Climactic protection against prostate cancer

Dear Dr G,

I recently read that having frequent ejaculations lowers the risk of prostate cancer.

Contrary to Asian beliefs, I consider frequent sex to be good for overall health.

Throughout my early twenties and thirties, I ejaculated every alternate day, which averages out at 15 times a month.

As I venture into my forties, I would like to ask Dr G if there is a credible study that supports the claim that more ejaculations lowers the risk of prostate cancer.

What is exact mechanism of this and is there a “recommended” frequency for protection against prostate cancer?

Will having frequent ejaculations in my forties protect against cancer?

Warmest regards

Clement

The Harvard Health study on this topic has been in the spotlight since it was published in 2016. Researchers surveyed nearly 32,000 healthcare professionals in New England, obtaining sexual behaviour data spanning nearly three decades from 1992 to 2010.

In addition to sexual intercourse, participants were asked to record their frequency of masturbation and wet dreams, with the sole intention of stratification of the relationship between orgasm and prostate cancer.

The study revealed participants who ejaculated at least 21 times a month in their 20s were 19% less likely to develop prostate cancer than those who ejaculated fewer than seven times per month.

Additionally, it found men in their forties who ejaculated more than 21 times a month would have further protection – as they are 22% less likely to develop prostate cancer compared to their less active counterparts.

But the Harvard study was not the first to reveal the protective benefit of frequent ejaculations – a smaller study of 2,338 Australian men shared a similar conclusion. This study from Down Under found that men who ejaculated on five to seven times a week on average before the age of 70, were 36% less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer as compared to those who ejaculated fewer than 2.3 times per week.

In other words, daily ejaculation for men up to the age of 70 could help to protect them against prostate cancer!

Although both studies were published in well-established scientific journals, the exact mechanism of cancer risk reduction by frequent ejaculation is unknown.

Many critics of the studies offered the explanation that frequent ejaculation was more indicative of the overall health status of an individual, saying men who are sexually active tend to be healthier and therefore a lower risk of cancer.

The contrary view proposed that frequent ejaculation could remove accumulation of sperm or unknown pathogens possibly responsible for inflammatory changes in the prostate gland. Perhaps that may shed some light on the reasons behind protective effects of frequent evacuation of semen.

In reality, there is no set number of times a person should be ejaculating in order to reduce their risk of prostate cancer. Contrary to any conservative belief that frequent ejaculation is harmful to health, science suggests a dose-dependent relationship where the risk becomes lower with more ejaculations.

Hans Hofmann, an abstract expressionist artist once said; “In nature, light creates colour. In the picture, colour creates the light!”

When Dr G is put on the spot to shed some lights on the colourful world of scientific research into sexual health, his attitude is; “The potential of sex can only be guided by the light of research in order to reveal the true colour of nature!”

On that note, in conjunction with the festival of lights, I wish all readers a wonderful Deepavali!

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A Malaysian dilemma: The more things change…

SO MUCH has happened in the past couple of weeks that there is only one certainty in Malaysian politics – nothing is certain.

I find myself grappling with a myriad of feelings about the direction of our country and the efficacy of Malaysia Baru.

So much is happening in the world and it affects us directly. Trade wars to actual wars, the drop of prices of commodities and a probable palm oil war with our largest buyer, i.e. India.

All of this is happening against the backdrop of a global economic slowdown.

Despite the government trumpeting steady economic growth figures, no one feels the 4% economic growth. I can say this with certainty because everyone I speak to feels blasé about the government’s economic management.

The disconnect between the actual and perceived reality felled the previous government. That same problem seems to have engulfed this government. It would be wise for the economic masters of Malaysia Baru to remember their advice to the leaders of Malaysia Lama.

Recently, we had four eminent public universities organise a gathering or congress (as they call it) to discuss the future of the Malays in Malaysia. Now, it is perfectly fine for any community or ethnic group to assemble to debate their problems and plan their future.

However, when such a gathering becomes a factory of incendiary racial rhetoric with the leader of all Malaysians, i.e. the Prime Minister gracing the gathering – then we have a problem.

The speakers at the event, including vice-chancellors of the participating universities, decided to purvey rabid racial euphemisms to “remind” the non-Malays to be “grateful” and adhere to the so-called social contract.

After 62 years of independence, we still have eminent public personalities belying their intelligence, as well as ours, and pandering to petty racist boasting to make a point that, frankly, does not need to be made.

First of all, what is this social contract?

The social contract is our Federal Constitution. The rights, duties and powers of every Malaysian, from the Ruler to the man on the street, is codified and crystal clear.

Second, the term “social contract” is an artificial construct. You do not find it in the Federal Constitution; neither is it in the Reid or Cobbold Commission reports. It was a term coined by the late politician-cum-journalist Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad in 1986, almost 30 years after Independence.

Abdullah had in a speech in Singapore said that the “political system of Malay dominance was born out of the sacrosanct social contract which preceded national independence”.

And after that, politicians seeking to prosper in the fault lines of Malaysian politics have used this term of a social contract rather liberally to achieve illiberal ends.

I believe I speak for the majority of non-Malays or non-Bumiputeras in this country that we never have and never will question the special position of Islam, the Malays and Bumiputeras in the country.

Not because we are afraid to do so but because as good and loyal citizens of Malaysia, it is incumbent upon us to respect and uphold the Federal Constitution. It has nothing to do with a social contract, but it is about fidelity to the founding principles and the laws of the land.

So, with that in mind, the constant use of terms like “gratefulness” or “budi” in Malay to remind non-Malays that their citizenship is due to the benevolence of Malay political leadership is malarkey.

The fact remains – and it cannot be denied – that almost every non-Malay in Malaysia, my family included, obtained their citizenship by operation of the law and because we were born in Malaysia.

This brings me to my point about Malaysia Baru. In the weeks after the change of government, NGOs that were critical of Barisan Nasional began to trumpet the renaissance of Malaysia’s socio-political landscape. Activists said they no longer needed to be active as the mission had been accomplished as Barisan had been desposed.

Pakatan Harapan was expected to usher a kinder, gentler and progressive approach to governance.

Racist tendencies and ethnic demarcation were supposed to be a thing of the past. Malaysia would be governed based on the rule of law and in the interest of the many and not the few.

Repressive laws and oppressive policies were to be replaced with new laws that will elevate Malaysia’s legal standing with a firm respect for human rights.

The pain I felt because of my party’s complete obliteration was assuaged by my belief that our best days, as a nation, were ahead of us.

However, fast forward 18 months, and Pakatan’s many promises have become great fables and fairy tales.

Leaving aside the broken promises and lacklustre budget – Pakatan seems to be completely disjunctive. The transition of power from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has caused so much uncertainty, and it is debilitating.

For a nation used to certainty and stability, Malaysia is in uncharted waters, and it is not a good thing.

The constant racial baiting, even amongst Pakatan component parties, is a pity. It is nothing short of a modern-day Greek tragedy. The deteriorating state of race relations is affecting the confidence of investors, and Malaysia’s economy is taking a hit.

DAP and PKR, with 92 seats amongst them, seem unable or unwilling to steer the country towards the path of consensus and unity.

The discomfiture of the Malay community, either real or imagined, is being amplified by those who seek to capitalise on it at the expense of the nation’s well-being.

For many Malaysians, this is our Malaysian dilemma because the more things change, the more they remain the same.

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Condom conundrum: To use or not to use

Dear Dr. G,

I just started a new sexual relationship. As I am encountering some trouble with using barrier protection, I am hoping to get some advice from the expert.

I am an absolute believer in safe sex.

I believe in protecting myself from sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy. Therefore, condom is the best option for me.

Despite multiple attempts in using the condom during intercourse, I find the barrier technique cumbersome, and limits physical contact. Just like as some would describe it as “taking a shower in a raincoat”. I am sure my girlfriend feels the same way!

I currently have a regular sexual partner whom I trust. Hence, I am contemplating to go all the way, showering without the raincoat!

Before I get caught up in the rain with infection or unwanted pregnancies, I would like to put Dr. G on the spot on the issues of desensitisation of using condoms.

Is it true that both men and women loath the use of condoms as it reduces physical contact? Are men more affected than women?

What are the risks of catching a sexually transmitted infection and unwanted pregnancy with a regular sexual partner?

Lastly, can you recommend any condoms that I can still enjoy my shower but still wearing the damn raincoat?

Regards,

Rain-man Raymond

A male condom is a sheath-shaped barrier device rolled onto an erect penis during penetrative intercourse, reducing the probability of pregnancy and sexually transmitted pregnancy. Male condoms are typically made from latex, and less commonly polyurethane.

Condoms made from sheep intestine labeled “lambskin” are also available, based on the idea it provides more natural sensation. In fact, lamb intestine condoms were recorded for its disease-prevention use at least since 1564 in China.

A condom is designed to roll onto an erect penis before sexual intercourse to provide physical barrier blocking semen transfer. As pleasure plays a central role in motivating human sexual activities, any artifice that interferes with the pleasure of sex is likely to be non-pleasurable and accepted reluctantly. The male barrier method is well described to interpose a mechanical barrier between sex partners, limiting the physical contact, reducing the tactile sensation and attenuate heat transduction during sex. The reduction in sexual pleasure, as compared to natural unprotected means, is one of the main reasons people cite for eschewing condom use.

The description of “using condom is like taking a shower with a raincoat on” or “eating candy with the wrapper on” typically depicts the feelings of men who loathe the rubber.

However, there is relatively little information available on the relationship between the pleasure-perception and condom utilisation behaviour. One study involving college participants of 80 women and 35 men in their early 20s assessed the perception of pleasure in protected and unprotected vagina intercourse. Both men and women reported unprotected sex as more pleasurable than protected intercourse. The men’s pleasure rating for unprotected sex was higher than women; similarly men’s “pleasure decrement” is much higher than the female counterparts. In other words, both men and women believe condom reduces the pleasure in sex and men are more bothered by this.

Although some may absolutely detest the “raincoat” and the “wrapped-candy” phenomena of using the condom, the proper use of condoms can ensure a pregnancy rate of less than 2% per year. The barrier technique also attributes to significant reduction in transmissions of gonorrhea, chlamydia and HIV, but also a lesser extent for viruses such as genital herpes, Human Papillomavirus and syphilis.

Condom usage does not bother most couples in sexual pleasure reduction. However, many condom manufacturers are thriving to develop the thinnest barrier without breaking point, during the vigorous act of intercourse.

However, condoms are well recognised to be on the WHO list of essential medicines, as the most effective and safe medicine needed for contraception and disease prevention. In reality, there are many types of condoms that couples can choose from that can ensure safety that does not compromise on pleasure.

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Keep foreign extremism at bay

THE arrest of two DAP lawmakers – including a state executive councillor – for their suspected links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militant group is certainly one of the most explosive stories of the week.

This isn’t the first time that DAP leaders have found themselves accused of supporting the Sri Lankan terrorist group, since even Penang Deputy Chief Minister Dr P. Ramasamy and Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran have been entangled in that same web.

Old pictures, purportedly showing them with flags and paraphernalia from the LTTE, have been circulating on social media for a while, but recently received a new lease of life.

Both Dr Ramasamy and Kulasegaran have one thing in common – they have both spoken out against controversial Indian preacher Dr Zakir Naik. They have continuously lobbied for his deportation and the revoking of his permanent residence status. Many believe that their incessant calls have angered some individuals and groups linked to religious units, who have stepped up their campaign against the two.

But while this has been nothing more than political rhetoric, details provided by Bukit Aman’s counterterrorism division chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchai on Thursday have taken a new complexion.

The two DAP leaders – Melaka exco member G. Saminathan and Seremban Jaya assemblyman P. Gunasekaran – are among seven people arrested under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, which comes with 28 days of detention. The possible arrest of Dr Ramasamy, a former Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia political science lecturer, has also cropped up.

Obviously, Saminathan and Gunasekaran have been under surveillance for a while, because the police said they were arrested for giving speeches during an LTTE Heroes Day event in Melaka on Nov 28 last year. They were also allegedly involved in activities promoting the movement, where they were said to have distributed fliers at the events.

Ayob also said that two of the seven detainees had been charged with assaulting the Sri Lankan ambassador at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in September 2016. He said police also arrested a 28-year-old insurance agent in Kuala Lumpur, who is believed to have planned an attack on the Sri Lanka High Commission in the city.

However, Ayob noted that race and religion did not factor in the arrest of the seven, adding that the force’s stance is consistent on all terror groups: “There is no issue of favouritism based on race and religion because for us, anyone who is a threat to national security will be arrested, ” he told The Malaysian Insight.

He said investigation papers would list all the evidence, to be submitted to the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC).

Inspector-General of Police Abdul Hamid Bador, meanwhile, said there was ample evidence against the suspects.

As a follow-up, the police will now have to provide evidence of their alleged involvement in terrorism activities – even if the LTTE is now defunct – and it remains to be seen if the AGC will quickly charge them in open court.

These are serious accusations, so surely this group of seven would want to defend themselves, while the public will be expecting the police to charge them since their actions are detrimental to the nation. However, there is also a sense of disbelief, and even cynicism, that this is a mere political game to appease powerful religious and racial forces.

After all, Tamil Tigers chief Velupillai Prabhakaran has been dead for a decade now. He was cornered and killed with 18 of his most loyal bodyguards by the Sri Lankan military, it was reported. More than 10,000 former LTTE fighters, many of whom were forcibly conscripted by the rebels, have been rehabilitated since the war ended on May 18,2009, with only 300 still in detention, revealed Sri Lankan government figures.

Ayob must have anticipated such a reaction because he conceded that the police had also acted strongly against those who supported the Islamic State movement, adding that the police are professionals adhering to the letter of the law.

It’s unclear if the two are linked to the other arrested individuals because the latter party seems more radical in their actions and plans.

The arrest of Malaysian politicians, with their alleged involvement with LTTE, is, without doubt, the first of its kind in Malaysia.

But it comes as no surprise that the Malaysian anti-terrorism division has been vigilant against any attempts by Malaysians to revive support for LTTE, since India’s Home Ministry has also just renewed its ban on the group.

Recent news reports indicate that a representative of the Trans-national Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) met select media personnel in Chennai to announce a “tree sapling planting programme” to mark the “Mullivaikkal genocide” on May 18 – the final phase of the civil war in Sri Lanka, in which the LTTE was annihilated.

According to an economictimes.com report on May 15 this year, the TGTE “member of Parliament” quietly left India.

“Formed after the defeat of LTTE, the TGTE is a government-in-exile with Visvanathan Rudrakumaran as ‘Prime Minister’. Internationally, the ex-LTTE members have organised themselves in two or three factions, including the TGTE, ” it said, adding that the five-year ban was aimed at stopping fringe groups from raising the “Eelam” banner or reviving the slogan of an independent Tamil nation.

The report also quoted security experts in Sri Lanka saying they were wary of a revival of the LTTE.

“We have information that they are re-organising in Canada and Europe, ” said renowned international terrorism expert Professor Rohan Gunaratna.

“As long as attempts are being made to propagate LTTE ideology, India should continue to extend the ban.”

The news report said that although a ban has been in place for close to three decades, Tamil nationalist groups and individuals have been flaunting their affinity with LTTE with impunity, including “hailing Prabhakaran publicly and putting up photos and posters”.

So, the Indian government hasn’t been able to stamp out support for LTTE completely in India, and no politician would want to antagonise the Tamil voters.

Perhaps there isn’t much difference for Malaysian Indian politicians to tamper with Tamil sentiments, the affinity for LTTE, or to win the minority but still crucial Indian votes as part of their game plan. Race and religion remain toxic subjects, regardless of their form or variation. Adding fuel to the fire, it’s worse that this foreign extremism is imported into Malaysia, only to find life in our already complicated politics.

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Far reaching consequences

THE controversial Kongres Maruah Melayu (Malay Dignity Congress) has come and gone. But its impact might have far-reaching consequences as the fiery racial rhetoric by certain speakers has rattled some Malaysians.

What are the political consequences of last Sunday’s congress attended by Malay politicians from both sides of the political divide?

Political analyst Dr Abdul Latiff Mohd Ibrahim noted that non-Malays would feel disenchanted by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s willingness to attend and address the meeting.

“But they also would draw some consolation from the fact that Mahathir used the platform to highlight what was wrong with the Malays. Most of his speech was devoted to ‘scolding’ the Malays for the condition they found themselves in, ” he said.

Abdul Latiff argued that the congress did not achieve much except to show a false unity among Malays: “This Kongres can only be seen as a political manoeuvre by political actors trying to retain and draw Malay support, ” he said.

Universiti Utara Malaysia political science lecturer Kamarul Zaman Yusoff gave five points on the consequences of the congress.

1) The alleged effort by Malay scholars to assert Malay rights, dominance and power failed to get much traction as PM and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) chairman Dr Mahathir failed to strongly respond to the resolution passed.

2) The alleged effort by former Umno MPs to show their relevance in Bersatu succeeded when they managed to gather Malays to come and create the perception of support for Bersatu’s chairman.

3) The alleged effort by Bersatu to show it can rely on Opposition MPs’ support if it is to be challenged succeeded when it managed to create the perception of support from Opposition MPs for Dr Mahathir’s party.

4) The alleged move by Pakatan Harapan to create a rift between PAS and Umno, and MCA and MIC did not fully succeed as it was not just PAS leaders who attended but also Umno leaders despite the nonattendance of the top two leaders, Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan.

5) It further strained the relationship between Bersatu and PKR leaders (except deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali’s team), DAP leaders and Amanah leaders (who were mostly critical of the event despite Amanah president Mohamad Sabu attending).

James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, said one could make the argument that Dr Mahathir had to attend the congress to show the Malay polity that he was protecting Malay interests and to undercut the PAS/Umno narrative that Malays are being marginalised under the Pakatan administration.

“Many people in Kuala Lumpur are saying the ‘silent’ organiser is actually Bersatu. Consequently, the real purpose of the MDC was to undercut the PAS/Umno pact.”

Chin said others argue that the congress was part of a larger plan to reset the Pakatan administration.

“In this play, MDC is the continuation of the pressure on PH to retain Mahathir and ignore the leadership transition to (PKR president Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim. The end game is to keep the prime minister’s post in Bersatu’s hands while marginalising PKR and DAP, ” he said.

“Malay pressure”, he said, would also stop DAP advancing its political agenda and split PKR: “Bersatu will take in defectors from all parties, and by the time of the next election, it will dominate Pakatan just like Umno dominated BN. In other words, Mahathir will come full circle, ” he said.

There’s a perception, according to Universiti Malaya sociopolitics professor Awang Azman Awang Pawi, that the congress is a symptom of the Mahathir versus Anwar fight. He pointed out that in attendance were the leaders of the Opposition and the government like Umno’s Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, PAS’ Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang and PKR’s Azmin while absent were Anwar and Zahid.

“In politics, every political movement is interpreted. But this perception depends on the reading of the people, ” he said.

Kamarul agreed that the congress is a manifestation of the fight between Dr Mahathir and Anwar based on which politicians attended and which didn’t.

“Despite the top two Umno leaders not attending, Mat Hasan openly asked Bersatu to work with Umno and PAS after the event ended, while Zahid dismissing this as Mat Hasan’s personal view shows there is a crack within Umno, ” he said.

Abdul Latiff observed that nothing much has come out of the congress:

“The Malays remain mainly predisposed towards the Umno-Pas combine. The non-Malays seem to be disillusioned not so much by the Kongres but by Mahathir’s comments about the leadership transition. The foot-dragging in this issue is making the people disappointed with the Pakatan leadership, ” he said.

By now, Abdul Latiff said, the congress is history.

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‘A full-time career in the gig economy? Think twice.’

THE gig economy is capitalism at its most brutal. Everybody wants to create the next “unicorn” – disrupting conventional businesses on a global scale like Airbnb and Netflix.

However, potential champions often end up like WeWork, whose botched initial public offering (IPO) in August saw its putative valuation plummet 75% from US$40bil to US$10bil and its long-haired, pot-smoking founder, Adam Neumann leave in disgrace. According to recent media reports, the perennially money-losing concern could now be facing a cash-crunch.

Foodpanda, part of the publicly-listed German group Delivery Hero is encountering challenges in Malaysia – a market its local Managing Director, Sayantan Das said it dominated with a 92% market share as recently as June 2018.

Basically the food delivery service is now attempting to alter payment terms with it’s all-important motorbike riders. This has prompted strikes as well as government scrutiny from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Pakatan Harapan administration which has an avowed “shared prosperity” focus.

The controversy underlines the extreme choppiness of the gig economy.

Team Ceritalah attended an emotional dialogue between Foodpanda riders and Malaysian Youth and Sports Minister, Syed Saddiq.

Muhammad Hajid, a skinny but chatty, nineteen-year-old student was one of those present at the minister’s residence. He became a part-time rider back in December 2018. He was hoping to cover his course fees and help his single mother.

Initially, all went well. He claimed that last month – while on his semester break – he earned RM3000. It was hard work. Hajid clocked up 28 shifts in one month, (that’s essentially 315 hours) making some 311 deliveries.

“I was planning to do this full time because it paid so well, ” Hajid confessed.

With the latest revision, Hajid is less sure about his future. Why? Foodpanda has scrapped fixed hourly rates and substituted them with a higher payment per delivery rate. This, however, introduces a greater degree of uncertainty. Hajid also believes that his income will drop.

According to Hajid, new riders now have to pay for their own Foodpanda delivery bags. When he joined the bag was free. The extra RM160 may not sound a lot (this is deducted from their monthly earnings) but the transferring of the cost to the riders is perhaps indicative of the growing competition in the Malaysian market.

After all, since May 2018, the extremely well-funded ride-hailing group, Grab has also been operating food deliveries. This is a conflict between titans, fought across different national battlegrounds and generally with other people’s money.

Grab is estimated to be worth some US$14bil (RM58.6bil). The group raised a further US2bil (RM8.4bil) alone in fresh funding this year. Meanwhile, Foodpanda’s parent Delivery Hero listed on the Frankfurt stock exchange back in 2017 (the largest IPO of that year in Germany) has a market capitalisation of around US$8.4bil (RM35.2bil).

Intriguingly, motorbike riders work under very different contractual terms across Southeast Asia. Whilst there is no golden rule – it would appear that medical and accident insurance is patchy at best.

Nonetheless, in the Philippines – a market three times the size of Malaysia – GrabFood is clearly on an ambitious expansion drive. Mary France Pascua Bal’ot, a 32 year-old who supports her mother gets a booking fee, per km compensation as well as 20% of the cost of the order. These terms seem lavish when compared to those on offer in Malaysia and even Indonesia.

In Vietnam, the calculations are even simpler and more generous. At the moment, Grabfood pays 60% of the size of the order.

In Indonesia, after considerable turmoil the authorities have had to step in. They were forced to put an end to a cut-throat discount war between the two huge “decacorns”, GoJek and Grab.

Interestingly, Foodpanda closed down in Indonesia in 2016. Indeed, it would appear that standalone food delivery services are vulnerable in markets where motorbike hailing services dominate.

For Gojek, food delivery is just one of a slew of services. Even then the Indonesian start-up’s CFO, Andre Soelistyo states that they are the second largest on-demand food delivery service in the world, outside of China with over 15 million meals delivered since inception.

With Malaysian authorities currently mulling the entry of motorbike hailing app, GoJek, the future could be far less promising for Foodpanda.

Riders need to realise that they are merely tiny cogs in a global contest of hugely capitalised giants.

Grab, Gojek and Delivery Hero will switch strategies and resources between markets at will. Indeed even politicians and governments are often caught flat-footed by the speed of these changes.

Young men (and women) like Muhammad Hajid would be very unwise to try to make a long term career in the gig economy.

Payment terms, commissions, bonuses will keep on changing and could even disappear – especially as drones become more sophisticated and reliable! Remember it’s all about the money.

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What politicians say, versus what people hear

THERE are times when a politician speaks, and you feel as if you’re listening to nails scratching across a chalkboard.

Let’s analyse some of these instances by looking at what they say, what they think they’re communicating, and what people actually hear.

In our first example, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was recently quoted regarding the upcoming Tanjung Piai by-election:

“For Tanjung Piai, we will come up with a more effective strategy […] and we might need to explain some issues which the rakyat do not understand.

“There are certain issues, policies and (Pakatan) Harapan programmes which have been misunderstood. We will explain these, ” he said.

Muhyiddin probably thinks: The people don’t like us simply because there are some things they don’t understand. When we explain things fully in detail, they will change their minds and love us, and everything will be better.

What people probably think: Is it we who don’t understand, or you who don’t understand?

There is nothing worse than being condescending to your voters, and treating them like kids who are still failing to understand the basics of trigonometry despite your “perfect” teaching.

Statements like these only demonstrate that the person saying them truly does not understand political communication in the least.

If there is anything the people at this point do not “understand”, it is why politicians either spend all their time and energy either infighting and arguing about who the next prime minister should be, or standing around in some confused state being unsure what they’re supposed to be doing.

If there is truly any lack of understanding about Pakatan’s issues, policies and programmes, it likely stems from the simple fact that one cannot understand that which is itself incoherent and incomprehensible.

It is not as if there is a clear, thought out plan from the government that is too complex for people to understand; there is clearly no plan at all.

Every policy and programme seems to be some ad hoc initiative thrown about at semi-random intervals by people desperately praying something will stick.

If anything, this is what people in power clearly do not understand.

Secondly, the use of the term “confused”.

The authorities love to say that certain statements are dangerous because they can “confuse” the rakyat; or that this statement or the other is seditious because it can create “confusion”.

Such individuals probably think they are using a “light” word – a euphemism almost, about social tensions.

What people probably think: Are we so stupid as to be so easily “confused”?

Once again, there is a severe underestimation as to the intelligence of Malaysians. There are things that make them angry, upset, uneasy, anxious, bothered, frustrated, and so on; but I can nearly guarantee that there is barely a sliver that feels “confused”.

It’s best to call a spade a spade.

Third (though this perhaps is more of a pet peeve), the phrase “the issue does not arise”.

The speaker probably thinks: I’m obviously communicating that this issue is a non-issue.

What people probably think: This issue is obviously an issue. If it were not, it would not warrant a dismissal.

While this is potentially nitpicking, semantically speaking, this statement is arguably entirely self-contradictory.

The fact that the issue is being addressed and commented on, clearly means that the issue has arisen!

Our fourth example is a little different in that it is a little more substantive in nature than emotional or semantic.

People seem to often say that Pakatan’s problems can be solved if only we focus on the economy.

I imagine such people feel they are promoting an approach they believe is universal and morally sound.

They are of course not entirely wrong. Far from it.

In terms of public reaction though, it is useful and important to remember that in this era of Donald Trump and Brexit, elections are not won or lost on economic issues.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the economy is a key factor; when bread and butter issues are at either extreme (where people are really suffering or really prospering economically), then the economy is unquestionably front and centre.

When the economy is not at either end of the spectrum, or when there is little to no potential for a government or a government-in-waiting to enact drastic economic changes, the economy tends to play second fiddle to more emotive issues.

In the run-up to the 14th General Election (GE14), Pakatan could play on two big ticket items: the Goods and Service Tax (GST) and 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

The former, somewhat ironically, appears to be back on the table.

As the government today however, if they had a magic card to play, they would have played it by now.

Equally, another line that is obviously a no-no by now is: Barisan Nasional messed everything up so badly, we just need more time.

Perhaps the speaker thinks: we have the same goodwill we had in 2018, surely this will remind them and inspire them to cut us some slack.

What the people probably think: excuses, excuses, excuses.

As a government, you need to focus people’s attention on something. If you decide that’s the economy, fine. But unless you’re really overperforming and hitting it out of the park, occasionally throwing unimpressive numbers at the people will not achieve the desired effect.

At the end of the day, there still needs to be a story – a narrative, as has been repeated ad nauseum by now.

Our fifth and last example involves the Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

For decades now, Dr Mahathir has been peddling variations of the line that Malays are lazy.

He loves to compare them disparagingly to other races in Malaysia. I think after becoming premier most recently, he had a jibe about what a Malay, Chinese and Indian would do if they suddenly received RM1mil.

Perhaps Dr Mahathir thinks: I am being a responsible father figure, merely speaking the truth, so my “children” can learn and improve.

What some people probably think: I’m working my butt off day and night just to make ends meet, while your horses eat better than me, so please be quiet, old man.

I’m not sure if there ever was an era where being disparaging to the people you lead made them perform better; but I can say for sure that if such an era existed, it has been over for a long, long time.

If Dr Mahathir does not stop repeating this line, he may single-handedly ensure that Pakatan becomes a one-term government.

At 94 years old, it’s not hard to understand why Dr Mahathir can be set in his ways. Many of the communication gaffes described above, however, have been uttered by leaders less than half that age.

Moving away from archaic terminology and severely outdated communication strategies is part and parcel of leaving behind bad culture, and creating a robust new culture that maintains the best values of the past, while being responsive and respectful to the realities of the present.

In short: words matter, choose them wisely.

NATHANIEL TAN is a communications consultant specialising in identifying the right goals, and using the right tools for the right job. He can be reached at nat@engage.my. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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Can’t beat the brick and mortar stores

MALAYSIANS love to shop, hence it’s not really a surprise to find out that there are a whopping 671 malls in the country.

And there doesn’t seem to be signs of this trend stopping. Upcoming malls in the Klang Valley include Mitsui Shopping Park Lalaport at Bukit Bintang City Centre, KL East Mall, Pavilion Bukit Jalil, Pavilion Damansara Heights, TRX – The Exchange and Tropicana Gardens mall in Kota Damansara.

Along one single highway alone – the LDP which connects Sunway to Kepong, there are a mind-boggling 11 shopping complexes!

Despite the onslaught of online shopping sites, the demise of the brick and mortar stores appears to be a tad premature.

True, malls especially, have been feeling the pinch as shifting consumers habits towards e-commerce has put a dent in retail spending but these shopping centres have had to reinvent themselves to face the challenges of a digital age.

Amazon, Lazada, Alibaba, Shopee, Zalora and the like have made armchair shopping a breeze for Malaysian consumers yet studies show that online shopping only accounts for less than 5% of total sales, and these include everything from groceries to clothes to cosmetics. China, where almost 80% of transactions are via e-wallet, has a 35% online sales figure, the highest rate in the world.

This shows that the brick and mortar retail model isn’t dead.

But retailers and malls have to transform to stay ahead of the game.

An example of this is the popularity of premium outlets – Mitsui in KLIA, Design Village in Penang and Genting and Johor Premium Outlets.

Retailers in these huge complexes are usually premium brands and offer discounts of up to 50% on their goods, sometimes having sales on already discounted items. Needless to say, if you have visited any of these premium outlets, chances are you would have ended up buying something. The other thing they have in common is that they are invariably packed with shoppers.

Other innovative features from your neighbourhood mall that we are seeing more off, includes virtual reality sports outlets, landscaped gardens, digital entertainment, elaborate festive decorations, more health-related activities and trendy, new food and beverage outlets.

The target for these malls are families and the millennials, who will become the biggest spenders in the future.

A millennial colleague I spoke to told me that even though she buys a lot of stuff online, the mall is still the go-to place for certain items.

“For example, even though some of my friends buy their groceries online, I prefer touching and smelling fresh produce,” she told me, adding that the credibility of some sites were questionable.

But as digital penetration increases, and more consumers take their business online, retailers have also adopted a “if you can’t beat them, join them” philosophy.

These retailers, while maintaining their outlets, have started to sell their products online. Many renowned brands have ventured down this road, but the results have been mixed.

One success story though are the F&B outlets that have capitalised on the food delivery services trend.

The proliferation of mobile delivery applications has made it super simple for you to order a meal without having to step into a restaurant or mall.

But it is a win-win situation for the restaurants as well as the online delivery companies.

The restaurant increases sales while the delivery company gets a percentage. This is apparent because many restaurants in the malls now have a special counter for pick-ups reserved for delivery riders.

In a recent interview with The Star, Malaysian Shopping Malls Association (PPK Malaysia) president Tan Sri Teo Chiang Kok said a report commissioned by the association found that the main malls were still performing well with an occupancy rate of 80%.

“There are challenges from the current economic situation as well as e-commerce although the latter is still not very significant in Malaysia.

“The good thing is, there is a reverse worldwide trend that shoppers go back to physical stores, which shows that people still need to socialise and malls provide them the social space and attractions.

“The market sentiments remain challenging but malls largely remain resilient although they will need to renew, refresh and regenerate to remain competitive,” he pointed out.

And this reverse shopping trend is clearly seen in the number one consumer market in the world, the United States.

Amazon, the world’s largest e-commerce company and one of the pioneers of the online shopping trend, has opened nearly 80 pop-up stores across various locations in the US in an effort to engage with its customer base.

There are a number of reasons why the company as well as other e-commerce brands are opening physical stores, but more importantly, if the world’s largest retailer sees a future in brick and mortar, who are we to argue?

The writer believes that a physical store offers a holistic sensory experience that can simply never be replicated online.

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Let’s talk about the haze

I MUST say, like most Malaysians, I’m relieved we are enjoying a respite from the haze and smog that engulfed our skies over the past couple of weeks.

Haze is a common occurrence that all South-East Asian countries experience around the second to the third quarter of the year. In Indonesia, the technique of slash-and-burn for land clearing has been the leading cause of haze since 1991.

In 2013, the forest fires in Riau, Indonesia burned more than 3,000 hectares of plantations. In September 1997, in the city of Kuching, East Malaysia, the recorded air pollution index (API) reading was more than 850, which drew visibility to less than 10m.

The emission from Indonesian forest fires releases abundant of airborne particles.

This time around, schools were shut, and many friends rushed to buy air- purifiers. I too suffered due to the haze as I am asthmatic.

As always, the blame has fallen at the feet of the palm oil industry. As I perused many articles shared on social media, the palm oil industry has, once again, been demonised as the cause of the haze.

Also, the detractors of palm oil, especially in Europe, have used the haze crisis as a means to advance its anti-palm oil agenda.

Many Indonesian plantation companies, including several subsidiaries of Malaysian-owned companies, have been blamed for clearing forests via burning it thereby causing this haze crisis.

However, many forget that 60% of Indonesia’s palm oil is actually in the hands of small farmers. Many of them don’t subscribe to good agricultural practices. It is easier and cheaper for them to burn forests rather than clear them sustainably.

In addition, the small farmers’ slash-and-burn also covers cultivation of other crops, especially annual cash crops like padi. In many places, the nomadic small farmers may even resort to initiate burning and then “disappear”, returning eventually to plant their crops when it’s the rainy season at the end of the year.

Burning may also occur if the growers are carrying out replanting or pursuing new planting, but reputable plantation companies which subscribe to zero-burning techniques would not risk their reputation by using slash-and-burn techniques.

The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) (that counts most of the large plantations in Malaysia as its members) will not sit idly by and allow its members to slash and burn forests. Other certifications including ISCC, MSPO and ISPO also advocate zero burning.

Malaysia does not slash and burn its forests.

We are committed to maintaining a 55% forest cover, i.e. 55% of our total land area will be forests. The Minister of Primary Industries also announced a stop to palm oil expansion in September 2018 to ensure no more forests will be cleared for cultivation of palm oil.

Now that being said, is the haze wholly due to forest clearing and slash and burning? I think it’s a bit more complicated that some let on.

A few weeks ago, I was introduced to Dr S. Paramananthan from Param Agricultural Soil Survey. He is a renowned expert in the field of soil surveys and presented a more nuanced view on the haze problem – beyond human activity.

The problem also has to do with our soil, i.e. mainly, peat soil that is prevalent in Borneo.

Dr Param published a voluminous article,”Minimising the Haze” in the Planter Magazine in 2016. He has also written to the various government agencies concerned to share his views on the matter.

He opined that: “Haze results from the burning of organic matter – leaves, branches, twigs, wood etc. which occur on the soil surface. That is when smallholders or farmers prepare their land to plant their rice, vegetables etc. at the end of the dry season, they will slash the vegetation on their land and set fire to it as they do not have any tractors or bulldozers to clear their land.

“Such slash-and-burn method of land clearing will result in haze. How extensive this haze will form depends on the amount of organic matter that remains on the soil surface.”

Further, Dr Param also posits that almost 40% of Indonesia’s agricultural land is on peat soil.

Now, what are peat soils?

According to the Permaculture Research Institute, peat soils are “Peat soils are formed from partially decomposed plant material under anaerobic water-saturated conditions. They are found in peatlands (also called bogs or mires). Peatlands cover about 3% of the earth’s landmass; they are found in the temperate (Northern Europe and America) and tropical regions (South-East Asia, South America, South Africa and the Caribbean).”

Peat soils are great when it is wet and moist but becomes very dangerous when it is arid and dry (as generally happens during the dry seasons).

So during the dry season peat soils are already temperamental, and when it is set on fire for land clearing, massive problems arise. Peat soils are also very combustible, and that is why in Europe peat soils are processed as a fuel source. This part of the story involving haze and fires that are never told.

There are inherent physiological and environmental issues that also compound the forest fires.

Dr Param has also suggested ways in which we can minimise the forest fires and the haze including (1) cloud seedings and water bombings to ensure that peat areas are kept moist during dry spells; (2) compacting the peat soils as peat soil is very porous and when a fire starts it can spread very quickly; (3) collecting the slashed products for biofuel instead of leaving it in the open; and (4) the use of tube wells to tap underground water that is already present as aquifers under most peatlands.

Beyond that, steps also need to be taken to generate degraded peatlands. Dr Param suggests this can be done by blocking all the drains and raising the water table to ensure the peat-swamp remains in its original “swampy” conditions.

What we need is creative and pre-emptive methods in fighting the haze (besides the usual fire-fighting that takes place after the fires are rampant and the sky is filled with smog) that include enforcing the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution to its legal limit to ensure Indonesia takes every possible step to stop forest fires – regardless of whether they come about due to human action or naturally.

It also falls upon the shoulders of the Indonesian government to take action against those who slash and burn their lands or forests regardless of their reasons for doing so because of the extensive damage these fires cause to the environment, ecological systems and our health.

But make no mistake about it, human action is the leading cause of these fires.

Beyond enforcement, we need to educate these farmers to create awareness on why they should not resort to slash and burn techniques to clear their lands. Governments and NGOs should invest their time and resources in helping these farmers explore alternative means to clear their lands in a sustainable way.

In doing so, we will save a lot of money, reduce the adverse health impact of the haze and more importantly prevent the detractors of our agro-commodity industry from demonising it further.

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A parade of strength and pride

EVERYTHING is set and China is ready to display its military strength at the 70th anniversary celebrations.

Tomorrow, all eyes will be on this next super power when the military parade march along the Changan Road and pass the Tiananmen Square in the capital city of Beijing.

This will be the 15th time a national day military parade will take place since the formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

The last time such an event was held was 10 years ago.

“This is no ordinary parade, it is a parade of strength, confidence and pride, ” a senior editor of a local daily said proudly.

But I confessed that I barely have any knowledge on defence matters and am quite clueless on weapons.

“A country has to be stable and strong in economy so that its people can live in peace and prosperity.

“And in order to achieve this, one has to be strong in defence, ” explained the editor I had a chat with during an assignment recently.

I can understand how he feels. After all, China has for a long time felt bullied and ripped-off by the powerful countries in the past.

“This is also an important moment to instil confidence in the people, telling them that they no longer have to worry about the nightmare they have suffered, ” he said.

The scale of this military parade would be the largest so far, said Cai Zhijun, deputy head of the office of the leading group for the event.

“There will be 59 formations and a military band. More than 160 aircraft and 580 pieces of equipment will be showcased at the parade, ” he told a press conference recently.

A senior People’s Liberation Army officer told Xinhua that a selection of new weapons would be featured at the parade.

“All the weapons and equipment are domestic and in active service with a high level of information technology application and better strike accuracy, said another army officer.

A total of 188 military attaches from 97 countries stationed in China have been invited to watch the parade.

Chinese National Defence Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian said at the country’s first military parade 70 years ago, they were short of aircraft.

“We only had 17 then. Premier Zhou (Enlai) said not enough aircraft, then we fly two times. And now, we have become strong and our aircraft no longer need to fly two rounds. We are relieved to tell the martyrs that such peace and prosperous era is what you all had wished to see, ” he said.

Wu also refuted allegations of China flexing its muscles at the parade.

“Over the last decades, China has made great contributions to the world. The stronger the country is, the greater constructive role we will play in keeping world peace, ” he added.

A total of 15,000 military personnel, aged between 20 and 70, will be taking part in the parade. They are the best of the best, shortlisted after rounds of screening.

I was lucky enough to visit an army camp and see the training session of the foot formations, comprising members from the guards of honour, soldiers, navy, air force servicewomen, reserve forces, peacekeepers and other divisions.

The male personnel have a height between 1.75m and 1.9m while the females are between 1.63m and 1.75m.

One of them is Guo Fengtong, 29. “It is a great honour to be able to participate in the event. For this, we trained extra hard with one goal and hope we are able to show our best at the national day parade, ” he said.

A member of the guards of honour division, Guo has pledged his service to the armed forces for 14 years. And his most unforgettable duty took place at the Beijing Olympics 2008.

“I was part of the flag detail to raise the Five-Star Red Flag at the opening ceremony but I had a blister and infection on my foot 12 days before the event.

“I was quite depressed then because I had trained for so long for the moment and worried that the whole process would be affected by me. Luckily I managed to recover and we completed our task perfectly, ” he added.

Ma Yanfei, 23, said she has been dreaming of becoming a guard of honour after seeing them on duty.

“They appeared very smart, strong and brave to me. So, when I was recruited into the armed forces seven years ago, I applied to join the division.

“I feel proud because we carry the image of the force as well as the country, ” she added.

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