Thursday, March 27, 2008

What should India's role be in the Tibet situation?

I am surprised it took this long, but China has finally reacted to the Tibetan refugee led anti-Chinese demonstrations in India, and summoned India's envoy to read her the riot act. In return, India has cancelled the trip of Mr. Kamal Nath, the minister of Commerce and Industry.

There are already loud voices within India asking the government to chance its stance towards China, a stance that has historical significance as India gave refuge to Dalai Lama after the uprising of Tibetan monks against the Chinese failed. Now, on one hand India has a lot to gain from friendship with China but on the other, India has the responsibility as the World's largest democracy, of promoting democracy in the region and supporting the Tibetan cause.

What a dilemma! The world is watching and the way India responds to this situation will say a lot about the maturity of Indian democracy.

What, do you think, should India's role be in this evolving situation?

Bhutan Celebrates The Birth of Democracy

There are rulers, and then there are enlightened rulers. On one hand we have the Kind of Nepal who had to be deposed, and on the other hand we have King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of Bhutan, an enlightened ruler who decided that in today's modern world his country needs democracy, and abdicated in its favor. And so, yesterday the kingdom had its first democratic election, over seen by the educated son of King Wangchuck.

This is a huge statement in a region that is rife with people's unrequited desire to define their own government, a region that could aptly be called "rough neighborhood". To the north is Tibet currently in news for the violent crackdown of a repressive and authoritarian Chinese communist regime. Further to the east is Burma, a country ruled by military junta famous for its own excesses, and of course to the west is Nepal, where the people had to throw the Royals out! Only to the south does Burma see any hope - in India, its much larger neighbor.

The first few years will be tough for this new democracy, mainly because the people have such reverence for their king, they just can't see how they will do without him. The stature of the king in the eyes of his subjects (unlike the British monarchs who are viewed more as a curiosity tarnished by their own excesses, the Royalty in Bhutan is revered as descendants of Gods). Burmese still look to the King for guidance, and so it may be a while before the democracy builds courage to stand on its own feet, and wean itself from the Royal "guidance".

But India can help! India can help by providing the newest democratic country in the world the moral, economic and institutional support. The biggest need early on would be the support needed to build institutions. The new Bhutanese legislators will need a lot of guidance in building the institutions of governance such as administrative services, judiciary, and a strong executive body, and India, with its strong institutions can certainly help out. Other democracies around the world should also try to help out where help is desired or needed.

On the other hand, India and other democracies should give the younger sibling the opportunity to learn things on its own. In any new child learning happens when the child makes mistakes, falls and gets hurt every now and then. The tendency of the older sibling would naturally be to pick up the child before he falls. But doing so only robs the child of the learning they have to acquire to be a strong and productive member of the society. India, as the older sibling, should leave sufficient room for the new country to grow and develop on its own terms.

However, India should ensure that in the early years the fledgeling institutions of Bhutan do not fall prey to nefarious extraneous forces such as the Maoists and the militants supported by China and Burma. This is not only India's duty, but also its responsibility. Its India's "Kartavya"

Monday, March 24, 2008

Kailash Flower

Dear friend Alok sent this image of Kailash flower growing in his back yard in India. Marvel how the filament and the anthers of the Stamen hang over the Stigma, resembling the hood of Cobra snake. Alok wrote in his email that the reason why the flower is called Kailash (another name for Shiva) is that the Stigma looks like Shiva linga, and the Stamen like the cobra with its spread hood over the linga. So true! But I wonder what the botanical name of this flower is!

Last Day of Santa Semana

Today is the last day of Santa Semana. Although I have lived in United States for many many years, the Holy week is something new to me. In college I used to have a Catholic roommate, but I never got the sense of how big this event is for some people of religious faith.

In my new job with the Latin American markets, the realization hit me that this may be a very important event to many of our markets when several colleagues emails auto-responded with reference to the "Holy Week".

Wikipedia has a nice overview of Santa Semana. But there are regional differences, such as the difference indicated by this blog entry.

Nevertheless, I am happy that my new job has already made me a better person by introducing me to an aspect of the World religion that I wasn't aware of. Usually this is what travel does to you, expand your mind by exposing one to different cultures. Funny thing is, I haven't even step my foot outside US yet and I am already learning!

Many good wishes to my Christian friends on the Holy Week.

Santa Semana, Easter

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy Holi!

Holi Festival Celebration
Holi, the festival of colors was celebrated all over India today, but we celebrated Holi last week in Edison with a large group of Uttrachal people.
Click For More Holi Festival Celebration Pics

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Innovating a Chisel

Talk about a tough problem, but guys at Baltimore Toolworks have solved it! Baltimore Tool works, with the help of some Engineering students, have improved upon the age old chisel to make it safer and more effective! Read the story here. Goes to show that regardless of the product age, there is still room for innovation. Now on to solving the other problem - "marketing" a better chisel. Here is how to solve the marketing problem using guerilla tactics.
  • Safety studies: A randomized safety study that demonstrates reduction in number of injuries should create demand from workmen. The insurance company should be interested in funding the study and disseminating the results!

  • Demonstrate cost effectiveness: An outcomes study that shows that the incremental $3 invested leads to improved efficiencies will go a long way convincing construction companies to buy the product.

  • Product demonstrations at workers sites. A couple of attractive gals that take the chisel to the worksites - that would surely attract attention.

  • Use innovative advertising strategy - such as outrages t-shirts that a construction worker could like. eg. "Chisel this baby!" or "Hard Cap Me". I am sure the creative types can come up with better ideas, but the t-shirts would sell themselves and raise awareness. Tie it to the gals in a van visiting worksites, and you've got a homerun.

  • Crazy ideas - challenge the world to come up with uses for the new chisel - call it "cutting the uncuttable". That ought to get the world interested in the product again. People can post Utube videos and best video could win an award

  • Get on a night talk show - I am sure Jay Leno would love to have a hard hat go there and talk about the innovation. It would be a great PR story.

Point is, a small business like Baltimore Toolworks needs to think innovatively about marketing the product. Without a large budget its important to partner with others to get the word out. But if they can improve a thousand year old product, they should be able to raise awareness too!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Thrift Store Worker Returns $30,000

There is still hope for this world!
Barbarita Nunez was sorting clothes on Tuesday at the Veterans Thrift Store when she found a small box. Inside was an envelope of cash. Nunez said at first she thought the money was fake. But just in case, she gave it to her supervisor.

This woman needs to be lionized for her actions.

Pakistani Solution For Internal Turmoil - Stir Trouble In India

Well, Musharraf is in trouble, Pakistan is in turmoil, so guess what, its time to stir trouble in India.

"The government and our agencies have credible information of efforts being made by extremist groups to revive militancy in Punjab," his (Mr. Singh, Prime Minister of India's) letter stated. Referring to last year's bomb blasts in two cinema halls in Ludhiana, Punjab, Mr Singh said the two people who planned it were "induced" to carry out the attack on a visit to Pakistan with funding from "extremist elements in the US"

Its how its always been, its how it will always be, unless we get democratic leaders in Pakistan, who put the interest of the common man before failed nationalistic policies of the past. At least the people of Pakistan know whats best for them, which is why they elected PPP and PML(N) that are getting ready to join hands to throw Musharraf out and bring back the judges thrown out by Musharraf.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Lensbabies Photo

Recently I came upon an opportunity to add a Lensbabies lens to my assorted collection of lenses for our Nikon D70, and started taking some pictures. Frankly, using the lensbabies lens turned out to be a bit more difficult than I thought, and I am still trying to figure it out. But here is one example of what can be accomplished. Some of the problems I am encountering are...
  • No metering. Have to guess the right exposure. This is a problem with D70, but not with some other Nikons such as D200

  • Hard on the eyes, as focusing is manual and then you have to move the bellows to make it unfocused in the area you want.

  • No on camera flash - or at least I haven't figured it out yet.

Still, not bad for a first try with this lens. I have seen the lensbabies pictures on Flickr and pBase, and have been impressed by them, so I think its a matter of time before I'll start taking some good ones! Or at least I am hoping I will!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Demise of An American Shoe Manufacturer - Odabo

WSJ recently reported on the demise of the local manufacturing of an innovative manufacturer of custom shoes, Otabo. You can read that article here, but the gist of the article is this... an executive with skills in shoe making gets the entrepreneurial bug and decides to start a shoe company in the United States. The company wins many awards, is recognized for innovation, and seems to have done well on marketing and public relations front, but in the end the idea of manufacturing shoes in the US fails, and the company is moving production to China.

What went wrong? The article analyzes the situation and pins the blame squarely on "manufacturing failure".
What killed his U.S. factory isn't just competition from Asia's cheap labor, he says. It is the lack of infrastructure needed to make a factory tick, a problem that has bedeviled the few remaining independent shoemakers in the U.S.

Supporters of free trade will point to this and say, Mr. Shaffer had no business starting the shoe manufacturing operation in the US. China has developed an efficient market for the shoe manufacturing, so by attempting to do in US what China does best, Mr. Shaffer was engaging in an enterprise that was bound to fail. Most economists would see this as a triumph of both Adam Smith's theory of "absolute advantage" and David Ricardo's theory of "comparative advantages".

Fine, but it was not always this way. China did not start out with the comparative advantage in shoe making. In fact, for the longest time US (and other western countries) held the comparative advantage through their ideas and technology, and the balance only tilted in China's favor when the western manufacturers decided to barter their ideas and technologies to China in return for cheaper Chinese labor. Today, the situation is that most of the manufacturing of shoes has moved to China, and any dreamy eyed entrepreneur who wishes to start a shoe business locally faces the problem of sourcing even raw materials.

So the question is, should we have allowed this situation to come to a pass? A free trader would look at this and say, this is exactly how its supposed to work. By moving your shoe manufacturing to China, you are improving the efficiency of the business, and there by reducing the costs of the product, and that helps you gain greater profits.

Fine. A shoe manufacturer is motivated by short term profit (especially in the US publicly funded companies), but shouldn't some one in our society be responsible for reviewing this from society's perspective? Is there no cost to the society at all if the society looses its ability to manufacturer certain goods and products? Are there no economic consequences to the society if Odabo leaves US shores? Is there no value in nurturing such potentially "inefficient" entrepreneurial efforts? I understand that the US maker of shoes might be motivated by profits, but shouldn't our government policies encourage retention of a certain skill level in the US? A free trader may scoff at the idea of government intervention to save an industry, but I bet you that the rise of Chinese shoe industry did not come without a significant help from the invisible hand of "government policies".

Today, the situation in shoe industry is so dire that Odabo cannot even buy a small consignment of shoe laces here. That is just pathetic and clearly a failure of our government policies. A theoretical economist may not agree with my assessment but the fact remains that with the loss of shoe makers, we have also lost the shoe laces makers, sole makers, the eyelet makers, the leather tanners and so on. With the loss of those manufacturers, we have lost those skills, and eventually the industry. And with the loss of the industry we have lost our ability to create opportunities for skilled craftsmen like Mr. Shaffer who dream of starting an enterprise to leverage their skills, not to speak of the jobs and the societal pride in being able to make something worth while within our country.

That is a cost a free trader may be willing to pay. But we as a society have the responsibility to create opportunity for our entrepreneurs. As a society we shouldn't be so quick to sacrifice our small and relatively inefficient industries at the altar of "free trade". We need to nurture these industries just the way we nurture an economically "inefficient" child, in the hopes of raising a "economically efficient" and "socially productive" grown up in future.

What could we have done differently to help Odabo and scores others like it, save its manufacturing operations in the US?

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Happy Birthday!

No day like a day spent with friends & family, but it gets even better when you get to celebrate ones birthday! Yesterday and today I had plenty of reasons to celebrate - one - of course the birthday, second - the conclusion of Little Champs program on Zee TV which saw the pretty lady Anamika win the long running reality TV contest, and third - being hired as the new director of commercial operations! No, not leaving the old company, just moving a few departments over into the operations group.

So, saturday was spent cooking dosas and uttappas for friends, chugging down margaritas, and watching Little Champs show on Zee TV while Jaya and Sasha raised ruccus with Bharat (Sasha and Bharat being friends kids). Highlight of the evening was watching 12 year old Anamika win the contest that has been going on for weeks.

It was obviously disappointing for the parents of Tanmay and Rohanpreet (and you could see it on the faces), but the kids seem to take it all in a stride. Tanmay was happy even with being second runners up, and Rohanpreet had a very positive attitude and was gracious in accepting the runners up trophy. Many of us adults could learn so much from these kids!