Thursday, December 16, 2004

Charter = Better?

This article in the NY Times suggests that charter students may be performing WORSE than public schools, although it appears some of the difference might be from more minority students. But wait a minute ... wasn't that the premise of No Child Left Behind - that "excuses" like the size of the minority population, etc will not be tolerated? Ah hah ... turns out education is more complicated than we'd like to believe!

I say this even with the bias of someone who agrees that we've got to have and enforce standards to prevent the slide of our educational system into the dumps!

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Tween Marketing

I just watched a 60 Minutes story on Tween Marketing, where tweens (8-13 year olds) are recruited to be 'secret agents' who host slumber parties and convince their friends that the stuff they 'just happen to have' is cool! What the f*** is going on? I mean, what will these damn marketing firms stop at in their effort to undermine parental authority and brainwash our kids.

Sorry future-kids-of-mine, this is why you aint getting slumber parties, you aint getting malls, you aint getting shit ... you gonna be raised to be half-decent people ... cos half-decent trumps cool and bitchy!

Saturday, December 11, 2004

The Big Chill

I found this article very interesting. I can attest to the benefits of stress management. I remember developing a limp due to a bad knee, and being in severe pain towards the end of my consulting career. A vacation in India and back to school and the limp and the pain were eventually gone!!

It's funny ... here life is going on, and there is so much to be excited about, from the chirping of the birds to the wonderful loving people we are surrounded by, and yet we allow some silly thing at work to trump 'em all!

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Economics of Outsourcing

Interesting stats ... reprinted from a quiz on Yahoo Finance.

Each dollar that a US company spends on outsourcing a service job to India generates an estimated 1.13 USD in net value for the US, according to a recent study in the current edition of the Milken Institute Review (reg. req'd). The study also estimated that India gains 0.33 USD in net value from local wages, profits earned by local outsourcing companies and their suppliers, and taxes collected from all the local companies involved in the operation.

The net value generated by the outsourcing is returned to the US through several different channels. The outsourcing company can immediately recognize cost savings through lower wages, and many companies have seen additional cost savings from efficiency gains. US consumers benefit from the resulting lower prices. Outsourcing can also boost US exports to India, as the company builds the infrastructure to support the outsourced jobs. The Milken Institute points out, "A call center in Bangalore is likely to be filled with HP computers, Microsoft software and telephones from Lucent, and to be audited by PriceWaterHouseCoopers." The newly employed workers also have more money to spend on goods imported from the US. In 2003 the US exported 5b USD to India, an increase of 1.3b USD from the 2000 total.

While the outsourcing of jobs has become a hot-button issue for politicians and business leaders alike, a new study indicates that the actual impact on US workers is not as drastic as some may believe. A report by Lori Kletzer, an economist at the University of California Santa Cruz, studied the impact on American workers of non-manufacturing job loss due to free trade. Professor Kletzer found that between 1979 and 1999, 69% of US workers who lost a non-manufacturing job due to free trade found a new job within one year with an average salary equal to 96% of their prior job.

Jus' Say No to Martha!

So Martha Stewart's tipped to do a reality show for NBC. Great, another celebrity who is rewarded for infamy. This is the woman who committed FRAUD and got thrown in jail for it, made ridiculous comments to the effect that she was in the same league as Nelson Mandela (hang her for blasphemy!) and now she will make tons of money for it all. Oh yes, I do understand she was no Enron or Global Crossing, but her fraudulent ways cost tons of shareholders a lot of grief, not to mention life savings.

I think 5 months is justified punishment ... heck, I could even live with her not getting jail time. But to reward her is taking leniency a tad too far, don't you think? I say boycott the bitch!!

Monday, November 15, 2004

Damn the Dam!

This story reminds us again of our inadequacies in engineering natural systems. While human ego prods us to achieve the impossible (and this is personal - I'm myself a civil engineer), history tells us we should always be critical of our efforts, and prefer small-scale local solutions to gigantic works. And yet, at some level, engineers, policy makers and the other suspects favor the latter in a skewed desire to match up with a Wiser Power.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Wonderful book!

Folks, I finished this wonderful book called 'Nickel and Dimed' by Barbara Ehrenreich. This is an eye-opening book on the nature of low-wage work in the US. It really brings into focus the need to improve wage levels in this country. I give it two thumbs up, even if I disagree with the author on some aspects like drug testing, etc (sure, it may be a violation of your freedom, but I aint gonna here no dopey if I have a business!)

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

It's all about Reading and Riting!

Folks, I've gotten at least one reader (who I can identify!) who disagrees with my suggestion that Bush wins on education. Her credentials are far better than mine ... being an education major working with schools and the like. Nevertheless, I thought I'd present my view of why I prefer Bush's approach (the catch phrase is 'prefer' ... I don't think either candidate is a star, but I think we've given up on stars among our pols!)

FIrst, my 2 cents on the 2 candidates' approaches to problems. Bush is an action-minded man ... not super smart but action is what he thrives on. (Dennis Miller, appearing on the Jay Leno show, commented that what he likes about Bush's war on terror is that he doesn't overthink this issue ... 'I think he just wakes up every morning, lands on his 2 feet, scratches his balls and says, "Let's kill some f**king terrorists')

What that means is that Bush is gonna get a good share of his decisions wrong. Some would argue the war in Iraq is an example, as are many others. He has no patience for being caught in nitty-gritty ... he's gonna change the system, damnit! But that is precisely why he will also make some stupendous changes to our systems. He won't accept status quo, and he won't accept sitting by a flawed system.

Kerry, on the other hand, is a tweaker. He understands complexity ... is far smarter ... yadar yadar ya. I suspect he will make the 'right' decision more often ... or rather avoid wrong decisions. But he isn't the type to reform systems. He'll tweak here and there, but stand by failed systems because it's more convenient and because major reform is beyond his cautious mindset.

Then, the issue comes down to which style you think is right ... there is no right answer ... just like stock investing styles. This is part of why I have not yet supported either candidate ... because what we truly need is a blend of the two.

OK, back to education! The reality is that Bush has increased education funding dramatically, but overall funding has probably reduced due to the budget crunch in many states. This is unfortunate, but it is a recession. But the real reason why I think Bush scores over Kerry is the recognition that our education system is in need of major repair, not tweaking ... the decision to impose standards of teaching ... and the voucher program.

The voucher program? That raises your eyebrows, I'm sure. Well, the single biggest cause for bankruptcy in the US is people buying houses they can't afford to be in the "good" school district. The voucher program will eliminate that! Also, I believe when taxpayers are funding education, they should have the choice of the fabric of their school. So, for example, a family who wants to send their kid to a Catholic or a Hindu or a Muslim school should not have to spend exclusively out of pocket, while their tax dollars apparently pay for their education. Needless to say, we need to have standards of performance for these schools, but this is not an impossible task.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Debate III - Conclusion

Schieffer was the clear winner, asking good questions and keeping the candidates disciplined and not allowing them to stretch on and additional rebuttal time.

Between the candidates, I think it was close, with Kerry marginally ahead. Bush just doesn't do well in these situations - he doesn't have the command of numbers and facts that is required in these situations.

On a side note, I think Kerry's gonna sleep on the couch. GOD, couldn't he think of something to say about Theresa. He sounded like he would have wanted Laura except for Theresa's money!

Debate III - Minority Issues

OH Bush is supposed to meet with the clowns at NAACP who compared him to Hitler and Saddam?

TIE - Kerry scores for being for diversity but not quotas; Bush wins for minority home ownership

Debate III - Assault Weapons Ban

OK Kerry, you don't look like a hunter, so quit trying to show off as some machismo! Kerry still wins because of Bush's complete lack of leadership on this issue! SHAME SHAME!!

Debate III - Foreign Policy

Oh George, stop that damn "global test" nonsense! Kerry fails though because there is the lingering question why he voted against the '90 Gulf War.

Debate III - Labor

Kerry fails for talk of raising the minimum wage - just not pragmatic in a global world.

Bush wins on the issue of education, even if he didn't address the issue of underfunding NCLB convincingly.

Debate III - Immigration

Both lose. Didn't hear one ounce worth of useful stuff. Great that you talk of illegal immigrants, but what about those who are here BY THE RULES!!!

What makes you think illegal immigrants will go back when their newfound legal visas end?

Debate III - Social Security

Kerry loses because he jumped to jobs and wants to put the social security issue till later.

Bush doesn't really win because he failed to refute Kerry's contention that privatization would bankrupt SS.

Debate III - Healthcare

Healthcare: Kerry wins. One big concern for me personally was government-run healthcare, but Kerry used the Blue Cross Blue Shield example effectively. I'm still sketchy what the limits are, but certainly he's boosted my confidence.

Debate III - Early Views

OK, here's my early opinion ...

Kerry - Doing well. Dishing out facts and numbers.
Bush - Hey, enough fluff ... where's the beef?
Schieffer - Kicking butt. The best show so far from a moderator. Like the question on whether homosexuality is a choice. Staying away from the chliched questions. EARLY WINNER!!

Bashing Free on the Air

First, let me say it's wonderful to be back in action. I passed my PhD quals and am now allowed to spend many more good years in pursuit of scholarly achievement.

OK, there's been a lot of angst over these guys at Sinclair Broadcasting Corp wanting to air an anti-Kerry documentary on the airwaves. Listen, this is OUR space, and we let these bozos use them for our benefit, and any partisan nonsense like this should be illegal! If the name Sinclair rings a bell, it's cos these idiots are the ones who refused to air the pictures of our fallen soldiers. This is truckloads of CRAP! We have soldiers dying out there, and we need to respect their sacrifice, irrespective of the political consequences.

On the same note, we need to question the logic of allowing biased political opinion on the free airwaves. I mean, I like Bill Moyers, but there is no way in hell he is non-partisan. He is a liberal ... one who is articulate and clear, but a liberal nevertheless. Should it be sold as a news program?

I think we should have programs such as NOW with Bill Moyers, but we do need a disclosure clause. After the stock market scandals, every newspaper publishes a disclaimer on the vested interests the analyst has in that stock ... we need a similar clause for news reporting ... XYZ has contributed $1,500 to the RNC/DNC, and has funded causes such as yadar yadar ya. Then people can figure out for themselves if they trust the "reporting".

Also, none of this "NEWS" nonsense. When you read a newspaper, in theory, you know what is NEWS and what is OP-ED. Same should go for TV stations!

Monday, September 27, 2004


OK, this has gotta be short, cos I have these big tests to work on. In recent times, I have been moving to the right, mostly on economic agenda. However, this powerful piece by one of my favorite journalists is moving me to reconsider my prior opposition to the war in Iraq. Read and contemplate ... I'd love to hear your views.

[The following article was published in the NY Times]

Another Triumph for the U.N.

Published: September 25, 2004

And so we went the multilateral route.

Confronted with the murder of 50,000 in Sudan, we eschewed all that nasty old unilateralism, all that hegemonic, imperialist, go-it-alone, neocon, empire, coalition-of-the-coerced stuff. Our response to this crisis would be so exquisitely multilateral, meticulously consultative, collegially cooperative and ally-friendly that it would make John Kerry swoon and a million editorialists nod in sage approval.

And so we Americans mustered our outrage at the massacres in Darfur and went to the United Nations. And calls were issued and exhortations were made and platitudes spread like béarnaise. The great hum of diplomacy signaled that the global community was whirring into action.

Meanwhile helicopter gunships were strafing children in Darfur.

We did everything basically right. The president was involved, the secretary of state was bold and clearheaded, the U.N. ambassador was eloquent, and the Congress was united. And, following the strictures of international law, we had the debate that, of course, is going to be the top priority while planes are bombing villages.

We had a discussion over whether the extermination of human beings in this instance is sufficiently concentrated to meet the technical definition of genocide. For if it is, then the "competent organs of the United Nations" may be called in to take appropriate action, and you know how fearsome the competent organs may be when they may indeed be called.

The United States said the killing in Darfur was indeed genocide, the Europeans weren't so sure, and the Arab League said definitely not, and hairs were split and legalisms were parsed, and the debate over how many corpses you can fit on the head of a pin proceeded in stentorian tones while the mass extermination of human beings continued at a pace that may or may not rise to the level of genocide.

For people are still starving and perishing in Darfur.

But the multilateral process moved along in its dignified way. The U.N. general secretary was making preparations to set up a commission. Preliminary U.N. resolutions were passed, and the mass murderers were told they should stop - often in frosty tones. The world community - well skilled in the art of expressing disapproval, having expressed fusillades of disapproval over Rwanda, the Congo, the Balkans, Iraq, etc. - expressed its disapproval.

And, meanwhile, 1.2 million were driven from their homes in Darfur.

There was even some talk of sending U.S. troops to stop the violence, which, of course, would have been a brutal act of oil-greedy unilateralist empire-building, and would have been protested by a million lovers of peace in the streets. Instead, the U.S. proposed a resolution threatening sanctions on Sudan, which began another round of communiqué-issuing.

The Russians, who sell military planes to Sudan, decided sanctions would not be in the interests of humanity. The Chinese, whose oil companies have a significant presence in Sudan, threatened a veto. And so began the great watering-down. Finally, a week ago, the Security Council passed a resolution threatening to "consider" sanctions against Sudan at some point, though at no time soon.

The Security Council debate had all the decorous dullness you'd expect. The Algerian delegate had "profound concern." The Russian delegate pronounced the situation "complex." The Sudanese government was praised because the massacres are proceeding more slowly. The air was filled with nuanced obfuscations, technocratic jargon and the amoral blandness of multilateral deliberation.

The resolution passed, and it was a good day for alliance-nurturing and burden-sharing - for the burden of doing nothing was shared equally by all. And we are by now used to the pattern. Every time there is an ongoing atrocity, we watch the world community go through the same series of stages: (1) shock and concern (2) gathering resolve (3) fruitless negotiation (4) pathetic inaction (5) shame and humiliation (6) steadfast vows to never let this happen again.

The "never again" always comes. But still, we have all agreed, this sad cycle is better than having some impromptu coalition of nations actually go in "unilaterally" and do something. That would lack legitimacy! Strain alliances! Menace international law! Threaten the multilateral ideal!

It's a pity about the poor dead people in Darfur. Their numbers are still rising, at 6,000 to 10,000 a month.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

What Stress?

I'm still on a break from blogging, with my PhD qualifiers up in 9 days. Can't wait to getting back to good ol' ranting self. Meanwhile, check out this article in the NY Times, comparing work stress today with those of previous generations.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

A Heart Wrenching Story

This heart wrenching story reflects poorly on our humanity... that we would allow a poor sick Mexican man dying of congestive heart failure to die because of money. It's a very sad day because, although not a surprise, it is a reflection of our priorities in life. The very people who praise the great men of their religions, be it Jesus, Mohammed or the Buddha, don't seem to be burdened by the need to replicate their loving actions.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

A Day in the Life of Joe Middle-Class Republican

[The following was reproduced from Michael Moore's website,]

August 29th, 2004 9:38 pm
A Day in the Life of Joe Middle-Class Republican

by Donna L. Lavins and Sheldon Cotler

Joe gets up at 6:00 AM to prepare his morning coffee. He fills his pot with good, clean drinking water because some liberal fought for minimum water quality standards. He takes his daily medication with his first swallow of coffee. His medications are safe to take because some liberal fought to insure their safety and that they work as advertised.

All but $10.00 of his medications are paid for by his employer's medical plan. Because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance, now Joe gets it too. He prepares his morning breakfast -- bacon and eggs this day. Joe's bacon is safe to eat because some liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry.

Joe takes his morning shower, reaching for his shampoo. His bottle is properly labeled with every ingredient and the amount that is contains because some liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and the breakdown of its contents. Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some tree-hugging liberal fought for laws to stop industries from polluting our air. He walks to the subway station for his government-subsidized ride to work; it saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees. You see, some liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor.

Joe begins his work day; he has a good job with excellent pay, medicals benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Joe's employer meets these standards because Joe's employer doesn't want his employees to call the union. If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed he'll get worker's compensation or an unemployment check because some liberal didn't think he should loose his home to temporary misfortune.

It's noon time. Joe needs to make a bank deposit so he can pay some bills. Joe's deposit is federally insured by the FSLIC because some liberal wanted to protect Joe's money from unscrupulous bankers who ruined the banking system before the depression.

Joe has to pay his Fannie Mae underwritten mortgage and his below market federal student loan because some stupid liberal decided that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned more money over his lifetime.

Joe is home from work. He plans to visit his father this evening at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive to dads; his car is among the safest in the world because some liberal fought for car safety standards. He arrives at his boyhood home. He was the third generation to live in the house financed by Farmers Home Administration because bankers didn't want to make rural loans. The house didn't have electric until some big government liberal stuck his nose where it didn't belong and demanded rural electrification (those rural Republican's would still be sitting in the dark).

Joe is happy to see his dad, who is now retired. Joe's dad lives on Social Security and his union pension because some liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn't have to. After his visit with dad, Joe gets back in his car for the ride home. He turns on a radio talk show. The host keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. He doesn't tell Joe that his beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day. Joe agrees, "We don't need those big government liberals ruining our lives. After all, I'm a self-made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have."

In the years to come, Joe's life will change dramatically. The U.S. dollar will be devalued as a result of our huge deficit, our living standards demolished, our standing with the world diminished and our social security gone...all because some conservative republican made sure he could take care of himself and his buddies.

Aghast, i remain...

Monday, August 30, 2004

Laura Brings Me Back

OK folks, I have these big exams in 28 days, so I've sorta sworn off my blog till then, but good ol' Laura Bush got me back with an interview to Time Magazine. She sees no problem with In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), which destroys tons of embryos, while she and other lunatic evangalists prevent embryonic stem cell research. If someone can help me figure it out, that'd be great!

She also says her big objection with stem cell research is that we may be promoting false hope. Sure, but that doesnt mean there's anything wrong with it! I mean, what about her hubby's money-sucking Mars program, that has been swindling money from education and environmental programs in the promise of ... what again? Or what of that silly missile defense system, which has failed to survive the basic pilot tests mapped for it!

I'm no fan of Kerry's, but looks like we get to decide between Mr. Flip Flop and Mr. Hypocrisy!

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Ah, the Joys of Moving ...

OK, so I'm in my office on a Saturday. No, not because I suddenly have discovered hard work, but to get away from hell ... a.k.a. house on moving day. I mean, I would rather scratch myself with a stainless steel utility knife than move. Really, if you would do my moving for me, I can go and buy that knife!

Talking of moving, ever feel like you are just hauling crap from one place to another? So I decided to come up with a 3-year rule ... if I didn't use it for 3 years, out it goes. Great in theory, except what constitutes using. I mean, that card that gal gave me for a birthday when I was a lot younger still gives me goosebumps, so it counts, right. And heaven knows you could never have too many staple pin boxes. So what if some of the pins aren't even for my stapler?!? And so the ritual goes on ... crap becomes valued for a precious few minutes only to turn to crap again ... while you buy new crap to manage the old crap.

Talking of which, how come noone ever thinks of moving when buying furniture. Yeah, that computer desk looks good ... never mind it will take me three freaking days to dismantle so that I can fit it through the door when I move ... oh, and who needs that silly old manual ... we'll turn the screws till it falls apart!!

Ah, how I love moving ...

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

The BUNZ are toasted!

Really sad to learn that Schlotzky's Deli is filing for bankruptcy. As a former frequent diner, I used to enjoy the food, and while not as good as Quizno's, it is cheaper! The ticker symbol BUNZ now trades for 57 cents a share, and will soon be worth a lot less! Hopefully we don't lose out on the number of stores (it's already been declining!). So folks with money, rally behind the giant and go there for lunch!!

Monday, August 02, 2004

A Democracy Should Work for All

I was once again deeply troubled to read about the displacement of tribals by the Sardar Sarovar Dam in India. While I have read conflicting reports on the economic and environmental implications of the project, none support the dictatorial attitude adopted by the federal and state governments in chasing the tribal inhabitants off, often without adequate compensation or relocation benefits. People in cities cannot seek to justify such horrors in the name of development. It's the tragedy of a democracy that the middle-class and the moneyed, who don't care enough to participate in the electoral process in substantial numbers, dictate so much of our economics, while the poor are misled by false issues to distract them from the real tragedies of governance.

Fat Bob Strikes Back!

OK, so it looks like fat activists are fighting back against notions that being overweight is bad for you. To be fair, some people are genetically heavier, and also may never have issues arising from being overweight. But you know what, some people never have issues from smoking, not all Indians (both Asian and Native American) suffer from diabetes. But as an Asian Indian, if I fail to see that for whatever reason, I'm prone to diabetes and need to take pre-emptive action, well, then I'm a stupid idiot who deserves what I get. Don't get me wrong - I have tons of overweight and fat family ... heck, most of my family could do with a few less pounds. But stop killing the freaking messenger, cut out those starchy foods and get your fat asses to the gym!!

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Supersize Me!

I'm really looking forward to watching the documentary 'Supersize Me'. This is a funny and yet serious look at the American obsession with fast food, where the moviemaker survives on a diet of supersized McDonald's meals for a month, while doctors track his vitals with horror. Incidentally, the website is pretty cool in itself and has many links including to this story about why the French do not face similar obesity problems. You should read the whole story, but here is one excerpt I particularly liked:

Nutritionist Dr Francoise L'Hermite says the French secret to staying slim is to do exactly as Clemence and her family do - make sure you sit down with friends or family for a meal, eat three times a day at regular intervals, don't snack, don't eat in front of the television, and finally - eat slowly and savour both the food and the company.

"For France, a meal is a very particular moment, in which you share pleasure, the food as well as the conversation," she says. "From an Anglo-Saxon point of view, food is just fuel to give energy to your muscles. If you have no pleasure in it, you are breaking all the rules of eating."

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Swing Voters and the Nature of the Election

I enjoyed this editorial in the New York Times - funny and yet substantive, reflecting on the nature of the Democratic convention and election year politics in general.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Get to Work!

Well, if I betrayed a liberal bias with my previous posting, here's my attempt to reclaim the center. This article on MSNBC indicates that that bastion of workers' rights may be finally cracking. Germans who are used to insane amounts of vacation are finally realizing that young men and women in China and India are willing to work their butts off for their job (ok, that wasn't in the story). Come on guys, you don't need 37 days off in a year!!

OK, and it also talks about overgenerous unemployment benefits preventing workers from feeling the need to take low-paid jobs! Hmm, are you listening, lefties? While I'm a big supporter of certain welfare programs, including benefits for all children (legal and illegal - no kid deserves any different!), it is obvious that an overgenerous system doesn't help these people.

Reminds me of a conversation that I had with a homeless father once ... still rings in my head and troubles me. We sat and had a chat, and he shared his very moving story with me about how he was trying to do better for his daugther. But while the government and churches and all other welfare organizations had invested extensive resources in "keeping him homeless", not one of them had ever bothered to help him break the cycle. To get a job, you need a place of residence ... to rent a place, you need a job, and for a guy who is labelled a bum of the streets without a family network to depend on, well, that's gonna be one long stay!

Lil Ron's Politics

While I'm no big fan of his dad (or maybe because of that?), I quite enjoyed this interview with Ron Reagan, Jr on NPR. He was honest, witty, charming and intelligent on a number of issues. A couple of points he hit that I really liked (don't let the illusion of quotes fool you - they are still paraphrased from what I recollect!)

On Stem Cell Research: "While I accept some pols may have moral objections to stem cell research, many still use it as political football. If they were sincere in their objection to the destruction of embryos as potential life, why not object to InVitro Fertilization (IVF) where thousands of identical embryos are destroyed! Because they know such an objection would be political suicide, because 'moral' men and women still want to use technology to have babies when other methods fail. But stem cells is something they can use to 'rally the base'!"

On Gay Marriage: "My wife and I have been happily married now for almost 24 years. But I'm sorry, now we're just gonna have to break up, because Stan and Rick are getting married!"

Overall, well worth the time to listen to the interview!

Monday, July 19, 2004

Graduate Student Union

The NY Times reported that the National Labor Relations Board reversed a prior decision to allow graduate students at private universities to unionize. This brings into focus the whole issue of whether students are primarily students or workers. One thing strikes me - do students WANT to be workers? As graduate students, we allow ourselves the liberties of poor research pace during our coursework deadlines ... we allow ourselves extended periods of vacation or unproductivity and indeed extended periods of productivity and overwork. What the unionization doctrine suggests is that we would have to abandon the spurts of creativity and motivation that define grad school for a professional production mode. That does not strike me as being particularly good.

That is not to say that there is no need for grad students to band together. Certainly, an aggressive graduate student body can rally the academic community to redress deficiencies that may exist, be it in pay, benefits or other issues. After all, an unhappy graduate student community would eventually reflect on the students, and would serve as warning flags to potential graduate students (who, by the way, read the entrapped community like a children's book!) It is unclear that there is a pressing case for a more legally binding resolution, especially one that opens the community to politics!

Sunday, June 27, 2004


US$ 60 million - Amount spent by steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal on his daughter's wedding
US$ 60 million - Amount spent by Sathya Sai Baba to bring water to an estimated 1.2 million people in the parched area of Rayalseema in southern India

US$ 12,000 - Amount spent by a friend of mine on a basement home theater system
US$ 12,000 - Cost to provide for the education and living expenses for 40 children in an orphanage from kindergarten till the end of high school

1 - The smallest positive integer
1 - The number of people needed to make a difference

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Secret of Success

I was reading about the Ambanis, who run the Reliance Group, India's largest private conglomerate, whose revenues account for 3.5% of India's GDP ... so valued that one in four stock-owning citizens of India own this company. Much has been written about Dhirubai, son of a school-teacher who created the empire, and even his elder son Mukesh who took over as CEO. However, a story about younger son and present vice-chairman Anil highlighted one important attribute for success.

Anil finished his last exam for his MBA at Wharton, and four hours later, caught a flight back to India. After the lengthy travel (easily over 20 hrs), he came home, showered and shaved, and went to work! No vacation, no time off, nothing!! Talk about dedication!!

Dress Your Family ...

I was at the bookstore yesterday, and read part of David Sedaris' 'Dress your Family in Jeans and Courdroy'. Quite hilariousand charming ... a definite must-read!! Incidentally you can read his interview on NPR at

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Caste System makes India an IT Superpower??

I am read an interesting book by Gurucharan Das called 'India Unbound'. He is the former CEO of Proctor & Gamble India. One of his theories for why Indian manufacturing has historically been so shoddy is that India's caste system placed the Brahmins, and their pursuit of knowledge in all its abstractness, on a pedestal, while it undervalued the skilled trades that required dexterity. Interestingly, he argues that's precisely the reason why we are good at Information Technology (IT) ... because we've been weaned on a dietary craving for abstractness for centuries!!!

Overall, the book's worth a read!!!

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Check the Fine Print!

I received a newsletter from what seemed to be an investment magazine yesterday. Not too unsual ... the usual bevy of advisors trying to get you to part with your hard-earned $$ for their hot stock tip. They were aggressively recommending an energy stock, which they prophesized was bound to skyrocket. Hmm, unfortunately for them, I love details and have developed a habit for reading fine print, so I scrolled down to their mandatory disclosures, only to discover that a) they have received tons of advertising dollars from that very company, b) they will continue to receive money for promoting the stock :-0, and c) the "advisor" personally owns 25,000 shares of stock in that company. Talk about conflict of interest ... actually, this wasn't one - the verbage made it pretty clear the firm that put out the newsletter was essentially an advertising firm. We can whine about what the heck are those folks at the SEC are doing, but I'd rather we just take matters into our own hands and stop getting conned. READ THE FINE PRINT, FOLKS!!

Friday, June 18, 2004

The Tree-Climber and Diamond Earrings

While I am often bothered by the nature of disparity, I was particularly moved by something that happened this week. I went to bed reading the story of a panaiyeri nadar, a tree-climber in my home state of Tamil Nadu, a story typical for many in his profession. His job is to extract date palm jaggery from the trees, for which purpose he has to climb the tree, extract the juice with a knife, and on to the next tree. He has no safety harness or other protective gear, and a fall guarantees death, or worse serious injury that could spiral his family into serious debt. He often has to climb upto 150 trees, each at least 15 to 20 feet in height. That's about the same as climbing 250 floors up a staircase, except he has no staircase or even ladder - just his bare palms and legs. He starts working at 3 am in the morning, and gets done about 6 in the evening. The fruits of his labor? About Rs. 5-8 (under US 20 cents!) a day ... oh and muscle pains, asthma and a host of other ailments!!

I woke up the next morning, and turned on my TV to discover it was National Splurge Day - and we were being shown how we could splurge (if we had the money!) ranging from caviar to $200,000 diamond earrings to a Merc wheels that set you back close to 400 grand! Sure, spend, revel in luxury ...

This bothers me a whole deal, and I'm no commie or leftie! I don't believe the Government should necessarily be a constant presence in our lives. But I do believe that we are humans, and humanity is what distinguishes us from the beasts of the jungle. How can people not be bothered by the extreme poverty that besets so many in the world? And I don't mean just the rich. How far would the $2000 you spent on a home theater system gone in those parts? How many palaiyeri nadars would have had access to a more supportive system?

Yes, governments are supposed to do that, but it's obvious that for many in the Third World, governments have failed them. But ask yourself, if a loved one where in need of medical attention, and the state-sponsored medical system (Medicare in the US) refused to provide any assistance, would you turn a blind eye to their plight?

Religions love to talk about the great attributes of their leaders. And yet, how is it that so many who tout the virtues of Christ, Mohammed, Rama, Buddha fail to attempt to replicate their compassion?

How about envisioning a year, nay a day as a panaiyeri nadar?

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Wake Up, You're Just a Pretty Doll!

As I turn on my TV, I see that the Miss Universe pageant is on. Women who obsess about maintaining an unhealthy body shape by starvation and strut around in miniscule clothing is supposed to represent the progress we've made in this country and in the world. You see, guys no longer dictate what these women can do.

Ok, I for one think this is BOGUS! I certainly hate to think of the days when women had little say in their lives or destinies, and were married off to some rich (often old) lord or the other, but substituting one flawed system for another is not the answer. All the Miss Universe pageants represent are human dolls, made for the sensual excitation of men and for the highlighting of feelings of inadequacy in normal women ... many of whom will then go out and come under the knife or subject themselves with painful toxins or other torture, seeking that perfect body image, rather than recognizing how smart or charming they are.

But God forbid someone think this is not a worthwhile exercise. Protestors are narrow-minded, fundamentalist (especially if they are Muslim), whackos and the like. I mean, after all, this is what our forefathers wanted. We should be allowed to celebrate our right to be shallow and stupid. After all, it is in pursuit of this freedom that we have our young sons and daughters giving their lives ...

The pageant organizers ask stupid questions on what you would do if you win, and the trained dolls expound on how they would help the sick or the hungry or the poor children. I guess I'm naive in not realizing that it takes so many years in changing your God-given bodies and mannerisms to be prepared for a life of service. And all this time, I thought all you needed was love and compassion ... silly me!

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Embrace of Fear

OK, so I'm old school ... OK, so I didn't know what the heck a blog was, even if I peddled it in social settings to sound cool ... OK, so I don't have a clue why I want to do this ... OK, so I love the sound of my voice ... OK, so this is about standing up and being heard, overcoming fear ...