Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Few Good Men & Some Not-So-Good Ones

If one is not in the military service, it may be difficult to understand the system of chain of command adopted in the military. The lowest-ranked foot soldiers are subjected to harsh treatments from their superiors. They are given orders and made to do chores that are seemingly ridiculous to the extreme. These may range from cleaning the toilets with toothbrushes to trimming the lawn with a nail clipper etc. At least these are the examples shown in the movies. 

The folks in the military are divided into groups that are categorized according to ranks, and in most cases the higher-ranked officers have almost absolute power over those below them. Perhaps some of the examples in the movies are just exaggerations to make the movies more interesting or dramatic, but I'm convinced that there must be some truth in it.

A famous movie that comes to mind is A Few Good Men—the story of how unconditional obedience can go awfully wrong in the military context. Soldiers—good, obedient ones—whom took orders from their superior without question, but with serious repercussions. These are good men in the military context, but not necessarily good for mankind. Sometimes it becomes difficult to draw the boundary between good and bad when logic and common sense are thrown into the equation.

The thing that is hard to fathom is that many of those ridiculous commands, such as cleaning the toilets with toothbrushes, seem to have no tangible value in terms of winning wars. However, I can appreciate the significance of unconditional obedience in the military. For in the event of a war, we can't afford to have our soldiers to disagree with each other; people refusing to obey orders. The effectiveness of the military will very quickly be reduced to nothing. When we have people disagreeing with each other, nothing gets done; and the whole military can crumble. There is therefore a delicate balance to be had, but always for the good of the majority.

The trouble with the military system is that a great deal hinges on the decision makers at the top of the hierarchy. If the wrong person is at the top, everybody below him may suffer serious consequences when and if he makes poor decisions. Wrong decisions may result in the unnecessary loss of many lives in the battlefield, for example. Wars may be lost. Yet all those at the bottom are expected to obey orders. In such a system, it is imperative that the person at the top must be genuinely competent for the job—he is at the top because he is really qualified to be there; not because of his family background or any other reason.

I can't help thinking that the military approach that is adopted in our government is hurting the majority like never before. I can live with the system if I can see progress; if I can experience improvement in the country; if the ordinary man in the street is happier today than before. But no, it seems a lot like we are going downhill. We are economically worse off today and the value of our currency has declined, and is still declining, even though the "expert analysts" would like to paint a rosy picture. I'm seeing racial and religious tension among the people and apparently the trend is getting worse. The cost of living is rising; and the ordinary man in the street is finding it increasingly harder to cope. My view is that those who think otherwise are either in denial or have too much money to feel the pinch.

The lower-ranking officers whom have raised questions instead of blindly obeying instructions have been removed, so that others of more obliging temperament could take over their positions. The justification for such move was as follows:

"It is to ensure that the administration under me remains committed, always focused on efforts to develop the country as has been promised by the Barisan Nasional Government to the people during the 13th general election."

I can accept a government that operates based on the principle of "Cabinet must move as a team", because otherwise there is no point to have a team if everybody is going his own direction. But I want to know in which direction that team is moving to. If we are going downhill—and right now it seems like we are heading there, although admittedly I may be wrong—then I must respectfully beg to differ. If a different idea can help to change the direction, then that idea should be seriously considered. The whole team should still move as a team, but to a different direction—hopefully uphill.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Overseas Education

I read with interest the article "Most Malaysian parents are for overseas education" which reveals that "A whopping 88% of Malaysian parents would consider sending their child overseas to pursue tertiary education."

This lately, I've been thinking about education too, especially since my running buddy is now in the United Kingdom to attend his daughter's graduation. My daughter, JJ, is 13 years old now, and in a couple of years' time I, too, will have to decide between local and foreign education for her.

I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog that we have job applicants from both local and foreign universities' graduates, and what I have discovered was that as far as the quality of the knowledge acquired from the university is concerned, there is hardly any difference between local and foreign universities. Of course this is speaking from the general point of view. We haven't had applicants from Harvard, for example, so I can't tell what more, if any, that they can do when compared to the rest of the universities.

I have come to the conclusion that it is much easier to pass in the university than in high school. One has to attend lectures, do assignments (which usually means cut-and-paste from Google or some other sources); perhaps take up some sort of sporting activities to fill in the quota, and then of course sit for the written exams. I dare say it would take a stupid kid to actually fail the degree; any average kid sent to the university will earn the degree somehow!

No—if I decide for a foreign university for my JJ—and it's very likely that I would, eventually—it won't be because I'm convinced that the quality of that foreign education is superior than our local education. As far as knowledge is concerned, it's more or less the same. And even if indeed the foreign universities can provide more knowledge or abilities, that difference is negligible.

A more significant reason why I would choose a foreign university for JJ is for the exposure to the foreign people and culture. It is a matter of great concern to me that the mentality of Malaysians in general does not produce good, honest and hardworking people. In the long run this kind of mentality will become a huge stumbling block for our children to progress in life. We are bound to have a minority productive portion of the population supporting the majority of unproductive population. Human resource is a very important asset to a nation, but only if we're talking about productive people.

Another reason is that I want JJ to see a different world out there where the leaders view seriously the problems of racism and extreme religious inclinations. In Malaysia, our leaders do too little, and in some cases seemingly encourage racism and religious boundaries to divide the people. There are better things out there in the world, and I hope not to deprive JJ of that knowledge.

So, yes, I will try my best to give overseas education to JJ for as long as I can afford it. Which means making plans from the day she was born, i.e. setting up of an education fund, as well as other means of savings. To achieve bigger things, sacrifices are necessary for some of us, because hoping for help from others is a long shot, to say the least.