Thursday, June 28, 2007

Breaking News : Prabha Joins Facebook

Well at least he has better tech-sense than H.E.

Feel Free To Poke him. He has some interesting friends too: Ahmadinejad, Osama, Saddam (may he rest in piece) . I guess Mahinda would join him soon, old friends no.

The bugger lives in Toronto apparently.

Check it out.

India Unbound: An attempt at a review

I finished reading the book a few weeks ago, and I’m officially declaring it as one of my favorites. I’m sure many great men and women have reviewed this book much more objectively and eloquently than I could ever hope for. So this is not going to be your traditional review, in fact I’m not quite sure what this is; just that I thought the book at the very least deserved a blog post.

Apart from my own, there are two nations that have always captured my imagination - one is the United States and the other is India. The latter perhaps more than the former, possibly because of my closer interaction with it – travel, friends and of course NDTV. This book relates the story of India, from its independence to its time under the ‘mixed economy’ and finally to economic liberalization and beyond.

Gurcharan Das, the author of India Unbound is a former CEO of P&G India and a Harvard educated scholar who grew up almost with post-independent India. The book is part memoir, part economic analysis and part political history all compiled into an engaging as well an insightful book about India. The thesis of the book can be summarized as follows:

After India won its independence from the British, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru started building a nation based on secularism, democracy and socialism. Nehru being infatuated by the then Soviet Union introduced the ‘third way’ supposed to combine the best of socialism and capitalism, but ended up combining the worst features of both. In combining democracy with socialism the Indian state quickly degenerated into a license-raj and a massive bureaucracy which lead to corruption and suppression of millions of aspiring entrepreneurs.

Few, like Dhirubhai Ambani’s managed to beat the system, and use it to their advantage. But for every success, there were thousands who failed. After years of struggle, and faced with a financial crisis and a change of government, India opened up its economy in 1991. Unshackling itself from the self-imposed chains and controls and ever since has put itself towards a path of rapid economic growth especially helped by the global information age.

It’s a wonderful story of how reforms can bring about such profound changes, and the lunacies of command and control economics. He takes a very personal approach citing examples he himself has experienced, conversations he had, and the situations he had to face as a manager and a businessman. The book often diverts its attention to societal analysis, governance and sometimes even management advice, but somehow all of it manages to fit well with the overall narrative.

It’s an optimistic take on India. Some have criticized the book for this feature and how it doesn’t present a ‘balanced view’ of India. But as Das himself has said, it’s not supposed to be a scholarly work; it’s a book, the story of India seen by one Gurcharan Das. Some of his optimism, particularly with regard to the IT-based services has not materialized but by and large, the thesis of the book remains strong especially against the backdrop of India’s current progress.

I wish some of the Sri Lankan policy makers and even some Sri Lankan newspaper editors take a look at the book. India Unbound: from Independence to the Global Information Age – A must read!

Gurcharan Das maintains a blog here.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

BBC Reports: ‘We are biased’

BBC has found itself to be ‘biased’ by a report commissioned by BBC itself. But of course we already knew. As the Sunday Times (UK) very aptly puts:

There are some things you do not need an official report to tell you - that John Prescott thinks he is a babe magnet, that President Mugabe is not entirely in favour of white farmers and that Al-Qaeda takes a pretty dim view of the West. The report commissioned by the BBC into itself concluded with something equally blindingly obvious. It said that the organisation is institutionally biased and especially gullible to the blandishments of politically driven celebrities, such as Bono and Bob Geldof. Almost anyone in Britain could have told the BBC that for free, but maybe it’s better to have it in an official report. [link]

To be fair, I think the BBC does by and large a decent job, whether it has a ‘liberal’ bias or not. Especially in a situation like we find ourselves in Sri Lanka where ‘liberalism’ seems to be restricted to a few intellectual circles. Yet, you have to say it has ef’d up from time to time, I remember reading the BBC reporting with headlines such as ‘Sri Lankan Forces shell Tamil Positions’ and so on.

It’s an interesting question, whether or not media should be biased or not. I don’t think there can ever be ‘unbiased’ media. But of course as the Times article above have noted BBC is in a different league because it gets funded by the tax payer.

In stark contrast to the situation in Sri Lanka, where the validity of public-funded government propaganda – like the ITN, Rupvahini, Daily News, Keheliya Rabukwella is hardly ever questioned. It seems it’s the moral responsibility of the Tax payer to fund the government’s survival and so many routes! Surely some of them must be privatized!

But alas, that’s a pipe dream whether it’s a UNP or SLFP dominated government.

More on the BBC story: Telegraph, NewsBusters

[Via LNC]

Good Tolerance, Bad Tolerance

Salman Rushdie, the well-known author of the controversial book ‘The Satanic Verses’ has recently been knighted, which has again sparked some controversy with both the Iranian and Pakistani governments issuing statements condemning his knighthood.
Disturbing religious sentiments, as the Danish cartoonists found out, is tricky business. Simply because for most people, whole of their spiritual existence is derived from religion and any upset to those sentiments can result in aggressive reaction, which can effectively be harnessed by extremist elements for agendas of their own.
As historical evidence would suggest, the type of religion, in this situation doesn’t really matter. In fact even an Atheist – a believer in the absence of god - would react aggressively if his or her fundamental beliefs are challenged. It is therefore very human and very natural for a Muslim to react strongly against ‘Satanic Verses’ or the Danish Cartoons, and for a catholic to resent the ‘ the Da Vinci Code’ or for a Buddhist to take offense at the movie ‘Hollywood Buddha.’
So far the simple solution to these types of situations seems to be simply banning the book or the offensive material. But greater analysis of the economics of prohibitions would suggest that banning things is a poor solution...

Read The Rest from Beyond Borders Blog

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Do we want to be ‘white’?

With the release of the much awaited ‘Sivaji’ I often wondered why South Indians like, no not like – hysterical! about Rajnikanth. A dark, less than average looking guy who does silly things on movies, what’s the deal?

But wait! Rajnikanth on Sivaji is actually white!

In a strange manifestation of the Indian obsession of having light skin, they actually used CG to get the skin complexion of a European woman and apply the skin tones to Rajnikanth producing white-rajni. Quite brilliant, but why?

Some time ago I read a blog post on ‘Indian racism’ which narrated a story about a Kenyan taking a bus ride in India, where he kept getting pointed out to kids and getting called ‘negro’. The post went on to say that Indians, being ‘brown’ somehow think of themselves as being in the ‘middle’ above ‘blacks’ and under ‘whites’. It went on to cite the case of how despite being generally dark skinned, South Indian movies almost exclusively featured light skinned heroines.

Now the makers of sivaji have extended the fairness to the ‘hero’ as well. To be fair (no pun intended), people loved Rajni when he was dark, and overweight. His largely male fan-base loves seeing this average south-Indian Tamil (somewhat older) bloke scoring pretty chicks.

What’s going on then? Is it some sort of a colonial hang-over? I don’t know. But do Indians and even Sri Lankans generally think that being fair is prettier? I think it’s naive to deny it.

Personally I’d trade in Aishwariya Rai for Bipasha Basu any day, but then Bipasha is not particularly dark, and her ‘lack of fairness’ is more than overcompensated by her, well, package.

But generally speaking do we adore ‘fair’ women (even men) over dark ones? Sales of fairness cream might offer a clue.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Today's WTF article : No abductions. people are just going away with 'hora' wives.

There have been many explanations given for the Colombo Abductions by this government. First they said the whole 'White-Van' thing is just crap (some of them were blue- but isn't that a bit too obvious!?) and then they claimed some of the so called 'abducted' are appearing in France and other places in Europe and Now in the governments latest theory, DM Jayaratne states, these fellows are actually making "use of the situation to free themselves from their wives to enjoy with their pretty ones in unknown locations".

That surely got to win the price.

More from the Observer [ Abductions Blessing in Disguise ]

The abduction of persons by unknown groups are politically motivated, Minister of Posts and Telecommunication D. M. Jayaratne told the 'Sunday Observer'. The Minister said most of the rich persons who were alleged to have been abducted during the past few days have returned to their homes safely.

The motives behind the abduction drama staged by the UNP is to justify the claim made by the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe at the international forum about human rights' abuses in Sri Lanka.

Certain people have made use of the situation to free themselves from their wives to enjoy with their pretty ones in unknown locations. With the latest information technology it is not easy to distance oneself from their loved ones. Abduction has now become a blessing in disguise for these people. When some one becomes a victim of abduction no one can contact him. This is a good excuse for them, the Minister quipped. [link]

So let me get this straight, People are voluntarily disappearing to support Ranil Wickramasinghe and making use of the situation to have multiple wives? shah. This Ranil fellow is having some support no.

I think the JHU should step into the situation and make prostitution legal, that way people don't have get voluntarily abducted and go away to unknown locations to spend with pretty wives, keeping distance from the old ones by not using latest IT gadgets.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

President commended on human rights front

These days the DailyNews is the paper to read.

GENEVA: President Mahinda Rajapaksa who arrived in Geneva on Wednesday to attend the 96th ILO conference, held discussions with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louis Arbour.

President Rajapaksa came in for high praise by Arbour over steps taken by the Government to protect human rights amidst heightened acts of terrorism.

She also expressed her regret at the propaganda launched by various organisations to discredit the Lankan Government. [Link]

WTF you say? No they didn't hire the Guy who maintains brokennews to write in the daily news. it's the actual paper. we do live in rather interesting times. The editorial adds to the entertainment :
Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama’s comments to The Korea Herald are both a transparent mirror to the situation in Sri Lanka as well as a lucid outline of the tasks awaiting the parties to our conflict.

Contrary to the misguided views aired in some quarters, the principal priority of the Government is a negotiated political solution.. [Link]
and these idiots get paid. I want my money back!

Thanks NM

Friday, June 15, 2007

Crazy business ideas for fun and profit.

I've always had good ideas. (Seriously!)

I lost so many of them, so that some time last year, I created a text file named ideas.txt on my desktop which I filled with, well, ideas of all business plans that came to my mind. I now have quite significant list, none of which I have taken up due to various reasons I’d not go into detail here.

But now, since Christmas is only about five months away, I thought I’d share a few of the recent additions:

#1 E-laborers /odd-jobs

I don’t know if this one has been tried out, but they outsource all kinds of things nowadays. So why not odd-jobs? See now I have this hotmail account filled with unwanted junk I don’t want. I want someone to clean-up that for me, unsubscribe all those junk newsletters I get, and clean it up. I’m willing to pay for that. I’m sure there are plenty of lazy bums like me, who’d want to do some random stuff, like home-work for example.

So someone just create a site, ‘odd-job’ board. And cash-in. I might actually do this one.

#2 Conflict-Tourists

See these Western Liberal kids are wired animals, they take gap years and do voluntary stuff in rural places for fun, and quite possibly to get rid of guilt of some sort of being ‘rich’. This has created a whole new industry called Voluntourism. Companies hook them up with places they can ‘volunteer’ for a fee. Neat.

Now is it possible that those same kids, and quite possibly others (journalists, activist types) would want to visit conflict zones, such as Sri Lanka? Say, experience first hand the bombing and the excitement of war!.

It sounds pretty damn immoral, it probably is. That’s what a friend of mine told me when I jokingly suggested it. But hey, if you cant stop the war, maybe you can sell it!.

#3 Kottu Franchise.

Now this I really think could work. I shit you not.

Think about Pilawoos (the popular kottu joint if anyone is unenlightened) it serves good kottu, now imagine you impose the Pizza Hut model into that. Wouldn’t people buy? Wouldn’t you want to go into a pilla restaurant? Or wouldn’t you like to order cheese kottu and iced-Milo over the phone, delivered in 30 minutes?

Hell, I would.

That’s enough ideas. Now go do it and drop me in a one-time only check if anything works out. Remember, [INSERT WISE PHRASE HERE] and Good Luck!

Thank you for reading.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Be Lankan, Buy Lankan but don’t Be Stupid

The editorial of last week’s Sunday Times, was probably the worst socio-economic analysis I’ve read in a long time. The editor seems to be highly taken up by a JVP-inspired campaign which encourages Sri Lankans to buy locally manufactured goods over foreign ones via ‘awareness campaigns for students where they will be taught the importance of eating nutritious home-grown food’

Clearly a campaign only a JVPer, or an equally retarded Leftist could have come up with.

First the writer claims that we should learn from India, one of the biggest and fastest-growing economies. I’d agree, only if he didn’t say ‘Gandhian’ self-sufficiency principles and ‘buy Indian’ campaigns that laid the foundations for India’s growth.

Nothing can be further from the ‘truth’.

The roots of economic success in India’s lies not in any ‘Gandhian’ or even Nehruvian principle but rather in the economic reforms in the early 90’s which saw India’s middle class nearly quadruple and 1 percent of its poor cross the poverty line every year, given the speed at which the Indian economy is growing it would soon surpass Japan and become the third-largest economy in the world.

Sri Lanka was luckier than India, and came into it's senses much earlier and opened its economy as far back as the late 70’s which put us on a path towards prosperity. Ever since we have managed to do reasonably well, and even now Sri Lanka is ahead of India in almost all economic and social indicators, quite an achievement for a country which had to endure a chronic civil war throughout the reform period. What SL would have become without this war can only be left up to the imagination.

In any case, core argument of the article and the ‘buy lankan’ campaign seems to be that Sri Lankans tend to think foreign produce is better than local produce as a matter of principle. I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

Let’s take the insurance for example. Sri Lanka does have quite a reasonably open insurance sector, which allows for 100 percent foreign ownership of insurance companies, yet the leading players in the sector are two Sri Lankan companies. It’s similar in banking. The likes of Asian Alliance and HSBC haven’t been able to just swallow the domestic market because Sri Lankans are not infatuated with foreign goods or companies, they, like consumers all over the world like good products at competitive prices.

Some 3 million Sri Lankans use Dialog as their mobile service provider, not because it’s foreign, but because it provides a decent service, best coverage and good packages. If Tigo provided the same, perhaps people would shift there, as some did when Mobitel offered tempting deals.

The best thing Sri Lankan producers can do to make people ‘buy lankan’ is to make good products and sell them well, consumers would follow. Surely if someone can’t sell their produce without invoking the patriotic card, it must be a pretty awful product. Having said that, I’m fine with this so long they restrict their ‘campaign’ to advertising and ‘awareness raising’; but if they seek legal protection from the state, then that's a slippery slope to hell.

After all the basic premise of tariffs and import controls are quite illogical from a consumer’s point of view, the government (and possibly even the ST Editor!) would consider the consumers as completely rational beings so long as they buy local produce, but if they buy foreign goods, then some authority must step into advise them and say :

“Look here son, you have made an unwise choice here, haven’t you been watching JVP Buy Lanka Commercials? Don’t you read the Sunday times? So now that you have made this mistake we are going to help you to make the right decision by increasing tariffs and taxes, because you obviously don’t have the ability to make these kinds of important decisions.”

I’d say that’s rubbish.

The editorial is well intended, but they say even the Nazis meant well, and that the road to hell is paved in good intentions. If anybody really wants to make a strong Sri Lankan industry which produces competitive products which can compete against global companies then the real things to do are not these superficial campaigns, but to bring in real economic reforms which have been stalled for a while. Slash the red-tape, which makes an entrepreneur wait for 50 days to set up a business in Sri Lanka, bring in labor reform, slash taxes, downsize the enormous state-sector and provide for a good business and an investment climate.

When it comes to economics there are no competing ‘ideologies’. That was last century. The reality is based on market-economics and capitalism. The rest is just fantasy.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

when good men do nothing

The forcible eviction of Tamils from Colombo drew much criticism from both local and international quarters, forcing the government to provide for the return of some of the evicted people back to Colombo. This latest action clearly makes mockery of the government’s initial claim that it was merely facilitating a ‘voluntary’ transfer of people from Colombo to the North/East.

Now that the Prime Minister has apologized for the incident, and His Excellency has ordered for a probe on who accidentally pressed the ‘evict-the-Tamils-button’, and also given the fact that the Supreme Court has issued an order preventing the police from carrying out further evictions, it’s most likely that the government will try its utmost to sweep this incident under the rug and assign the blame, by the looks of it, to some ‘rotten eggs’ in the police department.

Before the government completely succeeds in burying this issue under an avalanche of other muck and mockery so readily available in contemporary Sri Lankan politics, perhaps it is worth to carry out a postmortem on the incidents of 7th of June in Colombo.

The simple question is- what the hell were they thinking?

How did the architects of this ‘ingenious’ security plan managed to think, waking up a few Tamil lodgers in Colombo and pack them away to Vauvniya or where ever they came from would be a perfectly acceptable practice? What could have possibly given them that level of arrogance?

To understand the reasons we must first investigate the issue it self, what really happened on that Thursday morning? It certainly wasn’t a PR debacle as few people with the chintana-syndrome has suggested, it’s not something that should have been done, but more discretely! It was clearly a violation of both human and fundamental rights of those people; but to understand this issue merely from s a citizens rights perspective (however right and just) is too convenient.

The most persistent issue may turn out to be not the action itself but rather the thinking which went behind the action, and that thinking is not so much ‘racist’ but rather more arrogant and assuming, this government and its apparatus seems to believe that any action, legal or otherwise is completely acceptable so long as it’s is submerged in the mantra of ‘National Security’.

What happened was more than just an incident; it’s was an expression of how low this government’s morals have gone and an indication how high our collective apathy has gone.

It’s an enactment of what a few liberal-minded people kept telling us of what would happen if things are allowed to continue the way they were, many failed to listen and branded these critics as being ‘overacting’.

To an extend this is understandable. Since the success of liberal politics, or rather, a liberal critique of politics, often hinges upon a construction of a draconian beast- a repressive regime which is undemocratic, unfair and somewhat fascist.

So perhaps the message got diluted in the rhetoric, maybe it was the messenger, or maybe there wasn’t enough messages or maybe, just maybe it might have been us.

There were abductions of civilians in Colombo, ethnically-biased mass arrests, there were threats and violence against journalists and media houses, MPs, aid-workers were murdered, yet we chose to remain silent, recently the police chief proclaimed that they will stay within the bounds of law ‘as much as possible’ and the JHU claimed this was a Sinhala country, still we were silent, this plan to evict Tamil-lodgers was announced in the papers days earlier, even then, only a few spoke out. It took the action itself for us some of us to see what we have come to.

This is a classic case of the boiled-frog syndrome. The story follows if a frog is put into a jug of boiling water it would jump straight out, but the same frog put into jug of lukewarm water, gradually brought to a boil wouldn’t notice it until its too late.

We are like that frog, if not worse.

We have let the power of authority to increase so gradually that we haven’t noticed how coercive and arrogant they have become. With each small increment of government impunity we have tolerated, have made the next increment less noticeable, we have let this government get away quite literally with murder and silently watched by thinking of it as being ‘unavoidable’ and as a necessarily evil.

Now maybe it is unavoidable but for lord’s sake we must stop being so apathetic, what’s more appalling here is not what is said and done but what is not said and not done. We have got to speak out, and where necessary, take action. None of this would be assisting the terrorists, or unreasonable in times of war for allowing democratic dissent is specifically what separates a democratic government from a terror organisation.

Price of liberty is eternal vigil, and this country could certainly use a little bit of that.

First appeared in Groundviews

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Emergence of the Telecom Patriot

First it was Lanka Bell with their 100% Sri Lankan campaign, promising a sizable dose of ‘abhimanaya’ (pride) enough for any self-proclaimed patriot to sport semi hard-on.
All you have to do is chat with your friends on your very own Lanka Bell CDMA. Swell deal, especially for those white-haired members of the PNM (Patriotic National Movement) who find themselves having to depend on pariah products like Viagra to achieve the same feat.

These are good times for patriots– there is a war going on and it’s completely fought by other people. All the patriots have to do is cheer on the ‘Api Wenuwen api’ commercials while forwarding the latest Sirasa-bashing emails to friends and family and cousins living in Melbourne or London. Of course such moments of patriotic bliss come at small price, all of us are required to tolerate the sky-rocketing inflation, and sit patiently while one of the 100something ministers decide to take a ride across Colombo as part of the new National Security measures, designed to protect us from the terrorists during our president’s War on Terror.

Occasionally some terrorists would succeed, but a quick look at Daily News would confirm that “everything’s cool, east is clear, all they have is toy planes, and we are winning the war”. Hell, if you are lucky enough you might even catch a glance at His Excellency himself, smiling almost as widely as Thamilselvam during the latest foreign visit on his very own budget airline.

With the state of arousal in the nation at an all time high, everybody seems to be setting up their own Patriot organisation, the latest in the fold are the Telecom Patriots. Yes, after all, these are modern times and certainly if shares of the ‘National Telecom Operator’ are been sold to a Malaysian Tamil, there’s got to be something fishy and unpatriotic. The Jaffna-Tamil roots confirm he is a Tiger, and therefore a Terrorist (notice the Ts).

But no worries, now that the ‘Telecom Protection Front’ and the nation’s most patriotic son – Comrade Weerawansa - is on the case, these unpatriotic moves would soon be thwarted.

This would give patriots much needed time to focus on other burning issues of the nation, like finding a coach for the nation’s cricket team, (who everyone agrees should be a white middle-aged Australian) to induce the unique brand of Sri Lankan cricket our ‘sinha patau’ (lion cubs) play.

So until the next national crisis needing the urgent services of the patriots, suffice to say, the nation and its bhoomiputhra’s are on full alert.