Saturday, December 12, 2009

Musings on War and Peace: In the age of Globalization

On a recent cross-country flight between Atlanta and Phoenix, I witnessed what has now become an all-too-common sight: US Army soldiers flying to/from their base in battle fatigues. It has become customary for airlines and crew to extend a few small courtesies, to the soldiers. On this flight there was a single lady in Army BUD. Towards the end of the flight, along with other announcements, the stewardess made a special mention of thanks to the men-and-women in military, serving and ensuring the freedom of the nation, including the brave soldier seated in Seat 21 F. The cabin erupted in spontaneous cheers and applause.

Soldiers traveling to/from their deployment in a BUD or uniform, carrying gear a routine enough scene in many parts of the world . . . so routine that we don't even pause to think of the cost of wars and peace in twenty-first century.

On this flight, observing the spontaneous applause for the unknown soldier, I also began thinking of Mr. Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance lecture where he begins the talk by taking on the issue of war and peace head on:

For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince Al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

The (military) "might is right" thinking by western superpowers has not gone unnoticed in the east, perhaps the reason why the formerly “Non Aligned” India of has woken up to ask for an entry into Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) club as a nuclear-weapon state!

I guess any debae for or against size of militaries or even defense spending is moot since militaries around the world are a huge source of gainful employment for millions. War strategists also justify the economics of war and make the argument "a war gives the economy a boost"

There is nothing new in justifying war to bring peace, but it does make one reflect on the argument for effective policing to ensure peace or freedom for the rest of us. I guess we have to accept the dichotomy of globalization of war along with the globalization of our lives and economies.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Up in the Air: Movie on Travel and being Glocal

I generally go to the movies to experience an hour or two of entertainment and come out forgetting the plot and cast, so much so that I rarely contribute to discussions on movies/actors when it comes up in social settings. Up in the Air that I watched over the weekend will probably join the list of good/great /interesting movies I have seen over-the-years-but-cannot-recollect soon but I thought I’d capture my two cents in the blog.
The story is about a corporate downsizer in his travels and follows his isolated life and philosophies, along with the people that he meets along the way. The plot and theme of the movie hits home to globe-trotting road-warriors, self included: Mileage points, elite status, upgrades, a dose of downsizing, Glocal and the eternal philosophical question: why do we do it? in a sense the movie is about having to travel hopefully than to arrive.

The philosophy of the protagonist, Ryan Bingham espouses is to “Travel Light” physically and metaphorically by not carrying any baggage in live more than needed. Having lived for extended periods around the world, I can relate to the idea of how “liberating” it is to literally throw everything that does not fit into a backpack (or in my case checked in suitcases). I have done this more than a few times in my working life: moving from Bangalore to Welwyn Garden City, Hartfordshire, on to Frankfort, Kentucky and then to Colorado Springs, CO, a stint back in Bangalore to Mississauga, ON, traveling to Anytown USA, Basel, Switzerland and then again traveling between a base and Anytown USA.

The film features heavy product placement, with either American Airlines, Hertz, or Hilton Hotels prominently featured in almost every scene. While Ryan is a big fan of American Airline, going on to get one of the most coveted ultra elite (don’t-remember-name) status, I havent been that lucky. My business travels are eclectic and my employer, like most others doesn’t promote a specific airline. Which means that my miles (and loyalty) is spread across Delta, Continental, United and American Air (with their affiliate international partners). Bottomline: evern after clocking a few international flights and scores of domestic flights, I will not start the new year as an ultra-elite in with one airline.

On the hotel front, I have a bit more control though. While Rayan plugs Hilton, I am Platinum with InterContinental’s Priority Club and stick to their Hotels when possible (Crowne Plaza Resort Hotels, Holiday Inn Hotels, Holiday Inn Express, Staybridge Suites …).

I had an experience similar to Ryan Bingham’s Wisconsin hotel episode, though at that time it didn’t feel that much funny being at the receiving end. I had checked in at RExyz (upscale chain) near Philly Airport with colleagues for 3 nights. Our group was promised premium access that includdaccess to their Concierge lounge on the 12th floor: Breakfast in the mornings and sundowners, appetizers in the evenings. I happened to extend my stay by a day after my colleagues left and was surprised when my key-access to Concierge lounge didn’t work. I called the reception and was told politely: I was not an elite member in their program. I tried reasoning that I already had the concierge access during the current stay and that I was an ultra/platinum member at their competitor. The gatekeeper at the reception refused to hear me out.

Moral of my story: I had to travel to Philly about 8-10 times this quarter and my patronage , and money shifted back to the hotel chain where I was recognized and continue to get elite status. Stuff loyalty is made of I guess.

On the tech front too the plot of the movie hits home. I have written extensively about maturing-but-lack-of-adoption of Video Conferencing technologies in my blog and corporate blog entries. This is a point the story also drives home the point when Natalie’s GloCal idea of leveraging Video Conferencing technology to ‘virtually’ fire people backfires.

Other blogs and reviews:

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dubai Burst : Is Emiratisation to blame?

The recent Dubai Debt Debacle perhaps dispelled most doubts about the globalized nature of businesses and commercial world. It started with Dubai World asking for a six month delay in paying back its debt (to the tune of billions of dollars) and sent ripples through the global financial sector. The only silver lining was that the US markets were closed on Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday, and some bit of sanity prevailed when markets opened on Friday.

While most analysts are looking at the 'cause' and reflecting on Dubai’s hi-flying culture of developing oasis and paradises in the desert, are we missing a link here: the role of Emiratisation in the crash?

During past decades, generations of young workers from South Aisan descended in Dubai and the Gulf states, lured by easy jobs, work-visas and promise of Petro Dollars. Yes, the majority of them were from the working class – laborers, carpenters, construction workers and the like – but many were also white-collar professionals: accountants, nurses, doctors, financial analysts, businessmen, managers and Software Professionals.

Many modern societies that attract immigrants, especially white collar professionals do so with the implicit (if not explicit) intent of paving the way for permanent residency and eventual naturalization. The US has its famous H1 and Green Card program, UK has its Tier-1 and HSMP program, Canada, Australia, Singapore and even Europe have their share of (liberal) immigration programs targeting working professes. Guest Workers are attracted by the prospect of earning in Dollars, Pounds, Euros etc and also by the prospect of permanent residency and eventual Naturalization (Citizenship) in their host country. This symbiotic relationship between Guest-workers-turned-immigrants vests them into the system and adopted societies though some may occasionally think of returning back to their native lands (Reverse Migration)

The Gulf countries, Dubai included, on the other hand are perusing Emiratization, a movement by the governments to proactively employ its citizens in the public and private sectors to reduce its dependence on foreign workers. In principle, Emiratisation is not a bad idea; most nations and cultures promote opportunities for their Sons of the Soil (Ladies: I don’t intend to be sexist here). Remember the failed Immigration legislation debate in US last year when there was a proposal to legalize millions of undocumented workers? However, the restrictions on legal immigrants to western societies, especially after they land and get assimilated into the mainstream are minimal.

This is not the case with immigrants in the Gulf. Thanks to restrictions on life, liberty and pursuit of opportunities, attributable to Emiratization, many workers in Dubai and Gulf nations realize that there are few avenues to explore moving up the Maslow's hierarchy of needs

I guess the key word here is Esteem factor. When white collar immigrant workers and professionals in the Gulf interact with their cousins, friends and peers who migrated to other western nations, they realize that unlike in the west, they are unable to integrate into the mainstream of their adopted land. For instance, their kids may be able to go to good schools but will remain Indian or Pakistani. This unlike their cousins in the west who will be considered American (or Asian-American). This topic would require another blog or series of blogs, but you get the idea. Perhaps the reason scores of South Asian Immigrants migrate from Dubai to other western nations when opportunities arise (ref: recent debate in online forums on Dubai Debacle).

The point here is that unless the professionals are vested in the society, their contribution and is also going to be transient. To put it bluntly, the thinking is probably along the lines of "Why should I care about the long term interests of the business-government-society? I am just transient here in Gulf!

Cause and Effect? There are probably scores of Desis, South Asians working as advisers analysts and others in upper echelons of Dubai World and other financial institutions in the Gulf. Wonder if their ephemeral thinking of life in Dubai also permeated their decision making?

Links of interest

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Medical Tourism: The factory model of Heart Surgery

There is an article in the weekend edition of Wall Street journal that makes for an interesting read that features The Henry Ford of Heart Surgery, Devi Shetty. Tarticle touches on multiple themes:
  • Cost cutting: How Dr. Devi Shetty is cutting costs (and not quality): The process provided an example of how he slashes costs. Four years ago, the sutures would have been bought from a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary. Today they are made by a Mumbai company, Centennial Surgical Suture Ltd. . . . Four years ago, Dr. Shetty scrutinized his annual bill for sutures -- then $100,000 and rising by about 5% each year. He made the switch to cheaper sutures by Centennial, cutting his expenditures in half to $50,000. "In health care you can't do one big thing and reduce the price," Dr. Shetty says. "We have to do 1,000 small things."
  • Cost cutting without impacting quality: Dr. Shetty's success rates appear to be as good as those of many hospitals abroad. Narayana Hrudayalaya reports a 1.4% mortality rate within 30 days of coronary artery bypass graft surgery, one of the most common procedures, compared with an average of 1.9% in the U.S. in 2008, according to data gathered by the Chicago-based Society of Thoracic Surgeons.
  • Expansion of Medical Tourism: His flagship heart hospital charges $2,000, on average, for open-heart surgery, compared with hospitals in the U.S. that are paid between $20,000 and $100,000, depending on the complexity of the surgery. . . . By next year, six million Americans are expected to travel to other countries in search of affordable medical care, up from the 750,000 who did so in 2007, according to a report by Deloitte LLP. A handful of U.S. insurance plans now give people the choice to be treated in other countries.

With the healthcare debate in the U.S reaching a crescendo, one is sure to see more articles of these genera. If nothing else, it will help Americans get a better understanding of the healthcare best-practices elsewhere in the world.

Links of interest

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Some Indians Americans go Boa(t/d)ing but how many go to Udah?

The topic of accents, pronunciation and mastery of language is frequent among Indian Americans and immigrants and is a definite icebreaker; sometimes leading to passionate debates about the right or wrongs of aping accents. A hint to you: the surest way to hit an Indian immigrant below the belt? Remark about his use of English attributable to the fact he is not native born. ;-) The converse also works great: want to brownnose your Desi boss? Complement her on her clear unaccented Indian English.

A few days ago we were at a friend’s place for dinner when the topic of Indians and accents came up (surprise?), and we began sharing our anecdotes. I remarked about a colleague of ours, Raj, who seemed to have the most Americanized accent among the few Indians in the team. Ms R, a colleague from Georgia was slightly amused. She mentioned a recent conversation with Raj who had talked to her about his recent family vacation to Udah. It is only after Raj completed his story that Ms R realized that he wasn’t talking about a trip to an exotic foreign land but to the state of Utah. Turns out Raj took his lessons on pronouncing his Indian American "T" and "D"s to an extreme. Hearing this, I was reminded of Bollywood movies depicting scenes of the British Raj where the Gora Sahib would make attempts to bond with natives, speaking thoda thoda hindi in his thick British accent

What about me? Having spent years in the west – England, Europe, Canada and the US –I guess I still haven’t made a conscious attempt to acquire a native accent. I retain a typical Indian accent with what some have remarked, a tinge of the South Indian accent.

Thanks to globalization and the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) boom, one can probably find scores of young Indians in Bangalore, Gurgaon or Hyderabad who speak much ‘better’ accented American English than most first-generation immigrants in Boston or Bay area. And between every Mohan who continues to retain a plain accent and Raj who work on his T’s and D's there are stripes in between.

A few interesting posts and blogs on the topic:

  • Can That Damn Accent!
  • The Venture Capitalist from Kanpur: Rekhi is a large and rumpled man with a heavy accent and a rapid-fire delivery. "I'm not smooth," he says, stating the obvious. The edges may be rough, but the sum is impressive
  • Are Indians the Model Immigrants? They have funny accents, occasionally dress in strange outfits, and some wear turbans and grow beards, yet Indians have been able to overcome stereotypes to become the U.S.'s most successful immigrant group

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Butterfly effect of American Healthcare Reform

The fact that American Healthcare industry is going through a massive transformation is being closely being watched by most Americans. Last night’s “historic vote” on healthcare by the US House of representatives is just one step in the transformation sweeping across healthcare. More important is the impact of this on the global healthcare industry and the butterfly effect on the global economy. Just a few interesting s snippets why the debate on healthcare is so closely watched

  • In the US alone, about 580000 establishments make up the health care industry. As per the US Bureau of labor, “As the largest industry in 2006, health care provided 14 million jobs—13.6 million jobs for wage and salary workers and about 438,000 jobs for the self-employed. . . . Health care will generate 3 million new wage and salary jobs between 2006 and 2016, more than any other industry.”
  • Implication: Healthcare reform = impact on jobs
  • Per themedica.comThe United States of America has one of the largest medical and healthcare industries in the world, followed by Switzerland and Germany. The USA's medical industry comprises of more than 750,000 physicians and 5,200 hospitals. USA witnesses approximately 3.8 million inpatient visits and 20 million outpatients visit on a daily basis. Furthermore, the United States of America has the largest workforce i.e. one in every 11 US residents employed in the health care business.
  • Implication: Healthcare reform = Large lobbying interest. Some want change that can help them, some don't want to change the status quo.
  • The sheer size of the reform is mind boggling: House health bill totals $1.2 trillion
  • Implication: Imagine the proverbial 700 pound gorilla charging ahead and you want to change course!
  • The Global prescription drug market was $550 billion in the year 2006. Also, the total health care expenditures across the world were $4.5 trillion last year. Of which, US solely account for $ 2.2 trillion, $ 2 trillion in OECD countries and remaining $ 0.3 in other countries of the world. Indian drugmakers including Dr. Reddy’s, Ranbaxy etc have made inroads into the global generic drug industry and are also watching the reform closely.
  • Implication: Healthcare reform = Impact on globalization!

I like the way BioPharma Today blogs about this "The legislation wending its way through Congress is the center of the political process, but regardless of the outcome for Obamacare 2009, change is inevitable. The scale and timing will depend heavily on the legislation—and, whatever is enacted, the implications (intended or otherwise) will take years to untangle."

As a technologist, I am fascinated by the Technology Lead changes coming down the pipe, especially the opportunities for automation, integration and system changes.

Implication: Healthcare reform (or not!) = Impact on software industry is not hard to fathom. However, seeing the forest for trees and translating them into opportunities that can impact me? I guess, there is a million dollar question hidden here.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

With Global Mobility of its people, Tata Consultancy to Expand Footprint in Emerging Markets

The recent article and interview with TCS’s new chief N. Chandrasekaranmade for interesting reading. [Software Exporter to Expand Footprint in Emerging Markets]

With revenues of $6 Billion, the largest Indian software services firm is certainly a global player. Mr. Chandrasekaran's comments to WSJ were measured, and to some extent upbeat. However, one question stood out. When asked, "What are the challenges to ramping up hiring in the U.S.?"
he replied:

"Mobility is an issue. If I hire someone in California, and the next project is in North Carolina, I can't really move them. If I send someone from India, they can go to California, and when that's done I'll send them to North Carolina. Also, we want to train people in our methodology. In India, we recruit people and train them. It isn't just about having the correct software coding skills..—I'm sure we could find enough skilled programmers in the U.S."

I addressed the same issue of mobility in my book (Offshoring IT Services) while examining the cultural aspects of Indian software developers and how their ability to be mobile made them attractive in the global marketplace. Mobility of people is a big factor in Globalization of businesses, but wasn’t the flattening of the world supposed to mitigate the need for mobility? I guess it is true to some extent. Case in point the H1-B visa quota for this year, annually capped at 65,000 is not yet exhausted even half-year after the gates were opened. During the last few years, the quota was exhausted in just a few days after the April deadline.

As they embark on expanding the footprint in global markets, I guess the question that. Chandrasekaran and team must be asking themselves: how to motivate their Indian employees to pack up and head to Timbuktu, Mongolia or Siberia when even H1 visas are going begging?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Airline Pilots: rare heroes, few great, most good and deligent, and some well . . . just plain human

For young kids growing up, few professions exude as much glamour as that of Pilots. Earlier this year, this view was reinforced by the heroics of Airline Pilot 'Sully' Sullenberger, who successfully carried out the emergency ditching of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, offshore from Manhattan, New York City, saving the lives of all 155 people on the aircraft. Media, and most of us just went ga ga heroics. And kids of this generation had yet another role model.

Bloggers and writers continue to eulogize Sullenberger and the story. (Sweating the Small Stuff: Lessons from “Sully” Sullenberger. American Mustache Institute Honors David Axelrod, Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger)

Fast forward to end of October and comes news of Pilots of a commercial aircraft that let their jet go “wayward,” prompting an intense media scrutiny, leading to FAA convening an emergency session to revoke their license. The airline has indicated that they will be fired. There way too many intricacies to the story including role of laptops in aircraft and role of technology in aviation itself (e.g, can we really trust pilots who totally trust auto-pilots?, Pilots missed Twin Cities by 150 miles - but how?) and so on.

As a frequent (business) traveler, I have learnt to trust the system, and the men and women behind the system - from ground staff to the air-crew who do a tremendous job of ensuring we travel safe. This said, a few incidents do stand etched in one’s memory.

The bottomline: Pilots and crew are just like us: rare heroes, few great, most good and deligent, and some well . . . just plain human

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Globalization of England: British Jobs for British, < Polish, Asian, Indian, Immigrant> Workers

I was talking to my friend who lives London over the weekend who was describing his plan for move. His family was moving across town from Southall to a new place in Wembly. He remarked that the movers he had contracted were no polish, adding that he selected movers who advertised they hired only British blokes for the jobs. His remark also triggered an intense debate with him on the impact of Polish and East European immigrants in London and UK in general. Knowing my friend, I realized that his remark was not racist but certainly nationalist.
I recall the years I spent in London and Manchester in the mid-nineties when a similar debate over the influx of South-Asians, Indians, Pakistanis and Sri Lankans, in England. After moving from UK, I have sporadically kept track of events there, especially as it pertains to Britain’s role in global economy, immigration and similar aspects. The growing strength of European Union, Eurozone,, European Economic Area and the council of Europe has also meant freer movement of goods and services, and more importantly people across Europe.

The visible aspect of globalization and EU, especially the influx of East Europeans in UK is perhaps the most jarring to the media and average Joe Bloke (ref articles below). The non-visible part, movement of billions of Euros, Pounds and Dollars in contracts for European giants, say Airbus, that translates to real economic value and jobs in Western Europe is downplayed by digerati and the media. For instance, Airbus employs around 57,000 people at sixteen sites in four European Union ountries: Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Spain. Airbus also sells to Poland as it does to other countries around the globe. If Airbus were to setup the next plant in Poland, perhaps fewer Poles would find the need to immigrate across Europe.

For those living across the pond, the story perhaps sounds familiar: replace EU with NAFTA and Polish with Mexican (or Latin American). Steve Hamm, author and journalist for Business Week stirs similar conversation in his blog while talking of Indians in America.

Bottomline: The global downturn is certainly making politicians in the west reassess their views on Globalization, especially the visible aspects of globalization that impacts man on the street: jobs; which in turn translates to sentiments and most importantly Votes.

Interesting articles/blogs:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Wag the dog: Playing the global media

This week the American media went wild over the saga of a young boy thought to have taken off on a helium balloon in Colorado. Now comes news that the Sheriff will file Charges on suspicions of a hoax (Sheriff: Charges will be filed in balloon saga). It also turns out Richard and Mayumi Heene had inside hooks into the media (Huffington Post: Balloon Boy, Wife Swap Son).

Flashback to about six months ago: Media went similarly wild over the saga of Nadia Sulaiman who gave birth to Octuplets and dropped the story like hot potatoes the moment they realized she was a single mom on welfare already struggling to support her other kids. The public was outraged over the fact that a single mom on welfare went on to get fertility treatment and give birth to eight more children. Needless to say, before the story died down, Sulaiman’s "supporters"created a website asking people to donate, publicizing the URL, again thanks to the media frenzy over the story. (I couldnt google the URL when I searched recently).

And before that there was the saga of the British girl lost in Portugal. How did the story end? Parents were suspects : A British couple who turned their young daughter’s disappearance from a Portuguese resort into an international cause célèbre — raising millions of dollars and recruiting celebrities from J. K. Rowling to the pope to their campaign — were formally named suspects by the Portuguese police on Friday, a representative of the family said. Of course, this was not the last word. Two years hence, the saga continues and the media continues to follow the story: Satellite clue to Maddie kidnap

Wag the Dog is a Hollywood classic about a Washington spin doctor who, mere days before a presidential election, distracts the electorate from a sex scandal by hiring a Hollywood film producer to construct a fake war with Albania. The scheme enlists the aid of a country music singer, who creates several theme songs for the war; a "fad king"; and a costume designer, who helps create a fictional special forces unit to fight the war's supposed battles.

Of course, not all of us are as media savvy, at least not savvy enough to get over the money-and-muscle of large corporate in India. I remember how Jet Airways ensured almost a total media blackout when little Aditya died on board an international flight. The mainstream media India approached and interviewed us for stories that never got aired or published. The parents decided to bury the grief in solitude and move on.

I guess for every Nadia Sulaiman or Heene family that manages to Wag the Dog, there are a hundreds of others with a story waiting to be told.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Weekend musing: Gays and Hijras

Among the politically volatile topics in the west is that of Gays, Gay Rights and homosexuality. Perhaps the reason, the American President who already has a full enchilada of topics in his plate is also taking on this (Re. Obama to End 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Military Policy).

Why do I blog on a topic, where I have very little knowledge? Because I was intrigued by the headline in the news (Gay rights advocates march on DC, divided on Obama) . . . and the fact that I had an interesting conversation with a relative of mine in Delhi. They had a baby recently, and I had called to congratulate them. The cousin had to abruptly end the conversation and called back later to apologize. Apparently a group of Hijras descended at their apartment, demanding to “bless” the baby in return for a few thousand rupees (1$ = 46.5 Rupees).

[Ref Wikipedia: Hijras also perform religious ceremonies at weddings and at the birth of male babies, involving music, singing, and sexually suggestive dancing.]

I remember when the western media picked on one remark from Iranian president, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s address to Columbia University last year. Why? Because he said 'We don't have any gays in Iran' Perhaps he meant that in Iranian culture gays would be considered Hijras? [Wikipedia tries to clarify: These (Hijra) identities have no exact match in the modern Western taxonomy of gender and sexual orientation.]

Friday, October 9, 2009

Congrats Mr. Obama.... US President wins Nobel Peace Prize

I logged in this morning to check the news and was pleasantly surprised to see the headline In a surprise, Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize. “The Norwegian Nobel Committee said, citing his outreach to the Muslim world and attempts to curb nuclear proliferation.” I thought I’d draft a quick blog to Mr. Obama about whom I have blogged a couple of times recently. (Olympics, Disrespect to President, Biography)

Mr. Obama,
Congratulations on being awarded 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, perhaps the highest honor for global leaders. You have been facing a few tough sells:
  • War in Iraq, Afghanistan. Legacy of your predecessor
  • Healthcare Reform. Most Americans realize it is needed. . . just that the legislators need the right nudge to make it happen.
  • Economy . . Don’t need to describe this one.

The most recent debacle, flying all the way to IOC to root for your hometown, Chicago, only to be shown the thumbs down must have been a letdown.
Being conferred this global honor should re-ignite the spirit of "Yes, we can" . . . . at least when it comes to a few big ticket items: Healthcare reform for one?!

Global Citizen,

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Globalization of Olympics: Sports, Money, Power and Politics

When it comes to globalization of sports, nothing comes close to the appeal of the Summer Olympics. Remember how China rolled out a red carpet for the opportunity to show they could really-really host the games in style. . . and announce to the world they have arrived.

However, what the games really are about is money … and really big money. London Olympics is still a few years away and money is already rolling in (London 2012: Big money rolling in as sponsors line-up for the Olympics). After the big downturn, American economy needs a boost; and what better boost than the Olympics? (even if it is years away) Why do you think the president of America, perhaps the most ‘powerful’ man in the world is throwing his personal weight on this bid?!

I would love for America to host the Olympics in the coming decade. And hopefully get an opportunity to catch the ‘grand’ opening/closing show. . . . But the Globalized part of me thinks we should give others in the world a chance too. Olympics were held in America last in 1996. There are 204 National Olympic Committees (NOCs). Most countries don’t ever get to host the Olympics and America will get an opportunity in less than 20 years; what gives? Rich get richer? Should we not give others, say a third-world country an opportunity to make a few billion dollars too?

On the other hand, by going all out personally to root to bring Olympics to his hometown, Mr. Obama has a lot more, including his political credibility at stake; and all of us would like to root for the champion of healthcare reform to have a few quick wins; right?!

Other blogs:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Globalization, migration and reverse immigration

I came across the interesting article in today’s USA Today titled "World's talent opts to leave USA" The front page article builds on research from Duke University's Vivek Wadhwa, who studies reverse immigration. It is also a topic that is hotly debated among immigrants, especially those from India and China. [Links to articles on Returning To India].

What the article does not talk about is the story of scores of Indians and Chinese who effortlessly switch between continents, helping bridge the global divide if you will.

A few weeks ago I met a fellow Desi (Indian American) at a Holiday Inn in Cincinnati where I happened to be staying for the night. He had migrated to Ohio about 15 years ago, got his green card and naturalized as an American citizen along with his wife and kids a few years ago. He then decided to move back to India and found a job with a software firm in Chandigarh though he was from Mumbai. Things didn’t work out as planned on the work front but his wife and kids liked it there, especially as the kids had started a new school year. They decided to stay back while he was back in Ohio, looking to re-join HP-EDS, his previous employer

I guess, my story is a bit like this too. I have spent over a decade in the US. However, unlike other typical immigrant (or reverse immigrant) stories, mine happens to be that of a global journeyman. After migrating to the States, obtaining a “coveted” Green Card, I moved back to India and joined an Indian software giant (Infosys). After spending for a while "offshore" and authoring a book on Offshoring, I moved back to Anytown USA. Based here, I also travel to Canada, Europe and elsewhere . . wherever business opportunities take me. Do I consider America "Home" Sure! Do I think of India as "Back Home" Sure!

Wonder where research on migration and reverse immigration leaves folks like me? And mind you, I am not the only one on this globalization journey.

ps: Vivek Wadhwa also frequently writes on the topic in BusinessWeek (Why Skilled Immigrants Are Leaving the U.S.)

Other interesting blogs on the topic

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What is the most effective way to show disrespect to a President? Throw a shoe or call him a liar?

Two unrelated but interesting issues items have caught the attention of the media and digirati, both about the effectiveness of getting media attention by public display of disrespect to leaders of our times:

  • President Obama being called a “Liar” by an elected representative while delivering an address to the U.S. Congress and
  • Trelease of the (famous/infamous) Iraqi Shoe Thrower who attempted to show disrespect to Mr. Obama’s predecessor, Mr. George Bush by hurling shoes at him during a press conference in Iraq.

For students of international business, lessons in basics of cultural mores and etiquettes around the globe have a lot of significance, more so in the increasingly connected and globalized world we live in. Given the culture of global disrespect, I wonder if the younger generation of business leaders will be using these ‘case studies’ to their list by studying the most effective ways to show disrespect to business adversaries? ;-(

While globalization and international trade is all about finding win-win deals, synergies and opportunities, there is the aggressive, ugly side of business and here I am sure some businessmen (and women) are taking a leaf from the buzz. An easy excuse, after showing a pre-planned disrespect, in an international business context would be that of a Faux pas? There again, such disrespect would not either make for front-page-news or get a limo as a reward

Blogs on the topic:

Monday, September 14, 2009

Globalization: Chinese Empire strikes back at America on Trade

The recent “trade spat” between China and the U.S. over Tires, Chicken and Car Parts is fascinating to observers of globalization and world trade at many levels:
  • It brings into sharp focus the nature and volume of global trade and the highly interconnected world we live in.
  • It signifies the emergence of China as a strong global player standing up to America
  • Global downturn also means countries, and more importantly politicians are extremely cognizant of local interest, domestic lobbies and voting blocks: especially local workers who are hurting with high job losses (America is experiencing a historic high of nearly 10% joblessness)
  • The few headlines on globalization and trade spats, are perhaps the tip of iceberg when it comes to issues and challenges
  • Of course, it is not just about tires and Car parts: Indians cheered when their Commerce Minister - Kamal Nath – stood up to WTO trying to protect the rights of marginalized farmers ( fearful that on top of their burdens of a crippling drought and deep debts, they will face an influx of cheap foreign crops from countries like the United States)
  • Much closer to my day-job as a Technocrat lies the issue of global restriction on movement of experts and service professionals: the H1-B visa caps or European work-visa restrictions.

Other bloggers on the topic

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Blog post from above 20,000 foot in the air: Trying out GoGo Inflight Internet on Delta

Most of us in the business of consulting know of the 20,000 foot-view. And from 20,000 foot above, life certainly looks different. And there again, frequent fliers dream of the mile-high club and other perks that comes one’s way.

Given how cyber connected we are, should I have been surprised that airlines would offer internet access from up in the air? Surely not. This labor day weekend on a Delta airline flight (DL 1196) from Atlanta to Philadelphia, I got around try a free promotion of GoGo in-flight internet (This blog entry was posted while on air).

My initial reactions: Wow. This is cool!

One of the first things I did after logging in using my wi-fi enabled laptop? Check my Skymiles account: And sure enough I see posted :06 Sep 2009 Delta Flight 1196 from Atlanta, GA to Philadelphia, PA (K) 666

Now, as a technologist, seamless integration like this does not cease to amaze me: less than ½ hour after the flight takes off, (my boarding card scanned at gate), my skymileage account was updated. Now, this is probably as real-time as I want it to be! Any better/faster response and it will perhaps come at a higher cost to Delta (and to the consumer: me)

To ZDNet's blog query: Would you use in-flight Wi-Fi? (Would you pay for it?). I would say, it is a service worth having, especially for business travelers. For short haul flights, the $9.95/12.95 flight pass may a bit pricy but I guess it is worth it if one is working on a hot proposal and really needs to be connected.

Yet another frequent-flier perk: it is a matter of time before Delta, Air Canada, United et al begin offering this as a “perk” to the elite/platinum/super-elite members?!
The speed is not terribly fast. So I wonder about current use of VOIP/skype/Yahoo messenger chats. Wonder if this service would cannibalize the sky-phones ?
Bottom Would I be willing to pay for this every time I travel? Maybe not (till it is offered as a perk). Would I be willing to pay for it on a need basis? Sure: if I have an important client meeting to attend and I want the directions mailed to me or be able to check-in for the next flight or confirm my rental car. Like I said: an excellent tool for the globe-trotting business traveler.

Other Blog Reactions on the topic

Ps: though I have not been actively tracking blog statistics or even attempting to promote this blog (yet), I have a couple of followers. Thanks Rock and issam for googling/following my blog

Monday, August 31, 2009

Security checks, frisking and VIPs at International Airports: Kalam and Khan

During a recent trip to India and back, I had an opportunity to fly back on Continental 83, the infamous non-stop flight from Delhi to Newark. Infamous because this was the flight that India’s beloved former president, Abdul Kalam, was boarding when he was “frisked.”

Was I, a business-class passenger, excempt? No, I too was frisked; as were ALL other passengers on my flight that day. Not that I spotted any Very Important Persons (VIPs) on my flight. The “frisking” was done much after the security and Immigration check already done by Indian Immigration and Security agencies. From what I observed, the additional check of hand-baggage, x-ray and physical pat-down was conducted by private security employed by Continental Airlines. It was conducted just before one approaches the aircraft gate to board, after airline security staff (yet again) check one’s passport, immigration and other documents.

I guess this extra security is demanded by the US authorities (and American public) as it is one of the few flights from India directly flying into the US non-stop.

I have experienced similar ‘frisking’ elsewhere during my travels too. It is not unusual to undergo additional frisking/searching on similar flights to the US originating in Europe, Dubai and elsewhere after a stopover. In most such stopovers, one is checked/frisked again before boarding though one does not get out of the sterile transit area, and one does not think twice about it.

Much after Continental’s apology to Indian Government and Mr. Kalam, questions still remain:
  • So why the ruckus? Probably because it was the Ex-President of India being frisked on Indian soil (and it is incidental that he is Muslim).
  • India's former president is a threat to air safety? What about other former-presidents of other countries?
  • Would Mr. Bush or Mr. Clinton be subject to the same "frisking" if they were to board CO 83 in Delhi [Question is probably moot since they generally travel on private jets]
  • Does American Airline have a right to frisk Indians or other foreigners on foreign soil? Do they not trust the foreign government’s security? [“While travelling from an international location to the US on an US commercial aircraft, former heads of state, and other VIPs, are screened according to the same screening procedures as for any other passenger. If requested, private screening can be provided,” TSA said.]
  • Did Continental Airline have to "Apologize" for this? [Continental Airlines apologises to former President Dr. Kalam for frisking]
  • Wonder if Shahrukh Khan would object to this frisking (by Continental Airlines) too?! Is he VIP enough to be exempt?
  • Who really are India VIPs who are exempt from security checks? Who maintains such a list? (The media was crying loudest about the incident, without providing much clarity). Googling did not get me a list of India’s “exempt specified VIP” wonder if it includes all senior level Babus (There are hundreds of “secretary” level Bureaucrats). What about all Members of Parliament (There are over 500 MPs) All Chief Ministers of all states (over 30 of them) What about Members of state legislature (each state has an average of 200 MLAs, thousands in total in India). And then add to the list CEO’s and executives of large corporations (again hundreds of them) . . . and the super-stars, film-stars et al.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bollywood and global immigration: ShahRukh Khan being “detained” by American immigration officials

A bollywood star is sent for “Secondary Inspection” by US customs and Immigration service and it becomes sensational news. What started as a news item of Mr. ShahRukh Khan being “detained” by American immigration officials turned out to be a routine secondary inspection which even seasoned business travelers, self included, routinely face. And because it was Mr. Khan who was sent for the inspection, it was not just him but fanatic bollywood fans across the globe that were indignant.

A globe trotting American Permanent Resident with an Indian passport, I have been sent for secondary inspection on more than one occasion by officials at port of entry in Canada and the US. All the time, I just shrug my shoulder at the additional scrutiny, answer the additional questions asked and walk across the borders.

While globe trotting executives have accepted this as a matter of routine, the VIPs, VVIPs, superstars seem to be peeved by the need for inspections. The debate here is not really about the right of nations to have immigration inspectors screen people crossing borders but more about the right of the Very Important Persons and celebrities to bypass checks and controls reserved for most other global citizen.

  • Should all hell break loose if a celebrity is sent for a secondary inspection? No!
  • Is this even news worthy? Not unless you happen to be Mr. Khan or his publicist
  • Should every Immigration inspector in every major country know who Mr. Shah Rukh Khan (or every other bollywood star) is? No
  • Should Superstars be accorded special status while crossing borders? Maybe (only if they are at personal security risk)
  • What about all other Very Important Persons (government officials, ministers, Corporate CxOs and everyone else). Give me a list and I will tell you?!

Other bloggers and views on this

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Obama, Globalization and dreams of his father: Fascinating biography and a global perspective and discovery!

I like to carry a paperback or magazines while traveling and I had been carrying – and slowly inching my way through - President Barak Obama’s bestseller “Dreams from My Father” for the past few weeks. The book was in my list of must-read since Obama burst into national and international fame during the democratic primaries a couple of years ago, beating Hillary Clinton in a neck-to-neck race. Like many of my fellow Indian Americans and other cheerleaders of globalization, I have been in awe of the Obama phenomena for a while.

It has been over six months since he was sworn in as the president of America, ushered in with much hope for change. And some, at least in the media seem to be getting over the initial euphoria, the honeymoon phase that newly elected leaders are generally accorded. This, I thought was the perfect time to squeeze some Mojo and finish the book.

I am fascinated by Obama’s candid narrative of his eclectic upbringing and most importantly the way in which he shares intimate details of the discovery of his father’s background.

The early chapters focus on his Origins, a bit about his upbringing in Indonesia, life with his grandparents in Hawaii, getting into the prestigious Punahou school, getting into Harvard; and a young Harvard graduate inspired to work in the projects in Chicago. The second half of the book is on Obama’s journey to Keyna to discover his “Roots,” perhaps a personification of the urge that Blacks in America, and immigrants everywhere have in attempting to discover their backgrounds while trying to reconcile the reality of their present. Obama’s honest description of the skeletons that he discovers in his father’s past, though a bit jarring to my middle-class-Indian-upbringing, makes one reflect on aspects of human relationships.

In the six months since he took over as the president of the “Free World,” Obama has done his fair bit of criss-crossing the globe. However, domestic issues, primarily the economy and healthcare, with the legacy of the “wars” in Iraq and Afghinastan have dominated the President’s agenda; at least when he is not swatting flies or inviting elderly Harvard professors and cops to quell the odd storm in a beer-mug! I guess this is part of what the American citizen elected him to do. But there again, some Americans and most other Global Citizen would love to see him bring his unique perspective and experiences in globalization to the fore.

But there . . . I digress; the book is a must read for those who wish to get a better insight into the mind of Obama.

Now, I must read the Audacity of Hope

ps: My Book Review on Amazon

Monday, July 27, 2009

Musings on Religion and Globalization

One of the perks of being a globally mobile employee of a multinational is to visit and observe evolution of cultures at across continents. This past weekend I spent some time at Houston’s Hindu temple, Meenakshi Devasthanam, at the suburb of Pearland in Texas. Architected in a typical South Indian style, replete with stone arches (Gopurams), the temple is well maintained giving visitors a sense of serenity.

I have been raised a Hindu, and though not deeply religious, I subscribe to the general Hindu philosophy and thinking, or at least my little understanding of it. This is not unique for South Asians, for many of whom the separation of religion, society and life is blurred. And I guess this is true of rest of mankind too.

Case in point is Pope Benedict's Encyclical Letter, issued earlier this month. This 144-page and over 30,000-word encyclical letter of the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI to “all people of good will” is was supposedly more than two years in the making. Tyler Cowen, in a Wall Street Journal essay says

“full of critical comments about commerce, the profit motive, banks and businesses. . . . It is true that the encyclical registers many complaints about commercial society. It says that current economic arrangements create inequalities and injustices. It laments that people pursue self-interested goals without the broader community or the prospect of transcendence in mind. It says that "today's international economic scene, marked by grave deviations and failures, requires a profoundly new way of understanding business enterprise." It warns against "lowering the level of protection accorded to the rights of workers, or abandoning mechanisms of wealth redistribution in order to increase the country's international competitiveness." And it argues that "the continuing hegemony of the binary model of market-plus-State has accustomed us to think only in terms of the private business leader of a capitalistic bent on the one hand, and the State director on the other."

Though I will not claim to understand the intricacies of Pope’s Encyclical Letter, the comments in the media and translations for laymen like me make us reflect on religion and globalization: is globalization making us less human? . . less sensitive to fellow humans?

One can flip around to other extremes of globalization: Bill Gates and Warren Buffet who personify wealth creation by globalization have in recent years shifted gears towards charities and issues impacting humans. If one takes their biographies as a blueprint: is it better for us to continue the path to globalization and AFTER we have reached the peak of Self actualization (ref: Maslow’s hierarchy_of_needs) reflect on bigger issues?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Globalizations: Pillsbury Doughboy™ takes on a Desi (South Asian) Avatar in America

This month I have been traveling across cities in Anytown, USA more than my usual quota. It is for an interesting consulting engagement we are doing for a client in Houston that also has offices in Cincinnati, Ohio. While on the road, I try to keep my culinary urges in check, preferring to go for known brands of chains, generally large fast-food brands. I am vegetarian and it is interesting how large chains have at least one or two good entrée for folks just like me. Given my South Asian/Indian heritage, I also like the occasional Desi (Indian) dinner.

After a busy day of meetings I don’t always want to head to a sit-and-eat restaurant I prefer to pick up some Ready-to-eat Indian food at local Indian grocers in Anytown, US. I guess I am not alone: an entire micro industry of Indian Ready to Eat cuisine (both of frozen and pre-packaged variety) has taken off in the past decade catering to both the Indian Diaspora, Non Resident Indians and also busy working-couples in India. Even with the limits on H1, L1 and works visas and Green Cards being issued by American government, sufficient number of Indians, Indian Americans and South Asians seem to be criss-crossing the continents to make the business of Ready to Eat cuisine viable.

What is really interesting about the pervasiveness of Asian/Indian Ready-to-eat food is that global giants like General Mills have taken their uniquely American brands like Pillsbury Doughboy™ east, to India, built market share, and are also "importing" back some local hits. For instance, General Mills in India has been expanding their Pillsbury wheat (Atta) brand into the pre-cooked, ready-to-heat-and-eat rotis and Naans (Indian breads). These brands, including the frozen variety are now being “exported” back to Indian grocery shops across North America and Europe.
While this would make an excellent case-study or white-paper on globalization with a mix of supply-chain management and cross-cultural sensitivities, for now I am content to sample and enjoy the by-product.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Why Has Globalization Led to Bigger Cities? Software Factories

During this long-weekend surfing through blogsphere, I came across an interesting post by Prof. Edward L. Glaeser on NYT blogs titled "Why Has Globalization Led to Bigger Cities?"

Prof. Glaeser makes an interesting observation of how the Cities continue to grow larger in spite of the flattening world (and possibly because of globalization). Taking Bangalore as a case-in-point he builds an interesting argument. While Prof. Glaeser’s observation, especially of Bangalore’s astronomical growth is right on target, the reasons he quotes are a bit sketchy.

Prof. Glaeser over-simplifies his argument by saying that a programmer might as well live in "Vale of Kashmir"or elsewhere in India and not necessarily in Bangalore. This is like arguing how Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems can continued to live the life of a recluse in Aspen while his brainchild thrived in the Silicon . Well, this misses the simple point that most IT workers are not Bill Joy. Much of the work in the IT industry does not involve innovation but sustenance or incremental development.

The fact is that even with all the networking in the world, an engineering graduate, just out of school in India, or for that matter even most of the experienced programmers cannot hope to make a decent (and steady) living just being wired to the internet. You could argue that some of the innovations come from individuals working in the proverbial garage or parent’s basement, but those are too far between and few. The market for software talent in India continues to be concentrated in Bangalore, and increasingly in Hyderabad (a.k.a Cyberabad), Pune and even the National Capital Region and suburbs of Delhi: Noida, Ghaziabad and Gurgaon

Think Software Factories

Most of us in the business of software and services realize that the flattening of the IT world that Thomas Friedman eulogized in his book is more about shift of jobs from software factories, mega-IT-shops of Fortune 500/Global 2000 companies in the west to similar software factories in India and elsewhere.

Look at it this way: Years ago, American Express had the majority of its IT operations in Phoenix, Arizona. Quest had an army of programmers in Denver, Colorado and World Bank had a concentration of its operations in Washington DC and Geneva; British Telecom in London, Deutsche Bank in Anytown Germany. Each IT shop probably had upwards of 5-10,000 people working in one or two locations. The "flattening" has meant that Indian Software firms including Infosys, Wipro, TCS, (Mahindra Satyam) and their western counterparts IBM, Accenture, Deloitte et al have outsourced some of the projects, maintenance of systems (and jobs) from their clients to their IT centers in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and Shanghai.

Bottomline: The past decade-and-half has seen the movement of “software factories” and development centers from the west to a few key cities in the east primarily in India but increasingly to a few cities in China. While located in the west, these large operational centers were spread across metros in the US, UK, Europe and elsewhere but have now got concentrated into a few cities in India.
Could this be the explanation for Prof. Glaeser’s observation "Why Has Globalization Led to Bigger Cities?" It is certainly is one (though major) factor.

ps: I realize that even I am over-simplifying the concept of software factories or IT centers moving and being outsourced.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

America vs. Western world: Healthcare template, Global perspective and "The Cost Conundrum"

During the past decade-and-half, I have lived and worked in several western nations including UK, Canada, Switzerland and of course the US, where I took on Permanent Residency. In the countries I have lived in, I have been fortunate to either be eligible for the state sponsored health insurance (since I was paying taxes) or insurance supplemented by my employer.

Every western society has its share of healthcare challenges: including British loathing NHS (Guardian, BBC) and Canadians complaining about inordinate delays in getting access to rationed healthcare and similar cribs elsewhere. But would any other western country trade their system for American l lazzi-faire healthcare, which also happens to be the most expensive in the world? On the contrary, Americans and U.S lawmakers are debating a large re-haul of the current insurance-provider-healthcare system to include cover '47 Million Uninsured Americans'

Numbers floating around for the American healthcare reform are mind boggling (President Confirms $1 Trillion for Health-Care Reform)

While the lawmakers debate insurance and coverage, another viewpoint that is emerging is the burgeoning cost of American healthcare that has been spiraling out of hand. Among the widely quoted articles for this argument is the essay by Atul Gawande published in New Yorker (The Cost Conundrum). The article has been analyzed and quoted by the media during the past month, and even President Obama and staff are supposedly made it a must-read. The article is compelling since it brings in an analytical perspective to highly subjective and sometimes emotional debates.

American healthcare debate is an extremely complex affair. Most of us are easily swayed by arguments made by healthcare-professionals and other “experts” and before we form an opinion either the law is going to be debated and passed or come crashing down. While lawmakers debate the merits of insurance, payments etc, it may be a good idea to review what western countries in the rest of the world are doing (after all Americans are no healthier than their cousins in Canada, Europe and elsewhere; are they?). A sampling of interesting links:

Bloggers on Atul Gawande's writeup

Monday, June 22, 2009

George Soros: the Worst of the Global Crisis ‘Is Behind Us’

Does it pay to watch what the Pundits and Gurus are saying about globalization and mother of all economic crisis? I have taking most of what the industry gurus are saying with a grain of salt. This said, the prophesies of financial wizards like Warren Buffet, George Soros and a few others certainly merit attention; perhaps on their insights to the way things will turn out in the long run, if not the short-term.

Warren Buffett wrote an interesting essay published in the New York Times during the height of the meltdown, in October 2008 ( "Buy American Stocks. I Am." ). The essay was well written and generated a fair amount of media coverage. For the chartists, a rearview of what happened in the market in the months after that essay by Buffet.

Fast forward to today and I came across this brief article about George Soros who states that “the Worst of the Global Crisis ‘Is Behind Us’ (Bloomberg):

Billionaire hedge fund manager George Soros said the worst of the global financial crisis is over, and called for new international regulations to maintain open markets. “Definitely, the worst is behind us,” Hungarian-born Soros said in an interview yesterday with Polish television station TVN24. He called the crisis the most serious in his lifetime, adding, “This is the end of an era. The question is what’s going to come out of it in the future.” Without new international regulations, “globalization will fall apart,” possibly spawning a system of “state capitalism” like the one that exists in China, he said. Soros, who recently returned from China, said the world’s third-largest economy is “growing in strength” because the country was relatively unaffected by the crisis.

Any student of Economics 101 is sure to tell us that a global downturn - like what we are experiencing now – will certainly lead to an uptick; but perhaps one thing even the gurus like Soros and Buffet cannot predict is: when?!

There again, if they are able to predict it with certainty, would they be standing on rooftops proclaiming the fact, or be working quietly, making big bets to reap the rewards? Or do both?

Sure, a few years from now we will be looking back at the rearview and be able to say exactly when the crisis ended; and a lucky few who happened to make a pronouncement that “it is going to end” at that precise point in history are going to be relegated to Guru status by the next generation. In that case, it may not be a bad idea to periodically begin writing articles or blogs about the end of the crisis now; and in a few years look back with pride, quoting that particular article saying “I told you!”

ps: Other Bloggers on this:, Moolah, DailyFinance

Thursday, June 18, 2009

International flight incident: After Pilot Dies, Jet Lands Safely in Newark

Humans confront death at different points, many times coming at most unexpected of times. For globe trotters like self, Air Accidents, although rare can jolt sense of confidence in the system. And then there are causes of natural or unusual deaths on board flights that are otherwise “normal”
I have been reflecting on suddenness of little’s Aditya’s death on board an international Jet Airways flight (9W 229) a year ago and I come across news of the on-air death of Captain Craig Lenell who was piloting a Boeing 777: Continental Airlines Flight 61 (Salon: When a pilot dies mid-flight)

Captain Lenell, RIP!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Globalization of cultures: Indians and arranged marriages

There are two things about Indians who travel, migrate and work across the world that fascinate westerners: vegetarianism and arranged marriages.
For the record, not all Indians are vegetarians. On the contrary, a majority, if given a choice –and if they could afford it – would love to eat chicken, fish or lamb. There again, a percentage of Indians, including self, continue to be vegetarians even when we globe-trot. I can’t speak for others but I guess I am a creature of habit, attributable to my childhood upbringing. Of course, I can begin to get more contemporary and say I am just trying to save the planet [Livestock rearing contributes an estimated 18 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, more than the transportation sector. - Meatless Monday: Retooling the American Diet]

Now, the topic of arranged marriages is more fascinating since the concept continues to be prevalent not just in India but in many South Aisan cultures. And the definition of “arranged” is also undergoing a transformation, at least among the younger tech savvy crowd that tries to seek their mates/soul-mates online or in campuses of software companies before taking the issue further the hierarchy. Case in point is the Indian software giant Wipro that successfully runs its in-house match-making portal.
While this move generated a lot of buzz in the media, more down-to-earth techniques like use of corporate bulletin boards to seek partners for self/matchmaking for friends or siblings is equally prevalent in other Indian software firms. And perhaps in a pseudo democratic fashion, while the young couple goes on with the courtship, online vetting etc, parents sometimes still hold the veto.
I have tried to explain the concept to my western colleagues, peers and friends over the years but I guess I am better off just pointing them to interesting articles online; like the interesting essay that appeared recently in the New York Times. Farahad Zama, succinctly tries to answer the eternal question common among westerners: How could you marry somebody you did not know? "The slow discovery of another person and the unraveling of layers of mystery are part of the fun of arranged marriage. This has to be true of all marriages — the husband of five years is not the caring bridegroom, and the mother of a cranky 2-year-old is not the ecstatic bride." Zama adds "Economics and social acceptability must be big factors in its galloping rate of marital breakdowns. But dashed expectations must play a large part, too. I think that in arranged marriages one starts with lower expectations and realizes the need for compromise that is essential in a successful bond, and that is probably its biggest benefit. . .What I am sure about is that our marriage, arranged with other considerations in mind, took us from acquaintance to love and kept us together until we realized that our differences are the yin and yang that make our relationship whole. Now we consider ourselves absolutely perfect for each other."
Zama summarises Somewhere in that is a lesson, I am sure. I couldn't agree more

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Global ban on plastic bags? Sure, when it is practical

There was an interesting article in Wall Street Journal last week (Paper or Plastic? A New Look at the Bag Scourge) that attempts to cast doubts over the strategy of city planners and municipalities around the world that have passed laws, or are in the process of passing laws, banning supermarkets and grocery stores from giving away plastic bags

Keith Johnson, in a WSJ Blog continues the thread, prompting us to comment on the issue: So EC readers, what to do about the bag conundrum? Paper, plastic, or neither? So here is my two cents based on my observations in a few countries across continents.

Delhi, India: Here is an extract from an article "Delhi government has finally notified a blanket ban on plastic bags in 2009. According to the notification use, storage and sale of plastic bags of any kind or thickness, in all places where one gets the bags after shopping, are banned. Anyone guilty of breaking the ban faces a maximum penalty of Rs 1 lakh (about $2,000) or five years’ imprisonment or both, says the Environment Protection Act."
During a trip to India a few months ago, I was at the receiving end of this ban: most grocery shops and retailers have already stopped giving away plastic bags. Thankfully I was aware of this and I took along a reusable cloth bag for the little shopping I had to do. Given the low cost of labor, some retailers in India do have a cheaper paper alternative: reuse newspaper/magazines to make paper bags. No, I am not talking about industrial machining and recycling but doing it the old-fashioned way: getting labor, ragpickers to fold-and-paste-bags from used newspapers and magazines. This unfashionable origami kills two birds with one stone: it is practical and will provide some income to the masses; and contribute to lessening the greenhouse gas emissions: no additional trees cut to make paper bags.

Basel, Switzerland: I spent a few months in the lovely Swiss town of Basel earlier this year. Swiss and Europeans are certainly practicing what they preach. Though there is no official ban that I am aware of, many grocery stores "train"their customers to bring their own bags by not giving plastic bags unless a customer asks: The strategy simple; use the "shame" factor: you don’t want rest of the folks waiting in the checkout queue to see you Athe checkout clerk for a plastic bag, so very soon you learn to bring your own reusable bag. And if you forget, and are a proud Swss, you do the right thing: you fork out a Frank or two for a reusable bag available for you at the checkout counter. What do you do with the additional bag? Add it to your collection at home and remember to get it with you the next time. Per the argument in WSJ, a reusable bag pays for itself if used at least four times.

Anytown, USA: Wal-marts and other large retailers in Anytown, America continue to be generous when it comes to plastic bags. Many checkout clerks will still double-bag the gallon of milk for you, even without asking.

What would I prefer? Being green! And, I guess, I need to learn to be polite and forceful the next time the girl at the checkout double-bags my gallon of mile: no thanks. . . . . and hope that those behind me in the queue are watching and getting the hint. As for getting them to follow? Well, I guess for that we will have to wait for WSJ to write an article telling them that the argument is beyond plastic or paper.

Other bloggers on the WSJ writeup:

Sunday, June 7, 2009

How to win the Spelling bee? Be born Indian American

How to win the Spelling bee? Be born Indian American. Or so the the writer of a recent article in Wall Street Journal would have one believe. The author begins by writing "When 13-year-old Kavya Shivashankar calmly spelled "Laodicean" this past Thursday to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee, she became the seventh Indian-American to take the title in the past 11 contests. As the Times of India boasted, at this point an Indian-American win at the Spelling Bee has "an air of inevitability." So Indian kids must have a natural advantage, right?" ["How to Win the Spelling Bee . . . You don't have to be Indian. But it seems to help"(WSJ June 3rd ]

The American Spelling Bee seem to have a strong global connection, more so a strong Asian / Indian connect. Years ago when I was living in Colorado Springs, I recall the local Indian American community get excited when Pratyush Buddiga won the 2002 National Spelling Bee . Though I shared excitment, I didn’t quite fathom the significance of the win till a few years later when my wife and I watched the holywood flick Akeelah and the Bee, a story about a young (black) girl from South Los Angeles who makes it to the finals of National Spelling Bee. (Inspiration to watch the movie came thanks to Starbucks, which was promoting it big time that year.)

James Maguire, in his WSJ article says "Though they were from all kinds of backgrounds, virtually all the families were bookish, even wonderfully old-fashioned in their tendency to limit TV in favor of studies." This echoes what many Indians, and Indian Americans have long known and practised: the strong emphasis on education during the formative years.

Reading the article took me back to my childhood in India (even though I was not India American or my parents in America). My mother would insist on no-TV-or-entertainment and only home-work during school weekdays. Like most middle-class parents, she was especially strict when it came to studies, textbooks and grades. This may be the key reason I would grow up in middle-class India and be equipped with the skills to travel and live in countries and continents across the globe. This is a trend also observed by NYT columnist and writer Thomas Frideman who is quoted saying "My mother used to tell me, 'Tom, finish your dinner; there are children starving in China and India,'" he says. "Now I tell my daughters, 'Girls, finish your homework because there are Chinese and Indian children hungry for your jobs.'

The Indian media and bloggers are naturally gung-ho about this recent achievement by an Non Resident Indian (NRI) kid. A few links:

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Experiment in Globalization and Outsourcing of Journalism

Journalists can be vocal about issues; more so when it comes to something as touchy as global sourcing of their vocation.

About a year ago, an online publication in Silicon Valley, generated a lot of online buzz for firing its local journalists and going halfway across the globe to look for journalists who could write articles on local city issues by watching streaming videos from Pasedena’s town hall, sitting in Bangalore. By outsourcing its basic journalism – writing articles on local issues – the online newspaper hoped to cut costs and continue to operate on a shoestring budget while proving a point: in a global economy, local issues can easily be analyzed by individuals halfway across the world, thanks in part to ubiquity modern technologies and tools including high-speed internet, video streaming etc

A recent experiment in outsourcing the writing of select articles by New Haven Advocate along the same lines "Outsource This!" is generating similar buzz among journalists, bloggers and digirati. In a recent editorial, the staff explained "We wondered too about the limits of outsourcing local news, particularly alternative journalism. Covering city council meetings via webcam is one thing. Producing entire issues of a local news and arts weekly is quite another. What started as a joke — "I've got an idea. Let's outsource an entire issue to India just to see if it can be done" — has culminated in what you see here."

Lots of people have their opinions on the topic , including one of the writers-for-hire, Vijayalaxmi Hegde who blogs about her experience from the other side of the experiment "No, I wasn’t told of the concept. Not telling me was harmless, I’d say. But, I’ll repeat, in not acknowledging the quality work some of us did and in implying that it couldn’t match up to theirs, they’ve been unfair. They say, “We hope this issue will provide insight as well as a strong note of caution.” Caution against what? Losing local flavor, or not matching up to American journalism standards? They’re not clear on that."

Peter Applebome, in New York Times article writes about the experiment "But maybe it showed something else: that breaking the mold did work, that you could reinvent the wheel and come up with something pretty fresh."

Steve Hamm blogs "The New Haven Advocate community newspaper tried the experiment of outsourcing an entire issue worth of stories to India, with telling results. I hope the editors at BusinessWeek are reading this!"

Bottom-line: The basic question that seems to be rattling writers: should their bread-and-butter –local reporting - be globalized?

The vocation of journalism has been global for a long long time. Mainstream publications have had ‘foreign news bureaus’ and reporters stationed across the globe or traveling to hot-sports when need arises.

The issue here seems to be a bit more than whether the likes of Vijayalaxmi can write movie reviews or interviews with local businesses by researching and interviewing them remotely; the challenge for local journalists is how do they protect their local turf from globalizing?!

Monday, June 1, 2009

RIP: Air France Flight 447

Having been criss-crossing continents during the past decade, I used to take air-travel experience for granted so much so that I would begin figuring ways to make myself comfortable in coach compartments while fellow-passengers would still be watching the stewardesses make the mandatory safety announcements.

Even for seasoned frequent travelers, a few incidents including the occasional high-turbulence stands out in memory. And if you are like me, the loss of a loved one while traveling by air will be permanently etched in mind.

Mind boggles at the nightmare that loved ones of the ill-fated Air-France flight are undergoing right now: not knowing what happened to the flight, whether (or where) it crashed and the final moments of the passengers.
All one can wish is Rest in Peace and strength to surviving families and friends.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Citizenship, Dual Citizenship and Indian-Americans

Foreign Citizenship and Naturalization is a complicated issue, even at best of times and stirs heated debate, especially when there is a crisis. An example is that of Roxana Saberi, a naturalized Iranian American who shot to fame after she was arrested by Iranian government on charges of espionage. (NYT Blog) Roxana’s story has many dimensions, including questions on allegiance of those who hold dual-citizenship. For example, Federale blogs "It is clear from her behavior however, that her loyalties remain with Iran, and her American passport is just for convenience and protection. She, like many other immigrants, use their American citizenship and passport as protection, while their true loyalties lie in their nation of origin and not with the U.S."

Last week I caught up with an old friend and classmate of mine, Ajay, who is now settled in Phoenix, Arizona. The topics wandered to residency and Ajay mentioned that he naturalized as an American citizen last year. By naturalizing, Ajay joined the new wave of Indian Americans: Indian Techies, programmers and hi-tech workers who moved to the US on H1 visas during the late nineties and early part of this century, waited in line to get their Green Card and five years after that were eligible to apply to become US Citizen, moving them the permanent ranks of Indian Americans, at least at a level to the likes of Indra Nooyi, , Vinod Khosla , Noureen Dewulf , Fareed Zakaria , Norah Jones , Kal Penn , Kalpana Chawla , M. Night Shyamalan.

During our conversation, it was evident that my friend found himself becoming an “American” purely for administrative convenience: he still had his strong Indian accent; and though he spoke fluent English, he was more comfortable switching to Tamil or Hindi when convenient. And like many middle-class Indians, he continued to be fiscally prudent. Ajay wasn’t hit hard by the current downturn since he could roll up his sleeves and do what he was skilled at: write software programs. He hadn’t invested a lot on stocks and most interestingly, hadn’t bought a house during the recent boom. He still rented an apartment in a nice neighborhood.

While many of people of Indian origin were earlier hesitant to acquire citizenship of their adopted homelands, Indian government’s move a few years ago introducing the concept of Person of Indian Origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards eased that transition.

The vast majority of people who migrate to foreign lands manage to find they around the maze of laws, bylaws and regulations to ensure they have the right paperwork.

Even acquiring a foreign citizenship is not really the end of the road for most newer immigrants. Case in point is the reverse brain drain, or Return to India wave that the media is talking about, a topic that warrants a blog entry in itself. In the meantime, check out Shobha Narayanan’s fascinating essay on the topic.
If this blog entry has a confusing message, it is perhaps intentional: the new generation of dual citizen and immigrants is equally confused about their allegiance shifting loyalties; made more nebulous by the meltdown in the globalized economy.