Saturday, 19 December, 2009

But for the results, it’s a great success

In an article titled Victory in the cold war was a start as well as an ending in Tuesday's FT, Martin Wolf comments on the mixed blessings of the Cold War 'victory'. But the most interesting thing in the article was the graphs below (picked without permission from FT):

A little guessing about the estimated figures (not quite clear from the graph) and back-calculation show up the following figures:

Country

Estimated real GDP

in 2010 (1990 = 100)

Growth rate

Poland

200

3.53%

Czech Republic

165

2.54%

Slovak Republic

140

1.70%

Hungary

140

1.70%

Lithuania

140

1.70%

Estonia

100

0.00%

Latvia

100

0.00%

Russia

125

1.12%

Ukraine

105

0.24%

Romania

95

-0.26%

Bulgaria

65

-2.13%

According to Wolf, Poland is the star of this group. If the star's performance is 3½%, one must wonder what standards Wolf and his ilk are using here. European countries don't have growth rates like some emerging economies do, but is 2½% and 1¾% ok by any standards? And ex-communist countries are supposed to be emerging economies, aren't they?  

By the way, this misses out Albania, Belarus, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo (a country as per USA), Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia. Do look up Down in the dumps
in the Economist.

Tuesday, 15 December, 2009

Telcom gets its comeuppance

I was delighted to read, in yesterday’s FT, that India’s telecom is heading for doomsday. Of course, the paper didn’t say as much, but the fact that telecom is the worst performing sector in the stock market is consolation enough for the daily insults that stupid, opinionated telecom marketing executives hurled at us over the four years that I had the misfortune of working on telecom accounts. So petty and stupid were they, they shook to the core my hopes that Indians may someday be a race of professionals.

Of course, the fall of telecom had little, if anything, to do with them. In spite of all the bribery and big talk, in the end economics played its hand. We are just too poor to give telecom the sought of profitable growth it sought.

Moreover, telecom companies never fulfilled the rural quotas they were supposed to, over-saturating the urban markets instead. If the labourer in the city couldn’t keep in touch with his family back home, why should he fill the telecom companies’ coffers? The question was basic enough. Somehow, telecom companies never felt the need to answer it, perhaps because they could, till now, trick Western speculators (a notoriously gullible lot when it comes to India’s impending ‘rise’) to keep pouring in money.

Actually, the writing was on the wall years ago, when the Ambanis fought over Reliance Telecom. The matter boiled down to churn management, or its absence, with the younger brother questioning the older brother’s marketing spends into a bottomless bucket.

Strangely, little was written about it at that time. Even more strangely, the younger brother ended up with the telco when the empire was divided!

Monday, 14 December, 2009

Bankers and peasants

England’s finance minister threatens to tax rich bankers. They threaten to leave London, and ruin a substantial portion of the British economy. The media go on an overdrive to show how stupid the minister is and why bankers should never be taxed because they are doing the rest of us a gigantic favour by shouldering our risks.

Somewhere in India, farmers refuse to give up their source of livelihood and accept ‘generous’ alternatives, and the same media descends on them like vultures, calling them misguided fools.

It’s perfectly fine for rich people to look at their own interests; it’s totally stupid for poor people. I’m not saying that it’s ok to be selfish. But surely being rich doesn’t justify selfishness any more than being poor does. 

Saturday, 12 December, 2009

On the wings of nonsense

Picked up a book titled The Elephant and the Dragon and opened a page at random. In just two paragraphs on page 43:

  • “J. R. D. Tata supplied the steel needed for India’s post-independence five-year plans.”

Any Indian child knows that most of the steel came from state-owned companies, some built with foreign collaboration. No one company could have supplied the steel for any country’s, even little India’s, five year plans.

  • “At Nehru’s request in 1952, he even created India’s first cosmetics company, Lakme, so that women wouldn’t complain that Nehru banned foreign cosmetics from India.”

Most of India’s women are too poor to wear any cosmetics. They best they can hope for are home-made products. And there were small cosmetics companies long before 1952, including Boroline and Afgan Snow.

  • “Nehru stayed in power for decades as India became a democracy with one-party rule.”

This is deeply insulting. India was never a one-party country, before or after independence. Nehru, except the one black spot of sacking a Communist government in Kerala, went out of his way to accommodate rivals.

This goes on and on. On page 55, Kamal Nath says China can progress faster because it is authoritarian and can ‘take many shortcuts.’

An example? Well, the author says, ‘China’s Three Gorges Dam inundated 365 towns with water, requiring about 1.2 million people to move, virtually all of it accomplished by government fiat.’ This, she sniggers, couldn’t be done in India.

Think of it this way. The population of Auckland is about 1.3 million. Would it be progress if the New Zealand could order them to move, by fait? If not, at least one Indian, me, is very happy we don’t have progress and shortcuts of that sort.

You can’t develop people by destroying them. The Soviet Block tried for 70 years. We needn’t.

But my problem is that no capitalism will come to India’s rescue on the wings of such nonsense as this.

The author, Robyn Meredith is the Forbes magazine’s specialist on India and China, an award winner, and a ‘1998-9 Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan.’ And this is what she produces. Unfortunately, she’s by no means atypical.

If such is the state of experts, imagine that of the MBAs, Western and, sadly, Indian, who swear by their expertise.

We are doomed.

Tuesday, 8 December, 2009

Doesn't age matter?

India's median age is 25.3 years; China's is 34.1. Does that make a difference? Look at the chart below, made of data from the CIA World Fact Book:

This contains many small nations and colonies. So let’s see what happens when we drop the countries with populations of less than 5 million.

 

Tuesday, 1 December, 2009

Useless Facebook

Apparently, the Coke’s Facebook site has only less member’s than Obama’s. Makes one wonder. If those people have nothing better to do than swat and squawk at a soft drink’s Facebook page, do they have any money to actually buy it?

Minarets in Switzerland


This poster was part of a national campaign in Switzerland, leading to a referendum on whether minarets should be banned. 3 in 5 Swiss voted for a ban.

Direct? Yes. Democracy? No. Dangerous? The Swiss, with a cross on their flag, must be cuckoo to send out a message as communal as this.

PS: Neither of my three Muslim women classmates observe purdah, though one wears the hijab. Wonder how many Muslim ladies in Switzerland observe the purdah. More importantly, why are some Swiss so bothered about what other Swiss wear? I thought only religious fundamentalists bothered about those things, not secular citizens.

PPS: Sarkozy, in a front-page editorial in Le Monde, said, "Instead of condemning the Swiss, we should try to understand what they meant to express and what so many people in Europe feel, including people in France. Nothing could be worse than denial."

Well, I can think of one thing that's worse. Not condemning the Swiss for gross religious rights violation. Why should understanding them prevent anyone from condemning them? If a policeman understands why a thief is stealing, does he have to let the crime continue?

PPPS: On 15 December, Haig Simonian wrote in the FT (in an article titled Swiss way of life no longer offers passport to harmony), "Last month's referendum to ban minarets was a classic own goal: the country only has four such buildings, and the small and unzealous Muslim community is hardly clamouring for more." (Emphasis mine.) The author is well-meaning, but either completely ignorant or unconsciously racist. Otherwise why does he think only zealous Muslims want minarets in their mosques? Do you have to be a fundamentalist Christian to have a belfry in your church?

Still more: On 16th December, this letter appeared in the FT. I have highlighted the portions I want to discuss: " Sir, Haig Simonian eloquently analyses some of the problems that Switzerland has recently grappled with, including the "own goal" of the recent ban on minaret construction ("Swiss way of life no longer offers passport to harmony", December 15).

Politicians and commentators across Europe and beyond have widely bashed the Swiss for taking the decision, which is indeed regrettable and inconsistent with the long-standing humanitarian values of our country. Muslim leaders have also condemned the Swiss verdict, despite incomparably more constraint personal and religious freedoms in their own countries.

However, rather than a weakness of our political system, as Mr Simonian argues, I think that voters having a chance to express their frustrations – whatever they may be – should be seen as a strength. We may not like the outcome and some damage to Switzerland's image may have been done, but at least Swiss voters feel that their views are taken seriously and actually make an impact, even if giving the government a massive headache.

In the longer term, it may well prove healthier and more productive to discuss openly and address anti-Muslim feelings rather than deny they may be present in a large part of the population, as is the practice in most of Europe.

Longer-term social harmony does not mean always just being nice to each other, but instead occasionally requires addressing any ill feelings, however embarrassing they may be. It was unfortunate that the discussion could take place only on the back of a regrettable decision.

However, at the risk of being called naive, I think that following a largely fair and constructive discussion, social harmony in Switzerland will ultimately be strengthened – and the minaret construction ban be scrapped.

Beat Siegenthaler, London SW11, UK

Mr Siegenthaler is surely a fellow liberal, so I do not want to be harsh to him, but two points are worth making.

First, he assumes 'anti-Muslim feelings are present in a large part of the (white) population' all over Europe. As per him, it is impossible that people may just keep their noses out of each other's lives. There has to be ill will for the 'other'. There is no smoke, but there must be a fire, because I believe there is one.

Second, he assumes that occasionally addressing ill feeling will lead to social harmony. Does it? If it does, such discussion has to be infinitely more civilised and open-minded than this indefensible ban. This ban doesn't invite dialogue; it signals the rejection of any possibility of dialogue.

Besides, is social harmony so desirable a thing that we must quarrel for it? Won't social neutrality do? Do we have to understand and appreciate each other? Can't we just let people be?

And is it not possible that my hate for a person has nothing to do with him and everything to do with me? Shouldn't I get my head checked?

Third, I'm most interested in knowing which Muslim leaders from regressive countries criticised the Swiss decision. My guess is that Mr Siegenthaler has got countries and religions muddled up. A Muslim leader in, say, UK, cannot be held responsible for lack of religious freedom in, say, Saudi Arabia, can he? In his country, UK, there is religious freedom, and he has every right to shame the Swiss for their bigotry.

Is Chomsky the world’s biggest hypocrite?

Professor Chomsky is brave, learned and respected by everyone but the right lunatic fringe.

Yet, for us from the Third World, he and all other Western scholars who refuse to equate capitalism with oligarchy and diplomacy with hegemony are hypocrites. Because all their truth telling seems to be in vain.

I just finished a book titled The Dark Side of Camelot by Seymour Hersh. It has the president of USA bribing, lying, plotting assassinations and terrorist strikes, repeatedly placing personal interests above national ones and, of course, whoring.

The stories told in this book, and many such stories, have been around for decades. But they have led to no reform at all.

Were they told then to create an impression? Are all of them in a conspiracy of cacophony? "You keep screaming, we keep doing whatever we have been doing, and lecturing the world on freedom." 

That's ridiculous. But is it true?

PS: I was reading The Longest War by Dilip Hiro, on the Iran-Iraq war. At the end of the war, in an incident that Americans claim ended the war, the US Navy downed an Iranian civilian jet and killed all passengers and crew on broad. Apparently, in a Washington Post survey following this 'accident' 3 in 4 blamed Iran more than the US; and 3 in 5 rejected the suggestion that the families of the victims be compensated.

I am reading William Blum's Killing Hope. This states that following the infamous turkey shoot of Iraqis retreating from Kuwait, Bush's approval ratings shot up to 82%, his highest till then. If we assume that these ratings reflect reactions to news, then we can say that 4 in 5 Americans approved killing a retreating enemy (admittedly returning with loot) who had no way of defending themselves.

So, why were Americans so shocked and angry when Palestinians banged pots and pans on the Twin Towers bombing?

I am not defending the Palestinians' merriment, because it was callous and, for them, extremely brainless. Besides, most of my generation of my family live in the US. So, an attack on the US is an attack on my family.

But if I were American I'd not be surprised if many Muslims hated me.