Layoffs at Google?

Read this report this morning. Not sure how much truth there is to this. Getting rid of recruiters is a sure sign that hiring is on the decline. In the current climate this is not surprising. But layoffs of actual employees at Google sounds a little surprising. If the guys who have for the last several years been literally “printing money” have to cut back on their staff then there is no greater scary sign for the economy. Lets hope this report is not entirely true!

Why The Hillary Pick Is Brilliant

It is a widely accepted rumor that Senator Hillary Clinton is being considered for Secretary of State. There have been follow on rumors that she is ready to accept the job. Meanwhile, there has been no shortage of analysis over whether this was the right move or not on the part of the President-elect. Some argue that their personal animosities from the primary days are unlikely to make her effective on the job. While this argument has its merits here are more than a few points why this is in fact a brilliant move on so many fronts.

President-elect Obama won the election on a promise of “change”. The Democratic party was torn between support for Senator Obama and backing Senator Hillary Clinton. Firstly, getting her on his cabinet goes a long way in uniting the Democratic party. By picking her over others (like John Kerry who apparently aspired for the job), President-elect Obama makes a definitive move to unite the Democratic party and appease those who were disappointed with Senator Clinton’s failed run for the candidacy. To govern effectively President-elect has to forge a unified Democratic party. This offer is a perfect first step in this direction.

Next, this move does indicate (to whatever extent possible) that President-elect Obama does not harbor any long-term animosity towards Senator Clinton. Further, offering her the coveted post of Secretary of State signals that he is willing to share the success of his victory by giving her a fairly independent platform to succeed in a more defining role on the world stage, next best perhaps to being the American President in this day and age. It is well known that VP elect Joe Biden is a foreign affairs wonk in his own right, and would have hoped to influence foreign policy in his role as VP. Letting Mrs. Clinton run foreign policy is a clear sign that President-elect Obama respects and trusts her ability to deliver and is willing to go the extra mile to accommodate her in his cabinet even at the expense of making other unhappy (Bill Richardson, Joe Biden and others).

Now, let us view this from Senator Clinton’s perspective. There is no question that she is an accomplished and capable woman who came “closest” to occupying one of the most powerful offices on the planet. She gave Senator Obama more than a tough fight for the Democratic nomination. With age not her side, the odds of her becoming President some day (while still not impossible) appear far-fetched at this point at best.

Sadly, despite her strengths she has spent her entire career in the shadows of her husband Bill Clinton. By taking on the role of Secretary of State, she has the opportunity to break free from her husband’s shadow and live up to her thus far seemingly untapped potential. This is easily a more effective and promising role than remaining in the US Senate. Having spent a life time supporting her husband accomplish his political aspirations (not to mention tolerating his numerous personal foibles), the role of Secretary State would be a terrific opportunity for her to make her mark especially at a time when America’s leadership around the world is questionable and there is no end to hatred towards America the world over.

The biggest foreign policy challenge for the last several decades has been the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Bill Clinton failed to achieve Middle East peace despite his valiant efforts towards the end of his tenure. By taking on the role of Secretary of State, Senator Clinton has the dual challenge of accomplishing what her husband strived for (but failed to achieve) as well as repairing the damage done by the Bush administration. Can it get any better from a challenge point of view for someone who aspired to be President and failed?

All in all, its a brilliant move on President-elect Obama’s part to offer her the job. For Senator Clinton, its an opportunity of a life-time over wallowing in the US Senate.

Dubai Needs a Reality Check?

The world is crumbling with an economic crisis. Yet Dubai seems to be in world of its own. The Antlantis opened this week in Dubai with $20 million bash!

The excesses of recent times are most visible in Dubai – endless constructions, eternal traffic jams, and mindless spending. No wonder Dubai is headed for some difficult times. Check out  report in the WSJ.

Dubai is the most “vulnerable” sheikdom in the Persian Gulf to a downturn in the economy amid concern over its real-estate industry and debt financing, Citigroup Inc. said in a report.

Another report suggests that Abu Dhabi might need to bailout Dubai!

Ok, add one more to the bail out queue!

Islamic German Scholar: “Muhammed Probably Never Existed!”

Muhammad Sven Kalisch, a Muslim convert and Germany’s first professor of Islamic theology, fasts during the Muslim holy month, doesn’t like to shake hands with Muslim women and has spent years studying Islamic scripture. Islam, he says, guides his life.

So it came as something of a surprise when Prof. Kalisch announced the fruit of his theological research. His conclusion: The Prophet Muhammad probably never existed.

See this report in the WSJ for the entire article. Also check out. The Prof. is soon going to be publishing a book in English based on his research.

My position with regard to the historical existence of Muhammad is that I believe neither his existence nor his non-existence can be proven. I, however, lean towards the non-existence but I don’t think it can be proven. It is my impression that, unless there are some sensational archeological discoveries — an Islamic “Qumran” or “Nag Hammadi” — the question of Muhammad’s existence will probably never be finally clarified.

Also check this out for an online petition of support for the Prof. (the site is mostly in German). Not surprisingly given that his personal security is likely to be immediately at risk. Irrespective of whether there is truth to his conclusions or not, the Prof. deserves credit for speaking up despite the obvious risks to his personal security among other challenges.

Movie Review: Veruthe Oru Bhariya

Title: Veruthe Oru Bhariya

Starring: Jayaram, Gopika

Language: Malayalam

This film is a family drama set in small town Kerala which starts with plenty of promise but fizzles out in the end. It revolves around a couple and their daughter. The husband believes that its his wife’s job to run the house and “serve him” at all times. The wife simply grows sick of all the house hold chores and the husband over bearing nature. This eventually leads to some conflicts (obviously!) and the wife heads to her parents’ home. Thereafter the husband looks after the house and his school-going daughter. Eventually he is unable to handle the pressure of his work and the responsibilities of running the house.

Jayaram, who plays the husband, appears to have aged and does not seems “go well” with the relatively younger heroine, Gopika. The age difference is very obvious though both play their respective roles well. The young girl who acted as the daughter seems naturally talented and has put in an impressive performance. The downsides of giving cell phones to kids are effectively portrayed in the film. The comic parts of the film, particularly the parts where Jayaram plays the role of a conscientious Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) employee, the song sequence where Jayaram imitates other movie stars, scenes in the office along with his colleagues at work, are all very enjoyable.

Overall, a watchable film, but one that doesn’t live up to its potential.

Jerry Yang Steps Down

The stock market is relieved to see Yahoo! CEO Jerry Yang step aside. It’s not in the least bit surprising.  After turning down an offer from Microsoft at almost three times the current stock price, the only real surprise is that Jerry Yang survived this long!

The Yahoo! Board made a huge error in judgment by appointing Jerry as the CEO. Having been with the company since its inception and never having taken the job, its a clear sign that this was a job the Jerry never really cared for. In hindsight, when Terry Semel quit, it might have been far more prudent to name Jerry the interim CEO while continuing the search for a permanent CEO . This would have given both the Board and Jerry Yang a good chance to try and make some changes (or at least some plans) while the search was still on. Next, not making cuts sooner earned the wrath of Wall Street. Turning down the Microsoft offer simply made it worse. The “falling through” of the Google deal and the drop in the share price amidst the financial meltdown simply destroyed Jerry Yang’s hope of turning the company around.

Its sad to see Yahoo! struggle. Its even worse that it has a leadership crisis in the midst of these tough times. Will Microsoft (whose search strategy is yet to make a dent) step forward again given that it can possibly buy Yahoo at less than half its original offer?

Joe Lieberman Survives

Despite his extreme support for John McCain the Democratic party appears to have forgiven Joe Lieberman. After being the Veep nominee in 2000, Senator Lieberman has had quite a “ride” but appears to have survived. President-elect Obama is believed to have chosen not to “seek vengeance” and it appears as though the majority of the elected officials in his party have backed his stance despite their dislike for Senator Lieberman’s actions. The Democrats need every vote they can get, given that the filibuster proof 60 seats in the Senate is not likely at this point. Sen. Lieberman on the other hand wants to “hold on” to his Chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Govt. Affairs committee.

His survival does imply a marriage of convenience, but it most certainly an indication that the new President believes more in re-conciliation, than retribution and settling of scores. That in itself is a welcome, positive sign.

The GOP’s Soul Searching Exercise

Since the defeat in the recent US elections, the Republicans have returned to the drawing board to do some serious soul searching. Some Republicans prefer to use “math” to console themselves. Meanwhile, several young faces strive to jump to the top of the list for 2012 starting with recently transformed “media loving” Sarah Palin. The Democrats would simply love to see Sarah Palin as the future of the Republican party as there is no better way to further marginalize the GOP.

Thankfully, there are still a few sensible voices in the GOP who believe that its time to reach out to the moderates among electorate rather than let the GOP become a marginalized party of the social conservatives. Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota raised another very interesting point (in a veiled reference to the party’s obsession with Ronald Reagan) when he said “But Ronald Reagan was president a long time ago. A lot has happened since then.”

It will be interesting to see where the GOP heads in the months and years ahead. The party could chalk out a more sensible direction or simply hope that the Democrats stumble and self-destruct sometime over the next few years.

Dhoni Leads India’s Rise to the Top

It is not a mere coincidence that Dhoni lead India in both the Tests that India beat Australia in the recent cricket Test series. As one avid Indian supporter rightly said, “Dhoni made it happen”.

Dhoni has already displayed captaincy skills thus far not seen in Indian cricket. Comparing his captaincy style to that of Ganguly (as Dada says himself) would be a disservice to the young man. He absolutely leads from the front unlike most other Indian captains. In his short stint as captain he has shown repeatedly that he is different and far better than all those who have captained India in the recent past.

Here are a few of his moves that come to mind.

  • In the Mohali test, his decision to come in at number three and his ability to push the score along set the stage for India’s victory.
  • In the Nagpur Test, the “8 on the off” fielding strategy was key to India’s victory. I can’t recall the last time an Indian captain displayed an “out of the box” thinking of this nature. Although one could argue that this was a defensive move, its a sure sign that the man is a  thinker and always leads with a clear strategy.
  • Dhoni’s decision to ask Dada to lead after the fall of the 9th wicket was a master stroke. It was a terrific gesture of the kind world cricket has never witnessed.
  • Despite his meteoric rise, Dhoni’s personal life has remained private and low key unlike say, those of the scandal-prone Sreesanth or Yuvraj Singh.
  • His post-match comments appear to be thoughtful, level headed and down to earth. He recently admitted that something was a “fluke”.
  • His decision to phase out the senior players from the ODI side proved to be the right move (despite all the criticism he faced).  Thanks to this decision, India was able to beat Australia on home turf in the ODI series last year.
  • Lastly, Dhoni almost always appears to be calm and composed even in times of intense pressure. In comparison notice Yuvraj screaming at his fielders (in the recent Challenger trophy and in the IPL series).

The victory against Australia in the Test series, following the ODI win in Australia (where Dhoni led the team), could be the turning point in India’s rise to the top as the number one Test team. With Dhoni in-charge and a younger set of players ready to take over from the seniors, the future of Indian cricket could not be better positioned.

At the moment it looks like Dhoni could do no wrong. Some might even argue that he simply has the “Midas touch”. It remains to be seen how far he can sustain his success. Up until now, he has clearly displayed terrific captaincy skills and excited Indian crickets fans the world over with impressive results and unparalleled optimism. For someone who has hardly captained a team prior to this, his accomplishments so are simply mind-boggling.

Hail Dhoni!

Is Singapore Airlines Getting Complacent?

I have lost count of the number of times I have flown Singapore Airlines. Many Indian expatriates living in the US (especially those on the West Coast) almost always fly via Singapore Airlines to India. The Airline has been known for its great customer service among other things.

I don’t consider myself as a “picky” traveler, yet I found enough issues to “blog” about Singapore Airlines.

  • At the San Francisco airport, the ticket agents rather rudely ask you to weigh your cabin baggage the moment you step in front of them. The allowed weight is 7Kgs. If you carry a laptop bag, plus a couple of books, you are certain to be cutting it close. These agents are very strict about not exceeding the weight limit. The same is true for how the agents deal with the check in baggage. Even one extra pound and you are in trouble.
  • If you board the Singapore Airlines flight from SFO, chances are the 70+ percent of the passengers are of Indian origin. Yet almost 100% of the Airline crew starting with the ticketing agents are of Chinese origin. Whatever happened to globalisation? (Emirate Airlines on the other hand has a truly International crew).
  • The airline offers a “Hindu meal” (no beef but with chicken) which happens to be popular. But opting for the Hindu Meal has its drawbacks. The good news is that the Hindu meal is served first. The bad news is that you are stuck with your tray in front of you seemingly forever. Your trays aren’t removed until everyone is served and eaten, the drinks are served and the dessert is served.
  • The Singapore Airlines mileage program is not heavily marketed (not sure if they even had one before). On my way to India I was told that my mileage was going to be credited, however, on my return I was told that it does not apply to my ticket because of how and where I purchased it from. In short, the mileage program could use some improvement.

Thankfully, there are good alternatives to Singapore Airlines these days. Emirate Airlines offers direct flights to India via Dubai starting mid-Dec 2008. Jet Airways already flies to India via Shanghai. There are other flights via Europe as well.