Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Antha naal gnabakam ....

Memories of those days, goes the title of this post in Tamil. Alumni reunions are an American tradition. It was not very common in India, until recent years. You passed out of school and college - and that was that. You went your own way , kept in touch with a  few, lost touch with most and lived your own life.  Rarely did you return. But that trend is changing.

A week ago, the 1961 batch from Madras Medical College held their 50th year reunion. Everybody was 70 plus in age, obviously. Some 60 odd batchmates attended, it is reported. They came from far and wide. They went back to their old classrooms . They went back to their labs. They sang the songs of their days. Including this one (sorry its in Tamil) which was actually released in their year in college.  They ribbed their mates as they used to do so long ago. In short, they had a whale of a time.

What is it that attracts people to reunions. After all they have gone so far a distance that they may not even be able to relate to their school or college anymore. Even the closest buddy, who was a life mate in those days has changed so much that you can barely recognise him. So why the pull ??

The pull is because as you grow older, nostalgia becomes a more and more powerful emotion. Sure everything has changed beyond recognition, including you. But so what ? There is the magical pull of past memories that whitewashes the dirty and puts a golden hue on the ordinary. Yes, the school looks a bit shabby now. Yes the town looks a bit lost in the ages. But there is a special joy in revelling in the past. Talk about the carefree days of school (never mind that they hardly seemed carefree then). Talk longingly of the teachers (even though they caned you to fury). Talk to the girls, now women (you wouldn't be caught dead talking to a girl then). Wander about in your memories. Grasp a fleeting remembrance that was buried deep in the mind. Smile at the playground where you whiled away the years. Walk around with a silly smile on your face. And heave a deep sigh before returning back to the real world.

That's what awaits me for the next 2 days. I go to the 35th year reunion of my school batch. OMG ; how did the years fly by ?

Friday, 23 December 2011

The beginning of the end ?

It was a long time coming. In retrospect its actually surprising that the backlash is starting only now. The backlash against email, I mean. A few days ago Atos Origin, a French IT company, started the ball rolling by announcing that it would ban email in the company by 2014. Now Volkswagen unions have struck a deal with the company that emails to their unionised employees would be switched off after office hours.

This had to happen. E Mail addiction is an extremely serious epidemic as this blogger observed here. It is a global pandemic of epic proportions. Walk into any office or meeting - you would see rows and rows of people peering into their screens or thumbing away at their Blackberries. Eerie scenes more suited for George Orwell's 1984.

Its well known that more than half the emails you get are completely useless. And you get a LOT of emails. For some reason your genes are so programmed that you have to see each and every one of them 15 nanoseconds after they arrive. The greatest attraction to mankind, even more than a gorgeous topless woman, is a blinking light on the Blackberry. Social norms still hold you back from pawing at the aforesaid lady. Nothing in the world - not even an earthquake - can keep you from grabbing the Blackberry.

This is what most of us do in offices. Either tap out or read useless stuff 50% of the time. And for years now, it has extended out of the office into our homes. We do the same inane stuff in bed, in the car, even in the loo. Absolutely waste of our lives.

Email, when it arrived, dramatically increased office productivity. Now I am willing to bet (and some distinguished academic has no doubt done research on this) that it has actually lowered productivity back to pre email days.

Consider this. Would you think it appropriate to talk all the time in the office and at home ? Why then is it OK to be emailing all the time ?? Shut the $%#@ thing off and do some real work.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

A classy speech

Rahul Dravid, India's elder statesman of cricket, delivered the Bradman Oration at Canberra last week. If you want to hear a classy, graceful, charming, stylish speech, look no further. Class, grace, charm and style define the man and perhaps it is but natural, that his speech was all of that.  It is about cricket, of course, but even if you are not a cricket fan, listen to it if you have the time - this is how a speech should be made. Its 40 mts long, but I really wished it wouldn't end.


Rahul's speech follows in the lines of another classic speech - from Kumar Sangakkara of Sri Lanka, when  he delivered the Cowdrey lecture in July. Another gem, you can listen to here .

English oration is alive and well in the colonies, atleast in the sporting world !

Monday, 12 December 2011

One small step for Huawei, one giant leap for China

As is often the case, the seemingly trivial turns out to be a giant event. I suspect this is the case with Huawei's announcement, buried in the back pages of financial newspapers that it would no longer pursue new business in Iran. So what , you might ask.  Read on.

One of the fundamental principles in China is the total separation of politics  & economics. It has one of the freest of capitalist systems (at least for Chinese) and one of the most controlled of political systems. In foreign affairs, China has diligently pursued a policy of complete non interference in political matters. Its policy in Africa is unique in history. It is rapidly colonising economically, but scrupulously keeping away from interference in local politics. It will do business with anybody - God, Archangel Gabriel, Satan, Devil whoever, as long as there is business to be done. Before you denounce it, consider that there is some merit in this approach - the Chinese say political matters are for the citizens of that country to decide and it is not their place to make value judgements on them. In this, they are completely different from the European colonisers of the past.

The first chink I have come across in this policy is this announcement from Huawei. Huawei is a large supplier of telecoms equipment to Iran. These are undoubtedly used for espionage and suppression. Iran is a pariah for many nations - no American company can deal there. There has been constant criticism in the West of Chinese companies who do business there, but that's not unusual  - they are often criticised for doing business with the likes of Mugabe. So why has Huawei taken this clearly political step. Before you think that this is one company deciding and not China - perish the thought. No company in China decides on any sensitive matter without the go ahead from the government. For the first time, atleast as far as I know, China is saying politics might dictate economics in foreign affairs.

Is it finally true that economic clout cannot be divorced completely from politics.  As China's economic power grows bigger and bigger in the countries it is doing business with, it becomes harder and harder to stand aside and say it is not involved with local politics. This is exactly what happened to the East India Company, which started in exactly the same way. Maybe China is reaching the inflexion point. One breach like the Huawei action and the dam has to burst. Can the Chinese now deal with blood diamonds in the Congo, or keep away from selling arms to Mugabe, for very long ? As it gets drawn more and more into global politics, it will have profound implications for the world and China. The world because, it will alter the balance of political power inexorably. And for China because it is not good at doing this - diplomacy is not its strong point and it will have to learn.

That's why I think, its one small step for Huawei ..........

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Of adjectives that don't apply

What's common to beautiful, popular, controversial, helpful, successful, deserving and proud ? Besides being adjectives ? What's common is that they don't apply to this blog. Nothing here is beautiful, popular ......; you get the drift.

When you are tagged to apply those adjectives to your blog, you have to really scratch your head. Tagging used to be a rage three years ago when blogging itself was a rage. Blogging is now in a steep and precipitous decline. The ladies who started deeply intellectual tags that asked "What are you wearing" have all disappeared. Tags have naturally vanished. But Reflections, a star blogger started this tag and Preeti, a master blogger has tagged me with extremely affectionate words that have gone straight into my head. I was also tagged by a blogger I deeply respect and admire, and since she did me the honour of not linking my blog but simply saying incredibly kind words, I am doing so likewise. So I have force fitted the adjectives to my blog and in a fit of vanity, picked up the tag.

This is the tag

Rules:
1) Blogger is nominated to take part

2) Blogger publishes his/her 7 links on his/her blog – 1 link for each category.
The links are:
- Your most beautiful post
– Your most popular post
– Your most controversial post
– Your most helpful post
– A post whose success surprised you
– A post you feel didn’t get the attention it deserved
– The post that you are most proud of

3) Blogger nominates up to 5 more bloggers to take part.

4) These bloggers publish their 7 links and nominate another 5 more bloggers
5) And so it goes on! 


Unlike Preeti, who has taken posts from this year, I thought I would go back to 3 years ago when I started blogging and choose posts from the early days. From my first two months of blogging.

Beautiful post - A moving video . Not a real post, but simply a link. Nothing in a business blog can remotely be termed beautiful.
Popular Post - E Mail addiction. It got THIRTEEN comments (ha ha). Never mind that half of those were my own replies. But in the good old days when even one comment was a joy to behold, that seemed like out of the world.
Controversial Post - Leave the wives at home . You are forbidden from asking if I know the meaning of the word controversial.
Helpful - A (Power) Pointless world . If only many will "take my help".
Success surprised you - Subprime crisis in plain English - My first double digit comment post. You are again forbidden from asking if I know the meaning of the word "success"
Didn't get the attention it deserved - Its just not cricket . Got zero comments. Boo Hoo !
Post most proud of - Women in Indian business .  I truly believe this.

For once I will break my habit of not tagging others and actually tag 5 bloggers who have stopped blogging. They are lovely bloggers and we must respect their decision not to continue, but I can't resist harassing them - so to you The Thoughtful Train, Le Embrouille Blogeuer, Half Indian, Sri and the non sarkari Sardar - (he's even deleted his blog) - come back you lot. We really miss you.
By the way, in case you are wondering why all my linked posts have a rude exclamation mark instead of a photo, its probably Blogger telling me what it thought of them !!

Friday, 2 December 2011

Toothbrushes and mobile phones

There are more people in the world today who own a mobile phone than a toothbrush. This may startle you, but its true, at least according to 60secondmarketer.com. There are 4 bn mobile phone users in the world. The annual sales of toothbrushes is 3.5 bn.

This won't surprise you if you read the excellent book, Poor Economics, by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. My good friend Ravi, who often comments on this blog, very kindly gifted it to me and it makes fascinating reading.  It was named as the Financial Times Business book of the year. As the byline says, its a book about rethinking poverty and the ways to end it. The book destroys many myths about poverty and provides fascinating insights into the behaviour of the poor. Its no surprise then that they would rather own a mobile phone than a toothbrush.

One of the big insights is that things that make life less boring are a priority for the poor. The  quote from Oucha Mbarbk, a poor Moroccan villager sums it all up "Oh, but television is more important than food !" In country after country, the researchers have tried to analyse why the poor eat so little, and sometimes bad food, even when they have the money. Food spending is actually declining in a poor country like India. Its because food is not a priority !

Another fascinating area of research is health. The largest killer of children in world is actually diarrhea. Two cheap and easily available miracle drugs can save the 2 million children who die of diarrhea before their 5th birthday - chlorine bleach and a rehydration solution of salt and sugar. And yet many do not use it even when given free. They want an antibiotic or an intravenous drip. Prevention is frowned upon. An expensive cure, often in the hands of a quack is preferred. 

Another deep insight - poor are like hedge fund managers; they live with huge amounts of risk. They manage this by a typical hedging strategy - diversifying activities. A striking fact quoted from one survey - the median family had three working members and seven different occupations. And you would expect that in a high risk enviroment, insurance in some form or the other would be popular. Wrong. Nobody seems to want insurance.

The book is full of amazing tidbits of research. For example , in Kenya, one of the largest levers for ensuring prosperity for your child was actually giving her deworming tablets. Children who were given deworming tablets for 2 years instead of only 1 year earned 20% more every year for their entire lifetime !!

There is , of course, no silver bullet for eradicating poverty. You mustn't expect one from this book. But it offers many fascinating insights that would make anybody think again about poverty. I heartily recommend anybody with an interest in this subject to read this book.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Ramamritham rules

Alas, Ramamritham is alive , well and strong and he rules upon all that he surveys (pun intended).  The Indian Government will announce today in parliament that it would open up the retail sector to foreign investment. No doubt the Left will organise some bandhs, yell at 10,000 decibels in the Lok Sabha, and then this law will be passed while the opposition will walk out en masse.

Ostensibly, this is economic reform. Its a pathetic, 15cms of reform after a decade of nothing happening, but we'll reserve that criticism for another day. What has got my goat is Ramamritham's dirty footprint all across this move.

Firstly foreign investment of 100% will be allowed in Single Brand Retail, but only 51% in multi brand retail. Therefore a Marks & Spencer store can be 100% foreign owned, but Carrefour can't. Even though they may both sell precisely the same things (M&S does sell a lot of food). Pray why ??

Secondly Ramamritham has excelled himself in drafting a series of conditions for allowing  even this. Look at some of them

  • The minimum investment is $100 m. Where he got this figure is unclear. Why not $82.5 m? But at least we can live with this
  • 50% of this $100 m has to be invested in "back end". Then our venerable hero has gone on to clarify that land, rentals and front end stores will not count as back end. No doubt detailed rules on what is back and what is front will be framed. (here is conclusive proof at last that Ramamritham doesn't know his front side from his back side) Lobbyists will work very hard to get IT systems included in back end. But R will qualify that Microsoft Office will not count as back end. Many months of fruitful work and litigation awaits.
  • 30% has to be sourced by these companies from small scale (completely irrelevant if the product is rubbish and the consumer does not want it) No doubt a front small scale company will be set up who will buy the stuff from a big company and then sell it to the retailer to fulfill this quota. R being very smart will then draft rules to stop this. The retailer being equally smart will get a small scale company to buy from a small scale company to buy from a big company ....... and so on.
  • Stores can be set up only in cities with 1 million population. Lobbyists will work to reduce this number to half a million. They will then lobby that last year Gummidipoondi crossed 1 million population and that R should not wait for another 10 years for the next census but instead pass an interim order allowing the store to be opened there.
How can we get this into Ramamritham's thick skull that we don't want him deciding what is good or bad for us as consumers.  Or for the small Indian retailer who he is trying to protect with such quixotic rules. The Indian retailer needs no protection. He is quite a formidable force. Its by no means certain that small retailers will vanish just because Walmart came in - in India the economics of the retail industry, especially the relative high cost of real estate,  is such that this is very unlikely.

In any case, how about letting the consumer choose. Rajalakshmi will vote with her feet and purse. She will buy where something is cheaper, better and where she likes to go. She deserves that freedom. Ramamritham should be booted from blocking the way.

PS : For those new to this space, Ramaritham is the mythical, fictional bureaucrat who takes orgasmic pleasure in framing complex, unnecessary and useless rules in order to make lives miserable for ordinary members of the homo sapiens species.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Why this kolaveri di

The title of the post is simply to substantiate to Gils , Zeno and other  experts that I am "tuned in" ! In case you are still flummoxed, then that is clear proof that you simply aren't up to date with the "in thing" !! Why this kolaveri di is a completely nonsensical song that for reasons totally baffling has become a massive rage and has gone viral in the last four days. Since world success these days is measured in terms of number of views in YouTube (1.8 million in 4 days and rising by the minute) and insane numbers of Tweets,  Facebook mentions and likes ; it can be conclusively established as a massive hit. I am reliably told that it is competing with another equally baffling entity called Lady Gaga for global leadership.

The song is in "Tanglish" - the curious mixture of Tamil and English which is widely spoken in Madras. It is from a forthcoming movie called 3 (zero marks for creativity in naming a movie). The lyrics are complete nonsense and there is virtually no reason why it should appeal to anybody. And yet it is a hit in four days. WHY ????

This is the mystery of success in consumer marketing. No amount of consumer insight or market research will tell you why something will succeed while a similar thing bombs. The consumer continues to be an indescribable mystery. Many pundits will write treatises on why it succeeded, but after the event. Only a rare genius such as Steve Jobs, could confidently predict success, and get it right. That's why he is so highly feted.

Can anybody tell me why Justin Bieber's Baby should have more than half a billion views on YouTube (the kid can't sing for Gods sake).  And why Charlie Bit my Finger was long reining as the top watched video of all time and even now is a respectable 6th with some 400 million views. Or for that matter, why a yucky tasting syrup, developed as a patented quack medicine for  morphine addiction, dyspepsia and impotence should become the largest consumed drink in the world for 100 years.

Who can fathom the mind of Rajalakshmi, Wang Xiao or Jane Doe ?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The awfulness of Benetton

Benetton, the clothing company, has been struggling of late. So they've gone back to  their horrible old formula to promote their brand - make shocking advertisements.

Their campaign is called "UNhate" - whatever that means. These are some of their abominations.





The last one elicited an irritated objection from the Vatican for the depiction of the Holy Father in this manner and that too for a commercial purpose. Benetton has reportedly withdrawn this ad.

Benetton is known for outrageous advertising in the past. I won't dignify their earlier indecencies with  reproducing those photographs. They have included a man dying of AIDS, a new born with its umbilical cord still connected to the mother, a soldier holding a human bone, and the like.

Sure, there is clutter in advertising and you need to break through it. But there must be a sense of decency in business, just as the same as in all walks of life.  Anything that is legally OK, is not OK. Making money by shocking people seems to be an awful way to earn a living.

But in a capitalist system, the consumer has the final say. If enough people are offended by such tactics, they simply will not buy the product. Benetton's sales are some € 2 bn, not too far from where they were a decade ago. Zara, a competitor, which does not advertise, sells € 12 bn. But alas, Benetton routinely wins advertising awards for "innovative" advertising.

Being a committed capitalist, I never thought I would utter the following words, but now I do - I heartily wish that Benetton would go bust. Moral bankruptcy is a prelude to financial bankruptcy.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Three cheers for Shiv

Running a marathon is usually a huge superhuman effort; Right ? Well, lots of people run marathons every year, but for the non professionals, it is usually a major milestone. They train very hard for it, suffer through the race, but ultimately make it.  It's an achievement to be very proud of.

What then do you say of the ultra marathoners ?? The marathon, as you may know is 42 kms and a bit. Anything more than this is an ultra marathon. What can you say about the guys and gals who run 50km, 75km and , yes, 100 km ?? They are not professionals. They are ordinary guys and gals like you and me. They hold a day job and run only for pleasure. Men, women of all ages.  This isn't for money - there is no money. This isn't for fame - did any of you hear about the Bangalore Ultra before this post ? This is simply for achievement.

This post is a tribute to my good friend, and long ago classmate, Shiv, who ran the 75km race in the Bangalore Ultra Marathon yesterday. Yes; seventy five kilometres. And finished in 11hrs plus.  He won the Seniors category in the 75km race. The Bangalore Ultra is run on a cross country trail - not on flat roads. The trail is full of stones, moon craters and the like. Even walking on it seemed a challenging task to me. These guys run an ultra marathon on it. I was there all day to cheer him and the other runners on and treated to an incredibly rewarding experience.

Shiv and the others set off at 5 AM in the morning, when it was still dark and he finished after 4 PM. He is 50+. He's always been a great sportsman, but this is something altogether on a different plane. To run 75 kms , a distance he has never done before.  Wow ! For sheer guts , courage and achievement, this must rank at the very top. Shiv - you are an absolute hero. Just the thought of 75kms is scary to me ! You run it as if it was just another day at the office. Super Wow !

Watching him and the others is a peep inside a fascinating world. Each runner is completely dedicated to running. They train like crazy. They bear much pain. They run for a sense of personal accomplishment. Its all about setting a personal goal - maybe distance, maybe timing - and achieving it.Winning is secondary. They cheer everybody. There is an enormous sense of comradeship. The guy who finishes 3 hours behind the winner is cheered as  lustily, with the winner usually taking the lead in cheering the loudest. Everybody helps everybody else. Everybody is a winner. They represent some of the best qualities of amateur sport.

Isn't this how life itself should be ?

Sunday, 6 November 2011

A letter to a certain Chief Minister in India

Dear Madam,

We are concerned about the state of your vocal chords, after your recent exertions of that organ protesting against the nth rise in the price of petrol that the Indian government announced a few days ago. While we are well aware of your superhuman powers in that sphere of activity, I am nevertheless concerned enough to give you some advice on the amelioration of  stress on your voice box. I am not one of your subjects, not living in your state at the moment, but have lived there in the past and therefore have a certain affinity.

What has aroused your ire is the increase in price of petrol by Rs 1.80 per litre a few days ago. You have accused the Central government of total insensitivity to the plight of the common man and have threatened to withdraw your support to the government. With inflation running so high in India, you are justly concerned with adding fuel to the fire, if you'll pardon the pun.I totally agree with your sentiments, but my ire is not necessarily directed only against the Central government.

I understand if I have to fill up my tank in your state, I have to pay Rs 73.15 per litre. That being a fairly substantial price, I decided to do some calculation on who gets what I am paying. Here's my amateur attempt.

I pay Rs 32.00 per litre to His Excellency King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia to keep him and his descendants  in cosseted luxury for the next 7000 years (otherwise called price of crude oil)

I pay Rs 7.00 to Mr R. S Butola , Chairman of Indian Oil Corporation, for him to stay solvent , pun intended,  (otherwise called refining charges)

I pay Rs 5.00 to Santa Singh , lorry driver  (otherwise called transport charges). I don't begrudge paying him this in return for all the Sardarji jokes that he has, very kindly, contributed.

I pay Rs 14.35 to the Hon'ble Pranab Mukherjee, Finance Minister of India (otherwise called Excise duty). To be fair to Pranabda, he has been trying to reduce this, having abolished customs duty that he used to levy before.

I then pay some Rs 15 to you ( under the name of sales tax).

You want to charge me some 26%+ rate of state sales tax. Don't you find it usurious ? Pranabda has been crying to states to remove the ad valorem rate of duty on petrol and make it a specific rate, as he has done on the Central VAT. You refuse to do this. Therefore when the central government increased the price of petrol by Rs 1.80, you gleefully contributed another 50 paise of increase. And with a straight face, you are giving significant exercise to your vocal chords.

You may now see the general direction of how you can prevent the onset of acute laryngitis.

I have only one argument in your defence. Your counterpart in the state I live in, is  worse than you (30%). But then, he has wisely chosen to give his vocal chords a rest !

Yours sincerely

Romesh (spelling in deference to your tastes)

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Without Comment

Brilliant article in the Financial Times today. Dripping with sarcasm and wit. Alas its a bit technical and you'll enjoy it immensely if you have a bit of background in finance, but even otherwise its a good read. 

For those not in touch with American politics or high finance -

John Corzine is a former head of Goldman Sachs. He was deposed by Henk Paulson.  Corzine then became a Senator from New Jersey and then Governor. He got defeated in the election in 2010, by Chris Christie who is the current Governor of New Jersey. After his defeat in the election, Corzine became Chairman of MF Global which has just declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

A dog saves the day

A dog might prove to be the unlikeliest saviour of Formula 1, a sport that is direly in need of saving . Bravo India, for unwittingly pointing the way ahead for the sport.

Today is the first ever Indian Grand Prix - held at Noida, at the Buddh circuit, just off Delhi. Why it has come up in Delhi is a mystery - the racing capital (of whatever racing there is) of India is Chennai or Coimbatore. But Delhi it is. This is the fag end of the Formula 1 season; the championship is already decided and there is very little to drive for. But then Bernie Eccleston, the boss of F1, has grasped that the future of the sport  depends on the growing audience in Asia - that's why in the last three or four years, new Grand Prixs have come up in Beijing, Singapore, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Istanbul (almost Asia !), Yeongam (Korea) ; to add to the more traditional Asian venues Suzuka (Japan) and Sepang (Malaysia). Now India.

Formula 1 has become a bore. The results are completely predictable; superb safety measures have ensured that there are far fewer crashes and  rules are changed every 15 days until nobody knows what they are.  There are no more flamboyant personalities of the likes of Ayrton Senna - today's drivers are more technical automatons. Even the pretty girls hanging around in skimpy clothes seem to be rather muted. I haven't watched a Formula 1 race for the last two seasons - its become that boring. When a sports nut like me does that, there is something seriously wrong with the sport.

India might offer the redemption. On the first practice session on Friday, a dog ran on to the track and the session had to be stopped for some 20 minutes. This was the most happening thing that day - the rest of it was predictably boring. Now, any Indian knows that a car tyre is irresistible to a dog.  In some cases, it is even irresistible to humans, but we shall let that pass.

So here are some very Indian ideas to make the sport hugely more exciting and get the fans back

  • Introduce the Indian cow (preferably with a calf) to roam the circuit at random
  • Two wheelers featuring two types of Indian drivers must be in the circuit - the rambo who thinks he's Rajnikanth (or whoever) and revs up his pitiful 85cc mobike and tries to do a wheelie or the uncle and aunty (100 kgs each) with three kids on a wobbly moped.
  • The tractor who comes in the opposite direction to the racing  with headlights on 
  • The overladen truck who is parked right in the middle of the fastest section of the track, camouflaged to be invisible. For good effect a small branch with four leaves can be placed 10 metres behind as a warning.
  • One giant crater right in the middle of the first corner (measurements - 1 ft by 4 ft and at least 2ft deep)
  • Four completely invisible speed breakers that will hit the underside of the chassis, placed strategically where the driver will least expect it.
If Sebastian Vettel (the current world champion) can navigate that and win the race, then the crowds will come back for the thrill. Formula 1 will become the most thrilling spectator sport in the world.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

China searches for its soul

If you are a Sinophile, this is old news and you don't want to read about this anymore; if you are not, this may be new to you. Little Wang Yue, affectionately called Yueyue is dead. She was only 2.

Yueyue, a toddler, wandered on to a road in Foshan, a southern Chinese city and was hit by a vehicle. A security camera filmed the whole scene. 18 passerbys saw her lying in a pool of blood, but walked on and did nothing to help her. The driver who hit her, drove on. Yet another vehicle hit her as she was lying injured. Finally a noble lady, a rag picker, Chen Xianmei, came to help her. Yueyue was taken to hospital. But she slipped into a coma and died.

China is going through a bout of soul searching. The security video that filmed the whole grisly thing has gone on the Net. Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter (Twitter is still banned in China), has millions of messages bemoaning what happened. China is asking itself the question - has materialism and money become so domineering that human values have taken a backseat ?

The driver of the first vehicle who hit her, has allegedly said (not entirely corroborated) that if the victim dies, he would only have to pay 20,000 yuan, whereas if she had survived, he would have to pay her medical costs for life.What about the 18 passerbys who looked and walked on and did nothing to help a 2 year old lying critically injured. What makes a human being do that ?

Part of it is the so called Peng Yu effect. In a famous case in Nanjing, a good samaritan called Peng Yu helped an old woman who had been injured in a bus stop. He even took her to hospital. For his labours, he was sued by the woman and a stupid judge ordered that Peng Yu must pay 40% of her medical bills (the learned idiot ruled that Peng Yu would not have stopped to help unless he caused her to be injured). Similar cases have happened. People have faked injuries in order to be able to sue the person who came to help. 

Money is God and undoubtedly the dominant religion in China. But that does not mean that the society has lost its human values. Far from it. Chinese can be the most affectionate and friendly of people. I know it from personal experience. One case does not typify Chinese society. But it certainly must trigger, as it has, a bout of soul searching.

Not just in China, but everywhere else in the world. Alas what happened to Yueyue would happen in many countries in the world. Including my own. People will turn their faces and keep going and do nothing to help.  But there will also be a Chen Xianmei, who will stop and assist. Usually it is the poorer sections of the society who will be more ready to help. If somebody is lying injured on the road, the BMW will slow down to look, but is more than likely to drive off. It is the pavement dweller or the homeless, happening to be around, who will rush to help.

Sorry Yueyue. The world did not care for you. Your family  may not believe in religion, but I do hope there is a God somewhere who has taken you in His arms.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Storm in an ice cream cup

Schweddy Balls ice cream is brewing up a storm. It has caught the ire of One Million Moms, who are protesting about it. Wow !

Ben & Jerry's seems to be the flavour of the month on this blog. They are the lot who are churning our a limited edition Schweddy Balls ice cream, which they claim has risen to the top of the charts - presumably charts exist for ice cream flavours too.  Apparently it is "fudge covered rum balls" , whatever that means. Schweddy Balls is a take on a Saturday Night Live skit (a television show in the US). An innuendo laced old skit aired on that programme has the "memorable" tag line - no one can resist my Schweddy Balls.

On Million Moms is some obscure conservative organisation based in Mississippi of all places. They are up in arms. They say the language is unsuitable for children. They have forced some supermarket chains not to carry Schweddy Balls and are petitioning the company to stop the production. Little wonder Ben & Jerry's is revelling in the publicity and refusing to do anything of the sort. I thought motherhood was a pretty taxing full time job - are One Million Moms having enough idle time to be protesting about some trivial stuff ?


B&J of course has a long history of quirky names. The initial lot were simply just that; quirky  - Chunky Monkey, Cherry Garcia and the like. They seem to happily coexist with the more prosaic Banana Split and Chocolate Fudge Brownie. Presumably uncolourful lot like me would prefer Chocolate, but a breezy sulo would want Bonnaroo Buzz !  But then they graduated to Karamel Sutra, which was apparently lapped up by the kilo litre. They had a Chubby Hubby flavour, which was fair enough considering that most hubbies in real life are fairly chubby, if not downright tubby. But when same sex marriages were sort of in the news, out came  Hubby Hubby. 

Perhaps Hopfrog or J or Deepa, who have access to the miracles of modern day indulgences can pronounce on the relative merits of Schweddy Balls vs Karamel Sutra vs Hubby Hubby !

Ah ; what a storm in an ice cream cup.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Corporate Japan at its worst


In the good old days when I was in business school, Japan could do no wrong. A million books were written on the Japanese style of management. America was bust, Japan was everything. Case after case taught at business school was on how gloriously managed Japanese businesses were. At that time the two words we were thoroughly sick of was Japan and Walmart ! Time has since proved that there is a fair bit to admire about Japanese management, but a lot that is thoroughly rotten.

A great example is what happened at Olympus last week. This is the company that makes cameras.They just fired Michael Woodford, their CEO, and a 30 year company veteran, two weeks after elevating him. They were brave enough to appoint a non Japanese as their CEO, one of a handful of Japanese companies to do so and foolish enough to sack him immediately. His crime - he didn't listen to the Chairman Kikukawa san and started probing into the financial skulduggery that seems to have gone on.

The skulduggery relates to the acquisition of Gyrus, made in 2008. The acquisition was for $2 bn. Olympus then made payments for advisory fees of $687 m to two virtually unknown firms. Nobody can trace who the owners of these two companies are. One of them, registered in the Cayman islands has since disappeared off the registry 3 months after receiving the last payment from Olympus. These payments were not disclosed to shareholders - instead they were hidden in goodwill by adding to the acquisition price. Now, who on earth pays advisers fees of $687 million for a $2 bn acquisition ?? Not even Wall Street is that greedy.

KPMG, their auditors disagreed with all this accounting wizardy and were promptly sacked for their endeavours.

Woodford started to enquire into this and was told to shut up and look elsewhere. His crime was that he did not listen.

Woodford was summoned to a Board meeting were he was told to zip his mouth and not speak. The solemn directors then proceeded to fire him. The function of the board, alas all too often in Japan, is to bow one inch lower than the Chairman. So much for corporate governance.

The rigidity of hierarchy in Japanese corporate life survives to this day, Grovel and obey without question. I am still amazed how they managed innovation with that culture. I am sometimes inclined to credit some divine providence for all the wonderful innovation in product and quality systems that came out of Japan. How else can you explain  that coming out of a Stalinist corporate culture.

The only lot who are thoroughly unimpressed by all this is the Japanese investor. He has cheerily driven down Olympus' share price by 24%. Kikukawa san and his deputy Mori san may still have to fall on their sword soon.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

I'll Never Do It Again


Does INDIA stand for I'll Never Do It Again ?? I cringed and held my head in shame as I listened to this podcast - this series is one of my personal favourites and represents some of the best of the BBC. It ends with a quote from a guy who did something Indians were very proud about - run the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games . But he says,  "I'll be very happy to ignore India. There are plenty of other places where they pay their bills ". Listen to the podcast if you can - it is only some 5 minutes or so.

Is India one of the most difficult places in the world to do business ? In a recent World Bank survey, India came in at a staggering 134th out of 183 countries in the ranking of the places easiest to do business in. It is easy to dismiss such rankings, as indeed the podcast, as biased and taken out of context. For after all, doesn't  India have a vibrant and surging economy. Surely it can't be a bad place to do business and still be growing like it is. Alas the sad fact is that it is growing like it is despite the fact that it is one of the difficult places to do business in.

Take the instance of the Commonwealth Games contractors which is the subject mater of the above podcast. There has been allegations of corruption over the Games. So what do we do - jail the head of the organising committee without a trial and stop all payments to all contractors associated with the games. And let this meander along for years. It is appalling conduct. Every contractor is not corrupt. Just freezing all payments is no different from piracy. And we are supposed to be a country where there is rule of law. Try taking the government to court. You may get a judgement after you are dead. India ranks second last in the list of countries where you can enforce a contract - bested only by East Timor. 

For a start, we have to abolish the Indian Standard Time. Every decision cannot take years. Government cannot take years to allow an investment or set a policy. Courts cannot grant a stay for years to some aggrieved party. They cannot take years to enforce a contract. Contractors cannot take years to finish a job. We cannot accept being late in completing anything as a national characteristic. 

Unfortunately, given the spate of corruption scandals that have infected the country, all decision making has come to a standstill. Nobody is deciding anything for fear of being labelled as corrupt . You see, you cannot be accused of corruption if you never decide anything. There are no penalties for absolute inaction.

This is an awful state of affairs crying out for leadership, with a capital L. A leader who can stand tall and do the right thing.A leader with a clean conscience, who can motor ahead and act without fear. Being terrified and standing still is downright cowardice. But alas, such a leader is not visible even on the distant horizon.

I cringe and cringe when I see "I'll Never Do it Again" as an acronym for India. But I am afraid, there is an element of truth in it.

Friday, 14 October 2011

The curious case of Ben & Jerry's

Do you like Ben & Jerry's ice cream? Most probably a resounding yes.  But this post is not about its ice cream. Its about what it has done on Tuesday.

What it did on Tuesday was to go to New York's Zuccotti Park where the Occupy Wall Street protesters are camped and dole out free ice cream to all of them. Nothing spectacular about that, except that it went on to publicly declare its support for the protesters. It also published a statement from its Board of Directors that the company has the deepest admiration for the protesters and is standing with them. You can read what the Board said here.

Ben & Jerry's has long been a left leaning company promoting a variety of causes. Its founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield started the company with a clear social and sometimes political agenda. So should this latest action be surprising. Yes, because, Ben & Jerry's is no longer an independent company. It's a subsidiary of Unilever, a global multinational company, perhaps the very sort that the Occupy Wall Street protesters are agitated against (that is, if somebody can decipher what exactly they are protesting about).

Was Unilever ambushed by the act of Ben & Jerry's ? Tough to believe so - for the Board of Ben & Jerry's has Unilever representatives, including an ex Director of Unilever itself. Unilever has issued a statement that it is neutral to social campaigns and has no comment to make, but that is a blithe remark considering that  its subsidiary is indeed making a very loud statement.

How far do you let your subsidiary act on its own ? Usually subsidairies are simply legal shells and the parent runs them as one corporate whole, unless there are external shareholders. But Ben & Jerry's is different. Perhaps because of its historical brand image. Perhaps because of covenants agreed with the founders at the time of acquisition to allow the company to have a social agenda. But still, the latest action seems a step too far. I won't be surprised if the upstart is reined in.

What of the protestors ? They are objecting to evil corporations; right ? Do they want the support of one ? Some of them expressed mixed feelings. They said they were uneasy about corporations muscling in on their patch. But they also said, they could not turn down a free ice cream !

Very curious.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Improve your gluteus maximus


Do you wish to improve your gluteus maximus muscle. If so , please buy Reebok Easy Tone shoes. Alas, you should have done it before Sep 30. Because on that date, the Federal Trade Commission poured cold water on gluteus maximus fans by ruling that the shoes didn't do much for that famous muscle. 

If you are flummoxed by the Latin, don't run away. The rest of this post is in plain English. Reebok has been advertising for two years that Easy Tone shoes helped you get a firmer butt. Apparently this was endorsed by no less a person than Kim Kardashian, who is reputed to be having  that redeeming virtue. I wouldn't have known who this worthy was, until she got married to Kris Humphries, a NBA wannabe, who I certainly know about. Kris could have confirmed or denied the anatomical virtue of the said lady, but he has so far chosen to remain silent, so we shall let that pass.

Reebok has reached a $25m settlement with the FTC for misleading advertising, which Reebok has decided to pay without admitting any guilt. Presumably the ladies in the FTC did not manage to firm up their butts despite wearing Easy Tone, but the ladies in Reebok did. No evidence has been presented to attest to either claim.

I would have thought that any connection between a running shoe and a shapely butt, could be tenuous at best, and that there might be far more important factors that determine the contours of your posterior. But then , it appears that a lot of women bought the idea that they could wolf down five Big Macs, wash it down with 4 cans of Coke and still be tops in the butt department by wearing Easy Tone. Now they will reportedly be compensated by Reebok for having been misled. 

What intrigued me by this story, was that Harbans Kaur in Delhi has also been captivated by this Western phenomenon of obsession with  butts. Apparently Easy Tone shoes were being sold in the Connaught Place outlet of Reebok in Delhi and some 80 women have bought these shoes at some Rs 5000 a piece. Now, anybody with knowledge of India, would readily agree that firmness is a minor quality compared with massiveness. Athleticism is not a redeeming virtue in Harbans Kaur's eyes and  a ponderous gait is more common than a sprightly step. So Reebok's success of selling a massive two pairs of Easy Tones a day in Connaught Place is surprising indeed. Alas, the 80 worthy ladies have no recourse as yet with Reebok. The FTC ruling was only for the US. That eminent organisation has presumably decided that  Easy Tone shoes did nothing for American butts but were perfectly acceptable for non American ones.
Kim Kardashian's Indian equivalent, I have learnt, is one Shazahn Padamsee, whose claim to fame I believe is that she acted in Dil to Bachcha Hai Ji. Needless to say, I am equally clueless about her as I am with her American counterpart. To feature in the Easy Tone campaign, Ms Padamsee must also be blessed with an extremely strong gluteus maximus. Perhaps some reader can comment on the truth, or otherwise, of this.

You have to give the last word to Harbans Kaur. One member of this clan apparently said  "I use it daily for morning walk. I don't have much idea as to whether it has led to toning or not but it is very comfortable to wear."  

Nobody can accuse Madam Kaur of lack of common sense.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Goodbye Pat

It was the fag end of the career. 1975 was the year. It was the fourth test. Chepauk on Pongal day. Clive Lloyd has just begun the journey of taking the West Indies to world beater status for more than a decade. Vivian Richards and Gordon Greenidge made their debuts in that series. Andy Roberts had exploded on to the scene and was the start of a whole generation of fast bowlers the likes of which the game had never seen.

West Indies had won the first two tests convincingly. Those days, India was not really a world force. India had turned to the Nawab to lead them , once again in that series, for only he could knit a fractious Indian team into something resembling a national side. And how he did. In a game where Andy Roberts was virtually unplayable, where Vishwanath stood alone for his 97, one of the greatest Test innings of all time and where Prasanna, Bedi and Chandra conjured to take India to a famous win. The Nawab was the captain who made it all happen.

Mansur Ali Khan, the Nawab of Pataudi was a man born to lead. He was a prince after all - the real article. One of the most handsome men of India, he was unfortunate to lose an eye in a car accident. To play cricket at the topmost level with one eye is an almost unthinkable feat. A whole generation of boys grew up wanting to look like him, walk like him  and mimic his open eyed stance which he adopted because he could see with only one eye. The first true cricketer hero of India.

Cricket was still an aristocratic game those days. But just about. He was the last of royalty who played the game - Ranjitsinghji, Duleepsinghji, Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram, his own father Pataudi Sr ,had all graced the turf before him. He carried a princely air about him, that only comes from being born a prince. Nobody would dream of doing a practical joke on him and everybody called him sir, even in the dressing room. There wasn't a sight better than when he led the team out, he with the royal walk and the team following a respectful ten paces back. 

Easily the most desirable bachelor in the land, it was but natural that he married the most beautiful lady of that time. The first truly celebrity couple. He one of the finest cricketers and she one of the best actresses in Bollywood. Mansur Ali Khan and Sharmila Tagore were simply the most glamorous couple in the country. Their children chose to follow their mother into the silver screen - Saif Ali Khan is one of the top actors on the screen. Alas there won't be another Pataudi walking out to lead India again.

The abiding memory of Pat would be the Indian team that he built. Gavaskar at No 1. Vishwanath at No 4. Solkar inventing the forward short leg position where he held some incredible catches. Prasanna, Bedi, Chandra and Venkat weaving their magic of spin on bewildered opponents. And Pat himself patrolling he covers where he swooped on the ball like no one else could - hence the nickname of Tiger. And captaining the team with the raising of an eyebrow. What a world that was.

Farewell Mansur Ali Khan, the Nawab of Pataudi. The Nawab is dead; Long live the Nawab, we should say. But where is the new Nawab to hail?

Mansur Ali Khan died on September 22nd, at the age of 70.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The hazards of flying

Even if you didn't suffer from aerophobia, there are some non trivial hazards of flying. Missing baggage for example. Or delayed or cancelled flights leaving you stranded in some god forsaken land. Some even allege deep vein thrombosis. Insomnia due to your neighbour's high affliction of stertor could be another. But even the most wildly imaginative sort could not have thought of adding "going to the loo" in that list. But it is now conclusively established that this is a real hazard. Consider the evidence.

Last Sunday Frontier Airlines flight 623 from Denver to Detroit was escorted by F16 fighter jets. Why ?? Apparently two men and a women were seated in a three seater. One guy got up to go to the loo. The other guy stood up.  And the guy spent a "long time" there. That was it. F16s escorted the plane and on landing the three were handcuffed and led off to be questioned. The poor lady did nothing. She was simply sitting and yet was considered suspicious because she sat next to a guy who went to the loo. The wonderfully investigative press even reported that there was a "mile high club" membership application going on in the loo ! We'll let it pass that even a cursory familiarity with an aeroplane loo would convince anybody that such an act is an anatomical impossibility.

American Airlines flight 34 from Los Angeles to JFK was equally bizarre. The F16s were up again. This time, three men were suspected because they were making "frequent trips" to the loo. Apparently there is some standard as to the number of times you can go. For their "crimes" the three were handcuffed and led away.

What about Ryanair's proposals, which thankfully did not materialise, of charging passengers for the pleasure of a visit to the loo midair. Perhaps they might have stuck a notice on the door, not unlike the statutory warning on cigarette packs - "Entering this door would be seriously injurious to your wealth". Ryanair's profit improvement plans didn't stop there. They evaluated removing two out of the three loos on their plane because they could then add six seats, thereby providing an accurate valuation of the service they are providing in giving you a pleasure of a  visit.

All Nippon Airlines tried another tack. They claimed that they were green because they encouraged passenger to lighten themselves prior to boarding the plane. Lighter weights meant less fuel burnt ; so the airline was being very environmentally conscious. Pretty ground crew were on hand just before the boarding gate. Hello; Welcome to ANA Flight blah blah blah. The loo is that way ma'am; if you could make a visit, you will contribute to reducing global warming on our planet. Thank You. Before boarding, please provide proof of your visit !

And, of course, there is poor Gerard Depardieu, the famous, or should I say infamous, French actor. He had many a glass of wine, as any sensible Frenchman would do,  before boarding the plane from Paris to Dublin. And as the plane was about to start, he simply had to deal with the consequences of all that drinking. But no; the stew wouldn't let him get up until the plane was airborne, seat belt signs were off, etc etc - a good 15mts away. What could the guy do. He took the only option - he simply let go. Another instance of the police coming and escorting a passenger out. City Jet, the airline, then rubbed salt into the wounds by tweeting "As you may have seen on the news, we are busy mopping the floor of one of our planes this morning". Another tweet - " We'd also like to remind all passengers that our planes are fully equipped with toilet facilities."

You better be careful, the next time you fly, OK ? There is a new flying hazard.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Oh no; Not again

Yet another rogue trader has emerged. This morning is ablaze with the news that UBS (a Swiss bank) could have lost some $2bn on account of the actions of one trader - Kweku Adoboli at its London office. Adoboli has been arrested last night and the details are only slowly emerging.  Nothing is proven as yet , but Adoboli might very well join his illustrious predecessors - Nick Leeson of Barings, Jerome Kerviel of Societe Generale, et al in the hall of Notoriety.

Apparently the losses stemmed from the trader placing bets, using the banks'own money on something called Delta One - trading in financial instruments linked to exchange traded funds. To lose $2bn, the trader must have been trading staggering sums of money. Clearly UBS has egg on its face. Quite apart from the massive loss, questions will be asked about risk management in the bank. How could they let such a big loss build up.

The question to be asked is what on earth banks are doing even indulging in such activities. They are cloaked under the respectable heading of "investment banking", but this is nothing other than pure gambling. Is this what banks should be doing - gambling in esoteric instruments that nobody else would even understand ? Banks think that they can build big risk management systems, but the truth is that traders are incredibly bright and frighteningly sharp and they will  find a way to beat the best of control systems. After all, traders often hold their managers and risk departments in utter contempt and consider it almost a rite of passage to hoodwink them.

The fig leaf that this is all somehow a very respectable activity couched in terminology such as risk management, investment diversification, hedging, providing liquidity and such other gobbledygook must be once and for all removed. Banks, if they wish to indulge in such activities, should label these departments as "Pure unadulterated gambling department", "Better than a Las Vegas casino department", "" The Wild Wild West",  "Punters Inc",   "Rogues' Lounge" , etc etc.

Plain English helps. Free drinks served by scantily clad waitresses roaming up and down the aisle is optional.

And bankers wonder why they are unloved by the public.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The mystery called consumer

Of all the great mysteries of the universe, none is more confounding than that of consumer behaviour. You would have thought that it shouldn't be an unfathomable mystery - after all you and I are consumers too.  But no. It is inarguably established that you can even hope to nail down the Higgs boson, but cannot begin to understand this mysterious creature called the consumer.

Take the example of the Missoni collection and the outage at Target yesterday. Missoni is an outrageously priced design house - designing everything from clothes to patio sets each costing hundreds or thousands of dollars. I cannot imagine why anybody should pay thousands of dollars for something that is essentially similar and available for $49.99, but we shall pass over that lightly. Target is a discount store in the US.

At first glance, its not sure what the two have in common - you would have expected that one would wrinkle its nose at the other and the other should be showing its finger at the worthy. But hey presto, the two decided that they would collaborate and launch a limited edition Missoni for Target range. This was on the theme of "zig zag" - apparently zig zag lines on your dress is high fashion. Instead of of hundreds of dollars, you could could get it for $39.99.




Target has been swamped. Its web site crashed. The demand for items was higher than on the day after Thanksgiving or Black Friday; days when Americans go bonkers shopping. Everybody , it seems, wants to buy. Social media is inflamed. That doyen of intelligent media, Twitter, is ablaze. Many criticised Target for not anticipating demand. Many others moaned and groaned. Some boasted that they could get in during the few minutes that the site was up . Some others tweeted that they would get Missoni supported unlocked iPhones. As this post was written, the Target site is still down.

I would have bet before yesterday that

  •  Nobody in the US had heard of Missoni
  • It didn't matter one bit whether the lines on your skirt were straight or zig zag , or for that matter, non existent
I would have, of course, lost the bet. I was dead wrong.

Ah the mysteries of that incredibly species called consumer !

PS- Regular readers of this blog might have noticed that this blogger is rather advancing from the status of  "Sartorius Ignoramus" :)

Sunday, 11 September 2011

With heads bowed

Today is a day for reflection and remembrance. Anything else would be inappropriate.

Recommend browsing through today's special report in The New York Times titled The Reckoning.

Perhaps the epitaph found on the graves of many who fell in the First World War might be equally befitting.

"Their names live forever more".


Friday, 9 September 2011

Who or what is a Doofus ?

I freely admit to not having a clue about what a "doofus" was, until today, if you will pardon the pun. For, apparently, a doofus is a guy who doesn't have a clue. My vocabulary has since improved by one, thanks to Carol Bartz, the ousted CEO of Yahoo  who called her Board which ousted her, a bunch of doofuses.

Everything about the Yahoo saga stinks. Carol Bartz was fired by her Chairman over the phone. It has brought into question again how firings are done. Not just firing a CEO, but firing any employee. Firing by phone or by email must surely rank as one of the worst blunders you can make in a company. Topped only by having a security guard present and showing the employee to the door. Employees deserve to be told in person that they are fired and also told the reason why they are fired. The reason may have nothing to do with their performance - we are making losses and have to cut costs and you got the short end of the straw, is perfectly acceptable if that is the honest truth. If the employee is surprised that he or she is being fired, then clearly the boss hasn't done his job. Firings are rarely required overnight. You can see it coming and its the boss's job to be open and forthright in communication with the employee. The Board of Yahoo displayed appalling behaviour in firing Carol Bartz over the phone.

Carol hasn't covered herself with glory either. In her now famous mail to employees, she wrote "I am very sad to tell you that I’ve just been fired over the phone by Yahoo’s Chairman of the Board". She then proceeded to give an interview to Fortune where she has contributed to the increase in the vocabulary of bloggers like me. She also apparently said that " they  f---ed me over". She is going to collect a $10m severance pay but she may have put that in jeopardy because the severance agreement has the usual non disparagement clause (you don't throw garbage at the company, in lay man terms)

Then a pompous know it all (correction - rich pompous know it all) called Daniel Loeb who runs a hedge fund and has taken a stake in Yahoo writes a public letter asking for the Chairman of the Board to go and then naming a few directors who in his opinion have to go too. 

Excellent. With such worthy managers, Board and investors, what chance do the employees of Yahoo have. I am a regular user of Yahoo and its quite good at some of the things it does. But what a mess. Which sensible guy will now be willing to be the CEO. Probably only a guy who has some familiarity with doofusism !

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The wonders of public opinion

Public opinion is often a cause of much entertainment. Public opinion, that is, as reflected in the comments section of a famous website. Let us say , for example, Reuters  reporting  a fairly innocuous news item as follows. You would have thought that there isn't much to comment about it. You would be wrong. Read on for this imaginary post and comments.

Cuba withdraws ambassador from Libya

Cuba has announced that it was withdrawing its diplomatic mission in Libya, reiterating that it does not recognise Libya's Transitional National Council.

Comments (325) 

Amyfalldown - First!

humanist7117 - Gaddafi is a thug. He is in  cohorts with Fidel Castro. He has run away to Libya
Nitinooroo - Мы работаем напрямую с импортерами парфюмерии в Россию, минуя перекупщиков. Это является гарантией реализации без наценок и каких-либо процентов. [url=http://www.voado.ru/optom/]Лицензионная парфюмерия производства ОАЭ[/url] – это имитация оригинальной селективной парфюмерии и духов.Настоящая лицензионная парфюмерия имеет хорошее

RobertBrewsterJr1 - IMPERIALIST THUGS ARE DESTROYING THE WORLD. OBAMA IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS. STOP GOVERNMENT SPENDING. THAT IS THE ONLY WAY TO BRING SANITY TO THE COUNTRY. LEFT WING LIBERALS ARE TAKING OVER THE WORLD. VOTE FOR MICHELLE BACHMANN

nicebrunido - %$#*%$ iPhones at half price. Visit ripyouoff.com today! #(#$@

elitaren - f*****g Gaddafi. b****** Castro. I don't give a s***


goodguy - MMS is corrupt. Sonia is corrupt. Narendra Modi for PM

        jidaspeak - @goodguy - you are a moron. RSS stooge. Go die somewhere

        goodguy - @jidaspeak  - You Porki. Go back to your mulla country and drown in blood

revengeofbutthead - wtf ?

Nihaonyan - This comment has been deleted by the moderator

oldman - The Libyan Transitional Council is a loose combination of different interest groups. So far the only glue holding them together was their common hatred and fear of Gaddafi. Now that Gadaffi has gone it remains to be seen whether they can form a sensible government. Uncertain times ahead for Libya

             lespaulrentals - @oldman - Who asked you ?

AnImmortalLove - Thumbs Up if you typed Viagra and landed on this site.

Padmanvasanth - GOOD STEP HAPPENED...

NOW THEY ADMIRE THAT THEIR WELTH IS THIS MUCH ONLY...

SO IT IS CLEAR THAT - OVER AND ABOVE THIS IS BLACK MONEY...

AND THEY MOST RETURN IT TO INtIA

LET US BRING BUCK ALL OUR HERD EARNED MONEY...



itshuyzz - People listen to me. Its all the fault of multinationals. Gaddafi was a stooge of Exxon, BP and the multinational oil companies. When he was no more useful, they have deposed him. Its all the fault of the evil oil companies.

Is this what public opinion has descended to ??

I am eternally thankful that readers who comment here are a million miles away from this lot. Truly salute those who take the time to make such informed and wise comments in this blog.
PS - This post was inspired by this article in the WSJ.
 


Saturday, 3 September 2011

Can the world still feed itself ?

When Peter Brabeck-Letmathe speaks, you listen. He is the highly respected Chairman of Nestle. In his weekend interview with The Wall Street Journal published here, he speaks of the increasing danger of food insecurity in the world.

Food prices shooting up, the world over, is a serious cause of concern. This blogger has moaned about it here , here and here . The traditional activist response is to bleat about the evils of globalisation. But here is a world leader giving a simple way forward for what should be done.

His prescription is three fold and simple

- Stop using land for growing corn for biofuel
- Do not maniacally oppose technology in food cultivation, especially genetically modified crops
- Let the market price water for industrial use

I had no idea that this year American farmers would harvest more corn for fuel rather than for feed. This is the outcome of a subsidy policy that has encouraged bio fuel use to get away from the human addiction to petroleum. But look at the consequence for food - a perfect example of how policy in one sector can have serious consequences in another. Single issue activists please note - policy making is complex and interwoven and you can often cause more harm than good by manic obsession with a single issue. If you balance food prices with reducing petroleum dependence, it is not an easy choice. But as Brabeck-Letmather says, we should consider using land only to grow food.

The almost religious opposition to genetically modified crops is , in my view, absurd. We have been genetically modifying crops for virtually of all of human existence. It is called plant breeding. Wheat, Rice, etc as we now it, are all genetically modified. It appears that it is OK to genetically modify slowly, but not OK to modify quickly. World over, there are already laws to look after food safety and there are laws for labelling food containing genetically modified cops. So if you oppose it, that is certainly your right and you are free not to consume it. But to insist that nobody else should do so is unacceptable in my view. Again there is a policy choice. Between letting food prices go so high that some people starve or suffer malnutrition and being scared about the gap between reasonable surety and absolute surety on the safety of such crops. That whole argument has been hijacked by ranting against multinationals, globalisation etc, which is another story and beyond the purview of this post.

The third remedy is interesting. Apparently only 1.5% of the world's fresh water consumption is for personal use - washing, bathing, etc, The rest is for agricultural use or industrial use. Brabeck-Letmathe's solution is stunningly simple. Keep water for personal use free. But let the market price water for industrial or agricultural use. That will ensure that water 9100 litres of water are not used to make 1 litre of bio diesel.

A superb interview which I would strongly recommend for anybody interested in food security for the world.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

How to look ridiculous

This blogger freely admits to being severely sartorially challenged. The words fashion, smartly dressed, even, nice shirt, are outside his lexicon. It is therefore entirely appropriate that a learned treatise on the recently concluded Lakme Fashion Week features as this Sunday post. For those unacquainted with this earth shattering event, it is the premier event in India where impossibly thin human beings (mostly female) walk with a funny walk, looking like having descended from outer space and get ogled at by a horde of notebook clutching "experts".

This is India. This blogger has eloquently expressed his opinion on the clothing tendencies of the Indian female here.  Now, compare that with the presumably "hot" outfits on full display at the aforementioned fashion event.

Have you ever seen anybody dressed like this ?

Or like this ?

Can you imagine Rajalakshmi like this

Or even like this ?

Alas, this is no longer a feminine preserve. There seem to be metrosexuals who want to look like this

Not even for fun can I picture Gils like this


Or Zeno like this

I mean, who wears such stuff ??  Have you seen a single human being attired like this ? OK OK - I don't frequent the crowd that features on Page 3 (for non Indians - Page 3 in Indian papers is not topless females; its photos of the so called party goers - apparently there are a breed who want their mug shots looking silly to feature in the papers). I am told reliably that such monstrosities may feature there.

Judging by the buhaha (word courtesy Reflections) over this event, there are presumably lots of people interested in such stuff. Corporate sponsors fall over themselves to be seen there. Now corporate sponsors are not exactly known for their wisdom when it comes to throwing away somebody else's money.  So everybody has a ball - the slightly weird lot who make this stuff, the anorexia addicted lot who wear this and walk that funny walk and the notebook clutching lot, who love a free drink and like to think that their opinion matters.

Well, to each his own. However, chances are that most people, if they see an apparition like this .......

.... are likely to run a few miles.

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