Friday, 27 February 2009

Jumping Juvenile Jellyfish

Super Origins
Action Comics #1, June 1938, available in an online auction today for about US$126,000.

Once upon a time, I would have harbored thoughts of buying such a gem, but those days are long gone.

Those who read comics (those published in the US and the UK) fervently would recall the nasty period in the early 1990s when publishers shamelessly hyped up their lineups with variant covers.
Remember Jim Lee’s X-Men, issue Numero Uno: five variant covers. Sold 8 million copies.

This was also the period when speculators came in droves into comicsdom, snapping up these so-called special issues – they are forever issuing 1st issues with one publisher even coming up with a number 0 issue.

A sort of flashback continuity kinda thing.

I remember my trips to the Mind Shop in KL Plaza all those years ago to collect my monthly share of issues during the pander the speculator era.

Issues would come with swanky variants covers and Wolverine (always a fan favorite) would make guests appearances in all sorts of not so popular titles.

The little runt with the pop out adamantium claws was Marvel’s sales killing machine back then.

I so hated those speculators during that particular period as they would hog all the so-called “collector’s item” issues in the hope of making a quick (US126,000?) killing at selling it second hand in mint condition.

Mint condition means that it is not read and is still in the plastic wrapping it came in.

To me, it was a major waste to hog something, and in so doing, deprive others who wants to do so, just so that you can profit.

Speculators are the scum of the earth were my thoughts back then.

The debacle of the US subprime mortgage and fancy schmancy financial derivatives and the likes similarly involved speculators and look what they did to the global economy.

Scum of the earth is perhaps still correct when it comes to speculators and their cahoots.

The little runt that is Logan

Frank Miller's Wolvie

Monday, 23 February 2009

Stimulating Stimulus!

Our so-called first stimulus package is fast turning out to be a dud (dead?) deal.

While it’s “ciput” money at RM7billion (compared to the rest of the world’s, of course) but the almost invisible impact on the ground makes it even lesser still.

Now from the horses' mouth we hear “the results could only be seen and felt in 12 to 18 months as the funds are being distributed in stages to big projects.”


Stimulus packages are supposed to be shock therapy, to jumpstart the recovery (or at least to lessen the pain), otherwise we might as well call it a budget.

If it takes a whole bloody (Cor Blimey!) year and a half to have any visible impact, its just not worth an iota as a stimulus package offering as by that time, the world’s economy would either:
~ be at the stone age era, with barter trades back in style, or
~ back on the fast track of yet another bubble waiting to burst.

I’ve written on our seemingly very slothlike pace, but really, 12 to 18 months?

While everyone else is raring with their gigantic stimulus packages (Japan has announced THREE in the last few months; but their economy is really down in the dumps), we are stuck in “kita akan kaji" mode.

Curioser still is the portion of the Deputy Finance Minister’s statement on “distributed in stages to big projects” as news reports suggest the RM7 billion are mostly to the small and medium projects instead.

Things like “low and medium-cost houses, upgrading, repairing and maintenance of police stations, army camps and living quarters, minor projects like village roads, community halls and small bridges, public amenities such as roads, schools and hospitals; and building and upgrading of roads in rural areas, villages, as well as agriculture roads.”

Small, minor ticket items, that help mostly the Class F contractors.

Hmm.... 12 to 18 months for the impact to be felt; meaning what?

That the money will only be paid in 12 to 18 months?

That the constructions would be complete in 12 to 18 months?

That spin-off economic activities would only be seen on the grounds in 12 to 18 months?

Another intention of stimulus packages is to inspire confidence.

“12 to 18 months” is as inspiring as watching banana slugs race.

Heck, at 6.5 inches every two hours, it might just outspeed us.

The need for speed: the Shinkansen

Bullet train

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Bailout Blues

We don't want to come out of this crisis with just inflation, a mountain of debt and more shovel-ready jobs. We want to - we have to - come out of it with a new Intel, Google, Microsoft and Apple.”

Thomas L Friedman was talking about protectionist’s tendencies in the US stimulus packages.

He’s adamant that it will get no one anywhere to impose a “US-Only” clause anywhere within the grandiose plans of President B.O. to save the US of A.

Friedman referred to a Feb 6 approval by the Senate of restricting banks and other financial institutions receiving taxpayer bailout money from hiring high-skilled, immigrants on temporary work permits known as H-1B visas.

Logic says that this is the right move by the Senate especially since it's money from the US Citizen to save US institutions so as to spur US economy.

Such a move is nothing novel as our own neighbor down south’s “Resilience Package” incorporated a Jobs for Singaporeans phrase with, perhaps, all the intended protectionists inclinations.

It’s also a politically popular statements to cite, showing that we care for you.

Except for the fact that protectionism have been proven to be economically unreliable in ensuring that resources are tapped in the most efficient way possible, leading to quality products and services at relatively low costs.

The main argument for protectionist moves; that of allowing industries at their infancies to grow and gain foothold to allow them to compete on equal terms with their more illustrious compatriots, seems sound.

Until you realize that once someone is mollycoddled in such a way, there is no way in hell that they would so easily relinquished such “special status”. Not easily, at least.

You don’t really have to look far for an anecdotal example of this, really.

How long has Proton been with us?

It’s the same old thing with America’s Detroit, in a way, except that ours is really way to small a domestic market to adopt a Gung Ho “Who cares?” attitude of the Big Trio of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler.

At least Ford is finally making some headway with cars that no longer caters solely to the American cross continent trips.

Remember the “special status” I mentioned? When the Big Three of Detroit needed a bailing out – something of which the rot had set in very much earlier than the credit crunch currently crucifying everyone everywhere – they cited the argument they were too large to be allowed to fail.

It’s a familiar clarion call of almost all protected entities, this.

The one major drawback in taking up protectionist acts in such torrid time is that others would follow suit and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

As soon as US “bailed out” its carmakers, France followed closely behind. We have been doing the same to Proton from time immemorial.

As economies curl up within their respective protective shells, the free flow in trade that is a hallmark of the modern world would surely dry up.

Where will we be, then?

“Katak bawah tempurung” is a mighty fine phrase to speak of now.

Perhaps I am taking this too extreme, but the earlier “US-Only steel” proposal – since retracted – discussed by the Senate show exactly where the talks in Washington is heading.

Should we retreat into our shells now?

Friday, 6 February 2009

Impressionist Nuggets

Once upon a time, I aspired to be an artist.

During my third year in secondary school, I bravely took Arts for the (then) SRP.

There were three of us and we managed a 100% A1 score, which was really a hoot.

I even managed to get one of my water color paintings hung inside the Teacher’s room – never mind that it was copied (make that inspired) by a picture in Reader’s Digest.

As it is wont for those with only a wee bit of talent, I fell on the wayside in pursuing my interest with full determination.

While the spark still resides within, it is far too late to jumpstart anything worthy at my current age.

In Jeffrey Archer’s "Chalk and Cheese", one of the main character said (not verbatim) that artists are only appreciated when they are dead and buried.

Mildly talented ones would say these.

The talented ones just go ahead - appreciation notwithstanding – as to them it is labor of love.

I am so out of the loop with regards the local scene, but news of the Impressionist era still perks me up like this one on a painting of Claude Monet (1840 – 1926).

"The Monet is a timely reminder that it is all too easy to pay too much for a painting that is adorned with a world-famous signature."

In the MeadowAt BP11.24m, Monet’s “In the Meadow” fell short of its appraised figure of “in the region of BP15m” by the famous auction house of Christie’s in London.

Monet’s later paintings (circa 1867 to around 1890) is all sunshine, flowers, and varied hues of vibrant, brilliant colors.

In my eyes, they are beautiful pieces. But Van Gogh’s more emotional strokes are also beautiful to me.

When it comes to art, objectivity usually goes through the window where (cliché alert!) one man’s meat is another’s poison.

That said, there is still a clearly drawn line when it comes to things downright disgusting, and this week at least, Malaysian politics is it.

Ah… to afford a Monet.

Woman With A Parasol (1875)

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Political Vanguard

“Akhirnya sy telah memilih Kebenaran dan Keadilan utk menentang yg Bathil…bermulanya saat ini…sy dgn rasminya telah keluar dr UMNO dan menyertai…Parti keADILan Rakyat (PKR)…”

Out of the blue I received this SMS from my 20ish year old nephew on the evening of Jan 30 this year.

“About time” was my first thought.

I realized that it was a huge decision on his part to forsake Umno for PKR.

Ever a keen party supporter, my nephew would try his level best to participate in everything Umno organizes.

If I am not mistaken, he was part of the Putra cadre – the ball carrier, the tukang sorak and an ardent so-called cyber trooper albeit in the chat rooms.

He would smile whenever we – his uncles that is - try to rile him on the “vile” ways of Umno, never wavering in his belief that the party is the best there is for the Malays.

Then came the SMS.

In all honesty, the party is worse off without support from youngsters like my nephew.

He is highly interested in history; read voraciously the relevant books on how the country gain independence, the party’s role, books on all the party personalities, and even knows all the “members-only” in house jokes on the Umno big wigs.

For the 20ish something young man, he is somewhat the odd few out in being interested in politics when others his ilk would rather be Rempiting or worse.

Alas, it is the current Umno we are talking about.

An Umno that disgusts and exasperates in equal measure.

He received his first personal taste in the corrupt ways of a party that is fast losing touch with its roots during the last branch meetings.

The details are pretty sketchy to say the least, but it has something to do with the local branch having decided the winner of supposed poll before the poll even takes place.

He did what was needed and engineered a walkout from the meeting.

I wonder how many of the more seasoned politicians would be able to do such a thing.

More often than not, they resorts instead to name calling, chair throwing or, worse, fights.

One thing that I realized of my nephew is that he is looking hard for a source of inspiration.

Both personally as well as politically, actually.

I’m leaving out the personal bit, but on the political side, Dr Mahathir Mohamed, warts and all, remains THE one.

Even bought tee shirts with the former PM’s face: one each for him and his younger brother.

While many of us are getting more disillusioned with the seeming “don’t care about the rakyat” nature of politicians from both divide, evidently my nephew didn’t.

How I wish I were able to do something similar.

Show me a truly political party for the Rakyat and I will gladly make the jump.

As of now, I’ll stay on the sidelines and let my nephew be the vanguard instead.