The Pakistani Political Drama Continues: US in Tough Spot

Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif have finally decided to temporarily bury the hatchet and go after their common enemy, President Musharraf. After few attempts on his life and playing a cat and mouse game with the terrorists (for several years) while simultaneously keep the democratic process at bay, Pakistan’s magic man Musharraf enters a new seemingly challenging phase in his political life. This time like many other times in the past seems like the end of the road for him.

Will he survive? Will he take a golden parachute and move to his house in Florida (rumor has it that he owns a cool house in Florida) or will the Sheikhs in Saudi Arabia swap Nawaz Sharif’s apartment to host Musharraf? Will he pull a fast one and check mate his rivals? Will he escalate violence in Kashmir as a temporary distraction? Will Bush and co. fight hard to keep him around or will the abandon him when he most needs them and indulge in tough talk after the fact (a la Georgia)? What role with General Ashfaq Kiyani play in all this?

Getting rid of Musharraf will end army involvement in Pakistani politics at least for the moment. As a result it will raise a semblance of hope for a truly democratic government. However, the reality is that there seems to be little hope of any stability whatsoever post-Musharraf. The current government could fall any day. It is only a matter of time before Nawaz Sharief does the needful to bring down the Zardari government though at the moment he seems more focused on revenge against his arch enemy President Musharraf.

While it is impossible to have sympathy of any sort for someone who has been a dictator (with the blessings of the west), it is very much a scary thought to have a nuclear power with an unstable democratic government and terrorists champing at the bit. Under the circumstances the US finds itself in an enviable predicament (after spending billions over the years) of having to dump Musharraf but with no reliable, committed allies at the helm of the current government as backup.

p.s: There is plenty of uncertainty ahead. The cast and characters are lined up. There is suspense and melodrama ahead. Who are the winners and losers ahead? Right now, anything is possible. Its only a matter of time. The recent independence day celebrations were more like an annoying item number to temporarily stall the action sequences. The current state of Pakistan is like the interval phase in a Bollywood film.

Oops..! The Troops Love Obama too!

A study by the Center for Responsive politics says that the troops contributed most to Barack Obama’s campaign. This is an interesting data point. Can’t really blame the troops because if their “hope” is to get out of Iraq for good, Obama is certainly the better bet.

According to an analysis of campaign contributions by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Democrat Barack Obama has received nearly six times as much money from troops deployed overseas at the time of their contributions than has Republican John McCain, and the fiercely anti-war Ron Paul, though he suspended his campaign for the Republican nomination months ago, has received more than four times McCain’s haul.

Read an interesting view about this here.

Insides of the failed Hillary Campaign

Hillary Clinton’s Memo-gate

Now that the Hillary Clinton campaign is long over, the post mortem has started to happen in public thanks to an investigative report in the Atlantic monthly. Gory details (with leaked emails included) about infighting among campaign staff, indecisiveness starting at the top, poor cash management etc. are available as part of this article.

Clinton ran on the basis of managerial competence—on her capacity, as she liked to put it, to “do the job from Day One.” In fact, she never behaved like a chief executive, and her own staff proved to be her Achilles’ heel. What is clear from the internal documents is that Clinton’s loss derived not from any specific decision she made but rather from the preponderance of the many she did not make. Her hesitancy and habit of avoiding hard choices exacted a price that eventually sank her chances at the presidency.

Considering that the so-called Clinton machinery failed so badly to get its act together and the recent revelations about John Edwards, the Democratic party must consider itself lucky to have picked Barack Obama even without considering any of his strengths and/or weaknesses.

Abhinav Bindra Creates History!

Abhinav Bindra picked up India’s first individual gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. A commendable achievement by the 25-year old.

There is plenty of press about it already. So I don’t wish to add to the clutter. What I liked most about this young man from the video footage was his calm and composed nature despite having created history. It is such a refreshing change from the Sreesanths, Harbhajans and Kohlis of the cricketing world.

His comments following the victory came across as “simple and down to earth”. He deserves all the kudos.

Indo-US Nuclear Deal in Jeopardy?

Indo-US Nuclear Deal in Jeopardy?

Check out this article in Tehran Times.

But the Nuclear Suppliers Group is unlikely to accept the deal without imposing some conditions (like no more nuclear tests) that the Indian parliament will not accept, and the U.S. Congress may adjourn next month without voting on the legislation. Bush is gone in January, and Manmohan Singh’s government, which must call an election next year, is probably gone by next July.

Interesting article and accurate depiction of the current scenario with regard to the deal.  But one can’t help but notice more than a tinge of fervent hope that the deal would not come through! It is hard to imagine that the Congress government and Bush administration will not do “whatever” it takes to finalize the deal given that both parties are hugely motivated to push this through. If this article is a data point for Iranian public /media opinion, Iran badly wants this to deal to stumble.

Avvo: Welcome Service Despite Dotcom Ghosts

Avvo

Pick a vertical, sign up a top VC investor, create some buzz, generate traffic, and eventually cash out (hopefully) by selling to one of the larger more established companies. Is this just me or have the dot com days returned? Are the days of the first mover advantage back? Revenues don’t matter anymore? Monetizing eyeballs is a challenge for the future? Registered users are more important than business models? This was the formula in the dotcom days. It sure sounds like we are back in that kinda game again. Web 2.0’s poster child Mark Zuckerberg exemplified this mindset when he said recently (when asked about revenue generation), “We’ll figure that out later.” (Yikes! Maybe its time to read Net Gain again? ) Top VC firms appear to be backing this model once again inspired by the sale of Youtube, Flickr, Skype, Writely, Jotspot, Blogger (to name a few), all of which had no revenue model so to speak.

Avvo a community site for lawyers and those in search of legal services is one more company that expects to make money from ads. And of course, the rest “they’ll figure it out later”.

All of this being said, I love the idea behind Avvo.

The legal industry in the US is one vertical that has long been ignored and is desperately overdue for some disruptive changes – technological or otherwise. To some level legal outsourcing has started to happen but the actual use of the internet/technology to reduce legal costs hasn’t really materialized on a large scale. In a highly litigious country like the US where there is always a huge demand for legal services one would expect the cost of legal services to at least drop over time. Unfortunately, I have found this has never to be the case. Every year big law firm routinely sends out annual rate increase letters like doling out New Year cards. Top of the line corporate lawyers charge over $700 per hour! These rates are outright ridiculous especially when the tasks involved most often are no rocket science. The bulk of the legal work especially for startups, are very routine, mundane paper work. Unfortunately, these services are billed by the hour and prior effort estimates seldom work in the legal industry. (Because there are no yes or no answers, it is always “It depends”). Moreover, the time spent on email, phone calls, even photo-copying — every second is technically charged to client. How insane is that?

So without a doubt Avvo’s service is valuable. Its free (so far). You can search the database for answers to your queries, you can find lawyers, their ratings, you can post questions and get them answered by lawyers, etc. At a minimum this service will get some lawyers to respond to some queries for free in the hope of boosting their ratings and their business! Could you post your queries on LinkedIn and get a response? You certainly can. But the odds in Avvo are supposedly higher because it is a dedicated community unlike LinkedIn, Plaxo, Yahoo Answers etc.

Avvo seems to have a great PR engine going for it (NY Times, Techcrunch, Venturebeat etc have all covered the company at various times) like most dotcom companies. It seems to have also picked up investments from top VCs. It remains to be seen if Avvo can sustain the buzz, grow its traffic and ultimately park itself with one of the “biggies” for some mega bucks.

From a purely business standpoint, Avvo’s approach is not new. In theory, the same idea can apply to doctors, dentists, accountants, teachers, tutors, schools, you name it. Put all these verticals together and you have a Web 2.0 version of “Vertical Net” (or one of the many ghosts of the dot com days. “Exchange” was the buzzword in those days). The problem is that lawyers, accountants, doctors, etc. are usually picked with an eye towards a long term relationship. This also means that most people are strongly influenced and rely almost entirely on personal recommendations from those closely known to them. For the one-off services in the legal field, the legalzooms of the world perform a perfectly acceptable service and good value for money. So its a mystery as to where Avvo fits in to this spectrum and what secret sauce if any it has cooking. At the moment for all its value and good intentions Avvo is firmly in the Zuckerberg school of revenue generation. Given all the buzz behind Facebook, one can’t exactly fault them for it. Can you?

Disclaimer: I have nothing against lawyers. In fact, most lawyers I have met and/or have been fortunate to interact with are very very smart people. If they made a little less money, they might spur some innovations as startups will have more $ to work with! 🙂

Linuxworld 2008: Where are the crowds?

I attended Linuxworld this week for the first time. I wandered around the expo floor and also took a peak at a session or two. In fact, it was my first ever visit to a Linux conference. I must admit I was underwhelmed by the response. Frankly, I expected a better turn out and more enthusiasm. Instead I found it to be pretty low key.

The big wigs like IBM, Oracle and others were present probably to reinforce their commitment to open source . The were others like Haiku (the ghost of BeOS), VMware, OpenSuSE, One laptop per child (the struggling education project), Joomla, and Drupal (open source CMS) Zmanda for automated backups (they were using a Windows PC in the booth – sacrilege!), Opsview and Groundwork for Monitoring, among others. Here are a few others that stood out for me among the many exhibitors.

GoGrid for Cloud computing

This is an interesting company going head on against Amazon’s EC2. Check out a comparison table against EC2. The good news is that this company is dedicated to this business (starting with its parent company Servepath) unlike Amazon which treats EC2 as a side activity. (If you have ever tried reaching EC2 support you’ll know exactly what I mean).

KickApps (interesting social media)

This is an interesting web 2.0 social media product. If you are looking to build out your own community (say for your blog, company website etc.) with the ability to have groups, video upload, photos and the works, this could be a nice extension to what you already have in place. While the final output does look great and is loaded with functionality, one can’t help but wonder where this fits in along with the scores of other “community type” products. They have free and a usage based fee versions.

gOS (a slick, really really, pretty Linux on the desktop)

The gOS is a desktop Liunx (based on Ubuntu Linux) whose UI looks really pretty. On tiny PCs they look really cute to say the least. This OS was on the Everex gPC which was apparently sold out at Wal-Mart for $199. Essentially if you want use the PC for browsing, email etc. and can live with Open Office, this could do the job. Here is another one that is similar but offers you some cool premium features of a true WebOS.

Open Voting Initiative (Linux based voting machines)

There were voting machines based on Open Source technologies on display. Considering that the US is headed for another possibly close Presidential race maybe Open Source is the answer to the counting woes of Florida and the like.

It is a simple display where you click through a list of choices to cast your vote and at the end of it you get print out listing your vote all bult on standard PC architecture running Ubuntu Linux. For more information check out — Open Voting Consortium

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC)

I had read so much about the One laptop per child initiative and its troubles. For the first time I got a chance to see the machine. I must say I was disappointed to say the least. It feels like a cheap Chinese imported toy. I could still live with that if it was genuinely easy to use. But unfortunately I found most adults (including myself) struggling to use it. Maybe this is designed for kids and they can figure it out, or maybe its just me. Despite the most noble intentions behind this project and with all due respect, I can’t see this being widely used by kids.

Summary

I am not sure where this conference lies in the “pecking order” of Linux conferences but the attendance was far from impressive. (As per reports Linuxworld 2003 had 19,000 attendees!). If crowds are a metric to go by one can’t help but sense that the excitement about Linux (at least as far as conferences are concerned) has started to wear out though there could be a number of factors like over dose of Linux conferences, the downturn, etc. affecting the turn out. In any case, before you beat me down with your comments please read my disclaimer at the end of this post).

p.s: The Linux Journal magazine had a balanced and interesting article (registration required) by an educator who switched his school to Linux from Microsoft back in 2002.

Disclaimer: I have nothing against Linux. In fact, I have recently become a regular active user of Linux Mint. This post is an attempt to capture my impressions of the conference from a brief visit. Any errors in this post are probably a reflection of my personal limitations rather than those of Linuxworld or those of Linux lovers around the globe.

Paris Hilton Responds, Doubts about Obama

Paris Hilton Responds to McCain Ad

This is hilarious! Check it out. The McCain campaign had put out an ad earlier referring to Obama’s celebrity status featuring Paris Hilton and other celebrities.

Doubts about Obama

David Brooks casts further doubts about Obama by putting it all together in one article. . I suspect the landslide for Obama is not seen in the polls for a few reasons: firstly, Obama is still not well known to many unlike McCain. Secondly, I don’t think the electorate is engaged enough to have actually compared the two and come to a final decision on their vote.

The Decline of Global Powers, BJP Goofed on the Trust Vote

The Decline of Global Powers

Interesting article by in the NYTimes.

Today power is dispersed. There is no permanent bipartisan governing class in Washington. Globally, power has gone multipolar, with the rise of China, India, Brazil and the rest.

I loved the article but its arguable whether the solution lies in consolidation of countries with similar values and governments. It perpetuates the “us vs. them” mindset promoted by President George W.

The BJP Goofed on the Trust vote

Convincing article in the Indian Express about Advani’s failure of leadership in picking the wrong battle and failure to prevent defections among his MPs.

His political managers completely failed to keep his numbers together, or to even explain his nuanced opposition on the nuclear deal. You talk to the BJP workers, sympathisers as you travel along the country, and they all want to know why their party is opposing the nuclear deal. In any case, what is it doing in cahoots with the Left? Why is it in such a hurry for an election…

In the long run this defeat might actually help/force the BJP to clean up shop and get its act together in time for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.