So long and thanks for all the fish

When I first had greater awareness of the world around me when I was about 5 years old, the Prime Minister of Malaysia had always been Datuk Hussein Onn. One of his most endearing feature was his recognizable parrot-nosed side profile, made famous by Lat in one of his “Scenes From the Malaysian Life??? collection that included an instructional chapter on how to draw all 3 Malaysian Prime Minister (up until then).

When Mahathir became the Prime Minister and Hussein Onn retired (later made a Tun), my world-view was severely shaken. To me, Hussein Onn was a quiet and unassuming character. He looked like someone who will remain calm even under the most stressful situations. And to me, his laid back and peaceful aura represented Malaysia.

But my perception of Mahathir then was secondary hand-me-down opinions that I had heard from the grown ups. My liberal but Chinese household was suspicious of the fact that a Malay ultra was taking over the reigns of the Government. Some relatives were commenting that Chinese businesses, education and way of life are going to be severely affected in Malaysia.

Naturally I was concerned.

One day, a Chinese classmate told me that Mahathir is good for the nation. I disagreed and an animated discussion attracted a Malaysian crowd (read Malay, Chinese, Indian students) that participated in the debate. Primary school political discussions are probably the most politically incorrect forum because children often parrot whatever their parents said in the privacy of their homes. But they are often a true indicator of what most households think.

From that debate, it was evident that no one knew what to expect. And that was pretty much how people who had grew up since then felt when Mahathir ran the country- they didn’t know what to expect but they knew what whatever it is, it’s something big.

The first opinion of my own that I had of Mahathir was that he is fascinated with time. Why did I think that? First, he took an hour away from Malaysia- we had to move our clocks to be ahead of Thailand and Singapore so that East and West Malaysia can have the same time. Next, he introduced punch cards in government offices (that then trickled down to private organizations).

I remembered the effects of those changes. As I was growing up, RTM used to publish their TV schedules with up-to-the-second time. So, the Six Million Dollar Man would play at 8.07pm on a Wednesday night- which is 43 minutes after a cartoon. But the problem was RTM couldn’t keep up with the schedule themselves so scheduled shows always came on early or late. After the change in attitudes towards time, RTM published their schedules on a half-hourly basis (but the part about getting their act together is still going on and is taking much, much longer than anticipated).

Next, Mahathir asked the nation to looked East. This was a pretty bold thing to do as most people were looking West to either the United States or the USSR for aid. This was the first time that Malaysians had to look towards an Asian country to emulate- which was difficult considering all the colonial worshipping we did back then to the Mat Sallehs. To compound matters, Mahathir spearheaded a “Buy British Last??? campaign.

Then came the period of privatization and all of the associated Filem Negara shorts on “Malaysia, Inc.??? that came along with it. I remember watching these (I do a lot of TV back then) on a lazy Friday afternoon and not understanding the message of the short film, wondered just what in the world are they talking about then. I was thinking then are they going to make Malaysia into a company and all of us could a salary from the Government?

As a result, either out of frustration or out of ignorance, people complained. Being Malaysians our capacity to talk, debate and complain far outweighs our sense of initiative to do actually something about it. So naturally, Mahathir’s policies persisted and sometimes caused me sleepless nights because they tend to appear as Bahasa Malaysia essay questions.

Under Mahathir, more and more big things suddenly crept up.

Malaysia started producing local cars. The first car, however, was the aesthetically challenged Proton Saga of which I still remember to this very day the awful TV commercial jingle:- “Pro-Ton SAAAA-GAAAA, ke-ja-ya-an Ma-lay-SIAAAA!??? One is grateful that Proton got lesser and lesser laughs from the public with each subsequent release of new models. The first 3 cars that I had owned were proudly Malaysian made cars.

Transport and communications infrastructure improved tremendously. In fact, I don’t ever recall a day that goes by without me ever noticing a construction of a new overpass, bypass or underpass. The country has been tarmacked and wired up like never before. This not only has truly brought the nation together but to bring the world to Malaysia and vice-versa. I still get chills, and not from the air conditioning of KLIA, every time I depart or arrive at this spectacular airport.

On the social front, Mahathir “softened??? the NEP- which is one of the biggest policy contention that non-indigenous population have with the Government- without really stating it in public. In its place, free wheeling capitalism took root and it created a super class of tychoons. The Vision 2020 speech, an important milestone for the Malaysian society because it outlines the utopia that we should all work towards. This is an important vision because, truly, this outlines what a Malaysian society to be like.

This is not to say that I agree a 100% with our PM.

My biggest criticism of Mahathis is on the Anwar issue- which I believe is one of the biggest black spot of his career. He probably miscalculated the ground swelling support for the Deputy Prime Minister. Who can forget the imagery of thousands of casual Malaysians taking to the streets and highways to protest against the heavy-handed approach that the Government took to silence Anwar? The real reason behind the sacking will probably never be known during Mahathir’s lifetime but I don’t buy the corrupt homosexual angle.

Secondly, Mahathir was in a position to accelerate the liberalization of society, economy and politics but he didn’t go far enough. Mahathir could implement transparency policies in all levels of government bureaucracy like he did with punch clocks and nametags. This would trickle down to society and reduce the rampant graft that now occurs in all levels- from the paying off of law enforcers to the cover-ups of corporate scandals. Small things create big differences and Mahathir was in the right place and the right time to plant this small seed but he didn’t.

While these legacies (good or bad) will always remind Malaysians of Mahathir, he had also done for us something good that time will never erase. He had instilled a new sense of confidence and pride in ourselves so that our children, their children will always believe that if we work hard enough, we can truly make anything happen.

And with that, I would like to thank our Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mohammad Mahathir, for his great contribution to the nation. The Malaysia and Malaysians of today wouldn’t be where we are without you.

End of MSN Chat

Microsoft is shutting down MSN chat rooms around the world because they claim that they are unsafe for children. However, will this make the Internet a safer place?

The short answer is: NO. Taking away just one channel out of a possible unlimited channels where minors can chat does not a safer Internet make. In fact, it might even be more dangerous. The danger is if parents are lulled into a false sense of security by the move. Minors still can have access to Instant Messaging (whether MSN, Yahoo!, AOL or ICQ) or other on-line bulletin boards.

And with Microsoft being a market leader, their social responsibilities are higher. What is astounding is that Microsoft chose the easy way out (by shutting down) instead of doing something more proactive to mitigate the problem. MSN portals could and should be used by Microsoft to teach children about safe Internet surfing.

Of course, one can’t deny the financial aspect of the move as Microsoft can cut it’s MSN portal operation costs down. But in this case, they should have put people

Our Prime Minister, an anti-semite?

Much has been made, especially in Malaysia and Israel over some recent statements that were made by our Prime Minister, the right honorable Dr. Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, during the OIC meeting. The statement that offended the most (to the Israelis and the rest of the world) was that “Jews rule the world”. Frankly, I do not know how to make of it but if someone said that the Chinese rule the world, I would be pretty happy. And smug. Probably go out and test my new master/ruler attitude on the peons who toil for my pleasure.

Or perhaps, the Israelis were unhappy with further statements like “Jews get people to die for their causes”. Maybe, just maybe, they are pissed off because Mahathir stated the the “Jews rule the world by proxy”. I mean, the nerve of the guy to imply that a proxy IS required in the first place!

But seriously, I think that the Jewish conspiracy thing has been carried out for far too long. I mean if it lasts this long, it’s probably true just like the Who-Killed-JFK-Conspiracy or The-Government(US)-Covered-Up-UFO-Conspiracy. My advice is to my Jewish friends who are offended to lighten up a little bit and to take the speech in context.

The speech was made to an assembly of Islamic country leaders and, in my humble opinion, provocatively addresses pertinent issues that are faced by the global Muslim community. Mahathir goes off on his usual paternal tough-love lecturing on how some Muslims have got it all wrong (ie. suicide bombings, tribal in-figthing, shunning of technology and knowledge, etc). Now those who had followed his speeches during UMNO assemblies would find nothing out of place but all these could be unnerving for some of the international delegates present in the shiny new convention center in Putrajaya. All this is akin to watching Dr. Phil tear up Oprah’s guests and audience because he truly cares (and loves) them.

Taken in context, the speech berated the Muslims for not following in the Jew’s footsteps. If this came from a non-Muslim, cries of protests (and perhaps death warrants) would be heard from extremist and religiously perverted groups from around the world. Hopefully, the speech will inspire some leader to look into the whole Muslim-Jewish-West confrontation with a shift in paradigm, that is conquering the enemy through peaceful acts and words.

My perspective is that people should try the peaceful protest way. People should learn from the culture and history of India, a proud country that has given birth to 2 of the world’s best known pacifists:- Buddha and Gandhi. Not that I am asking people to convert to Buddhism- though it is not really a religion- but to follow in the footsteps of using peace to overcome adversity. Now if only India can do the same thing with Pakistan…but that, my readers, is for another blog.

* Do note that the quotes from Mahathir’s speech are NOT in verbatim but has been recalled from the author’s memory as he did not have access to the Internet during the writing of this blog 🙂