Friday, June 26, 2009

Ambiguity as sin

I read John Le Carre's most recent novel, A Most Wanted Man, entirely in a book store. As often before, I was enraptured by its tight plot, totally believeable characters and most of all by its sense of innate morality. It also had the old Le Carre characteristic - the good guys never win (unless it is Smiley - but then Smiley was such a loser in life that he could be forgiven his wins).

As with his other truly memorable books, the story also disturbed me. Because it was so real, and because it probably happens so many times in this world we live in. I looked, perhaps for the first time, upon this world of ours from the point of view of a devout follower of Islam. And did not find it to be a safe or even reassuring world. Innocence is a sin, might is right and morality is a liability. The cruel logic of Guantanamo Bay overrides the human virtues of compassion and justice. We live in a world of justice by strength, justice of the winner, justice as fiat.

Usually I find Le Carre books morally ambiguous - everyone has a point of view which can be understood, Smiley or Karla. But not in A Most Wanted Man. Sometimes ambiguity has to be recognized as what it is - a sin. Something is right, and another thing is wrong. And one has to do the right thing. The right thing is humanity and compassion.

As a character in the book says - five percent of him was bad. But if I look at myself, can I say the same? For me, its probably closer to fifteen. Or even twenty. This is as true for me or you as it is for the character. Recognizing this, and making allowance for it - this is what will make life better for all of us.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Interesting analysis

This post comes from material posted on Yahoo! finance
Professors Barry Eichengreen (Berkeley) and Kevin O'Rourke (Trinity) have produced a great series of charts that compare the progress of this worldwide recession with the Great Depression of 1929.
Effects on world industrial output and world trade volumes are worse than the Great Depression of 1929!
The good news, however, is that equity markets the world over have been quick to price all this in, perhaps protecting us from the slow painful slide seen last time around (fast and painful, or slow and painful? i prefer the former!)
And add to that the massive (I mean MASSIVE) monetary and fiscal stimulus laid on by governments and central banks. Raises the hope that today's green shoots are really the oaks of tomorrow!!

Service economy? Ha ha

There are no two ways about it - our service economy sucks! Getting a broadband connection at home (this is the most premium plan, and with the 'best' operator) is proving to be a headache. This is after my earlier broadband connection would provide such terrible connectivity that I would find it quicker to use a data card on my computer!

This is not just about broadband, or even telecom. I don't understand why we do not have a good, professional service economy. Where if I am told that xyz will happen on a certain day, it does happen on that day (or even that week)! This is true even of the largest retailer in India, who commits delivery on a certain day but actually delivers on some other day.

Earlier, this was a given - because everything was Govt. (or should I say bureaucracy) owned, and the Govt. certainly does not care about service. It is much more difficult to understand now - we have private companies with a profit motive, we have differential pricing, we have pretty much all elements in place for great service. But do we get it? Unfortunately, the answer is no!

My hypothesis is that this stems from 2 key factors - a) the chaos and unpredictability of daily life in our cities. I cannot predict to within 30 minutes the time it will take me to get from place A to place B, or whether I will find parking there, or whether the guy I'm supposed to meet or the item I'm supposed to collect will be there at all! In such an environment, even a small variable can effect output tremendously. Therefore service providers are unable to predict things themselves b) we are horrible at communication and are very short term thinkers. We think saying something conveniently now (Yes surely I will deliver today / Guaranteed madam, kaam aaj ho jayega) is enough to satisfy the customer, rather than say something not so pleasing, but then keep the promise. Ergo, we are short term optimizers rather than long term strategics.

Whatever the reason, our service economy sucks!