Google Analytics

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Vicious Cycle of Stupid Capitalism

“To live fully, we must learn to use things and love people, and not love things and use people.” 
John Powell 

Work. Earn. Buy. Work harder. Earn more. Buy more. Want more. Work even harder. Wages stagnate. Prices go up. Use credit. Want more. Use more credit. Buy even more. Prices rise. Wages stay stagnant. Start giving up essentials; use more credit to buy more stuff. Get deeper and deeper in debt. Repeat.

Therein lies the vicious cycle of the stupid, wasteful, excessive consumptive capitalism that we have become trapped in. One in which companies are driven purely by profiteering based on selling us more stuff; no longer innovating or solving real problems but simply updating existing products with more memory, larger screen sizes or higher definition. We in turn want to keep up with the Joneses and even though there is absolutely no reason to discard your iPhone 5, ROKU 1 or 2009 model 40” LG flat screen TV, we want the newest gadgets and products because everyone else has them.

Even if you try to resist the urge to constantly consume (like our family does), companies have started to ensure that we have no choice. Many now make products with shorter lifespans, that fall apart in a less than a couple of years. I still remember when all white goods and even clothes and furniture from my parents’ generation lasted for decades. My father’s shoes and shirts lasted him more than twenty years; mine last less than two. My mother’s fridge stayed with us for more than a decade; our last one broke in one year. My last laptop died two years after I bought it. I had to buy a new one after Lenovo told me that the cost of replacing the broken part would be more than I paid for the laptop. In fact, it has gotten so out of hand that leading up to the financial crisis people were buying and selling homes as regularly as people upgrade iPhones.

Today, it is as if companies exist purely for profit at all costs. Consumption and consumerism has reached a fever pitch and are now bordering on insanity. Amazon just introduced a DASH button that allows you to re-order household products the moment you start to run low (Source: TechCrunch article). God forbid we ever run out of paper towels or washing detergent, the world might end; toilet paper is another matter entirely.

Perhaps, it started with Wall Street’s introduction of quarterly earnings results which were presumably designed to gauge the health of public companies and create greater transparency. Somewhere along the way it became a measure of profits, with growth expected every quarter. Shareholders started to expect their piece of this pie via an always rising share price and dividends every quarter. 

The problem with this model is that companies realistically cannot grow at such a frenetic pace. Such rapid rate of growth is neither realistic nor feasible and leads to putting the kinds of pressure on management that always lead to ill-conceived and myopic decisions at best and totally dishonest, illegal and fraudulent ones at worst. Essentially, we have created a system where we reward short-term success, at any cost, and penalize long-term or strategic thinking, the type that leads to real and sustainable growth.

This is not a viable model of capitalism and more importantly it is based largely on false premises and unrealistic expectations. It is not the fundamentals of capitalist theory that are in question but the people applying them who seem to have become increasingly devoid of ethics, morals, principles and personal responsibility. We have created a system where winner takes all, at the expense of everyone else. If we continue down this path we are putting the wonderful system of capitalism on a path to failure and also creating conditions for major social unrest across the world.

It seems that all sins are permissible as long as companies continue to produce profits. And when senior leadership fails, they simply move on to the next job with a golden parachute, instead of into management oblivion or jail where they really belong. After Enron, every senior executive learned to never leave an email or paper trail; when topics broached sensitive territory in e-mails, they would often write ‘LDL’—let’s discuss live.” (Source: New Yorker). It used to take generations to amass substantial wealth. Today, between Wall Street hedge funds and Silicon Valley startups Rockefeller and Vanderbilt-like wealth is being created in a matter of years, and is often based on valuations pulled out of blue sky or based on misleading small investors.

Even the world of academia has succumbed to this growing greed and worship of money. Colleges, whose critical role was to broaden minds beyond traditional spheres of influence and thinking and to encourage generations to discover, are busy peddling sophisticated financial models that help companies evaluate ‘risk.’ Professors have become advisers to large corporations, showing up on company boards and espousing ‘financial and economic’ expertise via regular columns in newspapers or appearances on television and basking under the bright lights of six and seven figure celebrity. 

There are numerous reports of how talk of becoming a doctor, public servant, poet or teacher has long disappeared from the modern day dorm rooms. Today, it is all about how kids can make their first million dollars before starting their sophomore year in college. 

We have moved away from the notion of steady, honest hard work as the key recipes for success to a model that supports fast, easy, reality-TV-type do-nothing success. Everything is about an exit and not about building companies that span generations. Bluster wins the day while substance, it seems, is considered old-fashioned and outdated.

With this approach to success we have washed away the fundamental human values and principles that used to govern our inner consciences. We are looking out for ourselves (in much larger numbers than generations before us) and worried less about improving the lives of our employees, communities and children.

So we can blame our politicians, the business elites, media and everyone else for our woes and push for stricter laws and more stringent regulation, but I don’t believe this will solve the deeper underlying problem we are facing; we have made money our new God. It is this greed that we need to tackle; one that forgoes ethics, principles and decency in a bid to get ahead. 

Until we remember that each of us has a greater responsibility to society and to the generations that follow, we will remain plagued by this imbalance in our lives and in our little global village.

Friday, April 22, 2016

To the Weird and the Wonderful: Prince Rogers Nelson

(Image: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Who is that freak asked my mother when I proudly pulled out the Purple Rain vinyl record, from the HMV bag to show my parents how I had spent my pocket money. Yes, I said defiantly, “he is a freak and so am I”.  I was thirteen years old, had just fallen in love with the music of a freak named Prince, and was I damned proud of it.

As I turned and walked away I chuckled to myself, wondering how my mother would react when she heard the lyrics to Darling Nikki. 
I knew a girl named Nikki 
I guess you could say she was a sex fiend
I met her in a hotel lobby
Masturbating with a magazine… 

My next act of teenage defiance was to go see Purple Rain the movie, which was A rated, and officially released the day after my birthday; which of course I took to be a sign. Therein lies the magic of Prince; I truly believe that people who found and loved his music will also have deeply personal connections, experiences and memories of this discovery. 

Prince once said “I’m not a woman. I’m not a man. I am something that you’ll never understand;” but yet it feels like he understood each one of us in a way few artists ever do. I love music and admire many bands and singers but there was something special about this freak. He was proud of being a freak. He was not scared of being weird, of being different, of being himself. And perhaps it was this deep, pure and unadulterated confidence in his being that came through in his music and gave us all permission to be teenage freaks.

Being a teenager is hard enough. Add pimples, girls, plumpness, girls and the complexities of navigating teendom increase exponentially. For me Prince was the beacon who helped us navigate those weird, wonderful and at times superficially torturous years. He gave us permission to go forth and be ourselves; pimples, warts and all.

Part of his allure was that unlike most pop stars he seemed shy, nervous and almost insular. It was like he wanted to share the genius of his musical soul and then hide from the fame that naturally accompanies it. Perhaps it was this quality that made him more endearing and made him feel more like a family member than a distant pop icon.

To a genius, recluse, singer, performer, hermit, producer, man, songwriter, guitar God, woman, dancer, the funk, the punk, the misfit, multi-instrumentalist and mysterious enigma we knew and loved – we finally know what it feel like when doves cry…

RIP Sweet, sweet Prince.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Back Room*. A short film

Image credit: Still from Gertie the Dinosaur (Windsor McCay, 1914)


We open in a smoke-filled private room of a high-end restaurant. We see a group of old white men in expensive looking suits sitting around a table. It is clear that they have finished eating dinner; they are now sipping cognac and enjoying Cuban cigars. Their body language shows that they are in the midst of a heated discussion and debate.  

Our meeting takes place a few weeks after Marco Rubio has quit the Republican primary race, after a humiliating defeat in his home state. 

Old White Man 1 
Kasich is pretty much out of this, it is now between Trump and Cruz... 

Old White Man 2 
…yeah, and THAT is basically why we are fucked and need a new plan... 

Old White Man 3 about being shit out of luck. How the hell could this happen. 
I was assured that Bush was a shoe-in. I mean who knew George W. 
would turn out to be the smarter son! Feel I should get my money back… 

Old White Man 4 
Oh, stop fuckin crying over spilt milk…
the question is how do we stop Cruz and Trump?  

Old White Man 5 
He is right. If we don’t stop them, then the gravy trains ends right here 
- for every person in this room…and that cannot be allowed to happen. 

Old White Man 6 
There is one way but it will require a united front… 

Old White Man 6 
We ALL need to rally around Ted Cruz. We need to do it publicly and loudly while also
making VERY clear that there will be no new establishment nominee inserted into the
equation, at the convention. 

Old White Man 2 
Ted Cruz - are you nuts? I mean that man is crazier than Trump. 
Cruz has a brain and an agenda, which makes him far more dangerous 
because unlike Trump he knows what he is doing…!!! 

Old White Man 3 
Yeah, that makes no sense at all. If I have to choose between the two, 
I would rather have a man who is bat shit crazy and has no idea what 
he is doing, than someone who knows exactly what he is doing  
– Cruz is far more dangerous to this party and our way of life. 

Old White Man 6 
Gentlemen, please! I understand the hesitation and fear 
in supporting a man whom none of us want in this party, 
leave alone to be the face of it. But this is the only way now. 

All the men look exasperated; some throw their hands up in despair while a few seem to be
muttering under their breath. 

Old White Man 6 
We need to let the race run out to the convention to kill this cancer. 
In states where Cruz has no chance Kasich will play spoiler 
and take votes from Trump. This way neither Cruz nor Trump will
have the votes needed to win outright… 

Old White Man 3 
…and once we make it to convention, they will be on our turf… 

Old White Man 4 
…and that means they will have to play by the rules. 

Old White Man 6 
…and we know that neither Cruz nor Trump will ever
win a delegate majority in the first two rounds of voting… 

For the first time we see smiles all around the table; a triumphant mood prevails. 

Old White Man 5 
Eliminate Cruz, dump Trump, Rubio can come back into play;
But so can pretty much anybody else in the third round of voting… 

Old White Man 4 
…and if it gets really ugly and nobody can agree then we will be forced into finding a
consensus candidate to come in and save the party… 

Old White Man 6 
…now the first thing we need to do is get Paul Ryan to hold a press conference and assure
everyone that he is neither seeking nor will accept the party’s nomination
under any circumstances…


*Note: this is a work of fiction. Please read and enjoy responsibly.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Why I Applaud Modi’s Decision to Allow a Pakistan Investigating Team on Indian Soil

The Pakistani team with NIA officers at the agency headquarters in Delhi, Monday. (Indian Express Photo: Tashi Tobgyal)
"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."
Winston Churchill 

The Indian government just allowed a Joint Investigative Team (JIT) from Pakistan “unfettered” access to the Pathankot crime scene, a terrorist attack allegedly orchestrated by rogue elements within the Pakistani government (Source: Indian Express article). On the surface this would seem counter-intuitive or as someone on Twitter put it, “it’s like inviting a murderer to investigate the crime scene.” 

I expect this will be the reaction from the vast majority of the Indian media and public, most believing that Modi has made a mistake. The opposition parties have already painted the Prime Minister as spineless (the BJP would have done the same if the roles were reversed) and Modi’s own base has been eerily silent, which means they too are critical and see it as a sign of weakness.

However, I support Modi’s decision and believe it is not only the right thing to do, but also a brilliant tactical manoeuvre for both India and Pakistan’s civilian government.  I think a brief history of Pakistan-India relations is relevant here.

First, anyone familiar with Pakistani politics knows that the elected civilian government and Prime Minister have little control or decision-making power. The army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) control virtually every aspect of Pakistan’s economy and national defense.

Additionally, it is an open secret that there are elements within the ISI who have long been playing a double game (originally with the blessing and help of the CIA), using terrorist groups to maintain their foothold in Afghanistan and to fight a proxy war with India, over Kashmir.

That there is a powerful group within Pakistan who does not want peace is clear, but there are also vested interests on the Indian side who want to maintain the current status quo, because any peace agreement will require a discussion on the future of Kashmir.

So it is not surprising that peace talks get undermined by conveniently timed ‘unacceptable events’ (like the release of Hafiz Saeed from detention) or an attack on Indian soil. All happen around the time talks are scheduled, giving both sides an easy out. On our side the Prime Minister is painted as weak if he tries to engage in talks without ridiculous pre-conditions that any rational person knows no Pakistani civilian government has the authority to grant or agree to.

So here is why I applaud Modi’s decision to permit a joint investigation, for the first time in our history.

First, if Nawaz Sharif is serious about making headway with peace talks, which means shutting down terror groups that operate with impunity inside Pakistan’s borders, his hands are tied in terms of what he can do. This grand gesture by Modi provides Sharif with the external impetus to apply internal pressure, and pursue a public and high profile investigation that must now have teeth or risk facing international embarrassment. I also believe there are others within the army, ISI and government who share Sharif’s views.

The execution of a bodyguard, who murdered Salmaan Taseer, a secular, liberal governor who campaigned to change Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, was the first signal to me of a major turning point (Source: NY Times article). The bodyguard had become something of a celebrity in jihadist circles and even has a mosque dedicated to him. So while they will never admit it publicly, I believe the Pakistani establishment now seems serious about taking on the cancer they created. Perhaps, it is out of necessity; they see people growing wary of government inaction against radical Islamist ideology and bombing after bombing that targets innocent women and children.

Secondly, in doing this, Modi has sent a strong and clear signal to the United States and the United Nations that India is willing to co-operate without pre-conditions in a joint terrorism investigation. The ball now falls squarely in Pakistan’s court to prove that they too are serious about rooting out home grown jihadism and joining the world in this fight. If Pakistan fails to deliver after publicly being handed the terrorist’s DNA, family details and unfettered access to the crime scene, then India still comes out on top. This also strengthens India’s hand for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council by showing that they can act responsibly, putting global security ahead of the government’s own narrow political self-interest.

Finally, I have always believed that to resolve conflict and make real progress, somebody needs to take the higher ground and stop posturing. This usually means one party agreeing to do something in good faith, even before the other party has done anything in return. Of course it is also always difficult for the party seen to acquiesce. It therefore takes courage and means ignoring popularity ratings, sentiments of the electorate and even the advice of your own national security advisors, as I am sure Modi did in this case.

Sure, it is a gamble and nothing might come of it, but for all the reasons I have outlined, it is worth doing in order to break the status quo, and to try to make some meaningful progress. There can be no prosperity without peace on our borders.

The world is a more dangerous place today because most governments talk the talk, but rarely take actions that will make them unpopular with their electorates or make their leadership look ‘weak’ – even if they know it is the right thing to do. For this reason, we should all applaud our Prime Minister’s decision on this matter.