readers will again find our stories interesting.

Anyway, in the meantime, while our reporters and investigators scour the country searching for stories concerning the lifestyles of the rich and famous who have absolutely no political inclinations whatsoever, let us look at one issue that seems to have attracted the attention of all and sundry. This story is about how a Malaysian minister was alleged to have insulted a Malaysian of Indian ethnicity during a recent meet-the-students session in the United States.

There is presently a storm brewing in a teacup. It seems the Malaysian minister in question insulted an Indian student during a meet-the-students session in the United States. Of course, the minister in question was actually attempting a feeble joke. However, the joke backfired when the student concerned took offence to it. This shows that Malaysian ministers are a joke but ministers should never attempt to tell a joke. What the student took offence to was the fact that the minister asked her whether she personally knew the MIC President, who is also Malaysia’s Minister of Works. Not many Indians personally know this Indian leader who is regarded as almost a God by his supporters, though of course they have all heard of him. In fact, many Indians do not even like him and would violently resent it if you try to associate them with this MIC President. They treat it as a great insult.

I mean, this does not only apply to Samy Vellu. Many Malays too feel the same way about Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Then, there are other Malays who feel the same about Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi or even Anwar Ibrahim. If you were to suggest to these Malays that Mahathir, Abdullah or Anwar is their leader, they would most likely punch you in the nose. They would feel grossly insulted and they would demonstrate their antagonism by resorting to physical retaliation. That was exactly how this Indian student felt when the minister asked her whether she personally knew the MIC leader. She regarded it as an insult of the highest degree.

This minister we are talking about, Jamaluddin Jarjis, should know by now that one must never insult Indians, in particular Malaysian Indians. Well, at least Malays should not insult Indians. It is alright if Indians insult Indians. But Malays should never insult Indians. And it is also okay for Malays, Chinese and Indians to insult Malays. Insulting Malays is not a crime. I mean, just read the comments in Malaysia Today’s Blogs to see how everybody; Malays, Chinese as well as Indians; insult not only Malays but Islam as well. And while this alleged insult of the Malaysian Indian student in the US is splashed all over the newspapers and websites plus raised in Parliament, do you see even a minute squeak from anyone when Malays and Islam are insulted? Of course not! This is a democracy? Malaysia practices freedom of expression. So it is okay to insult Malays and Islam. But heaven forbid that you insult Indians even if you were just joking and did not mean it.

In this particular incident, Jamaluddin Jarjis was meeting about 40 Malaysian students and he discovered that most of them were in the US without the benefit of government financial aid. Amongst the 40 were two Indian students. Jamaluddin Jarjis then said he would speak to MARA to discuss how the government could assist the Malay students financially. As for the two Indian students, he would have to speak to the MIC President. He then asked them whether they personally knew the MIC President, something many Indians would take offence to -- and I shall explain why later. Nevertheless, explained Jamaluddin Jarjis, the government would only be able to extend financial help to the Indian students if they are not from the privileged or ‘higher’ class. If they are from the elite group, then the government would not be prepared to extend any financial assistance because they would be regarded as absolutely capable of surviving without government aid. Well, that makes sense. Not all Indians such as Ananda Krishnan are estate workers -- if you know what I mean.

Maybe Jamaluddin Jarjis should be more careful in his choice of words. After all, he is a minister so he should know better. Words such as ‘privileged’ and ‘elite’ are okay to use on Malays. For example, since I am a member of the Selangor Royal Family and cousin to His Highness the Sultan of Selangor, I would be regarded as being from the elite or privileged class. This does not mean I am rich though. I know of many ‘pariah’ Malays -- like the now infamous satay-seller State Assemblyman from Port Kelang, or Mohd Said close-one-eye and loud-mouth Bung Mokhtar who talked about women Members of Parliament ‘leaking’ once a month -- who are filthy rich. And they got rich the filthy way as well -- that is why it is apt to say ‘filthy rich’. I, on the other hand, have many relatives living in that same Port Kelang locality, in particular at Kampong Raja Uda near the Fire Station, who are as poor as a church mouse.

Status and wealth are therefore two different things. You can be from the elite or privileged class and still require government assistance while you can be a country bumpkin with absolutely no class whatsoever yet be a millionaire. Take Siti Nurhaliza’s husband, Datuk K, as an example, or even Siti Nurhaliza herself. They are as cultured as the Beverley Hillbillies. But they are certainly very wealthy. So, can you now see that class and wealth do not necessarily come together?

Now, the Chinese who originally came to Malaysia were all from the poor working class so this problem does not apply to them; thank God. All Chinese are from one class; hard workers who toil with their hands to become rich -- okay, plus by using their heads as well, with some bribing of Malay politicians thrown in. The only elite Chinese were those from the court of the Emperor of China who followed Hang Li Poh to Malacca (now called Melaka) when she married the Melaka Sultan. I am not sure what happened to them after that; whether they all later went back to China or became Malays like the Indians who today form the backbone of Umno. Some, like Hang Toh Ah, Hang Jer Bhat, Hang Ler Kiu, Hang Ler Kay and Hang Kah Stoore (must be from Yunan), probably all became ‘Malays’ in time, though they never adopted names like Ahmad, Abdullah or Muhammad. As far as I can see, there are no longer any Chinese from the elite or privileged class so they would not be too offended if you were to say that all Chinese are from the ‘lower’ or working class.

With Malays, however, one must be more careful. First, we have the ‘lower’ class Malays such as the Felda settlers, farmers, fishermen, etc. Of course, some have migrated to the upper class and to refer to Datuk K and Siti Nurhaliza as ‘low class’ just because they originated from Felda settlements (and still go back there to have their wedding ceremony) would trigger another race riot on the streets of Malaysia; which this time would not be confined to just Kuala Lumpur. Then we have the higher class Malays who have a string of titles before their birth names -- for example, Yang Berbahagia Tan Sri, Datuk Paduka, Datuk Seri, Datuk, Haji so-and-so. You can recognise them easily by the two identity cards that they carry -- their names are too long to fit into one identity card.

With Indians too one must be very careful. By all means use terms such as ‘poor Indians’ and ‘rich Indians’. But never use terms such as ‘elite’, ‘privileged’, ‘high class’, etc., as this may give a whole different meaning to what you are trying to say.

Let me try explaining it with an example.

About ten years or so ago, our neighbourhood was suffering a serious problem of house break-ins. At first we organised an unofficial rukun tetangga. But with only slightly over 100 houses occupied, and four people on duty a night, this meant that the rotation was about two weeks once. This made it worse when many residents were reluctant or unable to walk the neighbourhood the whole night long, thereby missing work the next day. We decided therefore to employ four guards to do that job for us and every house was made to pay RM60 per month towards the cost of the guards’ salary.

Our neighbourhood was about 90% Chinese and 10% Malays and Indians (still is in fact). Most of the Chinese paid the monthly RM60 contribution but collecting from the Malays and Indians was quite a problem. Some of the Malays said that it is the Chinese houses that are being broken into. The Malays are too poor to rob so their houses do not face problems of break-ins. It is true of course. The robbers target the Chinese houses because their houses demonstrate the wealth of the owners. In fact, one Malay house is not even locked up and one night while patrolling the neighbourhood I found the front door wide open. It seems they never bother to lock the door. The Chinese houses, however, have triple locks, burglar alarms and dogs that bark when you are still five doors away. Yet they got broken into in spite of this tight security.

We formed a residents’ committee and the committee decided to issue car stickers so that the guards would know who are those ‘authorised’ to come into our neighbourhood, especially after midnight. Cars without stickers would be stopped but allowed in if they are residents of this neighbourhood. This became more necessary when one day in broad daylight a car drove in without being stopped and four Chinese beat up a neighbour who was washing his car (don’t know why until today).

One night, a car without a car sticker zoomed in without stopping and one of the Indian guards shouted at the driver to stop. The car stopped, reversed, and the diver, who happened to be one of our neighbours by the name of Kumar, verbally abused the guard. The guard was so upset he came to my house to lodge a report. I had instructed him to inform me immediately, whatever the time may be, of any incident in our neighbourhood. It was about 1.00am but I thought this matter should be resolved immediately. So I walked over to Kumar’s house accompanied by the Indian guard. On seeing us, Kumar, his brother and son grabbed pipes and chains and beat up the guard. The guard was bleeding profusely from a gash on his head and we had to rush him to the doctor where they sewed him up with more than a dozen stitches.

The guard subsequently made a police report and the next day the police summoned me to the Petaling Jaya Police Station for my statement to be recorded. I was informed that no charges would be initiated against Kumar. According to the police, Kumar had told them that the guard was from the Pariah class so he had no business addressing someone of a higher class. And he not only addressed but shouted at Kumar to stop. A Pariah, according to what Kumar told the police, is worse than a dog. They are untouchables and can only find work in the estates or graveyards. The police added that Kumar told them they can touch dogs but they can’t touch a Pariah.

And with this explanation no case was made against Kumar and the guard had to suffer not only humiliation but a cracked skull on top of that. The guard is still working for us until today and is one of our longest serving guards. You will probably see him if you come to visit me at home. Kumar, however, has since died and that is all I am going to say about that issue out of respect for the dead.

Another neighbour of ours, an Indian as well, could not understand why Kumar would tell the police such a thing. Kumar is not a high class Indian, this neighbour told me. He is of my same caste and we are not high caste Indians, argued this neighbour. So, it seems there is another class or group, not high and not low, so it must be somewhere in between.

I related this incident to the late Mr. M.G.G. Pillai and he was very upset. Pariahs are not low class, Mr. Pillai argued. In fact, Pariahs would refuse to marry outside their caste because they would not want to be ‘contaminated’ through a mixed marriage. Pariahs’, explained Mr. Pillai, are proud of their caste. I suppose I too, who am not ‘pure’ Malay but a ‘low class’ mixed-breed Bugis, would appreciate Mr Pillai’s sentiments.

I was once debating politics at the Selangor Club Long Bar with some Indian lawyers and, after hearing them grumble and bitch at length, I asked them why they do not join MIC and fight from within. Why complain and complain about the state of affairs but do nothing about the situation? They replied that they would never be accepted into MIC. And, even if they were, they would not want to join MIC. MIC is for the lower caste Indians, they explained. We higher caste Indians would never get anywhere in MIC. You have to be from the Pariah caste if not it would be a total waste of time. They will make sure you don’t go up unless you are also from the lower caste. In fact, they will make you feel most unwelcome and will try to push you out. That is why higher caste Indians cannot make it in Malaysian politics, especially in MIC, they reiterated.

Now, what is the point of this story of mine? Simple! I find this all very confusing. The Indians seem to put a lot of importance on which caste you are from. Imagine Kumar justifying to the police that the Indian guard had no right to come to his house and because he did then Kumar had every right to break his head with pipes and chains. And, since this was an Indian cultural thing, the police agreed that this matter is between Indians and the police should stay out of it.

The lawyers at the Selangor Club Long Bar reinforced this with their story about the MIC; that it is only for Pariahs and that ‘higher class’ Indians would never go near the party. If this is how Indians treat each other, how do you expect Malays to treat Indians? The Malays are already very feudalistic as it is. The Malays already believe in the class system and ‘lower class’ Malays would pay RM250,000 just to get a datukship so that they can migrate to a higher class. (Titled ‘commoner’ Malays receive more respect and are addressed in the proper manner compared to royalty like me who are actually despised because we were born a Raja or Tengku).

If at all Malays are confused as to how to treat or address Indians, and sometimes booboo by making off-colour jokes about high class/low class Indians, this is because the Indians themselves ‘teach’ the Malays that there is such a thing. In fact, Malays do not really know how to differentiate between the different castes or class of Indians. An Indian is an Indian as far as Malays are concerned. But Malays are constantly reminded by Indians themselves that the MIC Indians are lower class Indians while those who are of the higher caste do not join MIC.

I can imagine Jamaluddin Jarjis suggesting to the Indian students in the US that he would speak to MARA about helping the Malay students and to the MIC about the two Indian students. But, as the Indian lawyers at the Selangor Club Long Bar told me, if you are not a Pariah Indian then forget about the MIC. The MIC is not the place for the higher caste Indians. Therefore, if the two Indian students that Jamaluddin Jarjis spoke to are from the higher caste, would the MIC President want to do anything for them? This was Jamaluddin Jarjis’ big booboo. He insinuated that they have to be from the lower caste to get help from the MIC. Hey, I too would be offended if Jamaluddin Jarjis told my children that they must be ‘lower class’ Malays to get MARA help even if he did not mean that as an insult. (By the way, MARA is not helping my three kids in College, two who are in the UK, because I am a ‘higher class’ Malay).

Yes, that is the reality of the situation. But Jamaluddin Jarjis is a minister and ministers have to comply with higher standards. As a minister, Jamaluddin Jarjis should steer clear of such controversies as the Indian caste system. Suffice that he volunteered to assist the two Indian students by speaking to the MIC President. If they are too ‘high class’ for MIC’s purposes and the President would not lift a finger to help them, then let that be a matter between Indians and not something that Malays should get involved in. It is alright if the Indians call each other Pariahs and break the head of a guard who comes to the house of a higher caste Indian. But Malays should stay out of it. Hell, even the police don’t get involved as the Kumar case has proven. Anyway, Jamaluddin Jarjis has since apologised for his error in front of 500 Malaysians in a gathering attended by the Deputy Prime Minister so maybe the matter should now be considered resolved.

While on this subject, I too can be regarded as a ‘Pariah’ Malay. I am what they call ‘Melayu celup’ or mixed breed. Officially, we are what the government calls Pan-Asians and our faces are banned from advertisements. But I don’t mind. I am not as sensitive about it as the Indians are. Even though my face is banned from billboards and advertisements I don’t care. I know I am going to get my revenge on the government soon enough.

The Regent of Perak is soon going to marry a Pan-Asian. Soon, her face is going to be donning the walls of the government departments all over Perak. In the event the Sultan of Perak dies and the Regent goes on to become the new Sultan, and eventually the Agong or King as well, the Regent’s consort’s face will be all over Malaysia.

Yes, the revenge of the Pan-Asians. The Malay Pariahs strike back. Poetic justice I must say. Is the government still going to ban Pan-Asian faces after this?

-RPK's No Holds Barred

Friday, May 11, 2007

Parliament is now a house of monkeys

Groups slam MPs for making sexist ‘joke’ against women


PETALING JAYA: Several women’s organisations reacted angrily to the sexist remark made by two backbenchers against Batu Gajah MP Fong Po Kuan, saying it was unacceptable.

Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil is also unhappy with the incident.

“Even in jest, it should not have been done. I would like to request all MPs to show exemplary behaviour, especially on gender issues,” she said yesterday.

On Wednesday, Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang had raised the matter of leaks at the entrance to the media centre in Parliament when backbenchers Datuk Mohd Said Yusof (BN-Jasin) and Datuk Bung Mokhtar Radin (BN-Kinabatangan) said: “Where is the leak? The member for Batu Gajah also leaks once a month.”

They were let off the hook, however, on Thursday as Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Ramli Ngah Talib rejected Fong’s motion to refer them to the Rights and Privileges Committee, on the grounds that she should have filed it when the remarks were made.

Following the controversy, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz had said the words were not offensive and that it was a normal play on words.

All Women’s Action Society president Judith Koh-Loh said Ramli's expression of regret was insufficient considering the enormity of the insult.

“The fact that the august body allowed a ‘joke’ to be made about the function of the female body, without any sanctions, marks another low point in the history of parliamentary debates,” she said.

Women’s Aid Organisation executive director Ivy Josiah said: ”There is a difference between a joke and a demeaning remark. Because of the poor understanding of sexual harassment, the remarks are dismissed.”

Sisters in Islam programme manager Zaitun Kasim said the remarks made by the MPs were completely offensive.

“The remarks they made reflected more on them as they could not think of something better to say,” she said.

Bar Council chairman Ambiga Sreenevasan said parliamentarians should lead the way in being gender sensitive.

In Kota Baru, IAN MCINTYRE reports that Wanita MCA wants MPs to be more sensitive in future when they speak about women.

“The issue is not about Government versus the Opposition. It is about respecting each other’s gender rights,” the wing’s deputy head Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun said.

Friday, May 04, 2007

why is MIT the scientific paradise?

Picower team reverses Alzheimer's-like symptoms in mice 'Lost' memories may prove merely inaccessible.

Deborah Halber, News Office Correspondent
April 30, 2007

Mice whose brains had atrophied like those of Alzheimer's disease patients regained long-term memories and the ability to learn after living in an enriched environment, researchers at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory report in the April 29 advance online edition of Nature. The same results also were achieved with a new experimental class of drugs.

Li-Huei Tsai, Picower Professor of Neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and colleagues found that environmental enrichment--for laboratory mice, being exposed to stimuli that enhance their physical and psychological well-being--induced the animals' brain cells to start to sprout new connections.

"This is exciting because our results show that learning ability can be improved and 'lost' long-term memories can be recovered even after a significant number of neurons have already been lost in the brain," said Tsai, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. "This hints at the possibility that cognitive function can be improved even in advanced stages of dementia."

What's more, the researchers' results help explain why even severely afflicted patients are occasionally lucid.

Master regulators
Tsai's team was also able to mimic the effect of living in an enriched environment by treating the Alzheimer's-like mice with histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors. HDACs are a family of 11 enzymes that seem to act as master regulators of gene expression. Drugs that inhibit HDACs are in experimental stages and are not available by prescription for use for Alzheimer's.

Proteins called histones act as spools around which DNA winds, forming a structure in the cell nucleus known as chromatin. Histones are modified in various ways, including through a process called acetylation, which in turn modifies chromatin shape and structure. (Inhibiting deacetylation with HDAC inhibitors leads to increased acetylation.)

Certain HDAC inhibitors open up chromatin. This allows transcription and expression of genes in what had been a too tightly packaged chromatin structure in which certain genes do not get transcribed.

There has been exponential growth in HDAC research over the past decade. HDAC inhibitors are currently being tested in preclinical studies to treat Huntington's disease patients. Some HDAC inhibitors are on the market to treat certain forms of cancer. They may help chemotherapy drugs better reach their targets by opening up chromatin and exposing DNA. "To our knowledge, HDACs have not been used to treat Alzheimer's disease or dementia," Tsai said. "Future research should address whether HDAC inhibitors will be effective for treating neurodegenerative diseases."

A better model
Brain atrophy occurs during normal aging and is an early feature of neurodegenerative diseases that affect learning and memory. Until recently, there were no effective animal models for these diseases, limiting researchers' ability to explore strategies for recovering learning and memory after substantial brain damage had already taken place.

Tsai's laboratory developed a transgenic mouse in which expression of p25, a protein implicated in various neurodegenerative diseases, can be switched on or off with a change in diet. Mice that expressed the p25 protein had significant loss of brain cells and acted as though they did not remember tasks they had previously learned.

"It's not clear if memories were simply lost or became inaccessible due to synaptic and neuronal loss," wrote Tsai. "In the latter case, it might be possible to reestablish the access to such memories if sufficient refinement of the neuronal network can be achieved by the remaining neurons."

In 2003, a man who was barely conscious for nearly 20 years regained speech and movement at a Mountain View, Ark., rehabilitation center. Last year, doctors said the man's brain spontaneously rewired itself by growing tiny new nerve connections to replace the ones cut in a car crash. Tsai said the case provides evidence that reestablishment of a neural network may allow recovery of long-term memories in humans as well as rodents.

Using the transgenic mice, Tsai and Picower research affiliates Andre Fischer, Farahnaz Sananbenesi and Xinyu Wang and technical assistant Matthew Dobbin set out to see if they could boost the plasticity--the ability to change--and the function of the animals' remaining neurons.

Enriching environment
Environmentally enriched (EE) mice have shelves, perches, nesting material, tunnels and other objects in their habitats and are allowed to touch, see, hear or smell other mice. The mice may get opportunities to exercise or learn tasks. Neuroscientists use EE to increase synaptic function in rodents, but no one is sure how or why it works.

In the Nature study, groups of genetically engineered mice were trained for four weeks before neuronal deficits were induced by turning on p25.

Despite the substantial loss of brain cells in the mice, the researchers found that environmental enrichment or elevated histone acetylation resulting from treatment with HDAC inhibitors helped the mice recall maze tasks and other behaviors they had learned weeks before.

The fact that long-term memories can be recovered by environmental enrichment or elevated histone acetylation supports the idea that apparent memory "loss" is really a reflection of inaccessible memories, Tsai said. "These findings are in line with a phenomenon known as 'fluctuating memories,' in which demented patients experience temporary periods of apparent clarity."

Tsai said, "We really hope that our results will lead to a suitable therapeutic approach to treat dementia. However, the immediate next steps are to determine which HDACs regulate distinct forms of synaptic plasticity, learning and memory."

This work is supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Editor's note: This is the huge difference between top US Ivy League/non-Ivy League universities compared to that of our local heaven and earth.

Machiavelli to the max

A flurry of trials and litigations are going through the Malaysian courts, reminiscent of days gone by when court decisions spelled doom and the end of the political careers for those who walk through the corridors of power. Will 2007 be a repeat of 1957, 1967, 1977, 1987 and 1997? Are we seeing yet more political upheaval and turmoil that swamps Malaysia’s shores every decade like the dreaded Tsunami that taught Malaysians, who had never heard of such things before, the meaning of the word? Marriages are said to suffer the ‘seven year itch’ when spouses decide to graze in greener pastures. Political ‘marriages’ are no less spared this ‘seven year itch’, only that it comes around every ten years instead.

Not all Malaysians were born around the time of Merdeka. Then, Malaysia’s population was less than half of what it is today. Many were also not born before the ‘historic’ race riots of 13 May 1969 -- and what they know about that most infamous black mark in Malaysia’s history is what has been related by those who witnessed it firsthand or by those who heard about it from others before them. At best the stories are hearsay and subject to additions and omissions according to the taste buds of the story tellers.

What really happened every ten years since Malaysia gained independence from Britain in August 1957? The history books do not tell us everything. Many remain an untold story. For that matter, Malaysian history books allowed into the classrooms are a load of hogwash that tell us nothing but crap. And those books that do relate the truth are banned because the government needs to ‘protect’ Malaysians who are not able to think for themselves. Malaysians cannot handle the truth and the truth may hurt their feelings. And once feelings get hurt Malaysians may act on it and run riot in the streets. That is how gullible and immature Malaysians are, or so the government thinks. So Malaysians need to be protected from the truth for their own good. Better the truth remains hidden than Malaysians become upset. What you don’t know can’t hurt you, the old saying goes.

1957 was when this nation was born. That was the first change to Malaysia’s political landscape; the first ‘upheaval’ and ‘turmoil’ if you wish. The first ten years till 1967 were bliss and paradise for this newly emerged nation-state. Then the bubble burst. The honeymoon lasted just ten years, but after that the ‘ten year itch’ set in. Tunku Abdul Rahman was great. He was the man who brought this country into nationhood. He was the Father of Independence who led the movement to remove the cloak of imperialism from what was then one of the few remaining western colonies in this region. But it was now time for him to go. A leadership change was in the cards. New blood needed to be infused into the political system. And the old blood, the pre-Merdeka generation, needed to be flushed out of the political system.

But change must have a ‘reason’. A reason would be needed to act as the trigger. Change for the sake of change is not on. Change in reaction to events would be more palatable. And a ‘special’ event would be needed to trigger change. The move to cast the Tunku aside was mooted. The plan was put into motion. And the greatly required trigger came in the form of the 1969 general election that saw the ruling party demolished in many parts of Malaysia, rural as well as urban.

The Tunku’s fate was sealed in 1967. The final nail in his coffin was hammered in 1969. The following year, 22 September 1970, Malaysia received its blood transfusion so much sought after. The Old Guard moved aside to allow the Young Turks to take over. New personalities now walked through the corridors of power. The Tunku was now in forced retirement. Tun Abdul Razak Hussein was now Malaysia’s new Prime Minister.

As they say, man proposes, but God disposes. And divine intervention invariably always changes the course of history. What we see today is not what was planned. What was planned is something else. But God, in His wisdom, decided that some divine intervention was in order to influence the political landscape of Malaysia. Raslan died in that most tragic car crash in front of what, today, is the Federal Territory zakat department next door to the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station. Raslan, one of the first Malay accountants -- and the head of the first Bumiputera bank mooted soon after the First Bumiputera Economic Congress even before the advent of the New Economic Policy in 1970 -- met a fiery death when his Lamborghini burst into flames after it hit the wall. The tragedy of his death was not just about the loss of one of the most prominent Malays of that time. It was the fact that the seat belt he was wearing trapped him in the ball of flame while his wife, who was not using a seat belt, got thrown out of the car and survived.

That ended the life of Raslan who would probably have taken Malaysia by storm in time to come had he lived. No longer would Malaysia benefit from his acumen and expertise. A vacuum was created. And, according to the laws of physics, vacuums have a way of filling itself. So enters Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah to fill this vacuum. Ku Li is the beneficiary of circumstances. He did not ask for it. Divine intervention determined he would be it. And Ku Li took over where Raslan left off and took the bank to new heights. As they say, one man’s loss is another man’s gain.

By then the Tunku had already moved aside for his deputy, Tun Razak, to take over. It was not a natural succession or a career progression for Tun Razak. It was a coup, though not of the military kind. Malaysia can never accommodate military coups. Coups can happen though, but it must be a political coup. And a political coup it certainly was. And the Tunku exited and Tun Razak entered. It was political chaos at its best. It was calm on the outside but turmoil on the inside. It was like a deep river that is calm on the surface but churning at its bed. And that is what Malay politics is all about. It is like the Malay art of self-defence called silat. A lot of dancing and prancing but one never knows when that most fatal thrust will be delivered. But it will be just one thrust. It will be a thrust when the dancing ends and the players have had enough. And that one thrust is all it takes to end the match.

But divine intervention came into play yet again. A smooth succession had been planned. Tun Razak was in the driver’s seat. And he had placed his successor in the co-driver’s seat ready to take over when the time came for him to exit from the corridors of power. Unfortunately, Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman died an untimely death on 2 August 1973 leaving Tun Razak the job of steering the country forward all by himself.

Tun Razak now needed a new co-driver. But the anointed co-driver was just too busy. He had much on his plate. He was the man who was busy charting Malaysia’s economic growth. He was the man who would be the architect of Malaysia’s new found wealth. He would set up the system on how Malaysia’s liquid gold would be managed, which today is the blueprint for all oil producing nations. Many do not know that Malaysia set the trend for the rest of the world to follow. The Petronas model would be the yardstick used by all oil producing countries to negotiate their profit sharing agreements with the oil exploration companies. And this acclaimed architect was Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, the new guru of the oil industry, the man whose career was pushed to new heights after the death of Raslan.

Ku Li should have been the new deputy. He should have been the successor to Tun Dr Ismail. But Ku Li is too valuable to waste as a mere deputy prime minister. His brain is needed in another area. He must be the architect and engineer of Malaysia’s economic growth. He would chart Malaysia’s journey from an agricultural-based country into a modern industrial-based and oil producing nation. Why waste his talents as a mere deputy prime minister? His time will come. After all, he is a mere 36 years old, still too young to sit in the co-driver’s seat. His time will come when he has completed his most important assignment. And when Tun Razak is ready to move aside in years to come, when Tengku Razaleigh would then be old enough, he would most certainly be the one to take over.

In the meantime, yet another vacuum needs to be filled. And it shall have to be filled by a mediocre deputy who would not hold on to the job and refuse to let go when it is time for him to go. This man was Hussein Onn. He would be a safe enough deputy. He could be coaxed to retire when his time is up. And he is not strong enough to make an impact to an extent Malaysians would be sad to see him go.

But man proposes and God disposes. Tun Razak never lasted the full trip. He did not live long enough to install Ku Li as the new Prime Minister of Malaysia. He, just like Raslan and Tun Dr Ismail before that, died before his time on 14 January 1976. Another vacuum was now created. And this time the vacuum was right at the top. And the mediocre number two whose only job was to fill a vacuum and keep the seat warm for Ku Li ended up taking over instead. Tun Razak knew he was dying. He knew he did not have long to go. And he wanted Ku Li as the new number two when he takes his last breath. That was his death-bed wish. But Hussein Onn was not the bulldozer equipped to carry out this last will and testament of a dying prime minister.

Hussein Onn was under pressure. He wanted Ghazali Shafie as his number two. But King Ghaz was not an Umno Vice President. There are of course no rules to this game. The law does not require one of the three number threes fill the vacuum in the number two slot. It is mere tradition and traditions can be broken if one so wishes. But it takes a strong man to break tradition. And a strong man would have appointed King Ghaz as the new number two if that is what he really wished. But Hussein Onn was not a strong man. And he dared not fight tradition.

The three vice presidents confronted Hussein Onn and demanded that the new number two be from amongst them. Hussein Onn had three choices; Ghaffar Baba, Ku Li, or Dr Mahathir Mohamad. These are the three vice presidents. And one of them, not King Ghaz, must be that new deputy. Ghaffar Baba was the vice president with the highest votes. But he would not have made a suitable number two because of his educational background. So it would have to be Ku Li, the vice president with the second-highest votes and certainly the man with the best credentials. But Ku Li was barely 40. So he declined the job. Anyway, he still had much to do planning Malaysia’s economy. He asked instead that Hussein Onn choose Dr Mahathir, the vice President with the lowest votes, but certainly one with the right credentials. And with that Dr Mahathir became the new Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia. And when Dr Mahathir finally succeeds Hussein Onn as prime minister he would take Ku Li as his deputy. By then Ku Li would be ready and of the right age.

But Dr Mahathir was not one to wait his turn. Politics is not about waiting. Politics is about grabbing what you desire and realising what you aspire. Power cannot be offered. Power must be taken. And good politicians must be Machiavellian. That is the mark of a good politician. And being the Machiavellian politician that he is, Dr Mahathir made his move to wrest power from Hussein Onn just like Tun Razak did before that with the Tunku.

Dr Mahathir skilfully pushed Hussein Onn into a corner and sandwiched him between a rock and a hard place. Hussein Onn was weak in resolve. But he was strong in principles. Dr Mahathir pushed for Datuk Harun’s pardon. Umno had voted for Datuk Harun while he was still languishing in Pudu Jail. Datuk Harun was now one of Umno’s vice presidents. Umno had spoken. It wanted Datuk Harun. The strong-principled Hussein Onn would not budge. Umno must choose between him and Datuk Harun. It cannot be both. Umno chose Datuk Harun. Hussein Onn kept his word and left on 16 July 1981. A vacuum was created yet again and Dr Mahathir, the number two, filled the vacuum and took over as prime minister.

But Dr Mahathir is not a traditionalist. He never follows norm. He will not appoint one of the three vice presidents as the new number two. He will not fulfil Tun Razak’s deathbed wish by appointing Ku Li as his deputy. He will not abide to the ‘agreement’ that Ku Li would be his anointed second-in-command when he finally takes over as prime minister. He will let the party decide that. The prospective candidates will have to slug it out. And may the best man win! Tradition has been broken. For the first time they will need to contest the seat of number two. The successor will not be handpicked. He will fight for the job.

Musa Hitam and Ku Li slugged it out. Who does Dr Mahathir favour? The members need a signal who to vote for. But Dr Mahathir stayed neutral. Let democracy prevail. Let it be the members’ choice. The president will not interfere. But they read certain signals. They read between the lines of course. And the impression seemed to point to Musa. So the members chose Musa. And Ku Li lost his ‘inheritance’. He who should be prime minister was not even the deputy prime minister. Tun Razak is dead. So his legacy died with him. Ku Li who is Tun Razak’s choice would not be it. Musa was it.

But Ku Li would not be sidelined. He knew the job was his. The job was his back when Tun Razak took over from the Tunku. But he was busy then. He had a job to do. He needed to chart Malaysia’s economic future. The job of deputy prime minister had to wait. There are more important things on hand. But then who thought that Tun Dr Ismail would die? Who thought that Tun Razak would die? Who thought that two deaths in a row would rob him of the job? And who thought that Dr Mahathir would throw the decision who should be number two to the members to decide? And they read the signals wrong. But was it really wrong? Were the signals right? Did Dr Mahathir really prefer Musa over Ku Li? Whatever it may be, Musa got the job.

Ku Li tried a second time around. But the first time it was two people in a race to fill a vacuum. The second round was a bid to unseat an incumbent. It was no longer just a race to the finishing line like the first time around. This time it was a bid to topple a leader already in office. But Ku Li failed. So Ku Li must be punished. Dr Mahathir must remove him from the post of Finance Minister. Ku Li must be sent into retirement. Dr Mahathir did remove him as Finance Minister of course. But he was not sent into retirement. He was ‘demoted’ to the job of Trade and Industry Minister. And this made Musa mad as hell. He knew that Dr Mahathir was keeping Ku Li around just to even the odds and balance things a bit. With Ku Li gone Musa would become all powerful. With Ku Li still around, Musa would have an adversary staring him in the face. Dr Mahathir, being the skilled Machiavellian politician that is, knows how to play the divide and rule game. And Ku Li as Trade Minister would keep Musa in check.

Musa was extremely upset. In 1986 he left in a huff allowing Ghaffar Baba to take over. No one suspected that Ghaffar would be the next Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, not even Ghaffar himself who one day before that lamented before Datuk Nik Hassan, the one-time Menteri Besar of Terengganu, that he is ‘finished’. In fact, Chartered Bank had published a notice in the newspapers that it is taking bankruptcy action against Ghaffar -- which it withdrew the day after Ghaffar was appointed the deputy prime minister.

Musa coaxed his archenemy Ku Li to join him in a challenge for the prime minister’s post. Musa first announced the challenge in Johor but Ku Li kept silent and did not respond. The second announcement was made in Gua Musang, Kelantan, and still Ku Li kept silent. By the third announcement in Gong Kapas, Terengganu, Ku Li accepted the challenge and announced his bid for the presidency to the thunderous applause of the crowd. In 1987, Ku Li and Musa took on Mahathir and Ghaffar, and lost.

1957, Merdeka, and Malaysia breaks away from Britain.1967, the conspiracy to oust the Tunku is hatched.1977, a new power equation in Malaysian politics is formed and a new political landscape emerges.1987, the Team A versus Team B tussle and a ‘new’ Umno is born. Yes, every ten years Umno goes through a ‘rejuvenating’ exercise, the ten-year itch of Malaysian politics. Four decades, four episodes of political turmoil. But it does not end there. We still have 1997. 1997 was the advent of the Asian Financial Crisis. Malaysia is under attack. Dr Mahathir is also, again, under attack, just like he was ten years before that in 1987.

Dr Mahathir is now under siege. Malaysia is also under siege. Anwar Ibrahim had 80% of the Supreme Council Members, Chief Ministers/Menteris Besar and Cabinet Ministers behind him. Dr Mahathir was caught with his pants down. He now had two battle fronts to fight. He had the economy that was under attack to worry about. He also had Anwar Ibrahim to take care of. One was an external attack. The other was an internal attack. But both the external and internal forces could move in concert to sandwich Dr Mahathir and squeeze him out. And they can do it at the drop of a hat.

Dr Mahathir needed help. Anwar had given him an ultimatum to resign or get kicked out. A White Knight galloped in on his white horse. And this White Knight was called Daim Zainuddin. Dr Mahathir needs help? Fine, Daim will help. But Dr Mahathir must first sit back and leave everything to him and not make even a squeak. Daim would do it his way and only his way. Dr Mahathir is not to lodge a protest, not even a whisper. It must be a total hands-off situation. Dr Mahathir can go to hell, or he can be saved. The option is up to Dr Mahathir. Daim will determine the rules of the game. And Dr Mahathir will dance to Daim’s tune. Take it or leave it. It is up to Dr Mahathir.

Dr Mahathir was dead meat anyway. So what did he have to lose? He is under attack. Malaysia is under attack. He might as well give Daim the freehand that he seeks. On the word go, Daim moved his forces. He brought back RM20 billion stashed overseas. He injected RM52 billion into MTEN that had been earlier created by Anwar. They used this money pumped into Danaharta to buy up all the bank and corporate debts. Daim then implemented currency controls. Malaysia was successfully saved but at great expense to the taxpayers. But Daim would not include Dr Mahathir’s family in the bailout exercise. Everyone else would be saved. Dr Mahathir was on his own, abandoned by Daim.

Dr Mahathir had no choice but to solve his family’s problems himself. Petronas stepped in and took Dr Mahathir’s son’s shipping company off his hands. It was a fire sale. Dr Mahathir’s son would still be lumbered with massive debts even after Petronas takes over his company. And Petronas would make hundreds of millions in profit on the deal. But the profit would not go to Dr Mahathir’s son. Petronas would enjoy it. Dr Mahathir’s family would have to suffer a wipe-out. They would lose their underwear. Dr Mahathir was devastated. He did not realise he had created a monster going by the name of Daim Zainuddin. It was a case of a bigger devil taking care of a smaller devil. Maybe one would have been better off dealing with the smaller devil oneself. Daim bypassed Parliament and the Cabinet with full and legal authority and salvaged Malaysia’s economy. But he left Dr Mahathir and his family to die.

Daim then moved in on Anwar. He had solved the external problem so it was now time to take care of the internal problem. The plot was hatched. Anwar was axed and Dr Mahathir was given the unpleasant task of holding the axe dripping with blood and announce to the world why Anwar had to be axed. But the script was written by Daim and Dr Mahathir had no choice but to follow the script. Daim had Dr Mahathir’s balls in his hands. Either he play ball or the same axe would be used on his neck as well.

Umno turned on Dr Mahathir, as Daim knew it would. The country turned on Dr Mahathir, as Daim had anticipated. Reformasi was born, much to Daim’s delight. Street demonstrations exploded on the streets of Kuala Lumpur. Dr Mahathir was now again under siege. Earlier it was Anwar who demanded his resignation. Now Daim was demanding his resignation. Go and go now, said Daim. Daim wanted Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to take over as Prime Minister with Khalil Yaacob as his deputy. Daim had the succession well-planned. Abdullah and Khalil would serve him well. They will be his stooges and willing servants. Abdullah was spineless and Khalil was dirtier than a pig in a pigsty. What better underlings to have than these two?

Dr Mahathir could not fight Daim who now had both Umno and the government in his pocket. At best he could shuffle his feet and play for time. Dr Mahathir promised to resign but only after the 1999 general elections. But Daim did not want him to go after the 1999 general elections. He wanted Dr Mahathir out before the general elections. But Dr Mahathir would not go. He insisted on waiting until after the general elections. Daim had to do something to persuade Dr Mahathir to leave. Dr Mahathir had promised to go once the problem of the economy and Anwar have been taken care of. Well, the two problems have already been solved. But Dr Mahathir would not go as promised.

Daim engineered Dr Mahathir’s defeat in the 1999 general elections. He sent his people to penetrate Reformasi. They needed Reformasi to bring Dr Mahathir down. They brought down Najib Tun Razak, Mahathir’s ally, in Pekan. Najib lost the Pekan Parliamentary seat in 1999. But then Dr Mahathir sent a couple of bags of postal votes to Pekan and saved Najib’s skin. Najib was returned in Pekan but as Wakil Pos, not Wakil Rakyat. Kelantan stayed opposition and Terengganu fell. Eight of the 15 Parliamentary seats in Kedah, more than half, fell to the opposition. But still Dr Mahathir would not resign. In the Lunas by-election, exactly one year after the 1999 General Election, Daim sent in his people to ‘give’ the seat to Parti Keadilan Nasional. Daim’s people in Reformasi engineered the defeat of Barisan Nasional thereby causing it to also lose its two-thirds majority in the Kedah State Assembly, Dr Mahathir’s home state. But still Dr Mahathir would not resign. Daim was exasperated. How in heaven’s name does he get rid of this most recalcitrant old man?

In 2001, once the economy had returned to normal, Dr Mahathir turned on Daim. He demanded that Daim hand back Umno’s money. Daim was in possession of tens of billions of Umno’s money scattered all over the world. The RM20 billion that Daim brought back to Malaysia was not his money but Umno’s. And there was still more, much more, in half a dozen banks in several countries in Africa that Daim had bought. Daim disputed the accounts but he would not produce the evidence. He does not owe Umno any money but instead Umno owes him, argued Daim. Where are the accounts, demanded Dr Mahathir. No accounts were forthcoming. Daim could not back what he says with evidence and Dr Mahathir pressed home with the bombshell.

Daim had used RM52 billion of the nation’s money to salvage the banks and corporations aligned to him. Dr Mahathir’s family was not included in the rescue exercise. And it is Daim’s and not Dr Mahathir’s signature on all the documents. Now it was Daim’s balls in Dr Mahathir’s hands instead. Dr Mahathir is not going to resign. Daim instead would have to resign. And Daim had no choice but to resign or else face a downfall of gigantic proportions. And with that Daim left the country and made Africa his new home.

Now that everything had returned to normal and with Umno safely out of Daim’s control, Dr Mahathir could clean up the party once and for all. Umno needed more than just a reformation. It needed more than just an overhaul. It needed a major makeover. There was a need for an even newer ‘new’ Umno. But first he needed to resign and hand the reins over to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Once Abdullah was in charge, the revamping can take place. He could not do this while still holding the office of Prime Minister. He must do this from the outside with Abdullah running the show. Only then will the whole exercise succeed. And with Abdullah planted in the seat of Prime Minister and Najib in the seat of Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir went to work.

1957, 1967, 1977, 1987, 1997 -- five turning points for Malaysian politics. One more decade, 2007, the last decade, would be the final turning point for Malaysian politics. But what is Dr Mahathir cooking? What does he have up his sleeve? What has 2007 in store for us? What will we see in this final decade?

Dr Mahathir appears to have many lives that even cats do not possess. But how many of these nine lives has he used thus far and how many more remain? Or has he used up his full quota and will he finally bite the dust as many hope he would? Many would like this to be Dr Mahathir’s final curtain call. But the show is not over till the fat lady sings. And the fat lady has been maintaining a deafening silence. How ironical that the only Cabinet member without balls is the one with the balls. What happened to all those others with balls, especially he with the loudest mouth and who hates Mahathir the most? Why are they playing footsy with the Prime Minister’s son-in-law instead of doing the job they are being paid to do; acting as trustees to our tax money?

And where does Ku Li fit in this whole scheme of arrangements? Why did he close down his Semangat 46 and rejoin Umno? Was this move tailored to dovetail into Dr Mahathir’s plan to get rid of Anwar? Why then did Abdullah and not Ku Li replace Anwar as the Deputy Prime Minister? Was this Dr Mahathir’s choice or something that Daim gave him no choice in? And why Najib as the number two? Did someone put a gun to Dr Mahathir’s head in the matter of the removal of Anwar, the appointment of Abdullah, and later the appointment of Najib as well? If so, who then was the one who held the gun at Dr Mahathir’s head and what was it they had on him that tied his hands good and proper? And how did Dr Mahathir eventually manage to untie his hands and turn the tables on his captors?

Hey, this piece is already more than seven pages long. Cukuplah! You don’t expect me to go on and on and answer all these questions do you? Anyway, why spoil everybody’s fun by revealing all now? Oh, I forgot, I opened this piece by saying “A flurry of trials and litigations are going through the Malaysian courts, reminiscent of days gone by when court decisions spelled doom and the end of the political careers of those who walk through the corridors of power.” Well, that is the key to the whole issue.

There are five ongoing court cases -- okay, six if you include mine where I am being sued for RM85 million by a very unhappy Malaysia Today reader -- and these court cases will be the trigger that will bring change to Malaysia’s political landscape. That will be when Dr Mahathir plays his final hand and prove that he had everything under control ever since he first made his move on Tunku Abdul Rahman in 1967. Yes, 40 years, that is how long Dr Mahathir has been playing the political game. And he never lost the plot all along. Ku Li thought he did in 1987. Anwar thought he did in 1997. Daim thought he did in 1999. But Dr Mahathir outlived and outlasted them all. But is this Dr Mahathir’s endgame or the end of Dr Mahathir’s game? Is this Dr Mahathir’s final curtain or has he still a life or two up his sleeve unused? Well, you be the judge come 2008. I will stop here for the meantime and allow some things to remain unsaid. After all, why would I want to reveal what Dr Mahathir is up to and spoil the plot?

From Malaysia Today's Corridors of Power

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

finally..all is not lost :) hopefully...

Dear Mr. Melvin,

I refer to your feedback written to us pertaining to your claim
on the telephone bills during the delay on our flight MH005 1 February

Appreciate if you could let us know your contact number
in order for us to be in touch with you regarding the matter above.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,
for Malaysia Airlines

Tengku Zuraya Tengku Yaccob
Customer Response Department