Archive for April, 2013

THE NEED TO VOTE WISELY

Posted: April 28, 2013 in Uncategorized
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AN important watershed in the country’s future is before us – the 13th general election with its polling day on May 5. It would be the third general election since the turn of the new century and the first, according to care-taker Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, that the social media would play a deciding role.

As someone not aligned to any political party, the writer is calling on voters to exercise their vote wisely and diligently. The public should vote in the right candidates from both sides and not based on their racial, ethnic or religious background.

Even the top leaders of Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat have declared their opposition to racial politicking. It is important that their followers and members carry out this directive.

Although our parliamentary system is based on the King normally asking the party or alliance with the largest number of elected MPs to become the prime minister and form the new government of the day, it is crucial that good, honest and progressive-minded people are elected from both sides including perhaps, some independent candidates.

Voters should be fair and attend the ceramah from all sides, do some research on the candidates and make up their own mind based on the candidates’ outlook on issues, principles, innovative ideas and commitment to eradicating corruption and in promoting transparency, good governance, rule of law, free enterprise and positive change. Those candidates who are standing again should also be judged on their performance as elected representatives and how well they have served their constituencies.

Due to the scale of the election and the number of candidates involved, neither BN nor PR nor any other political party has the ability, skills and luck to vet thoroughly enough the background, integrity and pro-reform or transformation outlook of every single candidate. So it is left to the voters to make the final decision on May 5. This is ultimately what democracy is about.

The political parties can propose anyone they like but it would be the voters who would freely decide who they want as their “wakil rakyat”. The moment of truth for all the candidates would be when after the ballots are counted, the winners would be publicly declared by returning officers appointed by the Election Commission.

There are good and sincere candidates from both sides and these people, regardless of their party affiliation, should be voted in to improve the quality of our representatives and the democratic process at state and federal levels. Having a workable and sustainable two or three-party system is dependent on the quality of the elected representatives.

This election is a golden opportunity to elect good people and reject the bad ones, including those who have their own hidden agenda not to serve the people, but to use their elected positions to enrich themselves or to fulfil their extreme outlook or ideologies.

Voters should reject race-based politics and candidates who are using race or religion to divide, confuse and intimidate the voters. They should reject bigotry, sexism, xenophobia, anti-minority phobia, blame games for our social problems on the weak and defenceless and the politics of fear.

Sure, the country is not suffering from racial or religious strife compared to several other countries and some of our past leaders should be commended for reining in racial and religious politics and allowing a greater freedom of expression but more remains to be done, to do away with negative and destructive politics.

If any candidates and parties would like to use race and religion as an issue, it must be on how they can better promote national unity, harmony, understanding and mutual respect.

It is encouraging that the top leadership from both the coalitions has so far, shown greater maturity and respect for the democratic process and the wish of the voters. Most importantly, both sides have publicly stated that they would honour the election results.

It is also encouraging to note that all sides of the political divide are fielding many fresh faces, thus giving voters more choices to pick representatives who would be better able to address the emerging challenges that the country is facing. The quality of these new candidates would be put to a test in the election and when the winners take up their elected positions.

The youths, as the future leaders and generations of this country, must come out in full and exercise their right on May 5. The youth of today of all ethnic backgrounds, compared to those in the past, are more knowledgeable, well informed and better connected. They are also more open-minded and adaptable to progressive change. They must play a meaningful and positive role in determining their own future. They must stand up and be counted in opposing bigotry of all forms and show our leaders the way forward.

It is now time for all voters to look “beyond the wall” and with a new progressive mindset.

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YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW

Posted: April 10, 2013 in Uncategorized
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Posted on 21 March 2013

HOW could 500 men bring down a mighty empire of 25 million people? Unthinkable and illogical! It’s like saying that a few hundred Sulu terrorists who invaded Sabah recently, purely from a military standpoint, were (hypothetically) trying to take over the whole of Malaysia. They must be mad even if they were dreaming of taking over just Sabah alone. But that was what happened about 500 years ago to an empire in Central America.

The Aztec Empire (1427-1521) was one of the mightiest and most advanced civilizations in the world during that time, formed by the alliance of 3 major tribal territories and constantly at war with the other surrounding tribes. It was advanced in the areas of science, arts and even tax and legal administration.

But it had one serious contradicting flaw – the ritual human sacrifice in the tens of thousands of innocent people, including women and children, to please the gods based on a blood thirsty religion. God knows how they (the priests and religious people) came up with such a belief. Sometimes, even the blood and flesh of the victims were consumed by the perpetuators, making them cannibals as well.

Although human sacrifice had been part of some cultures in ancient history, the massive scale of it during the reign of the Aztecs made it unbelievably cruel and barbaric, which also contributed to its final demise. The Aztecs probably qualified to be the most evil and cruel empire that humanity has ever known. No wonder, it hardly lasted a hundred years and came to its rightly-deserved brutal end.

At its peak, the mighty Aztec Empire ruled over 25 million people in Central America but it took a group of only 500 Spanish Conquistadors led by a cunning and ambitious army officer Hernan Cortes to completely destroy the empire.  Cortes had also secured help of some local and surrounding indigenous people opposed to the hated Aztec rulers and more importantly, he was helped (unwittingly) by a powerful “god-send” weapon from an unexpected source – smallpox virus, carried by the Spaniards, which the Aztecs had no immunity against, resulting in an epidemic. It was heavenly justice.

Nearly half the population was wiped out by the time the area controlled by the Aztec was fully colonised by the Spanish. Though the colonizing Spaniards were no great moral heroes, they were certainly the lesser of the two evils. Any other group opposed to this most-evil empire would have been considered the lesser of the two evils.

As the saying goes “you reap what you sow”. The gross injustices committed by the Aztec Empire weakened and divided its people and they came back to haunt and destroy them. It taught mankind a great moral lesson. Remember, all these happened only 500 years ago, which is not that long ago in the history of human civilization.

The violent downfall of the Aztec Empire should have taught the Nazis and their Japanese counterparts not to be so cruel to their fellow humankind but it didn’t. Germany paid a huge price for it (and for allowing and electing a mad man, Adolf Hitler, to be its leader). Japan paid also a huge price for its military conquests overseas and, worst of all, it is the only nation in history to have suffered from nuclear bombs.

But while the German establishment has completely denounced and broken from its Nazi past, not everyone in the Japanese establishment is convinced that it had committed war crimes and atrocities on other people overseas during World War 11. Perhaps that’s why Japan is still suffering from one calamity after another, which some people see as a punishment from the Divine for not completely coming to terms with its evil past. Many people believe in this “karma” principle that once a man has committed evil deeds on to others, he shall somehow pay for it eventually. Of course, it’s not fair for many innocent Japanese to suffer, but when a major calamity strikes, it is indiscriminate and is hard to separate the good from the bad people. That’s also what they mean by collateral damage in a war, a just one or otherwise.

Another moral lesson to be learnt from the decimation of the Aztecs is about present-day Mexico. In fact, most of Mexico today was at the heart of the Aztec empire. Perhaps, the refusal or ignorance of recent Mexican leaders to learn from the history of the Aztecs has made Mexico today an almost “failed state” due to the uncontrolled wanton violence and carnage caused by the drug war and the seemingly inability of the government (so far) to rein in the drug lords. More than 70,000 mostly innocent people have been killed in the war on drugs since 2006, when recent outgoing President Felipe Calderon launched a nationwide military crackdown on organized crime. The violence was unleashed by the drug kingpins in retaliation against the government but more often, against each other for the control of their lucrative trade and territorial influence.

The new government of President Enrique Pena Nieto who took office in December 2012, appears to be making great efforts to deal with the drug cartels while unleashing a new economic programme to rejuvenate the economy, especially in the manufacturing sector, which is fast catching up with other major competitors around the world. Let’s hope that his government would be able to deal effectively and ruthlessly (there’s no other way) with the drug cartels which are promoting and controlling a massive underground economy (probably worth more than the formal economy).

Let’s also hope that the new Mexican government would bring social justice and economic development to all, so that the society there does not need to alienate or neglect any sections of its people and compel them into the drug business. The new president must surely be aware about the history and the destruction of its ancestral Aztec empire and the need to govern well and fairly and bring economic development for all. Otherwise, “he will surely reap what he sows”.

In the local scene, with the impending general election, all political parties should be reminded that whichever coalition comes to power after the election, the public would be judging them on their actions on governance, fairness and bringing economic development to the country as a whole for the next five years. If they fail to do that, the ruling coalition concerned would “reap what they sow” in the next general election.

Posted on 28 February 2013

THIS question must be one of the most difficult philosophical and moral dilemmas of all times. The answer in many crisis cases is not so straight forward and it all depends on the decision maker’s (or a subject’s) perception or belief in the importance of the “end” to justify the use of a certain “means”. A subject is someone, like the writer, who is just a commentator or observer.

No past leaders in the world, even those with great achievements, could ever claim convincingly that they had never once used a controversial “means” to achieve a bigger “end”.

Was US President Harry Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb in 1945 on Hiroshima and Nagasaki justified? To his government at that time, it was more important to save more American, Japanese and other lives by forcing Japan to surrender quickly (the “end”). In this case, (to the US Government) the “end” justified the “means”, no matter how terrible or ugly the “means” or its consequences might be.

More than 250,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed immediately and in the aftermath of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thousands more, until now, have also died from developing cancer from the effects of the radioactive contamination. Even today, historians and analysts are still debating the justification of using the atomic bomb.

Another major historical case to explore the answer to this question is the American Civil War (1861-1865). More American soldiers died in this war than the combined deaths of all US soldiers who had been killed in all other wars up to now. More than 750,000 soldiers and thousands more civilians were killed brutally between the forces from the northern Union (majority) states and the southern Confederate (minority secessionist) states, which wanted to maintain black slavery to serve the cotton plantation economy then. The advancement of the weapons and military strategy was partly responsible for the deadly casualties of this first “industrial war” in the world.

The war was started by the Confederate forces just before Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as the 16th President of the United States of America. President Lincoln, who was ahead of his time, did not relish using violent military means to achieve an end to slavery. He knew that he had no other choice (once the war started) but to be ruthless in winning the war. He had to force the Confederate states to surrender completely as the only way he could abolish slavery in all the states (including states under his control with the passing of the 13th Amendment), free the black people and re-unite and develop the country as a whole.

The newly industrialized Union states under President Lincoln had certain advantages such as a strategic communication tool in the new telegraph and the newly improved rail transportation system. President Lincoln cleverly used these “means” to the fullest to win the war. So in this case, it would appear (as portrayed in the new film “Lincoln”) the end (to terminate an evil and oppressive system) justified the violent and other non-violent means used by President Lincoln.

Lincoln was also an extremely skillful politician who knew how to use various “non-harmful means” and the power of his office to deal with his allies, opponents and neutral members in the Congress in order to secure the passing of the 13th Amendment to outlaw slavery. Winning the war militarily, combined with winning over Congressional support (against slavery) was perhaps his greatest achievement.

The story so far, has been more about using controversial “means” to achieve a purportedly good or noble end, but often the “end” can also be hidden, bad or highly questionable while the “means” used can be legitimate.

For example, Adolf Hither used legitimate and democratic means to gain power in Germany in 1933 but he also used another bad “means” by singling out the Jews as a convenient scapegoat at that time for the ills that Germany was facing. After he gained power, he unleashed a united and a militarily stronger Germany on the rest of Europe, starting World War 11, which killed more than 58 million people.

Another example is in Japan today. A small but influential group of politicians there have not learnt at all the lessons of history, unlike in Germany where the establishment there has fully acknowledged and broken away from its Nazi past. These Japanese jingoists have been whipping up ultra-nationalism, arguing for greater militarism and even trying to cover up their horrendous and barbaric past (as a “means”) to accomplish a “greater Japan” again (as the “end”). In this case, the end is totally wrong and the means used, even if it is legitimate, cannot be justified.

Therefore, legitimate “means” can act as a cover-up or camouflage for an evil “end”.

There are many more examples of major historical events and issues around the world where this question of the “end versus means” can be hotly debated.

One controversial issue is on the use of nuclear energy, as a “means” due to the limited viable options, to reduce our over-dependence on fossil fuels, the main cause of global warming, which is destroying our planet. So can the fearsome nuclear energy be the savior of our planet one day?

In the local political scene, some quarters are using the issue (and “means”) of ethnicity to distract and divide the people and to purportedly champion the interests of their respective community in order to achieve the “end” of getting elected and gaining power. The “end” here may be legitimate but such “means”, even if it is legal, is highly immoral and counter-productive to the country as a whole. The “end” and the “means” must always be measured in terms of the over-all interests of the country based on the fundamental principles on equality, freedom, integrity, fairness, social justice and rule of law.

Let’s now look at how this question can also apply to the corporate sector. For many business cases, the “means” used to achieve higher profits (“end”) often result, wittingly or unwittingly, in negative consequences such as destroying or polluting the environment. The difficulty often lies in the public accepting the value of the “end” of a corporate entity, which is usually quantified by its profitability and perhaps providing employment to people. But using a questionable or badly implemented “means” which would result in negative effects on many more people is bad business. The overall public interest is always paramount.

More businesses today are practicing the concept of sustainable business development, which basically states that the environment should not be sacrificed irreversibly (using destructive “means” or poor implementation) simply for the purpose of making high profits (the “end”).

This “end versus means” equation is a dynamic issue which is constantly changing with time as the public perception is also evolving on the relative importance of the “end” versus the “means”. The factors involved need to be constantly defined and updated.

For every case, the decision maker must be honest and based his decision on the facts of the case. The “end” and “means” must also be clearly defined with the possible consequences spelt put. It is then up to the decision maker to make an informed decision while accepting full responsibility for it and the consequences, intended or otherwise.

Posted on 19 December 2012

I WROTE about “Lessons from Norwegian tragedy” in July 2011 about Anders Behring Breivik who bombed government buildings in Oslo killing eight people and then went on a shooting spree in a youth camp killing 69 people, mostly teenagers. He was convicted in August 2012 of mass murder and terrorism and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was considered sane to stand trial and face detention. It seems so unfair that this is the worst punishment available in Norway for this cowardly mass killer but that’s their legal system.

This xenophobic mass murderer killed people not because he was insane but because he was motivated by his hatred of coloured foreigners. He was targeting Muslims and black people but killed many white youths as well as a way of venting his anger in an increasingly plural society. He also wanted to publicly demonstrate his extreme right-wing ideology of opposing multi-culturalism and his belief in white supremacy.

We now have another mass murder in the United States and one that shocked not only the country but the world. It does not appear that the young killer here was motivated by any ideological or political belief. This time, 20 children of ages between six and seven and seven adults were slain by a 20-year-old youth. The killer Adam Lanza, a “nice” and lonely geek was thought to be suffering from a mental illness but nobody, apparently not even his mother who was first killed by him, suspected that he would be such a grave danger to others and himself (he took his own life after the killing spree).

It appears to be a totally unexpected act. The severity of this atrocity on young children has never been felt before anywhere in a modern-day civilised society. What went wrong? Were there no danger signs or were the signs ignored. Why? Why? Why?

Social analysts, sociologists, mental health professionals, academicians, educators, law enforcement agencies, politicians, gun lobbyists, media and parents would be debating for years what should have been done and what society must do to prevent such incidents.

They say, in retrospect, everyone is wise. Is it really? Such wanton shootings, mainly from undetected deranged people, have happened frequently in the US. The two common causes blamed for such deadly incidents are the lax gun control in the US and society’s inability to detect such mentally ill people or terrorists before they go on their murderous rampages.

I have mentioned previously what lessons could be drawn from the Norwegian tragedy and how such an incident could be prevented. It was essentially a failure of the society in Norway, despite having a reputation for peace, tranquillity, openness, freedom and civility, to prevent such harm to its people. No matter how developed, wealthy, progressive and civil a society may be, an ugly incident like this throws into question the “real” success of society.

Surely, this parameter, the ability of society to protect its people, especially women and children from harm, no matter where the threat is coming from, is a good measure of the stage of civil development or the real success of a society.

So for the US massacre, what lessons can be drawn here?

Like the Norwegian case, the US incident is also a failure of the society there, as President Barack Obama himself admitted, to protect its children from such grievous harm. Whatever the reasons or causes, it was still a failure to protect its people from harm and no amount of explanation from anyone can diminish this fact. The US president was unassumingly frank about the inability of its society to protect children from such heinous crime.

It looks like the US government is going to be “ruthless” in finding an effective way to prevent such an incident. Whatever the causes it would identify this time, they would not likely be swept under the carpet for political expediency or otherwise. Obama, still the most powerful man in the world and the commander-in-chief of the mightiest military machine on earth, was genuinely heartbroken and was moved to tears in his speeches about the tragedy. He seemed resolute to fix the problem.

The world is watching and waiting to see what the leadership in the US is going to do. Obama must seize this moment of truth to push through laws that are needed on gun control for the greater good, even if he has to risk offending a sizeable group of people who would still oppose it and see gun ownership as their inalienable right.

Certain so-called principles, such as the right to own and bear arms, must be changed with the times, especially when such a principle becomes a grave threat to society. This right (to bear arms) cannot be sacrosanct and unchallengeable such as the right to free speech and to vote. Yes, some principles should be carved in stone such as those which treat and respect people fairly, freely and equally and those which recognise universal human rights. But not this gun-owning one, which has become more a security and safety threat to society. They no longer live in the “Wild Wild West”.

The US government, and for that matter all governments, should also consider laws to hold accountable the “inaction” of the stakeholders of mentally sick people – parents, teachers, tutors, relatives, friends, mental health service providers, observers or anyone in society who is aware of the danger signs of any mentally ill person. There must be a way for mental health specialists to draft some common tell-tale or danger signs which the stakeholders must then inform the authorities and put these people under close watch or monitoring and/or be given special help.

There must be a public awareness campaign to inform people to look out for these signs. This is not so much to punish or mistreat mentally ill people but to monitor and prevent them from causing harm. The aim of such public education and awareness is also to help mentally ill people cope better or get the support they need in facing the stress and disorders and if necessary, get treatment or therapy.

An academic question one may ask is that IF Adam Lanza had been given sympathetic support, attention and perhaps the right therapy for his alleged mental disorder, would he have committed such a massacre?

There is much soul searching to be done but it must be done beyond a closed mindset to find long-term answers to this terrible local tragedy, which has far reaching global impact and significance.

Posted on 21 November 2012

IT WAS reported last week that Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin stated that the private sector should get involved in providing programmes for children with special needs. The government, he said, encouraged and supported the private sector to take such initiatives.

In what form of support the government can give and how the private sector can benefit, are still not clear. In a follow-up statement, Muhyiddin said that his ministry had received much feedback and would be taking into consideration the needs of special children in the National Education Blueprint with a new chapter to address their concerns.

I was involved in this area when my daughter was diagnosed about 15 years ago with dyslexia. My firm subsequently embarked on a campaign to promote and offer a tried and tested, proprietary and remedy learning programme from an Australian university. Lest I be accused of plagiarising myself, I wish to declare that much of the material here is from my firm’s website written many years ago following our involvement in a pilot programme in Kuala Lumpur with the university in 2003.

It has been estimated that up to 15% of children in Asia may be affected by learning difficulties in one form or another and 60-80% of these children suffer from a specific learning or literacy problem called dyslexia (derived from Greek meaning “difficulty with words”). Dyslexics are normal children often with above average IQs or intelligence and the problem can only be properly assessed and diagnosed by specialists. It is more related to the way their brain processes information (resulting in, for example, seeing letters and words differently) rather than any physical disabilities. Famous personalities known to be dyslexics include Albert Einstein, software billionaire Bill Gates, British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and film stars Whoopi Goldberg, Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford.

Dyslexia is not a disease and it cannot be cured. But there are remedial programmes which can assist dyslexic children, depending on their degree or severity, overcome many of the difficulties they face in reading and writing.

Studies and research from overseas have indicated that such learning difficulties, if not addressed properly at the early stage, would likely lead to school dropouts, juvenile delinquency and deep-seated resentment against the school system and society in general. This in turn may induce the youths concerned to be involved in social ills such as drug abuse. Prisons in London, for example, are found to have a disproportionately high number of inmates with dyslexia (more than 50%) and it has been estimated that the net loss to the society of not addressing this problem can run into billions of dollars.

In Malaysia, it has been estimated that up to 500,000 children per generation are facing various degrees of dyslexia. However, it is still an under-recognised and not yet fully understood or well-publicised phenomenon and there is a severe lack of resources, support and proper facilities to address the problem. NGOs and some individuals are, however, doing what they can in raising public awareness and attending to many cases.

Drug abuse affects about 1.25% of the population and is taken as a top priority and has been designated a national security issue. Dyslexia affects far more people and may even be linked to drug abuse.

It is also a matter of social justice that many dyslexic youths, due to the ignorance of parents and teachers, have suffered unfairly at the hands of their parents and the school system since such students have often been perceived as stubborn, lazy, deliberately disruptive and indisciplined, and they therefore deserve punishment. The youths would then retaliate, become even more disruptive or resentful and find themselves alienated from society even further. It is a vicious cycle.

Can you imagine our society making enemies with half a million people per generation of smart, angry and frustrated people (the likes of Gates and Cruise) who have been sidelined by our education system and punished unfairly? Instead of being productive, they become destructive, causing much social damage. It is so sad and illogical, especially when there are remedial programmes available, not just from the Australian university but also from other special learning institutions.

Perhaps, you can now see why addressing this issue is of national strategic importance.

Despite much effort and costs borne by my firm to garner support from the ministries concerned to undertake a more detailed study of this problem and to launch a major national campaign to create awareness (so that at least, such children would be given sympathetic attention and not be punished or sidelined by our society), nothing much came from it. The issue was not considered important enough and not well understood by the officials concerned at that time.

The remedy programme my firm was involved in had helped my daughter to read and write normally and it was so successful in helping slow learners in Australia that it was even endorsed by the Australian Parliament in 2007, a rare occurrence. My firm managed to secure the sole agency for Malaysia and then offered it to several private education groups about six years ago under a licensee agreement (as my firm does not have the financial resources required).

These business-driven entities, after due diligence and discussions, decided that the “financial returns on investment” would still be higher and better spent for their normal education programmes. The profit margin estimated for the project to take up this remedy programme was not so bad (10-15%) but it was not good enough for the potential investors.

Unfortunately, there were no philanthropists willing to support this programme and we had lost this licensee arrangement with the Australian university a few years ago. Many wealthy parents (who are aware of this programme) have been making expensive trips with their dyslexic children to the university in Sydney to seek help.

How the Education Ministry would be able to get the private sector involved in such programmes for children (unless the businesses are funded, subsidised or given tax or other incentives), is puzzling, based on my experience with such a programme.

Regardless of whether or not the private sector is interested, the government must play a leading and pro-active role, to commit significant funds and resources to addressing the needs of our special children. We must all do our part to support and raise awareness on this important issue beyond the wall of ignorance.

Posted on 2 November 2012

INTERNET fraud is causing trillions of dollars in financial losses, time wasted, disruption to work, and much stress and trauma for the victims.

The internet is a double-edged sword which is intended to be used for good but also opens up new possibilities for criminals. With the information superhighway and the efficiency and speed of doing things and business, comes a new risk never seen or anticipated before.

The problem is compounded by greed, stupidity, naivety, fear due to ignorance and a lack of public awareness. There is also the issue of respect for privacy and anonymity over the internet and a great reluctance by the authorities to use an unconventional approach to this problem.

There is a feeling that we need to be extra careful on how to come down hard on the perpetrators as we are in untested waters.

Internet fraud comes in many forms – phishing (the act of attempting to acquire confidential information by masquerading as a bank website or email web host), offers of awards or charity, offers of cheap loans, investment proposals, seeking partners in crime for some frozen funds, seeking dealers for their products, pretending to be potential buyers of products or services, the list is endless.

Practically every unsolicited offer from a stranger on some financial reward or a phishing-type email can be considered a fraud.

Current mass consumer software is not intelligent enough to filter such unsolicited emails. Even a case of “false positive” (filtering out or deleting a genuine email) can result in a lost business or social opportunity. Therefore, many people are compelled to manually check and delete these emails.

What’s the catch of these financial offers or rewards? The idea is to half-convince you of the genuineness of an offer and in future, when they feel that they have you hooked, they would then ask you to make some small upfront fee for processing, administration or logistics before you can get the goodies they are offering.

And after your first payment, they will come out with a plausible story to convince you to make another such payment. And because you have already made a payment (and you have therefore “committed” yourself) you are “encouraged” to tell yourself that the deal has to be genuine.

Some of the stories the fraudsters tell you are so good that you have to give them some credit. They are based on research, actual events and facts. The senders often claim to be a relative or an aide of someone famous and important who has died and who left vast sums of money. They need your help to get the money. And for your help, (they promise) millions of dollars in commission.

All these offers and deals have one thing in common – they are too good to be true. Why would a stranger pick you to reward you so well for something anyone can do? But, based on reports, a small but significant number of people still fall victim.

A phishing-type email pretends to be from your bank or the web host of your email and it would normally inform you that it is undergoing some maintenance or upgrade. It would then advise you, with a subtle threat, to provide your password so as to update or reset your account as “failure to do so may result in the termination of your bank or email account”.

Or it may say that your account has been suspended and needs you to provide your password to reactivate it. Here, it preys on your fear based on ignorance. No bank or email host would ever ask you to provide your password over the internet. Any such request is deemed to be a phishing email and therefore a fraud.

There has to be a more effective way to address this problem. Let’s examine what “ingredients” are needed for such an approach.

First, the solution should be radical because the problem is radical and unconventional. If necessary, we may have to amend the law or policies. Laws are man-made and must evolve to be relevant.

Second, the solution must involve the public. This would also be the best way of educating them.

Third, whatever approach suggested must make it so troublesome and inconvenient for the fraudsters so that it is not worth their while to do it again.

One proposal for the authorities is to get the public to take part in a campaign to respond or reply to such financial offers or phishing-type emails by providing wrong information to the senders based on the assumption that “every single unsolicited financial offer or phishing-type email is considered a fraud, unless proven otherwise”.

In fact, the authorities should consider outlawing unsolicited emails but it may be difficult to do so over the borderless internet. Such fraudulent emails can be clearly defined so that genuine businesses using the internet for marketing would not be affected.

Imagine the fraudsters being flooded with millions of emails with wrong information which they would have to spend time, effort and perhaps the right technology to filter and match the information received of say the name, account number and password of a bank account.

And, let’s say that every single piece of information they receive does not match. This would frustrate these people and they would wonder if it is worth their effort to do it again.

If the laws or policies are against giving false information over the internet or are not clear, then the authorities should consider amending them to make it explicitly clear that in cases of unsolicited emails on financial offers or phishing-type emails (which are deemed a fraud), the recipient, if he or she wishes to reply, is duty (or legally) bound to supply incorrect information to the sender.

The other positive consequence of such an approach is that the active public participation of such a campaign, with the support of the media, would create much awareness and educate the public about such deceptions. No victim can then say “Oh, nobody told me about it or I was not warned.” It would certainly reduce internet fraud.

A radical problem like internet fraud requires a radical approach and a new mindset beyond the walls of our legal and mental constraints.

GIVE PEACE A CHANCE

Posted: April 10, 2013 in Uncategorized
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Posted on 27 September 2012

THE sabre rattling between China and Japan over a few uninhabited small islands (with potential oil and gas reserves underneath) has created much anxiety in the region and the rest of the world.

With no peaceful resolution in sight, there is genuine concern on where the conflict may lead to. Even the US, which is generally keen to contain the growing influence of China in the region, is worried that the situation may spiral out of control, leading to a war with serious consequences for the world including disrupting the global economic recovery.  These two Asian countries are also the second and third largest economies of the world and there are clear signs of business casualties on both sides.  A serious flare up would affect the regional and global economy.

The problem is compounded by the historical animosity between these two Asian countries, with their governments finding it hard to control the emotional anger of a growing section of their people.  The ultranationalist or right wing factions in Japan, unlike in Germany and Italy, are still a significant force to be reckoned with and their growing influence on the Japanese government is partly responsible for the escalation of tension.

Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad also wrote about this conflict, his concern for peace in Asia and how such territorial claims must be resolved without the countries involved going to war.  He called for a peaceful solution and he used Malaysia’s previous territorial disputes with Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei as good examples on how it should be settled.  He said: “The only sensible solution to the dispute is to agree to negotiate, arbitrate or, failing this, to put the claims before the World Court.”

The world seems to be heading towards a period of heightened tension, not just over territorial claims but over several other issues, especially on differences of religious beliefs and sometimes over various interpretations of religious doctrines.

Samuel Hungtington’s theory about the “clash of civilisations” is unfortunately gaining greater credence.  It is as though the world is doomed or programmed to perpetual conflict until it annihilates itself due to the “unresolvable” religious or cultural differences.  What (cultural and religious diversity) should be a strength and beauty of mankind is being blamed to be a source of self-destruction.  Let’s hope that sanity and universal humanistic values prevail and Hungtington is proven wrong for humanity’s sake and survival.

Peace is the antithesis of war and violent conflict.  The two world wars originated in Europe and they were caused by the emergence of the new imperial powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) promoting extreme right wing ideologies embodied by ultra-nationalism, anti democratic fascism, intolerance and zero freedom of differing views and expression, supremacist or puritan philosophy on race, religion and beliefs, jingoism and bigotry.  Such extreme ideologies were used to unite and mobilise (for war) the majority of their people to challenge the world order at that time dominated by the other imperial powers.  The Nazis are the best example of right wing extremism.

Right wing extremism is the source of many wars and violent conflicts.  Zionism can also be considered a right wing philosophy of Judaism.

Extreme left wing or ultra-communist ideologies, as exemplified by absolute authoritarianism and giving the state too much power to regulate and control all economic and social developments, is also bad.  Another form of left wing extremism is anarchism or complete lawlessness.  However, with the old communist powers moving toward the centre, left wing extremism is no longer a significant threat except in one or two places.

Most (more that 90%) of the terrorist acts today are committed by right wing extremists, including al Qaeda.  Even the group that was behind the blasphemous film made in the US about Prophet Muhammad, is known to be from the far right.

The best way forward appears to be the middle path of moderation, respect for ethnic diversity and democracy with a check-and-balance system promoting entrepreneurship while regulating for social justice and welfare.

The peaceful protests by many Muslim and non-Muslim leaders to provocative cases denigrating Islam and Prophet Muhammad are fully justified.  But the violent reaction and carnage by right wing militants against innocent people and institutions can only serve the interest of Islamophobia in the west, which in essence, tries to portray Muslims as violent, intolerant and barbaric.  The promoters of Islamophobia would like it (violent reaction) to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, thereby reinforcing their case against Islam.

The Iraq Was from 2003 to 2010 was the latest brutal war led by the US against the old regime in Iraq on some flimsy grounds about the existence of “weapons of mass destruction” which were not found.  In reality, the then US government of George Bush was reacting vengefully to the Sept II attacks and was scapegoating the unpopular and obstinate Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.

The high profile and deadly Sept II attacks by al Qaeda gave a new impetus to Islamophobia.  It made the lives of so many peace-loving Muslims hell for travelling in the west.  It was as though every Muslim become a suspect.  It was as though Bush and his allies wanted to make a point that Huntington’s theory was right, that it was inevitable that Christianity and Islam would clash until one religion was exterminated.  So if one religion has to vanquish the other for its survival, why blame al Qaeda for the acts of terrorism?