Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Bush ushers new era of India-US friendship

Cyber Age From The Statesman

Partnership based on principle & pragmatism
ND Batra

Last week Ronen Sen, India’s ambassador to the United States, lamented that the American non-proliferation high priesthood and Indian go-it-alone self-reliant nuclear brotherhood have highjacked the debate and clouded the real issue: whether it is possible for two open societies to trust each other and work together.

By offering India “full civil nuclear energy cooperation,” President Bush made an extraordinary gesture of friendship and a bold move in establishing long-term strategic and economic relations with a country that most sensible US experts perceive as a reliable global partner. Nuclear partnership with India is another facet of globalisation.

Thinking outside the box, as they say, Bush did not let the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty stand in the way of his new global vision, where an economically strong democratic India would play a stabilising role in world affairs, especially in Asia. The strategic partnership to see India grow and “become a major power in the twenty-first century” is not about containing any other rising power, rather to let India develop as an alternative model of economic growth which preserves fundamental freedoms.

Rapid economic growth of India, 8-9 percent a year for the next few decades, would lift millions of Indians out of abject poverty, without diminishing personal and political freedoms. Besides, an economically dynamic India would spill economic growth all around and would make the military containment of China by the USA or another power absolutely unnecessary.

The Asian theatre needs more than one economic and political power in order to reduce the possibility of a single hegemonic power rising and dominating the continent. Asia needs dynamic multipolarity. The nuclear agreement would remove hurdles in India’s search for alternative energy sources to fuel its growing economy. And to set the tone of mutual trust Bush has acknowledged India “as a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology.”

Recognising India as an exception to the rule, and accepting the fact that India should “acquire the same benefits and advantages as other such states” is a bold diplomatic move on the part of Bush. Only a courageous American President could have taken such a step. In spite of the recent silly diplomatic blunder over visa for the three Indian scientists, on the whole India is being increasingly admired in the USA. Eventually the US Congress would approve the nuclear deal. India would be able to buy nuclear fuel for its existing nuclear power plants and shop for building new ones.

The recent visit of French President Jacques Chirac to India and the agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation has already raised India’s international profile. And in the course of time as trust in partnership increases and diplomatic relations improve further, a whole new world of sophisticated American and European technology would be open to India, enabling it to leapfrog decades of sluggish economic growth. In return India would do what other nuclear powers have been doing under the nonproliferation treaty, that’s, open its civilian nuclear power plants to International Atomic Energy Agency and continue the moratorium on nuclear testing. Its nuclear military arsenal remains off limit.

Global transparency is necessary to stop non-state nuclear carpetbaggers like AQ Khan from trading nuclear weapons. Critics in India fear that the deal would create dependency relations with the USA but they need to consider how South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and China have benefited from strong economic partnership with the USA, without compromising their sovereignty. India is too big and too complex to be dictated by any outside power.

India must go beyond the present information technology outsourcing, must go up the value chain and penetrate deeply into corporate USA to learn from its spirit of constant innovation in technology and business methods. It is surprising that the Indian elite is more interested in UN Security Council permanent membership than the lifting of nuclear sanctions. India alone cannot solve its energy and infrastructural problems.

Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline is in the realm of a distant possibility but even if it becomes operational, it may not be enough to meet India’s gargantuan need for energy.
It may not be a very secure means of procuring energy looking at the political situation in Balochistan. Even Saudi oil facilities, as the recent failed suicide-bombing shows, may not be very reliable.

Clean coal technology, nuclear energy and solar energy are practical alternatives for which the USA has opened its doors to India. India needs hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign direct investment in building power plants and world-class infrastructure to increase its manufacturing base in order to create employment opportunities. Nuclear energy would reduce excessive dependency upon West Asian oil.

Strategic partnership was one of the important themes of Prime Minster Manmohan Singh’s well-received address to the joint US Congress session last July. India and the USA, as Dr Singh said, are natural partners because both are open societies and share similar values. “There are partnerships based on principle, and partnership based on pragmatism. I believe we are at a juncture where we can embark on partnership that we can draw both on principle as well as pragmatism.”

Democracy, multiethnic diversity, and human rights are some of the values that bring the two countries together, but equally important is the fact that India and the USA need each other for fighting global terrorism. Bush’s no-holds-barred campaign against militant Islamic Jihad and Al-Qaida terrorism has changed the perception in the Pakistani ruling elite as well as the masses that negotiations are the only way to resolve long standing issues, especially Kashmir. Bush’s policies have helped India fight its own terrorism.

India’s global diplomacy should have one primary goal: accelerated economic growth that reaches the bottom of the barrel, India’s huddled masses. The partnership with the USA would certainly help India hasten the pace of economic growth and serve India’s global interests.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Yo Americans, go to India and prosper

CLYDE PRESTOWITZ, author of Three Billion New Capitalists: The Great Shift of Wealth and Power to the East, says "if you are a short-term investor, China is probably where you should put your money. But if you are in it for the long haul, you might want to bet on India. That certainly seems to be what George Bush is doing as he heads out this week to make nice with his newest international friend." Read more

Also read this wonderful article.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

China Rising

China Rising, truly

"Dreams that the country’s economic liberalization will someday lead to political reform remain distant. Indeed, if current trends continue, China’s political system is more likely to experience decay than democracy," says Minxin Pei, a China scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for Internatioanl Peace. Read more...

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Islam and free speech

Cartooning is not the way to change minds

From The Statesman

By ND Batra

The Danish cartoons and their subsequent recrudescence in several newspapers, television, and the Internet about Prophet Mohammad might have been a fundamental right to exercise freedom of speech; but they have turned out to be a premeditated insult to the religious sensibilities of global Muslims. Most Muslims have taken the cartoons as a deliberate assault on their collective psyche, a crude attempt to deconstruct their culture and destruct their sacred narrative. Humans live by their stories. Some would die for them.

In many ways we see ourselves and know the physical world through our stories. Our nervous system and our personal and historical memories define our ability, our sense and sensibility, to describe and capture reality. Millions of words, for instance, have been written about Islamic jihad and yet it’s doubtful if the truth about this notoriously complex concept, evil to some and yet sacred to others, has been completely captured.

If somehow we could know a way of tuning up and enhancing the nervous system to a higher level, the linguistic description and hence the reality would change. Pardon the digression but think of the time when zero was discovered, presumably by the ancient Hindus; and the subsequent development of decimal system; and how that must have changed the perception of reality by subjecting physical phenomena to measurement. Measurement is a form of description of reality; so is cartooning, lampooning and parodying.

But as TS Eliot said, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” When Galileo’s telescope was latched to the human nervous system, the linguistic description of the firmament changed and the earth, as it were, ceased to be a stationary planet, though the Church refused to accept it.Or consider some modern political events. Had satellite pictures not revealed the existence of the Soviet’s missiles in Cuba in the 1960s, Americans and the rest of the world would not have perceived the seriousness of the threat to the United States.

If the remote-sensing technology could pick up sights and sounds of human sufferings, it would become possible to know how the Chinese have been decimating the Tibetans and their culture. The Tibetan genocide, like the Holocaust, would find full linguistic description. Description either leads to action or generates guilt. Guilt too motivates action. Through communications technology, the human nervous system extends itself and gives a better or a fuller account of reality, and a feeling of liberation from the constraints of earlier description of reality. New reality demands new laws, ethics and social relations, and creates new life styles, as one can see happening in the burgeoning economy of China, where communism is dead as the dodo.

Communications technology—television antennas, faxes, tape recorders, the Internet—which made free flow of information possible, has killed communism. Was this the assumption of the European media that free flow of information in the form of crude satirical cartoons might debase and eventually dissipate Islamic religious fundamentalism?

History teaches a lesson that it is through the control of linguistic descriptions, narratives and stories that the powerful, the ruling classes, exercise their hegemony. I have always wondered how Britain ruled so successfully over India for about two hundred years. To a great extent the British succeeded in the exercise of their soft cultural power by supplanting the native stories and narrative descriptions with their own literature and legends, so that appreciating Chaucer was deemed more civilized than discovering the beauty of Kalidasa.

China has begun to transplant its stories and historical descriptions upon the young Tibetans, and by the time they grow up into adulthood, their reality will clash with the truth held by their parents—unless modern communications technology, including wireless Internet, short-wave radio and miniature antenna dishes, keeps them alive as Tibetans. By denying them the Tibetan language and access to communications technology, that’s, by controlling their collective nervous system, China might do worse damage than Hitler did to the Jews.

There is something remarkable about the Jewish people, in the sense that from the Old Testament through Steven Spielberg, they have been natural born storytellers. Because of the faithful anecdotal and photographic accounts of the concentration camps, and documentaries and movies like “Shoah” and “Schindler’s List,” it is impossible to deny the truth of the Holocaust, in spite of what Iran’s President Ahmedinijad might have said recently. Most of us feel guilty for not having stopped the Holocaust. The Tibetans have no great filmmakers, no storytellers, and no access to communications technology. They don’t believe in Jihad. They might perish in the silence of the Himalayas. Storytelling is a form of Darwinian survival.

If the recipe for cultural domination and power is through the control of narrative and communications technology, which are in essence the collective nervous system of a society, then it becomes important to find ways of creating resistance movement within threatened cultures. We must “understand, and expose the dynamics of myth-making in society,” said Professor Herbert Schiller, a distinguished scholar of information, and “discover what happens when that process touches the lives of millions of people.” When mythmakers of today have the reach of satellite technology and the Internet, consequences for ancient cultures and human rights can be devastating.

The violent reaction against the Prophet Mohammad cartoons is in reality a form of cultural resistance against global homogenization, cultural hegemony masquerading as free speech.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

America is in perpetutal motion

US work culture: in perpetual motion

From The Statesman
ND Batra

Business Week reported recently that the US economy is much stronger than what the doomsayers have been telling us. The reason is simple: the old statistical system used by the Bureau of Economic Analysis is not good enough to capture the economic reality, the reality of the knowledge economy of the digital age.

Not everyone shares Business Week’s optimism. Knowledge economy is certainly adding to the intangible growth of the economy, which shows up as overall growth in GDP, but why is it not adding up to people’s feelings of well-being? On the contrary, many Americans have a feeling of diffused and widespread anxiety about their future. Pensions have been disappearing. Healthcare benefits are being reduced. Not many people feel confident about retiring.

Sometime ago a local newspaper editorialised, “Too many people juggle multiple jobs but still can’t afford the basics of shelter, food and healthcare... The dignity and purpose of work are undermined when a person who gives a full effort cannot afford life’s necessities.” Americans with cell phones, mobile computing, multiple jobs and multiple shifts have begun to mimic what some chain restaurants tout: We are open for 24 hours a day.

It is a society in perpetual motion, waiting for a coffee break, never fully resting, though occasionally dozing on the desk like a sleepless driver on the steering wheel.Mergers and acquisitions, hanging upon us like a chronic sickness, eliminate jobs without reducing the workload, which is shared by workers lucky enough not to be fired. Experts tell us that productivity is rising. No, Americans are working longer and in multiple shifts to fight the fear of being de-skilled and laid off.

Productivity is a measure of a firm’s output in relation to the resources consumed or how much an employee produces per hour. But many employees take work home or work early and late hours, which adds to their productivity without adding to their income for the extra hours they put in. This seems to push their productivity high and also comforts the management, that has been sold on the idea that computer and telecommunications technology are pushing the profits up.

Most jobs are becoming commoditised and can be substituted and shipped abroad. Computer-assisted design and manufacturing systems do help designers visualise new products on their screens, which can be directly sent to factories in China where cheap skilled labour can do the manufacturing. Computer-integrated manufacturing requires limited human input and eliminates highly paid manufacturing jobs, thus raising productivity.

Experts say that it is possible to customise products that have been mass-produced since Henry Ford introduced the assembly line system and Frederick Taylor added scientific management to business vocabulary. Soon we would be able to customise everything: clothes, shoes, golf clubs, or whatever.

Researchers point out the cost-saving potential of computer automation by eliminating intermediary processes, for example, typesetting in printing; or the use of the Internet for document transfer, such as audio-visual scripts or tapes; and eliminating other tasks which do not directly contribute to the end product.

Teleconferencing does save money but it has also ended opportunities for many to combine their work with vacations. Now the ubiquitous cell phone is transforming vacations to working vacations and homes to working homes. Over 11 million Americans never leave home for work. They telecommute, raising the spectre of hidden electronic sweatshops that somehow escape the scrutiny of civic groups and labour unions because homebound sweatshops are invisible. In spite of the noise about rising productivity, some researchers are puzzled at the “Productivity Paradox.” Investment in information technology does not necessarily produce positive financial gains, partly because many firms invest in technology as they don’t want to be left behind in the rat race.

One reason why every firm is rushing to cyberspace to build a Website is due to the fear that someone else might grab the domain name, which should be rightfully its own. This does not necessarily add to their bottom line, so they go on re-engineering and merging and eliminating jobs, creating a spiral of greater workload for those who want to keep their jobs.

As Alvin Toffler and other futurists foresaw, the hierarchical pyramid structure of the organisation with the boss at the top protected from blue and white-collar workers by layers of middle management would be flattened. The middle management layer has begun to disappear. A new organisational model, the “core and ring” model is emerging in the cyber age. The model has a dedicated core of highly paid top level strategists and planners, who get work done either by an army of temporary workers or by outsourcing the work to virtual neighbours, be they in China, Mexico or Thailand.

Most work, including design, production, marketing and distribution, wrote Venketaraman and Henderson in a 1998 article in Sloan Management Review, can be out-sourced. Labour is not eliminated but it is turned into a commodity. It may be the final triumph of market capitalism, but it is a 24 hours-a-day work week, which keeps the USA at the core with an ever increasing ring of temporary workers spread all over the globe.

If US economy is on the rise, as Business Week wants us to believe, why don’t the American people feel good?

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

American culture: A culture of anxiety

Meditation on American culture

By ND Batra
From The Statesman

Culture may even be described simply as that which makes life worth living.
T S Eliot (Notes Towards a Definition of Culture)

Lee Gomes of the Wall Street Journal wrote sometime ago, “why no one has yet run for office by campaigning against the computer. After all, you couldn’t ask for a better sin-delivery system than a PC with a fast Web connection”.

Well, you might as well call a gun a death-delivery system, but no one dares run a political campaign against guns in the USA and get elected. If you talk against guns, some gun lover would fire back, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”

If a politician runs against guns, it means that not only is he challenging the people’s right to bear arms (Second Amendment) but also getting into a crossfire with the National Rifle Association—the 500-pound gorilla who does not need a gun to kill you.

Senator John Kerry, during his campaign for the White House, eagerly flaunted his Vietnam credentials, Purple Hearts and all, as well as his love for hunting by going on a goose-hunt, which proved to be of no avail.

But Gomes had a point: “With a week or two of patient work, someone with their hands on the keyboard of such a system—no matter what his or her age — could download a Kinsey library of erotica, play videogames depicting the cruelest kind of violence, steal a studio’s worth of music and movies, and gamble away small fortune.” If politicians can’t fight against the “girlie men” and “bushwhooping women” of Hollywood, how would they fight the Internet, where no man or beast, except probably China, has much control?

Whether it was Dr Alfred Kinsey or the Playboy that liberated Americans sexually, or corrupted them, as Rev Jerry Falwell would say, nonetheless, sexual imagery, heterosexual, homosexual, omni-sexual, has been seeping into American social ecology, even into corporate brands. Is omni-sexual a new word in the American lexicon?

But consider this. A Saks Fifth Avenue ad showed two itsy-bitsy girls, one a coy blonde and the other a brash oriental with the belly-button up, pants slipping down with palms in her hip pockets, face-to-face on two opposite pages of a glossy magazine, with the tag line: “Saks loves it: both ways”. Both ways? Very naughty indeed, I thought and wondered if it were a new form of omni-sexuality.

A constant hovering anxiety in the Sex and the City used to be the question on the mind of every single woman who met a hunk: Is he gay? Of course, if he were a heterosexual, a girl could have a chance. She could steal him from his girlfriend or wife. But what can a girl do with a homo? Oh, yes! She could cry with Dame Edna in Back with Vengeance! : “Darling, this is not a shoe. This is a cry for help, my possum.” Dame Edna could get away with her conceit, “Sorry dear, I am just not feeling naughty tonight,” but what can a single girl with sex on her mind do in New York, the city of spin, spin, spin, and sin.Girls are not calendar-resistant, are they? They wrinkle. They shrivel. Boys move on.

Of course you have heard of water-resistant and wind-resistant, but what is calendar-resistant? That was Timberland’s ad for its men’s Mixed-Media Jacket, which crowed: “It is quite possible the jacket will last longer than you.” Something to leave behind to make the world a better place, when your “too, too sordid” self is gone!

You could pass on the jacket to one of your poor relatives whom you never liked or donate it to the Salvation Army. That, however, reminded me of a plumber who came to my house to replace a leaky pipe and said the new pipe had a life-long warranty. Amazed, I said: Whose life are we talking about? Yours or mine? He never felt so embarrassed. He had a triple by-pass a year before. Just like the Timberland’s jacket, the plumber’s pipe too was calendar (time)-resistant.

And that reminds me of something else that was touted as calendar-resistant. A few years ago, a 30-something brunette was shown gloating over her Seiko watch: “My husband has left me, but my Seiko is still with me.” Joy to the world! The American woman is free. Seiko is ticking and the woman is waiting for another “gentleman caller”. Would he ever come? And how long would he stay?

Talking of gentlemen and lovers, a few years ago I overheard an ambitious woman humming to herself: There are a thousand-and-one ways of getting rid of your lover. And she got rid of him, kept the sprawling house and the kids, and moved on to another city, another hunt. But that’s merciful, though she had a killer instinct and could have done more. In a red, red state in the South, where I was a professor once upon a time, the Bible Belt where there are more divorces and single moms than in the blues states, a colleague whose department work I was evaluating said to me in a loud whisper, “In my county, we don’t kill anyone unless there’s a reason.” I got the message loud and clear.

But that was no better than two men of God who one evening came to the beautiful Eagle Lake where the university had given me a living quarter and said that they wanted to deliver me from my sins. One of them said, “Do you go to church?”I said, no, but why? The other said: “Do you want to go to heaven or hell?” I said, “I would rather stay here.” They laughed and left me alone.

Just as the Internet and Hollywood deliver to us our daily pipedream of sins, men of God are always ready to deliver us from our daily sins. Some call it checks and balances. I call it a supply chain system of American values.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Corporate Reputation in The Digital Age

Good reputation equals good business
Cyber Age
ND Batra
From The Statesman

In the digital age, a company is nothing but its reputation and maintaining it is a big challenge.

Reputation is the foundation of trust and loyalty, which gives stakeholders confidence in dealing with the company. A company’s identity and image (along with its philanthropy) are the building blocks of its reputation.

Identity is a company’s assertion of its individuality and embodies the company’s vision, its reason for being there. It sums up its business case. The image of a company is the distinct memorable impression in the minds of the people as they interact with the company.

Together, identity and image raise the profile of a company, its reputation, its significance beyond commercialism and profit making. “A company’s identity,” says Paul Argenti of Dartmouth’s Tuck School in one of his books, “is the visual manifestation of the company’s reality as conveyed through the organization’s name, logo, motto, products, services, buildings, stationery, uniform, and all other tangible pieces of evidence created by the organization and communicated to a variety of constituencies.”

Stakeholders’ perception of the company, however, emerges from the totality of the impression, not so much from what is created by the company but in spite of it. While a company might do its utmost to build and control its identity, it cannot totally control the image, the impression and the perception, the public has about it.

A company’s identity and the image are never the same, but the closer they are, the better the reality. This is the basis of the company’s reputation. A company’s name, symbols, products, services, employees, buildings, its tangibles and intangibles, are not a cluster of facts but a dynamic system that creates specific value and meaning for stakeholders.

While it is desirable to achieve consistency in identity, McDonalds’ golden arches, for example, the perception of the company should no be expected to be the same in every country.

McDonalds’ is one of the fast food chains in the USA but in China it has the image of a classy American cuisine, desired by the young and the old, in spite of the fact that the identity of the company, its sounds and images, are quite consistent.The same identity provokes a different image in Karachi where several arsons have taken place without much public outrage.

A corporate identity must embody the company’s core values, the sum and substance of what is called its business case. Identity is the visualisation of its mission, and answers the unasked question: Who are we? What are we doing here?

Through logos, mottos, slogans and brands, a company enacts the drama of self-presentation and builds its image and perception in the mind of the public and various stakeholders. As mentioned earlier, while the identity of a company is a constant, image and perception are variables that ultimately determine the company’s reputation.

While a consistent and well-defined identity a company projects before the public helps it to build a perception of the company about what it stands for, the reputation is built over time and depends upon how the company conducts itself.

A strong reputation matters because it enhances a company’s attractiveness, muffles criticism and creates public support for a company’s activities.Customers don’t mind paying a little extra for a product when it comes from a company with a strong reputation for quality and fairness.

When a company faces conflicts, its good reputation enables corporate diplomats to conduct negotiations from a position of strength and self-confidence.

A company with a strong reputation attracts talented employees, who like to stay with the company for personal and professional growth. The likeability of the company by the employees and their day-today interaction with various stakeholders adds to the reputation of the company.

Employees become the corporeal identity of the company embodying its values and mission. But when a CEO is found with his pants down or his hand in the cookie jar, as it has happened with Enron, for example, the reputation comes crashing down. No amount of identity metamorphosis could bring the reputation back.

Apart from the integrity of corporate leadership that inspires respect and loyalty from employees and the general public, companies like Microsoft have enhanced their reputation by carrying out global philanthropic activities.

Corporate philanthropic giving at local, national and global levels should become part of a company’s business case. At the time of international catastrophes such as the Indian Ocean tsunami, Katrina hurricane in New Orleans, and earthquake in Pakistan, global companies get ample opportunities to showcase the humane side of their businesses by working with NGOs and other civic groups.

When a company is engaged in doing social good, let it be known to the public. After all, virtue is not hide in.

Some companies make use of institutional advertising to let the public know how involved they are in adding to the public good, just as Beyond Petroleum (BP), formerly British Petroleum, is doing with its corporate ads. It is informing the public about its commitment to the development of alternative sources of energy. BP looks green.

An imaginative and creative corporate advertising programme can enhance the reputation of a company and increase its likeability in the minds of various stakeholders. Likeability generates goodwill and creditability, which are precious assets for a company to attract and retain good, highly skilled employees.

Philanthropic activities of a company must be thoughtfully and tastefully publicised through corporate advertising to project the humane side of the company as Microsoft is doing through its global foundation to fight AIDS and tuberculosis.In contradistinction, what is Google doing? I want to know.