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).

Sunday, January 26, 2014

You shelf actualize while....

This afternoon I was reading a book called “Collapse” by Jared Diamond. Its been 75 pages of fun reading so far. Featuring was a place called “Big Hole” Montana. Nested in between mountains, this beautiful place has a struggling economy by conventional standards. There is a lot of in-migration from rich guys from elsewhere, who live in upmarket country homes, normally their 2nd or 3rd. Some turn up for a round of golf for the day in private planes. Traditional economy isn’t doing too well with farming a big activity. Distance from markets makes the place less competitive. Young people leave as soon as they have the option. So it has rich part time residents, with long term residents facing a shortage of young and qualified people. A lament being the impact its having on life locally. Many residents are proud of their place notwithstanding lower cash incomes.

This evening I watched an Al Jazeera feature on Sichuan in China. About how its at the centre of an ultra-large migation of humanity to cities. All return for the Chinese New Year with family. Only the very old and some too young remain. The young and qualified have migrated. The commentator was lamenting the brain drain and the lack of people to do stuff here. None of them want to farm. This isn’t innocent observation but loaded commentary. Lamenting the “loss of agricultural expertize to the city” - a minute later the parent saying the kids hate farming (what expertize would they have picked up?). Very objective….the journalist’s objective.

A few years ago I spent some time in Chamoli district in Uttarkhand at work. A similar situation exists. All the young and educated who have the option leave. Its noticeable in any random community. We reached a conclusion that there was nothing to keep them back here….awaiting some natural disaster and few livelihood options besides livestock and farming (brilliant, weren’t we?).

The recurring theme of the commentators at each of the above:
i) Young people have left for city living
ii) A tradition and culture is dying
iii) how horrible

In each of the above cases, the commentators
i) were all rich and educated (relatively)
ii) not living in their native place at all
iii) had no intentions of doing so in the foreseeable future

and didn’t seem to think that they were doing or had done the same thing.

As if life isn’t difficult and complicated enough for those living in places with few options for personal fulfillment and jobs, they now have to bear the burden or preserving the culture and tradition to revive these dead end towns and villages. To enable that, other folks who’ve left their village and prospered in life in nice places feel better about the great traditions of the planet being handed down. Keep your curiousity for life on the shelf.

You shelf actualize and I’ll self-actualize. That’s the moral of this story.