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“Give me advertisers and I promise you free content” December 26, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media, technology.
2 comments

Thats quoting Subash Chandra Bose. (who some believe is still alive.)

Anyway, this happened when I wasn’t watching. But all forgiven (!) – India Today, which to me is India’s best news magazine, is now available online for free !

Here is Sanjoy Narayan, Chief Operating Officer, India Today Group Digital.

…decided to change to a free access model for two reasons. The first says , “Our earlier subscription model found takers mainly among Indians living abroad or those who wanted information about India. Also, that was a time when Internet penetration was low and the user base was small. Now, with both of these increasing rapidly, particularly among the younger people, we want to tap this audience.”

The second reason is revenue. Online ad revenue is growing and the group feels as though they can attract an audience by keeping their readers engaged everyday instead of just periodically when their magazines are released.

Looks they are going the way of the NYTimes – generate revenue from advertising that comes from having a large readership than from subscription fees. I hate to call tipping-points but is this another statement about internet advertising in India ?

And yes, I will gobble anything that S. Prasannrajan writes, a favorite since the 90s.

Link.

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Authors and bylines – Academia effects ? December 17, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, education, media.
3 comments

In a comment to my post on why I am not too enthusiastic about anonymously authored blogs, Sudhir raises an interesting question, one that did not occur to me when I wrote the post. He asks:

I’m just left wondering if a persons identity has such an impact on a reader. I’ve never really given it any thought before! We probably cannot take anonymous bloggers too seriously because we cannot draw a mental picture of what they look like. Having said that I never seem to look for a journalists name in the newspaper even if i really enjoyed the content. Do you? just curious..

Yes, No and Sometimes.

“No” for news reports, “Yes” for analysis and opinion pieces that are either very moving or are on polarizing topics. And then there is an non-deterministic component that I will categorize under “sometimes” – where I look up for no particular reason. There are also times when it works the other way around – where you go scouting for articles by certain columnists and journalists. Too many to name they are, but as regular blog readers would know they are mostly from the NYTimes, Indian Express, Hindustan Times, Hindu, Slate, Outlook, Livemint and The Pioneer.

So yeah, the identity matters. Why ?

I don’t know if this has got to do something with spending some time in academia/grad school where you talk of research papers and results in terms of the authors and groups/labs/locations and often over 15% of the paper content is “saying who said what before you say what you intend to say.” Any serious, life long academics want to weigh in on that ? 🙂

What do you think ?

Which “-ist” are you ? December 10, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, media, statistics.
2 comments

Featured on a popular portal a while ago.

 

yahoo.jpg

 

Lets call the 2 links a) “Creative ways to propose” and b) “What if she says no”. This then divides the world (at least among those who see this page) into people who :

 

1. Click on a and then on b (pragmatists)

2. Click on b and then on a (realists)

3. Click on a but not on b (optimists)

4. Click on b but not on a (pessimists)

5. Click on neither a nor b (but promptly blog about it) (analysts)

6. Complain that link b is gender discriminatory (feminists ??)

LOL ! Anyway, this one is a and that one is b.

“I am a socialist but” December 8, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, media, politics.
1 comment so far

Shobha Narayan in the MINT

Although my political leanings are socialist, I tend to get very bourgeois when it comes to spas.

And then the article limps from one account to another of her visit to spas at the Leela to ones at Singapore to other exotic ones elsewhere and how she stocks up on “spa products from Aromatherapy Associates, a UK firm I love, which, sadly, doesn’t retail in India.” Shoba, did you just say “sadly” ? Comrades ! there is treason in your ranks, purge !! . And then her desperate attempt to get multiple spa treatments by offering to pay more (incentives ??) because “her time is valuable”.

Finally she ends with her business plan that she thinks someone should take up, a plan that only brings about even more specialization and division of labor (remember what Chacha Marx had to say on that) where she goes on to give her Lutheresque “I have a dream speech” :

My dream is to get into a spa where each limb is taken charge of by a different person, my face by the fifth. Perhaps a sixth could do some abdominal chakra healing or whatever. The weird part is that I am happy to shell out bucks for all this. But there is nobody offering this six-in-one approach.

All the while as I read the article I wondered why that sentence claiming her socialist credentials ? Is this

a) satire (MINT has an audience sophisticated enough to get the joke, I am an exception)

b) typo (maybe she meant “capitalist” but can’t be – she said it twice !)

c) “I am a <enter your favorite political ideology here> until my interests are at stake” pattern.d) fashionable

e) intellectually endearing/satisfying

f) running for office sometime soon – you know our politicians and that ridiculous constitutional amendment. American politicians become unelectable as atheists, in India the cake (does not) go to non-socialists.

g) poking fun at her employer (MINT is partnering with the WSJ afterall).

h) I am wrong, after all why should socialists not visit spas ?

Well, this article would have been just alright without that one sentence.

Can blogs be objective vis-a-vis MSM ? November 4, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in blogging, media, politics.
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Consider 2 bloggers X of left political persuasion and Y is from the right. For now lets focus not on social positions but on economic/trade related.

X regularly links to article such these from Paul Krugman :

Mr. Giuliani got his numbers from a recent article in City Journal, a publication of the conservative Manhattan Institute. The author gave no source for his numbers on five-year survival rates — the probability that someone diagnosed with prostate cancer would still be alive five years after the diagnosis. And they’re just wrong.

Y links to article B such as this from Greg Mankiw :

Our health care system is not perfect, but it has been a major source of advances in our standard of living, and it will be a large share of the economy we bequeath to our children. As we look at reform plans, we should be careful not to be fooled by statistics into thinking that the problems we face are worse than they really are.

For someone who is not really bothered with America’s healthcare problems, the summary is that Krugman thinks America’s healthcare is more screwed up than reported and Y thinks its less so.

Now both X and Y are not quantitative social scientists, to use a term broader than just ‘economists’ and as such are unable to independently and competently critique articles A and B, but they link to respective articles anyway.What do you do when you encounter Krugman’s article in X’s blog or Mankiw’s article in Y’s blog ?

In most cases, I just ignore it.

As a blogger, our defense would be that with other full-time jobs, family, community activities and errands to run, one seldom has time to come up with competent critiques of foreign subjects, so just outsource your thinking and put your faith in your favorite commentator – Krugman, Mankiw or Cowen, as the case may be. But even readers too have “full-time jobs, family, community activities and errands to run” and we don’t want to be saddled with the blogger’s long held positions and biases. Fair enough, ain’t it. 🙂

As a blogger I have no solution for this problem (other than to link to such stuff less frequently) and as a reader, I can afford to live with it I guess. But yeah, increasingly what kind of a blogger you are becomes more important than what you have to say on some issues – because your stand is predictable and credibility is at risk, even if your honesty/good intents are not in doubt.

Now note that both the articles I linked to appeared in the NYTimes within days of each other. So, mainstream media can at least make pretenses to objectivity (or some diversity in coverrage), but blogs with political content that are run by individuals or very small groups seldom should.

P.S: Closely related to “Political Philosophy as a consumer good.”

P.P.S : Just so I make it clear that I am not on some high horse, I am absolutely aware that the above discussion applies to this blog as well. If we meet up over coffee and you tell me that you ignore any content with an ideological hue when you read this blog, I will….I will just order another coffee. 🙂

R.I.P. Times Select September 19, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in media, reminisces-2000.
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NYTimes is considered America’s most pre-eminent papers of record and naturally therefore, I thought highly of the paper growing up. And this was even before I had a chance to read it, which I only did in 2003 and that too not on a regular basis. Once I became a regular reader of the paper in 2004, I found myself not too much in agreement with their editorial positions.

That of course does not mean I will jettison the paper altogether (Much like my attitude towards The Hindu). I still thought they had some great material, especially some of the special features – Science Times on Tuesday, Technology/Business, their Modern Love column, not to mention Op-eds from David Brooks, Frank Rich, John Tierney, Paul Krugman (though Tom Friedman was waste of time). Their list of most emailed articles generally are a good point to start.

This ofcourse was until mid 2005 when much of NYTimes went paid. I was so addicted that I even paid $8 per month for a few months. And then one day I just let it pass.

Now though its back again. No, I am not paying them all over again. Infact, no one will. I am so glad this is happening.

The New York Times will stop charging for access to parts of its Web site, effective at midnight tonight. The move comes two years to the day after The Times began the subscription program, TimesSelect, which has charged $49.95 a year, or $7.95 a month, for online access to the work of its columnists and to the newspaper’s archives.

And why do this ?

What changed, The Times said, was that many more readers started coming to the site from search engines and links on other sites instead of coming directly to NYTimes.com. These indirect readers, unable to get access to articles behind the pay wall and less likely to pay subscription fees than the more loyal direct users, were seen as opportunities for more page views and increased advertising revenue.

Amazing, isn’t it, just how powerful a driver of revenue and business models advertising can be ? Heck, thats where Google makes most of its money after all.

One of the unexpected benefits is the access to the NYTimes archives. In fact, I remember back in 2004-05 as a subscriber to the Time Magazine, I found that the magazine issues were less interesting an offering compared to the unlimited access to their archives. I would just go search for “India” in issues from June 1947 to Sep 1947. Or the issue soon after Gandhi’s death, Emergency (June 1975) and see just what was being said.

Linked from here.

UPA round up ! June 16, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, image, media, politics, weird.
2 comments

The Indian Express does it twice in a row – either someone out there has a great sense of humor or just plain poor web design skills/presence of mind. What is the purpose of this picture ?

express1.png

Look you guys at the Express – you are still my favorite newspaper, but don’t work hard to erode that goodwill. Also its not like you have to have some picture there. Its okay if your photographer ( Anil Sharma in this case ) just had a bad day, we all do every once a while.On second thoughts, in the light of what Ms. Patil has to say, this picture seems only naughty.

~~~

And then ofcourse there is the Indian Government’s statement in the story alongside :

He said he had made it clear to his Chinese counterpart that ‘it is extremely difficult for any Indian government adhering to the Constitution’ to ‘give up any part of the country which is regularly sending its elected representatives to the state Assemblies and the sovereign Parliament’.

[ Emphasis mine. ]

Pray ! Is it supposed to be read thus :

He said he had made it clear to his Chinese counterpart that (unfortunately) ‘it is extremely difficult (even though we would love to) for any Indian government adhering to the Constitution’ to ‘give up any part of the country…..

Again emphasis mine.

Some self-respecting government this !

~~~

I came upon this old article written by Mani Shankar Aiyer back in Nov 1997. Its mostly about Chidambaram. After all that written, they are now colleagues – Chidambaram, one of the senior most ministers and Mani in a ministry that most blog readers will not recall. Some thick skin there, Mani. That last line of the article alone is ordinarily sufficient to see the irony. ( Not to speak of the article title itself )

Remember Yogi Berra’s – Its not over until its over ?

Assorted links now June 15, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, assorted, image, india, media, politics.
4 comments

Picture of the day. From the Hindustan Times :

rain.png

~~~

Okay, Madam Patil for President. India’s political class (certainly no pun there ) have revealed the quality of their thought processes and decision making. Let us set aside maybe the 50 odd people from the various parties in the UPA and left who were engaged in coming up with a nominee. Baring these, what is the probability that atleast 1 among the remaining millions considered Ms. Pratibha Patil a presidential candidate. What then is the idea behind calling these leaders our representatives ?

Beats me. And when its happened, selling the idea then as being one of women empowerment is only patronizing to women.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta on the topic, brilliant as usual :

But perhaps the only answer is to genuinely democratise the system. Let there be an open contest in the electoral college. Let parties declare that their members are free to vote for the candidate they wish. Let candidates, rather than parties, make the case for their constitutional credibility. There can be two ways of getting a ‘non partisan’ choice. One is consensus. Since this is not possible, encourage individual legislators to vote with their conscience. Formally, with secret ballots and unenforceable whips, this is the procedure. But it would have been nice if all parties for once did not treat their legislators as mere fodder that comes in neat bundles that party leaders can simply deliver to someone of their choice. This is the premise of the current bargaining game. We need to shift from a focus on arithmetic which allows party leaders to act with hubris. Instead we need space for a more basic question: which candidate, in a free contest, would appeal to legislators nationally?

A fine Barkha Dutt article on the topic.

~~~

There is an article from yesterday’s Indian Express that is about Tiger conservation. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Sonia Gandhi. But the page though looks like this :

Sonia

Some pun somewhere ?

~~~

IT recruiting in India – is someone finally calling a spade a spade ?

~~~

State of the my blogroll :

Deepak is an angry young man, never seen him use words like that. Shiv, Shiv, Shiv !

Aswin, stop living in denial. Blog more !

Cricket mess n all June 12, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media, science, sport.
2 comments

I read this piece and laughed so loudly for so long that my neighbors called 911. Is it just me or is everybody else getting some sadistic pleasure from the crisis in Indian Cricket Coach selection process ? 🙂 Here is latest :

Waking up just about a month ago to hunt for a new coach for its high-profile team, the Indian cricket board on Monday ended up flat on their face after their final pick, South African Graham Ford, turned them down.

Emburey is reported to have told BCCI officials “after coming to India and taking stock of the situation, I am not interested in the position.” The former off-spinner is also said to have conveyed to the BCCI that Indian cricket has a lot of external pressures that a coach should not be made to face.

What Joy ! BCCI, probably the only organization of its size and influence, but does not have a damn website of its own.

~~~

Reading this piece of news and in the light of this fact, I am surprised the Times of India has not yet come after me. Oh, wait a minute, there is a knock on the door. 😀

~~~

The last 4 sentences of the first para along with the first 2 sentences of the second para in this article sure make great poetry !

~~~

Is this just somewhat baffling interpretation due to Sitaram Yechury alone or is this standard knowledge that I had not idea about ?

The first avatar is in the form of a fish. Science has now confirmed that the first life forms evolved underwater. The second is the tortoise, an amphibious creature capable of living both on land and in water. The third is the boar, able to live only on land. The transition of life from underwater to land marks this stage. Next in line is the Narasimha avatar reflecting the transition from the animal to the human form. This is followed by the Vaman avatar, representing the evolution of the human form in its dwarf size. This is followed by Parasuram, who wields the axe as his weapon. This represents the stage of the clearing of forests for human settlement. Rama who follows wields the bow and arrow as his weapon, i.e. a weapon that can protect human settlements by attacking the enemy from a distance.

Balaram, who comes next, wields the plough. This is the stage of evolution of human civilisation to the levels of an agrarian economy. Krishna represents the further advance of human civilisation in the stage of domestication of the cow and the development of the dairy economy. Farther down the line, Kalki, who is yet to arrive, is portrayed as riding a horse representing the stage of the domestication of the horse.

The Das Avataras can, thus, be seen as a remarkable recording of the evolution of human life and its civilisational advance till the Aryans mastered the horse and majestically moved across lands.

Eh !

 

 

 

Wanted May 27, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in media, rant, science.
5 comments

1. A website where I can enter the names of any two species ( plant/animal ) and get the ‘evolutionary distance’ between them. I am not sure ( given my unfortunate historic dislike of biology), how you choose to measure that – overlap in genetic sequence or something else.

Inspiration : I was eating a strawberry and found its rather too similar to pineapple in terms of the soury-sweet taste, texture of the skin and the little bit of leaf-like growth at the top. So maybe they are closer to reach other than say apples and grapes.

Or maybe I am entirely wrong and using this blog to make a fool of myself.

~~~

2. The Shashi Tharoor column replaced by another that deals with, at least once every 2 columns, fresh ideas rather than those that have been beaten to death by other columnists or that which is public knowledge. I can hardly recall one time that his article made me think real hard  or think new thoughts. As an example of an columnist who does, Ramachandra Guha who writes during the same week in the same paper is a great example.

( Ofcourse, Deepak seeks to remind his readers that I don’t take to Mr. Tharoor’s columns too well. That’s why. )

Caste and Indian politics May 12, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in history, india, media, politics.
2 comments

How ironic that on the very same day in two of India’s leading newspapers, two of India’s distinguished journalists of roughly very similar political persuasions ( slightly left of centre or liberal in the American sense) have almost diametrically things to say on the same topic !

Here is Vir Sanghvi of the Hindustan Times lamenting why we have almost never got our Presidents for the right reasons, that even when we got the ‘right’ people ( Kalam/KRN ), we got them entirely for the wrong reasons.

My concern, however, is that when it comes to the crunch, political parties will ignore the merit of individual candidates. Once again, we will look for vote-banks. We will dredge up backward and minority candidates from the mists of time. And as soon as the regional parties get involved, negotiation and wheeling and dealing will take over — specially now that Mayawati has emerged victorious in UP. In the process, the world’s largest democracy will end up with some politically correct monument to caste and communal tokenism at Rashtrapati Bhavan. And we will once again not have a President we can be proud of.

And then there is Shekhar Gupta of the Express about why caste is slowly ceasing to matter in Indian politics.

All three missed a central point, the pivot around which the new politics of India is being built. That the days of narrow, vote-bank politics are now over. You can no longer secure 25-27 per cent vote in a fractured polity and rule a state. You now need to broaden your agenda, invite, entice, and include others too. Because it is logical that a fast-developing, fast-urbanising society should also evolve a more cosmopolitan outlook. It is tired of divisive agendas, of being taken for granted.

Well, are we generalizing from very few cases here. Do people think in sync ? I don’t understand elections because I have never voted. While I can think of arguments now, I haven’t really had an opportunity to follow an election as a voter, weighing candidates and parties and issues. Its just been as an observer and an interested citizen. So maybe I am not never the right person to speak on this issue.

But when I see things being written, I am skeptical. When BJP lost in 2004, it was reasoned that their arrogance and ‘divise’ agendas lead to their loss. But then they came back in Punjab/Himachal, it was attributed to anti-incumbency rather than a vote for Hindutva. When non-congress, non-BJP parties lost in the states, it was explained as people being fed up of smaller parties with unclear agendas. When BSP and SP dominated the UP results, it is explained that India’s federal structure makes it harder to parties and leaders with national appeal. ( I wish I could provide references for these allegations I make, but if you have followed Indian politics and commentators, you know what I am talking about. )

In a country as diverse as India, it might require something dramatic ( war, emergency etc. ) to get voters to think in sync, to vote on the basis of limited set of issues. Just think of the past few general elections and ask yourself what the issues were. Its always something vague, anti-incumbent rhetoric, secular/communal bullshit or its about personalities. Its not about specific economic policies or foreign policy and even a larger vision for the country.

Its unfortunate but true – for a young democracy with a large illiterate socially, economically disempowered electorate in a land that is still trying define its identity as a nation, it might be decades before such a thing as caste ceases to matter in elections. Let us not forget that caste has been around much longer than India did, it ain’t going away any soon.

And if Bryan Caplan is right about such a thing as the rational voter myth, we might never get there. And those we think have gotten there, haven’t either.

P.S: But having said that I will any day live with this system than go down the way of some of our sub-continental neighbors.

Pleading ignorance again March 2, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media, reminisces-1990s.
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Tananananananaaaah … Tananananananaaaah…. from the 90s. So much about this guy I never knew !

We dont need no…cognitive dissonance February 19, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, media, rant, statistics.
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Observe where the commas fall :

Thousand – 1,000 ;

Lakh – 1,00,000

Crore- 1,00,00,000

Thousand crore : 1000,00,00,000

Lakh crore : 1,00,000,00,00,000

Do you have an intuitive feel for that number ? Moreover, is this how you write what you read as 1 lakh crore ? If so, that is one of most ugliest whole numbers out there  – how can the commas just go where they feel like !!

And then there are the Americans :

Thousand – 1,000

Hundred thousand – 100,000

Million – 1,000,000

Billion – 1,000,000,000

Trillion – 1,000,000,000

Okay, more regular. Agreed.

So we know that Rs. 100 lakhs is Rs. 1 crore and a thousand million dollars is a billion dollars. We understand this – it goes with the convention and there is no cognitive dissonance. An example of cognitive dissonance – try to answer this question in 3 seconds :

India is a nation of 1100 million and 18% of it lives in UP. What is the population of UP in lakhs ?

Then why does Rediff* use the notation : Rs. 374.15 billion. Does it also say : “Bill Gates is worth 450 crore dollars.”

Why not ?

* – More recently, rediff has a slightly more palatable format.

Mint : The new bloke on the block February 3, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media.
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Like Amit Sharma ( and not necessarily for the same reasons – he will be writing for them), I am quite excited about the new business paper from the HT – The Mint.

That they have tied up with the WSJ would mean they are going to free-market in their slant. As the editorial says :

Economic freedoms have increased manifold since 1991. Yet, India continues
to have one of the most fettered economic systems in the world. We still live in
a country that is technically socialist and where the right to property is not a
fundamental right. The state can brazenly take over private land for what it
believes to be the public good. The freedom to truck, barter and trade is still
suppressed. A farmer cannot sell his grain in the next state. We believe that
trade among people and nations promotes specialization, transfers knowledge and
advances prosperity. The creative energies of Indians have been suppressed by a
state that once had paternalistic ambitions, but which has become increasingly
corrupt and inefficient. This paper will be a voice in support of the transfer
of power from state to market.

Moreover, as is mentioned here :

We will not dilute our usefulness by attempting to be all things to all people,
or be a general newspaper. Nor will our focus be narrowly stock markets
oriented: While the numbers are growing, less than 3% of all Indians own shares.

Their website looks good – no clutter there – not at least for now. I hope they stay that way. I like the content – whatever I spent a little time surfing. Expect more links from there ! I haven’t been following the Economic Times lately, but I (really) hope Mint breaks their back. Its going to take some time – lets give them 5 years to capture a sizeable market share.

CNN-IBN – setting the (lower) bound for Indian journalism January 31, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media, rant.
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CNN IBN’s Raksha Shetty on Suneil Shetty :

Actor Suniel Shetty, also a successful hotelier, attributes his survival in the film industry almost purely to his Bunt background and the disciplined work ethic that comes with it.

“I used to work in my father’s hotel for about 18 hours a day, in the kitchen, doing the accounts etc. So when I came to the film industry it was much easier. It has made me strong here in this industry,” he says.

I have an objection with most of what is written above but primarily with the use of “almost purely”.

Now lets imagine what actually happened. Shilpa Shetty won n all and reporter Raksha Shetty decided that it was a good opportunity to write about the Bunt community. She asked the actor about his background and how it helped him. What could Mr. Shetty say ? He is a celebrity after all and he can’t hurt people’s sentiments nor anger them by saying “No, my community didn’t matter. My father is a hard task master and if I didnt work as hard as he did, he would whip my arse”. He can’t even say – “No comments.” So he said something that that would not piss off anyone and would please his fellow community members. ( including the reporter ). Pareto optimum solution as they say !

Whether what Suniel said is true or whether he said so merely not to piss off anyone, such an exchange is not of any value in a national channel’s website. If you want to highlight the achievements of the Bunt community, it makes more sense to come up with some numbers, sound statistics like Per capita, % with Bachelors degree, number of businesses owned relative to population rather than getting sound bytes from people whose only job is giving them out.

The last sentence from the article takes the cake though :

Call it values or a sheer survival instinct, from the dreaded underworld gangster Sharad Shetty to Aishwarya Rai to this correspondent, the small population isn’t stopping the Bunt community from forging ahead.

Excuse me Ms. Raksha Shetty, you obviously look forward to your children’s success and would love to see them “forge ahead in life” – is the Mumbai underworld a prospective career for them then ? Or was that a tongue-in-cheek remark ?

Economics of misinformation January 26, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media, politics, rant.
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I am not surprised by the results of this survey.

The surveys says :

Instead of asking people about actual economic policies, the survey gave them two fairly worded policy options and asked the people to choose one.

And then it appears that in order to find out whether people support foreign investment or not, they are given these options.

Support: Govt. should allow, foreign companies to come into our country since they bring more capital and technology..

Oppose: Govt. should not allow foreign companies to come in our country because they exploit us and take profits away

If that is how you word your survey, it would require a fool to support foreign investment. What, may I ask, is fairly worded about it ?

When 26% of the entire population believe that reforms have benefitted only the rich as one of the tables suggest, the headline is that “Everyone agrees that reforms have benefited only the rich”. 26 is not equal to 0.

Mr. Yogendra Yadav, don’t tell us to opine what you think and what you we should opine.15 years back if you had asked the general public whether the government should run telecom and ban private cell phone companies, a huge majority would have said yes. What else do you expect when generation after generation is brought up to believe that to have a secure government job is everything. I want to visit your house and see what consumer appliances you use – Kelvinator/LG ? A BSNL net connection or Airtel/Sify.

And all this when barely 3% understand what reforms really mean ? What percentage of the population understands the meaning of “downsizing the government”. I would think that would be less than 3%. Did you explain it to them ? If so, in what words ? Reading stuff like this, I am sometimes inclined to stretch so far as to say that we should consider teaching economic history of the world and free-market economics in our high schools even at the cost of some Trignometry/ calculus/English. While each and every individual who consumes goods and/or has purchasing power is a cog in the machine that the economy is, barely a handful have an idea how economies work even in the most elementary terms.

Some of those in the Indian media should just shut shop. Or not handle subjects when you can’t do it competently. Just stick to Abhishek-Aishwaraya, the item girls and SRK-BigB- in a country of a billion, you will (unfortunately) find at least a few million underemployed who will keep your shop. running.

Lip lock in the dock January 20, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in media, movies, rant.
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Here you go again.

As one of the commenter says –

What Abhishek did with Rani Mukherji in YUVA? So they think there can be two rulesfor one to their Bahu designate and their son? What a shame?

Firstly, my views of Abhishek are here. Secondly, I am not fan of Aishwarya Rai’s acting talents, but I am a fan of her ( and any other adult’s ) personal freedoms. What kind of condescension towards the Bahu, Oh family ! Further evidence that education is a necessary, but by no means sufficient condition for rational, enlightened behavior.

Given the frequency of instances that call for the application of norm – “Hypocrisy is the rule, not an exception” – I will probably coin an abbreviation for that. HITRNAE ? HIRE ? HRNE ? Not sure.

Oh, yeah and the disclaimer, I havent seen the movie or the lip lock itself and couldn’t care less if it stayed or went. But its the intent, the bigger picture that gets me wondering what the …!

Who does Sagarika Ghose have that job ? January 20, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media, rant.
1 comment so far

I have a few questions. Watch this program and tell me –

– What is Sagarika Ghose trying to do ?

– Why is she trying to elicit from the panelists ?

– Is she just trying to spin what the panelists say to subscribe to what she thinks ? Anyone who has read her articles knows her views, her politics, her slant and its evident from the program as well.

– What was the question asked to Kiran Desai ? How you put the question can elicit different replies from interviewees ?

– What does she mean by 83% of the views saying that the west and east are on the colision course ? How many people voted ? 10 ? 20 ? 100 ? 10000 ? Is that figure meaningful in anyway ?

– What kind of questions are those – about whether A Roy and K. Desai were awarded the booker for their ethnicity ?

– What does she mean by “millions and thousands of viewers are writing in to us about racism they are facing ? Does she know how many thousands make a million ? And how many million viewers does CNN-IBN have ?

– And whats with that accent dear, that feigned sense of urgency, immediacy and emergency ?

– And finally do you have that job because of who your husband is ?

I have barely watched 30 hours of American TV or any kind of TV for that matter in the past 2.5 years. I find most of it boring. News coverage with a few exceptions is poor and unnecessarily sensational. I thought India TV was more interesting although over the years I have lost touch with the Indian electronic news media. But this came as a shocker.

Personally, hard to disagree with a word that Meghnad Desai or Mr. Bhagchi said.

Shashi Tharoor quotes the "Epistles" January 15, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, landmark-post, life, media.
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About a month ago I wrote this post quoting Shashi Tharoor’s article on doctors leaving the Indian shores – the medical brain drain. Since Tharoor took the often cited ( and more than meritorious ) position that the Indian public should not be subsidizing the education if they were to leave Indian shores to adopt foreign lands. Recognizing that this position will not go down well with a section of the public, I wrote :

Although I more than recognize the issue as I wrote before, I will not jump to conclusions right here, right now. In the meantime I will leave Mr. Tharoor to read his weekly quota of hate mails.

Turns out I wasnt entirely right. In his article in the Hindu dated Jan 7th, 2006, Tharoor says :

As is usually the case, the responses can broadly be divided into two categories: agreement (sometimes enthusiastic) and disagreement (often vehement). But many in both categories of respondents are willing to see some merit in the opposite point of view, which has led to somewhat more nuanced positions than anticipated by blogger Sharath Rao in Pennsylvania, who cheerfully wrote, “I will leave Mr. Tharoor to read his weekly quota of hate mails”.

How time flies – a search engine optimization perspective :) January 13, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, media.
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..do we get a chance to be kids all over again. Quintura is a search engine for kids. I particularly like the dog’s tail :).

And even before you realize, it will time to get (to) cranky.com – a search engine for 50+ users.

Whose line was it now ? January 11, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media.
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When somebody says, “If you ever have a problem, come talk to me.”, it might appear to comes across as a rather comforting one.

Except when its a Mumbai gangster saying it – it probably means somebody somewhere is subsidizing your comfort, maybe with his life.

A tale of two ads January 8, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in littlerockers, media.
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Tells what you already know in lots of words, cliches and histrionics. Its still a big deal.
[ Or maybe I am of the opinion that Big B is just overexposed. ]

Tells you something seemingly trivial in far more creative way.


This is infact how I imagine atleast a part of the next Little Rock Class of 1997 reunion should be, whenever it happens. In the dark, perhaps on the beach or just an open ground. Not in the afternoon, not on chairs arranged in circles, not with a handful of people running the show. Although we, as human beings have an evolutionary need to be able to make eye contact when we talk, I think talking into the dark, under the sky has its own ‘big-dealness’ about it. From personal experience, I feel that people connect in an unusual way. [ Not that it means anything on a broader scale ]

“Sometimes things need to switch off for people to switch on”, as he says in the end of the ad.

My previous post on advertisements – here and here.

The advertisement, by the way, is based on a true event.

Putting IPOD to (better) use January 5, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, media, videos, weird.
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…crush it to bits, possibly paste and then use it to sell another electric appliance.

Yeah, read it to believe it. Unbelievable.

It’s a series of online videos meant to promote a commercial kitchen blender from a company in Utah. In each episode, a stiff but hilariously dry spokesman demonstrates the power of the blender by liquefying something you wouldn’t ordinarily expect a blender to handle: Hot Wheels cars, cellphones, Barbie dolls, a garden rake, an iPod, golf balls, a can of soup (including the can), a bottle of beer (with bottle), marbles, and so on.

Okay, watch it to believe it.

Media bias December 26, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, media.
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I have never seen a new anchor/talk show host that is more patently biased. Have you ?

Then I looked some of this up; and it seemed all natural.

Part of a phenomena November 23, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in economics, humor, ideas, media.
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1.

The LA times has an article on the phenomenon. Its interesting because articles on new trends, fads and phenomena keep appearing in the media but this is one of those rare times when I felt a part of the phenomena and that the article is really talking about my story of being bowled over by Economic blogosphere. Linked through Mankiw chacha, my very Indian way of referring to one of my favorite bloggers.

2.

Question : What do you believe in ?

Answer : The invisible hand

…every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. [ From here. ]

3.

I really love the sarcasm ( for want of a better word ) that the British so skillfully employ in their writing. Dontchya ! Here is Tim De Lisle talking about how the Ashes opened.

Then they lost the toss. Actually that may have been a good thing.Then their national anthem was mauled by a nice-looking young woman.

Then Steve Harmison bowled the first ball: a wide. And not just an ordinary wide. There’s a moment in the film The English Patient when Ralph Fiennes chews on a piece of fruit and pronounces it “a very plum plum”. Well, this was a very wide wide. And the English didn’t feel very patient.

I have seen the movie and now that he mentions it, I remember the dialogue.

Readings from 1990s and a lone inspiration November 23, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in media, reminisces-1990s.
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This is something completely trivial. I was in Class VIII, IX, X and XI then. An isolated memory from Manipal in the mid-1990s goes thus.

I would rush to pick up the newspapers- Indian Express and the Economic Times – when dad got home from work. And here is what I read.

Mondays : Investor’s guide in the Economic Times ( was crazy about the stock markets for a while in the 1990s ).

Tuesdays : La Creme de La Creme ( meaning “The Cream of the Cream” in French) in the Economic Times which contained mostly job classifieds. I remember wanting to see what jobs were there, what people who were looking to hire, where, the remuneration and other articles about the job market. I have no idea why I did this – I was in Class VIII-X then and now even 11 years later, I havent yet had my first job !!

Wednesdays : Brand Equity in the Economic Times and the Op-ed editorials from Mishirul Hassan in the Indian Express.

I have always found Hassan to be one of the best writers on Indian history. A Cambridge education professional historian, his commentaries on Indian political and social history have immensely contributed to my interest in this subject. Infact I remember no other columnist I read regularly by name. Yeah, its unlikely that any of the readers would know him or have known him from as early as 1990s for he is no celebrity scholar. Infact his claim to fame ( and controversy ) is opining that the Satanic Verses should not be banned on grounds of Freedom of Expression.

It was finding this article by him in the Outlook where he reviews Stanley Wolpert’s ( another India Expert ) book on the Indian partition that spurred me into writing this post. Over the years I have grown to disagree with some of his politics – but that really doesnt mean I have ceased to be enthralled by his commentaries. I guess some things never change. I looked online for archives of his articles from 90s but could not find any. I think reading some of these will likely bring back several states of mind from the 90s.

Thursday : Science and Technology section in the Economic Times

Friday : Corporate Dossier in the Economic Times meant reading stuff on Indian CEOs and happenings in the corporate scene – management gurus visiting India, some new socio-economic trend or some corporate party.

Sunday : Economic Times was great. So was Indian Express. I guess this is pretty much true today. In particular the ET had a special edition called Financial Times with mostly international content and corporate news, some columns with (or without) permission from Western Business dailies.

Its raining CATfundas November 18, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media, rant.
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Saubhik Chakravarthy has this question about the recent shows on Indian TV ( I didnt watch any by the way ) that had experts taking questions about the CAT exam from aspiring applicats. He is bang on the mark when he asks :

I wondered though, every time I caught the show this week, whether a televised exam guide was really helpful. Which is to say if an “expert” tells me that my weak areas should be covered and my strong attributes should be optimally used so that I can make up for my weaknesses, would I be any wiser? If I am nervous about the quantitative bit of the test, would the advise that I should focus on the main areas inspire more confidence? If an expert says this year’s exam paper is likely to be easier than last year’s — last year’s was apparently really tough — should I worry less?

I dont blame the media at all. Here is why – we are talking about 20 somethings that the show caters to and this is no comparison to child targetted advertising being unethical. The media will do something because it anticipates that there are aspirants out there who will find the show helpful and consequently viewership translates into advertising revenue.

What I would like to say and in doing so I believe that it might be a favor to Saubhik since he doesnt need to be politically incorrect and bear the burder of calling a spade a spade. If there is any serious aspirant who really finds that these experts will have anything new for her/him a day before the exam, one must cast a doubt on that applicant’s competence, leadership qualities, commonsense, emotional quotient and the sense of initiative. Its quite likely then that the esteemed IIMs ( and this is certainly no sarcasm here ) could do without them. In other words and the words of the aspirants (and their role models) themselves, what is the ‘value-add’ ( to the aspirants’ prospects, not the channel!) of these platitudes at the eleventh hour ?

Infact Sameer my very good friend from KREC who is now at IIM, Calcutta apparently took some questions on this show on CNN-IBN or so. I would like to ask Sameer just to make sure I am not missing something ( I have never written the exam myself) – was there a question from the aspirants that is not quite standard knowledge or that has not quite a standard answer.

Why I love the Slate November 5, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, media.
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Because none other well-known magazine puts up stuff like this.

Like this, this and this.

Well, if you dont know a thing about Borat/Ali G, educate yourself here. ( Thats what I did 2 months ago )

Okay, I forgot this one.

Why O Why is this happening to my country ! November 3, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media, rant.
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Berkeley economist Brad Delong runs atleast a couple of series in his popular political/economic blog – One of them is called “Why Oh Why Can’t We Have a Better Press Corps” where he lampoons media coverage of political and economic events. An example here. Another series is “Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by This Idiot?”. No prize for guessing who the ‘idiot’ is.

Now, going by the title of this post, it appears I am trying to replicate something of the sort here. Well, not really. I dont promise to – I wont go scrounging ( is it that hard to find ? ) for material that could come under this category. But when I do find something, I will not hesitate to use this title. So here goes the first ( and maybe the last too !) on this topic.

Where does this figure in the list of most serious problems India faces ?

Police have an unusual undercover surveillance job this week, scanning the ramps and observing models at Lakme Fashion Week to check that no one intentionally displays too much flesh.

And what about this ? One country – 2 judicial systems.

In controversial move, the UPA government has defended the Darul Qaza or Shariat courts in the Supreme Court, saying their existence posed no challenge to the country’s judicial system. In an affidavit filed in the court, the Centre even defended the “jaziya tax” imposed by Aurangazeb as a mere “special tax” which non-Muslims had to pay for failing to render military service.

Update : Here is an example of Shariat ‘justice‘.

The SRK-Karan Johar endless statements in the media about ‘each other’, I wonder if one day it is going to all fall apart like this. Karan, you have a spine in there dont you. Or is this feudal ( mai baap ) mindset so entrenched in our civilization ?

I can’t think of doing an ad without Shahrukh, so leave alone a film. He is not only one of the best actors we have now, he is a superb human being. He is a great support to me. I do my best work when he is on my set. If anything is going wrong I know Shahrukh will take care of it. He is like a brother figure on the set.

Look now what the government says about the latest independent survey on OBC figures.

The Government will study the National Sample Survey Organisation’s (NSSO) findings that the OBC population has increased by over five per cent between 1999 and 2005 — though it is 11 per cent less than the Mandal Commission’s estimation of 52 per cent — before submitting its view in Supreme Court on the reservation issue. “The sample size (1.25 lakh households) is too small to reach a population figure,” a ministry official said. But an NSSO functionary contested this, claiming the survey was conducted on “proven scientific” lines.

But the Supreme court has chided the government for sticking to the figure from the Mandal commision which was statistically invalid and incorrect. Does the government admit this ?

Silly Swaminomics October 22, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in economics, media, rant.
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I haven’t ever thought really highly of Swaminathan Aiyar of Swaminomics from the Times of India fame. But this time he really went overboard when in an article in the TOI he suggests this :

But in India, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar will produce more than enough workers for all states. So, don’t laugh at Lalu for having nine children. If each of his children in turn has nine kids, that will greatly increase India’s demographic dividend. It is said that God works in mysterious ways. So does Lalu.

This is a Class X student’s argument. And Berkeley-educated economist Atanu Dey rips him off – a highly recommended post.

What puts me off about Aiyar is just how simplistic his arguments sound to me. And not just today, but back in May 1996 when he was anchoring the general election results in a program with Nalini Singh, I remember his remarks – off-the-cuff and somehow unstudied they appeared. Cmon, Aiyar, you are on national television !

I understand that he is writing not for a journal but for the general public in a national daily and maybe he is expected to not indulge in mathematical equations and statistics. Infact people who I know that do like him, do so for this reason – the fact that he is able to cut down on jargon, use a few anecdotes and get his point through. The fact that he might be misrepresenting or oversimplifying either doesnt occur to them or just doesnt bother them.

I agree that having been in the academia, there may be bias in the way I judge Aiyar. Besides, I am not economics or demographics major. Economics is serious, hard, rigorous and tough – predictions often go wrong and an economy is one of the most complex and dynamic systems around. There is little oppurtunity to conduct controlled experiments on a macroscale unlike in much of physics. Imagine – conducting an experiment to know if the interest rate should be set at 4% or 5% and measure parameters and choose the best setting. All one can do sometimes is learn from previous data and make inferences and hope that one gets it quite right. There is lot of space for skepticism. And not everything in economics is common sense either. For example : Why not print more notes and make people rich !!

So let us accept that some things by their vary nature are so complex that sacrificing rigour beyond a point is sacrificing the truth – that would mean you either lie or you dont say all the truth. In such cases, you would rather not attempt such writing – much of the writing in Economics coloumns in major western dailies (For eg: NYTimes coloumns, LATimes ) , is only meant for those who have more than an elementary understanding of economics.

Aside from the main point, I was looking for Swaminathan Aiyar’s credentials. Masters degree in Economics it says – what has he done since then ? Any link to his papers – have his papers been subject to peer review ? Why does his website not have a link to them ? What is his expertise in population studies ? At best he is a journalist reporting on economic issues – and that is not the same as being an economist. Sometimes, that difference matters.

Misleading or mistakening October 10, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, media.
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My jaw dropped when I read this headline from a rediff story. “Indians in US have grown by 50 pc in 5 years”, it said.

And this is actually what the article intends to state :

Immigrants from India in the Washington metropolitan area have grown by an additional 50 per cent over the last five years and foreign-born Indians now rival Koreans as the area’s second most populous group, a media report said on Monday.

I hope that is a mistake rather than eyeball chasing tactics. That apart, the article has some useful information for those who care.

Water water everywhere, yeah ! October 1, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media.
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The NYTimes is carrying a 3 article series here about India’s growing water crisis ! I really couldnt believe my eyes when I saw that. Why on earth would the Times carry such an article on a distant country’s domestic problem ? And the way its been put – hmm, well how many of us think water is one of India’s impending crisis. I atleast know one person – my dad. Not that he was armed with any data or research study, but each time he sees one of us wasting water, he just would say that the coming wars will be fought over water rather than oil. That ofcourse may be a little too early to say, but that was true atleast of the arguments we had at home ! 🙂

Here is an extract.

The fabled Yamuna River, on whose banks this city was born more than 2,000 years ago, is a case study in the water management crisis confronting India. In Hindu mythology, the Yamuna is considered to be a river that fell from heaven to earth. Today, it is a foul portrait of crippled infrastructure — and yet, still worshiped. From the bridges that soar across the river, the faithful toss coins and sweets, lovingly wrapped in plastic. They scatter the ashes of their dead.

In New Delhi the Yamuna itself is clinically dead.

As the Yamuna enters the capital, still relatively clean from its 246-mile descent from atop the Himalayas, the city’s public water agency, the New Delhi Jal Board, extracts 229 million gallons every day from the river, its largest single source of drinking water. As the Yamuna leaves the city, it becomes the principal drain for New Delhi’s waste. Residents pour 950 million gallons of sewage into the river each day.

I liked that comparitive figure – replace 229 units of clean water with 950 units of semi-toxic water. Sounds scary even for a laboratory experiment.

How to (attempt to) put words into Amartya Sen’s mouth ( and be caught ) August 20, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media, rant.
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Ashish Kumar Sen of Outlook, an irresistably left-leaning English magazine from India, conducted an interview with Amartya Sen last week. Here in this post, I shall paste the questions put to Prof. Amartya Sen and how Prof. Sen started off answering them. There is a pattern here that clearly indicates how the interviewer made a consistent attempt at putting words into Prof. Sen’s mouth. This might either be submissive servility since Prof. Sen’s left of center views are well known or worse still, an attempt to get Prof. Sen endorse the interviewer’s ( and therefore the magazine’s ) views. Prof. Sen appears to me more as a modern liberal than an Indian Socialist.

If you do read the interview, you will realize that the heading given to the interview – “Hope India Now Doesn’t Get Too Hung Up On Cultivating Power To Feel For The Other Side!” does not in anyway provide a gist of the interview, nor the dominating thought. If at all, it states and predictably so, what the magazine thinks and wants you to think.

Note : I have pasted 8 out of 10 questions that were asked and have not pasted entire answers by Prof. Sen. Please visit the original page for the entire transcript of the interview.

Q : Do you think the estimation of India as a global player is already in excess of reality?A :

This has not happened yet to any great extent, since there is such a backlog of underestimation from the past (China, for example, is only beginning to take India more seriously, after looking down on India fairly substantially for many decades).Q :

What explains this change in perception: is it related to the fact that India is doing things differently? Or is it more because India has chosen to forsake its socialist past and embrace a model of economic growth that has the endorsement of global powers, notably the United States?A :

I’m not sure what you mean by India’s socialist past. A country that failed to achieve the most elementary progress that most socialist countries in the world achieved easily (despite their failures in many other fields), namely universal schooling and basic education supported by the state, primary healthcare for all provided by the state, comprehensive land reforms and so on which pre-reform Russia, pre-reform China, Cuba, Vietnam and other socialist countries achieved, can hardly be described as a socialist country. If, however, by ‘socialism’ you mean an over-extended and counterproductive state-based system of license raj, stifling domestic enterprise and the development of modern industries and the modern services sector, then certainly that change has been important, though it need not involve any necessary abandonment of the ideal of egalitarian humanism that has been central to the socialist vision presented by Jawaharlal Nehru and others who led India to political independence.Q :

One reason for the change in perceptions of India is the achievements of its diaspora, particularly in the US and the United Kingdom. What does the diaspora mean for India? Should India be basking in its glory?

A :
Certainly the diaspora’s success abroad has played a big part in greater interest in India and also helped a fuller appreciation of the creative talents in India. There is however no question of basking in the glory of the diaspora since its achievements, while important, are limited and the job that needs to be done at home, especially through removing poverty, illiteracy and bad healthcare have an urgency that the success of the diaspora does not in any way reduceQ :

The consumption pattern of urban middle-class Indians is becoming increasingly similar to their counterparts of the West. From household goods to food to cultural products, there is now a close resemblance between Indians and those in the West. Are Indians becoming increasingly similar to their counterparts in the West? If so, what are the perils of this trend?A :

The increase in global contact and association has led to much greater homogeneity of the consumption of the rich across the world—it is not an isolated trend exclusive to India (you see it in Rio, Accra and Johannesburg as well as in Mumbai and Shanghai). This is, in a basic form, an age-old phenomenon……Q :

Even as India strives to become a global power, politically and economically its social indices remain poor. In terms of human development, India lags far behind. Has India become less caring? How does it dovetail with India’s quest to become a global power? And what kind of future do you envisage for the poor as India changes?A :

You are absolutely right to point to India’s relatively poor record in human development. This is not a new phenomenon, so it is not a question of India becoming ‘less caring’ than in the past, but the old problem of the neglect of social facilities and of the development of human capabilities which has not been adequately addressed or removed. ….
Q :
To what extent is this change in perception an outcome of globalisation, where knowledge of English has become a skill that counts. A large number of Indians, even in villages, want to go through the English system of education. What do you think could be the perils of this trend?A :

Certainly globalisation has made English something like a lingua franca of the world. We have to accept that, without seeing globalisation and the spread of English as a necessarily problematic phenomenon. Indeed, I do not see the wide interest in learning English as a regressive force, since the use of the English language both allows India to speak to the world and serves as the medium through which Indians from across the country can share their technical knowledge and social and political dialogue. If the interest in English were to eclipse the interest in India’s enormously rich languages, with its rich literature and long histories, that would be a loss, but that is not the situation now and future dangers too can be avoided through giving the issue our conscious attention. It is possible to be both interested in the richness of India’s own culture and heritage and take an interest in the cultures and achievements of the rest of the world, in exactly the way that Rabindranath Tagore discussed so eloquently and convincingly. There is no necessary conflict between ‘the home’ and ‘the world’, if we continue to stand on our own feet and look at the world with interest and involvement, rather than with docility and slavishness. …..

Ashish, you are, I note from your website, are a seasoned journalist. Why then dont you appear to have got a hint of where the interview was going when question and question you appeared to have been rebuffed/corrected by Prof. Sen.

Inspirations and introspections these days are hard to come by at our desk. A river side perhaps. Hill stations, beaches…either way, take a break.

How not to write for an intelligent audience ! July 22, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in media, rant.
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I am shocked by the poor quality of journalism coming out of so-called reputed magazines in India. This article from Business Standard reposted on rediff has several problems : its about “Why Indian IT pros don’t buy flashy cars”.

It starts off with:

Top-level people working in IT companies in India draw salaries that are at par with their global counterparts and even lead lives that can, at times, make globe-trotting executives envious.

Is that so ? Could you quote your source please ?

However, when in the country, our IT professionals tend not to use fast and flashy automobiles and stick to mid-segment cars. Why? They’re taking a cue from their bosses, that’s why.

Firstly, quite a bold statement to make. So give me empirical evidence – no anecdotal evidence please. Lets have numbers about how many executives were studied, from what parts of India (consumption patterns differ among metros too), over what period of time and split acorss income group. Did you ask them if they were taking a cue from their bosses or did they tell you so ? How you pose a question in a survey can alter survey results – our lessons from behavorial economics.

And then :

At times, Premji also travels in autorickshaws and public buses, while Murthy prefers an Ambassador to cruise around the Garden City.

Source please. What do you mean by “at times” – emergency, regularly, once a month or just once. What were his other choices ? Sit in his Toyota corolla and be stuck in the traffic ? These phrases are better avoided in serious matters are these and are often used to conceal ignorance. “Hand-waving” is the expression.

The article then goes anecdotal :

“Some of my senior colleagues who now work in India (after a stint in the US) are using modest cars like the Suzuki Swift or Ford Fiesta, taking a clue from senior executives in the company. However, when they were abroad, like in the US for instance, they drove around in BMWs and Mercs,” a senior Wipro official said on condition of anonymity.

Ofcourse quoting someone is okay – but what is the purpose of the above assertion. Is it to prove the author’s original assertion ? Or is it an effort to provide a balanced view – contrary evidence that often comes up.

It is starting to get amateurish here :

An official at Infosys agreed and shared a similar experience. ‘It is not that these executives cannot afford luxury saloons, but they feel it is not right to travel in these cars, especially when their bosses use simple cars.’

Is this official talking for himself ? Or is he a software engineer trainee who thinks that might be the reason ?

He now seems to come to the point :

Another factor why Indian top executives prefer modest cars is that “Indians generally tend to drive compact midsize cars due to poor infrastructure conditions in the country. Moreover, higher degree of taxes on foreign vehicles in India and stratospheric maintenance costs are deterrents”, another Infosysian said.

….but forgot that they are not infosysians, they are infoscions.

However, Aftek Infosys managing director Ranjit Dhuru had a different take on the subject.“A high-end car is an easily noticeable symbol of wealth and Indians generally don’t like to flaunt. They might be buying less noticeable things like expensive villas or real estate in many locales, they might be connoisseurs of other expensive items like art or they might be taking trips abroad… At the end of the day it his personal choice.”

Okay, you quote someone again. No problem. And then he adds :

Dhuru has an SUV and a Merc and uses them alternately.

“Uses them alternately ??” What is that supposed to mean ? Are they people who drive them together ? Alternately as in every other day ? occasion ? Is that even relevant ?

All in all, this article is poorer than high school quality. It could have been written over a cup of coffee in little over 30 minutes without moving from your desk by just talking to a couple of your friends/contacts in these companies and throwing in some arbitrary quotes and assertions. These serious studies are conducted over a period of atleast a month with people collecting data and quoting their sources – they are not meant to be this amateurish. So Mr. Prabodh Chandrasekhar & Rajesh S Kurup – find another job or go back to school.

I am not sure why this is happening or if this has always happened and its just that I was not well-exposed to other media to not make it out. In my understanding its a combination of several factors – poor writing skills from school, lack of exposure to serious media reports and scholarly articles, lack of background in economics/finance – often journalists tend to think they having an English honors degree suffices. Infact, quite the contrary – my understanding is that some background with good writing skills make a better business journalists than English graduates with half-baked knowledge of business/finance/economics. Alas ! I wish I had data to support this claim !

This, by the way, makes interesting reading.

Beneficiaries of human tragedies ! July 19, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media, rant.
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Somebody atleast benefits from natural calamities and somebody ( other than the terrorists and their sympathesizers ofcourse ) benefit from man-made tragedies like the recent Bombay blasts – astrologers and numerologists ( and if it involves an individual maybe even palmists. )

Look at this piece from the Hindustantimes.

Is there a common thread between Indonesian tsunami (July 17, 2006), Kashmir earthquake (October 8, 2005), Mumbai floods (July 26, 2005), Gujarat earthquake (January 26, 2001) and the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami (December 26, 2004)? Indeed, it is number eight – the number of Saturn.

We heard this before. Except that was about different numbers, and after other tragedies. We heard about how 26 was an unlucky number after Mumbai floods, Gujrat Earthquake, Tsunami. Now since the Mumbai blasts happened on 11th and not on 26th or 8th or 17th, we have a new fact.

Lets now list a few tragedies of Independent India ( in addition to the above ) :

Death of Gandhi : Jan 30, 1948
China attacked India : Oct 20, 1962
Death of Nehru ( First PM in office ) : May 27, 1964
Indira Gandhi’s assasination ( First major political ass. ) : Oct 31, 1984
Sikh riots : Nov 1, 2, 3rd, 1984 ( 2000+ killed )
Bhopal Gas Tragedy : Dec 2, 1984 (3000 dead )
Second major political assasination ( Rajiv Gandhi ) – May 20th, 1991
Babri Masjid brought down : Dec 6, 1992
Gujrat riots : Feb 28, 2002 ( 2000+ dead )
Uttarkashi Earthquake : Oct 20, 1991 (1000 dead )
Latur-Osmanabad Earthquake : Sep 30, 1993 ( 7000+ dead )
Orissa cyclone : Oct 29, 1999 (10,000 dead )

How many 8s, 17s, and 26s do you see here ?

Someone has generously listed the top 10 biggest falls of the Indian stock market index. The 3rd biggest happens to be on May 17th, 2004 ( Black Monday as they call it – when Vajpayee came down ). Now if you were arguing on the side of the author of the HT article, you would cite only this as the evidence. I wouldnt go as far to call one a say one a cheater for doing that. What we doing here is either unjustified generalization. Or as statisiticians put it – showing confirmatory bias :

Rarely do any of us sit down before a table of facts, weigh them pro and con, and choose the most logical and rational explanation, regardless of what we previously believed. Most of us, most of the time, come to our beliefs for a variety of reasons having little to do with empirical evidence and logical reasoning. Rather, such variables as genetic predisposition, parental predilection, sibling influence, peer pressure, educational experience and life impressions all shape the personality preferences that, in conjunction with numerous social and cultural influences, lead us to our beliefs. We then sort through the body of data and select those that most confirm what we already believe, and ignore or rationalize away those that do not.This phenomenon, called the confirmation bias, helps to explain the findings published in the National Science Foundation’s biennial report (April 2002) on the state of science understanding: 30 percent of adult Americans believe that UFOs are space vehicles from other civilizations; 60 percent believe in ESP; 40 percent think that astrology is scientific; 32 percent believe in lucky numbers; 70 percent accept magnetic therapy as scientific; and 88 percent accept alternative medicine.

A homegrown example of confirmatory bias would be to listen to how people defend their favorite astrologers. I wont say anything more.

Sources : For earthquakes data, stockmarket data

"my life, my card." – Am Ex June 27, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in media, movies.
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I appreciate short, witty ads sure, but on most days I would go with longer, subtle, non-mechanical, with people in it and that tell a story – the class of ads that American Express has come up with.

It moves when Robert DeNiro’s says about NewYork City – “My life happens here, my card is …”. Its creative in a surreal way when Kate Winslet weaves her life in terms of the movies she has starred in and says – “My real life doesnt need any extra drama. Thats why my card is …”. When Tiger Woods says “My life is about never settling. My card is …”, you know its time to get back to work. And so here I go !

Watch them here – with Rober De Niro here, director Wes Anderson here, Kate Winslet here ( brilliant one – if you dont get it, read this ) and finally Tiger Woods.

Isnt that wrong ? June 20, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in media.
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The NYTimes says here :

Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the American military spokesman, said “the remains” of what are believed to be the two Americans were found near a power plant in the vicinity of Yusefiya, about three miles from the site were they had been captured by insurgents.

Should that not be “…from the site where they had been captured….”

I know so many of my friends who make these mistakes – homonyms they call it right (?) – whether and weather, where and were, your and you’re and many more I cant recall right now. But if the NYTimes makes this mistake, I can possibly forgive any of us lesser mortals.

Now if that is the indeed the right usage, I would be so mortified that I might as well give up blogging 😉

No, not that mortified !

I must mention that the grammar apart, the story itself makes a sad reading. Continue reading here.

United States and Europe. Rosenthal and me May 11, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, history, media.
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I linked to this article about A.M.Rosenthal, the NYTimes Editor who died today. I had heard of him in an Indian context but I wasn’t aware of the many aspects of his life and times at The Times.

 

I managed to read the whole 7 page article about him. Its quite interesting that this is an article as much about him as it is about the Times during the 55 years he served there and as many as 23 as editor. The one thing that stood out ( apart from his love for India ) was that pattern I am coming across so often.

 

He is a European of Jewish descent ( Belarus ) whose ancestors migrated in the early 20th century. How often have I come across this – East European Jews, Russian Jews, German, Hungarian, Austrian Jews who escaped persecution only to come to the United States/Canada to make it big here. Its not the physicists, mathematicians and a disproportionate share of the Manhattan project members but just even performers, artists and people in art and humanities. This is one list to savor.

 

This is probably what makes this such a great country. Its easy to immediately turn to Bush or even earlier US governments who have condoned deaths and ravaged societies in pure national interests. That though is not the issue here – I am talking about the common people – the man on the street who basically is a hard-working immigrant or a descendent of one, who loves this country because it gave him a honest chance. And there are so many of these. What more can a conscientious person ask for other than an honest chance and opportunity at a decent standard of living and the “pursuit of happiness”.

 

Yes I know that in the last few years, inequality has risen here too. People talk of how the US has one of the lesser intergenerational mobilities compared to the rest of the developed world ( would love to have statistics for India ). But Europe and Japan have the luxury of not having to do with poor immigrants – unskilled immigrants from Central and Latin America and a legacy of centuries on slavery on their land ( European Colonialists did employ slaves on colonial lands but not in Europe – they were bloody smart! ). Interestingly though, Europe and Japan also don’t have the benefit of skilled professionals from China, India, Taiwan, Korea and the like.

 

This is why I think the US has less of a sharp distribution of a quality I cannot exactly describe – huge variance – we have people at both ends of the spectrum and a sizeable number at that. On the other hand distributions are shaper in Europe – a huge number of them have an excellent standard of living – there is lesser variance. Higher taxes have meant slightly more egalitarian and less ruthless societies than in the United States. But is inequality bad in itself ? Two excellent posts by Nobel Laureate Gary Becker and Judge Posner have this to say. Please do read it !

 

Europe is more pacifist today than ever – have learnt and over-learnt the lessons of the war. I remember reading somewhere that there is a major war every 80-100 years because that is what it takes to forget the lessons of a last war ! These two cultures with a history of civilizational bonding have been moving apart from each other in every conceivable way – military intervention wise, taxes and fiscal policy wise and lives of people itself with respect to how they react to a globalizing world.

 

[ At this point I just went back to read what I wrote above – and was shocked to find this – “I think the US has less of a sharp distribution of a quality I cannot exactly describe – huge variance – we have people at both ends of the spectrum and a sizeable number at that.” – Note the pronoun – probably the for the first time ever I have used “we” in referring to the US. Its obviously because the context is a comparison to Europe ( not India ) but interesting nevertheless. I leave it this way anyway. ]

 

So coming back to Rosenthal, its his last paragraph in the last column he wrote for the Times he wrote on Nov 5, 1999 that set off the tone for this post.

“I cannot promise to change all that. But I can say that I will keep trying and that I thank God for (a) making me an American citizen, (b) giving me that college-boy job on The Times, and (c) handing me the opportunity to make other columnists kick themselves when they see what I am writing, in this fresh start of my life.”

 

As I read that I asked myself – now which other country can you find a few tens of millions who ( or whose fathers/grandfathers ) will have this to say about their citizenship. Now I am talking about the country that one was born to, but an adopted country. For most of the people in the United States, they are glad they were born here. For the rest, they are glad they got here.

 

And what about me ? While I may never end up writing a blog entry that says something on the lines of what Rosenthal said, I am glad as hell I got to spend time in this part of the world – there has not been a greater learning experience and I will make the most of this time.