12 December 2010

"Scorpion's tail" by Zahid Hussain

Zahid Hussain, senior editor at Newsline in Pakistan, has the credentials and compassion to cover issues relating to Pakistan and the prose to keep your attention riveted with brevity and analysis.

It is a waste of time to keep identifying individual leaders of terrorism and eliminate them, claims Zahid. You can cut the scorpion’s tail; it would develop a new one.

Your perspective gets challenged and widened when you read Zahid Hussain.

The war in Afghanistan is a war between a state and a nation; not a state and a state. The US is at war with Pashtuns. A third of the Pashtuns are in Afghanistan (comprising 42% of the Afghan state). Two thirds of the Pashtuns are in Pakistan (comprising 15% of the Pakistan State). The Talibans are substantially Pashtuns.

Pashtuns do not care about the political boundaries between Afghanistan and Pakistan. They move freely from one to another. Pashtuns are governed more by the tribal leader at village level than by the shura council at the national level. This makes it easy for a tribal leader to hold complete sway over his terrain (and use the village for opium cultivation). This makes it quite difficult to set in place a national government that can he held accountable to good principles of governance.

The Pashtun theology is a combination of the two most radical schools of Islam: the Deobandis from India and the Wahabis from Saudi Arabia. This theology acquired political power because of two reasons: US (to settle score with Russians) and Saudi Arabia (to get the extremists in the Kingdom out of the Kingdom and be busy with something else) used theology to rally radicals to wage a proxy war. Unfair exploitation by tribal leaders and war lords seeded the need for an uprising. The Talibans stood up; provided relief but brought in new miseries.

The US strategy is flawed:

One: US cannot fight the Pashtuns in half the land; and stay restrained from extending the fight to the other half (because it is in a different state; a nuclear power). The Pashtuns are free to use their territory in Pakistan for rest and recuperation and for keeping the ambers alive and recruit fresh talent.

Two: US cannot rely on Pakistan to maintain its supply line; and deter Pashtuns from retreading to safe havens in Pakistan or hound them out of such safe havens. US has to appreciate that Pakistan is running with the hare and hunting with the hound here. Pakistan military would offer symbolic wins (to merit the aid and equipment) but not substantial wins (that eliminate the power of Taliban). Pakistan believes it is better off in the long run to retain friendship with the Taliban by emphasizing shared religion and shared interests.

Three: US cannot “drone down” a few tribal leaders and think it can win the war. There are enough Hakimullahs to succeed on the death of Baitullahs. Each drone kill ends up creating a few hundred new terrorists.

Pakistan’s strategy is flawed too:

One: Pakistan thinks there are good Taliban and bad Taliban. Truth: There is one Taliban. You cannot befriend Sirajuddin Haqqani and eliminate Hakimullah Mehsud. They work together. They support each other. The Afghan Pashtun cannot survive the US army had it not been for the hospitality and safety provided by the Pakistan Pashtun.

Two: Pakistan thinks that the Pashtun fundamentalists, the Al Qaida fundamentalists and the Punjab fundamentalists are different silos that are not integrated; that one can be a friend serving interests in Kabul, another a small price to dispense with for aid from US and the third a tool to wage a proxy war. Reality: They communicate. They share a mission. Al Qaida thrives in Pakistan; most of its new recruits come from Sind and Punjab. The Lal Masjid priest Abdul Rashid met and was inspired by Osama Bin laden.

Three: Pakistan thinks it is good strategy to train and nurture theology driven fundamentalists to achieve the purposes of the State. Pakistan has ended up creating two forces that it cannot control increasingly: (a) disloyal members of its own army and intelligence services going “rogue” and (b) fundamentalists turning against the State of Pakistan. In effect, Pakistan has created a Frankenstein monster.

Four: Pakistan has attempted too often (and without success) to buy peace by ceding concessions to theology driven fundamentalists. Each time such a concession was given, the fundamentalists have used the window to regroup, recruit, re-equip and strike back with a greater force.
Zahid Hussain presents the picture with excellent insight.

Solution: Pakistan has to recognize that it is dealing with a scorpion and cutting the tail is not solution enough.

03 December 2010

"Wikileaks" Imagined cable from Indian Embassy, Washington DC to PMO



Scene setter for forthcoming visit of POTUS to India.

In a pre visit meeting at the Oval Office with Post (attended by SecState Clinton and our RAW representative masquerading as translator from Indian English to American English) POTUS expressed keen desire to sign new deals that can create jobs.

POTUS is under significant pressure in local media to create jobs. US Economy shrank by at least 10.0 million jobs ($ 2.60 trillion GDP) in the last two years. POTUS has been able to persuade Americans that this is mostly due to the outsourcing of 0.3 million jobs ($ 0.06 trillion) to India. However, more and more of the unemployed are now beginning to feel this is due to a shrinking economy and pressure is building on POTUS to step up initiatives to create jobs.

POTUS could have launched massive government expenditure on infrastructure to do this. His Budget Director says POTUS is unable to do so because his predecessors have already stepped up government expenditure "way above decency". An unfriendly Congress (not ours, theirs) does not help either. (In a private conversation Post encouraged House Majority leader John Boehner to support this; but reactions were negative).

POTUS could have reduced interest rates. However, it is already near zero. It would be weird to reduce even further and ask lenders to pay interest to borrowers.

Therefore POTUS has chosen the Weimar Republic solution of printing and releasing more cash into the economy.(They call it QE2 – the British Ambassador was not at all pleased with such an innuendo). POTUS thinks that you did a similar thing just before election (writing off farm loans). Post clarified that you forgave loans that would have never come back even otherwise; but the cash was always going around. You did not increase it. POTUS fails to appreciate the point and hopes more money will make people happy. Post urges FinMin and RBI to evaluate converting our dollar reserves to a wider basket of currencies.

In meetings with you, POTUS may seek new business deals (he is bringing several CEOs). It is important that we sign a few deals while POTUS is in India to help him send the right signals back home. It would be better if deal sizes are defined by number of jobs created and not dollars sent to US. Their current need is jobs; not more dollars.

POTUS' main worry is his re-election in 2012. In our opinion, short of opening the gates to friendly immigrants, this appears unlikely. POTUS is impressed with your successful re-election campaign. He might be interested in knowing more about the huge write off of farm loans. It might be worth suggesting write off of all sub prime loans. (In a different chat, Karl Rowe told our political analyst that this may not work in POTUS' favor since all those borrowers, after becoming debt free owners of their houses with picket fences, may turn Republican).

POTUS is not exactly India friendly. (He spent a few months in Pakistan in his younger days). However, he is our best bet. The alternative is Sarah Palin who is likely to have an even greater affinity to Pakistan because she can see Pakistan first before she sees India from her home in Alaska if she looks eastward. There is no point in telling her to look westward and discover us first. She is not exactly friendly with directions and maps.

We should not expect POTUS to make any statements against Pakistan while in India. POTUS needs Pakistan’s help to maintain the supply line to his army waging a "war against rebels hiding in Pakistan who are protecting the terrorists living in Pakistan". He has too much in stake there. He has paid $ 2.30 trillion to American suppliers and soldiers and $ 0.01 trillion in aid to Pakistan so far to conduct this war.

POTUS may not want to be seen in US media visiting Bangalore or shaking hands with CEOs of IT businesses while in India. PMO should be sensitive to this. However, the CEOs accompanying him have sought Post for private introductions. They are happy to have off site meetings to explore opportunities.

SecState accompanying POTUS is currently under pressure due to Wikileaks. She is not worried about the cables becoming public knowledge. The issues discussed and positions taken, after all, were public knowledge for a while. The cables are mostly harmless and may even achieve peace in the Middle East. Isreal is happy with Saudi King's desire (as SecDef said) to "fight the Iranians to the last American". She is upset only about inability to pretend a posture that is different from policy any more.

SecState may ask you how we deal with leaks. Urge PMO to use this opportunity to put in a good word for Indian IT companies to administer IT infrastructure and security.

SecState may want to discuss Kashmir with you. Americans think if Kashmir is given to Pakistan, Pakistan will be free to fight in the western border. Americans should be impressed that if Kashmir goes to Pakistan, Bin Laden will move to Kashmir; build good neighborly relations with China and get Chinese funding and support for Jihad. That should scare tem a bit. My assistant thinks this is a tad far fetched and not likely to be believed. Suggest leak it to the AmDip in Delhi. If he puts this in his cable, it might acquire more credibility.

There is one cable from AmDip in Delhi suggesting that you have been too timid and compromising in your principles thanks to pressure from Sonia Gandhi and Karunanidhi. However, the cable clearly adds that you yourself may not have benefited from the biggest scam in India’s long history of scams. Journalists accompanying POTUS may raise questions on this.

POTUS' wife tends to wear sleeveless dresses (PakAmb had the best joke on this in diplomatic circles: she bares arms while he bears arms). It would be better if Shri Ram Sena’s Pramod Mutalik is given an all paid trip to Bangkok for the duration of the visit to avoid a diplomatic incident.

Post met General Petreaus in a private meeting. He is comfortable supporting POTUS strategy in Afghanistan. His distrust of Bush/Cheney is more than his dislike of Obama. He thinks the war is a “practical exam” part of his doctoral theses in Princeton on counterinsurgency. If he succeeds, he may get more votes than Karzai in the next Afghan election. If he fails, he is afraid it would be a C- in Princeton.

We hope POTUS creates a “mother of all controversies” while in India so that you can have a brief period of rest instead of having to deal with all this unnecessary media attention on CWG, 2G, Bihar elections, etc.

Good luck Pratan Mantriji.

28 November 2010

"Decision points" by George W Bush

Persons in public life get stuck with an image that might often not do them justice.  (Mary “Let them eat cakes” Antoinette was actually a compassionate queen.  Thomas “Civil liberties” Jefferson owned slaves.  Joe “Loquacious” Biden brings enormous intellect to policy making).

We do not know whether George W Bush deserved his image that provided easy fodder for late night comedy shows for eight years. He had an opportunity to clear things up in his book; but fails.

In his book, GWB hopes history would be kinder to his presidency than media and provides a peek into consequentially decisive moments in his presidency to facilitate history render a fairer judgment. 

History would remember him for Afghanistan and Iraq.  In Afghanistan, he took his eyes off early and the war has become the longest engagement by the American war machine and his successor is striving to avoid defeat rather than ensure victory.  In the other, he did remove a dictator but ushered in a security vacuum and a political vacuum.  GWB fails to address why there was insufficient evaluation of differing views before war.  Was Paul O’Neill right in his accusation that Dick Cheney came to cabinet meetings with pre-written minutes and expected everyone to follow the script?  We would never know.

History would remember him for 9/11.  He did well to prevent recurrence.  However, the safety did have a price tag of erosion of civil liberties. 

History would remember him for Katrina.  Bush thinks the Governor of Louisiana was responsible.  However, a President cannot bide for time in the face of natural disaster and break down of law and order.

History might remember him for failing to address the funding of social security.  Changes in demographics have resulted in a sharp increase in number of retirees (who enjoy the benefits) and a sharp decrease in number of workers (who pay taxes that fund the benefits).  Failure to bridge the gap by cutting entitlements and increasing taxes could make public finances unmanageable in future.

The book lacks the intellectual depth expected of a President’s memoirs.  History may have to look elsewhere for a better insight into the legacy of George W Bush.

04 November 2010

"Inside the Kingdom" by Robert Lacey

Robert Lacey (the renown biographer of Queen Elizabeth II) lived in Saudi Arabia to understand its history and people and provides an amazing mixture of analytical history and anecdotal episodes in this book providing an insight into the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia, as someone observed, is a living proof of the law of unintended consequences.

King Faisal is upset with American support for Israel and triggers an oil embargo. Oil prices rise. Saudi Arabia gets rich. Ostentatious lifestyle arrives into the Kingdom. So does modern education. Radicals use religion to decry both and capture the Grand Mosque. The Royal Family build consensus and its brave sons remove the terrorists from the Mosque. Though the radicals are dead, their policy is adopted by the rulers to diffuse popular anger. Religion and religion based education is accorded supremacy. A new generation of radical and poor youth arise. They are exported for jihad against the infidel communists. The jihadists taste victory and develop a sense of their destiny. A Sunni Arab brother invades another Sunni Arab brother. Americans are invited to protect the Kingdom. Jihadists see the Americans as modern day crusaders. A new King with better credentials of austerity tries to ameliorate radicalism and modernize the country without Americanizing the country.

The book provides an excellent insight into the Kingdom’s history. I cannot understand why Saudi Arabia should ban this book. My respect for Saudi Arabia and its rulers increases after reading this book. I disagree with several of the policies of Saudi Arabia. But I disagree with several of the policies of my beloved India too!

"India and Pakistan: Continued Conflict or Co-operation?" by Stanley Wolpert

Stanley Wolpert provided a fascinating perspective and dispassionate analysis of India’s history in his earlier book “Shameful Flight” (reviewed in this blog).

In this book the author does not disappoint. Some of the insights provided by the author:

One: The distance between Pakistan and India has widened in the last 63 years. India has embraced democracy based on civil liberties and rule of law; a modern education system that produces people of use to the global market; and a strong play in the global market. Pakistan has deteriorated with poor quality politics; poor education and a deteriorating economy.

Two: By denying civil rights and self-governance to its own people, Pakistan has lost moral authority to seek civil rights and self-governance to the people of Kashmir.

Three: India’s failure to provide self-governance to people in Kashmir (with strong presence of its army and significant denial of due processes of law) is an important factor in the alienation of Kashmir’s population.

Four: Prospect for peace would reduce if a Hindu nationalist party gets elected in India. The current Congress Party Administration with its secular credentials offers a better chance for peace. Pakistan must appreciate this. Prospect for peace would reduce if Pakistan becomes a failed state. India must appreciate this.

Five: Given the various entrenched sensitivities, neither country would cede Kashmir to the other; neither would agree to Kashmir being an independent state. The only solution is for the Line of Control to become the international border between India and Pakistan with each keeping the slice of Kashmir it already has/controls; if that border is made irrelevant by free movement of people and products, even better.

Good insight. Good advice.

20 October 2010

"Obama's wars" by Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward is the nearest equivalent to Television in the print media.  He provides instant history with erudite and dispassionate analysis.  In "Obama's wars" he lets us have a peek at American thinking and policy making about the war in Afghanistan.

The war has several features that do not appeal to common sense:

1. No clarity of purpose.  US policy makers debate endlessly on the mission.  Destroy Al Qaeeda?  Destroy Afghan Taliban?  Degrade Afghan Taliban?  Prop up Karzai rule?  Usher Jeffersonian democracy to Afghanistan?  Catalyze economic development in Afghanistan?  Eight years into the war, the debate on purpose seems endless and pointless.

2. Tactical disadvantage.  The current opponent in the war theater, Afghan Taliban, has a unique advantage.  Whenever threatened, the Taliban can retire and rest in the safe havens of Pakistan (beyond the reach of the US war machine), re-equip and return with greater zest and motivation. No way to fight a war!

3. Bet on the wrong horse Episode 1:  Conventional thinking in the US is that Pakistan is a friend keen on helping US but beset by worries about local popular support and not free from threats from India.  There is little discussion on a more plausible alternative:  Pakistan is keen in prolonging the war (since the war is a source of income and US support), ensuring Afghan Taliban live to rule another day.

4. Bet on the wrong horse Episode 2:  Karzai.  US has a consistent track record in supporting power bases that quickly lose popular support for various reasons.  In Karzai's case there is just one reason: corruption.  He makes people long for Taliban!

5. Inappropriate belief by US Army that it should control (not just influence) war policy.  The young President wants more than one meaningful option; and desires to make a cool decision in the private environs of his situatino room.  The Army provides its preference flanked by meaningless options to drive Presidential decision in the direction the army desires.  The army feeds public thought by clever leaks to newspapers and calculated testimonies to Congress.

6. Insufficient sense of purpose and prolonged analysis in war policy.  The President seems to want to keep aiming for a long time before pulling the trigger.  At times, a sense of purpose and vision should drive strategy than perpetual and meaningless analysis or consensus building.  Such an approach worked in the magic campaign and would have worked in Government too.  Alas, the young senator was courageous because he had nothing to lose.  The young President seems weighed by his legacy-in-progress and seems lost in building conensus.

After spending ten years, almost a trillion dollars and the lives of a few thousand Americans, it is funny that the only thing the players could achieve is a statement that they would pull out at a pre-determined future date.  The Afghan Taliban now know when they can buy their return tickets to Kabul.

America is the last hope for peace worldwide.  It is a pity that Americans have the calendars and clocks in this war while Taliban have the time!

10 July 2010

"Downfall" by Oliver Hirschbiegel

We were on vacation in Germany. Should we?  Should we not?  My wife and daughter were against going. They thought they could not bear the pain. I wanted to go to the Dachau concentration camp near Munich.  I had a reason.

Two books made me cry when I was a teenager. The rise and fall of Third Reich by American War correspondent William Shirer was one of them.

Accumulating power by dispensing with constitutional framework, securing popular support by arousing national sentiments, eliminating everyone who could speak truth to power, conveniently identifying a powerless minority as the main reason for all malaise in society and lowering the bar on national conscience are all standard hallmarks of insecure and greedy politicians suffering from a paucity of wisdom. Our own country has several examples of this.

Adolf Hitler went a step further. He did not stop with taking away the hope, opportunities and wealth of his targets like politicians everywhere try to do. He took away their dignity and their lives.

I could identify with the boy whose body was used (even as he was alive) for conduct of physiological and emotional experiments. I could identify with the old lady who wore make up and danced to demonstrate she was young and therefore should be allowed to keep her life. I wept for the husband who saw his sick wife get into the van that would double up as her killer and transporter to graveyard at the same time.

I had to visit Dachau and pray for the people who were denied a chance. It may mean nothing. On the other hand, it might.

In the end we agreed on a short 1 hour tour instead of the normal 4 hours tour. The German taxi driver politely suggested we should understand World War I to understand World War II. We did not reply.

This is what we saw:

Rows and rows of 6x3 bed spaces that would house the prisoners.

The 10 yard distance between death and survival that we crossed in a minute; but the prisoners had to brave a moat, a wire fence, a yard covered by sniper fire and a tall compound wall.

It took thousands of lives of one heroic army to put an end to this ugly saga and leave its call sign: "never again" hopefully.

Adolf Hitler was a monster. Brought shame to Germany (which did not deserve this principle or leadership). Brought misery to millions of innocents.

The movie Downfall depicts his last ten days. Bruno Ganz is a good actor. He probably did what he was asked to do well. However, if you did not have the benefit of prior knowledge, and discover Hitler through this movie, you might think of him as one more General who lost a war.

That, sadly, is too big a failure.

03 April 2010

"The Gamechangers" by the Fake IPL Player

Cricket engages India. Cricketers have rewarded India. However the state of the sport was dull until Lalit Modi and IPL came along.

IPL has the right ingredients: Regional tribes are vying for national championship using a mixture of local and world-class talent. Short duration leading to assured results. Forty days of prime time TV audience that is probably equal to the population of US.

Lalit Modi rewarded the audience, the players, and the sports associations that owned the infrastructure by clever monetization of the game from the rich who vied to own the clubs and the television channels that could cash the advertisement slots.

All that was missing was some fun.

The Fake IPL Player provided it.

We got updates of what was happening among the celebrities involved. We are clever enough to figure out whom the nicks referred to.

We laughed at the plight of the owners when their teams did not go up the league table; the cascading impact on their personal brand especially when they invested their “face time” in addition to their “money”.

We smiled at the cunning manipulations of the Sports Czar who wanted to make IPL a power to reckon with in international cricket. We liked him for that.

We could imagine the coach who so believed in his lap top that he would rather send the lap top to bat!

We laughed at the machinations of power hungry support staff

We read with interest the off-field shenanigans of the players.

We ROFLed when the frustrated captain said “Attitude toh poora masala dosai ka deta hai; aur bowling aapam jaisa karta hai”.

The Gamechangers is an irreverent story that mimics the innards of IPL and the blog in an engaging way.

I enjoyed reading this book in one go more than watching some of the IPL matches at Chepauk.

18 February 2010

"India's agriculture: need for evergreen revolution" by Dr M S Swaminathan in WSJ

Two reasons why agriculture is important to India:

One, 66% of Indians work in this sector.  India cannot “emerge” until the quality of life improves for farmers.

Two, food security is important to any country.  Production and storage of food cannot be left to market forces of supply and demand.  Most countries, including USA, provide subsidies to farmers to ensure market forces do not drive them away to other sectors or other products (such as cash crops).

India moved successfully from producing 800 kg/hectare to 3,200 kg/hectare 42 years back thanks to Green revolution.  Dr M S Swaminathan played a key role in achieving this.  His views on the challenges India faces, as articulated in this interview with Wall Street Journal are important:

One:  India, unlike China, has not focused on water management.   60% of our farm production depends on rainfall.   We need storage of water and bridging of supply across geographies and across time.

Two:  Growth has not weaned farmers away into alternative livelihoods.  Population dependent on farming has increased over time.  Farm sizes have shrunk (80% of farms are less than 1 hectare in size).   We need to follow the examples of China, Japan and Netherlands and create farm co-operatives without challenging ownership.  (Farmers would not cede ownership of land).  We need a management revolution.  We did this in milk industry.  We need to do this in agriculture. 

Three:  Farming continues to be a risky business; a big bet on monsoon, land, pests, storage, distribution and prices.  Insurance is available only to 7% of farmers.   93% suffer risks.  More than 50% of the farmers, as a result, are indebted.  

Four:  Farmers do not have access to medium/long term low cost credit.  Annual loans do not reduce farm risks; and have actually increased business for moneylenders.  We need the equivalent of an HDFC, dedicated to farm loans. 

Five:  Our support prices are just not enough.  If farmers lose incentive to produce, our social system would collapse.  Dead consumers do not generate demand.  (We are not talking of trade distorting subsidies.  Only 7% of our production gets exported).

Six:  We hold 50 million tons of food grains in store.  We need to build worldclass storage facilities for holding this stock.  We need to extend storage to legume grains and pulses too.

Seven:  We need to create Special Agricultural Zones that would serve as the granaries of the future.

Dr Swaminathan elegantly summarizes that we need to add “brain” and “bank” to the “brawn” in agriculture.  Seventy years ago another great Indian, Mahatma Gandhi, urged us to marry “intellect” to “labor” in agriculture.

We need a political heavyweight with management background to focus on agriculture.  Our green revolution would turn into an evergreen revolution.

13 February 2010

"Glengarry Glen Ross" by James Foley

In my view, this 1992 movie (an adaptation of David Mamet's 1984 play) is good enough to be in an all time top ten list.

Two days in the lives of four salesmen under significant pressure to meet targets. The quality of leads is poor.  The products offered are shady opportunities to invest in real estate.  The clients are unwilling and suspicious.  The management is heartless.  The need to close business is very real.

Each salesman has a unique personality. 

Jack Lemmon performs as the past maestro currently slightly out of touch.  The salesman's abilities to “sell” by charm, alternate between emotions and “bargain his way out” under challenging circumstances are exceptionally well displayed.

Al Pacino performs as the top star salesman (who inside his heart knows this is more due to luck than due to skill).  His seemingly incoherent but fully effective monologue playing upon a prospect’s insecurity and complacency to close a deal; easy willingness to mislead and avoid a cancellation are portrayed very well.

Ed Harris performs as the angry, upset underperformer willing to “steal” the leads away to competition egging his colleagues to join him.

Alan Arkin performs as the whiner concerned about his inability to close deals and the poor quality of leads.

Add to this a hardball head office guy, a corrupt office manager, burglary, loss of high quality deals, a police investigation, and unlimited use of profanities.

You get an amazing mixture that grabs your attention from start to end.

Whose role did I enjoy the most?

Jonathan Pryce.  He plays the role of a gullible prospect who succumbs to the top star’s pitch and signs up; but has to cancel “now” at the instructions of his wife.  His display of curiosity, interest, greed, doubt, consent; pressure and guilt (in having to cancel the deal the next day); last minute swings in opinion; disappointment and disgust is truly outstanding.

Would see this movie again.

22 January 2010

"Twenty20" by Lalit Modi

In spite of various divisive factors created by politics and religion, cricket has always been a unifying factor between India and Pakistan.

Players from Pakistan are heroes in India as well. In a match in Chennai, when Pakistan won by high quality cricket, the Indian crowd gave them a standing ovation. Likewise, Indian players, and spectators, have received warm reception in Pakistan as well.

Cab drivers (from Pakistan) in Dubai/Sharjah have teased me about a match the Indian team lost to Pakistan; but the tone and tenor was always friendly.

Twenty20 represents the best in business. I liked the odd moment when the Calcutta crowd cheered Shoaib Aktar (playing for Calcutta but hailing from Pakistan) when he took the wicket of a star Indian batsman (playing for a different club) and son of the soil Saurav Ganguly hugged Shoaib and encouraged him to do more! That promised hope for the future.

Twenty20 represents a brilliant economic idea. It cannot afford to ignore high quality players. Players from Pakistan represent high quality. Boycotting players from Pakistan would reduce IPL's brand image as "best of breed".

We need to reject the enemity that radicals in Pakistan nurture against India. We should not reject the people of Pakistan; or its excellent cricket stars.

Silly business idea. Poor political strategy.

16 January 2010

"Interview with Eugene Fama" by John Cassidy in The New Yorker

Some books have a big impact on your life.  You tend to read them more than once.  You tend to read them again after a decade. 

For me, Louis Fischer’s Gandhi was one; Ramachandra Guha's India after Gandhi was another.  

“Finance Management and Policy” by James C Van Horne was a "big impact" book.

I subscribed to its value system fully and willingly. That the objective of an enterprise is to maximize shareholder wealth seemed rational (then and now).

Particularly appealing in the book was Eugene Fama’s assertion that the share price incorporates all known factors about the economic fundamentals of the stock (and therefore the enterprise).  For an aspiring young professional, Eugene Fama appeared insightful and reasonable then. With time and experience, that conviction is diluted. Exuberance and fear do have an impact on asset price; on occasions probably in excess.

Eugene Fama does not seem to have understood that yet; and disappointed me three days back in this interview with John Cassidy published in The New Yorker.  It was reasonless identity with an ideology in the face of a reality that differs significantly! Only the Papal inquisition of Galileo exceeds this in absurdity!

Finance shall await a better messiah with more heart than brain; and more reason than belief to explain why the price of an economic asset may not always reflect just the economic fundamentals and why investors should be wary about asset price bubbles!

14 January 2010

"Pongal eclipse" by Repute Infotech

Three miracles fascinate us in perpetuity:  the Universe, birth of a child and death. 

My fascination with the sky started early.  On a solar eclipse day four decades back, my grandmother told me fascinating stories handed to her by her ancestors on how the snake tries to eat the sun; could not handle it and unsuccessfully gorges out after a while.  For a young boy, the spectacle of a snake trying to eat the sun was more enjoyable (and therefore accepted) than my dad’s explanation of planetary motions in the solar system, shadows cast, views blocked and rare ability to observe stuff denied observation otherwise.

My dad and I viewed the eclipse through “soot layered glass” and “black and white film negative” (the glass is certainly not recommended; the negative is probably not recommendable).  I could see the eclipsed sun but was quite disappointed to not see the snake!

Several years later, as a young professional (with astronomy as a rewarding hobby that got me an exchange student scholarship to the United States) I saw the eclipse in a more scientific environment (using a pair of binoculars to get the sun focused on a white board; do not see directly the sun through binoculars or telescope) with brilliant clarity.

We have since graduated to using a Meade Telescope on an equatorial mount that moves just to compensate for earth’s movement and “locates and auto tracks” over 10,000 celestial bodies (and some made by man).

None can beat the experience my wife and I had with our naked eye in a recent Dubai Desert Safari.  After the exciting drive over the dunes, a camel ride, a colorless belly dancing and a tasteless Arabic dinner, somewhere in the middle of the desert, they switched off all lights for 15 minutes and asked us to look at the sky.  We saw millions of stars where a countable few existed just a few minutes earlier.

Losing “touch” with the sky is a big price we pay for lighting up our nights.

On 15 Jan South India (and a few other places from coastal Africa to southern China) would witness a rare annular eclipse (the moon would be right within the sun’s disc leaving a thin ring all round) known as “Kangana gragam” (Bangle eclipse) in Sanskrit.

www.PongalEclipse.com  (brought to you by a Repute Infotech, a business enterprise in my neighborhood in Chennai) provides information about the eclipse in a truly informative and exciting way.  The animation about the progress of moon’s shadow on earth’s surface over time makes it easy to understand.

A long while back an Arab boss of mine (thank you Hikmat Dandan) suggested I should “see with my heart” and not just “with my eyes” when we had a significant disagreement on a strategic issue.  One can twist that to "see with your brain" and not just with your "heart and eyes".  You can see the eclipse with your brain at this site.

Make sure your kids enjoy the eclipse and the site.