Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Please Men

The Please Men
The gulf between two states

The business of politics requires the professionals to communicate. In democracies, preferably to large numbers of the intended audience.  They are termed crowd-pleasers for their efforts. Everyone else communicates to faceless audiences with the objective of displeasing them - it would appear.  So this is about The Please Men.

Meanwhile,  some recent events showcase alternative methods used by persons

Scene 1 - Somewhere in a rich gulf state

Its a packed stadium. Scorching heat hasn’t deterred attendance. Its 40 degree C. And they erupt. Deafening. Nope, its the the famous movie star renowned for a stutter in about his most famous dialogue on scree. It isn’t a musical concert featuring some new sensation. Their national chief is here to talk to them.   The MIGHTY LEADER. 

In between strutting his stuff,  The Mighty Leader says  (excerpted from his communications) :

  • When I meet the national leaders of different countries, I am warmly welcomed and treated with respect. Not because they see MY face, but the face of 1.25 billion of my country’s citizens.

  • This Great Nation where you’ve chosen to earn your livelihood has promised to give us $ 1 zillion! Not kidding, $ 1 zillion! What is important is not how much they are giving, but they are willing to trust us with their money! Would you give even a hundred rupees to someone you don’t trust? That is the respect you’ve helped us earn

  • This year on the Festival of Sisters, make a small gift of $10 in a fixed deposit. The interest alone (Re 1 per month) with provide her with insurance for her life under the new scheme the government has launched.  Please tell me, what can you buy for Re 1 these days anymore? Even when I was selling tea in a teashop, it may have just been less than that…not anymore. 

Audience Thought Balloons after the Show : 

Wow! My work is helping him earn respect and the whole country. Even my presence here is contributing.

Its important I continue to work honestly. It will create the trust needed for the future.

Yeah, $10 sounds like a great deal. I’ll add that to the dress I gift her.

Scene 2 - Somewhere in a poor engulfed state

The handsome, forty something year old is the dynamic face of the opposition to the Mighty Leader. He’s chosen to spend time in a village instead, talking to real people who live here about real problems. The village happens to be in his constituency, that elected him and his family for several generations - generations of voters and generations of elected. Its stayed poor all this time, so it needs strong representation.  But lets not nitpick and digress from the main event.

Sound bytes from the Handsome One :

This is a Suit-Boot govt disconnected from common people. 

This government runs for the Benefit of four or five Big Industrialists.

Land is being grabbed from our poor farmers to benefit the rich, depriving them of not just livelihood but food! All in the name of development!

Audience Thought Balloons after the Show :

Er….I’m wearing my trousers and black shoes and so are half the guys around here. So his point is…..?

Why aren’t those four or five Big Industrialists setting up a factory near here? Even if they don’t employ me, those guys will need tea and snacks, and so on…Maybe they’ll build a fancy school for the rich folks and my kids can take tuition from those teachers….and we may get a better movie theatre around here….

Er…..wonder why no one wants to buy my land? Lemme check with the land registry office…..

Land..what land? doesn't he know I'm landless and a labourer? 

So what’s all this suit boot, big industrialist stuff have to do with me? Where is that damn water for my fields and school for my kids?!!!! 

Scene 3 - The Drunk Journos at the Pub in a Great Metro*

(*great metro means that more than 5 million people live, though power cuts, poor garbage collection, scarce water, flooded roads and bad could all be happening there. If you suggest otherwise in public, proud local residents may take extreme measures to address the hurt sentiments)

For easy recall lets name them DJ1 and DJ2.  DJ1 is the  self-appointed Socrates type (He knows everything!) while DJ2 is a wannabe Che Guevara type (even while polishing off rare scotch on an expense account)…

Barman :  Sir, last orders right now…so any more for you? 
DJ1 :  Maan, yeah Two-For-The-Road for us. 
DJ2 :  So WTF was all that stuff about, we just saw?
DJ 1 : (He’s the Socrates of the two). : Don’t you get i?
DJ2 : Yeah, The Great Leader is globe trotting while the Handsome One is getting his hands dirty! That’s what! 
DJ 1 :  Nope. This isn’t about where they are! This is about how they communicate, when they are there!
DJ 2: Yeah, but The Handsome One got the proletariat all cued up. 

DJ 1 : Nope, son! (he always says son, as a prelude to a long monologue. He's actually 2 years older than DJ2 and they're both about 24 years old)

The Mighty Leader took the Big Picture about zillion dollar Foreign Investment and brought it right into a person’s home :  people trust us with their money its not about the amount, your family back home can benefit from just a small contribution, your honest and hard work are our real assets that's enabling all this and my fame isn’t about me…its about you…the face of our country.

The Handsome One went to their home, and discussed what’s on the Other Side of the Uranus….not what screws up their life everyday and what he’s gonna do about it.


DJ1 and DJ2 got home safely.  They called mobile-phone-application based cab service at short notice and paid less than the likely auto-fare.  DJ2 posted an article about greedy international app-based cab companies the next day.  DJ1 skipped office due to a hangover and then wrote his piece supporting personal freedom..or some such shit. 

Author’s Note :
This story is inspired by true events. Critical points have been altered to protect the identities of the principal characters, their country and references to persons, organisations, places and events. In case there is a direct relationship to real things....what a creative of you...well done! 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Internet for Everthing

Net Neutrality, being a good person and all that stuff.

Some things sounds so nice to propagate. It’d be nicer still if we could walk to the talk. Net neutrality is one such item. Like love, friendship, good parenting and good citizenry, no one will generally object to it. But the god is in the details.

Net neutrality - everyone should get equal access and speed for their packets - in a first-come-first-served basis to reach anywhere they want to...on the net.The way the government and citizens act upon their belief on the matter is as under :

i) The government auctions licenses to operate to bidders.  The government, through its minister, has also said they believe its a necessity for a free democracy-

So why is a universal right pre-emptively taxed like hell through auction licenses?

Highest taxes win. Before the network is even established. Lets contrast this with roads, the net is a virtual road. Roads are auctioned out to:
  1. the lowest cost bidder
  2. who can build to a specific standard and availability
  3. within a time frame defined up front

Telecom related licenses go :

d. to the highest bidder (ISPs excluded). When the latest round happened, the government already knew that Skype, whatsapp, Viber and several other services provided VoIP voice services - that would be cheaper for citizens and reduce revenues. They still set the base price on a context that may have been valid in 1994 - when it all started. Wow!
e. there is no availability criteria. Even today, providers routinely refuse coverage of certain areas - sometimes because they’re full up and other times, its not worth their while. This is in a city not the 7 persons per square kilometer area infested with snakes and disaster prone.
f.  there are no defined time frames for anything.
g.  there are no enforcements, in meaningful terms, of any standards. Call drops on mobile phones are about 1 per minute, internet speeds (wireless) are most of the time quite pathetic. The only time that there is absolute clarity and high speed - are in the advertisements and in movies. Can you recollect a single time when the hoodlum boss says“abhi thok do” on his mobile and the henchman says “kya, kya..theek se sunayee nahi de raha hai”?.

Meanwhile, the government is sitting on unspent amounts of nearly Rs 35,000 crores in the USO Fund. Created ( with much fanfare, it lies unused while several areas remained uncovered by a necessity for a vibrant democracy.

A critical mass about the debate was reached on Airtel Zero’s plan. It essentially allowed some websites to pay the carrier for surfing time and not others. A toll free number. There are several pros and cons downstream for such an arrangement - imagine if Google paid for your surfing time - that’d shut out all competition. By itself, the telco has innovated to guarantee extra income.

No one asked a key question, however, is why the government can’t pay for citizens’ surfing time on its public services delivery? After all the auctioned fees paid are built into the costs of the system. If not a toll free access, then atleast a flat fee access - low and to ensure that fast system response speed is the govt’s responsibility.  

Citizens making the maximum noise are the Facebook, Twitter using variety. Neither qualify as essential services - any more than ice-cream or music videos do.  No one has asked why say, a student’s online classroom quality is suffering, or an important application form or railway booking for a rural citizen is being held up because critical apps like selfies and AIB roast videos are hogging all the bandwidth. I’d be willing to bet, on a random analysis of data (govt is snooping anyway, as are the like of Google and Facebook) will reveal a proportion higher than 75% for purely entertainment and social use.

We haven’t made a noise about :
  1. Call drops
  2. Erratic net speeds vis-a-vis committed on contracts
  3. Why roaming charges are exorbitant when the technology makes the definition of telecom “circles” just another piece of government defined sloth. In fact, the government had taken telcos to court for sharing spectrum licensed to them in a circle with other operators to provide seamless roaming. “How dare you provide better services with innovative use of spectrum?”. But that’s a topic for another day.
  4. Why its taken about 10 years to act upon number portability? The mobile telephone number acts, de facto, like an internal passport in India for usage of a variety of services including banking, email accounts and so on. Telecom companies were virtually holding disgruntled customers hostage due to the number.
  5. Why isn’t the government, on a defined time frame, putting everything it can possibly can, on the net? For citizen access and business access. What simpler way to reduce corruption, than track all this and nail the bottlenecks?

Meanwhile, there is the technology domain where a lot of evil things can run amok that no one may know about. Lets list a few :

i) Your internet provider may anyway classify different users and assign different data pipes and priority. In return for this, a content provider (say pays 6x of normal web hosting fees - its a private transaction that doesn’t need disclosure. For a long time, voice and data follow different paths - the former needs urgency of completion and the latter needs accuracy.

ii) Various filters - including those placed by snooping agencies, may anyway slow down your access. If the snooper doesn’t have sufficient capacity or is not smartly programmed. This happens anyway with a standard anti-virus programme on your device!

The biggest protection against all this is multiple choice of access providers and their inability to cartelize. Plan B will be to treat it completely as a utility and live with the so-far, below par performance on electricity supply, water and sewerage and even roads.  None of which, by the way, have any time frame for completion, availability or enforceable standards at the your place of work or residence. There were procedural delays, you see. Guess who controls the procedures?

Meanwhile an activist group is rumored to be planning a new music track called “Internet for Nothing”...which begins with “I want my FB and G”.  We certainly are in dire straits.

Friday, November 28, 2014


Lou Bloom is hardworking. He works through the night, every night.
He is optimistic. No setback diminishes his confidence that the good times are just at that left turn ahead.
He is committed. He does not duck the hard work it entails.
He is a quick self-learner. He trains himself to do things at appropriate times during the day. He uses technology – on line resources including business school curriculum.
He is focussed. He does not get distracted by emotive issues.
He communicates clearly. No ambiguity in what he says.
He is a good negotiator. He strives for the best deal regardless of the wicket he’s batting on. And accepts quickly when it’s a bad wicket and does not waste the other person’s time.
He has no ego. Insults, insinuations and sledges – are all filtered for the constructive feedback they may provide, and the rest discarded.
He carries no grudges.
He is a sensitive communicator. At no point does his manner or context of communication, treat the other person as anything less than one worthy of dignity and equality. If his communication is hurting you, that’s exactly what he intended.
He takes defeats in his stride.  A failed negotiation is an opportunity to learn, not the end of life.
He seizes opportunity. Small openings are leveraged for learning, earning and yearning.
He is an egalitarian – no racism, misogyny. He doesn’t expect anyone to do things he hasn’t done himself, or won’t do himself.
He is visionary. He does not want to dilute his vision of his work whether its partnerships, employment or meaningful relationships.

Lou Bloom is the epitome of the modern, evolved dream of the highly educated, trained and sensitive society. This is the person who holds the highest office – running a leading news channel providing cutting edge insights into life, or running the billion dollar corporation, or running the global initiative to resolve poverty or…..running a country. Who wouldn’t want a person with all those qualities to be in charge?

Lou Bloom is the guy we see on TV, the guy we meet at work, in the boardroom, pushing the “big idea” that will resolve poverty and the world’s ills, who conducts proper and scintillating conversations in social fora – sensitive to everyone’s needs and points of view.

Lou Bloom is a despicable, horrible human being. Everything in life is geared towards ordering itself around his happiness. Appropriate conduct is the currency with which he trades with the world. Lou Bloom is the monster that walks amongst us, sometimes inside us.

Nightcrawler –I’ve never enjoyed a movie so thoroughly, where I started out disliking the character and finished almost homicidally hating him. And walked away with the thinking I’ve met this guy (girl) in many places, in the real world I live in.

Brilliantly told tale. With an outstanding performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. You’ll love to hate this guy.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

No Country for Bold Men

The newly formed Telangana state announced a “nativity” survey.  In response to protests, the government clarified that it is just to profile citizens of the newly formed state. Of course, the Census of India doesn’t do that (why should we believe another government’s survey, even if it is our own national government?). 

So now, ostensibly, the profile is supposed to identify the fake beneficiaries of various schemes.  Every scheme inevitably needs a document of eligibility – a ration card, an ID card (BPL), a caste certificate, a passport. All these documents are provided by the state. However, why should we believe the state’s own documents when we may conduct another survey? This time, the coverage of millions of people, will be miraculously fake-proof. Who says we aren’t perfectionist?

The real reason, like it or not, is to identify a segment called Telangana natives. After all this is  reason the state was formed. Community based discrimination has been addressed largely (reservation policies) as has poverty based discrimination (BPL cards). Neither is perfect, but 1.2 billion people are a large number. Accuracy can’t be handled on Facebook, it requires real, live persons and an industrial era relic called paper.

Similar echoes of nativity has been doing the rounds through extreme right wing organizations in Mumbai, Bengaluru and some other places. The TRS has its roots in left wing politics (if one must classify such things). Both wings want natives – of the city or state or region. There seems little reason to classify them as left or right.

Natives can access opportunities – preferential quotas, government dole and subsidies. These aren’t minor.

  • In Tamil Nadu, a few years ago, it got you a free TV set.  The free TV set didn’t come with free electricity in a power deficit state. But that’s another matter altogether.
  • Or better still, admissions to educational institutions.  Why bother expanding the supply of educational institutions to resolve such problems? Better to reserve seats and admissions. There must be some mathematical logic to ensuring everyone has access to education with deficit supply that clever politicians and activists know about.
  • And jobs. Government is a huge employer and can stipulate job holdings for locals. The “local jobs” aspect is called participatory and inclusive economic development – by some – and anti-market – by others. When a tribal chieftain in a struggling state asks for such things – it’s an extortive tax. When its backed by a law it is called “inclusive development”.

As a citizen of India, I may soon be wondering about my “nativity” within India.  As this would affect the scope for a normal life – no school admissions, higher priced services and many such things. Plus I’ll have to buy an expensive TV.  The children may have to seek jobs in places where they aren’t natives. Some categories of non-reserved jobs are white-collar private sector …but that’s controlled by admissions to universities (in short supply) that make one eligible. The other category is menial jobs especially those viewed as “dirty”.  No one has yet raised the flag for reservation of jobs on watchmen (they’re called guards or security these days in cities), domestic help, latrine cleaning and so on.  Don’t knock this. It’s a global phenomenon relative to the prosperity of the economy. Dirty tasks like call centres moved out, till the host economy hit the skids – now they want them back. All are welcome to do hard manual labour on construction crews, farms, plantations and so on. Non-natives may do such work freely.  

All this points towards a growing tribalization – all those rights enshrined in our Constitution are more likely to be available when you live with your own tribe in your native place.

Don’t decry this as “terrible”, “regressive”, “stone age” etc.  Its particularly not stone age (and plenty of other metallic and non-metallic ages since then). In fact till about a hundred years ago people in most parts of the world could go and live anywhere and make a living, settle down, own, and prosper. They had to find a way to blend in to the community ethos – however good or bad it was (migrants).  Or become powerful enough to rewrite the rules for themselves (colonizers).

Whatever might be the criticism of Telangana’s approach on nativity (as an Indian it has me worried), it is exactly the same approach used by nation-states to divide people and their access to opportunity. Ratified by laws (passports, visas etc) that are enforced, like it or not, with brute physical force. We seem to have accepted that it is some divine or evolutionary diktat (this is my contribution to “inclusive” – lest the atheists or theists feel discriminated against) that parts of our planet belong to someone and no one else is allowed there.

Somehow, long term, by restricting opportunities it seems we’ll have fewer wars, less conflict and inequality. Some passing comet may throw an energy beam that will convert our minds to healthy co-existence.

Meanwhile, there seems bigger barriers to being bold and leaving your native place. It’s a world where there is no country for bold men. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Fruits of Anarchy

Two young blokes decided to augment income by renting space in their apartment to out-of-town visitors. Their suite on offer was two air mattresses. The town was full-up, conventions happening. They’ve become a pretty large operation called Airbnb. Airbnb provides a meeting point for people with spare space at home (all kinds) and people who want a place to stay.

It’s become pretty huge and is now catching the attention of mainline hoteliers. Some lines of argument include:
i) They don’t pay the taxes we do
ii) They aren’t subject to various quality and safety standards that we are

Another bloke got pissed off waiting for a cab in Paris. At some point this has resulted in Uber, a private taxi service - you can become a taxi service provider with your own car.

Objections raised include:
“Private hire cars must not be allowed to become a part of the wider public transport system and be confused with taxi services,” the NSW Taxi Council says.

A couple of key things emerged, in my mind, about all this:

The Clash of UnCivilizations – Planet Goodboy vs the Heathen

The “GoodBoy” laws presume:
i)  A homeowner lives a high risk life and is willing to endanger her own life along with a guest for some money. I’m sure all of us are this greedy and short-sighted and we must trust the far-sighted and socially conscious megacorporations instead. Likewise a private car owner must be heading for a collision course with herself at the wheel, but will get an automatic dose of Sensibility Serum when she is an employed driver of the Big Taxi Corporation
ii)  There is a normal risk that occurs in life. No number of laws and liability suits can make life risk free. The “risk-free” life is an illusion we often create as an extended snootiness of affluence rather than real world situations.
Once laws are to be enacted, everyone gets in the fray. Including all of us experts. I say “us” because on public policy everyone is an expert – we routinely praise and abuse all policies. It’s good for democracy that we do – what isn’t good is when the laws are shaped by our emotional states.

Emotional laws may require special category passengers, the private car owners to build features for variously challenged individuals and income group concessions. Noble nationalists may even require that the cars be made available for the “draft” during a crisis.  Someone may shoot someone in a cab ride and then there’ll be a gun-policy debate. An offensive smelling passenger may be refused service and a discrimination lawsuit will define what constitutes a secular smell that is deemed acceptable to all. There may be a new device called an “odourmeter” in all cars as a result. By the time these are all enacted:
a.        The service could be killed
b.      A new breed of criminals, who violate these various laws, will be formed
c.       Various inspectors appointed to guard the interests of the public may seek recourse to off-record incomes from b. above.
You know, that sort of a thing.

The Tectonic Shake in Central Planning
Both services optimize use of assets created. This has resulted in a public benefit - in an arena largely classified as essential - accommodation and transportation. Pricing is spread across the spectrum as a private negotiation.  This has been the goal of “central planning”. Using public resources best to achieve public benefits on needed stuff. This one is better, as it’s driven by vested interests - the service intermediaries, the asset sharers and the asset users - and NOT by the asset builders.

Both services are on a collision course with a combination of large organized private sector enterprise and Planet Goodboy laws.

Private sector enterprises (larger corporations) want to kill this by asking government to impose more laws and taxes on them. Both will increase the costs of compliance and services - that the consumer will pay for the same services. Additional revenues will accrue to govt by taxes - to waste on central planning - and to financial services sectors - insurance companies. The latter will then invest in safe things like CDOs and debt of nice countries like Spain and Greece.

The Hotel Industry goes through the classic “multiplier effect” cyclical downturns. Two good years and 10 bad ones. All the shakedowns, consolidations etc. reflect a collective waste. Airbnb type operations smoothen these cycles. Which is a good thing.

Urban transport planning is at best, a constant nightmare. Car pool lanes, pollution taxing blah blah. Uber style services at least switch the 1 person car into 2 person cars and ease traffic congestion. Even the carbon emission guys and the austere-life brigade can reduce their hate of the car bloke by half now.

Airbnb and Uber are examples of “privatized” central planning. Its biggest enemies are big government and big organized corporations. Its anarchy working for daily life.

Anarchy is also defined as an absence (of the heavy hand) of government.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Art of Dying - ....(an economics fairly tale).

An article in The Economist stomped the government in Zimbabwe on its economic policies. In the wake of its destruction, a closed factory that was making Dettol and beer companies that said “this bud’s not for you”. Now the hapless citizen has to drink homemade brews instead of aluminium can beer. Ideology apart - who the hell needs Dettol or beer from somewhere, to lead a fulfilled life. The guy under the Bodhi tree had neither, and look what happened. (others did in more challenging locations...but that’s a side lane to this plot).

The refrain amongst political parties and, indeed, most Indian educated is exactly the same. Why do we need all these * ****** ? ***** list of candidates include Coke, MacDonald’s, WalMart, Hollywood movies, English language...and many other things. In fact we often learn this after a multiplex Hollywood movie at MacDonald’s over a Coke and Spicy Burger in English. The trigger may be the expensive ticket, charged by the Indian owner and taxed humungously by the local government, that results in “see how they are looting us and killing our culture” reactions.  We didn’t know that someone had held a guy to the speaker’s head to go the movie……(but you cleverly deciphered that part). “Entertainment” is philosophically frowned upon.. its a luxury, that’s why its so heavily taxed. The country needs serious people.

Lets accept we don’t need all those products and services. So what do we need to live? Food and water. Clothes aren’t necessary. There isn’t any main street with latest trends in the Amazon. Google’s revenue model may struggle there.

Constant availability of food, and the struggle to ensure it, resulted in agriculture. Instead of expeditions everyday to find food, it’d just outside the sleeping place (no...not office, home). In fact “it’d be easier to live together and grow food” was the vote-on-feet referendum without media influence around the globe..

Even with all this - people were dying mysteriously. Cashing in on the mysteries were the mystics aka religion equivalent guys who know everything there is to know. Nowadays we call them management consultants. Till some bloke called Hippocrates reduced the felony counts on the god domain. To cut a long story short, people live longer because its safer to eat and drink water and combat other species who end up killing us, in their quest for living happily after. The bacteria and virus kind - real virus, not the computer kind. We haven’t reached the “save the virus” stage yet on those species, so for now they’re against us and not with us.

The quality of health care is closely linked to the spread of knowledge (think printing press so its captured forever), travel (so the globe can now pool in knowledge) and speed (our lovely 21st net era, at least us rich folks). So the real glitch is knowledge poverty - because of which we die young before we fully realized our potential as, say,  a rapper.

The knowledge doesn’t come free. It needs education - the toolkit to assimilate knowledge. That we each generation doesn’t have to learn about fire from….er….scratch.

So we don’t need Dettol and the Spicy Mac, but we need education to help us live longer. We’ll leave out entertainment from this list for now. Who says entertainment has to be paid for? You can watch your local politician, in person, for free.

Science, as a means of predictable knowledge, has a very high failure rate in its quest to discover predictable. 99% if Edison is to be believed, 99.99 % if Pharma companies are to be believed (1 product in market for 10,000 investigate). And 99.9999% (1 in a million) according to reliable social media, if you’re hoping to take that nice girl next door out for dinner tonight.

So we don’t need resources, we need huge resources to figure out the science of living healthily longer and without entertainment. Entertainment is not equal to happiness (please go to

Unfortunately, all this resource gathering stuff has spun off into the gigantic global economy that we now have. Please don’t knock this. Massive changes happen in life are triggered by such trivial matters. A global leader in lighting engineering discovered use of manipulating light frequencies as he wanted his secretary’s lipstick to be seen properly at work.

The life where we discover that most people on this planet agree with our views, viz., everyone else is killing our culture. An Amazonian researcher (he lived there for nearly three decades) says that community size is around 15, and everyone mistrusts each other. But they don’t have to drive to work in this traffic and watch powerpoints in the board room, so their children can earn the right to do the same. They must be happier.

People now routinely live about three times as long as  they used to about 125 years ago. The focus of public health studies have expanded from battling disease to postponing how we die of old age.  To some this is progress. To others it isn’t.

So the philosophical choice isn’t about some crappy movie and the popcorn on the one hand, and our culture on the other. (there won’t be much culture going around if no one recorded it)..

Its more like “do you want to live longer?”. The art of dying.

A key to living longer is approaching life like a team sport.  Who says you gotta join a team? As they say on TV, “The choice is yours”. (Just pretend I have a baritone, a nice suit and a raised eyebrow).