Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Olive green to Drab green

Two neighboring Toastmasters clubs in the KL Sentral area, KL Advanced and Bangsar collaborated to organize a joint meeting this evening. There were twenty attendees, including seven guests. Four individuals took part in Table Topics and two Toastmasters delivered two assignment speeches. I participated in both these sessions and even walked away with a certificate and a MPH book voucher for being voted the Best Table Topics speaker. There were no awards for the latter since there were only two speakers. But even so, I gave a pretty good speech – CC speech # 9 Persuade with Power – titled “Be Free”. I also enjoyed the other speech by Bangsar Toastmaster, lawyer Sham Sunder who presented an Advanced speech from the Humorously Speaking manual. If I may add, Ahmad Zakie as the Toastmaster-of-the-Evening and a polished presenter did an awesome job. I would give this meeting an 8 out of 10. Overall, I had a great time!

On Sunday, I had blogged about the Aussie tobacco plan. Under proposed legislation, all logos would be removed from cigarette packets, which would have to be a drab green color and be plastered with graphic health warnings.

When the legislation was announced, the government said the plain packaging would be olive green, but olive growers objected. Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon was forced to issue a rebuttal, explaining “I need to publicly say to the olive growers that we don’t think that their products are in any way connected with the very unattractive product of tobacco”. And she added “Even though the colour we are using is olive green … I am now calling it drab green.”

Predictably, the big tobacco companies have slammed the idea and vowed to fight the move. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) also got into the act when their secretary-general Jean-Guy Carrier on Sunday sent a letter to Australian Trade Minister Craig Emerson outlining his concerns, according to this news report in Star, May 30, 2011, p 33.

“The ability of brand owners to market their product in unique and easily identifiable ways is a core element of a developed society’s protection of intellectual property rights“, ICC spokesperson Jeffrey Hardy maintained.

“Australia has been a leading voice in support of IP and rules-based commerce, but the proposed regulations mandating the elimination of trademarks… is in direct and dangerous conflict with this view,” he added.

As I have previously said, this is a brave move by the Australian government. If executing this plan proves challenging because it will get bogged down by legal tussles about IP issues and such like, then I say, just ban the sale of these cancer sticks nationwide. It’s all about political will. The million-dollar question: Will the Aussies cave in or will they stand firm?

BN Politicizing Lynas

The Lynas protests are being politicized – Pahang menteri besar is damn right to make this claim! But contrary to some misguided beliefs, it was not Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh who is politicizing this issue even if she is spearheading the anti-Lynas movement. It is purely a public health and safety issue; it’s as simple as that. But BN started making it political – they organized a pro-Lynas group to counter the anti-Lynas group. And just check out the photo below and read what the banner says! Just how mindless can these people be? It tells you rightaway that some Malaysians have feces in their brains!

Trusting the state BN government is one thing provided this trust is not misplaced. But are those pro-Lynas demonstrators confident that Lynas won’t bring dire consequences to Kuantan residents? Are they prepared to move next door to Lynas Advanced Materials Plant? Will they still move to Gebeng even if Adnan Yaakob stays put somewhere else?

But what is really upsetting is the distressing fact that a mammoth project of this size (RM700 million) was bulldozed through all the stages of approval by all the agencies involved and the venture was given the go-ahead without the simple decency of informing the people who will be affected by it. It was a hush-hush scheme that was initiated and approved under a clandestine cloak of surreptitious secrecy and the residents of Kuantan awoke one fine morning to find the alarming threat of radiation at their doorsteps! If I was one of them, I too would be spooked!

Even China has realized that they have to curb their addiction to plastic and so the country – according to the Star newspaper (May 30, 2011, p 40) – is expanding the ban on free plastic bags in a bid to rid China of ‘white pollution” that is clogging waterways, farms and fields.

The official Xinhua news agency announced that bookstores and pharmacies nationwide will soon be forbidden to give out free plastic bags, joining the ranks of supermarkets that have had to charge for shopping bags since June 01, 2008.

Around three billion plastic bags were used daily in China before this 2008 ban. Since then, according to the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the country’s citizens have used at least 24 billion fewer plastic bags every year. And Dong Jinshi, vice chairperson of the International Food Packaging Association in Beijing, said late last year that as many as 100 billion plastic shopping bags may have been kept out of landfills as a result of the law. It’s nice to know that even China – supposedly the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter and which has some of the world’s worst water and air pollution after more than 30 years of non-stop phenomenal growth that triggered widespread environmental damage – is doing something positive for the long-suffering and much-abused planet!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Goo Diet

A public health scientist Dr Chan Chee Khoon yesterday warned Kuantan residents that the RM700 million rare earth refinery being built by Australian miner Lynas Corp would effectively make “lab rats” of the 700,000 population. He was not mincing words, that's for sure! “There is no clear consensus among experts on the risks of low-level exposure,” the epidemiologist said at a meeting with stakeholders. “You don’t want to be the first lab rats to test this” (Webpage http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/expert-warns-that-kuantan-residents-will-be-lab-rats/, posted May 29, 2011).

But Lynas expect no delay to their plans to begin operations in September as they maintain the plant is safe. They are anticipating a windfall of RM8 billion a year from 2013 onwards from the rare earth metals crucial to the manufacture of high-technology products such as smart phones, hybrid cars and bombs.

Malaysian lives must be cheap for our politicians to sell out for economic considerations. Why don’t we move the Lynas ops to Putrajaya instead?

Lady Gaga is a big celebrity because of her music and theatrical style, but now it seems that her fans are also crazy about her alleged "goo diet" – sending sales of baby food rocketing 100 percent, Sky News reported on Saturday.

Ever since it was rumored that Lady Gaga was tucking into infant meals to maintain her svelte figure while on tour, jars of the puree have been flying off supermarket shelves. Orders for Heinz Mum's Own Creamed Porridge have leaped by 100 percent, while those for pasta and spaghetti bolognese purees are up by 87 percent, according to grocery website Ocado. A spokesperson said, "Sales of baby food have been static but since Lady Gaga was reported to be a fan, demand has gone through the roof as women are copying her eating habits."The faddy diet, devised by Tracy Anderson, the personal trainer who is also credited with sculpting the figures of Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow, is said to be a hit with a host of celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston and Cheryl Cole, despite experts warning it is not healthy for adults.

Those on the goo diet have one main meal a day then snack on 4 oz jars of the baby food – which is said to curb hunger pangs. The things people do to stay slim! I don’t have that problem and so no special diet for me. Quick, bring me real food! I am suddenly famished.

RCI Revelations 5

I spent last weekend marking eighty-eight scripts – these pertain to a Mid-Term Test that I conducted last Thursday for my BMB2206 Marketing Management class. To be honest, I am not looking forward to marking scripts for the Final exams because when the time comes, it is going to be one burdensome workload.

The RCI investigating Teoh Beng Hock’s high-profile death is to submit a report to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong by June 25, 2011, almost two years after the DAP political aide fell to his death outside the Selangor Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) office in Shah Alam – having concluded on May 10, 2011 after hearing testimony from 70 witnesses.

The MACC has argued that Teoh committed suicide to protect the party and his boss, Selangor executive councilor Ean Yong Hian Wah, from being exposed as corrupt. Two local psychiatrists – Dr Bada’iah Yahya from Johor’s Hospital Permai and Dr Nor Hayati Ali from the Mental Health and Psychiatry Department of Selayang Hospital – have expressed the opinion that Teoh was in a troubled state of mind when MACC officers came to his office at the state secretariat building and before he was brought to the MACC office on July 15, 2009.

This contradicted visiting professor from the London Institute of Psychiatry, Dr Paul Mullen’s report that insisted Teoh was in a low risk group for suicide. A Star news report did mention that the two local psychiatrists (i.e. Badariah and Nor Hayati) also said that Teoh’s attitude and personality did not show he was suicidal (May 11, 2011, p N21, lines 57-59).

The RCI, which is chaired by sitting Federal Court judge James Foong, was tasked to unravel the mysterious circumstances behind Teoh’s death and to look into MACC’s investigation methods. I cannot wait to read the verdict but I am not so optimistic!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Plain Ciggie Packaging

I saw this story in The Malaysian Insider on May 27, 2011 and I curled my half-frowning lips in a supercilious smile. I grimaced because the evil tobacco barons have now also realized that Malaysia is not very smart and they are looking for the country’s support! And they really believed that Malaysia can influence Australia! I don’t know where they got this half-baked idea but I suppose in their desperation, they are clutching at straws.

According to this news report, Big Tobacco is turning to Malaysia to help “fight Australia’s plan to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes, leveraging on Putrajaya’s negotiating powers which was boosted by the controversial refugee swap deal”. Okay, I am not intending to discuss if Malaysia did indeed demonstrate superior negotiating skills in this particular case because there were not enough details to make a judgment anyway.

The Australian government had announced last year that beginning July 2012, tobacco firms would have to use plain packaging carrying graphic health warnings and drop all color and branding logos from cigarette packets. Now, I have to give credit where credit is due! This is absolutely brilliant and ingenious! The move, said to be the world’s first, is to help Australia cut its smoking-related deaths to under 10 percent by 2018.

This news report quoted the Australian Associated Press (AAP) highlighting Friday that a former US ambassador to the WTO has been lobbying Malaysia to oppose the proposal and has even met with a Malaysian minister here on the matter. Peter Allgeier, who now works for Washington-based consultancy CMN International, had reportedly emailed the Malaysian government on this issue, urging them to persuade the Australian government to put off their plans. AAP also quoted Health Minister Nicola Roxon as saying that she had not been approached by Malaysia on the issue but Allgeier’s appointment to assist Big Tobacco showed how far the companies were prepared to take their fight.

Instead, she insisted that Australia’s plan has received much international support and that big tobacco’s “noisy huffing and puffing” was only making clear their fears that the measure would achieve its target.

I am excited about this plan because it goes back to the lessons in marketing. First, packaging is a “silent salesman" to the product. Can you agree that when you enter a supermarket or any store, the first product that will attract your attention is the product that has the enticing and seductive packaging? Right? And how many times have you bought products because the packaging was great? A lot of times! Even if the product is not the best in the market, you will still be entrapped because of the appealing packaging. That is the magic of packaging!

And when we put cigarettes in plain packaging, we are, in effect, stripping cigarettes of their social normality. By introducing plain packaging, smokers won't be walking past a shop and seeing their own brand. They will have to really focus and make a conscious effort to seek out the brand to which they have become loyal.

Second, branding is a powerful concept in marketing. A brand is the idea or image of a specific product (or service) that consumers connect with, by identifying the name, logo, slogan, or design of the company who owns the idea or image. Branding is when that idea or image is marketed so that it is recognized by more and more people, and identified with a certain product (or service) when there are other competitors offering a similar product (or service).

And when we talk of brand associations, we refer to these ideas, images and symbols associated with a brand or a brand benefit. I know, for example, that burgundy red is the color of a best-selling brand of cigarette in Malaysia. So, color matters. I also know that the cowboy is a familiar icon for another best-selling cigarette. Imagery matters. And I know too that “the refreshest” indicates yet another well-known brand. Words matter.

We all make these associations. But these associations get even stronger if it's a drug-related association because as Associate Professor Renee Bittoun, the head of smoking research at the Brain Mind Research Institute and the South West Sydney Area Health Service said, there is a neurochemical reward on offer (Webpage http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/should-cigarettes-be-sold-in-plain-packaging-20110528-1f96b.html).

Big Tobacco is very alarmed by Australia’s courage to experiment this approach!

Swapping Refugees

Australians are smarter than Malaysians! They have crafted a brilliant plan to use us without us even knowing it. Well, ‘us’ meaning our so-called Malaysian leaders. On May 07, 2011, the Australian government announced plans to deport 800 boat arrivals back to Malaysia as part of a deal with the Malaysian government and the former will accept 4000 refugees from the latter over four years in return. The Aussie government claims this will force people to “join the queue” and will “fight people smuggling”. This represents an ingenious plan of “outsourcing” Australia’s refugee problem to Malaysia.

Australia has been wrestling with this refugee problem for many years now and without much success. Presently, they intercept boat people in the Indian Ocean, who are then detained on their remote Christmas Island for processing and more importantly, preventing asylum seekers from gaining greater legal rights by landing on the Australian mainland.

But this “Malaysia-Australia refugee swap” can turn the refugee problem over its head because as the Australian Immigration and Citizenship Minister Clive Bowen argued it will have “the same (or better) practical effect as ‘turning back the boats’” as most refugees heading for Australia first fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia before starting their boat journey to Australia via Indonesia.

“The logic of the Malaysian arrangement is simple. Why would you pay a substantial amount of money and risk your life only to be returned to where you began your boat journey?” Bowen said in an op-ed piece in The Australian. It is evident that this latest endeavor dubbed the “Malaysian solution” will benefit Australia immensely.

But the idea there is an orderly queue to claim refugee status is a myth. Malaysia has over 90,000 registered asylum seekers, and less than 10 per cent were resettled in 2009. Some have been waiting for 20 years, and all are forced to live in impossibly difficult conditions. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has already raised humanitarian concerns about Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s (above photo) deal with Malaysia, which has been accused of badly treating asylum seekers.

Surely, Gillard knows that Malaysia is not party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and is regularly criticized by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Malaysia has not signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which is intended to guarantee refugees fundamental rights. Isn’t this very disconcerting to know? Are there humanitarian safeguards in place when the refugees are expelled to Malaysia? Doesn’t this show Gillard to be a self-serving politician who is desperate to hold up her plunging popularity?

In Malaysia, refugees are out of the radar of the average Malaysian as they are hidden from view. But horror stories of their conditions and allegations of illegal trafficking of them have regularly filtered out in the alternative media. The problem is that there is no protection for refugees here and they become easy targets of systematic abuse and even subjected to arbitrary arrest, and deportation back to the persecution that they fled. Even UNHCR-recognized refugees are subject to constant harassment by the authorities, and live in poverty and fear. Refugees in Malaysia are treated like illegal immigrants and are prone to extortion, jailing and whipping. And for the naïve, whipping (Malaysians prefer to call it ‘caning’) is a punishment that involves the prisoner being tied up and beaten so that they bleed.

Why is Malaysia suddenly a dumping ground for refugees? How many pieces of silver did Malaysia get to “solve” Australia’s refugee problem? By forging this swap deal, Australia will become a party to human rights violations that refugees in Malaysia are regularly being subjected to. Australia is no better than Malaysia!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

No Winners

The way I see it, there are really no winners from the Lotus versus Lotus court verdict on Friday – simply because there is to be no change in the name of either team.

According to The Checkered Flag (Webpage
http://www.thecheckeredflag.co.uk/2011/05/lotus-v-lotus-verdict-maintains-status-quo/, posted May 27, 2011), Justice Peter Smith, ruled that Team Lotus, the Norfolk-based Anglo-Asian outfit run by Tony Fernandes, can continue to compete under that name. However, they were found to have breached the licensing agreement with Group Lotus – who are owned by Malaysian car company Proton – and will have to pay undisclosed damages.

Group Lotus, who are title sponsors of the Renault Formula 1 team, were acknowledged to have the right to use the name ‘Lotus’ on their own, and they are also entitled to race in the historic black and gold livery that currently adorns their cars.

However, Group Lotus is concerned that Team Lotus being allowed to continue operating under this name will cause confusion amongst spectators and the public, and is seeking to appeal this aspect of the judgment.

Well, since Tony and gang cannot use the Lotus name unless the word ‘Team’ is attached in front – any victory that Fernandes is claiming is hollow. I suppose I should label them Phony Lotus to differentiate this imposter from the real Lotus.

The other day, Adnan Yaakob (above photo) alleged that the Lynas issue was being politicized (Read my blog posting dated May 21, 2011). Today, he claims that concerns over Lynas Corp’s Gebeng refinery were exaggerated, insisting the public have more to fear from cell phones than the rare earths to be processed there. “There is nothing really... handphones have more radiation,” the obtuse Pahang menteri besar professed.

The type of radiation emitted from mobile phones is electromagnetic radiation. It's present in mobiles because they use radio frequency (RF) waves to make and receive calls. The doses are considered to be very small as the emissions are low power (short range). Despite extensive research on the subject, there has been no conclusive evidence that using a mobile phone causes long term harmful effects in humans. So, Adnan, stop fibbing!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Welcome to Wellywood!

A computer-designed photo of the Wellywood sign on the Miramar hill. Photo credit: The Dominion Post, New Zealand, dated May 27, 2011.

In The Sun today, there is this grotesque idea being floated about by a New Zealand company that it intends to erect a massive “Wellywood” sign imitating the world-famous Hollywood original. Wellington International Airports Ltd possessed this absurd ambition to build this 30m-by-8m signage on a hillside overlooking the airport’s main runway, ostensibly to promote the home of Peter Jackson and his nearby studio which made the Oscar-winning trilogy The Lord of the Rings. As the said company’s chief executive said, “Wellington needs to get onto everyone’s bucket list and a Wellywood sign is a clear message that Wellington is a must-see destination with a really important film industry”.

This monstrosity of an idea is something that one would expect Malaysian companies to come up with – since we Malaysians are known to be unoriginal. In New Zealand, this idea has divided the country’s capital – critics are dubbing it “tacky, crass, derivative and unworthy of what is supposed to be a creative city”. Opponents have threatened a civil disobedience campaign to compel the local airport company to back down. More than 14,000 people have already signed a Facebook page opposing the sign last weekend, and 110 opponents said they would even join a protest to “seriously disrupt the airport’s operations” by driving slowly around the terminal’s drop-off area during Monday evening’s peak hour (p 31). In fact, there was already a drive-by protest at the airport earlier this week involving 80-100 vehicles which brought traffic to a standstill.

Disdain for the controversial sign has come from the highest level, with Prime Minister John Key reportedly saying he did not like it.

In fact, this wasn’t the first time the company came up with this goofy idea. More than a year ago, it tried to do the same thing but abandoned it after a storm of protest from locals and word that the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce that controls the original sign in California, USA was consulting lawyers about possible infringement of copyright. Hello, the idea is already dead – why is the company pursuing it again? I suppose, some people just don’t give up!

Yesterday evening was a rush – from Sunway to Glenmarie to Cheras – but it was nice to be able to still be at UCSI to help out a potential Toastmasters club that is in the formative stages of being set up. I was the Toastmaster-of-the-Evening. Other Toastmasters who lent a helping hand included Geoff Andrew, Francis Ng, Hakim Hamzah, Lee Sai Keong, Chris Chen and Victor Lee.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Chewie Soba

I happen to think this is cute! Chewbacca camouflaged in a food jungle! Well, actually it is a Chewbacca bento box – the creation of Krista at Disposable Aardvarks Inc (Blogpage http://disposableaardvarksinc.blogspot.com/search/label/Chewbacca, posted April 29, 2011) – and it does look inviting too. In case you don’t know, Chewbacca (also known as Chewie) is a character in the Star Wars franchise.

The Star yesterday carried UMNO information chief Ahmad Maslan’s challenge to Pakatan Rakyat to reduce the prices of fuel and other essential goods sold in PR-governed states instead of constantly criticizing the government over the issue of rationalizing the subsidy schemes (p 8). I say, of course, they will. Let PR control the federal government and see how fast PR will implement their rakyat-friendly policies. As PAS vice president Mahfuz Omar said Putrajaya was unable to find ways to cut their own expenditure and the public has to now pay “a subsidy to the government to pay off its debts.”

Who owns the tiger stripes?

Telekom Malaysia launched the Team Malaysia Panthera jersey sporting the three tiger stripes on April 28, 2011 and claiming to have obtained the legal rights from the respective rights owners, namely the National Sports Council (NSC) and the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM). But Malay Mail on Monday has exposed this sham by revealing that the registered proprietor of the said trademark for 10 years, from July 9, 2009, to July 9, 2019 is a company called Mesuma Sports Sdn Bhd, a retailer and wholesaler of sportswear, sports equipment, trophies and premium sports items.

Still, NSC is adamant that they are “the rightful owner of the stripes” which they claimed was “initiated by the Youth and Sports Ministry in 2005”. Actually, at that point in time, the design bore five stripes. In 2006, when Mesuma became the official attire distributors for the Olympic Council of Malaysia, they decided to make the jersey sponsor-friendly and reduced the design to three tiger stripes. Subsequently, they trademarked the tiger pattern in 2009. And if readers ask why the government did not trademark the tiger stripes design, I don’t believe there is an answer.

Telekom Malaysia is also in a spot over the name Panthera in its Team Malaysia jersey. It has not applied to register the name Panthera. In fact, the name Panther was registered by Secaicho Corporation, Japan, in 1977 and an application to register the name Pantherella in 2009 has had objections by a third party.

While the NSC, OCM, Telekom Malaysia and Mesuma Sports are locked in legalities, the fight looks set to damage a national identity. And to bring further ridicule to this episode, Telekom Malaysia also attempted to trademark the words "Team Malaysia”. I am perplexed. How is it that a company is permitted to register a national identity? Shouldn’t it belong to the people of Malaysia?

For readers' information, Mesuma will provide the official sports attire for the Malaysian contingent to the SEA Games in Indonesia later this year and the London Olympics next year.
Doesn't all the above sound convoluted to you? That's the problem with Malaysian business – nothing is what it seems. Often it gives the impression that business dealings here are cloaked in secrecy!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

China's Public Examination System

Today this particular posting is also China-related. The Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah Distinguished Speakers Series at Sunway University featured Cambridge University’s Professor Emeritus David L McMullen – and he gave a talk on “China’s Public Examination System: Did It Produce The Best and The Brightest?”

It was certainly insightful as a lecture – at least I know now that this examination system in Imperial China was designed to select the best administrative officials for the state’s bureaucracy. And it developed and matured during the Tang Dynasty, continuing until their abolition in 1905 under the Qing Dynasty – a history of about 1,300 years. In fact, the modern examination system for selecting civil service staff in China indirectly evolved from the imperial one.

I also learned two things. First, this examination system had a tremendous influence on both society and culture in Imperial China and was directly responsible for the creation of a class of scholar-bureaucrats that was merit-based rather than on the basis of inheritance. Second, the Chinese tradition of respect for formal education is a direct legacy of this Imperial examination system. I am glad I went and it was very well-attended. There were six of us from the Business School who went.

The Drug Pusher

Yesterday’s Taman Indrahana Toastmasters meeting was an exhilarating exercise of energetic proportions. Nobody should be surprised because that is how our meetings are played out every second and fourth Tuesdays of the month. What’s more, I was the Toastmaster-of-the-Evening and so, I can be counted upon to supply pulsating currents of exuberant excitement, thereby ensuring that the meeting stayed on an extravagant high. With me around, even the dead will wake up, I reckon. But happiness came when two of our long-lost members, Wooi Hong and Kelvin turned up after a long absence. It was good to see them again!

I find it odd that of all people, it is Najib Razak who described subsidies as being akin to "opium". After all, who has been feeding subsidies to the people all this while? Answer: The government. Najib should know better! He has been a part of the government since 1978. It is the government that makes Malaysians subsidy-dependent. So it is only fair to label the BN government as a "drug pusher" for sustaining us with "opium" for so long. As DAP’s Tony Pua (above) explains, the reason why the government has so readily made us addicted to subsidies is to mask the fact that the Malaysian economy has been unable to grow at the necessary pace and competitiveness. As a result the people are unable to increase their income at a pace faster than the rapidly rising cost of living. This shifty scheming by the surreptitious BN government is to keep the general populace in an artificial state of bliss and ignorance that Malaysians are stuck in a middle income trap and rising income inequality. I cannot help but agree with Pua’s assessment.

I read in the Star yesterday that Arsene Wenger has shouldered responsibility for Arsenal’s slide down to fourth in the English Premier League (p 57). It’s good to hear that he knows it is his fault. Now, it is important to start planning for the next season. The same goes for Liverpool. Roy Hodgson is history; Kenny Dalglish’s turn to take the club back to glory days from now on.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Books I Recommend

I spotted this book at Popular bookstore last Saturday and I made the decision to buy it. It tells about “The China Price” – accordingly, the three scariest words in U.S. industry. In general, it means 30% to 50% less than what you can possibly make something for in the US. In the worst cases, it means below their cost of materials. Makers of apparel, footwear, electric appliances, and plastics products, which have been shutting US factories for decades, know well the futility of trying to match the China price.

The China Price: The True Cost of Chinese Competitive Advantage takes readers behind the headlines and into the country’s vast ecosystem of export factories to meet the people who produce what we consume. This book is an exposé about the consequences of China's ceaseless pursuit of economic growth, from unethical business practices to pollution to an epidemic of occupational diseases.

Author Alexandra Harney takes readers into Chinese factories and their dormitories to show mainly young people who have flocked from the countryside to take dangerous manufacturing jobs. She visits model factories, where rules on working hours and product safety are followed, as well as "shadow" factories where anything goes in the drive to produce cheaper products. Harney also finds stirrings of change; aided by regional labor shortages, rising wages and intrepid activists, Chinese workers are demanding-and gradually winning-more rights.

I just finished reading this book and indeed, it represents a landmark investigation into the heart of China’s booming economy. A must-read for students of International Business and related disciplines. And anybody else who wants to know about the real China.

Talking about books which provide for interesting reads – finally, here’s a book on understanding women! But I don’t think you can get it at MPH or Popular or even at Kinokuniya Book Store though.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Bizarre Story

This story happened sometime last year but I only came across it yesterday (Webpage http://forums.techarp.com/lounge/26493-man-arrested-after-ejaculating-during-tsa-pat-down.html, posted November 21, 2010). It started off as a typical incident at a typical US airport but it had a bizarre twist. A 47 year old gay man was arrested at San Francisco International Airport after ejaculating while being patted down by a male TSA agent. Percy Cummings, an interior designer from San Francisco, is being held without bail after the alleged incident, charged with “sexually assaulting” a Federal agent.

According to Cummings’ partner, Sergio Armani, Cummings has penis piercings and that is what set off the alarm during a full body scan. As a result, Cummings was pulled aside for a pat-down. Armani stated that the unidentified TSA agent spent “an inordinate amount of time groping” Cummings, who had apparently become sexually aroused. And why not? If somebody starts messing with your dick, of course you’re gonna get very aroused and ejaculate. Even unfortunate for Cummings, he had a history of sexual dysfunction. Anyway, he ejaculated as the TSA agent’s hand was feeling the piercings. The TSA agent, according to several witnesses, promptly called for back up. Cummings was thrown to the ground and handcuffed.

A TSA spokesperson declined to comment on this specific case, but said that anyone ejaculating during a pat-down would be subject to arrest. That’s why I find this story strange. Cummings got himself into trouble because he ejaculated – and thereafter, he had a sexual assault charge hanging over his head. But seriously, shouldn’t it be the other way round? Shouldn’t the TSA fella be charged for assaulting Cummings? Think about it…

This story is so bizarre that I am not even sure if it is a true story!

An Easy Choice

This is a 1919 poster. Imagine if you guys had been around that year! I bet, you’d rather keep on drinking, right? I would! Thanks to Thiagarajah for sharing this with me.

Both my teams didn't do well in the EPL this time around... again! Liverpool’s season ended with a 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa which saw them finish in sixth place. Arsenal meanwhile finished in fourth place when they managed a 2-2 draw against Fulham – where goals from Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott cancelled out strikes from Steve Sidwell and Bobby Zamora.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Daring Mat Rempits

Photo credit: http://www.magickriver.org/2009/01/umnos-mat-rempit-regime-must-go.html

Did you hear about a group of illegal motorcycle racers (we call them Mat Rempits in Malaysia) who daringly trespassed into an army camp in Jalan Tambun, Ipoh on May 15? Aren’t our military barracks supposed to be secure? If anybody can just get into a military cantonment, isn’t this a serious security lapse? What if instead of Mat Rempits, they are saboteurs? Or worse, terrorists?

Anyway, twenty-six Mat Rempits – to escape a police dragnet – brazenly breached the said army camp. It took army personnel two hours to round up the motorcyclists with the co-operation of police officers. This is an awful long time to apprehend them. If this was in volatile Iraq or Pakistan or any other hot spot, soldiers would already have been killed and military hardware even plundered.

And what was Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi response to this incident? He wants more money to beef up security! (Sunday Star, May 22, 2011, p N10). This is what I don’t understand. Security is about making sure that the place is secure. It is about ensuring that unauthorized people cannot just sneak into a military camp. But I guess, in Malaysia, it is a walk in the park!

Manager Neil Lennon celebrates Celtic's Scottish Cup success. Source: AFP

Celtic claimed their 35th Scottish Cup when they romped to a comfortable 3-0 win over Motherwell. Ki Sung-Yeung struck from distance in the 32nd minute for a sensational opener. Celtic’s second goal came when Motherwell captain Stephen Craigan deflected in a Mark Wilson shot in the 76th minute. And Charlie Mulgrew completed the win when he confidently hammered in an inch-perfect free-kick in the 88th minute.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


This morning, I was at Management House to attend the MIMKL Toastmasters meeting. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would give this meeting a 5, not exactly the sort of meeting that can perk me up though. Anyway, this was one of those rare occasions where I do not play any role and I could just sit back to listen to wonderful speeches.

About 250 anti-Lynas Corp lobbyists braved the rain and heavy police presence in Kuala Lumpur yesterday to protest against the construction of the Australian miner’s RM700 million rare earth refinery in Kuantan.

Faced with a barricade of riot police, scores of police officers and seven police trucks near the Australian embassy in Jalan Yap Kwan Seng, the protestors – some of whom had travelled from Kuantan – continued to shout “Stop Lynas!” as they expressed concerns over possible radiation pollution from the Gebeng plant that is touted to be the biggest in the world upon completion.

“Go back to Australia! Save Malaysia! We are not lab rats!” shouted the protestors, most of whom were dressed in black T-shirts printed with a yellow anti-nuclear logo and the words “Save Malaysia, Stop Lynas!”

Those opposing the plant rightly fear a repeat of the radiation pollution from a similar plant in Bukit Merah, Ipoh. The Asian Rare Earth (ARE) plant in Perak has been linked to birth defects and at least eight cases of leukemia in the past five years, seven of which were fatal. Nearly 20 years after it was shuttered, the plant is still the subject of a massive RM300 million cleanup exercise. Yet, we still won’t learn because the state of Pahang is determined to see the Lynas project proceed. As their Menteri Besar Adnan Yaakob said the other day, the issue was being unnecessarily politicized. In fact, as reported in Harakah Daily on April 19, he had angrily suggested that the whole Gebeng industrial zone be shut down should Lynas be told to pack up. “If the people really feel strongly about it, then we can recommend for a total closure of Gebeng, and we shall see the reaction of the 20,000 people working there and that of their families,” this awful man said citing that every industry in Gebeng, the nation's chemical and petrochemical hub, produced some form of emission (Webpage http://en.harakahdaily.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2645:amid-intense-protest-aussie-firm-set-to-push-through-hazardous-plant&catid=36:headline&Itemid=70). What he is really saying is that the Lynas investment is important and people’s health are not – so screw you, Kuantan residents!

If this rare earth refinery is really safe – as Lynas claims – why won’t Lynas build it in Australia itself? After all, the raw material comes from the Mount Weld mine in Western Australia and it will have to be shipped 2,598 miles (the distance between Fremantle, the nearest Australian port and Kuantan, Malaysia) to be processed. Isn’t this a very costly arrangement? Moreover, the residues are to be stored here – supposedly in safe, reliable engineered storage cells that are designed so that there is no possibility for any leakage of material into the environment. Don’t our authorities know that no radioactive material could be classified as safe? If Japan's nuclear emergency following the tragic earthquake and tsunami in March has taught us anything at all, it is that the unpredictability of events and their potential magnitude can have a devastating impact on unsuspecting citizens.
Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh was right to politicize this because otherwise, the government rides roughshod over us ordinary folks!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Scholarship Brouhaha

Did you know that in Malaysia, the merry month of May is the time of the year when JPA (the Malay acronym for the Public Service Department) releases the results of scholarship applications, following which there will be an avalanche of public complaints of unfair decisions? So it wasn’t surprising to see yesterday’s Star with the headline on page N4: “Cabinet directive not followed” and the accompanying story of academically brilliant students (“academically brilliant” by Malaysian standards, that is) who were disappointed, despondent and dejected because they did not receive scholarships to further their studies. That government officers failed to adhere to Cabinet directives, is what MCA Youth Chief Wee Ka Siong (above photo) admitted as much at a press conference on Wednesday. To add insult to injury, he mentioned that many students who deserved the scholarships did not get the grants, but those who did not deserve them had successfully obtained the financial assistance.

This issue about financial support for smart students is an annual affair. We don’t seem to see the end of it because year after year, it repeats. In fact, Wee even claimed that this year was the worst in all the years when he handled these scholarship appeals.

Anyway, when I read about it in the said newspaper, I shook my head. Only two thoughts crossed my mind. Either government officers don’t give a shit about any directive(s) from the cabinet – maybe they are opposition supporters? – and so, they will not obey the honorable ministers. (You can’t blame them if they don’t know fear – have you heard of anybody in the civil service being given the sack for insubordination?) Or this fella Wee is orchestrating it for the benefit of the public, so that MCA is seen to champion the students’ cause – the students are non-Malays, by the way – and thereby earning brownie points for the political party that is already at death’s door. (Look at it in another way! Why does this news report identify him as the MCA Youth Chief, and not the Deputy Education Minister? I make sense, right?)

And how does Wee intend to resolve the students’ predicament? He said MCA (Note: Not the Education Ministry, but the political party) would meet with JPA officials to discuss the problem. Given the high regard, most people have for the MCA, the best Wee and the MCA can do is to beseech, plead and beg. Only when they bootlick, grovel and eat dirt will they receive the handouts. A sad state of affairs for the country! No wonder the other issue that is plaguing the country and persistently keeps cropping up is the brain drain?!?!

Oh yeah, as mentioned above, Wee Ka Siong is also the Deputy Education Minister – and from his statements above, he has ably demonstrated his wonderful incompetence! He has zilch foresight and zero influence and a goose egg of intelligence. Imagine that as a minister, he can be so hard-boiled that he doesn’t know how to feel ashamed at his ineptitude. I can safely assume that the twin concepts of responsibility and accountability are alien to this MCA lowlife.

Insincerity Speaks at Oxford

Prime Minister Najib Razak’s speech on May 16 at the Oxford Islamic Centre, entitled 'The Coalition of the Moderates and Inter-civilisational Understanding' was well-crafted but sadly, it rang hollow. It was also full of irony. He explained that “in Malaysia, Islam is synonymous with moderation, inclusiveness and good governance” – and even as he spoke, his ballooning insincerity was being noticeably stretched to the agonizing limits of tolerable endurance. This is because the country continues to hear Perkasa war drums thumping the all-too-familiar beat of the supremacy of Malay-Muslim rights. And still Najib is too cowardly to put a stop to Ibrahim Ali’s inflammatory bombast. Or Najib is not too bothered at all to do anything because his political agenda requires him to play off the Malay-Muslim populace against the other races and religions.

Whatever Najib’s motive(s), the idea is to keep the Malay vote within UMNO; otherwise the party leadership, already stained by greed and tainted by corruption, shall be cruelly exposed and then they will be put to the sword for betraying the very Malays they are sworn to serve. Perhaps, I could arrange for these self-serving UMNO politicians to attend my Leadership class and learn about “servant leadership”.

It doesn’t really matter who we are because if we peel away our skins of different colors and strip ourselves from the hegemony of false religion – we will discover that beneath the diaphanous exterior, we are all Malaysians. Once we have opened our eyes, we will know we cannot count on Najib or trust UMNO. Only then can we begin to fulfill our true potential as Malaysians! Isn’t this something to really look forward to?

Forbes' No. 1 Celebrity

Flamboyant pop singer Lady Gaga claims the top spot in Forbes’ annual “The Celebrity 100” 2011 list that measures power by entertainment-related earnings, media visibility and social media popularity.

Forbes rated the American singer-songwriter No. 1, estimating her earnings in the past 12 months as $90 million (RM270 million), but also noting her 32 million Facebook fans and 10 million Twitter followers. Forbes editor Dorothy Pomerantz explained that Lady Gaga won because “of her social media power. She can use Twitter and Facebook to work the ‘little monsters’ into a frenzy that leads to record sales and media attention. She’s the best example of how celebrities will need to manage their careers in the coming years”. The power of social media plus the energy of Lady Gaga equals Numero Uno.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Toyota No. 1 in Recalls

Toyota car owners had argued that they suffered economic losses because Toyota didn't disclose or fix defects that made their cars accelerate suddenly. US District Judge James Selna issued a final order on May 13, that in the US, these car owners can pursue claims that the carmaker caused the value of their vehicle to fall. Selna had already issued a similar ruling in November 2010 that rejected Toyota’s motion to dismiss an earlier complaint by the vehicle owners. He had said then that "a vehicle with a defect is worth less than one without a defect."

Toyota insisted ‘that no defect exists in its electronic throttle control system," spokesperson Celeste Migliore said in a statement. "The burden is now squarely on plaintiffs' counsel to prove their allegations and Toyota is confident that no such proof exists."

However, the representative for the car owners said there was a rationale for the claims. "Judge Selna agreed with our contention that Toyota owners who did not attempt to sell their vehicle could still bring a claim because they overpaid for their vehicles, buying cars that were not worth as much as a car free of these defects," said Steve Berman, co-lead counsel for many of the plaintiffs.

Toyota started recalling cars after claims of defects and incidents involving sudden unintended acceleration. In September 2009, the company began recalling 3.8 million vehicles that it said had a defect that might cause floor mats to press the accelerator pedal. Following that, in January 2010 another 2.3 million cars were recalled due to sticking accelerator pedals. Finally, another 2.17 million vehicles were recalled in the US, again for carpet and floor mat issues that could cause jams in the accelerator pedal (Webpage
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13420798, posted May 17, 2011). Since the recalls, Toyota faced a never-ending wave of litigation and the company better have deep pockets to settle the lawsuits!

There were other recalls too involving the airbag sensor assembly, the fuel pressure sensor installation, the stop lamp (brake light) switch bracket, and other potential defects (Check out webpage
http://www.toyotarecall.org/). It is sad that Toyota had compromised quality in their pursuit to be No. 1.

Disgruntled Teachers

Etsy (the place to buy and sell all things handmade) seller StudioDz (Webpage http://www.etsy.com/listing/73183991/dolly-bookshelf?ref=pr_shop) calls this item a Dolly Bookshelf. Book lovers can surely visualize this as a mobile “library” (dimensions: 55" x 11" x 13") – talk about a perfect gift! And it’s not cheap either – it carries a $175.00 price tag.

The National Union of Teaching Profession (NUTP) is in a disconsolate mood. Disgruntled teachers and headmasters from primary schools were unhappy as they were left out of promotion opportunities, as announced by Najib Razak on Monday ("Teacher's Day" blog posting on May 16). “The problem started after the teachers got the impression that the entire teaching community would benefit after much media publicity,” Lok Yim Pheng, NUTP secretary-general told the Star (May 18, 2011, p N6). That's the problem when the government is selective – 400,000 teachers did not benefit, after all.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The China Effect Continued

My May 05 posting on “The China Effect” was interesting in that it hinted at China losing its competitive advantage. In fact, China has become a victim of its own success as the world’s leading manufacturer of labor-intensive consumer goods. The rush of investment in factories has driven down profit margins and driven up prices of everything from raw materials to labor to power.

The gap between China’s wages and the rest of the world’s means that manufacturing pay in China is likely to remain lower than in the US or Europe for years. But the gap is shrinking fast. David Dollar, the World Bank’s country director for China , has estimated that wages in China are growing two to three times faster than in other low-wage Asian economies (Source: Dominic Ziegler, “The Export Juggernaut,” Economist. A Special Report on China and Its Region, March 31, 2007, p 9). My concern is on wages. I suspect that as China’s wages rise, Malaysian wages have been pretty much stagnant.

China’s manufacturing sector is transforming. Besides rising wages and material costs, greater demand for unionization, a higher risk of litigation, a dwindling supply of cheap workers, calls for better product quality and safety and substantial downward pressure on margins are shaping this new manufacturing landscape.

And so, some factories will try to mitigate these “changes” by moving up the value chain into design, research and development, and by creating their own brands. Others will look to acquire rivals and increase economies of scale. Some will go out of business. And still others will move their operations overseas. To Malaysia, for example.

Secretary K Veeriah of the Penang chapter of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) highlighted that the average worker in Penang had not experienced any benefit from the reported RM12.2 billion flow of foreign direct investments (FDI) into the state. He said some workers in the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone were still earning as low as RM500 a month. “How much longer must our workers wait for the FDI inflows to translate into better paying jobs? In the meantime, they are grappling with the rising costs of living” (Webpage
http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/2011/05/05/mtuc-laments-low-wages-amid-rising-costs/, posted May 05, 2011). I maintain that Malaysians should earn a living wage. And a responsible government must legislate to ensure this.

Tambun Photos

Yesterday, I did mention about the Sunway University Business School going away to Tambun to strategize. According to colleague Chong Soon Meng, there were more than a thousand photos taken but I have posted only a select eleven here:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Strategizing in Tambun

Yesterday evening, I came back from Ipoh (Tambun to be exact). The Sunway Business School had a Strategy Workshop at the Lost World of Tambun and it was great because staff, both academic and admin, came together to share and bond and more importantly, to also work on the strategic direction for our School. I know all of us present had a productive and beneficial meeting. Sunway Business School is in for exciting times ahead, that’s for sure!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Teacher's Day

Today is Teacher’s Day in Malaysia! Thanks to those who sent their greetings! And school teachers are celebrating because according to The Malaysian Insider on May 16, the BN government has announced a pay rise for 7,000 senior educators and raised the pay ceiling for all teachers as they prepare to call a general election that is expected within the year. I don’t mind receiving a pay rise too – but lecturers are more often than not, an unappreciated lot! Oh well…

This is hilarious, folks! According to Mahathir Mohamad (left) and reported by Bernama (Webpage
http://www.bernama.com/bernama/v5/bm/newsindex.php?id=585498, posted May 10, 2011), buying a Proton car is an “amal jariah”. That means, those Muslims will get "pahala" or good points from God if they buy a Proton car or two. This is because when we buy a Proton car, we are helping all those employees of Proton and many more who would get jobs with Proton. It’s like doing charity! Whether Proton is a quality car or not is really not important – Malaysians must buy Proton to support the company’s employees and their families. BS from the former Prime Minister.