Sunday, 24 June 2007

All Blacks Beat Springboks In Durban

The Springboks and the New Zealand All Blacks are proving to be the sides to beat this season. With the Rugby World Cup just months away, the rest of the world does not appear to have anything that can match these two sides, even if injuries weaken them.

The aging Wallabies are always in with a chance and will punish any complacency. There is so much depth in the All Blacks squad and the youthful Springbok side can only improve with each match.

This time I think they lost 21-26, mainly through inexperience and I do not think the All Blacks can ever take them for granted. The Boks have also a set of veterans like, Bobby Skinstad, Percy Montgomery, Os du Randt, and Bakkies Botha who should stabilize the squad. The following is the match report from the All Blacks website:

All Blacks fitness sets up win

An outstanding last 15 minutes carried the All Blacks to a 26-21 victory over South Africa in the Philips Tri Nations Test at Durban.

(Dan Carter stepping up) Down 12-21, the All Blacks responded with two superb tries, the first to captain and flanker Richie McCaw and the second to wing Joe Rokocoko, a reward for tenacity, and superior fitness.

With South Africa playing an effective game of patience, the All Blacks committed many uncharacteristic unforced errors but a decision to up the pace proved its worth as the Springboks struggled to handle the tempo.

The expected lineout disadvantage did not materialise and the All Blacks scrum was a vastly superior unit.

But it was the determination of the loose forwards that set up the recovery. No.8 Rodney So'oialo proved the spark with a magnificent run out of the All Blacks 22 that saw him race into the Springboks half. He passed to the fast following flanker Jerry Collins and from that point it was a case of All Blacks rampant.

The ball moved to the left corner and as the ball popped out of the back of a ruck it was a low-flying Richie McCaw who scooped up the ball and drove over for a 68th minute try.

(South Africa Flag)

Three minutes later, Rokocoko ran the ball out of the All Blacks 22m, linked with replacement fullback Leon MacDonald who kicked downfield. The ball was blocked but it arrived for Rokocoko to race away to score the match winner.

Throughout the first 68 minutes New Zealand didn't lack for opportunities but uncharacteristic handling problems, spread across the team, and disappointing ball security several times eased pressure on the South Africans.

South Africa opened the scoring when lock Troy Flavell was penalised at a ruck on the All Blacks line and fullback Percy Montgomery landed the goal. Halfback Ruan Pienaar extended the lead after 19 minutes when fullback Mils Muliaina didn't release the ball in a tackle 52m out from the line.

First five-eighths Dan Carter rewarded some better All Blacks build-up work by landing his first penalty goal after 29 minutes.

New Zealand, after some initial hesitancy and fumbled ball began to assert greater control with superior passing and driving especially among the forwards.

But again, 33 minutes into the half, the Springboks held onto the ball too long in the tackle and Carter had a chance but missed his third attempt.

Three minutes he was more successful from the right hand side of the field when lock Bakkies Botha was penalised at the ruck and the scorers were leveled.

The All Blacks looked to break out from their half in the last moments of the spell, but the ball was turned over and with a kick to the corner and a lineout, it was the South Africans who mauled their way to the line for flanker Schalk Burger to score for an 11-6 halftime lead.

The All Blacks immediately trimmed the lead after the re-start when second five-eighths Aaron Mauger calmed dropped a goal.

However, Mauger, two minutes later made a bad mistake after some clever work when a quick lineout was taken. Tackled in midfield, he threw a pass when lying flat on his back.
But it was Butch James who intercepted the ball and raced 30m to score with Montgomery adding the conversion.

New Zealand lost one positive attacking scrum chance when referee Alain Rolland ruled the ball had not been carried back into goal and forced by Pienaar when television evidence clearly showed the infringement.

South Africa rang the replacements and two of them were immediately involved in New Zealand's next scoring chance. Francois Steyn came on at first five-eighths and dropped his first pass resulting in a five-metre scrum to the All Blacks.

Moments later, Pedrie Wannenburg, who had replaced Bobby Skinstad, was sin-binned for a ruck infringement which saw Carter land his third penalty goal after 55 minutes.

Montgomery kicked a 66th minute penalty goal, but that merely served to inspire the All Blacks to greater heights as their fitness undid the home side.

New Zealand 26 (Richie McCaw, Joe Rokocoko tries; Dan Carter 2 con, 3 pen; Aaron Mauger dropped goal)
South Africa 21 (Schalk Burger, Butch James tries; Percy Montgomery con, 2pen; Ruan Pienaar pen).

HT: 6-11

Friday, 22 June 2007

Happy 17th Birthday J.J.

My Dear Son,

Tomorrow is your 17th birthday. As you pass this milestone in your life and are yet another year closer to Manhood, be proud that you have been “man” enough to express your inner feelings the way you did in your blog.

Reading it, I am mindful that your intention of writing it was to help you rationalize your internal and external environment as you navigate through this awkward phase in a boy’s life. Believe you me, I too have been there!

We all know we are only human, yet it takes true courage to admit openly (as you have done) we are fallible. That is an important aspect of growth; you then go about improving yourself and trying to avoid repeating the same follies in life.

I am glad you have experienced that life is indeed not always a bed of roses; it cannot be. I can see you are wrestling with your thoughts and feel frustrated at times when things are not the way you prefer them to be. In the final analysis son, thoughts are all we have; thoughts are all we own; thoughts are all we can control. Thoughts are all we need!

You wrote, “Darkness may reign over me and may embrace the world in gray”. Let me share with you a sad reality that I learnt the hard way; the world exists in gray. There are very few things that are clear cut; good and bad are relative, right and wrong depends on which side you are on. Let me explain.

Someone once said, "Each of us are the sum total of all the decisions we have made to date". Well, decisions are the product of conscious or subconscious thought. As sentient beings, humans inherently have a strong self-preservation mechanism. This is in-built in our psyche. “Peace of mind” is part of self-preservation and in order to achieve this "equilibrium", as humans we need to be able to “reconcile ourselves with ourselves” so to speak. We do that by justifying things to ourselves and we do all that by making decisions in our thoughts! This relates back to what I said earlier about “thoughts”.

Son, because of the above, it is most pertinent to keep in mind that the biggest word in the human dictionary may well be: "JUSTIFICATION”! We can always justify to ourselves ALL our own thoughts, and resultant decisions and actions, regardless of whether the outcomes of those decisions/actions are good or bad. That in itself is very dangerous because it can lead to disaster.

Fortunately, there are two beacons that we can use to guide us. One is KNOWLEDGE and the other is that little voice that always accompanies our conscious mind called, CONSCIENCE.

Son, try to gain as much knowledge and always have a “heart”. These are my words to you on your 17th birthday.

Happy Birthday son; be assured that I always have your best interest at heart.


Tuesday, 19 June 2007


The first time I heard of the term "New Age" was when I was browsing through CDs at my regular music shop. Being interested in jazz, my "hunting ground" was usually amongst the instrumental section and it was not long before I chanced upon a "new" genre of music labeled "new age". That was in the mid-90's. 

Interestingly enough, New Age music had its roots in the 70s, with works of free-form jazz groups such as Oregon, the Paul Winter Group, etc. before evolving into the synthesizer driven electronic music age with Yanni, Vangelis, Kitaro, Georgio Moroder, Jean-Michel Jarre and the like.

It was also about the same time when interest in the haunting and mystical vocals of Enya and the trance-like Gregorian and Celtic sounds, was beginning to take hold amongst music enthusiasts. Instrumental music set against the background sounds of nature (flowing streams, birds, rain, etc.) also became common, as did soothing oriental chanting for meditation like Chant of Metta.

One could not blame me for having the initial impression that New Age only meant a certain genre of music!

Then one day, I asked My Better Half what she knew about New Age. At the time she was undergoing a transformational phase in her own life that would eventually lead from being Reiki Master/Healer and beyond, to where she is at today; a budding spiritual healer of the New Age mould. Even after about 10 years now, her journey has just begun. What she told me then opened up a whole new perspective even for me, and started me on my own academic exploration.

So began my own path of discovery; mainly through books, the WWW and more recently, open minded discussion with New Age practitioners. One observation I made is that New Age spirituality must be "felt" and no amount of theory can substitute for first hand experience and encounters. It is always easy to dismiss the inexplicable as sheer coincidence or self-delusion but the great number of people moving towards New Age beliefs cannot be by mere chance.

While I am not a New Age practitioner like My Better Half or our Daughter, I consider myself a well-informed collaborator with enough knowledge, experience and objectivity to be an interested passenger, chronicler, and a foil in their New Age journey.



The Beginning

New Age Spirituality, otherwise known as Self-Spirituality, New Spirituality, or Mind-Body-Spirit is characterized by an eclectic and individual approach to spiritual exploration.

It was by no coincidence that this form of spirituality became popular since the late 60's and early 70's at a time when Western Pop Culture "collided" with Oriental spiritual concepts and practices. Those were heady days of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Ravi Shanker, Joan Baez, marijuana, the Hippies, anti-establishment, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, Nuclear Arms Race, the Baby Boomers; it was a turbulent time of uncertainty that precipitated new attitudes towards established institutions like the clergy and governments.

Suspicion about the governments was rife and the sense of despair about Christianity (the main religion of the West) was slowly but surely pervading.

The advent of television brought the horrors of what Man does to his fellow Man into Western living rooms and Christianity could no longer provide acceptable answers and guidance. At the other end of the spectrum, the Secular Humanism Movement lost credibility and was deemed to have failed to provide spiritual and ethical guidance for the future; the spirit of altruism needed to be sustained by something more permanent than voluntary choice.

People began to look within for mollification and peace, which eventually led them to their discovery of Oriental spiritual concepts, values and practices; the reticence and tranquility. Of course, this also sparked renewed interest in ancient traditional Western beliefs like Wicca and emerging Neo-Pagan practices.

What started as individual pursuit of tranquility and self-discovery became known as the New Age Movement; the term commonly used to designate the broad movement of late 20th century and contemporary Western culture, which unlike most formal religions, has no holy text, central organization, membership, formal clergy, geographic center, dogma, creed, etc.

The New Age is most definitely a heterogeneous movement of individuals. It is in fact a free-flowing spiritual movement; a network of believers and practitioners who share somewhat similar beliefs and practices, which they add on to whichever formal religion that they follow.

Today, New Age has developed a modality of its own that is characteristically dynamic yet distinctive in its make-up. Given that the world faces yet another tussle for the soul of humankind in the ongoing ideo-political conflicts that saw the occurrence of 9/11 and its repercussions, this New Age Movement can but only grow. It is expected to expand, promoted by the social backlash against logic and science.

The world will eventually realize there is no place for fundamentalism and this is already apparent from the numerous inter-faith dialogues going on internationally. Personally, I think this could be reflective of mainstream religions (especially Christianity) in the throes of struggling to maintain relevance against a tide of new individualism, personal awareness and choice. Indeed in the US, New Agers comprise at least 25% of the population and are the third largest "belief" group.

Perhaps John Naisbitt puts it best when he said:

"In turbulent times, in times of great change, people head for the two extremes: fundamentalism and personal, spiritual experience...With no membership lists or even a coherent philosophy or dogma, it is difficult to define or measure the unorganized New Age movement. But in every major U.S. and European city, thousands who seek insight and personal growth cluster around a metaphysical bookstore, a spiritual teacher, or an education center."

New Age Beliefs

A number of fundamental beliefs are held by many New Age followers; individuals are encouraged to "shop" for the beliefs and practices that they feel most comfortable with. An individual identified with New Age thinking may subscribe to one, some or all of the following, depending on their own sense of what is right and wrong:

Monism: All that exists is derived from a single source of divine energy. All humanity—indeed all life, everything in the universe—is spiritually interconnected, participating in the same energy.“God” is one name for this energy although the preferred term is usually just “the Universe”.

Pantheism: In relation to the above, ALL that exists is God; God is all that exists. This leads naturally to the concept of the divinity of the individual, that we are all Gods. They do not seek God as revealed in a sacred text or as exists in a remote heaven; they seek God within the self and throughout the entire universe.

Panentheism: God is all that exists. God is at once the entire universe, and transcends the universe as well.

Reincarnation: After death, we are reborn and live another life as a human. This cycle repeats itself many times. This belief is similar to the concept of transmigration of the soul in Hinduism. Death is not the end; there is only life in different forms. What some refer to as an afterlife does not punish but teaches us, perhaps through the mechanisms of reincarnation or near-death experiences.

Karma: The human mind has deep levels and vast powers, which are capable even of overriding physical reality. “You create your own reality.” Nevertheless, this is subject to certain spiritual laws, such as the principle of cause and effect (karma). The good and bad deeds that we do add and subtracts from our accumulated record; our karma. At the end of our life, we are rewarded or punished according to our karma by being reincarnated into either a painful or good new life. This belief is linked to that of reincarnation and is also derived from Hinduism. The ultimate level of human potential has only been realized by a few spiritual masters.

An Aura: is believed to be an energy field radiated by the body. Invisible to most people, it can be detected by some as a shimmering, multi-colored field surrounding the body. Those skilled in detecting and interpreting auras can diagnose an individual's state of mind, and their spiritual and physical health.

Ability to Heal and/or be Healed: Everyone of us has potential healing powers which can be developed to heal others through touch or at a distance. Meditation, yoga, tai chi chuan, reiki, and other Eastern practices are valuable and worthwhile.

The Food You Eat: has an effect on your mind as well as your body. It is generally preferable to eat fresh organic vegetarian food which is locally grown and in season. Raw food and sprouted seeds have a particularly spirit enhancing quality. Fasting can help you achieve higher levels of consciousness.

A Cosmic Goal: There is typically a belief that all entities are (willingly or unwillingly) cooperating in some cosmic goal of achieving a "higher" or more complete coherence with a cosmic "consciousness" (or some other goal state of "goodness"), often described as an evolutionary process or simply to learn. This underlying cosmic goal gives direction to all events, reducing the concept of coincidence to one of ignorance of hidden meaning. There are no coincidences. Everything around you has spiritual meaning, and spiritual lessons to teach you. You are meant to be here, and are always exactly where you need to be to learn from what confronts you.

The Human Purpose: An individual has a purpose here on earth, in the present surroundings, because there is a lesson to learn. The most important lesson is LOVE. Ultimately every interpersonal relationship has the potential to be a helpful experience in terms of our own growth. We learn about ourselves through our relationships with other people by getting to see what we need to work on ourselves and what strengths we bring to the other party in order to help them in their life. All our relationships are destined to be repeated until they are healed, if necessary over many lifetimes. As Souls seeking wholeness, our goal is eventually to learn to LOVE everyone we come in contact with.

Personal Transformation: We have a responsibility to take part in positive creative activity and to work to heal ourselves, each other and the planet. A certain critical mass of people with a highly spiritual consciousness will bring about a sudden change in the whole population. A profoundly intense mystical experience will lead to the acceptance and use of New Age beliefs and practices. Guided imagery, hypnosis, meditation, and (sometimes) the use of hallucinogenic drugs are useful to bring about and enhance this transformation. Believers hope to develop new potentials within themselves: the ability to heal oneself and others, psychic powers, a new understanding of the workings of the universe, etc. Later, when sufficient numbers of people have achieved these powers, a major spiritual, physical, psychological and cultural planet-wide transformation is expected.

A Positive Attitude: that is supported by affirmations will achieve success in anything.

Spiritual Beings: These beings (e.g. angels, ascended masters, elementals, ghosts, and/or even space aliens) exist, and will guide us, if we open ourselves to their guidance. Intuition or "divine guidance" is a more appropriate guide than rationalism, scientific skepticism, or the scientific method.

Western Science: wrongly neglects such things as parapsychology, meditation, and holistic health. Science and spirituality are ultimately harmonious. New discoveries in science, e.g. evolution and quantum mechanics, when rightly understood, point to spiritual principles.

Dreams and Psychic Experiences: are ways in which our souls express themselves.

The Indigo Children: Children are being born today with a more highly developed spiritual power than earlier generations.

Ecological Responsibility: A belief in the importance of uniting to preserve the health of the earth, which is often looked upon as Gaia, (Mother Earth) a living entity.

Certain Geographic Locations: emanate special energy, which may be male or female in character. Many such places may have been considered sacred in the world’s religions or as healing places by indigenous native populations. This may involve traveling to ancient religious sites and performing rituals through sacred travel.

Rocks and Crystals: have special psychic energies and can be an aid to meditation and healing.

Universal Religion: Since all is God, then only one reality exists, and all religions are simply different paths to that ultimate reality. The universal religion can be visualized as a mountain, with many sadhanas (spiritual paths) to the summit. Some are hard; others easy. There is no one correct path. All paths eventually reach the top. There exists a mystical core within all religions, Eastern and Western. Dogma and religious identity are not so important. They anticipate that a new universal religion which contains elements of all current faiths will evolve and become generally accepted worldwide.

Ancient Civilizations: such as Atlantis may truly have existed, leaving behind certain relics and monuments (the Great Pyramid, Stonehenge) whose true nature has not been discovered by mainstream historians.

New World Order: As the Age of Aquarius unfolds, a New Age will develop. This is a time of great transformation for the Earth and human consciousness. Certain dates have a special significance in these changes. 1986 and the Harmonic Convergence was one, and there are others to come in 2011 or 2012. This will be a utopia in which there is world government, and end to wars, disease, hunger, pollution, and poverty. Gender, racial, religious and other forms of discrimination will cease. People's allegiance to their tribe or nation will be replaced by a concern for the entire world and its people.

New Age Practices

Many practices are found among New Agers. A typical practitioner is active in only a few areas:

Channeling: A method similar to that used by Spiritualists in which a spirit of a long dead individual is conjured up. However, while Spiritualists generally believe that one's soul remains relatively unchanged after death, most channelers believe that the soul evolves to higher planes of existence. Channelers usually try to make contact with a single, spiritually evolved being. That being's consciousness is channeled through the medium and relays guidance and information to the group, through the use of the medium's voice. Channeling has existed since the 1850's and many groups consider themselves independent of the New Age movement. Perhaps the most famous channeling event is the popular A Course in Miracles. It was channeled through a Columbia University psychologist, Dr. Helen Schucman, (1909-1981), over an 8 year period. She was an Atheist, and in no way regarded herself as a New Age believer. However, she took great care in recording accurately the words that she received.

Crystals: Crystals are materials which have their molecules arranged in a specific, highly ordered internal pattern. This pattern is reflected in the crystal's external structure which typically has symmetrical planar surfaces. Many common substances, from salt to sugar, from diamonds to quartz form crystals. They can be shaped so that they will vibrate at a specific frequency and are widely used in radio communications and computing devices. New Agers believe that crystals possess healing energy.

Meditating: A process of blanking out the mind and releasing oneself from conscious thinking. This is often aided by repetitive chanting of a mantra, or focusing on an object.

New Age Music: A gentle, melodic, inspirational music form involving the human voice, harp, lute, flute, etc. It is used as an aid in healing, massage therapy and general relaxation.

Divination: The use of various techniques to foretell the future, including I Ching, Pendulum movements, Runes, Tarot Cards, Angel Cards, etc. Astrology: The belief that the orientation of the planets at the time of one's birth, and the location of that birth predicts the individual's future and personality. Belief in astrology is common amongst New Agers, but definitely not limited to them.

Holistic Health: This is a collection of healing techniques which have diverged from the traditional medical model. It attempts to cure disorders in mind, body and spirit and to promote wholeness and balance in the individual. Examples are acupuncture, crystal healing, aura cleansing, reiki, homeopathy, iridology, massage, various meditation methods, polarity therapy, psychic healing, therapeutic touch, reflexology, etc.

Human Potential Movement: (a.k.a. Emotional Growth Movement) This is a collection of therapeutic methods involving both individualized and group working, using both mental and physical techniques. The goal is to help individuals to advance spiritually. Examples are Esalen Growth Center programs, EST, Gestalt Therapy, Primal Scream Therapy, Transactional Analysis, Transcendental Meditation and Yoga. be continued

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Boks and Wallabies Open Tri-Nations Campaign

As expected the Springboks scalped the Wallabies at Cape Town in the opening match of the 2007 Tri-Nations but it was only because of two brilliantly taken drop goals by new 20 year old star, Francois Steyn late in the game.

This is a good prelude to the Boks/All Blacks game at Durban, S.A. next Saturday. The Blacks had a good "practice" session by routing Canada, 64-13 in a game which saw star first five eights, Dan Carter running in 3 second half tries apart from 7 conversions.

The following report on the Boks/Wallabies game is from the All Blacks website:

Steyn denies Australia in last moments

Two dropped goals from 20-year-old Springboks rising star Francois Steyn (picture) denied the Wallabies an historic Tri-Nations victory, Australia falling 22-19 to South Africa in Cape Town.

The Wallabies led 19-16 with seven minutes to go before Steyn came off the bench to slot a fabulous 40-metre dropped goal from near the sideline in the 74th minute to level the scores at 19-all.

Three minutes later he calmly kicked the winning points from 25 metres out on the other side of the field to the delight of the sold-out Newlands stadium.

However, for most of the match, the Cape Town crowd sat in silence as the Wallabies made a mockery of pre-match predictions of a massacre to upstage the home side through determined and disciplined play.

The Wallabies led the Springboks 16-10 at half-time after an entertaining first 40 with both teams scoring a try each. An epic territorial battle developed in the second half with the Wallabies ahead 19-10 via two penalty goals to centre Stirling Mortlock.

Fullback Percy Montgomery kept the Boks in touch with two penalty goals before Steyn ensured himself instant hero status with two great strikes from his right boot.

Australia soaked up relentless pressure in the opening 10 minutes as South Africa took advantage of a mammoth 82 per cent possession to launch a raft of enterprising attacking raids. The Wallabies defence held firm and the only points on the scoreboard came via a penalty each to Montgomery and Mortlock.

But in the 15th minute, Springboks centre Jacque Fourie took advantage of confusion from a dropped ball in attack, to pin his ears back for the corner and the opening try of the match. Montgomery threaded an excellent conversion from the sideline for a 10-3 lead.

The Springboks threatened again when centre Jean de Villiers strolled through a yawning gap in the midfield, but good scrambling defence forced the attack wide and over the sideline.

The Wallabies eventually worked their way back into the contest through disciplined play, completing simple but effective pick and drives, and consolidating their field position by taking points every time they visited the Springboks 22.

Mortlock kicked another penalty after a high tackle on second five-eighths Matt Giteau by South African loose forward Juan Smith before Giteau went over for a try in the 31st minute.

The Wallabies showed patient build-up through nine phases move play to inside the home side's 22. Hooker Stephen Moore burst then through the middle of the ruck and Giteau was in support to dive over for a five-pointer. Mortlock added the extras to silence the Newlands sold-out crowd at 13-10.

Just two minutes later, Giteau almost scored again after another nicely worked new backline move that saw Giteau wrap around wide and put a grubber kick through for wing Lote Tuqiri and himself, with Boks wing JP Pietersen just beating the Aussie pair to the ball.

Five minutes before half-time, some crafty work from halfback George Gregan caught Boks No.8 Pierre Spies offside. The Wallabies earned another penalty right in front of the sticks and saw Spies yellow-carded for repeated infringements in the 'red' zone.

Mortlock kicked the penalty to give the Wallabies a 16-10 lead at the break.

The Wallabies skipper kicked another penalty to start the second half after hard-running Boks flanker Schalk Burger was penalised for not rolling away in the tackle 40m out from his own line.

Montgomery made it 19-13 just a few moments later when the Springboks earned a penalty inside kicking distance.

Spies' return from the sin-bin seemed to buoy the home side as they started to dominate possession and field position as they had done to open the match.

Once again the Wallabies showed dogged defence to deny the Springboks inside the 22, but put themselves under pressure a sequence of poor clearing kicks, often failing to find touch.

A penalty for a ruck infringement gave South Africa another penalty to make the score 19-16 before two breaks from inside their own 22 gave the Steyn his chance to win the match.

Montgomery made a break down the sideline to put the Boks on attack before Steyn's long-range bomb and De Villiers cut through the centres to take play downfield and on the path to the 77th minute match winner.

Springboks 22 (Jacque Fourie try; Percy Montgomery con, 3 pen; Francois Steyn 2 dropped goals)
Australia 19 (Matt Giteau try; Stirling Mortlock con, 3 pen).

HT: 10-16

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Lecture By Dr Karen Armstrong: Mandarin Oriental Hotel, KL - 16th June 2007

Dr Karen Armstrong was in KL this week for the "International Conference On Islam And The West: Bridging The Gap" organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Universiti Sains Malaysia, and certain NGOs. I have Mike Naser to thank for getting me to wake up early on a Saturday morning to attend the public talk on the last day of the conference.

The hall was full by the time the session started at 10.00 am with the arrival of Tun Dr Mahathir. In the multi-racial crowd were the veritable "Who's Who" in the local NGO scene and apart from numerous members of the local academia, the various religions were also well represented. Apart from Dato' Seri Syed Hamid Albar, the Minister in the sponsoring Ministry there was a conspicuous absence of politicians.

It was a rare opportunity to hear Ms. Armstrong speak in person and for me, it was more to see the attendant crowd reactions to her talk and how she navigates the tricky differences between the similarities of the three Abrahamaic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. She deftly removes barriers by stressing the futility and folly of trying to "define" (and hence, restricting) God, thereby setting up a commonality amongst the diverse audience.

Often seen in the West as an apologist for Islam and accused of consorting with the "enemy", it is ironic that some of her books are still banned in Malaysia. Yet, it was not surprising to see her at such a conference in KL.

With the presence of Tun Mahathir in the hall, a bigger irony is that a conference which reflects such pluralism would probably not have been encouraged during his tenure as PM.

The subject title was "Role of Religion in the 21st Century" and Karen Armstrong's keynote today was empathy, compassion and tolerance; "love thy enemy..." and "....smite thee on thy right cheek" stuff. She quoted Confucius extensively, especially crediting him with the, "do unto others/do not do unto others" maxim and being one of the earliest to use this "Golden Rule" as a central theme of his teachings. Not surprisingly, the best examples she used when it came to "tolerance" and "compassion" were from the teachings of Buddha. I came away from the lecture with a feeling that she is more inclined towards Buddhism although she publicly claims to be monotheistic.

Indeed, Ms. Armstrong made no "earth-shattering" new points nor provided new perspectives on the subject but her ability to articulate known concepts, precepts and views so clearly was worth the two hours.

I voice recorded the whole lecture and will post a You Tube version in this blog soon. Interestingly, I just read Marina Mahathir's blog on the event and her observations are pretty much the same. Check it out:

Karen Armstrong's biodata is as follows:

Karen Armstrong is one of the world’s leading commentators on religious affairs. She is a best-selling author, whose books have been translated into forty languages. Her early work focused on the monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but she has since begun to explore the eastern religions. Her work is scholarly but written for the general reader, and has been appreciated not only by western audiences but also by Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus. She is a broadcaster, columnist, and is much sought after throughout the world as a public speaker. Her focus is not only on theology and spirituality but on the political implications of faith in the modern world.

Karen Armstrong spent seven years as a Roman Catholic nun in the 1960s, but then left her teaching order in 1969. She studied English Literature at the University of Oxford, earning the degrees of B.A. and M.Litt.. Since then she has taught modern literature at the University of London, and headed the English department in a girls' public school. In 1982, she became a full time writer and broadcaster.

Her books include: A History of God [1993], which became an international bestseller; Jerusalem, One City, Three Faiths [1996]; The Battle for God, A History of Fundamentalism [2000]; Islam, A Short History [2000]; Buddha (2001); The Spiral Staircase: A Memoir (2004); A Short History of Myth (2005).The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions (2006); and finally Muhammad: A Prophet for our Time (2006).

Since September 11, 2001, however, she has become chiefly known for her work on Islam and Fundamentalism, particularly in the United States. She has addressed members of the United States Congress and the Senate on three occasions, has participated in the World Economic Forum, and spoken at an informal debate in the General Assembly of the United Nations. In 2005, she was appointed by Kofi Anan to take part in the United Nations initiative “The Alliance of Civilizations” which completed its report on the reasons for the rise of extremism and the best means of stemming this in November 2006.

In autumn 2001, Karen Armstrong was Scholar in Residence at Lowell House, Harvard University, where she also delivered the Tillich Lecture (2001), the Peabody Lecture (2002) and the Ingersoll Lecture on Immortality (2005). In addition, she has lectured at Yale, MIT, Stanford, McGill and many other universities and colleges throughout Canada and the United States. She has recently received honorary degrees at Aston University in the West Midlands, where her books are required reading on the MBA course, and at Georgetown University, Washington DC. In the autumn of 2007, she will become the William Belden Noble Lecturer at Harvard.

For those who have not heard of her or read her books, do check out the corresponding Wikipedia entry:

Sunday, 10 June 2007

All Blacks inflict record defeat on France

This is from the All Blacks official website:

Rampant All Blacks forward power and superior attacking skills in the backs ran France ragged in a nine try feast to win by a record 61-10 in the second Iveco Test at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.

The All Blacks were dominant throughout playing with much greater cohesion and employing some deft individual touches spread right across the team.

There were moments of looseness which allowed the French to snare ball, as when they scored their 15th minute try in the second half, but the opportunities were generally few and far between and well contained.

Such was the All Blacks dominance that any French success was immediately countered with yet another try.

However, the effort came at a cost as lock
Ali Williams was forced to leave the field with a prospective broken jaw.

Scrum time became an embarrassment for the French as the home team applied the pressure to significant advantage, occasionally turning ball over and gaining the feed.

While halfback
Byron Kelleher was dominant early, until replaced by an electric Brendon Leonard eight minutes into the second half, it was No.8 Rodney So'oialo who provided several touches of his class to the second half effort in one of his more commanding displays.

The All Blacks proved unaffected by the pre-game warmup setback when lock
Keith Robinson was forced to withdraw due to a late calf muscle injury.

The All Blacks went onto immediate attack from the kick-off, but failed to make the most of early chances and it was first five-eighths Benjamin Boyet who rewarded the first French excursion into All Blacks territory by landing a 48m penalty goal in the fourth minute.

From the re-start the All Blacks won a penalty and when second five-eighths
Luke McAlister's kick hit the post, centre Arnaud Mignardi attempted to run the ball out but he was tackled.

The All Blacks gained the ball and a series of determined charges at the line followed before hooker
Anton Oliver grounded the ball at the base of the posts to score his third Test try.

McAlister followed his conversion with a 14th minute penalty goal.

The moment Wellington fans had been waiting for came when local flanker
Jerry Collins hit rampaging French No. 8 Sebastien Chabal with a bone-shaking tackle in the same manner Chabal hit Chris Masoe in the first Test.

Twenty-two minutes into the half McAlister landed his second penalty goal, and from the re-start the All Blacks ran the ball back with fullback
Leon MacDonald kicking into the 22m area for the ball to be carried back.

From the five-metre scrum, Kelleher was unstoppable.

Then from the restart, Kelleher was in the action again when chipping over the top of the ruck.

As his French opposite Nicholas Durand attempted an infield pass, wing
Joe Rokocoko was straight onto the ball to take the intercept and race 50 metres unchallenged to score and put the All Blacks out to a 25-3 lead.

Two minutes before halftime, some outstanding running from wing
Sitiveni Sivivatu and Rokocoko resulted in the play moving to the French 22m area where from a ruck, Kelleher worked the blind, found replacement lock Troy Flavell and he found Rokocoko who strolled over for his second.

France had to replace second five-eighths Lionel Mazars with a hand injury.

France started the second half strongly but couldn't capitalise and it was the All Blacks who struck first when Sivivatu created room on the left, linked with So'oialo, who cleared to MacDonald who raced 30m to score.

Fifteen minutes into the spell, centre
Isaia Toeava benefited from a perfect inpass from McAlister to run strongly to score. While he had a mixed time with his handling there was no doubt of the power he possesses to utilise chances.

With the chance taken to get substitutes onto the field early in the second half, some of the fluidity went out of the All Blacks play, but there was little inventiveness from the French with what ball they could secure.

The application of forward drive allowed the All Blacks to rebuild with effect and after several barging runs it was Collins who drove over. McAlister's conversion took it out to 49-10.

Another deft touch from a lineout throw on the French 22m saw replacements, prop
Neemia Tialata and hooker Keven Mealamu, use a returned lineout throw to create the try for Mealamu.

Right on fulltime a lineout steal by
Chris Jack saw McAlister make a midfield break and feed back in to first five-eighths Nick Evans who capped a fine game with the try.


New Zealand 61 (Joe Rokocoko 2, Anton Oliver, Byron Kelleher, Leon MacDonald, Isaia Toeava, Jerry Collins, Keven Mealamu, Nick Evans tries; Luke McAlister 5 con, 2 pen)

France 10 (Jullien Laharrague try; Benjamin Boyet con, pen).

HT: 30-3

Saturday, 9 June 2007

1978 - Malaysia Schools Rugby Champion

King Edward VII School, Taiping is a school rich in rugby tradition. Till today, it is still perenially amongst the elite in schools rugby in the country. Rugby was played at the school as far back as 1923. However, in 1978 after one and a half decades of playing bridesmaid to Malay College Kuala Kangsar in Perak schools rugby a transformation happened that made KEVII the kingpins of Malaysian schools rugby till today. Currently, KEVII is the reigning Premier Schools Rugby Champion. The following exchanges 2 years ago in my EGroup tell the story:

From: Cheahs
Sent: Thursday, April 21, 2005 3:21 PM
Subject: KEVII Beat MCKK

Received SMS from Raja Omar Ikram. Our rugby team beat MCKK, 26-12 at Teluk Intan yesterday to take the Perak schools title. Apparently, they wanted a neutral venue. They may have celebrated a grand centenary this year, what with all their well conected and privileged old boys but once again The Tigers have spoiled their party! Congratulations to the team!



Thong wrote:

Great news, bro! And now, the M'sian schools championship...we didn't win again since 1978, did we?

Sent: Thursday, April 21, 2005 6:13 PM

Subject: Re: KEVII Beat MCKK

I was at that game in 1978. The only girl in the bus all the way to KL. What a game it was. Great news today, hope they're enroute to re-create the spirit of 78.


From: Cheahs
Sent: Thursday, April 21, 2005 9:58 PM
Subject: RE: KEVII Beat MCKK


It is heartening to be reminded of your keen interest in rugby at KE. As a matter of fact I do remember seeing you at the games. The KL trip your referred to was probably in 1979. I do not remember any trip to KL for rugby except for the trip to Kuala Terengganu via the Karak Highway.

1978 was rugby revival year for KE. We won the national championship after beating RMC at the MCKK ground. In the Perak state championship we beat Andersons in the final at Ipoh after accounting for MCKK along the way. We played all our interstate games away. The Terengganu game was against Sultan Sulaiman School in the semi-final. After beating them we were elated to hear that the final was to be in KE. Unfortunately, RMC requested a neutral venue and we sportingly obliged. The Tigers Den is a feared place for visiting teams. I think the school chartered 13 buses for the trip to Kuala Kangsar.


You were a pillar in the 1978 team as well as in 1979 and 1980. I believe KE was also state champions in 1979 and 1980 but lost to MCKK 0-4 in 1981; am I right? I remember watching you guys beat VI in KL in 1979 or 1980. This was probably the KL trip referred to by Suet Fun. I also watched KE beat touring Vajiravudh of Thailand and St Andrews of Singapore.The 1979 team had a wonderful backline compared to the less fancy but efficient backs we had in 1978. The 1978 team had a very good pack led by Mizi Mahmud.

I think after 1978 the MSSM change the inter-state format to having combined-schools state teams. Though KE players dominated the Perak teams back then, it was never the same again. Tell us about all that Thong.


From: Fadhil

Sent: Monday, April 25, 2005 10:52 AM
Subject: Re: KEVII Beat MCKK

dear edwardians,

perhaps this is an opportune time to introduce myself. The name is choong voon leong now known as Muhammad Fadhil Choong. same batch as raja omar ikram, mah siew sian, Hwang Thiam Hwa, Khairul Najmi etc but was spirited away to RMC in 1978 after Form 3. I was at the historic RMC/KE match at MCKK and was quietly pleased that KE beat RMC. KE was a formidable team then if you knew the calibre of the RMC players.

Thong, we were in the same Under 15 badminton team together with Loong Seng. I was playing doubles and we were ably trained by your father. Remember?

voon leong

Sent: Monday, April 26, 2005 2:55 AM

Subject: Re: KEVII Beat MCKK

Hi Fadhil, glad you finally posted. I was just on the phone to Mike Naser Taib this morning. He was a former president of the Old Putra Association and founder member; also a Tiger before he went to RMC like you. Somehow the Tiger Spirit does not fade and as they say, "Once A Tiger, Always A Tiger"! He is trying to spark off something for the OE Association in KL; something along the lines of perhaps the Tigers Den that was discussed here a few weeks back. As a matter of interest I am forwarding a brief he wrote to Tun Ling recently....from one OP to another (2 ex-OPA presidents at that); discussing not about RMC but KE7!!

I am in touch with many Tigers who are also Old Putra. You may know some of these names; Bashah Harun, Shaharuddin "Badak" Ariffin, Mohd Sofian Arshad,....they too remain Tigers at the core. Being Raja Omar's batch you would be 3 years my junior. The diminutive Raja must be one of the best scrumhalves KE ever produced and he was bloody resilient; seen him take big hits yet seemingly unhurt.

The historic RMC/KE match at MCKK. I was fortunate to be a member of the KE team. What a game it was! KE was the underdog and we knew the RMC team was a very good side. They had scalped Johor English College, SDAR or King George V of Negri and also I think Malacca High School. These were traditionally strong teams. We were quietly confident and felt that if we played to our full potential, we could beat any schools side in Malaysia at the time. Though we were told that the RMC boys were big, we were totally not prepared for what we saw! They looked like bloody adults!! Something I have to say is that hundreds of fellow Tigers who were there to support simply made it such that we had to win! Losing was not an option and personally, it would have blighted my entire time at KE as an unerasable black mark if we had lost that game.

Though the memory may have faded somewhat, the recollection of the emotions remains as if it was just yesterday. Since you also watched the game I would like to take this opportunity to tell the story behind this victory. It was unfortunate that for RMC to have met this KE team. We were a determined side and the fitness and weight training we had since the previous December made us a tough team to play. Our secret weapon was our coach, Pak Yiew.

In the decade preceding 1978, all we had was a rich tradition in rugby and little else. We had our share of "stars" but as a team we used to be whipping boys for the likes of MCKK, Sultan Abdul Hamid College, and STAR. Play was unimaginative, usually characterized by "up-and-unders" and chasing the wind! Defence was porous and it was a rarity for the ball to reach our wingers because of bad handling. We were tactically naive and our coaches were equally clueless!

I remember very clearly in October or November of 1977. Pak Yiew who had just taken over as rugger coach (after performing a fantastic job with the athletics team) called a meeting of senior players for 1978. He had the audacity to suggest that we would be Malaysian champion in 1978 and that was our target! Mind you, the players who attended the meeting were in the side that lost to SGI that year! I recall being at the back of the classroom with Mizi Mahmud and Shahrir sniggering and remarking "Pak Yiew ni gila!"

Pak Yiew built the backbone of the 1978 team with boys from the 1977 U-15 team and the remnants of the 1977 U-20 squad. He also recruited selected Upper 6 boys who were totally new to rugby because he wanted maturity to blend with the mainly fourth formers. Notable amongst these "novices" were Ng Chee Keong who was a sprinter in Pak Yiew's athletics team and Tan Poh Hong. Chee Keong's was a natural winger and with his speed, scored many tries during the campaign. Poh Hong was a wing forward and together with 16 year old Yusuf Mat Ariff, we had a pair who gave opposition flyhalfs and scrumhalfs hell. All three were also fierce tacklers. Fadhil, you probably will recall your contemporaries who were in Form 4, Zainal "Bochart" Abidin, Yusup "Gila" Mat Tais, Roslan Ibrahim, Lope Ahmad, Kuldip Kumar, Wan Baharin, and of course Raja O and Yusuf Mat Ariff. Those in Form 5 in 1978 were Loong Seng, Thong Chee Meng, and Zul Akmal. You probably also know Jalil Sha'aib who was in Lower 6.

35 players were selected for training which started during the December holidays. Each was paired with another of equivalent size and that was it for the season. I cannot remember the number of times I have carried Zul Akmal on my shoulders and running the length of the rugby pitch and vice versa. The focus until end February was on fitness and strength. We never saw a rugby ball before then. Pak Yiew made sure we had strong necks and backs. When the rugby balls first came out all we were allowed to do with them was passing. In March and April, we were drilled on basic skills; passing, receiving, tackling and interestingly enough, no kicking. Sometime in April, the scrum machine came out and by then we basically had 2 squads. That was when we got to play a bit of rugby! The forwards were put through the most strenous routines on the scrum machine, the rolling mauls, the rucks, lineouts, etc, etc. The three quarters (backs as they are called today) had their own drills of which tackling and handling were the focus. The two squads eventually became the 1st fifteen and the backup fifteen as sparing partners. Not all of us could be assured of a first team place.

For 1978, Pak Yiew's strategy was possession rugby. For this the mainstay of our game were the forwards. Punting the ball was virtually taboo. We had a strong pack in the scrums, with speedy wing forwards on the break. Mizi Mahmud, playing hooker was truely an inspirational pack leader and captain. Thong was our No.8 and of course he developed into arguably the best anchorman in the country during the 80s. Loong Seng and "Ironman" Hussein were the props.

Our backline were no pushovers too. Flyhalf Shahrir and his merry men! Jalil and Shaharuddin Latiff at centre and Bochart and Chee Keong the wingers. Lope Ahmad was a great fullback. It was a joy to watch them scoring at the corner flags after stringing passes right to the wingers. Lope often provided an added dimension as the extra man in attack. The ball handling drills meant that our forwards could also double up as backs!

Pak Yew taught us to play textbook rugby and kept things simple. Most importantly, to play as a team. The buzzwords were, "Cover and Counter-cover" was that simple! Yet, it was this that made us appear a team of more than 15 players on the pitch. We swamped most of our opponents. The other important thing was that we were a team of tacklers. It was difficult for teams to cross our try line.

The team was not allowed to play matches until May. As a first test, Pak Yiew let us play against Taiping Artillery Garrison of which we won by 9-0 I think. That was the game I saw Mizi carrying the ball and up-ending a muscular soldier by charging low into him head first.

Next Pak Yiew pitted us against the Police Field Force (Northern Brigade) who were the police force champions. We thrashed them and they lost their temper. Imagine policemen punching schoolboys! Following that, what was supposed to be a 3-test series with the Taiping Tigers ended after the second game. The first was the traditional present boys versus old boys game on the Friday before Sports Day. The Taiping Tigers did not have enough uninjured players after the 2nd game.

The shrewd Pak Yiew purposely chose adult opponents to harden the team and also build confidence. After that we were tested in 2 friendlies with Bukit Mertajam High School and Sultan Abdul Hamid College. The scores were 51-0 and 25-0 respectively. By the time we played Vocational School in the first district match it was a basketball score of 102-0. Then came the SGI game in end-June. Our team had scored more than 200 points with virtually no reply by then and we thrashed them 41-0 chalking up 3 penalty tries in the process. Georgy Porgy was collar-grabbing!

I believe the toughest game of the year was with MCKK. We had not beaten them in 15 years and the psychological advantage they had over us was obvious. This brings me to a ploy by Pak Yiew that really showed his mettle. Before the game, he showed up with a big bottle of clear water. With a serious look on his face, he remarked that it was "air jampi" and only muslim players could take a sip. Others who ate pork were forbidden to drink the water. The water was supposed to put "fire" in the muslim players and he said had been blessed by a powerful bomoh in Cangkat Jering! You guessed right, the water came right from the tap near Pak Long's office!

MCKK too had a very good team with a backline of jinkers. However, a backline cannot score without the ball! Our wing forwards were instrumental again. But this game was Shahrir's game! His conversions and the solo try he scored ensured that we won the game 26-12. Maybe it was the water.............. :o)

In the Perak final we met Andersons. This team had 5 players in the Perak senior side at the time and were fresh from a rather convincing victory over defending state champs STAR. We knew quite abit about them because Pak Yew was from there before he moved to KE. Their well known coach was a Mr Chan Ah Chye who also happened to be the coach of the Perak senior team. We beat them on their home ground, 19-6.

Compared to RMC, our interstate games were easy. Kedah gave us a walkover because we had already beaten Sultan Abdul Hamid College in the earlier friendly but BM High School wanted another try and our team comprising mainly reserves beat them 15-4.

The relatively narrow score line was not reflective of the overall control we had in the game. We beat East Coast champions, Sekolah Sultan Sulaiman of Terengganu, 18-0 to earn the right to play RMC in the final.

Against RMC, our worry was that our team had peaked too early. Our interstate games were relative easy ones and we knew RMC had to win through a few tough opponents. Our strategy was to deny them the ball as far as possible, but this was no easy task as they were much bigger. It was almost comical to see the comparison between the physique of the 2 teams.

Ours were shorter but stocky and they were tall and muscular. I believe they tried to intimidate us from the first whistle and we had to take some big hits. Our forwards played their hearts out, dishing out our own brand of hard rugby. In the first half, it was the RMC scrumhalf that let his team down and it was Raja Omar who tricked him twice into an offside position. The 2 resultant penalties gave us a 6-0 lead before RMC equalised with a converted try. A Shahrir penalty restored our lead before halftime.

I remember Pak Yiew firing up the forwards during the halftime break. By then we knew we could match RMC in terms for brute force and in the second half the forwards show greater aggression. It was heartbreak to lose Mizi through his recurring knee injury in the second half but his cover, Roslan Ibrahim was more than a equal replacement. He scored our only try barging through near the corner flag. Shahrir added 3 more penalties against a sole RMC penalty to make the score 22-9 in our favour.

So Fadhil, that was part of the 1978 story. In 1979, the team was even better and more technically accomplished. With Jalil leading a team of "veterans" it was no wonder they conquered all before them. They also had Huzir Mohamad who was a reserve winger in 1978 but blossomed thereafter. Huzir later went on to captain the Malaysian senior side for a few years. Raja Omar and gang took KL by a storm in later years and they formed the backbone of the Anchorman team then. Thong, Mizi, Shahrir and Jalil played for their respective universities and I think Thong had a stint with Cobra later. I believe in the mid-80s, half the Malaysian senior side were OEs. In fact, in 1980 I watched an HMS Malaya Cup game at the STAR ground between Selangor and Perak. The Selangor side had all the national stars including Malaysian captain Boon Hoon Chee, flyhalf Tan Soo Chong and winger, Lim Say Tee. All were at the peak of their playing careers. The Perak side comprised OEs from the 78 and 79 school sides and also included some schoolboys. Perak whipped the Selangor arses!

What did I learn from all the above? I learned one of life's valuable lessons: No matter what or who you are up against, prepare well and have confidence in your own abilities. Virtually nothing is impossible to those who believe!



Wednesday, 6 June 2007

D-Day, 6th of June

Today, 6th of June is D-Day. Nope, it is not because Pak Lah confirmed the "open secret" that he is getting married again. Anyway, congratulations to the soon-to-be newly weds.

The moment in history that is of far greater significance and consequence was 6th of June, 1944; the "Longest Day". It was the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe when the Allied Forces successfully launched "Operation Overlord"; the assault on Hitler's "Fortress Europe" which became known as the "Battle of Normandy".

There is so much information on the www regarding that day in history that it is superfluous for me to include URLs here. Go check it out.

The objective was simple: to gain a foothold on the continent while the Soviet Union tied down a great portion of the enemy's forces. The road to Berlin thereafter was a matter of time

Now, more than 60 years later, the Normandy invasion remains the largest seaborne invasion in history, involving almost 3 million troops crossing the English Channel.

Friendship - Chapter from "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran

From my falling apart copy given by a dear friend, Linda Khoo 25 years ago, to the numerous websites ( today, "The Prophet" has always been a good "reference text" for me.

If I am not mistaken, the book was banned by the Malaysian government for a number of years.

Here is the chapter on Friendship:

And a youth said, "Speak to us of Friendship."

Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.
When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the "nay" in your own mind, nor do you withhold the "ay."
And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.
When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.
And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.