Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Second day of Diwali

This is the Esteem Mall (can you imagine a mall with that name in the US?) decked out for Diwali. Unlike Christmas, where the preparations start months in advance, the Diwali decorations only went up at the end of last week.

These are decorations at some of the houses in our complex. Different styles reflect differences in regions and the way (and even the day) they celebrate. Five days, or three days, or one day, and probably every day in between -- although an odd number, especially a prime number, has special significance. Those of you who want more information can find it in many places, like "" Here we are celebrating it for three days. The Tamilians celebrated on the first day, the Northerners celebrated on the second day, and here in Karnataka they celebrate mainly on the second day, with some spillover to the third day. Given the boom in economic growth here, and the attraction of folks from all over India (and indeed, the world), there have been pockets of celebrations for each of the days.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

First day of Diwali

The view on our street on Monday night: coordinated pinwheels.

Another view down the street. Tonight is another round. Good vs. evil. Welcoming in Lakshmi. Saluting Kali. The festival of light. Great sweets.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Diwali Show at School

Here are some photos of the Diwali show at Amartya's school. The top of the tent protecting us from the elements. The crowd watching the show.
Some of the boys with their little lamps.
The girls in Amartya's class.

More photos of Diwali celebrations will follow over the next few days.

Volker on financial engineers

Paul Volker provides words of wisdom on Charlie Rose on the need for more civil and electrical engineers rather than financial engineers, highlighting the lack of sufficient US infrastructure investment.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Nice article from Times of London on India

Here is a great posting by Jeevan Deol, a lecturer in South Asian History at Oxford, who contrasts the high points of India today (the moon launch, an Indian winning the Booker prize, the cricket team beating Australia, and the high growth rate) with its serious problems (increasing inequality, overwhelming poverty, gender imbalances, lack of rural opportunities, woeful infrastructure, disappearing water, and being a member of a scary neighborhood). His conclusion is great:
"India's moment may well be here: the challenge will be to make it last." Very well put.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

India to the Moon

India sent up an unmanned mission to the Moon. The kids all seem pretty excited, like I remember being when I was little and the US was sending up mission after mission. Some great shots should be coming back. India wants to be taken seriously as a scientific powerhouse, up there in space with the former USSR (and now Russia), the US, China, the EU, and Japan. Big tradeoffs.

In the meantime, the financial markets here continue their descent into the unknown, but the rupee (or the folks trading it) seem (so far, at least) not to want to let it close above 50. Even 49 is a big change from the 38 of a year ago.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

kids playing cricket

Amidst all the financial market turmoil, and political debate, here is a change of pace: multi-ethnic cricket.The garbage all around is a bit off-putting, but the housing seen the background of the shots at least has roofs.
Trying the clothes across from the site of the cricket game.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Political signage

One of the most impressive things in India is the number and size of political signage everywhere. Here are some shots from around town, mainly welcoming some Congress leaders (see the big pix of Rahul Gandhi ( Indira's grandson and son of Sonia and Rajiv) for proof of the Indian legacy effect). The picture above shows some of the good wishes signs that also are common -- for major holidays, birthdays, all kinds of things. Note that both Hindus and Muslims are included in this sign.

The one below is noteworthy because of the terms used.
Here we see the little flags that line the major roads.

Putting it in perspective with Rahul and the IPhone

I have to wonder: how much does this all cost? The little banners line all the streets, and the huge billboards are everywhere too, with mid-size signs tied to every available post as well. I keep thinking it'd be better to buy pencils, paper, and books for schools. I guess I am out of touch with politics.

oh no! The G7 Disappoints

Friday's G7 Plan of Action is quite disappointing. This is the best they could come up with? This makes we wonder why Paulson and Bernanke couldn't just lock the doors (for days and days perhaps) until a real, implementable plan emerges. I guess they don't have as much power as Mr. Morgan did in the days before the Fed.

The need for a dramatically new structure is so obvious. Should we think about closing the markets down for a few days to take a break? Given this weak announcement, unless it is followed by something more dramatic and specific, the markets surely will continue their downward spiral.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Financial crisis, on and on

The financial panic continues around the world.  Asian markets are tanking at this moment, once again.  The Dow keeps going lower and lower. At this point I think you will need to get the US government to offer something close to nationalization to whoever wants it (and probably something similar in other markets, both major and minor, around the world) with directives to continue to provide credit, especially to smaller and medium sized enterprises.  And to those banks who need it, but whose heads are worried about the conditions, too bad.  The scary thing is how the government provides better oversight to these banks as a part-owner than it did as a regulator. But I don't think much else will stop the steady bleeding (you can't even argue that it is slow) at this point.

Good timing for the G7 meeting and IMF-World Bank meetings.  This might be a chance for this institutions to prove they deserve to continue to exist. 

Some interesting (if depressing reads):
-- wild man Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair, arguing that the US is a banana republic, with socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor.  As a resident of DC, this has been obvious for quite a while.
-- pessimist but really smart Nouriel Roubini: "The world is at severe risk of a global systemic financial meltdown and a severe global depression."  His RGE Monitor (even just the free stuff on it) is a great resource for anyone interested in the international financial world.

I'll find more later ....

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Dussehra decorations and celebrations

A break from the financial crisis (contagion from Iceland to the UK, WOW!) for some pix of more traditional India.
Ten days of holidays -- nine of Navatri, and then the 10th is Dessehra (written many other ways as well), celebrating the victory of good over evil. Of course it's more complicated than that, but I keep getting lost in the details, and regional variations. For Dessehra here in Karnataka, folks decorate their houses, and their offices, and instruments of work.

I wonder if the driver can see?
This is where the security guards and cleaning folks at work are based.
A fruit stand. You can see the banana leaves on the sides, mango leaves hanging, and flowers.Banana leaves on the construction equipment during a rare, rare day of rest.You can't forget about the milk cartons. Note the broken pumpkin with that vermillion powder on it. In Bengal, where they celebrate Durga Puja, they throw this red powder at each other today too.Personal cars are decorated, and you can't forget your scooters or bikes!
The Hanuman temple on the main square in Jakkur village, decorated for the day.

An elaborated decorated tractor, pulling a display honoring Bhuveneshwar and Chamundieshwari (according to Sub), in Jakkur. Then there was an expected treat: drumming bands. Here are pictures of two, the first more informal, the second with their special clothes.
Coordinating and planning for the next piece. Taking a break to watch the other group across the village square/plaza/green (whatever your frame of reference).
Getting ready to march to the temple, followed by the decorated tractor with idols in the background. (I can't figure out why the underlining is appearing here. Sorry.)And for something new: a short video clip (although wobbly) of one of these groups.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Pittsburgh as the model?

Here's an article I found provocative, and as it links a city I lived in (Pittsburgh) with an industry I follow and worked in once upon a time (financial services), does capture some of what I've been thinking:
Wall Street Follows the Path of the Steel Industry in Pittsburgh
By Dean Baker

There is a joke circulating on the Hill these days. "What is the technical term for a Wall Street investment banker who supports free trade?" The answer of course is "liar."

In spite of the $700 billion bailout package, Wall Street is going the way of the steel industry in Pittsburgh. The financial industry in the United States is hugely bloated and hopelessly uncompetitive in international markets. In this way, it shares similarities to the U.S. steel industry in the late 70s, except Wall Street is much more poorly situated.

While workers in the steel industry may have been somewhat more highly paid than their counterparts in Europe, Japan, and South Korea, the differences were comparatively small. By contrast, nowhere else in the world do bankers get paid annual salaries in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. Until these salaries are pushed down closer to the pay scales in other financial markets, Wall Street will have a very difficult time competing.

The $700 billion bailout package slows Wall Street's day of reckoning. The Wall Street gang, with its huge campaign contributions and friends in high places, such as Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, is better positioned to get protection than steelworkers or textile workers. But, as we all know, you can't just build walls around the country.

Perhaps our trading partners will protest the subsidies to Wall Street, which may violate our commitments under various trade agreements, but even if they don't, the days of the Wall Street crew are numbered. Their conduct over the last 15 years has shattered their reputation both nationally and internationally.

The fact that so much junk was passed along to international investors as top quality debt means that in the future foreign investors will no longer trust the assets that Wall Street firms are marketing. Similarly, the fact that so many small towns and cities were ripped off on auction rate securities and other financial instruments probably means that the investment bankers will not be welcomed in large parts of the country for many years into the future.

While innocent people will undoubtedly be hurt as Wall Street adjusts to the modern global economy, there will be important gains to the country. In fact, the principles economists cite when extolling the benefits of "free trade" may actually apply to some extent to Wall Street.

The resources tied up in Wall Street will find better uses in other areas. Specifically, the tens of thousands of highly educated workers who made huge salaries on Wall Street may find something more productive to do with their lives than shuffling complex derivative instruments. Some might become doctors, engineers, or research scientists - areas where they could make important contributions to society.

And, if it is not plausible for many of the people who are currently losing their job to pursue these alternative career paths, certainly it will be possible for the people who are now in college or grad school in the hope of pursuing a high-paying Wall Street career. By eliminating the Wall Street path, other relatively high-paying jobs will look much better.

In other words, we will be less likely to have doctors who think that they are making huge sacrifices by earning $200,000 a year. Without Wall Street as a basis of comparison, doctors' salaries would look very good even to doctors.

The public has every right to be outraged over the bailout. It gives taxpayers' dollars to some of the richest people in the country, precisely because they messed up on their job. That means money is flowing from school teachers and firefighters to the top executives at Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and other well-connected financial behemoths.

But this is just a stop gap measure. In the longer term, the financial sector will contract and salaries will be brought back down to earth. Protectionist policies can buy the Wall Street crew some time, but in the longer run, the market will win out, forcing large cuts in pay and employment. At last Wall Street will feel the sort of job loss and pressure on wages that it so eagerly sought to impose on workers in other sectors of the economy.

-- This article was published on October 6, 2008 by Truthout.
The fees that Wall Street firms charge is one of things that have made them less competitive as well (which I guess were necessary to pay the huge salaries), so if those fees come down (more than Sarbanes Oxley repeal), a reconfigured Wall Street should be much more competitive.

The big question then comes -- what does a reconfigured financial services sector look like, and here we need to think globally both in terms of structure and oversight. Much easier said than done.

Ongoing crisis and a little on the debate

Here I am at 6:45 a.m., with Senators Obama and McCain on the BBC TV (thank you UK!) debating in a down hall format. The world economy continues to plummet. Most European countries, like the US, have increased insured deposit levels. Many seem to be pumping money into their markets, as the Fed now is getting into the commercial paper market too. And it still isn't enough. The huge size of the US rescue package itself was supposed to be a signal to markets, but the delay in agreeing to it (and the silliness of its original structure) sent a blurred signal at best. At worst, it was the signal that the US government (and now the EU member governments) are not capable of responding to these types of crisis either alone, or together. I am reminded of many discussions in my banking classes where we talked about how the financial world has moved (and moves minute to minute) so much faster than governments are capable of acting, and how we need dramatic structural change in regulations both within countries and between countries.

A good question about sacrifice: McCain starts with talking about government and spending cut. Defense, okay, that's a good place to look, but wait, now he's saying a spending freeze except for Defense. Hmm. Okay, Barack, let's see what you come up with. Good, talking about 9/11 and how folks were willing to change our ways, but Bush made his "go out and shop" instead of a call to service. Now talking about outside of govt and individual action, starting with energy conservation. Wouldn't that individual responsibility be something that generally we would expect Republicans to put forth? What has happened in our topsy turvy world. While I would love to continue to listen and comment, I need to get ready for the day. More comments later, including more pictures of political signage here and the waste of money that is visible.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Biden-Palin debate as seen from Indira Nagar

This was the scene in a lovely apartment in Indira Nagar, a very nice old neighborhood of Bangalore, where we watched the Biden-Palin debate on Friday night, about 12 hours after it actually took place. We played Debate Lingo, and Amartya won!

Our host, in a comment when Gov. Palin was talking about her experience as the governor of one of the largest states in the US, noted that the neighborhood of Indira Nagar has more people than all of Alaska. How's that for perspective?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The nuclear deal

Official India will once again celebrate the end of nuclear apartheid with the US Senate passage of the US-India deal, echoing the celebration a few weeks ago with the NSG waiver. Some folks here will be protesting this agreement, and the visit of Secretary of State Rice, complaining that this agreement limits Indian sovereignty and ties India too closely to the US. Plenty of folks in the US and elsewhere lament the spread of this technology, fearing that India will spread it, as well as being worried about the precedent this deal sets.

The French and the Russians have already been all over the place here, and I think that while this will certainly open the market for US exports, my bet is that the French will be the big winners. I depart from the assumption that there has been a lot of unofficial French exports of nuclear materials and probably Russian too. I imagine that the military types here are interested in doing more tests, but I think that overall the country is desperate for more energy, and with the deal it is likely that there will be more investment in nuclear energy. But India needs trained folks to build and run these places. Here's something the US could do: offer lots of scholarships to train these folks in the US. It is, by the way, what the French will do. And maybe even the Russians.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Gandhi's birthday

Great picture of "little Gandhi"s from Spiegal Online as we have a holiday on Thursday to celebrate Gandhi Jayanthi.

Today I received an SMS from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting: "Let us follow the path of truth and non-violence shown by Mahatma Gandhi". I guess everyone did.

september madness

I am constantly harping on my students to think about creative ways of presenting information, both quantitative and qualitative. Here is an interesting presentation of September Madness, echoing the brackets of March Madness.