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.