How Kaavya got Wild and Bombed!

Kaavya Vishwanathan – the new Indian phenom bomb on the writing scene!

Excerpted from the latest update here on NY Times. (registration may be required).

A day after Kaavya Viswanathan admitted copying parts of her chick-lit novel, “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life,” from another writer's works, the publisher of the two books she borrowed from called her apology “troubling and disingenuous.”

On Monday, Ms. Viswanathan, in an e-mail message, said that her copying from Megan McCafferty's “Sloppy Firsts” and “Second Helpings,” both young adult novels published by Crown, a division of Random House, had been “unintentional and unconscious.”

The “unintentional and unconscious” is a nice spin, considering her initial comment to the Harvard Crimson which first broke the story: … Viswanathan said, “… I have no idea what you are talking about.”

In an earlier NY Times article celebrating the impending release of the book, here is how their piece ended:

Ms. Viswanathan's own parents have been intent on giving her a book party when she gets home from college this summer. “They wanted to have a red carpet strewn with rose petals,” she said, her voice rising. “And I've just woken up and I'm still in my pajamas and my mom will call, and she'll say like, 'Kaavya, would you prefer pink or white rose petals?' “

Slightly premature.

Justice for Terrorists should be Swift!

Whats with this dragging court hearings for the mastermind of the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts. Yes, he should get his day in court: ONE DAY! That's it!

Apparently, the guy responsible for killing 250 people, fears “hindu gangsters might kill him.” Bechara! (poor guy!) I thought these terrorists were not afraid of dying. Death was supposed to be a guaranteed path to heaven. Lets get him on the way – fast! Ditto with the Delhi bomb masterminds.

India should also consider transferring some of these terrorists to the US. See, they have a few vacancies at the sea-side facilities in Guantanamo Bay – Cuba, as their previous tenants have met with unfortunate accidents.

Is Steve Jobs a Konkani?

He certainly sounds like a Konkani in this article in The Economist.


Mr Jobs, a pescatarian (ie, a vegetarian who eats fish) … . (you want more?)

… he proclaims his belief in karma and in love. … love of one's ideals. Always do only what you love, and never settle, he advised … . His brush with cancer, in particular, seems to have focused his mind. “Death is very likely the single best invention in life,” Mr Jobs told his young audience. “All external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

Overall, an excellent article!

The American Way!

Last year the administration refunded nearly a trillion dollars (that’s a 1000 billion!) to the US population in the form of tax cuts. Also last year, oil companies raised gasoline prices, and consumers paid an extra trillion dollars to the oil companies. In effect, 1 trillion dollars were transferred from the US Treasury to the coffers of the Oil companies.

You may remember, oil company executives are nice buddies of the current administration. Smooth! That’s what friends are for! And everyone is talking about how great the tax cuts are.

However crooked the Indian politicians are, they are relatively tame compared to this. I hope they don’t learn this “American” way.

Economists and Inflation!

We all know that Economists are quirky folks. Here’s what The Economist says about inflation (Feb 5th, 2005):

… inflation remains tame. America’s headline inflation rate was 3.3% in December; the core rate (excluding food and energy) was 2.2%.

Food is things you eat to live. Energy represents costs for natural gas for heating homes; oil primarily for home heating, electricity for heating, lighting and running computers; gasoline for running automobiles. With winter’s sub-freezing temperatures upon us, heating is a big part of our non-discretionary expenses.

Economists seem to suggest that as long as you don’t heat your homes, or eat, or drive your vehicle, or use your computer – inflation is actually very low. Like I said, a funny bunch these economists!

Courage Matters

Just finished reading (actually listening to) John McCain's Why Courage Matters. A good read. Identifies the need for courage in our daily lives: how to recognize it, how to develop it, and ofcourse, why it matters? There was however too much emphasis on martial courage. Expected, considering John McCain himself is a Vietnam vet and an ex-POW.

In the book, McCain give examples of people in different walks of life and how they showed courage to stand up for what they believed in: Jack Lewis and America's civil rights movement, Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi, and Hannah Senesch of the jewish resistance who was captured and executed by the Nazi government in Budapest.

This was one of Hannah's poems:
Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flames.
Blessed is the flame that burns in the secret fortress of the heart.
Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its beating for honor's sake.
Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flames.


Other recently completed books (Mix of Fiction and non-Fiction):
Vikram Chandra, Love and Longing in Bombay
Douglas Adams, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (Audiobook)
BB Lal, The Saraswati Flows On
Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots and Leaves
Rohiton Mistry, Tales from Firozsha Baug
Ayn Rand, “Fountainhead” (Audiobook)

Next on my reading list: Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha.

Veerappan: Like a hole in the head?

The notorious, cruel bandit had an early start in life. Following in his father's footsteps, he killed his first elephant at the age of 14, for the ivory. Since then he slaughtered 100s of elephants. Then he chopped down 1000s of sandalwood trees, selling the wood on the black-market. He graduated to kidnapping and murdering humans: 124 by last count! At the peak of his notoriety, he even held the Kannada movie legend Rajkumar hostage for 108 days for a ransom of 200 million rupees (~ USD 4.4M).

He thought he was going for a cataract operation (phony ambulance and all), but instead got a hole in the forehead. kaanoon ke haat bahut lambae hai

For all his brutality, you would assume the country would be celebrating: Think again! Nearly 20,000 people flocked to his funeral!

adapted from The Economist and other news articles!

Authority of Ideas

“Dr. Stephen W. Hawking threw in the towel yesterday … . Dr. Hawking, the celebrated Cambridge University cosmologist and best-selling author, declared at a scientific conference in Dublin that he had been wrong in a controversial assertion he made 30 years ago about black holes, the fearsome gravitational abysses that can swallow matter and energy, even light. As atonement, he presented Dr. John Preskill, a physicist from the California Institute of Technology, with a baseball encyclopedia.” As reported in the New York Times, July 22, 2004.

In a free, rational and prudent society, such a statement is not only hailed but also adds to the prestige of the person. This reminded me of the authority of ideas as posited by Lawrence Summers. Universities are institutions where the authority of ideas reign supreme; this is in sharp contrast to corporations which thrive on the idea of authority.

In Hawking's cases, his self-less dedication to the pursuit of truth (and ideas) is what matters in life and having the maturity to acknowledge mistakes adds to his aura. This is particularly timely for me, as I prepare to tear down the walls and theories that I (and the giants whose shoulders I stood on) help build over the last decade, … and build new ones! Lets see what the future holds.

Notes: Hawking is the author of the best-selling A Brief History of Time;
Summers, Authority of Ideas, Harvard Business Review, Aug 2003.

Get Up! Do Something!

Get up, and set your shoulder to the wheel!
How long is this life for? As you have come into this world, leave some mark behind. Otherwise what is the difference between you and the trees and stones? They too come into existence, decay and die.

~ Swami Vivekananda

Socialists, Communists and Criminals!

Welcome to the New Indian Government!

A hodge-podge of unsavory characters. The ruling coalition represents 14 parties, 67 cabinet positions (doing what?), and 25 – 30 MPs have criminal records. BTW, no education, or governing experience is needed! Just promise free electricity to the poor and you are sure to be elected. Maybe even be a Cabinet Minister. Just ask Laloo. He is the new Railways Minister. Experience with dancing around trees is a big plus as well. Just check with the jumping jack Govinda. He is busy asking everyone, “What is your mobile number?” While the entire world seems to be embracing free market policies, indians are clamoring for the failed policies of socialists and communists, with the enthusiasm of love-struck teenagers.

With the frenetic pace of globalization, most economists would agree that the best role for government is to provide incentives and infrastrucutre development to alleviate poverty, rather than subsidies such as free electricity or water.

In the Aug 2003 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Lawrence Summers, President of Harvard University and former Secretary of the US Treasury during the Clinton Administration editorializes, “the communist vision has been rejected; the socialist vision of government owning and directing the means of production has been discredited. To a large extent, the idea that government can pick and choose activiites and command industry is seen as outmoded at best and counterproductive at worst.”

Why then this new fascination for socialists, communists and criminals in the government?

The role of leaders is not to provide free electricity or water, but to harness the resources so that individuals by their hard work can participate in the local economy and thrive. Leaders need to convince the masses that the role of government is not to provide a free lunch, but to provide all workers an opportunity to work and earn their own feast for lunch and dinner. The mantra should be “sacrifices and hard work are required by all,” but unfortunately, the current government’s messages is, “Feast for All.”

What did you expect with socialists, communists and criminals at the till. Welcome to the New India Dimming!

Lets Keep India Shining!

The political events in India over the last ten days has led to a flurry of editorials and extremists opinions on all sides of the political spectrum. Here on LJ, you can see spirited opinions posted every where. Spirited, because we all care about one thing! That Indian development and reforms continue and lead to long-term economic growth. The fruits of development should be enjoyed by all, the business entrepreneur to the rural farmer. How we achieve this is being debated and implemented. Political parties in the ruling alliance are changing their positions to reach a consensus. This is democracy at work. With much peaceful debate, we will tweak the system to do it right, and the spectacular progress of the last 7 years will continue.

Now that we have a new Prime Minister, an economist to boot, it behooves all of us to put our differences aside and work shoulder to shoulder to help him succeed. Actually we will be helping India succeed. We need a stable government to last 5 years. Election money can be better spent on providing basic necessities such as clean water, food, shelter and some clothing!

Lets reach inside our hearts and aspire for noble ideals. We can do it.
Lets keep India Shining!

Indians enamoured by Gori Memsahib

If you have read the news over the last few days, you are surely ashamed of the antics of the Congress MP begging and pleading for a white woman to lead them. The rest of the world will wonder, “Wow! India wants to be a superpower, but they have to beg a white woman to lead them?” The complete bankruptcy of the Nehru and Congress legacy. These same congressmen, signing their names in blood, forgot their grandparents shed blood during the freedom struggle, to get rid of the British.

Read this outstanding article by Francois Gautier who talks about the subservient mindset of the Indians.

a few of his quotes:

“I am sure Sonia has great qualities, but are Indians so dumb, stupid and backward, that they cannot find among themselves someone intelligent enough, non-corrupt enough, to lead them?”

Obviously, colonisation has frozen the Indian mind in certain patterns and the British made sure, through Macaulay's policies, of leaving behind an enduring inferiority complex among Indians, by constantly harping on the flaws of Indian culture and inflating them. That is why today Indian intellectuals repeat like parrots what their masters had said before them: ‘Hindus are fundamentalists/Brahmins are exploiters/Gowalkar was a Nazi/Indians are corrupt and no good.’

India Shining!

The largest democracy on the planet. Majority of the billion people in India are uneducated and illiterate. They still live on less than a dollar a day. In the recent elections, 350 million ballots were cast. The incumbent party was humiliated. The people elected a foreign-born to lead the country. All this happened peacefully.

Compare that to the last Presidential elections in the US between two ivy-league educated individuals. In India, no chads were hanging; No lawyers were hired; No court decisions were required.

Imagine, Manmohan Singh, architect of India's economic reforms a decade ago and a shoo-in as finance minister, needs to calm markets by saying: “We are not against disinvestment if it is in the national interest.” Confirms that the mantle of economic reform has passed to the nationalist BJP. And the Communist Party leader advises that his party is not really against privatisation. Truly, economics trumps ideology.

With grace Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee conceded defeated and called it a triumph for democracy. “My party and alliance may have lost, but India has won,” he said.

That is India Shining! Things worth living for.

Small hiccup in the market. In Monday mornings trading on the Bombay Stock Exchange, about $40bn of market valuation was wiped out (Added in revision: this is in addition to the $22bn wiped out on Friday). Does the market not have faith in Govinda, the Congress and its Communist Partners? Foreign funds net outflows this month total $357m. Notice is served!

Health and Dioxins

It is well know that dioxins are carcinogens, ie cause cancer. But where do they intersect our lives?

Plastic Water Bottles: Don't freeze your plastic water bottles with water as this releases dioxin from the plastic into the water.

Heating food in the microwave using plastic containers. The combination of fat, high heat and plastics releases dioxin into the food and ultimately into the body. Instead, use glassware, or ceramics for heating food.

Instant meals, soups, etc, should be removed from the container and heated in glassware.

Leftovers in foam containers are the worst. The dioxin released was the reason fast food restaurants moved to cardboard. But restaurants still give leftovers in foam containers and we tend to microwave the whole container. Ever since reading this info I caught myself doing it on more than one occasion.

Saran wrap placed over foods as they are microwaved with the high heat, actually drips toxins (mixed in with the condensate) onto the food. Remove plastic wrap and cover with glass dish or paper napkin.

Live long and healthy … so you can eat great foods and be happy!

info compiled from friends and newsletters!

Lost in Translation – Review

Warning! Tirade incoming!!!

Scarlett Johansson is hot!

I recently saw “Lost in Translation.” Scarlett Johansson is hot! What a waste of time! Scarlett Johansson is hot!

It is written and directed by Sofia Coppola, d/o of the legendary Francis Ford “The Godfather” Coppola. Scarlett Johansson is hot! This only confirms what we have long know: true talent is not passed through the genes.

That same Sofia, who looked ‘hot’ in Godfather III as the daughter of Michael Corelone, and looked ghastly at the recent Oscars. wohi, who made Virgin Suicides. I remember vividly. After seeing that movie I had felt the strong urge to slash my wrists. Now you know why all the sisters in that movie commit suicide. Can you imagine working with Sofia for months on end?

Scarlett Johansson is hot!

Coming back to our movie, there is no story. Actually the title of the movie was supposed to be, “A boring week in the life of an American Executive in Tokyo.” But the creative talent at the studio felt that would be giving away the whole story. Besides, coming over from Tokyo, it was lost in the translation (had to sneak it in somewhere). It is said that the movie was shot in a record 28 days. I ask, Why so long?

Scarlett Johansson is hot!

And, their website (which I will not be providing a link to) has the following banner:
“Over 245 critics nationwide rave,
One of the best pictures of the year
More than any other movie of 2003”

You must be kidding! Hello! There were atleast two LOTR movies released in 2003. Not to mention the Matrix series, Seabiscuit, etc. And all those Bollywood movies!

Scarlett Johansson is hot!

BTW, the only saving grace: Scarlett Johansson is hot! but sorry no sex.

My Lexus and the Olive Tree

Reading the diary of a fellow konkani in Germany inspired me to delve into my own journey. Here I am sharing a few of my thoughts.

I started to ask myself this a long time ago. Particularly for cultural transplants like myself: born in Bhatkal (coastal Karnataka), raised in Bombay, studied and now living in the US, this remains a BIG question.

After many deliberations (with friends, in bars, on hikes, staring at stars, riding bikes or climbing walls) and observations (lotsa desi friends and relatives) – I still don’t have my answer. But it no longer suffocates me. For those contemplating a similar journey, here are two important steps:

1. Don’t be embarrassed by your heritage; Be proud of it! For that, you have to know about it. Know the history, culture and religion and why it is so fascinating. Visit your native villages and experience the generosity of the folks. They may not have the latest fashionable clothes or restaurants, but their generosity is beyond comparison. It is only in the last few years that I have been drawn to our Hindu scriptures and am just completing a book of Hindu prayers. I am already working on the next book of Konkani Temples. And I can gab about it for hours! You have to know it thoroughly to be proud of it. Now, just because I go to a church on Easter, nobody is going to ask me to convert to Christianity. I am proud of my heritage. It may be humble in monetary value, but immensely rich in culture and tradition.

2. Be in the water, but not of it: Like a rock immersed in the river never gets water-logged. The lotus sprouts in swamp-like surrounding, but retains its fragrance. I want to learn, participate and blend in with the American culture, but not surrender myself to it. I may go to an American football game, but also keep in touch with the cricket world. Tasted the cuisines of the world and have my favorites; but I still crave Indian food. I enrich myself from my surroundings, my travels. Learning constantly of the work ethic and discipline. At the same time, I give something back to the culture here, a trace our discipline and work ethic. Not really a melting pot, but rather a metal alloy where each constituent element retains its identity and the whole is stronger and better for it. There is a time for crepes and a time for dosas. Be comfortable in a tux at a black-tie event and in a kurta at the temple. Be facile with the silverware and equally comfortable eating with your fingers. Its a delicate balance of blending in with the culture and also retaining your identity.

The more the world shrinks, the more important it is to retain ones own identify. The world will never be one big ‘mush’ culture, but rather independent nation-states, collaborating and working with each other, through trade and culturally porous borders.

In “The Lexus and the Olive Tree,” Thomas Friedman has beautifully articulated the challenges posed by the ongoing globalization and discusses masterfully our desires for the Lexus and the Olive tree. The Lexus luxury car represents our “drive for sustenance, improvement, prosperity and modernization.” To raise our standard of living! The olive tree represents “everything that roots us, anchors us, identifies us and locates us in this world – whether it be belonging to a family, community, a tribe, a nation, a religion or, most of all a place called home.” We need both, the Lexus and the olive tree. Governments can facilitate our drive towards the Lexus, but we have to create our own paths to our own Olive tree groves.

Go in peace
.a.

WSJ – India is a favorite stock for Fund Managers

The Wall Street Journal (Feb 27, 2004; pg c14) reports today that Managers of International Mutual Funds in the US are raising their recommended weightings for india among other SE Asian countries. Apparently India is one of the most popular destinations for portfolio investments.

Before you rush out and buy an India Mutual Fund, be very cautious! I suspect people in the know have already bought the stocks. An article such as this only boosts the prices of the stock which they already own. You would be coming in fairly late and then the large investors dump the stocks and you are left with holding a high priced stock. This is what happened with the bursting of the Internet bubble in 2000. The time to buy India stocks was three years ago.

I am also not a big fan of 'portfolio' investments. Here, the investors can cash out at a moments notice and drag the market with them (like what happened in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand in 1998). The better investment is Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), where investors are actually helping grow the business by investing in expansion programs (and $$$ of course), bringing in new technology and developing a long-term marketing strategy with the management. In such FDI cases, they cannot just sell their entire plant overnight. FDIs are thus better indicators of long-term investor appetite. In this arena, India is getting its pants kicked by drawing in only about 10% of the $ 50 billion that China is attracting per year. Even Chile (a total country population of 14 million – the size of Bombay) is getting ~ $ 4-5 billion as FDI (slightly less than india). Ouch!

Now that is sobering!

.a.

Consequences of Globalization: Why Globalization will push wages lower in the United States

Corporations by their very nature will always try to minimize their costs and improve profits for their shareholders. Period. This is their mission. It’s in their DNA.

Manufacturing companies will try to find the cheapest source of raw materials. In service-oriented companies, labor is the biggest expense and thus the incentive to reduce labor costs is huge. Businesses thus will always support liberal immigration rules so they have a ready supply of labor. A large supply and you can prevent labor costs from rising, higher margins and happier investors. Governments closely allied with businesses, as in the US, will try to facilitate business success by proposing more immigration. But legislators are beholden to their constituents and prefer instead to have a smaller labor pool (likely dictated by unions) and that wages rise, so their constituents generally feel the country is moving in the right direction. Thus you can always expect a tussle between Government and businesses on one side and legislators and workers on the other.

To feed the blazing economy in the mid 90's, business leaders were able to convince government to increase the H1-B quotas, so that more skilled workers could come into this country. With the economy firing on all cylinders, criticism was muted as everyone was making money. It is always easy to be philanthropic when your net worth is rising. But with the bursting of the bubble, erosion of equity wealth and a simultaneous loss of jobs, immigrants quickly lost their welcome. Letters in the newspapers give even educated folks to dis immigrants and the 'jobs they are taking away.’

In a recessionary economy, companies still need to get their work done and the impetus is higher to reduce costs more significantly. The internet provided the opportunity to out-source services, even to off-shore locations and reduce costs dramatically. This definitely reduces costs and even meager profits look dazzling. Since many jobs are lost as a result of the new found profits, and newer jobs are not yet being created locally, the economic recovery remains muted. Businesses have a reduced ability to raise prices and inflation remains low. In this environment perversely, further profits will have to come from further reducing costs. Productivity gains also translate into lower costs since a reduced work force is required to do the same amount of work. Workers experience this first hand in the form of longer hours and curtailed vacations. Is it surprising then that companies have pushed productivity increases from ~ 4% in 2000 to nearly 9% in 2003? (numbers are based on recollections and may be off). This is the only way to improve profits. If the economy stays in a ho-hum range where are future profits going to come from? Reduce labor costs further!

The President’s Office announced last week that they want to provide opportunities for illegal immigrant workers to gain lawful employment and ‘get back in the system.’ This will only benefit the low-end worker. Under this policy, you are only eligible to work in the US for three years and have to return to your native country. What a beautiful way to keeps wages low. During the initial years, immigrants are not able to negotiate higher wages, and by the time they figure out how, or develop the skill sets required for higher pay, they have to return to their country.

You got to give it to the schemers. The President gets the Hispanic votes and businesses are happy!

.a.

Technology Helps, … continued

What is an RFID? With due apologies, here is a brief explanation!

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. A RFID systems consists of a RFID Tag which can be a tiny electronically programmable devices, and can be as small as a half inch piece of pencil lead. When it passes in the area (up to 100 ft) of a receiver or sensor, it reports back its programmed instructions.

Novel applications include tracking herd animals with RFID tags just under the skin. Wooden pallets can have RFID tags with sensors located in warehouses identifying movement of goods. Wal-Mart is currently evaluating RFID tags even within cases of goods. This should help keep track of inventory and prevent pilferage. RFIDs can be an important component of Supply chain management: for example, emptying a case sends a message to the server that a particular item is used up and more are automatically ordered. Manufactures can track their shipping containers equipped with RFIDs linked through a GPS system.

“Mr Customer, your shipment of “pinatas” is currently three blocks from your warehouse and stuck in traffic. The pinatas will be there in time for the office party.”

or

Why is our shipment of bananas in a trucking warehouse in Jersey CIty for the last 72 hours? Deliver it pronto!

The RIFDs currently cost between 40-60 cents each. The hope is that if the price can be brought down to 5 cents each, or lower, individual items could carry an RFID tag. This can have tremendous savings opportunities. If you are pre-authorized at a grocery store, just load up the RFID items in your bag and walk-out. As you pass through the sensors, the items are identified, tallied and your credit card charged. No more lines at the checkout aisle.

The same system identifies fast moving items and orders HQ to restock items. Wow!

Whats the downside? No checkout clerks! Imagine similar reverberations throughout the economy.

.a.

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