Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Some political ads

A great magazine cover with the political leaders of the parties other than Congress and BJP (the largest two, and most nation-wide parties). Most expect a coalition government as an outcome of the election, so these players could be quite powerful. One possibility is that they all align together (hence, the Third Front). However, most are leaders of regional parties. I wonder what language they use with each other.
One BJP ad.
Another BJP ad.
A close up of the image of Mr. Advani. The stance cracks me up -- like something out of Star Trek.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Some political signage

The general election underway in a long, long process here in India must be more colorful and active in other parts of India, but it seems fairly low key here. Here are some political signs from around Bangalore as well as a few from Tamil Nadu.
Here in Bangalore, on the street. There are lots of "beloved leaders" around.
In Tamil Nadu. Here note that the candidate's BTech from London is noted on the sign, and in English. You also see the swastika, used in decorations frequently, as an ancient symbol and with no connection to its use by the Nazis.
The beloved leader with sunglasses is a common look for politicians in South India.
This one looks like a big campaign pin.Below is not a sign, but the back of a jeep that was serving as a campaign vehicle in the countryside of Andra Pradesh, when we drove to Chennai. I didn't get the snap fast enough for the whole car, but you can see one Congress sign and the loudspeaker on the top.

In the bathroom at the World Bank Delhi Office

I made a quick trip to Delhi last week, to attend a workshop at the World Bank's office on some modeling on low carbon growth. Nice building in a nice part of town (near the India International Centre). I hadn't been to Delhi in several years, and it clearly has grown. There is construction everywhere in preparation for the Commonwealth Games -- stadiums, metro extension, roads. I hope to make more trips (hopefully longer than 1 day) to have more to say about Delhi, but in the meantime, the most surprising thing I found was in the women's bathroom in the basement (near the big conference room and cafeteria) of the Bank:
Nice to see they take it seriously.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Yummy sweets from Chennai

These are some shots from Grand Sweets, quite an institution in the Adyar section of Chennai. It has always been packed with people whenever I've gone (almost every trip there, so many times). I take the high quality snacks for granted, but really appreciate (even more now that we are living here) the organization of the place: seats while you wait for them to prepare your order, a hand wash station, knowledgeable and pleasant staff (especially important for me in terms of allergy info). I used to think that it was crowded because I went on or near festival days, but now that I've gone on "normal" days too, I see that high quantity is part of its charm.
It is clean, there is constant high so you can be assured the products are fresh, and there are both sweet and savory snacks.
It is perhaps the only place outside of a medical or dental office where I have seen chairs remain in order, and so many provided. To the left is the hot snack area, convenient when you are waiting for your package to be prepared. It is still India, so it might take a while, but it is quite efficient compared to most commercial locales. Checking out at the grocery store, for example, might be quick, but more often takes a v-e-r-y long time.
These are the women working at hot food stall.Compressed banana leaf plates. I have to think this is a great product for India and other tropical countries (the Caribbean, for example) to get into on a large scale. Environmentally sustainable, use a "waste" product, biodegradable, etc.On the far right is the advance order and shipment office. Also some religious thing that I don't understand.
The place to wash your hands after you eat. Every eatery has one.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The beaches in Chennai

Chennai has two main beaches -- Marina and Elliot's. Sub's parents live near Elliot's Beach, but Marina is the big one. Both have lots of fishermen around (and thus their villages nearby), and Marina is near the Port of Chennai with HUGE ships on the horizon. Neither are great for swimming because of strong riptides, both both are full of economic activity and people.

These are of Elliot's Beach in the early morning. A few things to note: pretty nice sidewalk, fairly clean area, and semi-organized areas of commerce.
Later in the day and into the evening, all these stalls will be busy with throngs of people.
Housing near the beach, with the requisite political signage.
Nighttime at the beach.
My photos of Marina Beach didn't work out, but I will try to get some more.

Tamil New Year

Still in Chennai ...
In front of his grandparents' apartment, Amartya is admiring his grandmother's design and telling me he doesn't want his picture taken. She does this almost everyday, but there are fancier ones around today because of the Tamil New Year.
The sun is quite bright so distorts the images, but you can get a sense of them.
One of the amazing things about India is that anything ever gets done with all of the holidays being celebrated by one group or another. Today is Tamil New Year, so we ate special foods (some really yummy mango dish as well as a more normal vermicelli with milk and sugar), and some priests visited my in-laws to perform some pooja service in memory of ancestors.
Another amazing thing is how much commerce occurs around these holidays. I need to do a more thorough analysis of this, but for New Years three of these carts have popped up around the local temple. One table sells oil in little clay pots as diyas for the temple, one sells both greens used as offerings and flowers, and one sells only flowers.
Making garlands by stringing jasmine and bouganvilla together.Here is a poorly shot video that captures some of the sights and especially sounds of the nearby temple. I couldn't shoot anything inside the temple, and there are also lighting problems, but you get a sense of it.

Easter in Chennai

After seeing church after church packed with worshipers in Kerala during our trip, I was more prepared to the faithful overflowing here in Chennai. What I wasn't prepared for was the way that the days around Easter were "celebrated". On Good Friday, the church down the street laid out a body of Jesus in a coffin and left it in the middle of the aisle, much as a "normal" funeral would do in the US. Folks would then go up to the prone statue and touch it (the "Hindu" touch), much as I have seen them do to the Mary statues shown here at other times.

Also, you'll note the neon all over the place in the church. I was also accustomed to Easter Saturday being very quiet and mournful. Not here, where the Saturday night was like a big picnic. These pix are a bit fuzzy, but you should get the picture of families coming with their blankets and tiffin boxes (the Indian equivalent of a US picnic basket) camping out in the common area that served as a parking lot for Easter sunday itself (and that I remember as a mass camp after the Tsunami).
Note that worshippers leave their shoes outside. Not everyone does this, but many do.

Everyone lights candles, including us, so we need to buy them first.Lots of things to pray for in this world.
It takes a little getting used to -- the idea of Mary in a sari, but here are a couple of examples.
This was a nice followup to our Seder in Bangalore, where we used cilantro instead of parlsey, and parathas and rotis (flatbread both) instead of matzo, and followed a very free form Haggadah based on a kid's book.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Comments on some articles

I have been quite lazy just posting pictures and not writing, so this morning I thought I'd link to some news-related articles that I've read lately that are thought provoking.

Tom Friedman's "The Price is Not Right" in the April 1 New York Times argues that our climate and financial problems stem from mispricing risk. In econ-babble, this means we are not internalizing the externalities on the climate side, and properly evaluating uncertainty and risk on the financial side. I think this is correct (and obvious), but the problem comes from the ability of folks active in these sector to transfer the costs (and responsibility) to others, a fundamentally political problem.

Davesh Kapur and Arvind Subramanian "The G-20 and IMF Reform" in The Business Standard addresses the mismatch between economic power today and the voting structure at the IMF. They begin, "The current Euro-Atlantic Monetary Fund must become an International Monetary Fund," and go on to say that probably the only thing that would force the Europeans to accept the necessary changes would be for the non-Europeans to "vote with their feet" and threaten to establish an Asian Monetary Fund (that I will label the AMF for short). I feel very old, as I have seen two rounds of discussion on such an AMF -- first after the 1982 debt crisis when the Japanese led the way, and now again. The self-insurance schemes the Asian countries have established themselves by building up reserves via sustained current account surpluses are of course part of the problem, as their fixed exchange rates and mania for these surpluses are the necessary flip side of the tremendous deficits in the US. I can already see some of my readers' eyes glazing over, but yes, this will be an economics lesson here.

Economists often debate about what drives what -- so, does my current account deficit drive your deficit or vice versa, or do other things drive the external sector (mismatches between savings, investment, and consumption)?; do capital flows drive the consumption/investment side or vice versa? We can talk about relationships between the variables, but we can't really see what determines what, can we? We can talk about a mathematical relationship, that after the fact capital account plus current account plus change in reserves must be equal to zero, and that the difference in the capital account and current account leads to reserves increasing or decreasing. On a personal level, the availability of credit allows one to consume more than the available cash, yet sometimes one looks for credit to finance a large purchase. So it is very hard to say what drives what. However, we certainly can say that the East Asian trade-driven growth based on undervalued exchange rates led to huge trade surpluses for them, and "enabled" the overconsumption credit binge in the US (I don't know enough about the European situation here to say anything intelligent about it in this case). A floating exchange rate would have allowed, no, required some of the adjustment that is happening violently now to happen gradually, and in a more orderly way by making these Asian exports more expensive, making US products more competitive there, and prevented some of these huge imbalances.

Okay, bear with me, just a little more economics here. Now, part of the problem with the IMF historically (there are many problems, but I'll just focus on one here, and one that traditionally isn't discussed much) is that while it has power over countries with deficits (as they desperately need to finance them), they have no such power over countries with big surpluses, who can continue to run them and build up reserves if they decide they want to (I won't bore you with the costs of that right now).

So .... I agree that the voting shares need to be dramatically shifted. But we also need to think about what the IMF does, the kinds of policies it implements, and many other things about it.

Paul Krugman's "China's Dollar Trap" talks about the problems the Chinese have because of their huge reserve holdings of US dollars and dollar-denominated securities. As he notes, this causes a problem for them as much as for us (and the world) because they stand to lose a lot of value if the dollar were to depreciate substantially. He says that the Chinese call for increased use of SDRs is a sign of weakness. I agree with his statement:
"The bottom line is that China hasn’t yet faced up to the wrenching changes that will be needed to deal with this global crisis. The same could, of course, be said of the Japanese, the Europeans — and us." The domestic implications of these international changes are going to be dramatic, and perhaps the biggest unknown of all with the largest implications for the future of the world economy is how the Chinese government, and then its economy and people, adapt. Again, I think this is fairly obvious, but when I read articles in the press around the world it seems like many are ignoring this.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Kerala - Politics, mainly

Kerala is impressive in many ways -- peaceful coexistence of Hindus, Muslims, Jews (okay, so there aren't so many of these anymore), Christians, and others; close to universal literacy, including girls, no mean feat in a country with tremendous illiteracy; few slums; and one of the first, if not the first, elected Marxist governments. I saw more government hospitals in three days than I have seen in my half year here in Bangalore. People were very friendly and helpful.

Here are some shots of politically oriented posters, signs, and flags in Fort Cochin and on the way to Aleppy.
Che is still quite popular here.Lots of political signage everywhere.Near a beach on Vypin Island.

A political meeting.

Your average hammer and sickle combination wash spot and "boat stop" along the backwaters.Political graffiti in Fort Cochin.
The Maoists are big here.
But the ghost of Indira Gandhi looms large everywhere, even here in Communist country.
Lest we think that communism means dull utilitarian life, here are shots of some of the more materialist side of life. There were ads for jewelry everywhere. But also for schools.
And everyone needs their BMW.