Battle of Ideas: Why BN keeps winning


New York

June 21, 2016

Battle of Ideas: Why BN keeps winning

The political language remains the same but the ideas that fuel the people have changed

by Art Harun

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Why, despite the BN leadership drowning in an abyss of scandal and widespread condemnation from almost everybody that I know, did it still manage to carve out convincing victories in the just concluded by-elections in Kuala Kangsar and Sungai Besar?

Art Harun@ Raju’s in Pee Jay

This morning I remember what Tocqueville said: “…in party politics as in other matters, it is the crowd who dictates the language, and the crowd relinquishes the ideas it has been given more readily than the words it has learned.”

Yes. It is the crowd, the voters that matter. It is they who put ink to paper to choose whoever they want to represent them.Yes, the crowd dictates the language: that language is the language of the party that has ruled the crowd for a long, long time.

As we know, words have many meanings and connotations, bringing about many interpretations and understandings. The idea of “Perjuangan Melayu” has always been the language of UMNO. In 1957 that language was a war cry to unite the Malays against colonialism.

In the 70s, that idea was of course irrelevant. We had already gained independence. The language then fed the idea that there must be equality of opportunities for the Malay. “Perjuangan Bangsa Melayu” evolved into an economic struggle and social restructuring that was deemed necessary to prevent social and economic imbalances that may have brought the country into chaos.

In the 80s, “Perjuangan Bangsa Melayu” became premised not upon inequality or social justice any more but upon “hak keistimewaan” and “ketuanan Melayu.” This was the era when the late Tan Sri Abdullah Kok Lanas, out of the blue, in a speech in Singapore, started the “ketuanan Melayu” polemic.

In 2016, under the current leadership, “Perjuangan Bangsa Melayu” has again morphed into something new. The language does not change. The language has not been relinquished. But the idea instilled behind the language has changed, yet again.

Tocqueville was right. The people dictate the language. And the crowd does not easily abandon the language. It is the ideas behind the language that change.

“Perjuangan Bangsa Melayu” is now a rather myopic view of any party or individual who goes against the mainstream. That mainstream is dictated by the majority.

Thus the liberals, the moderates (despite the Prime Mimister saying he is a moderate), the constitutionalists, the new-age Muslims who dare to think and reinterpret beliefs and faiths, the non-Muslims who complain about transgression of their rights and just about anybody who is just different are now scooped into one hot boiling cauldron of prejudices and hatred.

And that is not even to mention the Christians, the Cina DAP, the Yahudis, the Illuminatis, the West, the Communists, the Shiites and a million others deemed oddities and peculiar.

“Perjuangan Bangsa Melayu” now brings the idea that the Melayu are now besieged by enemies: they must unite to protect themselves.

The binding agent for the Melayu now is no longer economic equality. It takes the form of Kedaulatan Raja-Raja Melayu, but that is inevitably superficial and when convenient they will “Mertabatkan Kedaulatan Raja-Raja Melayu”.

The more effective binding agent is of course, Islam, the religion of the Malay.Enter Haji Hadi Awang and his band of Islamists in PAS.

Coincidentally, Tocqueville also said: “…the priests, the old aristocracy and the people met in a common sentiment — a feeling of revenge, it is true, and not of affection; but even that is a great thing in politics, where a community of hatred is almost always the foundation of friendships.”

PAS’s hatred of DAP and PKR has been showing for quite some time. Now, in these two by-elections, it is without doubt that PAS is in cohort with Umno. So, here we have two sworn enemies – sworn due to an “amanat” or an edict by no other than Haji Hadi himself in the 80s – forming a community of hatred and laying the foundation of friendships.

Tocqueville would be happy to see that he was right. A confluence of hatred can indeed communitise themselves together and found a friendship.

So I view the results of the two by-elections as a manifestation of the current language among the rural Malay voters as well as the newly found binding agent that “unite” the Malays against the “enemies.” (There are of course many other binding agents, such as various “gifts”, government “bantuan” that suddenly sprang out from the government etc etc, but let’s not go into that).

What is heartening is to see is Amanah, a wholly new party, gaining quite substantial votes in their first showing. In fact, in Sungai Besar they have more votes then PAS! What happened to Haji Hadi’s godly prediction that Amanah would not be able to match PAS?

UMNO and the BN may now go to town about the increase in Chinese and Indian votes for them. I don’t see anything big in that: more Chinese and Indians voted for the BN not because they love the BN or UMNO but they are just angry with PAS. They see Amanah as an off-shoot of PAS that cannot be trusted. Hence their vote for the BN.

In order to win the rural heartland, I think a new language must be introduced. The ideas behind the old language must be reinterpreted and new and fresh ideas introduced and instilled.

You just cannot continue fighting an opponent when it is the opponent who sets the tone and the rules, defines the language and dictates the discourse.

How do you do that? That’s for the politicians to think about and decide.

Reproduced from Art Harun’s page on Facebook at By-elections ramblings.

We Bicker: TIME to think as Malaysians and live to together in unity and harmony?


May 17, 2016

We Bicker: TIME to think as Malaysians and live to together in unity and harmony.

Message to Nazri Aziz, Azalina Othman Said, Hadi Awang,  Harussani Zakaria, Ridhuan Tee Abdullah, and Keruak et.el

Shaun Liew

http://www.malaymailonline.com

West and East Malaysians have been bickering through social media, face-to-face conversations, and so on. But if they want the same thing, why are they fighting with each other?

Some needs and desires are universal: no matter who we are, there are things we all need. Food, when we’re hungry. Accountability, when promises are broken. Rest, when we are overworked. Honour, when we work. Love, when we are not loved. And fairness, when there is none.

West and East Malaysians want the same thing. Equity, when there is discrimination. Malays, to tolerate non-Malays, and vice versa. Sarawakians and Sabahans, to live as well as Peninsulars, and vice versa. Non-Bumiputeras, to be recognised as equals like the Bumiputeras, by the federal government. And for East Malaysians, to be recognised by the federal government, as deserving of development and the good life, like West Malaysians. Why then are we in each other’s way?

Sarawakians have given power to those which the West have tried to rid of. Peninsulars think this ridiculous: why give power to the same government, when to them, nothing has been done?

Because Sarawakians have seen change, enough change, to vote for the same government. Peninsulars do not understand what these changes mean to Sarawakians; they ridicule them instead. Sarawakians understandably feel unjustified; but they too do not understand what their actions mean for Peninsulars.

Peninsulars want a fair and accountable government, just like Sarawakians. But they have not seen once since independence. They want Barisan Nasional out, while Sarawakians are keeping them in.

 

The West vs East bickering is simplistic, and should go past the way we label each other. This is inherent even in casual jokes.

“You live on trees right? Or are there buildings there? I’m sorry you must have never heard of the word ‘buildings’.”

“It’s all your fault lah, the West Malaysians!”

If the East continues to blame the West for underdevelopment, if the West continues to blame the East for being foolish enough to vote Barisan Nasional, then there is no room for productive debate or mutual understanding.

If we continue to discriminate, all debates will halt at the labels we have ― that he knows Maths well because he’s Chinese, or she received a scholarship offer because she’s Malay. We would fail to understand anything correctly ― that he’s good in Math because he worked hard after his parents emphasised how mathematical ability is easily transferred. Or that she received a scholarship offer because the government would like to uplift Malays by rationing scholarship offers based on race, in addition to her undeniably determined attitude.

This, we cannot understand if we are simplistic because our problems are not. Like underdevelopment and poverty, a problem for both Peninsular and East Malaysia. It’s mostly a problem in the rural areas, but even in the urban areas there are urban squatters, foreign workers, and those just hovering above the poverty line ― all of them labelled by the majority of society as unproductive, lazy and undetermined. It’s also mostly a Malay and indigenous problem, with pockets of Chinese and Indians.

Both West and East Malaysians are guilty of simplifying the truth ― and we need to look deeper. If Sabah and Sarawak voted for the opposition, does that mean BN’s reign is over? No. Because in Peninsula itself there are still many poor states, Malay-dominated with pockets of poor Chinese and Indians, who would vote for UMNO. And they vote for Muslim parties too, because Islam is part of many Malays’ identity.

Apply this to our society’s main problems: economic status associated with race. If Malays are poor and the Chinese are rich, I should give advantages to Malays, right? Then how far can a race-based policy that favours Bumiputera groups go? Would rich Malays benefit more than the majority of Malays? Would politicians grant certain groups special rights in order to trade benefits with each other, but not give them to the greater good?

This is why the solutions we need are even more complicated ― and they require debate beyond labels. This is also why involvement in policymaking is so important: we need to help each other, sure! But we need to do it in a way that’s best for everyone, and not just a few insiders.

The anger of West and East Malaysians after the Sarawak state elections ― in the form of cheap insults and deliberate stereotyping ― is sorely misdirected. We need to delve into the specifics and ask questions that we don’t usually tolerate ― and tolerate them with grace.

If basic infrastructure is what the East are lacking, ask why the West has so much of it. If racial and religious tolerance is what Peninsulars are lacking compared to Sarawakians, ask who is stoking intolerance, fear, and supremacism. If Chinese students feel they need to work much harder than Malays to get into local universities, ask who decides this allocation and why. If Sarawakians want Sarawak for themselves, ask who took their rights and natural resources away in the first place.

No matter how many questions there are, and no matter how specific they get, we all still want the same thing. Fairness, democracy, accountability, transparency, a fulfilling life. But we can’t understand this unless we go past labels to explore the deepest, most serious problems of our time. Beyond labels, we can see that we are all the same, that we desire to be equal, that we wish to be respected, as the complicated, diverse individuals we are, shaped by the complicated, diverse questions we wish to answer.

The cheap insults and simplified excuses must end now. We must delve into the specifics, the complicated, the uneasy. Then we can go forward. We all want the same thing anyway.

* This article was written by an Associate Editor from CEKU, the editorial arm of the United Kingdom and Eire Council of Malaysian Students (UKEC).

 

Self-Affirmation and Stereotype Threat


April 25, 2016

Self-Affirmation and Stereotype Threat

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California
http://www.bakrimusa.com

Dr. M. Bakri Musa

Our mind’s narrative of the world includes the perception we have of ourselves, and what we believe others have of us. The first is self-affirmation; the second, stereotype. Each of us is a member of some groups or other (race, profession, culture); thus we cannot escape from being stereotyped.

As for self-perception, like all other of our mental patterns this one too grew out of our experiences. Should we encounter something that does not conform to that mental picture we have of ourselves, we react like the patient with Cabgras delusion; we alter or ‘edit’ that information to make it conform to our pre-set pattern.

Our “self” narrative includes the stereotype others have of us, as with the colonialists’ “lazy native.” Not surprisingly, we often perform to those expectations, further reinforcing the stereotype. This vicious cycle continues, each cycle reinforcing earlier ones.

You have to work doubly hard and perform beyond well just to dispel the stereotype. Then even if you do succeed, there is no guarantee of escaping the stereotyping. It is a heavy burden to bear.

Consider girls and mathematics; there are many associated negative stereotypes. Should a girl were to stumble at her first test in college, not an uncommon experience especially at an elite college where all your classmates are top students while in high school, she would risk being a victim of negative stereotype when there could be other and more valid reasons, as with poor study habits or wrong choice of course. This stereotype burden would be worse if she were also to be a member of a visible disadvantaged minority.

Something similar happened to my daughter. She excelled in mathematics in school but she aspired to be a lawyer. Her undergraduate college required all students to take a math (as well as a science) course, the choice of which to be based upon the college’s own placement test. She was assigned one and found the going rough. She had to devote more than her usual effort just to stay abreast. She confided to us her problem, and as concerned parents we suggested that she met with her counselor.

To the horror of her counselor, my daughter was assigned to a class for honors mathematics and engineering majors! Presumably she aced her placement test and was thus assigned the “appropriate” course. It may be appropriate based on her test scores but not for her career aspirations. Fortunately it was early in the academic year for her to switch course. Also luckily for her she had sufficient self-confidence and was not burdened by any possible negative stereotype. Imagine a Malay girl having a similar problem at the University of Singapore or even the University of Malaya.

This stereotype threat is the rationale for having single-sex schools and colleges. This phenomenon is also seen in non-academic settings like sports, as with, “White men can’t jump!”

Stanford’s Claude Steele

Claude Steele, the Stanford psychologist (above) who had studied stereotypes and self-affirmation threats extensively, shared his insights in his book, Whistling Vivaldi. And Other Clues on How Stereotypes Affect Us.

The title itself is intriguing; he had the idea from his fellow African-American student at the University of Chicago. Like at other elite campuses, African-Americans were noticeable for their rarity at such places, then and now. This friend sensed that his fellow students felt uncomfortable by his presence and would purposely avoid him. He overcame this prejudice by whistling Vivaldi (a classical composer, thus indicating a “high brow” taste in the finer things of life) to smooth the way. I can just imagine the horror on the staid white campus had he tried rap music!

There are many negative stereotypes burdening Malays, like our supposed lack of aptitude for mathematics specifically and academics generally. Unfortunately the statistics reinforce this. Consider that when the results of the SPM and other public examinations are announced, the consistent feature would be Malay under-representation among the top scorers.

The tempting conclusion, and not just by non-Malays, would be to believe these ugly stereotypes about Malays. However, consider this. The Sixth Form science class at Malay College I joined in 1961 had been threatened with closure because there were too few students from the college who had passed the entrance examination. And the college supposedly took in only the brightest Malays! That only fed the prevailing ugly stereotype.

It took the initiative of its chemistry teacher, Mr. Peter Norton, a non-Malaysian, to identify the problem and then push to solve it. Malay College boys did poorly in science not because they were Malays rather they were insufficiently prepared. So in 1961 the college vastly expanded it science laboratories and instituted for the first time a pure science stream at the fourth form. For perspective, my old school in Kuala Pilah had been doing this for years. No surprise then that my old school outperformed Malay College in science.

That first batch of “pure science” students at Malay College excelled, as did others following. They are now among the nation’s eminent doctors, scientists and professors, as represented by Ariffin Aton, a University of Leeds PhD in Chemical Engineering, now head of MyIPO, the body concerned with intellectual properties.

Then there was my calculus class experience at Malay College. At Lower Six we had a Canadian “Peace Corp” volunteer as our teacher. Being new to the country he did not harbor any negative stereotypes of or preconceived ideas on Malays, except perhaps that we lived in trees. On finding out that we did not, he proceeded to treat us like his Canadian students.

Mr. Allen Brown began his class with us without any fuss; no dire preamble about how “tough” calculus would be and that we had to “buckle up.” He treated it like any other subject; he assumed we could handle it.

I remember well his first day in class. He began by drawing a series of arcs of from the same center point, each with a longer radius. Then he asked us to comment on the shape. It was obvious; as the radius got longer, the curve became flatter. No mystery there. Then he asked us to imagine an arc with a radius of infinity. That would be very flat, we responded. Then he beamed and exclaimed, “Yes! A straight line is nothing but a curve with a radius of infinity!”

“Now imagine the opposite,” he continued. “Consider two points on a curve that are infinitely close to each other.” Then he began taking a small arc and magnified it serially, and with each magnification the curve became flatter. “As you can see, if I were to magnify a wee tiny part of this curve a zillion times,” as he pretended doing it on the board, “the two points on it would essentially be on a straight line.”

Then he swung around and exclaimed, “There you have it! A curve is nothing but a series of infinitely short straight lines with variable slopes!” He went on to explain that what we had learned about the properties of a straight line would be equally applicable to a curve, or at least an infinitely small part of it.

Thus was the mystery of variable change and calculus revealed, at least to me. I had taken calculus the year before in fifth form and had aced it. Yet I did not fully grasp its concepts. All I did was memorize the formula and then plug in the numbers. The surprise was that I did well just with that.

We had an even greater surprise the following February when the national examination results were announced. The entire class but two had aced it. The two who did not nonetheless scored high “credit” (B plus). It was a record not just for the school but also the country. As we were whooping it up back at the dorm, Mr. Brown came upon us and wondered what it was we were celebrating. To him, it was not a surprise at all; after all he had seen our performances on the many regular tests he had given us during the year. The surprise for him was that we were surprised.

Decades later, I saw the movie “Stand and Deliver” about a teacher, Jamie Escalante, in a predominantly Hispanic Los Angeles inner-city school. He did such an incredible job with his AP (Advanced Placement, college-level) class that the College Board (the examining body) thought his students were cheating and forced them to re-sit the test! They still aced it!

Escalante quickly became a celebrity. Not revealed in that movie were the many monumental as well as petty obstacles placed in Escalante’s path by his principal and others. For example, his principal was against Escalante using the gym to accommodate the large size of his class, and the teachers’ union was against his exceeding the class-size limit. Tellingly, the program collapsed when Escalante left in frustration.

Talk to any dedicated teacher in Malaysia and she would readily identify with Escalante.I too can testify to that culture. Many years ago I visited an elite residential school in Malaysia. I wanted to donate a video microscope for its biology lab. As I also wanted to know of its other needs, I made an appointment to see the headmaster. On three occasions he canceled our meeting at the last-minute as he had “other commitments.” Needless to say, that video microscope was my only gift to that school.

As for the headmaster’s “other commitments,” one was the meeting of the local Koran reading contest committee, the other, planning the reception for a ministerial visit.

Judging from the many social media postings by parents today, things have only gotten worse in our national schools, further reinforcing the burden of self-affirmation and stereotype threats among their students who today happened to be mostly if not exclusively Malays.

Excerpted from the author’s book, Liberating The Malay Mind, published by ZI Publications, Petaling Jaya, 2013. The second edition was released recently in January 2016.

Joko Widodo prefers nuts and bolts approach


April 16, 2016

Joko Widodo prefers nuts and bolts approach

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/b8a0ea4a-0165-11e6-99cb-83242733f755.html#axzz45zKt6k6J

As Joko Widodo clicks through a presentation on infrastructure projects he has launched, an adviser hurries him along, warning that his time is running out. But the Indonesian President is having none of it.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo gestures during an interview with Reuters at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 10, 2016. Indonesia on Thursday opened dozens of sectors to foreign investors in what President Joko Widodo has described as a "Big Bang" liberalisation of its economy, Southeast Asia's largest. Picture taken February 10, 2016. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside - RTX26FW2

“No, it’s better I show you,” he says, pointing at photograph after photograph of port, highway and dam schemes he kick-started after years of delays caused by land acquisition problems and intra-governmental disputes.

Eighteen months into his five-year term as leader of the world’s fourth most populous nation, Mr Widodo is persisting with an approach he honed as a small-town mayor and then governor of Jakarta: driving progress, project by project, through spot checks.

“I’ve already been to the toll road in Sumatra six times to check land acquisition and construction,” he says in an interview with the Financial Times, explaining this was the only way to start work on the much-needed highway after 30 years of abortive efforts.

A rare G20 leader happier talking about cement and building permits than big-picture vision, Mr Widodo’s prosaic style has disappointed some of his most enthusiastic backers. But his focus on managing the budget, building infrastructure and trying to reduce regulation has helped see him through a difficult start to his presidency, which was beset by a slowing economy and political problems.

Investor sentiment towards Indonesia has improved of late, with its stock market and currency among the best performing in Asia this year.

Before departing on Sunday for a trip to Europe to drum up trade and investment, Mr. Widodo insists he will push ahead with his plans to deregulate the economy and accelerate infrastructure development.

“I will continue to make economic reforms, removing excessive permits, licences and restrictions,” he says, speaking sometimes in broken English.

“My commitment is to make Indonesia’s economy open and competitive.”

For much of last year Mr Widodo looked uncomfortable as he stumbled from one political problem to another, while the economy continued to weaken because of reduced Chinese demand for Indonesia’s commodities.

A dispute over the appointment of a graft-tainted police chief damaged his reputation for clean government. Policy U-turns, ministerial infighting and protectionist measures undermined hopes for reform — and his uncompromising defence of the execution of foreign drug traffickers prompted a diplomatic backlash.

Chart: Indonesia growth and the rupiah

 

But now the President who grew up in a riverside shack — the first democratic leader of Indonesia from outside the nation’s crony-ridden elite — is looking more at home in the palace. “I enjoy my job,” the 54-year-old says.

Not a bead of sweat forms on Mr Widodo’s forehead, even though the temperature is well over 30C and the air conditioning in the Dutch colonial-era Independence Palace is off.

A close adviser jokes that the President is a “cool customer”. Perhaps too cool, he adds, because he made a slow start to his presidency. “At the beginning, he did not know many people in Jakarta and many of the ministers initially appointed were not his choice,” he says. “But he is improving.”

Mr Widodo’s preoccupation with the nuts and bolts of road and bridge projects upsets those who were hoping for a bolder figurehead. However, for analysts who have seen previous plans for infrastructure investment and economic reform come up short, his approach is what Southeast Asia’s largest economy needs.

“He is not the guy who wants to come up with a grand plan, but [he is] a doer,” says Ray Farris, Asia strategist at Credit Suisse.

“I will continue to make economic reforms, removing excessive permits, licences and restrictions. My commitment is to make Indonesia’s economy open and competitive.” Mr Widodo’s focus on tactics rather than strategy has proved less effective in tackling Indonesia’s broader social and political problems.

When asked if he is concerned about rising discrimination against homosexuals, Mr Widodo’s perfunctory response is that “we respect human rights but Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country”.

As for the challenge of attracting investment from China while also pushing back against Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, he simply says that “all activities that may increase tension must be stopped”, before adding that it is not only Chinese boats that regularly plunder Indonesia’s fisheries.

After a recent skirmish between Indonesian and Chinese patrol vessels near Indonesia’s Natuna islands, his cabinet members offered wildly conflicting views on how to react. Analysts say the disarray betrayed Mr Widodo’s weakness when it comes to co-ordinating more complicated policy areas.

“The question is whether he can really control his cabinet,” says Yohanes Sulaiman, a political analyst in Jakarta. Others warn that he needs to lay out a more convincing plan to raise the money needed to fund his pet infrastructure projects. “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of focus or leadership on addressing the core revenue problem,” says Mr Farris of Credit Suisse.

Unperturbed, Mr Widodo insists that running a country of 255m people and 17,000 islands is ultimately not that different from being mayor of a city of 500,000. But is the bigger-scale job pushing him to become a stronger leader? “It’s better you ask the people,” he says with a chuckle.

Malay-centric Education System– The Bane of Malaysia


January 14, 2016

Our Politicians don’t really care about Us-Michael Jackson

Malay-centric Education System– The Bane of Malaysia

by  Yiswaree Palansamy
rafidah-aziz

Tun Abdul Razak Hussein would have been gravely disappointed today if he knew how Malay-centric the country’s education system currently is, Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz (pic above) said today in her speech at a commemorative seminar for the country’s Second Prime Minister.

Rafidah, a former  MITI Minister known for her outspokenness, accused the present administration of misplacing the notion of nationalism by promoting an overly-Malay system, recalling that during Razak’s time, English was commonly used as a communication tool.

“I always say, Tun Razak will actually turn in his grave if he knew this is what is happening to this country at this point in time.He never thought that education should be so narrowly interpreted as to be only Malay and to hell with the rest of the languages of the world. No, he never spoke that way,” Rafidah said in her speech, receiving loud applause from the hall.

Rafidah noted that in the past, Malaysians, including the Malays, rarely spoke in the Malay language and conversed mainly in English.This, she said, did not mean they disregarded the importance of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language.

“We spoke in English and we rarely spoke in Malay, not that we didn’t put Malay on the pedestal but that was the best way to communicate. We should not misplace nationalism,” she said, adding that the administration should focus instead on having strong national consensus instead.

“The objective is to make Malaysia resilient in facing global competition. We should start thinking as Malaysians first…for heaven’s sake let’s stop this petty, petty factionalism,” the former Wanita UMNO chief said.

She also said that it was time for the administration to admit that “some parts of the system are broken”.“Let’s not deny it,” she said.

The medium of instruction in national schools has been Malay since the 1970s but in 2003, the Policy of Teaching Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) was introduced, only to be discontinued seven years later

Critics of the reversal contend that it was made to only appease Malay nationalists and conservative groups who viewed a weak grasp of Bahasa Melayu and a mastery of English to be indicative of disloyalty to the country.

Bill Gates: The Billionaire Book Critic


January 8, 2016

Bill Gates: The Billionaire Book Critic

Evan Thomas, the best-selling biographer of Robert F. Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower and the author of a half-dozen other books, has seen those books reviewed over the years by The New Yorker, The Washington Post and The Atlantic. But with the recent publication of his latest work, “Being Nixon: A Man Divided,” he experienced for the first time a new phenomenon: the Bill Gates bump.

Bill Gates in May 2014. In his Gates Notes blog, he has reviewed books, including: “Thing Explainer,” by Randall Munroe and “The Rosie Project,” by Graeme Simsion. Just before Christmas, Mr. Thomas learned that his book had been favorably reviewed by Mr. Gates on his blog, Gates Notes.

“I’m surprised by the number of biographies I read that paint their subjects in black-and-white terms,” Mr. Gates wrote. “A classic example is former U.S. president Richard Nixon, who is too often portrayed as little more than a crook and a warmonger. So it was refreshing to see a more balanced account in ‘Being Nixon,’ by author and journalist Evan Thomas.” The review was illustrated by a photograph of the book on a desk adorned with objects from the Nixon era, like a rotary phone.

Bill Gates on Books and Blogging

Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, has emerged as a force in the publishing industry, thanks to the book reviews he posts on his blog, Gates Notes. Mr. Gates, who says he reads about 50 books a year, discussed his love of reading, how he makes his selections and what book Warren Buffett recommended. Below are excerpts from a recent email interview.

What role does reading play in your life?

It is one of the chief ways that I learn, and has been since I was a kid. These days, I also get to visit interesting places, meet with scientists and watch a lot of lectures online. But reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding.

For example, this year I enjoyed Richard Dawkins’s “The Magic of Reality,” which explains various scientific ideas and is aimed at teenagers. Although I already understood all the concepts, Dawkins helped me think about the topics in new ways. If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t really understand it.

What made you decide to start the books blog and write reviews?

I have always loved reading and learning, so it is great if people see a book review and feel encouraged to read and share what they think online or with their friends.

It also helps to have a platform for talking about the work I’m doing, both through the foundation and separate from it, because I find people are curious about it.

How do you choose the books you read? Recommendations from family/friends/media?

It’s a mix of things. Melinda and I will sometimes exchange books we like. I also get recommendations from friends. After I finish something great, I will often try to find other books by that author or similar ones on the same subject.

Earlier this year Melinda and I saw the musical “Hamilton,” which inspired me to read Ron Chernow’s biography.

What was the process of selecting the books for the best-of-the-year list? Any tough choices?

I didn’t set out to do this intentionally, but when I looked back at the books I read this year, I realized that a lot of them touch on the theme “how things work.”Some, like Randall Munroe’s “Thing Explainer,” are written exactly for that reason. He uses diagrams paired with the most common 1,000 words in the English language to explain complicated ideas.

Other books on my list offer insights into human beings, our values, our strengths and flaws.

Is there one book that was an unexpected choice for you that you unexpectedly loved?

One of the main reasons I started my blog was to share thoughts about what I’m reading. So it is nice to see people sharing their own reactions and recommendations in the comments section of the site.

One book that was especially fun to highlight was “Business Adventures,” by John Brooks. This is the first book Warren Buffett recommended to me after we met in 1991, and it is still the best business book I have ever read. Brooks deserves to be much better known than he is.

Although he wrote in the 1960s, the issues he talks about are still relevant today. “Business Adventures” went out of print decades ago and Brooks died in 1993, but his family was nice enough to let me post one chapter called “Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox” on my blog.

I don’t read a lot of fiction but was surprised by how much I loved the novel “The Rosie Project,” by Graeme Simsion. Melinda read it first and kept stopping to recite parts of it out loud to me. Eventually, I decided to take a look.

I started it one night at 11 p.m. and stayed up with it until 3 a.m. It is very funny, while also showing a lot of empathy for people who struggle in social situations.After I sent it and the sequel (“The Rosie Effect”) to dozens of friends and wrote about it on my blog, I heard from a lot of people who were touched by it. There is talk of turning it into a movie, which I hope happens. Rosie and Don Tillman would make a great on-screen couple.

I like highlighting the work of Vaclav Smil. He has written more than 30 books, and I have read them all. He takes on huge topics like energy or transportation and gives them a thorough examination.

Smil’s books are not for casual readers and I don’t agree with him on everything, but I like to feature his work because the world would be a better place if more people thought as rigorously and systematically as he does.