Sunday, 27 February 2011

Bernie Madoff vs Ramalinga Raju

Madoff and Raju. Both guilty of gross financial impropriety. On a scale that boggles the mind. Both confessed readily to the wrong they have done. In fact both the cases came to light because the protagonist confessed to it. The heat became too much and they had virtually no choice but to come clean. But therein ends the similarity.

In the case of Madoff, the date was 10 December 2008. He was immediately arrested, but released on bail. His case came to court on 12 March 2009 wherein Madoff pleased guilty. He was sentenced on June 29 to 150 years in jail. So off he went to jail. End of story.

Raju's famous letter of confession came on 7 January 2009. After a few days of drama, he was arrested and sent to jail. But then ..... . Nothing. There is still no conviction in a court of law. In fact, there is no sign of a conviction in a court of law. The company, meanwhile, has bee n resurrected in a text book case of brilliant government and management action. They have even settled the class action suit in the US. But Raju continues to remain an undertrial.

India has an extremely dangerous tendency to "convict" a person by media and not necessarily informed public opinion. A primary construct in a society ruled by law is that a person is innocent until proven guilty. In India, its often guilty until proven innocent. That's why , in the infamous Tihar Jail, there are reportedly more undertrials than convicted criminals. Some undertrials have spent longer time in the jail than what their maximum sentence would have been if they had been convicted.

Both the investigating and judicial systems must hang their head in shame. Raju confessed to his action. He hasn't since retracted his confession or anything to that effect. The accounting fraud was quite simple and , by now, well established. Is it that difficult to bring this to trial and convict ??

Raju, is like any other citizen of the country. He deserves the right to be tried. He should be punished, but only after conviction in a court of law. The President must issue a dictat - bring Raju to trial in a week and complete the trial in a month, If you can't do it, release him and he should walk a free man.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

When too much is too much

Lord Leverhulme, the founder of Unilever, once said long ago - "I know half my advertising isn't working. I just don't know which half". A century later, this still holds true. Throw helluva lot of advertising and hope that something sticks. That seems to be the motto of the lot who have made watching cricket on TV these days akin to root canal surgery.

For those unacquainted with the magic game of cricket, lets just say its a sport about which the billion plus people in India, Pakistan, etc are downright crazy about. Its world cup time (never mind that only 8 or so countries really play the game) and half the nation is glued to their TV sets. The game lasts some 6 hours and you get an advertising opportunity every 2 minutes or so. You can imagine the mayhem that is inflicted on the poor cricket fan.

The game seems to be secondary. They squeeze in more and more ads in between overs such that the first ball and the last ball of the over are considered superfluous . Now they have taken to showing the game on half the screen and running an ad all around it. And to compound the sacrilege, right in the middle of an over, the pitch seems to erupt and an ad comes out of the ground. This is not a cricket world cup. This is an advertisement world cup with cricket in there as a necessary evil.

Yeah; I understand the business behind it. After all , I slogged for a long time for the company that was the largest advertiser in the world. Yes, I know money is what drives the sport. Yes, I know , without this, there won't be a cricket world cup. But .....

There is something called the consumer. The idiot who watches the ad and hopefully goes out to buy your product. Is pissing him off, by bombarding him like a moron, any sensible strategy ? Sure , two billion eyeballs are watching and getting your brand in front of them is a great thing. But then does he even notice, or does he care ? I watched the game yesterday and can't recollect more than 2 or 3 brands although I watched 367 ads ( I actually did the math). Irritatingly the same ad repeats ad nauseum and I still can't remember the brand. One diabolical ad, doesn't even say what the product is - apparently its an attempt to create a mystery by saying "coming soon". Even the brands I notice, have done nothing to stimulate me to go and buy them. So what's the deal ?

The deal is a stupidity called 'opportunities to see'. An advertising metric that measures how many people saw your blasted ad. Of course a billion see it if you air it in the cricket world cup. The advertising manager is feted for hitting the largest number of eyeballs possible (this is the exact lingo used - they care two hoots if its a human or an animal as long as they can catch an eyeball !) They only care about the eyes - the brain behind is irrelevant.

How about a little class ? Don't yell too loudly. don't say the same thing again and again. Don't hit me with your product. Don't increase the volume level when the ads come on. Don't make claims that are laughably outrageous. Don't take me for a moron who has to be stuffed. Credit me with some intelligence. How about making a great product (like the iPhone) and then gently telling me once that it might be something I might like. And leave it at that and let me watch the game.

I may be in a minority, but I would rather not watch this monstrosity aired on TV. I would rather simply read the papers next day. Or else go and see a few matches live. One thing I am sure about. I am not going to buy a product because of that dumb ad they aired.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

What's in a number ?

This blog has some pretense to be a serious one where matters of considerable intellectual weight are analysed and debated. Issues of significant import and with profound ramifications feature here. Adjectives such as inane, irrelevant, flippant, pea brained, etc etc ought not to be applicable. It is in this rich tradition that today's post examines one of the thorniest of problems to face humankind - why are bus routes numbered as they are in India !

For those uninitiated in the ways of public transport, especially in the south of India, here is a primer. Buses of all shapes and sizes abound. They carry numbers such as 342BE and J421K. Why are they so numbered is what I am trying to explore.

Take the road opposite my house, The route that most frequents this road is numbered 335E. There is an occasional 335 P or a 335 L or a 335 K . But, as far as I know, routes 1 to 334 do not exist anywhere in Bangalore. So why 335 ?Is it one of nature's unique constants like the pi ?? The next number after 335 appears to be 500. There is a 500C (no 500A or 500 B) . This is one puzzle I will leave for the Mensa enthusiasts to figure.

The city of Madras offers enormous potential for research in this subject. That bus route numbers can be transformed into a political statement was a fabulous discovery the citizens of this metropolis can claim credit for. You see, this city always had bus routes such as 21A, 21B, 21 C and so on. Mathematical geniuses in Chennai restricted themselves to two digits while their brethren in Bangalore preferred three. But then a certain gargantuan lady called Jayalalithaaaaa Jayaram (no relation of RamMmm) came to power. She looked around and saw that her favourite alphabet J did not feature in the lexicon of buses. She dropped a hint. The masses took it up immediately. There was a flurry of bus routes being numbered as 18J or 21J and the like. Some enthusiasts went one better 18JJ and 21JJ. Some more enterprising lot picked up J21J. It went on upto JJ21JJ - physical laws of space limitations then took over until the most enterprising of the lot came up with JJ21JJ with a cross right across it. There the matter stood until the massive lady lost power. Her rival who replaced her immediately decreed that the alphabet J's time in the sun was over. Bus No JJ21JJ cross vanished. Thankfully, his favourite alphabet K did not make an appearance. Perhaps because of the insinuation that K comes after J !

Why don't they simply number the bus routes 1,2,3 and so on. Oh no ! How can things be made so simple ? I am sure a whole department of bus numbering complete with 5321 labouring staff exists in the labyrinth of Indian bureaucracy. Staffed full of Ramamrithams, whom you might have met here. Slaving away with impenetrable logic which mere mortals cannot understand.

This writer discloses that he has some vested interest in the matter. He is regrettably a rather frequent commuter of a bus numbered BIAS6 !

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Super Bowl Sunday

Today is Super Bowl Sunday. All of America will come to a halt. Perfectly appropriate time to take a dig at America's favourite sport.

For those unacquainted with the sporting proclivities of that great nation, you just need to know that the sport in question is American Football. Don't need to know anything more to suffer through this post.

Why this sport is called "Football" beats me. The ball does not touch the foot at all, except once in a while when a team punts (kicks the ball as high and as far as it can) as it has run out of ideas of what else to do. And they call this "Football"" and the real football "Soccer" - proof that in the land of Glen Beck and Michael Moore, logic is not a prerequisite for anything.

Be that as it may, let us turn to the protagonists. You have to be a massive hulk to play this game. Muscles bulging and refusing to remain constrained in their allotted places. And what do they do to such monuments to testosterone ? They dress such hulks in the most effeminate of trousers - tight fitting sequins that threaten to burst from the ample posteriors they are meant to contain. Its a comical sight - huge hulks with enough padding on the top half of the body to resemble a battle tank and a bottom ... ; well; lets leave it at that.

To police such fine specimens of humanity, are a few old men termed as referees. They are dressed as jailbirds - striped shirts that would not be out of place in Tihar Jail. They control the man mountains by hurling handkerchiefs to the floor - at which sight the aforesaid man mountains quiver with fright or indignation !

The game itself will be completely unintelligible to any outsider. They strike elaborate poses , with their posteriors all ensconced in the tight sequins alluded to above, and sticking out. One guy hold the ball while another stands behind him and seems to caress his ample backside. They burst into action for precisely 5 seconds. Then it all comes to a halt for the next 4 minutes. Only to start again. In that 5 seconds of action, every hulk attempts to decimate the opposite number, somewhat in the fashion of rutting bulls. They try and bury the poor soul holding the ball in at least five layers of manhood (see picture above). In the interim the coaches of both the teams walk up and down on the side trailing a veritable electronics lab , wires snaked by half a dozen orderlies.

The sight of the 5 seconds of action sends commentators to a paroxysm of emotion. They yell and scream at the historical significance of what they have just seen. Given the American propensity to numbers - they measure to the exact inch how much the ball, and each Godzilla, has moved. They argue passionately whether it was 9 yards or 10, and when its the latter, they declare it in 1300 decibels to be "down" - if you listen carefully you may hear the prefix of first !

While they do all this, all of America is glued to the telly. At the same time consuming 5 burgers, 15 sausages, 1 kilo of chips, 3 kilos of pretzels, a few gallons of beer and soda and some 1 tonne more of "food" - these statistics being per person. Its officially the second largest gastronomic day in the Northern Hemisphere, second only to Thanksgiving when in addition to all of the above, turkey is added to the menu. Now you know why you see some grossly obese on the streets of any American city.

On the telly, a few stars and many wannabe stars are strutting their stuff. Paid for by silly companies who spend 1 million dollars for a 10 second as a monument to advertising inanity. The stars try their best to exploit the opportunity by indulging in "wardrobe malfunction".

For the record, today's Superbowl is between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers. I am rooting for the Packers .........


Saturday, 5 February 2011

Ni Hao, would you like to open an account ?

When Hu Jintao, the leader of China, visited Washington recently, there was a flurry of deals signed. Predictably, most were economic. One tiny deal, lost from the public glare may be far more important than most of the bigger ones signed amidst much fanfare. This was the acquisition by ICBC, the world's most valuable bank from China, of the tiny retail network of the Bank of East Asia in New York and California.

All bank takeovers in the US need regulatory approval. Given the circumstances under which this deal was signed, its expected that it would be approved. And therein lies the breakthrough.

The regulatory approval is given only if the US believes that the regulatory mechanism in the home country of the bank is "sound". This is classical American overreach of dictating to the world. Now if this deal is to be approved, that is a tacit endorsement of China's banking system, which is entirely state controlled and , to even the most neutral of observers, dodgy. America endorsing China's banking system ? Wow !

There is an even more interesting consequence at the China end. It is the placement of the regulatory powers of a China bank's operations, in the hands of the US regulatory authorities. Yes its only a tiny insignificant branch of the giant ICBC. But then America's regulators never stop at its nations shores. For the Communist Party to accept that, takes some doing.

You can see why both the countries chose a tiny insignificant deal to test the way forward. If it had been a large deal in the public glare, you can imagine the howls of protest in the US against letting China in. Equally so , behind closed doors of the Communist Party's politburo, of submitting to any form of regulation by outsiders. Best to wade through this in an insignificant deal. And then slowly inch your way forward.

America and China are learning to tango. Uncomfortably, but out of sheer necessity. Both would rather not do this. But there isn't a choice. So its an awkward dance , trying not to step on each others' toes. A tall order given that neither has learnt the steps and are too proud to practice. It will be nice watching the dance - we from India being the underaged kid, not allowed into the party, but sneaking in to watch the goings on.

The dance may be awkward, but getting customers to walk in to the branch in New York may be more awkward. Can't imagine Joe the Plumber resonate to the sounds of huan ying guang lin (welcome). But then they won't go after those sort. There are enough Chinese Americans in that land. The NBA all star voting has just finished. Guess who the starting centre for the West is ? Yao Ming. Never mind that he has been injured for a long time and won't play, probably for ever.

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