Monday, August 15, 2022

The Axes of Leadership by Henry Kissinger

Any society, whatever its political system, is perpetually in transit between a past that forms its memory and a vision of the future that inspires its evolution. Along this route, leadership is indispensable: decisions must be made, trust earned, promises kept, and a way forward proposed. Within human institutions – states, religions, armies, companies, schools – leadership is needed to help people reach from where they are to where they have never been and, sometimes, can scarcely imagine going. 

Without leadership, institutions drift, and nations court growing irrelevance and, ultimately, disaster. Leaders think and act at the intersection of two axes: the first, between the past and the future; the second, between the abiding values and aspirations of those they lead. Their first challenge is analysis, which begins with a realistic assessment of their society based on its history, mores, and capacities. Then they must balance what they know, which is necessarily drawn from the past, with what they intuit about the future, which is inherently conjectural and uncertain. It is this intuitive grasp of direction that enables leaders to set objectives and lay down a strategy.

For strategies to inspire society, leaders must serve as educators – communicating objectives, assuaging doubts, and rallying support. While the state possesses by definition the monopoly of force, reliance on coercion is a symptom of inadequate leadership; good leaders elicit in their people a wish to walk alongside them. They must also inspire an immediate entourage to translate their thinking so that it bears upon the practical issues of the day. Such a dynamic surrounding team is the visible complement of the leader’s inner vitality; it provides support for the leader’s journey and ameliorates the dilemmas of decision.

Leaders can be magnified – or diminished – by the qualities of those around them. The vital attributes of a leader in these tasks, and the bridge between the past and the future, are courage and character – courage to choose a direction among complex and difficult options, which requires the willingness to transcend the routine; and strength of character to sustain a course of action whose benefits and whose dangers can be only incompletely glimpsed at the moment of choice.

Courage summons virtue in the moment of decision; character reinforces fidelity to values over an extended period. Leadership is most essential during periods of transition when values and institutions are losing their relevance, and the outlines of a worthy future are in controversy. In such times, leaders are called upon to think creatively and diagnostically: what are the sources of the society’s well-being? Of its decay? Which inheritances from the past should be preserved, and which adapted or discarded? Which objectives deserve commitment, and which prospects must be rejected no matter how tempting? And, at the extreme, is one’s society sufficiently vital and confident to tolerate sacrifice as a waystation to a more fulfilling future?

from the book - LEADERSHIP - Six Studies in World Strategy

by Henry Kissinger

Henry Alfred Kissinger KCMG is a German-born American politician, diplomat, and geopolitical consultant who served as United States Secretary of State and National Security Advisor under the presidential administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.


edited By 

Noor Mohamed

16/8/22

2.07am


Sunday, August 14, 2022

Malay Proverbs


A refined Malay proverb says that if you remembered the place where you fall, you will never forget your playground. Places that bring bad memories are remembered and even more for places that give you joy and happiness. The Malay proverbs of the older generations were meant to guide the young with guiding words of wisdom. Malay proverbs found their way into everything that a Malay does. Its intended purpose is to make them think before doing anything that could put them into trouble. 

Malay proverbs are actually advice before making a decision or understanding the complexities of life itself. It is normally expressed in rhythmic prose and open with elliptical reference to nature or behavior or relevant things and the punch line contains all the wisdom kept in the mind of the older generation to serve as a reminder to young people especially when they are traveling abroad. Malay proverbs are full of age-old traditional values. In the past, wicked kings claimed heads in a lustful manner. 

Nowadays, spoilt children rule as little kings in their homes. Children are never satisfied with whatever you give them. Give them a ride on your shoulders, they will want to ride on your head next. These are Malay proverbs demonstrating age-old wisdom about brats and their desires to have more which is precisely the behavior of our millennial generation. Folks who are not in favor of administering the cane may opt to reason with the brats. While this is the prerogative of parents, we know it is not easy to get through to unresponsive ears.  

Sometimes it's like talking to a wall that only an electric drill can penetrate. Therefore, the Malay saying: “drilling words into the ear" illustrates advice given on a regular basis.  Another Malay proverb that means similar is: "Like pouring water on the yam's leaves". Yam leaves are extremely smooth and waxy, no drops of water will remain if you pour the liquid on them.  Fortunately, not everyone is a brat. It is possible to talk many people into performing tasks that they normally dislike. The right kind of persuasion is as powerful as great physical strength since “a sweet mouth breaks the bone." On the other hand, the very irresponsible way of using one's mouth is "the forked tongue of a monitor lizard". Famous in Malaysia when referring to capricious folks.

Here are some samples of the wise Malay Proverbs translated literally and with their English equivalent;

Sehari selembar benang, lama-lama menjadi kain-Everyday a thread, soon a cloth. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.

Masuk kandang kambing mengembik, masuk kandang kerbau menguak-Enter a goat’s shed, you bleat; enter a buffalo’s shed, you moo. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Tanam lalang tak akan tumbuh padi. If you plant grass, you won’t get rice. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Sambil Menyelam Minum Air-While diving, drink water. Killing two birds with one stone.

Seperti kera kena belacan-Like a monkey who eats chilly shrimp paste. Like a cat on hot bricks.

Sepandai-pandai tupai melompat, akhirnya jatuh ke tanah juga-No matter how clever the squirrel jumps, it will eventually fall onto the ground. Curses, like chickens, come home to roost.

Diam-diam ubi berisi, diam-diam besi berkarat-The Potato grows in silence, the iron corrodes in silence. Speech is silver, silence is golden.

Jika tidak dipecahkan ruyung, manakan dapat sagunya-You can’t get at the precious sago without first breaking the bark. You can’t make bricks without straw

By

Noor Mohamed

15/8/22

3.54am

Friday, August 12, 2022

Noble culture of the Malays - "merisik".

The word “merisik” in Bahasa Malaysia (Malay language) means- to whisper (eavesdropping) or to spy if translated literally but actually it means to investigate or inquire secretly and discretely. The Malay culture is full of very artful behavior if they intend to do something. Merisik is the first step to be undertaken by a man if he likes a woman. The man will get his parents to assemble a small private party like a family gang to go to the said woman's house and do the merisik ceremony. First, it is an inquiry and to tender intent from the man putting forward his intention towards the woman’s parents and family.

Then if the woman’s family consented, immediately or sometimes during a second visit there will be a discussion about the wedding date and venue. During the merisik, verbal communication will be in parables or pantun (in Malay). Pantun is the Malay version of the English sonnets. In its raw and basic format, these sonnets or pantun consist of verses or abab (in Malay) where in each line the ending rhyme with each other and it’s very delicate to the hearing. A novelty showing off the mastery in commanding the Malay language. The shortest pantun has two lines known as pantun dua kerat whereas the longest has sixteen lines or pantun enam belas kerat. It’s hard to translate into English because Malay and English have different language syntax and lexical meanings but here is a sample of Malay Merisik Pantun;   

 

Jika tidak kerana bintang

Tak mungkin bulan terbit tinggi

Jika tidak kerana sayang

Tak mungkin kami datang ke sini

If it’s not because of the stars high above

Would the moon risen so high in the sky

If it weren’t for you my love

Would we never venture nigh!

 

The Malays are a very cultured society. Whenever they want to say something especially if it’s related to birth, marriage, death, peace talks, or ceremonial matters, they are extremely cautious in order to avoid hurting anybody’s feelings. Such is the high standard of speech of the Malays that they resort to talking in sonnets and use proverbial sentences to convey their message. 

During the merisik both parties will decide on the wedding date and venue as well as discussion about mahar or mas kahwin and hantaran. Mahar or mas kahwin is dowry given from the man to the woman and it is a religious obligation required in Islam and cannot be taken back once given whereas hantaran is a cultural mannerism that literally means delivery but actually, it means elaborate wedding gifts which consist of money, jewelry, clothing’s, gifts (even handphones and tablets in these days), foodstuff, flowers and fruits wrapped in a very decorative and artistic manner.

By

Noor Mohamed

13/8/22

12.04am

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Malaysia's Politics - State of Affairs

By Noor Mohamed B Mohd Yousof

It took many walkabouts within the vicinity of my dwelling in Felda Batu 8, Changlun, Kedah, to form this idea about what I am going to write. I gave it a very deep thought and finally, I decided to put pen to paper as this is my opinion and I am sure many will disagree with me. 

As I observed my country at this moment, there is a lot of confusion out there as we face political turmoil. Currently, we are governed by a coalition of remnants from what was left of an elected Government brought down by the sudden resignation of Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed. The people (rakyat) slight majority (113 out of 222-51%) supported a coalition known as Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) in the hope that it will bring back much-needed proper governance after it overthrow the popular Barisan Nasional unseated the first time after 59 years (1st Election - 1959_14th Election 2018). 

Fast forward, after 22 months, on 24th Feb 2020, this coalition falls apart due to various reasons among others, factions within the coalition disagreed with each other and Dr. Mahathir Mohamed felt that the then Presidential Council held the actual power in governing the nation. Since that day, the Malaysian King (Yang Di Pertuan Agong), stepped in, and from 2020 till today, Malaysia presented with two successive Prime Ministers governing through a loose coalition of factions that don't command a solid majority in the Parliament.

As a man walking on the street, the political events in my country, polarised Malaysians from all walks of life. Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) obviously was the choice of urban voters comprising of the middle class, working professionals, and business communities among Malays, Indians, Chinese and other ethnicities from East Malaysia. Whereas the Barisan Nasional (National Front) base supporters come from the rural Malays as well as some urban conservative Malays, Indians, Chinese and other ethnicities from East Malaysia mostly elderly generations. It was a paradox to me that the whole 14th Malaysian General Election results were actually dependent on only one factor which was spun overwhelmingly out of proportion which was the 1MDB scandal. 

1MDB scandal attributed to the sixth Prime Minister, Dato Seri Najib Tun Razak was actually a mechanism to raise funds which was much needed by Najib's administration to have its own financial resources to further develop Malaysia's development program. Najib sought a loan from a US bank with a high-interest rate no doubt and use the Malaysian Finance Ministry to guarantee the loan in case it defaulted on its payment. No doubt there are people (Jho Low_Reza Aziz (Najib's stepson) who benefited from this scheme but the bulk of the money was used to fund Malaysia's development programs. The irony of the 1MDB being made into a political fiasco to win an election for a former Prime Minister is as if this was the only time Malaysia, borrowed money for its development programs. 

In 1983, Dr. Mahathir had, too, borrowed 81.5 billion yen from Japan. At the time, the exchange rate is about RM1 to 100 JP¥, thus we were supposed to owe Japan about RM8.15 billion. However, in the twenty years that followed, the yen had appreciated almost 3.76 times against our Ringgit. This should have been the lesson to our leaders that we ought to be prudent when it comes to foreign debt; to not take unreasonable risks with the people’s money.  

A country's debt standard controlling mechanism is to look at the debt ratio against its GDP (Gross Domestic Ratio). 

The debt-to-GDP ratio is used by economists and investors to gauge a country’s economic health. The higher the ratio, the greater the debt of a country compared with its total economic output (expressed in the form of gross domestic product). Simply put, the GDP can be seen as the total income of a country. 

Interestingly, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) published a working paper, titled “Debt and growth: Is there a magic threshold?”, in 2014 to find out whether a country’s economic growth can be dramatically compromised if its debts hit a certain level.  The paper pointed out that several economists had concluded that countries with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 90% and above could experience a dramatic decline in economic growth. These findings were later refuted by other economists, so the debate goes on.

What was the Debt to GDP ratio when Dr. Mahathir Mohamed governed Malaysia during his tenure as the fourth Prime Minister? Malaysia's debt to GDP ratio had hit a peak of 103.4% in 1986 during Dr. Mahathir's fourth Prime Ministership compared to the last year of Najib's governance even with the 1MDB loan in 2017 which was at 50.8%.

Politics is the process by which a society chooses the rules that will govern it and is also dependent upon how leaders bent those rules to their advantage to govern the people. Politics surrounds institutions for the simple reason that inclusive institutions may be good for the economic prosperity of a nation. When there is a conflict over institutions, what happens depends on which people or leaders win out in the game of politics. Who can get more support, obtain additional resources and form more effective coalitions?  In short, who wins depends on the distribution of political power in society. 

In due course, I will be commenting on Malaysia's political state of affairs by highlighting the paradoxes of perceived moral standards against the reality of actions based on these standards. 

Peace be with you.

12.56am

11/8/2022

Monday, August 8, 2022

Phenology

Success and failures are like two sides of the same coin. The fact that we are here shows that our ancestors who lived on this earth which already passed the age of 4.54 billion years mean the early homo sapiens managed to survive the harsh conditions they were in and their success to survive means we are their symbol of being successful in surviving to stay alive on this planet. 

How do they manage to survive? They thrive because of their deep understanding of phenology. What is phenology? Phenology is the study of plant and animal life cycle events, which are triggered by environmental changes, especially temperature. Wide ranges of phenomena are included, from the first openings of leaf and flower buds to insect hatchings and the return of birds. Each one gives a ready measure of the environment as viewed by the associated organism. 

Thus, phenological events are ideal indicators of the impact of local and global changes in weather and climate on the earth's biosphere. Assessing our changing world is a complex task that requires close cooperation from experts in biology, climatology, ecology, geography, oceanography, remote sensing, and other areas. Phenology (Greek phainesthai=to appear, logos=knowledge, teaching) is the study of natural phenomena that recur periodically in plants and animals and of the relationship of these phenomena to climate and changes in season. 

In other words, it is the study of the annual sequence of plant development. Its aim is to describe the causes of variation in the timing of developmental events by seeking correlations between weather indices and the dates of particular growth events and the intervals between them. Phenology investigates a plant’s reaction to the environment and attempts to predict its behavior in new environments. In viticulture, phenology is mainly concerned with the timing of specific stages of growth and development in the annual cycle. Our ancestors understood phenology perfectly without having to consult any expert only from meticulous observation and the close relationship they had with nature.   

The Walk Out of Africa

 Our early ancestors use their five sensors and observation skills to the extreme for the sake of surviving the harsh conditions they are subjected to while living on this planet. They develop skill sets very early and this showed in the oldest cave painting discovered in France. The cave drawings in the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc, France is the oldest animal paintings on Earth. The red and black cave drawings contained in the cave are more than 30,000 years old, according to a radiocarbon dating study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal.  The cave is located in Vallon-Pont d'Arc, Ardeche, and was classified as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site in 2014, 20 years after it was first discovered. The act and ability to draw what early humans saw in their environment is proof that shows they understood the idea of visual documentation of experiences which may help them to survive. This shows a very modern behavior of observation which gave rise to their acute understanding of phenology. The early humans developed this ability as a result of converting obstacles into power generators where they have to pass down all the knowledge of phenology that one generation developed to the next generation and the most suitable ways of recordings vital memories are through wall paintings. The challenges they faced made them more creative in developing all kinds of tools, agriculture techniques, animal husbandry, languages, writing skills as well as phenology. I believe that we the modern humans if were transported back in time to the stone Age with all our scientific knowledge, we can’t survive as our ancestors survived in facing the challenges they faced then. Our ancestors make the conscious decision to walk out of Africa on foot 150’000 years ago for the sake of survival and looking for better habitation. Scientists, Alex Timmerman and Tobias Fredric suggest the answer lies in climate change — not the human-caused variety, but rather change induced by 21,000-year-long wobbles in the Earth’s axis. Those wobbles mean that, from time to time, northern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula would get a bit less sun and a bit more rainfall, creating greener and wetter landscapes. When our early ancestors observe the long-term difficulties, they will face if they remained in the same place hence that caused them to decide to move out of Africa for the sake of survival. According to Smithsonian Magazine dated July 2008, “in the 1980’s new tools completely change the kinds of questions that scientists could answer about the past. By analyzing DNA in living human populations, geneticists could trace lineages backward in time. These analyses have provided key support for the out of Africa theory. Homo sapiens, this new evidence has repeatedly shown, evolved in Africa, probably around 200’000 years ago. At that point in human history, which scientists have calculated to be about 200,000 years ago, a woman existed whose mitochondrial DNA was the source of the mitochondrial DNA in every person alive today. That is, all of us are her descendants. Scientists call her “Eve”.    

Collapse of Civilizations

 According to World Economic Forum, Senior writer, Rosamund Hutt, when she wrote an article which was posted on the World Economic Forum website dated 17th March 2016 on the subject “why do civilizations collapse” among others, herein are her findings;

“From the collapse of ancient Rome to the fall of the Mayan empire, evidence from archaeology suggests that five factors have almost invariably been involved in the loss of civilizations: uncontrollable population movements; new epidemic diseases; failing states leading to increased warfare; the collapse of trade routes leading to famine; and climate change”.

To my irony, these are variables that lead to the collapse of civilizations but the underlying factor above all is the loss of principle-centered leadership and when people start to abandon moral values which caused society to be corrupted and start to exhibit immoral behaviors which eventually gave rise to uncontrollable population movements; new epidemic diseases; failing states leading to increased warfare; the collapse of trade routes leading to famine; and climate change”.