Category Archives: News

An Endless Recession – Even the most brilliant minds on Earth do not know the answer… really?

All we hear about in international news today is Euro Zone debt crisis… and Syria, though the latter will probably (hopefully) get resolved soon with condemnation and action from all fronts. But there seems to be no end to the financial crisis that has gripped the Western world. It all started with the subprime mortgage crisis in the U.S. and then the 2008 financial system collapse and now the Euro Zone debt crisis.

What I don’t get is how the most powerful people in the world like Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy (or Francois Hollande if you want to be current) and the like cannot solve this problem. As it is, Finance is a bloody complicated field of study! The so-called financial experts and economics gurus have brought in so much jargon into the whole thing that one has to be a freaking genius to understand what is going on. I suppose that is one way that they protect themselves… from people who would otherwise easily see through their lousy plans. Anyway I admit I do not know much about financial mumbo-jumbo. I only know whatever I read in the news. But it is taking these experts more than a year to come up with a reasonable solution for Greece and other affected countries. Really?? In my book, that is terrible! For instance, if it takes me more than a year to come up with a cost-effective efficiency improvement in my manufacturing plant do I deserve to keep my job? I didn’t think so.

I realize that it is not as easy as I am making it sound. But sometimes you have to look at a complicated problem as if it were a simple household one. If Mr. X borrows money from Ms. Y and is not able to return it because Mr. X is clearly not saving enough money on a regular basis, the options are as follows: (a.) Take enough time to accumulate and return the money with interest. (b.) Borrow some more, severely cut costs in personal expenses and then return in time with added interest… aka the bailout option. Or (c.) Cancel the bloody debt and print some money! Obviously I’m talking about governments here and not Mr. X or Ms. Y. Now, I’m aware of the common belief that this causes inflation. But does it really, when you are so far deep in debt that you have to borrow again to repay that debt? Besides… seriously now, isn’t it time to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea already? All of this nonsense is man-made anyway. Money, currency notes, the whole system of Finance… everything is man-made. Surely, we should be able to start again at square one if we needed to.

What I’m getting at here is not that I have the ultimate solution. Of course I don’t. I’m just saying that if the people in power got together around the table with the super-intelligent economics geniuses of the world in some conference room in Brussels, it should be possible to come up with a decent solution – a solution that has the least amount of compromises. If they really wanted to, they could. I reckon this is where politics gets in. One person’s profit is another person’s loss. Come to think of it, how can a prosperous country provide the solution for a sinking one without digging its own grave in the process? I don’t know. I think I’ll go and have a beer.

My Thoughts on Salman Rushdie’s speech at the India Today Conclave

I heard of this speech over the weekend from my parents as they were watching it on local television and I’d been meaning to catch a web link or something. Today being a public holiday here, I decided to check it out. And boy, am I glad I did! I have to say that I find myself agreeing with a lot of what this writer has to say. Here are some quotes that really stuck in my head. My comments follow underneath each quote.

“You do not end unpleasant thinking by banning its expression. What you do is you drive it underground and in some ways you make it more powerful by giving it the excitement of taboo. When stuff is out in the open, that’s when you can demolish it. When stuff is banned and secretly in corners, then it becomes glamorous. The glamour of being forbidden must not be under-estimated.”

This is so true and I have said something along these lines myself several times to friends and family. When you ban something, anything, it automatically becomes more exciting! Just as a simple example, having a couple of beers or a little bit of alcohol with friends in a social situation is common especially in Western culture. By making it taboo and creating the image that alcohol destroys families, you end up with a handful of hardcore bingers. In India I have often noticed that though there are fewer drinkers generally in society (or they are just not visible out in the open), they end up drinking a lot more and more hard drinks too like whisky and rum. Forbidden fruit is always sweeter.

“When I use the word respect, it means that I take people seriously. I engage with them seriously. It doesn’t mean that I agree with everything they say. What is happening now is that the term ‘respect’ is being used as a way of demanding assent. If you disagree with me, then you are disrespecting me! And I will get very angry and may even pick up a violent weapon, because that’s my way when I get disrespected.”

People just do not know opinion from fact I think. When you say something, you are only stating your opinion. It is not cold hard fact. Know the difference. Understand that different people, societies have different opinions and may very well differ drastically from yours! If you disagree with them, just ignore them and go on with your life. As long as the other party’s opinion does not bring harm to you or your loved ones, what does it matter? Just let it be.

“In any open society, people constantly say things that other people don’t like. It’s completely normal that that should happen. And in any confident free society, you just shrug it off and then you proceed. There’s no way of creating a free society in which nobody ever says things that other people don’t like. If offendedness (sic) is the point at which you have to limit thought, then nothing can be said.”

 “Behind these ideas of offendedness (sic) and respect is always the threat of violence. Always the threat is that if you do that which disrespects or offends me, I will be violent towards you. And so the real subject is not religion, it is violence and how do we face up to the threat of violence. And that’s something that we need to think about.”

“The question is not the disagreement. The question is the violent implementation of the disagreement and the threat of it which prevents dissenting voices from speaking. That’s what’s going on and people here are asleep I think to what’s going on and you need to wake up.”

The trouble is that everyone wants to be the moral, ethical and cultural police. How can one person know what is right for the next person??? Who is he or she to decide? If somebody is not religious or does not follow your religion, let them live their lives the way they want to. They are not stopping you from practicing your religion. They are not bringing harm to you. What can violence solve? Nothing! Just look at history. It is the same thing with gay people and conservative fundamentalists. I think that people in general are just not wired to keep their noses in their own business.

Another thing he said was very interesting:

“There was an article I read in this week’s Hindu newspaper talking about how many of the earliest, oldest texts of Hinduism do not contain the idea of the existence of god. And contemporaries of the Buddha, quoted also in this article, would say that there is no other world than this one, and would deny the idea of a divine sphere. So again in the oldest parts of Indian culture, there is an atheistic tradition in which the ideas of blasphemy and heresy have no meaning, because there is no divinity to blaspheme or be heretic against. This again, this is our culture. This is not an imported culture. It is not alien to the Indian tradition. This is THE Indian tradition. And those who say it is not, they are the ones who deform that tradition.”

Wow! I did not know this. I mean, speaking for myself, I’m not an atheist or anything. But I am not overly religious either. I do find it peaceful to meditate, say a few prayers and go to the temple once in a while and be thankful for everything I got. I am spiritual. But I do not get the ritualistic side of religion and things that ‘one must do’ because they have been passed on through generations and generations. Why can’t we question practices that do not make sense to us? This same God gave us brains too, didn’t he/she?

“It seems as if almost every day now, somewhere there is a piece on bullying by Muslims or Hindus of groups that they believe in some way offends them and voices are being silenced. Publishers are more frightened to publish. Galleries are more frightened to display certain kinds of art. Certain kinds of films are not being made which would have been made 15 or 20 years ago. The chilling effect of violence is very real and it is growing in this country. And I have to say that this is where the other part of the story which involves all of us comes in which is a public apathy towards this. We approve of the great technological, industrial, economic growth of our country. But we don’t seem to value our cultural artifacts in the same way, even though the greatest thing we know about Indian history is the incredible richness of the Indian artistic and cultural tradition.”

This is such a good point. There is a lot of hypocrisy. There is a lot of public apathy towards fundamentalist bullying of art and expression. The whole idea that ‘I know what is right for you and I will control what you watch/view/read’ is absolutely ridiculous! You do not create a multi-cultural and tolerant society with this kind of thinking. And people don’t seem to care. Unless it affects them personally, people don’t care. They are too caught up in their own daily routine and busy lives. And there is hypocrisy too. How can we be proud of our arts and culture when the same thing is continuously being threatened by the so-called moral police?

So anyway, all in all I have to say that I really enjoyed Rushdie’s speech and found myself agreeing with a lot of what he said. If only we had more intelligent people like this in the public eye and maybe even in the government… pigs will surely fly then.

Foreign accents and (Mis)pronunciations

I have often noticed that people (especially in the news media but not exclusively) cannot pronounce foreign names correctly if their life depended on it! And sometimes it seems like they do it on purpose. I could be wrong here. But consider this. Do you really think that former US President Bush, or his then VP Dick Cheney did not know that the correct pronunciation is ‘Iraakh’, not ‘Eye-rack’? One may say that this is a trivial matter but I do not think that it is. If you do not bother to learn the correct way of pronouncing somebody’s name, what good are you at public relations? And is that all the importance you give to another culture? This matters a lot if one is in the spotlight or public eye all the time.

Like newsreaders, for instance… I just cannot stand it when those BBC newsreaders pronounce Anna Hazare like Anna Kournikova. I mean, c’mon now! Seriously? Anna Hazare is an Indian male activist… that’s right, MALE! His first name is pronounced like ‘un’ (as in unbelievable) + ‘na’. Why would a Gandhian figure have a female-sounding Western name? And don’t get me started on Gandhi! Or Ghandi or Gandi.. ugh! How hard is it to pronounce and spell correctly? And these are not even long names. By the way, I like how Obama correctly pronounces words like Iraq and Pakistan. He knows that it makes a difference, no matter how small, in foreign relations. And it is not just Westerners mispronouncing Eastern names. It is sometimes the other way round too. But western news media such as BBC and CNN simply have more exposure on TV and consequently are under greater public scrutiny.

The other thing that drives me up the wall is seeing, for example, people using an obviously fake and extra-heavy British accent to report for a channel like the BBC. I wonder if they are required to do this in order to keep their job… Can somebody confirm this? If that is the case, I think it is beyond ridiculous! Some newsreaders of course do seem like they are Easterners who were born and brought up in Britain. In such cases, I can at least sort of understand. But how does a reporter regularly covering for the BBC from Mumbai develop a thick British accent living in India? It is funny as heck but mostly just cringe worthy. One must not be required to change one’s cultural habits so drastically in order to do the job.

Anyway, this is something that has always bothered me and I debated in my mind whether to post this or not. But I do not mean any disrespect to anybody. I just find it funny that some people go out of their way to pronounce foreign names correctly and others just don’t seem to give a damn.

Gaddafi death in the media

Muammar Gaddafi

I happened to listen to Redi Tlhabi’s show on Talk Radio 702 yesterday when I had to step out of the office for a bit. She was asking for listeners’ opinions on whether it was right to show deposed Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi’s bloodied face and dead body openly in the media. There was a handful of people calling in, saying that they were shocked and disturbed to see it and there were others who were unfazed by it, calling it a dose of reality or whatever. One of the main concerns from the former group of callers was that their children could easily see the major newspapers at supermarkets flashing his gory mug shot on their front pages. The latter group felt that we do not need to be protected from what is happening out there in the world. I think there are valid points on both sides but let us get something straight here… This man not only forcefully ruled a nation for forty years, he killed and even burned alive several of his own people who dared to oppose him. Posting a bloodied photo of him in the media not only serves as proof for everyone to see that they really did get him, it delivers a sense of relief that this despicable monster is well and truly no more. I think doing this is essential no matter how gory or difficult the image. Sure, in the case of news media perhaps the photo could have been featured inside rather than on the front page, as some callers suggested. I agree to that. But the story needs to be told nevertheless. History must teach mankind the valuable lesson that one cannot simply torture one’s own people for decades and get away with it. Look what happened to Saddam Hussein. And what better lesson than visual proof?! And surely we can handle the gore, c’mon! We watch movies that are way more violent than this. Some video games have blood splatters every few seconds as the score goes up. But I can understand how different people have different sensitivity levels and that is when it becomes a difficult call. Anyway, I cannot imagine how relieved the Libyan people must feel now. Let’s hope America doesn’t take over.

Did the Apple founder have a work-life balance?

So Steve Jobs is no more. Dead at age 56 from pancreatic cancer. The whole world has been abuzz today throughout all print media, news media and the like. And deservedly so. Reading about his accomplishments from the Macintosh to the iPad, I have nothing but admiration for the guy. This is a huge loss to the tech world.

Having said all that, I sometimes pause and wonder about how much importance successful people give to their health. Generally, the more successful and powerful you are, the more pressure you are under to consistently perform. And often times, seemingly little things like eating habits get the short end of the stick. I don’t mean to say that I claim to know why Steve was inflicted with cancer. But normally if one consciously eats healthy and exercises regularly, all the toxins get flushed out of the body on a regular basis and there would not be much room for cancerous formations or growths. But it all depends on how well one is able to balance work, relaxation, exercise, diet, sleep etc.

I mean, in my own office every day I see people slowly killing themselves. They work very long hours. They go out on too many smoke breaks. They skip lunch when there is too much work and then try to subdue the hunger with a Coke or some other sugar-loaded beverage. I cannot see how the body would take kindly to such neglect. Sure, it is important to be hard-working and successful in one’s career but if it is going to be at the cost of one’s own health, then what is the point of all the success?

Whatever be the case, may Steve Jobs’ soul rest in peace.

Japan Nuclear Crisis – Haven’t we learned our lessons yet?

Sometimes it seems as though we… or more accurately, influential people in positions of power never really learn from their mistakes. History is littered with costly mistakes made by some dictator or head of state; decisions that caused humongous loss of life and human suffering. The crisis currently unfolding in Japan is getting worse every day. Finally Switzerland and some other countries have woken up and suspended their ongoing nuclear projects. Still, there are others like Turkey who are refusing to stop their nuclear programs despite the stark situation in Japan today. What are we waiting for? Another Hiroshima??? When it is clearly known that nuclear energy production poses such life-threatening risks to all of humanity, why even invest in it? I just do not get it. How can it be worth risking a global catastrophe for a false sense of security against warring nations? Maybe I don’t understand the supposed advantages of nuclear power. But surely we should be able to do wonders with the various alternative energy sources like Solar, Wind, Geothermal etc. that are already out there! Why do we need nuclear energy as well, if not for developing bombs as a precautionary measure against other countries? Curse Robert Oppenheimer for creating the damn thing in the first place! Before the whole world collapses into an abyss of hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis and finally nuclear winter, I hope our leaders have enough sense to ban nuclear power for good.

Power to the People

“There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear. There’s a man with a gun over there, telling me I got to beware.” So go the lyrics to Buffalo Springfield’s late 60’s protest song ‘For What It’s Worth’. The song was apparently written about riots between police and hippie groups on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, California. However, it also perfectly captures the mood of anti-Vietnam war demonstrations and the general changing political climate of the time. It could also be applied to the recent rising tensions in the Middle East.

What we have been seeing lately on the news, especially in Tunisia and Egypt is nothing short of amazing! When you have citizens of a country that are willing to take the effort, voice their opinions and even go so far as to sacrifice their lives, the president or head of state has no choice but to sit up and take notice. If certain things are driving a group of people to such desperate acts of selfless courage, then surely something is wrong. Somebody somewhere is doing a terrible job at governance. And we see this kind of people power emerge in yet another prominent area of daily life: the service sector. I see that this is especially prevalent here in South Africa. When I first got here to this country to work for a local company here, I was expecting a package from home in India. But as luck would have it, we were in the midst of a postal strike. Post Office employees would not work unless and until wage negotiations were done and salaries were increased. And it lasted for more than a month! Several mail parcels were delayed. Later on when I got married and was trying to get my wife’s visa processed, I was told that there was an immigration workers strike going on and that I should expect delays. This was the last thing I wanted; to not being able to get her visa approved on time and having to leave her behind in India so she can follow later once it is approved. But thankfully it all came through on time. Now, I am hearing of a truck driver strike and violence associated with it. In the end who are the losers?? Common people or civilians like us! Where does that limit exist when people power generated to cause a greater common good turns into plain inconvenience for the same public?!

Generally, we seem to be a pretty unhappy species. Most people seem to be unhappy or frustrated with their daily lives. And others also end up suffering in cases like the ones I mentioned above. Who is right and who is wrong? Well, in Egypt or Tunisia’s case I suppose it is pretty obvious that the people are justified in being fed up of the tyrannical dictatorship that has gone on for years and years with unfavourable results! But in the case of a public sector strike, are the employees being too difficult or are they really getting short-changed by their employers? I do not know the answer but I will just say that despite the inconveniences it causes, people power is definitely a necessary force to reckon with in today’s society. I will also quote Eddie Vedder from the band, Pearl Jam as a parting shot: “There’s no wrong or right. But I’m sure there’s good and bad. The questions linger overhead.”