Friday, October 20, 2006

The story of the squirrel & grasshopper

Amusing and in some ways, quite true to life. Enjoy!
The story of the squirrel & grasshopper


The squirrel works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building and improving his house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The grasshopper thinks he's a fool, and laughs and dances and plays the summer away. Come winter, the squirrel is warm and well fed.

The shivering grasshopper has no food or shelter, so he dies out in the cold.



The squirrel works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter.The grasshopper thinks he's a fool, and laughs and dances and plays the summer away. Come winter, the squirrel is warm and well fed.

A social worker finds the shivering grasshopper, calls a press conference and demands to know why the squirrel should be allowed to be warm and well fed while others less fortunate, like the grasshopper, are cold and starving.

The BBC shows up to provide live coverage of the shivering grasshopper; with cuts to a video of the squirrel in his comfortable warm home with a table laden with food.The British press inform people that they should be ashamed that in a country of such wealth, this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so while others have plenty.

The Labour Party, Greenpeace, Animal Rights and The Grasshopper Council of GB demonstrate in front of the squirrel's house.The BBC, interrupting a cultural festival special from Notting Hill with breaking news, broadcasts a multi cultural choir singing "We Shall Overcome".

Ken Livingstone rants in an interview with Trevor McDonald that the squirrel has gotten rich off the backs of grasshoppers, and calls for an immediate tax hike on the squirrel to make him pay his "fair share" and increases the charge for squirrels to enter inner London .In response to pressure from the media, the Government drafts the Economic Equity and Grasshopper Anti Discrimination Act, retroactive to the beginning of the summer.
The squirrel's taxes are reassessed.

He is taken to court and fined for failing to hire grasshoppers as builders for the work he was doing on his home and an additional fine for contempt when he told the court the grasshopper did not want to work.

The grasshopper is provided with a council house, financial aid to furnish it and an account with a local taxi firm to ensure he can be socially mobile.The squirrels' food is seized and re distributed to the more needy members of society, in this case the grasshopper.

Without enough money to buy more food, to pay the fine and his newly imposed retroactive taxes, the squirrel has to downsize and start building a new home.The local authority takes over his old home and utilises it as a temporary home for asylum seeking cats who had hijacked a plane to get to Britain as they had to share their country of origin with mice.On arrival, they tried to blow up the airport because of Britain 's apparent love of dogs.

The cats had been arrested for the international offence of hijacking and attempt bombing but were immediately released because the police fed them pilchards instead of salmon whilst in custody.

Initial moves to then return them to their own country were abandoned because it was feared they would face death by the mice.

The cats devise and start a scam to obtain money from peoples credit cards.

A Panorama special shows the grasshopper finishing up the last of the squirrels food, though spring is still months away, while the council house he is in, crumbles around him because he hasn't bothered to maintain the house. He is shown to be taking drugs.

Inadequate government funding is blamed for the grasshoppers' drug 'illness'.

The cats seek recompense in the British courts for their treatment since arrival in UK .

The grasshopper gets arrested for stabbing an old dog during a burglary to get money for his drugs habit.He is imprisoned but released immediately because he has been in custody for a few weeks.He is placed in the care of the probation service to monitor and supervise him. Within a few weeks he has killed a guinea pig in a botched robbery.

A commission of enquiry, that will eventually cost £10,000,000 and state the obvious, is set up. Additional money is put into funding a drug rehabilitation scheme for grasshoppers and legal aid for lawyers representing asylum seekers is increased. The asylum seeking cats are praised by the government for enriching Britain 's multicultural diversity and dogs are criticised by the government for failing to befriend the cats.

The grasshopper dies of a drug overdose. The usual sections of the press blame it on the obvious failure of government to address the root causes of despair arising from social inequity and his traumatic experience of prison. They call for the resignation of a minister.

The cats are paid a million pounds each because their rights were infringed when the government failed to inform them there were mice in the United Kingdom .

The squirrel, the dogs and the victims of the hijacking, the bombing, the burglaries and robberies have to pay an additional percentage on their credit cards to cover losses, their taxes are increased to pay for law and order and they are told that they will have to work beyond 65 because of a shortfall in government funds.

THE END.... (sigh~~~)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Iran's Nuclear Impasse: Give Negotiations A Chance

Iran's Nuclear Impasse: Give Negotiations A Chance

Sammy Salama and Elizabeth Salch

June 2, 2006

As direct negotiations between the United States and Iran may finally materialize, it is critical to remember that armed conflict is both unnecessary and would be mutually destructive. Following the decision to report Iran to the United Nations Security Council, rhetoric emanating from both Iran and the west, together with Iranian military exercises in the Gulf, Tehran's uranium enrichment announcement, and extensive media reports in early April of alleged U.S. administration war planning for an attack on Iran, gave the impression that a military confrontation over Iran's nuclear program was inevitable. Numerous worst case scenarios have been aired portraying Iran as on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons, at the same time that reports of alleged Iranian support or cooperation with al-Qa'ida are increasing. Furthermore, discussion of regime change in Iran has grown as well. Not surprisingly, the rhetoric largely outpaces the evidence regarding the actual state of Iran's nuclear program, while there is as yet little credible evidence demonstrating concrete ties between Iran and al-Qa'ida.

This report examines the current impasse surrounding Iran's nuclear program. Specifically, it asks how close Iran is to enriching sufficient uranium for nuclear warhead production, assesses whether the increasing international alarm accurately reflects the state of Iran's nuclear program, explores increased Arab concern over Iran's nuclear program, and reviews the merits of allegations of Iranian support to al-Qa'ida and insurgents in Iraq. Western diplomatic efforts to hinder Iran's eventual attainment of a nuclear weapons capability have made significant gains in recent months. These include finding Iran in non-compliance of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), reporting Iran to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), causing internal division among Iran's elite, and increasing regional opposition to Iran's nuclear program. As a result, military action against Iran remains unnecessary and would be quite risky at this juncture. Despite the heated rhetoric, cooler heads need to prevail. Diplomacy and negotiations with Iran should be given time to succeed.

to read more, simply click this link;

Monday, October 16, 2006

Asli & Auku by Prof Dr Khoo Kay Kim

Asli row: The people are the losers & Auku

Prof Dr Khoo Kay Kim

The biggest casualty over the Asli debacle, which resulted in the Centre for Public Policy Studies director Dr Lim Teck Ghee’s shock resignation on Tuesday, is the public.

UM historian Prof Dr Khoo Kay Kim Khoo felt that the public is still in the dark as to Asli’s findings, which reported bumiputera corporate equity at 45 percent, instead of the official figures of 18 percent.

Think-tank Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli) president Mirzan Mahathir said on Tuesday that the “shortcomings in assumption and calculation that led to conclusions that cannot be justified”. He had described the report, which was based on Bursa Saham figures from last September as “flawed”. Khoo said the situation speaks volumes on how studies that produces unfavourable results to the government, are handled.

“The Asli president said the
findings were wrong. The director of the (Asli's) policy division said it was right. But the man in the street has no idea because we are not getting proper information. Nobody knows for certain who is right or wrong,” he told malaysiakini after speaking at a seminar organised by the Abolish UUCA Movement (GMA) in Kuala Lumpur today.

Khoo said the government does not have the right to refuse to give out statistics.

“They’re (the government) are answerable to the people. That’s what democracy is all about.”

Research difficult

He warned that if the matter were to be left unresolved, it would result in increased difficulty for academicians to conduct their studies.

“It has become very difficult for people to carry out research as they are not able to obtain formation or source materials. It results in a lukewarm approach to any research project carried out in the country.”

“They are not able to discuss the subject meaningfully. They can only discuss it through the political prism, which is not good.

“For example, if you beget the question to students, ‘Why is foreign direct investment (FDI) not coming our way?' they are not able to follow because they have no information to build their own opinions on.” Khoo added that there is a tendency for pertinent economic issues to be racialised. “That is the problem with this country. Very often, when we have a problem, it becomes a racial issue. And then you cannot proceed from there, you cannot further discuss it, because it already sensitive.”

“They (politicians) should be showing better example. What's the point of having Barisan Nasional (BN) with so many parties if they cannot discuss among themselves, and then get the public involved,” he added.

“UM scholars used to be the among the best in the world. Now it has practically stopped becoming a university that is well-regarded internationally. Now we’ve stopped trying. We published materials for local consumption, not international.”

“There is probably a serious consequence on research studies now ... we have very few economists left in universities. Do you know that UM currently does not have a professor in economics?”

Earlier, during the seminar, he suggested that student should demand the government to adopt a monitor but not interfere policy when it comes to the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA).

'Saving face' culture

He said it was still unrealistic to demand that the government to abolish it because in reality, the government would never agree to abolishing UUCA. He said this was because there were demonstration almost every day during the student movement era in the 1970s.

“Back then, universities couldn’t function. Classes were cancelled and the situation was nearly out of control. This was why the act was introduced.” He said UUCA is not affecting academic freedom, it only interferes with student freedom as "they are not allowed to do anything on their own.”

He also argued that UUCA was not being used in the appointment of vice-chancellors.

“It originated from the tendency in the past several years to promote people who are politically acceptable rather than people who are intellectually acceptable. When you promote somebody, it has to be for his intellectual achievement, not because he is a good boy. We have been promoting a lot of good boys lately who are very insecure. They cannot compete.”

Replying to a question from the floor whether the government would repeal the act, Khoo described the trend as becoming more liberal as “PM Abdullah is allowing more liberal space but it has create many problems and he was blamed for failing to control the situation, so we need to give him some time.”

He felt that government intends to soften the UUCA “but it doesn’t know how to go about it”.

“I think the government would accept a (monitor-and-not-interfere policy) because it is a way out. If you ask the PM to abolish the whole thing, it results in a terrible loss of face, then Pak Lah would get into trouble with Umno. You must also give the leaders a chance to save face. That’s the Umno culture.”

Friday, October 13, 2006

Muhammad's Sword

This is a very long article, but I thought it was pretty interesting. Definitely worth the read. This article by Uri Avnery, a well known Israeli peace activist. His website, promoting peace between palestinian and israelis is

Muhammad's Sword
by Uri Avnery 23.9.06
Since the days when Roman Emperors threw Christians to the lions, the relations between the emperors and the heads of the church have undergone many changes.

Constantine the Great, who became Emperor in the year 306 - exactly 1700 years ago - encouraged the practice of Christianity in the empire, which included Palestine. Centuries later, the church split into an Eastern (Orthodox) and a Western (Catholic) part. In the West, the Bishop of Rome, who acquired the title of Pope, demanded that the Emperor accept his superiority.

The struggle between the Emperors and the Popes played a central role in European history and divided the peoples. It knew ups and downs. Some Emperors dismissed or expelled a Pope, some Popes dismissed or excommunicated an Emperor. One of the Emperors, Henry IV, "walked to Canossa", standing for three days barefoot in the snow in front of the Pope's castle, until the Pope deigned to annul his excommunication.

But there were times when Emperors and Popes lived in peace with each other. We are witnessing such a period today. Between the present Pope, Benedict XVI, and the present Emperor, George Bush II, there exists a wonderful harmony. Last week's speech by the Pope, which aroused a world-wide storm, went well with Bush's crusade against "Islamofascism" , in the context of the "Clash of Civilizations" .

IN HIS lecture at a German university, the 265th Pope described what he sees as a huge difference between Christianity and Islam: while Christianity is based on reason, Islam denies it. While Christians see the logic of God's actions, Muslims deny that there is any such logic in the actions of Allah.

As a Jewish atheist, I do not intend to enter the fray of this debate. It is much beyond my humble abilities to understand the logic of the Pope. But I cannot overlook one passage, which concerns me too, as an Israeli living near the fault-line of this "war of civilizations" .

In order to prove the lack of reason in Islam, the Pope asserts that the prophet Muhammad ordered his followers to spread their religion by the sword. According to the Pope, that is unreasonable, because faith is born of the soul, not of the body. How can the sword influence the soul?

To support his case, the Pope quoted - of all people - a Byzantine Emperor, who belonged, of course, to the competing Eastern Church. At the end of the 14th century, the Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus told of a debate he had - or so he said (its occurrence is in doubt) - with an unnamed Persian Muslim scholar. In the heat of the argument, the Emperor (according to himself) flung the following words at his adversary:

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached".

These words give rise to three questions:
(a) Why did the Emperor say them?
(b) Are they true?
(c) Why did the present Pope quote them?

WHEN MANUEL II wrote his treatise, he was the head of a dying empire. He assumed power in 1391, when only a few provinces of the once illustrious empire remained. These, too, were already under Turkish threat.

At that point in time, the Ottoman Turks had reached the banks of the Danube. They had conquered Bulgaria and the north of Greece, and had twice defeated relieving armies sent by Europe to save the Eastern Empire. On May 29, 1453, only a few years after Manuel's death, his capital, Constantinople (the present Istanbul) fell to the Turks, putting an end to the Empire that had lasted for more than a thousand years.

During his reign, Manuel made the rounds of the capitals of Europe in an attempt to drum up support. He promised to reunite the church. There is no doubt that he wrote his religious treatise in order to incite the Christian countries against the Turks and convince them to start a new crusade. The aim was practical, theology was serving politics.

In this sense, the quote serves exactly the requirements of the present Emperor, George Bush II. He, too, wants to unite the Christian world against the mainly Muslim "Axis of Evil". Moreover, the Turks are again knocking on the doors of Europe, this time peacefully. It is well known that the Pope supports the forces that object to the entry of Turkey into the European Union.

IS THERE any truth in Manuel's argument?

The pope himself threw in a word of caution. As a serious and renowned theologian, he could not afford to falsify written texts. Therefore, he admitted that the Qur'an specifically forbade the spreading of the faith by force. He quoted the second Sura, verse 256 (strangely fallible, for a pope, he meant verse 257) which says: "There must be no coercion in matters of faith".

How can one ignore such an unequivocal statement? The Pope simply argues that this commandment was laid down by the prophet when he was at the beginning of his career, still weak and powerless, but that later on he ordered the use of the sword in the service of the faith. Such an order does not exist in the Qur'an. True, Muhammad called for the use of the sword in his war against opposing tribes - Christian, Jewish and others - in Arabia, when he was building his state. But that was a political act,not a religious one; basically a fight for territory, not for the spreading of the faith.

Jesus said: "You will recognize them by their fruits." The treatment of other religions by Islam must be judged by a simple test: How did the Muslim rulers behave for more than a thousand years, when they had the power to "spread the faith by the sword"?

Well, they just did not.

For many centuries, the Muslims ruled Greece. Did the Greeks become Muslims? Did anyone even try to Islamize them? On the contrary, Christian Greeks held the highest positions in the Ottoman administration. The Bulgarians, Serbs, Romanians, Hungarians and other European nations lived at one time or another under Ottoman rule and clung to their Christian faith. Nobody compelled them to become Muslims and all of them remained devoutly Christian.

True, the Albanians did convert to Islam, and so did the Bosniaks. But nobody argues that they did this under duress. They adopted Islam in order to become favorites of the government and enjoy the fruits.

In 1099, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem and massacred its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants indiscriminately, in the name of the gentle Jesus. At that time, 400 years into the occupation of Palestine by the Muslims, Christians were still the majority in the country. Throughout this long period, no effort was made to impose Islam on them. Only after the expulsion of the Crusaders from the country, did the majority of the inhabitants start to adopt the Arabic language and the Muslim faith – and they were the forefathers of most of today's Palestinians.

THERE IS no evidence whatsoever of any attempt to impose Islam on the Jews. As is well known, under Muslim rule the Jews of Spain enjoyed a bloom the like of which the Jews did not enjoy anywhere else until almost our time. Poets like Yehuda Halevy wrote in Arabic, as did the great Maimonides. In Muslim Spain, Jews were ministers, poets, scientists. In Muslim Toledo, Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars worked together and translated the ancient Greek philosophical and scientific texts. That was, indeed, the Golden Age. How would this have been possible, had the Prophet decreed the "spreading of the faith by the sword"?

What happened afterwards is even more telling. When the Catholics re-conquered Spain from the Muslims, they instituted a reign of religious terror. The Jews and the Muslims were presented with a cruel choice: to become Christians, to be massacred or to leave. And where did the hundreds of thousand of Jews, who refused to abandon their faith, escape? Almost all of them were received with open arms in the Muslim countries. The Sephardi ("Spanish") Jews settled all over the Muslim world, from Morocco in the west to Iraq in the east, from Bulgaria (then part of the Ottoman Empire) in the north to Sudan in the south. Nowhere were they persecuted. They knew nothing like the tortures of the Inquisition, the flames of the auto-da-fe, the pogroms, the terrible mass-expulsions that took place in almost all Christian countries, up to the Holocaust.

WHY? Because Islam expressly prohibited any persecution of the "peoples of the book". In Islamic society, a special place was reserved for Jews and Christians. They did not enjoy completely equal rights, but almost. They had to pay a special poll-tax, but were exempted from military service – a trade-off that was quite welcome to many Jews. It has been said that Muslim rulers frowned upon any attempt to convert Jews to Islam even by gentle persuasion - because it entailed the loss of taxes.

Every honest Jew who knows the history of his people cannot but feel a deep sense of gratitude to Islam, which has protected the Jews for fifty generations, while the Christian world persecuted the Jews and tried many times "by the sword" to get them to abandon their faith.

THE STORY about "spreading the faith by the sword" is an evil legend, one of the myths that grew up in Europe during the great wars against the Muslims - the reconquista of Spain by the Christians, the Crusades and the repulsion of the Turks, who almost conquered Vienna. I suspect that the German Pope, too, honestly believes in these fables. That means that the leader of the Catholic world, who is a Christian theologian in his own right, did not make the effort to study the history of other religions.

Why did he utter these words in public? And why now?

There is no escape from viewing them against the background of the new Crusade of Bush and his evangelist supporters, with his slogans of "Islamofascism" and the "Global War on Terrorism" - when "terrorism" has become a synonym for Muslims. For Bush's handlers, this is a cynical attempt to justify the domination of the world's oil resources. Not for the first time in history, a religious robe is spread to cover the nakedness of economic interests; not for the first time, a robbers' expedition becomes a Crusade.The speech of the Pope blends into this effort. Who can foretell the dire consequences?


Uri Avnery, an Israeli writer and peace activist, founded the Gush Shalom movement. He had served three terms as an MP at the Knesset.

This article was published by Gush Shalom
Gush Shalom is an Israeli grassroots peace movement.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

6 Lessons From Japanese Business Culture

6 Lessons From Japanese Business Culture
Roberto Rocha

Many a businessman transplanted to the Land of the Rising Sun has come back with tales of culture shock and bewilderment. To us in the West, Japanese culture remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

But beneath its perplexing surface lies an extremely productive and effective society, as evidenced by their economic muscle. Nonetheless, the Japanese are rigidly ceremonious when it comes to making deals. To the foreigner, or gaijin, as the locals call them, Japanese business customs seem so deeply entrenched in their foreign culture and traditions that they couldn't possibly work for us in the West.

But look past the rituals themselves and you'll see concepts that are well worth emulating, such as respect for elders, attention to detail and an almost religious commitment to having fun after work.
Here's a breakdown of lessons we can learn from our brethren in the Far East.

1- Venerate the business card
A meeting in Japan starts with a formal and highly ceremonious exchange of business cards, a ritual referred to as meishi kokan. When receiving a card, a businessman takes it with both hands, reads it over carefully, repeats the printed information aloud, and then places it in a cardholder or on the table in front of him, referring to it in conversation when needed. He never drops it in his pocket. That is considered disrespectful.

What it teaches us:The business card exchange is a way of expressing the importance one places on an encounter. It shows that you value the meeting, just as you'll value future ones.
How we can adapt it:You'll look silly or even mocking if you do the full meishi routine in a North American office. When you do receive a business card, however, take the time to absorb the information on it. It can't hurt to actually remember a potentially valuable contact's name, and you'll look rude if you just flippantly cram their card in whatever pocket is closest.

2- Defer to your elders
It's customary in a meeting in Japan to always direct one's initial comments to the highest-ranking person present. One never disagrees with him and always gives him his due attention. When bowing -- the standard Japanese greeting -- one should always bow deepest to the most senior man.

What it teaches us:Japanese business culture values its elders for the wisdom and experience they provide to the company. Age equals rank in Japan, so the older the person, the more important he is.

How we can adapt it:Defer to those with seniority, or above you in the corporate ladder. If you disagree with a manager, express your grievances in private, and never question his authority in front of the group. Acknowledge that people are promoted to higher levels because of their skill and experience (cronyism and nepotism notwithstanding).

3- Instill motivation through slogans
Many Japanese businesses start their day off with a morning meeting, where workers line up and chant the company's slogans as a way of inspiring motivation and loyalty, and as a means of keeping the company's goals fresh in their minds.
What it teaches us:On the surface this ritual may look like some kind of cultish indoctrination, but it's the Japanese equivalent of the motivational pep talk. Morning rallies serve as a daily reminder of the company's long-term goals, which can get obscured by the
daily grind of individual tasks.

How we can adapt it:Remind yourself each time you sit at your desk what you're working for. Refresh your long-term goals in your mind, and stay aware of how essential teamwork is to getting there. Keep a checklist of your own slogans handy so that you can reference them when you feel discouraged or doubtful.

4- Keep a straight face
You'll never see poker faces like the ones seen in a Japanese office. Except for the occasional burst of laughter, workers generally remain expressionless, particularly during meetings. They speak in a low, measured tone, and will often close their eyes when paying close attention to a speaker -- a habit that foreigners mistake for a sign of boredom.

What it teaches us:The Japanese have an almost religious respect for the workplace. Humor is seldom used, except for light banter during breaks. There is hardly any physical touching among coworkers, and definitely no backslapping.

How we can adapt it:For us, a stuffy and overly formal workplace seems oppressive. You don't have to treat your office like sacred ground, but there's also no reason to behave like its your buddy's house. Professional appearance and conduct increases respect for the work and, in turn, increases productivity.

5- Work hard, play hard
After a day of grueling negotiations, Japanese workers are ready to cut loose -- way loose. Barhopping after work is a common, if not expected, tradition. If the workplace is stiff and ceremonial, the bar is where Japanese businessmen release the inner beast. A perennial favorite is the karaoke bar, where everyone is expected to sing along, even if they can't carry a tune. Besides being a place to balance work with fun, nightspots are where coworkers bond and share information, reinforcing affiliation with a team.

What it teaches us:It's important to not let work dominate one's life. Leisure is just as important a part of one's day. It releases tension and soothes anxieties. When done with coworkers, it's a nonverbal commitment to remain part of the group.

How we can adapt it:It's okay to forget about work once in a while, even among coworkers. Enjoy happy hour and attend office parties. Being social and informal with colleagues outside the workplace allows you to be human and to lower your guard for a bit.

6- Use connections as an endorsement
Connections are very important in Japan, and often mentioned as a prelude to negotiations. Being in the good graces of powerful people gets you taken seriously in other circles. It's common for businessmen to arrange meetings with high-ranking executives solely to request their endorsement. It's particularly impressive if the endorsement comes from a person of the same rank as the one you are dealing with.
What it teaches us:Having the approval of another accomplished man speaks volumes about your trustworthiness and ability to bring prosperity. The Japanese feel an obligation to be loyal to the endorsement of a well-respected peer.

How we can adapt it:We call it name-dropping, which isn't seen as a very respectable habit. You don't want to come off as a braggart, but this practice is still valuable to us as it underscores the importance of networking. Build bridges everywhere you go and others will think highly of you. One day you might just score a reference that will get you your dream job.
wealth out of mystery

Different cultures can always teach us a thing or two about success and inspiration in our own native lands. Like flavoring your food with exotic spices, adding foreign elements to your work life can make it special. Use the Japanese model and you'll stand out in your workplace.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Charade Of Meritocracy

The Charade Of Meritocracy October 2006

By Michael D. Barr

The legitimacy of the Singaporean government is predicated on the idea of ameritocratic technocracy. A tiny number of career civil servants play a leadingrole in setting policy within their ministries and other government-linkedbureaucracies, leading both an elite corps of senior bureaucrats, and a muchlarger group of ordinary civil servants. Virtually all of the elite members ofthis hierarchy are “scholars,” which in Singapore parlance means they won competitive, bonded governmentscholarships—the established route into the country’s elite.

Scholars not only leadthe Administrative Service, but also the military’s officer corps, as well asthe executive ranks of statutory boards and government-linked companies (GLCs).Movement between these four groups is fluid, with even the military officersroutinely doing stints in the civilian civil service. Together with theirpolitical masters, most of whom are also scholars, they make up the software forthe entity commonly known as “Singapore Inc.”—a labyrinth of GLCs, statutoryboards and ministries that own or manage around 60% of Singapore’s economy.
The basis of thescholars’ mandate to govern is not merely their performance on the job, but alsothe integrity of the process that selected them. The educational system isdesigned to cultivate competition, requiring top students to prove themselvesevery step of the way. Singapore’sschools first stream students into elite classes after Primary 3 and 4. Theythen compete for entry into special secondary schools and junior colleges,before vying for government and government-linked scholarships to attend themost prestigious universities around the world.

These scholarshipstypically require several years of government service after graduation, and thescholars are drafted into the Administrative Service, the officer corps of theSingapore Armed Forces (SAF), or the career track of a statutory board or GLC.The government insists that all Singaporeans have equal opportunities to excelin the system, and that everyone who has made it to the top did so purely byacademic talent and hard work. Other factors such as gender, socioeconomicbackground and race supposedly play no more than a marginal role, if they areacknowledged as factors at all.

On the point of race,the Singapore government has long prided itself on having instituted a system ofmultiracialism that fosters cultural diversity under an umbrella of nationalunity. This is explicitly supposed to protect the 23% of the population whobelong to minority races (mainly ethnic Malays and Indians) from discriminationby the Chinese majority.

But this systemconceals several unacknowledged agendas. In our forthcoming book, Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethnicity and the Nation-Building Project, Zlatko Skrbišand I present evidence that the playing field is hardly level. In fact, Singapore’s system of promotion disguises and even facilitates tremendous biasesagainst women, the poor and non-Chinese. Singapore’s administrative and itspolitical elites—especially the younger ones who have come through school in thelast 20 or so years—are not the cream of Singapore’s talent as they claim, butare merely a dominant social class, resting on systemic biases to perpetuateregime regeneration based on gender, class and race.

At the peak of thesystem is the network of prestigious government scholarships. Since independencein 1965, the technique of using government scholarships to recruit cohorts ofscholars into the administrative and ruling elite has moved from the peripheryof Singaporean society to center stage. Even before independence, a makeshiftsystem of government and Colombo Plan scholarships sent a few outstandingscholars overseas before putting them into government service, including mostnotably former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. Yet as late as 1975 this system hadcontributed only two out of 14 members of Singapore’s cabinet. Even by 1985, only four out of 12 cabinet ministers wereformer government scholars.

By 1994, however, thesituation had changed beyond recognition, with eight out of 14 cabinet ministersbeing ex-scholars, including Prime Minister Goh. By 2005 there were 12ex-scholars in a Cabinet of 19. Of these, five had been SAF scholars, includingPrime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. A perusal of the upper echelons of the rulingelite taken more broadly tells a similar story. In 1994, 12 of the 17 permanentsecretaries were scholars, as were 137 of the 210 in the administrative-officerclass of the Administrative Service.
The governmentscholarship system claims to act as a meritocratic sieve—the just reward foryoung adults with talent and academic dedication. If there is a racial or otherbias in the outcomes, then this can only be the result of the unevendistribution of talent and academic application in the community. As PrimeMinister Lee Hsien Loong put it when he spoke on national television in May2005, “We are a multiracial society. We must have tolerance, harmony. … And youmust have meritocracy … so everybody feels it is fair….” His father, formerPrime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, was making the same point when, in 1989, he toldSingapore’s Malay community that they “must learn to compete with everyone else”in the education system.

Yet if Singapore’s meritocracy is truly a level playing field, as the Lees assert, thenthe Chinese must be much smarter and harder working than the minority Indiansand Malays. Consider the distribution of the top jobs in various arms of theSingapore government service in the 1990s (based on research conducted by RossWorthington in the early 2000s):

•Of the top 30 GLCs only two (6.7%) were chaired by non-Chinese in 1991 (and neither of thenon-Chinese was a Malay).
•Of the 38 people who were represented on the most GLC boards in 1998, only two (5.3%) were non-Chinese (andneither of the non-Chinese was a Malay).
•Of the 78 “core people” on statutory boards and GLCs in 1998, seven (9%) were non-Chinese (and one of thenon-Chinese was a Malay).

Asimilar outcome is revealed in the pattern of government scholarships awardedafter matriculation from school. Of the 200 winners of Singapore’s most prestigious scholarship, the President’sScholarship, from 1966-2005 only 14 (6.4%) were not Chinese. But this was not aconsistent proportion throughout the period. If we take 1980 as the divider, wefind that there were 10 non-Chinese President’s Scholars out of 114 from1966-80, or 8%, but in the period from 1981-2005 this figure had dropped to fourout of 106, or 3.8%. Since independence, the President’s Scholarship has beenawarded to only one Malay, in 1968. There has been only one non-Chinese President’s Scholar in the 18 years from 1987 to 2005 (a boy called MikailKalimuddin) and he is actually half Chinese, studied in Chinese schools (ChineseHigh School and Hwa Chong Junior College), and took the Higher Chinese course ashis mother tongue. If we broaden our focus to encompass broader constructions ofethnicity, we find that since independence, the President’s Scholarship has beenwon by only two Muslims (1968 and 2005).

If we consider Singapore’s second-ranked scholarship—the Ministry of Defence’s Singapore ArmedForces Overseas Scholarship (SAFOS)—we find a comparable pattern. The Ministryof Defence did not respond to my request for a list of recipients of SAFscholarships, but using newspaper accounts and information provided by theMinistry of Defence Scholarship Centre and Public Service Commission ScholarshipCentre Web sites, I was able to identify 140 (56%) of the 250 SAFOS winners upto 2005.

Although onlyindicative, this table clearly suggests the Chinese dominance in SAFOS stakes:98% of SAFOS winners in this sample were Chinese, and about 2% were non-Chinese(counting Mikail Kalimuddin in 2005 as non-Chinese). Furthermore I found not asingle Malay recipient and only one Muslim winner (Mikail Kalimuddin). A similarpicture emerges in the lower status Singapore Armed Forces Merit Scholarshipwinners: 71 (25.6%) of 277 (as of late 2005) scholars identified, with 69 (97%)Chinese winners to only two non-Chinese—though there was a Malay recipient in2004, and one reliable scholar maintains that there have been others.

The position of thenon-Chinese in the educational stakes has clearly deteriorated since thebeginning of the 1980s. According to the logic of meritocracy, that means theChinese have been getting smarter, at least compared to the non-Chinese.

Yet the selection ofscholars does not depend purely on objective results like exam scores. In theinternal processes of awarding scholarships after matriculation results arereleased, there are plenty of opportunities to exercise subtle forms ofdiscrimination. Extracurricular activities (as recorded in one’s school record),“character” and performance in an interview are also considered. This makes theselection process much more subjective than one would expect in a system thatclaims to be a meritocracy, and it creates ample opportunity for racial andother prejudices to operate with relative freedom.

Is there evidence that such biases operate at this level? Unsurprisingly, theanswer to this question is “yes.” Take for instance a 2004 promotionalsupplement in the country’s main newspaper used to recruit applicants forscholarships. The advertorial articles accompanying the paid advertisementsfeatured only one non-Chinese scholar (a Malay on a lowly “local” scholarship)amongst 28 Chinese on prestigious overseas scholarships. Even more disturbingfor what they reveal about the prejudices of those offering the scholarshipswere the paid advertisements placed by government ministries, statutory boardsand GLCs. Of the 30 scholars who were both prominent and can be raciallyidentified by their photographs or their names without any doubt as to accuracy,every one of them was Chinese. This leaves not a shadow of a doubt that thosepeople granting government and government-linked scholarships presume that thevast majority of high-level winners will be Chinese.

The absence of Malays from the SAFOS scholarships and their near-absence fromthe SAF Merit Scholarships deserves special mention because this is an extensionof discrimination against the admission of Malays into senior and sensitivepositions in the SAF that is officially sanctioned. The discrimination againstMalays has been discussed in parliament and the media, and is justified by theassertion that the loyalty of Malays cannot be assumed, both because they areMuslim and because they have a racial and ethnic affinity with the Malays inMalaysia and Indonesia. Current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has historicallybeen a vocal defender of this policy.

This discriminationhits Malay men hard, first because it deprives many of promising careers in thearmy, and second—and more pertinent for our study of the elite—it all butcompletely excludes potentially high-flying Malays of a chance of entering thescholar class through the SAF. A Chinese woman has a much better chance ofwinning an SAF scholarship than a Malay man.

Yet even before the scholarship stage, the education system has stacked the deckin favor of Chinese, starting in preschool. Here is the heart of Singapore’s systemic discrimination against non-Chinese. Since theend of the 1970s, the principles of “meritocracy” and “multiracialism” have beensubverted by a form of government-driven Chinese chauvinism that hasmarginalized the minorities. It was not known to the public at the time, but asearly as 1978, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had begun referring to Singapore as a “Confucian society” in his dealings with foreigndignitaries. This proved to be the beginning of a shift from his record as adefender of a communally neutral form of multiracialism toward a policy ofactively promoting a Chinese-dominated Singapore.

The early outwardsigns of the Sinicization program were the privileging of Chinese education,Chinese language and selectively chosen “Chinese values” in an overt andsuccessful effort to create a Mandarin- and English-speaking elite who woulddominate public life. Two of the most important planks of this campaign weredecided in 1979: the annual “Speak Mandarin Campaign” and the decision topreserve and foster a collection of elite Chinese-medium schools, known asSpecial Assistance Plan (SAP)schools.

TheSAP schools are explicitly designed to have a Chinese ambience,right down to Chinese gardens, windows shaped like plum blossoms, Chineseorchestra and drama, and exchange programs with mainland China and Taiwan. Over the years the children inSAP schools have been given multipleadvantages over those in ordinary schools, including exclusive preschoolprograms and special consideration for preuniversity scholarships.

For instance, in theearly 1980s, when there was a serious shortage of graduate English teachers inschools, the Ministry of Education ensured there were enough allocated to SAPschools “to help improve standards of English among the Chinese-medium students,in the hope that they will be able to make it to university”—a target broughtcloser by the granting of two O-level bonus points exclusively to SAP schoolstudents when they applied to enter junior college. By contrast, neither Indiansnor Malays received any special help, let alone schools of their own to addresstheir special needs. They were not only left to fend for themselves, but weresometimes subjected to wanton neglect: inadequately trained teachers,substandard facilities and resources and the “knowledge” that they are not asgood as the Chinese.

This account ofdiscrimination against non-Chinese might lead the reader to assume that thequarter of Singaporeans who are not Chinese must form a festering and perhapseven revolutionary mass of resentment. Such an assumption would, however, be along way from the mark. Non-Chinese might be largely excluded from the highestlevels of the administrative elite, but just below these rarefied heights thereplenty of positions open to intelligent and hardworking non-Chinese—certainlyenough to ensure that non-Chinese communities have much to gain byenthusiastically buying into the system, even after the glass ceilings andracial barriers are taken into account. There are many grievances andresentments in these levels of society but the grievances are muted and balancedby an appreciation of the relative comforts and prosperity they enjoy. For most,any tendency to complain is subdued also by knowledge that it could be worse,and the widespread assumption among members of minority communities that it willbe if they seriously pursue their grievances. As long as the Singapore system continues to deal such people a satisfactory hand, if not afair one, it should be able to cope with some quiet rumblings in the ranks.

While thisdiscrimination is not sparking a reaction that threatens the regime in the shortterm, the resulting injustices are certainly undermining the myth that theregime operates on meritocratic principles. This is worrying in the longer termbecause this myth, along with the capacity to deliver peace and prosperity, isone of the primary rationales by which Singaporeans reluctantly accept the manyunpopular aspects of the regime, such as the lack of freedom and democracy, theintrusion of government into most aspects of private life, the pressure-cookerlifestyle and the high cost of living.

Therhetoric of meritocracy has given Singaporeans the consolation of believing thattheir ruling elite are the best of the best and can therefore be trusted almostblindly on important matters, even if they are highhanded and lack the commontouch. As this illusion gradually falls away—and today it is already heavilyundermined—the trust that Singaporeans have for their government is becomingincreasingly qualified. It remains to be seen how long the regime can avert thelogical consequences of the contradictions between the myth and the reality.

Mr. Barr is a lecturer at the University of Queensland and author of Lee Kuan Yew: The Beliefs Behind the Man (Routledge,2000) and Cultural Politics and Asian Values: The Tepid War (Routledge,2002).

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Monday, October 09, 2006

The king of Siam

The king of Siam
Manjit Bhatia
Thaksin Shinawatra, a business tycoon, übercapitalist and pro-globalisation, thought himself as king of Thailand ? and more of a king than the incumbent, Bhumibol Aduljadej. That would have irked Bhumipol to no end. But worse was to come, leading to his political demise. Thaksin thought himself as utterly indispensable to his people and nation; he thought that he was the state and the nation. Since taking power in 2001, Thaksin ruled Thailand with almost an iron-fist. Before his ouster, on Sept 19 through a bloodless military coup, Thaksin seemed on the threshold of cornering every aspect of Thai political life.
He had begun to curtail the basic rights of Thais, especially the vigorously independent and highly respected media. He had given Thai Police the power to ruthlessly mow down even suspected drug peddlers in the streets and in broad daylight. Using sections of the politically-pliant military, he played wedge-politics, pitting predominantly Buddhist Thais against minority Muslims in the south. In the restive south Thaksin waged long and bloody war against Muslim secessionists seeking their own state. He has blood on his hands. Worse, he was looking increasingly dictatorial, even if countries like the United States and Australia are too hypocritically blind to see this.

Not one country in Southeast Asia can be considered democratic in any imaginable way. Under Thaksin, neither was Thailand. That Washington swiftly suspended its US$30 million military aid to Bangkok in the wake of the coup suggests sublime western hypocrisy. But hypocrisy isn’t the preserve of the west only. That the Thai coup generals quickly grovelled to the Americans in a bid to get them to change their decision is sickening. Since the end of World War II, the US has backed some of the most brutal and murderous anti-democratic regimes, from Asia to the Middle East, and from Africa to South America.

Even Australia had backed the anti-democratic, corrupt and murderous Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia while turning its back on East Timor as Timorese fighters struggled for their homeland against Indonesian invasion and colonialism. Today, Canberra continues to turn a blind eye to West Papua, where the Indonesian occupiers routinely abuse the locals’ basic human rights. Meanwhile, Australia’s moral conviction to the sanctity of all human life is being whitewashed by Prime Minister John Howard’s readiness to appease Indonesia and not protect West Papuan refugees from abuse and murder by Indonesian police and military forces.

It is wildly preposterous for any western nation, including the US and Australia, to suddenly argue that the military coup in Thailand has robbed the place of its democratic principles and institutions. Thaksin, arguably Thailand’s richest man, and his cronies were slowly but surely withering these away anyway, whilst they, in concert, plundered the country to amass vast personal wealth for themselves. Many of the cronies fled the country along with their patron, Thaksin. Many are currently under investigation, including Thaksin, for indictable offences. Many, hopefully, will not even think of returning to Thailand. Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai political party is dead. After 200-odd members resigned en masse, Thaksin did also.

Nothing has changed

Allegations of corruption and abuse of power against Thaksin and his cronies are nothing new but they’ll have to be proved first. So what has changed in Southeast Asia after the late 90s Asian economic crisis? Nothing. The same abuses of power, the same cronies, the same patron-client structures, and the same institutions that embed all of these crooks, access to financial and political largesse, remain unbroken. If anything, Southeast Asia’s political elite and their cronies are even more so protected now from open scrutiny and conviction through the courts. It’s farcical, a blatant lie, for Southeast Asian leaders to claim that they have reformist zeal. Their only zeal is to deceive the masses, and for as long as possible.

The Singapore government-owned investment vehicle, Temasek Holdings, may have bought Thaksin’s telecommunications monolith, Shin Corp, without violating Thai law. However, the morality of the transaction is questionable. It is hard to believe that Singapore didn’t know Thaksin was planning to pocket the US$1.9 billion sale price without paying a dime in tax. Meanwhile Ho Ching, wife of one of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s sons, has stayed completely aloof and silent as the political crisis started to brew in Thailand in the sale’s aftermath. But Thaksin refused to budge and Singapore became morally mute.

If the sale, as Temasek Holdings has claimed, was so straightforward, why is Thailand’s Ministry of Commerce investigating the entire transaction after, presumably, it would have done so when the deal was being negotiated? Singapore claims Temasek-backed Thai investment company Kularb Kaew, through whom Tesmasek bought the remaining shares in Shin Corp, did not act as its proxy. But Kularb Kaew is an active investment partner of Temasek Holdings through various other joint ventures. Nevertheless, since taking over Shin Corp, Temasek has suffered a paper loss of US$820 million from the deal. Small bickies to Temasek, whose investment portfolio boasts a whopping US$81.1 billion. It could easily gobble up any of Malaysia’s top 10 conglomerates.

Some critics, inside and outside Thailand, say the coup is a direct assault on Thai democracy. Rubbish. Thai democracy, like most claims to democracy in the Third World, holds about as much credibility as Thaksin and his cronies declaring that their huge wealth accumulation since 2001 has been in the interest of the Thai nation. The critics’ cockamamie rationalisation is nothing more than selective posturing verging on political idiocy. Because none have dared to even claim that the coup was therefore also a direct assault on the Thai monarchy. But it’s not.

This coup would not have taken place if Thaksin and his cronies were not abusing political power and plundering the economy for their personal benefit, or if Thaksin wasn’t bent on striking politics that would have dis-unified the nation. Or if, by his own hand, he was giving succour to the violent Muslim-based secessionists in the south, whilst driving a wedge between rich and poor Thais elsewhere. This coup would not have taken place if King Bhumibol Aduljadej hadn’t given his approval to the coup generals. This coup, to be sure, had its impetus, if not it was drawn up, within the palace’s walls.

So what of Thai democracy down the track? It doesn’t matter. Thai politics today is the politics of old, where the military has never been de-politicised. It may have ‘returned to the barracks’ but it has always had a say in national politics one way or another. This time it has voiced its views, and marched to action, via the palace.

As long as Thais revere the monarchy more than they pay attention to building genuine democratic institutions, where there is an open and accountable government and opposition, including a truly free press, Thai democracy will always remain hamstrung between rivals within the palace and modern politicians who think, as Thaksin did, that they can ride roughshod over Thai institutions and bastardise them to their own political and financial ends. One other thing: it won’t be the military’s responsibility to repair the rift between the Muslim south and Bangkok, or between the rich and poor; it’ll be the responsibility of the new government, for what that’s worth. But it must also be the king’s responsibility since it is he who wanted change and brought about Thaksin’s demise.

The one big problem in Southeast Asia, including Thailand, isn’t democracy. The big problem is corruption, and it reaches the offices of political leaders, including prime ministers and presidents. Rooting out these vile old elements can’t begin by merely grafting new institutions on old ones. New leaders must be found who would genuinely dismantle the old structures of corruption, cronyism and nepotism, and racial politics. The sorry fact, though, is that no new leaders with that kind of gumption exist anywhere in the region. Nations are only as good as their leaders. That says a lot for Thailand, and the rest of Southeast Asia.

MANJIT BHATIA, an academician and writer, is also research director of AsiaRisk, a political, economic and risk analysis consultancy in Australia. He specialises in international economics and politics, with a focus on the Asia-Pacific