Saturday, October 6

The UK government is now after the grammar schools

I am furious with this story. I shot off this comment. (PS: my son does and will attend a state school!)

Pathetic, we are all concerned about education in the UK, and this current government and the conservatives are playing silly buggers with schooling. Damage state schools? How? Look at the evidence, you blithering idiots, you have forced curriculumns which do not match what the market and world wants, you have forced teachers not to motivate teachers, you have forced house prices so high that school catchment areas are now biased radically, you have managed to force a wonderful education system to the knees and then you are piling on parents who want the best for their children. And then to top it all, you politicians send your children to private schools? YOU are a bunch of hypocrites.

I am very upset with these politicians. A pox on all of them!

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Only in Zimbabwe can you be chucked into jail for growing food!

Zimbabwe is facing mass starvation, very high inflation and the government is now chucking people into jail for growing food. Leaving aside the fact that it is clearly racist to target white farmers (that nobody seems to have picked up on, its all right when you are racist towards whites, eh? You blithering mentally challenged hypocritical idiots!), look at what they have done now. I quote:

Ten white farmers appeared in court in Zimbabwe yesterday accused of growing crops on their land — in a country where millions of people will need food aid within the next few months.

Since 2000, when the government began seizing white-owned farms, many of them violently, the agricultural sector has collapsed and the economy has gone into freefall, with inflation now at 6,600 per cent, the highest in the world.

The World Food Programme estimates that it will be feeding 4.1 million Zimbabweans, one third of the population, by the end of the year.

Didymus Mutasa, the lands minister, has said that the few hundred remaining white farmers will be forced out, one way or another.

"The position is that food shortages or no food shortages, we are going ahead to remove the remaining whites," he said recently. "Too many blacks are still clamouring for land and we will resettle them on the remaining farms."

Outside the court, the scruffy shops of Chegutu were empty of basic foods, and street vendors sold small, sour oranges.

They came from a once-prolific citrus farm in the district now devastated after it was seized by Bright Matonga, the deputy information minister, earlier this year.


All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Praising the apostle of peace, Mohandas Gandhi will get you a fatwa!

I sometimes wonder at the sanity levels of some folks. Words fail me. Check this out. I quote:

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad today joined the (in)famous Muslims viz Salman Rushdie and Tasleema Nasreen with Mufti-e-Azam of Kashmir Mufti Bashiruddin issuing a 'fatwa' against him for alleged blasphemy for eulogising Gandhian philosophy of non-violence on October 2 last.

The Mufti-e-Azam of Kashmir(Head priest) Mufti Bashiruddin bowing before the pressure of hardliners and issuing a fatwa against chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said, " Hazrat Nabi(PBUH) is our last prophet, and the path shown by him is the best path besides for every Muslim following Islam is the only way to achieve the ultimate in this world and the other world."

He further said that a true Muslim does not have to follow Gandhian philosophy to achieve something and anybody who preaches anything against Islamic tennets is a non-believer.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

One share one vote proposal dropped by the European Commission

Personally speaking, I find this situation curious. One observes democratic principles applied selectively. AGM resolutions are voted on the basis of majority democracy, but not in terms of actual capital structure. The core principle should be, voting rights in proportion to shareholder capital. But in many parts of the world, you have voting shares and non-voting shares. In other words, you are providing capital but if you have non-voting shares, you do not have a say in how the company is running. Think about many European (Scandanavian, Swiss, etc.) who adopt this form of Corporate Governance. Some deep background reading here, here and here.

So the EU does not think it is worthwhile to have a EU wide rule. I applaud this, knowing when a law is not required is very important; Lord only knows that we have enough. Also, a company is not a political animal, it doesn't behave democratically!! On the other hand, if the shareholder composition does not matter to the efficiency of capital deployed or profitability, then I suppose corporate governance ideas need to be re thought out!

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Bank Runs, very highly taxed, high in corruption rankings, welcome to the UK

Bank Runs happen in banana republics, such a high tax rate (see here and here) is making people squeak, we are high in the corruption rankings and now HSBC, one of the biggest British banks in the world is warning about the exodus of money from the UK. I quote:

Britain faces a stark "de-rating" by investors in coming months as growth slows and funds begin to lose confidence in the country's economic management, triggering a mass exodus of "hot money" from the City.

David Bloom, HSBC's head of currency research, said signs that the Bank of England's monetary framework was "starting to fray at the edges" had begun to unsettle investors, tarnishing the City's reputation. Both the Northern Rock debacle and the decision by the Monetary Policy Committee to overrule the Governor in setting interest rates have inflicted damage.

Hot money deposits in Britain have ballooned fourfold in a decade to £4,000bn. "What we have is an enormous liability. People have been very happy to park their money in Britain because of the high interest-rate culture and the country's reputation for sound management, but if you start to unpick that, it can go very fast. These investors are fickle," he said.

And with Gordon Brown mucking around with silly sod trips to Iraq and worrying about his political life, the current Chancellor Alistair Darling being as much use as an ice-cube in the Antarctica we are in trouble if we don’t do something quickly.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

BT plans to create the world’s largest WiFi Network

Very interesting report about how BT wants to create the world’s largest WiFi network by leveraging on the fact that most household wireless hubs are used very little. If we put this in perspective, we are using our potential capacity to a bare minimum. Take my own hub for example.

During the day, it is used intermittently by my wife for her research, emails and other stuff. It increases a bit when my daughter gets home from nursery and hits the cBBC site. It further increases a bit when my son gets on the World of Warcraft site or is browsing YouTube or Google Videos. And then I come in for my bit of browsing and net work. But despite when all of us are hitting the net, our average utilisation has never exceeded 40% of the rated capacity.

So you might ask, what’s the benefit to me if I open up my network to you? Well, this is what BT is proposing:

In exchange for opening up a part of their network for public use, BT broadband customers will get free access to the network across the country, BT’s 2,000 existing public hotspots and to more than 190,000 hotspots operated around the world by FON, the Spanish wireless start-up with which BT has worked on the project.

Pretty interesting, eh? By the way, this is what I meant by private investments when I was telling the British Government off for trying to use public monies for this kind of investments in my previous post.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Siemens hit with €201 million fine for corruption. VERY GOOD!

I hate corruption with a vengeance. I hate it and I hate the people who pay corrupt people. Also, going after the suppliers of corruption is much easier and better than going after the recipients. Simple demand and supply. So when I read about the fact that Siemens has been hit by a €201 million fine for corruption, I nearly cheered on the tube! Some quotes:

Siemens was last night fined €201m by the German authorities over a bribery scandal in its telecommunications unit in the first of several rulings that could end up costing Europe's largest engineering group billions.

The fine by the Munich district court represents the first step by the German conglomerate to address what senior directors have called a "systematic" approach to bribery that has spawned investigations by several regulators including the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

German regional prosecutors are still investigating alleged bribery in Siemens' power generation unit and whether the group illegally helped finance a rival to its main trade union.

Authorities in the US, Italy, Switzerland and Liechtenstein are also investigating, and Siemens faces antitrust probes in other countries.

If it was up to me, I would grind this company into the ground, hound the guilty management into retirement and ban them from ever working in the corporate sector and ban the directors from ever holding corporate directorships. Lessons MUST be learnt.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

My Boss wants to be my friend on facebook, what should I do?

A very amusing column by the fragrant and very interesting Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times. You have to read the column to know what was said (both her recommendation and the other responses!) to this very interesting question posed to her:

I work in an advertising agency and my boss (who is quite cool) has just asked to be my friend on Facebook. I feel invaded - I'm passionate about my work but want to keep it separate from the rest of my life. I definitely don't want him spying on what I say to my friends. He has also asked other people in the office who have said Yes and they seem to think it's fine. But I don't want to. Can I say No without damaging my career?

Advertising creative, female, 26

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

The natives are restless at the thought of feeding the European White Elephant

I spoke earlier about Galileo, the great white shining hope of the European bureaucrats to pip the Americans at their game of international satellites and global positioning systems. Now the FT is reporting that the funding for this white elephant is in danger. As I mentioned earlier, they were going to take money from the other white elephant, CAP, and plonk it into here. Why? Why aren’t you returning that money back to me, the taxpayer? Typical, very quick to tax, very very slow to return it or show any returns for it either.

I quote:

The future of Europe’s rival to the US global positioning system was in doubt on Tuesday after transport ministers bickered over how it should be funded. Germany, the UK and the Netherlands rounded on a European Commission plan to raid farming subsidies to build the €3.4bn ($4.8bn) Galileo satellite navigation project.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

The Burma Boycott story – why boycotts are stupid and wont work!

A great column by Gideon Rachman in the FT on why Boycotts are stupid when we talk about Burma.

I quote:

It is very hard to make the argument for engagement with Burma now, with blood being shed on the streets. The Americans and Europeans clearly feel the need for some sort of symbolic act of repudiation of the Burmese government. That is understandable as an emotional reaction. But do not confuse sanctions with a real strategy to bring change and democracy to Burma.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

More on the luddite and stupid policies of the Indian Politicians

Here is a full column from the FT which I am reproducing in full as this needs to be said. I have fulminated about this issue earlier, but this tells the story in far more detail.

Read and weep!

India spurns creative destruction at its peril

By Jo Johnson

Published: October 3 2007 19:30 | Last updated: October 3 2007 19:30

Paying villagers to dig holes and break stones is easier than undertaking the reforms that create sustainable jobs. Anyone who believed Rahul Gandhi’s elevation to the rank of Congress general secretary signalled a push to “reinvent and modernise” India’s ruling party will have been disappointed by his first initiative.

In a meeting last week with Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, who has hailed him as the country’s “future”, Mr Gandhi – son of Sonia Gandhi, party president – demanded an extension of a vast make-work programme to all 600 districts in the country, up from about 330. The government duly obliged and from next year the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, which promises one member of every household 100 days’ paid work each year, will reach all corners of India.

The move was designed to signal the Cambridge and Harvard-educated former management consultant’s empathy for the aam admi, the “common man”, who has yet to share the fruits of 8 per cent-plus growth, and to help the Congress party tart itself up for a general election that could come next year. The government’s communist backers have threatened to withdraw support if it moves ahead with a nuclear co-operation agreement with the US that they believe compromises India’s strategic autonomy. While the expansion of the gigantic NREGS boondoggle, a scheme blighted by corruption and fraud, is a handsome coming-out present for the 37-year-old Mr Gandhi, it provides no solution to poverty and underemployment in India’s immiserated villages.

But at the same time as Congress politicians were celebrating the creation of futile, back-breaking tasks for the rural poor, Reliance Industries, one of India’s flagship industrial groups, was being forced to abandon plans to create thousands of real jobs at its revolutionary new chain of grocery stores. India has one of the most antiquated retail sectors in the world. Most farm produce is sold in street markets or door-to-door by hawkers pushing carts. Although malls have been springing up in the cities, Indian consumers still principally do their shopping in the country’s 12m “mom and pop” stores. Uncomputerised, poky and offering limited choice, these family-owned shops account for more than 95 per cent of India’s $330bn retail industry.

Taking on the small-trader lobby was always going to be a fight. Reliance and a handful of other Indian business houses, including Bharti, which has a wholesale joint venture with Wal-Mart, have made strong arguments in support of organised retailing. Reliance promises to invest $5bn-$7bn in a “farm-to-fork” supply chain and to bring the largest and most inefficient sector of the Indian economy into the 21st century. It talks of lower prices for consumers, better-off farmers, higher labour standards, massive investment in rural infrastructure and elimination of waste (about 40 per cent of perishable goods rot before reaching market). The scale of its ambition is breathtaking: it has opened 350 stores since launching in Hyderabad in November and wants $25bn sales
by 2010.

Yet much of this is now on hold. A Luddite anti-supermarket movement is spreading across the country. Gangs of traders, backed by opportunist politicians, are systematically vandalising the company’s outlets in states as far apart as Uttar Pradesh in the north, Orissa in the east and Kerala in the south. Reliance last week took the dramatic step of closing down its 20 supermarkets in UP, a state of 166m that is pivotal to the success of its retailing venture. This week it dismissed 870 workers, shelving plans to open hundreds more stores and create an estimated 50,000 jobs. Its move came after Mayawati, the state’s populist new chief minister, suspended Reliance’s operations and berated the company for creating a “law and order situation”.

UP is not alone. Reliance this week dismissed 470 workers in communist-run West Bengal, with a further 300 expected to follow in the coming days. It may be forced to take similar steps in Orissa and Kerala, where the government has launched its own chain of 5,700 shops selling heavily subsidised products. Organisers of a national “Quit Retail” movement hope to attract 100,000 to a demonstration in Mumbai on October 10. They are calling on the government to enact a law banning Indian companies from muscling in
on the mom and pop stores that provide a livelihood for about 40m people and create the densest network of shops in any country in the world, with approximately 11 stores for every 1,000 people.

That is not going to happen. But it goes without saying that the backlash against organised retailing by Indian companies bodes ill for further loosening of the country’s strict foreign direct investment rules.

Whereas China started permitting FDI in retailing in the early 1990s, successive Indian governments have failed to embrace the creative destruction that liberalisation brings. New Delhi’s timid approach has been to give India’s oligopolists a head start in consolidating the sector before foreign groups such as Tesco, Carrefour and Wal-Mart can enter under their own steam. Now even that is at risk from political short-termism. If Mr Gandhi really wants to show he is the future, and is not in hock to the outdated policies of Congress’s socialist past, he should extend a welcoming hand to organised retailing – both Indian and foreign.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Investment Bankers and their requirements for a wife or a girlfriend

Investment Bankers and their requirements for a wife or a girlfriend

A fascinating story. I have to copy it in here so that you get the idea. But what I thought was to write out a response on behalf of that lovely lady to the investment banker and that’s at the bottom.

Original Post: 25 Year-Old Beauty Seeks Rich Banker

'What am I doing wrong?

Okay, I’m tired of beating around the bush. I’m a beautiful (spectacularly beautiful) 25 year old girl. I’m articulate and classy. I’m not from New York. I’m looking to get married to a guy who makes at least half a million a year. I know how that sounds, but keep in mind that a million a year is middle class in New York City, so I don’t think I’m overreaching at all.

Are there any guys who make 500K or more on this board ? Any wives ? Could you send me some tips ? I dated a business man who made an average of around 200 - 250K. But that’s where I seem to hit a roadblock. $250,000 won’t get me to Central Park West. I know a woman in my yoga class who was married to an investment banker, and lives in Tribeca. She’s not as pretty as I am, nor is she a great genius. So what is she doing right ? How do I get to her level ?

Here are my questions specifically:

- Where do you single rich men hang out ? Give me specifics - bars, restaurants, gyms

- What are you looking for in a mate? Be honest guys, you won’t hurt my feelings

- Is there an age range I should be targeting ?

- Why are some of the women living lavish lifestyles on the Upper East Side so plain? I’ve seen really ‘Plain Jane’ boring types, who have nothing to offer incredibly wealthy guys. Then I’ve seen drop dead gorgeous girls in singles bars in the East Village. What’s the story there ?

- Lawyers, investment bankers, doctors. How much do those guys really make ? And where do the hedge fund guys hang out ?

- How do you rich guys decide on marriage vs. just a girlfriend ? I am looking for MARRIAGE ONLY.

Please hold your insults - I’m putting myself out there in an honest way. Most beautiful women are superficial - at least I’m being up front about it. I wouldn’t be searching for these kind of guys if I wasn’t able to match them - in looks, culture, sophistication, and keeping a nice hearth and home'.

An Investment Banker's Response:

Dear Pers-431649184:

'I read your posting with great interest and have thought meaningfully about your dilemma. I offer the following analysis of your predicament.

Firstly, I’m not wasting your time. I qualify as a guy who fits your bill - that is, I make more than $500K per year. That said, here’s how I see it:

Your offer, from the prospective of a guy like me, is a plain and simple crappy business deal. Here’s why. Cutting through all the B.S., what you suggest is a simple trade: you bring your looks to the party and I bring my money. Fine, simple. But here’s the rub, your looks will fade and my money will likely continue into perpetuity - in fact, it is very likely that my income will increase, but it is an absolute certainty that you won’t be getting any more beautiful!

So, in economic terms, you are a depreciating asset. Not only are you a depreciating asset, however, your depreciation accelerates! Let me explain - you’re 25 now and will likely remain pretty hot for the next 5 years, but less so each year. Then the fade begins in earnest. By 35 - stick a fork in you!

So, in Wall Street terms, we'd call you a trading position - not a buy and hold…hence the rub…marriage. It doesn’t make good business sense to 'buy you' (which is what you’re asking) - so I’d rather lease. In case you think I’m being cruel, I would say the following: if my money were to go away, so would you - so when your beauty fades I need an out too. It’s as simple as that. So the deal that makes sense for me is dating, not marriage.

Separately, I was taught early in my career about efficient markets. So, I wonder why a girl as 'articulate, classy and spectacularly beautiful' as you has been unable to find your sugar daddy. I find it hard to believe that, if you are as gorgeous as you say you are, your $500K man hasn’t found you - if only for a tryout.

By the way, you could always find a way to make your own money - and then we wouldn’t need to have this difficult conversation.

With all that said, I must say you’re going about it the right way. Classic 'pump and dump'. I hope this is helpful, and if you want to enter into some sort of lease, please let me know'.

My suggested response to the investment banker

Ah! But I am an depreciating asset all right (for that matter, you are too, but your cash flow stream more than overcompensates for the toxicity of the future tummy expansion, and contraction of the hair). But the depreciating asset is a convertible one with two embedded options.

The first option is for conversion to a wife, preferably before the day that the hair/tummy factor becomes less than positive and cash flow benefits become more important. If you do not take up that wife-conversion option, then the expanding gut and thinning hair will require a constantly and exponentially increasing stream of invested earnings to keep on having new ladies.

Second option is that you have a put option on a baby (which is preferably contingent on the first option being exercised), and that’s where the knowledge that good genes will be passed on to the baby. You have to admit, the main reason why you investment bankers are so attractive is because you can make and have money. We have also established information that those money-making genes do not travel very well down the generations. On the contrary, good looking genes do travel well.

So for an upfront investment in this depreciating asset will, in the long run, make your overall yield curve positive.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Iraqi Interpreters to be allowed into the UK – Very Good news

Further to my note about the fact that the British Government were refusing to let the Iraqi Interpreters into the country, I am happy to see that the British government has changed its mind and will allow these brave allies into the country. I quote:

Hundreds of interpreters and their families are to be given assistance to leave Iraq, where they live under fear of death squads because they collaborated with British forces. Those wishing to remain in Iraq or relocate to neighbouring countries will be helped to resettle.

We let these foaming morons into the country and let them settle, get indefinite leave to stay and even citizenship. In turn, they are helping our enemies to kill our soldiers and we see them doing this. And we are not able to actually help those who are our friends! Talk about strange behaviour!

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

The Headhunters are loose in the city!

One of my friends (who is not from the corporate world) got quite curious when she read about head-hunters in the City. I suppose she was thinking about Head Hunting as a cultural practise of cutting off the head after killing your opponent or the death of somebody notable. But this, I am afraid, is more to do with recruitment rather than actually hunting heads. My first experience with searching for jobs internationally came way back in 1994 and it was through an advertisement in the Financial Times. But as and how I moved through my career, I figured out that advertisements are only placed for two reasons. When you are not able to find a candidate through a recruitment agency and when the job is very fungible, commodity like but still requires a bit of thinking, (data entry operator, basic business analysis, etc.).

So, from the perspective of a hiring manager, I would call in a bunch of recruitment agencies, and take them through the job description, explaining clearly what I wanted, what I do not want, where I think they can get the candidates, what kind of money we are talking about, etc. From the perspective of a candidate, depending upon the industry, country and skill level, you would prefer to join up with almost every recruitment agency that is operating in your industry. And finally from the perspective of the head hunter, you want your database to have a biggest and baddest collection of candidates. Then you apply data mining tools to dredge the database and search for potential heads.

Some bits of advice. Create a section on your CV which has keywords (such as Foreign Exchange, Banking, risk management, Sun Solaris, credit derivatives, regulatory….), most data mining tools pick up on these keywords. That will move your CV outside the great unwashed herd in the database into the first step.

Second step, make sure that your CV makes sense and flows. Most of the firms here have logic maps and mind maps. If your CV does not flow and make sense, it is automatically rejected. This is to turf out candidates who have lied on their cv or are too much outside the parameters of client’s request. As a rule, lower the level of the job, more restrictive is the criteria. An initial human intervention on cv searches in the west only happens when the job is paying well over £100k annually. It is far too expensive to do it for a junior BA. So make sure that your cv flows, do not lie and get it tested.

Third, do not write a tome. As a rule, 1-2 pages is the most. More senior people can have up to 3-4 pages, but if you cannot explain your life in 1 page, then you are not able to summarise, you are unable to time manage and you are not able to communicate. Mine is 3 pages and I am guilty of each of these faults! Fourth, always remember that the best way to get a job is through your friends and family. So be out there and talk, network, make new friends…

Oh!, btw, being a head-hunter is quite remunerative, as you get 30-100% of the candidate's package as fees. So if you manage to land 5 people at 100k per year, and you are getting 30%, you are happy as Larry! :)

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Thursday, October 4

BAA in the firing line again

I spoke earlier about the absolutely pathetic way BAA is performing. And yesterday, the Competition Commission of the United Kingdom tore some strips off BAA for being far too expensive and being disgusting in its service levels.

Quoting from the Times Report:

It said that the airports had "acted against the public interest" by failing to manage security queues to avoid "unacceptable delays to passengers".

The authority said that it had seen no improvement in performance in the past five years.

"In particular they have failed to manage security queuing and queue times to avoid unacceptable delays to passengers and flights and consequently have not furthered the reasonable interests of the users of Heathrow and Gatwick."

Frankly, for Heathrow (the premier international gateway to the world) to see this kind of service is disgraceful. People (including myself) fly from Heathrow because we have to not because we want to.

One thing which people forget is that public infrastructure should follow the "sewer principle". The sewer principle is based upon the fact that sewers are supposed to be out of sight, not make headlines, not gum up. Because when they do gum up, they make an almighty stink. Similarly, people are using public infrastructure such as airports to go from A to B. When the means becomes the news, then that means that it is failing in its primary purpose.

And now the probability that the BAA firm is going to be broken up is far higher, and if you ask me, well overdone. BAA needs to be broken up and that too very quickly. While we are at it, somebody should look at the regulatory framework as well, because I think there are way too many gaps between BAA, Civil Aviation Authority and the Competition Commission. After the disaster with Northern Rock, I would be a bit more careful and pre-emptive with my regulatory oversight if I was the government.

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Tuesday, October 2

Increase emigration by paying people to leave?

Now this is very interesting indeed. If you are seeing people leave a region/state/country, then you might as well as pay them to leave completely. Makes economic sense, because provision of services, infrastructure, etc. becomes progressively more and more expensive as there are lesser and lesser people to fund them. So? the proposal is to empty out the place and convert the place into a forest! Makes very good sense indeed.

See here for an example in Germany.

SPIEGEL ONLINE - October 2, 2007, 12:33 PM
Cash Offer to Speed Up Eastern German Exodus
By Marie Preuss
Not everyone is celebrating German Unity Day, Oct. 3, the anniversary of reunification in 1990. Migration has left large parts of the east deserted and crumbling. A study proposes speeding up the process in worst-hit areas by paying the remaining population to leave.
People have been leaving eastern Germany in droves since reunification.
People have been leaving eastern Germany in droves since reunification.
As long as he lives, Horst Müller, 74, won't leave his home in the village of Letschin in the eastern German state of Brandenburg which surrounds Berlin. "They'll have to carry me out of here feetfirst," says the farmer who has been living in his large house for almost 40 years with "the wife," two sheep, cats, chickens and two horses.
If the Berlin Institute for Population and Development had its way, the Müllers would soon be moving out. And they'd be paid to go. The institute was commissioned by the regional parliament of Brandenburg to conduct a study on demographic change in the eastern state, and has come up with the idea of paying citizens to move away from the most deserted areas and thereby establish some sort of control over the alarming rate of depopulation that has struck the region since reunification 17 years ago sparked an economic upheaval.
Ever more schools are being closed down; housing estates and villages are becoming deserted. The study estimates that by 2030 a third of Brandenburg's population will be older than 65. That figure already stands at 20 percent. By 2030, some 470,000 will have moved out of the state compared with 2004, to jobs in the west of Germany or in more prosperous parts of the east. The region's infrastructure is already crumbling. In many areas the sewage system has fallen into chronic disrepair and there aren't enough doctors to provide emergency medical care.
A total of 173 positions for general practitioners are vacant. By 2030, many rural communities won't have a doctor, the institute warns.
Transformation into a Wilderness
It proposes massive investment in the education system and in old people's homes and to turn thinly populated areas back into a scenic wilderness. One day, wolves and foxes should prowl where Müller spent his life breeding geese, growing asparagus and planting pumpkins.
Click on a picture to launch the image gallery (5 Photos)
Not surprisingly, the study has sparked controversy. "It's relatively gaga that the government should presume to take such decisions affecting people's quality of life" said Peter Hettlich, a member of the federal parliament for the opposition Green Party. Old people had a right to live out their days where they grew up, he said.
All the government has to do is make clear to them that they can't expect big-city standards of medical care if they live 30 kilometers from the nearest doctor, said Hettlich.
The emigration is hitting Letschin hard. By 2020, its population will have shrunk to 3,000 from today's 4,800, says Mayor Michael Böttcher. "At least we've still got a school though," he added, staring out of his office window at horses grazing in a paddock.
Between 1994 and 2003 a total of 149 primary schools were closed in Brandenburg, almost a quarter of the total. As a result, the commute to the nearest school is getting longer and longer.
'Like Being Driven Out of Paradise'
But Böttcher dismisses the proposed emigration premium as "forced resettlement." He said the thought of leaving his home region fills him with "inner pain." "It's like being driven out of paradise," he said clutching his chest.
Ten kilometers down the road, in the village of Gusow, baker Edeltraut Studier, 47, shares the mayor's view but is a little less emotional about it. "It's no better in the west," she says arranging plum cakes and strawberry tarts in her shop window. She has been running the bakery for the last 20 years and wants to keep on doing so for the next 20.
In Gusow, renovated homes stand alongside crumbling ruins. "There used to be great parties in the festival hall at the end of the street," she reminisced. These days the building is falling into ruin, its windows smashed and its walls daubed with Nazi swastikas.
The idea of actively depopulating large swathes of eastern Germany is meeting with stiff resistance among local people. The Berlin Institute study's assessment that agricultural areas were lying fallow is "total nonsense," said Mayor Böttcher. "I think we'll be able to manage without subsidies in 15 years' time," he said, adding that rapeseed oil cultivation could lead to an economic revival of the region.
But Berlin Institute Director Reiner Klingholz is adamant that the region is in steady decline. Moose have begun wandering around rural parts of eastern Germany, he says. Andreas Weber, one of the authors of the study, said at least 9 percent of farmland has been taken out of agricultural production with the help of EU subsidies.
Back in Letschin, Horst Müller's sheep are bleating and his black cat Morle is rubbing against his leg. "Is there anything more beautiful?" He gets up to gather up the grass he has just mown. Then it will be time for coffee. "I've already done enough in my life," he says, and walks into his garden.

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Swedish politicians 'covered hotel room in poo'

Generally politicians do produce very large quantities of brown organic matter but in Sweden, they really out did themselves!

"There were faeces on the carpet, on the toilet door, on the external door, on the chair and on the wall," receptionist Rashid bin Hach told Expressen.

Now that's impressive!

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Multilingualism 'declining' and translations in EU!

Multilingualism, as specified in the Treaties on the functioning of the EU institutions, is in danger of disappearing in favour of a de facto single-language regime based on English, warns Abdou Diouf, secretary-general of the 'Francophonie', the international French-language organisation, in an interview with EurActiv.

Are you surprised? No, I am afraid not. This is perhaps one of the logical end results of languages which become more popular and after some time, other languages die out. See here on world's languages dying off.

Plus given the fact that the EU has now ended up with 20-25 official languages, do you know how much it costs the EU in translation costs?

  • ONE

Here are some interesting stats

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EU Green Paper on Retail Financial Services

A good overview on the current EU debate of the Retail Financial Services space relating to protection, better products and cheaper financial services for EU Citizens.

This is going to be perhaps the most contentious policy ever, as financial affairs of EU citizens is perhaps as close as you can get to getting citizens excited (with perhaps the exception of changing national symbols!).

So watch this space!

Confidence in UK financial services plunging to 17-year low

So now the Guardian is reporting that the confidence in the UK financial services is at a 17 year low. Given the mismanagement of the credit crisis which lead to the Northern Rock problem which was further compounded by regulatory mistakes, I am not surprised at all. Plus mix in the debates about early elections in the UK and we have the makings of a perfectly good and wet autumn leading into a chilly weather.

Welcome to the UK!

More UK firms being investigated for corruption

Recently I talked about how the UK is buried in the 12th rank for corruption. And now the Serious Fraud Office has begun a new investigation into the British Links into arms deals related to Kenya. When will people realise that until and unless we are squeaky clean, our crown jewel of financial services will soon get so tarnished that it will be difficult to clean. We already took a huge knock on our economic competence over the spectacular Northern Rock disaster. We already have a reputation of being a bit loose on the legal front.

Absolutely disgusting.

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Monday, October 1

Groups know little about value of IT assets

According to latest research, firms know very little about the value of their IT assets. I am not surprised at all. The frankly ridiculous way spend is carried out on IT assets leads one to this rather obvious conclusion that one doesn't know what they have spent money on.

Let me put this in another way. When you do not know the benefits that an IT development project will produce, how can you measure the value of the IT assets that the project has thrown out? In far too many projects, there is no mention of the benefits, or even if there is any mention, it is generally made on the basis of a finger in the air.

So the value of an asset is usually just the amount of money it took to produce the asset. If it took a contractor 1 day to make it and you paid the contractor £1000, then the value is £1000. People tend to do things in the IT world which are normally not done elsewhere. It is simply because people are scared of the stuff and jargon and do not ask silly questions.

The survey threw up some scary numbers:

Companies are spending billions of dollars on information technology every year but few boardrooms know the value of their hardware and software and the contribution they make to their businesses, a study published today has found.
The survey of 250 chief information officers and chief finance officers from companies in the US, UK, France, Germany and Italy found that fewer than half had tried to value their IT assets and 60 per cent did not know the worth of their software.

If you were an MD or a head in the front office or anybody who is going to pay for any IT development, here's a small test for you to try it out on your CIO or Head of Technology. Ask him to justify the spend he has made till today in 2007 and ask him for the value (not the book value but the market value). Best time to do this is when he comes to you for the 2008 budget request. More often than not, he will not know. When you consider that IT spend is most probably going to be the second highest spend line on your cost base, one wonders how you are going along blindly without knowing the value of it. Would you do the same with your personal investments?

Some Canadian Hindus are now upset over a nude Ganesh!!!

Here we go again, ignorance compounded with stupidity and baked in a religious pie makes for a grotesque situation. Here is what I wrote to a colleague.

"People are just too sensitive indeed. I presume their objections were to the fact that a vulva and a breast were placed next to the statue. I received information about this over an email and what I replied back to them was that that they have managed to reduce Ganesh down to somebody who will be afraid of a breast and a vulva. This is a representation, just like the Shiv Linga for his Dad. I don't see them going about creating petitions for banning all statues of the Shiv Linga, do you? Truly, the feet of fanatics are firmly planted on clouds."

Each and every of those 800 people who ended up signing the petition has proven themselves to be either ignorant of Hindu representation, or capable of being swept up in passions which are not grounded in fact and plainly illiberal.

Here are some more pictures.

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The news story!

Ryan McCourt's sculpture The Reawakening of Ganesha, in front of the Shaw Conference Centre

Why are we so afraid to offend?

There's a big difference between respecting different cultures and caving in to illiberalism


September 29, 2007

Are you offended by the jolly little object you see reproduced on this page? Do you think it's sacrilegious? Or do you just wonder what it is? FYI, it's a sculpture of the Hindu elephant god Ganesha, as interpreted by Edmonton artist Ryan McCourt. Ganesha, patron of artists and writers, is among the most beloved of the Hindu deities. You can recognize him by his elephant head and the pot belly, which signifies prosperity.

Mr. McCourt has spent years studying traditional Indian art. Last November, four of his Ganesha sculptures were installed in front of the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton after he won a public competition. The figures are about the size of a baby. Some people - including Hindus - like them. But some more conservative Hindus think they're improper. For example, Ganesha is shown nude. One sculpture shows him with a trident (too warlike) and also depicts an abstract female breast and vagina.

Soon after the pieces were installed, says Mr. McCourt, "I started getting phone calls." Over coffee at Tim Hortons - "very Canadian neutral ground" - he met with a four-man delegation from the Hindu Society of Alberta. He pointed out that the history of Hindu iconography is extraordinarily rich and various, and that Ganesha is sometimes shown nude or with a trident, and that other Hindus, including a priest he knew, were not offended. Besides, the installation was temporary, and would soon be gone.

His critics weren't appeased. Earlier this month they got 700 people to sign a petition demanding that the exhibit be shut down. Edmonton's mayor, Stephen Mandel, caved without a whimper. "We're quite disappointed that the event happened and it insulted the Hindu community," he said. He ordered the offending objects removed immediately.

The mayor, of course, was quite wrong. Mr. McCourt's sculptures did not insult the Hindu community. They insulted a small but vocal conservative religious group that is about as representative of Hindus as Hassidic Jews are of Jews.

"I sense a slight whiff of racism when I read these headlines saying, Alberta Hindus Are Offended," says Mr. McCourt. "It's a kind of politically correct racism." He also wonders what would happen if 700 Christian fundamentalists petitioned the mayor to shut down the Gay Pride parade.

The answer is that people would be outraged - at the fundamentalists. But when the sensibilities of religious and ethnic minorities are involved, you can't be too careful. You may recall how everyone deplored the callous insensitivity of those cartoonists who made fun of Mohammed. So God forbid we should permit irreverence (even if it's unintended) toward a god with the head of an elephant.

In other circumstances, we're rightly proud of our secular society. We've spent the past 300 years, sometimes bloodily, separating church and state. Most of us don't think twice about mocking the more absurd extremes of Christianity. We are delighted to pour contempt and scorn all over the deluded idiots who think that dinosaurs strode the Earth with Man. Most of us roll our eyes at people who believe that every word in the Bible is the literal truth as revealed by God. But we're horrified of treading on the delicate sensibilities of people who worship elephant gods, to say nothing of people who believe the Koran was dictated by Allah to a seventh-century Arabian merchant.

Forgive me if I've been reading too much Christopher Hitchens. But there's a big difference between accommodating ethnic diversity and allowing the clamorous demands of conservative faith groups back into the public square. There's a big difference between respecting different cultures and caving in to illiberalism and superstition.

Yet that's usually our first impulse. Is a small group of Hassidic Jews offended by the sight of spandexed females sweating at the Y? Then put in frosted windows! Are some Muslims offended by images of pigs? Then ban storybooks about pigs from classrooms! (Don't laugh. It happened in Britain.) Do some Muslim students demand prayer rooms in universities? Then provide them!

This deference to the tender feelings of minorities (and minorities of minorities, at that) strikes me as a double standard of the most astonishing kind. And the idea that they have a right not to be offended strikes me as both dangerous and condescending. We treat them as if they're too fragile to endure the give and take of a robust democracy. The result is that, in the name of liberalism and tolerance, we give in to the forces of intolerance.

Then again, who wants to be called a racist? That's what happened to Bruce Allen, the Vancouver radio commentator who notoriously said, "If you choose to come to a place like Canada, then shut up and fit in." (He also said much else, which was widely misinterpreted because he said it badly.) How dare he threaten the sacred texts of diversity! The Sikhs (well, some of them, anyway) were outraged. So was somebody who claimed to represent the Jews, and somebody else who claimed to represent the Chinese. Several politicians demanded that Mr. Allen be fired from the Olympics committee he sits on, because he was a disgrace to Canada, and hundreds of people complained to the CRTC. They didn't like his opinion, so they thought he should lose his job.

Indo-Canadians Are Offended, said the headlines, more or less. But that was no more true than it was in the case of the sacrilegious elephant god. As it turns out, plenty of Indo-Canadians weren't at all offended. "We agree with not only the right to say it, but even with the substance of what he said," says Ron Bannerjee of the Hindu Conference of Canada. "I'm afraid I've inflamed many of the so-called members of the Indo-Canadian community by saying that."

All I can say is that if that's the case, then good for him. Maybe what we need right now is not less speech that might offend someone, but more of it.

If you see Something, Say Something. OUCH!















I am not sure about the provenance of this advertisement, so please do take it with a pinch of salt. If anybody knows that this is a fake, can you please let me know?

But this is very worrisome. Just how are people supposed to know they are Pakistani? And say not Sri Lankan? or from Trinidad? Racial Profiling is a police matter and not something to be treated so cavalierly.

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Sunday, September 30

Militants holed up in mosque shot dead

Houses of worship are dangerous places for countries. They are dangerous not only because they are the places where religious angst gets collected and distributed. And this is across many religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Christianity or Judaism.

But there is a different issue. Quite a lot of times, militants will take refuge in a place of worship, such as the famous case of the Sikh Holy of Holies, Harminder Sahib, in Amritsar, Punjab, India. It took tanks, artillery and a full scale invasion to get rid of the terrorists sheltering inside the gurudwara. Or the situation where Palestinian terrorists holed up inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and it again took quite a lot of fighting to get rid of those terrorists. Or the recent Lal Masjid Siege in Islamabad, or the one in the mosque in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza. Let us also not forget the Mecca incident or the Kashmir Incident.

This happens quite frequently I am afraid. And for very good reason. Religiously motivated terrorists would naturally see the mosques and gurudwara's as their primary source of inspiration. And also with spires, minarets and towers, they are quite eye catching. So many times, they make a beeline to it and hide out.

Police usually find it very difficult to keep an eye out on these places of worship given the sensitivities involved and anyway, who would ever suspect a house of God being used for murderous purposes? Well, that's the thinking which allows the militants and terrorists to use mosques quite frequently. Also, the caretakers are usually pious individuals, they are not the kind of people who will stand up to these murderers!

Unfortunately, the only solution for the country is to turf them out. Although India has learnt through bitter experience to walk carefully around religious places, I do not think other countries have. It is a warning that while you have to be very careful and sensitive, involve the community leaders in trying to get the terrorists to surrender, but at end of the day, the steel fist has to be shown. Religion must never be allowed to overpower the state!

See this current story for an example of how to deal with terrorists in a mosque.

Key workers priced out of 'most' towns

This is ridiculous, how can we afford to run a state like this? I quote:

Key workers including nurses and teachers are priced out of seven in ten towns and local authorities in the UK, research by the Halifax found.

The situation has to be rectified quickly because we play around with our essential services at our peril. While they are generally not hitting the headlines, these essential service works are the steel framework of the state. Whether we look at policemen, nurses, teachers, soldiers, etc. all these very worthy folks are crucial for a good economy.

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If you are British, how many questions can YOU answer?

These are the questions which are asked from prospective British citizens. I answered the questionnaire and got 16 questions right. But my mind boggles. They are determined to figure out if a person can be British based upon these multiple choice questions? Where are the debates over the Anglo Saxon debates? Or the Scottish independence? Or Shakespeare? Or how about the Blitz? Or Double Decker Buses? Or cheddar cheese? or morris dancing? Or the local pub? or or or and and and?



1. Why were recruitment centres set up in the West Indies in the 1950s? A To recruit workers for textile factories B To recruit workers to build canals C To recruit workers to build railways D To recruit workers to drive buses
2. What percentage of children live within a step-family? A 10 per cent B 25 per cent C 40 per cent D 55 per cent
3. When will the British Government adopt the euro as the UK’s currency? A 2010 B 2015 C Never D When the British people vote for it in a referendum
4. What are the roles of the whips in Parliament? Select two from below A Responsible for discipline in their party B To ensure attendance of MPs at voting time in the House of Commons C To ensure the House of Commons is always safe and secure D To keep order in the House of Commons during political debates
5. What percentage of Christians in the UK are Roman Catholic? A 10 per cent B 20 per cent C 30 per cent D 40 per cent
6 When is Mother’s Day? A The Saturday four weeks before Easter B The Sunday four weeks before Easter C The Sunday one week before Easter D The Sunday three weeks before Easter
7 How often does the Cabinet normally meet? A Bi-weekly B Daily C Monthly D Weekly
8. When was the first census carried out in the United Kingdom? A 1785 B 1801 C 1851 D 1912
9. What type of constitution does the UK have? A A legal constitution B A written constitution C An amended D An unwritten constitution
10 What proportion of young people who became first-time voters in the 2001 general election actually used their vote? A One in two B One in three C One in five D One in six
11. During the 1980s, the largest immigrant groups to the UK came from which countries? A China, Japan and South Korea B India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh C Russia, Poland, Belarus and Ukraine D United States, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand
12. What is the difference in the average hourly pay rate for men and women? A 5 per cent lower for women B 10 per cent lower for women C 20 per cent lower for women D. No difference
13 How many members are there in the Northern Ireland Assembly? A 108 members B 125 members C 64 members D 82 members
14. How might you stop young people playing tricks on you at Hallowe’en? A Call the police B Give them some money CGive them sweets or chocolate D Hide from them
15. What proportion of the UK population have used illegal drugs at one time or another? A One quarter B One third C One half D Two thirds
16. Who is the monarch not allowed to marry? A Anyone who is not of royal blood B Anyone who is not a Protestant C Anyone who is under the age of 25 D Anyone who was born outside the UK
17 Why was there a fall in the number of people migrating to the UK from the West Indies, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh in the late 1960s? A A weak British currency made immigration less appealing B It was becoming more difficult for immigrants to find employment in the UK C New laws were introduced restricting immigration to Britain D These countries were experiencing labour shortages
18 What is the purpose of the Council of Europe? A To create a single market for members of the council B To create new European regulations and directives C To debate proposals, decisions and expenditure of the European Commission D To develop conventions that focus on human rights, democracy, education, the environment, health and culture
19 How many young people (up to the age of 19) are there in the UK? A 10 million B 15 million C 20 million D 5 million
20 How many independent schools are there in the UK? A 100 B 1,000 C 2,500 D 15,000
21 What year did women in the UK gain the right to divorce their husband? A 1810 B 1857 C 1901 D 1945
22 All dogs in public places must wear a collar showing the name and address of the owner. Is this statement true or false? A True B False
23 What is the minimum wage for workers aged 18-21? A £3.30 an hour B £4.45 an hour C £5.35 an hour D £6.16 an hour
24 What is the population of Wales? A 1.2 million B 2.9 million C 3.4 million D 5.3 million
Source: Life in the UK Test Practice Questions (Red Squirrel Publishing, 2006-07)

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How does your writer's nest look like?

I came across this great site where writers have shown how their writing spaces look like.

These are the rooms that I loved:

Writers' rooms: John Mortimer

John Mortimer:

Writers' rooms: Geoff Dyer

Geoff Dyer

Writers' rooms: Antonia Fraser

Antonia Fraser

David Lodge's study

David Lodge

So you can well imagine what my nest looks like. It has to have loads of books: (These are double and triple depth shelves!), a sturdy desk, computers, a good chair and a good monitor!



This is how my nest looks like, I havemy 2 computers (one desktop and 1 laptop), the books which I am currently reading and referring on top. On the desktop, I have zillions of electronic stuff, some pictures, a statue of the Goddess Saraswati (Hindu Goddess of Wisdom and Learning), an antique globe, some manky pens (most who have given up the ghost long time ago), a whole wodge of post-it notes...

But one day, a great study will be made, leather couch, big big windows with a good view, and possibly a fireplace! and somebody to share it with! :)



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Islamists 'urge young Muslims to use violence'

I am extremely concerned by this development and I am very sorry that the Government is not banning this outfit. Letting these guys loose on young impressionable minds in the universities is dangerous indeed. And there have been far too many incidents in the UK and elsewhere for this group to be thought of as innocent.

This is not a free speech issue, this is an incitement to violence issue. Do you see the difference? I firmly believe that on balance of evidence, this group should be banned.


Muslim checkout staff get an alcohol opt-out clause - or Media overreaction?

I agree with Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, director of the Muslim Institute and leader of the Muslim parliament, said: “This is some kind of overenthusiasm. One expects professional behaviour from people working in a professional capacity and this shows a lack of maturity.

It is behaviour like this, in this day and age, that becomes an urban myth. And instead of helping the religion and fellow co-religionists, they end up harming them. While the company is doing its bit, it cannot really go to the end and say Hindu's cant handle non-vegetarian food, Buddhists cannot handle anything that was killed, Christians cannot work with homosexuals, or me as a Jedi cannot work with the Sith stacking shelves all because of religious reasons.

But I am also wondering if this case has not been blown up to a situation that is vastly out of proportion. Just 2 Muslims do this and suddenly a whole minority population gets blackballed. I think the Times should exercise a bit more care about its reporting. The tone of the article is frankly not showing that this is a tiny element and no sense of proportion is placed by the text.

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Light the fire in children's minds!

I was informed by my little princess (3 Years old!) that she wants to be a doctor. My son (12 years old) is vacillating between being a stockbroker or a software developer. His hero is Bill Gates. My firm belief is that children have to be encouraged to reach for the start.

Here is an op-ed by Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust (an educational charity). He is complaining about the low aspirational levels by many students and that is a sheer waste of talent. I quote:

While others are tempted to pin the blame on biased universities, I believe there is something more deep-rooted at work – a culture of low aspirations shared not just by students, but in many cases by their parents and teachers, too. There are many excellent teachers doing their best for the students, but it is a disturbing fact that some bright pupils are actively discouraged from reaching for the top.

It is worse, read on

You might think the classroom would act as a corrective. But all too often low expectations are reinforced by our socially selective school system.
The Sutton Trust has surveyed 20% of the teachers in state schools who advise students on university – and more than 80% of them said they thought their pupils would find it difficult to fit into the top universities, particularly Oxbridge.
Hard-pressed teachers face many other pressures and in some cases lack the confidence and know-how. Parents, meanwhile, are frustrated. Some even tell of instances where their children have been told not to bother applying

to Oxford or Cambridge, despite being qualified.

Why are teachers telling their students that they cannot aim high? How DARE THEY? I wrote earlier about how important it is for children to aim high as they might end up the lowest of the low. Teachers have to fire up their children's imagination and aspirations. Make them reach for the stars, push them to excel themselves. Make them realise that they can do better than they think.

I am truly sickened by this waste of talent.

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I am American but not American

Very amusing post here.

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