Monthly Archives: June 2008

Economics

What is it about economics which is so complicated and difficult to understand? I admit, though I get the fundamentals of economics, give me a problem; ask me to solve it using economic models and I am stumped. Supply-Demand curves, deadweight losses et all are fine, but government policies? Consumer/Producer surplus curves and their effect on taxation etc? No thanks.

So I was very impressed by an economist article I read recently. By all counts, the econs articles I have read are either way too technical for my pea-sized brain or way too complicated for my straight connectors to decipher. So it was a pleasant surprise when I read this. I was even more surprised by the author, for Paul Krugman is a very well-known figure in the world of economics and to get such a simple explanation from him reinforces the age-old saying ‘If you cannot explain any of your ideas or concepts to a child, then you do not understand that concept yourself’. That quote is attributed Einstein, Emerson and a host of other people though the wordings differ according to the day and age.


HEARTS AND HEADS

Anti-globalization protestors want to turn the world into a nasty place. There is an old European saying: anyone who is not a socialist before he is 30 has no heart; anyone who is still a socialist after he is 30 has no head. Suitably updated, this applies perfectly to the movement against globalization — the movement that made its big splash in Seattle back in 1999 and is doing its best to disrupt the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City this weekend.

The facts of globalization are not always pretty. If you buy a product made in a third-world country, it was produced by workers who are paid incredibly little by Western standards and probably work under awful conditions. Anyone who is not bothered by those facts, at least some of the time, has no heart.

But that doesn’t mean the demonstrators are right. On the contrary: anyone who thinks that the answer to world poverty is simple outrage against global trade has no head — or chooses not to use it. The anti-globalization movement already has a remarkable track record of hurting the very people and causes it claims to champion.

The most spectacular example was last year’s election. You might say that because people with no heads indulged their idealism by voting for Ralph Nader, people with no hearts are running the world’s most powerful nation.

Even when political action doesn’t backfire, when the movement gets what it wants, the effects are often startlingly malign. For example, could anything be worse than having children work in sweatshops? Alas, yes. In 1993, child workers in Bangladesh were found to be producing clothing for Wal-Mart, and Senator Tom Harkin proposed legislation banning imports from countries employing underage workers. The direct result was that Bangladeshi textile factories stopped employing children. But did the children go back to school? Did they return to happy homes? Not according to Oxfam, which found that the displaced child workers ended up in even worse jobs, or on the streets — and that a significant number were forced into prostitution.

The point is that third-world countries aren’t poor because their export workers earn low wages; it’s the other way around. Because the countries are poor, even what look to us like bad jobs at bad wages are almost always much better than the alternatives: millions of Mexicans are migrating to the north of the country to take the low-wage export jobs that outrage opponents of Nafta. And those jobs wouldn’t exist if the wages were much higher: the same factors that make poor countries poor — low productivity, bad infrastructure, general social disorganization — mean that such countries can compete on world markets only if they pay wages much lower than those paid in the West.

Of course, opponents of globalization have heard this argument, and they have answers. At a conference last week I heard paeans to the superiority of traditional rural lifestyles over modern, urban life — a claim that not only flies in the face of the clear fact that many peasants flee to urban jobs as soon as they can, but that (it seems to me) has a disagreeable element of cultural condescension, especially given the overwhelming preponderance of white faces in the crowds of demonstrators. (Would you want to live in a pre-industrial village?) I also heard claims that rural poverty in the third world is mainly the fault of multinational corporations — which is just plain wrong, but is a convenient belief if you want to think of globalization as an unmitigated evil.

The most sophisticated answer was that the movement doesn’t want to stop exports — it just wants better working conditions and higher wages.

But it’s not a serious position. Third-world countries desperately need their export industries — they cannot retreat to an imaginary rural Arcadia. They can’t have those export industries unless they are allowed to sell goods produced under conditions that Westerners find appalling, by workers who receive very low wages. And that’s a fact the anti- globalization activists refuse to accept. So who are the bad guys? The activists are getting the images they wanted from Quebec City: leaders sitting inside their fortified enclosure, with thousands of police protecting them from the outraged masses outside. But images can deceive. Many of the people inside that chain-link fence are sincerely trying to help the world’s poor. And the people outside the fence, whatever their intentions, are doing their best to make the poor even poorer.

Originally published in The New York Times, 4.22.01

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Office Lingo

I was reading a BBC article about office jargon. BBC usually asks the public for their opinion. I found them so hilarious that I have decided to copy them here.

Note: The names have been removed below each quote. For the actual article, go here (Boss Speak)

1. “When I worked for Verizon, I found the phrase going forward to be more sinister than annoying. When used by my boss – sorry, “team leader” – it was understood to mean that the topic of conversation was at an end and not be discussed again.”

2. “My employers (top half of FTSE 100) recently informed staff that we are no longer allowed to use the phrase brain storm because it might have negative connotations associated with fits. We must now take idea showers. I think that says it all really.”

3. At my old company (a US multinational), anyone involved with a particular product was encouraged to be a product evangelist. And software users these days, so we hear, want to be platform atheists so that their computers will run programs from any manufacturer.”

4.Incentivise is the one that does it for me.”

5. “My favourite which I hear from the managers at the bank I work for is let’s touch base about that offline. I think it means have a private chat but I am still not sure.”

6. “Have you ever heard the term loop back which means go back to an associate and deal with them?”

7-8. “We used to collect the jargon used in a list and award the person with the most at the end of the year. The winner was a client manager with the classic you can’t turn a tanker around with a speed boat change. What? Second was we need a holistic, cradle-to-grave approach, whatever that is.”

9. “Until recently I had to suffer working for a manager who used phrases such as the idiotic I’ve got you in my radar in her speech, letters and e-mails. Once, when I mentioned problems with the phone system, she screamed ‘NO! You don’t have problems, you have challenges’. At which point I almost lost the will to live.”

10. “You can add challenge to the list. Problems are no longer considered problems, they have morphed into challenges.”

11. “Business speak even supersedes itself and does so with silliness, the shorthand for quick win is now low hanging fruit.”

12. “And looking under the bonnet.”

13-14. “The business-speak that I abhor is pre-prepare and forward planning. Is there any other kind of preparedness or planning?”

15-16. “The one that really gets me is pre-plan – there is no such thing. Either you plan or you don’t. The new one which has got my goat is conversate, widely used to describe a conversation. I just wish people could learn to ‘think outside the box’ although when they put us in cubes what do they expect?”

17. “I work in one of those humble call centres for a bank. Apparently, what we’re doing at the moment is sprinkling our magic along the way. It’s a call centre, not Hogwarts.”

18. “A pet hate is the utterly pointless expression in this space. So instead of the perfectly adequate ‘how can I help?’ it’s ‘how can I help in this space?’ Or the classic I heard on Friday, ‘How can we help our customers in this space going forward?’ I think I may have caught this expression at source, as I’ve yet to hear it said outside my own working environment. So I’m on a personal crusade to stamp it out before it starts infecting other City institutions. Wish me luck in this space.”

19.Outwith. Common use – if an issue is not covered by the contract, it is said to ‘outwith the contract’. Is it nonsensical or is it an Americanism? It doesn’t appear to be included in online American dictionaries. Irrespective, it should NOT be allowed.”

20. “‘Going forward’ is only half the phrase that gets up my nose – all politicians seem to use the phrase go forward together. ‘We must… we shall… let us now… go forward together’. It gives me a terrible mental image of the whole country linking arms and goose-stepping in unison, with the politicians out in front doing a straight-armed salute. Is it just me?”

21. “I am a financial journalist and am on a mission to remove words and phrases such as 360-degree thinking from existence.”

22. “The latest that’s stuck in my head is we are still optimistic things will feed through the sales and delivery pipeline (ie: we actually haven’t sold anything to anyone yet but maybe we will one day).”

23. “I worked in PR for many years and often heard the most ludicrous phrases uttered by CEOs and marketing managers. One of the best was, we’d better not let the grass grow too long on this one. To this day it still echoes in my ears and I giggle to myself whenever I think about it. I can’t help but think insecure business people use such phrases to cover up their inability for proper articulation.”

24. “Need to get all my ducks in a row now – before the five-year-olds wake up.”

25. “Australians have started to use auspice as a verb. Instead of saying, ‘under the auspices of…’, some people now say things like, it was auspiced by…

26. “My favourite: we’ve got our fingers down the throat of the organisation of that nodule. Translation = Er, no, WE sorted out the problems to cover your backside.”

Theo de Bray, Kettering, UK

27. “The health service in Wales is filled with managers who use this type of language as a substitute for original thought. At meetings we play health-speak bingo; counting the key words lightens the tedium of meetings – including, most recently, my door is open on this issue. What does that mean?”

28-29. “The business phrase I find most irritating is close of play, which is only slightly worse than actioning something.”

30. “Here in the US we have the cringe-worthy and also in addition. Then there’s the ever-eloquent ‘where are we at?’ So far, I haven’t noticed the UK’s at the end of the day prefacing much over here; thank heavens for small mercies.”

31. “The expression that drives me nuts is 110%, usually said to express passion/commitment/support by people who are not very good at maths. This has created something of a cliche-inflation, where people are now saying 120%, 200%, or if you are really REALLY committed, 500%. I remember once the then-chancellor Gordon Brown saying he was 101% behind Tony Blair, to which people reacted ‘What? Only 101?'”

32. “My least favourite business-speak term is not enough bandwidth. When an employee used this term to refuse an additional assignment, I realised I was completely ‘out of the loop’.”

33. “I once had a boss who said, ‘You can’t have your cake and eat it, so you have to step up to the plate and face the music.’ It was in that moment I knew I had to resign before somebody got badly hurt by a pencil.”

34.Capture your colleagues – make sure everyone attends that risk management workshop (compulsory common sense training for idiots).”

35-37. “We too used to have daily paradigm shifts, now we have stakeholders who must come to the party or be left out, or whatever.”

38. “I have taken to playing buzzword bingo when in meetings. It certainly makes it more entertaining when I am feeding it back (or should that be cascading) at work.”

39. “In my work environment it’s all cascading at the moment. What they really mean is to communicate or disseminate information, usually downwards. What they don’t seem to appreciate is that it sounds like we’re being wee’d on. Which we usually are.”

40. “At a large media company where I once worked, the head of human resources – itself a weaselly neologism for personnel – told us that she would be cascading down new information to staff. What she meant was she was going to send them a memo. It was one of the reasons I resigned – that, and the fact that the chief exec persisted on referring to the company as a really cool train set.”

41. “Working for an American corporation, this year’s favourite word seems to be granularity, meaning detail. As in ‘down to that level of granularity’.”

42. “On the wall of our office we have a large signed certificate, signed by all the senior management team, in which they solemnly promise to leverage their talents, display and inspire ‘unyielding integrity’, and lots of other pretentious buzz-phrases like that. Clueless, the lot of them.”

43. “After a reduction in workforce, my university department sent this notice out to confused campus customers: ‘Thank you for your note. We are assessing and mitigating immediate impacts, and developing a high-level overview to help frame the conversation with our customers and key stakeholders. We intend to start that process within the week. In the meantime, please continue to raise specific concerns or questions about projects with my office via the Transition Support Center…”

44. “I was told I’d be living the values from now on by my employers at a conference the other week. Here’s some modern language for them – meh. A shame as I strongly believe in much of what my employers aim to do. I refuse to adopt the voluntary sectors’ client title of ‘service user’. How is someone who won’t so much as open the door to me using my service? Another case of using four syllables where one would do.”

45. “Business talk 2.0 is maddening, meaningless, patronising and I despise it.”

46. “Lately I’ve come across the strategic staircase. What on earth is this? I’ll tell you; it’s office speak for a bit of a plan for the future. It’s not moving on but moving up. How strategic can a staircase really be? A lot I suppose, if you want to get to the top without climbing over all your colleagues.”

47. “When a stock market is down why must we be told it is in negative territory?”

48. “The particular phrase I love to hate is drill down, which handily can be used either as an adverb/verb combo or as a compound noun, ie: ‘the next level drill-down’, sometimes even in the same sentence – a nice bit of multi-tasking.”

49. “Thanks for the impactful article; I especially appreciated the level of granularity. A high altitude view often misses the siloed thinking typical of most businesses. Absent any scheme for incentivitising clear speech, however, I’m afraid we’re stuck with biz-speak.”

50. “It wouldn’t do the pinstripers any harm to crack a smile and say what they really felt once in a while instead of trotting out such clinical platitudes. Of course a group of them may need to workshop it first: Wouldn’t want to wrongside the demographic.”

Words!

Found a very interesting article about the premier usage of common words like google, yahoo and email. I never dreamt that e-mail came from enamel and yahoo was first coined in 1726!!

Regarding the yahoo etymology, here is the actual meaning of yahoo 🙂 Rude and brutish person indeed! haha Makes me wonder why Jerry and David chose this word.

On another side note, here is another informative article about the do’s and don’ts of modern grammar…hmm

The Art of Being Unpretentious

I was reading an article on Boswell (for the uninitiated, Boswell wrote the biography Boswell on Johnson, the benchmark of biographies to date).

One of the paragraphs in the article got me thinking:

Finally, the use of language must be precise: On the Tour, Johnson had warned Boswell against exaggerations and using “big words for little matters” when Boswell had referred to a mountain as “immense.” “No,” Johnson had corrected him, “but ’tis a considerable protuberance.”

How often is it that we use unnecessary and bombastic words to make a point? How effective is it anyway? Is it better to stick to simple words which a layman understands?

I tend to favour the latter. Though I am more prone to the former, it is the latter which impresses me. A writer who can write in a language which is simple and comprehensive to everyone is by all accounts, a better writer compared to one who resorts to huge words and long winded sentences.

That’s because it is far more difficult to achieve the former than the latter. Let’s take a mathematician explaining Differentiation as a simple example. Wouldn’t you agree that a person who is able to explain the differentiation principle in a simple and clear manner has a far better grasp of the concept than someone who has to resort to other overly technical terms? Of course, that may not be possible all the time. It is a bit difficult to explain microcomputers to a person utterly ignorant of the inside workings of a computer and no matter what, some technical terms would be brought in. But you get my point.

An interesting point the above brings up: Shakespeare is universally acknowledged to have the widest English vocabulary and reading through his works forces one to constantly refer to the dictionary.

How does he fit into the above?

On that note, read The ultimate Literary Portrait, its quite humorous.

When When When

Got this forward, loved it.

When Gulli-Danda & Kanche (marbles) were more popular than cricket.

When we always had friends to play aais-paais (I Spy), chhepan-chhepai

& pitthoo anytime … When we desperately waited for ‘Yeh Jo Hai Jindagi’ (Doordarshan serial)

When chitrahaar, vikram-baitaal, Dada Daadi Ki Kahaniyaan were so fulfilling.

When there was just one Tv in every five houses and…

When Bisleris were not sold in the trains and we were worrying if papas

will get back into the train in time or not when they were getting down at

stations to fill up the water bottle …

When we were going to bed by 9.00pm sharp except for the ‘Yeh Jo Hai Jindagi’ day …

When Holis & Diwalis meant mostly hand-made pakwaans and sweets and moms

seeking our help while preparing them …

When Maths teachers were not worried of our Mummies and papas while slapping/beating us …

When we were exchanging comics and stamps and Chacha-Chaudaris & Billus were our heroes …

When we were in Nanihaals every summer and loved flying kites and plucking

and eating unripe mangoes and leechies …

When one movie every Sunday evening on television was more than asked for

and ‘ek do teen chaar’ and ‘Rajani’ inspired us …

When 50 paisa meant at least 10 toffees …

When left over pages of the last years notebooks were used for rough work or even fair work …

When ‘Chelpark’ and ‘Natraaj’ were encouraged against ‘Reynolds & family’ …

When the first rain meant getting drenched and playing in water and mud and

making ‘kaagaj ki kishtis’ …

When there were no phones to tell friends that we will be at their homes at

six in the evening …

When our parents always had 15 paise blue colored ‘Antardesis’ and 5 paise

machli wale stamps at home …

When we remembered tens of jokes and were not finding ‘ice-cream & papa’

type jokes foolish enough to stop us from laughing …

When we were not seeing patakhes on Diwalis and gulaals on

Holis as air and noise polluting or allergic agents …

The list can be endless …

On the serious note I would like to summarize with …

When we were using our hearts more than our brains, even for scientifically

brainy activities like ‘thinking’ and ‘deciding’ …

When we were crying and laughing more often, more openly and more sincerely..

When we were enjoying our present more than worrying about our future …

When being emotional was not synonymous to being weak …

When sharing worries and happiness didn’t mean getting vulnerable to the listener …

When blacks and whites were the favorite colors instead of greys …

When journeys also were important and not just the destinations …

When life was a passenger’s sleeper giving enough time and opportunity to

enjoy the sceneries from its open and transparent glass windows instead of some

super fast’s second ac with its curtained, closed and dark windows …

I really miss them .. don’t u?