Spare them the spotlight

Do the spouses and kids of candidates have to be paraded all around at these conventions? The recent Democratic convention saw families of the John Edwards and John Kerry actively participating in “pitching” for them. It is more than likely that the same will happen at the Republican convention. The argument is that this is an opportunity for the country to get insights into the personal side of these candidates. Unfortunately, these events are so scripted like “product demos” that even if these individuals wished to reveal something new about their spouses, its more than likely that it will be staged and crafted. The net effect is that we have speeches from family members that hardly come across as genuine, but instead appear fake and untrue. We know they love their spouses, we know they think their spouses are the greatest (even Hillary told us that!), we know they will do anything to impress us to vote for them, then why bother? Moreover, it puts so much pressure on these individuals to be dragged into this whole drama that the candidate is involved with as they run for public office.

I watched Teresa Heinz Kerry’s speech the other day at the Democratic convention. She is not exactly a great speaker, didn’t exactly reveal anything personal about John Kerry, and is hardly qualified to talk policy. I think the same is true of Laura Bush. These are two women who are probably more comfortable doing their own things, than making speeches at political conventions. It would be better off if they stuck to press interviews and appearing in public with the candidate and stayed away from giving speeches, especially at conventions. This way, if you really care about the candidates personal background you are likely to research it and find out for yourself. At the same time, it will make sure that people don’t end up casting their vote after falling for a dog and pony show at a convention.

Finally, here is what I think is interesting about Teresa Heinz Kerry and is likely to appeal to most Americans — She appears relatively simple and certainly does not look like a woman who has over $500M+ assets. She wears minimal make up and does not fuss over her hair. She can speak five languages, was born and raised in Mozambique and is not afraid to ask people to “shove it” (which BTW is both good and scary at the same time!). What I knew about Teresa Heinz Kerry, I knew even before her speech and I think that was more than sufficient. I would have preferred (and the DNC would have been better served in my opinion) instead to hear a few more up and coming stars of the democratic party like Barack Obama.

Voting Machines from India?

According to pollsters, the Nov election is going to be a very closely fought race. Given all the drama that happened at the last election which deeply divided this country and created a lot of resentment among the Democrats, why doesn’t the US govt. sign up to use the voting machines from India? They clearly work well and the massive Indian elections have just proven that the counting time can be reduced by two thirds. The machines are only $200 a pop.  No issue with re-counting, no hard feelings from the results, just pure harmony guaranteed.  How come little is being said about the counting and the overall plan to avoid the fiasco of the 2000 elections?
 
Its a global economy, its the voting machine of the century, “let’s bring ’em on!”

 

The Politics of Threat Levels

Our US govt. tells us that there could be a terrorist attack between now and election day. Apparently, the intent of such an attack is to scare Americans and influence the outcome of the elections as it did in Spain.

First, lets us look at the Spain situation for a moment.  Given the current state of the world, terrorist attacks happen at various times, irrespective of whether the elections are there or not.  Its very hard to say with certainty that Jose Aznar’s party in Spain was booted out of power because of the terrorist attack. The truth is that Jose Aznar led his country into the war against popular public opinion and this in itself could have resulted in the party loosing power.  Once the blasts happened his party promptly blamed the ETA in a great hurry before realizing that they had little to do with the attack. This plus the fact that the Socialist party led by Jose Zapatero, had consistently been against the war and had committed to the withdrawal of Spanish troops, might well have widened the margin of defeat. But its unlikely that it changed the result of the election from possible victory to defeat for Aznar and his party.

In the US, the “elevated” threat level that is currently being proclaimed by the govt. appears to be motivated by politics — drive fear into the public, so they decide not to vote out the incumbent — could be a motive for this increase in threat levels. Opinion polls indicate that President Bush is likely to do a better job of safe-guarding the country in the event of a terrorist attack.  An easy no-brainer way to cash in on this sentiment is to drive up the threat level.  A terrorist attack between now an election day, is only likely to drive up this sentiment even more and favor the incumbent.  So any terrorist attacks executed before the election are likely to help the incumbent than the other way round. (Note: If you are terrorist reading this, you will be ensuring the return of the current President for another 4 year term if you go ahead with an attack prior to the election).

So the ruling govt.’s formula is very simple, if there is a terrorist attack they could say, “look, we told you about the heightened threat”. If there isn’t any, then re-inforce (and possibly increase!) the issue of the threat level. This will ensure that the Nov vote is based on the big question, “Who can do a better job of protecting America” while all other issues fall by the wayside. The Democrats will have to dream up a strategy to counter this if they have to win this election. Meanwhile, as the elections draw closer don’t be surprised if you hear increased threat level announcements from our govt — they could be for real, but they could also be politically motivated.

The Elusive “Good” Indian Travel Agent

Travel to India from the US means purchasing tickets from travel agencies run by people of Indian origin in the US.  These folks clearly give you the best deals for whatever reason. The flip side though, is that customer service is virtually non-existent. Its almost impossible to get a call back from these folks.  I suspect this situation also has a lot to do with us, the customers.  Many of us are ruthless bargain hunters and would contact so many travel agents for quotes and haggle till the cows come home before deciding  on a deal. So these folks are eternally suspicious that you are about to dump them in favor of the next travel agent who is willing to give a tenny-weeny break on the price.  So its an interesting tussle, with the agent on the one hand, aggresively going for the close, while the buyer on the other, desperately heading for the door so they can evaluate “all” options before they can make the call.   The result is that the agent calls you back maybe once or twice before they determine if you are a good prospect for their business.  If you make the cut, then you might receive another call or two, else you are out of luck until you decide you want to make an actual purchase and call and explicitly express your sincere intentions.  

 
I suspect that the money in this business is in volumes. This means, you are likely to get a little more attention if you are purchasing tickets for a family rather than the one off ticket.  So single ticket buyers are certain to be at the bottom of the rung for already pathetic service. Of late, some travel agents have started to communicate via email. While this certainly helps, there is no doubt that the poor customer service in this business is unparalleled and almost endemic, and unlikely to change until market monopoly of these outfits is challenged by some newcomers. After over a decade of experience in dealing with these outfits, my self-learned conclusion is as follows:  They are all equally bad, stick with one agent and your loyalty is likely to be rewarded with some reasonably decent customer service!

Techies Beware: Immigrating to America Ain’t Easy Anymore

During the 1980s and 1990s a number of engineers and other professionals routinely immigrated to the US.  After your undergraduate degree in India, go to the US, complete your Masters degree, pick up a job, get your green card and settle down in the US, this was the norm for a number of professionals.   This tried and tested path has started to get harder for several reasons.

Globalization and Outsourcing, driven primarily by technological advancements, have caused several new trends to emerge among the Indian expatriate in the US.  Firstly, a number of Indian professionals who moved to the US during the Internet boom days have returned to India due to the lay-offs that followed the dramatic downturn.  Many of these individuals were on H-1B visas and hence potentional immigrants whose aspirations were prematurely ended by the downturn.

Secondly, a number of mid to senior level professionals (some out of choice and others due to circumstances)  have started to return to India to work for American Corporations at their India centers.  These include green card holders, and others who had taken up American citizenship.  While its hard to predict, its highly likely that a large number of these individuals who have re-located to India are unlikely to return or even if they desired to, the return path is bond to be difficult and challenging, both professional and financial.

Thirdly, it has become extremely difficult for fresh undergraduates and graduates, to find jobs in the technology industry, in particular. The downturn in the technology industry in the US being the main reason for this trend. Corporations don’t have the time or the resources to hire and train fresh graduates. Instead, they need more experienced individuals who can be productive from day one. In a market where unemployment is at its peak, experienced individuals are relatively easily available.

A big part of the immigration is the processing of the green card by the employer.  Over the last two decades, American corporations routinely processed green cards for their employees, many of whom joined the workforce after their Master’s degrees with little or no work experience. In fact, it was so common that the green card generation machine worked like clock work as immigration lawyers churned out applications in almost assembly line fashion.   However, lately, multi-national companies have become very stringent about processing green cards for their employees.  Very often, employees of Indian origin are being encouraged to return and work at their Indian centers. This is understandable, since it is a very cost effective option for companies with established centers in India.  Its highly likely that US corporations will hire less number of graduate students (with a Masters and no work experience) in the US, than ever before, with each passing year, because its far cheaper to hire graduates in India and other countries.  In fact, American corporations might choose to hire in the US and post the individual in India on Indian salaries.

The good news about globalization and outsourcing is that over time, where employees are located is likely to  matters less and less to businesses. Instead, efficiency, productivity and overall ability for quality work are likely to be of greater importance than mere location. As a result of a large number of multi-nationals establishing operations in India and the small to medium sized businesses likely to follow suit in order to remain competitive (and viable!), attractive and exciting opportunities are likely to continue to evolve in India, particularly in the technology business. For example, the venture capital community has become very tuned to the fact that an operation in India or some other cost effective location where talent is available, is no longer “a nice to have” but a “must have” for businesses.  In fact, a number of venture capital firms have started to focus specifically on companies with a presence in both India and the US.  The bad news about outsourcing and globalization is that, the traditional road to America for Indian professionals is not very viable anymore.

So what does this mean, for example, to an engineer  graduating from one of the leading institutions in India and aspiring to head off to the US like many of his/her predecessors? Unfortunately, its a very different paradigm today from a decade or two ago where immigrating to the US was a tried and tested path.  In fact, these days you have foreigners seeking internship and sometimes jobs based in India!  So, if the engineer does not have genuine interest in pursuing specialized advanced studies (like a Ph.D), coming over to the US as a student might not be a very good option especially if immigration to the US was the ultimate objective.

Hindi Movie Review: Hum Tum

Hum Tum is a movie starring Rani Mukherjee, Saif Ali Khan, Rishi Kapoor, and Rati Agnihotri. Its a simple easy going movie, a “desi-fied” version of Harry met Sally.  In short, boy meets girl, then they go their own way, then they meet again — but girl gets married to another guy (Abhishek Bacchan) — then they meet again, then fall in love after a little bit of nakra/sento from the girl, and finally come together after some melodrama,  throw in a side story of separated parents of the hero coming together in the end, a bunch of songs, scenes from “faarin” locations and there you have Hum Tum.  Oh, oh…before I forget the director Kunal kohli does throw in some cartoon characters who are supposedly a parallel to the main story. The cartoons by itself are very cool, but is something the movie could have done without. Maybe, his next film will be a cartoon film!

There are a few holes in the script which could have better handled. Rishi Kapoor apparently went to US for a 6-month work assignment and both he and his wife, Rati, simply never bothered to call each other and hence drifted apart! After 15+ years he decided that she was the best and greatest and walked back into her arms—hello?? some common sense please! notherr crazy bit of the script causes Saif Ali Khan’s character to share the gori details of this entire story in front of the press when he is releasing his book!

 

A couple of songs are catchy. Saif gets a good break in a role that was otherwise tailor-made for Shah Rukh Khan.  Rani Mukherjee handles the role with ease. Rati Agnihotri looks like product from the Hema Malini school of physical maintainence. Rishi with his fast expanding waistline  is threatening to join the rest of the Kapoor clan. (He appears to have false teeth at the top!).  Abhishek Bacchan in his two minute role appeared visibly relaxed and hence did a better job than he does in most of his other films!
 
Overall if you are in the mood for a light film, a mushy film, or a time pass film, Hum Tum is a safe bet.

 

 

SCCC shocked by Veterans Team

–Report by Morgan Times Special Correspondent

Thanks to SCCC: On behalf of all the SCCC veterans, Morgan Times would like to thank the SCCC (particularly Shahab and co.) for organizing this event at short notice and making this a wonderful experience. We hope that the thrashing you received on the field will not be taken too seriously. We look forward to a follow on match later this summer after an extended period of intense healing on both sides — for us it will be our sore muscles, while for you, we appreciate the need to recover from a traumatic defeat at the quivering hands the “really old guys”. And now the gory details….

It was near perfect weather — the veterans had shown up on time (many of them in whites!), the outfield was full of grass (now that Bombay is in India, sounds like no one mows the outfield anymore!), TR, Shrikanth and Pradeep were tiring themselves out at the nets until someone reminded them that there is still a match to play — all in all a perfect setting for a wonderful game of cricket. On paper, the veterans team appeared extremely well balanced. The big question was about how much of that on-paper strength would translate into noteworthy performance on the field. Surprisingly, this potentially fictitious on-paper strength was enough to scare many of the current SCCC A and B players, who signed up but didn’t show up. While the SCCC veterans had 11-13 players, Shahab the SCCC captain was left scrambling to make a 11, thanks to many of the SCCC A and B players who “chickened out”. After some intense maneuvering, and the arrival of the “eternally late” Ram, the teams were formed, the SCCC team won the toss and elected to bat.

SCCC Innings

SCCC opened the innings with, “tough on wides while umpiring” Fazil and “powered by Malboro” Rajesh . The veterans chose to open the bowling with Naresh and Bharath. Man, this guy, Naresh, is a miracle. He hasn’t bowled in years, never cared to even bowl at the nets this morning, and yet was bang on target from the very first ball. He looked the same, not an ounce of extra fat, not a sign of rustiness, even his pants looked the same, except they had shrunk and now become shorts, and developed a yellow tinge. His line and length was immaculate and understandably he gave absolutely nothing away. He bowled about 5 overs in all, 4 in his first spell and one at the death, giving away a total of 5 runs for 2 wickets.

At the other end, the veterans started off with Bharath, who politely turned down subsequent overs after a first spell of 2 overs. Kiran, the veteran’s captain donned the keeping gloves with ease and rotated his bowlers so well that everyone including himself got a chance to bowl. Clearly, this was rotation at its best and true to its word. His philosophy was very simple, if you have started to bowl and still look like you can stand upright then you are good to continue bowling. After Bharath’s two over spell, Killer Krish was brought in. He promptly sent in a few sizzling shooters to announce his arrival. The more shoulder he put into the delivery, the greater the skidding effect. After a fiery spell of two overs, Kiran decided it was time to give the SCCC batsmen a respite from the intense sizzle. In fact, they were so unnerved by that spell that Krish had to be walked off the field and placed in charge of baby-sitting duties. He was then replaced by Altaf and Naresh was replaced by TR. Once again, two veterans who found their rhythm right way were steadily applying the breaks on the SCCC innings. Throughout the SCCC innings, the veterans kept a tight leash on the run rate. Runs came in a trickle, barring some fireworks from Ram who led a charmed life and Puneet, who struck a few blows at the very end.

The highlight of the SCCC innings was the fielding of Sourav — SCCC’s Spiderman. He grabbed three truly brilliant catches as substitute fielder. Its almost like he spins a web around any ball the travels in his vicinity and before your realize the ball is safely in his hands. This kid has some special powers or he has developed a strange knack of strapping welcro to his hands as and when needed. His entertaining display of fielding was brought to a premature end after Shahab politely reminded him that he better cool off if he has any aspirations of bowling during the veterans innings.

In the latter part of the SCCC innings, Babu essayed a brief, but impressive cameo as the keeper. Wickets fell from time to time and the SCCC innings wound up at 96 for 15 (the last 6 wickets can be attributed to Ammi (who was out about 4 times) and Puneeet (2)) in 40 overs.

SCCC Scores: (96 all out in 40 overs; Puneet 15, Ram 9, Shahab 8, Souav 3, Fazil 2, Rajesh 6, Ammi 2; Lbyes 2, byes 1, wides – 13);

Veterans Innings

The veterans opened with Bharath and Shrikanth. The strategy was for Shrikanth to steady one end while Bharath slowly but surely unleashes his conventional “shock and awe” therapy. The SCCC opening bowlers Puneet and Rajeev had meanwhile worked out a strategy of their own. While Puneet would focus on moving the ball both ways, Rajeev would interspere his gentle TLC (tender loving care) deliveries with some deceptive full tosses and super-slower ones. As it turned out the shock factor was certainly there, though one of an unintended kind, as an “halwa” of a delivery from Rajeev, crashed into Bharath stumps. The veterans were clearly off to a bad start.

Altaf and Shrikanth steadied things and started to step up the run rate. In fact, emboldened by the fact that his loose pants (see Sidelights at the end of this report) were now held firmly in place in the midst of protective gear, Altaf launched into some exciting stroke play and just when he looked certain to tear the SCCC bowlers to shreds he was caught by Puneet of Sam. At the other end Shrikanth continued to score at a steady pace. SCCC picked up three more wickets that of Shrikanth, Pran and TR and the veterans were at 50+ at the half way mark. Shrikanth top-scored for the veterans with a fine knock of 21. Then, Radha and Pradeep came together for an entertaining partnership that carried the veterans score close to the winning total. Finally, a tired Pradeep was stumped for a well made 17. Radha scored a fine 20 before he ran himself out just like old times. Then, Kiran, Bharath and Babu had a final go at the SCCC bowlers in the remaining overs. By this time the match was already won, but overs remained, our statisticians were off the hook, and everyone sat back and enjoyed some cool fireworks, particularly from Bharath.

Babu made an ambitious attempt to challenge Ammi Amarnath, and was successfully out a handful of times, but was unable to meet Ammi’s consistency and precision in getting out. For SCCC, Ashok enjoyed a good day behind the stumps and was instrumental in a couple of stumpings and run outs, while Puneet bowled 9 of the 40 overs in an attempt to restrain the veterans. Fazil, Sam, Ram, Rajesh, Shahab, Imran, and Sourav formed the rest of the SCCC bowling attack, which was tortured by the really old guys.

Veteran’s Scores:

98 in 33 overs; Bharath 3, Shrikanth 21, Altaf 9, Pran 7, TR 6, Radha 20, Pradeep 17, Kiran 5, Wides 6, LByes 4;

Other Sidelights:

ProCricket: Did you ever think that you could play cricket in the US and get paid for it? Well, that dream of yours can now become a reality and the man you need to play up to us none other than our near and dear, Laks Sampath, SCCC’s answer to Jagmohan Dalmiya. While speaking with MT correspondent earlier this week, Laks was repeatedly interrupted by frenetic aspirants vying for a berth in the procricket circuit. For more info, check out http://www.procricket.com. For fast-track access to Laks, please make a generous donation to the MT Global Peace Fund.

My God, where’s my guard!: Naresh padded up to open the innings with Bharath, then realized that he didn’t have abdomen guards to wear. He thought for while, (and even looked around to see if there might be anyone willing to share — we are not sharing, nana-nana-naa-naa, you guys are mean!) — and decided it ain’t worth it, despite the intense desire of the veterans to win.

What do I catch?: Ram skied a Radha delivery hard and high to the deep mid-wicket area. Altaf covered a lot of ground and managed to get completely under the ball. However, he was caught in an unusual predicament and left with only an unfortunatte split second to make a decision. Years of not having taken a catch had taken its toll on this veteran. He was so excited at the thought of latching on to one, that his pants started to drop! He could hold on to his pants and save himself the embarrassment or kiss his pants goodbye and latch on to the catch. To the dissappointment of the other veterans, he chose to grab his pants over what might have resulted in a truly outstanding catch.

Look me in the eye, wil’ ya: The Ram-Sam duo while at the crease were heard discussing whether to resort to the age old SCCC trick of eye contact for singles as opposed to the more practical yet relatively tactless “calling for runs”. Ram reminded Sam, “With your helmet on, I can’t see your eyes!”.

Can I raise my finger!: Ammi Amarnath broke all previous records for the number of times one could be out in an innings. He was first caught, then bowled, then caught, then bowled, then bowled….until umpire Brotherman cried, “Please stick your pads in front, I want to have the pleasure of giving someone out!”.

Match fixing: No match involving cricketers from the Indian subcontinent is complete without cries of match fixing. To be fair to the accusers, there were a number of players seen talking on cell phones while right on the field!! (Babu and Sam to name a couple). When asked about this the veterans skipper countered, “Boss, gimme a break, did you see the number of times Babu and Ammi got out? Do you think we can ever fix that? That’s the kind of rare talent (or lack thereof!) that even money can’t buy!” (One of the players who was seen talking on the cell phone, later confessed over margaritas that he was actually convincing his wife that he was at work)