It must be lonely to be old !

It must be lonely to be old

Updated version which I sent to MI .

JAN 1 — My late father drove a car until the very day he died of a heart attack at the ripe old age of almost 90. He got his heart attack not while driving, but in his sleep.

When he was 78, I used to tell him that he should consider taking buses and taxis and stop driving. Not that he was a bad driver; on the contrary, being old, he drove very carefully and always stuck to the official speed limits. He also never ventured to KL from PJ; for that he always took the bus — there was no LRT then.

He drove mainly for certain errands like going to the bank, to the market and to his barber, all around the neighbourhood. Being careful, he never had an accident, not even a scratch on his car.

I was however worried that at his age his reflexes might not be that good and that he might hurt himself and others, if an accident did occur.

He replied that he was OK, and he had never had an accident before. Well, being an investor, I quoted the maxim of investing to him that ”past performances do not guarantee the future”. A past safety record would mean nothing if something happened, I said to him.

So we had this debate again and again. When he was in his 80s, still strong and walking as fast as me, and even able to travel to Huangshan in China on his own, we had this argument again.

I remember him saying this: ”Well, why are you always bringing up this issue when the government gives me a driving licence and renews it every year for me? If the government renews my licence, why should I stop driving? Legally I am recognised as fit to drive.”

Do you know that the Road Transport Department will renew your driving licence even when you are 80 and does not require you to go for a medical checkup (for saloon cars then, at least during the ‘90s; for commercial vehicles, everyone needs to go for a medical checkup).

Then some time back, I saw a documentary on TV about a woman trying to seek a restraining order on her mother from driving in the United States. The mother is more than 80 years old. The woman did it for her mother’s safety. But the mother’s argument was that she needs to drive to be mobile, to go about her normal activities, and that without the car she would be like a prisoner in her own home.

After seeing the TV documentary, I realised how much my father must have resented me for asking him to stop driving. To be old and immobile, a person would just be like a prisoner in his own home.

We have not put ourselves in their shoes. As an old man with no work, life can be very boring and to break the monotony, he needs to go out and mix around. Even saying hello to a shopkeeper means something to the old folks.

For those of us who were much younger then, we sometimes tend to neglect how our aged parents must have felt. How lonely they must be feeling even when they are staying with their own children, who have their own work to attend to.

Now that I am older and nearing retirement age, I realise that most of us did not spend as much time as we should to sit with our parents and talk to them.

My great consolation is that both my parents stayed with me until they died at a very old age. And I did attend to their every need, be it medical, social and financial. But still I thought I could have spent much more time with them. I could have accompanied my father on his various trips to China; I did not because I had just started my own practice and was working very hard then…

Once they are gone, we miss them; and the older we get, the more we would understand how they must have felt.

I hope younger people out there, who are lucky to have their parents around, will spend more time with their parents. Let them move around. If they are healthy and free of illnesses, let them continue driving, as long as the government renews their driving licence.

Chat with them, listen to them. Let them repeat their stories over and again and pretend to listen as if you are hearing it for the first time.

After all, without our parents, we would never be here. Without their upbringing, we will never be what we are today.


Flight 253 and the breach of airport security

On Christmas day, a terrorist on board of a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, NOrthwest flight 253,  tried to set off an explosive device taped to his thigh, when the flight is descending to Detroit airport.

The whole incident is best described in Time magazine:

The incident occurred about 11:30 Christmas morning, as Northwest Airlines Flight 253, carrying 278 passengers from Amsterdam, was in its final descent into Detroit’s international airport. According to the FBI affidavit, a few minutes before the events began, Abdulmutallab went into the bathroom for about 20 minutes then, upon returning to his seat, complained that he had an upset stomach and put a blanket over himself. Suddenly, passengers heard a loud pop and then saw smoke and flames coming from Row 19. “What are you doing? What are you doing?” one woman shouted toward the man, later identified as Abdulmutallab. A male passenger leaped toward Abdulmutallab and pulled him to the floor. Flight attendants apparently rushed to the scene with fire extinguishers. One flight attendant reportedly asked Abdulmutallab what he had, to which he allegedly replied, “Explosive device.” According to the FBI complaint, one passenger saw the remains of a partly melted syringe in Abdulmutallab’s possession and took it away from him, shook it to stop it from smoking and threw it on the floor of the aircraft. Abdulmutallab was then placed in a headlock and pulled into the first-class section. “He didn’t show any reaction to pain, any feeling of shock or nervousness,” one female passenger who sat across from Abdulmutallab told television reporters after the plane landed, shortly before noon. Abdulmutallab was taken to a hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The FBI has described the material apparently used in the syringe as PETN, which it called a “high explosive.” PETN is an ingredient in Semtex plastic explosives; it was also reportedly used by the “shoe bomber” Richard Reid in his abortive Christmas 2001 terrorism attempt. Representative King said the device was “somewhat sophisticated,” that it was more than a firecracker and that “it should have been detected.” Federal officials swiftly called the incident an attempted act of terrorism. President Obama, vacationing in Hawaii, ordered strengthened security on international flights. The Department of Homeland Security said it had amplified screening measures.

The suspect is the son of a Nigerian banker, and the father was reported to have warned the authority that his son may have extremist views. He was thus on the ‘watch list’ of the authority, but was not on the ‘no fly’ list.

The incident resulted in many red faces in the intelligence circles. But even without  intelligence warnings,,  airport screening should have  detected the explosive. This is of grave consequence, since the failure of airport screening to detect explosive means that all of us , who travel by commercial airlines one time or another , would be vulnerable.. The end result would have been certain death, if the explosive have exploded.

Looking at the reports, there is a breach in airport security safety procedure in this case. I have been to Amsterdam many years ago, a nice place and I really enjoyed the canal cruise there. The Dutch are a very friendly and efficient people(Royal Dutch/Phillips are some of their world renown brands), and they take their tasks very diligently and professionally. SO Amsterdam airport is not manned by people with ‘tidak apa’ attitude. So even with personnel that does not have ‘tidak apa’ attitude, slips-up that are so often the case in Malaysia  can also happen in the developed country.

Amsterdam airport has very advanced security machines too. Besides the normal metal detectors, they have 2 Full Body scanners.. These full body scanners practically stripped you electronically, and your image on the screen will be like that of a naked person. Your bulges and hollows in your body will be shown as clearly as your pimples in front of a bright mirror.

Unfortunately, this person who is on the security watch list, did not go through the full body scanner. He must have gone through the normal metal detectors which would not detect plastics or liquids. HIs belongings must have gone through the compulsory scanners which scan you hand carried luggage. Under the regulation, any liquid more than 100 ml must be discarded, but even those container with liquid less than 100 ml must be displayed to the security officers inside a transparent plastic bag. So how the syringe , which can be between 5 to 20 ml, with the liquid slipped through the scanner?

A lot of unanswered questions are there. Air travel is supposed to be the safest. But with this incident, where a person can slip explosive through a well equipped airport security, then those of us flying  would be like playing the Russian Roulette; you never know when your luck is so bad that there is someone sitting next ot you with an explosive.

The explosive in this case is easily detectable, according to MSNBC, which reports:

The chemical — PETN — is small, powerful and appealing to terrorists. The Saudi government said it was used in an assassination attempt on the country’s counterterrorism operations chief in August.

It was also a component of the explosive that Richard Reid, the convicted “shoe bomber,” used in his 2001 attempt to down an airliner.

Abdulmutallab also had a syringe filled with liquid. One law enforcement official said the second part of the explosive concoction used in the Christmas Day incident is still being tested but appears to be a glycol-based liquid explosive. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.

PETN is the primary ingredient in detonating cords used for industrial explosions and can be collected by scraping the insides of the wire, said James Crippin, a Colorado explosives expert. It’s also used in military devices and found in blasting caps. It’s the high explosive of choice because it is stable and safe to handle, but it requires a primary explosive to detonate it, he said.

Crippin and law enforcement officials said modern airport screening machines could have detected the chemical. Airport “puffer” machines — the devices that blow air onto a passenger to collect and analyze residues — would probably have detected the powder, as would bomb-sniffing dogs or a hands-on search using a swab.

Terrorism in the air is a hazard, if we apply the rules of safety. It cannot be removed like removing an obstacle in the road. The risk can only be minimised through the adoption of safety policy . Under the policies, we need to implement certain programs to put in place a set of fail safe safety procedure.

In this case, perhaps the first thing all airports should do is to be given the ‘watch list’ in addition to the ‘no fly’ list. Those who man the check-in counter will run the name through their computers and anyone on the list must be marked through the issuance of a boarding pass of a different colour, so that when this person approaches the security check area, he , and he must go through full body scanners , if they are installed. If no full body scanners are available, he can be given a very thorough search, including padding down..

In addition, a certain profile of likely terrorists should be compiled and also be made available to the persons manning the check in counter. Anyone fitting the profile should be given the special boarding pass, and go through the same checking procedures as those on the watching lists.

To ask all passengers to remain seated during the last hour of flight, which is what is being proposed, is not logical, since a terrorist can set his bomb anytime during the flight . Just because in this flight, the terrorist tried to set off his explosive during the last hour does not mean that all other terrorists will do the same.

Rather than restricting the freedom of passengers, it would be better to put in place a more thorough and fail safe procedural process before boarding to reduce the risk of explosives being smuggled on board.

Happynprogressive 2010

Today is the New Year Eve. Everything good or bad must come to an end. Change is the only constant in this world, and as one year ends and the next begins, let us hope that there will be better things to come next year.

I wish all of you , people with different colours, different beliefs, different political thinkings, different mindsets, different makeups, different temperaments, different jobs, different aspirations in lives:

I wish you all progress in your work, your love lives, your investment, your family, your children’s study, your health  and your bank account$$$$$.

Hope you all have a very uplifting year in your luck and fortune ..

A brief discourse on Occupational safety

( I may stop political bloggings but i shall talk more on socio economic issues, since to some die hard fanatics that I do not qualify to speak on the shortcomings of the present govenrment. Today, I shall talk about an area which I have some expertise and which I may be as good as anyone in the country at least where theory is concerned.)

There is a branch of medicine that is called occupational medicine, which treats occupational diseases, a big term for workplace illnesses and accidents. It has evolved to include prevention of accidents and occupational diseases, and adoption of safety measures and procedures to reduce the risk of workplace diseases and accidents. It has thus evolved to covered what is now known as Occupational Safety and Health (OSH).

A simple example is ‘low backache’ due to a sitting in a badly designed chair. So for clerical staff and typists and receptionists, they need to be provided with ergonomically designed chairs to prevent low backache. In fact, low backache among office workers are very common , and in most cases, are due to badly designed chairs which encourage bad postures and slouching.

Central to occupational safety is what we called “hazards”.Hazards are things with potential of causing sickness and accidents. For example, a pot hole in the ground is a hazard, for anyone walking or riding a bike over the pot hole may end up in a nasty fall and sustain injuries.

So to safety specialists , the main theme is to remove hazards wherever it is possible.

In the example of a pot hole, the hazard can be removed by repairing the pothole. But at times, the hazard may not be easily removed. For example, the pothole cannot be repaired in time for certain reasons, the hazard can be replaced by a lesser hazard, for example putting a tong in front of the pothole so that people would not walk directly into it. By itself, a tong in the walkway or a drive is also hazardous, but since it is more visible, it can be used temporarily to reduce the risk of a more serious hazard, that is the pothole.

Some times a hazard cannot be removed. Night driving is a form of hazard since night is the time when our body needs sleep and rest, apart from decreased visibility. Since this is the type of hazrd that cannot be removed, we need to formulate procedures to reduce the potential of accidents during night driving. Procedures such as ensuring the vehicles have sufficient lights to illuminate the roads, procedures on checking the braking systems, procedures ensuring that all seats belts are being fastened before the vehicle can be given the nod to move.

There must be procedures to ensure that the driver is healthy at that time of driving ( not just at that time of medical checkup which is required by law once a year only). If the driver reports that he is not well, there must be replacement for him. There must also be procedures that the driver has sufficient sleep. If the driver has not enough sleep, he should be replaced.

Then there must be procedures that after certain minutes of driving, the driver needs to stop over to rest. Some times just to stop to break the monotonousness of driving. Lets face it. All jobs, in the eyes of occupational speicialists, are repetitive and all repetitive jobs will become monotonous.

Once a job becomes monotonous, the risk of accidents increased ten folds, since monotony leads to boredom and boredom leads to sleepiness or decrease in alertness and reaction time.

The same safety procedures are adopted by airlines for their pilots. For those of you who have followed National Geographic channel’s ‘air crash investigation’, there were a few instances where investigators found that pilot errors were the cause of air crashes, and in most of these instances, pilot fatigue leading to judgement errors were  the causes.

Looking at the Malaysian scenerio, most companies do not have any occupational safety measures or procedures. The onus is on the company management to provide such measures or procedures.

In the case of  bus drivers or drivers of other public service vehicles such as taxis, they do go for the once a year medical examination. But passing the medical examination does not guarantee the health of the driver involved. He may be healthy and alert at the time of medical examination, but he may suffer from lack of sleep a week later which leads to decrease in alertness and hence increases the risk of accidents.

So it is not enough just to send drivers for a yearly medical check up. The company must adopt a policy of ensuring the safety of their passengers and workers, and once the safety policy is spelt out, there must be program to implement the policy; program such as safety procedures which everyone must adhere to.

So there must be procedures to ensure that the drivers have enough rest between trips. There must a procedure to educate the driver to report any lack of sleep and sleepiness.. Driver fatigue is the main cause of bus acccidents. The drivers must also report any unusual sounds coming from the vehicles .

But companies would not take the initiatives to put in safety program and safety procedures. The onus is for the government to legislate laws and rules to enforce them to adopt such safety procedures. And laws must be enforced for them to be effective. There must be adequate surveillance to ensure that all laws and safety procedures are adhered to.

Besides that, litigation from the victims of accidents (or victims’ families) will serve as a motivation for the companies to adopt safety procedures. If each accident victim sues the bus company and driver for negligence after an accident caused by lack of such safety procedures, the companies will learn the hard way to adopt and implement such procedures.

SO victims in workplaces, get a lawyer to sue and you will help to prevent the occurrence of accidents in future.

( The writer is writing on occupation safety , a subject which he has some expertise  and hopefully more employers will realise the importance of adopting safety measures for their staff…It is actually more cost effective to have a safe workplace,including vehicles, since with accident payouts and increase insurance premium, it would be cheaper to provide staff with safety measures, as in Australia and other western countries where every business with more than 15 staff must have occupational safety policy and program to implement safety procedures. On top of cost, the most important thing is of course human lives, once lost cannot be replaced).

next i shall talk about the US flight 253 where safety procedures were breached at Amterdam airport, one of the airports with the best security procedures..

A lengthy comment on my stand

Instead of a post toady, I have written a lengthy reply to some readers on my stand. Please read the comment

Merrry X’mas

Wishing everyone out there

Merry Christmas !

May Peace and Happiness be with you!

Tap the best brains

When I was a houseman in Penang hospital, eon years ago, there was an episode which I can still recall  which involved the doctors and a state DPP.

As a houseman, I was required to help run the A & E Unit (Accidnet and Emergency Unit, unofficially called the Casualty department) once in a while, according to our rosters.

I still remember at that time, in that emergency department’s consultation room, there were 2 tables, one in the centre which was occupied by the medical officer on duty, the other table was at the side and would be occupied by the houseman on duty. There were examination couch which were divided by curtains to ensure some form of privacy for examining patients.

Government emergency unit was always packed, in those days as in now.

In those days, after 4.15pm, the outpatient clinics of the hospital would be closed, and all patients, whether emergency or not, all came to the A&E units. We of course would see the emergency cases first– those involved in accidents , bleeding cases, and cardiac arrest cases , asthmatic cases and so on–and the not so serious one would have to wait for these emergency cases to be managed first  before we could attend to them.

One night, when I was on duty, the medical officer was a CHinese lady doctor, known for her compassion and efficiency. She would not entertain whether a big shot’s child was having fever and waiting outside,; she would see the emergency cases first, as should be the case.

Suddenly, there was a commotion outside the consultation room, and not long after, a man barged in angrily and confronted the Medical Officer (MO). He asked whether the MO knew who he was. Of course the doctor answered in the negative. He then loudly claimed that he was so and so, a State DPP, and he wanted his kid who was having a very minor ailment to be seen first.

The MO refused saying that she would see emergency cases first, and other non emergency cases on a first come first serve basis, no matter who the patient was..A stand which I agreed totally, and  I chipped in to say so.

The man then became very angry, used abusive words, and then foul languages, and before he left, and made some threats as to ” make sure we tremble in our pants and that we would have our pants down and so on”…

The MO filed a complaint to the hospital director the next day, and i wrote a witness account too. To make sure that action would be taken against this DPP, all the MOs and Housemen signed a joint memorandum and submitted to the then DG through the hospital director. In fact, the DG came and visited and spoke to both the MO and myself as well as the staff on duty that night.

A formal complaint was lodged and the DPP was transferred.(whether there was any demotion or promotion, we were not told).

Even in those days, people tended to throw their weight around. This might  be human nature, especially those in the legal profession where they controlled the fate of whether to put people on trial or not.

In a way, those DPPs are like judges, since they have the power to decide on whether a case has sufficient  merits to be tried and whether such a case should be dropped.

That being the case, would it not happen that some of them might hesitate to put  top civil servants or  top private lawyers on trial? Especially those whom they have come to know well as Golfing partners or fellow club members?

That brings us back to the issue of prosecution. The Teoh Beng Hock’s case was prosecuted by a private sector lawyer , a former DPP. This actually started a good precedent.

Looking at the whole civil services, we have a perception that the standard of everything is not as good as before. In other words, there is a loss of excellence in all fields. In the Judiciary, many cases which were prosecuted were unsuccessful because of not ‘sufficient’ groundwork done, meaning that the case was not well investigated and prepared. So in many cases , justice is not done because of technicalities.

But there are a lot of expertise outside which can be tapped..

Malaysia still has plenty of good lawyers in private practices, some with 30 to 40 years of experiences, and many of them have gone through the golden age of our legal system in the 60s and 70s, when Malaysia’s judiciary was among the best and most independent in the Commonwealth.

So why not let some of these senior lawyers prosecute cases especially those involving civil servants and government GLCs and public funds?

Why not let these lawyers head investigative task force to investigate big scandals like PKFZ and the missing jets?

WHy not let Karpal Singh prosecute Lingam when he openly declared that he is willing to do so? Karpal is  very experienced and allegedly one of the best lawyers in the country, there is no doubt about it. Why not let him prosecute the case in his capacity of a competent senior lawyer?

I think Malaysia’s legal system needs to adopt new thinkings and new mindsets in order to nail down those culprits and perpetrators who are enjoying themselves because we did not use the best brains to tackle them.

As long as Justice is done and seen to be done, whether the rats were caught by the white mouse or the black mouse  or the brown mouse is really immaterial…

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