Sunday, December 17, 2006

raise your glass to william boyd

Everybody has a pet writer or two. One of mine is William Boyd. I like to pretend I discovered him because I read one of his books without anyone having recommended him. Better still, I like to pretend I am him. Or at least that I could write like him, a little, if I really, really, really tried.

That's why I'm so pissed that he hasn't won the Booker.

OK, I know this is art, not athletics, and I shouldn't worry so much about prizes. But STILL... Is Boyd a stealth wanker, who's pissed off too many influential people to win? No, couldn't be. I mean, Salman Rushdie has pissed people off--and not just Muslim clerics, book people--and he won the Booker of Bookers for Allah's sake. Maybe he's really bad at meeting entry deadlines? He told people that he'd turn it down if they offered it? There's some form he doesn't know needs to be filled out? There's simply no other explanation. Here's proof.

2006 - clear from the first three chapters that Kiran Desai's Inheritance of Loss isn't a patch on Boyd's Restless (among many other books)
2002 - Boyd's Any Human Heart v. Life of Pi. Life of Pi! Life of Pi! Maybe if fellow shortlister Dirt Music had won it. But! Life! Of! Pie!
1991 - Boyd's Brazzaville Beach v. Ben Okri's The Famished Road. Haven't read Famished. Strong doubts, though. Amazon says its about a "spirit child" and that "at the heart of this hypnotic novel are the mysteries of love and human survival." Generally difficult to sound that bad and be good at the same time.
1988 - Boyd's The New Confessions v. Peter Carey's Oscar & Lucinda. Hmmmm.
1982 - Boyd's An Ice-cream War (at least it was nominated) v. Schindler's List. No comment.

Not convinced? What if I told you none of those books, apart from An Ice-Cream War, made the short list. Maybe a few were on the long list, I don't know. If they weren't, somebody needs to start kicking some Commonwealth ass. Or just give the guy the name National Book Award, the Pulitzer. Something.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

airdash to mumbai

Had to fly to Mumbai for a story this week and was stunned by the quality of hotels on offer. Everything was booked, and even two-stars were demanding $85 a night and up. What has the world come to? Thank God for the Bentley. Here's hoping that Homi and the gang don't decide that if everybody else can begin to claim amenities that don't exist to jack up rates, so can they.

And, incidentally, where are those "budget hotel chains" that were announced with such fanfare a few years back? So far, they've opened in backwaters like Bhubaneshwar, where, no doubt, a decent place to kip was lacking, but so was demand, Bangalore and Pune. OK, fine on the latter two. But guys, if nobody's pointed out a few 2-stars in Mumbai and Delhi that are ripe for takeover, you need to hire an outside consultant.

and the 'india's biggest idiot' award goes to....

Leander Paes. Yep. I know you thought I was going to say Navjot Singh Siddhu. Or Sanjay Dutt. Or Amisha Patel (the original Gold Medalist).

But the prize goes to Leander, who managed once again to take what should have been a bright moment for himself and the country and turn it into an embarrassing display (and turned on the waterworks to boot). For those of you who didn't follow the tamasha, Paes once more offended his tennis doubles partner Mahesh Bhupathi after they'd won the gold medal at the Asian Games by making remarks to the media. Once more, Paes claims he was misquoted--the press reported that he said, among other things, that he'd never play with Hesh again. His erstwhile partner didn't mince words, saying on camera--no misquoting there--that he wouldn't beg to play with anybody and he was damned tired of Paes's bullshit (OK, that's a paraphrase, but it captures the gist).

Mr. Paes, your misquoting claim doesn't have legs any more, not with us and certainly not with your former partner, who clearly knows all too well that you're a drama queen through and through. You may or may not be the better player, and the two of you might make a good team on the court. But off the court you're like the girlfriend everybody wishes the guy would dump. If the media keeps misquoting you--which I doubt--stop talking to them. Or, if you can't stand to be out of the limelight for a second, stop and think before you talk. Come up with a plan. Hire a press agent. Get a script. For decades, sports cliches like "I just want to do what I can to help the team" have served legions of athletes well. Clearly, you don't think well on your feet.

Not surprising, considering you're this year's India's Biggest Idiot.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

you can stop the madness

OK, I may not know much about cars, computers, politics, religion, caste, racism, boxing, weather, municipal planning, or anything else I tend to blather about here at But one thing I do know is beer. In all its varieties and forms. I even ate a frozen beer-sicle once.

As I’ve complained before, the beer situation in India is bad, folks. There’s only one variety (lager) excluding costly imports and most of the available locally made brands don’t taste very good. The reason is simple: Glycerine. A cheap preservative with a sweet flavor, this stuff makes beer taste like it’s laced with honey (not a good thing, despite the fact that lame-o “honey lagers” are marketed by some of the American giants). Glycerine is the reason that the big bottles of Kingfisher are so disappointing, while the small bottles (originally for export and in short supply locally) are so surprisingly good.

Until I open my brew pub, I suggest we write to Vijay Mallya and complain. No, no, no – complain ABOUT THE BEER. The rest of his faults can be ignored for the time. Write your own letter if you want, or cut and paste this one, snail mail or email, it’s up to you:

Vijay Mallya, c/o
P Subramani
Senior Vice President – Legal & Company Secretary
United Breweries (Holdings) Limited
‘UB Anchorage’ 5th Floor
Richmond Road

Dear Mr. Mallya:

The Kingfisher Beer you sell to people in India tastes terrible, yet you make perfectly good lager for the export market. Why? I personally account for at least one-third of the small Kingfisher Export bottles consumed in Delhi, but frequently I am forced to settle for Castle, Foster’s or Kaltenberg because all the shops run out of Kingfisher Export. I suspect my subsequent lack of consumption alone represents vast financial losses for your company, but these losses are multiplied in geometric proportions if you take into a count the beer that is not consumed by my friends due to the tyranny of Glycerine-laced lager!

Please, sir, as a gentleman, if not as an executive, you must recognize the gravity of this problem and make recompense. Otherwise, the people of India will be forced to revoke your title of “The King of Good Times” and rename you “The Man Who Only Sold Good Beer to Foreigners.”



plug in your house! attention, ratan tata

A pair of articles in the Economic Times this morning got me thinking. One discussed how carmakers will react to the launch of Ratan Tata's much-feted "one lakh car" in 2008 (i.e. a car that retails for one lakh, or 100,000 rupees--about $2500). Another was an incorrect blurb about hybrid cars. The mistake the writers made was in implying that hybrid cars must be plugged in to charge their batteries. The real genius of the hybrid car design is that engineers use the waste heat (which is energy) generated by the car's gasoline, or I suppose diesel, engine to charge the battery. See more about the design here. What it all means is that if you burn a biodiesel or ethanol mixture, you can reduce fossil fuel consumption to almost nothing and at the same time reduce harmful emissions by 80 to 90 percent. The reason ET's mistake made me think was that it's patently obvious that a car you'd have to plug in would be a nonstarter (in more ways than one) in India, where there is already a shortage of electric power.

But what if you did the opposite? What if you used the regenerative braking and other electricity-generating concepts of the hybrid car to charge batteries that you could then bring home and use to power your lights and household appliances? In other words, what if instead of plugging in your car, you could plug in your house?

This was an under-publicized potential benefit of inventor Dean Kamen's highly publicized Segway PT. If the same concept could be applied in a vehicle for the masses like Tata's one-lakh car, perhaps India's power woes could be over.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

song of the south

Shai and I are in Chennai, a trip that has become something of an annual year-end pilgrimage the past few years. It's a sleepy little hamlet, I know, but I have to say I love it here. The scent of jasmine on the air, the comical S. Indian accents (in a different way from N. Indian accents), the delicious food, and the general reluctance to get into shouting matches with nine out of ten souls who cross your path. Very unlike our place of residence, indeed.

As if that weren't enough to rekindle my faith in humanity, yesterday I spent the afternoon and evening meeting with guys from Novatium, one of the offshoots from IIT Madras professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala's TeNeT group, and they took me to some sites where they've implemented a pilot program that hooks lower middle class families up with a network-centric PC and web access for Rs.399 per month. I'm not a "web can save the world" guy, but without "going native on the story" I have to admit that I was pretty impressed with the product/application. The funniest part was watching these little girls in frocks and plaits go to Google to find fun things to do on the web. The ingenuity that they've developed in their search strings was amazing. For instance, the ten-year-old told me her favorite thing to do on the PC was to play a game she called "Mario" (an offshoot of Super Mario Bros, I assume), so I asked her how she found out about it. She told me that they'd heard about the game from friends, and in the meantime her 13-year-old sister had fired up Google and typed "to play the game of Mario" in the search window. Not just Mario, not the full name of the game, but the syntax of the sentence likely to appear on the site that lets you play the game online. Brilliant!

Of course, they also used the machine for school and stuff.

life for shibhu

Former Congress Minister Shibhu Soren was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to murder a secretary who'd threatened to expose Shibhu in a money-for-political-horsetrading scam alluded to in my previous post.

Good news for India?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

sher-e-punjab: don't do the crime if you can't do the time

Navjot Singh Siddhu, he of the limitless bounty of folk wisdom, was finally convicted of culpable homicide in relation to the death of a chap he and some similarly wise characters beat to death over a parking dispute. It took 18 years, but the victim's family is (as always) happy to hear the verdict come through, say reports.

As for Siddhu himself, he resigned his BJP seat to draw attention to the Congress snafu over another convicted felon, Shibbhu Soren, a move that Siddhu's flunkies said demonstrated the manor of a lion. A house divided cannot stand, Siddhu is rumored to have told his seniors in the BJP.

What I can't wait to hear, though, are Siddhu's takes on Tihar.

But a more important question is whether the political parties will demonstrate their, er, convictions with a real drive to push the criminals out (whether they're petty thugs and idiots or hardened gangsters). Attn Judges: I think there's a few guys out there responsible for a riot or too.

Shibbhu, Siddhu... Let's call the whole thing off.

Friday, November 24, 2006

who's happy?

That bastion of academic research, MTV, has come out with a new study of the world's urban youth, and, guess what, India's young people are among the world's happiest. Predictably, India's top media outlets have trumpeted the good news. CNN/IBN devoted a full hour to it last night. The Times of India picked up the story and turned it into a feature on high achievers. And that's only the tip of the iceberg.

But here's a question. Who the hell did these guys interview? What was the methodology for this study? Turns out there was only a few thousand respondents across THE WHOLE WORLD, which means the India sample was astoundingly small. Did they talk to kids living in the slums, or just the MTV-watchers at PVR Saket? How many Muslims and SC/STs made the survey? And, since the domestic outlets turned this into a story about the boundless opportunities at India's call centers etc, how many non-English speakers filled out MTV's form?

Aside from the sample size/methodology, who are MTV's experts? Did they consider the cultural differences that might make it more (or less) acceptable for kids from one culture to admit to unhappiness than it is for kids from another culture? Or any of the millions of other variables?

I'm glad that India has reasons to pat itself on the back, but I think this obviously simple-minded and shallow survey should be left to MTV to promote.

Friday, November 17, 2006

speaking of royals...

I just got back from a trip to a heritage hotel near Udaipur called Ravla Khempur, where I had a fantastic time. (I'll post the Outlook Traveler article on the subject when it appears). One of the things that struck me about the place was the attitude of its owner, Hemant Deval, whose family were once the jagirdars of the area. Hemant's been mad about Marwari horses for about a decade now and is one of the country's top breeders (see my Smithsonian piece on the Marwari for more details about this issue), but he hasn't been caught up in the nouveau feudalism that affects some thakurs, and vocally bemoans the fact that recent horse shows have begun to "give the prize to the person, not the horse." "That's why there were no good mares entered in the Pushkar show this year," he told me. "Everybody can see which horse is the best, but the owner is a farmer so they give the prize to somebody from the noble class."

I'm sure that Hemant, like me and everybody else, still has his prejudices. But I was glad to see he didn't suffer the delusions of grandeur that affect some of his "royal" superiors.

Oh yeah, his cook also makes the best Rajasthani food around--no menu card, no multi-cuisine restaurant. A great place to relax and ride (or write), a total relief from Delhi and even (theoretically) more laidback Udaipur, where rickshaws, touts and tourists can drive you batty. Ravla Khempur also should act as a tutelary example for rip-off artists like Neemrana. (1) Meals are included in reasonably priced packages and the food is delicious and authentic, unlike at Neemrana, where you're compelled to eat an overpriced buffet and that too at set times more strict than a boarding school canteen's. (2) When you rent a room, you actually get a bedroom, not a servant's quarters or scullery that's been tarted up and equipped with a specially constructed oblong bed.

Friday, November 10, 2006

faint praise

Some people need constant vigilance to stop them from embarrassing themselves. Consider Yashodhara Raje Scindia, the tourism minister of Madhya Pradesh and sister of Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. According to recent reports, she is demanding that people address her as "Shrimant" (your highness) in deference to her family's one-time royal status, with the argument that even in the UK, where she was born, royalty still gets its due.

My feeling is that "your highness," like any nickname, is no good if you have to tell other people to use it. You earn people's respect, and they treat you respectfully. Gandhi didn't have to order people to call him Mahatma and would have impressed me even more if he'd told everybody to call him Mohandas or MK instead a la Peter O'toole in "The Ruling Class". (O'Toole plays a crazy toff who believes he's Jesus Christ, and tells his dad he can call him "J.C.").

Begging--or ordering--people to call you by an outdated and meaningless title that draws attention to the fact that you've inherited your wealth and position rather than earning it just makes you look like a fool. And now, thanks to the Indian and international press, everybody's enjoying a good laugh at her majesty's expense.

BTW: Can anyone really still believe that "your majesty" can be used in any other way but sarcastically these days?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

india's weapon: its diaspora

Nonresident Indians were once viewed with suspicion. But now they and their money are coming home.

By Jason Overdorf
Newsweek International (November 13 issue)

In a way, the story of India and its diaspora reads like a Bollywood script about two brothers, the younger one rich and successful, the older one poor but closer to the family. And now, not too late in life, they are reconciling.

As recently as a decade ago, overseas Indians were viewed either as cash cows to be milked or as traitors who'd taken their highly subsidized educations and abandoned the motherland to get rich abroad. That disapproval was reflected in a play on words that turned NRI, or nonresident Indian, into "not required Indian." But as India has evolved from agrarian torpor to high-tech vibrancy in recent years, the newly self-confident country has also begun to re-evaluate its relationship with its expatriates. At the same time, members of the diaspora have begun looking homeward for the same reason they originally left—the pull of economic opportunity. "The mind-set of India changed in the 1990s," says author Gurcharan Das, whose book "India Unbound" charts the country's rise. "The minds of young Indians, especially, became decolonized."

Everyone knows about the "reverse brain drain" of talented Indians who have returned home from Silicon Valley to fuel the country's tech boom. But more quietly, the money has now begun to follow the people. Though overseas Chinese, not to mention overseas Filipinos and Mexicans, are much more famous for sending cash home, Indians now lead the world in this category. According to the World Bank, cash remittances from Indians abroad have more than doubled since 1995, and last year totaled $22 billion. (China, at $21 billion, was close behind.) Over the past decade India's aggregate remittances totaled $154 billion—about 50 percent higher than what China received from its much larger diaspora.

With more than 20 million Indians overseas, including 200,000 millionaires in America alone, the diaspora could be a critical weapon for India in its effort to catch up to its archrival. A recent JPMorgan report says the diaspora is becoming "a powerful catalyst in helping India realize—perhaps even exceed—its aspiration toward 10 percent annual GDP growth." Aside from remittances, the stock of bank deposits held by nonresident Indians, many of whom bank money in India to take advantage of preferential interest rates, topped $32 billion last year, accounting for a whopping 23 percent of India's foreign-exchange reserves. These large inflows have helped protect the value of the rupee and dampen inflation in a nation that, unlike China, runs a trade and government deficit. And while it's not clear how much of the foreign money flowing into the Bombay Stock Exchange comes from overseas Indians, local traders assume the NRIs account for a good share of the incoming money that has driven up the market 300 percent since 2003. Over the same period, the Shanghai market has stagnated (due in large part to China's reluctance to open it to hot money from any overseas source).

There are other critical differences between the Chinese and Indian diasporas. Because overseas Chinese are concentrated nearby in places like Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan and largely earned their wealth in manufacturing, they're both better situated and more motivated to make direct investments in factories on the mainland. In contrast, India's post-independence emigrants were mainly professionals—doctors, lawyers, scientists and engineers—or small shop and hotel owners, settled in countries far from India. Until recently they had neither the expertise nor the impetus to invest in their homeland.

That's a big reason, says JPMorgan analyst Rajeev Malik, that to date overseas Chinese have sunk far more than their Indian counterparts have into new factories back home. The overseas Chinese contributed as much as half of China's foreign direct investment in the 1990s, while overseas Indians chipped in only about 10 percent of India's much smaller total. In 2000, for example, overseas Chinese pumped $32 billion in FDI into China, compared with $200 million for Indians.

But this, too, is changing. Curiously enough, India's first concerted official effort to court its own diaspora began on the heels of its first nuclear test in 1998. To help offset the international backlash that led to sanctions, India issued Resurgent India Bonds, for sale to overseas Indians only. This patriotic appeal drew in $4.2 billion.

Over the next five years, India's burgeoning economic might undermined the members of the protectionist swadeshi—or "self-sufficiency" —lobby in their battle against free-market reformers. Bureaucrats began for the first time to embrace the business class, including videshi—or "foreign"— executives. In 1999, India introduced a quasi-citizenship scheme for Indians born overseas that allows them to travel in and out of the country without a visa, as well as to buy land and take advantage of investment programs directed at nonresident Indian passport holders. In 2000, the government formed a high-level committee to explore ways to improve ties with Indians abroad, and in 2003 it introduced Non-Resident Indian Days, at which government ministers seek diaspora investment. The next year India created a Ministry for Overseas Indian Affairs to address the concerns of the diaspora throughout the year.

At the same time, the diaspora itself has undergone remarkable changes. The mix of contract workers and professionals, scattered from the Persian Gulf to Britain, the United States and Canada, has developed a new core of increasingly high-powered entrepreneurs, centered in but not limited to Silicon Valley. Many of them, like Gururaj (Desh) Deshpande (founder of Sycamore Networks), Vinod Dham (father of Intel's Pentium chip), Vani Kola (founder of RightWorks software) and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla are investing time and money in Indian companies. "Business people in India now have a lot more confidence, and people here [in America] have a lot more respect for what the guys in India are doing," says Deshpande. "If it was 10 years ago and somebody came here looking to invest or contribute, if you got a phone call or an invitation from somebody in the government it was like they were doing you a big favor. Now they offer to come see you. They're reaching out."

The result has been a very recent spike in huge investments from the diaspora. "The pace of investing in India is accel-erating," says Google billionaire Ram Shriram, whose Sherpalo Ventures is now investing in Indian firms. Hotmail founder Sabeer Bhatia has unveiled plans for a $2 billion infrastructure project in Haryana that he's billing as India's Silicon Valley. And, most dramatically, the world's leading steel tycoon, London-based Lakshmi Mittal, is building a $9 billion steel plant in the eastern state of Jharkhand—the largest expat investment to date. "I am very proud to be an Indian, and yes, there is certainly an emotional dimension to be able to invest in my place of birth," says Mittal. "[But] investing in India is a business decision, as it's a market with huge potential for growth in steel consumption."

All this has made Indian and NRI business leaders more active in promoting ties. Organizations like the Confederation of Indian Industry's Indian American Council identify opportunities for collaboration in areas like training and education, health care and scientific research. The expat network Indus Entrepreneurs mentors younger entrepreneurs and has created more than $200 billion in wealth by helping to build start-up companies.

Supersuccessful NRIs see India as an exciting frontier where they can use the skills and contacts they developed abroad to launch second-act careers with a broad socio-economic impact. Consider Deshpande, who—first as "coach," then as investor and chairman of the board—helped entrepreneur Sanjay Nayak build India's first homegrown telecom-equipment company, Tejas Networks. Now six years old, Tejas holds the No. 2 market share in India. Former McKinsey & Co. managing director Rajat Gupta, who left India more than 20 years ago, used a combination of India savvy and a brilliant network abroad to set up the Indian School of Business and the Public Health Foundation of India. Six years after it opened its doors, ISB is the eighth largest business school in the world. The PHFI, launched this year, will set up five world-class Indian Institutes of Public Health, the first two opening by 2008, which will eventually produce as many as 10,000 graduates a year.

Successful emigrants like Dham, Kola and Shriram are bringing more than money to India. They're both benefiting from and fueling a new sense of possibility. Dham, for instance, helped persuade Kola to move home after 22 years in the United States to run a new $100 million VC fund, based in Bangalore. On a trip home, Kola felt something she had felt years ago in Silicon Valley, a sense of being at the center of things. "I'm happy and proud that this is where things are happening now," says Kola, who says the move to India was like getting back on a bike after a break of 20 years. "It's fun. It's almost like a gift I wasn't expecting." Today, India's prodigal sons and daughters are more than welcome home.

Monday, October 23, 2006

aiims - an oasis for india's poorest

An Oasis for India's Poorest
The All India Institute treated 3.5 million patients last year, and charged each a dollar.
By Jason Overdorf
Newsweek International

Oct. 30, 2006 issue - Several hundred poor and middle-class Indians are awaiting screening for dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease that has reached near-epidemic proportions in Delhi this fall. Sick and frightened, they lie on straw mats and blankets spread over the pavement in a queue that streams around the ambulance drive and out to the main road. Inside, doctors in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, or AIIMS, are working to fight off the outbreak of the sometimes deadly virus. Mosquitoes are common on the hospital campus, too, and a dozen ward doctors have contracted dengue themselves. One medical student has died.

This is what it takes to be India's best public hospital. Last year the government-run hospital, with about 2,000 beds, treated 3.5 million people, achieving mortality and infection rates comparable to the best facilities in the developed world—for fees that come to about $1 a day for inpatients.

AIIMS can do this because of government funding of about $100 million a year. Because it doesn't waste much cash on amenities, it can afford to buy cutting-edge equipment. Senior residents at AIIMS make about $400 a month. But they stay because of perks—doctors get the chance to spend one or two years working abroad, for instance—plus the opportunity to work with the latest technology and obtain big research grants.
© 2006 Newsweek, Inc.

© 2006

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

good with your hands

In a remarkably insightful essay in the New Atlantis, where he is a contributing editor, former electrician and motorcycle mechanic Matthew B. Crawford explodes the notion that we're moving to a "workless world" in which nobody turns a screw or tightens a valve. But to my mind the most important, and interesting, point he makes is his withering analysis of the constant denigration of so-called manual labor--cast as thoughtless work for the brainless--and the enshrining of the white collar work of paper pushers--enshrined as mental gymnastics as though we developed stunning breakthroughs every day instead of forwarding emails and following factory-like prescribed routines.

The whole essay is worth reading, particularly if you've ever wondered what the hell you do all day between meetings and padding back and forth from your cube to the coffee machine, but also if you ever considered your carpenter, plumber or mechanic beneath you on the food chain. For you lazy bastards who -- even though you have sweet f-all to do -- can't be bothered to read a few hundred words, consider this passage:

"Much of the “jobs of the future” rhetoric surrounding the eagerness to end shop class and get every warm body into college, thence into a cubicle, implicitly assumes that we are heading to a “post-industrial” economy in which everyone will deal only in abstractions. Yet trafficking in abstractions is not the same as thinking. White collar professions, too, are subject to routinization and degradation, proceeding by the same process as befell manual fabrication a hundred years ago: the cognitive elements of the job are appropriated from professionals, instantiated in a system or process, and then handed back to a new class of workers—clerks—who replace the professionals."

Monday, October 09, 2006


I discovered a pretty cool TV show--I'm a US TV addict--last weekend called Epitafios. Filmed in Argentina, it's a Spanish-language serial killer serial with subtitles that started on HBO Latino (the US channel for the country's coolest Spanish speakers) and this year migrated to the English-language US channel. No, you won't see it in India--for some reason India's "premium" channels (meaning twice the commercials?) only shows film of the Dumb and Dumberer variety outside of Oscar season. And even in America the literate population has been fairly resistant to the idea of a show with subtitles on the country's hottest TV network. Surf the web, and half the people seem to hate it because it's in Spanish, or because it isn't shot in America, or because the actors are Argentinian. The other half love it.

They're right. With a little of the bleak atmosphere of British crime shows like our belove Wire in the Blood, a little allegiance to film noir, rubber gloves, transvestites and lots of "passion" (pronounced in Espanol), Epitafios looks like an Amodovar movie in which the absurdism of comedy has been replaced by the absurdism of violence. Get it if you can.

Monday, September 25, 2006

in india, redefining the business school

A new institute takes a different approach and comes out ahead

From the Chronicle of Higher Education, issue dated September 29, 2006


Business schools looking for an interesting case study might want to start with one of their own — the Indian School of Business.

The story goes something like this: A new business school opens in a country flooded with management programs. It has a rotating list of foreign faculty members, many of whom arrange to stay for just six weeks. The school charges more than four times the tuition of the country's most elite business institutions. And it refuses to seek government recognition.

A disastrous plan? Hardly. Though the six-year-old business school had a rocky start and is still not making a profit in all its programs, it is producing some of the highest-paid graduates in the country. Other business schools are copying some of its strategies. And it is flooded with applicants eager to fork over tuition that is three times the average salaries they were earning before they enrolled in the school.

The 260-acre campus here in Gachibowli, about an hour from the information-technology hub of Hyderabad, breaks with the traditional higher-education model in almost every way. Its facilities are fully modern: Every classroom has videoconferencing capability, and every desk has wired and wireless Internet connectivity.

The institution has academic alliances with elite business schools in other countries, including the Wharton School, at the University of Pennsylvania; the Kellogg School of Management, at Northwestern University; and the London Business School, of the University of London. Eighty percent of its faculty members are from abroad, mainly from universities in the United States.

The school is making a big impact in India, prompting new thinking about private higher education in a country where almost every other top academic institution is financed and overseen by the government. It is challenging the notion that higher-education institutions need government accreditation to succeed. And its accelerated one-year program, in a country where the two-year M.B.A. is still the norm, has proved enormously successful.

"Its excellent faculty, impressive infrastructure, and the compressed one-year program have revolutionized the management-education world in India," says A.S. Murthy, senior vice president for human resources at Satyam Computers, a global information-technology-services company in Hyderabad that has hired graduates of the school.

Ironically, though, the very elements that have helped the Indian School of Business become such a success may limit its international standing. Because most of its faculty members are part-timers, it has been unable to develop a strong research program. And to attract more full-time professors and maintain its state-of-the-art facilities, it must raise a lot of money that high tuitions alone won't cover. (Administrators decline to say how large the school's endowment is or how much money it hopes to raise.)

Troubled System

The school's success comes at a time when the rest of India's higher-education system struggles to keep up with the needs of the country's booming economy. India's 300-odd public universities serve only 7 percent of the 18- to 24-year-old population, and the government does not have the money to increase capacity.

The state of professional graduate education is particularly bleak. Demand for professional courses in management, engineering, and medicine far outweighs the number

of seats available at public universities and institutes. Private professional schools have proliferated, but many of the more than 900 management schools are of poor quality — either strapped for funds or purely money-making ventures that focus on fees rather than on faculty. Meanwhile the business community complains loudly about the limited supply of well-trained managers who can help companies negotiate an increasingly sophisticated, internationally competitive market.

"As India is growing rapidly, it needs more of all kinds of institutions of higher education," says Rajat Gupta, founder of the Indian School of Business. "If we get complacent about our education system, we will run out of qualified people. A business school like ISB is important for economic growth, to create enterprises and to provide leadership to existing businesses."

Mr. Gupta is a senior partner worldwide and a former managing director at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. The school's governing board and executive board also include Rahul Bajaj, chairman of Bajaj Auto Ltd., one of the world's largest manufacturers of motorcycles and scooters; Michael Dell, chairman of Dell Computer Corporation; Patrick Harker, dean of the Wharton School; and Laura D. Tyson, dean of the London Business School. Its backers include Indian financiers, expatriate Indian technology entrepreneurs, and corporations including Novartis, Goldman Sachs, and Citigroup.

Not surprisingly, the school opened with considerable hype, touted as India's answer to Harvard Business School. But there were teething troubles: High tuition discouraged prospective students, and potential employers were slow to accept the school's accelerated program.

But the school has justified all the hoopla, say academic observers and corporate human-resources managers.

"In 2001 most of the Indians taking the GMAT submitted their scores to Harvard," says David A. Wilson, chief executive of the Graduate Management Admission Council, which provides the Graduate Management Admission Test. "In 2005 the largest number of candidates taking the GMAT in India sent their scores to the ISB, replacing Harvard as their top choice. That's really a substantial shift."

Mr. Wilson, who visited the institute in May, says he was impressed by the depth of the faculty and the quality of the students.

The dean, Mendu Rammohan Rao, announced in April that a 2006 graduate had been offered the highest salary among all of India's management graduates this year — $233,800 for a position in Britain. That status previously was earned almost exclusively by graduates of the six prestigious public Indian Institutes of Management. Three other graduates of the Indian School of Business bagged offers with salaries over $200,000.

The school's one-year postgraduate program in management costs students up to $32,000, and still operates at a loss.

By comparison, the Indian Institutes of Managements' two-year master's of business administration costs $6,500 to $7,500.

Mr. Gupta, who is now chairman of the Indian School of Business, says the high tuition is necessary to "build a world-class institute with the best infrastructure and faculty in India, without government help."

Students say the cost is worth it. Members of the 2006 graduating class made $11,200 a year, on average, when they enrolled, and received offers of $26,155, on average, upon graduation.

"We can easily get bank loans now, and we know we will be well placed after graduation to be able to pay off the loans," says Megha Kapoor, a student. Admission is need-blind, and the school offers financial-aid packages to students who do not qualify for loans.

But Mr. Gupta and Mr. Rao play down the financial incentive.

"An exciting career, not necessarily the big bucks, is the prime criterion," says the dean, pointing out that graduates are entering fields that M.B.A.'s do not usually join, like media, health care, and real estate.

"The program is very innovative, and the elective subjects taught incorporate all the latest developments in business," says Premchand Palety, head of the Centre for Forecasting and Research, an independent research firm in India, and one of the authors of The Outlook Guide to the Best Business Schools in India.

"I found that even the IIM's [Indian Institutes of Management], until some years ago, were teaching case studies from as far back as the 1960s and 1970s," says Mr. Palety. The Indian Business School is unique in the country, he believes, in that it teaches live cases. "At a time when things are changing so fast in the business world in India and globally, one has to keep up," he says. "The IIM's take too long to change anything."

Because the Indian Business School did not seek government accreditation, it cannot call its graduate program a degree. Trying to get accreditation from the government bureaucracy would have taken forever, says Ajit Rangnekar, deputy dean. "Early on we realized we have to be smart about which rules to break," he says.

Now other business schools in India are adopting some of the Indian Business School's ideas. The Indian Institute of Management at Ahmadabad, for example, has started a one-year graduate program for people with work experience.

Rashmi Bansal, a graduate of Ahmadabad who has written extensively for local magazines about business programs in India, says the Indian Institutes of Management are looking for new ways to expand and are even considering hiring foreign visiting faculty. "As alumni we are encouraging these things," she says, "because now there is an ISB to contend with. All these years the IIM's ruled the roost, and there was no competition."

Prakash Apte, director of the Indian Institute of Management at Bangalore, declined to talk about the Indian School of Business and whether it was inspiring changes. Administrators at the institutes in Ahmadabad and Calcutta did not return calls requesting interviews.

International Perspective

With a program designed so a visiting faculty member can teach an entire course with only a six-week commitment to living in India, the young school has attracted an impressive roster of scholars from a number of the world's top business institutes.

"My motivation to teach at ISB is that India is a neat place," says Richard P. Waterman, an associate professor at the Wharton School who has been part of the Indian School of Business's faculty for four years. "It is changing rapidly, and it is fascinating to see that. Teaching here also gives me a broader perspective on what students are interested in generally and what careers they are looking at."

Employers and students alike say the exposure to business professors who have an international perspective is a key selling point of the school.

"I didn't apply to Wharton, because there I would have had only faculty from Wharton," says Shaista Vadra, one of the 428 students enrolled in the one-year management program. "Here I have teachers from Wharton, London School of Business, Kellogg, and so many other top schools."

But to be ranked among the world's top business schools, and to gain accreditation from AACSB International: the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business — goals that it hopes to reach — the Indian School of Business needs to build up its permanent faculty enough to strengthen its research programs. The school has 20 permanent and 80 visiting faculty members.

Arthur Kraft, chairman of the accrediting group, says it has strict standards regarding the number of "actively participating faculty." The association, he notes, looks carefully at how much visiting faculty members get involved in a program.

"For visiting faculty to be counted, it has to be actively involved in developing curriculum, mentoring other faculty and students," he says. "Visiting faculty can have a very positive effect."

"The faculty question is a key one," says Mr. Gupta. "We have to increase permanent faculty, but that takes time, especially if we want to have quality." In order to retain a global character, he says, the school will specify that at least 40 percent of the professors be visiting from abroad.

Meanwhile, to recruit more permanent faculty members, it has started devising what it calls "centers of excellence" — in entrepreneurship and development, analytics and finances, global logistics and manufacturing — that are financed by companies or individual donors. At these centers, a focus on emerging markets will underlie all research. The school has one endowed chair, for research in real estate; more are in the offing.

An executive training program started five years ago has helped the Indian School of Business as a whole break even, but it will need a lot more money in the years ahead to keep its facilities up to date and to continue to attract good faculty members. But Mr. Gupta is bullish. He is convinced that by tapping the top executives and companies represented on the school's governing board — potential donors so far excluded from fund-raising efforts — he can build a significant endowment in just 15 years.

That would be an impressive accomplishment. "Most of the top institutions in the U.S. are hundreds of years old," says Mr. Gupta. "We are just six years old. That's a small period in the life of an institution."

Monday, September 18, 2006

legalize gay sex

Prominent overseas Indians Vikram Seth and Amartya Sen have called for the repeal of India's anti-sodomy law, a holdover from the Raj. However, with attitudes toward homosexuality still very negative--many confusing homosexuality with pedophilia and backing the "unnatural" tag of section 377 with table-thumping enthusiasm--I suggest that the campaign will have to continue a few more years. That's not to say "India isn't ready," parroting the argument of the bigots who oppose a repeal of the law. It's just to say that there are too many bigots, and too few people brave enough to oppose them. Two or three years ago I unwisely wrote an article about the anti-377 campaign that implied the Supreme Court was close to a repeal--I won't say the same again.

i'm sorry you feel that way--or how i know the pope's not married

I love how everybody reports the pope's "apology" and subsequent reaction with a straight face. As anybody who's ever been married knows, it doesn't count if you're sorry that your spouse got angry, it only counts if you're sorry for what you did. When the pope apologized for "the reaction" to his words rather than saying, "I'm sorry that I unknowingly chose a passage that would offend people so deeply," he was essentially saying "it's too bad you guys are a bunch of irrational fanatics like that ancient scholar said because otherwise you wouldn't have gotten so mad." Some apology.

I'm sorry for a lot of things like that. I'm sorry my boss gets pissed off when I come to work hung over. I'm sorry my wife doesn't like it when I look up after ten minutes of "conversation" and say, "Sorry?" But right now, most of all, I'm sorry that the pope is starting to show the diplomatic skills of one George W.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

why i'm an 'india basher'

India's inevitable rise, increasing in pace, is the hot story. Unquestionably, most things are getting better, business-wise. But that doesn't mean India doesn't have any problems, or that the problems that do exist no longer merit our attention because trickle-down economics will eventually solve them. Mention that there are grays and browns out there when you take off the rose-colored glasses, however, and you risk being attacked as an India basher.

Recently, India scored poorly in a survey of managers rating business climates around the world, signaling that while red tape has been reduced there's more to be done. Infrastructure, though improving, may not be improving fast enough, as places like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Gurgaon et al readily demonstrate to residents, who face worsening traffic problems, airport congestion, etc. Electricity and water supply, too, is problematic--even for relatively affluent residents like myself.

More importantly, the problems faced by the poor aren't being solved at anywhere close to the same rate as the economy is growing. Polio infections continue, and now India is exporting the "eradicated" disease to other countries. Poverty reduction is coming, but at the expense of rising inequality. Caste discrimination remains an unpleasant reality. Sanitation is a joke and environmental degradation a big problem.

Thankfully, here on the ground, India bashers are alive and well. Hence, it's Indian publications that break the story of declining standards in engineering education and other "off-message" stories. But many NRIs--apparently charmed by malls and multiplexes on their brief, selective visits--seem to have forgotten that all India's problems aren't going away easily--if at all. I say, come back and have a look--and not just at the big malls and mummy-daddy's servant-filled house. Rent your own apartment and you'll soon see why the Gurgaon palaces with water and power backup are so popular. Yes, things are a lot better. That's what we keep writing about -- see every business article on India published over the past two years. Apart from "yes, but" comparisons to China, India receives a resounding thumbs up. However, it doesn't mean everything is perfect. Nor will pointing out some of the ways in which India has a frontier atmosphere--where hardships as well as opportunities abound--make the story of the country's rise any less real.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

the separation of temple and state

With the Supreme Court deliberating on an Allahabad High Court ruling to stop all subsidies for Indian Muslims wishing to make the Haj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, I thought it might be a good time to talk about the need for India to separate Temple and State. As most readers of this blog know, India's idea of secularism has always differed from America's*, in that India's secularism believes that all religions should be propped up by the state rather than (legally at least) ignored except to prevent discrimination. For this reason, countless holidays are enshrined in the official calendar--including, in recent years, more and more minor Hindu festivals. Temples and other religious structures get the benefit of state aid or concessionary land prices. A separate civil code protects the chauvinistic marriage and inheritance laws of the major religions instead of ensuring equal human rights for all Indians. And a small number of Muslims receive a subsidy to attend the Haj. So, too, the government spends huge sums to facilitate Hindu pilgrimages like the Kumbh mela--held in Allahabad--though I'm not sure whether there is any government aid given to poor people who wish to attend.

Unfortunately, nobody seems to see the ways in which Hindu rites and festivals receive support, but everybody is easily convinced by dodgy statistics and jingoistic arguments regarding the subsidy and other support that India's Muslims receive. How much money does the government really spend on the Haj subsidy? (Unverified) Published sources suggest that the government spends more than Rs. 1200 crores on the Kumbh mela, as an example, while the subsidy given Muslims to reduce the travel costs amounts to a state-funded boost to Air India and only totals around 150 crore. (Feel free to update these figures by comment if you find the government's sanctioned totals, but please don't add conflicting unofficial numbers.)

But my (main) point is not that India's Muslims are being singled out. My point is that India should not be funding or supporting any of these activities. Not only will religion fund itself--as has been shown in countless examples. There is also much evidence to suggest that we would all be better off with a little less of it. (No more communal riots. No more suicide bombers. And no more deafening prayers sung over crackling and screeching public address systems.) But most important of all, religion, or in its less browbeating form, spiritualism, is a private matter. No doubt faith that there is a plan, that you are part of it, and that it means something is comforting, if not uplifting. But it loses most of its value when you turn it into a product to be advertised and sold.

So - No more allowing religious groups to ignore the Supreme Court's prohibitions on loudspeakers and other noise pollution after 10 p.m. No more competition for which religion gets the most public holidays -- let the members of each group honor their own holidays for a total of seven days per year, in addition to regular leave, while the rest of the country gets on with life. And keep the booze shops open. Nobody's forcing the abstainers to buy the stuff. No more Haj subsidy, no more tax breaks for temples etc, no more railway tickets for religious rites, etc.

Or, if that's out of the question, muddle on with the system you've got--where everybody gets a piece of the government dole, regardless of the team he plays for.

*America's so-called separation of church and state is also plagued with problems, BTW, but mainly because the government doesn't follow its own principles.

Monday, September 11, 2006

conspiracy theory

For what may be the first time, Indian police are investigating Hindu extremists as well as Muslim groups in their search for the perpetrators of a terrorist attack outside a mosque in the Maharashtra town of Malegaon. But it looks like certain "security experts" are keen to push the blame onto Muslim radicals, once again suggesting that Muslim terrorists have deviously attacked their own community to try to spark communal riots. The so-called smoking gun, once again, is the discovery that the bombs in question contained RDX.

Is it just me, or does this line of reasoning sound a bit suspect absent any other evidence?

First, consider the risk/reward equation of attacking your own "constituents" in the hope that they'll believe their enemies did it. The potential reward is a communal riot, in which the Muslims generally take the heaviest losses, which in turn *might* encourage more Indian Muslims to join the radical fringe and would allow Pakistan (of course we see the foreign hand everywhere) to crow about how bad things are for Muslims in India. On the risk side, though, exposure as ruthless killers that target the very people you are supposed to be fighting for would do ten times the damage. Unfortunately, the same analysts/writers who see this logic as impeccable when applied to conspiracy theories that it was "the Jews" or "the CIA" that executed the attack on the World Trade Center don't seem to see how it applies here in India.

Second, consider the use of RDX as "evidence." Isn't this rather like saying that those seeking to blow something up used explosives to accomplish the job? And, if RDX is such damning evidence, why not say that it must be Sikh terrorists, as the police used to do in the old days? This hardly qualifies as an M.O.

Allow me to predict the solution to this engaging mystery. A few days or weeks from now, the police will announce that they found the culprits, a couple Muslim guys, but unfortunately they gunned them down in a heroic firefight. After the fact, of course, they found various Pakistani documents on the corpses. The witnesses or snitches that led them to these guys will never be produced, and the investigation will go no further, as it would of course be a waste of resources to try to establish whether the dead men were guilty or innocent.

I know. I sound like one of those conspiracy theory guys. The next thing you know, I'll be writing columns filled with ad hominem attacks on myself to cleverly drum up sympathy.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

keeping up with the joneses

When reporter Ed Luce (whom I've never met, in case you're fantasizing about some Year of Living Dangerously-esque foreign correspondents' club) launched his new book about India "In Spite of the Gods" last week, he made the interesting statement that India is unquestionably emerging as one of the most important countries in the world, but it remains strangely obsessed with getting the stamp of approval from its former colonizers and (increasingly) the good ole US of A. (Clearly I'm paraphrasing). I wasn't in attendance, so I'm not sure whether Luce elaborated on this point. But I think it bears some thought. In the arts, for instance, why is it that the true mark of excellence in Indian letters is a publishing contract from a house in the UK? Yes, there are at least two very good reasons -- the UK houses pay real money in advance and to a degree they have standards, while the Indian publishing business is a hair's breadth away from a vanity press. But I think it cuts deeper than that. Witness the fact that most of these books are peddling the same tired cliches about India--arranged marriages consummated under banyan trees or on the backs of elephants with lots of cardamom, coconut and chili thrown in for good measure. Each one of these very low brow books is greeted with great fanfare as though it has something new to say, when all but a very few are the made-for-television versions of better works. Representing a big market is great when it inspires a Nokia or Honda to come to India and open up a factory that employs thousands of people, despite an unfriendly business climate. But when it means publishers churn out execrable tripe and call it literature (OK, I won't name names), something has to be done.

Speaking of Nokia and Honda: now to touch on an area that Luce more likely had in mind.

One of India's public obsessions over the past four years that I've been paying attention is its dearth of FDI compared with China. I am nearly certain that this obsession is another manifestation of India's desperate need for validation from the West, stemming from countless articles comparing India's rise unfavorably to China's. But too little attention has been paid to the purpose and risks of massive FDI, as India races to keep up with the Joneses next door. Though it is more liberal today, China extracted MAJOR concessions from foreign companies for the first few decades that it allowed foreign investment, parlaying a foothold in its giant market for technology and preferential trading terms. Today, India appears to offer more sops to investors than China, without clarifying how it will benefit from the trade-off. Why? Is India's big market less attractive than China's? Is India in 2006 so much less a draw for capital than China in 1996? Moreover, is FDI the only way to growth?

The most recent manifestation of this way of thinking is the new "unlimited" policy for special economic zones. Not satisfied with an attempt to turn Mumbai into Shanghai (note the goal!), now India wants its own 4,000-odd SEZ to match the neighbors. And to do so, planners are willing to forego petty matters like collecting taxes while they make a few rich industrialists hundreds of times richer by giving them land to develop--in full knowledge that perhaps 65-75 percent of it will be turned into residential property or malls, rather than employment-generating industries. Bear in mind, folks: When China launched its SEZs, the government owned all property, there was 100% employment and housing for all and there was no such thing as a private residence.

india's adult tv

Apart from the nipple exposing on FTV's "Midnight Hot," India's idea of adult programming appears to be shows with America's MA14 rating due to sexual situations. In this "more bullets less sex" stance, the culture that came up with the Kama Sutra is demonstrating one more way in which it has more affinity with America than with Europe.

Ironically, the debate is raging in Bombay of all places, a city otherwise known for its laise faire attitude to hotties in strapless blouses and sheer saris (thank you very much). I ask you: What's all the fuss about? From several overly frank discussions with students in India's hinterlands, I humbly submit that Indian boys could do with a non-intrusive outlet for their peek-and-grope starved hormones.

But a bigger question is why India is coming to look and sound more and more like America, despite the frequent criticisms of the world's big brother? The country's class-based society would seem to have more affinity with the old world than the new, and its ancient roots would seem to have more parallels with, say, Italy than with cultureless Bushland. My bet is that the love for all things American in India and Asia generally is inspired by the headoverheels rush to make money, in which all other concerns--fairness, quality of life, fine food, the environment, relaxation, etc--lose their meaning. That's American if I ever saw anything that was. Our best statue was dynamited out of the side of a mountain, and our best cultural artifact is an amusement park inspired by a cartoon mouse.

Careful, India, lest you follow China down the same path, with nothing but fastfood and peasant fare, eaten beside roadside mockups of the Louvre and mini Eiffel Towers. To my mind, a prudish middle class morality is the first step.

Monday, August 28, 2006

jobs for the time-wasters

There are so many unnecessary jobs in India, and so many of them are paid for by the government, that I thought I'd suggest some useful jobs that aren't being done at present as alternatives.

(1) Queue minders -

Duties: Stands alongside queues at railway stations, prepaid taxi counters, MTNL etc. and ensures that nobody jumps the queue.

Purpose: self-explanatory

Special skills needed: Strong sense of outrage and excellent cursing abilities

Ideally suited for: Old ladies - As demonstrated in China, old ladies are perfect for this job, as well as for spying on their neighbors. Nobody dares push and shove or insult them -- lest they actually motivate the mute crowd to actually DO something. Many of them have collected a vast array of choice insults to use on the culprits. And it puts their general tendency to annoy others to a useful purpose.

(2) Crossing guards -

Duties: Gathers pedestrians at busy crossing points, like bus stops, and stops traffic for them to cross en masse. (Already being done informally with limited effectiveness).

Purpose: Prevent the stress migraines I get trying to dodge the people darting across the road. Oh, and also save lives.

Special skills: Fearless disdain for death and/or invulnerability/imperviousness to vehicular homicide

Ideally suited for: Convicted drunk drivers, flyover-happy MLAs and anyone who owns or drives a Qualis or Sumo. The close proximity to violent death might encourage these characters to mend their ways. Or maybe they'd just die.

Friday, August 25, 2006

knocking down buildings

As Delhi prepares to seal, and potentially demolish, buildings that are zoned as residential and being used illegally for commercial purposes, I have to say the city's leaders are going to a lot of trouble and expense without considering the impact of their actions. Can anybody deny that if Delhi went out and sealed all the businesses operating in space not authorized for commercial use, the city's GDP would drop 20 or 30 percent? They'd be better off sealing the properties that DO have licenses.

So what should be done? Look the other way (again)? Legalize the illegal properties? Yes and no. What is needed is a full analysis of the properties in question to determine which ones have become de facto commercial areas (e.g. South Ex - who would buy a residence on the main road between South Ex part I and part II? Street noise and traffic would soon drive you insane) and identify areas that are still primarily residential but have "nuisance" commercial activity going on. Once that is done, you need a list of properties that divides the illegal buildings into three (or more) categories, including (1) suited for commercial use (2) in need of renovation for commercial use and (3) unsuited for commercial use. Those buildings that are suited for commercial use can then be converted in exchange for a hefty fee to the relevant authority. Those that need renovation would be shuttered until renovations are complete and they pay the same hefty fee, and those that are unsuited for commercial use would be closed down and converted to residences.

Maybe this is oversimplifying, but it strikes me as common sense, and far more sensible than sealing and knocking down buildings before making a plan as to what will happen to the space in the future.

racism in the air?

In light of my recent trip to the US, flown of course on KLM/Northwest because the airline has a direct flight to Detroit, Shailaja and I noted that the KLM crew was rude and sarcastic in dealing with several Indian passengers. At the time, I figured they'd had a long day or week in Delhi--I know I had. But now I'm starting to wonder. Yes, we all know India's airline ettiquette is a little different from Europe's or America's--e.g. here it's totally kosher to press your call button immediately and ask for something like a glass of water or cotton wool when the staff is trying to deal with getting everybody on board. And some behaviors, like trying to clamber through the 3 inches between the seat and the drinks cart, are just plain annoying.

Still, one has to ask if this is another Hair-raising instance of double standard for brown folks, with the stews deciding to teach their habitually unruly passengers a lesson. What say you all -- Are the international carriers racial profilers, or just plain racist? One friend, for instance, claims he NEVER gets the obligatory "buh-BYE."

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

why india needs caning

In Jaipur, a group of thugs reportedly grabbed a Sikh boy who had defended a classmate from sexual harassment and cut off his hair. (US readers: the tenets of the Sikh religion require them to refrain from cutting their hair or trimming their beards, wear turbans and carry a small dagger). Now the Jaipuris are calling for the arrest of the louts for what amounts to a hate crime.

My question is - Where is the outrage over garden variety sexual harassment? It happens every minute of every day in every Indian city.

bad taste

A new restaurant called "Hitler's Cross" opened in Mumbai, according to reports. The height of bad taste, the restaurant claims to be "just a place to relax and enjoy good food." A joke? If so, not a good one. And in the city run by Bal Thackeray, a self-professed admirer of the little dictator, maybe not a joke at all. The only good thing that could come of this is that it may gather the knickerwallas and Shiv Seniaks in one place so that the good people of Mumbai can avoid them or excoriate them with withering satire or, as Woody Allen recommends, pelt them with stones.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

this rampart is rising

In many nations, class barriers to college are growing.

By Rana Foroohar

Newsweek International

Aug. 21-28, 2006 issue - When students take to the streets, they're usually united against something like war or racism. But when Indian students took to the streets last May they had a different cause. These were children of the wealthy upper castes out to stop a plan to reserve more university places for their peers from poor and lower-caste backgrounds. This was youth versus youth, and they were fighting for the status quo.

Resistance to social-leveling campaigns in higher education isn't limited to India. When a top French Grande Ecole—alma mater of presidents and prime ministers—began giving preferential treatment to poor students, there was an outcry from the upper classes. In Britain, there are fears that efforts by top-tier universities to recruit more students from state secondary schools will dumb down the ivory tower. These controversies say something important about the state of academia: for all the pious attacks on injustice that emanate from universities, the class gap is growing from the United States to Britain, parts of Continental Europe and Asia. The reasons are myriad: state-controlled systems that artificially limit the number of university places, admissions procedures that favor the privately educated, falling financial aid and failing public secondary schools.

The bottom line is that the worldwide boom in higher education is not, in many cases, broadening its reach among the poorest. The proportion of 25- to 34-year-olds who have university degrees is rising across the 30 member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and exceeds 20 percent in 18 of them. But in nations like Japan and the United States, where education costs are skyrocketing, the typical student comes from a much wealthier background than in the past. At Tokyo University, which has traditionally educated an economically diverse population, nearly half the parents of undergraduates now have incomes higher than $82,500 (well above the national average of about $57,500 for men in their 50s). In the United States, the percentage of students with families making more than $150,000 a year has been rising steadily for over a decade, to nearly 17 percent, while the proportion of those with a family income of $49,000 or less has been declining. A 2003 study of the 146 most selective U.S. colleges found that only 3 percent of students came from the poorest quartile of families, while 74 percent came from the richest.

By some accounts, the class divide is perhaps most pronounced in Europe. The slotting of children into vocational or university tracks continues to limit the upward mobility of many poor kids at an early age. Meanwhile, the relative lack of funding, particularly compared with the United States, means fewer new university slots to accommodate growth in demand. Today, only about a third of all secondary-school grads in the European Union go on to university, and working-class kids are highly underrepresented, especially at elite institutions. In the U.K., where Tony Blair's New Labour Party has made socioeconomic diversity in top schools a key priority, a recent survey found that the share of spots at Oxford that go to state schoolkids (in other words, not rich private-school grads) has fallen 5 percent since 2001.

Politicians and educators everywhere are looking for ways to fix the imbalance. But there's a lingering fear that easing the way for poor kids will bring down the quality of education and, thus, national competitiveness. "My honest opinion is that it is going to be a disaster," says P. V. Indiresan, former director of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (Madras), about the proposed quota system. "No. 1, it introduces a new social tension which we never had in the IIT system before. No. 2, you need certain institutions in a country where you are able to stream the very best talent available. Once you get students of a lower caliber, there will be enormous pressure to reduce to the standard of instruction."

Business leaders second this sentiment, and not only in India. Almost everywhere outside the United States, where affirmative action has long been the status quo, there is resistance to changing admissions to favor the less advantaged. When Richard Descoings, the head of France's prestigious Sciences Po Paris, began aggressively recruiting kids from lower-class backgrounds in 2001, critics lamented the end of blind égalité and privileged students worried that the degree would be devalued. "There were eternal debates on whether this program fit in with the principles of the French Republic," says Descoings, "but nobody asked whether or not it was effective."

In fact, it was; this past summer, the first class of 15 pioneers from poorer suburbs graduated from Sciences Po with respectable results, some near the top of the class. Elsewhere, there's also plenty of evidence that, given a chance, kids from lower-income backgrounds can do just as well or better than others. In the U.K., for example, Sir Peter Lampl, head of the Sutton Trust, an education nonprofit, says that if admissions were based purely on A-level test results, two thirds of students at Oxbridge would come from state rather than private secondary schools. In reality, only about half of them do. "Many poor kids don't have the confidence" to apply to top schools, particularly since graduating secondary school students must apply before they see their test results, says Lampl. And while private secondary academies advise students on how to maximize their chances of admission, even how to target specific departments at certain schools, state-school pupils are left to their own devices. The result, says Lampl, is that top-tier universities in Britain are excluding some 3,000 qualified state-school students every year.
That has major economic implications, given that the wage premium on a top-tier degree has never been higher. According to a number of studies, if going to college increases your earning power, then going to a top university increases it exponentially. Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby has shown that graduates of top schools in the United States typically earn hundreds of thousands of dollars more during their lives than similarly accomplished graduates of state universities. Depending on the country, a person with a university degree can command anywhere from 25 to 120 percent more than one without.

Finances are a further burden for the nonrich. As numbers of college applicants rise, costly prep classes, which can run $50 or more per hour, are becoming de rigueur. In the United States, while the absolute amount of aid to university students is up, financial aid is being replaced by merit aid, which favors the middle and upper classes. In Europe, where universities are still tax-supported and practically tuition-free for everyone, the poor get no leg up on the rich, who already have every advantage.

That something must be done is obvious to most nations. Basically, the combination of aging societies and rising demand for tech-savvy workers mean that most rich nations face an emerging shortage of educated labor, one that can't possibly be filled by the wealthy alone. Some solutions are, of course, country-specific. Europeans need to modernize and, to some extent, privatize their university systems so they can better respond to the needs of the market. More flexibility is key; while the United States and Scandinavia offer all kinds of two-year or associate's degree programs, in many parts of Europe and Asia four-year degree courses are the only option. But in Norway, for example, a modular system allows students to balance school with work or family commitments. They can finish courses in their own time, acquiring certificates for specific skills over a period of months, or a year, which can eventually be combined into a degree.

Perhaps the best way to equalize university education is to improve secondary schools in poor regions. In India, the rate of absenteeism in state schools is 25 percent—and that's for teachers. "Poor but talented kids tend to go to impoverished high schools, where parents, teachers and other students are just less interested in learning," says Richard Kahlenberg, a fellow at the Washington-based Century Foundation. "What they need is to be around peers who have big dreams—that will allow them to work up to their potential."

In Britain, educators are trying to cultivate those dreams with a new program in which top universities would help identify talented students as young as 11, and help them stay on track to reach elite colleges. The ethos is reflected in Oxford's new recruiting slogan: "It's not where you're from—it's where you want to go." As the need for knowledge workers grows, it will clearly be more and more important for poor kids, as well as rich ones, to go all the way to the top.

With Jason Overdorf in New Delhi, Tracy Mcnicoll in Paris and Akiko Kashiwagi in Tokyo

© 2006 Newsweek, Inc.

sexing up science

Western educators and industrialists team up to boost engineering's appeal.

By Mac Margolis and Karla Bruning

Newsweek International

Aug. 21-28, 2006 issue - With his unkempt hair, halogen smile and soft spot for Tamil poetry, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam is not your ordinary national figurehead. The diminutive 74-year-old Indian president seems more like a self-help guru than India's leading technocrat. Though his job in this parliamentary nation is largely ceremonial, Kalam, a newspaper boy turned aeronautical engineer who stewarded India's guided-missile program, has made it his mission to raise his country to glory through scientific scholarship. He travels from school to school, exhorting students to hit the books and excel at science. If they do, he promises, India will be a fully developed nation by 2020. His mantra: "Dream, dream, dream."

By all indications, the budding scientists of India—and elsewhere in the developing world—have taken that advice to heart. Enrollment is soaring at engineering and technical schools throughout Asia. India claims to produce more than 300,000 engineers a year—three times the number in the United States. By some estimates, China turns out twice as many engineers as India, while South Korea produces nearly as many engineers as the United States with one sixth the population. Skeptics say the numbers are exaggerated. But even discounting for official hype and inconsistent academic standards, it's hard to miss the new geography. Legions of engineers from Asia's emerging-market nations are vying for—and winning—contracts, customers and patents in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. According to a recent report by Booz Allen Hamilton and Nasscom, India's IT-industry trade group, the offshore engineering industry is expected to surge from between $10 billion and $15 billion today to between $150 billion and $225 billion in 2020. India alone is poised to grab a quarter of the market.

And that's exactly why educators in the wealthiest countries are losing sleep. True, the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany—the three engineering titans—still lead the way in technological innovation. A recent study by Duke University showed that while developing countries often inflate the numbers of science scholars, the United States still employs nearly a third of the world's science and engineering researchers, publishes 35 percent of science and engineering articles and generates 40 percent of research and development spending. But in middle and high schools, where the spark of scientific curiosity begins, the majority of students can't be bothered to take advanced math or physics. Enrollment in university engineering programs is stagnating; the dropout rate for graduate engineering students is a whopping 45 percent. "We have a choice: do we want Britain to become a theme park or a hub of business activity?" James Dyson, the British inventor cum entrepreneur, wrote recently in The Sunday Times. "We are on course to shuffle into a sort of residential home for retired great powers."

Now Western educators are shifting their focus from what went wrong with engineering to how to fix it. They are most troubled not by the shortfall of new scientists but by their plummeting caliber of scholarship. Even those who make it through engineering school are not always well prepared; the pharmaceutical giant Sanofi-Aventis says it often has to retrain science graduates in the company laboratory.

Some institutions are trying to present students with more real-world challenges early on. In planning its curriculum, Dyson's new School of Design Innovation—scheduled to open in Bath, England, in 2008—has teamed up with companies like Rolls-Royce and Airbus to work practical design and innovation problems into the coursework. Other schools are drafting students into community service. Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering dispatched one group of undergraduates to Indonesia to help shrimp fishermen devastated by the 2004 tsunami by building a manually operated aerator for hatchery ponds. Duke junior Lee Pearson spent a month in Uganda for a clean-water project, using a clothes iron to seal water samples and building an incubator out of cardboard and Styrofoam.

Being in the field "teaches you to be flexible and ruthlessly creative," says Pearson. Indeed, Richard K. Miller, president of Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, which graduated its first class in May, says it's crucial to get students to think "outside the box" and work in teams. "Our future doesn't depend on producing more engineers than China. [We] need more innovators," he says. "Engineering is about invention." A number of Olin graduates have parlayed classroom projects into award-winning business plans. One student, in partnership with his grandfather, launched an inter-national company that designs, manufactures and sells supportive seating for meditation.

At younger levels, industries are going out of their way to make engineering—and its components, math and science—more appealing. The Society for Women Engineers recently launched "Wow! That's Engineering?" a high-tech hands-on program that invites middle-school students to play games with gravity, motion and sound. The campaign is aimed especially at young girls, who traditionally have been conditioned to think of math and science as guy stuff—one of the reasons, perhaps, that only 11 percent of working engineers in the United States are women. Another program, "FMA Live! Where Science Rocks," sponsored by Honeywell Hometown Solutions and NASA, sends troupes of hip-hop artists and other professional entertainers into U.S. high schools and colleges across the United States to stage "interactive" skits and demonstrations of basic physics. (FMA stands for Isaac Newton's second law of motion: force equals mass times acceleration.) One routine launches a hapless school administrator across a stage in a futuristic hover chair to collide with a giant cream pie—all in the name of showing the laws of action and reaction. Is it education or show business? "Our culture has changed profoundly," says Tom Buckmaster, president of Honeywell Hometown Solutions. "We have to think of students as you would potential customers, and discover what turns them on."

Behind the hocus-pocus is the conviction that engineering has long had a bad rap. "The misperception of science and engineering jobs as geeky, dirty and dull puts off young people from a bright, exciting and profitable future," says Dyson. That's a stark contrast to the developing world, where science and technology are considered the keys to progress. "When I go to Seoul or Hong Kong, I see signs everywhere for nanotechnology, biotech labs and IT firms," says Florence Hudson, a space engineer and vice president of marketing for IBM. "The developing world's students are hungry for technology. We are not."

Whatever helps break down that resistance, say the experts, is worth trying. "It's an incredibly sexy time to be an engineer," says Kristina Johnson, dean of the Pratt School of Engineering. "Think of the problems science has to solve, like global warming, public transportation, communicable diseases. Yet we still do not have a cadre of professionals prepared to solve them." Engineering's toughest challenge may be to reinvent itself—and the work has just begun.

With William Underhill in London, Jason Overdorf in New Delhi and Corinna Emundts in Berlin

© 2006 Newsweek, Inc.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

boxing: as bad as freelance journalism

Reports that India's boxers--including women's world champion Merykom--received expired checks as reward for recent (and long past) victories got me thinking. Maybe these guys have it as bad as freelance journalists. According to the papers, the sports ministry is "embarrassed" by the snafu.

The kids who are waiting to get paid are doubtless even more upset.

Monday, August 14, 2006

everybody's doing it

Another drunk woman decided to visit the prime minister's residence last night, this time to complain about the recent long power cuts to hit Delhi. Once again, however, the pesky security personnel managed to stop her before she was even able to say Hi, as last months gatecrashers from Jaipur apparently wanted to do.

To me, this is just one more testament to the poor quality of Delhi's nightlife. Goes to show also that Manmohan is too damn nice. You don't see anybody showing up on Sonia or Lalu's doorstep, though those visits seem more glamorous and amusing, respectively. Manmohan gets no respect.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

my geek side

FedEx just arrived with a special delivery from VC-impressario Ramanan Raghavendran (who I hereby out as a geek to the nth power--using a geek metaphor no less). Yes, it was the complete works of Iain M. Banks, the sci-fi writers' sci-fi writer, or maybe even the sci-fi writers' sci-fi writers' sci-fi writer. I will not resurface for several months....

Saturday, August 05, 2006

lady in the water

Just when you thought "The Village" was the dumbest script ever, good ol' Night comes out and tops it. Yes, kids, "The Lady in the Water" is the dumbest movie in history. Moreover, it is pretentious at the same time. I was so stunned that I stayed for the whole thing. And I kept thinking, "Night broke up with Disney for this! For this!" The only good thing about it was the unintentional comedy of Night's role as the unrecognized genius who's writing a political treatise called "The Cookbook." Clearly, this is how he envisions himself after nobody recognized the brilliance of "The Village." It almost makes me want to watch the (unintentionally) hilarious beginning of "Lady" again, to see the little stick figures of "man" and the water creatures and hear the inane story of how "man" has always fought wars.

No, I said "almost." I said "almost." Stop! No, please, stoooopppppppp!

looking at the numbers

In a continuing effort to clean up the cutting room floor over here, I'm giving you some of my notes below on (again) education quotas. I've drawn heavily from an article by Yogendra Yadav and Satish Deshpande, who is also quoted from a brief telephone interview, which appeared in Economic & Political Weekly.

Check out also today's Indian Express for the page 1 story confirming Deshpande's argument that "merit" has been fetishized beyond reason in India's hyper-competitive admissions process.

Here's my stuff:

...To be sure, there are some legitimate reasons for concern about a scheme that proposes such a dramatic expansion of the quota system. Business leaders have argued that a program they characterize as a wholesale abandonment of merit-based education will undermine India's present advantage in software and engineering, stifling its rise as a “knowledge-process outsourcing” hub--only to draw criticism from activists who charge that these statements themselves suggest their authors have not abandoned outdated opinions of the lower castes. Others have drawn attention to endemic problems in the primary and secondary education system, where vast disparities exist between top private schools and execrable government-run institutions where teacher absenteeism runs as high as 25% and only half the teachers are actively involved in teaching when they are at work, according to a World Bank study. With these conditions, and a dropout rate that is perhaps as high as 50% among the OBCs targeted by the program, say critics, where will the students for the reserved university seats come from? Still other critics say the program will benefit the so-called “creamy layer” of OBCs, who were not terribly burdened by the caste system and have already achieved better than average economic status, while doing nothing to help other underpriviledged groups, such as the Muslim minority and the rural poor.

“It [quotas] is ok for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes,” says Amulya Ganguli, a senior journalist who has written extensively on the debate. “Because they were historically discriminated against. Nobody ever complained about reservations for them, because it was widely recognized that they had suffered immensely. But the OBC thing showed the false lines of this system. Now they want reservations in [employment in] the private sector also, which would have ruined any economic progress India is making. Then the private sector would emulate the public sector [sinking into greater and greater losses due to inefficiency].”

In all the talk of merit and the almost-mythical “rich OBC,” however, one thing that has received little attention are the very real numbers that demonstrate the extent to which upper caste Hindus—which make up only a small fraction of the population—dominate higher education and professional fields. According to calculations based on the National Sample Survey Organization's 55th round survey of 1999-2000, SC/STs, OBCs and Muslims are far less likely to achieve college and graduate degrees than upper caste Hindus. Only a little more than 1% of rural SC/STs and Muslims and 2% of OBCs are college graduates, compared with 5% of upper caste Hindus. In urban India, only 11% of STs, 5% of SCs, 6% of Muslims and 9% of OBCs are college graduates, while more than 25% of upper caste Hindus have college degrees. To look at it another way, a comparison of each group's share of the nation's college graduates with its share of the over-20 population shows that upper caste Hindus' share of graduates is twice their share of the over-20 population in rural areas and one-and-a-half times their share of the over-20 population in urban areas. Meanwhile, urban SCs' share of graduates is only 30% of their share in the over-20 population, and urban Muslims' share of graduates is only 39% of their share in the over-20 population.

Though it would be wrong to say that the lower castes are poor and upper castes are rich, this disparity in education does result in notable differences in prosperity and power. People of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (the most disadvantaged group) are—as has long been accepted as fact—far more likely to live below the poverty line. Contrary to a similarly entrenched belief, however, the first attempt to measure poverty of the Other Backward Classes (the 55th sample survey mentioned above) suggests that the OBCs live in conditions more similar to the SC/STs than commonly believed. The 1999-2000 statistics show that In rural India, 34 per cent of the OBCs fall below the poverty line compared to 51 per cent of Scheduled Tribes and 43 per cent of Scheduled Castes but only 24 per cent of ``Others''. Similarly, only 6% of OBCs were among the top two categories in monthly per capita expenditures, a figure much closer to the 3 per cent for both the Scheduled Tribes and the Scheduled Castes than to the 12 per cent for the ``Others''. In urban India, the resemblance of the OBCs to the STs and SCs is more pronounced, and it holds at both ends of the class spectrum. Roughly 43 per cent of both Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are below the urban poverty line compared to 36 per cent of the OBCs and only 21 per cent of the ``Others''. At the other end, 6 per cent of the Scheduled Tribes, 2 per cent of the Scheduled Castes, and less than 4 per cent of the OBCs are to be found in the top two urban expenditure classes compared to 12 per cent of the ``Others''. (Note: this survey foolishly lumped all minorities, including Muslims, which are also underpriviledged, under the rubric “Others”).

And I blab on...

Saturday, July 22, 2006

the best aggregator online

Check out (Arts & Letters Daily Online). This is far and away the best aggregator of news & commentary from around the world. In fact, it's hard to believe that it has never gotten any hype.

we're back

I won't take back all my whinging about Delhi... But it did occur to me that the place takes the blame for all my personal travails while I'm here. Maybe it ain't so bad. Consider: Every time I land at the airport, I always feel a sense of satisfaction at the burnt earth smell you get through the cab window on the drive home. (That's after I finish fuming about the guy who wrestled with me over my bags in expectation of a mandatory tip). Was Hong Kong really so great, or just the city where I fell in love? Was New York boosted as the home of my discovery of--for want of a less pretentious phrase--an intellectual life? Was Boston merely the refuge and escape from terrible career ennui and the site of hope that even I, with my dull, problem-free middle class, white childhood, could be a writer? Maybe so, Delhi. Maybe so. Still, I'd like some good things to happen here soon.

free speech

I don't know why everybody got so exercised about India's recent blog-blocking fiasco. Personally, I've always wanted to be banned. Now my dream has come true. Too controversial! Scandalous! Shocking! Dangerous! Any suggestions on how to fit this into my curriculum vitae?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

how do you like delhi?

I get this awkward question a lot. I sidestep. I evade. I volunteer unrelated information. I underplay. But there's no getting around the answer, which is not much. The main reason is that I run into too many bloated, obnoxious, aggressive louts--and not just on the road. The PM is right that Delhi's drivers are absurdly selfish and rude, but the behavior isn't limited to the road. A simple trip to the movies is ruined--not only by people who chatter through the whole thing, but by pushing and shoving in the queue, jumping the queue entirely, then fighting and justifying why YOU deserve to be first, etc. It's second nature, according to the Times of India. But I can't help wondering why. The Reader's Digest says Mumbai is the rudest city in the world, but nobody has ever been as rude to me there as in Delhi, where my neighbors treat me to a daily lesson.

I'm in the USA now, where people are racist, ignorant and every other thing, and I can't get over how polite everyone is, holding doors open, waiting to let me go first.... Is it overcrowding that makes people rude? Is it class? Is it the heat? I don't know.

Flame away.

manmohan knows

Attention drivers:
The horn is not a forcefield.
The Nathu Sweets entrance to the GKII M-block market is ONE WAY.
There is only ONE righthand turn lane.

Now, on to your reading:

Where are your manners, PM asks motorists

June 24, 2006 15:57 IST

Appalled by the chaos on Indian roads, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday said that wind swept roads and fancy cars alone did not reflect progress, it had to be accompanied by good road manners and discipline.

"Building modern roads and driving modern cars are not the end all and be all of progress. Good road manners and adherence to road discipline are equally important," he said at a national highway project inauguration function in Bangalore.

"I think we must ask ourselves, why can't we be more polite to each other, more caring of each other, more respectful of each other," Dr Singh asked.

The prime minister said people must learn road manners, how to give way to pedestrians, how to observe normal rules while overtaking, how to park and when not to blow a horn.

"These are simple rules, but their observance makes a lot of difference to our daily lives," he said, adding: "We Indians behave with great courtesy at home and with our family and friends. But sometimes, when we go out we leave these good manners at home. On the road, we lose control of our good senses. Why should this be so."

Friday, June 23, 2006

the big whine

Sometimes I wonder why Americans are so stumped why the rest of the world could do without them. Take the World Cup. Yesterday, the USA team was eliminated by a game Ghana side, the Cinderella of the tournament, and all the USA can talk about is the foul called in the box that resulted in the winning goal. Yes, kids, sometimes things won't go your way--even though the whole of FIFA has conspired over the past two decades to encourage American soccer.

Some points to consider:
(1) The foul, though minor, was similar to many that have been whistled in the tourney by somewhat overzealous refs. Players should be well aware of the trend, and play accordingly.
(2) Who cares? I'm psyched that Ghana is doing so well. I always root for Africa.
(3) Shouldn't the USA be questioning the error that put the ball in the box, where Ghana had better position on the ball than the US player, in the first place?
(4) A 1-1 tie wouldn't have been enough for the USA to advance anyway, because the team failed to win, or score a goal, in its other two games.

"To give a penalty in that situation is bizarre. It really deflated us."

"If that's a foul, there's a lot of penalties in the game."

"The referee should have the experience to know what's a foul and what's not."


Third worlders, take heart. The USA may continue to whine and make excuses, but not only have Americans failed to match their hype in World Cup soccer. Team USA also failed to win the international baseball classic, got blinked 0 wins and 4 losses in Olympic hockey, and even failed to win gold in Olympic basketball--notwithstanding the whinging that opened the amateur competition to NBA players a few years back after the US lost for the first time.

Maybe we don't "deserve" to win.