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Wednesday, 29 November 2006

Trading Insults

And so the saga continues.

About a week ago in The Age, a columnist in the Business section, Michael Backman, criticised the Malaysian government for its wasteful spending and lack of accountability.

It was phenomenal. The column became the most emailed item on The Age's website for six days straight and it was replicated in dozens of blogs worldwide. Including that of yours truly, of course. :)

Eventually someone in the infamous Malaysian government got to hear about it.

And so, Mr Backman received an 'unperturbed' response from Malaysian International Trade and Industry Minister Rafidah Aziz.

Says she: "What do we care? Obviously, this person doesn't know Malaysia."

Umm. I hate to break it to you, Rafidah, but he's been getting much more feedback about Malaysia from Malaysians than you probably have or ever will.

"I don't really care about what others say – as long as it is not a Malaysian saying it."

Actually Ms Minister, I think about 600 Malaysians just spoke for themselves, judging by the staggering number of emails they sent him. It's just that YOU didn't hear them say it.

If you cared more about what a critic like Backman (who has spent most of his adult life analysing and writing about Asia) said, you wouldn't be in this humiliating position.

Oh, and by the way, someone who calls himself 'Barau' - along with his bunch of friends apparently agree with Backman. Barau and his posse are not alone in their opinions.

Though it appears Backman may have actually started a stampede to immigration.

Davina says, "yea, if we're going to be treated like second class citizens in our own land of birth we might as well go elsewhere and be given better civil liberties EVEN as second class citizens of our new countries."

If the Malaysian government does not represent the people, it is worthless and redundant - simply a white elephant waiting its time out.

Its ridiculous spending habits are legendary - from sending a Malaysian into space, to building the longest undersea cable in the world. It, collectively, has NO clue.

Where would the money be better spent?

Says Backman:

Education is the obvious answer. But not on school buildings, for it matters less in what children are educated than how. And how children are educated in Malaysia is a national disaster.

Learning is largely by rote. In an email to me last week, one Malaysian recalled her schooling as being in a system all about spoon-feeding, memory work and regurgitation.

Students are not encouraged to think for themselves and they become adults who swallow everything they're told.

Which is basically why very few Malaysians question their leaders, criticise their government or start riots.

Those who do think contribute to blogs. :)

But does the Malaysian Government want creative, critical thinkers? Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi said to the ruling party's recent general assembly Malaysia needed to make students creative. But that means they must be questioning and thus critical; what hope is there of that when one of Abdullah's own ministers tells Malaysians that they cannot say the things that I can and hundreds of them write to me to complain because they don't feel that they can complain to their own Government?

You tell 'em, Backman. You tell 'em.

Saturday, 25 November 2006

Of The SS, SMS & KKK

I thought this was brilliant! Copied and pasted verbatim:

Strange mindset

By MARINA MAHATHIR

LOOKING at recent developments, I think there should be a new association registered for the propagation of the shallow and superficial. It should be called, for short, the SS.

The SS is open for membership to people who have nothing better to do with their lives than look for monsters under their beds, enemies in their blankets or crosses in their buns. The first members of the SS are the people who believe that the path to hell is paved with ice-cream biscuits.

In case there are still people out there who only read the mainstream papers and therefore have been blissfully cocooned in ignorance, a group of defenders of the faith have lodged a report that a certain brand of ice-cream biscuits have (Christian) crosses on them, and therefore this is a grave threat to our faith. If any of us were unaware that all it takes is ice-cream to melt our faith, now we know.

The SS would comprise of people who really believe that their faith needs to be protected from confectionery, lipstick, books, magazines, songs, maybe even SpongeBob SquarePants. Everything should be scrutinized for their ability to creep into one’s soul and destroy one’s beliefs. Having laws that allow for this scrutiny would apparently show how superior and strong their religion is.

The SS are not in the least bit interested in any real issues that might truly be threats to their community. Not for them the trivial matters of poverty and hunger nor of people being bombed to death every day in Iraq or Palestine, or dying of diseases such as AIDS. Nay, these are unimportant compared to the dangers of ice-cream and lipstick.

In case anyone thinks I am making this up, some people might remember that in the days before the United States invaded Iraq, an e-mail listing out the brands of cosmetics one should not use because their lipsticks were not halal was passed around. Undoubtedly, several hundred thousand dead Iraqis later, those who boycotted those lipsticks feel very good now.

Let us not forget other SS members, those who should be conferred the special title Simple-Minded and Stupid, otherwise known as SMS. These are the sorts who believe every little message that comes into their hot little phones, no matter how unlikely.

Without even asking simple questions like “Is it true?”, they pass them on as if they were, well, gospel. Even worse, instead of just relying on electronic gadgets, which one can always blame technology for, they pass on these messages verbally to other members of the SS, all of whom accept everything the SMS say is literally The Word of God.

The alleged Word of God is then borne into action by Korrupt Kombative Knuckleheads, otherwise known as the KKK. These will do things like throw firecrackers into churchyards, destroy temples and raid married people’s bedrooms. Pretty soon we may find them dressing up in bedsheets and stringing up people they don’t like on trees.

One thing about the SS, the SMS and the KKK is that they never take responsibility for anything. Unlike hijackers, kidnappers and terrorists who want to be known as people who do bad deeds, the Malaysian versions don’t own up to anything. If SS or SMS talk about how Other People are bad, and the KKK then go and string up people by their necks, the SS and SMS simply put their hands up and say, “But I never told them to do that. I only mentioned these things in passing.”

Thus they can pass out simpleminded but dangerous messages without having to take the consequences. Unlike Other People who are constantly being threatened with all sorts of Dire Consequences should they so much as open their mouths. This is how less than a dozen people talking peace and goodwill can be told to shut up in the face of 10,000 talking war and hate. It’s the same sort of argument some Neanderthals make about cameras peering in inappropriate places; the victims shouldn’t have worn skirts.

The sad thing is that an association like the SS would have so many members in this country. While those who are reasonable, moderate and tolerant are getting marginalized every day.

The voice of hate is these days so much louder than the voice of peace, love and inclusiveness. Just as we don’t see the supreme irony of trumpeting our religious superiority while at the same time claiming that it only takes biscuits to destroy us, we don’t see the irony of extolling ourselves as a superior race while at the same time insisting on crutches and handouts.

Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Malaysians Are Wimps

Some time ago I posted something from The Age for an article by Michael Backman, a renowned writer and columnist specialising in economies, politics, business groups and business practices in Asia.

It had rather caustic but completely accurate comments about the ludicrous government policies and decisions that have hindered Malaysia from being the hugely powerful country it could easily have been.

To summarise, The Age rightfully asserts that Malaysia is a country that prefers to argue about how to divide wealth rather than get on with the job of creating it.

While there are a decent number of Malaysians living in Australia, it is obvious that even those still residing in Malaysia (either due to a severe lack of options or sheer bad taste - of which I happily admit to the latter) have been on the lookout for someone who understands the system over here.

This article made its way into my inbox, for a grand total of FOUR times from FOUR different people!! And all within a week. It has NEVER happened before.

Perhaps the abovementioned occurence should gain entry into the Malaysia Book of Records where it shall seek solace in the Hall of Imbecility, next to the entry for 'First Teh Tarik, Batu Seremban and Gasing In Space'.

But mind me not.

Apparently some Malaysians even emailed Mr Backman to commend him for his astute observations. In his website, he has a special note for Malaysians which begins with:

The response to my recent column 'While Malaysia fiddles, its opportunities are running dry', published in The Age newspaper on November 15 has been overwhelming. I've received hundreds of e-mails and messages, many from Malaysians both in Malaysia and outside, of which perhaps 95% have been supportive. Thank you for these. It seems that the column has given voice to concerns that many Malaysians have.

Yes indeed, Mr Backman. Yes indeed.

It has come to our attention rather belatedly that most of the people we have elected/appointed to the government/parliament should be:
a) behind bars
b) in a school for severe learning disabilities
c) in the primate section of the national zoo

We do have concerns. We just don't have the guts to voice them.

Thursday, 16 November 2006

Defusing Racial and Religious Concerns

Being a multi-racial nation, Malaysia has been prone to incredible amounts of manipulation and power-play by politicians, not to mention the attention deficient clowns who go through various lengths to provoke a riot of some sort.

Only a few days ago, there was a protest against a supposed mass conversion of Muslims into Christianity. It turns out it was a communion service for 98 Indian children. The woman behind these shenanigans has been given 48 hours to report to the police.

This political mess is not limited to religion but to the economy as well, where the Malays (Bumiputras) are given special rights over other races.

Taking a look Down Under, The Age has its opinions of Malaysian policies and attitudes, rightfully asserting that there can be little sympathy for a country that prefers to argue about how to divide wealth rather than get on with the job of creating it.

The long-held aim is for 30 per cent of corporate equity to be in Malay hands, but the figure that the Government uses to justify handing over huge swathes of public companies to Malays but not to other races is absurd. It bases its figure on equity valued, not at market value, but at par value.

Many shares have a par value of say $1 but a market value of $12. And so the Government figure (18.9 per cent is the most recent figure) is a gross underestimate. Last month a paper by a researcher at a local think-tank came up with a figure of 45 per cent based on actual stock prices. All hell broke loose. The paper was withdrawn and the researcher resigned in protest. Part of the problem is that he is Chinese.


We've had this silent war for so long. The Malays versus non-Malays (Chinese and Indians).

I'm personally tired of it.

The PM, Abdullah Badawi claims that he abhors the name calling, statements that hurt sensitivities, the corruption and abuse of power and the nit-picking that hindered the country's progress.

So far, I have NOT seen much action to back that claim.

For politics are politics after all.

Wednesday, 15 November 2006

While Malaysia fiddles, its opportunities are running dry

*Backposted after 2009, when Backman's column in The Age was discontinued.

Michael Backman
November 15, 2006


MALAYSIA'S been at it again, arguing about what proportion of the economy each of its two main races — the Malays and the Chinese — owns. It's an argument that's been running for 40 years. That wealth and race are not synonymous is important for national cohesion, but really it's time Malaysia grew up.

It's a tough world out there and there can be little sympathy for a country that prefers to argue about how to divide wealth rather than get on with the job of creating it.

The long-held aim is for 30 per cent of corporate equity to be in Malay hands, but the figure that the Government uses to justify handing over huge swathes of public companies to Malays but not to other races is absurd. It bases its figure on equity valued, not at market value, but at par value.

Many shares have a par value of say $1 but a market value of $12. And so the Government figure (18.9 per cent is the most recent figure) is a gross underestimate. Last month a paper by a researcher at a local think-tank came up with a figure of 45 per cent based on actual stock prices. All hell broke loose. The paper was withdrawn and the researcher resigned in protest. Part of the problem is that he is Chinese.

"Malaysia boleh!" is Malaysia's national catch cry. It translates to "Malaysia can!" and Malaysia certainly can. Few countries are as good at wasting money. It is richly endowed with natural resources and the national obsession seems to be to extract these, sell them off and then collectively spray the proceeds up against the wall.

This all happens in the context of Malaysia's grossly inflated sense of its place in the world.

Most Malaysians are convinced that the eyes of the world are on their country and that their leaders are world figures. This is thanks to Malaysia's tame media and the bravado of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. The truth is, few people on the streets of London or New York could point to Malaysia on a map much less name its prime minister or capital city.

As if to make this point, a recent episode of The Simpsons features a newsreader trying to announce that a tidal wave had hit some place called Kuala Lumpur. He couldn't pronounce the city's name and so made up one, as if no-one cared anyway. But the joke was on the script writers — Kuala Lumpur is inland.

Petronas, the national oil company is well run, particularly when compared to the disaster that passes for a national oil company in neighbouring Indonesia. But in some respects, this is Malaysia's problem. The very success of Petronas means that it is used to underwrite all manner of excess.

The KLCC development in central Kuala Lumpur is an example. It includes the Twin Towers, the tallest buildings in the world when they were built, which was their point.

It certainly wasn't that there was an office shortage in Kuala Lumpur — there wasn't.

Malaysians are very proud of these towers. Goodness knows why. They had little to do with them. The money for them came out of the ground and the engineering was contracted out to South Korean companies.

They don't even run the shopping centre that's beneath them. That's handled by Australia's Westfield.

Next year, a Malaysian astronaut will go into space aboard a Russian rocket — the first Malay in space. And the cost? $RM95 million ($A34.3 million), to be footed by Malaysian taxpayers. The Science and Technology Minister has said that a moon landing in 2020 is the next target, aboard a US flight. There's no indication of what the Americans will charge for this, assuming there's even a chance that they will consider it. But what is Malaysia getting by using the space programs of others as a taxi service? There are no obvious technical benefits, but no doubt Malaysians will be told once again, that they are "boleh". The trouble is, they're not. It's not their space program.

Back in July, the Government announced that it would spend $RM490 million on a sports complex near the London Olympics site so that Malaysian athletes can train there and "get used to cold weather".

But the summer Olympics are held in the summer.

So what is the complex's real purpose? The dozens of goodwill missions by ministers and bureaucrats to London to check on the centre's construction and then on the athletes while they train might provide a clue.

Bank bale outs, a formula one racing track, an entire new capital city — Petronas has paid for them all. It's been an orgy of nonsense that Malaysia can ill afford.

Why? Because Malaysia's oil will run out in about 19 years. As it is, Malaysia will become a net oil importer in 2011 — that's just five years away.

So it's in this context that the latest debate about race and wealth is so sad.

It is time to move on, time to prepare the economy for life after oil. But, like Nero fiddling while Rome burned, the Malaysian Government is more interested in stunts like sending a Malaysian into space when Malaysia's inadequate schools could have done with the cash, and arguing about wealth distribution using transparently ridiculous statistics.

That's not Malaysia "boleh", that's Malaysia "bodoh" (stupid).