Transparency and public health


I am sure you guessed it, right?

This is the second time China has defaulted on a public health emergency – I am referring to the Wuhan Coronavirus public health emergency, which is spreading all over the world. SARS outbreak in 2003 was the other debacle which China mismanaged leading to a global impact.

I am surprised that China, a leader in pushing for world’s globalization, still does not get it. It is not only trade and economy which are global. Public health is a serious concern in a globalized world as well. 100% transparency is called for in revealing everything about what happened in Wuhan. China should not consider a public release of information as hurting the Chinese national pride, or a big cause of national embarrassment. That should not be the case at all.

Leading nations of the world along with WHO are lining up to help China out of this crisis, not only because China is a large and populous country, but also because international mobility calls for well-coordinated actions between China and other countries. China obviously would not like all the flights originating from Wuhan to be banned all over the world, right? China would also like to address the root cause of such an epidemic and squelch it, right?

Fortunately, China has moved ahead with international coordination, shutting down several cities, and has shared more information with WHO. The virus should be contained in the next few days hopefully.

The danger of coronavirus is that it does not show any kind of illness symptoms for several days, and then rear its head making detection all the more difficult. Health experts are calling the phenomenon of potential patients carrying the virus as “walking pneumonia”. Highly dangerous due to the infectious nature of pneumonia. Extensive tests are required to unearth the presence of the coronavirus infection in new patients not showing any symptoms.

Coronavirus has brought to light the linkage between the virus and seafood or wild animals. It is well known that Chinese locals enjoy all kinds of seafood and game meat, which are not usually consumed in most other countries. Such animal – virus link was also established in the SARS epidemic which also originated in China. Nothing much can be done about the accepted and well-ingrained practice of consuming such food in China, but the immediate government action will be to clean up the seafood and meat markets by culling all species.

More international coverage has been forthcoming over the past couple of days which should throw more light on this virus. Whether our respective countries are the unfortunate recipients of this virus or not (via returning travellers from Wuhan), it is absolutely critical to stay updated on the news developments pertaining to this virus and take whatever necessary precautionary measures as advised by respective public health authorities. No country is immune from globalization (except Donald Trump may be?!!!).

It is rather unfortunate that the virus has hit China during its most important national festival – the Chinese New Year (which started yesterday 24th Friday eve and will continue till 27th Monday). Billions of journeys are undertaken within China during this period (which typically extends for a full week to 10 days), and the government is struggling to control the people migration in light of the infectious coronavirus. Imagine trying to accomplish something like that in a country of almost 1.4B people. Wuhan itself has 11M people!

Well, we can only hope China will stop the virus on its tracks and stop it from spreading further. All the best to China and WHO!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th January 2020

Personal Search Engine


Have you ever taken a deep dive into your own life and life experiences?

We rarely ever sit down to self-introspect and analyze our own life experiences – the good and the bad things that you did, the right and the wrong things that you did, the beautiful and ugly things that you have seen, the things that your mind has recorded for ever, the things that other people said about you, what your friends talked about you behind your back, and so on. We just carry on with our lives as though we have learnt nothing from these life experiences, and move ahead in a totally nonchalant manner. Most of us, at least.

However, there is a lot to be learnt from our own past experiences in our own lives, how we behaved in certain circumstances, how we spoke, how we treated others, how others treated us, did we blow up unnecessarily on family members, etc., Our ability and resolve to move forward is strengthened by such introspection and learning. Since we are in general egoistic, we tend to pepper over such past experiences in favour of our new found skills in advanced management!

I believe we should be walking around not with a weight-bearing old baggage, but a personal search engine which would quickly make a search on our past life experiences when we are faced with a new situation. What would I do, for example, when a new investment opportunity with considerable risk presents itself as a valid proposition from a well known person? What is my approach to a hard-charging sales person peddling what I know as products of dubious quality? How do I express myself on topics in which I have a disconnect from most of my friends and associates? How do I choose a hospital? How do I choose a new friend? There are countless such scenarios which emerge every other day in one’s life, and the critical enabler is our judgement which is a result of our past experiences.

Do we apply our judgement prudently? Mostly no, as the impact of friendships, relationships, influences and emotions is too big to be ignored. Our judgement gets clouded. Our life experiences from the past are unable to exert their much-needed learning and influence. So, we lose our way. It is absolutely critical to listen to our own conscience, if not our own brain. Don’t you think so?

As we plough along this path of self-examination and self-introspection, we would discover new things about ourselves which were not evident beforehand. The reason for this new discovery is not difficult to fathom: as we look into ourselves, our courage to do so helps us to see things very clearly, in a lucid manner, without any baggage. Such lucidity enables us to also see the right way forward in any kind of new situation. Not difficult, just not practiced by most people, that’s all!

In summary, I would like to emphasize the critical importance of a personal search on your own self before you look elsewhere – you are a treasure trove of hard-fought as well as badly managed life experiences, from which will spring new approaches, new thoughts and new way forward.

Have a wonderful week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

19th January 2020

Conversations with the Proletariat


Typically, I end up having conversations with people who are more intelligent than me. I am not saying that means a lot, but it does depict the circle that I usually move in – people with above average intelligence, folks who have made it in the corporate world or in business, academics, doctors, and so on and so forth.

It is not unusual though – most of my colleagues and friends have similar experiences. Conversations tend to be sometimes esoteric, sometimes very mundane, but never without an iota of insight. I can only say that I benefit most of the times from such conversations, as these fill in many of the empty blanks in my mind on matters of mutual interest.

However, most of us rarely have some deep conversations with the proletariat – this is not a demeaning term, it just denotes working class people mostly below the middle class which categorization precludes one (like me) from having a direct, routine contact. I am referring here to people like bus drivers, supermarket cashiers and store attendants, taxi drivers, shopping mall attendants, store supervisors, janitors, and even entry level employees or interns in the corporate setup. I have always wanted to have a conversation with someone like that without any request or motive, because I always thought that they would have a better pulse on the local society and economy.

Whenever I tried to talk to them, I was not proved wrong. Such proletariat workers who directly contribute to the economy by their direct labour, have a perspective which would surprise you. Though they are not exactly at the bottom of the pyramid, they do have deep understanding on how the economy works and where they see things that need improvement in the society.

On many occasions, I have had interesting conversations with taxi drivers – especially in Singapore and India. Their unfettered transparency has always surprised me. Once I get on to a topic, there is never a lull in the discussion till we reach the destination. Many a time, I thought a particular taxi driver would win a hot debate in an academic discussion – and I always express my appreciation of their insight by saying that at the end of my journey. Recently during a ride in Chennai, the auto-rickshaw driver questioned me on my understanding of value-added tax, in the context of the GST now applicable all across India. I should say I came up short on certain aspects of the GST regulation. The driver was not only well-educated on GST, but he was also quite articulate in arguing his position on how the Central Government of India should divide the tax proceeds with the State(s) in which a particular consumption of a service occurs. Was I amazed? Yes, of course.

I talked to my barber who always does a great job in hair-cutting and head massage. He is also an expert on the ground challenges faced by the population in light of the slowing economy. He has his own ideas on how to manage the downward spiral. He is confident that India will bounce back, however. I felt good after my recent conversation with him.

There are many such examples. When I talk at my same level or above my pay grade, people tend to self-censor. They are afraid that their expressed views would potentially corrupt my thinking about them. They tend to be polished in their thoughts, expressions and delivery. But then, one misses out a lot by focusing more and more on them. The strong element of political and social correctness affects their honesty sometimes. Very transparent communications are considered as hurdles on the way to one’s advancement in society – at least in the context of the upper middle class scenario that I had mentioned at the beginning of this post.

I believe that the more we interface and engage directly with the proletariat in any society, the more we gain in terms of a broader and more honest perspective of what is happening in a society. Such an understanding is critical for us to appreciate the problems encountered at the lower middle class strata of society, and the solutions that they propose could apply uniformly across the economy. This should not be surprising as these folks “touch” and “experience” the economic touch points more often than we do by ourselves.

In a nutshell again, the upper middle class and the higher class of society which are safely ensconced in their perches could do well to look down and engage with the lower strata of society. There may be many benefits accruing from such engagements. May be even new startup ideas!

Have a good weekend and many conversations with the proletariat!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

18th January 2020

Consistency of Thought Processes


I know it is hard, especially for youngsters, to maintain a constant consistency of thoughts in the modern world. They get quickly influenced by their peers, be it in technology adoption, political leanings or social mores. The key drivers appear to be the “soft” persuasion wielded by strong influencers who take pride in their ability to persuade others to their point of view. There is nothing wrong with this approach.

However, the lack of ability to hold and defend one’s views, argue for the same in the face of a barrage of alternative views, and risk some kind of isolation is a distinct deficiency of many youngsters. Such inability reflects weakness in one’s thought-making process, and also reflects poorly on one’s ability to stand up for his or her views.

Apart from the above behavioural pattern of conformance to others’ influential thought processes, the obvious outcome is a total lack of consistency – one cannot develop his thoughts, strengthen them, maintain or sustain them on any issue of relevance or importance.

I found that creating an open and transparent environment at home and business engenders free thinking and free exchange of thoughts, without anyone imposing their own views on others. This does not happen automatically, we have to strongly encourage such fearless behaviour. There should be no adverse repercussion on the expression of one’s unadulterated views, either privately or publicly.

Of course, there will always be “soft” persuaders and opinion leaders, and they cannot be shut down. If they win over others, then it is the power of their arguments and logic, not by threat. It should never be by threat or force.

However, what is of serious concern is the exertion by certain governments to control and influence young minds. When the state takes up an ideological battle against academics and students, then it presents a huge challenge to the country as such. A militaristic stance on the part of the government will threaten the academics and students, like it has repeatedly happened in Egypt for example. There are several governments around the world who do not tolerate independent opinion-makers, especially leftist academics and students.

We have to understand that the battle for today’s young minds in school and university campuses is crucial for shaping the world of tomorrow. There is no doubt that many governments engage with these young minds in positive or negative ways, causing their impact to deepen over the years. However, independent thinkers continue to flourish, as otherwise you would not have seen or read about key scientists, philosophers or researchers who have shaped the world over the centuries.

Religions also play a big part in influencing young minds, by making them conform to practices and a way of constrained thinking. Any rebel views are quickly quashed, without so much of an inquiry.

Given all of the above, it is not surprising that there always exists an inherent tension in any society. Consistent thought processes might be inhibited but never stopped. Otherwise, the world will be headed towards oblivion.

Have a great week ahead folks,

Vijay Srinivasan

12th January 2020

Downside better than Upside


People love upside in anything that they do, and do not like downsides.

What is an upside? It is a morale-boosting positive impact in anything that one does – say playing the stock market, getting a promotion, hitting a jackpot even a minor one, jumping the queue ahead of others, and so on. What is a downside? The opposite of all these things and more, which could cause a depression and mood swings.

So, in your opinion, which is better? An upside, or downside?

Obviously an upside, right?

Wrong.

Not always………neither an upside nor a downside could be taken for granted. Any of these things, or even nothing (which is generally considered as a downside) can happen on any given situation.

However, for people with a discerning mind, the best that can happen is a downside. Downsides are a great learning opportunity. Downsides make you see the real things in life. Downsides also prove that you are worth the struggle.

Think carefully. An upside comes in a flash and then disappears without the long term impact of experience that one will like to treasure. A downside hits you, brings you down, and then persists – it does not go away immediately. It wants you to learn from the experience that it is offering to you. Many people get downsides but then they do not learn from the experience. They simply wish to get rid of the downside right away.

I have faced a number of downsides in my life (like most of us have). Initially, I used to feel miserable, downtrodden, depressed, and the recovery process took a while without any learning whatsoever. It is also because I was impulsive, with a mindset always demanding wins or upsides all the time, without ever analyzing if I deserved them. May be I did not deserve the upsides in everything I did. May be I deserved the downsides, not as a punishment, but as opportunities for learning to correct my ego and take the right path in life.

Reminiscing now about what happened in life is easy, don’t you think? Nothing can be done about what transpired. Things happened with or without your control. Some things went the way you wished, and many things did not go the way that you wanted. Did you take the time to analyze what went wrong? May be not. As we mature in age and experience, we do sometimes sit back and contemplate on life – like what I am doing now!

Life is not always kind. It can get brutal and ugly. It can be punishing. It can make you hate others. It can push you into a pit, from which you may never recover. It might make you think that your situation is the result of your fate. I am sure most of you would have faced such thoughts.

But, life and its downsides are the best experiences a person can hope to learn from. Life is full of challenges and sometimes, mysteries. Life has to be analyzed. Life is an experiential engine of non-stop wonders and learning. Downsides form a key component in life’s teaching mechanism.

I always thought that downsides are better than upsides. Every major downside in my life has pushed me to recoup, re-assess, rejuvenate myself and then move on with life. I cannot say it has been a cake walk or it has been easy. It never was easy, it never was a bed of roses. But then, except for the very rich and the royals, life has been tough, unforgiving, very challenging and punishing for the rest of us, right? Not always for sure – life has also been good on several occasions which we cherish, of course.

We have to thank life for what it has offered to us in terms of teachable moments, every step of the way. Learning should never stop. Gathering oneself again for the next step in life should be based on the learning from the downsides of life.

Makes sense? It does for me.

Have a wonderful weekend, folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

11th January 2020

The ME is dead


The Middle East region is cursed, it appears.

Unending conflicts have raged through many countries of the Middle East for a rather long time, but more specifically over the last two decades. It has been terrible living situation for people in countries such as Yemen, Syria, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, and even Egypt. The going has been tough even in well-to-do nations such as Saudi Arabia. Pakistan and Afghanistan, though not part of the Middle East, could as well join these countries in terms of a very sad state of affairs for the citizens who inhabit them.

Now, with this latest incident of the U.S. assassinating an Iranian general visiting Baghdad in his official capacity, matters have taken a steep turn for the worse. No one knows for sure the inevitable repercussions that might follow. An already very unstable region has become worse, and a potential conflict appears imminent.

The U.S. policy in the Middle East has no leadership. President Trump is a whimsical and unpredictable man, who has stated that he is averse towards getting into another war in the ME. But then, it appears he has precipitated one unwittingly, based on improper counsel.

For the past forty years, the U.S. has been waiting to retaliate militarily against Iran, but successive presidents had been loath to pull the trigger for a variety of geopolitical and economic reasons. Imposing economic sanctions on Iran might still be considered OK, walking out of a global nuclear agreement with Iran also could be forgiven, holding fire against the action taken by Iran to bring down a U.S. drone over their soil could be considered as a creditable restraint, etc., But killing a known general of the Iranian armed forces without adequate basis can only be considered a cowardly and criminal act, designed to incite conflict. The rationale given by the U.S. that General Solaimani was plotting attacks against American interests is not credible at all, as enemies will keep planning and one cannot stop them preemptively calling them as terrorists. Then the entire world order will break down.

It is absolutely clear to all that this was not an action taken without intent, and that was clear in the muted responses of the European allies of the U.S. such as Germany, France, and the U.K. Russia and China were clearly not impressed. Under President Trump, the U.S. has been losing the trust of its long-standing allies, and things have worsened even further with this assassination.

It is now no wonder that Iraq is evaluating the need for the presence of American military on its soil. Irresponsible attacks on sovereign nations under an untenable pretext are reprehensible. Why murder a guest of the Iraqi government? The U.S., instead, should have used its mighty drones against the same general on Iranian soil, that would be a bold call for war.

The American military and its vast intelligence apparatus must be smiling. Even more than them, the powerful defence contractors now must be salivating on the prospects of yet another war that the U.S. would wage against a proud, old civilization just because it does not like its rulers.

What a stupidity? It could be even termed as irrational exuberance of an all-powerful superpower which is not subject to any global rules in the conduct of its affairs.

I am sorry for the plight of the ME population, and feel very bad for the Iranian people who are already in a rather bad shape due to the severity of economic sanctions. I am not saying that Iranian government is not at fault – on many global matters, they could have acted with more discretion. But, we cannot forget that war is not a solution to resolving differences of opinions, policies, tactics, approaches, behaviour or strategy. And, eliminating people on foreign soil without due process, based just on questionable assumptions, is, surely questionable!

Have a good week ahead, and be prepared to pay more for your petrol at the pump,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

5th January 2020

Everlasting Intangibles


What things in our lives last forever, even beyond our time on this planet?

Nothing, one would think or say, right?

Yes that’s true in a sense. Most tangible items, including living beings like us, will perish and disappear one day. The things that we see and experience every day, like our home, this mobile phone, the TV in front of us, the car, even buildings – all will be gone. Nothing is permanent in our lives.

We know this, of course. Nothing new in what I have stated above.

What then are the intangibles which are not subject to the rule of perennial destruction? What things survive all of us and pass on from generation to generation? What stuff is indestructible on this earth?

Have you given a thought to this concept of “everlasting intangibles” in our lives, which sustain well beyond our departure?

I am sure you would have contemplated along those lines of thought. I am just verbalizing what you already have thought about, known, felt or experienced. Nothing new from that perspective.

There are a few areas which are everlasting – things like knowledge and wisdom, our beliefs, our faith, our culture, our value systems……..among all these things, knowledge stands out on its own. The accumulated knowledge and wisdom of humankind is responsible for the achievements of humans on this planet. Each fountain of knowledge builds on the previous base that has been laid out, probably a hundred years ago. New knowledge gets built up, is enhanced by constant discoveries, continuous research, further analysis, etc., and is continually validated. This knowledge is passed on from one generation to the next, and is the main reason why our knowledge of any area of human endeavour is so broad based. If today we are able to recall such illustrious names as Newton or Edison or Einstein, it is because these gentlemen have so hugely contributed to human knowledge and awareness of our potential. And the knowledge base that these and other scientific minds created remains very much in place at the base of the fountain of knowledge. It subsists forever. While the knowledge is in itself a tangible substance when read in the form of a book for example, the accumulated base of knowledge is intangible and indestructible, having been fortified by continuous research and passed on from one generation to the next. Such base of scientific knowledge will be studied in classrooms even 500 years from now.

Beliefs and faith are other things which are also intangible. Our beliefs continue in one form or the other, and get passed on to our children. Of course, there will be iconoclasts on the way, but the majority will continue to sustain certain beliefs passed on to them, though they might subject the same to critical analysis.

So, if you think even casually, you will find that there are several intangibles which carry on for ever in this world. Not surprising though. We all intuitively know about knowledge and its timelessness. However, it is always good to spend sometime thinking about the beauty of knowledge and belief systems. Life will go on in this planet one way or the other, but human knowledge will always be there forever in an everlasting form.

Can you think of some other such intangibles which will last forever? I am keen to hear from you. Post your comments.

Cheers and have a good weekend,

Vijay Srinivasan

4th January 2020