Friday, 11 October 2019

Birth Pains Of A Civilisation

A friend sent me a very interesting article: The Fall of the Great Wall - self-evidently about the recent Chinese woes.

I must say that I enjoyed reading it with select phrases having me double over in laughter!

The Chinese, like much of the world, are a highly diverse bunch. Some are loyal to The Party and some wish to maintain their independence. Rightly so, though not all of their approaches are necessarily wise.

I have seen the signs where the HKers have been imploring Trump to come and liberate them from the Chinese - and cringed. Most Sinophiles look upon these youngsters and curse them for their approach. However, while some of them (against better judgment) may have had positive opinions of Trump, I think it is mainly a way for them to kick the Communist Party and Uncle Xi where it hurts the most.

It’s worked - for now at least! So I am actually cheering for them. I see this as being similar to the Industrial Revolution in the West, where lower-class European people (and most popularly, the British) were sent to work in mines and sweatshops. They eventually protested, formed unions, created Human Rights acts, insisted on the right to vote (firstly for the common man, and then to include women), fought for equality and made their countries so liveable and equitable, that for at least six decades now, Asian people view living in Europe (and by extension America, Canada and Australia) as a symbol of success. Heck, they even see white models in Asian commercials and think that the product must be superior to others because of that white connection!!

So it’s hard to remember that life was all about slavery and class back in the 17th and 18th century Britain, Spain, Netherlands, Portugal, France, Germany, Belgium etc. Do you think young sailors really wanted to leave their wives and girlfriends and/or children to go off spice-hunting in uncharted waters? Do you think miners really enjoyed not seeing any sunshine for years of their lives? Many of them even died of hazardous material-related diseases. But what is never spoken or mentioned today is that the average Briton enjoys this level of success because of the suffering of his ancestors.

And so it will be with China.

China, the great behemoth that exploits its people, subdues its dissenters, and imprisons opposition. It will one day be whipped into shape by its people; the very people who finally have had enough, who finally rise up to say No More. Those 450mil who live in abject poverty will aspire for a brighter future, and indeed, their children will see social mobility.

The writer of the article does seem to pay a lot of attention to the loud-mouth Americans - I don’t know why. The fact that they have elected someone so devoid of common sense, self-esteem and leadership ability should suggest that they are floundering, mired deep in the quicksand of a declining civilisation. Unfortunately, Britain appears to be following suit as well.

I am torn over the notions of equality and freedom. Milton Friedman, who said, “The society that puts equality before freedom will end up with neither. The society that puts freedom before equality will end up with a great measure of both,” has young non-Western go-getters in mind, because if it wasn’t for the freedom of meritocracy to import smart young people to enhance the nation’s intellectual firepower, they would be obliged to treat every Western person as equal and pay everyone the same despite different levels of effort and capability. And there would be no reason for Britain, Australia, Canada or America to take in talented people. That sort of approach never served any nation well, as Communism may have taught us, though it is evident that Capitalism (in America) or Classism (in Russia, think Leo Tolstoy etc) are no better.

The problem with this freedom is that it also enables oligarchs to abuse the system and enrich themselves further. Oligarchs frequently buy their politicians and have them make laws in their favour. Remember, America is all about freedom and liberty as long as things go their way. Hence, their meddling in other nations’ politics, be it South American countries, or Iran (back in the 1960s to 1970s), or Vietnam (in the 1970s) or Iraq (in 2007), or even Cambodia (Pol Pot means Political Potential; it’s not his real name). If America saw every other nation on the planet as being equal to them, perhaps they would be disinclined to meddle in their private affairs.

For the same reason, I am against the One Belt Initiative, because it is a speciously benign initiative, when in reality, it’s a plan for China to effectively colonise foreign countries. The author thinks that America would shy away from a military war because it would have the presence of mind to know that it was mutually assured destruction. I, personally, have my reservations.

I can think of another western but Asian civilisation: sometime in 600BC, the Persians went to war with the Greeks because the Greeks were refusing to kow tow to Persia. It took 3 wars, but the Greek civilisation emerged and became the cornerstone of modern philosophy. The Romans followed this trend, though it was a long time before the rest of Europe roused itself and decided to stand up. So I can’t say that western rule is an aberration to historical norms. China and India are big nations because people flocked to live in the then prosperous regions of the world.

I will also have to respectfully disagree with the disturbances in Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan and Hong Kong being described as “problematic” for China, as they are but the birthing pains of a juggernaut. And if these issues remain unresolved, China will never become a legitimate civilisation that will earn the respect of the world.

China may have all the technology and wealth at its disposal but unless it resolves its human rights, no one will want to be a part of it. Don’t believe me? Look at Saudi Arabia and the wealthy Middle East.

Friday, 23 August 2019

Poverty In Malaysia

Malaysia’s official poverty rate dropped from 49% in 1970 to just 0.4% in 2016.

You and I know that's bunk.

You know what the poverty threshold is? RM980 per month per household of 4.

In no alternate universe is that a reasonable baseline.

Obviously, the UN human rights dogsbody disputes this. For the first time in a long while, I will say, rightly so. Even if it comes from an organisation that is widely deemed as a toothless tiger.

OutSyed The Box puts his views forward here. He has some very good points, mind you.

On a more serious note, Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj of PPSM addressed this topic even back in June: What will it take to address poverty in Malaysia?

One of the most interesting questions he pulls up is this: Why does the Bumiputra community still make up some 80% of the bottom 40% of the population (the B40) when they only constitute about 65% of the population?

Read the piece by Dr Jeyakumar yourself.

Interestingly, the United Nations Year of Reconciliation 2009 encouraged exploration on the topic of urban poverty. It looks like after 10 years, nothing much has changed. That is a depressing thought.

It's going to be the hallowed 2020 next year - year of fully developed nation status. Are we even ready for that?

Friday, 16 August 2019

History Doesn’t Repeat Itself, But It Rhymes

It’s rather startling to note that only today, two hundred years ago, a massacre happened in a field of protestors, in a town close to Manchester, in Northern England.

The protestors had intended to demonstrate peacefully; they were decently attired and not geared up for battle.

It was, after all, a call for democracy: to allow men of all social classes to vote, instead of the existing, exclusive rights afforded to the upper class, landed gentry back in 1819.

Obviously, it would be another century before women were allowed to vote, but alas, civilisations only take baby steps towards progress.

The government of the day, peopled by those who had much to lose, set the cavalry on the 60,000 protestors, resulting in 650 people injured and 18 dead.

It’s a moment of shame for the British, particularly as men of all social classes had sacrificed their lives and fought in the Battle of Waterloo just four years earlier, only to be told that their voices were not important enough to be heard at the ballot box.

This event does not take up much space in the history books; the subsequent governments preferred that British schoolchildren learn about foreign conquests and victories, like Colonialism. This has clearly led to the inflated opinions of the have-nots, those who believe they are greater than they really are, many of whom sincerely believe that Brexit would teach the EU a lesson and “take back control”.

This massacre, ironically called Peterloo, did however, lead to the birth of the Manchester Guardian. For back then, just as things have been in Malaysia in the past, the newspapers colluded with the government to generate propaganda that vilified the protestors: painting them out to be trouble-makers, and blaming them for the bloodshed.

The Manchester Guardian had aims to set the story straight, as it was founded by an outraged witness to the scene of the massacre. The Guardian exists even today, balancing the nonsense spewed by the tabloids with “the other side of the story”. It does seem to serve the more educated of society in these times, while the Sun and Daily Mail dole out the lies to the working classes, who obediently and compliantly lap it up.

How things have changed.

And what is astounding is that they have changed aplenty, and yet they haven’t. Across the world, China grapples with such a similar situation to that which befell the UK just 200 years ago.

Good ole China is seeing birthing pains with its civilisation. Mind you, it has already steamed ahead with its industrial revolution. Indeed, despite the global warnings of China’s slowing GDP, China has plenty of scope yet to develop and it certainly will chug along at full speed.

Its attempts to control its massive population, is another kettle of fish, though.

The real measure of its progress to become a true super-power of the world is in its political and social sphere. It’s not in the cities that it builds, but in the communities that it fosters. Physical development is much easier than mental and emotional development.

China’s communist party is the equivalent of Britain’s landed gentry. Hong Kong is the equivalent of Britain’s scene of the massacre: St Peter’s Field, near Manchester.

And in Hong Kong, the seeds of discontent will flow to disable the monopoly of China’s mainstream media. News outlets are sprouting, the product of indignant protestors and malcontents who do not believe their government represents them in any way.

China, after all, is one of the few countries in the world that does not allow its citizens to access Facebook. Weibo, its Chinese counterpart, is heavily monitored by the authorities. I suspect comments unfriendly to the Communist Party are quietly logged and the "errant" user put on a watchlist.

Chinese cell phone users (and unsuspecting tourists) are watched by the government surveillance app.

China makes a lot of effort to stifle an uprising, and it does have the technological means at its disposal to do so. This is a battle of wits and stamina; it’s man vs machine.

Offline, China has been developing programs to enable authorities to restrict travel access to dissidents and vocal opponents of the Communist Party. It watches your shopping habits, even your waste disposal habits. It uses your biometric data to identify you and boy, does it have an extensive database.

More recently (and this is one of the issues that sparked the protests in Hong Kong), it tried to put forward a bill to repatriate Hong Kong citizens who disagree with it to the mainland - presumably, for punishment.

It’s draconian and narrow-minded, the sort of rhetoric you would expect from a tin-pot dictatorship, not a budding economic super-power.

China may lead the world in its technological advancements, but in terms of social advancements, it is barely taking baby steps, if not crawling on fours.

But the moment will come when China comes to grips with being a proper nation with rules and regulations that the rest of the world will admire and long to join.

The journey may be full of pain, angst and strife, but the moment will come.

Friday, 9 August 2019

Zakir Naik And Rabble Rousing

It’s amazing what people are capable of when they think they have the support of the majority.

In the US (and many other parts of the western world), white supremacists have been gunning down non-white people because the websites they frequent and the channels they subscribe to, mirror their point of view.

So the bubble that they inhabit makes them assume that a huge number of people share their views. To be fair, it’s not just the nutcases, but also the liberals that fall into this trap.

But I digress.

Zakir Naik was thrilled to discover that he had quite a following in Malaysia. In India, he was wanted by the government for having rather extreme views, espousing terrorism and also for money laundering.

I dislike phrases like “extreme views”, because in different circles, extreme views can mean different things. Back in the 60s, an extreme view would be for a black person to see himself as being equal to a white one and to expect to be treated equally.

Religion in India is a delicate situation. The Hindu majority does not always treat its Muslim minority well. I did not understand that 10 years ago, but upon closer observation of Indian politics, I am beginning to see the cracks that can ruin a nation.

Zakir Naik brings those very structural defects with him as he spreads his notoriously sectarian views.

To make matters worse, he has an extremely tenuous grasp of Malaysian history, and seems to be under the impression that most Chinese who currently live in Malaysia came as immigrants, and are therefore “guests”.

No doubt this will create some tension, and the usual suspects would wade in to put in their two sen worth.

This is after he had claimed that Malaysian Indians (most of whom were born in Malaysia and have never even stepped foot in India) swear allegiance to the Indian Prime Minister instead of their own Malaysian one.

Clearly that one is a figment of his twisted imagination, but his words are aimed at the stupid people of this world, a great number of which, live in Malaysia.

It is interesting what use this moron is to the world of politics as I suspect he is being used for something, but at this point, I cannot see what it is.

Additional Reading:
1. Congrats Mahathir – Zakir Gets More Radical, Tells 7 Million Ethnic Chinese To Go Back To China
2. Mahathir’s Fishing Trip Is Over – Zakir Naik The Foolish Bait Is Waiting To Be Deported

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Latheefa Koya Gets Going

Freshly appointed to the role as MACC chief commissioner and Latheefa Koya is away, firing on all cylinders!

I usually hate the word Civil Forfeiture, as it has had very poor results in the US, due to very corrupt police forces, but in the case of Najib Razak, a clear money trail means that we can go about recovering the money that has been lost.

Read the rest here: Malaysia seeks $65m stolen from state fund 1MDB

Ever since I remember, good ole Latheefa has been a thorn in PKR's side, criticising the party for both poor decisions and frequently inaction.

She was never going to win a popularity contest, because Ms Congeniality she is not!

However, she is extremely competent, and I am very pleased to see the wheels in motion.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Sending A Message

It became a catchphrase, except that coming from you-know-you, it was difficult to take seriously.

In context, he was riding a motorcycle, and casually wondering what there was to be ashamed of riding a motorcycle. Most people see that as an attempt to appeal to the Mat Rempit. It may or may not be the case.

However, if one has stolen a motorcycle, there is plenty to be ashamed of.

And if one has stolen far more then that, then it's best to just hang one's head in shame and have some self-awareness, for the love of God.

Keep the mouth shut, too.

Friday, 22 February 2019

Start-Up of the Day: Hello Gold

Hello Gold markets itself as a medium for the man on the street to start saving by buying gold.

It is, indeed, accessible if you have a smart phone and you download the app and load some money in it.

I am not convinced it is a great method for saving money as gold prices can fluctuate rather erratically.

But I do personally invest in gold, and do so because of the current economic climate.

I expect gold prices to reduce in the foreseeable future and so, haven't been buying gold in any huge quantities, but I buy when the demand is low because that is when the prices are also low.

That being said, there are fees involved, such as buying and selling fees and even an administrative fee, so go into it with eyes wide open.

This company buys the gold on my behalf and stores it physically so that one day, should I wish to sell it off or have it delivered to my house (for a fee), that option is possible.

These guys have recently even ventured to Africa, where most of the gold is mined from.

I think gold might become an important asset in the foreseeable future, and so it makes the list of my start-ups of the day.

Talented Malaysians of the day: Robin Lee and Ridwan Abdullah.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Other Malaysian Start-Ups

I thought I would avoid reinventing the wheel by just pointing you to articles that other people have already written about start-ups in Malaysia.

So here goes:

The next big thing: 10 Malaysian startups to watch in 2018

Spotlighting five innovative startups in Malaysia

Friday, 15 February 2019

Start-Up of the Day: Fresh At Heart

Now if I had failed to introduce a start-up that involved food, many Malaysians would have been unable to forgive me.

I stumbled across this by accident, as I don't exactly buy my food online. I have bought many things online, but never perishables. I can't remember if I have ever even ordered pizza online.

The Fish Club consist of a bunch of guys who grew up in a little fishing village in Pontian, Johor. I always thought that it was on the east coast but it turns out that it's actually west of the PLUS (north-south) highway.

Apparently Pontian is noted for its variety of seafood which is sold at a reasonable price. This is where these guys come in. Being locals, they are able to source fresh seafood and distribute it to their customers.

If you live around Johor or Singapore, you get your orders quicker. If you are located in Kuala Lumpur or Penang, you need to let them know in advance as they send their deliveries in bulk to keep the costs down.

I discovered that they have rather sophisticated methods for freezing their fish so that it doesn't lose its flavour or texture while still retaining the freshness.

So you could buy in bulk (RM200 gives you free delivery) and stick them in the freezer, and you're good to go for the next month or two.

Their customers certainly approve because most of them return to buy again from them and give them very high approval ratings on Facebook.

Their combo deal appeals to me not only because it's cheap, but because I think they package the fish that was caught but didn't get sold immediately.

In this day and age, we cannot afford to waste food.

Perhaps this is what I find appealing about this set-up - that it is designed not to waste as much as if you were to go to a fish market and buy whatever was available.

By the end of the day, the fish starts to look rather past its best and you just wouldn't buy it. So much wastage happens in wholesale markets.

I confess that the packaging is plastic and styrofoam, that is perhaps harmful to the environment, but no different from what you would get at the supermarkets.

Certainly good value for money.

Talented Malaysians of the day: Eddie Goh and Joel Chong

Friday, 8 February 2019

Start-Up of the Day: SpeedRent

Social media has been busy the past few months with news of racial discrimination when it comes to renting a house.

From Divyang Hong in Penang to this anonymous Indian/Malay-looking couple in Taman OUG, KL, people are turned down for not being of the right skin colour.

The excuse is that non-Chinese do not pay their rent on time, or even at all. There is no statistical backing for that, only anecdotes.

Upon further investigation though, it is observed that the laws in Malaysia are somewhat in favour of the tenant and it is difficult for the landlord to take action against errant tenants, whatever the colour of their skin.

This is where SpeedRent comes in.

They offer a tenancy package that includes the agreement (which can be signed online) and an insurance policy for up to RM26,000 so that landlords are protected against the bad eggs who either damage property or don't pay their rent.

They claim to battle against discriminatory limitations and seek to "prove that good conduct is not just skin deep". SpeedRent, they further claim, is a champion of equality for all, beyond physical boundaries.

Well, good for them.

Given the social situation in Malaysia, this is a start-up that is exceptionally pertinent.

Whenever I have lived abroad and tried to rent an apartment, I have always been screened for previous conduct and credit record.

This way, there is no legitimate grounds by which anyone could deny me tenancy based on race, religion, gender or even sexual orientation (not that I have ever been asked).

It is surprising that Malaysia has not adopted a similar system.

Until now, I suppose.

This start-up is one of my favourites so far.

Talented Malaysian of the day: Wong Whei Meng