Thursday, December 29, 2005

Raghu Rajan on Bharat, India etc 

I am on the road now, so I'll just link to this piece by Raghuram Rajan, chief economist of the IMF, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of India Today. The piece is called From Bharat to India and be accessed directly from the IMF website.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Pink Floyd is the Greatest Rock Band! Really! 

Regular readers of ZS know that this blog specialises in posting pointless best-of/world's best lists from time to time. So, what better time than Christmas to post another one? Planet Rock, one of the UK's biggest radio stations did a poll of its listeners and these are the top 10 rock bands of all time, according to its 58,000 respondents.

1. Pink Floyd
2. Led Zeppelin
3. Rolling Stones
4. The Who
5. AC/DC
6. U2
7. Guns n' Roses
8. Nirvana
9. Bon Jovi
10. Jimi Hendrix

What? No Beatles? And Planet Rock should know better than to offer Bon Jovi as an option. Adding Bon Jovi to any list destroys whatever little credibility it has in the first place. And Pink Floys fans, stop gloating, it's just the afterglow of the Live 8 concert!!!

Saturday, December 24, 2005


To everyone who reads Zoo Station, MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

Quotes du Jour 

The whole dream of democracy is to raise the proletarian to the level of stupidity attained by the bourgeois.

Gustave Flaubert (1821 - 1880)
Arguments are to be avoided; they are always vulgar and often convincing.

Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900)

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Tech Grapevine 

Is Microsoft trying to buy Opera? Will Technorati be next, as Stephen Baker predicts?

FT Men of the Year: Sergey Brin and Larry Page 

Following in the wake of Time magazine, the Financial Times has announced that Google founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page are their choice for Men of the Year.
he Men of the Year recognition reflects the effect the company created by Mr Brin and Mr Page only seven years ago has had on internet users, as well as the worlds of business and technology, in the past 12 months. “The most esteemed researcher at Stanford [University] 10 years ago didn’t have the kind of access to information that somebody who is close to an internet café in Bangladesh has today,” said Mr Brin. Its soaring stock price has also made Google one of Wall Street’s stories of the year. It has a stock market value of nearly $130bn, almost neck-and-neck with IBM and behind only Microsoft and Intel in the technology industry.
Richard Waters follows up on the MOTY story with this profile of the two men.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Thomas Sowell and Milton Friedman on Peter Bauer 

The last few posts have been on the broad theme of economic development. What better time then to link to this very interesting discussion between Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell on the legacy of Peter Bauer. Some excerpts...
The initial dictum that Peter fought against was the vicious cycle of poverty—the idea that was widespread and essentially conventional wisdom in the study of lesser developed countries: that they were poor, and because they were poor they couldn’t generate capital, and because they couldn’t generate capital they couldn’t develop, and that kept them poor. And that the only way they could get out of it was if capital was brought in from outside.
It’s only the fact that you have to ask the question: if that’s true, how did any other rich countries ever become rich, because they all started out poor?
Peter argued against foreign aid. He objected to the term “foreign aid.” He said [that such aid was really] intergovernment subsidies, and by calling them foreign aid you begged the question. The word “aid” means it must be helping, and in fact in most cases so-called foreign aid did harm. Because it was aid not to the individuals who needed it, but always it was a subsidy granted to government. So, foreign aid made government stronger, and the problem in many of these underdeveloped countries was that government was too strong and essentially dictatorial.
I think of the terrible influence of Harold Laski on people who later on became Third World leaders. I was thinking, what if those people had studied under Peter Bauer instead of Harold Laski?
And yet another reason why the whole notion of a theory of history is so skewed—that Harold Laski happened to be there at a time when so many people from Third World countries were studying, who would later on become leaders of those countries and then use their own people as guinea pigs for these wholly untested ideas that Harold Laski was throwing around in Britain.
It is a fascinating and controversial discussion, so read it in full. This discussion is taken from a recent issue of the Cato Journal devoted to Peter Bauer and is one of many fascinating pieces in there. Yes, you can read the Cato Journal even if you don't have libertarian leanings. At the very least, it's consistently provocative and provides serious food for thought.

Radelet and Birdsall take Theroux on 

Nancy Birdsall and Steve Radelet of the Center for Global Development respond to the Paul Theroux op-ed at the CGDEV blog, laying out a defense of Bono and the Gateses, in the process.

Nancy Birdsall:
Bono is a savvy policy wonk (despite the glasses and the cowboy hat). He understands perfectly well the twin challenges of rich countries first doing no harm (he urges rich countries to open their agricultural markets for example, and put trade into the name of his organization, DATA: Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa, and of poor countries being more accountable to their own citizens. Bill Gates, moreover, probably agrees with Theroux's skepticism about aid flows improving governments' behavior. His foundation supports programs, such as the development of vaccines against AIDS and malaria, that save lives even where governments – like Malawi's – aren't working well.

Birdsall also addresses a factual problem in Theroux's piece that I caught when I first read the op-ed.
Several years ago, Bill Gates said putting computers in villages would be a silly idea. Oddly, Theroux claims that Gates has called for just such a program. If he has, I never heard of it. I'm more inclined to believe that this assertion shows Theroux's readiness to be cute as opposed to being right.
I still remember the offence Gates caused to "digital divide" enthusiasts when he suggested that poor people needed health and education before they need computers.

Steve Radelet:

Theroux sets up the usual straw man, asserting that people are arguing for more resources blindly disbursed in the same old way. But of course not a single soul is arguing for that strategy. The question that all are struggling with is how to make it work more effectively. Even our friend Jeff Sachs, perhaps the best-known advocate for more money, is calling for dramatic changes in how the money is used -- witness his Millennium Villages Project which is anything but "the same old way." Theroux also makes the usual mistake of citing Botswana as a country that succeeded without aid, when in fact it was one of the largest recipients.
I am not sure about the volume of aid that Botswana received, so I'll take Radelet at face value on that. On the Millennium Village Project however, I think Radelet is wrong. Jeff Sachs has yet to demonstrate how the MVP will scale up (from 1-2 villages to country-level or regional level), which in a lot of ways is the key problem with most development models. And if the MVP cannot scale up, I don't see why it is any different from earlier failed development projects.

Why Bengaluru, You Ask? 

I only just saw this, but Gawker exposes the real reason for the change of name from Bangalore to Bengaluru.
In a press statement, the Chief Minister mentioned that the name "Bangalore" was too Westernized and would give potential foreign visitors a disproportionately optimistic expectation from the city's civic amenities such as roads, electric supply and air quality. Hence, in order to suitably lower visitors' expectations and prepare them for Bangalore's pothole-ridden roads, untreated sewage and horrendous traffic snarls, it would henceforth be known by it's ancient 16th century name to reflect city conditions commensurate with those that existed during that period of its history.
Some government insiders claim that this name change would accomplish a dual objective. Many software companies based in Bangalore have frequently complained about the city's crumbling infrastructure. Now, with Bangalore being wiped off the map, this would permanently take care of that complaint. If there were no "Bangalore" in existence as such, there would be no "Bangalore infrastructure" to be taken care of.
Yessir, it makes sense now.

Monday, December 19, 2005

A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words 

I have been working on a paper on Indian telecoms. In the process, I have been looking at some historical numbers, so I figured I might as well put them up as a graph.

I don't think this graph needs any further explanation. Just imagine though how many other sectors would have registered this sort of growth if they had been unshackled from their regulatory and policy constraints like telecom was.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Master Blogs! 

Sir Tim Berners-Lee now has a blog, and a comment-enabled one at that. For making all of this possible, he deserves a big thank you. Most of the 343 comments (when i last checked) say just that.

The Rock Star and the Nerds 

There you have it. Time has announced that Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono are its Persons of the Year. In a year in which debt relief and global public health caught the imagination of the world like few other issues, this nomination is no real surprise.
Bono charmed and bullied and morally blackmailed the leaders of the world's richest countries into forgiving $40 billion in debt owed by the poorest; now those countries can spend the money on health and schools rather than interest payments—and have no more excuses for not doing so. The Gateses, having built the world's biggest charity, with a $29 billion endowment, spent the year giving more money away faster than anyone ever has, including nearly half a billion dollars for the Grand Challenges, in which they asked the very best brains in the world how they would solve a huge problem, like inventing a vaccine that needs no needles and no refrigeration, if they had the money to do it.
For being shrewd about doing good, for rewiring politics and re-engineering justice, for making mercy smarter and hope strategic and then daring the rest of us to follow, Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono are TIME's Persons of the Year.
There are also extensive profiles of the trio. Bono's is called The Constant Charmer while the Gateses are profiled in From Riches to Rags. The special cover story is rounded off with an interview with all three persons of the year.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Guest Post 2: Response to Paul Theroux, Bono, Africa etc 

Hari Chandra responds to the previous post linking to the Paul Theroux op-ed in the Times as well. Hari is with the Blackstone Group.

Why I wish Bono would, despite his best intentions, stick to U2 and why Paul Theroux doesn't quite get it either

As much as I love Bono's music, he and his ilk (Geldof et al) have sadly done a great deal of harm to Africa's ongoing process of economic development by sustainning a perception of Africa as a charity case. I would hardly make unsubstantiated claims about magnitude, but every moment that the "Save Africa" culture propogated by Bono and others captures the world's imagination is another moment that hope for widespread prosperity in Africa is deferred.

Certainly, the causes of debt relief and increased aid raised by the "Save Africa" crowd are, in the right context, worthy. Debt relief should never be a goal in itself. Countries must prudently incur debt in order to develop and lenders should expect repayment in order to continue providing necessary capital. However, I submit that there may be cases where debt relief may be required to erase the errors of a kleptocratic former regime, provided that new creditworthiness is established. Foreign aid also clearly can be helpful in certain circumstances, particularly for humanitarian relief, cases of very clear market and government failure (which are rarer than commonly publicized) and public health, particularly, as Sheri mentioned, in the case of HIV/AIDS, but has its own problems when it is a substitute for real investment capital.

However, the centralization of debt relief and aid, even when coupled with a demand for better governance, as a plan to "Save Africa" creates a notion among investors and policymakers of a sub-Saharan Africa that reeks of a bad Oxfam advertisement (e.g. with 12 pounds a month, you can ensure that little (insert African name) can have a good meal every day). The "charity case" notion makes sub-Saharan Africa out to be a pervasive basket case, constantly facing starvation, disease, civil war etc when the reality for much of the continent is very different. Certainly, there are pockets of the continent that fit the charity case notion, but nowhere in this worldview is the Africa of improving governance, return of the rule of law, vast natural resources and a pragmatic, entrepreneurial culture, that exists in many parts of the continent and are arguably the foundation for the next rapidly developing economic region, given access to capital. As long as the negative, charity case, perception of Africa exists globally, it is a critical impediment to real prosperity.

Theroux is wrong as well. Africa absolutely needs "more money". However, the money it needs the most is not foreign aid, is not debt relief, is not even money for public health programs. Except in limited and specific circumstances, Africa does not need charity. Africa needs "more money" in the form of huge amounts of global risk capital, equity and debt, that can build the industrial and manufacturing base that can employ millions and provide even more with the basic tools of prosperity, support the entrepreneurs building a service industry, provide access to global trade markets for many more people, etc. Certainly capital is not the only thing that Africa needs but it can create a virtuous cycle, funding the educational institutions needed for a professional middle class, supporting the civil society that a sizeable middle class engenders, ultimately allowing Africans to take ownership of their resources.

The "Save Africa" message frightens this absolutely necesary capital, creating an image of a civil society and economy that are destined to fail without aid, when the reality could be sucess with capital investment. I am confident that the African market could provide attractive returns for significant investment capital but my experience is that the market tends to view Africa as a charity case and not worthy of consideration of real investment dollars. This is in no small part due to the branding of Africa that Bono and others create. Though the branding issue is very significant, this is not just a branding problem. A culture where debt relief and aid are seen as real solutions is unlikely to engender the discipline and pragmatism necessary to attract the vast amount of capital that Africa needs to develop.

PS: There are other things troubling about the Theroux piece like issues about free movement of people but this post is already too long.

Guest Post 1: Response to Paul Theroux, Africa, Bono etc 

This was a note written by Sheri Willoughby, in response to the previous post linking to the Paul Theroux op-ed in the Times. Sheri is with the World Resources Institute.

Why I still love Bono

Debt-relief – What is Theroux's bone with debt-relief? Forgiving third world debt is a step in the right direction for Africa – and Bono has been a highly effective champion for it. The next step is to change the lending & governance systems to prevent crippling debt from happening again.

AIDS – When Theroux was a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi – this wasn't part of his paradigm. Now 15% of the population has HIV or AIDS and the average lifespan is 39 years old. That Bono is raising awareness and money to fight this and other preventable diseases should help Theroux stomach Bono's 10-gallon hat & sunglasses!

I do agree with Theroux that the "more money" platform is flawed in the current way that international aid money gets dispersed (i.e., almost none getting to the intended recipient; its tendency to destroy nascent local markets, feed corruption, legitimize dictators).

However, I thought Theroux's argument that Peace Corps volunteers led to Malawi's unraveling via brain drain gave the Peace Corps way too much credit. In which developing countries don't educated people try to leave to seek better opportunities and/or support their families back home? Theroux's final conclusion that Africans need to stay in their countries in order to work out their problems is unrealistic.

I agree with Bono that there is no justification for extreme poverty in 2006 – and yet the decisions we make, the leaders we choose, and the policies we support effect that status quo. Bono is doing his job as a rock star to inspire us to change the world, and then he's going out and changing it himself. Rock on, Bono!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Paul Theroux on Africa, Aid and Bono 

There are few travel writers I enjoy more than Paul Theroux, and I consider Dark Star Safari one of the better books I've read about Africa. There are few singers I enjoy more than Bono. So, when one talks about the other, it becomes instantly interesting as far as I am concerned, even if this NYT op-ed has Theroux tearing into the aid industry that Bono actively champions.
If Malawi is worse educated, more plagued by illness and bad services, poorer than it was when I lived and worked there in the early 60's, it is not for lack of outside help or donor money. Malawi has been the beneficiary of many thousands of foreign teachers, doctors and nurses, and large amounts of financial aid, and yet it has declined from a country with promise to a failed state. In the early and mid-1960's, we believed that Malawi would soon be self-sufficient in schoolteachers. And it would have been, except that rather than sending a limited wave of volunteers to train local instructors, for decades we kept on sending Peace Corps teachers. Malawians, who avoided teaching because the pay and status were low, came to depend on the American volunteers to teach in bush schools, while educated Malawians emigrated. When Malawi's university was established, more foreign teachers were welcomed, few of them replaced by Malawians, for political reasons. Medical educators also arrived from elsewhere. Malawi began graduating nurses, but the nurses were lured away to Britain and Australia and the United States, which meant more foreign nurses were needed in Malawi.
Africa is a lovely place - much lovelier, more peaceful and more resilient and, if not prosperous, innately more self-sufficient than it is usually portrayed. But because Africa seems unfinished and so different from the rest of the world, a landscape on which a person can sketch a new personality, it attracts mythomaniacs, people who wish to convince the world of their worth.
Africa has no real shortage of capable people - or even of money. The patronizing attention of donors has done violence to Africa's belief in itself, but even in the absence of responsible leadership, Africans themselves have proven how resilient they can be - something they never get credit for. Again, Ireland may be the model for an answer. After centuries of wishing themselves onto other countries, the Irish found that education, rational government, people staying put, and simple diligence could turn Ireland from an economic basket case into a prosperous nation. In a word - are you listening, Mr. Hewson?

Only in New York: Moby Live at the Bowery 

Time to make yet another post on what makes NYC so amazing. Word goes around on a mailing list that Moby is going to be performing a surprise concert at the Bowery Ballroom. We show up there to find that Moby is playing to an audience of about 200 people, which is about as intimate a concert as you'll ever have with an international superstar. What's more, Moby enjoyed it thoroughly too and played a 4-hour set, which consisted of a 2 hour live portion and a 2 hour DJ set, which served as a reminder of what a good DJ Moby can be.

The live set consisted of some brilliant covers, including a lounge version of Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell" and the Doors' "Break on Through" all interspersed with the opening riffs of Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" and whatever else caught Moby's fancy. My personal favourite was a kickass, hard rocking version of "That's When I Reach for My Revolver" during the live set and a great version of Underworld's "Born Slippy" (off the Trainspotting soundtrack) during the DJ set.

A big thanks to Tim for the tip about the show.

Vijay the VC a new character on Dilbert? 

Have any of you seen this character, Vijay the Venture Capitalist, in any previous Dilbert strips? I haven't and I was wondering if Adams is introducing a new (and very funny) character. If you have any additional information about Vijay the VC, please leave a comment. In the meanwhile, enjoy the strips (click to enlarge).




Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Curbside @ WTO 

Zoo Station blogger Andrew Lih just informed me that his students at Hong Kong University are blogging the WTO meeting in Hong Kong at the Curbside @ WTO blog.
Curbside combines blogs and feature stories contributed by journalism students from the University of Hong Kong, journalists from The Standard newspaper and EastSouthWestNorth blogger, Roland Soong. Curbside's goal is not only to inform and entertain readers on the events surrounding the WTO, but also to explore the potential of online journalism.
The blog looks very interesting at first glance and provides an alternative to the mainstream media when it comes to coverage of these highly charged and controversial meetings. Have a look.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Indian Cities Ranked by Affluence 

The Indian Readership Survey (IRS) jointly conducted by the Media Research Users Council (MRUC) and Hansa Research have released the household potential index, a new methodology to determine the affluence of a household. How does it work?
Household potential index indicates the amount of disposable income and purchasing power of a household. The orthodox way to measure this was by dividing households into socio-economic classes (SEC), based primarily on two parameters - education and occupation. This was not truly indicative since a lowly educated farmer could have greater purchasing power than his far more educated counterpart in a metro.

The new study, however, took into account eighteen durable goods, twenty two FMCG products, four services (telephone, C&S, internet and banking) and six demographic measures (education, number of working members, house), to gauge the true affluence of the household. The research also emphasised that if a home was premium (or well off), this must show in its product consumption or ownership. A premium product was defined as something that was wanted by most but few owned or used it.
Maxus (a WPP company) business manager Anil C says, “Earlier, SEC covered only the urban market. But HPI has studied the rural market in addition to the urban market and this will help us to define our audience better. It’s important because 70% of the country resides in rural India.”

According to the results of the survey, these are the 20 most affluent cities in India.

Rank Cities
1 Delhi
2 Chandigarh
3 Trivandrum
4 Ludhiana
5 Lucknow
6 Bombay
7 Madras
8 Amritsar
9 Cochin
10 Guwahati
11 Hyderabad
12 Jaipur
13 Pune
14 Calicut
15 Ahmedabad
16 Faridabad
17 Indore
18 Jabalpur
19 Bangalore
20 Baroda

There are quite a few points of interest in this table. First of all, Delhi is the only metro in the top 5. Not surprisingly, the east of the country is severely under-represented, with just Guwahati making it to the top 20 (Calcutta does not). The North has 8 cities in the top 20, which is just about right relative to population size, though 5 of these 8 cities belong in the Haryana/Punjab belt. The South is probably over-represented with 6 cities, though it came as a surprise to me that Bangalore was at 19. The West has 5 cities in this list, which is once again just about right relative to population, though I was surprised to see only Bombay in the top 10. I wonder if that means that wealth in the West (and there's quite a bit of it, as we all know) is more spread out and not concentrated in the big cities.

The other lesson in this table clearly are the opportunities that are lying untapped in non-metro areas. Most investment activity has been restricted to the big cities, while this survey shows affluent (yet underserved) consumer markets in places like Trivandrum, Jabalpur and Ludhiana. Clearly the VC/PE types among you should stop being bogged down by a mindset that imagines affluence to be a metropolitan phenomenon and strike out into these Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities as well, where very lucrative non-sexy (ie, not IT, Bio-tech etc) opportunities exist.

As Anand Sridharan reported last week, Bessemer Ventures has made one of the more interesting VC investments in recent times by placing $8.5 million in a budget hotel chain. Though their initial hotels are going to be metro-centric, they plan to build 50 hotels in 5 years and I suspect a lot of the cities in this list will be targeted.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

There goes Bangalore! 

It was only a matter of time, I guess, but Bangalore has now been renamed will be renamed Bengaluru in 2006. Never mind that traffic moves at snails pace, the roads get washed out during the rains, blackouts are frequent and infrastructure is non-existent, what is it that should take immediate priority? Renaming the city (which costs a lot of money), of course.

Well, on the bright side, there is real history behind the name Bengaluru, as opposed to the voodoo history of Mumbai, Chennai etc.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Sans Bono, U2 Lack a Heart 

As always, the intrepid reporters of The Onion are way ahead of the curve when it comes to spotting a story. Here's a scoop that suggests that the rest of U2 are perfectly happy with Africans starving.
"Yeah, that Africa stuff is Bono's thing," The Edge said. "I don't mind if he pursues other interests, but I really try to focus on the guitar riffs that give U2 its characteristic sound."
Mullen added: "You don't win 14 Grammys feeding Africans." In the rare moment they have free, Clayton, Mullen, and The Edge said they choose to relax and rejuvenate, without letting the plight of Africa's starving and disease-afflicted millions weigh too heavily on their minds. "I have a garden to tend to when we're not on the road," The Edge said.
During live concerts, U2 audiences are treated to a stunning audiovisual experience, with Bono periodically giving his opinion on social and world events between songs. During these interludes, the rest of U2 is often conspicuously silent. "When Bono starts telling the audience how messed up the world can be and how we should work together to make things better, I usually just zone out," Mullen said.
PS: Check the picture in there with a caption that says "A starving African, who is of little concern to the other members of U2." Only the Onion!

Spot the Bands 

(From the time-pass department, via Nag) I suppose many of you have seen the poster with the 100 Dead Songs. This picture (click to enlarge) belongs in the same category. It contains the names of 72 bands through hidden clues. So, for example there is a Zeppelin, accompanied by two B-52's in the sky. There is also a guy smashing pumpkins for no rhyme or reason and 2 U's scribbled on the wall. You get the idea. Have fun now and waste the rest of this evening :)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Airport Modernization in India 

Noone who reads this blog needs to be told why airport modernization should be absolutely on the top of the agenda for reform in India. An airport is where a foreign investor/traveller/tourist develops his/her first impression of a country. And you can imagine what any traveller with Bombay airport as first impression thinks of the rest of the country. In fact, several leading airport surveys have consistently ranked India's airports among the worst in the world, despite the fact that other Asian airports dominate the list of the world's best airports. In fact, here's what one of the more prominent surveys had to say about Indian airports.
As there are so many to choose from, I am also giving the Worst Airport(s) award to the entire country of India who only has one airport rated "good", but only because it was a better alternative to actually sleeping in one of their hotels. Unacceptable seating, foul odours, filth, fleas, safety, and general hassles have resulted in India's 8 year reign of the Worst Airport(s) Title. Travellers beware: when sleeping in one of India's "fine" airports be sure you have your own bug spray, air freshener and disinfectant or just go to the nearest bar and drink the pain away.

Of course, we could laugh this off, but it's not easy because this sort of thing hurts inward investment and travel, both of which are badly required. Thankfully, India's civil aviation minister Praful Patel gets it. He understands the first impression bit; he understands that all these airplanes being ordered by Indian airliners (and touted in the media) need airports to land in; he understands that profitability of private airliners could go up substantially if airports were improved, etc. The International Herald Tribune carried an excellent story yesterday on the three things India must do to turn its creaky airport infrastructure around.
The first is to cede control of the country's two most important airports - in Mumbai, the finance capital, and New Delhi, seat of the central government - to private firms that specialize in running airports. The theory is that doing so would turn the airports into profitable centers with amenities, while also making them more efficient, with shorter ground time, lower costs and more streamlined takeoffs and landings. Patel is pushing a plan to do just that, and it is progressing over the objections of trade unions. Despite a strike in September by thousands of airport workers to protest the privatization plans, several airport operators appear to be interested.

The second element is to bring more of the country's 300 or so airports into the national grid by adding flights to functional but obscure airstrips and by upgrading navigation equipment and buildings at long-neglected facilities. Following the Chinese lead, Patel is also pushing to get more domestic airports onto the international stage. Singapore Airlines, for example, has begun operating flights to second-tier cities little known outside India.

Number three is to increase not just passenger capacity but also the ability to move goods in and out of the country. Jacques Creeten, the country chief for FedEx in India, said the government was realizing what FedEx had long argued: that an airplane carrying goods generates considerably more economic activity than one carrying people. India now loses out on much of that activity by preventing cargo carriers from working at peak capability, Creeten said. FedEx wants its own facilities, but Indian law prohibits foreign carriers from making domestic flights, requiring them to fly to Mumbai or New Delhi and continue by road.
UPDATE: Kamla seems to have noticed significant improvements at domestic airports in India.

NYT's India Highway Series 

I had linked to the first of Amy Waldman's stories from the Golden Quadrilateral a couple of days back. The 4-part series is now complete. The second part was on India's car boom, the third part on the spread of AIDS via the highway system, and the series concluded with a piece on migration to cities. I wish Amy Waldman had spent more time on the highway system itself and less on the standard India stereotypes, but it still remains a fantastic series and I have to wonder why we have to read this in the New York Times and not in an Indian newspaper. Do check out the interactive multimedia section that accompanies this series as well.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year? 


Sunday, December 04, 2005

Ponzi Lives. Long Live Ponzi. 

The last two days in the New York Times have featured this absolutely bizarre ad. Today, this ad was on Page 44 of the newspaper, if you really care. Apparently, the Maharishi has a cure for global poverty that noone else has thought of yet. And yeah, at a start-up cost of just $10 trillion, it's very affordable too. Have a look (this is the NYT ad).

And if you buy this crap, I have a bridge to sell you. In Brooklyn.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Highways as Agent of Change 

Tomorrow's NYT is carrying a long and fascinating feature story by Amy Waldman on India's new highway system, the first part (Golden Quadrilateral) of which will be completed next year, three years behind schedule. Waldman uses the emerging highway system to capture the changes that are roiling India as a result of accelerated growth and development. The most fascinating nugget in there was that in the 50 years since independence, until the GQ project took off, India had built exactly 334 miles of four-lane roads. The GQ alone, by comparison, features 3,600 miles of six-lane roads, with an additional 36,000 miles in the works as part of the new highway system. I just wish she had spent more time in parts of the GQ outside of the Delhi-Calcutta stretch.

Undercover Economist on C-Span tonight 

Tim Harford of the World Bank Blog and author of the fabulous new book, The Undercover Economist, will be on Book TV tonight (Dec 3) at 10:30 pm. Harford will be joined on air by Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution and Sebastian Mallaby. Here is a brief description of the show as posted on Book TV.
Tim Harford, Robert Hahn, and Tyler Cowen discuss Mr. Harford’s new book, “The Undercover Economist.” Using examples from his travels in Africa, Europe and Asia, Harford argues that the impact supermarkets, coffee chains, and mega-corporations have on the average consumer is helping to increase the gap between the poor and upper classes. Mr. Harford also touches on the economic concepts of scarce resources, market power, efficiency, price gouging, and game theory to explain the economic impact of day-to-day events like grocery shopping.
Promises to be fun.

Global Voices Seeks Managing Editor 

The fabulous Global Voices Online is looking for a Managing Editor, a position they expect to fill in early 2006. The job description reads thus:
Our ideal candidate has solid experience in blogging and online citizens’ media and at least some experience with professional news media. He or she has the ability to work independently and responsibly with only remote supervision. Solid English-language writing and editing skills are a must. Programming/HTML knowledge not required but strong familiarity with the use of online social media tools (blogging platforms, aggregators, use of RSS feeds, and tagging) is important. He or she must be a diplomatic team player, capable of communicating effectively with bloggers as well as news reporters and editors, who enjoys pioneering uncharted territory. Ideally he/she will have the ability to read and write well in at least one language other than English and working knowledge of other languages. Preference given to candidates from outside the United States and Western Europe.

Interested candidates please send CV and Letter of Interest explaining why you’d be a good candidate for the job to: GVJobs AT gmail DOT com.
If you're a blogger or a journalist (who understands technology) looking for something really new and exciting to do, give this some serious serious consideration. I think it's a fabulous opportunity.

Fabulously rich, literally speaking 

Not content with their annual lists of the world's richest actual people, Forbes Magazine has now gone on to produce a list of the richest imaginary people from the pages of fiction. One wonders if they have forgotten anyone... especially as they have been predictably Anglocentric in their choice of fiction.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Aceh Diary 

The World Bank Blog has a new guest blogger, Shaela Rahman, who has moved from Washington D.C. to Aceh to set up the Private Enterprise Partnership there. She will be recording her impressions of Aceh in a special section called the Aceh Diary. Tag it.

The Top 20 Geek Novels 

(Via Aditya) The Guardian Blog has posted the top 20 geek novels of all time. No surprise, the Guide tops the list, followed by 1984, Brave New World, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Neuromancer. Dystopia rules, clearly. Since I've read 14 of the top 20, I guess I am on the verge of attaining geekhood.

PS: Can someone explain to me why the mothership of geekdom, The Lord of the Rings, isn't in this list?

Must Watch Movie: Syriana 

I watched Syriana a couple of days back. For me, this is definitely the movie of the year. And I have watched a lot of good movies this year. In my mind, there is simply no way to write a review for Syriana that captures the complexity of the movie, so I won't even bother. So let me put it this way: if you're into geopolitics or the role of oil in the world economy or read the Economist regularly or loved the movie Traffic, Syriana will blow you away. Directed by Stephen Gaghan (who wrote "Traffic"), the movie is loosely based on ex-CIA agent Robert Baer's book See No Evil. The movie consists of many seemingly unconnected story lines, set mostly in the middle east (the theme is oil, after all), which collide in spectacular fashion in the last 1/3rd of the movie.

There are many things I loved about the movie. First, it does not dumb down at all despite having mega stars like George Clooney and Matt Damon in the cast. Second, the amorality of the movie is a lot closer to the how the real world operates than the black/white world the Bush administration seems to believe in. Third, it provides the first realistic portrayal of the middle east I've seen in a maninstream movie, from MDMA parties in Teheran to the horrible bonded labour in the Persian Gulf. In this context, it is worth noting that the film is unapolegetic about the frequent use of Urdu, Farsi, Arabic etc. Fourth, it teases out the difference between Wahabbi Islam and Islam practised elsewhere rather well. I could on and on, but I guess I'll stop and point you to A.O.Scott's review in the Times. Watch it.

Quote du Jour: Steve Jones 

Steve Jones, the guitarist of the Sex Pistols was asked his opinion on their induction into the Rock n'Roll Hall of Fame.
"If I was 20, maybe I'd be upset"
After seven rejections, Black Sabbath were finally inducted into the Hall of Fame too. About time!

Meanwhile, Simonworld wants to know who exerted a greater influence on rock n'roll, Elvis or Dylan?