Monday, December 26, 2005
On another note, read this post of mine I made several months ago on the maths of low-cost flying. Not all the numbers may hold true just now, but it will give you an indication on how tight margins are in the low-cost business. Therefore thrteatening to bash employees up will get you nowhere. And I wonder why Captain Gopinath has switched his mobile phone off? However, no matter what, the airlines have no excuse for not training their pilots for Category III-B landings, which allow landings at visibility levels as low as 250m. The situation could have been much better if our grossly over-paid pilots knew how to at least take advantage of technology. By the way, if you're wondering why Delhi doesn't have a Category III-C landing system as yet (zero-visibility landings), blame the Indian Airlines terminal and the proximity of the highway.
This is an interesting PC World article on the top 50 gadgets of all time.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
David Letterman has been temporarily restrained by a woman who believes that he torments her over the airwaves using a secret code.
New Mexico resident Colleen Nestler filed court documents late last week, alleging that Letterman has been using code words, gestures and “eye expressions” for more than 10 years to convey his desire to marry her and train her as his cohost.
As a result of Letterman’s alleged methods of torture, Nestler claims she has suffered from “mental cruelty” and “sleep deprivation,” and has been forced into bankruptcy.
She was granted a temporary restraining order by Santa Fe District Judge Daniel Sanchez, who signed off on her application and set a Jan. 12 court date to determine whether to make the order permanent.
In her six-page letter to the court, Nestler requested that Letterman stay at least three yards away from her and that he not “think of me, and release me from his mental harassment and hammering.”
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
The crux of the case is that this man supposedly embezzled Rs 18 crores from Samsung. Now, Prakash did his PGDM from IIM-B and the discovery of this case has led to several IIM-ites mourning the loss of innocence of their institutions. Whaaaaa?
Recently, I was at a dinner where I was talking top two senior editors and one mentioned a very pertinent fact - the IIM's produced the private sector equivalent of the IAS - they produced the bureaucracy for the private sector. Now, by this I don't mean to use 'bureaucracy' as a dirty word - but that was essentially their function. Now, the government bureaucracy has become riddled with corruption, so much so that now mythical tales of the levels of corruption in India are flooding discussion-boards across the internet. The point is that Vivek Prakash being corrupt is not something to be mourned but studied a bit more. Corruption is endemic in India, to the point it is part of our value-system.
Corruption happens at several levels. Techies and Managers were aghast when Intel rid itself of 500 people because they fudged Travel Reports. Again discussion boards were full of comments criticising the American company, similar sorts of boards that bitch about corruption of the police and MPs. But isdn't fudging reports for personal gain (of any sort) 'corruption'? We laugh when gullible tribal Members of Parliament are conned by Rs 10000, but when you over-charge your company for Rs 20000 during a one-month trip its good? I would reckon that many of these 550 people were fairly well educated and very middle class.
The probelm with Indians, and sorry to stereotype everybody and tar them all with the same brush - but sadly life kind of highlights stereotypes - is that we'ld do anything for a fast buck. The amount of times people try to scam their way to success isn't funny.
We'll con as much as the opportunity allows us, so if we are a High Court Judge in Delhi granting stay orders to demolitions on a particular street, we would do it for a 'sexy massage'. Bureaucrats would do it for more, lets not even start with City Planners. Politicians do the same - but here is another point I would wish to make - a Member of Parliament faces a lot of costs - every MP has to put up thousands of guests at his official Delhi residence every month, who come to Delhi for reasons ranging from Medical Care to Travel. This costs money, and for this, politicians are not paid by the Union of India. Plus, if you are unfortunate to be a MP for the BSP, you will have to make money hand over foot to pay your leader (to whom you would have anyway paid a seven or eight figure sum to get elected). Sadly, this means that money has to come into the system from somewhere - even dotcoms would do. And to some well-intentioned friends out there who are screaming 'Ban Lobbyists' I would suggest they take a one-way flight to Pyongyang.
But then again, we all know that politicians, bureaucrats, the judiciary (at least the lower levels) and government officials of all colours, shapes and sizes are on the whole rather corrupt. Our only saving grace is that we're not Bangladesh.
Anyway, back to the point of the post, Vivek Prakash was a lot of things - I've met him and my most overwhelming memory - the guy was a megalomaniac in the Rajeev Karwal mode. But Prakash also knew that journalists were corrupt and took full advantage of that - Samsung not only took journalists of junkets to South Korea but also lavished all sorts of gifts (big white/grey boxes) on them. But he is not an aberration - he might have overdone things a bit - but he is just the tip of the iceberg. Because the private sector is as bad as the public sector. Promoters skivvying funds from the company books to pay for their daughters wedding or executives living lives way beyond their means are not new stories. Heck, two of India's most 'respected' businessmen have ethics problems - one dabbles in the markets ion a scrip he holds an overwhelming majority in (but then again, insider trading is endemic in India) another withdrew his groups adverts from a large publication house because they dared to write the truth about his involvement in a financial scam. And we aren't even talking about Reliance Industries over here.
Vivek Prakash got caught! But we continue to celebrate the rest. In case, he didn't get caught, some of us media people would be celebrating the IIM-B alum today. Oh, and to point out that this in no way has changed my stand on shadier MBA institutes - the IAS is still the most sought after job after a liberal arts education and IIM's will continue to be the most sought after job after a technical education. Going to the other schools (save a few, but including the Indian blogosphere's favourite non-accredited school) would mean that you'll end up as a doorman or something.
Just a couple of links again - I knew the Japanese are a strange race, but whoa!
AdAge has posted the top-10 adverts of 2005 that the US (and India) will never see. Raaaaaceee!
Saturday, December 17, 2005
That said, I've beginning to like Headlines Today quite a lot, its a bit too bright at times, but watchable. However, sorry Snake, I'm still fida over Undie TV and its not because I know a lot of the people working there. But I'm curious about the part where you mentioned that a lot of insiders at Raghav Behl and Company blog. I know of a couple - yourself and the Codey. I bought a TV today and I just made sure that Travel and Living comes on the prime band. Actually, along with the History Channel, that is the only channel I care about. That channel in itself is worth the Rs 350 a month I'll be paying the cable guy. More importantly I also got the spare DVD player from Delhi and I will visit Movie Empire on Carter Road more frequently for movies. Life just got a better.
And now, I have to go for the Buddy Guy concert at NCPA. If you haven't heard of Buddy Guy, check out this classic DVD sometime. You know LG's corny ad tag-line "Life's Good", well, I feel like that right now. The only thing that would make it perfect would be, heck I can't say that here. And if you have some time, check this webcomic presenting a dramatically alternative view of the Bible. Oh, and please do check out this post on the other blog, a rather nice 'meaty' piece of writing if I say so myself. Also, I reccomend that you buy a copy of this weeks special 30th Anniversary India Today, not for S.Prassanarajan's piece on Laloo but for everything else. It is the best issue of India Today I have read in years, full value for 20 bucks. And Snakeman please continue to tell us of all insider happening at the Rajdeep HQ.
Getting back to the news of the day ... CNN-IBN is happening in your city right now .. check with your cable operator ... we went live last night and it came as a bit of a shock for everyone in here ...
BTW there's a community of subversive bloggers hanging around here ... expect more information soon about the dirty underwear of this news channel ...
And check out ibnlive.com ... the people in there are doing a great job under inhuman conditions ... more about the conditions later ...
Friday, December 16, 2005
My respect for NK tumbled after he tried to justify racing in Indianapolis. However, in today's Ganguly dominated Sports pages, I noticed the news-item that NK finished higher than Montoya in a test. My question is, so bloody what? This was an F1 test and tests needn't be done to check the absolute speed of the car. Kind of reminded my of the headline that both ToI and HT used when NK qualified ahead of the Schum-ster in a race, they highlighted that fact and ignoring the small itsy-bitsy detail that MS had spun out on qualifying until the third para. Brilliant! Accurate reporting, no way! I'm happy that an Indian raced in F1 and didn't make as big an idiot of himself as the first Malaysian in F1 - Alex Yoong but I am very sure that the $6 million that NK paid his team for the drive and the $5 million extra that he spent on logistics was money badly spent.
Now we come to the Bengali, our deraly departed (from the cricket team) captain, Sourav Ganguly. I don't think I can put into words my contempt for the Indian selectors better than Greatbong. While I agree that Ganguly is past his prime and deserved to have been removed from the captaincy sometime ago so that the next generation can take over (which is why I now believe that Yuvraj Singh should be made Team India captain sooner rather than later) and that he might have warranted being left out of the playing 11 sometime back, what did he do wrong in Kotla? Sharad Pawar has not only finished his honeymoon at the BCCI, but he has actually politicised the BCCI even more, something that Jagmohan Dalmiya prevented. And now those evil Bong communists are revolting (but for once I support them) and while they haven't yet threatened to bring down the government, I believe they should. Yet, certain parts of the media hate Ganguly with a vengeance - they detest him. The current winning streak (against a team that is looking decidedly weak and is on the decline) is being hailed, but have we played some semi-decent opposition lately (Well, the South Africans were, but there were some dubious pitches in that series). Ganguly should be given a fitting farewell, a farewell fit for the man who took India to its best WC performance since the fluke of 1983, this is the man who led India to its best modern-day tour down under, who ruined Steve Waugh's farewell. If modern Indian cricket is where it is, it is because of Sourav Ganguly. Yes, I believe that Ganguly should not have played the 'Bengali' card so much. But this is not about Bengal and Bengali's, its about Indian cricket. And this episode is doing Indian Cricket no good. I was one who believed Ganguly should go, but no-body deserves to go like this. Only Ramnath Goenka treated Arun Shourie worse.
I've got a bad feeling about the England tour (and even scarier our visit to Pakistan) - sure we have a mad wicket-keeper batsman and a devastating fast bowler (x1) but just watching Pakistan yesterday was scary. Very scary. We'll get whipped over there, Bob Woolmer has done miracles to that team (other than remove Mohammed Yousef's tinge of selfishness). And then we'll see this entire new disposition fall down like a pack of cards, because I'm not seeing miracles in the Indian team. And after watching the Australians and the Pakistani's, 2007 doesn't look good at all.
Let Ganguly go the way Steve Waugh went, don't make him a pawn in Machiavellian politics. And yeah, sponsors, don't stump up millions for a another season of NK.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
That said, life of late has been a bit on the hectic side, fewer posts to complain about the state of the media. But, let me, just for a few lines look at the 'Questions-for-cash' scandal. While I believe that such abuses of democracy need to be brought out into public, this was clear case of entrapment, which is illegal in certain countries. Of course, had the politicians even had half-a-brain to look at the questions that they would ask before they took the money, or even after that, they would have realised the stupidity of it all. All that this will do, is that it will force the average politician to maintain to far more intricate bribe-taking system. Like certain ministers in the government employ their children to be their go-betweens, more people will start doing the same. The power of lobbying has been known for years, if you have ever seen the stacks of parliamentary questions, and I mean stacks, half of them seem to have been written by certain lobby groups.
Lobby groups for years have paid politicians with cash, wine and women, not just in India but across the world. I have always had this slightly weird opinion of 'Sting' operations. Now, in the case of the corrupt Delhi Police cop who asked a family for money to release a body, the money was asked for first - Undie TV then did a great job exposing the person. But India TV's silly expose of the casting couch was derided and rightly so because it was a TRP gimmick. Star News' 'discovery' that film-actresses sell their bodies (ratherB-grade actresses who pay their way into music videoes) for money was also an open secret. Putting it on TV serves little purpose.
What really baffled me was the piddly sums of money involved. Piddly. A question for Rs 5000? Man, I'm embarassed. And another question, obviously these 11 weren't the only ones targeted, I'm sure several others were on the hit-list too, but might have been a bit smarter than to take cash on camera. Again, the problem with such a story is what you don't see on camera. Who were the honest ones who NISMA to screw-off? Who the hell facilitated the deal? Unless you know the pimp, you don't know the story. Too many unanswered questions. And more questions are being posed everyday.
Many on the Indian blogosphere feel kicked because their names were used on one question, and because of that no-one has been questioning critical issues. However, no-one's been asking the questions that only the mainstream media seems to have been asking? Of course, this will die down in a few days, these politicians will be suspended for a couple of weeks and we'll be back to hunky-dory. Sigh! As I said, the only lasting impact of this sting operation will be a dramatic change in the bribe taking infrastructure of this country.
Dubner and Levitt of Freakonomics fame have written a brilliant article for the NYT!
Monday, December 12, 2005
Talking about movies made on cellular phones, I am flabbergasted at the sheer amount of mobile pornography available on the internet. What amazes me is that these are regular people just shooting the women they're having sex with. What is even weirder is that in many cases these 'women' happen to be 'escorts' (massage girls in Indian classified parlance). However, what really surprises me is the amount of people who around searching for pornographic clips of celebrities. For example, there are a lot of visitors to this site who land up here searching for a 'pornogrphic' video of a rising Tennis sensation. Sigh! And if you talk about sexuality in this country the so-called 'moral majority' gets all hyper.
On Saturday, there was a huge rail-roko on the Western line, thousands of commuters who were led by an 'apolitical' NGO (which was headed by the former BJP MP for Mumbai North Ram Naik - 'apolitical' yeah right!) blocked trains on the Virar-Borivali stretch. Tens of thousands of commuters were stranded, but in a weird sort of way I actually supported these folks, and I've never actually supported such protests. Why? Simple, though I've never travelled beyond Goregaon on the Western line, I saw the fact that there is no quadruple line between Virar and Borivali, which means all the long distance trains on the Western Railway which arrive in the morning or depart in the evening occupy the tracks and daily commuters suffer. There has been talk of quadrupuling the lines for over a decade but nothing has happened, while the number of people staying beyond Borivali has shot up three or four times.
What is even more ironic, is that according to official statistics over four people die every day on the Western Line alone. And those are official stats. In my four months here I've been on trains that have run over people twice and I've spoken to friends and colleagues who talk about seeing sliced bodies and god knows what else. The most ironic story I've heard was of a few people who were catching a train to Karjat to go a rave (and at raves you do what ravers do - LSD) and they saw a train run over a guy whose severed head rolled onto the platform. They didn't particularly have a very good party.
However, in the hoopla of Sachin's 35th all news of the protest got buried. While I continue to believe that the Bombay Suburban Rail System is one of the world's greatest enduring engineering marvels - carrying over 6 million (at least) people everyday and trains moving every three minutes, it could desperately do with a massive refurbishment job. For gods sake, the stations and in some cases the rails date back to the British-era. Of course, since our Railway Minister is currently sulking over the trashing voters gave him, I doubt anything will happen soon. There is always too much talk and no action in this country - but incidents like Saturday will continue to happen unless something is done. And soon.
I would also write a short para on the Cobrapost expose of Parliamentarians takling money to ask questions in Parliament. While, I'm not terribly surprised at politicians lining their pockets doing this, lobbyists for years have feted politicians with wine/women and foreign trips, the brazen-ness of the act is quite shocking. Shivam of Mall Road worked on this expose (or sting-op whatever you want to call it), and he is rather pleased with himself. Rightly so. Now, I must add, I am waiting for an expose of India's throughly useless lower judicial system.
EDIT : It seems that Prema Sagar of Genesis PR has sold out to Burson-Marsteller. This means that Genesis PR enters the WPP realm. Whoops. On the other hand if all WPP clients gradually shifted to this new entity, private, niche PR firms might be in a spot of bother. Not that I'm cribbing, given that I want to kill a PR person a day. Where are the hot PR chicks in my life? Where?
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
For example, for a newspaper whose business section used to harp about how overvalued certain scrips were at their listing, a notorious case being the rash of stories they carried on the Maruti Udyog IPO (overvalued, hah!), when their own IPO had a ridculously massive price-band, the stories were all singing praise of the market. HT Media's IPO was priced at a massive Rs 550, some quadrillion-times future earnings (OK, so I'm exaggerating by a factor of, say 100), the stories dried up. Despite the number of IPO's in the market which are desperately optimistic, I've not exactly seen that newspaper do a single story on the state of the primary market. Maybe, because they are the worst example of an inherently overpriced IPO. Please note, when I last checked (as I write this) HT Media was priced at Rs 486, above the Rs 350 levels it was trading at a month or so ago, but still below the offer price by a substantial margin in a market that is, well, lets just skip the superlatives here shall we?
But, HT is only the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg is dominated by a company we all know and love - Bennett and Coleman Company Limited. At a recent press meet, I met up with a few Venture Capitalists and one of them accompanied me back to Nariman Point, and he suddenly asked me, "What do you think of the way Bennett and Coleman has been investing in certain companies?" Hmmmm.... Well, I said I don't like it, and let me elucidate why.
I don't know which blog I read about this, I read too many blogs for my own good, but I will harp on this a bit more. I don't like it. Even though, as an avowed believer in the principles of capitalism I do believe a person should invest wherever he sees a good return - media houses, by their very nature should be a bit more circumspect.
Now, look at it this way - can I, a reader, trust any story about companies like Kinetic Engineering, Pantaloon Retail or Paramount Airways if they appear in any Bennett publication (or proposed TV Channel like Times Never). Nope, Nyet, Nein, Nahin. OK, so I'm a reader who knows that the company has invested in these companies. But, a casual reader, who doesn't know that very important fact maybe fooled into believeing the fluff they read in ET's CFM page. And then s/he might invest in those companies. It is almost as bad as the the people on a prominent business channel who talk about companies they have (either direct or benami) investments in. Whoops, I shouldn't have said that - but a glass of wine in the afternoon has strange effects.
Now, I'm not, and will never be a person who believes that the media should be reined in. India has a free and vibrant media, though a lot of it is marred by vested interests. Hey, just look at the way both The Hindu and The Hindustan Times defended oily Natwar - they both owe their alligience to a particular party (rather a particular lady) that dominates the national ruling coalition (the former is also driven by its pure hatred of a certain lady who rules a southern state - the two ladies hate each other y'see). But, I'm not saying that the front/edit pages of both papers should carry disclaimers saying that higher-ups in both organisations are gunning for Rajya Sabha seats.
However, with money things are a tad different. I really admire the way that the hardest hitting stories on the Time-Warner group are done by Fortune magazine, which is incidentally owned by Time-Warner, but at the start of every article they make abundantly clear of this ownership. Similarly, if the Times of India puts a little line in font size 0.5 at the end of every article done during a junket, a practice I'm surprised The Economic Times hasn't followed, I believe that they should put a small disclaimer at the end of every single article that mentions any of the companies that their promoters are investors of. This doesn't only apply to Bennett, I believe that DNA should put a similar disclosure whenever they do stories of Subhash Chandra group companies and so on and so forth.
And I also believe that all journalists or promoters of media companies (OK, maybe only those in top-level publications which can shape business decisions), business, political, features or sports should make disclosures about their investments (or lack of, thereof which would be my case - I barely save enough to pay off my car loan) every year and like the Election Commission keeps databases of each candidates holdings, a electronic online database should be kept on all journalists holdings, ideally by SEBI.
Am I being too um, what do you say, cynical or panicky. Nope, I think I'm rational and pragmatic. The media, for better or for worse, performs a public function
and the public has a right to know where vested interests lie. Until they do, the name of this blog can never change!
I hope this clears up what I think on the issue.
PS : Bonatellis points me to this absolutely hilarious blog - I mean only if you're Bong that is.
EDIT : A little birdie (or rather senior little birdie) tells me that BusinessWeek magazine is winding down their Asian operations. Which is very surprising. But, if true, this means that BusinessWeek Indian Edition bullcrap we've been hearing for some time (which would have been a monthly or fortnightly depending on which of the three-year old rumors you believed) might finally die down.
Monday, December 05, 2005
Patient and steady with all he must bear,
Ready to accept every challenge with care,
Easy in manner, yet solid as steel,
Strong in his faith, refreshingly real,
Isn't afraid to propose what is bold,
Doesn't conform to the usual mold,
Eyes that have foresight, for hindsight wont do
Never back down when he sees what is true
Tells it all straight, and means it all too
Going forward and knowing he's right
Even when doubted for why he would fight.
Over and over he makes his case clear
Reaching to touch the ones who won't hear
Growing in strength, he won't be unnerved
Ever assuring he'll stand by his word
Wanting the world to join his firm stand.
Bracing for war, but praying for peace
Using his power so evil will cease:
So much a leader and worthy of trust,
Here stands a man who will do what he mustI really want to shake the hand of the person who wrote this masterpiece. This is freaking brilliant!
Anyway, the point of this post is wondering why Indians chew pans and then spit out the supari along with the colouring agent to festoon pavements, roads, buildings, trains, and god knows what else. Some buildings have even resorted to using images of gods on the corners to prevent people from spitting. Throughout the Bombay suburban rail system, the tracks facing the platforms seem to have been painted by a million mouths. Its rather disgusting! But then again, I'm a smoker and I believe a nonsensical (Union Health Ministry style) crackdown won't help - but maybe the installation of some spittoons will. Whenever I ask someone why he spat onto a wall, he'll retort, where else? And I will have admit that the person is right. I assume an investment of a few thousands on some spittoons might have a few lakhs in painting costs.
Either that, or we should go ahead and decide to paint India in an universal shade of Paan-Red.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
On another note, my autodriver today morning gave me the lowdown on the traffic problems that the Big B's ailment has been causing around Lilavati Hospital. Thousands of fans are pouring in to pray for the Amitabh. So how is the man? I was talking to a friend last night who is one of India's top film critics (no, not the plagarists who work in certain newspapers), he was telling me the story behind the monkey-cap. It appears that the man wears a wig because he has a bald patch almost as bad as Vir Sanghvi's. Ouch! But that is incidental information.
Now, what is known is that if a 64-year old man works 17-18 hours a day, his body will eventually give up and maybe old injuries will act up (as they have done, the old 1982 Coolie injury has acted up). I agree with most writers that the man should take a break and let other people do advertisements on TV (OK, people other than SRK that is).
Interestingly, this friend of mine gave me another bit of interesting news - which you'll never read in a newspaper. It appears that all those celebs going to meet the man - well none of them actually met him. They were greeted by Junior and his sis and shooed off. The only people allowed to meet him - Amar Singh, Subroto Roy, Anil Ambani and only one person with a Bollywood connection - Gauri Khan (Mrs SRK to others). Well, Yash Chopra would have been allowed to meet him, but he was sleeping around that time.
Interesting things you can get out of people when a couple of beers get passed around!
Amitabh Bachchan Bollywood India media