28 September 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.
Wednesday October 8, 2008
Up close with the contenders

The US Presidential debates give voters the opportunity to closely watch the candidates in action and really get to know what they are like.

I’M SURE many Malaysians have been watching some politicians with great interest on TV and in the newspapers lately. No, I don’t mean Malaysian politicians but American ones.

As the race in the US Presidential elections enters its final stages, I find the whole process riveting. We may argue whether it is truly democratic or not, given that voter turnout is often far lower than ours, but it’s still fascinating to watch.

This has already been a historical election because, for the first time ever, an African-American has a serious chance of being President of the United States, something unimaginable less than a decade ago.

But if he loses, some history will be made because they will have a woman as Vice-President, and only one heartbeat away from being President as well.

But it is the whole process of electing the president that is fascinating. Complicated it may be, but it doesn’t matter if it works.

It does give the choice of who gets nominated right down to the individual member of each party as caucuses of party members all over the country decide the nominations. Without getting their blessings, there is no way of becoming a candidate on either party ticket.

Anima ted: Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin responding to cheers at a St Louis rally last week. The candidates reveal a lot through their expressions and gestures. — AFP

Then when party candidates are nominated, they go through a gruelling campaign period where you really get to know what they are like, or at least what their spinmeisters would like you to know.

It all costs a lot of money no doubt but it gives the voter plenty of information on what the candidates’ policies, priorities and values are, as well as the trivialities about their families and background.

On their websites, you can read where each candidate stands on just about everything from the economy to religion to women to sex education.

In the past week, the Presidential debates have begun on TV. Set up by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, there will be three Presidential debates and one Vice-Presidential debate. Two have already been aired live and another two will be coming up soon.

I watched almost all of the first Presidential debate between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain.

It amazes me that two people can debate so civilly in such an important arena, aware that millions of people €“ not just Americans €“ are watching them. Undoubtedly they were prepared fully for this, almost scripted, but still things can go enormously wrong on live TV.

I like the format where questions are put to each candidate and then they can rebut each other for a stated length of time before moving on to another topic. You get to cover a lot of ground that way.

The Vice-Presidential debate was more controlled, apparently because the Republicans were afraid that their candidate might trip up. It did not have much in the way of substance, but I found it interesting that while the Republicans stressed experience as their Presidential candidate’s best quality, they then underscored the opposite for their Vice-Presidential candidate.

What I valued most about the debates was the opportunity to really watch the candidates in action and see whether they reveal more through their body language, expressions and gestures than they intended.

Leaders tend to look like leaders, and people do sometimes choose them by instinct. In my book, Obama looked much more presidential and that no doubt helped to up his ratings.

I wish we had such debates here. I know we had some recently but they were after the elections so they made little difference. We should have a commission on debates at election time. Like the US one, all parties should be part of it, decide on the format and when to air them.

We should have one by heads of parties, deputy heads and the candidates most likely to take on particular portfolios, such as finance. I’d love to be able to compare candidates (or rather parties) on women’s issues or human rights or the price of eggs. It would be so nice to be able to have an informed choice for a change.

But most of all, I’d love to be able to decide whether I can trust my country to someone by seeing how they respond and react to ‘live’ questioning.

I’d like to be able to look into their eyes and see if I can spot unease or deviousness, watch if their hands flutter nervously or if they display other signs of being uncomfortable.

I’d like to see if they can think on their feet and not get caught out by a sneaky question. It would also be great if we had moderators who didn’t feel obliged to be too polite.

Mostly the debates would show up calibre. Which is what we truly need now.

24 September 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at
http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.
Wednesday September 24, 2008
We are the leaders we choose

We need skills to select what is correct and feasible. A good leader will learn from a bad decision and not repeat it, nor ignore problems in the hope that they go away.

OUR choices in life are based on the knowledge we have. When we know little, then we make our choices based on that narrow field of knowledge.

For instance, when I was a child, all my friends and I could think of for our future careers were the usual: doctor, lawyer, teacher, maybe stewardess. None of us knew that such occupations as graphic designer or software engineer or even chief executive officer existed. Of course that was partly because there was not yet a need for such things. Furthermore, at the time, we were still limited by what we thought women could do, despite believing that women could do anything.

But our options are not just about having information but also in our ability to sieve through that information well. For instance, nowadays if we are ill, we will trawl through the Internet to find out more about our symptoms and to ascertain what treatments we should get.

But there is so much information out there that it is easy to be confused.

So we need skills to select what is correct and feasible. And if we are truly smart, we will not rely on just the Internet but use it to point towards people who can tell us more.

It is easy to think of individuals behaving in a particular way depending on what information they have. But do collections of individuals such as organisations or even governments act differently?

Ideally, such groups make decisions based on a consensus among them.

But there is always a leader and the leader often influences the rest of the members to make a decision that he or she prefers. It would be hard for a leader to lead if he or she doesn’t like the decision so there has to be a lot of negotiations before a compromise solution is arrived at.

But what if the leader is no good? What if the leader has limited access to information, relying only on what people tell him and then making decisions based on that? What if the information he gets is all wrong?

There is a good way for a leader to know whether he or she got the wrong information and then made the wrong decision. If they notice that people generally react badly, then the decision is probably wrong.

Sometimes people react badly to a good decision because they can’t understand why that decision was made. But then the leader must explain clearly why such an action needs to be taken.

Unfortunately, sometimes we have leaders who don’t notice or do not know that people are reacting badly.

Or, they might be told that people react badly because they are not so smart.

This gives the leader the idea that they must be correct so they repeat the same mistakes over and over again. People get angrier and angrier, yet the leader seems to think that everything is going fine.

What is worse is when a leader simply does not lead. He is slow to respond to any issue that comes up believing it to be minor and which would simply go away if he ignores it. But like the AIDS epidemic for example, denial or ignorance only helps it spread because nothing will be done to prevent it.

Then when it becomes too big a problem, instead of calmly assessing the issue and then deciding what to do, the leader strikes out with punitive measures. And then literally, strikes out.

Most people will accept any decision a leader makes as long as he can reasonably justify it. But what they won’t accept is when not only is the leader unable to justify the action but also gives reasons that insult the intelligence of people. And it’s never a good idea to insult people you owe your position to.

Thus we find ourselves in a position where we have to watch in horror as mistake after mistake is made. It is a bit like watching a car accident happening and feeling powerless to stop it. Except that it takes a while to realise that in fact you can stop it, and if you don’t, the victim of the accident will actually be you.

It is often said that we are the leaders we choose. The people we put in power are a reflection of ourselves, only better.

So what does it say when the people we put in give a poor image of ourselves? That somehow we are a nation of bumbling fools, stumbling from crisis to crisis without knowing what to do?

“Leadership is based on inspiration, not domination; on cooperation, not intimidation,” said someone called William Arthur Wood.

11 September 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.
Wednesday September 10, 2008
Let the human in us not be coloured

When we talk about race, we talk about groups of people, but on a day-to-day basis, it is not race that matters but the human being that we are dealing with.

WHEN I was a student in the UK, one of the most hated politicians then was Enoch Powell who was constantly railing against immigration in Britain, claiming that it would alter the British “character”.

Powell was so strident with his views – expressing them in his now infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech – that his own Conservative Party, despite years of service that had enabled the party to win elections, eventually sacked him.

This was in a country that values freedom of speech. Yet the party felt that someone as extreme as Powell could not be a member any more, not if it wanted to move forward in an inevitably changing nation. He could say what he wanted, but outside the party.

We, too, have been known to sack people whose views did not comply with what the heads of the party regarded as theirs. This is not the same as censoring them, only that they had to do it outside. Thus the dignity of the party remains intact, not tainted by what they regarded as aberrations.

No doubt, sometimes regarding people as aberrations may be unjust because in fact they represent views that simply differ from the norm.

But dealing with such issues clearly gives everyone else an idea of what the norms and aberration are. Not dealing with it creates confusion and raises the possibility that maybe the aberration is not one at all, but in fact just the public expression of the norm.

We fought so long not to stereotype our people according to race by increasing educational and economic opportunities. Yet we still see it happening.

In local schools, children are pushed into certain sports not by ability but purely by race. Thus, Punjabis must play hockey and not chess, Malays must play football and not tennis, while Chinese must only play badminton.

Is it any wonder that they don’t excel in any sport? You have to wonder where the powers-that-be in that school got their ideas from, Mein Kampf?

When we talk about race, we make the mistake of lumping together a whole bunch of human beings, with all their individual quirks, whims and fancies, into what we think is a cohesive body. But it is not. If anything, sometimes race is the most tenuous thing that holds us together.

I may have told this story before. A long time ago, as I rushed through a crowded London Underground, an old Jewish man stopped me. Taking his handkerchief out, he insisted that there was something on my jacket.

It took me a while to understand that the man had seen someone spit on me and was now offering his handkerchief to clean the spittle off.

It was then that I became aware of the awful silent insidiousness of racism, that someone could have displayed such hatred on a total stranger, based entirely on colour of skin. In a way, I should be thankful it was only spit and not something worse.

On the other hand, the same incident made me realise that while there is evil, there can also be much good. I was also a stranger to the old man but he saw me as a human being entitled to respect and dignity.

Thus he empathised with the injustice that was done to me and sought to restore my dignity by offering his handkerchief for me to clean up.

He asked for nothing in return and indeed disappeared into the crowds soon after with not a word more.

When we talk about race, we talk about groups of people, a homogenous faceless group defined by general characteristics that we think of as applicable to all of them. But on a day-to-day basis, it is not the race that matters but the human being that we are dealing with.

I had one of those telemarketing calls offering free medical check-ups the other day. Disturbed by it, I started to question the caller for details.

The woman was undoubtedly of the same race as me. But the sheer rudeness and unprofessionalism of her responses showed that she had no respect whatsoever, neither for the person she was calling nor for her own company or job.

Did it matter what race she was? No, what mattered was that she was unable to make a connection with another human being, even when she claimed to be offering something ostensibly good for me.

Given a choice between these two people, I would sooner take the old man to tea than this woman. He and I have a common respect for human beings that she did not, despite our common ethnicity. Was he the aberration or she?

Since I believe that it is human to be kind, I prefer to believe she is.

02 September 2008

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at
http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com/ Please.

Wednesday August 27, 2008
A matter of perspective

What we regard as poor in Malaysia would be very rich in Bangladesh. Yet in some ways, their poverty has made them much more innovative than us richer Malaysians.

IT was a moment when I became aware of perspective. I was in Bangladesh talking to the staff of BRAC, the world’s largest NGO that does tremendous work in alleviating poverty.

They asked me what our poverty line was and I replied, relying on memory that it was about US$200 per month.

“Per month?” they asked, “that’s our per capita income!”

In fact, both of us were a bit off the mark. Our poverty level is at about US$218 while Bangladesh’s per capita income is now US$599 (although I have also found a source that says US$1,400).

But the point is, our monthly poverty level is way above their per capita income (ours is at US$14,400). That is an indication of how relative poverty is when you compare different countries. What we regard as poor here would be very rich indeed over there.

This was evident in a field trip I made to a village outside Dhaka to visit women members of the Grameen Bank microcredit project. Over the past 20 years, these women were able to set up small businesses that in turn enabled them to raise their living standards, own property and become more self-confident.

But to understand how their lives have improved, we have to understand what they started with. They started with virtually nothing: no property, no clean water, no opportunity to generate any income nor send their children to school. Now, through the loans they obtained from Grameen Bank and other microcredit facilities, all these have come true for them.

But if Malaysians were to visit them, they would still think these women were poor.

They may have TVs, fridges and mobile phones but they still live in homes with only two rooms, one of which is a bedroom-cum-kitchen. They may own a fleet of rickshaws but no cars. They still buy provisions from the little village grocery shop, not from any hypermarkets. Their children still run around the village in bare feet.

I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. While I would certainly wish for better health and nutrition standards for all poor Bangladeshis, these initiatives and many others that I saw there have made genuine improvements in their lives.

I visited a school for slum kids that has done so well that these kids regularly best their richer schoolmates when they join the mainstream school system.

I visited a safe motherhood clinic that has done much to cut down on maternal and infant mortality in the slums. In many ways, they are doing what we did in the early years after independence.

Yet in some ways, the poverty has made Bangladeshis much more innovative than us richer Malaysians. They have a genuine Nobel laureate in Prof Mohamad Yunus and Grameen Bank for the sheer simple ingenuity of microcredit. We don’t.

Their people may be poor but not lacking in entrepreneurial spirit. Who hasn’t heard of the Telephone Ladies, village women who found a way of making money through the hiring of time on their mobile phones? Or the enterprising villager I saw who installed a satellite dish and is providing cable TV to her fellow villagers?

When people need to survive, they become resourceful and inventive. Sometimes I think that is what we are lacking here; perhaps because we are generally comfortable, price hikes notwithstanding.

The existence of so many NGOs doing excellent work among the poor in Bangladesh may point to a failure of government to provide the basics but it also illustrates a lively grassroots movement, dedicated to empowering the poor and marginalised.

Indeed, it was interesting to me that everyone, from government right down to poor villagers, is not reticent about using the word “empowerment” and means it as well. Here, it is treated as if it’s full of germs.

In Malaysia, we expect the Government to provide everything. It is rightly the Government’s responsibility to provide us with good education, healthcare, infrastructure, law and order. But, sometimes I think this has created a dependency on government that stifles creativity and innovation.

Beyond the basics, how do we help and support the marginalised, the disenfranchised, the disabled, the uneducated and the impoverished? We seem to think that throwing money at them is all it takes.

When was the last time we heard a Minister talk about empowering anyone? Instead, almost always somebody else is blamed for problems: parents, teachers, women, the Opposition, foreigners.

In the past, Malaysians used to go to Dhaka to study at university there. These days Bangladeshis come here to work, mostly as menial labourers.

It’s an abject lesson in not taking development for granted and how, through poor leadership, it can be lost overnight. We should heed that lesson.

Happy Merdeka!