Monday, June 30, 2014

Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt, who is the fairest of them all?

World War Two: Behind Closed Doors, Stalin, the Nazis and the West Stalin by Laurence Rees (2008), a BBC Book, is a good read – much about the relationship between this tyrant, Churchill and Roosevelt during the Second World War.

Hitler was a formidable conqueror; if not for Russians’ steadfast resistance and great sacrifices, Europe would have been completely run over by Germany. To the chagrin of Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt were dragging their feet over the launching of a second front to ease pressure on the Russians; hence Stalin’s distrust of Churchill and Roosevelt. Contrary to what western historians’ romantic record that the Normandy landing was the D-day of the war, Germany’s fate had already been sealed after the losses they suffered in the eastern fronts. Both Churchill and Roosevelt were ingratiating themselves to Stalin. Poland which suffered also a great deal during the war was supposed to surrender a large tract of its eastern zone to Russia in exchange for continued existence under an accord struck between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt. But what happened was something else; Poland, together with all the eastern European countries became the satellite states of Soviet Union, which Great Britain and the United States were totally unable, or not prepared, to do anything about. There was a great deal of betrayal for many Poles had sacrificed so much fighting under the banner of the Allied forces.

Stalin was one who would not bat an eyelid in sending his own people to death, let alone the Poles and the minorities like Tartars in Russia. The Russians could blatantly blame the Germans for the Katyn massacres where thousands of Poles were killed cold-bloodedly – even though facts pointed that they themselves were the culprits. Might talks loudest!

This was from Churchill: The difficulty about the Poles was that they had unwise political leaders. Where there were two Poles there was one quarrel. Stalin was one up with this rejoinder: “that where there was one Pole he would begin to quarrel with himself through sheer boredom”.

There are indeed much to learn about the leaders on both sides of the divide from this book. Two sophisticates could not out-wit a country bumpkin!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

BMWs and Fords

Channel NewsAsia has a program called SG+ where the presenter would invite a panel to discuss a topic of current interest. I happened to tune in into one last week. It was something about tertiary education in Singapore. Among the questions posed were: Are the polytechnics and universities in Singapore encroaching on each other's turfs? Is university ranking important?

Two were in the panel, one the president of SIM University, and the other, a head-hunter with one of the leading executive search firms in Singapore.

It was a very watchable. The issues were intellectually raised and discussed. It was clear that these people know what they are talking. The conclusion was even more important: Singapore policy makers and implementer know exactly what they are doing. The missions of the universities and polytechnics are very clear; the former is to go for higher level of knowledge and research and the latter, to impart skills that are becoming increasingly sophisticated in Singapore. The need for one to prepare oneself in terms of knowledge and skill sets to meet new challenges can no longer be taken lightly. The case of a bank’s IT manager finding himself made redundant was cited to illustrate the new reality. He has a degree and in a position that is seemingly sought-after, how could this happen? The job has been sourced out! He ended up becoming a real estate agent!

The National University of Singapore now ranks as one of the top universities in the world. Nanyang Technological University is also trailing not far behind. Is ranking important? Certainly - if you are in the pursuit of courses that are best taught by top economists, engineers, scientists or thinkers. But if you want to do a degree in Nursing, you certainly do not need to seek out Cambridge or Harvard to excel.

An article in Sydney Morning Herald was brought up for discussion. A professor in one of the universities says that universities should be producing BMWs instead of Fords. Years back, only the top 5% of high school students went on to do their degrees; the rest would join the workforce. Today, if you don’t go to university, something must be wrong with you, unless, of course, your family is so financially stretched to help you out. But be that as it may, the top 5% of the students in most decent universities are the of BMW stuff!

This BMW-versus-Ford talk reminds me of a recent interview my wife read about. A German engineer who is now working in the States was lamenting that there was no way that the States could produce cars that are as good as the German’s. Isn’t this easy for all to see?

Mercedes Benz, BMW and Audi are ALL German cars. There is only ONE Germany in this world. Anyone who aspires to build the likes of Mercedes Benz, BMW and Audi in another part of the world should go there to work as an apprentice first!