Friday, March 31, 2006

Educating and training American GIs

GI Joe and GI Jane

How should we educate and train GI Joe and GI Jane so that they fit into the new global environment of terrorism on the one hand and multiculturalism on the other?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Killing field of American popular culture

From The Statesman
ND Batra

Movies, television programmes and popular music do not always spur viewers to spontaneous immediate action, but their delayed, cumulative effects are immense. Television commercials, for instance, impact viewers and keep the market economy thriving.

If commercials make people buy, buy and buy, repeated violent programmes too could incite some viewers, especially those who are mentally disturbed, to kill people. A few years ago, Queen Latifa, the rap star, featured in Set It Off, an R-rated movie about four desperately seeking women who go on a binge, shooting and robbing banks. The movie was linked with several copycat fatal shootings, including that of an eight-year old girl, Tynisha Gathers of Bridgeport, Connecticut, who watched a bootlegged copy of the movie along with three other girls.

And later while replaying a scene from the movie, Tynisha was shot in the head, as it was shown on the tape, with a .380 caliber semiautomatic handgun lying in the house. Imitation and role-playing, no doubt, excite all children. Tynisha’s 10-year old sister was held in custody and charged with manslaughter, while gun-dealers and movie-makers hid behind their constitutional rights to bear arms and exercise unfettered free expression, of course, only to make money in the free marketplace.

Unlike constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights, there are no fundamental obligations, except to pay taxes.The courts have been very reluctant to award damages in cases of personal injuries caused by the media, unless there is a definitive showing of “clear and present danger,” amounting to direct incitement of violence. Punishing the media for mere negligence, the courts have said in several media related personal injury cases, would chill free expression and lead to self-censorship, thus negating the purpose of the First Amendment.

Gun industry lobbyists repeat ad nauseam: Guns don’t kill people; people kill people. But this has not been a comforting thought to parents of children brought up in an environment of toy-guns (which look indistinguishable from the real ones) and senseless media violence. Every year hundreds of children either become victims of gun violence through media imitation or cause injuries to others.

The 1981 case of Olivia N v National Broadcasting Company, concerning the broadcast of the film Born Innocent, which dramatised effects of an orphanage on an adolescent girl, was a crying tale of horror. As recounted in the court records: a young girl is shown in a community bathroom peeling off her clothes and taking a shower. The water suddenly stops and she faces four other girls, who wrestle her to the ground, force her legs apart, and one of the assailants plunges a plumber’s helper into the girl, with a to-and-fro sex-act thrusting motion.

Four days after the film was broadcast, a nine-year old girl was attacked by some adolescents on a beach and “artificially” raped with a bottle. The attackers had done this after they had seen the movie Born Innocent and discussed the bathroom scene. The lawsuit alleged that NBC was negligent, in spite of several authoritative studies concerning media violence and its effect upon children. The California Court of Appeals ruled that if the television networks were subjected to “negligence liability,” the effect would be “self-censorship which would dampen the vigor and limit the variety of public debate.”

To win damages, the court ruled, the plaintiff would have to show that the movie incited rape. In another case, a 13-year old boy, who had watched and tried to imitate a stunt performed on the Tonight Show by the late comedian Johnny Carson, was found dead, hanging from a noose, facing a TV set which was still on. But when action was brought against the network, the court held that NBC was not liable because the plaintiff had failed to show “advocacy of violence” or “incitement to violence” leading to immediate action.

Ozzy Osbourne, notorious for lyrics such as Suicide Solution, that conveyed the message that “suicide is not only acceptable, but desirable” as a method of avoiding pain and despair, was not held liable by courts for death by suicide of several disturbed youths in 1980s.But what kind of enlightened public debate is generated by destructive free expressions such as in Born Innocent, Set It Off, or rap lyrics? Has the quality of life for orphans and women improved? Has artistic expression been enriched?

There has been growing concern about the coarsening of life in America, and many people blame the media, especially television, for widespread depredations of civic virtues.

Is it possible that the abuses of Abu Ghraib prison in which Iraqi prisoners were physically and sexually humiliated by patriotic US soldiers might have been the consequences of long exposure to senseless violence in popular culture?

How could such normal, decent people behave in this inhumane sadomasochistic way? Their subconscious minds must have been fed by brutal images, while growing up.

How ironic, to paraphrase an old fart, that as civilisation advances, civility declines. I believe it is the culture of self-restraint, not of advertisement and market-driven self-indulgence, which creates civility, social refinement.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Power of persuasion
By ND Batra
From The Statesman

In its bid to take over Arcelor, Mittal Steel needs a better communication strategy and more effective global corporate diplomacy to persuade Europeans that the Mittals are no stealers and come as friends. As corporate India expands globally, it must communicate well. Excellent communication is the key to effective corporate public affairs and global diplomacy. Without a comprehensive communications strategy that takes into account significant stakeholders who interact with the company and form its business environment, global corporate diplomacy cannot be effective. The recent failure of Dubai Ports World in its attempt to take over the management of US ports is a case in point.

In this age of global transparency of the 24-hour news cycle and the Internet, and of reporting standards established by global watchdogs like the Global Reporting Initiative, companies can neither run nor hide. Companies just cannot afford not to communicate about a problem that concerns stakeholders in their business environment. And since they have to communicate, they must do it efficiently. At the heart of communication is persuasion, even when a company is just trying to inform stakeholders. Power to persuade is the soft power that companies exercise to win the hearts and minds of people. But to do so in a multi-channel environment over which they do not have much control, needs diplomatic finesse, especially when a company has to operate in a foreign environment.

Consider how the following factors affect the global corporate communication environment:

(a) Companies have become de-localised (Mittal Steel, IBM, for example). They are no longer woven into the fabric of local communities as they used to be in the pre-digital age. Company employees do their work in a virtual environment and their mobility makes them less concerned with what is happening in their neighbourhood. In an environment like this, it would take extraordinary efforts for global companies to communicate and present their position in a persuasive manner. China’s CNOOC did not know how to talk to Americ when it tried to take over Unocal.
(b) Perception is reality and many people perceive global companies as more powerful than the government, which draws enhanced critical scrutiny from the media and NGOs. The image of power that global companies project raises expectations as well as fear in the minds of the people. Growing expectations of corporate responsibility create unusual challenges for corporate communications and diplomacy.
(c) Because of the recent corporate scandals in the USA that has put many top corporate executives in jail, the American people expect greater openness and transparency from companies. This may not be true of some rapidly developing countries in Asia, where companies may get away with behavior that may not be acceptable in the USA, Japan or Europe. Since expectation of corporate behaviour differs from country to country, corporate communications strategies must take such variables into account.
(d) Effective communication takes place in a cultural context. Understanding the host country’s political culture is very important for corporate communication and diplomacy to be effective, a lesson corporate India must learn quickly. Political culture includes the legal system, and the rules and regulations which must not be violated in the host country. Although good corporate behaviour is not rewarded, bad behaviour is not only punished but also sullies the reputation of the company. Companies should be problem solvers and should not become part of the problem.
(e) Each country has abiding cultural symbols and icons which make global corporate communication quite a challenge. What is culturally and politically correct in one country may not be so in another country. Not understanding national cultural differences can create a nightmare for companies doing business abroad. While these general observations about the global communication context are important, in order to be effective, global corporate communication must be aimed at specific groups or audiences that are especially relevant to the company. Such groups are: customers, financial analysts, government authorities, and non-business stakeholders such as NGOs.

Customers are the most important constituency for a company. They are the reason for doing business and a very important source of a company’s strength. In a competitive environment, where one product may not be qualitatively much different from the other, keeping the customer coming back to the company requires communication at multiple levels — product, price, image, trust and most of all, reputation, the company. How a company presents itself publicly, through signs, symbols and slogans, and how customers perceive it would determine its place in the marketplace. Trust and reputation are the basis of communication with customers.

The US transparency law (Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002), for example, was enacted in the aftermath of Enron’s collapse and other scandals. Communicating effectively with market analysts and financial journalists is very important because it is through them that a company manages its image of financial strength and growth. Raising false expectations for short-term benefits can destroy a company’s reputation. Sometimes, when analysts and financial journalists, instead of being impartial and objective, become reporters and critics, they become part of the vicious conveyer belt, destroy public trust and provoke harsher regulations.

Corporate behaviour is regulated by rules and regulations, which are framed in the public interest and in consultation with the industry. But once the rules are in place, not only authorities but also public interest groups, many of which have established a global network to monitor compliance, closely watch companies’ errant behaviour.

Microsoft’s ordeal in the USA and Europe for anti-trust violation is a case in point. Worldwide, there are thousands of NGOs who have made it their business to scrutinise the behaviour of local, regional and multinational companies to protect the public and environment from exploitation. With clear and well-defined demands, global NGOs that have a huge and broad-based financial and legal support system can swing into campaign mode against a corporation and even a country, very quickly and very efficiently.

Think how Greenpeace International stopped asbestos-laden French carrier Clemenceau from coming to Gujara (India). Cooperating and communicating with international NGOs requires special diplomatic efforts.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Why I love Japan

Buddhism has made Japan a beautiful country.

Innovate or perish

N.D. Batra

Be creative and grow rich

A recent IBM ad, a company that has been trying to re-invent itself as the foremost global solution company, talks of “houses that make doctor calls,” sensitive cars that enable you drive safely, “power grids that fix themselves” and “silos that talk to each other,” and much more.

I am still waiting for some solution company, Bangalore, Inc. or something, to make a bold statement, Hey, we know how to predict where the next terrorist attack after Varanasi would occur. It should be that simple: If computers can predict precisely where a tornado would hit, they should be able to predict where the next terrorist attack would occur. I am sure India’s scientist president Dr. APJ Kalam and the young IIT geniuses would agree with me: For every problem, human or technological, there must be a software solution. Be creative or thou shall perish.
In any case, this is an age of smart ideas. Ideas are potential assets. Creativity matters and would set India apart.

Just think what businesses are doing to stay in business. There’s a new frenzy for reaching customers through newer modes of communications, including product placement in television programs.
The busiest shopping season in the United States has always been Thanksgiving through Christmas, but for businesses it is too risky to depend solely upon the holiday season for profitability, market share or even survival. Which has led advertising and marketing agencies to find creative ways of persuading buyers to open their wallets.
A decline of even 1 percent in holiday sales ripples through every trailer park and leaves many people shivering in the cold. So shoppers are being offered unprecedented discounts on sales of all kinds of goods from cars to carpets to offset a bad holiday season, if it were to occur.

Any idea that brings the shopper to the mall and persuades her to fill up the shopping cart is an invaluable asset. The United States desperate seeks ideas that can make things happen, whether it is to catch Al Qaeda operatives; or to persuade the shopper to take out the credit card and spend whether she has the money or not in the bank.

But how do you turn an idea into an innovation and bring it to the marketplace? “I am your idea,” said an Accenture blurb sometime ago. “One day you’ll look for me and I’ll be gone.” Ideas are ephemeral unless you grab them and make them do something. Make ideas work by sharing with people who know how to turn them into innovations and tangible goods.

Occasionally in social gatherings, someone would buttonhole me and say: India has some of the world’s brightest economists, why can’t their ideas be turned into something that would speed up economic growth in India? At such moments I nod in wonderment. India is full of bright minds, indeed! And they would be returning to India especially with the introduction of dual citizenship, a brilliant idea that would generate unprecedented opportunities for investment in India.

Besides, every time there is some discussion about India’s economic growth, naturally China’s sustained economic growth of 8-10 percent during the last two decades comes up for comparison. Two decades ago both the countries were struggling at the same level of poverty. But one day the Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping had a bright idea. Capitalism is good, he mumbled after returning from a visit to the United States. Make money, not revolution. And the floodgates of entrepreneurial spirit opened up in China, even without political freedom.

Keith Bradsher of The New York Times wrote sometime ago that China, “by quickly converting much of its economy to an unfettered and even rapacious version of capitalism, has surged far ahead…. China has high-speed freeways, modern airports and highly efficient ports that are helping it dominate a growing number of manufacturing industries.” In a matter of years, China has become a manufacturing hub of the world, sucking most foreign direct investments. Once all roads led to Rome. Now all sea-lanes lead to China.

China’s miracle is not based on any grandiose economic theory, but on a few simple ideas: Excellent law and order conditions; good transportation and communications facilities; and the courage to let the people make money. In short, the Marwari and Gujarati spirit.
Ideas have no boundaries. You can take them from one field and make them work in another, for example, from the battlefield to the marketplace.

Americans are good at this; for example, American advertisers are using Jean Piaget’s theory of child development, sensory experiences and visual stimulation to sell EZ Squirt Ketchup to grownups. Said Alissa Quart in Wired, “Piaget is only the beginning. Just as the pharmaceutical industry steers medical research, marketing and advertising are beginning to guide the way scholars investigate brain functions, perception, and language.”

Consider, for example, cognitive science, a multidisciplinary area that includes psychology, neuroscience, sociology, and computer science. At the highest level, it is associated with the study of artificial intelligence and autonomous systems, but at market level its ideas are being increasingly used to study ”the psychology of acquisition and the science of material desire,” for better marketing and placement of products, anything from toys and cereals to jeans. That’s creativity.

Many of us do have qualms about turning the academia into a handmaid of the marketplace but in the United States various fields of intellectual endeavor are not sealed shut from each other. Ideas flow from one field to another and flourish wherever they find the best applications, whether it is the shopping cart or fighting terrorism.

It is all about the psychology of desire that transforms an idea into an asset; turns driving a car into love and adventure; turns zeros and ones into an outsourcing industry. And the same psychology of desire could also read the desires of terrorists before they hit again.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Digital world emerging

Scanning Digital Horizons
Digitally Seamless
Sensate Surroundings
Building Virtual Environment
Cyberspace-time Continuum
Potholes on the digital highway
Temptation Island in Cyberspace
The Mouse Says, Just Do It
Digital Mythmaking
Digit al Interdependency
Limits of Interdependency
Digital Synergy
Reinventing the Internet through synergy
Rise of digital intelligence

Tuesday, March 7, 2006


Mistaking trees for a forest?
By ND Batra
From The Statesman

Harvard faculty, finally, got rid of their inconvenient president, Mr Lawrence Summers, who has a wonderful habit of calling a spade more than a spade. All that Mr Summers wanted to do was to improve undergraduate education, especially in science and mathematics, so that the so-called Net Generation (N-Gen) could compete in a world where countries like China and India would have a dominant presence.
Occasionally, he publicly expressed his prickly thoughts about the research some of the most celebrated Harvard faculty members were doing. Some felt less valued and left. Others waited and gathered strength until they could strike the blow that felled a mighty man. Summers made no attempt to comfort anyone. Last year, for example, Summers said that women might be temperamentally and intellectually different when it comes to doing things. He supported his claim with anecdotal evidence of his twin daughters who, as little girls, used to call a small toy truck baby truck and the bigger one daddy truck. A boy would have made the two trucks crash headlong in a "battle scene."
At that time Mr Summers got into big trouble with his faculty, researchers, special interest groups and the media. Yet, his question has not been answered: Why can't women engage themselves profoundly with black holes and galaxies despite the affirmative action and equal opportunity and gender balancing and what not? Why does a woman feel more comfortable in the kitchen than in the lab? Is it cultural or genetic?
When I was on the faculty of Morehead State University, I asked a class, mostly of girls, what they planned to do after they graduated. Almost unanimously, the girls said they wanted to have good paying jobs, and then to find a husband who they could hopefully keep up with, and to have children. No further ambition? No, they said, keeping a family together was most important. Even those who were studying science did not want to spend their time in labs. Real life relations, associations and networking interested them more than abstract mathematical relations. Harvard and MIT girls are no different from the southern girls I had encountered, are they?
A few years ago, I was introduced to a good-looking young woman attorney working for an insurance company, who eventually became a close family friend. I used to imagine her climbing up step-by-step and one day breaking the proverbial glass ceiling. It was not only her acute analytical legal mind that impressed me but also her ability to connect with others. Nonetheless, she was a single woman desperately looking for the right man, and this made her just like any other well-educated woman trying to have a career as well as a family. And she did find one, a wonderful man whom she married and eventually had a son. But then she gave up her job, saying her little boy was more important to her than doing 80 hours of cerebral work a week. A brilliant mind baby-sitting, when she could have applied her intellect to solving tough problems!
You would say my anecdotal evidence is as fallacious as that offered by Mr Summers. Last year, Mr W Michael Cox and Mr Richard Alm of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas wrote in The New York Times that unlike musicians and athletes, "Scientists are made, not born." And they presented statistical evidence and graphics to prove that the "feminisation" of science professions has been taking place "one degree at a time." But they mistook trees for a forest. They still didn't answer Mr Summers' question: Why are there so few female Nobel winners in sciences, so few starry-eyed, mad, mad female scientists?
Imagine Mr Summers' audacity as he summed up his ideas before a conference at the National Bureau of Economic Research last year that made him most unwanted at Harvard: "So my best guess, to provoke you, of what's behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between people's legitimate family desires and employers' current desire for high power and high intensity, that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are, in fact, lesser factors involving socialisation and continuing discrimination."
The most controversial factor that got Mr Summers into trouble was the focus on "overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability" in which the woman population, according to him, might be falling short. If you look at the Bell Curve, Mr Summers seemed to be saying, you would find fewer women on the extreme right, the genius portion of the curve. Even those few women who have an extreme high IQ don't apply their minds with intensity because scientific research requires "that the mind is always working on the problems that are in the job, even when the job is not taking place."
A woman might be bright but she would rather develop social networking and expand her relational universe than bother about what is happening at the far-out end of the universe. Heavens could wait until her children grow up. Mr Summers did not understand that in dealing with Harvard faculty, he needed a kind of corporate diplomacy that some CEOs of global corporations are learning to do today in order to handle the complexity of stakeholders.
Mr Warren Bennis, a former professor at Harvard Business School and currently chairman of the Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California, writing in Business Week, made a telling comment about the campus community that surrounds a university president. He said: "While campuses aren't exactly parliamentary democracies, they do have often-strident faculties (with tenure) who have a redoubtable habit of speaking out and up. They are also often extraordinarily talented, self-absorbed "abdicrats" who don't want to lead and don't want to be led."