Thursday, February 21, 2008

A note on death

This death was like no other. It was not to be mourned, for a start. Instead, it was to be celebrated.

Each death is different. How silly it was for us to imagine it like a black curtain, beyond which our eyes can't see, but what must come at the end. But always black, always pulled with a string by an invisible hand, and it is always the end.

But, as I say, all deaths are different. Some in certainty, some in suddeness. Some distinguished by its ease, some tortured by its pain. Some of these mark a definite end, but some begins the trail.

Trail? Of death, or of celebration? Well, a trail, let's say at this time - a journey - as in Dante's Inferno, some deaths are the beginning of love. Yes, love - because love begins in separateness, to end in oneness. Death is the final separateness, to be matched only by another death to oneness.

Why am I so down tonight? Or am I drunk? Do I see the end of the road to think about death? But I am saying death isn't the end of the road, but a beginning - of another road, perhaps. As if when the curtain falls, the actors become real men and women, smoke real cigarattes, make real love and live a real life. Our senses can't reach there, but this we almost always knew - they were acting when we could see them, and real now when we can't.

So, what if death is suspended, let's say in a country, what happens? That's the story of Jose Saramago's Death at Intervals. Must read, as with all Saramago books, because in this uncannily witty story, the funeral director loses his job and the Government tries to legislate in the post-death society. Only when the PM makes the announcement that Death has finally taken its leave, death returns - this time with an arrangement to send a letter, a week in advance, about its arrival. Of course, that arrangement worked out conveniently, till one of death's letters got returned to her.

So, sometimes, death is to be laughed at, being absurd, well, almost. Read it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Curry House Crisis

Britain's curry houses are facing a crisis. They can't any longer bring chefs and cooks from Bangladesh to work there. The Home Office has banned all semi-skilled worker visas from non-EU countries, and hence the crisis. One must note that curry is Britain's favourite food and there are 9000 curry houses in the UK. Welcome to the world of Polish Pulao and Bulgarian Biriyani!



Well, I have no knowledge, and therefore, no aversion, to East European culinary. Just that it makes no sense to have a polish cook a food which he is not accustomed to or would never enjoy eating. And, if cooking isn't a skill, what is?



This is indeed the problem of Home Office. They have so much to learn from private enterprise. But, above everything, they need to learn Talent Management. They are nation's talent managers. The problem is that they don't know that.



All governments either over-legislate or under-legislate. The New Labour under-legislated immigration first, and then over-legislated. And, in the whole exercise with immigration, they always painted immigrants with one broad brush, someone who will bring in alien culture and would not try to assimilate, only take advantages of the society but will not contribute.



There are a few immigrants who play with the system, but what about the vast majority, who are law abiding, contributing to public services [look at those who drive public transport and run the hospitals] and paying their taxes. People working in IT firms building software to keep the country competitive, people in banks earning money for themselves and the country, people in marketing are selling British products and services to the world. They are integral to today's British Home-Owner life style. They are the reason why Britain remains a competitive, modern country.



The Home Office needs to understand this. There is a global market for talent, and countries must do their best to attract talent. The Home Office is in a seize mindset, which is a problem of their own making, and unless they wake up and start adjusting to reality - this Curry Crisis will be one of the first in many such scandals which will affect British lifestyles and international competitiveness of the country.

Obama's Moment

It is indeed Barack Obama's moment. He won another three primaries today. As he would say - change is coming to America - it suddenly looks very possible, an Obama presidency.

Hilary Clinton apparently does not seem to mind the losses. Though she has fired her campaign manager, but she is pinning her hopes on big states and kicked off her campaign in Texas. So, she wants to do Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania, which can get her back to the race because they have big delegate numbers, and then get a majority among super-delegates, the democratic party leaders and officials, to seal her nomination.

But this strategy looks like a mistake now. This is a dangerous time, where political calculations of the old may not hold true. This is the mistake which undid Guiliani, the erstwhile Republican front-runner. This seemed to be undoing Hilary too.

Because, well, let us say - because change is coming to America. A new 1968 is dawning. Young people, black people, professional people, suddenly united in despair and ignited by hope, are capturing the moment. Moment, moment, momentum - that's everything. A leader at this time needs to look like a leader and an winner, winning every race and every heart, being everywhere and seen every moment. By strategising too much, Guiliani looked like a cold political operator than a leader of the people. Suddenly, Hilary Clinton looks dated, aged and out of fashion too. The moment surely belongs to Obama now. And, this would sweep away the big states, that will sweep away the super-delegates - no one in their right senses should stand in the way of an idea whose time has come.

That big idea seems to be - Barack Hussein Obama! Orpah Winfrey said - the one, the one I was waiting for. The one america was waiting for, surely, after the dark winter of Bush years, after Iraq. An Obama presidency will suddenly restore America's prestige in the world, engage it into its affairs, allow it to listen and understand and start a new post-iraq phase. It will create big dreams and big expectations - I already said, that's the danger - but then who knows when the world is ready for such dreams.

Hilary, bow out now. If you can't see, you should see - it's time! We salute your fighting spirit, but a good fighter always knows when to concede.

Laughing Monkeys, Biblical call-girls and My Day in Manila

My second day in Manila was surely memorable. I always loved this part of my job - going to new countries and trying to set up a business there. It is very unlike a tourist visit, it does not have the trappings of coming to stay [as I did in Britain some time back] - but it needs all the involvement and sincerity that someone trying to settle in a country will need.

So, it was not enough for me to know that the Philippines is the only Christian country in Asia. I had to find it from my visits to bookshops - obviously I got into some of them in course my visits to the huge shopping malls that mark the landscape - that the section on bibles is huge, with many interested readers!

Also, I had a great time reading the newspapers. Filipino newspapers assume that every reader already knows a bit about the country, so in many cases, use initials for people's names. I have been noticing quite a bit of news on anti-GMA rallies happening since yesterday. Well, I must admit that I initially assumed that GMA is Greater Manila Authority or something similar! Of course, I realized I was wrong, because I saw volunteers in black MMDA t-shirts managing traffic [I must say that I found the traffic unceasingly interesting] and figured out that the local authority is known as Metro Manila Development Authority. Only today, it dawned on me that GMA is Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the president of the republic. She obviously got into lots of trouble with election rigging during the 2004 election, and there is a scandal on broadband licenses being investigated by the Senate too.

I also learnt that a new group of monkeys - those who can mimick and laugh like humans - have been sighted in Mindanao, the southern, mountainous section of the country. These laughing monkeys are not listed in some government register where they should have been - the paper complained - and reported that locals believe it is bad luck to come across these creatures. It brings death or accident to those who have met the laughing monkey, I learnt.

My learnings also continued on the street. Apart from noticing the sprawling bible section, I also noticed an untagged section full of Mills-and-Boons look-alike books. While I looked casually, I realized they are little different from M&B, with titles like 'Reluctant Mistress' and 'Insistent Boss'! I soon realized that I am looking at the biggest stock of erotic literature I have ever seen in a mainstream bookshop.

Well, I must have lingered a bit on erotica, picking up books to reconfirm my observation, and attracted attention from people standing in the next isle, the section on bibles. As I moved, there was this girl in attractive dress, who was standing in the bible section but was holding some other book - I guess one on movies - who looked at me and asked whether I would need a massage! I must have looked amazed, and was trying to work out in my brain what that really meant, and she made it easier - 'Massage? Sex? Do you like me? I can come with you now!'

That was Tracey! Or so she said. I have never been into a situation quite like this before - well, I indeed remain the silly village boy that I always was - and did not even know what to say. Instead of walking out, I was politely explaining how I am busy and I must go then - as if she just offered me a big-bus tour of London. And, that made the conversation go almost out of my control - 'Don't you like me?' and 'Are you scared?' and 'What are you scared about?' - before I could somehow get out. Not before she wrote her name and phone number down on a piece of paper, though!

I also realized, from my roaming around on the streets, that there are two things in Manila - everyone wanting to go abroad, and Koreans coming to Philippines! Well, again no stereo-typing - I am staying in Malate, the old part of Manila, which was the area for the rich in Spanish times, and currently the home of bars, nightclubs, big hotels facing the bay and recruitment agencies. And, tourists on the street, I must add, and casinos - my hotel has a big three storey Casino, which I did not fail to notice.

The projection I saw regarding filipinos going abroad is huge! 8 Million filipinos abroad in 2010! Huge sums of repatriated money! When I connected that figure to my story of Tracey, who must be in desparate need for money - either to survive or to fund a lifestyle - I almost realize why a country like Philippines look with pride what the the Overseas Filipinos are doing! The Filipino nurses, maids, teachers [it seems there are many immigrant Filipino teachers in China] abroad earn the money and send it home, which keeps the currency stable and allow the rich to maintain their lifestyle. This explained the unusual enthusiasm I saw earlier in Bangladesh about sending workers abroad - almost saying that, here, we are sending out people who, if they live here, will dirty the streets, fuel the crime and earn bad name for the country; but they can go somewhere else, they will live a life which may be cruel, but will earn better money, do some work, send money home, which will keep our currency stable and let us have foreign goods at a decent price!

On the opposite spectrum, of course, I met someone else on business - a business lady, well educated, well travelled, who wants to partner with us to teach English. It was a charming conversation and I learnt so much about the country, the life here and opportunities. I learnt about Koreans, the big expat community in Philippines, what they spend money on, how they live - and also the Chinese, who make up an increasingly big section of tourists these days. There is a new Chinese International School in town, which is getting students to move from the old British School, and children are learning Mandarin with the same intensity that we gave to English in our childhood. I saw the shining buildings of Makati, was driven back to my hotel by a charming cab-driver and witnessed some great hospitality by a well-trained and exceptionally polite hotel staff.

My visit to the Pines continues.

Kevin Rudd Apologises for Stolen Generations

I also watched with fascination Kevin Rudd, the Australian Prime Minister, apologise for past abuses of aborigins. I was not aware, but I am now, that the Australian government forcibly snatched children from aborigin families in name of assimilation till 1960s. What travesty, I shudder to think, to take children away from their parents and families, forcibly, to integrate them into civilization. I am sure all of it was done in the name of progress, freedom and civilization. And, I am sure this invited less attention from Western media than Mugabe's slum clearance. No apologies for Mugabe - he is a monster anyway - but some compensation to match the sincere apologies from the Prime Minster will surely help.

Microsoft says No - Almost

I was listening to some of the major Microsoft shareholders talking on Bloomberg. They are asserting that Microsoft should not - and would not - up their offer for Yahoo!. They say they have already transferred some value to Yahoo!, as MS shares are slightly down and Yahoo! shares are significantly up. So, Microsoft should walk out of the deal, and let the Yahoo! shares fall and buy shares out of the open market at about $25 [Microsoft's offer was $31, which Yahoo! says too low].

Of course, I have also heard Yahoo! shareholders - including the second largest shareholder in Yahoo! asserting that the offer was indeed too low.

But, funnily, almost everyone saying no has assumed that this is inevitable. That's what struck me - I am sure that with $20 billion in cash, Microsoft will almostly surely take over Yahoo!. I shall keep watching this with interest.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Yahoo says yes, almost

Yahoo! board actually rejected the Microsoft offer, saying it is 'too low'. They are 'not saying no at any price', but they feel this offer undervalues their investment. The current offer was at an approximate 60% premium on their share price. Wall Street Journal reports that they are looking at $40 per share price, about 109% premium. Microsoft, since they are in this, is likely to come back with an improved offer.

Businessweek quotes an analyst saying that Google will have a field day under the circumstances, taking their pick on Yahoo!'s top talent. It is an interesting comment, as this shows where modern-day technology acquisitions may actually go wrong. The M&A model is industrial-age, based on per share or Asset based valuation, rather than talent-based valuation, that it almost guarantees failure. Tom Peters made his point on talent management - why can't a business run the way a football club is run - and I guess the same should hold true for M&A activity as well.

Disagreeing with the Archbishop : Part III

The row continues, though it has died down a bit. This controversy has been useful, both to bring out important issues in British public life in general, and also at a different level, contradictions in my own thought.

My issues first. I have always believed that religion is a private affair, and should have no role to play in public life. However, I have been privately religious, believed in God and had referred to certain 'inner voice' for dictating my actions. Accordingly, I believed that there should be no legal accommodation of private religious beliefs, and 'all citizens should be equal before the law'.

However, I must admit that Dr. Williams' comments and the consequent controversy allowed me to re-examine what I believed in, and to understand why I was wrong.

The first problem with my thinking was that the line between private/public life is non-existent in reality. When I allow my actions to be driven by a certain sense of religious ethic, it affects my public behaviour, and also expectations regarding behaviour of other people. I believe the key issue here is EXPECTATIONS REGARDING OTHER PEOPLE'S BEHAVIOUR - this is where private life overlaps public life, and it is impossible to keep religion out of public life altogether.

The second problem is that the religious beliefs are usually absolutist, rights and wrongs are usually clearly marked out. In this respect, Hindus probably have an advantage - they have a religion with a 'relative' sense of morality - there is nothing right and wrong, and everything depends on the context. So, despite having some religious law - Manu's, most famously - it is hardly practised and even rarely referred to. But in the context of absolute rights and wrongs, it is difficult to adjust to public code if it goes against the religious behaviour.

In fact, Dr. Williams' statement also focused my mind on another issue - it is always easy for a majority to talk about uniform civil code. In case of Hindu nationalists in India, for example. But civil code is based on underlying expectations of behaviour in society, and a civil code based on Protestant or Hindu behaviour may be inherently objectionable to others.

These are vexed issues, and there is no easy, or right, answer. I am sure British Law is exceptionally liberal and progressive. Only the other day, I heard from a Catholic citizen based in Northern Ireland why it was so much better to remain in the UK rather than being a part of Irish Republic, where women's rights were very limited because they followed Catholic code. I am sure Sharia Law may limit women's rights severely. These are points legal experts and policy-makers must debate and decide, and I am sure Dr. Williams did not suggest that these need not be debated or can be glossed over.

On the other side, Dr. Williams' comments brought out the inherent xenophobia of a declining civilization. The reaction - launched in the name of freedom - was actually based on an opposite principle: reaction. In this case, it was Dr. Williams, ironically talking about Sharia Law, was on the side of freedom and flexibility. The concerted criticism - some measured and rational [like, Financial Times, which called his views 'muddled', as they believed law isn't a franchise and there is not a market for law, but it is a state monopoly, but overlooked that the state isn't a monopoly of one sort of belief], some obscure and confusing [mostly from politicians, who covered both sides, Gordon Brown now praising Dr. Williams' 'Great Integrity' - how ironic!] and some openly xenophobic and full of hatred [some of those I quoted earlier] - showed the intolerant nature of modern Britain. It is this nature of disagreement - than the disagreement itself - poses the greatest threat to freedom in Britain.

Monday, February 11, 2008

In Manila


I am in Manila now. I promised to myself to keep posting daily on the blog, but nothing much happened yesterday. That's not true though if one considers my 18 hour flight, across God-knows-how-many time zones [I know it is late evening in England now while I have started the day], and the fact that I have used the flight to read .. well, not exactly.. to be more accurate, to listen to, the whole of 'Crime and Punishment' [which, I must admit, I did not read earlier and always felt daunted to read].

Apart from Crime and Punishment, I have also seen Elizabeth: The Golden Age [Sekhar Kapoor's movie starring Cate Blanchett] and Michael Clayton [George Clooney against corporate misadventure], and also listened to Tom Peters Live in London, a fairly interesting lecture by Uber-Guru. So, quite productive flight, I must say.

In Manila, I haven't done much, except staying in the hotel, which has a lovely view of the bay. It is a fairly decent Hotel room, though one would expect that at $175 a night. I must admit that my personal frugality - and I always blame my Grandfather, who was an entrepreneur, and who taught me my first English sentence in life 'Cut your coat according to your cloth', for this trait of mine - almost always prompt me to feel uncomfortable when I do something which isn't necessary.

And, despite all the comfort and the lovely view, I do feel my stay in Hyatt isn't really necessary and an unnecessary burden for our start-up business. I have nothing to do this time, I have been booked here by our local partner and I did not want to offend him, but one of the things I shall need to do is to find out a cheap and decent hotel, so that I can book myself directly next time onwards.


Saturday, February 09, 2008

Obama Vs Clinton

So, the republican race is more or less settled in favour of McCain, the democrats still have to fight it out. Given the proportional allocation of their votes and many people still can't make up their minds between Hilary and Barack Obama, it is going to be a long hard fight - possibly going all the way to the democratic convention at Denver in August. The Economist feels this will help the republicans, who will be able to launch their national campaign as early as May. Of course, after the disaster of the Bush years, this election is the Democrat's to lose. However, in some cases, the race still looks exceptionally tight.

CNN reports that Hilary and McCain is almost neck-and-neck on opinion polls. The difference is within the margin of error in each of the polls. However, Barack Obama, when pitted against McCain, has a considerable lead, and all things remaining the same, he can win the presidency for the Democrats.

Of course, things can change and it will. Obama will have to solidify his campaign when he takes it to the national level. He has to plug the gaps in his experience. When pitted against McCain, he will surely look 'light' and needs to project a team, which will add value.

In fact, looking from that angle, it will be interesting to see how these three leading candidates project their team. They all have weaknesses to cover.

Take McCain for example. He is light on economy, too liberal and over 70 years [and was on life support a few months' back]. So, his choice of running mate can turn out to be crucial. He says he is talking to Mitt Romney about uniting the party. They will surely make a good combination.

Hilary Clinton is too divisive a figure, and it will be good for her to take someone as a running mate who has broad bi-partisan appeal. The leading candidate on that count is Barack Obama himself, but he has future ahead of him and he may not want any part of another Clinton presidency. I can visualize him making another Kennedy-esque statement: 'If I fail to win the Presidency, I can assure you that I shall not run for the Vice-President. I shall return to the United States Senate..' Ms. Clinton therefore has to get an old-hand, possibly someone from the Clinton team, but it is difficult to think of someone who can add significant value to her candidature. Al Gore's name popped to my mind: but making him a perpetual Vice President is a bit too harsh on poor Al.

Barack Obama has a lot of choice, in contrast. The prime reason is that he is new, and he has bi-partisan appeal. One appealing choice is Colin Powell, yes, indeed, the much respected General and George Bush's first Secretary of State, who recently stated that he would support a democratic candidate if he thinks that person will serve the best interests of the country, and also praised Barack Obama in the same interview. Barack Obama will do well to project a team in the next phase of the race, which will show him to be more ready and launch a national campaign by stealth ahead of Mrs. Clinton.

Disagreeing with the Archbishop : Part II

I reacted rather angrily on what Gordon Brown had to say on Archbishop Dr. Rowan William's thoughtful suggestion that it is inevitable that some aspects of Sharia Law will need to be incorporated in the British Legal System. I noted the arrogance of the Prime Minister, evident not only the matters concerning minorities, but also day-to-day dealing of the business of Government [events like not turning up for the signing of European Treaties], is only matched by his double-standards. However, having focused on this aspect, I missed out far more ominous comments and reactions from the Anglican Church and British public themselves.

Before I quote some of the reactions, however, I must also set the facts right. Lot of people have tried to take a high moral ground [including most politicians] saying that there can not be different laws for different people. Which is grossly incorrect, as Jewish courts are in existence in Britain [Read http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7233040.stm] and I would refuse to believe that the high-sounding politicians are unaware of their existence. Dr. Williams, in his speech, asked for no more than a consideration of a similar system for Muslims.

Now, consider this reaction: 'Alison Ruoff, a Synod member from London, said: "Many people, huge numbers of people, would be greatly relieved [if he resigned] because he sits on the fence over all sorts of things and we need strong, Christian, biblical leadership right now, as opposed to somebody who huffs and puffs around and vacillates from one thing to another. He's a very able, a brilliant scholar as a man but in terms of being a leader of the Christian community I think he's actually at the moment a disaster."' [BBC News Item]

So, the British Christians need a Pope, it seems. Or, do they need someone like Mullah Omar - his Christian equivalent. Or, a person like Pat Robertson, the evangelical preacher who changed America!

Or this: 'Colonel Armitstead, a Synod member from the diocese of Bath and Wells, said Dr Williams should move to work in a university setting instead of leading the Anglican Church.
"One wants to be charitable, but I sense that he would be far happier in a university where he can kick around these sorts of ideas." ' [Same BBC News Item]

One gets the sense that it is not okay to be flexible for a religious leader, not okay to talk about new ideas, not okay to talk about engaging another community. Where are we going here?

A Masih from Birmingham comments : "I am sad to hear that a Christian is saying this. Someone who knows the Bible would never say this. Becuase for Christians everything that they believe is based on the Bible. I think he should resign because as a leader he is not leaving a good example for other Christians to follow. Britain is blessed as many of its laws are based on the Bible."

The question he has to answer is why it is okay to have laws based on bible, but not on Koran/ Hadith. Remember, we are talking Britain here - a modern, educated democracy!

Another reader comments that she stayed in Singapore and had to follow their laws. So, why would 'these people', who have come to UK, would not follow UK laws? Well, yes, indeed.

Dr. Williams has done a great job at uncovering the key issues obstructing social cohesion. For all the talk of British Muslims staying in the ghettos and not trying to integrate, it seems that most people - all politicians, all the media, almost everyone who cares to post a comment - believe that such integration must be on 'British' terms. So, anyone subscribing to another faith in Britain must behave as a guest, even if they are born and brought up here. So, integration essentially means being on your knees - all immigrants and anyone different [even if they are British] are still the barbarian who this great white race will need to educate in 'their ways of life'.

It is more of a purity of blood and faith issue [someone reading Modern European history will remember another country with such false sense of identity] and anyone even suggesting flexibility and engagement is not fit for a public role.

Dr. Williams made a serious mistake, however: He did not know how xenophobic the British public have become.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Disagreeing with the Archbishop

When Dr. Rowan Williams, The Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday said - amazingly - that incorporating some Sharia Laws in British Legal system is inevitable, it created the expected uproar. The Archbishop is the Head of the Anglican Church, and sits at the heart of the British tradition. He is indeed the most unexpected source of such advocacy.

His colleagues have since distanced themselves from Archbishop's views. Prime Minister's Office made a statement that 'British people should be governed by British Laws'. And, Home Office disagreed fiercely.

Let me clarify my position: I do not think a modern society can have separate laws for different people. This stems from my belief that religion has no role to play in public life. However, the Archbishop's comments are worth a closer examination.

First reason for this is that Archbishop, in his position, is not obligated to believe that religion should not have a role in life. On the contrary, he believes that religion should play a role - and an increasingly important role - if the human civilization is to do better. He would say that historical experience would show that ruling out religion's role in public life is foolish, because most people direct their actions based on their own, religious, code. At that level, religion, culture, tradition, ethics, all get a bit mixed up. But, since the man [or woman] on street do not do a Ph D in ethics before they have to take decisions, religion plays an overarching role in all our lives. It is impractical to rule religion out of modern societies.

Second is that Archbishop did not say that Sharia Law needs to be implemented lock,stock and barrel for Muslim citizens of the United Kingdom [this is where Islamic clerics will disagree with him]. He said that a man of faith may want some areas of his action - like marital disputes and financial transactions - governed by religious code, and hence some aspects of Sharia Law may need to incorporated in British Law to accommodate the needs of its muslim citizens. So, in effect, if there is nothing wrong in offering Islamic Banking, where is the problem of looking at Sharia Law for certain transactions for those who believe? Archbishop was saying that this needs to be done for the sake of social cohesion.

He is indeed more right in this than Gordon Brown. Brown's philosophy in two parts is 'British jobs for British workers' and 'British Laws for British People' do not seem to care much for social cohesion. It is convenient to say that if someone wants to come and live in Britain, they need to follow British ways of life [so, I, as an immigrant, must know The Queen's birthdate to get my visa renewed, irrespective of whether I am a republican since 1776!], but it is more difficult to say that British muslims, who are born and brought up here, and whose ancestors may have come to British isles during the middle ages, will have to follow 'British Law', which is, in many ways, directed by the protestant ethic.

The third part of Brown's philosophy is that 'it is okay to use intercept evidence in courts' is completely against the principles of British Law and tradition. He thinks it is the need of the hour [though he sees no such need to listen to what Archbishop is saying] and therefore, it is okay to have 'Bush Law for British People'. Dr. Williams is indeed right about the role of religion in public life - if he had a sense of religion , Gordon Brown would have felt a bit ashamed about his double-speak and political opportunism.

Microsoft + Yahoo : Interview in the Redmond Report

Ed Scannell, Editor of Redmond Magazine, spoke with Dana Gardner, president and principal analyst of Gilford,N.H.-based Interarbor Solutions Inc. in about the proposed deal. I have reproduced the comments in full here. [Source: http://www.redmondmag.com/]

Ed: How does Microsoft reconcile its undying commitment to Windows with the acquisition of a major company that has a strong open source-oriented development culture?

Gardner: Not sure they can. If this deal goes through, Microsoft becomes the owner of one of the largest distributed open source data center complexes in the world. This is unbelievable irony. [What] they are saying to large enterprises is, "Our way to win on the Web is to go open source and we liked it so much we bought the company." They instantly become an open source company. No two ways about it. For them to try and shoehorn the Yahoo data center infrastructure into a Windows environment is the equivalent of swapping the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Ed: What's the potential impact of Zimbra's open source collaboration tools as part of this deal?

Gardner: The Zimbra acquisition [by Yahoo last September http://tinyurl.com/22ha93] shows the importance of rich client vs. fat client approaches to business services such as communications, e-mail and collaboration. Yahoo, being a Web company, is interested in reaching out toward the rich clients with AJAX enablement. Microsoft is coming from the fat client side but moving toward the rich client side with Silverlight and other initiatives. Zimbra sits in the middle between the Yahoo heritage and the Microsoft heritage. It could be an interesting way for Microsoft to enter more rich application activities.

Ed: How do you see their corporate cultures meshing?

Gardner: Yahoo is very much a Silicon Valley company that is of, for and by the Web. Microsoft engineering is very centralized up there in Redmond, 850 miles away. Microsoft seems to think it will get a lot of engineering talent form this, but as we have seen with other big acquisitions, the talent has walked. So there is significant risk. Anyway, I think Microsoft is more buying the audience than it is the employees. Remember that Yahoo is much more a media company and Microsoft is an engineering and software company, which is where their corporate cultures are most at odds. I guess you need to be both these days to succeed. But one monetizes around advertising and media and the other around licensing software. It is more a case of a dissonance of business models than it is one of culture.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Why McCain Matters

John McCain is all set to win the republican nomination after Mitt Romney 'suspended' his campaign in order to pave the way for a national campaign and to unite the party. Mr Romney had only a slender chance of beating McCain, but his stepping aside will leave a section of the Republican Party - its super-conservative american-supremacist christian-fundamentalist section - without a viable candidate of their own. Now, they are in a difficult spot - they can continue to oppose McCain and let Senator Clinton or Obama win the presidency. Or, they can unite behind McCain counting him as a lesser evil. The big question of the moment is: what are they going to do?

This campaign for presidential nomination was extra-ordinary. It was a true post-nixon era campaign, when both the parties had to do some soul searching and gave future a chance. Many times, experience was pitted against hope, fear against reconciliation, bi-partisanship against narrowness. This will possibly be the most lasting legacy of George Bush - he has completely discredited the post-war conservatism by his ineptitude and naivity - and forced everyone to look for a change.

Mitt Romney, despite his brilliant credentials [he looks most 'presidential' among all candidates, but Americans, it seems, will not make another 'Warren Harding' error], is a candidate of the past - too much West Wing, too much the standard rhetoric, too few new ideas!

So is Hilary Clinton, in lot of ways - too much of an alpha female, too hawkish, too much her husband's wife in appeasing all sections of the society. She scores over Mr Romney on the gender issue - that represents a change. However, is that enough? If the French election last year was any indicator, there is a difference between wanting change and leaping in the dark. Hilary Clinton understands that fully and therefore, tried to project herself as a candidate of experience, unfortunately bringing back memories and making herself a candidate of the past, a handicap in this election.

Democrats have suffered less in the Bush years. Well, even after whatever they have gone through, on the final count, they can actually blame Bush for everything - and they are even lucky that the recession is almost here, and they can also shift that blame on the President [which he rightfully deserves]. So, they are still divided - they may even end up choosing Senator Clinton as their representative, making an 'one term' mistake.

In that sense, Republican Neo-conservatives have less to fear from Clinton. A Clinton presidency will allow them to regroup and let the people forget the traumas of the Bush years. America will continue to live with the cold-war mindset. The Bush Adventurism will certainly be replaced by Clintonian Isolationism [I initially thought of 'Barbarism' and 'Cowardice' as the two words] - but America will change little and the World will be no better place.

Barack Obama is different. He already has reignited the hope of Kennedysque rejuvenation. He is ready to embrace the world, and his background will probably give him greater insight and necessary humility to lead America to a true post-cold-war mindset. He stands the best chance - among all candidates - to be able to listen. But, then, he has one handicap - he is too different. He is too much of an outsider. Yes, he is the great affirmative action hope, but he has to flight too many demons - inside and outside America - to deliver his promise. And, by talking of hope, he has raised expectations - not just in America, but in the entire world.

This is why John McCain matters. He is all that an American Cold War supremacist would want to be, but he isn't one of them. He is ready to engage with the world, but defy conventional wisdom. He is everything that George Bush isn't. He may be light on economics, but he can get a running mate who is [Am I suggesting Mr. Romney?]. He is truly Post-Nixon, someone who can claim insider knowledge of how administration works and yet be an outsider.

The neo-conservative republicans will possibly settle for McCain, finally. I am thinking they will never be able to accept a Clinton or an Obama in the White House. And, this will be the other reason why McCain will matter - because he can still win, and if he does, he would change America from inside [which Obama, if he gets a chance, will have to do from outside]. He, of course, will make neo-conservatives irrelevant, and deliver America from its fear. While, if I had a vote, I would have voted for Obama [because I am an outsider], John McCain should matter more to the Americans.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Super Tuesday

Super Tuesday is the term of the year, so far! Like 9/11, everyone now knows what it means. In all this excitement, I was looking around for what other epithets other days of the week have gathered so far.

Well, Monday is naturally associated with Black - Black Monday! Not because it is the first workday of the week - that's more bloody monday than a black one! There is even a small poem in Bengali - 'Sukher sonibar, sadher robibar/ Abar jalate elo, hotobhaga sombar' - the pleasures of which I shall leave to people who read Bengali. But Black Monday is more financial. The original Black Monday was 28th October 1929, a day of great stock market crash during The Great Depression. In the living memory, the same thing happened on 18th October 1987, the day is remembered for the second largest decline in the stock market history. [Wikipedia] There is another Black Monday, as recent as 21st January 2008, which saw the biggest stock market fall post-9/11.

Before I come back to Tuesday, I turned on Wednesday. Of course there is Spy Wednesday, which is the wednesday before Easter [19th March this year] to commemorate the day when Judas gave the whereabouts of Jesus. There is also Black Wednesday in Britain, referring to 16th September 1992, when the British Government of John Major was forced to withdraw the Pound from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, and the Treasury lost about £3 billion in the process [who cares about the Government losing money anyway!].

There is also Black Thursday, October 24, 1929, the day that really started the Great Depression. The Brits, of course, have got a different historical perspective of the Thursday, because every general election in Britain since 1935 were held on Thursdays. This is possibly because Thursdays were market days in most British towns [and still are] and also there is this practical advantage of an weekend immediately after the results are declared. But, this is just a convention - like many more things in Britain - and it isn't written anywhere or mandated.

The most famous Friday is Good Friday, but then we are talking about more recent events here. There is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving in America and one of the biggest shopping days. The British call April 2, 1982 the Black Friday - when Argentine forces invaded Falklands.

Saturday is the only day still owned by a Roman God - Saturn - a distant reminder when even the English was under Colonial rule! I could not find a Black Saturday though - it seems that no one works on Saturdays and therefore no financial disasters or major political atrocities took place on Saturdays.

There is Bloody Sunday - referring to the 1972 army massacre in Derry in Northern Ireland. Super Sundays too - which refer to the day of the Super Bowl in America.

So, back to Super Tuesday, which turned out to be pretty inconclusive, on the democratic nomination at least. Half the world expected a winner - that's what elections are for - but ended up learning more about the geography and voing process in America, than who the next President could be. We almost all voted - or chosen our favourites! Now, of course, there will be a stream of sub-super tuesdays, primaries which will count more than ever, leading to the big one on March 4th. Well, I must give it out here - I am quite keen to meet the US President who is called Barak Hussain Obama!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Microsoft yahoo!s

The big news last week was about Microsoft making a $44 billion offer - in cash and equity - for Yahoo!. Or, this is the news that could be big - if the deal comes through. The fact that Yahoo! only said that their board would review the offer promptly sends out a positive intention.

So, then, it may start the wave of mega-mergers, almost inevitably expected as another cycle of prosperity is drawing to a close. I was told by Jonathan that mergers and acquisitions work in 10 year cycles - and the activity will peak somewhere in 2009. He is possibly correct - this one, and the ones which will follow this [there is a rumor on Google-AOL, which could be bigger] - will invariably push this cycle to its peak.

However, indeed, whether this merger will impact the long term future of the world/business/web, remains to be seen. Even if this is big news, this is big news because Yahoo! is up for grabs and not because how brilliant Microsoft's strategy is. In fact, this is indeed an admission of panic and necessarily a defensive move by Microsoft.

Besides, as Vic Keegan observed in The Guardian: "Academic studies indicate that most mergers fail because they are entered into for the wrong reasons (defence against a predator, buying market share or just management aggrandisement). It is not immediately obvious why this one will be any different. If this is a plan to use Yahoo's vast networks to protect Microsoft's monopoly base it will almost certainly fail. If it uses Yahoo as a vehicle to drive the combined company into hosting services - from photographs to documents - on the web rather than your hard disk (which is where Microsoft is powerful) then it could be a success... But to succeed this time (Microsoft) may need to make this a reverse take-over by letting Yahoo lead the way. That is not Microsoft's style."

Besides, Microsoft just does not get the web. Remember, Bill Gates was a defender of 'paying for software' phenomenon. It is one of the founding faith of the company. As that business model became successful, Microsoft became the largest software company in the world. But this 'product' model is obsolete on the web, and Microsoft still fails to get it [I am asking: Can Microsoft scrap its Windows division, and make the software freely available?]. From a classic Microsoft view, Yahoo!'s assets, content, network and users, is supposed to make this deal worthwhile. But, on the web, vision, technology and brand count a lot more. After this offer, Yahoo! will be a minnow - a discredited brand and a second best technology - and value a lot less than it does today. This would actually make the merged company an yesterday's giant, a huge behemoth valued at $327 billion, in someone else's garden.

There is talk about AOL-Google merger [as I mentioned before] but I am not sure that will make any more sense than this one. AOL is also a thing of the past [when I read this bit of rumour, I had to think whether all M&A cycles will have to end with AOL] and Google has been pursuing acquisitions which fit their vision of aggregating world's information. In the context of that vision, Amazon makes more sense than AOL. Well, no, this isn't a tip-off, just that Google and Amazon are both trying to do the same thing, and [realities permitting] mergers should happen not just to attain efficiencies [read - to cut workforce and expenses] but to farther business vision. This will make so much more sense to see Google amazoned!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Indian Dynasties

Political dynasties are as much a product of the age of television and mass media as of a tradition peculiarly Indian.

The comparison with Royalism is understandable, but Royalism itself is not a problem. One of the oldest democracies - Britain - continue to be unapologetically royalist and yet democratic.

However, dynasties arise because of media's obsession about dynasties! Why do we know so much about Chelsea Clinton? Or Jenna Bush? Are we not seeing a dynasty in America? Surely, Hilary Clinton is gifted and smart, but how about a Hilary Diane Rodham versus John McCain poll? Familiarity is an asset in modern democracy, and dynasties lead to familiarity.

Or, let's talk Pakistan. Bilawal Zardari changed his name to stake it out. Or, in every other society - Ghana and Kofi Annan sprang to my mind - where a familiar family name is dropped to achieve various political, financial and social goals.

I also wonder why dynasties in politics are such a bad thing when it is accepted practise in large corporations. One business leader told me that he believes his sons practised the art of public behaviour from the day they were born, and they are therefore well qualified to manage the affairs of his large, multi-billion dollar enterprise. Very true, but why does that not apply to politicians too?

However, I agree, when such dynastic succession tends to cripple the normal functioning of a meritocracy, the country gets less than what it deserves. New ideas and leaders with potential face an unfair obstacle - and progress becomes difficult. However, dynasties are not the only issue, the overall social mobility and VIP syndrome are bigger enemies of meritocracy. Let's say - by law - one bars Rahul Gandhi from entering politics. Would that stop our friendly neighbourhood civil servant act like he owns the estate? Or would it stop some junior opposition leader from delaying flights because he can't make it to the airport on time? Our democracy - as I keep saying - needs to shake off its 'babu-fat'. Dynasties will go on its own as we mature.

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