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Showing posts from March, 2011

My Way Or No Way

(Daily Mail pic showing former British PM Gordon Brown)

In India, this is something we are used to and used to giving in, almost as we would bow to kings and queens in medieval times. With citizens of other democracies, the reaction can be a little different.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown came under fire after his entourage tried to bump a heavily pregnant woman from business class on an international flight. It happened at Oman, when passengers on a British Airways flight were told they would have to move to a lower class because of an `overbooking' problem'. The story appeared on Daily Mail but strangely cannot be found on the newspaper's website anymore, at least when I last checked !

The pregnant woman's husband moved from business to premium economy and other passengers from premium economy were moved to economy and some, apparently off the flight altogether. The story came to light because the woman, seven months pregnant, refused to budge. She als…

Buffett Lesson: Unite In Philanthropy

Warren Buffett came to India. The closest I came to him is when my aircraft passed his (parked) private jet in Bangalore last week. Of course I was flying commercial. Thanks to a fairly trying schedule involving four cities in as many days I missed most of the media coverage surrounding his India visit. Which means, by deduction, I missed most of media too.

So why did we get so excited about Warren Buffet ? So one reason is the obvious one. He is the Sage Of Omaha. He is the most valued value investor. And for all the wealth his firm Berkshire Hathway generates, he himself lives the life of, well, a sage. Its perhaps the failing of my current assignment (or boon ?) that I only have time to browse a few reports and not take the full blast. It was in this context that I read T N Ninan's piece in Business Standard. I think it beautifully sums up the Sage's wisdom.

The second reason is the reason he came here. To invite India's rich (add recently rich) to part with their billi…

The Real Fear Of Flying

I have been mostly on the road for the last three weeks. Which means catching flights of various shapes, sizes and of course pilots. I am worried. Because neither the airline, India's regulatory body (Director General of Civil Aviation) seem to know whether the pilots flying the aircraft have earned their licenses honestly and didn't forge their tests. And till some 4,500 licenses are fully scanned, we will entrust our lives to pilots whose credentials are not re-established.

I was reading an insightful piece in the Business Standard which talks about how the pilots forged critical components of the tests required to become certified pilots. For instance, most of the now suspended pilots flunked papers on aviation meteorology, radio aids and air nagivation. How this escaped everyone's attention is a little bit of a mystery. Or not.

The matter picked up steam when the DGCA ordered an inquiry into an improper landing in January (on the nosewheel) by a pilot who, amazingly, …

The Forgotten Debates On Nuclear Power: Circa 2007

Three years ago, I wrote two articles for the Business Standard newspaper. The first, which appeared on October 30, 2007 was called, 'Dump Nuclear Energy For Renewables'. The second, called The Staggering Cost of Nuclear Power appeared three weeks later on November 17.

I am reproducing both articles because I am even more convinced now. Not because of the safety issues that Japan's earthquake has highlighted but the fundamental problems with setting up nuclear power plants that we haven't fully understood, or debated. Actually, I am quite amazed myself how little or nothing has changed. Including the fact that Kudankulam, which I refer to here, is yet to go on stream. Or is finally promised to go live now.

DUMP NUCLEAR ENERGY FOR RENEWABLES

Govindraj Ethiraj / New Delhi October 30, 2007

I visited the Nuclear Power Corporation’s Kudankulam installation, 25 km west of Kanyakumari, two years ago on a dazzlingly clear day. On paper, the project was impressive — 2,000 Mw of f…

Can Social Media Survive ?

Well that's the question many have asked already. The problem is not in social media's utility, its in the revenue model. Which again many have alluded to, particularly in reference to the $50 billion valuation figure placed on Facebook.  I was part of an interesting discussion last week in New Delhi where consulting firm Deloitte presented its Technology, Media & Telecommunications (TMT) predictions for 2011.

Usually, I find such predictions lacking in the kind of leap of faith which make them predictions to start with. I found this set a health departure. For two reasons. First, Deloitte says (among other things) firmly that social media is yet to become a real force, in revenue terms. For one,  advertising spend on social media  is still 1% of total advertising spend. Total advertising revenues for 2011 are  predicted at $4 bn for social media, a small amount compared to the investments perhaps going in. And surely the euphoria.

Second, television continues to grow furi…

The 1 Cee R Club

This morning's papers tell me that the residents of Chandigarh  are willing to `shell out as much as Rs 1 crore (twice the actual cost) to own a two-bedroom flat.' And this is a state government-run development ( Chandigarh Housing Board). So while it might be a competent build, it might not have the bells and whistles private developers throw in.

This is not to say the residents of Chandigarh cannot afford Rs 1 crore ($210,000) apartments, particularly for a Housing Board construction. Sure they can. A realtor taking me around in a distant north Mumbai suburb last  weekend told  to forget thinking about buying a good place if I had less than 1 Cee R in my pocket. What he meant is Rs 1 crore . The realtors/brokers say `Cee R', because they think its respectful  in case you don't belong to this exclusive club. Thankfully, the family was looking for a place to rent and not to buy.

The latest Economist has an interesting survey called Bricks & Slaughter, arguing that wh…

Why I Worry About Food Channels

A confession. This is less about a mid-day chef shootout amidst howling spectators and more about food, the kind that most of India finds it difficult to source daily. There are many indicators to measure governance. Usually, its access to food, shelter and clothing to start with. Then education, healthcare and infrastructure. In a country where elections are often lost on food in general and onions in specific, lets look on food.

Here is a table that I have taken from Time Magazine that's self explanatory.  It highlights  percentage of total household consumption expenditure  towards food.

Country                         % Of Income On Food

United States                                          7

United Kingdom                                       9

Australia                                                 11

Brazil                                                       25

China                                                       33

India                                                …

The Bollywood Formula Guide To Understanding Union Budgets

This one failed to deliver a Big Idea. Most annual  Budget exercises in India  actually don't.  Usually, they are  a combination of four or five  factors  in no particular order. And almost forumalic, like Bollywood cinema. Sixteen reels make a film, of which 6 reels must be songs, 2 reels must have action sequences and so on. Figures are approximate and you should allow for evolving social mores. Ditto with Union Budget exercises. Needless to add, the  formula will vary depending on the evolving political situations, among others.

So I thought I would look at this annual ritual (and shine the proverbial spotlight) from five  vantage points rather than embark on a deep economic analysis which no one (including self) would follow. And submit that you could use the same five  factors next year too.

1. Plumbing

Where existing policies are cleaned up, given finer shape and  initiatives  discussed in closed loops are showcased for mass viewing. Importantly, promises  are presented afresh,…