World of India!: October 2006 e

World of India!

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CurrentAffairs : Jimmy Carter sweats it out

Tuesday, October 31, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
And while Maharshtra's chief minister said that he was powerless to stop farmers suicides in Vidarbha, Jimmy Carter, the U.S ex-president was busy sweating it out for many hours yesterday (he is 80+), along with his wife and son. They were joined by Brad Pitt who also put in an hour.

The Hindu says : One hundred houses are being built by the Habitat for Humanity and the women contribute Rs. 75,000 for each house. They have already paid Rs. 25,000 and the rest will be paid in monthly instalments over seven years. The rest of the money comes from Habitat. Major partners for the project include Citigroup, Dow India, Vedanta Resources, Posco India, Aditya Birla Group, Whirlpool and HDFC.


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EtcEtc : NumaNuma

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An extra cool version of the 'NumaNuma' song done by a New Jersey kid. I found this through Seth Godin's blog. Check it out.

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EtcEtc : World's best driving school

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BizNpersonalfinance : Sense the Sensex !

Monday, October 30, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
I once had a argument with a former colleague of mine on investing in equity. He had been a manufacturing guy in his earlier job and his wife worked in LIC. Fellow had all his money invested in LIC policies which earned him a pittance of a return or bank deposits, which were equally bad. He argued with me saying that the stock market is a "satta market" and I will get burned one day. I agreed that the possibility did exist for sure, but said that I would rather suffer light burns than die poor with unblemished skin.

After explaining a bit about stock market fundamentals and maybe due to the fact that almost a year before, the market was making record highs everyday, he invested a bit. Two other colleagues of mine who used to join us for afternoon tea and who had participated in our arguments, also invested in equity- one heavily and the other a small amount.

The market fell almost promptly in May 2006 from a high of 12600 to 9000 odd. I lost a considerable amount of profits, finally lost my nerve and sold off my portfolio, to take at least 25% of the remaining profits. The rest of my chellas had invested at the top (11k levels) and lost big time on their capital. Surprisingly, they did not blame me, but blamed themselves for listening to me. I swore not to advise anyone on investments again, even if I was right.

All 3 of them did not sell but held their stocks. Today, the sensex has crossed the magic figure of 13000 and they have made a tidy profit- much higher than the bank deposit returns they used to draw. My advise that they would make money on the medium to long term, if they held on has proved right, not that its an original discovery by me, but all the same, the relief that those people got their money back, and more, is huge.

A few months before, even my father handed over me a significant amount of his savings to invest for him in equity, for the first time in his life,after watching me make money on the market. He has been an Educationist all his life and this must have been a big psychological barrier to cross for him.

Just a few examples to prove that the investor class in India is discovering equity in a big way. And since capital gains is exempt on gains from equity after a year, many of these guys are not selling, even if the market is a bit volatile off and on. That's the answer to the question repeatedly being asked by some market commentators-" why are retail investors, generally speaking, not panic selling, during sharp downturns"?

With that slosh of money cushioning the index and the growth rate chugging along, I think we are set for 15000 in another year or so.

Hopefully this time I will hold on instead of sell and run.

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EtcEtc : Uideritis or Videritis?

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Besides being a High quality newspaper, in terms of news reports and analysis, 'The Hindu' can also be extremely fastidious when it comes to correcting errors in its content, in terms of facts, spellings,grammar and incorrect use of words. I was amused (and also touched), to read the 'Clarifications and Corrections' section published in the paper. Sample this :

-In "Corrections and Clarifications" (October 13, 2006), a reader had questioned the use of the word "uideritis" in the Latin phrase "mitrae colorem uideritis!" [that appeared in the report "Manmohan calls for `inclusive globalization'" on October 12, 2006, page 1]. The reader said it should have been "mitrae colorem videritis!" instead. Siddharth Varadarajan clarifies that he had quoted the phrase "mitrae colorem uideritis!" from the Cambridge University orator's printed tribute to Dr. Manmohan Singh. He also quotes an email from Tim Holt, Deputy Head of Communications, University of Cambridge, enclosing the response of the University orator which says: "`U' and `V' in Latin are different forms of the same letter, which represents both the vowel `U' and the semi-consonant `W'. The sound `v' did not then exist. It is standard practice now to use `V' when writing in capitals and `u' when writing in minuscules."

-The strapline of the report "Manmohan: internal security prime concern" (October 27, 2006, page 1) was: "`Terrorism is the most dangerous threat today and it has become a hydra-headed monster'". A reader points out that the word "hydra" is enough as the dictionary says "it (in Greek mythology) is a many-headed snake whose heads grew again as they were cut-off, and was eventually killed by Hercules."

It is the policy of The Hindu to correct significant errors as soon as possible. Please specify the edition (place of publication), date and page.




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EtcEtc : Only in India

Sunday, October 29, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
Gym etiquette

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CurrentAffairs : Indian Aviation - flight away from the free market?

Friday, October 27, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites

I was outraged to hear our Civil Aviation minister proclaim that Govt.will not allow Pvt.Airlines to price below cost. Apparently the ministers decision is the result of mounting losses Pvt.carriers are bearing these days, mainly due to the oil prices having moved northwards and intense competition between the carriers themselves, allowing them little flexibility to increase prices in tandem.If Patel is so concerned that airlines might fold up due to heavy losses,he needs to understand that if private entities are making losses, due to certain market factors, he need not poke his nose into whats essentially an outcome of market forces. Did pvt.carriers not know that competition would be intense and that the airline business is, by its very nature, a low margin business, when they entered the fray? They did. But this hasn’t stopped some very big business houses to start an airline, even till very recently.

The problem with our Govt's decisions is that many a decision is taken without considering the benefit to the consumers and tax payers. Govt’s care about taxes, pvt. sector workers, Govt. employees jobs, industrialists...everyone, but CONSUMERS, while making key decisions!

We CONSUMERS don't care if an airline or two folds up! The free market system should logically punish airline owners who have not done their homework before start up,anyway. Same as it ought to reward those airlines who are efficient and customer friendly. We don’t care if Indian airlines folds up either. It is bad on both the counts listed above and the sooner it folds up the better for all concerned. It's sucking too much of our tax monies and delivering shitty service with its staff of unionized jack asses (even the minister recently admitted that he was displeased with the public carriers performance). To make matters worse, a leading news channel recently exposed IA’s poor safety record.

The ministers mis-directed enthusiasm has sent the wrong signals to airline companies, who have actually gone ahead and met to discuss, under the auspices of a newly formed body called ‘Federation of Indian Airlines’, what they termed as “revenue management” which is corporate speak for cartelization and price manipulation. What’s worse is that Indian Airlines participated in this meeting, making us wonder if the Govt. has given its blessings to this forum!This is dangerous territory and certainly has no place in a free market system. In India, we have the Competition commission, which is designed to bear down on cartels and monopolies. According to the Competition Act, a cartel would attract a penalty of 10% of the turnover of the cartel or three times the profits out of that cartel, whichever is higher. According to news reports the commission has already asked for clarifications from the Civil Aviation ministry, as to what transpired in these meetings. What it needs to do is summon the airlines and serve them notices, assuming it has judicial powers. If it doesn’t have these powers, I am afraid it would turn out to be another paper tiger in the ministerial labyrinths of North Block.

The minister has also spoken about “careful examination “ of future plans of existing ad new entities to add to airline capacity. It is a known fact that the Govt. has failed miserably in terms of providing infrastructural ground support facilities and better airports which would allow airlines to expand and this has increased the cost of these ground facilities to levels that are far higher than what they should be. For example, in most countries abroad, there are two-three airports in a major metro and the low cost airlines usually operate out of the ones operating outside the cities, since the cost of infrastructure in such airports is low. In India, however, the low cost carriers share the same space with high cost carriers and the same cost, significantly damaging their leverage over costs. Considering that the cost of crude is the same for both classes of airlines, this means that the low cost carriers are effectively robbed of their ability to control costs, except managing other not so critical cost components like catering, salary costs, admin costs etc.

Cartelization and Price manipulation is something that’s been tried out the world over, already for the shipping sector, with little to show off for itself. It is probably the only industry , worldwide(at least the only one that I know of) which has Govt. sanction to form cartels and discuss and bear down pre-decided prices on the trade for many decades now. Govts. the world over saw this as a remedy for the industry’s problem of being extremely fragmented ( a scenario that’s now changing at a slow pace via mergers and acquisitions) and low margins. But it is a fact that cartelization has hardly dented these woes of the shipping industry. It still remains very much a cylical industry, is still very fragmented and low margin. Given this long experience, one wonders, what weight of evidence the minister has used to adjudge that the medicine to end the woes of the airline industry lies in sanctioning price cartels. There is, in fact,now an increasing realization, especially in the United States, that sanctioning price manipulation has only served to keep the shipping industry more fragmented and ending it would likely lead to greater consolidation and more stability for the sector.

This is a decade when millions of Indians have flown for the first time, thanks largely to the competition brought about by bringing in new players and challenging decade old monopolies. One still remembers the days, when one had no option but to fly IA and be happy with whatever they dished out. Thanks to some enlightened policies, this scenario has undergone a sea change. One only hopes that this achievement is not shadowed by the Govt’s new zeal to protect inefficient private commercial interests and public monoliths.

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EtcEtc : Only in India

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
Indian cricket fan shouting into the ears of a Pakistani Policeman. This picture was also featured in the Times of India and became quite well known.

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EtcEtc : Vinod Mehta - Editor extraordinaire'

Monday, October 23, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
It’s a bit risky to grant Vinod Mehta the title 'Editor Extraordinaire'- not because he does not deserve it, but because 'Editor' also happens to be the name of his dog. (In Vinod Mehta's words-.... I acquired a puppy dog 12 months ago and when my wife asked me some weeks later what we should call him, I said "Editor". She said why? I said "Because he is stubborn, obstinate and thinks he knows everything"). So one is naturally cautious. But considering that Mr. Mehta has been called worse names by his many detractors, I am sure that he won't mind in the least. In fact chances are that he would be delighted at the latest addition to his notoriety.

Vinod Mehta is a true maverick. He began his career as an editor to Debonair (and also established a record of sorts by becoming the country's youngest editor)- that priceless gem in Indian publishing, that has long since dis-continued its tradition of "uplifting" the great Indian male. It strikes me that it must have served as a solid grounding for Mr.Mehta, since I can't imagine a worse nightmare for an editor, than to induce his readers to flip through any pages other than the semi nudes on the centerfolds. I have a particularly soft spot for 'Debonair' since it awakened me, personally, to aspects of life which were hitherto unknown to my innocent teenage mind. But I daresay, editors like Khushwant Singh,Anil Dharker and Vinod Mehta did a wonderful job, since even my super charged hormone ridden one track brain wanted to go through the entire copy and not just the centerfold. Or may be I was just lucky since the copies of Debonair in my house, were particularly old editions, having been forgotten by a Right Honorable Judge, who used to rent our house, before we moved in. After the departure of these worthies (the Debonair editors, not the Judge), Debonair rapidly descended to become another rag with titillating pictures (not that we minded that, but the pictures were just not the same any more). I mean they were still nudes, but some how, I don’t know how to put it, they were the same as any other dirty magazine. Was it Khushwant Singh or Anil Dharker who once wrote about how a married woman walked into his cabin wanting to pose for Debonair and the hubby not minding in the least BECAUSE it was Debonair and not any other magazine? Now you know the kind of reputation Debonair enjoyed those days? It was like the HBR of soft smut, lets say.

After Debonair, Mehta became the founder-editor of India's first Sunday paper, The Sunday Observer, the founder editor of the now defunct Bombay daily, The Independent and the founder-editor of The Pioneer (Delhi edition). He was also editor of The Indian Post. He was either fired or left on his own, from each of these assignments, after acrimony with the owner of the publication over editorial control. He had acquired the reputation of a 'difficult' editor with owners, when the Raheja's recruited him to start Outlook. It was an instant hit. That it would succeed was never in question since Mr.Mehta's editorial credentials are impeccable. He has never been at the helm of anything that has failed in publishing. Under him, Outlook destroyed India Today, that Grand Daddy of magazines in India, so much so, that India Today tried unsuccessfully to be Outlook like. But it was always going to a failed enterprise. Simply because a magazine is always like its editor and Outlook has always been cast in Mr.Mehta's irrepressible impish mischievous, but at the same time, journalistically solid mould. That was not something which could be copied so easily. In his own words Outlook has aspired for "...a purposeful mix of irreverent and purposeful journalism... I have been an editor now for thirty years and my mission has been to make serious journalism popular – without trivialization, but with the occasional sex cover".

Outlook of course has gone on to shake the establishment (on all sides of the political spectrum) many many times, especially the right wingers, with Outlook's scarcely disguised attacks on them. Sometimes, I think Mehta takes perverse pleasure in riling them, and I love that about him. His own views about Journalists and Journalism and Outlook itself are also quite honest and what some editors would discuss only in their internal meetings, Mehta openly talks about in functions. Like "...But what I really treasure is the fact that we have created an "open" magazine. I believe that dissent is the life-blood of good journalism and you must admit that for a card-carrying pseudo-secularist, I invite and print those vehemently opposed to us.

We are the argumentative magazine. I don't particularly enjoy self-flagellation, but I know Outlook would become deadly dull if those who disagree with us do not get a look in.

Ladies and gentlemen, the myth about journalists being unbiased needs to be shattered. In my thirty years in the profession I have yet to meet an unbiased journalist, someone who is an ideological eunuch. Outlook makes no effort to hide its liberal-centre-left stance. But we are part of a matrix.....

Biased or unbiased, I believe the political class in India takes the media far too seriously. Listen, we are just a bunch of guys and gals sitting around a table pretending to decide your fate.

And remember, we have deadlines to meet and we have to be first with the news. We make mistakes. Mistakes of judgment, mistakes of fact, mistakes of prejudice, mistakes under competitive pressure. Hype is part of our business. It is not part of yours.

For us every disagreement is irreconcilable, every verbal spat is an all-time low, every small turbulence in government means the government is falling, every change in foreign policy is a sell-out."

The plurality of the Indian media – and that is our free press's greatest strength – ensures that biases get cancelled. And finally the reader gets an approximation of the truth."

But whatever be the merits of Outlook, I buy it primarily for Mehta's own column on the back page, which he writes once in a while. His writing is a delight. He is easily one of India's best columnists. Mehta, in fact, is probably one of the few writers in India who do not believe in throwing difficult words and jargon while writing their pieces. The other illustrious writers in this category are Khushwant Singh and R.K.Narayan. You can sample some of Mehta columns here and here.

A few weeks ago Outlook completed 11 years of existence. It has gone on to spawn many sister publications which have also become wildly successful. It continues to delight, rile, titillate and draw love and affection of many. As the cliche' goes, you can love it or hate it but you cannot ignore it. So Mehta's advice to the readers about how to really hurt a journalist ("...I'll let you into a secret. If you really want to get even with a journalist or editor, tell him when he meets you that you did not read his last piece, or better still, never read his pieces. Nothing hurts a journalist more than the fact that his words of profound wisdom have not been read"), will at least in Outlook's case, surely fall on deaf ears.

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Friday, October 20, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
Crazy Frog Bros

Bing Bing!

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EtcEtc : Only in India

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The heights of Multitasking!

Photocourtesy: Flickr

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RandomAbuse : Post Script to 'Eisi Waisi' ICICI Bank...arrrrrgh

Thursday, October 19, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
Having written about ICICI's poor customer service record earlier, I was gratified that even the Reserve Bank of India's Deputy Governor, found it suitable to give a resounding 'phattak' to the ICICI Bank deputy M.D at a recent conference organized by Indian Post, to explore partnerships with the Private sector. ICICI's D.M.D, Chanda Kocchar finished her address with the routine 'Jana Gana Mana' of how such an initiative would help Indian Postal Dept., ICICI and the customer. To which the RBI deputy Governor Ms. Usha Thorat, quipped at the start of her address, that she would have been happier had Chanda Kochhar put the customer first in her order of beneficiaries, instead of last!

Touché'.

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EditorsEdit : No slackening that noose, Mr. Hangman!

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It was Colin Crompton who once said " Anyone who supports Capital punishment should be shot". But then Colin was a comedian and could afford to horse around what is a million dollar (and a few lives) question.

It’s difficult not to take sides in this matter. You are either for hanging or against it. This is one question where there can be no fence sitters. I suspect that is why it is also one of the most fiercely fought over issues, all over the world.

In India, these days, the same issue has cropped up, over the hanging of Afzal Guru, a man who has been convicted and punished, with hanging, for attacking the Indian Parliament. Six Delhi Police personnel, a gardener and all five terrorists died in the attack. Afzal Guru is alleged to be the mastermind.

Personally, I am against hanging the man. I would want him to be tortured for exactly the same time, the people who he helped kill suffered due to their wounds, before they died. This might sound extreme to many. But if you live in a country which is being attacked everyday by terrorists, it's difficult to remain in a Centrist position on such matters, any longer. However much I dislike the rightists and however much I hate their casteist and communal politics, I have to agree that they have a point, when they contend that the law which is good enough for punishing a billion other Indians, is good enough for this man too. And we cannot afford to send a signal to the terrorists that, should they be caught, they could one day walk free and live a life again, despite their heinous acts, which rob other innocents of their lives.

Naturally, we have the leftists of Arundhati Roy and her ilk staging dharnas, yet again, to disband capital punishment. But then these NGO 'zolawallahs' can afford to do that since they are protected from the same police and army, whose lives the terrorists are bent on taking. These shrill voices are best ignored.

Now Afzals' pardon plea is with the Govt. and we are hearing familiar political voices from familiar quarters- people who think the Muslims in this country want Afzal pardoned. So we have them telling us, "Khoon beh jayega" - if this guy is hanged. As if we would be running scared. Then they contend that this would make him a hero. Well, if some people want to make murderers their hero, who can stop them? But that doesn't mean you condone murder, fearing the consequences!

But what if this man is really pardoned? It would be a sad day indeed, but a happy day for would be murderers. After all they could ask for clemency and there would be no earthly reason for the Govt. not to grant it to them. Crime would pay and how ! I guess the next logical thing to do would be to , as American comedian Will Rogers once said "...legalize it and then tax it out of business".

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EtcEtc : It happens only in India

Tuesday, October 17, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
No room for doubt.

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BlogToon : Stiff upper lip quivers in Iraq

Sunday, October 15, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites

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CurrentAffairs : Postscript- too loud for comfort

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I forgot to mention one example of Steven Sackur's (pic on the left)genius while interviewing Vandana Shiva, on BBC. The man demolished the lady with questions that were so pointed and points so well researched , that this lady of hyperbole was exposed for the hollow steam she is. I would not have said this normally being aware of Vandana Shiva's credentials, but she literally had no answers for many of Sackur's questions and rejoinders. The main thrust of Sackur's attack was that although many of the issues raised by Shiva were genuine, the language she used while raising them and the morbid colours she uses while painting many of her pet hates (Cargill, MNC's, Globalization among a million others), is overtly exaggerated and the scale of the dangers cited is not to the watermark level of "world annihalation" that Shiva (and others of her ilk, notably Medha Patkar, Arundhati Roy etc) would like us to believe. Ultimately, may a times in the interview, Shiva had to seek refuge in , what else, more hyperbole- rather than facts.

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CurrentAffairs: Too loud for comfort ?

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And the award goes to....





While watching a television programme yesterday my wife remarked as to why the people in the debate that was being telecast (Rajdeep Sardesai, with some panelists) shouting so loud? She had a point. They WERE loud and it wasn't as if the loud voice was only in intervals when the debate got a bit scruffy. They were all consistently loud throughout the show, talking as if the audience was slightly deaf. At least at home we could turn the volume down, but what about the hapless studio audience?

This is not an isolated observation. A vast majority of our debates on T.V are heated and panelists and participants try to shout each other down, rather than debate the issue. And I am not even bringing up what happens in our Parliamentary debates yet.

Contrast this to debates on any of the 'Phoren' channels and the difference couldn’t be any starker. Try this a few times....keep the volume of your remote JUST enough to hear a debate on any Indian channel and then switch on to a debate on the BBC. All things being equal, you would need to pump up the volume. I once witnessed an Israeli and Palentinian journalist who were arguing with such ferocity that they could have killed each other, BUT, in a tone that was only slightly higher than the usual conversational-remarkable.

The difference doesn't stop in the tone of our voices. We as Indians tend to argue from the heart. If it is George Fernandes's incarceration that’s being discussed, his alleged "selfless" public service and "spotless" 50 yrs of public life is likely to be more passionately talked about, rather than the facts of the case (which is did he take a commission out of a defense deal). Sonia Gandhi's "Indianness" (or the lack of it) and her family's "sacrifices" are talked about more fervently than the threads of the latest issue which concerns her. Our anchors too seem rarely able to pin the debate down to their key points, when the participants go gallivanting all over endless irrelevant flags over the course of the debate. Perhaps it’s due to the deference we have been trained to show to age, position, money, women, amongst a score others . Seldom do we see an anchor/interviewer that is relentless and, more impotantly who argues consistently from a rational standpoint, to conquer these barriers and attack the issues headon. Usually, the tendency is to roll of slippery generalizations and clichés rather than stick to your guns and hammer the nail on the head. The exception to the rule, Karan Thapar, who anchors an aptly named show, called 'Devil's advocate', on CNN-IBN. But even he can be too loud. Sagarika Ghosh, who although always argues from the head, is a woman in a hurry and 6 times out of 10, completes the sentences of the interviewee and after doing that even sums up what he (or rather she) said for him, before slipping the viewers into a break, before anyone knows what’s hit them!

My role model for an anchor? Tim Sebastian who used to anchor 'Hard Talk' earlier. Relentless, rational, hard hitting and a voice which is several decibels lower than the average Indian anchor. Even the current presenter, Steven Sackur is quite good. In India, of course, we have the rare gem of a presenter Prannoy Roy who, although a Bengali, knows when to shut up and has a nice, gentle tone, a meliflous voice and a probing analytical mind to boot.

Come to think of it, its time India had an award for the best presenter/anchor. After all, this is one award ceremony space that’s yet to be claimed by anyone. "And India's best anchor for the year 2006 is....".I can just imagine the sponsors stampede to throw money on this one!

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EtcEtc : Only in India : )

Saturday, October 14, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
Bet you didn't know that...
Photocourtesy: Flickr

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CurrentAffairs : Russia - the new oil Czar

Friday, October 13, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
An important piece of news that seems to have escaped notice in India, is that fact that Russia has now overtaken Saudi Arabia in oil production. In the month of June 2006, Russia produced 9.236 million barrels which is 46000 barrels more than Saudi Arabia. Traditionally, it has been the Saudi Kingdom which holds the scale as to where the price of crude will tilt, due to its ability to pump up (and down) production at a short notice. Although it is still early days yet, it looks like going ahead that role would now shift to Russia, given the fact that Saudi oil reserves are in active production for a much longer time, whereas Russia has relatively many Greenfield projects, which have just come up or in the process of being operationalized.

Its important to chew on this piece of news a bit, since it looks like this means that in the medium to the long term, the AVERAGE price of crude will not climb to "unaffordable" prices, just yet. Analysts of crude prices have long since been divided into two camps. One believing that crude being perishable resource, is bound to face a glut some time between 2020 to 2040 and from then on the prices would reach stratospheric levels. The other camp has always held that crude supplies have never been fully explored and there are large tracts of the world, where crude can be and will be exploited going ahead. They contend that this means that the price of crude would rise, but adjusted for inflation, it will not rise to "stratospheric" levels and therefore would continue to remain the primary source of fuel, for at least the foreseeable century or two.

In the past decade or so, it is the latter camp which seems to be scoring over the former, despite the short term spike in crude we witnessed in the last six months or so (when crude came perilously close to $80 levels, before climbing down to sub -60 levels now). At the same time, its a fact that oil suppliers are much more diversified now, from Venezuela to Russia to many African nations, discovering oil. The Alaskan reserves are estimated to be humongous and it is only a matter of time for the U.S to decide to go for them. And now that we have the Russians, who are literally going hammer and tongs in Siberia, the Oil evangelists seem to be having the last laugh.

What does it mean for you and me? Well, if you are an equity investor, its time to sell ONGC (an oil producer) and buy the oil retailers (HPCL, BPCL). Although, one must bear in mind that oil will continue to be volatile and therefore one has to be prepared to ride these difficult horses along with that. Also buy Auto stocks and auto ancillaries, which depend on oil staying where it is or just tracing the inflation rate.

And if you are planning to buy a new car, go ahead. Don't worry about the oil price moving beyond Rs. 100-150/litre just yet.

So far at least, oil's well that ends well.

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EtcEtc : It happens only in India : )

Thursday, October 12, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
In case you are wondering...they meant it to be 'Chilled Beer' : ))


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EditorsEdit : Nuclear Untouchability

Wednesday, October 11, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
In the entire din to condemn North Korea for conducting its Nuclear test (now being doubted as less than genuine by the U.S), one important moral principle is not begin heard. And that is- why is it that only some nations behave as if possessing the nuclear option is their birth right and THEIR'S alone?

While North Korea is doubtless a strange "hermit" kingdom, more intent on flexing its military might than feeding its poor, the latter can be said about the India and Pakistan too. So it’s a bit much for India and Pak. to be so forthright in condemning North Korea for conducting a test, they themselves conducted a few years ago.


We should remember that we ourselves were victim of nuclear racial discrimination till we acquired such capability, on the sly (like North Korea) and HAD to be accepted as a member of the nuclear club, since there was no other option left for the established members. We ourselves were the target of the same accusations that are now being leveled against N.Korea, viz. that the nuclear option cannot be allowed to fall into the hands of "irresponsible" countries implying that God had some how gifted only them with the value of being responsible and more mature in their outlook.

At that time, India argued that it wanted a nuclear free world and if other nations were to forsake this option, it would do so too. But of course, the members of the nuclear club have never been serious about this option, since they wanted to retain their option (since they are "mature"), while seeking to limit other countries of the same (due to their "immaturity").

While the duplicity of this argument is obvious, it is even more astounding considering the world we are living in today and how much it has changed since the era when this argument was originally invented- the period between 1950-1985- the peak of the cold war. That was the time when the two Superpowers, the U.S and Soviet Union were at war for influence across the world (so much for maturity) and therefore, in their own twisted way, had to have the option of mutual assured destruction (aptly abbreviated as M.A.D). But in today’s world, when the U.S no longer faces the same level of threat of the Soviet Union (Russia is heavily dependent on the U.S for trade and no longer has the kind of influence the Soviet Union commanded), China would cease to exist as an emerging economic superpower would the American consumers stop buying its good from the U.S supermarkets, it hard to believe that the world would some how be unsafe without the U.S and other members of the nuclear club forsaking this option. If anything the U.S would be safer, since it enjoys a huge conventional weapons superiority over any other nation in the world and would no longer face the nuclear deterrent from other countries.

But of course, these arguments are not even discussed in any media forum, when North Korea is discussed. The sole refrain is that N.Korea has some how committed some kind of a unspeakable sin by barging into their exclusive club and that it should have understood its place better. After all it is "poor" and "cannot feed its people" thereby implying that the nuclear option is the sole preserve of the "rich" or "would be rich".

The law of the Jungle is truly alive and well.

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EtcEtc : It happens only in India : )

Sunday, October 08, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
Goal sssss....!

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RandomAbuse : 'Eisi Waisi' ICICI Bank...arrrrrgh

Saturday, October 07, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
‘Esi Waisi’ ICICI Bank never faills to bring froth to my mouth once a week. Every time you call their call centre is a nightmare. After pressing all the right buttons, "all our operatives" are always busy” with other customer’s. After holding the line for 4 minutes or so, you find yourslef tossed from agent to agent like a packet of Marie biscuits. No complaint/transaction number is given citing "Std. procedures".So the next you call with the unresolved problem you feel like you have been gorged by the snake on #99 in Snakes & Ladders and sent back to #1 again.

This time, though its a new low point even for ‘Eisi Waisi’. One fine day they sent me a letter declaring that they had decided I was a valued customer who would be treated differently. I have been promised my own personal relationship tele-officer who "will call me soon". Two months down the line I am still waiting. Maybe this animal already quit ICICI's overstressed set up (The staff turnover is astounding, per anecdotal evidence from employees)?Anyway, the letter also promised that I will get preferential rates on brokerage charged on my equity trades. After ten calls, two visits to the branch and a few emails later, I am still being charged the same old rate. The call centre rep now wants me to scan the letter and send it to them. Why o Why? Aren't you aware of what schemes and communication your own company comes up with?

The trouble with this bank is that its service network just cannot handle queries which are out of standard algorithms which can be handled by a machine (balance enquiry etc). Have a query which requires a flesh, blood & brains?God help you.

Its time for Eisi Waisi bank not to feel too smug about their success and Kamat not to concentrate on giving media interviews alone. The same customers who patronize them now can ditch them, if they continue to deliver the shitty service in evidence throughout their network. They need to realize that their model of technology driven customer service has two serious downsides:

1. It can be replicated by competitors (like SBI did on the # of ATM's)

2.Customers DO have queries outside std algorithms and to get them sorted you need happy employees, not grumpy bastards who are looking for a chance to quit because they are so overworked.

As I write this K.V.Kamat is on the telly (again) promising to usher in a banking revolution in India's villages! If only someone can warn the poor peasants to run for cover...

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EtcEtc : Only in India : )

Thursday, October 05, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
Kar lo Duniya Mutthi mein !

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BlogToon : Dengue & Denial

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PopularCulture : Blogging as Communication

Wednesday, October 04, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
Sarang has given me a "hyperbolic" introduction!!!

Blogging is the phenomenon, at least for people on the right side of the digital divide. I think it stems from this atavistic and existential desire for immortality. When human beings made the shift from being primarily "oral" cultures, to one of "visual" cultures, through the development of writing, mankind realised that for the first time, it was possible to leave a lasting impression and therefore become immortal. Noone knows when and where the shift first occurred, but writing is relatively new in the history of manking, maybe about 4000 years or so. The paradox of the blog is that unlike "real" writing, which leaves a relatively permanent impression on a fixed and tangible medium, blogging like all communication in the digital age, only gives the illusion of tangibility, as what we see as "real" is only a fast moving stream of electrons. and not writing as on a piece of paper, papyrus, or stone. The search for immortality therefore is only an illusion through the means of blogging.

It is no wonder, that most blogs are banal, trivial, superficial, and at best insincere. The blogger thinks that jotting down random thoughts, or attempting a representation of inner mental states in some sense, promotes meaning and understanding. The intangibility of the medium, leads to laziness, since the possibility of eternal rewrites and corrections exist. Unlike writing, the work can never be finished, and hence the need to churn out copious quantities of content, distinguished but its trite banality. I hate blogs, and bloggers. Now you may ask, why am I doing the same?

Well the answer is that I am not blogging, but instead writing. Ha, ha, what is the difference?
Well, for one, I think I have a structure to my musings, and it is not random in any sense of the word. Also I feel no need to bore the world with my comments on a regular basis. When I feel the urge to build a responsive relationship understanding with myself primarily, and whosever might be interested, I will write.

Until then, let silence be our guide.

Post contributed by- 'Doc'

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EditorsEdit : Brand new beard !

Tuesday, October 03, 2006 Digg! Add to Technorati Favorites
I am happy to announce that my good friend 'Doc' (beard and pony tail on the left) has consented to join this Blog as a contributor.

Doc is a legend both amongst the people he knows, and the people who know him (both of which are numerous, to say the least). A man of many parts, Doc is a Bibliophile, Audiophile, Filmmaker and Film lover, Management Prof. and Consultant, a Medical Doctor, Foodie and a Communist, amongst many other things. He is also known to be a connoisseur of fine wine & (preferably TamBrahm) women. Although he has cut down on the former, there is no sign of letting down on the latter, just yet.

I don't know when Doc will start posting. He is not prone to work under very close supervision, so I am just going to let him loose on the grounds and let him do his own thing. I am just hoping that he doesn't cause a riot by his inflammatory writing, but I know that there are no guarantees. But as the great zen monk has said wisely "You live the most, at the edge of death".

I am sure Doc will put much more life into this space, in the days to come. Cheers to that!



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BlogToon : Congratulations and Celebrations ssss...!

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EditorsEdit : Pride & Prejudice post 9/11

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I was shopping for some clothes in Mumbai over the weekend, when I overheard the Gujju shopkeeper talking to a friend of his. Both gentlemen were agitated that the J&K C.M had deemed it fit to ask for a Presidential pardon for Afjal Guru, one of the accused behind the Parliament attack."Kitni galat baat hai"the shopkeeper remarked, while stealing a furtive glance at me. I could then sense him getting a bit uneasy and trying to gauge whether I was a Muslim(Probably because I had not shaved in a few days),as if, if I was one, I would automatically disapprove what he had just said.

This incident illustrates the kind of mistrust that has developed between Hindus & Muslims in India. Hindus have begun to routinely doubt the patriotic instincts of Muslims, while Muslims, majority of whom have nothing to do with terrorism, feel unfairly targetted. While the eighties was limited to shrill protests when a handful of Muslims burst firecrackers if (or more appropriately, when) Pakistan won a cricket match, the nineties and the twenty first century has seen Hindus wondering if their next door Muslim neighbor is not yet another terrorist plotting to blow up the neighbourhood. Right wing Political parties have poured oil on troubled waters by trying to lend credence to this misplaced belief. So much so that even the Prime Minister felt it fit to issue a statement and condemn this propaganda.

Sadly, Islamophobia is not the preserve of fringe extremist elements any more. Increasingly, the Centre and even the Centre-left of the political space, in many pre-dominantly non-Muslim countries, is shifting inexorably to the right. George Bush in an unprecedented statement used the word 'Islamofascism' recently, and urged the world to fight it. Such a statement would have met with stiff resistance in socialist Europe once. But the fact that Tony Blair and Angela Merkel seem to be on Bush's side on this one, demonstrates how some bombs and a few hundred dead citizens can change long held political and moral beliefs.

Fact is, that even Bush has clarified that he doesn't equate the entire Muslim world with fascism, but reality and perception are not necessarily the same. By the time Bush had finished his address, commentators were agog with the new ‘F’ word and what amounted , in their perception , of scaling up the war against terror to a totally different ideological plane- for the simple war against terror to war against 'fascist Islam’. The implications of this term are far reaching. While war against terror meant war against terrorists and those who supported them, war against 'fascist Islam' could mean an imminent war against Iran, Syria. But Bush's explanation and indeed his message itself was lost in the media onslaught which followed. Indeed,in today’s world it's the media more than anything else that determines the meaning of a message and delivers it the way it wants to. The messenger has become the message!

Consider for instance as to how even relatively small scale terror attacks or even the fear of these is leading to dis-proportionate responses, thanks largely to the global reach of the media. The WTC attack, while dastardly, killed just 3000 people, comparatively a small number, considering that, for example, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor,which triggered the USA to attack Japan during WW-II, was far bigger in scale. But the media coverage and the sheer spectacle of the attack was enough for NATO to invade Afganistan.The London and Madrid bombings are incidents which are miniscule in terms of scale to many other historical trigger points for conflicts,around the world. But again, they succeeded in drawing far more attention and a disproportionate reaction (In Spain, the people voted out the govt. which it was deemed to have brought up the attack due to its involvement in the war). The recent war between Israel and Lebanon is also a classic illustration of how a mere kidnapping of two soldiers can be triggered into full blown war. While I am not for the moment suggesting that the media is ALONE to blame for pushing countries into war, the fact is that today's media due to its sheer global reach and the spin that it takes on each event, is pushing our soceities into reacting instantly to instant news and as can be imagined such instant reactions are often not well thought of and deliberated over.The media and the Net, in other words, is acting not JUST as an information provider and influencer, which it always has been, but also as an AMPLIFIER. The terrorists have understood this well. That is the reason Al Zawahari keeps releasing a video every few months. He knows that the media will pick it up and not only relay his deadly message but also AMPLIFY its true impact. He knows that this amplified message will push more people from the Centre to the Right, pushing them into a stance which would, in turn, make Muslims the world over feel more and more discriminated against, spawning more terror recruits.

Indeed, the time has come for us to focus more on the messenger and his message, than the actual event itself, if we have to make sense of why the world is shaping up as it is, today. It is almost scary to think that everyday world opinions are being shaped more by newspapers, The Net and most of all Television, than the actors and the actual events themselves. In the western world, the media is already controlled by a small clique' of giant corporations, who between themselves shape the opinions of the tiny section of the populace, which is elite. These corporations have a global reach and have often been accused of proselytizing than communicating, free marketism, western hegemony and Islamophobia, at a very subtle level. On the other hand, we have an Islamic media that though fragmented and small, is powerfully communicating the message of hate towards the western world. This section has successfully leveraged the power of the Net, to overcome its disadvantage of small reach via traditional physical distribution channels. These small groups of people who control the media on both sides of the fence are doing more than anyone else to influence today’s world.

In a recent interview on the BBC, the Dalai Lama was asked if he agreed with Bush's comments on Islamofascism. The Dalai Lama strongly rejected them, saying that only a small minority of extremist Muslims does not warrant castigation of the entire community and indeed the religion itself. He blamed the upsurge in intolerance, his eyes twinkling, on "mischievous elements in all religions and societies".

I am sure the “mischievous elements” he referred to are the morning newspaper or the Idiot Box.


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