Saturday, 25 October 2014

Et tu Your Majesty ?

One of the pleasures of life is to start the day with a strong cup of coffee in one hand and The Hindu on the other. But the dangers of such a practice was brought out today - scalding by spilling the hot stuff on a sensitive part of your anatomy, the coffee turning utterly bitter in the mouth, etc etc. For right in the front page was the news that caused me to convulse uncontrollably. Her Majesty the Queen , had sent her first tweet !

This blogger's vehement opposition to that abominable medium and  contempt for "twits" is well know. He is well ware that 99.99999% of the world are in the opposite camp. But he consoled himself that a few dignified men and women of great stature, like Her Majesty (and himself !) had better taste and sense. Now he is somewhat perturbed that he may be the only dignified man standing.

Her Majesty's first tweet is a perfect example of the inanity of Twitter. She tweeted - "It is a pleasure to open the Information Age exhibition today at the @ScienceMuseum and I hope people will enjoy visiting. Elizabeth R." If there was a more useless piece of information, I am yet to see it. But to be reduced to having to sign Elizabeth Regina (I am sure you didn't know her second name). ...... What has the world come to.

In order to update himself on the useless stuff that so called celebrities tweet, this blogger spent a frustrating hour reading them. Here's a sample of recent tweets made by these worthies

Barack Obama - "Will you weigh in on #Obamacare?"  - he has some hope !

Narendra Modi - "Lot of things we can get to know by talking. Not only information but points of view" - What fantastic wisdom.

Shashi Tharoor - "I am donating them a biogas plant of 1tonne per day capacity" - So what.

Justin Bieber -  "Life is about the journey :)"  - Stunning discovery.

Shahrukh Khan - " I think Life, Movies & other such essentials, do start after 40!"  - OK, you old man.

Neil degrasse Tyson (a leading astrophyicist) : "I wonder if social media atheists ever use "OMG". If so, they probably intended to type "OYG"  -  What a scientific insight

Sachin Tendulkar  - "Wash your hands before every meal.... Spread the word on" - Ok mommy

Paris Hilton - "There's no place like home"  - OK couldn't resist peeking into the tweets of the wisest lady in the world.

David Cameron - "I'm angry at the sudden presentation of a €2bn bill to the UK by the EU. It's an appalling way to behave and I won't be paying it on Dec 1st" - Have you heard a better rendering of the loudly squealing schoolboy ?

Angela Merkel - "Guten Morgen liebe B├╝rgerInnen und einen sch├Ânen Sonntag!  (Good morning dear citizens and have a nice Sunday) "  Doesn't she have anything better to do on a Sunday morning ??

and, of course, our own blog king and  commenter extraordinare 

Congoboy - "I swear, it peed on me."   -  OK; that one was below the belt, but I can't resist needling Congoboy. Its an actual tweet by him though !

What a colossal waste. Of all the useless, inane , pointless, drivel in the world, 99% can be found on this monstrosity called Twitter.

So having tweeted her first tweet, what is the Queen going to follow it with. Here are a few helpful suggestions

- Pip Pip
- Oh dear, my foot aches
- Coochie Coo George
- Oh God, do I have to get up and go to another boring function ?
- Toodle oo

PS : This post is at the request of my dear friend, fellow blogger and commenter, "Nancy" who made the request commenting on the previous post !

Friday, 10 October 2014

Don't ask for a raise; ask for a drop !

Microsoft's CEO, Satya Nadella got himself into a pickle yesterday. He was asked at a women's forum what women should do to get paid more. He replied "It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raises as you go along,” he said, adding that such patience was “good karma”.

In this politically correct world, he was, of course, asking for trouble. He has been pilloried and the only sensible PR thing to do is to grovel and apologise. Women are paid less than men, in some places (although I challenge anybody to prove this in the IT industry. I know this industry intimately. No sensible company pays women differently from men for the same job. There are less than 50% women in the IT industry, and a lot less in senior echelons,  but that is due to a whole host of other reasons, not unequal pay).

I have no desire to incur the wrath of the politically correct. So I am not going to debate whether Nadella should grovel or not. Instead, if you eliminate the gender factor from the equation, I think he was making a fair point. In fact, I would go a step farther to say that in some instances, we should be asking for a pay drop; not a pay rise !

Labour , and skills, are a commodity, like any other. Price depends on demand and supply. Every commodity's prices go up and down (even gold). Except an individual's salary, which goes only up. Unfortunately , we have been conditioned to expect a salary hike every year and that the more it is the better. Actually, the worst thing that can happen to us is that we get a fat salary hike each year. For, if we keep increasing our "price", a time will soon come when we have become outpriced. At that point, we are sure to be sacked. If collectively everybody in our unit does this, the unit will be shut down and the jobs moved somewhere where the wages are lower (probably overseas). If one is an outlier, then you can be sure that the person would be fired under some pretext or the other and we will be replaced by somebody cheaper. This is the brutal fact of today's workplace.

The trick is therefore to price yourself, just a shade below market. That way, the company cannot afford to sack you. If that means taking a salary drop, then so be it. In fact, as you age beyond 45, I submit, you should be looking to a salary drop every year. There is a far greater age discrimination in the job market than gender discrimination (try getting a new job when you are 50).  The only way you can continue to age and survive without being fired, is to keep your "price" competitive, allowing for the fact that there is a perceived efficiency bias in favour of the young. A small discount to the market is the right place to be in. Unless you are in France, or unless you are in a profession where you cannot be sacked (as one commenter to this blog is).

I know this is heresy and I am going to probably be pilloried. But I would rather hold a lower paying job than no job at all.

Thankfully, I am no Nadella. So I can afford to be politically incorrect !!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Spare a thought for Nauru

Nauru is a strange country. It's a trivia nut's delight. It is the only country in the world without an official capital. It is the second smallest state in terms of population after the Vatican. Its 10,000 odd people are the fattest in the world. It is an island nation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles from anywhere. But this post is not to extoll the Robinson Crusoeish place as some sort of a paradise - it is instead about the strangeness of its economy.

Nauru is , to put it mildly, plain broke. Bankrupt with a capital B. But in the 1970s and 1980s it was the richest country in the world in terms of per capita income ! How did the richest country in the world go bust in 30 years. It is a strange story indeed.

Nauru's prosperity came from the most unlikeliest of sources - bird poo.  Over millions of years, seabirds crapped all over the island. The poo accumulated and accumulated and became guam. When Nauru became independant in 1968, it found itself sitting on a valuable mineral - phosphate - that was easily extractable and a key ingredient for making phosphatic fertilisers.

Nauru became a major phosphate exporter. India was one of its chief markets - a joint venture company was even set up in Orissa, called Paradeep Phosphates between the governments of India and Nauru. Nauru made a killing with phosphate exports. And climbed to become the richest country in the world . Its 10,000 odd people lived a life of luxury - no taxes, no need to work hard. In the process they got fat. Very fat. Literally.

But Nauru is a small island. In 20 years or so, the phosphate deposits ran out. Now the islanders were left with nothing.

What they did next to raise income is a unique story that beggars belief. In the 1990s they tried to become an offshore finance centre. They, of course, were incapabale of managing this sensibly. Criminals made a beeline for the place and it became a major money laundering centre. The US promptly banned it and the dreams of becoming a financial haven quickly turned to dust. They tried selling citizenship for a fee, but once criminals found that they couldn't operate there, very few came.

Next it tried to play the diplomatic game to raise some money. In 2002, it  kicked Taiwan diplomatically and recognised the the mainland - The People's Republic. A grateful China gave it $130 million. In 2005, it kicked The People's Republic out and re recognised Taiwan. It is unclear how much money it made from it.  But you can do this sort of a thing only once ! It however remains ready to recognise any country in need of recognition. It did so with Abkhazia, a breakaway region of Georgia and a grateful Russia promptly gave it $ 50m.

In the last few years it has turned to yet another strange source of income. It takes in illegal immigrants - boat people landing up in Australia - in return for money. So some of the poor Vietnamese, Indonesians and Sri Lankans, find themselves in camps in Nauru instead of their presumed heaven of Australia. Australia pays Nauru for this "service".

The government of Nauru has been historically incompetent and useless. In that, of course, it is not alone. But it is now bankrupt and virtually shut down. It's bank accounts in Australia have been frozen. It's few assets , again in Australia, have been repossessed. It has defaulted on its bonds. Back home, it is not clear if the government can even function anymore. Australia has to save it.

The ordinary Nauruans deserve some sympathy. They have the highest incidence of Type 2 diabetes in the world, affecting 40% of the population Most people are unemployed.  If Australia does not send aid, they will be virtually in penury. The sad problem is that they are a speck in the ocean. Who cares ?

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